How to work out at home – in just a few square feet

You don’t need a deceptively finished basement or even a separate room to create a functional and adaptable workout space at home. In fact, you don’t need more than one untapped corner.


To see if you have enough room, DC personal trainer Bianca Russo suggests standing in place, raising your arms, and spinning in a full circle. If you have enough permit to do so, you can have a home gym.


Exercising under your roof also has unique advantages.

“There’s the attraction of having fewer barriers to entry and (not) having to leave your house (or) paying for a gym membership,” says Philadelphia-based personal trainer Anna Claire Luber. Loper aims to help “everyone in every body”—including its transgender clients and people with disabilities—feel comfortable with getting fit. “Being at home really creates a safer space.”

Even if you only have a sliver of square footage to spare, read on for advice from Russo, Luber, and other fitness experts on how to turn it into a true workout spot, with equipment that can be easily stored out of the way.

1. Mats

If you live in a multi-family building or your workout space is upstairs in your home, consider grouting the floor to prevent antagonizing anyone downstairs.

Russo suggests using a puzzle-style foam floor mat. It will cover more area than a standard yoga mat and you can build on it piece by piece. “You know, it doesn’t hold you back, and it doesn’t fail,” says Russo, who specializes in coaching LGBTQ clients and people of all body sizes.

However, yoga mats are useful for many other reasons. You can get your heart rate up and build strength within the confines of a standard mat (usually 6 feet long and about 2 feet wide). “There’s a lot you can do between those four corners,” says Haley Richers, owner of Haus Yoga in DC. For cardio, mountain climbers add in quick reps. “These total-body moves help maximize your time—you’re hitting a bunch of large muscle groups,” she explains.

Yoga blocks are another essential tool in the house to support balance and “as a sweat tool,” says Richers, because “the block will feel like a 50-pound after a while while you’re holding it above your head.”

Mimi Rieger, of DC-based Mimi Rieger Yoga, also suggests incorporating a bolster, which adds support for restorative yoga sessions and, when you’re not in the middle of flow, can be used in your office chair. “It just helps you sit longer,” she says.

2. Multipurpose system

One space-saving tool that fitness experts are raving about is the TRX Suspension Trainer, which can be used for cardio, strength-building, and interval training—and then tucked away in the included mesh bag. Created by a former Navy SEAL, the TRX System features a set of grip bands. The bands connect to an anchor point that allows you to lift your body weight for hundreds of exercises, from chest presses and planks to squats and lunges.

You can do push-ups, pull-ups, biceps, and biceps—you can actually get a total-body workout with TRX,” says Louise Green, a Vancouver-based trainer and author of “Big Fit Girl: Embrace the Body You Have To Do.” She points out that people with larger bodies who struggle with ups and downs can use TRX to perform exercises that would normally be done on the floor.

3. Resistance bands

Resistance bands are also a crowd pleaser. The experts we interviewed frequently cite it as a compact, affordable tool that anyone can use just about anywhere to build strength. The bands come in different weights to offer more or less resistance, and you can adjust them as needed. Some have handles. Others – called mini-bands – come in a loop.

For variety handled, Russo recommends the set from Black Mountain Products, which you can incorporate into dozens of exercises including bicep curls, rows and squats. Loop straps are useful for “lower-body movements, upper-body movements, and for push-pull movements,” Looper says. “It’s a very versatile piece of equipment and it’s very cheap.” A new set of three usually costs about $10, or Loper suggests searching the Facebook Marketplace for a used set.

4. Free weights

If you’re looking to build muscle, you’ll also need a set of weights to complete your workout space. Some trainers swear by dumbbells, others by dumbbells or a barbell, but this comes down to personal preference and lifting experience. Dumbbells are standard home gym fare, and a beginner’s set usually includes a 5-pound, 8-pound, and 12-pound set. Use them for common exercises like dead lifts, curls, and chest presses. Rosso directs her customers to this set, which comes with a stand.

Kettlebells can be less expensive – and compact. With just one kettlebell, you can reach multiple levels of strength and conditioning, and most of them cost less than $30. “You can have a full program like three or five days a week, and each time—using the same bell—do something different,” says Looper.

While kettlebells are great for basic exercises like dead lifts and lunges, experienced users can move on to “ballistic skills”—which require an advanced level of control over quick movements called swings, cleans, and snatches.

5. Necessary Others

For DC trainer Errick McAdams, other small essentials for home gyms are a jump rope for quick cardio, a pull-up bar for advanced clients, and a box that can be used for both ladder and sit-up exercises. He recommends the 12-inch steel version in red and black from JFIT, priced at about $60. The box also gives support for incline push-ups, triceps dips, and seated oblique twists, among other moves. Stepups are very effective for conditioning and cardio, and only take up 1 square foot.

Russo recommends Airex foam balance pads and exercise balls for clients seeking balance and core stabilization exercises. Although the exercise balls are rather bulky, they point out that they can double as office chairs. Or try a creative storage solution like a hammock that’s specifically designed to keep the ball up and out of the way.

Leave a Comment