I’ve always been really jealous of people who have home gyms. Imagine how effortless it would be to fit in workouts if you could just stroll down to your basement and get to work. (Not to mention being able to set the thermostat to whatever you want, blast your playlist over the stereo system, and never have to worry about who can hear you grunt.) Alas, many of us—myself included—just don’t have the space (or money) to build our own fitness meccas at home. What I’ve learned recently though is that we can hack our ways to a sufficient at-home gym with what little space we’ve got.
Over the past year, I’ve slowly started stocking up on a select few items to curate my own gym. For what it’s worth, my gym is the yoga mat-size space in between my sofa and my bar cart. I keep all my equipment in a couple baskets stashed away on a shelf in my closet, and when I want to exercise I pull out what I need and roll out my mat. Afterward I put it all away and out of sight.
The thing is, I can get a really good workout in with my little box of tricks. Sure, a treadmill and full set of weights would be pretty sweet. But I can do at-home workouts like resistance band butt workouts, warm-ups and cool-downs for my runs, abs workouts, and a variety of strength-training exercises all in the comfort of my own home with very minimal equipment and space.
Trainer Bianca Vesco, who created SELF’s 2018 New Year’s Challenge, tells me that she trains a lot of clients in their New York City apartments. “I have plenty of clients who don’t have access to gyms and prefer to train in their apartments and it’s no problem at all,” Vesco tells SELF. She has them do a lot of bodyweight exercises, but she also relies on some small, versatile equipment to get the job done. “It is so easy to build an at-home gym! As long as you have enough room to hold a plank, you have space,” she says. “I have a tiny apartment and I work out in it all the time! I may shove my couch into my tiny kitchen and put my coffee table on my bed. But I make it work.”
I ran my list of essentials by Vesco to get her approval and some additional suggestions. Below are the most basic, useful fitness tools that can fit into a tiny apartment—so that you can get in all your workouts without having to leave your home.
1. Mini Looped Resistance Bands
Resistance bands are one of the most versatile pieces of fitness equipment you can buy. “You can target your entire body with resistance bands and mimic most machine-based strength moves,” Vesco says. You can buy a pack that includes bands with different levels of resistance, so you can use lighter ones or heavier ones depending on what you’re doing (for example, I use light or medium bands for arm exercises and medium or heavy bands for most lower-body exercises).
One thing resistance bands are particularly good for? Butt and hip exercises. Here’s a great resistance band butt workout you can try.
Try: FlexActive resistance loop bands, set of 5, $12, amazon.com
2. Jump Rope
Jumping rope is hands down one of the best ways to get a cardiovascular workout. It increases your heart rate quickly and also works your arms, shoulders, legs, and core. And a rope packs up super small, which makes it great for those with limited storage space or anyone who travels a lot.
If you’re someone who doesn’t have high enough ceilings—or maybe you just have grumpy downstairs neighbors—indoor jumping may not work for you. But if you can do it, it’s a really easy way to fit in a great workout. (Here’s a full 15-minute jump-rope workout you can do anywhere.)
Try: SELF Speed Rope, $10, target.com
3. Mini Foam Roller
A foam roller is a great recovery and mobility tool—and while the standard size is kind of large and unwieldy, mini versions do exist! Vesco says that she also uses her roller for actual workouts: “It is very difficult to balance on, so you can sometimes pretend it’s a Bosu,” she says. A Bosu is a balance-training tool—it looks like the top half of a yoga ball on top of a hard, flat platform, and it’s used to create an unstable surface during exercises so that you can engage and challenge your core. One way to use foam rollers to challenge your balance is to put your hands on them while doing push-ups (here’s a visual)—though you’d need two of these little guys to get it done.
Try: TriggerPoint Grid mini foam roller, $22, amazon.com
4. Heavy Kettlebell
“I can’t live without a heavy kettlebell,” Vesco says. “For things like swings and thrusters that you want a significantly heavier weight for, its easier to just have one! There’s lots of possibility with a heavy bell.” A heavy weight is also great for squats, overhead presses, and deadlifts.
Try: CAP barbell vinyl kettlebell, $21–$33, amazon.com
5. Yoga Mat
Especially if you have hard floors, a yoga mat is key for at-home exercises. Vesco tells me that sometimes she just leaves her rug out and lies on that instead since it’s so comfortable—but if you’re a very sweaty human like I am, you might feel uncomfortable on a plush surface. A basic yoga mat that rolls back up for storage is essential for any workouts in which you’re lying down. Try finding one that matches your decor if you’d rather leave it out (or get a little lazy and just leave it rolled out for a few days, like I often do).
Try: Gaiam 5mm Premium reversible yoga mat, $30, amazon.com
6. A Pair of Light Dumbbells
There are a lot of times I just want to add a little bit of weight to my exercises—like putting a three-pound dumbbell in between my knees when I’m doing donkey kicks. I also know that doing triceps exercises or some moves that focus on my chest (which is significantly weaker than other parts of my upper body) that I need to use really light weights. And if you’re focusing on building muscular endurance primarily with your lifting exercises, low-weight, high-rep exercises are key.
Try: AmazonBasics Neoprene Dumbbells, $8–$50, amazon.com
7. A Pair of Heavy Dumbbells
Maybe you prefer dumbbells over a kettlebell, or maybe you like to use both but for different exercises. Either way, having some sort of heavy weight in your arsenal will let you work on building strength. Plus most people can use heavier weights for lower-body work (thanks, glutes!) than upper-body work, so it’s good to have both a lightweight and heavyweight option on hand.
Try: CAP Barbell Rubber-Coated Hex dumbbells, set of 2, $11–$40, amazon.com
P.S. Adjustable dumbbells are pretty genius—Vesco says some of her clients have them, and it’s a great way to save space and get a wider range of weight options. Here’s a compact set to try: ProForm 25-lb. adjustable dumbbell set, $80, amazon.com.