Best workouts to do at home
Health + Wellness

How to Work Out in a Small Space, According to Experts

Maybe you’re stuck at home (like so many of us right now) or perhaps your normal routine involves a lot of travel, which throws off your exercise routine. Whatever the case, it’s absolutely worth squeezing in a workout no matter where you are. Only have a small space to work with? No problem! These tips from top fitness experts are here to help.

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Not only does breaking a sweat keep your body in shape and give you energy, it can also be a serious mood booster: a 2018 review of research in The Journal of Happiness Studies found that people who exercise even just a little bit tend to be more cheerful than those who don’t. Here’s how to keep up that routine—or kick-start a new one—right from your living room.

Yes, You Really Can Fit in a Full Workout

A small space doesn’t have to limit how impactful your exercise is—you may just have to modify how you break a sweat. Obviously, things like running or other moves that require a large range of motion will be tough, but there are endless other exercises that you can do in a small space.

Kyra Oliver, assistant fitness director at Cal-A-Vie in Vista, California and author of 8 Ways of Being: How To Motivate Yourself To Live Happy and Free Every Day, says it’s totally possible to fit in a full body workout using just five or six small space–friendly moves. Cycling between jumping jacks, mountain climbers, squats, pushups, lunges, and bicycle crunches would make a great circuit workout. Do each exercise for 45–60 seconds with a 10–15 second recovery. After one full round, take a 60–90 second recovery and do it again. Four to five rounds of this will get you an excellent full body workout.

Looking for more of a cardio session? No problem. Bill Mucha, general manager of Attitude Fitness at the Intercontinental Los Angeles Downtown recommends burpees, high knees, jumping jacks, or jogging in place. “The idea is to pick one and do it for one minute, then take a 30-second rest. Repeat that four times for a burst of cardio.” 

Use Whatever You’ve Got

If you don’t have weight rack or a yoga mat, improvise with items you have laying around. For strength training, look for 2- to 3-pound items that are easy to hold in your hand like soup cans or water bottles, which you can easily use for bicep curls or shoulder presses. 

Other household items can stand in for common gym equipment. Use a sturdy coffee table as a gym bench, and the edge of your couch to do dips. One of Oliver’s favorite at-home items is a full jug of laundry detergent. “Make sure the cap is screwed on tightly and you can use it almost like a kettlebell to do tricep extensions,” she says. “Hold the jug over your head, keep elbows and upper arms close to the head, then hinge at the elbow to drop your hands behind your head and extend back up. Do three reps of 15. You can do kettlebell swings with that jug, too!”

If yoga is more your speed, don’t stress about not having a mat. “Look for a surface that isn’t too slippery—a rug or hardwood floor is usually fine—or you can grab a towel,” says Anna Greenberg, a Peloton yoga instructor. “If you don’t have blocks, use a stack of books or shoeboxes. Another common yoga prop is a strap—the belt from a bathrobe or a necktie are great alternatives. With a little creativity, you’ll be ready to go.”

Mix Things Up 

Doing the same workout in the same small room can get old real fast, so it’s important to switch things up. “As long as your body fits into the space, there are plenty of workouts that can be done,” says Nina Gold, a yoga instructor at Adronis Arcadia in Santorini. “I’ve even practiced yoga in the corridor of a running train in India.” 

One day, try a yoga flow; the next, consider a strength training session. Another great workout for a small space? Dance! “Put on Spotify and move until you’re out of breath,” says Gold. The best part: you’ll be having so much fun listening to music that it won’t even feel like a workout. 

If you have a busy day ahead, consider incorporating your workout into daily chores. “Cleaning your home is a great way to keep active,” says Martina Zecca, spa director at Italy’s Grand Hotel Tremezzo hotel. Boost the calorie burn by adding traditional gym moves into your cleaning. For example, do lunges while wiping down that full length mirror or wall squats while dusting lower shelves.

Stay in the Zone

When you hit the gym, you’re there to do one thing, but working out at home is an entirely different ballgame. It’s easy to get distracted by family or other things laying around—like that pile of laundry that needs folding or the new rom-com that’s streaming. To fit in a solid sweat session, focus is key.

Try avoiding human distractions by fitting in your workout when no one else is around. Set your alarm an hour before everyone else wakes up. Not a morning person? Find a secluded spot that is away from the main traffic in your home. Earbuds can also help tune things out and keep you in the zone.

Of course, sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about your surrounds (crying kids, ringing phones), but that doesn’t mean your workout has to be ruined—it’s all about staying positive and continuing with what you can. “Even if you are practicing in clutter and chaos, tune into your breath and focus on the poses and the practice you are doing to get a lot out of it,” says Greenberg.

Keep Your Form in Check

When you’re on your own, there’s no one there to correct your form. Plus, if you’re in a small space, you may need to make modifications on your own. Translation: you need to be extra careful so you don’t wind up hurt. 

That’s one of the things that make streaming services so helpful. Even though the instructor isn’t there with you in real life, they can carefully explain how your body should feel as you make a move. “At Peloton, we take into account that our students are not in the room with us and we give instructions to best support that experience safely,” says Greenberg. Peloton’s streaming service offers yoga, spinning, strength training, and more—all of which can be done at home. Other streaming services with helpful instructors include Obé, The Class by Taryn Toomey, and Daily Burn

If you’re not following a streaming service, there’s a simple way to keep an eye on your form: use a mirror. Just make sure you’ve mastered the form before adding things like weights to help prevent injury.

Finally, remember that working out should be tough but never painful. Above all, listen to your body. “If something doesn’t feel right, back off or don’t do it,” says Greenberg. “Pay attention to what you are doing and trust that you are strong and know how to take care of yourself.”

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