Small Space Workout

What 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 stay in shape and 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.  They have to constantly stay in shape no matter how much travel they have on small boats, submarines and in the belly of an Amphibious ship sometimes for weeks on end.

So the SEALs are cramped up for days on end in the belly of rust bucket Navy 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

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

So…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 workouts down below the deck.  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 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 did not even have a name.  I mixed Small Space Workouts every which a way.  I just made them up to push 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”.

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.

Workout #3
Pull up + squat pyramid
rest only as short a period as possible. Time if you want to but make sure all reps are done with good form.
This is a full body workout.

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

Workout #4
as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes
10 pushups
10 situps
I love this workout as it is so simple but an ab crusher.

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.

Workout #5
I would do this one on the flight deck of the Navy ship.
5 rounds
5 burpee broad jumps to a cone (or your tshirt)
bear crawl backwards to the same spot
5 pushups
this workout is harder than it looks. You can make it harder by adding more burpee broad jumps for a longer distance. If you are elite athlete you can add a weight vest but you will probably not need it.

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.

Question: Where can I find out more info about joining the Navy and Spec War? Check out the website here:


Brad McLeod is married with two kids and an all around average family guy. He grew up in Tallahassee, Florida and despite training all the wrong ways – made it to Navy SEAL training in Coronado, California.

He flunked out of Navy SEAL BUD/S training after making it over half way through (6 months of grueling training). After a year in the Fleet Navy on the USS Cleveland (LPD-7) he came back to graduate BUDS and serve on SEAL Team Four.

His story is simple–Don’t Ever Quit on your Dream! Put one foot in front of the other and fall forward.

Proceeds from this website go to help raise funds for the Navy SEAL Foundation.

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