Calisthenics at Home | Practicing with Limited Space and Equipment

doing calisthenics at home

Putting together an effective training routine at home using calisthenics is much easier than you might believe.

The core principles of physical training don’t include having the space for that garage-sized home gym first. And they definitely don’t include anything about subscribing to the belief that a full set of weights or some other fancy gadgets with mirrors are necessary to be fit & strong.

As it turns out, it’s much more about having the right idea in terms of which exercises you need for your specific goals. And then it’s about how to employ them at home (or anywhere) in order to get into the kind of shape you may be seeking.

So How Much Space Do I Need?

When it comes to effective and progressive home workout routines, all you need is yourself, the right exercise, the right attitude—and a space just about the size of a yoga mat.

Incorporating calisthenics into a routine at home with limited space and equipment is really quite straightforward.

A Yoga Mat?—But I Want to Get Fit & Strong!

You can use any kind of mat you like, or even bare floor. This depends really on what kind of surface you are going to be training on.

I have personally found the harder the surface the better with this type of training. The addition of a yoga mat of reasonable quality will provide just the right amount of ‘spring’. It’s also helpful if you can get one with a grip on the underside to hug the floor and prevent slipping or bunching while you work out. 

Home workout routines often get a bad rap as being less effective than what you can do in the gym. But, the calisthenics routines we will touch on today will not only make you fit & strong, but with intentional progression, you can achieve incredible levels of conditioning.

The main issue here is that a full training routine is possible in a space not much bigger than the average yoga mat unless someone is exceptionally tall or large.

But Aren’t Callisthenics Too Technical and Time-Consuming?

The short answer is no, they needn’t be. It largely depends on what goals and aims you have in terms of improved fitness, strength, mobility, etc., and of course which exercises you include in a routine. Routines using the exercise we’re focusing on today can be adapted in such ways that they can be extremely effective and time-saving.

Some people may think in terms of muscle-ups, one-arm pull-ups, handstand push-ups, one-legged pistol squats, and other barely or un-manageable exercises when they hear the term calisthenics or bodyweight training. Some of these would obviously be difficult at home in limited space.

And many of those exercises are out of the reach of most beginners to pre-intermediate levels of fitness and conditioning. Thus many individuals, at least initially, may also be put off by the idea of taking them up—but that’s not what we’re interested in here.

Getting Down to Basics

It’s much better to start with exercises that build and maintain functional fitness pretty quickly by bringing the whole body into play. This kind of exercise has real carry-over into everyday activities, somewhat akin to the squat or deadlift with weights.

So for the purpose of this post we definitely aren’t talking 3-hour sessions—we are going to look at routines using just one core exercise that works pretty much everything, although it’s fine to build routines around this one and add other exercises and moves.

If the right attitude and form is adopted from the offset, routines including these exercises can be done quickly, efficiently, and almost continuously once fitness levels have been sufficiently elevated.

Enter the Burpee

There’s also a lot to be said for the more straightforward, compound-type, military-style callisthenic exercises that have stood the test of time.

How to do a burpee

The burpee has been used in various forms as part of military strength and fitness tests for as long as anyone can remember.

Done properly, this is a complex-compound exercise that works the entire body including:

  • Legs
  • Core
  • Chest
  • Arms
  • Shoulders
  • Back

It also provides some killer conditioning and fat-burning when operating in the more advanced rep ranges. And it could be done in a very small space like a kitchen or a prison cell—which is why prison workouts incorporate them.

The real benefit of this exercise is that all those separate parts have to work together as a whole with the correct form and application. You go down, you come back up again. That’s the basic idea, but as with anything, there are levels to this.

Where Do I Start with Burpees?

You first need to master the basics. After that, it’s rinse and repeat until it gets easier familiar (it never gets that easy—if you want easy, try golf). Then change it up, and keep doing so—continuously looking at ways to adapt and develop the routines.

Ideally, you should aim to eventually get up to at least 100 of these, any way you like—whether in one continuous push or using reps and sets like 10x10, 4x25, 5x20 etc. to make the 100. Of course, you can work up to this (and hopefully beyond) from your current level of fitness and strength if that isn't currently possible.

Start with one set of ten if you need to.

A lot of those who have trained for years using weights and other different methods and who adopt this type of training tend to stick with it until it becomes an art, and an integral part of their lifestyle. Certainly, this has been the case for me after various injuries over the years from heavy weights and nothing like the fitness levels I have gained from burpees.

There are so many dynamics and levels involved in that simple enough movement that it becomes a worthy object of study and practice.

Reps and set ranges—not to mention the endless burpee variations that can be incorporated, tweaked, and changed up almost constantly to keep things challenging.

Aside from that, there’s really nothing fancy about these babies aside from the results they bring. They are also perfect for training at home with limited space and equipment, whether you aim for a continuous run of them or do them in sets.

You can perform the basic, 10 unbroken burpees test to get some idea of where you are at currently with this type of training and where to start with reps and pace.


  • Perform 10 burpees, with correct unbroken form (or as near as you can get to it) without stopping. You can go at your own pace just try to go from rep to rep without breaking momentum.
  • If you can’t complete the ten without stopping you have work to do. This is where your own commitment and self-discipline will come into play.

Example Beginner Routine:

You might start with 2 sets of 10 for your first week, working up to 3 sets of 10 by the end of the first month, 3-5 times per week—at your own pace and with correct form. An important factor with this type of training is to establish and continue to improve your working pace.

When you have established a good working pace and the correct form you can start to add more sets as you see fit until you get to the one hundred mark, and can comfortably train 5 days per week. If this takes 3-6 months that’s no problem—just stick with it. So:

  • 10 x burpees, keeping strict form, without stopping—but at your own pace.
  • Rest 1-3 minutes if necessary—the shorter the gaps between sets the better in terms of conditioning and fat-burning qualities of this exercise—and active recovery like jumping jacks or jogging on the spot will help.
  • Continue adding sets as you see fit until you arrive at 10 x 10=100
  • Eventually aim for 100 unbroken burpees with no sets—at this point you are reasonably fit and ready to progress things further with higher reps and/or more advanced versions

When Do I Start to See Results?

You will certainly start to feel the results almost immediately. This is a tough exercise if you’ve never done it but even semi-fit people can soon adapt to this. How your appearance changes will depend on factors like effort and consistency, as well as diet, nutrition, genetics, and overall fitness level.

If you are consistent you might notice minor changes in a week or two but this is the kind of training that works best over long, continuous periods.

One thing about bodyweight training is that you do adjust much more quickly to the stress than you would from lifting heavy weights. But this happens over months and years not days and weeks.

If you are serious about your training remember burpees are for life—not just for Christmas!


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