I didn't worry about the size of my new room until my bed came in. The day I moved into my little apartment just south of San Francisco I screwed together Target furniture with my parents, hung up clothes in the small closet until the rod started to bow, and settled my pots and pans in the kitchen. I was cautiously optimistic.
The next day, the bed came. The movers set it in the middle of the room, and I made it up with my sheets and new comforter. Then I stepped back. With everything in place, my free space amounted to three narrow paths between my bed, the wall, and the furniture. No problem! I told myself. The room was cute, yellow-painted, cozy. I started calling it "the shoebox," affectionately. Really, there was only one issue, which was that there was absolutely no room to work out.
I think at-home workouts are unbeatable. I've been doing them since college, when I was intimidated by the gym and stumbled upon a treasure trove of YouTube workouts that I could do anytime, anywhere. The fewer things standing between me and a workout, the more likely I am to actually do it, so rolling straight out of bed into a video workout couldn't have been better. If it wasn't too hardcore, I could be even lazier and work out right in my pajamas.
I knew how small my room would be before I moved in, so I planned ahead and joined a gym (for the first time, if you can believe it), but with my work commute, gym workouts meant getting up at 5 a.m., and I still only had time for a lightning-fast 20-minute routine. Doing that every day was already burning me out, but skipping my morning workout didn't feel good either.
Ab Workouts Are Great in Small Spaces
You can adapt any space to fit your workout needs — is what I told myself, optimistically, looking at the narrow strip of floor between my bed and my door. It was just wide enough for a plank, so I thought, let's start with an ab workout. Anything with spread arms or legs wasn't going to work; I barely had room for exercises with bent elbows, like bicycle crunches.
If you suffer from the same narrow space issue, I recommend "narrow" moves, like:
- Plank variations
- Mountain climbers
- Hollow holds
I had to skip some favorites; Spider-Man planks, for example, weren't going to happen without bashing my knee on the wall. Still, overall, abs were doable.
Try "Narrow," No-Equipment Bodyweight Moves
The rest of my body was what I was really worried about. After some trial and error (plank jacks seemed like a good idea, until the first stubbed toe), I found that mixing up other "long-not-wide" moves was the best way to use my space and hit different muscle groups. The only equipment I had was an old exercise mat (which I stole from my mom — thanks, Mom!), so bodyweight moves were essential too. My go-to moves include:
This small space, no-equipment workout is also one of my favorites.
Outsourcing Cardio Is Your Best Bet
But if you've found a way to do cardio in a tiny apartment without bothering your downstairs neighbors, let me know, because I'm still stumped. Sprinting in place is too loud. Same goes for jumping moves, like lunge squats and burpees. I used to get cardio from at-home HIIT or Tabata workouts, which are great when you have the space for them. Now, I outsource: running, swimming, going to the gym. On the days when I don't have time for anything, cardio turns into a brisk walk or jogging up the stairs at work.
There are always reasons to skip a workout (sick, tired, just plain not feeling it), but I don't think space constraints should be one of them. A workout can be an hour-long strength-training session or a two-minute plank at the foot of your bed, still wearing pajamas. Good news: it all counts, and it all feels good.