Living spaces and schedules can get pretty cramped these days. But that doesn’t make squeezing a couple exercises between furniture — or roommates! — impossible. Just under three hours per week of moderate-intensity exercise (the challenge level of a brisk walk) can help reduce heart disease, some cancers, and improve mental health and cognitive function. So in addition to power-walking to and from class, here are eight moves that'll really get you movin' — right in the comfort of your own home.
1. High Knees
Targets: Quads, glutes, calves, shins (anterior tibialis), hip flexors, ups that heart rate
How to: This could cause a riff with that cranky neighbor downstairs. But go ahead, we understand putting cardio before others’ quietude. Run in place, bringing the knees above hip level. Pro tip: Keep your hands in front of you at hip level, palms down, and try and slap ’em with your knees to get the most out of this one. Or, pump your arms like a sprinter, elbows at 90 degree angles, and pump those arms fast. (Your legs will always go as fast as your arms go!) Land on the balls of your feet (not your heels) for 10-second bursts, working up to 30-second sprints. Aim for 3-5 sets with 20 seconds of rest in between.
2. Butt Kicks
Targets: Hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves, shins (tibialis), aaand heart rate
How to: Ready to kick things up a notch? Keep running in place, but this time kick your heels to your butt with each stride. Go as fast as you can for 3-5 rounds of 20-30 second bursts, 20 seconds of rest between each.
3. Jump Squats
Targets: Quads, glutes, calves, shins (anterior tibialis)
How to: Again, if you’re on the top floor, you may piss someone off. But this is a wonderful way to get back at your downstairs neighbor for pumping the bass during finals week. To start: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward. Sit back into a squat then drive your whole body up through your heels, shifting your weight onto the balls of your feet as you lift off. Be sure to land on the balls of your feet and immediately bend the knees into a full squat. Aim for three sets of 10-15 reps. Pro tip: If you can do these in front of a mirror, make sure your knees aren’t wobbling side to side while you squat or land.
4. T Push-Ups
Targets: Chest, triceps, shoulders, core, lats, adductors, abductors
How to: Cramming for an exam, or tackling those taxes? Hit the floor between tasks to help you think. Place the hands slightly wider than the shoulders and lower yourself down, tucking your elbows to your sides. Keep your chin from jutting forward (your chest should graze the floor first — not your head, hips, or anything else). (Pro tip: draw your shoulder blades in and down the back to protect your rotator cuffs.) As you push up (keep that back straight!), shift your weight to your right side, lift your left arm off the floor, and rotate your torso to face the wall. Inhale here. On the exhale, carefully rotate the torso towards the floor, catching your weight with a slightly bent left arm. Lower down. Push up and, this time, balance on your left side, lift your right arm and rotate your torso towards the opposite wall. That’s one. Shoot for three sets of 7-10 reps. Modification: Can’t support your full bodyweight? Stick to the standard push-up but do ‘em with your knees on the floor.
Illustration by Shannon Orcutt
Targets: Chest, shoulders, triceps, core, hip flexors, hamstrings, quads
How to: Remember high knees from exercise #1? This is the same, but face down in the push-up position. Start by hiking your left knee towards the chest. Then quickly get that leg back and pop your right knee up to the chest. Go as fast as you can for 3-5 sets of 30-second bursts. Pro tip: As tempting as it may be, don’t bounce your booty into the air — keep as close to a straight arm plank as possible. And if that isn’t hard enough, make sure you only ever have one foot on the ground at a time (so that “high” leg isn’t tapping down and bouncing).
Targets: Shoulders, arms, shoulders, back, shoulders, and core
How to: Now don’t get too comfy on the floor. Move into downward facing dog — hands pushing into the floor, torso straight, butt in the air, balls of the feet on the ground, heels driving down. Shift your weight forward so you’re in a push-up position. Lower down, place your knees on the floor, then shift to the tops of your feet as you push through to upward facing dog, arching your spine. Tilt the pelvis forward to protect the back. Inhale, exhale. On the next inhalation, lift the hips up and back to where you began. Repeat 5-10 times through, at your own pace.
7. Leg Lifts
Targets: Hip flexors, abdominals, obliques
How to: Lie down on the floor. Press your lower back against the ground. Put your hands under your butt or beside your hips. From here, lift your legs straight up to a 90 degree angle, then lower back down until they hover just above the floor without touching. Aim for three sets of 10 to 15 reps. Modification: Assume the same position and motion, but carry it all out with bent knees, toes tapping the floor on each rep. Feeling discomfort in the low back? With a stable core, try alternating legs instead.
Targets: Low back, lats, shoulders
How to: No cape? No problem. Simply roll onto the belly, and reach your arms above your head, keeping the legs straight. Lift your right arm and left leg at the same time, squeeze your glutes and low back muscles, then lower each and lift your left arm and right leg. That’s one. Shoot for three sets of 10- 15 reps. Option: fight crime simultaneously.
Dude, you totally just rocked your room. And probably weirded the heck out of your roommate or significant other. But you got that full-body workout in, so kudos to you. And maybe they'll join you next time!
What’s your favorite exercise to do in close quarters? Think you can get as much done at home as you can at the gym? Tell us what you think in the comments below!
Originally posted on September 11, 2012. Updated on September 2, 2013.