What’s a Prison Workout and How to Do One Yourself

What’s a Prison Workout and How to Do One Yourself, December 2021

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The nature of home workouts is always changing.

A lot of people will opt for skipping the grind that comes from going to a gym: after a long day of work, most people will just want to go straight home and relax, the commute to the gym might kill your momentum and desire to work out, or the commute with soreness after a hard workout can be a scary thought for people. 

You can also make a case in favor of home workouts by mentioning how much money you’d save, no fear of judgement, privacy and of course, convenience.

Whatever your case may be, there are options for any type of workout, anywhere you are--and if you don’t have the newest and most high-tech equipment, don’t worry, there’s still a lot for you!

One such workout you can do is called the prison workout. Whether you are currently behind bars or not, this is an easily accessible workout plan no matter what your fitness goals are. 

What Sets Prison Workouts Apart?

As its name suggests, these types of workouts are popular in prisons because they do not involve much equipment.

Similar to how you would not expect to find a Peloton, Bowflex or other high-tech machines in prison, you can stay on top of your fitness dreams even if you are behind on the latest workout innovations.

The main idea for prison workout routines is to use your own body weight as the object to be lifted.

As you can imagine, this is a huge saving grace for your wallet, but in terms of the workout itself, using your bodyweight is a great combination of strength and cardio exercises combined--depending on your number of reps, resting time, and how much you weigh, you can easily turn this workout into a HIIT exercise. 

Finally, because prison workout routines require little to no equipment, it’s a great way to do workouts with max reps. However, it’s important that you know your limitations and to stop when your body can’t handle any more. 

In this article I am going to discuss some basic prison workout routines and mention some variations so you can get the most out of your workout.


Black and white photo of a topless man doing push-ups

This is an oldie, but a goodie.

Most prison inmates have noted that pushups are the most common workout exercise because they can be done in the privacy of their own cells and do not require anything except a flat surface and your own body weight.

Because push ups work out the chest, anterior deltoids and triceps, you can easily create variations such as: resting your hands on an elevated surface, pushing up on your knuckles instead of palms, do one handed or triangular push ups, or push ups with narrow or wider hand placement.

You can also move side to side while down, do push ups while in a handstand position, or alternate from pushing up to a short plank. 

This is a great prison workout routine because you can easily gauge how much your body can handle. A good recommendation is to start with a number in mind and do the same amount of reps, while increasing your number each day.


A man doing pull-ups in a gym while topless

If you have anywhere to hang from, pull ups are possible--although it’s best to use anything that you can wrap your whole hand around where there is also space above the bar so you can lift your head over. 

Working out our back, biceps, triceps, pecs and forearms, pull ups are a great workout for lifting and setting down your body weight.

Like all of the workouts on this list, there are tons of variations.

You can do pull ups or chin ups depending on if your wrists are facing inward or outward, you can lift your knees at the peak of the pull up or adjust your grip to a narrower or wider one.

In addition to these, you can do commando pull ups (go sideways and pull up, alternating where your head comes up on each rep) or typewriter pull ups (with a wide grip, pull up halfway and then move your body side to side.) If you are really an expert at pull ups, you can also try one handed pull ups.

Similar to push ups, it’s a great idea to start with a number in mind and do that many reps, increasing every time you get stronger. These are harder for beginners, so you may want to start off with a small number like 5, 3 or even 1.


Two photos of a woman doing squats

Squats are among the best prison workout plans because you can do them literally everywhere--if you have room to stand, you have room to squat. With just one exercise, you are working out your quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips and inner thighs.

As you can imagine, with such a simple workout, there is tons of room for variation and improvisation. 

For these, you may need a higher ceiling or an area without obstructions.

You might also need good footwear to ensure that you have a good grip on the floor and can land without injury. You can do jump squats, regular squats while holding weights or pistol squats (one legged squats where you alternate each time.)

A great feature of this workout is that if you lack balance, you can easily hold onto an object for stability without reducing your workout significantly. 

Soreness from squats comes up pretty unexpectedly, usually the day after or a few hours. It’s fair game to start with a high number of squats, but be prepared to take more time to walk up the stairs if you go extra hard on squats! 


A topless man doing Dips in a gym

This is a more demanding prison workout simply because it involves some equipment, but that is not to say that you can’t do these at all--you may just be confined to one spot.

Regardless, all you need are two chairs or two sturdy handles for a great workout.

Focusing on triceps, pecs, shoulders, forearms and core, prisoners would simply put their hands and feet on a chair each, and then start their workout.

If you have a treadmill, you can use the handles on each side for the same purpose.

In terms of variations, you can go up and down quickly, hold on the bottom and rise slowly, lean forward for the entire dip or make the handles wider if possible. Depending on how you are positioned, you can also add extra weights for a harder workout.

Dips are especially harder for beginners, so be sure to set a realistic number of reps for yourself. 

Hanging Leg Raises

A man doing Hanging Leg Raises in a designated place to work out in prison

If you have a station available for pull ups, you can also do hanging leg raises, except make sure you have room in front of you to avoid accidental contact with an obstruction.

These are great workouts for your core, abs, obliques, quads, hips, forearms, shoulders and even rib muscles.

While hanging from the bar, there are tons of variation options for you, which each focus on a different muscle.

You can do straight leg raises together or alternating, bent knee raises, windshield wipers (when legs are up, move them side to side like its namesake) and one arm leg raises. For an extra workout, you can raise your legs until they hit the bar, instead of stopping at your waist.

Hanging leg raises are great workouts to do max reps in because they are very rhythmic and safe to do, being low risk in terms of danger or injury. You can easily start off with a high number of reps in mind and work out to that number.


Three photos of a man doing Burpees

Burpees have been called the ultimate full body exercise, and it’s pretty obvious why. Being considered a favorite by athletes, military personnel and fitness junkies like myself, this is a great way to see results fast.

Working out strength all around, cardio and aerobic abilities, burpees can do no wrong in terms of fitness. 

In terms of variations, you can change up your burpee routine either at the bottom or at the top.

If you want to change the bottom, you can do a push up to a squat, followed by a high jump; if you want to change the top, you can do your high jump but then grab onto a pull up bar and do a pull up.

If you want to go full on beast mode, you can start with a pushup, squat into a high jump and do a pull up. For those looking to enhance their burpees even further, you can do a pushup, hold at the bottom, move side to side, then squat into a high jump onto a pull up bar, and do a typewriter pull up followed by a leg raise.

As great as burpees are, I can guarantee you that they are a killer, so be realistic with yourself and start off with a manageable amount first, before doing your variations and increasing the amount of reps. 

Prison Workout Games

Prison workouts can get a little repetitive for anyone who is usually used to classes, full body workout routines or programs.

As I have said earlier, a great aspect of prison workout plans is that they are affordable and possible to do pretty much anywhere. 

A good thing about prison-style workouts is that there is a hint of challenge and playfulness in the workout, as inmates would want to keep things interesting.

Here are a few of the workouts that could spice up the boring and repetitive nature of prison workout routines.

Deck of Pain

Deck Of Pain - A card games used to make working out more fun

All you need is a deck of cards. This is a personal favourite of mine.

You would simply assign any of the above workouts to a suit (ex: spades are pushups, diamonds are burpees, hearts are pull ups and clubs are dips.)

Once you draw a card and choose your workout at random, the number you draw will represent how many reps you do, while faces mean 10, aces mean 11 and jokers mean 15. 

This is great if you do group workouts or if you want to keep things interesting by yourself. 

Juarez Valley Method

Juarez Valley Method - Workout designed for people who are into longer workout sessions

For those who are into longer workout sessions, this is a great way to make a marathon out of your desired prison workout routine. All you would need are any of the setups mentioned above, a good head for counting and your body weight.

This routine will always have 20 reps and you can choose any workout listed above. Set 1 will be 20 reps, set 2 will be 1 rep. Set 3 will be 19 reps, and set 4 will be 2. Set 5 will be 18 reps and set 6 will be 3.

Basically, every odd numbered set will start from 20 going down, while every even numbered set will start at 1 and go up. Do this until you get to sets 19 and 20, which will have 11 reps and 10, respectively.

You can do this while alternating workouts, but it’s recommended to stick to the same workout until set 20. Because there are workouts for different muscle groups, you can do the full method with two different workouts.

Mike Tyson Squat Workout

Mike Tyson Squat Workout

Popularized by “Iron Mike” Tyson, this workout sounds easy, but is a killer. All you need here is 10 cards and a lot of space. 

Place every card face down and in a straight line about 4-5 inches apart. Walk up to the first card (#1) and squat once, picking up the card.

Walk to the next one (#2) and squat twice, once placing your card on top of the floor card, then again picking up both cards.

Walk to the next one (#3) and squat three times, once placing your cards on top of that one, and then again picking up each card one by one. 

Walk up to the next one (#4) and squat four times, once placing all your cards on top of that one, and then again picking up each card one by one.Repeat this process until you get to 10.

Hold your squat until you pick up the card, so be sure to not drop it or lose it in your fingers! 


Prison workouts are great in terms of how efficiently and effectively they work out your body. They do not require any crazy workout equipment and as we have seen, they can be made into a playful routine with workout games.

It’s easy to go hard and do max reps with any of these workouts, so be honest with yourself and set realistic numbers of reps. 

Denver Matheson

I spend a lot of time at the gym and even more time in the kitchen giving my body what it needs to repair itself and grow stronger. The third most important place for any athlete is their research zone. That's exactly why this site exists, to help me share all of the information I've learned throughout the years just like people did for me in the first place!

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