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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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July 23, 2008

The Prison Workout

By Aaron
197 Comments

PrisonerThe Prison Workout. New idea? Nah. It’s been around as long as there has been anyone locked up that is looking to stay in shape. Still compelling? Absolutely. Here is MDA’s take on why we think it is worth another look, along with our own variations on this classic routine.

Why We Can Appreciate the Prison Workout:

1. Unlimited time

You have no excuses. You can’t fall back on the most often used excuse to not get in shape.

2. Limited space

You don’t get to decide whether you should go to the basketball court, to the gym, to the tennis court, to the park, ride your bike, play ultimate Frisbee with friends etc. etc. because you don’t have a choice. Your options are limited. But this is a good thing. You don’t get bogged down with endless decision-making. You’ll be working out while Joe Schmo is still deciding what to do.

No specialized equipment, no gimmicks, no late-night infomercial tchotchkes, no gym membership. You don’t even have dumbbells. It’s just you. In a room. With endless potential. The only thing stopping you from getting fit is your resolve to do so.

4. Lone soldier mentality

There is something about being on your own. There are no support groups or personal trainers. No buddy system, and no lazy spouse to drag you down. The results you achieve are all a result of your hard work. It is you against everyone else in prison, so you better get in shape.

How is this Primal, you ask?

It’s intense, it builds muscle, it requires that you use your local environment and resources to get fit, and there is a survival-of-the-fittest aspect here. Prison isn’t a fun place to be (so we’ve heard…). You have to constantly be on guard, watching your back and ready to protect yourself at any moment. If you aren’t prepared you’re going to pay the price. With this in mind you need to build functional strength. The kind that allows you to sprint and move quickly, and fight when it is called for. On the outside it isn’t everyday that we are put into survival-of-the-fittest or literal fight-or-flight situations, but it is always better to be prepared than to be a victim.

Prison Workout? Really? This isn’t for me…

We hear you, but you don’t have to get yourself locked up to take part in the Prison Workout. There are plenty of real-world applications. Do it in your apartment when winter snow or spring rain keeps you indoors. Do it when you are away on business and you only have a few minutes to spare in your dinky hotel room. Do it at home so you don’t have to pay for a gym membership.

Enough talking. Let’s get to the Prison Workout:

PrisonAt the core of any self-respecting prisoner’s workout regimen is THE BURPEE. If you have never done one you are in for a world of hurt – especially if you are to attempt the holy grail of 20 descending sets. Here’s how:

The Burpee

From a standing position squat down, drop your hands to the ground and jump your feet back to assume a push-up position. Do a push-up. Jump your legs forward to between your hands then jump up into the air bringing your knees to your chest and your hands into the air over your head. Repeat 20 times. Doing this at any speed 20 times is enough to get anyone’s heart rate up. Now comes the really tough part. Catch your breath before going into another set. This time completing 19 burpees. Catch your breath. Now do 18 burpees. Repeat until you have done all descending sets.

Variations include not starting with 20. Do a descending set starting from 10 or some other number. Or don’t do descending sets at all. Instead do as many burpees as you can before you get to the pass-out/throw-up stage. Also, you don’t have to bring your knees to your chest. This lowers the intensity considerably. (Check out this video for a visualization of the possibilities, and this video that ups the ante by combining burpees with pull-ups.)

This is a full body workout and covers your bases for most muscle groups. In fact, you could almost whip your body into shape by mastering this workout alone. But if you want to take it to the next level here are some additional options when all you have is a 10×10 cell and an iron will.

Upper Body Muscle

Upper Body

Play Cards

We don’t mean solitaire. Get a deck of cards and some sort of receptacle – trash bin, cup, shoe, doesn’t matter. Sitting some distance from the target toss a card attempting to land it in the hole. If the card doesn’t make it and lands face up this is how many push-ups you will be doing. (Face cards equal 10.) Do the whole deck. Repeat if you’re a tough guy or gal (or if you are aces at tossing cards).

Everyone knows what a push-up is so I won’t explain the basics. The important thing is to remember to keep your body level (no sticking your butt up in the air… especially if you are actually in prison) and to do the many variations on this old favorite – incline, decline, military, staggered hands etc. Mix it up and watch your chest and triceps get shredded. Watch this 19 Push-Up Variations video plus Jack Lalanne’s crazy fingertip push-ups for ideas.

Tricep Dips

Put your hands on your prison chair or bed and dip your body toward the ground. Variations (from easiest to hardest) include: feet on the ground with bent knees, feet on the ground with straight legs, feet up off of the ground on another piece of furniture (toilet? sink?), and one foot on another piece of furniture while the other leg is raised in the air, alternating legs.

Pull-Ups

All you need is something overhead to grab onto. Variations include overhand grip, underhand grip, wide grip, and narrow all with varying speeds. Watch this CrossFit video for inspiration.

Lower Body

Lower Body Muscle

Squat Jump

This is basically the burpee without the push-up part. Squat from a standing position until your fingertips touch the floor and then explode upwards, leaving the floor and raising your arms into the air. Repeat. Your quads will start burning quicker than you probably expect.

Jump Lunge

From a lunge position jump upward bringing both feet off the ground at the same time and switch your stance ending in a lunge position with your other foot now in the front. The speed and number of reps are up to you. We recommend fast and max. (Video example.)

Core

Core Muscle

Planks

Try holding a plank for 3 minutes straight. Sounds easy, right? Think again. But, if you were a hardcore caged animal you could do it. Do standard and side planks holding the position as long as you can. Read this for more on planks.

Isometrics

Mark told us all about isometrics for abs in his post Washboard Abs on a High-Fat Diet, No Ab Workouts and No Cardio? So check it out for more info.

 

Hardcore Additions

Muscle Arm

Handstand Push-Ups

Do a handstand with your back facing and feet against a wall. Once in the position lower your head towards the ground and then explode upward. (Handstand Push-Up video example) If you don’t have the strength to do a Handstand Push-Up work your way up by doing the Pike Press (video – FYI: You don’t need a fancy swiss ball) to build shoulder and tricep strength. If you are really hardcore don’t use the wall (video).

Wall Squats

All you need is a wall for this simple move. Put your back up against the wall and lower it until there is a 90 degree angle between your upper and lower legs. Hold this position as long as you can. Doesn’t sound hardcore, you say? Try holding the position for 1, 2, 3 or even 5 minutes and then tell us it isn’t hardcore. Just like with planks after a minute or two you’ll be begging for mercy. Check out this CrossFit tutorial for video instruction.

That’s two Hardcore Additions added to our Prison Workout routine. We’ll leave the rest up to you, fellow Apples.

CrossFitters, too! We know you’re out there and have something to add. So hit us up with a comment and tell us what your favorite tight-quarters exercise regimen includes and how ours could be even more extreme.

Note: This routine may not be for everyone, but there is plenty to be learned here by anyone that wants to stay in shape and has limited space and resources.

Abdallah Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Primal Plyos for the Upper Body

Primal Plyos for the Lower Body

Mark’s Beach Sprints

Video Proof You Can Exercise Outdoors

Mike Rowe From “Dirty Jobs” Does Burpees

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197 Comments on "The Prison Workout"

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32Simon
32Simon
8 years 2 months ago

Great post for prisoners and civilians alike. I’ve seen variations on “The Prison Workout” before but this one takes the cake. High intensity, body weight only, no special equipment… i luv the simplicity. I’ll be adding the burpees into my routine. I’ve done them before. As you imply, they are killer!

How about that video you included of the guy doing 100 burpees PLUS pull-ups. That’s pretty insane.

Thanks for the great post and keep up the inspiring work!

tayyy
7 years 1 month ago

pushups and situps like the navy marines army

Jen
Jen
8 years 2 months ago

I find that my core is ostensibly the toughest part of my body to firm and shape up!!! It has been a frustrating venture for me as I have had 3 children and it unfortunately shows in the areas of my person that I do not want this to show. I don’t know if I can do it, by I will try to “hold the plank”. Thanks for the advice MDA!

GSB
8 years 2 months ago

Your site has quickly become my favorite site on the internet. Thank you for all you do and the effort you put into providing so much great information, along with the super-helpful links to videos and more info. THANK YOU!

Chaz
Chaz
8 years 2 months ago
I’ve been working on “the plank” recently. It took me almost a week to reach the 1-minute mark! (3? Fuhgettaboutit). One really simple piece of equipment you could add to boost up the routine is a jump rope. Fits in a handbag and really whips up a good sweat. Though, if you’re an actual prisoner, I guess a jump rope would be forbidden, to easy to hang yourself or your un-submissive cell mate. So Prisoners pump it with Primal power. Now, if we could just get prisons to implement some of the stuff you talk about in your preceding post,… Read more »
Annie
Annie
5 years 5 months ago

Yes, gotta watch out for all those suisidal prisoners! What an awful comment. Geez.

Alex
Alex
8 years 2 months ago

Crossfit = dumbbell thrusters. You need something with weight, doesn’t have to be dumbbells. Squat with the DB’s at your shoulders and explode up – as you do, “thrust” the DB’s into the air, overhead pressing. You will get tired – fast.

And box jumps. Ouch.

plume
plume
8 years 2 months ago

The pistol is a great exercise for lower body strength : http://www.beastskills.com/Pistol.htm

Also, if you’re interested in hardcore bodyweight training you really, really, REALLY want Ross Enamait’s Never Gymless (http://rosstraining.com/nevergymless.html). Seriously, I can’t emphasize enough how good this is. No bullshit, just a large amount of informative content written in a clear, concise way. Truly outstanding.

Geek2Freak Brandon
8 years 2 months ago

I use a lot of these in my bodyweight workouts, and of course whenever I’m incarcerated. 🙂

Burpees are serious business!

I used to hold planks for as long as possible and worked my way up to over 2 minutes, but then I read it’s better to do more reps for shorter duration.

For example, I usually do 3 sets of 30-45 second holds now.

Admittedly, I haven’t done much more research on the topic, but I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts.

Kevan
Kevan
8 years 2 months ago

Ooh, burpees with a chin-up at the top of the leap? That’s hardcore! I’m going to start doing those tonight, they look like a seriously challenging workout.

MikeB
8 years 2 months ago

Great post and exceptional site. Burpees are the love to hate excersize with me. A good full body blast. Add some pull ups and your done.

Petr R.
Petr R.
8 years 2 months ago

20 descending sets of burpees are hell… I call it ‘Alcatraz workout’ 🙂
What is everybodys time on this one ? It took a looong time – 21:18.

David Hydock
David Hydock
1 year 4 months ago

I did it today with a new PR of 15 minutes 49 seconds

MizFit
8 years 2 months ago

Prison? Being a fulltime SAHM to a toddler while writing fulltime?
methinks it’s the same.

I LOVE THIS.

M.

Annie
Annie
5 years 5 months ago

What?

dragonmamma
dragonmamma
8 years 2 months ago

Burpees with pull-ups (pull-a-burps) are da bomb. I did 20 this morning. No descending sets, though! Besides the physical benefits, they’re also wonderful for the ego; people tend to come from all over the gym to ooh-and-ahh at you.

I’m always fairly astounded when someone blows off a workout because he/she couldn’t get to the gym. I go to the gym because I like being with people and having access to equipment, but it’s definitely not necessary for a good workout. I can totally exhaust myself on my 4 x 6 foot living room rug with no equipment.

Israel
8 years 2 months ago

Like you said, this can be applied outside the prison cell. These workouts should be the building block for anyone that wants to get in shape and have functional strength.

I know someone that went to prison flabby and out of shape. He used to smoke and eat horribly. A couple of years in the joint and he came out looking like a body building. He had the body to compete in competitions. It was an amazing turnaround. All that time in there, and he used it to his advantage.

trackback
8 years 2 months ago

A Detailed Breakdown of the Prison Workout…

The Prison Workout. New idea? Nah. It’s been around as long as there has been anyone locked up that is looking to stay in shape. Still compelling? Absolutely. Here is MDA’s take on why we think it is worth another look, along with our own variations on…

Tom Parker
8 years 2 months ago
Great post Mark. Bodyweight training is tough and your workout is one of the toughest I’ve seen. When I was younger I used to do handstand pushups and that alone was enough to tire me out. My problem is that if I do not make myself go to the gym to work out I more often than not end up skipping the exercise. Therefore, if I stopped my gym membership and did the ‘Prison Workout’ instead, I doubt I would be able to make myself do it. I’m quite easily destracted so working out at home is not really an… Read more »
harvey
8 years 1 month ago

great site.
check out my site sometime. http://www.prisonworkout.com

pass along to your subscribers. it is free too.

andar909
andar909
8 years 1 month ago

hi, andar here, i just read your post. i like very much. agree to you, sir.

bison04
bison04
8 years 1 month ago

great list for a great workout. for the true prison crowd, butt clenches are probably a good idea…

Annie
Annie
5 years 5 months ago

Useless comment.

Mike
Mike
4 years 12 days ago

Some people like to laugh once in a while. Get over yourself.

TylarDerdin
TylarDerdin
3 years 7 months ago

And another…

emmyalex
emmyalex
8 years 1 month ago

hey, not a prisoner here, but just wanted to say that i think a lot of these basic moves are the best You don’t need much. When I get bored I’ve been checking out Fitness magazine. September issue has a get lean workout that’s pretty decent.

Mario97
Mario97
8 years 12 days ago
Some pretty good workouts here i never realised how effective planks were. I’ve always thought that machines and weights are a waste of time and money when there’s so much you can do with just your own body weight and a bit of floor. Another exercise not mentioned here is a kind of reverse plank, lie on your back and keeping your legs straight lift your feet slightly off the ground, and hold. The closer your feet are to the ground (without touching of course) the harder it is. I found this harder than planks but i did the exercise… Read more »
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[…] learned about this workout recently from my sister Katrina, and tried out the workout from Mark’s Daily Apple. You’re trying to get a functional, full-body workout with limited space and equipment. […]

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[…] learned about this workout recently from my sister Katrina, and tried out the workout from Mark’s Daily Apple. You’re trying to get a functional, full-body workout with limited space and equipment. […]

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[…] Scooby’s Home work outs are just awesome: Find more on his site http://scoobysworkshop.com or his Youtube channel The Prison Work out. […]

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[…] The Prison Workout […]

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[…] The Prison Workout […]

leavesareply
leavesareply
7 years 10 months ago

hey everybody, lets all go to prison!

trackback
7 years 10 months ago

[…] —Train like a prisoner or MacGuyver. Either way, master your body first, then look for free/cheap/homemade equipment. […]

Paul
7 years 10 months ago

This is an awsome article. Very basic but extermely effective movements to build a great body.

trackback

[…] The Prison Workout […]

Personal Trainer
7 years 9 months ago

Awesome Article!

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[…] is “The Prison Workout?” Well, the best post on this workout can be found over at Mark’s Daily Apple. The best thing about the workout is that you can do it for free in the comfort of your own […]

gaaack2003
gaaack2003
7 years 8 months ago

Sounds interesting.But you forgot one important bit of info;how many times a week do you do for optimal results?

trackback
7 years 8 months ago

[…] The Prison Workout – July 23 […]

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[…] if you want to read about The Prison Workout in it’s entirety, make sure to check out the original Prison Workout Post over at Mark’s Daily Apple! So now on with the […]

____(______
____(______
7 years 8 months ago

Inhumane!

trackback
7 years 8 months ago

[…] – Master the Prison workout and then master Starting […]

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[…] back by popular demand… the prison workout! The more and more I check out the complete workout, the more I believe that it’s a total body approach to getting in shape if you don’t […]

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[…] qui permet de soulever son propre corps si besoin, de poster ses enfants, de courir… celle du prison workout qui, s’il est rude, m’attire tout de même d’une certaine façon et […]

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[…] across this during a lazy afternoon interwebz surf: Prison Workout | Mark’s Daily Apple Looks like a good few excercises to try out during those lazy hours when there’s nothing to do at […]

Forest
7 years 6 months ago

I think it’s so important to master basic movements like these before moving on to more advanced ones. Most people don’t really need a gym membership or any equipment at all to get into great shape!

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[…] the CrossFitters, P90Xers, and Prison Workout enthusiasts, MizFit has a new pushup variation to toss into your strength training […]

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[…] Prison Workout – Mark’s Daily Apple […]

jing-a-ling,jing-a-ling
jing-a-ling,jing-a-ling
7 years 6 months ago

wow! i can use that when I get on the outside!

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[…] Marks Daily Apple skriver om olika övningar för en prison workout. […]

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[…] up. You don’t need any fancy equipment, just somehwere to hold your feet and an even surface. Prison Workout | Mark’s Daily Apple Fun starting point for people with no resources. You’ll be amazed at how little you can do at […]

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[…] The Prison Workout […]

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[…] they don’t have access to weights. A lot of those guys are strong as hell and ripped to shreds. Take a look at this. […]

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[…] Originally Posted by [R-MOD]dunehunter Alright, current plan: Monday: -100 or 150 pushups (gotta see what I can do) using a D12 to decide how many I do in one go. No cards lying around -100 lifts on each arm with the 6kg dumbbels (so 200 in total, alternating between arms), 5 sets of 40 -not sure yet on the amount of crunches, gotta see what I can do with sets of 30 -working out on the punching bag (depends on whether my dad can find the time to help me fix it more firmly, don’t want to trash my… Read more »
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[…] Prison Workout […]

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