There is a lot we can learn from inmates when it comes to getting strong, ripped, and in-shape within confined spaces. But I am not planning on going to jail you say? Well, are you ever planning on going on a holiday or business trip and staying in a hotel or a timeshare, which may or may not have a gym? What about if you just can’t make it to the gym because you had to work late but you really want to get at least a 15-minute workout to stay on track?
If the answer is “yes” to any of the above, then you might want to become efficient in the area of bodyweight exercises and that too in close quarters.
I was skeptical myself until I started implementing these “prison-style” workouts into my regular training routine.
Modern training equipment and advanced nutrition is not necessarily the foundation of a top-notch muscular body. Inmates have proven that through dedication, creativity, and a desire to keep themselves strong in order to handle their tough environment a person can not only get a good workout but get really big and scary.
Don’t believe me? Remember, Iron Mike Tyson and his stint in jail? When he got out, did he look like a frail, scared individual who had got his ass handed to him each and every day during his sentence? No! He came out jacked to the moon!
You have got to be convinced by now! If not, keep reading. I am going to lay out the benefits, effectiveness, and sample routines to get you started on your prison workout journey – a journey that you are going to be glad you started once you have begun.
Highly Recommend Workout Video:
Related: Bodyweight Exercises for Back
Prison Workout Benefits
Prison workouts comprise of bodyweight exercises as there is no space in a 6 X 8-foot cell to find strength and conditioning equipment in. There are three main benefits that bodyweight exercises offer. They include flexibility, low-cost, and efficiency.
- Flexibility: You do not have to be incarcerated to perform a prison workout. They work just as good in your bedroom, in a hotel room, or even in your own private office – public office might be a bit too much to ask for. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself, all you need is a space the size of a U.S. prison cell (6 X 8 feet) to perform the bodyweight exercises I am going to list later on.
- Low-cost: You can’t get any cheaper than free! That is how much it is going to cost you to perform prison-style exercises. No need to buy a gym membership or any fancy weight-training equipment, just bring your body and a desire to work out and you have all the materials you need.
- Efficiency: Prison workouts are great for individuals who are pressed for time. As you can do them anywhere, you do not have to waste your time driving back and forth to a gym.
What is more, if you are the type that likes to incorporate cardio into your overall workout regimen then prison workouts can give you what you seek. Simply, increase the pace of the exercises and decrease the rest time and you will get both your heart and body muscles pumping at the same time.
Are Prison Workouts Effective
Ok, so now you know that prison workouts are free, convenient, and flexible enough to incorporate anaerobic and aerobic activities during the same workout, but are prison workouts effective when it comes to building strength and muscle?
The short answer is a definitive “yes” prison workouts are effective. If you are looking to get ripped, build mass, gain strength or just looking to get in good shape, bodyweight exercises (prison workouts) can help you to achieve these goals.
I know that my simple answer above is not enough, so let’s dig further into it and see why such simple exercises can achieve so many benefits.
Overload is the key. In order to gain strength, size, and cuts overloading (stressing the muscle) is needed. While it may not seem that it is possible to overload the muscle during a prison workout as effective as adding more weight to your exercise in the gym, this could not be further from the truth. Here is why:
Of course, you can not increase your body mass to make the bodyweight exercises harder but you can increase the number of reps you do.
Conventional thinking says this is great for cutting up, but…
Herschel Walker, a former professional football player, bobsledder, mixed martial artist, and sprinter built his impressive physique (Google him and take a look) by performing an insane number of push-ups and sit-ups alone (1,000 push-ups & 3,000 sit-ups in a single workout)!
If adding more reps is not getting you to where you want to be in the realm of strength and mass, then just add the volume. In other words, just do more sets.
Increasing the number of sets will also tax the muscles to the point of fatigue and will force them to become stronger and bigger whether they like it or not.
Combining added reps and sets slowly and steadily to your prison workout can help you push past any sticking points you may be struggling with. It will also give you a hell of a cardio workout at the same time.
Besides giving you the ability to do more sets and reps than is possible with free or machine weights, bodyweight exercises also offer a host of exercise variations that make the action harder to perform and so overload the muscle being worked out even more.
Combine exercise variations with more reps and sets and trust me, you are going to get really sore and really tired, really fast. But hey, that is why it is called a prison-style workout – it not only gets you in shape, but it also gets you tough.
Related: Chest Workouts at Home Without Equipment (Chest Sculpting Exercises)
Prison Exercises Without Weights
You know the benefits. You understand the methodology and philosophy. You are now convinced that prison-style workouts are effective, efficient, and result-oriented. The next step is to structure a prison workout into your daily, weekly, or monthly weight training routine.
Before you make your schedule, however, you have to know which exercises to incorporate. In other words, which bodyweight exercises are considered “prison certified”.
Here they are:
1. Prison Push Ups (Variations)
Push-ups are great! They work the chest, deltoids (shoulders) and triceps all at the same time. The only problem with them is that they require a lot of reps and sets once you get used to them. For a prisoner who has all day to workout like Charles Bronson, the most famous prisoner in history who does around 2,000 push-ups a day, more reps and sets are practical but for a 9 to fiver, it is almost impossible to increase the volume and repetitions to that extent.
Good news. Prison push-ups are not like your standard push-ups. Well, maybe they are in the beginning but they continuously change as you get stronger and bigger.
Here are some of the variations:
The position is the same as a regular push up instead this time you are going to clap on the way up. Yes, clap!
How to do a plyometric push-up
- Begin in a push-up position.
- Bend your elbows to the point where your chest is around 3 inches from the ground.
- Push yourself back up higher than the starting position and lift your hands off the floor and clap them together before bringing them back down in order to brace yourself (must be done really fast).
Plank Walk Down:
The best part about this push-up variation is that you also engage your core through its practice. While not putting too much stress on the chest, it will give your triceps and deltoids a run for their money. Great for when you want to take a break from the standard push up routine and give your chest a little break.
How to do a plank walk down
- Assume the standard push-up position.
- Bend your right arm and place your forearm on the ground. Now, do the same with the left.
- Place your right hand where your right elbow was and push up. Now, do the same with the left hand.
- Repeat and rinse as many times as you feel necessary.
This variation targets the deltoids.
How to do a pike push-up
- Start in a push-up position and then raise your hips up until you are in the yogic “downward-dog” posture.
- Now, bend your elbows while keeping your hips high and in place until your head almost touches the ground.
- Push back up into downward dog position.
This one hits the triceps really hard.
How to do a plank push-up
- Begin in a plank position (forearms touching the ground).
- With hands facing down and touching the ground push yourself up until you are in a standard push-up position.
- Go back down into the starting position (plank position).
Here is a link to Power Press Push Up (Amazon). Power Press Push Up is a versatile color-coded push-up board system that maximizes upper body strength and definition. The complete push-up training system that is ideal for small houses or apartments.
2. Commando Pull-Ups
Pull-ups are great for back and biceps. They are quite challenging as you have to pull against your entire body weight and the forces of gravity at the same time. Even so, after some time they become quite easy to perform, which is why Commando Pull-Ups can bring the challenge back into this exercise.
How to do commando pull-ups
- Hold on to the bar with a narrow grip (palms facing each other).
- To avoid hitting your head, pull yourself up to one side (left or right – it doesn’t matter) until your head is above the bar.
- Lower yourself back to the starting (hanging) position and pull yourself up to the other side being careful not to hit your head on the bar.
*** It is important to keep your entire body stable during this exercise as the unusual position tends to make the puller twist and turn in strange ways lessening the effect of the exercise.
Best pull-up bar for doorway: Garren Fitness Maximiza pull up bar (Amazon)
This has to be one of the toughest exercises in the prison-style workout arsenal as it combines an awkward transition from a pull-up into a dip. That being said, it is a great way to work out your triceps and biceps at the same time.
This one takes a bit of getting used to so if you do not feel uncomfortable performing it at first, do not worry because everyone does. After 4 or 5 sessions the movement should start to become more natural.
How to do muscle-ups
- Hang from a pull-up bar with thumbs on top of the bar (opposite of how you would hold yourself while performing a pull-up: thumbs around the bar).
- Pull yourself up to chin level.
- Now, roll your chest over the bar transitioning from a pull-up to a dip.
- Now press down and push your body up (perform a dip).
- Slowly and carefully return back to hanging position.
4. Dips (w/Chair)
No other exercise hits the entire triceps and lower chest as much as dips do and all you need is your bodyweight and a “dip rig” to do them.
What if you don’t have a dip bar though? No worries, there are no dip bars in a prison cell and we are using prison-style variations of bodyweight exercises here anyways. You can use chairs to get the job done.
How to do dips with a chair
- Place two chairs about half your body height apart from each other.
- Place the palms of both hands (fingers facing forward and palms facing down) on the front chair (upper body portion) and your feet on the other chair (lower body chair).
- While sitting up (balancing your trunk with your hands parallel to your body and legs straight out), bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
- Return to the starting position.
5. Prisoner Sit-Ups
If you want to work out the entire abdominal region, prisoner sit-ups are what you need.
Sit-ups in themselves are perfect for confined spaces as you only need the length of your entire body (most of the time half of your body as most sit-up exercises require you to have bent legs). However, with prisoner sit-ups, you lie with legs straight out (shoulder-width apart) to add more stress to the movement.
How to do prisoner sit-ups
- Lie on your back with your hands clasped behind your head for support. Legs should be straight (not bent) and shoulder-width apart.
- Using your abdominal muscles, pick your upper body off of the floor (clasped hands supporting head) until you are sitting up completely erect (Note: your legs should remain in the same position during the entire movement).
- Return back down to starting position using your abdominal muscles to steady your decent.
6. Hanging Leg Raises
While prisoner sit-ups are highly regarded among inmates, hanging leg raises are more popular among them. The reason for this is threefold: they are more functional, they work more muscles, they require less equipment (sit-ups may require boards and roman chairs to perform variations of the standard version of the exercise whereas hanging leg raises only require either a pull-up bar or dip rig to perform all of its variations).
How to do hanging leg raises
- Hang from a pull-up bar with your entire body extended.
- Slowly and steadily lift both legs up until they form a 90-degree angle with your torso.
- Slowly lower your legs down until they are completely straight.
***During the movement, your upper body should remain motionless and the entire stress should be placed on your midsection and all movements should be done by your legs.
7. Prison Burpees
The burpee is considered among bodyweight enthusiasts as the king among all bodyweight exercises as it works out almost every major muscle group in the body – a complete workout in-and-of-itself.
It is so effective in building strength, power, and cardio – in my opinion, no prison workout would be complete without it.
How to do prison burpees
- Stand straight with feet shoulder-width apart and arms hanging down by your sides.
- Bend your knees while at the same time pushing your hips back until you reach a squat position.
- Place your hands in front of you and shift most of your weight on them.
- Jump back with your feet until you are in a plank position (your body should be in a straight line – no sag in your back).
- Jump forward so that your feet land outside of your hands.
- With arms outstretched overhead, jump in the air with as much explosive force as you can muster.
- Land into a squat position and repeat the entire movement. The more, the better!
8. Prison Jumping Jacks
Perhaps, the most popular exercise for people of all ages, the jumping jack promotes stamina and coordination. It has been traditionally used as a warm-up exercise but with a high number of reps and sets, it can become an awesome cardio workout.
Like most prison-style exercises, jumping jacks do not require a lot of space and no extra equipment other than your body.
How to do prison jumping jacks
- Stand straight with feet together and your hands hanging by your sides.
- In one quick motion raise your hands above your head and spread your legs apart wide.
- With no rest, return to the starting position and continue this movement unceasingly until you can not do anymore.
9. Prison Squats
Prison squats work out the major muscles of the legs – quads, hamstrings, and glutes. They are relatively easy to perform and require very little room in which to perform them.
How to do prison squats
- Stand straight with legs shoulder-width apart and toes pointing outwards.
- Pull your shoulders and elbows back by clasping your hands behind your head.
- Bend your knees and push your hips back until your torso is below knee level.
- Push yourself up with your legs until you are fully standing straight as in the starting position. Repeat.
10. Prisoner Squat Jump
We all know that squats are the number one exercise for building strength and mass in the legs (quads & hamstrings) but did you know that performing squats also help to produce an anabolic atmosphere within the body that encourages overall muscle growth in the upper body as well?
Leaving out squats from any weight-training routine is a huge mistake as you will miss out on all the extra anabolic benefits the exercise provides. Therefore, be sure to include prisoner squats to your prison workout so you can reap its muscle-promoting rewards.
How to do a prisoner squat jump
- Begin by standing straight, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Clasps your hands behind your head as you do when performing a sit-up.
- Squat down as low as you can (knees aligned with toes & torso/hips slightly back).
- Jump up as high as you can in an explosive manner. Repeat sequence.
11. Prisoner Squat Twist
A variation on the above exercise, the prisoner squat twist incorporates the obliques into the mix. Not only do you get a great leg workout, but you also get an effective external abdominal workout as well.
How to do a prisoner squat twist
- Stand straight, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Squat down, knees aligned with toes and hips sitting back (at or slightly below 90 degrees).
- Push up with your legs and return to a standing position.
- Lift upright leg and twist to the right side of your body with torso (knees bent at 90-degree angle).
- Return to starting position, squat down and up again, and pick up left leg (knees bent at 90-degree angle) to the left side of your body and return to starting position. Repeat.
12. Prisoner Get-Ups
This exercise gives you a total abdominal workout while at the same time blasting the legs, glutes, and torso. It is quite difficult to perform and requires a lot of balance and coordination that is synonymous with many of the exercises associated with a prison-style workout.
How to do prisoner get-ups
- Lay down with your back on the floor like in a starting sit-up position (hands clasped behind head, elbows facing outwards, feet flat on the floor – crossed at ankles).
- Perform a sit-up keeping hands behind head and while hinging with your hips lift yourself into a standing position (keep hands firmly clasped behind the head and feet crossed at ankles during the entire movement).
- From standing position return in the opposite manner in which you got up until you are lying down once again in a sit-up position. Repeat movement as desired.
Best Prison Workout Book
If you’re looking for a great prison workout book to learn more, then I highly recommend:
Jailhouse Strong by Josh Bryant and Adam benShea (Amazon). Jailhouse Strong offers functional strength training with a workout system that is based on the training habits cultivated behind bars. The book describes the workouts prisoners use to become lean and powerful.
Prison Workout Routine for Beginners
The above 12 exercises are perfect for creating an effective prison-style workout routine.
Try incorporating them into the following 3-day cycle for maximum benefit:
Day 1: Upper Body Exercises (Push & Pull)
Day 2: Lower Body Exercises (Abs, Torso, & Legs)
Day 3: Total Body (All The Above Exercises)
Day 4: Rest
Prison workouts require little room, little money, can be performed in almost any environment, are easier on the joints than free-weights, require less recovery time and can build strength, explosiveness, muscle mass, lean muscle, balance, and coordination all in one routine.
What more can you ask from a single workout routine?