The Basics of Prison Workout

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You know how in the movies most of the prisoners you see are some big threatening figures that look as ripped as some bodybuilding superstars? Excluding a couple of barbells, prisons usually don’t offer a full gym you can find on the outside, so how do they manage to do it confined in a small space for most of the day? Well, the trick is to focus on the small, simple exercises and perform them daily with variations and multiple repetitions. This constitutes the basis of what is call the prison workout. Because this workout regime is quite practical and effective, many people (who are not prisoners) use it as an alternative to going to the gym and paying mind-blowing fees to those personal trainers. Here are some basic guidelines to help you get into the whole prison workout routine.


One of the first exercises you should do in your workout routine is the squat. Although this incredibly beneficial exercise is quite simple and doesn’t require anything but your bodyweight, you still need to learn the proper way to perform this basic move, so as to avoid any potential injury. You start in a standing position, with your legs apart at a shoulder length and hands in front of you. You can either extend them completely or clasp them together; the only important thing is that they’re right in front of you for balance. Slowly lower yourself as if you were about to sit, trying to align your thighs with the floor, all the while keeping your knees just over your feet. Keep in mind that you should try to keep your back as straight as possible. Once you reach the final pose, slowly get back into the starting, standing position. Now, how can you spice things up with variations? The so-called prisoner squat makes things a little trickier by placing your hands behind your head as you do them. You could also combine squats with sudden, forceful jumps once you’re completely down or try the pistol squat, where you squat with one leg only. Be careful, though, as pistol squats aren’t for beginners. You need to build up to them.


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The next essential exercise you should know already is certainly a push-up. As always, this type of exercise is most effective when you do it properly, so let’s get to it. For a push-up, you start in a face-down position with your hands on the ground at a shoulder-length distance. Push yourself up, making sure that your entire body, from your head to your toes is straight and rigid at all times. You lift yourself up and back down solely with the strength of your arms. By making simple variations to this rather straightforward exercise, you can emphasize specific muscle groups. So, for example, if you move your arms further apart, you place more strain on your pectoral muscles and shoulders. On the other hand, if you put them closer, your triceps will become the main focus. You could also combine the push up with some yoga to get what is called a Hindu pushup. This combined exercise is a great full-body workout, but you won’t really know how fit you are until you try and master the one-arm push-up.


Besides push-up and squats, you should also make some time for a pull-up. Although still basic, these exercises require some form of a horizontal pole or a bar you can pull up from. The idea is fairly simple – you grab the pole (or perhaps the edge of your prison bunk bed) and pull yourself up until your chin surpasses your hands. Then go back down and repeat. Now, the most important thing about this exercise is to try to keep your entire body as vertical as you can, using only the strength of your arms and shoulders to pull yourself up. To keep your legs from touching the ground, you can cross them behind you as it is also good for keeping your balance during the pull-up. As always, variations to this simple exercise can enrich your routine and help you progress. One of those variations, often seen in prison movies is a pull-up with a couple of towels. Basically, you just hang two towels from a bar and grab the ends with each hand before pulling yourself up. This will focus on the strength of your hands, so the next time you grab someone from a rival gang, they’ll know what’s up immediately.


For a regular dip, all you need to do is find a way to elevate yourself from the ground. Use your bunk bed (we still pretend you’re in prison) and a chair as two main support points. It is always better if the two points are of the same or at least similar height. Your back facing the floor, rest only your feet on the bed and place your palms on the chair’s two corners. The idea is to keep your whole body straight while you lower yourself only with the strength of your arms. This amazingly simple exercise is easy to master and works a lot of muscles, starting with triceps, shoulders, pectorals, and many others. Obviously, one of the ways you could make this exercise a bit more challenging is by placing some weight on yourself. You might not have a lot of items at your disposal while incarcerated, but you could always rent a heavy book from the library (Bible is probably the best choice) and place it on your stomach. A prison dip is a name used for a variation of this exercise, that involves lifting one leg in the while doing it. Remember to switch legs, though, every repetition.


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You should finish it all of with a round of burpees, a hybrid exercise that combines squats and push-ups to a degree and that will keep your body going. You start off in a standing position with your legs apart about a shoulder length or so. You squat all the way down and touch the floor with your hands, all the while making sure your knees are in line with your heels. Once you’re completely down, jump your way to the starting push-up position (sometimes also called a plank) and hold on for a moment or two before reversing everything and getting back to the standing position. You could also do one push-up while in a plank position, but that’s just one variation. The other would include jumping up when you’re fully standing up or doing a pull-up if you have anything to grab on to out there. Either way, it’s a great cardio that you can do either at the end or at the start of your exercise routine. Remember to start with the normal burpees first and work your way up.

Once you’ve mastered all of these exercises, your main concern will be in which order to do them. If you want to stay true to the original prison workout, you could assign some of these exercises to the playing card suits and draw them out one by one. It is an interesting way of keeping every workout fresh and quite effective.

Which one of these exercises do you think you can do right away? How long will it be until you master them all?