Brains and Brawn… Prison Workouts

Published 11:09 pm Friday, May 28, 2021

My first career was as a Correctional Officer at Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City.

Because I was also into weightlifting, I noticed right away how strong and fit many inmates were. I saw massive inmates benching double bodyweight for reps and squatting unbelievable amounts of weight day after day.

These inmates would hit the weights for two or even three multi-hour sessions per day. Working out was like a job to them.

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They would also carefully plan a protein-rich diet as well in order to maximize their strength and muscle gains. These inmates often sought out jobs in the kitchen so they could have better access to food.

I was impressed by their dedication and devotion to weightlifting.

Over the course of my time as a correctional officer, I worked in the “medium security” area for a large part of my early career. This is where inmates have access to the “ballfield” during certain times where weightlifting equipment is made available to them.

Every prison has its own rules and procedures. So, the things I saw in a certain prison might not be present in others. For example, in many federal prisons inmates are not allowed access to weightlifting equipment at all.

At the prison I worked, though, a very high percentage of the inmates would work out at the ballfield. As impressive as some of the lifting there was, I was even more surprised by the inmates in the “maximum security” area of the prison that managed to stay strong and fit.

In the maximum-security area, inmates are only allowed out of their cell in full restraints, and they are placed in a cage outdoors for one hour a few times a week.

There is basically no weightlifting equipment available. Inmates have described maximum security to me as being like “living in your bathroom.”

So, how are so many of these guys massively muscular and fit, I wondered as I started to work in this area. I watched them to see how they did this and noticed one particular exercise played an important role in their workouts.

This was the “burpee.” A six-count movement that works almost every muscle in your body. If you have never tried these exercises before, you will be shocked at how quickly you are exhausted by them.

The burpee begins with a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then, you squat down to all fours.

Next, you kick your legs back to the starting position of a push-up. Then, you complete the down and up part of the push-up. Once that is done, you pull your legs back into a squat position.

Finally, you jump as high as possible and return to the starting position. That is one rep.

Inmates on max would do hundreds of these per day. I could not believe the results the inmates were getting from such a simple exercise plan. They looked as big and strong as the inmates who worked out on the ballfield with weights multiple times per day.

Whenever I see someone with a successful workout strategy, I make a mental note and incorporate those strategies into my own workouts.

So, the burpee is something that I now use frequently in my workouts as well. If for some reason I cannot get to a gym or even access any weights, I can still get a super-challenging workout with only burpees.

Try it for yourself – I bet 100 burpees (five sets of twenty) will be the hardest workout you have done in a while!