The Prison Workout – A Full Body Workout in a Confined Space

by Trevor Somerville on August 19, 2010

(Photo: bradleyjames)

The prison workout has been around for decades and as long as prisoners want to stay in shape it wont be going anywhere fast. The big benefit of this workout is the fact it doesn’t require anymore room then the height of your body laying on the floor and requires absolutely no workout gear besides yourself.

(Photo: bradleyjames)

[ This is a picture of a prison cell in Alcatraz one of the worlds toughest prisons said to have zero successful escapes in all it's years of operation. Looking at this cell there is just enough room to do a burpee and not much else ]

What is the prison workout?

Penitentiary style workouts can vary depending on what is available for equipment and inmates train with anything they can get there hands on.
If you were to define a prison workout as one specific workout then that’s where the “burpee ” comes in to play.If you were lucky you may have done a few of these in school at some point. The movement has you doing a squat thrust into the air then kicking your legs back into the push up position back and forth.

The burpee is a full body movement that was named after an American physiologist named Royal. H Burpee who created the burpee test. This exercise became extremely popular when it was adopted by the United States forces to assess recruits when entering world war 2. The movement will expose the holes in your Armour extremely fast. It doesn’t matter if you have a strong upper body if your lower body is weak and if your physically very strong up and down then your conditioning will be tested immediately. To be good at burpee’s you can’t have many weak spots and this makes you a real threat in prison.

 

Whats your rank?

I recall reading about the prison workout several years ago and the article stated that your ability to do burpees will make the difference between if people are willing to ” mess with you ” or not. The burpee hits nearly the entire body making it strong, quick and the amount you can do is really a testament to your conditioning and ability to defend yourself.

It went something like this..

 

Many years back I read an article about the prison workout and how in this prison system your rank on the food chain reflected the kind of shape you were in. I wish I could find this article again, it was written by a prison guard I believe and he explained the ranking system based on descending back to back sets of burpees.

Prison status:

20 descending sets of burpees in under 20 minutes. This means you would do 20 burpees in a row then take a few steps or a 10 second break then do 19 in a row, working your way down to 0 for a total of 210 reps in a row. This was supposed to be the entry level to not getting messed with in prison and anything below would make you more likely to be a target.

25 descending sets in 30 minutes or less. You would be completing 325 total repetitions and this accomplishment would make other inmates think twice about messing with you.

30 descending sets for time. Between sets you would take a walk across the room as a break and continue on until you completed all 465 repetitions. This would make you a lethal weapon and nobody would even think of messing with you.

 

The next time your due for a workout trying taking on this challenge, I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the level of fitness it takes to accomplish even the entry level prison workout at 20 descending sets. Post in the comments below how many sets you get through. I would love to hear.

Prison Workout Variations

The standard burpee workout will melt the fat off your body and give you an elite level of fitness if practiced regularly, here are some variations of the movement so you can mix things up from time to time.

Eight-count push up or Double burpee

In this variation your going to go down in to the plank position and come to a stop and perform 2 push ups before jumping back to your feet. This doubles up on the upper body work and kills your momentum going into the jump.

 

Pull-up burpee

Instead of jumping in to the air you will perform a pull up to make the sequence harder and give your back a better workout. This can be done indoor, but ideally you would have a larger space to perform this variation.

Muscle-up burpee

When thrusting in to the air you use the momentum to complete a muscle up. This is an advanced variation and your going to need to perform this at a gym or outside with a pull up bar or some play ground equipment.

One leg burpee

This movement is just as it sounds. Your going to squat down on one leg touching the ground with your hands and jumping back in to the plank position with the same leg. Explode upwards on the one leg. Switch legs and repeat.

Burpee Mile

If it wasn’t for the 30 sets of descending burpees this extreme challenge would take the cake. Do a burpee and do a standing long jump and repeat until you clear a mile in distance, this isn’t for the wimps. Work up to this with smaller goals overtime.

 

 Convict Conditioning

Although the burpee is well known for being a staple in prison systems it’s not the only exercise performed behind bars. Many prisoners have been known to master there body weight and perform amazing feats of strength with there training methods. This is where Convict conditioning comes in to play. It’s written by Paul “Coach” Wade who got his training the hard way ( behind bars ) and I highly recommend it.

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Johnny February 27, 2014 at 4:22 AM

I have great respect for the physical strength and determination required to complete these workouts. In the course of 3 months of Marine Corps basic training we were able to do 100 “bends and thrusts” aka Burpees non stop. These were 4 count exercises without the pushup and the jump which make the exercise 6 or 7 count.

The rest of boot camp exercise consisted of Running, push ups, pullups, sit ups, rope climb and 14 lb. rifle exercises.
In this age of complex circuits and other programs: Cross Fit, P90X, etc.

etc. it is good to know that you can always break it all right back down to a handful of functional movements. IMHO, the burpees are the king of total body exercises. Especially if you stick to it and work to achieve the 20 rep descending to 1 rep workout.

i’m 60 yrs. old and I finally completed the workout. I walk into the the gym and pass by all the cardio machines (except for the rower on which I do at least one gut wrenching interval workout per week) All the weights, balls, cables etc. I go to a corner and do burpees, Pullups, pushups, and situps. Nice and simple.

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Trevor February 27, 2014 at 4:48 AM

Hey Johnny,

I have seen footage of the Marine corps basic training before and it looks grueling to say the least, but as you proved it works great. I agree with you completely, everyone is looking for a new and quicker way to do things when they should be sticking to the basics.

Congrats on completing the 20 descending sets that’s a major achievement!

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