No weights? No problem!

woman-on-ironing-boardSo let’s say you live in Upper Armpit, South Dakota, or on top of a mountain in the Himalayas, and there are no gyms for 500 miles around. Or, let’s say you’re a complete cheapskate and don’t want to pay $50/month to the local chrome ‘n’ tone Fluffy Fitness. Or, let’s say that you’re agoraphobic and haven’t left your house in 13 years. Whatever the case, it is important to remember that you don’t need weights to get a good workout.

Now, I’m not talking about those idiotic “you don’t need weights, you just need 12 oz. cans of tuna!” workouts that Cosmopolitan magazine advertises (I swear I am not making the part about the tuna up… it was actually suggested by Cosmo for biceps curls… maybe they were aiming that article at 2yearold malnourished children or something). I’m talking about oldschool, farm girl, Dinosaur training style pickin’ up heavy stuff lying around the house and yard.

what every weightless girl needs to have in her wardrobe

I’ll tell ya what to do with all of this stuff. Some are just cheap things you can pick up at the local discount store, while others are likewise cheap things you can pick up at the local hardware store. Army surplus stores are also good places to look for things like heavyduty knapsacks. If you have other cool ideas, drop me a line.

  • old soccer ball, basketball, or volleyball
  • jump rope
  • an old durable knapsack, and/or duffel bag, maybe even an old suitcase
  • sand
  • an old pillowcase or contractor’s garbage bags
  • duct tape
  • a little kids’ plastic sled or the “tray” part of an old wheelbarrow
  • thick rope
  • gloves
  • a small towel, or some plain foam, or some pipe insulation foam
  • a bucket
  • a shovel


Sandbag work can be a full body exercise. To make a sandbag, you’ll need an old knapsack or any of the other durable bags I mentioned, some carpenter’s sand (mine was $10 at the local building centre for 75 lbs. worth), an old pillowcase, and the duct tape. Now, when I got my bag of sand, it was the perfect weight for my first sandbag, so I just put the plastic bag of sand right into the duffel bag.

However, not long after I got this first sandbag, I got my navel pierced. I discovered that it’s rather challenging to avoid yanking out one’s navel piercing when carrying a heavy sandbag. Thus, I reduced the sandbag’s weight a bit in order to make it easier to control and manage (my garden with clay soil appreciated the sandy compost I made to use up the leftover sand).

Making a lighter sandbag than factory issue is where the pillowcase comes in. It’s even a good idea to double up on the pillowcases, just in case. Fill the pillowcase with the desired amount of sand. Then ducttape it shut (make sure you do a good job here… nothing like a sand explosion when you drop the bag) and put it inside the knapsack. You can also use heavy duty contractor bags, which are like very thick black garbage bags. Again, should be pretty cheap at the local building store. I used the contractor bags and simply knotted the ends. Just to be on the safe side, I used two bags, one inside the other. The army bag’s now a bit big for its sand contents, so it ends up being a little floppy, but that’s OK.

Voila! You have your very own handy-dandy sandbag. Make a few of these which are different weights, if you like.

What to do with the sandbag? Lots of ideas, most of which sound easy until you try them!

  • Pick up the sandbag and put it down. Try 3 sets of 10 reps of pickingupputtingdown with a heavy sandbag. To pick up the bag, squat down and bear hug it, then stand up with it. Squat back down to put it down.
  • Carry the sandbag around. Pick up the sandbag in a bear hug and carry it around your backyard. Try to do a few laps or a few minutes. Rest a bit, then try again. You can also try to carry it while holding the sandbag by the handles of the bag (a little suitcase full of sand would be useful here… get one in each hand, even).
  • Once you’ve mastered lifting and carrying the bag, try carrying it up a flight of stairs or up a hill. I like to go up and down my front stairs with the sandbag on one shoulder. Five trips up and down equal one set, and I alternate shoulders from set to set.
  • Roll the bag end-over-end.
  • Pick up the bag and press it overhead, or try to bench press it.
  • If it’s a knapsack, try putting it on your back and squatting with it, or doing calf raises. You can also try to squat/calf raise while bearhugging the bag, or with the bag on one shoulder, as shown above. I use a slight lunge stance to squat with the bag but you can also use a regular squat stance have some fun with it and experiment to see what you like. The weight of the bag will also determine what feels best.
  • Grab the bag by the handles and try to row it towards you like a bentover row. Try it with your arms around the bag too, if the bag is not too big.
  • Deadlift the bag by the handles. Or, if it’s a suitcase or duffel bag type, try onehanded deadlifts with the bag to your side.

medicine ball

Medicine ball work helps to build explosive strength, coordination, balance, stability, and good lower back/oblique/abdominal strength. To make your own medicine ball, take an old soccer ball, basketball, or volleyball. Pull the air plug out with a pair of needle-nose pliers. Then, using a funnel, fill the ball with the desired amount of water or sand (experiment with both, as both give a different weight and feel to the ball). Aim to get about 2 to 10 lbs. in there, as desired. Like the sandbag, it’s handy to have a few of different weights. You can either replace the plug and leave it, or tape over the hole with duct tape.

Here are some medicine ball training ideas. Generally you hold the ball in both hands, but you can also try one-handed catching and throwing if the ball is light. Always keep the ball under control; you’re not trying to throw it hard, but rather accurately and, eventually, quickly (start slow till you gain skill). Keep your eye on the ball, and if standing, feet firmly planted. Back should be in neutral position, never rounded. Start light then work up to heavier work. Treat medicine ball throwing like a set of weights, so instead of doing 50 throws in a row, do 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 10 throws and rest in between.

  • Toss the ball back and forth between you and a friend. Try:
    • two hand catches and one hand catches
    • catching low, mid-height, or high with arms overhead
    • catching in front or to the side
    • throwing in front or to the side
    • throwing between one another while facing one another
    • passing the ball between you while standing sideways to one another or back-to-back
    • different throwing styles such as upwards (like shooting a basket), a “pressing throw” like pushing the ball out in front of you, and underhand
    • passing the ball between you while in different positions, e.g. one person standing, one lying down, or one person standing and the other crouching
  • Toss the ball upwards from an underhand grip, starting from a crouch position and leaping up into a standing position, kind of like how little kids throw the ball when they start baseball. You can also try the “shooting a basket” upward pressing throw with this “squat jump” movement.
  • Bounce the ball off a wall.
  • Do ab crunches with the ball held above you at arm’s length, or on your chest.
  • Lying on the floor or ground, toss the ball into the air, sort of like a bench press with the ball.
  • Holding the ball at arm’s length overhead, gently bend from side to side, or squat down keeping the ball overhead.
  • Hold the ball between your knees, and pull knees to chest, or keeping legs straight, raise legs.
  • Holding the ball at arm’s length, make big gentle circles, bending from the waist. Make smaller circles above or in front of you.
  • Hold the ball to your chest, bend from the hips keeping lower back arched, then stand up again.
  • Do pushups with your feet on the ball.
  • For more ideas, check out this illustrated list of medicine ball drills (list 1 and list 2) as well as the book Medicine Ball Training by Zoltan Tenke and Andy Higgins.

sled dragging

A great fullbody exercise, particularly legs, back, and grip (if you’re holding the rope). To make a sled, you’ll need a little kids’ plastic sled with a flattish bottom, or the “tray” part of an old wheelbarrow. Loop a length of sturdy rope through the holes in the sled or wheelbarrow tray, long enough so that you can hold the rope in front of you as you pull the sled. Then, get some more of that ol’ sand (you can just throw your sandbag in here, if you like) and dump it into the sled.

Here are some ideas about ways to pull the sled. Take big strides and keep back upright, looking straight ahead. If the rope is hard on your hands, try wearing gloves, and if it’s hard on other parts, try wrapping a small towel around it for padding. If you have some old foam lying around, especially some old pipe insulation, that’s useful for taking the bite out of the rope too. Use your duct tape if needed.

  • Loop the rope around your hips or over your shoulders (hold an end in each hand, hands at your armpits) and walk and/or run forwards, facing away from the sled.
  • Loop the rope around your glutes and walk backwards, facing the sled.
  • Pull the sled holding the rope with your hands in different positions: over your shoulders like suspenders, with slightly bent arms out in front of you, with arms down and rope between legs.
  • Stand facing the sled and do an explosive “row” plus a step back, like yanking someone off balance by their coat collar. Once you get coordinated with this, try to do it while walking/shuffling backwards without stopping.

Ironmind sells a harness specifically for sled dragging, if you want to get all fancy schmancy.

car pushing / pulling

This one can be hilarious good fun. Not long after OMGBFF A bought a Smart Car, we were sitting on her back deck shooting the breeze when one of us looked at the cute little vehicle sitting in the driveway and said, “I bet that would be fun to push.”

And the evening was off.

She jumped in the car and put it into neutral. Luckily her driveway is long and level, a perfect stretch for a little auto hauling. For safety reasons obviously pushing up an incline is not recommended. Also, have someone in the driver’s seat watching at all times, steering and ready to hit the brake in case you stumble (I pushed slowly and carefully for the photo, so my driver could snap a pic).

To push a car properly, place hands firmly on the hood or trunk, and keep arms straight but don’t lock your elbows. Bend from the hips, not the waist, and let your legs drive the movement. Think of walking forward with the torso held stationary. You’re not really pushing so much as you are kicking the ground away while your hands are fixed.


Site reader Lindsay pulling a car

We discovered that the Smart on its own was too light, so girlfriend hit the brakes a little to provide additional resistance (you may not have this problem if you’re attempting a Lincoln Navigator or something). I pushed it back and forth, alternating between pushing from the front and the rear of the car. After 10 reps or so, I’d had a pretty good workout, and the upstairs neighbour had poked his head out of the window to ask if there was something wrong with our car. We had a good laugh and resolved to make car pushing part of our regular routine.

We discovered that one can do two styles of pushing. First, you can go for speed. In this case, my friend wouldn’t brake, but simply steer, as I tried to move the car as quickly as possible, almost trying to run with it. Or, you can go for resistance. In this case, judicious application of the brakes provides a challenge and the movement is slow. Mix it up and see what you like.

Once you’re feeling fancy about pushing the car, take a crack at pulling it. Get yourself a nice rope and a level surface (don’t pull downhill unless you want to risk kissing a bumper should you fall backwards). And then bust it out like site reader Lindsay above.

sand buckets

This exercise builds upper body strength, especially grip strength. Take your bucket and put some sand or rocks in it. If the handle of the bucket is thin and liable to really dig into your hands, wrap it in some foam or a towel. Ideally, get one bucket for each side. Then pick them up and go for a walk with them. If you can walk longer than 60 seconds with them before the burning and/or numbness in your forearms forces you to drop them, then add more sand. You can also try:

  • One-arm bentover rowing a bucket towards you
  • Shrugging the buckets (come up on your toes at the top of each shrug for some extra calf and balance work)
  • Walking with the buckets held out from your sides (don’t try to hold arms out too far; 8 to 12 inches will do)
  • Biceps curls with the bucket
  • Twohand and onehand deadlifts with the buckets held to your side
  • Filling up one bucket and leaving the other one empty, then picking up the full bucket and pouring it into the empty bucket, repeat


This one is perhaps the most apparently easy of them all, but wait till you try it. Those of us who are gardeners or northerners will know that this is a full-body workout, especially if your soil is clay or the snow is wet.

For dirt shoveling, find a corner of your backyard that won’t mind this intrusion. Then, using correct form, i.e. bending from the hips and legs, not rounding back, dig a hole. Start with a shallow hole at first, then as you get better, dig a deeper hole. Once you’ve dug it, fill it back in. Find this too easy? Soak the dirt first before you shovel it back in. You can repeat this exercise infinitely, or until the neighbours call the cops because they think you’re burying a body.

You can also mimic this movement with a sledgehammer, as in Shovelgloving. I’m working on doing this in the sledgehammer picture to the right here. It’s an easier option if you don’t have a yard, don’t have a fresh snowfall, or don’t feel like getting dirty. I imitate the shoveling motion, getting the hips into it as I bring the “shovel” up and unload the “dirt” off to one side. I do 30 or so reps on one side, then rest a little, and do the other side. Notice also that I find it more comfortable to shovel slightly to the side rather than directly in front. This allows me to put weight on the front leg and keep my lower back happy. Avoid twisting from the waist. Think of the torso from shoulders to hips as a rectangular block that should stay stable. Rotation of the body happens by moving the hips, rather than by twisting the lumbar spine.


Sledgehammer training is coming into fashion for old-school physical preparation. It hearkens back to the good old days (or bad old days, depending on how you look at it) of manual labour. This type of training works the hands, forearms, upper and midback, and abdominal girdle nicely. Depending how the swing is executed, sledge work can be a full body exercise. The great thing about sledge work is that the hammers come in varying weights, from little 3 or 4 pounders like the one I’m using in the photo, to 15 pound ones with longer handles. This can provide some nice progression and variation. And they’re cheap too! If you have a wall that needs knocking out in your house, this is the perfect opportunity to get started. Nothing relieves stress like bashing the hell out of drywall and wooden studs.

Despite its rather primitive appearance, sledge training is ideal cross training for anyone involved in a sport demanding body rotation. This includes throwers, martial artists, tennis players, and golfers. Swinging a weighted object under control requires stabilization of the trunk region, which means some killer ab and lower back work. To increase the power of the stroke, simply increase the hip involvement.

Mike Hartle’s series of articles on sledge training at is a good primer on the subject. He covers things like different strokes, how to set up a sledge training program, and so forth. You needn’t drag a truck tire into your yard though. Just find any slightly yielding surface to hit, such as a patch of grass, or even just practice swinging the sledge like a golf club or tennis racket.

Jamie Hale has written an intro to sledgehammer training here. on sledgehammer training

Krista lays some renovation beatdowns on drywall with a 4 pounder. Whack!

putting it all together

The first thing to remember when putting together your farm girl workout is to treat these exercises like regular weights, which means:

  • use good form: don’t round the back, lift using the legs where necessary, don’t jerk or twist abruptly
  • privilege quality of movement over quantity
  • treat the movements like reps of a weight set, and rest in between (as well as between workouts)
  • don’t try to do everything on one day; pick 510 movements per workout
  • start slow and light, since you can always work up to a larger workload and heavier weight
  • include a warmup and cool down with each workout

sample workout 1: full body workout

This workout should be done about 3 times weekly, with ideally a day of rest in between workouts.

medicine ball: pick 2 throwing movements and do each one for 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps
sandbag: sandbag bear hug and carry 2-3 sets of 30-60 seconds

sandbag bear hug and squat, 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps

sand bucket: bucket one-arm row, 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
bucket walk, 2-3 sets of 30-60 seconds
sled dragging drag sled forward for 2-3 sets of 30 seconds
jumping rope jump rope for 30-60 second intervals, with 30 seconds walking in between, for 5-10 minutes

sample workout 2: split workout

This workout should be done no more than 4 times weekly, with no more than 2 workouts in a row before a rest day. Ideally it should be done every other day.

Day 1 lower body

medicine ball pick 2 kinds of jumping throws and do each one for 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
sandbag sandbag bear hug and squat, 3 sets of 10 reps
medicine ball medicine ball lunges, 3 x 10-12
sled dragging drag sled forward for 2-3 sets of 30 seconds

face sled and walk backwards, dragging sled for 2-3 sets of 30 seconds

rope jumping jump rope for 30-60 second intervals, with 30 seconds walking in between, for 510 minutes

Day 2 upper body

medicine ball pick 2 kinds of pressing throws and do each one for 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
sandbag sandbag picking up and putting down, 2-3 x 10-15 reps

sandbag bear hug and carry, 2-3 sets of 30-60 seconds

sand bucket bucket rows, 2-3 x 10

bucket walk, 2-3 sets x 30-60 seconds

rope jumping jump rope for 30-60 second intervals, with 30 seconds walking in between, for 5-10 minutes