Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Prison Workout: A Total Body Exercise Routine

Some prison inmates have nothing but a sink, a toilet, their bed, and a few square feet of space at their disposal. They need an exercise routine that can be done in a confined space without equipment. The "Prison Workout," which was nicknamed by some people who saw prisoners without access to weights doing it, is designed to develop strength, endurance, speed, agility, and balance. It also produces gains in muscle, losses in body fat, and plenty of stamina. It is a total body and cardio workout.

The Prison Workout consists of one classic exercise, the "burpee." This exercise works your chest, arms, front deltoids, thighs and abs. The burpee is a six-count exercise:

1) Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your hands raised over your head. Then squat down and place your palms on the floor by your feet.

2) Kick both of your legs back so that you're in push-up position.

3) Bend your elbows and lower your body until your chest touches the floor.

4) Push yourself back up.

5) At the end of the push-up, quickly pull both knees into your chest while keeping your hands on the floor. You're jumping back into the squat position of step one.

6) Stand straight up by straightening your legs and throwing your hands in the air over your head. You're now in the position that you started in. You can make the burpee more advanced and increase the explosive power in your legs by jumping into the air as you stand up.

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The Prison Workout is done in descending sets. For example, begin by doing 20 burpees without stopping. Rest 30 seconds, and then do 19 burpees without stopping. Rest 30 seconds and do 18 burpees. Continue doing descending sets until you get down to a final set of 1 burpee. That makes a total of 210 burpees.

For most people, 20 sets will be too much to start with. In that case, pick a lower number of sets like 15 or 10 or even fewer for your first workout. Then add a set every 1-2 weeks until you reach your goal. In prison, doing 20 descending sets without stopping is the minimum to be considered a "man." If you can do 25 sets, you're considered to be pretty tough, and, if you can do 30 sets, you're considered a "stud." If you're doing other exercises in addition to this workout, do your burpee workout 3 times per week on cardio days.

If some of you who've read this far are thinking to yourselves, "This Prison Workout is too easy. I'm looking for a man's workout," try one of these advanced variations of the basic burpee.

1) If you have access to pull-up bars, at step 6, jump up and do a pull-up. That will add 210 or more pull-ups to the workout.

2) Place dumbbells on the floor. Use the dumbbells as push-up bars for steps 1-5. At step 6, clean the dumbbells to your shoulders, press them overhead, and then set them back down for the next repetition. In other words, add an overhead press to each burpee. Be sure to use the solid, hexagonal dumbbells rather than the adjustable kind.

By itself, the Prison Workout will strip fat from your body, add muscle, and build stamina. Alternate it with a weight training routine, and you may be mistaken for a Greek god, or, at least, for an ex-convict.

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54 comments:

Bruno Ayres said...

very useful, thanks!!

MID1stclass David Liddy said...

This is actually also a Navy SEAL workout I learned at the U.S Naval Academy, we called it the 8 count bodybuilder though. That's besides the point though, this is an extremely effective workout especially when combined with weight training as is mentioned in the article...It works wonders

Michael Paladin said...

The 8-count bodybuilder and burpee are not quite the same exercise. The 8-count bodybuilder adds a wide kick and back for two extra counts. Substituting bodybuilders for burpees would be another way to enhance the workout. (Also, see my post "Man Makers" for even more extreme burpees.)

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Anonymous said...

As a former ex-convict I can attest to the fact that the burpee is great for weight loss, and building stamina. Some of us did use the plyometric squats and push ups which are great for building muscle and fat burning too. However we generally built strength out on the yard with dips and pull ups (when I got too strong, I tied rock bags around my waist as I did these exercises). A growing favorite for us was push ups with someone laying, or sitting on our shoulders. Anyway, I gotta throw in some self advertisment, so check out my store at inprisonshape.com

Anonymous said...

I remember from the age of about 11/12 doing burpees at rugby fitness training endlessly, when we got older I used to wonder how we were so strong all round, as I only considered things like press ups and other obvious weight based exercises to build muscle. These are bloody knackering but they do work.

David said...

This routine is also very similar to Yoga's "Sun Salutation" exercise. I'm surprised that nobody has made that comparison yet.

Steve L said...

this is an excellent workout. I did it in my bedroom during a rainstorm too!

Anonymous said...

I LOVE THE BURPEE! DOING THEM IN COMBINATION WITH SHADOW BOXING AND PLANK HOLDS HAS MADE MY MIDSECTION SLIMER(I WASNT FAT,BUT LIKE MANY GUYS WHO LIKE TO WORKOUT,I HAD SOME FAT). I AM STARTING TO TRAIN FOR A MARATHON-26 MILES-AND BURPEES WILL BE A HUGE HELP IN THIS. IT MAY NOT BE A CONVENTIONAL WAY TO TRAIN, BUT I BELIEVE THAT IT WILL HELP ME A GREAT DEAL IN PREPERATION FOR THE MARATHON.

Anonymous said...

I love it! As a working mom I do not have much time to work out, and this one can just be done at home! I can do it in the morning, using the 30 second breaks to prepare breakfast, while my daughter is trying to copy me :-)And it so works (I combine it with some Pilates)!!!!
Thx!

Mike Briody Fitness said...

This is a great workout. It can be used on athletes at all ages. I often use this wih the kids I train. And when Im pressed for time nothing better for myslef, a real calorie burner. Great website!
thx ! briody-fitnessnhealth

Autumn said...

I have 6 weeks and would like to drop a pant size. I am doing sprints every other day (8 sets of 30 seconds each), and on the other days doing 100 walking lunges. I just tried to do burpees today - I did 2 sets of 10, maybe could have done more but I was exhausted! I am going to try to do a descending set of 10 next time.

Do you think this routine will get me leaner within 6 weeks? I have also cut out junk, soda, etc. Should I be doing more cardio like jogging? Thanks!!

Michael Paladin said...

Don't waste your time jogging. Keep doing more of what you're doing. I don't believe you're "sprinting" 30 seconds eight times. That's a hard workout for a trained sprinter. Just running a little harder than usual isn't sprinting. Do 100 meters eight times instead. That's a distance that you may be able to actually sprint.

Autumn said...

You are right, I took my watch with me today and I was sprinting for 15-18 seconds. I was just guessing when I said 30, I actually just count the number of steps I do(60 each sprint). We'll see what happens in 6 weeks. Thanks for the advice!

Young Jedi said...

Burpees are awesome without a doubt. Its also good to stretch before and after. There is a lot of strength in having good flexibility as well. Just look at cats and dogs. They stretch well and they can outperform us in speed, running, and reaction time. But for the most part, their mind doesn't get in the way to sabotage them like humans do at the subconscious and non-conscious levels.

Michael Paladin said...

I don't know about cats and dogs, but for humans, a dynamic warm-up before a strength-training or sprint workout is best with static stretching done post-workout. Studies have indicated that static stretching may temporarily reduce strength.

Young Jedi said...

Well, it probably depends on the person. From personal experience, I have stretched and found tremendous results in my strength. My muscles don't remain as swollen but I can definitely do more reps and at times more weight.

Hey Mike, I don't know anybody that can run faster than your average sized, mid-aged cat or dog. If you do, you know someone who might be superhuman..

Michael Paladin said...

Static stretching is fine. Just do it after your workout rather than before. If you insist on doing it pre-workout, at least do a dynamic warm-up first.

As for cats and dogs, have you noticed that they have four legs rather than just two?

Young Jedi said...

Ok True. Have you noticed their stationary striking and reaction speed?

Michael Paladin said...

Cats and dogs aren't dramatically quicker than we are. They can react somewhat faster than humans because of their smaller body size. Nerve signals don't have to travel as far.

mikecherone said...

Great site and great article. The burpee looks like it's worth working into my http://www.fitclick.com workout routine.

Anonymous said...

once you build up your strenth you can use your door or wall place both palms on the floor kick your feet up into a hand stand using the door/wall for support and do upside down push ups this works the shoulders lats basically everything try them and get back to me jeff shaw at jjshaw75@hotmail.com

Giles said...

This looks simple yet sometimes the most simple combinations are the best and most effective. I'm quite fit working out using only body weight 5-6 times per week including 4km swimming. I'll post back here with my findings in the next couple of weeks.

Wishing everyone a powerful and fulfilled workout week!

Fitness Training Tips said...

Michael,
Great post. Burpees are a great workout that can be done anywhere with limited space. Definitely an excellent bodyweight exercise. Have you read Convict Conditioning by any chance? Pretty good book about doing cool bodyweight exercises like one arm pullups and one arm handstand pushups. I'd be interesting in thoughts if you have read it.
Dave

Michael Paladin said...

I have read Convict Conditioning. Its strongest point is explaining how to do difficult exercises, such as one-arm pull-ups and handstand push-ups. The weakest part by far is the training routines. I don't think anyone is going to improve much on one workout per week per exercise, as he recommends in one routine.

Ian said...

Michael-

Excellent post. This 210 burpee workout is a real ass-kicker.

Burpees are pretty much the best total body conditioning exercise, I would say.

I enjoyed Convict Conditioning, but applied my own strategies as far as working out. I ended up doing each exercise 3 times per week.

Since you don't do sets to failure, you can work out more times per week since you aren't sore.

After a few months, I am getting close to doing one arm pullups.

Anyways, great post.

-Ian

Anonymous said...

I consider the prison exercises as good as swimming. maybe better considering that water is not needed in this case

Mike Eves said...

The prison work-out is a fantastic workout. Unfortunately the masses tend to avoid it - possibly because it is hard? As you know hard work cannot be avoided if you truly want to be fit.

Best wishes

Mike

Gordon said...

this looks awesome!! I am just beginning and was wanting to know what best exercises to do?I'm 38 and 30lbs overweight, is this a good thing to drop weight and tone up? what if I add pull ups dips and push ups?

Michael Paladin said...

Burpees incorporate a push-up as part of the exercise. Adding pull-ups is fine, but they will be difficult until you get closer to your idea weight. The same with dips if you're talking about doing bar dips. Bench dips aren't worth bothering with.

Emrys Eustace, hygt Broom said...

Nice writeup, and excellent replies, Michael. I'm getting back to burpees after a long time off, and found your page while trying to reference the correct form.

Sacha Hespera said...

Ohhhh...I remember burpees from school. Evil! And probably exactly the thing I was just searching for. If they don't kill me, I think I'll form a real love/hate relationship.
I will be keeping track of what comes from putting this beast into my daily life (leaving out the pain that I remember even after all these years).

Anonymous said...

I do a bodyweight circuit twice a week. I include burpees in each set. I perform pull-ups (palms forward) and continue on to walking lunges followed by elevated push-ups, wall squats, planks and, finally, burpees. The burpees are tough to perform, especially because they are the last exercise I perform at the end of each set. At the end of set three, I perform as many burpee reps as I can, which ensures I end up gasping and coated in sweat. On other days I do steady-state running 45 mins and one day of rope-jump intervals. Don't dismiss traditional running; it's the main component that keeps me slim. There's too many anti-cardio attitudes out there at the moment. Many of them are, frankly, full of crap. If cardio works, do it. Running is also great for the mind and for stress-busting in general. But back to this post. Burpees really ARE effective!

Anonymous said...

Is the writer of this last comment correct? I have read alot of anti cardio/jogging.

Michael Paladin said...

Jogging is a waste of time, except for warm-up and cooldown. It doesn't really improve your aerobic fitness or burn fat much better than walking does. For stress-busting, meditation if more effective than running for miles and miles - harder for some people, but more effective.

ZUK said...

How many times per week should I do the Burpee?

Michael Paladin said...

The article says three times a week.

Lalin said...

Dear Michael Paladin,
Thank you so much for taking the time to create this blog!
I've started doing Burpees with pushups since the start of February with 2 days on 1 day off, and I just graduated to 14 counts! Along with some sit ups and squats.
But I'm experiencing pains in my shoulders when I do push ups these days and upon searching on google I suspect that I've overdeveloped some muscles more than others.
So I will be adding some pulling excercises to my routine to balance out things. I will get back to you with the progress!.
Once again Sincerely Thank You!,
Lalin

Michael Paladin said...

Also, be care of your hand placement during the push-up phase of the burpee. Don't try to go so fast that your form is sloppy. You could be putting strain on your shoulders due to improper form.

Lalin said...

Thanks Michael! I will take your advise. I did notice a reduction in grinding pain when I lowered the hands placement slightly during the excercises.

At the moment I'm slightly < 100 Kg, I was able to do about 30 slow pushups to start with despite not working out ever :).

Aerobics is not my strong point! and i was skipping rope in the garage for 15mins (not all in one go) but my father decided to put alot of stuff in the garage.

So I looked up alternatives and I was lucky to find your blog! I've been doing Burpees in my tiled room ever since with a radio on!.

I will read through your instructions again just to make sure I don't do anything to injure myself.
Sincerely Thank You,
Lalin

Anonymous said...

Lalin, whats missing is development of your rear delts (the muscles in your upper back that pull your shoulders back). Often overlooked, can cause the pain that you are experiencing. All you need to do is add "reverse shoulder flys" to your workout. You will see the pain eleviate and gains in your upper back. So well worth it.

Lalin said...

Thank you Michael! I will try it tonight!

Anonymous said...

and keep weight relatively low... if you're experiencing pain it means there's a problem. Go very slowly, gently and listen to your body. In this case, less is more. I also reccomend some light stott pilates too. Good luck and go slowly.
PS: this isn't Michael its someone else.

Lalin said...

To Anonymouse and Michael,
Thank you for your valuable advise, I've been exercising for over a month now. I started off at about 8 or 9 and now I'm doing 15!
The shoulder pain is decreasing and I feel a lot more muscle.
But the thing I don't like is I'm now only able to do 20 pushups at once. which really puzzles me because I was able to do 30 beforehand. My weight hasn't changed considerably either it's still around 95Kg.
Any pointers on what I could be doing wrong? However I guess it's fine because I started burpees as a way to do aerobics.
Lalin

Michael Paladin said...

You can't do what you don't practice. If you quit practicing consecutive push-ups, your performance will decline. However, if you're still doing push-ups as part of burpees, you could increase your consecutive push-up performance fairly quickly and easily with practice.

Lalin said...

To Michael,
I'm sorry if I didn't mention that I am doing burpees with pushups. I've given it some thought and I think may be my torso is becoming heavier as a result of all the muscles, making the consecutive pushups limited to 20.
I guess I had a lighter torso before I started doing the burpees with pushups. Anyway I'm soldering on until I reach 20 counts.
Thanks Michael & Anonymouse,
Lalin

Lalin said...

I managed to reached the magic no 20, I felt it was more mentally demanding that physically. However I since stopped doing that many burpees with pushups due to some injuries and instead now I do 20 - 15 with some weight lifting and planks 4 times a weeks.
I think I've found a good balance between fun and excercise. Thanks Michael and to everyone who supported.

Anonymous said...

Well done Lalin. Persistence is the key. Just keep chipping away at it. Watch what you eat and you'll also hopefully see minitial muscle "heaviness" start to become less bulk and more "rock hard lean"... anyway. Well done and keep it up!!

Anonymous said...

Can you post a link?

Anonymous said...

a link for what?>

Anonymous said...

its great for law enforcement as well, we train recruits that way

Anonymous said...

what if u just do burpees and no other exercise, is that a good thing or should i add some other exercise to my workout, trying to burn the fat in my stomach and get a six pack....

Michael Paladin said...

Burpees are a whole-body exercise, but I would also add pull-ups and sit-ups.

Anonymous said...

I think what this man wrote here is great. I know these exercises are excellent. Coupled with pull-ups, sit-ups, and warm-up jogging, you'll be doing better than most people. This is also very economical - considering it's an investment of zero.
By the way, if you can do 100 burpees you're in Good Shape, 250 you're a Stud, 500 and you're a Champion.