A Prison Workout Routine: Use Bodyweight Exercises for Strength | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

A Prison Workout Routine: Use Bodyweight Exercises for Strength

During my recent trip to San Francisco, my wife and I visited Alcatraz, the most historic prison in the world.  As the saying goes, “if you break the rules, you go to prison.  If you break the prison rules, you go to Alcatraz.”  Regardless of whether you are stuck in the most or least strict prison, the bottom line is that you are confined to a very tight space.  Despite this restriction, you can get a great workout in prison…not that I’m advocating committing crimes just to ramp up your workout routine.  Even though you have limited space and no gym equipment, you can use bodyweight exercises for strength increases.

The great thing about a prison workout routine is that it can literally be applied anywhere.  There aren’t many situations more restrictive than prison, so there are no more excuses for not being able to exercise.  So, how can you use bodyweight exercises to build functional strength?

A prison cell at "The Rock"

A Core Group of Bodyweight Exercises

There are limitless combinations of exercises you can do using only your body weight.  Below is just a sample of some that work well for me.  The great thing about bodyweight exercises is that most require compound movements.  Compound movements are much more effective for muscle growth.  Think of the range of muscles required to do a pushup or pull up vs. the limited muscles required to do an isolation exercise like bicep curls.

One great exercise that truly provides a full body workout is the burpee.  From a standing position, do a squat and throw your legs back so you are in pushup position.  Do a pushup and immediately bring your legs back underneath you and jump up.  Not only will you get a great arm and leg workout, but you’ll also get a fantastic cardio benefit as well.

Burpees never looked so good…

Upper Bodyweight Exercises

Pull ups: a staple of any bodyweight routine.  All you need is something overhead to hang from.  Get yourself a wall mounted pull up bar if you can.  There are numerous variations of pull ups such as underhand grip, overhand grip, narrow grip, wide grip, etc.

Dips: get two chairs or any other object that you can support yourself on.  If you’re not in prison, you can get a real dip station as well.  Lower yourself until your arms are parallel or less to the ground and explode back up.  These provide a great chest and triceps workout.

Pushups: no upper body weight routine is complete without pushups.  You literally need no equipment or other objects for these.  There are an endless variety you can perform including regular pushups, decline pushups (works upper chest), closed grip pushups (works triceps), wide grip pushups, dive bomb pushups, hindu pushups, and of course one armed pushups.

Lower Bodyweight Exercises

Squats: these are as simple as they get.  Simple squat down and back up over and over.  Too easy?  Try squat jumps or one-legged squats.

Plyometrics: other great lower bodyweight exercises include a variety of plyometrics.  Leap ups, step ups, depth jumps, and lateral jumps all help increase quad, hamstring, and calf strength.

Ab Exercises

You could do crunches all day, but those won’t really help your abs.  Do a simple plank routine that involves a straight body plank and both left and right side planks.  Think planks are just an easy yoga exercise?  Let me know when you get up to 3 minutes each on straight, left, and right planks.

A Real Prison Workout – Convict Conditioning

If you want to really use bodyweight exercises for strength, then read Convict Conditioning.  This provides a beginner’s template for how to go from doing simple bodyweight exercises to doing advanced bodyweight strength exercises.

Convict Conditioning lays out a template to achieve the following goals:

  1. One-arm pushups
  2. One-leg squats
  3. One-arm pull-ups
  4. Hanging straight leg raises
  5. Stand-to-stand bridges
  6. One-arm handstand pushups (this is just amazing!)

No fancy equipment, no fancy space, just you against your body.  That’s what a prison workout routine is really about.

Not Your Average Fitness Tips

  1. The basis behind a prison workout routine is that it can be done anywhere with no equipment.
  2. Using bodyweight exercises for strength is a great way to improve your overall fitness.
  3. Burpees are one of the best full body exercises.
  4. If you really want to achieve bodyweight training greatness and increase functional strength, get Convict Conditioning.

28 Responses to “A Prison Workout Routine: Use Bodyweight Exercises for Strength”

  • Just started on Convict Conditioning myself. Looking forward to the one-armed pushups and handstand pushups!

  • Darrin,
    I hope you’re one of the 3% that makes it all the way through!

  • When I finish visual impact I’ll like to move on to another program I might look at Convict conditioning. Its winter so lifting heavy, eating well but as spring/summer come on I go to more bodyweight conditioning.
    With weights Deadlifts are the best, but Burpees would have to be the best bodyweight exercise

  • Raymond,
    I’m in the same boat as you. Visual Impact first, bodyweight exercises next.

  • I just got a whole new perspective on Burpees! I still don’t like doing them myself, but something about that video that makes me want to watch it again and again! I know. . . I’m a pig. Sorry!

  • Kelly,
    I couldn’t agree more!

  • I have to agree, I workout at home in a room that would make a prison cell look like a penthouse suit and I can still get a great workout, I have weights and a bench but I love doing bodyweight conditioning. Planks are hands down my favorite ab exercise. Burpees are excellent too, but I think that video isn’t working, each time I watch it I zone out :)

  • David,
    I have a tiny room in my basement dedicating to my workout and it’s never hindered my progress either. You’re one of a million people that seem to zone out when watching the video…

  • […] for the presenter's form or endurance, but for her…well, check it out for yourself, gentlemen: A Prison Workout Routine: Use Bodyweight Exercises for Strength | Not Your Average Fitness Tips Before I'm accused of grotesque chauvanism, I sadly […]

  • Pedro DeSilva:

    Great post. I own Convict Conditioning, and would have honestly paid a hundred bucks for it. It has built my body up while strengthening my joints. It’s a million times better than any gym workout. Good one for spreading the word, Dave!


  • Pedro,
    Glad to find another supporter of Convict Conditioning. It’s amazing how challenging a workout can be even with limited space and limited equipment. If nothing else, Convict Conditioning will save you a gym membership!

  • So tempted to drop my gym membership altogether next week. I am thinking about switching gears and relying solely on outdoor cardio, soccer, martial arts, and body weight exercises this Summer :)

  • Craig,
    I’ll bet you could do it without missing a beat. I’m still working through Visual Impact but my goal is to get a physique that I can preserve just by using bodyweight exercises for strength and martial arts as cardio. I probably have a good 9 months before I’m satisfied enough with my physique to fully go that route.

  • ahmed:

    Great post……..thank you alot…….now i checked your book fitness in a flash and i have a question is it okay to do strength training and plyometrics on alternating days for 5 days then take rest for 2 days ?

  • Ahmed,
    Doing strength training and plyometrics on alternating days is just fine. However, if you’re doing leg training as part of your strength training routine, you’d risk burnout. I’d primarily focus on upper body strength training one day and then plyometrics with optional leg training or HIIT the following day.

  • Convict conditioning is all anyone needs to build great functional real world strength. Save all the gym membership fees!

  • Lean,
    I’d wholeheartedly agree. CC is a great program. I still like to mix things up by performing weight training though.

  • Toni:


    Recently I added Hindu squats to my routine but I was wondering if they might make my legs too big which would equal my jeans not fitting right – not what I want, at all. I know they are a great bodyweight exercise since they work many body parts at once but I want to tone my thighs not add bulk.

  • Toni,
    A valid concern to be sure. When done properly Hindu squats can be more of a cardiovascular exercise than a muscle building exercise. Think of them as an alternative to running. Sure, if you train your legs to failure, they might end up getting big and bulky, but generally bodyweight training doesn’t result in that much mass being gained.

  • Sen jy:


    Is training to failure a bad thing then when going through bodyweight routines?

  • Sen jy,
    It depends on your training goals. I like to use training to failure for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which helps increase the overall size of muscles. If you do raw strength training using low reps and avoiding failure, you will create denser, tighter muscles.

  • GD:

    I recently got cc,i started and get frustrated. I started on the beginning and just doesn’t seem like I’m progressing,i feel like I should be father along

  • GD,
    Some of the exercises take a while to advance through. One question, when you’re training, are you completely fatiguing your muscles? If so, try stopping 1-2 reps shy of failure. One problem with completely fatiguing your muscles is that they learn to fail and that it becomes difficult to advance. Hope that makes sense. Good luck.

  • Sen jy:

    I’d like to back up Dave’s advice, because I’ve been progressing decently with visible muscle gains without training to failure. Most of the time I stop when I feel I cannot perform the next rep properly.

  • GD:

    I’ll give it a try guys, thanks

  • Aleks:

    This book totally saved my life. In just 3 months I gained more muscle mass than I did when I spent a year in the gym. I love it, it’s fun, it’s different and I always challenge my friends (who go to the gym as well) to do one arm push ups or simple pull ups and they just CAN’T even though they’re bigger than me. Awesome post. Awesome book.

  • Aleks,
    Great to hear Convict Conditioning is going well for you. The exercises are really cool and certainly challenging. Good luck working up to one arm handstand pushups!

  • BuffTan:

    Dude I’m pretty sure that girl made burpees look sexy… :O

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