Try to picture a stereotypical maximum-security prisoner. What do you see? Probably a tough-looking guy with an orange jumpsuit, shaved head, face and neck tattoos, and a chiseled, muscular body. There's a very good reason the last part is included in this stereotype—when someone is locked up all day, every day, they tend to work out a lot to kill time.

Prison workout routines 3

Free weights make excellent blunt-force weapons, and therefore usually aren't available in prisons.

So, you're probably not planning to go to prison, but there's still something you can take away from this: convicts have figured out ingenious ways to build muscle with limited resources. Those guys don't exactly have a fully-stocked fitness center—some states even disallow weightlifting in prisons—so the inmates make do with what they have. Usually, this means body weight exercises.

Prison workout routines 2

Need a workout? A deck of cards is the only tool you need.

We previously showed you 42 different body weight exercises in a convenient chart format. However, any fitness instructor can tell you that having a system helps you stay on track and push yourself harder. So, here's a method that has been used by prisoners around the world: the deck of cards workout, also called the deck of pain.


Most prisoners have access to playing cards, which makes this method a natural fit. Here's how it works:

  1. Shuffle the deck of cards.
  2. Assign a body weight exercise to each suit. For example, hearts could be sit-ups, spades could be push-ups, and so on.
  3. Draw a card off the deck, and flip it over.
  4. The number on the card indicates the number of reps, with face cards being 10 and aces being 11.
  5. Based on the number and suit, do the corresponding exercise. For example, a 7 of hearts would mean 7 sit-ups.
  6. Rest a few seconds, draw another card, and repeat the process. Continue until all 52 cards are used.

It may be difficult to tackle at first, but this method will keep you active both physically and mentally. The workout method is said to have started in prisons, but has become more mainstream now, and there's even a smartphone app if you don't have playing cards.

More info on the “deck of pain” prison workout can be found here or here.

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