Small-Space Workouts You Can Do in Your Dorm

When you can’t make it to the gym, here are some small-space workouts you can do in your dorm room

Photo of Mel with weights, a yoga mat, and water bottle

When COVID-19 first hit and we all started working (and learning) from home, Mel Baxter, NYU’s visitor experience specialist, knew the importance of staying active for both our physical and mental health. As a certified yoga instructor, she began hosting Moves with Mel every Monday for the admissions team. Through these classes, our team alternates between yoga and small-space workouts that were made for New York City living.

Mel’s recommended small-space workout covers two exercises each for legs, glutes, abs, shoulders, and arms. In addition, we included guided videos to help perfect your form.

Here’s What You’ll Need to Get Started

All you’ll need for this small-space workout are comfortable clothing you don’t mind breaking a sweat in, a yoga mat, some weights, and a water bottle to stay hydrated. However, if you don’t have all of the above, we’ve got you covered. Mel has some substitutions you can use.

A towel or blanket can substitute for the yoga mat. And if you didn’t pack any free weights in your suitcase, try reusable water bottles filled with water. Or if you’re really in a pinch, text books can work too.

1. Leg Workouts

While you can do these exercises in any order, Mel recommends you start with the legs. And for each of our five target areas, we’ll show you two exercises that are perfect for any small-space workout.

Basic Squats

These basic squats are easy to do in any space. And the added benefit is you can do them with or without weights. Mel recommends 15 reps, but do what you can.

In order to get started, bring your feet hip-width apart and bring your hands to the center of your chest. Place your body weight in the heels of your feet as you lower and lift. In addition, make sure your knees remain over your ankles as you lower into the squat position.

90/90 Lunges

The second exercise for Mel’s leg workout is 90/90 lunges.

The 90/90 lunges are my favorite exercise because I can feel how hard I’m working while doing them. The shakier my legs are, the more sore and accomplished I’ll feel the next day!”

For this exercise, step your left leg forward and your right leg back. For your back leg, you want to keep your weight on the ball mound of your foot in order to balance yourself. You’ll bring your hands to your chest and lower until both legs create a 90 degree angle. Mel recommends 10 reps per leg for this small-space workout.

2. Glutes Workout

Looking to develop buns of steel? These exercises will get your glutes in tip-top shape.

Hip Lifts

The third exercise in Mel’s small-room workout—and the first one for glutes—is the hip lift! Place your feet hip-width distance apart and push your weight into your heels. Fifteen reps should get the job done, and you can add weights to your hips for an extra challenge.

Donkey Kicks

Donkey kicks round out the glutes exercises. You’ll want to come into a tabletop position, stacking your shoulders over your wrists. Bend your knee and exhale as you lift your foot toward the ceiling. Your hips should be over your knees. Mel recommends 10 reps per leg.

3. Abs Workout

Abs can be one of the trickier muscle groups to target, but with Mel’s recommended exercises (and safety tips), you’ll spare your neck any strain and tighten that core in no time.

Basic Crunches

For basic crunches, lie down on your mat and press your feet into the mat. Position your hands behind your head. Exhale when you lift. Instead of crunching toward the front wall, keep your eyes toward the ceiling. Mel recommends 15 reps.

Ankle Grabbers

To round out our small-space workout for your abs, Mel recommends ankle grabbers. For this exercise, lie down on your mat and position your feet the same way you did for basic crunches. Next, bring your arms and shoulder blades off of the mat. Reach toward your right ankle, then the left. Repeat 20 times (10 per side). You don’t need weights for this exercise.

4. Shoulder Workout

Shoulders may be one of the less thought of muscle groups to exercise, but they’re important for a full body workout! Mel’s got two shoulder exercises that will work great for any small-space workout.

Rotator Cuffs

For this rotator cuff exercise, grab your weights and face your palms toward the ceiling. You’ll want to cross the weights in front of your chest. And don’t forget to alternate which arm is on top after each rotation. In addition, it’s important to keep your shoulder blades relaxed.

Mel recommends 15 reps.

Shoulder Press

For shoulder press, you’ll need your weights again. Bring your arms out to a 90-degree angle. Next, exhale while moving your arms upward, and breathe in as you bring your arms down. It’s important to keep your shoulders relaxed. Mel recommends 15 reps.

Even if you don’t have weights, you’ll still start to feel the burn by the repetition of the movement.

5. Arm Workout

Arms are the final muscle group Mel exercises in her full-body, small-space workout routine. So her go-to moves are bicep curls and hammer curls.

Bicep Curls

In order to do bicep curls, grab your weights and face your palms toward the ceiling. Next, lift your weights up toward your shoulders, and then down toward your hips. Additionally, squeeze your elbows into your side as you repeat the movement. If you like, you can alternate between each arm. Mel recommends 15 reps.

Hammer Curls

With hammer curls, the movement is very similar to bicep curls. However, the major difference is that your palms are facing one another rather than the ceiling. And just like the bicep curls, you have the option to do one arm at a time. Either way, make sure you exhale at the top of the movement.

Mel recommends 15 reps.

About Mel

Mel joined our team at NYU in July of 2019. She got into yoga after running her first half marathon in 2017. One of her friends recommended she take a yoga class to relax and stretch her sore muscles. “I felt so challenged by that class that I decided to continue attending classes with the goal of becoming confident in my yoga practice,” says Mel.

She’s been teaching yoga in the West Village since December of the same year. Along with that move came a shift in her living situation.

“I went from living in a spacious house with a large backyard [in Texas] to a small walk-up apartment. Throughout the pandemic, I have had to be crafty with my workout routines, especially with a roommate who is also working from home.” 

So no matter if you’re trying to work out in your dorm room, your childhood home, or even in a shared space, we hope you find these exercises helpful.