The Full-Body Workout You Can Do in a Small Corner of the Gym

By Lauren Bedosky |

Get maximum results with minimal space, time, and equipment.

small space workout

Some days you show up to the gym, and it’s so packed you feel like you have no space or you can’t even get to your favorite equipment. Other days it’s your schedule that’s jam-packed, making it seemingly impossible to fit in a good workout.

Whatever shortage you face—space, time, or equipment—the workout below is your solution.

Certified personal trainer Kate Gallagher, director of wellness at Village Shores Senior Community in Richfield, Minnesota, designed this do-anywhere strength routine with two primary goals:

  • Challenge every major muscle group with minimal space and equipment. You’ll only need a pair of light dumbbells.
  • Help counteract two common issues she sees in older adults: loss of hip mobility and an increasingly hunched-over position while sitting and standing.

How the Small-Space Workout Works

Do one set of each exercise below in order, resting 30 to 60 seconds between moves (or more if you need it). After the final exercise, rest one to two minutes, and repeat the full circuit one or two more times (two or three rounds total).

“As you get comfortable with the movements, try to move faster and take shorter rest breaks,” Gallagher says. You’ll get both a strength and a cardio effect this way.

For best results, do the full workout two to three times per week on nonconsecutive days.

Ready to get started? Here’s how to perform each movement. As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

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Exercise #1: Standing Arm Lift

Standing Arm Lifts

Do 8 to 10 reps

This move helps increase strength and mobility in your upper back, which is key for improving posture, Gallagher says.

How to do it: Start in a hip hinge position, with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and torso at a 45-degree angle. Brace your core to stabilize your spine, and pull your shoulders down and back.

With palms facing down, extend your arms from your shoulders to form a Y. Next, bend your elbows and pull them back so your arms form a goalpost. Next, keeping your upper arms steady, straighten your arms to make a T. Finally, keeping your arms straight, squeeze your shoulder blades and gently push your arms back. Perform eight to 10 reps total.

Make it easier: If you have flexibility challenges, do just the first three positions (Y, goalpost, T). Focus on good form and squeezing your shoulder blades.

Exercise #2: Bent-Over Row

Bent-Over Row Exercise

Do 10 to 12 reps

This row variation is great for strengthening the back, which helps counteract that stooped-over position many people develop with age. The bent-over row also builds the core, Gallagher says, as your core muscles have to fire to maintain a rigid torso and prevent your lower back from drooping.

How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells, and stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Pushing your hips back and allowing your knees to bend slightly, lower your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor. Let the dumbbells hang at arm’s length from your shoulders, palms facing in.

From here, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bend your elbows and pull the dumbbells up to the sides of your torso. Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbells to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Perform eight to 10 reps total.

Make it easier: If you feel any discomfort in your lower back while doing the movement, row one arm at a time.

Exercise #3: Glute Bridge

Bridge

Do 10 to 12 reps

The glute bridge is an excellent exercise on its own, but it’s also great for priming your lower body for squats and lunges, Gallagher says.

How to do it: Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart, and heels a few inches away from your buttocks. Press your arms into the floor for support, and brace your core to minimize the arch in your lower back.

From here, push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up until your body forms a straight line from your knees to shoulders. As you get stronger, focus on getting your shins as close to vertical as you comfortably can at the top of the movement. Pause, then slowly lower your hips to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Perform 10 to 12 reps total.

Exercise #4: Squat

Squat

Do 10 to 12 reps

Squatting movements are a staple of daily life: getting in and out of chairs, bending down to pick something up, using the toilet. That’s why it’s so important to keep your muscles strong enough to support this movement pattern—both on the way down and on the way up.

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet shoulder- to hip-width apart. Hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder level, and brace your core. This is your starting position.

From here, push your hips back, and bend your knees to slowly lower your body into a squat, not letting your knees cave in as you do so. Pause, then push through your heels to slowly return to starting position. That’s one rep. Perform 10 to 12 reps total.

Make it easier or harder: Check out tips in our beginner’s guide to the squat.

Exercise #5: Stationary Lunge

Lunge

Do 8 to 10 reps per side

The stationary lunge works each leg independently, which helps shore up any muscle imbalances between the two legs, Gallagher says. If you have trouble balancing, stand near a wall to use for support.

How to do it: Stand tall with your arms down at your sides. Step back with your right foot, placing your toes on the ground and keeping your heel lifted.

From this staggered stance, bend your front (left) knee to slowly lower your body as far as comfortable. Allow your back knee to bend as well until it hovers a few inches above the floor, but keep your weight pressed into your front heel. Draw your lower belly in, and lift your chest.

Pause, then press through your front foot to raise your body back to standing. That’s one rep. Perform eight to 10 reps, then switch sides and repeat.

Make it easier: Troublesome knees? You can lean forward slightly from the waist to reduce stress on your joints or check out more ways to make lunges easier on your knees.

Make it harder: Hold a dumbbell in each hand while you perform the movement.

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