Inmate Workouts

Exercise Programs for those in Prisons

Sponsored by Strength Tech, Inc.



We are opening up this page while the article is still very much under construction to allow access to some of the materials that may be useful in their present state (like the references and some general comments), plus if anyone is aware of other references that might be useful here, please email us.
This page provides a process an inmate new to weight training can use to develop a workout program. It also lists several refernces that might be helpful. This site only covers exercise programs for begining and intermediate lifters. More advanced lifters usually learn from others and more advanced publications. This page does NOT provide illustrations of exercises, instructions on how to properly perform specific exercises, nutrition or supplement advice, describe proper stretching and spotting techniques. It is a tool that can be used by beginning lifters to get up and going, but they need to also get some help on the other areas just mentioned, not covered by this page. It also provides some references for additional information.

It is also our hope, this material will be use by others now developing inmate wellness programs using strength, aerobic and flexibility components.

Lifting behind the walls requires more thought than lifting outside. Among the problems inmates encounter are:

Disclaimer and Following the Rules

We (Strength Tech, Inc) are not responsible for ANY injuries, deaths or property damages resulting from following any exercises, workouts or suggestions on this web site. Do NOT perform any exercises or exercise programs without the approval of your facility. Many facilities require a medical release before lifting weights, get one if it is required. Many facilities require some type of weight training / weight training safety instruction course before lifting weights, obtain all required instruction. Follow ALL the requirements of your facility and Do Not do perform any exercises you are not supposed to do. Warmup and stretch before lifting and cool down afterwards to reduce injuries.

A Few References

There are a handfull of well known books that concentrate on body weight exercises (calasthentics, chins, dips, etc). Some have companion web sites. We list them below for reference. This is not a recommendation - it is just a place you can indentify them if you are interested. Some of these books are a bit harsh on the language.

What if I Don't Have Access to Any Weights at All?

Exercises using your own bodyweight or resistance furnished by a partner can build strength, sometimes a great deal of strength. Calasthentics can also build strength and edurance. The BURPEE is a popular exercise for those in this situation. It can build a lot of strength and takes no equipment. You start out like a pushup, then pull your knees to your chest and leap high with your hands over your head, then return and repeat. The exercise is well explained and illustrated in
Exercise Fundamentals: The Burpee
By Russell Baille
The Code Renegade Training Magazine
Vol.1 No.15. Oct. 2002.

The virtues of the burpee in prison were observed and touted by a social worker at Rutgers University-

A Completely Criminal Exercise Program
By Ken Andes
Rutgers Exkrima
Note - the article above could use a little censoring
Lee Haney professional bodybuilder and 8 time Mr. Olympia.presented a session titled, Bodybuilding Without Weights at the 29th Annual NCRA Conference Myrtle Beach SC March 6th-10th 1996. He illustrated several exercises that can be done with your own body weight or against resistance applied by others.

Triumph Over All on 24 Hour Fitness web site.
Discusses removal of lifting equipment in California and Brandon Hein's calesthentic / body weight workout. Excellent documentation of a workout without weights.

Basic Definitions

  • Exercise - a specific movement usually performed by exerting force in one direction and a device and/or your body moves in one direction, then resisting movement and the device and/or your body returns back to the original position. For example, in the bench press, you push a little harder than the amount of the weight on the bar in the "up" stroke and a little less than the weight of the bar in the "down" stroke. The same type of thing happens when you perform push ups.

  • Rep or Repetition - a rep is one complete cycle of and exercise. For example one rep in the bench press is raising and lowering the bar one time.

  • Set - a set is how many reps you do at one time. For example if you performed 8 reps in the bench press and stopped, that would be one set.

  • Load - the load is how much resistance is used. For example if you bench pressed 200 pounds, the load would be 200 pounds.

  • Workout - A workout is the number of sets and reps performed at various loads during one exercise session. It becomes easy to record or discuss workouts in reps, sets and loads. For example, you may hear someone say, "I did a set of 8 with 200 pounds in the bench press." That set plus the other sets they did during the same session in the gym was their workout.

  • Spot, Spotter, Spotting - A spotter is a person who comes to your aid if you cannot complete the exercise. For example in the bench press, the spotter stands behind your head and helps you raise the bar to the rack if you begin to struggle and cannot complete the lift. This is often referred to as "spotting". One lifter may ask another for a "spot".

  • Free weights - the term free weights refers to barbells, weight plates and dumbells. The can be used to perform excercise on a free non-restricted path. Their path is free.

  • Weight Machine - most of these machines use selectorized weight stacks (use a pin to select how much weight you want). The pin is used to select the load. Some prisons have moved to these from free weights.

  • Body weight exercies - instead of using dead weight for the load, the lifters body or a portion of it is used to supply the resistance. Push ups, pull ups, crunches and dips are examples of body weight exercises.

  • Towel exercise - a oartner provides resistance to the lifter through a towel. The lifter pulls on the towel, while the partner resists. Towels can be used to perform many exercises, however, towel exercises may not be allowed in some facilities.

  • Parter Resistance - a partner assists the lifter by providing resistance, either by pushing or pulling on the lifters body, a device, or a towel.

  • Aerobic exercise most free weight and machine exercises build or maintain strength. Aerobic exercises like using exercise bikes, treadmills, steppers and elypticals build endurance and your cardiovascular system. Some prisons offer aerobic classes to build endurance.

  • Rest Many larger muscle groups require two to four days rest between workouts, while some like the abdominals can be exercised daily.

  • Range of Motion of an Exercise - the path followed by the resistance (such as a weight lifting bar) during the exercise. Some exercise have a long range of motion (squat, bench press) while others have a short range of motion (wrist curls).

  • Partner - due to needing assistance or spotters with several exercises and the need for rest between exercises, many lifters have one or two workout partners. They will move around through the various exercises as a group with each lifter rotating through a set.

  • Log book - ,many lifters write record their workout as a list of exercises, sets and reps so they can chart their progress. This may not be possible/allowed in some facilities.


    Getting bigger, building mass and body building generally involves performing more reps with lighter weights while building strength and competitive lifting involves fewer reps and heavier weights. Training for specific sports, such as basketball involves exercising muscle groups used in that sport (stengthening jumping and reboundig muscles while increasing aerobic endurance).

    Those performing high reps with light weights usually rest less between sets than those performing low reps with heavy weights. Low and high reps are certainly open to interpretation, but personally I would say 10 reps are about normal, 8 or less is low reps and 12 or more is high reps.

    Reasons for Lifting Weights

    First off, you need to decide why you want to lift weights. Your reason can change in the future, but your purpose in lifting will guide you in workout selection. Most inmates begin lifting to: Its fine to pick more than one reason and to change your selection later, but you need to begin to define why you want to lift weights before you can design an effective workout program.

    Taking Inventory of the Equipment

    You need to learn what types of exercise equipment are available in your facility (bench press, incline bench, universal machine, dip stand, dumbbells, free weights down to 25 pounds, exercise bike, treadmill, jogging track, etc) and if any exercises are banned. Remember, exercises can be performed with free weights, machines, partner resistance and aerobic exercise machines.

    Taking inventory of yourself

    List any major injuries, aches, pains and medical problems you may have that could limit your participation in certain exercises or that might be strengthened by certain exercises. Rehabilitation of major injurties should be performed under supervised care.

    Starting to select exercises

    Beginning lifters usually benefit most from exercising large muscle groups. Bench pressing and squating both exercise many muscles in a long range of motion. Some people do not want to do squats because they think they will hurt their knees, while others only do partial squats (do not squat deep). We are not ecouraging anybody to do squats when they do not think they should, we just say they are a means of exercising a large group of muscles at once. Some beginning lifters only perform bench presses and squats in their early workouts.

    Exercises have been developed for almost any muscle group. Exercises are classified muscle group. The two largest classifications being upper body and lower body exercises. More advanced lifters talk about smaller groups like chest, shoulders, back, tricepts, bicep, forearm, calf and abdominal exercises.

    Basic exercises by muscle group include:

    How Much Weight - Percentage Workouts

    Many workouts are designed as a number of sets and reps of some percentage of your max in that lift. Rather than perform a single rep max which might lead to injury, your max can be estimated from the number of reps that can be done at a lighter weight. A number of equations or posters can be used.

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