John Bosco Mwebesa, a hardware shop owner in Namubiru village, Mukono District, has turned two empty paint tins into barbells. The empty tins are filled with a mixture of sand and cement and left to set. They are joined by a metallic pole.
This is an idea that came to him during the coronavirus lockdown as he attempted to find ways of keeping fit. Before the pandemic, he used to play recreational football with a village team and pool in the evening. But as movements were restricted and some places, especially bars, became inaccessible, he looked for options.
“I was looking for ways to keep fit and an idea came to me to fill empty paint tins with cement and use them as weights. Since I have a number of empty tins, it was easy to make the weights,” Mwebesa says.
He has since been using the weights for shoulder presses and squat workouts, conveniently behind his shop. He says since there is no gym near his home, the weights have helped him keep in shape, adding that besides being cheap, they are long-lasting.
Homemade weights and self-help fitness regimes were commonplace during the lockdown period as people craved for recreation activities that would keep them busy.
Some gym enthusiasts have been making their own dumbbells and barbells from wood, metal or other heavy substances. Others use sandbags to help build endurance and tone muscles.
Standard barbells cost between $150 (Shs550,000) and $350 (Shs1.2m) while mid-range quality equipment that is suitable for most gyms can be bought for $200-$350 (about Shs700,000-Shs1.2m).
“With such costs, many are tempted to save money by making or buying homemade weights,” Second Lt Dr Christopher Mbowa, a professional therapist, who is the head of wellness and fitness in the Uganda People’s Defence Force Air Force (UPDAF), says.
But experts have warned fitness enthusiasts against using homemade weights and gym equipment. Elly Muhereza, a fitness coach, says homemade gym equipment can cause permanent damage to the users.
This is because the materials used are not standardised. He explains that professional gym equipment is subject to rigorous safety tests while home-made gear could easily fail under pressure.
Muhereza, a graduate of Sports Science, says homemade weights are not accurate in terms of the exact weight in each container. This leads to imbalanced weights, which can lead to irreparable damage to muscles. His first concern is about the weights causing asymmetrical muscle growth, which is normally presents by someone developing broad shoulders but very thin legs.
“That is why you normally meet people walking like robots because their bodies are deformed due to lifting unbalanced weights. Some of these dangers are a result of exercising with weights that are not properly manufactured and even if they were balanced, over time, they lost some weight through wear and tear,” Muhereza says.
He adds that training with weights normally depends on the individual’s fitness level, body type, exercise experience and your goal.
To make matters worse, most of the people using homemade exercise equipment normally concentrate on chest, shoulders, and biceps workouts (upper body) leading to other muscles of the body being starved of exercises, hence body imbalance.
Muhereza explains that homemade weights can lead to bad posture or even injuries including lower back pain, bent shoulders or collarbone as well as the spinal cord.
To Dr Mbowa, the strength of the handles that hold the weights cannot be trusted 100 per cent and it could cause serious injuries in case it is above the head.
“Homemade equipment is an accident waiting to happen. It is always better to find other ways to exercise without risking injuries,” Dr Mbowa says.
Instead of courting the obvious dangers posed by homemade equipment, Dr Mbowa says fitness enthusiasts can instead engage in body weight exercises using simple materials such as resistance bands. He recommends exercises that target the lower body, core and upper body.
They include squats, plyo lunges, press-ups, knee raisers, handstands, sit-ups, side planks and crunches, among others.
You need a trainer
Gerry Opoka, a certified Zumba instructor, says it is also important to work with trainers in order to get desired results. An instructor, he says, can help you achieve your goals and help you stay motivated which may not be affordable with homemade gyms.
“There is someone you are accountable to and that feeling is awesome. A trainer also offers tips. Working at home keeps you in the shadow,” Opoka says.