Illustration by Diana Egan in an article about working out in aparments

A Guide To Working Out When You Live in a Small Apartment

Sticking to a fitness routine is already a struggle, but what about when your 'gym' is within the confines of a small living space?

Staying active can be tough. Between classes, work, extracurricular activities and a social life, it’s difficult to add exercise into the mix. When you’re busy all the time, working out often falls to the wayside in favor of other priorities. Plus, gym memberships are expensive and they’re sometimes not an affordable option for college students.

I just moved into a small apartment — and I mean small. Despite my living situation, I try to stay as active as possible. Lately, I’ve been trying to navigate different ways to stick to a fitness plan with minimal equipment in a cramped space, all while trying to be mindful of my downstairs neighbors. This inspired me to explore the possibilities of effectively exercising in an apartment.

Bodyweight Exercise

The first thing you’ll need to consider when creating an at-home fitness regime is using minimal equipment in your workouts. Most of what you’re going to be doing are bodyweight exercises, meaning you won’t be lifting heavy weights.

Bodyweight exercises are great for apartments because they don’t require much space, and you can do them no matter what level you’re at in your fitness journey. From beginner to expert, bodyweight exercises are the way to go for an at-home plan.

We know now that bodyweight exercises are key for working out in small spaces. But are these types of exercises even effective? The short answer is: yes. A lot of people believe that to gain muscle you need to be lifting increasingly heavier weights, which will cause the muscles to grow over time. This might not seem like a possibility for working out in an apartment, unless you have a lot of storage space and a lot of money for several heavy weights. The truth is that bodyweight exercises can be effective for gaining muscle; you just have to know how it works.

For example, let’s say you just got a gym membership. You start going to the gym and using dumbbells to do bicep curls. Since you’re a beginner, you’re going to start at a lower weight, but as you keep doing them every time you go to the gym, those dumbbells are going to start feeling too light for you, so you grab heavier ones the next time.

This is called progressive overload, and it’s what causes muscle gain. While this term is typically used in weightlifting, it can also be applied to bodyweight workouts.

There are a several ways to achieve progressive overload. Increasing how often you work out, decreasing your rest time and doing more reps per set are just a few. No matter how you decide to implement progressive overload, just know that it’s something you should keep in mind if muscle gain is your goal.

Another thing to consider when looking for bodyweight exercises to try in your apartment is noise levels. Try looking for low-impact workouts; these types of exercises don’t involve any loud jumping or explosive movements. Low-impact exercises have more benefits than just allowing your neighbors to get some sleep. Doing exercises that don’t involve jumping also puts you at a lower risk for musculoskeletal injuries and knee problems.

Effects on Mental Health

We all know that getting active is crucial for keeping our bodies healthy, but the importance of exercising isn’t just about physical results. According to The Sport Digest, college students need to make time for working out. The serotonin and endorphins released during exercise are vital for a college student’s well-being.

Working out has a ton of mental and cognitive benefits like improving concentration, relieving stress and easing feelings of depression. Exercising also boosts brain cell development, which, along with the mental stimulation provided by Solitaire Bliss/Online Games, can help with test performance or even raising your GPA.

Equipment Needed

One aspect of working out in an apartment that can be a struggle is knowing what kind of equipment you need. While you could create a fitness plan that involves no equipment whatsoever, there are a few things I’ve personally found helpful in my journey. When you’re deciding what equipment to get, it’s important to consider space, noise level and affordability. Here are a few things I use for my apartment workouts:

— Yoga Mat

This one is pretty obvious. If you’re going to be working out in an apartment, you’re going to need a yoga mat. They’re cheap, space-conscious and will ensure you have a flat and comfortable surface to work out on. They’re also super cheap and can be found at Target or Walmart for around $20.

— Resistance Bands

Resistance bands have to be one of my favorite tools for working out in my apartment. They’re a great alternative to machines, and they can make any workout a bit more challenging. Bands come in different strengths of resistance, making them perfect for beginners and experts alike. Plus, they won’t break the bank — check out this affordable set of five bands on Amazon.

— Small Dumbbells

While dumbbells certainly aren’t needed for an at-home plan, I’ve found that having just a couple of small sets can be pretty helpful for upper body workouts or for added resistance to exercises like lunges and squats. But, dumbbells can be a little pricey, so I recommend checking out thrift stores or garage sales to get a better deal.

YouTube Workouts

I often have a hard time knowing what to actually do when working out in my apartment. What exercises should I try? How long should I do them for? While it’s completely possible to develop a plan from scratch, using YouTube workouts to guide you through the process can be a great tool. For all my fellow apartment dwellers out there, here are some YouTube workouts to try that will have you breaking a sweat:

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This 10-minute ab workout by Pamela Reif is an absolute killer. Reif’s YouTube channel went viral on TikTok during the lockdown because of her challenging intermediate-level workouts. This no-breaks ab workout is a great way to start your morning or to use as a warmup for your main workout.

This apartment-friendly low-impact, full body HIIT workout by MadFit is perfect for small spaces. This is a no equipment, no jumping 30-minute workout that combines planks, lunges, pushups and more for a perfectly sweaty session that’s sure to raise your heart rate.

If you dare, try this 12-minute Silent Death Cardio workout by Blogilates. Cassey Ho, award-winning fitness instructor, leads you through a workout full of kicking, squatting and pulsing lunges that is quiet enough to do in an apartment. The exercises may be silent, but by the end of the workout your breathing might not be.

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Working out in a small apartment can be a challenge, but with the right knowledge, equipment and mindset, creating an at-home fitness plan can be a rewarding experience that will help you stay fit, energized and happy.

Madelyn Haasken, Bemidji State University

Writer Profile

Madelyn Haasken

Bemidji State University
Mass Communications

I’m a senior at Bemidji State University in northern Minnesota, majoring in mass communications with minors in design and writing.

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