Stuck indoors and there’s not a lot of room swing a cat let alone a kettlebell? To get your daily dose of physical activity you can run up and downstairs if you have any. Or run on the spot. Or you may need to employ the help of some compact exercise equipment. From tiny treadmills to super suspension trainers and everything in between.
We are great fans of home fitness and maintaining a healthy body and mind but current circumstances have meant that there is an even bigger need not to neglect our physical well-being.
It will be worth considering whether you want a full body workout with just the one fitness machine or whether you want to use it to augment an area like the upper body, lower body or core.
Then again do you want to improve strength through resistance training or maintain your cardio fitness levels?
What you don’t want is to invest in a small piece of fitness equipment or a mini gym that’s going to get put in the cupboard and forgotten about.
It’s got to be fun and somehow engage with the whole household if that’s possible. Something everyone in the family looks forward to their turn.
Home fitness equipment must be quiet in operation, as while your “time to achieve” might be, lose 20lbs and unmask your abs, your other half’s might be to learn Esperanto.
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Home Cardio and Strength Workouts
You can often get the biggest bang for your buck from the simplest forms of fitness gadgets. Something like resistance bands, for instance, although ostensibly for body muscle toning, can also be used for a good cardio workout.
Just lessening the resistance and therefore the intensity, the exercise becomes more of an aerobic one. Incorporating some movement into the exercise can give a thorough HIIT workout if you want to go that far. Using dumbbells whilst doing squats or lunges is a good example.
Another interesting way to increase resistance is to use weighted clothing like vests or ankle and wrist weights. These can be used even whilst doing normal household chores. As if life wasn’t hard enough already!
As with any fitness “program”, it’s a good idea to create at least a loose schedule and get into a routine of exercise however many times a week you decide – at least 3 days we reckon. Or maybe set aside a little, 20 minutes or so, and do a bit every day. Apart from anything else, it will help keep a level of sanity.
I have organized the compact exercise equipment below into 2 groups, cardio and strength related. Although as previously inferred there will be some crossover between the two. In conclusion, we have come up with what we think are the best small fitness machines or gadgets. The best and often times the simplest, most convenient and compact exercise gear.
Not only that but they are the most inconspicuous items of fitness that, with a little imagination and guidance will produce the best results for anyone forced to look for their physical activity needs and endorphin fix whilst stuck at home.
Small Exercise Machines for Cardio
Compact cardio equipment comes in a wide variety of designs and features. We’re looking for small gym equipment for home so the machine must be easily relocated, fit into small spaces and be conveniently stored when not in use which means they may need to be folding especially with something like a treadmill.
Larger Home Exercise Machines That are Compact
We think of treadmills as a gym staple which they are. By their very nature, they are big and heavy machines. But you can get folding treadmills which can reduce the space required and increase the convenience of stowing it away after a session.
These are still pretty space-hungry though and generally, the build of the machine won’t be a solid as the larger, more expensive treadmills. Either that or the treadmill design will be compatible with the function. So a solid, well-made, high end treadmill is most likely suitable for running hard.
The best compact treadmill we could find was a walking treadmill with no handle structure and so suitable for use with a desk. The space requirements are 51.5″ x 23.5″ x 6″ and able to be stored under a bed or in a cupboard.
The Goplus Under Desk Treadmill can deliver a fast walking pace of 4mph, is a very compact treadmill and is pretty well made.
Otherwise, you can check out our treadmill reviews here.
There are also manual treadmills that may also fold, making them very different from a regular treadmill with the need for motors and stabilizers, etc. For anyone used to belt-driven treadmills or even running naturally, a manual treadmill might be a disappointment.
They are great for brisk walking though and the intensity can usually be increased by adjusting an incline. Your bodyweight against gravity is creating resistance and therefore increasing effort instead of more speed.
We have, however, reviewed some manual treadmills.
Rowing machines for exercise are generally nice and narrow unless you want the addition of extension arms which arguably give a more feel of rowing properly. I love the rowing machine for a great cardio workout and prefer the traditional design without the arms.
To get the most from a rower with the smallest of footprints, easy to stow away or carry around the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine is the indoor rower we would go for.
If, however, you are after the best rowing machine I would always plump for the Concept 2 Model D Rower. The cream of the cream as they say in France. It’s the name in indoor rowing machines and has been around in gyms and other professional set-ups for decades.
Although we haven’t chosen it for the rower’s compactness or indeed it’s price, it does fold up and store away very nicely. It disassembles into 2 pieces and can easily be moved around on its own casters. Measurements come in at – assembled 8′ x 2′ and for storage 25″ x 33″ x 54″.
Steppers, stair steppers or Stairmaster can be massive and complicated machines and the big daddy of them all, the Jacobs Ladder, is just something I wouldn’t contemplate even in a fully decked out home gym.
And yet some of the mini steppers are so compact and so versatile that the dimensions are almost inconsequential.
That being the case we have gone for function, build and price in the Sunny Health & Fitness Mini Stepper. It comes with resistance bands that you can attach to the base to get an all over body workout.
Glider exercise machine
This was a bit of a thing in the 90s; another fitness fad that tailed off. The Cardio Glide as it was marketed has led to similar exercise machines although the movement is similar to many other versions of cardio exercise machines.
If you remember the original advert you’ll know that the action is pushing with your feet and pulling with your hands while sitting in a frame engaging the core as well as the arms and legs.
So a good all over session can be had especially if there is sufficient resistance or else it can be one of the “easier” workout machines. But very low impact which is good.
There aren’t so many of these glide machines specifically to choose from these days or maybe they’re in short supply at the moment. We did feel though, that the Total Crunch Power Rider was a good bet with excellent resistance levels (12) and a tidy footprint dimensions being 38″ x 18″ and 45″ high.
Although these air walker exercise machines sit nice and upright when not in use, you have to be aware of the fully splayed length of the machine when someone is going at full pelt. Caution with unaware humans and pets!
And consideration for the amount of space required to get a full workout which is what these machines offer; and low impact once again.
I prefer exercising on an elliptical which is what they’re similar to but from a compact point of view the air walker doesn’t have the flywheel behind, although some ellipticals have overcome this as we’ll see.
Of the many air walkers available the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E902 is most importantly available but also it has earned it’s choice as it is the lightest of the air walker machines and it folds down easily to a respectable 15″ x 19″ x 61.5″ high with no “unnecessary” framework.
I love vertical climbers, they are so tough. With these fitness machines, you rely, if that’s the right word, on your own body weight to provide the resistance.
So the lower the resistance setting on the climber the harder it is as you’re scrambling up the mountain. It’s a lot of fun – when you’ve finished.
The MaxiClimber is the brand that has become the de facto noun for a vertical climber but there are others. Because of the inherent function of the climber the available options are compact and of similar designs. They are basically light, long and narrow – good news.
We have reviewed the best vertical climbers. They’re all around 3′ x 4′ x 7′. The height is somewhat variable and the weight of my favorite, the Versaclimber H/HP is 65lbs. The Versaclimber makers were the first to come out with this challenging form of exercise equipment.
Compact elliptical & under desk elliptical
Ellipticals can be mighty beasts as the traditional design comes with a flywheel at the back and along with the flailing arms can mean a lot of space is required.
Some of the cheaper models are less intrusive however they don’t have the quality of build or the features of the Bowflex Max Trainer M5 with a nice small footprint of around 2’x 4′ but it weighs in at a pretty hefty 143lbs.
The Ancheer Elliptical is half the weight and a quarter of the price but without the features and quality build. Maybe okay if you’re not going mad on it every day.
We have covered compact ellipticals with reviews and all you’ll ever want to know about them – probably.
The under desk variety of ellipticals provide a similar motion for the feet and legs to a lesser extent without stable handle mechanisms. You’re basically sitting down at your desk or watching tv whilst keeping your feet in motion.
Now we are talking compact exercise machines as again, like the vertical climber there isn’t much you can do with the design. It is what it is. Most units are around 24″ x 15″ x 12″ high. So our guide and reviews of the best under desk ellipticals describe the top 5.
Compact fitness bikes, pedal exerciser, under desk, mini cycle & folding bikes
Folding bikes are great if you want all the benefits of indoor cycling plus a way to easily put away your machine. It does mean the quality has to be there to offer that versatility.
They are quite small anyway as they don’t rely on a flywheel for resistance which may be a red line for those that want a good cycling feel.
Again the function dictates the scope of the cycling machine and so the dimensions and weight generally come in around the same. 4′ x 3′ x 2′ and about 40 to 45lbs. Catch up with our top 5 folding bikes.
Body vibration machines
They oscillate, they pulsate but are vibration plate exercise machines any good?
There are tests carried out that show vibration techniques such as those offered by power plates can encourage more blood flow. This, in turn, can lead to benefits for tissue renewal and repair. It also may help in muscle toning to some degree.
I can’t find any reputable evidence to point at whether there are benefits that compares with normal physical activity for whole body vibration (WBV).
Studies have been carried out on mice to show that levels of insulin are reduced, weight can be lost and bone density can be improved. However, that’s mice.
Alternatively, there doesn’t appear to be proof that using these body vibrating machines causes any damage. Although, clearly in the workplace continued shaking of body parts can be detrimental.
The idea is that continuous vibration causes the fine muscles in our bodies to relax and contract very quickly in reaction to the stimulus. There is no guidance on what level of vibration or frequency and amplitude is optimum.
I’m personally not keen on being shaken and would rather be stirred. I have tried it once and can’t recommend or not the efficacy of one vibration plate over another.
I would like to believe that WBV machines may help mature adults with better blood flow and also with balance and stability but again the jury is out.
However, to get a low down on the best and most compact vibration machines we have reviewed the smaller vibration plates as well as the whole body vibration machines here.
Punch bag (sand bag)
Yes, a punching bag. You may be into Boxing, Muay Thai, Kickboxing or not but one thing I know is that you can work up a sweat using a punch bag in a workout routine. You can also release a load of pent up stress if you’ve had enough of being cooped up inside.
They come either as freestanding, being filled with sand or water or hanging bags. There are other pieces of exercise equipment that boxers and martial arts proponents use to get fit and perfect their skills like the speed ball, maize bag and my favorite the reflex punching ball.
It always reminds me of a well-honed silent movie scene. It takes a bit of practice to master.
Small cardio exercise equipment
For this section, we have included some cardio equipment that by their very nature are small but none the less can be powerful in the fight for fitness at home. And besides, the list might be inspirational as a source or fun fitness.
It wasn’t that long ago that I came across jump ropes again, remembering a time in my youth when I tried to get the hang of training like a boxer but could never get good enough to do all the fancy stuff.
I just about got good enough to realize how tough it is aerobically. If you, like me only remember the jump ropes of schooldays you might be surprised by the sophistication they now have which can be a shock to the wallet too.
Suitable for everyone but a high-end product check out the details of the Rogue PRO Jump Rope which is all class.
For less sophistication and a lot cheaper at under $30, the Froning SR-1F Speed Rope is a great jump rope.
Another blast from the past but have been popular again for some time now. Hula hooping – is that the right verb? – is another of those physical activities that you have to perfect a bit otherwise continued attempts at keeping it up can lead to frustration and interrupt a hard cardio session. So it’s important to proper form first and get those hips moving.
Although, like skipping I was secretly happy to fail regularly so I could take a breather.
Hooping has much of the benefits of other cardio-centric exercises and also it’s a fun thing to do with the whole household. It’s simple, cheap and convenient.
But it can get very tricky – as in full of tricks and complexity – I just love watching these tricks performed by some great talent.
As far as picking a hula hoop, there are some gadgety ones out there and some seriously expensive ones too but for a regular weighted hoop, you shouldn’t need to spend more than $30. I like this weighted Sports Hoop by Acu Hoop which is really colorful and has wavy ridges on the inside which sort of grips your body.
Glider or sliding discs are such a simple idea but what a good one! They’re easy to use, cheap and with a bit of imagination can be a lot of fun. Use them on any slidy surface like a hardwood floor.
Using discs is also very low impact and works your whole body. Not only do exercises using glider discs have an impact on your arms and leg muscles but also your core is activated. As you’re always making minor muscular adjustments core balance and stability come into play.
You don’t even need to buy anything if you have a couple of paper plates available or even some toweling. Fun for all the family as the marketing speak goes. For the elderly a sitting down routine is beneficial. For the super fit try some moves with 4 slider discs. And for the kids – well they just love sliding around.
This one is quite straightforward and adds that little extra pain when moving through a workout session.
Small Exercise Equipment for the Abs
A good strong core is a basis for success in many other physical activities from the mundane to the athletic. Also, a sleek six-pack will not only feel and look good but will add physical integrity to the back and therefore your whole frame. And that means more mobility and pain-free movements.
For really targeting those abdominal muscles there are some easy, in theory, exercises to do like the plank, the mountain climber and my favorite for the obliques (side abs) the Russian twist.
Sit on your tail bone with your upper body at 45 degrees off the floor. With your feet on the floor, knees bent, rotate your upper body from one side to the other. Nest step for increasing the burn is to do the exercise with feet raised off the ground, about a foot. For a bigger challenge use a weight like a medicine ball and touch it down on each side of your torso. Great!
I must admit, I have never used one of these but they look pretty good. I can imagine that the action gets straight to the targeted area, the abs. My only reservation would be the uncomfortable strain I can see that it may put on the upper legs.
When I get hold of one I’ll report back and update this bit.
Ab Roller Wheel
I really like the ab roller, a simple but effective core strengthening exercise tool. It’s been around for ages and there are newer designs but they work really well on strengthening the abs if done properly.
Kneeling down, keep the back straight or slightly bowed up. Go down, extending the arms and pull back engaging the core. Don’t pull back with the knees or your arms. Great. If you can do more than 20 you may be doing something wrong or you might have super strong ab muscles.
The Dual Ab Roller Wheel by Valeo is as good as any and it’s no money.
Strength Exercise Compact Machines
If you’ve ever been stepped inside the hallowed walls of a gym, even if it’s not one of those crazy huge chains you would have noticed the rows of seemingly endless chunks of metals.
Many of the gym machines provide resistance in one plane. So the variable resistance is chosen by putting a steel pin in an array of weight plates and then you push or pull against the weight. Ooh that’s too much, take the pin down a few notches!
There are some exceptions like the cable crossover or functional machine on which you can really go to town with the many exercises. It’s a great machine but it’s always going to be a big exercise unit with the need for a buffer area for the participant to do his or her stuff.
So we have chosen not to include this or the other machines that provide singular motion. We are looking for relatively compact fitness machines and gadgets right?
Home compact multi gym
But there is the multi gym which we have included. If one piece of strength training equipment that can provide a large variety of movements and still be compact and a bit portable then if you have room a home multi gym is perfect.
A multi-gym can provide a cardio workout as well as strength conditioning. On the Bowflex PR1000 Home Gym there are 25 full body workouts but practically endless numbers of individual exercises that can be done. There are more expensive models from Bowflex and other brands but we reckon this model packs a real punch. We have found Bowflex under the Nautilus banner to provide excellent support.
And what makes it compact – it doesn’t look a small workout machine? It’s quite sleek but when not in use it folds up and has a footprint of 48″ x 36″ and when in use you need around 127″ x 82″ of floor space.
Small Exercise Equipment for Strength
So that’s it for the big stuff. Now we look at the large and growing number of pieces of equipment for strength training. Gadgets for strength. There’s a lot but we have stuck to the more well-known, tried and tested items.
Fit balls, Slam balls, wall balls and medicine balls
Yep, there is a lot of balls.
There is the fit ball or Swiss ball much favored by students of Pilates is also good for core strength and improving balance. They can add an extra layer of benefit to your home workout.
Using a fitness ball can add another dimension to any activity that you might do whilst sitting on a normal surface. A bicep curl whilst sitting on a fit ball will do more than just activate the biceps.
Your brain is working all the time in tandem with your minor muscles and mobility system to keep you stable and where you want to be, therefore giving a rounded exercise.
Try press-ups with the ball under the ankle area. Or squats with the ball lodged between the lower back and a wall – a favorite. Here are some further ideas but if you’re just starting out then this gives the basics on exercising with a fit ball.
Exercise balls can be blown up hard for a more intense workout but beginners should have their balls squidgy. There are different sizes. Pick the one suitable for the height of the user. For someone between
5′ and 5’7” = 55 cm ball.
5’8 and 6’1” = 65 cm ball.
Over 6’2” = 75 cm ball.
This “anti-burst” exercise ball by BalanceFrom is an absolute bargain.
Resistance Bands (exercise bands)
If you are looking for a way to do strength training at home in the most space-conscious and efficient way then I would certainly recommend resistance bands.
I mean, there is no space to consider when putting them away and the only consideration is when they are in use – you don’t want to ping the dog.
I have only become a fan of this sort of resistance workout recently. Because they are so innocuous looking I just never bothered. However, the first set I bought was the resistance loop bands which are just a long sheet of stretchy stuff. After little use one snapped and pinged me so I would go for the wiry ones (another technical term), the ones with handles.
They normally come in packs of multiples, each with different resistance and are used either by lodging a section under your feet or by anchoring them in a door like this resistance band set by RitFit.
Weights are a great old-school form of strength training or of adding intensity into a cardio workout. Either way, in one form or another (hand-made being one) man lifting weights, has been going on for centuries and probably millennia from the Greeks and Chinese through all civilizations.
Resistance bands or any other upstart gadget hasn’t replaced the dumbbell – so-called as it was, at one time, bells with the clanger removed that were used as weights.
And what’s even better now is a system where one weight can be adjusted at predetermined increments. Some people love having a load of impressive looking weights causing hazards around the home but not me. I enjoy using an adjustable dumbbell at home for safety convenience and to save on space.
My clear favorite and has been for some time is the Powerblock Elite Dumbbells.
For a review of these, our top 5 and complete guide go to the best adjustable dumbbells for home.
Kettlebells are similar to dumbbells but because of their design the weight lies further away from the body so can feel less secure than a normal weight although this is the reason why kettlebells can add a bit more in terms of strength improvement and balance.
They have to be used with care. Too much gusto before you get used to the feel of a kettlebell and the more likely you’ll damage a wrist or strain a back muscle.
There’s a lot of exercises you can do with the weight but the kettlebell swing is one of the most popular. Thanks to QuickandDirtyTips for this compact description.
- Spread your feet shoulder width apart and lean forward while holding on to the kettlebell with two hands and allowing it to hang down between your legs.
- Keeping your feet planted, push off the ground and allow the momentum from you legs to begin to swing the kettlebell up in an arc as you keep your arms straight.
- Thrust your hips forward as you continue to swing the kettlebell up the level of your head, and then simply reverse the motion to be back in the ready position for the next repetition.
Those multi-colored lines of kettlebells you may have seen in any gym, like dumbbell weights, can all be condensed into one unit that makes it a most convenient piece of home fitness equipment.
Bowflex has been a pioneer in adjustable weights and now have the SelectTech Adjustable 840 Kettlebell. A turn of the dial will give you a range of weights 8, 12, 20, 25, 35 and 40lbs. Easy.
Doorway pull-up bar
It does what it says on the tin. The pull-up bar takes very little room and not a lot of time either. Not for me anyway. About 8 pull-ups and I’m ready to warm down.
Make sure your doorway is within the constraints of the bar and isn’t flimsy. The one by a very solid name in the fitness world, Iron Gym needs to be between 24″ and 35″ and has a weight limit of 300lbs.
You can use the equipment on the floor to do press-ups, dips etc., but the doorway pull-up bar is primarily excellent for, well, pull-ups and chin-ups. Get those abs engaged by lifting the knees on reaching the top.
At first sight, the system of straps and handles seem to offer a lot less than bulky fitness equipment but delve a bit deeper and there’s a lot to be gained from investing your efforts in, what is a very versatile idea where your body weight is at the center of the action.
TRX stands for total body resistance exercise.
This is another fitness gadget that requires anchoring, a door is ideal but anything stable will do. The height of the straps in relation to the user, in part, determines the intensity of the movement.
The straps length is easily adjusted to change the levels of effort whether your bodyweight connection is by the hands or the feet.
Oddly, but like the exercise ball using the suspension trainer challenges your balance during the workouts which give an added benefit through the engagement of fine muscles, tendons and ligaments.
TRX training can be a fun activity easily adaptable for kids and adults, in fact, the whole household. It just needs a little research into all the creative ways of using the suspension gadget. Here are some ideas.
All-in-all a suspension trainer kit can an awesome workout ally. We think the original TRX Suspension Trainers is the best.
And that rounds up our summary of compact exercise equipment that you can use to keep active at home. We have looked at over 20 different exercise machines and gadgets.
Some of the equipment still takes up quite a bit of room in your home but some of the simplest and neatest pieces of fitness equipment can be put away in a draw but still be a great asset when it comes to maintaining fitness and health.