No Machines, No Problem

Who needs fancy cardio equipment or commercial gym gear? These simple substitutions work just as well as the latest, greatest machines in a pinch.

Lara McGlashan MFA CPT | April 04, 2017

Not every gym is equipped with the latest, greatest fitness gear, and while NBC’s The Biggest Loser contestants enjoy a bank of Jacobs Ladders for their cardio workouts, the only ladder your gym might offer is of the aluminum type, which is only hauled out of the closet twice a year to change the lightbulbs.

Use one of these alternatives to sub for equipment your gym is lacking, and you’ll be able to do any workout you find in this magazine or online and get the same results.

Missing Equipment: Airdyne Bike

Smart Swap: Battling Ropes

While the Airdyne bike is a tremendous tool, it tends to be in short supply in most commercial gyms. Battling ropes can offer similar benefits, especially when the workout calls for sprints or Tabata format high-intensity interval training: A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that working with ropes produced physiological results similar to sprinting. At a cost of 10.3 calories per minute of work, these ropes are fun fat burners.

Missing Equipment: Battling Ropes

Smart Swap: Kettlebells

The main draw of the battling ropes is that they offer a different type of dynamic resistance movement, which engages your body from head to toe. Kettlebells offer the same sort of total-body synergy when used correctly, so substitute rope waves and slams with kettlebell swings, and side-to-side rope movements with kettlebell seated Russian twists, windmills or Turkish get-ups.

Missing Equipment: Rowing Machine

Smart Swap: Banded Squat Row

No rowing machine? No problem. Recreate the same type of rowing motion with a resistance band: Secure it around a squat rack at about hip height, hold it with both hands and step back to create tension, arms straight. From here, squat down quickly, then drive back up to the start as you row the band toward your upper chest, pulling your elbows out and back as if rowing. Move quickly, alternating between the movements and blending the moves seamlessly as you would on a rower.

Missing Equipment: Sled/Prowler Sled

Smart Swap: Plate Push

Some gyms lack the real estate or artificial turf for sleds and Prowlers. No sweat: Instead, grab a 45-pound weight plate, set it on the floor in an open area, place a hand on either side and push it forward. Keep your hips low and drive with your glutes to mimic the leg activity you’d get from using a traditional sled. And since you can’t safely stack the plates to create more resistance, increase the intensity instead by doing sprint intervals.

Missing Equipment: Step Mill

Smart Swap: Jump Rope

Many gyms have the pedal-pushing type of climbers but not as many boast a StepMill, which has a continually rotating staircase. Outside of finding some actual stairs on which to perform drills, jumping rope is a good sub in a pinch: It engages the whole lower body as well as the core and trains timing and coordination as well as speed, much in the same way as stair running does. Jump a minute and rest a minute, alternating between the two for 10 to 15 minutes, and you should be spent.

Missing Equipment: Versa Climber

Smart Swap: Burpees

VersaClimbers and Jacobs Ladders are similar in that they both use your whole body as a unit in order to power the equipment. Your own body is the perfect substitute for these expensive gadgets, and burpees offer a similar total-body stimulus with no pricey mechanical parts. Increase the intensity of standard burpees by taking them on the move — leaping forward or laterally instead of upward — or by doubling the number of push-ups you do at the bottom to increase upper-body activity.

About the Author

Lara McGlashan MFA CPT

Oxygen Fitness Editor Lara McGlashan has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor, who specializes in health, fitness, and nutrition. 

Lara is an ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. Her sports background includes skiing, snowboarding, flying trapeze, yoga, competitive beach volleyball, dance, mountain biking, hiking and running, to name a few endeavors. She is currently exploring the world of CrossFit in her home base of Connecticut, where she lives with her 2-year-old son, Alex.

You can follow her on Facebook at LaraFitnessEditor.