Prison Workout Secrets

NOTE: I originally posted this blog post anonymously right after I got out of prison (May 2013). I posted it to Reddit and I received tons of support and feedback, then later got picked up by Men’s Fitness United Kingdom and was republished in this article as well as the print version (I have it framed it my office ☺ )

Background:

I’ve made some mistakes in my past that I deeply regret and am doing everything to move on from. Without going into too much detail, I was heavily involved in a business that is becoming legal in several states but at the time was not legal in Connecticut. I was fortunate to have an excellent attorney and no criminal history. Because of the scope of my operation though, the judge was insistent on jail time — 10 months imprisonment with 5 years probation and a 5 year suspended sentence. I have always been an avid Crossfitter, yogi, jiu jitsu competitor, powerlifter, and all around athlete. I made a commitment to myself before going in that I would do everything in my power to continue improving myself mentally, physically, and spiritually while inside, making the most of every moment and using it to workout, meditate, do yoga, reflect, read, and write. I could write another entire post about yoga, meditation, and using the time to reflect, but I’ll leave the focus of this post to working out.

Update: I’ve been in the gym for about a week, re-testing my max lifts. My squat went from 475 -> ~435, deadlift 525 -> 475, OHP 195 -> 185, and did not test bench. I’ve very pleased with these numbers, as I’ve been able to maintain significant strength. Also considering I’ve lost about 20 lbs, I’m pound for pound as strong, if not stronger than before.

Physical Progress:

Before Prison: ~232 lbs, ~13% bodyfat:

After Prison (May 23, 2013): ~214 lbs, ~9% bodyfat (visible abs, veins in obliques):

Training:

Pre-Prison:

Prior to heading in, I had been using Wendler’s 5/3/1 program for about 1.5 years. Prior to that I had been doing Crossfit for about 2 years, and prior to that I was following the workouts in the book The New Rules of Lifting for about 6 months. My max lifts were 475 squat, 525 deadlift, 315 bench, 195 overhead press. My split generally looked like this:

Monday: Squat
Tuesday: Bench
Wednesday: Hill Sprint Workout OR some type of Crossfit Metcon workout
Thursday: Jiu Jitsu Training OR Rest
Friday: Overhead Press
Saturday: Deadlift
Sunday: Active recovery — Bikram yoga

Prison:
I only had access to a pullup bar, back extension station, dip station, and ab wheel, so all of my workouts were bodyweight. I have read Convict conditioning and did a lot of research into good bodyweight workouts before going in. In addition to the workouts, I got up at 5am everyday to do 1 hour of yoga next to my bunk, 20 minutes of tai chi, 20 minutes of pranayama breathing exercises, and 30 minutes of meditation. I would make an effort to walk for at least an hour per day (we were in a dorm setup with a common area which I would pace around the perimter)

My workouts generally looked like this:

Day 1 — Upper Body

Pullups — 10 sets of 10 reps (increased over time to 14–15 reps)
Handstand Pushups — 6 sets of 6 reps (increased over time to 10–12 reps)
Pushups — initially 10 sets of 25 reps, increased over time to 4 sets of 20 reps one-handed, 6 sets of 35 reps normal
Bodyweight Row (used dip station, had someone hold me legs up) — 6 sets of 15 reps
Dips — 6 sets of 15 reps

Day 2 — Lower Body + 5×40 Burpees (burpees done in a separate workout — usually first thing in the morning then the lower body workout done later in the day)

10 rounds as fast as possible: 25 jump squats, 10 lunges (each leg), 12 pistol squats (each leg)
It took a while to work up to this workout. My goal heading in was to get good at pistols, which I couldn’t do a single one of when heading in. My initial workout looked like this:
8 sets of 30 squats, 20 lunges, 4 ‘assisted pistols’ (held onto the side of a bunk or some object to brace me as I descended…gradually worked my way into doing pistols without holding anything). I stuck with this workout for about 2.5 months before moving onto the 10 round timed workout.

Day 3 — Abs / Lower Back + 5×40 Burpees (burpees done first thing in AM, other workout later)
10 sets of 12 reps hanging leg raise
10 sets of 20 reps back extension (had access to simple back extension setup when moved to state prison)
6 sets of 40 situps
6 sets of 12 back bridges (Convict conditioning style…full bridge from ground)
4 sets of 20 ab wheel rollouts (had access to ab wheel in state prison gym)
4 sets of 2 reps ‘wall walks’ — stand in front of a wall and arch backwards, walking hands along the wall into a full bridge

Day 4 — Upper Body
Pullups — 10 sets of 10 reps (increased over time to 14–15 reps)
Handstand Pushups — 6 sets of 6 reps (increased over time to 10–12 reps)
Pushups — initially 10 sets of 25 reps, increased over time to 4 sets of 20 reps one-handed, 6 sets of 35 reps normal
Bodyweight Row (used dip station, had someone hold me legs up) — 6 sets of 15 reps
Dips — 6 sets of 15 reps

Day 5 — Lower Body + 5×40 Burpees

10 rounds as fast as possible: 25 jump squats, 10 lunges (each leg), 12 pistol squats (each leg)
It took a while to work up to this workout. My goal heading in was to get good at pistols, which I couldn’t do a single one of when heading in. My initial workout looked like this:
8 sets of 30 squats, 20 lunges, 4 ‘assisted pistols’ (held onto the side of a bunk or some object to brace me as I descended…gradually worked my way into doing pistols without holding anything)

Day 6 — Abs /Lower Back + 5×40 Burpees
10 sets of 12 reps hanging leg raise
10 sets of 20 reps back extension (had access to simple back extension setup when moved to state prison)
6 sets of 40 situps
6 sets of 12 back bridges (Convict conditioning style…full bridge from ground)
4 sets of 20 ab wheel rollouts (had access to ab wheel in state prison gym)
4 sets of 2 reps ‘wall walks’ — stand in front of a wall and arch backwards, walking hands along the wall into a full bridge

Day 7 — Rest

Nutrition:

This was my biggest concern going in. Meals in prison tend to be very high in carbohydrates and very little nutritional value. I had been seeing some success with the LeanGains style of eating, so I incorporated that into my eating when in prison by skipping breakfast. Lunch was served at 11:30am and usually consisted of 2 cups of macaroni or starchy pasta with some sort of ‘slop’ — chunks of meat in sauce, 2 slices of bread, a small carton of milk, and a cup of vegetables. Dinner was a similar setup and served at 4:30pm. Fortunately I had access to commissary, and with a $75 per week spending limit, I loaded up on tuna (25 g protein), mackeral (18 g protein), protein shake packets (238 calories, 44 protein, 22 carb), oatmeal, and beef crumbles (275 calories, 38 g protein). I would take a few packets of meat with me to each meal in order to add protein. So for example at lunch I would add 2 packets of tuna to the ‘slop’, and eat only one cup of the carbs. Outside of the cafeteria the only tools I had to cook with were hot water, so I could make oatmeal, instant rice, and a few other things. Often I would add a third meal closer in the evening to add additional protein and because dinner was served so early….usually something like 2 packets of meat and a small cup of instant brown rice.

In keeping with the LeanGains style of eating, I would increase calories a little on the upper body and lower body training days, with my postworkout meal being the largest and the most carbs. Sometimes I would be working out at night (after dinner), so my go to postworkout meal was 3 packets of instant oatmeal with 2 packets of protein powder. This workout out to about 800 calories, 88 g protein, 125 g carbs. I would also cycle carbs and calories lower on ab/lower back days and rest days while keeping protein intake around 180g. Typically my postworkout meal would be the highest in carbs, and for the other meals I would skip the high carb options but giving away my macaroni and bread or trading it for a carton of milk.

Sample Day of eating (train in AM):

Lunch:

2 cups of macaroni, 2 packets of tuna + ‘meat slop’, 2 slices white bread, 1 milk, 1 cup veggies

Dinner:

2 packets of meat + ‘meat slop’, 2 slices white bread, 1 milk, 1 cup veggies

Additional meal: 2 packets of tuna + cup of instant brown rice

Summary:

Was able to maintain a lot of strength overall and improve my bodyweight conditioning significantly. I am more cut up than I’ve ever been, having lost a total of 20 lbs and now being able to see veins in my abdomen. The biggest takeaway is that going forward I will be eating much less, realizing how much better it feels to be leaner and more conditioned. I will soon be testing my 1 rep maxes in the four main lifts to see how the bodyweight strength carries over into barbell work after having not touched weights in 4 months.

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