The Prisoner Workout: Killer Bodyweight Exercises for Small Spaces

Brett and Kate McKay | August 5, 2015
Last updated: November 30, 2017

Besides a few brief stints of freedom, notorious British criminal and troublemaker Charles Salvador (better known as Charles Bronson) has been serving time since 1974. During these decades behind bars, and often confined to isolation, Bronson has become a fitness fanatic, creating workout programs that require only his bodyweight and a few odd objects. His extreme regimen has given him near-superhuman strength — he claims to be able to do 172 push-ups in 60 seconds, pick up a pool table by himself, and bend a steel prison cell door with his bare hands. He’s set many prison fitness records as well, including one for most push-ups in an hour: 1,727.

Now, it’d be easy to take Bronson’s claims with a grain of salt. The man is not only a convicted criminal, but his violent, loose-cannon behavior has earned him the label of “Britain’s most notorious prisoner.”

But Bronson is hardly the only inmate who’s managed to gain impressive strength without access to barbells, nutritious food, or supplements. Prisoners all over the world have created highly effective strength-building routines they can perform in the tiny space of their cell or with limited equipment in the jail yard. For men who are locked up, being strong and looking strong isn’t just about aesthetics and personal development; the appearance of size and prowess acts as a deterrent to attack and can be necessary for survival.

While most of us will thankfully never end up behind bars, I think we can all take a lesson from convicts on how to not let your circumstances be an excuse for your fitness goals. Below we highlight bodyweight exercises used by prisoners the world over to get strong and stay strong.

The Benefits of Bodyweight Workouts

You can do them anywhere. Don’t have time to make it to the gym? Travel a lot? Locked up for 5-10 years? Great! You can do the prisoner workout anywhere…bedroom, office, hotel room, or solitary confinement.

It’s free. Don’t have the money for a gym membership or purchasing your own equipment? That’s not an excuse for not exercising. With a few simple bodyweight exercises, you can create a full-body workout that’s completely free.

Strength+cardio in a single workout. By increasing the tempo and decreasing the rest between sets and exercises, you can turn a bodyweight workout into both a high-intensity cardio session and a strength workout. In 30 minutes, you’ll be done with your exercise for the day.

The Exercises

Below I’ve highlighted six main bodyweight exercises that work the entire body. However, with a little tweaking of each exercise, you can create over 50 different exercises from just these six basic movements. If you’re locked up for life, I’m sure you could come up with another 50 variations.

Push-ups

According to the book he wrote in prison, Solitary Fitness, Bronson performs 2,000 push-ups a day. If you start doing 10 push-ups a day and add 5 more each day, in a little over a year, you can get up to that level.

Push-up Variations

The push-up works multiple muscle groups including the chest, anterior deltoid, and triceps. And the great thing about it is that the exercise can be easily modified to increase difficultly and work different muscle groups.

Narrow/Wide Hand Placement. By simply adjusting the placement of your hands, you can emphasize different muscle groups. Narrow hand placement works the triceps, while 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 movement that will build strength and flexibility in your chest, shoulders, back, hips, and triceps.

Get in position by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend down and place your hands on the floor while keeping your arms and legs straight. You should look like an upside down human “v” with your butt being the point of the “v” and your head pointing down to the ground.

To perform the Hindu push-up, you’re going to make sort of a swooping motion with your body. Bring your head down and forward by bending your elbows. When your head gets close to the ground, continue moving your torso forward by arching your back and lowering your hips. Your hips will now be near your hands. Make sure to get a good stretch in your back. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Handstand Push-up. Forget shoulder presses. If you want a killer shoulder workout, look no further than the handstand push-up. To perform the handstand push-up, assume a handstand position. Slowly bend your elbows and lower your inverted body towards the ground. In order to maintain balance, you’re going to have to call on your core and other smaller stabilizing muscles. If you can’t do a stand-alone handstand, use a wall to assist you.

 illustration, one-arm push-up, prisoner workout, convict conditioning, bodyweight exercises

One-Armed Push-up. You’ll have achieved top-dog, alpha-male-prisoner, beast-mode status when you can perform multiple one-handed push-ups.

Read more at TheArtofManliness

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