Prisoner Workout: Bodyweight Workouts

Prison is about survival, but it is not always easy to do the work. Prisoners are forced into grueling labor on a daily basis and have no choice in how much they can exercise – what matters more than anything else is to survive. Some prisoners take this as motivation, working out hard every day knowing that even if they just make it through another night alive, their efforts will be worth something.

Cell Workout
Jailhouse Strong
Solitary Fitness
Prisoner (Workout Mix 140 bpm)
The Auschwitz Museum

The “jailhouse strong workout routine” is a bodyweight workout that is designed to help people gain muscle and strength while in jail. The workouts are designed to be done daily and can be completed in less than an hour.

Prisoner Workout: Bodyweight Workouts

We’ve chosen to reprint a vintage essay each Friday to assist our younger readers discover some of the greatest, evergreen jewels from the past, with our archives currently totaling over 3,500 items. The original version of this story was published in August of 2015.

Charles Salvador (commonly known as Charles Bronson), an infamous British criminal and troublemaker, has been serving time since 1974, with the exception of a few short periods of freedom. Bronson has become a fitness enthusiast throughout his decades behind bars, frequently restricted to isolation, designing training regimes that just need his bodyweight and a few strange materials. He claims to be able to perform 172 push-ups in 60 seconds, pull up a billiard table by himself, and bend a steel jail cell door with his bare hands thanks to his rigorous training. He’s also established a number of jail fitness records, including the most push-ups in one hour (1,727).

It’d be simple to dismiss Bronson’s assertions at this point. The guy is not only a convicted felon, but he has also been dubbed “Britain’s most infamous prisoner” due to his aggressive, loose-cannon conduct.

Bronson isn’t the only convict who has gained exceptional strength without using barbells, eating good diet, or taking supplements. Prisoners all across the globe have developed extremely efficient strength-building routines that they can do in their cramped cells or in the prison yard with little equipment. Being strong and appearing powerful isn’t only about aesthetics and personal growth for guys who are incarcerated; the illusion of size and prowess functions as a deterrent to assault and might be crucial for survival.

While most of us will luckily never find ourselves in prison, I believe we can all learn from prisoners about how to not allow your circumstances become an excuse for not achieving your fitness objectives. The workouts listed here are utilized by inmates all around the globe to become and keep strong.

The Advantages of Bodyweight Exercises

They can be done anyplace. Don’t have enough time to go to the gym? Do you travel a lot? Have you been imprisoned for five to ten years? Great! The prisoner exercise may be done in any location, including your bedroom, workplace, hotel room, or solitary incarceration.

It’s completely free. Don’t have the funds to join a gym or purchase your own equipment? That isn’t an excuse for not working out. You can get a full-body workout for free by doing a few basic bodyweight exercises.

In a single workout, you’ll get both strength and cardio. You may transform a bodyweight workout into a high-intensity cardio and strength workout by boosting the speed and minimizing the downtime between sets and exercises. You’ll be done with your workout for the day in 30 minutes.

The Workouts

I’ve included six major bodyweight workouts that target the complete body below. However, by adjusting each exercise a bit, you can make over 50 distinct workouts out of just these six fundamental motions. I’m sure you could come up with another 50 versions if you were imprisoned for the rest of your life.



Bronson does 2,000 push-ups every day, according to Solitary Fitness, a book he published while in jail. You can reach that level in little over a year if you start with 10 push-ups each day and increase 5 more each day.

Variations on Push-ups

The chest, anterior deltoid, and triceps are all worked out during the ideal pushup. And the best part is that it’s simple to modify the workout to make it more challenging or to target other muscle groups.

Hand placement (narrow vs. wide). You may target various muscle groups simply by changing the position of your hands. The triceps are worked with a narrow hand location, whereas the pecs are worked with a broader hand positioning.

Illustration, Hindu push-up, prisoner workout, body weight exercises, convict conditioning.

Push-up in Hinduism. This is a full-body dynamic activity that strengthens and stretches your chest, shoulders, back, hips, and triceps.

Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart to get into position. While maintaining your arms and legs straight, bend down and put your hands on the floor. With your butt at the tip of the “v” and your head pointing down to the ground, you should resemble an upside down human “v.”

You’ll execute a swooping motion with your body to complete the Hindu push-up. Bend your elbows and bring your head down and forward. Continue pulling your torso forward by arching your back and lowering your hips as your head approaches the ground. Your hips will now be in close proximity to your hands. Make sure your back gets a nice stretch. Return to the beginning location and repeat the process.

Push-up from a handstand. Look no farther than the handstand push-up for a great shoulder exercise. Assume a handstand stance to begin the handstand push-up. Slowly lower your inverted body to the ground by bending your elbows. You’ll have to rely on your core and other minor stabilizing muscles to keep your equilibrium. Use a wall to help you if you can’t execute a stand-alone handstand.

Illustration, one-arm push-up, prisoner workout, convict conditioning, body weight exercises.

Push-up with one arm. When you can do many one-handed push-ups, you’ve reached top-dog, alpha-male-prisoner, beast-mode status.

Check out this page for 30+ additional push-up variants.


Pull-ups are a powerful exercise that targets a variety of muscular groups, including the latissimus dorsi (back’s “wing”), biceps, traps, pecs, and forearms.

Even better, they can be done anyplace there’s a ledge to lean on. For $30, you can have a pull-up bar that fits in your doorframe. If you don’t have it, monkey bars or even a park tree branch can suffice. But what if you’re staying at a hotel? You could perform some pull-ups from the doorframe if it’s broad enough, but they’ll be more like finger pull-ups. Prison? I’m confident you’ll be able to locate a bar to utilize. There are a lot of bars in there, according to what I’ve heard, but they’re mostly vertical rather than horizontal.

Variations on Pull-ups

Pull-ups, like push-ups, may be tweaked to target other muscle groups or to make the exercise more challenging.


Chin-up. When you put your hand in a chin-up position, you’ll work your biceps harder and your lats in a new manner.

Pull-up with a Mixed Grip. The bar is gripped overhand with one hand and underhand with the other.

Illustration commando pull-up, prisoner workout, body weight exercises, convict conditioning.

Commando Pull-up. During Rocky’s spectacular training montage, you may recall him doing these puppies. With one hand, take an underhand grip and the other, an overhand grasp. For one rep, pull your head to one side of the bar, then to the other side for the next rep.

Grip: Narrow/Wide You may change the breadth of your grip to target various muscle areas. Pull-ups should be done with your hands as close together as possible or as far apart as possible.

Pull-ups made from a towel Hold one towel in each hand and hang two towels from your bar. Pull yourself to your feet. Excellent for improving grip strength.

Typewriter Pull-up. With an overhand grip somewhat wider than shoulder width apart, grab the bar. Pull yourself up to the point where your sternum meets the bar. Now shift your weight to one hand, taking part of the weight off the other. Keep your sternum pressed on the bar. Return to the middle of your body and repeat on the opposing side. Return to the middle and slowly lower your body. That counts as one rep.

Pull-up with one hand. When you can do many one-handed pull-ups, you’ve reached top-dog, alpha-male-prisoner, beast-mode level.

See our “do more than one pull-up” routine if you can’t perform more than one pull-up. It’ll have you doing repetitions of pull-ups in no time.


The squat is a simple yet efficient sports maneuver. You train your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hips, and inner thighs all in one workout.

Variations on the Squat

Squat Squat Squat Squat Squat Squat S Placing your hands behind your head is how the conventional prisoner bodyweight squat is done. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Ascend. That counts as one rep.

Increase the amount of weight. While you may not have access to a barbell, you may locate weird things to lift up on your shoulders or hold in front of your chest in your surroundings. Simply squat once you’ve reached your target weight.

Squat Jumps are a type of exercise that involves jumping from a s To increase explosiveness, do a plyometric variant of the squat. Perform a prisoner squat like usual, but as you hit the bottom of the squat, burst up and leap as high as you can off the ground. When your feet are back on the ground, quickly crouch down and leap once again. Excellent for high-intensity interval training.

Pistol squat, prisoner workout, body weight exercises, convict conditioning, illustration.

Squat with a pistol. When you can complete many pistol squats, you’ll have reached top-dog, alpha-male-prisoner, beast-mode status. A pistol squat is a complete squat performed on one leg. When you’re in the squat posture, the leg that isn’t squatting extends out directly in front of you. The term comes from the fact that you appear like a pistol while you’re at the bottom of the squat. It’s a colossal task that will take months to master.


There are complete routines to help you achieve this Herculean accomplishment (and maybe we’ll touch on it in the future), but the aided variant is one of the greatest exercises to help you transition into a pistol squat. Simply grip a pole or another solid item in front of you and lower yourself into a one-legged squat, pulling yourself up with the pole. You can eventually remove the training wheels and do a freestanding one.


Illustration, dip, prisoner workout, convict conditioning, body weight exercises.

Dips target the triceps, pecs, shoulders, forearms, and core, and they don’t need a special dip rig. Prisoners will sit in a chair with their hands on the armrests and their feet on the floor or propped up on a bed. Place weighted things on your lap to make them more challenging.

Leg Raises with a Hang

This is a blaster with a core. It targets your quads, hips, forearms, and shoulder muscles in addition to your abs, obliques, and rib muscles.

Variations on the Hanging Leg Raise

Illustration, hanging leg, prisoner workout, convict conditioning, body weight exercises.

Leg Raises with Straight Legs With a little broader than shoulder-width overhand hold, grab and hang from a bar. Raise legs by flexing hips until they are entirely flexed, or knees are far above hips, while keeping knees straight. Return to the starting position until your hips are fully stretched downward.

Leg Raises with Bent Knees If you can’t complete a straight leg raise, bend your knees and lift them into your chest as a substitute.

Raise your legs completely straight. Perform a straight leg raise as usual, but instead of stopping when your feet reach the level of your hips, continue until your toes contact the bar.

Straight Leg Raises with a Towel Two towels should be draped over the bar, one in each hand. While holding on to the towels, do a straight leg lift.

Windshield Wiper Hanging Perform a straight leg raise, but brace your abs and twist your legs to one side as much as you can when your feet reach the top positions. Shift your weight to the opposite side. That counts as one rep.

Straight Leg Raise with One Arm When you can complete repeated one-armed straight leg lifts and maintain yourself in the top position for many seconds, you’ve attained top-dog, alpha-male-prisoner, beast-mode status.


Burpees are the ultimate full-body workout. The burpee is used in the exercises of football teams, CrossFitters, and elite military personnel for a purpose. One simple activity will put your strength and cardio capacity to the test.

Variations on the Burpee

Burpees are a basic exercise. Simply follow these steps to do a simple burpee:

  • Start with your hands on the floor in front of you in a squat stance.
  • Return to a push-up position by kicking your feet back.
  • Return your feet to the squat posture as soon as possible.
  • From a squat stance, leap as high as you can.

Push-up and Burpee Perform a regular burpee, but after kicking out your feet to a push-up posture, complete a full push-up.

With a Hindu Push-up, do a Burpee. Make it a Hindu push-up instead of a regular push-up.


Burpee+Pull-up. Stand underneath a pull-up bar or a tree limb high enough for you to have to jump to reach it. Perform a burpee as usual, but instead of jumping up, grasp the bar and do a pull-up. Repeat. Did you hear what I said? That was your soul’s last scream.

Other information on the advantages of this exercise, as well as more variants and example burpee exercises, may be found here.

Putting It All Together: Workouts for Prisoners

As you can see, there are a lot of exercises to choose from when creating a bodyweight workout. To make your bodyweight workout, mix and match the exercises, as well as a set and rep pattern.

However, if you want some assistance, the following are some suggestions:

Painful Playing Cards

Because they generally have a deck of cards on hand, this is said to be a popular fitness practice among inmates.

Take a regular 52-card deck. Each of the four suits should be assigned one of the aforementioned exercises (or one of its modifications). As an example, you may have:

  • Push-ups are a club that consists of push-ups.
  • Pull-ups in spades
  • Squats are diamonds.
  • Hearts: Leg Raises in the Air

Begin by drawing cards from the top of the deck. The suit indicates the kind of activity you’re performing, while the number indicates the amount of repetitions. Face cards are worth 10 reps, while aces are worth eleven. You would perform five squats if you got the 5 of diamonds, and ten push-ups if you received the king of clubs. Draw the cards and do the exercises and repetitions until all of the cards have been drawn.

For good measure, add 10 burpees to the mix.

Method of Juarez Valley

The inmates in Mexico’s Juarez Valley Prison – one of the world’s most dangerous jails — employ the following rep plan for their bodyweight exercise, according to the book Jailhouse Strong.

Select a workout. During this circuit, you’ll only be performing one. Let’s pretend you’re going to perform push-ups as an example.

There are 20 sets on this circuit. This is how the rep system works:

  • 1st Set: 20 Reps
  • 1 rep in Set 2
  • 3rd Set: 19 Reps
  • 4th Set: 2 Reps
  • 18 reps in Set 5
  • 6th Set: 3 Reps
  • 7th Set: 17 Reps
  • 8th Set: 4 Reps
  • 9th Set: 16 Reps
  • 5 reps for Set 10
  • 15 reps on Set 11
  • 6 reps for Set 12
  • Reps: 14 in Set 13
  • 7 reps on Set 14
  • Set 15 consists of 13 reps.
  • 8 reps for Set 16
  • Set 17 consists of 12 reps.
  • 9 reps on Set 18
  • Set 19 consists of 11 reps.
  • Set 20 consists of ten reps of each set.

So you start with 20 repetitions on the odd sets and go down a rep every odd set, whereas on the even sets, you start with 1 rep and go up a rep every even set. You’ll have performed 210 repetitions when everything is said and done.

Take a 5- to 10-step break between sets and then go back into it. The objective is to finish the circuit as quickly as possible.

Squat Workout by Mike Tyson

While in jail, Tyson completed this body squat program, which may not seem difficult but is quite effective:

  • Place ten cards facedown on the ground in a straight line with 4′′ between each card.
  • To begin, crouch down and stand over the first card to pick it up.
  • Take a step forward, holding the first card, to the second card. Squat down and put the newly acquired card on top of the second card. You will have no cards in your hand at this moment, and two cards will be stacked one on top of the other on the ground below you.
  • Pick up the first card by squatting once.
  • Squat down once again and take the second card.
  • Squat down and lay one of the two cards in your hand on top of the card on the ground while you take a step forward to the third card. Squat down and lay the other card on top of the ground cards.
  • Squat once for each of the three cards to be picked up one by one.
  • Repeat this method until you’ve gone through all 10 cards, then take a step forward to the fourth card.

Pick up a copy of The Warrior Monk to understand how Tyson prepared his body (and mind) before going to prison. Cus D’Amato’s Training Philosophy: The 5 Strategic Principles That Made Mike Tyson a World Champion


Getting into the Groove

Instead of having a predetermined time limit during which you aim to do as many repetitions as possible, with lubricating the groove, you execute reps all day. You may create a system where you do 10 push-ups every half hour. If you’re awake for 12 hours a day, you’ll do 240 push-ups every day.

Exercising to Fail

Simply complete one set of each exercise for as many repetitions as you can for growth and endurance.

Every day, do one exercise.

When Ryan Ferguson was imprisoned in a Missouri jail from 2004 to 2013 after being wrongfully convicted of murder, he established a daily regimen in which he concentrated on only one exercise. The aim is to get to the point where you can do 500 repetitions in an hour. It doesn’t matter how many sets you complete this in; the goal is to get to 500 reps before the 60 minutes are up.

Listen to Josh Bryant’s podcast on how to become jailhouse strong:


Listen to Josh Bryant’s podcast on how to become jailhouse strong:


Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning

Josh Bryant’s Jailhouse Strong

Charles Bronson’s Solitary Fitness



Watch This Video-

The “cell workout pdf” is a great resource for those who want to start working out but don’t know where to begin. The document includes bodyweight workouts and other resources that can help you get started.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of workouts do prisoners do?

A: When prisoners are released from prison, many times they have a lot of weight to lose and need help with that. They often do cardio workouts on treadmills or stationary bicycles in order for them to shed the pounds quickly. Additionally, some prisons do offer free weights to their inmates which allows them even more freedom when it comes time for lifting heavier objects such as moving furniture or heavy construction equipment

How many pushups do prisoners do a day?

A: Well there are different types of prisons so its difficult to pinpoint exactly how many pushups prisoners do. According to some sources, an average inmate in a medium security prison would be required 8-10 times per day while someone in solitary confinement would only need 5 sets of 10 each.

Can you get ripped off bodyweight exercises?

A: Yes, you can. You need to be careful that the person selling is a legitimate one and does not have any experience with bodybuilding or weightlifting themselves.

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