Solitary Fitness: The 10 Best Prison Workouts

If you are a regular gym-goer, you know that nothing ruins your day (or your gains!) like a missed workout. Maybe you’re too busy to hit the gym, or you’re coming up short on that month’s fees, and the manager won’t cut you any slack.

Perhaps you’re on the road and your hotel doesn’t have a gym, or stuck at home with no garage gym to train in. You could even be locked up in prison with little or no access to the recreation yard.

The good news is that lack of decent facilities doesn’t mean you need to skip your workout. In fact, if you adopt a jailhouse mentality, you’ll quickly see that you already have everything you need to work out – a couple of square yards of space and your own body.

Prisoners have a long history of working out with next to no equipment. After all, if you are locked in a cell for 23 hours a day, exercise is a great way to pass the time. And while some prisons do have strength training facilities, access is usually restricted to just a few hours per week and can be withdrawn at any time.

If you want to work out consistently, you need a plan that you can maintain, even on full lockdown.

And that’s where we come in!

In this article, we’re going to share TEN of the best prison workouts that you can do anywhere and anytime – no equipment required. You don’t have to be incarcerated to enjoy the benefits of these workouts; they’re perfect for anytime that you can’t or don’t want to go to the gym.

The 10 Best Prison Workouts

Before your workout, spend a few minutes warming up by jogging on the spot, doing jumping jacks, or shadowboxing. 5-10 minutes should suffice.

Once you feel warm, continue with some dynamic stretches and joint mobility exercises. Warming up prepares your muscles and joints for the workout you are about to do and also helps focus your mind.

1. Juarez Valley Workout

This workout comes from Mexico’s toughest prison. It’s a rep scheme you can apply to any exercise. It’s ideal for the “one exercise per day” training plan, where you do a single exercise per day, rotating between an upper-body push, upper-body pull, and lower body exercise, i.e.;

  • Monday – push, e.g., push-ups
  • Tuesday – pull, e.g., pull-ups
  • Wednesday – legs, e.g., squats
  • Thursday – push
  • Friday – pull
  • Saturday – legs
  • Sunday – rest

For the Juarez Valley workout, you do 20 sets of your chosen exercise, following this rep scheme:

  1. 20 reps
  2. 1 rep
  3. 19 reps
  4. 2 reps
  5. 18 reps
  6. 3 reps
  7. 17 reps
  8. 4 reps
  9. 16 reps
  10. 5 reps
  11. 15 reps
  12. 6 reps
  13. 14 reps
  14. 7 reps
  15. 13 reps
  16. 8 reps
  17. 12 reps
  18. 9 reps
  19. 11 reps
  20. 10 reps

Take a short rest between each set – say 15-30 seconds. In Juarez, prisoners time their rests by walking lengths of their cell.

2. The Deck of Cards Workout

A deck of cards is a valuable workout tool. It’s like having a personal trainer in your pocket! Using a deck of cards adds an element of variety to your prison workouts which can be very welcome when you are locked up.

To do this workout, take a standard deck of cards and allocate one exercise to each suit, e.g.:

  • Clubs – push-ups
  • Hearts – burpees
  • Spades – crunches
  • Diamonds – lunges

You can leave the jokers in and allocate an exercise to them, such as 50 jumping jacks, or remove them as preferred.

Shuffle your cards and place the deck face down. Turn over the first card. The suit determines which exercise you have to do, and the value of the card is the number of reps. So, if you turn over the nine of hearts, you do nine lunges per leg.

Do your reps and then turn over the next card. Continue until you have done all the cards in the deck. For picture cards, do 12 reps, and for aces, do one.

3. The Prisoner Burpee Workout

Burpees are the ultimate jail cell exercise. They work virtually every muscle in your body, and you don’t need a lot of space to do them. Also, burpees give your cardiovascular system a good workout, so they’re useful for staying healthy and burning fat too.

For this workout, do a 20-1 descending ladder of burpees as quickly as you can. Pause just long enough between sets to catch your breath and then move on.

By the end, you’ll have done over 200 reps and will have trained your entire body.

  • 20 reps
  • 19 reps
  • 18 reps
  • 17 reps etc.
  • 1 rep and done!

To do a burpee:

  1. Stand with your feet together and your arms by your sides.
  2. Squat down and place your hands flat on the floor.
  3. Jump your feet out and back into the push-up position.
  4. Do a single push-up.
  5. Jump your feet back up to your hands.
  6. Leap up into the air as high as you can.
  7. Land on slightly bent knees and repeat.
  8. Make burpees easier by omitting the push-up and/or the final leap into the air.
  9. Make this workout harder by starting your ladder with 25 or 30 reps.

4. Death by Lunges Workout

When it comes to prison workouts, push-ups are arguably the king. They’re simple and effective and work those all-important upper body muscles. However, you should not neglect your legs.

With no weights or squat rack, your choice of lower body exercises is limited, but lunges are arguably your best option. Working one leg at a time, lunges provide your muscles with more overload than simple bodyweight squats, and they’re good for balance and mobility too.

For this workout, do 30 lunges per leg and then take a short rest. Next, do 29 reps per leg. Continue decreasing your reps by one per set until you are done. If forward lunges bother your knees, you can always do reverse lunges. Alternatively, you could mix things up by doing forward lunges for your even sets and reverse lunges on your odd sets.

5. The Iron Mike Tyson Squat Workout

Mike Tyson came out of his three-year stint in prison looking bigger and leaner than when he went in. It’s clear that Iron Mike spent a lot of his time working out.

This workout is said to be one of his favorites, and all you need is a deck of cards to do it.

  • Line up ten cards face down in a straight line on the ground with four inches between each one.
  • Stand over the first card with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Squat down to pick it up.
  • Take a step forward to the second card. Squat down and place the first card on top of the second card. You now have no cards in your hand, and there are two cards on the ground below you.
  • Squat once and pick up the first card.
  • Squat once and pick up the second card.
  • Take a step forward to the third card. Squat down, and place one of the two cards in your hand on top of the card on the ground. Now squat down and put the other card on top of the cards on the ground.
  • Squat one time each to pick up the three cards one by one.
  • Take a step forward to the fourth card.
  • Repeat this process until you’ve made it through all ten cards. At this point, you will have done 100 reps.
  • Rest 1-2 minutes and then repeat.
Check out this video to see how the Mike Tyson squat workout comes together:

6. Push-up Medley

Monday might be national bench press day, but in jail, you may not be able to join in. Don’t worry; push-ups are every bit as effective and work all of the same muscles. While regular push-ups are a great exercise, you’ll soon get bored of doing them over and over again.

This workout involves lots of different push-up variations, so you’ll not only avoid getting stuck in a push-up rut, but you’ll also hit your muscles from lots of different angles, which is useful for maximizing hypertrophy.

Do ten reps of each of the following push-up variations, starting at the top of each minute. However long you’ve got left before the next minute is your rest period. Start your next set at the top of the next minute. This is called EMOM training, which is short for every minute, on the minute.

  1. Handstand push-ups
  2. Pike push-ups
  3. Decline push-ups
  4. Dive bomber push-ups
  5. Diamond push-ups
  6. Wide push-ups
  7. Plyo push-ups
  8. Spider-man push-ups
  9. Pendulum push-ups
  10. Regular push-ups

7. The Doubler

This simple workout combines two prison exercise staples – push-ups and prisoner squats. Prisoner squats are simply bodyweight squats done with your hands behind your head, and your elbows pushed back.

To do this workout, pump out a maximum repetition set of push-ups. On finishing, jump to your feet and do twice as many squats.

Rest 30-60 seconds and repeat this superset four more times to make five in total. Your workout should end up looking something like this:

  1. 28 push-ups
  2. 56 prisoner squats
  3. 24 push-ups
  4. 48 prisoner squats
  5. 21 push-ups
  6. 42 prisoner squats
  7. 18 push-ups
  8. 36 prisoner squats
  9. 15 push-ups
  10. 30 prisoner squats

8. The Push-up / Pull-up Ladder Workout

This simple workout trains all of your upper body muscles with just two exercises – push-ups and pull-ups. You can also do chin-ups if you prefer. The aim is to complete all the reps as fast as you can.

  1. 10 pull-ups
  2. 2 push-ups
  3. 9 pull-ups
  4. 4 push-ups
  5. 8 pull-ups
  6. 6 push-ups
  7. 7 pull-ups
  8. 8 push-ups
  9. 6 pull-ups
  10. 10 push-ups
  11. 5 pull-ups
  12. 12 push-ups
  13. 4 pull-ups
  14. 14 push-ups
  15. 3 pull-ups
  16. 16 push-ups
  17. 2 pull-ups
  18. 18 push-ups
  19. 1 pull-up
  20. 20 push-ups

9. Modified Murph workout

Murph is a CrossFit workout that, with one small modification, is ideal for prisoners. The real Murph WOD (workout of the day) starts and ends with a one-mile run. Needless to say, if you are confined to a cell, that’s not going to be possible.

This version replaces the runs with another exercise to challenge your heart, lungs, and legs; our old favorite, burpees.

  1. 50 burpees
  2. 100 pull-ups
  3. 200 push-ups
  4. 300 prisoner squats
  5. 50 burpees

Complete all the reps for each exercise before moving on to the next. Break the reps down into as many sets as you need but try and keep your rests to a minimum.

10. 1-10-1 Pyramid

This is another rep scheme that you can apply to almost any bodyweight exercise. Just choose one exercise and then do the following to total 100 reps.

  1. 1 rep
  2. 2 reps
  3. 3 reps
  4. 4 reps
  5. 5 reps, etc. up to 10
  6. 9 reps
  7. 8 reps
  8. 7 reps, etc. down to 1

You could create a whole-body workout by using this system with an upper-body push, pull, and legs exercise.

Wrapping Up

A lot of exercisers feel adrift when they don’t have access to their usual arsenal of training equipment. After all, how DO you train your quads when you don’t have a squat rack or leg press machine?

The reality is that while gym equipment is a useful thing to have, it’s not essential. You can develop a high level of fitness, muscle size, and strength with nothing more than your body weight and a few square yards of space, be that a prison cell or a tiny hotel room.

Ultimately, your body can’t differentiate between a $25,000 chest press machine and doing push-ups for free. It just knows overload and work. Providing you push yourself hard enough, even the most basic calisthenic exercise will produce excellent results.

Don’t think of lack of space or equipment as a barrier to exercise. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to train in the most natural way possible – using just your body weight.

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