How A Makeshift ‘Gym’ Can Be Good ‘Fit’

Dr. Adrian Pujayana

I WAS always an active and fidgety kid, not really any good in sports or having any kind of desire to exercise. All this changed in my freshman year of high school during my PE class, when we spent the week doing physical-fitness testing that included sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, the one-mile run and the sit-and-reach.

Five activities tested on five different days, except one of those days became a very special day for me, as I would meet Dave Ochoa (still coaching at Northview High School), the man who would later become my wrestling coach.

I had just dropped from exhaustion after completing my pull-ups for the fitness test that morning, and coach approached me from a distance. “The guys on my wrestling team couldn’t do half the pull-ups you just did!’’ he said. “Have you ever considered trying out for the wrestling team?”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I never thought of myself as a serious athlete, I never really worked out, and I didn’t have a gym to go to nor any equipment at home. Coach Ochoa assured me that with a little time and creativity I could prepare myself through the summer and have a good shot at tryouts the following fall.

I didn’t have the internet, and I didn’t have equipment, so here’s what I used to prepare that summer.

Five-Gallon Water Bottle

Targeted areas: Biceps, shoulders, hips and thighs, scapular muscles, spinal stabilizers.

A one-gallon water bottle weighs about eight pounds. I used a five-gallon water bottle tied to a three-foot metal pole to improvise a 40-pound dumbbell. This contraption was not only heavy, but unusually bulky and challenged my balance any time the bottle was lifted off the ground.  I had no concept of repetitions or sets … I just lifted this thing until I got tired, then lifted more!


Targeted areas: Shoulders, arms, legs, scapular muscles.

This standard block of concrete weighs 28 pounds and has multiple areas for you to grip.  You can pull it toward your body, lift it overhead, hold it in a position for time, throw it, use it as a step, use it as a platform for triceps dips, jump over it, hold it while doing sit-ups, use it as a platform for push-ups. I’m sure there are more ways to use the cinderblock, but this was how I used it at the time.


Targeted areas:  Biceps, shoulders, abdominals.

A single brick weighs about 4.5 pounds, and if you held one in each outstretched hand it would feel like 45 pounds after a minute or two! You can use it as a push-up grip or hold it in the air while doing abdominal crunches. 

Wooden Chair

Targeted areas:  Forearms.

While holding the back of this particular chair at chest level with my arms stretched out, I was able to use a chair to build my forearms by extending my wrist and controlling the movement.

Pull-Up Bar

Targeted areas:  Shoulders, arms and the back muscles.

This was the best $20 investment that summer! Besides pull-ups and chin-ups, I also strapped the five-gallon water bottle on a pulley to create resistance for arm workouts. Dead-hangs (holding your body weight) for time was also a great way to build a strong grip.

The Wall

Targeted areas: Thighs, shoulders, chest.

I used the wall to prop my feet on an angle while doing push-ups, and also used it to lean on when doing isometric wall squats for time. Super effective!

As you can see, you can use anything around you to create resistance and become effective in your exercise routine. Lacking a gym or access to equipment should not prevent you from getting into shape. Lacking motivation or not having the willingness to change, on the other hand, will keep you from change that is healthy and good. Getting the most out of your training routine isn’t always about having equipment. It’s about maximizing your time and your creativity with the tools you already have.

I hope this new year you become more creative with your activities and find new and refreshing ways to be motivated by others. Let’s welcome the new decade by thanking those who had a positive influence on you, and for you to positively influence others.

So, coach Ochoa, thank you for your positive influence on so many of us!

Dr. Adrian Pujayana has been providing drug-free solutions for health and wellness to adults, athletes and youth since 2000 through his private practice at Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena, a place for strength training and nutrition-based health care. For comments or questions, email him at