When you’re single, over 30, and live in a major metropolis, you find that you never completely leave that awkward phase of having to explain to friends and family in the Midwest why you’ve been here so long and haven’t bought property yet. It’s hard to do that without number-dropping: “Well, for a space about the size I am living in and for the neighborhood I’m in, a condo would be about [insert that voice used in Charlie Brown commercials when an adult speaks] million dollars.” The million dollars part is typically all they hear, even if you prefixed it with “quarter of” or “half a.” Or even if you euphemize it with “hundred thousand dollars,” they still somehow hear millions. Truth be told, I think it’s crazy to buy property here in DC when you can get a literal mansion and farm in Nebraska for the price of a 1-bedroom condo in Arlington, Virginia. And since I don’t know when or if I will leave DC, the dream of home ownership seems pretty far away for me.
One thing I know, if I ever do own my own home, is that I want a home gym. I envision having a place where I can set up a treadmill (as much as I hate them but they seem to be a reasonable compromise for when you have kids which I assume will be the reason I do venture into home ownership), a weight stand, my library of Jillian Michaels DVDs, and a few key must-haves, like a Bosu ball. Things that I can have because space is not an issue. The walls will be wallpapered with my race bibs, medal racks, some race posters, and my favorite race photos. There might even be a filtered water cooler and a ficus in the corner just for a touch of posh.
Right now, that is a far cry from the 471 square feet that I currently rent. I love my apartment. And I adore my neighborhood. It’s quiet, it has its fair share of good bars and restaurants, it’s close to my running trails, and offers numerous transportation options for getting into DC without much hassle. I can’t afford a one-bedroom in my neighborhood (at least I choose not to spend what disposable income I have on rent), so I have a small studio. There are some sacrifices and shortcomings to this way of living: Studio spaces make it hard to have a lot of people over for games or movie night because it’s kind of all in your face, including my bed. When you cook something and it burns, literally everything you own smells like it for a week. Same with the trash: if you don’t take it out soon enough and something in there starts to regenerate, you’ll know it the second you get home from work. Space usually makes people’s lists of sacrifices, but I’ve learned how to use what space I have. Except when it comes to storage. I swear, sometimes having trunk space is why I still own a car.
There is one small shortcoming of having a studio apartment, especially for people who are very active, and that’s working out at home. You have to really economize your living space in a studio apartment because you only have so much of it. You have to make it comfortable so you don’t go crazy in it. Unless you want “gym” to be the theme of your home, you have to let go of the race bib wallpaper, the fancy treadmill, and filtered water cooler. Frankly, that’s totally cool– I love working out, but I prioritize having a queen bed over a treadmill. And I don’t feel like it’s much of a sacrifice when I am so close to work and have everything I need within a block. In fact, I feel like I’ve got it made! #perspective
Still, not having a designated room in a huge house doesn’t mean that I can’t use what space I do have to work out either. I don’t always want to go for a run and, while I have a gym membership, sometimes I feel too lazy to walk three blocks in the rain, snow, or cold. Or I miss the one Pilates class my local gym offers for the week because of a work commitment. Or I just plain and simply don’t feel like being judged or seen when I’m trying to learn something new. My apartment also has a pretty nice gym on the rooftop, but three treadmills for a whole building means turf wars. Over time, I’ve been able to figure out how to get a pretty decent workout in the comfort of my own apartment, but it does come with a set of tricks. These also came in handy when I had roommates or, if you live with your significant other, still have limited space from having to share it. Bonus: built-in workout buddy!
First things first: Equipment.
You don’t need equipment to get a good workout, but let’s be real here: How many of us are actually going to do mountain climbers, burpees, and other really tough body weight exercises all of the time? Didn’t think so. Be realistic about what your goals are, and if you need a few things, don’t feel ashamed to buy a few key pieces. Who cares as long as the work gets done. On that note, be realistic about what you’ll actually use. Don’t buy an 8-in-1 gadget just because it’s space-saving.
Here is what I own:
- Jump rope: If you want to go cheap and you have the room, buy an old-school rope. Also there are more high-tech ones on the market that don’t have the rope and can calculate how many jumps you do just by your holding the handles! Of course, there’s always the free option of just jumping and counting, but good luck with that.
- Resistance bands: People don’t seem to give these much credit, but they are a small-space must-have.
- Hand weights: I own 2-3-5-8-pound dumbbells, but you don’t need that many. Pick a light weight, medium weight, and a heavy weight and go with that. If things start feeling easier, donate your light weights and buy a new heavy weight set. Or go with one of those options where you can fill it with water, but ask yourself if that’s a realistic purchase. For me, it’s not— I would literally never use it. Also, this little stand will help them stay organized.
- Pilates ring: Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out how to use this thing, but I took one Pilates class and got such a good workout from it that I impulse-bought one at the gym. However, it’s small enough not to take up a lot of space and I’m sure I’ll find a good use for it at some point.
- Stability disc: You really kind of need two of these puppies, but they have the power of making any workout just that much harder.
- Stability ball: I literally have no idea why this thing is in my apartment because it takes that whole “economize your space” notion and rolls right over it. But I bought it to use at work and just haven’t brought it in yet, and now it just sits in a corner of my apartment where it doesn’t totally bother me. Bonus: it’s inflatable. So, yeah, I have the power…
- Everlast boxing gloves: No, I don’t have a punching bag, but it doesn’t mean I can’t strap these on and punch the wall or the couch if I’ve had a bad day and need to get out a little aggression! Punching works up a great cardio, too. If you have a roommate or know a friend who lives in the building, take turns with these punch mitts and don’t forget your hand wraps.
- Workout DVDs: Not long ago, I decided to donate a few DVDs that I haven’t used in awhile, but I hung on to a few. Studio and boutique fitness classes might be taking over the fitness industry right now, but there’s a comeback scheduled at some point in the future! Until then, they are still just as effective as they always have been. Here are my favorites:
- Iron Strength Workout for Runners (great for tuning-up and staying injury free!)
- Jillian Michaels 6-Week 6-Pack (no 6-pack yet, but great for building core strength)
- Jillian Michaels No More Trouble Zones (better than physical therapy–ouch!)
- Biggest Loser Weight Loss Yoga (for people who get bored with yoga)
- Amy Dixon Breathless Body: The Ultimate Calorie Burn (tabata for endurance)
- Amy Dixon Breathless Body 2: The Edge (do this one if you win a trip to Jamaica)
- Amy Dixon Breathless Body 3: Hit It Big (for those who want to know what HIIT is)
- Amy Dixon Breathless Body 4: Going Strong (just when you thought you knew it all)
- Exhale Core Fusion: Body Sculpt (great for staving off injuries)
- Element: Ballet Conditioning (for the sake of variety, but it’s a butt-kicker)
Tip #1: It’s pretty obvious that you do need a little bit of space to work out in, but who says it has to be in your living room? Try setting your TV at an angle to where you can see it from other areas in your apartment. Then you can do your workout DVDs, sit atop your spin bike, or do conditioning moves while watching TV from anywhere!
Tip #2: In a small apartment, obviously some areas will be more prone than others to heavy foot traffic than others. To help mitigate additional wear-and-tear, buy a small area rug for use during exercise. This is also useful to keep your sweaty clothes off the carpet during floor exercises. I’ve learned that yoga mats get rolled up and wrapped up too easily. I purchased one from Home Depot for under $15 for this purpose, and it’s small enough to slip under my bed when I am not using it. The thicker the carpet, the easier it will stay in place. But for some wild and crazy activities, like plyometrics, skaters, or burpees, I move to the tiled floor in my kitchen.
Tip #3: Closed doors and thresholds are incredibly useful. For some good resistance band workouts, tie one end of the band into a knot around a sock and close it in the door. You can also buy bands that have handles on them if you use them unattached a lot, or check out this set that has a door anchor. I don’t recommend doing this for TRX ropes or bungee chords (unless getting your security deposit back is of no concern to you), but you can mimic some of the movements and still get a pretty good workout. You can also find an over-the-door pull-up bar or gym apparatus, but I haven’t figured out if I trust them enough. Also, this door knob exerciser offers use of your doorknob. To add a challenge, stand on a pillow or a cushioned pad or stability disc to work on your balance.
Tip #4: I’m all about maximizing what I do have in such a small space. Use the same piece of equipment for multiple things. One such example is the Simply Fit board. One simple, easy-to-store piece of equipment can give you the same challenge as a Bosu ball. You can also buy equipment that is inflatable, like a stability ball or a Pilates ball, or try those hand weights that only require water (I’m sure they’re not that bad).
Tip #5: I have a friend who set up her tri-bike on a bicycle trainer in her walk-in closet in her, yes, studio apartment. She had enough space to set up a TV tray with her laptop to watch Netflix while she churned out miles. I don’t have a walk-in closet, but my bathroom is large enough for me to set up a trainer if I wanted to. Why not? Get creative with your space! I should note that I am not an expert on this, so shop around before you buy a bike trainer. I’m only 90% sure that’s what they are called.
Tip #6: The truth is, you may not be able to get the same kind of workout you want in a small space as you would in a gym. It might take some real effort. Nothing that a little patience, persistence, and sweat equity couldn’t achieve! If you push yourself to do more reps, use heavier weights, to try the body weight exercises you always avoid, you can absolutely see results that get people asking you, “What gym do you go to?”
Tip #7: I mentioned that storage, for me, was sort of a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be a problem for your workout gear. I bought a pretty basket and stored it on a shelf and only I know what is in there. Hide it all in plain sight! My basket contains all of my sports equipment, including heart rate monitors, pace bands, swim caps and goggles, and resistance bands. No one ever has to know. And if you really want everything to blend in better, decorate your hand weights and equipment to match your decor. There’s all kinds of paint and duct tape designs on the market now. Go for it!
Tip #8: You know why gyms are lined with mirrors? They’ve been hijacked for post-workout selfies (guilty as charged) but they are also used for checking form. Bingo! Small Space Living 101 practically requires the use of mirrors as a way to make your space seem larger than it is. Now you have no excuse not to do your squats and lunges when your form is always within view.
Tip #9: We are turning into a subscription society for sure. You can subscribe to grocery and meal-planning services, there’s obviously TV and movies on demand, and this also goes for working out. There are numerous apps out there that have libraries of workout and fitness routines that you can try if you get bored with some of your old tried-and-trues. No storage required, either!
Tip #10: This might seem contradictory, but getting enough exercise outside of your home also helps you see results of the work you do inside your home. In addition to what I do at home, I walk literally everywhere. I run all of the time. I bike whenever possible, and I get on a paddle-board whenever I can. Plus, keeping up on your sleep and eating healthy is important for everyone no matter how huge their homes are. Duh. 🙂
What tips and tricks do you have for working out in small spaces?