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In-Home Training: Working in Small Spaces

One of the major obstacles that personal trainers face when conducting in-home training sessions is lack of space. Often you are expected to provide a client with a comprehensive, gym-quality strength and conditioning session within an area that’s only slightly bigger than a closet. As a result, you must be able to adapt and modify many traditional training exercises and drills to accommodate the space limitations and meet your client’s training goals. The following are just a few suggestions on how to take a client through a full training session in a small area.


In a facility setting, trainers commonly use a dynamic warm-up routine that includes several locomotor activities, such as marching, jogging, skipping and hopping. Obviously, performing these drills in the conventional way is nearly impossible in a limited space. However, a client can execute these same movements either in place or in a multidirectional fashion in a relatively small area. For instance, you can have your client perform skips in place or by moving forward 3 feet, backward 3 feet and laterally 3 feet in either direction. Furthermore, by increasing or decreasing the speeds and amplitudes of these movements and combining them in a continuous manner, you can create effective cardiovascular/metabolic conditioning circuits.

Resistance Work

Strength training in small places can also be a challenge, especially if the client has no weight training equipment available. However, by applying a variety of manual resistance and body-weight training techniques, you can build a client’s strength without using any equipment. For example:

  • To increase the intensity of a push-up, simply place your hands on the client’s shoulders and apply additional force on the upward phase of the movement, and then have the client resist this force on the downward phase.
  • To modify traditional lower-body exercises, such as squats, have the client perform them either without support on a single leg or sitting in a chair and using a single leg to rise to a standing position.
  • To accommodate seated rows or lateral raises, have the client hold a bath towel in each hand; you resist during the concentric portion of the movement and the client resists on the eccentric part of the movement.

Remember, all you must do to elicit a training response is overload the muscle more than it is accustomed to. The body does not care if you accomplish this with a barbell, a resistance tube or the body’s own weight. Your challenge is to find innovative ways to help the client reach his or her optimal training goal, whether it be for strength, power or endurance.

Adaptation is the key! All too often trainers who make the transition from working in a large facility to training clients in their homes become overly concerned with what cannot be done in a given space versus what can be modified to fit the space. By simply taking a drill or exercise and manipulating it slightly, you can dramatically increase the number of options in your “training toolbox.”

Dawes will be presenting a session on this topic at the 2009 IDEA Personal Trainer Institute™ February 19-22, 2009, in Alexandria, Virginia. To learn more about the fitness conference, visit the IDEA Events page on our website.


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Jay Dawes, MS

Jay Dawes, MS, is the director of education for the National Strength and Conditioning Association in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he is also an assistant coach at NSCAÔÇÖs Human Performance Center. Jay holds a masterÔÇÖs degree in health and human performance and is currently pursuing his doctorate degree in exercise science.
Certifications: ACSM, NSCA

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