How to Work Out in Small Spaces (The “No Space” Workout)

A picture of three figures trapped in a glass small space.

So it’s time to exercise, but you’re confined to a small space?

No problem!

In our Online Coaching Program, where I’m a senior coach, we help folks work out in whatever nook and cranny they may have available. Today, we’ll share these tips with you too.

And no, we won’t make you shrink like Ant-Man to do your workout.

This gif shows Ant-Man shrinking, who can probably work out in any small space.

Here’s what we’ll cover today:

Let’s jump right in!

How Much Space Do You Need to Work Out?

A picture of the Enterprise, which I imagine is full of small spaces.

“Baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses
for.”

– Charles Bukowski

 

“Space, the final frontier” 

– James Tiberius Kirk

 

When it comes to working out in a small space, the first obstacle you have to overcome is your mindset:

You may find yourself thinking, “I can’t work out in this space.”

We want to flip this to “I get to be more creative in this space.”

This may seem like a minor change of perspective, but oftentimes the most important part of overcoming a challenge is adjusting our mindset. I see this over and over again with our coaching clients

So Step 1 for our Small Space Workout is becoming okay with whatever room we may have to exercise. 

Step 2 is determining WHERE our actual Small Space Workout will take place.

That might lead you to a question:

How much space do you need to exercise and work out?

Answer: not much.

I grew up working out in a room not much bigger than a closet:

A pic of Jim's small space workout room, which he used growing up.

Which now acts as a storeroom. 

If you have enough room to do a plank, you’re good:

A gif of Coach Jim doing a plank in a small space.

However, even if you can’t spread out for a plank, that’s okay. We can always use the small space itself for “equipment,” like with wall push-ups:

Coach Jim doing wall push-ups in a small space.

Speaking of, I can already anticipate your next question: 

What’s the minimum equipment needed for a work out?

As we cover in the Ultimate Guide to Working Out from Home, we can think of three tiers of no-equipment workouts:

  • The floor
  • The floor and a wall
  • The floor, a wall, and a towel

Ford saying "if you want to survive out here you gotta know where your towel is."

The trick here is using our own body’s weight as equipment, which is known as “bodyweight training.” 

However, today we’ll also cover a few items you may want to buy, in case you want to build a small home gym.

But first, let’s talk about getting by with the bare minimum.

Small Space Workout Level 1: Get Moving

A picture of a mouse working out in a small space.

For the first level of our Small Space Workout, we want to keep it simple.

We’re going to focus on three different areas:

  • The lower body
  • The “push” muscles
  • The “pull” muscles

That’s it.

To train our lower body in a small space, we’ll focus on squats and lunges.

If you’re just starting out, you can do assisted squats against a wall or chair:

A gif of Coach Jim doing an assisted squat in a small space.

We’ll follow the same idea for our lunges:

A gif of Coach Jim doing an assisted lunge in a small space.

Once these become no thang, we’ll level up to regular squats:

A gif of Coach Jim doing squats in a small space.

Or regular lunges:

A gif of Coach Jim doing a lunge in a small space.

For our “push” muscles, you guessed it, it’s all about push-up variations.

We can start will simple push-ups against a wall:

A gif of Coach Jim doing wall push-ups in a small space.

To knee push-ups:

A gif of Coach Jim doing knee push-ups in a small space.

To regular push-ups:

A gif of Coach Jim doing push-ups in a small space.

If you want to make these even more challenging, you can use the wall to brace your feet to do elevated push-ups.

A sturdy stool or chair could also be handy here: 

Elevated push-ups like this are a great way to bodyweight train.

For our “pull” muscles, this becomes a little tricker in a small space with no equipment.

But we can get by with two things:

  • A towel
  • A doorway

We’ll use both of these to perform bodyweight rows.

To use a towel for rows:

  • Fold your towel twice over, hotdog style.
  • Step on the towel with your front foot.
  • Grab each end of the towel and pull yourself downwards.
  • After your back gets parallel-ish to ground, lift yourself back up – that’s one rep.

It’ll look something like this:

Coach Jim doing a towel row in a small space.

The other option for our pull muscles, is to do rows from a doorway.

To perform a doorway row:

  • Stand in front of your doorway and grab both sides.
  • Place your feet a little closer to the doorway, so you’re leaning back.
  • Sit back so you put weight on your arms.
  • Pull yourself forward.

You’ll end up looking like so:

Coach Jim showing you the doorway bodyweight row

If you want to next level it, you can use your towel AND doorway for your rows too:

A towel can help you do a bodyweight row, as shown here.

The towel might help you lean back even further, creating a more challenging exercise.

I walk you through how to use a towel for various pull exercises right here: 

If either of these starts to feel easy, try doing them with only one hand, like so:

Here’s what to do for your Level 1 Small Space Workout:

  • Pick a lower body, a push, and pull exercise.
  • Run through a circuit, doing about 10 reps of each. 
  • Repeat until you get tired.

That’s it. Don’t overthink your workout. Just get moving.

When this starts to feel easy, move on to Level 2. 

Small Space Workout Level 2: Bring the Intensity

This picture shows a man with a couple weights, working out in a small space.

Once you get comfortable doing our lower-body, push, and pull exercises, there are few things we can do to up the intensity.

For example, did you know you can do deadlifts with nothing but a towel?

Towels really can be used for a home workout

The trick is to get your setup right, by pushing your hips back and chest out. Then you perform the same upward motion as you would in a normal deadlift.

I walk you through how to do a towel deadlift right here: 

I apologize if you rip your towel in half doing this because you’re so strong (but like, worth it).

The other cool thing you can do with towels? Chin-ups!

If you have a sturdy door and a couple of towels, you can use them as a chin-up alternative

Naturally, I have a video on doing towel chin-ups right here:

But you don’t need towels to do a Level 2 Small Space Workout.

Here are two ways to level up your “no-space” training:

#1) Think One-Sided

We’re going to do some unilateral training by working one limb at a time.

Squats no problem? How about a one-legged squat?

A gif of Coach Jim doing one-legged squats in a small space.

We can do the same thing with our push muscles, by doing one-arm push-ups:

A gif of Coach Jim doing one arm push-ups in a small space.

#2) Change the Tempo

We have a couple of options here.

Slow down. By slowing down your cadence, you’re going to increase the time under tension of your muscles. That equals a tougher workout, which equals a win.

Have you ever taken a full 60 seconds to do a push-up? It’s gnarly:

Hold the movement. The other option would be to hold your position at the top or bottom of an exercise.

For example, holding a chin-up at the top position:

Or holding a squat at the bottom position:

If you add a 10-second pause during each rep, you’re going to wear yourself out MUCH quicker, small space or no small space.

Small Space Workout Level 3: May the Force Be With You

A picture of a crowd of Stormtroopers, who could probably use some extra space.

Do you have access to a hallway that you can commandeer for a bit?

Then you can do our Star Wars Workout!

It’s designed to be done in a small space, like a hallway, or an escape pod.

At this level, if you were going to buy some equipment for a small home-gym, my number one recommendation would be to purchase some resistance or exercise bands:

Staci showing you the "pull apart" with a resistance band

They don’t take up much space and can offer you a lot of versatility for Small Space Workouts. 

For example, you can do deadlifts using a resistance band:

You really can deadlift with all sorts of objects and resistance band deadlifts are a great exercise.

Or presses:

This is a great way to train your "push" muscles with a resistance band.

Or rows: 

Make sure your anchor is sturdy here.

Boom! There’s your lower-body, push, and pull exercises we talked about earlier. Plus, we’re barely scratching the surface of all the exercises you can do with a sturdy exercise band. 

If you want some more ideas on how to train with bands, or which ones you should buy, check out our Ultimate Guide to Training With Resistance Bands

Lessons from Tony Stark for “No Space” Workouts

A picture of Iron Man holding up his hand.

We’d all love a tremendous amount of space to work out. 

However, we work with whatever we have, whenever we can, wherever we are.

So remember, if Tony Stark can build a robot in a cave with a pile of scraps, then we can scrap together a workout with next to nothing as well.

Or build our own suits out of cardboard.

A pic of Coach Jim as Iron Man, which is just too fun not to include.

Which I’ve done.

Just remember, you got this.

If you want any help in working out in a small space, we got your back.

Here’s how to continue your training with Nerd Fitness. 

Next Step #1) Our Online Coaching Program: if you want someone to design you a workout (like me!) for any small space, we got you!

You can schedule a free call with our team so we can get to know you and see if our coaching program is right for you. Just click on the image below for more details:

Next Step Number #2) If you want a daily prompt for doing workouts in any space, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Try your free trial right here:

Next Step Number #3) Join the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion. You’ll meet individuals who train at the gym, in their cramped basement, or in outer space (that last one may or may not be true, but we do HAVE Rebels working out on boats in the middle of the ocean and even Antarctica!).

Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our Rebel Starter Kit, which includes all of our “work out at home” guides, the Nerd Fitness Diet Cheat Sheet, and much more!

Alright, I want to hear from you:

Do you train in a small space?

What’s your “no space” workout look like?

Any tips or tricks for training in a phonebooth we should know of?

A gif of Austin Powers in a phonebooth

Let me know in the comments!

-Jim

PS: If you want any more help training at home with little to no equipment, check out:

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