You say you don't have enough money to join a gym. You don't have the time to do the workouts you've heard of. You don't have any space in your house to store big exercise equipment. You get bored with the lifts you've been doing, and they don't appear to be doing all you hoped they would. Perhaps you've been working out, but noticed that, even with increases in your lifting totals, you're not feeling an increase in functional strength.
If you find any of the statements above cover issues you've been grappling with, I've got good news. There's a single, simple lifting implement you can buy for less than five dollars, and it'll give you a great, dynamic, scalable workout. What is it? A cinderblock.
Yep, that's right. You won't need to go to a sports store. Think more along the lines of a home improvement warehouse.
Why a cinderblock? Well, for one thing, they're fairly heavy, and this weight can be multiplied when they're held in a way that provides negative leverage. Second, they can be held in a variety of ways, since they're essentially an enclosed "H" pattern. Their inexpensive nature has already been mentioned. Finally, they don't need special care. They're all-weather. They can be treated roughly. They can be replaced if they get worn or broken.
What do you need? At least one cinderblock, sturdy gloves to protect your hands, protective shoes, and a flat place outside. That's right. Outside. Where we don't go nearly enough anymore. It might be hot, or cold, or somehow inclement. Go with it. It makes you feel more primal if you're hoisting something heavy in the snow.
What can you do with a cinderblock? Just about anything you can do with a dumbbell or kettlebell. In hand, they can be used for all manner of moves, both single and double handed. They can also be used as blocks to raise you off the ground, for instance to stand on while doing high pulls. Modified pushups using one or three cinderblocks can yield excellent results, as well. If you have some sort of bar, you can even rig a 'block on each side and have an ersatz barbell. If you want to get really junk yard dog, have your bar be a simple cut section of 1/2 inch rebar. Or the axle from an old Dodge Dart. That'll give you some street cred.
Finally, when simple weight lifting moves are getting easy, cinderblocks can be made even more challenging by throwing and catching them in a variety of ways. This forces your body to not only accelerate the implement suddenly (generally recruiting all the stabilizing and skeletal muscles of the body in a dynamic, positive contraction), but you must catch and thus decelerate the implement, which will require you to key all the opposing muscle groups in a negative repetition. In both cases, the body will encounter significantly higher loading than you might guess, considering the modest weight of the cinderblock itself. Oh, and it's pretty darned fun, too.
Tell me about the benefit, you say. Okay. Number one, cinderblocks will challenge your grip, wrist, and forearm strength much more than the equivalent lifts with dumbbells. This is because you're going to have to lift them with either a pinch, flat hand, or hook grip, none of which are as easy as holding a narrow-gauge iron bar. Because of a cinderblocks's shape, the leverage will also scale more aggressively as it swings from one orientation to another, thus giving the illusion of being heavier than it really is.
Because cinderblocks can be used for dynamic, full-body movements, the workout can be finished quite quickly. Aggressively lift a cinderblock for fifteen minutes, and you'll feel it. Not just in your muscles, but in your cardiovascular system. Challenge yourself to take short breaks and to move the 'block steadily, and you'll find that you're huffing and puffing before long.
So: with a cinderblock workout, you've got total body recruitment in most exercies, short, intense workouts, cardiovascular upside, and strong upside in functional strength. If you routinely sling cinderblocks, any weird item you'll have to hoist in daily life will probably seem pretty easy.
Some warnings and caveats: Cinderblocks are, by their nature, hard to hang on to. You'll drop them from time to time. Keep your safety gear on at all times, and keep your wits about you. 'Blocks are also, well, evil. They are essentially designed to break toes and create abrasions to skin. You may have to progress slowly, working up to the more challenging movements. You'll certainly have to bail on a lift now and then, so it doesn't end up clobbering you. For this reason, DON'T use them in a furnished part of your house. This is a great way to force yourself to learn how to spackle, or repair that nice coffee table you like so much. If you have to do 'block work indoors, do it in a garage or unfinished basement room (make sure you won't hit the ceiling with overhead lifts). Also, any time you're working on a hard surface, like concrete, remember that you will crack your 'block if you drop it very often. Find a patch of grass, or at least put down some of that gym matting for your floor. Can you hurt yourself with a cinderblock. Yes. The same is true of any heavy object. If you're somewhat circumspect, however, they are not dangerous. Just challenging.
Should you start throwing cinderblocks if you haven't arisen from the couch in several years? Not before you do a little background work, and see a doctor to make sure you're in good health. If you've been working out in other ways, though, doing a quick 'block workout a few times a week can yield great benefits. If you want to see what it's all about, check out the first in my video series about 'block workouts, below. If you want to know more about this and other strength stunts, please visit my listing at http://www.youtube.com (search for thorwulfx1).