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Jailhouse Workout: Get Jacked without Weights

Dudes in jail don’t exactly have to struggle to find free time. The last time we checked, there’s no 60 minute commute to and from a sh*tty 9-5. Neither is there a bunch of prime-time gym traffic to fight.

You might be able to say that guys inside have got it made. Well, as much as someone restricted to living in a cell and a single hour of yard exercise per day can anyway.

Here’s a short list of ways a prisoner can spend his time:

  • Gaining a GED
  • Earning a High School Diploma
  • Learn a new skill like how to cook or speak Spanish
  • Read a tonne of useful books on law and become an Attorney (For real bro, this actually happened)

Or, and this is a big one…

  • Get absolutely stacked and jailhouse jacked!

Sweet, we’re sold.

How To Get Swell In A Cell

pull up bar in prison cell

We’ve all seen the Barstarzz busting out some serious calisthenics. These YouTube sensations fill up Facebook news-feeds all across the world, with their rippling backs and single digit body fat.

Besides their incredible acrobatics, what makes these guys so special is their ability to build an impressive and ripped physique using only their body weight. Which, is all we’re going to have to get swell in a cell.

Because, here’s a bunch of things most inmates won’t be doing any time soon:

  • 100m sprints
  • Olympic barbell lifting
  • Medicine ball slams
  • 50m sled pushes (the bunk bed don’t count)
  • Showing off on Instagram

Sorry bro, it just ain’t gonna happen. The last time we checked the ‘F’ in NFL didn’t stand for felon. So, instead of a multi-million dollar high-tech training centre, we’re going to have to work with a single pull-up bar.


Serving Time (Under Tension)

Jason Statham performs pull up in cell

Think back to legit British tough guy Jason Statham performing strict pull ups in Death Race. There’s a reason he’s controlling his bodyweight with precision the way he is…

Nah, not just for dramatic effect. But to increase time under tension during eccentric contraction.

Essentially, by lowering his body at the pace of Grandpa mowing the lawn, Statham is raising the amount of seconds his muscles have to work. Leading to an increased number of muscle tears and maximizing metabolic stress.

This method promotes greater growth and more muscle tears. That’s why a lot of the old school bodybuilders preach the low and slow approach for building size.

Plus, by pushing and pulling at this pace, you’ll challenge yourself to use perfect form. Prison ain’t a place to be hiding your cheat reps, bro!

We’ll be using this method too. Because bodyweight alone is quite obviously limited, and we’ve got to find a way to squeeze the most out of what we have.


blood orange being squeezedSqueezing at the top of each contraction does exactly what it says. It quite literally squeezes the remaining working potential of each muscle.

By working the muscle further with a squeeze, we recruit more muscle fibres than if we didn’t. Pretty simple science, but additional work = extra muscle fibre recruitment = even more potential gains.

So, for example:

  • Grab a-hold of a pull up bar
  • Pull up slowly under full control
  • Squeeze the working muscle groups at the top
  • Lower the body slowly, returning to the starting position

You’ll have probably heard some sciency bro call this style of squeezing and holding isometric contract. Because rather than flexing, or extending, we’re simply holding our position.

Okay, now we’ve explained our method in our upcoming madness, let’s get to the workout!

The Jailhouse Workout

inmates train on prison bars

Perform each exercise for the specified number of reps and sets. Because we’re only using our bodyweight, we have to be smart about optimally using our limited resources.

Keep proper form throughout each exercise. If it’s tough, then that means we’re doing our job right in using the body to it’s maximum potential. Cheat reps are still sh*tty, even when it’s only bodyweight you’re slinging.

Make sure to rest for 45-60 seconds between each exercise. Lower rest really challenges our body and when we start to his the 90 second mark we’re entering strength territory.

Keep the rest shorter, and we’ll be hitting the perfect work:rest ratios for growth.

1a. Pull-Ups12300:45 - 01:100
1b. Windshield Wipers12 300:45 - 01:00
1c. Prisoner Squats16300:45 - 01:00
1d. Decline Staggered Push-Ups16 (8 each side)300:45 - 01:00
1e. Wall Walks8200:45 - 01:00

1a. Pull-Ups

man performs pull up in prisonPull-Ups will really hit your lats, which are vital muscles to target if you want a stacked back.

They’ll also work the arms (both the biceps and triceps), shoulders, rhomboids and the core.

Because of their simplicity and challenging nature, pull-ups are a favorite of barmen in the prison yard.

How to do it:

  1. Using a pronated grip (palms facing away/overhand) grab the bar with arms fully extended. Use a wide grip past shoulder width apart.
  2. Pull your upper body towards your hands under your chest touches the bar.
  3. Squeeze your entire back and core once you reach this top position.
  4. Lower yourself SLOWLY back down to the starting position. Making sure to fully extend the elbow joint and stretch the lat muscles.

Once you have completed all of the above movements, you’ve bagged yourself one complete rep.

1b. Windshield Wipers

man performs hanging windscreen wiperWindscreen Wipers not only look cool, but they’re a killer core workout! By holding your body in a stable position whilst manipulating your weight from left to right, you’re seriously challenging your abdominal stability.

How to do it:

  1. Hang from the bar using a pronated grip and with core engaged.
  2. Raise your shins towards the bar, so the legs and arms are both parallel.
  3. Once in this position, rotate the core until your lower body is at a right angle to your upper body.
  4. Next, without lowering the legs to the floor rotate the lower body 180 degrees until you reach the other side. Imagine the motion of a windscreen wiper.

A complete “wipe” from left to right is considered one rep. Do not lower the legs to the starting position until the set is complete.

To make this exercise harder, perform each motion slower than the last.

1c. Prisoner Squats

man performs prisoner squatsSquats aren’t just for #fitgirl wannabes and building big bootays! They’re legit AF and are a true mass builder.

Because the squat is a compound movement, done correctly it will work multiple muscle groups. These include the; quads, hamstrings and calves. The core also gets a little bit of work as it fights to keep the upper body stable throughout.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and eyes facing forward.
  2. Holding your hands on your head, brace the core tight as you lower yourself slowly until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Or, if you possess the control and range of motion, go ass to grass.
  3. Keep your weight through your heels, ensuring the knees do not track inwards.
  4. Take a breath at the bottom of each squat and squeeze the legs and core.
  5. Drive through the heels, extend the legs and return to the starting position.

To make this exercise harder, progress to cell mate squats! Grab your training partner and lift them into a fireman’s carry position. Then, use them as a weight instead of a barbell and half the amount of reps.

1d. Decline Staggered Push-Ups

man performs staggered push up variation

Push ups are the daddy of bodyweight exercises. All a guy needs is the ground and himself to work his; chest, core, biceps and triceps.

The exercise is a key component to any cell workout. So much so that the notoriously violent and eccentric inmate Charles Bronson apparently performs around 2,000 push ups per day.

This particular variation will work the body harder by un-evenly distributing weight.

How to do it:

  1. Lay flat in a supine position with hands by the side, palms facing down.
  2. Position one hand further in front and one further pack.
  3. Keeping a braced core and flat back, extend the arms and push upwards towards the ceiling.
  4. Squeeze arms, back and core whilst at the top.
  5. Lower slowly back to the starting position.

After completing the necessary number of reps alternate the hand position. This will ensure an equal amount of work on each side. To add a decline and make the exercise harder, place the feet on a box or bottom bunk of a prison bed.

1e. Wall Walks

man performs wall walk If all you’ve got to work with is the same four walls you may as well use them.

Wall walks are an awesome tool to target the shoulders. They’re a lot simpler than they look and break the norm from more conventional shoulder exercises.

It’s said that for many fitness enthused inmates a by product of prison time is the ability to walk on their hands. This is because they have to get creative with the limited amount of resources they have and become masters at manipulating gravity.

How to do it:

  1. Start in a high plank with the soles of your feet close to a solid wall.
  2. Walk your feet up the wall, whilst walking your hands back also.
  3. Keeping the core engages, carry on walking up the wall until your torso is almost flat against it.
  4. Once in this inverted position brace the core and squeeze the shoulders.
  5. Walk back down slowly and under control to the starting position.

All of the above movements combined is equal to one complete rep.

The Hard Time Tabata

Lastly, the Hard Time Tabata has been for those badass enough to handle it. Don’t get us wrong, the workout is tough as it is!

But, if you’re wanting to get out every last drop of sweat from your session, intense interval training can make an awesome finisher.

Work for 30 seconds and then rest for another 30. Making up for a complete body blast in one four minute attack.

2a. Burpees00:3000:30
2b. Stationary Sprint00:3000:30
2c. Tuck Jumps00:3000:30
2d. Alternate Lunges00:30-

The Final Verdict

Surely you’ve worked out at this stage that it’s totally possible to get jacked without weights. It’s all about being a little creative and optimizing the limited tools that are at hand.

Training in prison has it’s own complete culture and history, that’s not only interesting but really educational.

So, feel free to take a look inside the world of getting swell in a cell and add in some more advanced calisthenic moves. After all, if you were in solitary confinement, the prison guards wouldn’t plan your workout for you.


  1. I learnt a fair bit about body weight work outs when I had the pleasure of being inside a few years back, in saying that, I found your read extremely refreshing with great tips I had forgotten about, well done you have got me motivated again to gain some mass as I did in the past.

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