The Prisoner Workout: Killer Bodyweight Exercises for Small Spaces

The Prisoner Workout: Killer Bodyweight Exercises for Small Spaces

With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve determined to republish a traditional piece every Friday to assist our newer readers uncover a number of the finest, evergreen gems from the previous. This article was initially printed in August 2015. 

Besides just a few transient stints of freedom, infamous British prison and troublemaker Charles Salvador (higher generally known as Charles Bronson) has been serving time since 1974. During these a long time behind bars, and sometimes confined to isolation, Bronson has change into a health fanatic, creating exercise applications that require solely his body weight and some odd objects. His excessive routine has given him near-superhuman power — he claims to have the ability to do 172 push-ups in 60 seconds, choose up a pool desk by himself, and bend a metal jail cell door along with his naked arms. He’s set many jail health information as properly, together with one for many push-ups in an hour: 1,727.

Now, it’d be straightforward to take Bronson’s claims with a grain of salt. The man just isn’t solely a convicted prison, however his violent, loose-cannon habits has earned him the label of “Britain’s most infamous prisoner.”

But Bronson is hardly the one inmate who’s managed to achieve spectacular power with out entry to barbells, nutritious meals, or dietary supplements. Prisoners all around the world have created extremely efficient strength-building routines they will carry out within the tiny area of their cell or with restricted tools within the jail yard. For males who’re locked up, being robust and looking out robust isn’t nearly aesthetics and private growth; the looks of dimension and prowess acts as a deterrent to assault and will be crucial for survival.

While most of us will fortunately by no means find yourself behind bars, I feel we will all take a lesson from convicts on find out how to not let your circumstances be an excuse on your health objectives. Below we spotlight body weight workouts utilized by prisoners the world over to get robust and keep robust.

The Benefits of Bodyweight Workouts

You can do them wherever. Don’t have time to make it to the health club? Travel rather a lot? Locked up for 5-10 years? Great! You can do the prisoner exercise wherever . . . bed room, workplace, lodge room, or solitary confinement.

It’s free. Don’t have the cash for a health club membership or buying your personal tools? That’s not an excuse for not exercising. With just a few easy body weight workouts, you may create a full-body exercise that’s utterly free.

Strength+cardio in a single exercise. By rising the tempo and lowering the remainder between units and workouts, you may flip a body weight exercise into each a high-intensity cardio session and a power exercise. In 30 minutes, you’ll be carried out along with your train for the day.

The Exercises

Below I’ve highlighted six fundamental body weight workouts that work your entire physique. However, with a bit of tweaking of every train, you may create over 50 totally different workouts from simply these six primary actions. If you’re locked up for all times, I’m positive you may provide you with one other 50 variations.


According to the guide he wrote in jail, Solitary Fitness, Bronson performs 2,00zero push-ups a day. If you begin doing 10 push-ups a day and add 5 extra every day, in a bit of over a yr, you may rise up to that stage.

Push-up Variations

The push-up works a number of muscle teams together with the chest, anterior deltoid, and triceps. And the beauty of it’s that the train will be simply modified to extend difficultly and work totally different muscle teams.

Narrow/Wide Hand Placement. By merely adjusting the position of your arms, you may emphasize totally different muscle teams. Narrow hand placement works the triceps, whereas a wider hand placement emphasizes the pecs.

 illustration, Hindu push-up, prisoner workout, bodyweight exercises, convict conditioning

Hindu Push-up. This is a dynamic full-body motion that may construct power and suppleness in your chest, shoulders, again, hips, and triceps.

Get in place by standing along with your toes barely wider than shoulder-width aside. Bend down and place your arms on the ground whereas preserving your legs and arms straight. You ought to appear like an the other way up human “v” along with your butt being the purpose of the “v” and your head pointing all the way down to the bottom.

To carry out the Hindu push-up, you’re going to make form of a swooping movement along with your physique. Bring your head down and ahead by bending your elbows. When your head will get near the bottom, proceed transferring your torso ahead by arching your again and decreasing your hips. Your hips will now be close to your arms. Make positive to get a great stretch in your again. Return to the beginning place and repeat.

Handstand Push-up. If you desire a killer shoulder exercise, look no additional than the handstand push-up. To carry out the handstand push-up, assume a handstand place. Slowly bend your elbows and decrease your inverted physique in the direction of the bottom. In order to take care of steadiness, you’re going to should name in your core and different smaller stabilizing muscle mass. If you may’t do a stand-alone handstand, use a wall to help you.

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One-Armed Push-up. You’ll have achieved top-dog, alpha-male-prisoner, beast-mode standing when you may carry out a number of one-handed push-ups.

For 30+ extra push-up variations, take a look at this submit.


Pull-ups are a extremely efficient train that works a complete host of muscle teams, together with the latissimus dorsi (the “wing” muscle mass in your again), biceps, traps, pecs, and forearms.

Better nonetheless, they are often carried out wherever there’s a spot to hold from. You can purchase a pull-up bar that matches in your doorframe for $30. If you don’t have entry to that, monkey bars or perhaps a tree limb at a park will work. What for those who’re in a lodge? If the doorframe is huge sufficient, you may do some pull-ups from there — although, they’ll be extra like finger pull-ups. Prison? I’m positive you will discover a bar someplace to make use of. There are a number of bars in there, I hear, although I suppose extra of the vertical than horizontal selection.

Pull-up Variations

Just just like the push-up, pull-ups will be modified to work totally different muscle mass teams or to make the train harder.

Chin-up. Shift your hand right into a chin-up place, and also you’ll work your biceps extra and prepare your lats another way.

Mixed Grip Pull-up. One hand grips the bar overhand and the opposite underhand.

 illustration commando pull-up, prisoner workout, bodyweight exercises, convict conditioning

Commando Pull-up. You could keep in mind Rocky doing these infants throughout his epic coaching montage. Take an underhand grip with one hand and an overhand grip with the opposite. Pull your head to 1 facet of the bar for one rep, after which to the opposite facet of the bar on the subsequent rep.

Narrow/Wide Grip. You can modify your grip width to concentrate on totally different muscle teams. Try doing pull-ups along with your arms proper subsequent to one another or as far aside from one another as you may.

Towel Pull-ups. Hang two towels out of your bar and grip one in every hand. Pull your self up. Great for grip power.

Typewriter Pull-up. Grab the bar with an overhand grip barely wider than shoulder-width aside. Pull your self up till your sternum is on the bar. Now, transfer your physique towards one hand, taking a number of the weight off the other hand. Keep your sternum on the bar. Return your physique to the middle and repeat on the other facet. Return to the middle and decrease your physique below management. That is one rep.

One-handed Pull-up. You’ll have achieved top-dog, alpha-male-prisoner, beast-mode standing when you may carry out a number of one-handed pull-ups.

If you may’t do a couple of stinking pull-up, see our “do a couple of pull-up” exercise. It’ll have you ever cranking out pull-ups for reps very quickly.


The squat is likely one of the most elementary but efficient athletic actions. In only one train, you’re employed your quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, and interior thighs.

Squat Variations

Prisoner Squat. The conventional prisoner body weight squat is carried out by inserting your arms behind your head. Squat down till your thighs are beneath parallel. Come up. That’s one rep.

Add Weight. While you won’t have entry to a barbell, you will discover odd objects in your surroundings that you would be able to hoist up in your shoulders or maintain in entrance of your chest. Once you’ve acquired your required weight, merely squat.

Squat Jumps. A plyometric model of the squat to construct explosiveness. Perform a prisoner squat as you usually would, however if you attain the underside of the squat explode up and soar off the bottom as excessive as you may. When your toes are again on the bottom, instantly sink into one other squat and soar once more. Great for HIIT.

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Pistol Squat. You’ll have achieved top-dog, alpha-male-prisoner, beast-mode standing when you may carry out a number of pistol squats. A pistol squat is a one-legged full squat. The leg that you simply’re not squatting with stands out proper in entrance of you if you’re within the squat place. When you’re on the backside of the squat, you form of appear like a pistol, therefore the title. It’s a beast to do and can take months to work as much as.

There are whole routines that will help you accomplish this Herculean feat (and maybe we’ll hit on it sooner or later), however among the finest workouts that will help you segue right into a pistol squat is to carry out the assisted selection. Simply seize a pole or another sturdy object in entrance of you and decrease your self right into a one-legged squat place and use the pole to assist pull your self up. Eventually, you may take off these coaching wheels and do a freestanding one.


illustration, dip, prisoner workout, convict conditioning, bodyweight exercises

Dips work the triceps, pecs, shoulders, forearms, and core, and also you don’t want a flowery dip rig to do them. Prisoners will put their arms on a chair with their toes on the ground or propped up on the mattress. You could make them harder by inserting weighted objects in your lap.

Hanging Leg Raises

This is a core blaster. Not solely does it hit the abs, obliques, and rib muscle mass, but it surely additionally works your quads, hips, forearms, and shoulder muscle mass.

Hanging Leg Raise Variations

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Straight Leg Raises. Grab and hold from a bar with a barely wider than shoulder-width overhand grip. Keeping your knees straight, increase legs by flexing hips till they’re utterly flexed, or knees are properly above hips. Return till hips are prolonged downward.

Bent Knee Leg Raises. If you may’t do a straight leg increase, you may modify it by bending your knees and elevating them into your chest.

Full Straight Leg Raise. Perform a straight leg increase as you usually would, however as an alternative of stopping when your toes rise above your hips, maintain going till your toes contact the bar.

Towel Straight Leg Raises. Place two towels over the bar and grip one in every hand. Perform a straight leg increase whereas holding onto the towels.

Hanging Windshield Wiper. Perform a straight leg increase, however when your toes come to the highest positions, brace your abs and rotate your legs to 1 facet so far as you may. Rotate to the opposite facet. That’s one rep.

One-Arm Straight Leg Raise. You’ll have achieved top-dog, alpha-male-prisoner, beast-mode standing when you may carry out a number of one-armed straight leg raises and maintain your self within the prime place for a number of seconds.


The burpee is the last word full-body train. There’s a motive soccer groups, CrossFit practitioners, and elite army forces use the burpee of their exercises. Just one easy motion exams each your power and cardio capacities.

Burpee Variations

Basic Burpee. To carry out a primary burpee, simply comply with these directions:

  • Begin in a squat place with arms on the ground in entrance of you.
  • Kick your toes again to a push-up place.
  • Immediately return your toes to the squat place.
  • Leap up as excessive as attainable from the squat place.

Burpee With Push-up. Perform the burpee usually, however after you kick out your toes to a push-up place, go forward and do a full push-up.

Burpee With Hindu Push-up. Instead of simply doing a full push-up, make it a Hindu push-up.

Burpee+Pull-up. Stand beneath a pull-up bar or tree department that’s excessive sufficient that it’s a must to leap to achieve it. Perform a burpee usually, however if you leap up seize the bar and carry out a pull-up. Repeat. Did you hear that? That was the sound of your soul dying.

Click right here for extra on the advantages of this train, extra variations, and pattern burpee exercises.

Putting It Together: Possible Prisoner Workouts

As you may see above, you’ve acquired loads of selections with regards to workouts to create a body weight exercise. Mix and match the workouts to your liking together with a set and rep scheme to create your body weight exercise.

If you’re on the lookout for a bit of steerage, although, listed below are just a few strategies:

Deck of Pain

This is supposedly a favourite exercise routine amongst prisoners as a result of they normally have a deck of playing cards useful.

Take a typical deck of 52 playing cards. Assign one of many above workouts (or considered one of their variations) to every of the 4 fits. So you may have one thing like:

  • Clubs: Push-ups
  • Spades: Pull-ups
  • Diamonds: Squats
  • Hearts: Hanging Leg Raises

Start drawing playing cards from the highest. The go well with tells you what train you’re doing; the quantity tells you the reps. Face playing cards depend as ten rep; aces 11. So for those who drew the 5 of diamonds you’ll do 5 squats; for those who drew the king of golf equipment, you do ten push-ups. Draw the playing cards and carry out the corresponding train and reps till all of the playing cards have been drawn.

Finish it off with ten burpees for good measure

Juarez Valley Method

According to the guide Jailhouse Strong, the convicts inside Mexico’s Juarez Valley Prison — one of many world’s most harmful prisons — use the next rep scheme for his or her body weight exercise.

Pick an train. You’re solely going to be doing one throughout this circuit. Let’s say for this instance, you’re going to do push-ups.

This circuit consists of 20 units. The rep scheme appears to be like like this:

  • Set 1: 20 Reps
  • Set 2: 1 Rep
  • Set 3: 19 Reps
  • Set 4: 2 Reps
  • Set 5: 18 Reps
  • Set 6: 3 Reps
  • Set 7: 17 Reps
  • Set 8: 4 Reps
  • Set 9: 16 Reps
  • Set 10: 5 Reps
  • Set 11: 15 Reps
  • Set 12: 6 Reps
  • Set 13: 14 Reps
  • Set 14: 7 Reps
  • Set 15: 13 Reps
  • Set 16: 8 Reps
  • Set 17: 12 Reps
  • Set 18: 9 Reps
  • Set 19: 11 Reps
  • Set 20: 10 Reps

So on the odd units, you’re ranging from 20 reps, taking place a rep each odd set, and on the even units, you’re ranging from 1 rep and going up a rep each even set. When it’s all stated and carried out, you’ll have accomplished 210 reps.

Between every set, stroll 5-10 steps for a relaxation after which get again into it. The objective is to finish this circuit as quick as you may.

Mike Tyson Squat Workout

Tyson did this physique squat routine whereas in jail; it doesn’t sound too exhausting but it surely’s an actual killer:

  • Line up ten playing cards facedown in a straight line on the bottom with 4″ between every card.
  • Begin by standing over the primary card and squatting down to select it up.
  • Holding the primary card, take a step ahead to the second card. Squat down and place the cardboard you simply picked up on prime of the second card. At this level, you’ll haven’t any playing cards in your hand, and a couple of playing cards will probably be one on prime of the opposite on the bottom beneath you.
  • Squat as soon as and choose up the primary card.
  • Squat as soon as and choose up the second card.
  • Take a step ahead to the third card, squat down, and place one of many two playing cards in your hand on prime of the cardboard on the bottom. Now squat down and place the opposite card on prime of the playing cards on the bottom.
  • Squat one time every to select up the three playing cards one after the other.
  • Take a step ahead to the fourth card, and repeat this course of till you’ve made it via all ten playing cards.

To find out how Tyson skilled his physique (and thoughts) earlier than he was within the slammer, choose up a duplicate of The Warrior Monk Philosophy of Trainer Cus D’Amato: The 5 Strategic Principles That Turned Mike Tyson Into a World Champion.

Greasing the Groove

Instead of getting a set time interval the place you attempt to crank out as many reps as you may, with greasing the groove, you’re performing reps all through the day. You would possibly arrange a system the place each half hour, you carry out 10 push-ups. Assuming you’re up for 12 hours a day, that’s 240 push-ups day-after-day.

Exercise to Failure

For hypertrophy and endurance, merely do one set of every train for as many reps as you may.

One Exercise a Day

When Ryan Ferguson was locked up in a Missouri jail from 2004 to 2013 after being wrongly convicted of homicide, he began a routine the place he centered on only one train a day. The objective is to work your method up so to full 500 reps in an hour. It doesn’t matter what number of units you break this up into, simply attempt to get to that 500 rep depend earlier than 60 minutes is up.



Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade

Jailhouse Strong by Josh Bryant

Solitary Fitness by Charles Bronson

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