Small Space Workout

small space workoutWhat do Navy SEALs and prisoners have in common?  They both excel and thrive on the small space workout.

When you say small space workout – what do you mean?  Well think about a prisoner who is trying to workout.  Many times, a prisoner is locked down in a tiny jail cell for hours on end and only if on good behavior has the luxury of going out into the prison yard (where most stabbings and beatings occur).  So a prisoner must get creative in order to build up their strength to stay alive in the hell hole of prison life.

Ditto for the Navy SEAL.  In case you have lived under a rock for the last 5 years and are not sure what a SEAL is – it stands for SEA Air Land and are one of the greatest Special Forces fighters this planet has ever seen.  Ask the Somali pirates, Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban as these bad guys were hunted and defeated in many battles.

So the SEALs are cramped up for days on end in the belly of cramped ships, submarines and forward bases with tight quarters and less than hospitable conditions.  But the SEAL knows at all times that he must remain in peak condition and sharpen his body and mind like a K-bar knife ready for the battle.

So like the SEALs – prisoners work out for hours on end to always be ready to beat the enemy – no matter who that may be. The Small Space Workout is their friend.

The Small Space Workout is often intense and sometimes with a buddy to inspire them and push them along.  Most of the time it is comprised of bodyweight exercises – but Navy SEALs and prisoners are crafty and ingenious and will go to any means to get ahead.  They create dumbells out of sand bags, milk jugs, trash bags filled with water and covered with duck tape.  The more outlandish and covert the better as they pride themselves on being self sufficient and resourceful.

Video of Small Space Workout introduction

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One of my favorite workout books to date is Coach Paul Wade’s “Convict Conditioning.  He is the GodFather of the Small Space Workout. I trade emails with Coach occasionally and gets me inspired to work the progressions of the bodyweight workouts.

Many times a Navy SEAL or prisoner may have help from their workout buddy.  They may lay on the others back while doing pushups. Or push down on them while doing pushups.  Same for situps or air squats – their buddies act as extra weight to give them to extra burn to condition the muscles to maximum peak.

Video of Small Space workout with a homemade sand bag for weight

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For those that may not know my story – I was kicked out of BUD/S (Navy SEAL training) my first time through for failing a math test.  I had made it over half way through the six month training.  Within 10 days I was shipped out overseas to meet a ship and stay their for a year before any chance of returning to Navy SEAL training.

During my time on the USS Cleveland I did a ton of the Small Space Workout.  With a small rubber mat and a boom box for music – I would spend a full hour in sweat dripping maximum intensity overdrive.  I played music so loud it hurt my ears but no one complained as I was deep in the bowels of a rusty Navy ship and no one could hear me. I became the master of the small space workout.

Small Space Workout #1
21-15-9 reps for time
handstand pushups

I pushed my mind and body deeper towards a new strength. I hammered my body and mind and like a boozed alcoholic I drifted in and out of high octane blistering workouts.  I crawled my way back up the stairs to grab a shower, some food in the chow hall and some sleep.

Another video of Small Space Workout

I did every conceivable body weight exercise and some that dont even have a name.  I mixed Small Space Workout every which a way.  I just made them up to torment my body and push myself past the breaking point.  There were times that I would lay in a pool of sweat, unsure of how to get up as my arms were completely gassed.  I am stronger from all of the time I spent in the “Iron Box”.  I was then and still am a true master of the bodyweight exercise.

Here is a killer list of exercises that I performed in my Iron Box Hell Hole when I did Small Space Workouts.
1. First off – warmup and shoulder stretching
2. Jumping Jacks and more warmup calisthenics
3. Pushups (regular, wide, diamond, hindu, dive bomber, hand stand)
4. Squats (air, jumping, star jumps)
5. Abs (flutter kicks, leg levers, crunches, weighted situps, bicycles)
6. Pull ups (regular, mtn climber, narrow, chin ups, one arms)
7. Plyo jumps (box jumps, airborne heisman, tuck jumps, split jumps)
8. Dips (regular, weighted)
9. Cool down stretching

So a killer 30 minute workout may look something like this:
warmup with  Navy SEAL workout
wrist stretch – 10 each way
wrist rotations – 10 each way
Arm circles 10 each way
Press, press, fling – 10
Up, back and overs – 10
Shoulder pass throughs – 10
Hip swivel kicks (forward) – 15 each leg
Hip swivel kicks (side) – 15 each leg
Jumping jacks 25
SGPT hip mobility drill (groiner) – 3 laps
Mountain climbers – 25 – two count
Pushups – regular 20
Swimmers chest stretch – 10
alternate hand forward hand back pushups – 15
High Jack High Jill – 10 each arm
Cherry Pickers – 10
airborne heismans – 20
standing pause air squat – 30 seconds
divebomber pushups – 10
Standing lunge – 20 (10 each leg)
air squat – 50
Pushups with sideways walk – 10
frog jump lateral jump (1 ft high minimum) – 10
eight count bodybuilders – 10
split jumps – 15
situps – 50
pushups with sideways walk – 20
thai plank – 10 each side
leg levers – 25
reverse crunches – 20
sitting calf stretch – 10

To make it one hour – start at the bottom and go back in reverse.  To make it harder add more reps – or add a weight vest or a back pack or homeade sand bags.

For more similar Small Space Workout go to  Our website is the most comprehensive and creative source for bodyweight workouts on the web.

So for the Small Space Workout above -these exercises usually took me an hour (I doubled the reps in my training) of solid working out and sometimes I would go up top side and run on the flight deck.  I would take my mat and after absorbing the breeze I would go back to hitting another 15 minute set of abs and core with plank holds.

Still to this day I embrace the small space workout – having just hit another one today.  The great part is that I can always mix up the exercises and never do the same one twice.  If I am feeling froggy I can add weight or have my buddy push down on me.

Questions from our readers.

Question: How would you go about running in a small space? I would jog up and down – in place. Also I would do walking lunges.

Question: What are some warmup drills in limited spaces? You can do the warrior yoga pose and the samson stretch. Those are both really good warmups.

Question: What is a 30 day Navy SEAL workout with no weights? Check out the workouts above as those are great examples.

Question: What is the best conditioning workout with limited space? If you have the gear then the CrossFit workout “filthy fifty” is the best workout.

I look forward to hearing from you so hit me up with an email and lets trade notes on what your killer small space workout is.

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Small Space Workout


  1. The Sniez says

    Good article. I’m going to be on a destroyer for 3 weeks for training and am trying to come up with workouts to keep me in shape.

    • says

      You can do warmup either way. Do just the 30 minute warmup and continue to main WOD or make it a work out on it’s on.

      There is flexibility there as each athlete different and in varied degree of condition

      You can add reps; adds vest; or a backpack and it can be super hard

      Or you can blitz through it as a warmup

      The goal is to showothers that the warmup is what we did every am at BuDS – except it was 1 hour long and more reps – then we did pull ups, dips and go for 4 to 6 mile run on beach.

  2. Adam Jarolimek says

    I have been training hard before applying to Navy SEAL OCS, but I just sprained, maybe even fractured, my ankle. Do you have any recommendations on exercises to do so that I do not lose all of the progress I have made while my ankle is healing?

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