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How to Work Out in a Small Apartment

This Is How I Work Out in My Tiny Apartment — and You Can, Too!

Full length shot of a young woman practicing yoga at home

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, cosy. 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.

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. Instead, I focussed on narrow moves, like plank variations, mountain climbers, V-ups, and hollow holds. I had to skip some favourites; Spider-Man planks, for example, weren't going to happen unless I wanted to bash my knee on the wall. Still, overall, abs were doable.

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 like bridges, lunges, and push-ups 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; this small space, no-equipment workout was my go-to.

But if you've found a way to do cardio in a tiny apartment without bothering your downstairs neighbours, 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.

I don't usually say "no excuses" about exercise; sometimes I'm sick or just exhausted, and that's a good enough reason to take a rest day. I prefer "anytime, anywhere," because that's what it really means: that 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.

Image Source: Getty/AJ_Watt
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