Sunday, June 2, 2013

Hey, I just realized that I haven't chimed in about prison workouts yet...

It's positively amazing how much working out in a place that most of us haven't been, nor want to go,  has become so unbelievable popular in the past seven years.  You can't visit a forum, buy fitness books, or avoid a web site about prison workouts.  Even I've contributed to this, lending some of my fingertip push-up pictures to Convict Conditioning 2 (which, in my opinion, is more than enough reason to buy the book but maybe I'm biased). 

Full disclosure:  I've never been to prison, just like most of the people writing about prison workouts.  I do have some perspective on the topic.  Somehow, I've got  knack for befriending prison guards and ex-convicts alike.  My brother in-law is prison guard, as well as two good friends also work in corrections.  I've got one good friend and had at least five ex-employees that have done time in jail.   They all know that I'm a basement gorilla so we've all talked about working out.  This is what I've learned about working out in jail from them. 

First of all, just about ALL prisoners work out.  Very rarely do they get as huge and as intimidating as Charles Bronson is.  It's a way to pass the time.  Most of them do push-ups and crunches.  Lots of them.  So many, in fact, that they swear off crunches and push-ups when they get out.  Chances are if they weren't big into working out before they went to jail, they won't be big into it after jail.  Their level of sophistication with bodyweight training hinges on this fact.  One of the guys I used to work who spent too much time in and out of jail couldn't even do a pull-up. 

How big guys get in jail from working out is exactly the same as how big you get working out outside of jail:  how much food you eat.  It's not so simple to get surplus food in jail.  One of those guys who spent time in jail that I used to work with worked in the kitchen.  According to him, it was the most sought-after job in jail.  He gained 20 lbs in jail because he had access to extra food.  He was fond of training with 5 gallon pails, left over from the kitchen,  loaded with water or sand to work out.  He did a lot of shrugs, high pulls, curls, and farmers walking with pails. 

A prison guard friend of mine told me about another novel way that prisoners get extra food:  they trade it for blowjobs.  I thought he was joking.  He wasn't.  They can tell when they do a search of a con's cell and they find a bunch of extra food that they're not supposed to have and couldn't afford to buy.  If they don't cause trouble, then they get to keep it.  Awfully nice of them since they don't call it a job for no reason. 
 Worth swallowing cum for?  Yeah, prison sucks. 
Getting back to the exercise thing, just about every ex-con I ever knew had one thing in common:  prison training left them with the prototypical massive upper body with the tiny chicken legs.  The reason was explained by two different ex-employees where I work.  In jail, they spend a lot of time shirtless.  Having a massive upper body is key to showing that you're not one to be messed with.  It's also the reason why they get tattoos on their chest.  One guy told me that if you see a guy with a sloppy, obviously free-handed tattoo on their chest, chances are good that they spent time in jail.   So there is a heavily lopsided focus on the arms, chest and shoulders.  Some will even go to the extent of pumping themselves up before going out to the prison yard to look more intimidating.
Access to equipment is inconsistent and scattered.  It's not common for most prisons to have those beautiful, full equipped and furnished gyms that people complain about when they say that prison is getting too cushy these days.  Gym equipment is an unnecessary expense to a government agency that doesn't often get a lot of disposable budget money to work with.  From what I've heard, a lot of the equipment that ends up in jails is simply the stuff that commercial gyms are just trying to get rid of after they upgrade their equipment.  They'll simply donate it.  That's what ends up in jail:  the stuff you don't want to use anymore. 

While it's not considered a necessary budget item by prison bureau bean counters, the guards doing the dirty work generally like having gym equipment for the prisoners to use.  The same guy that told me about the entrepreneurial jail house food traders also introduced me to an interesting term: behavioral modification tools.   Basically, the guards use access to the gym as a reward for prisoners behaving themselves.  If they're good, then they get to use the gym.  This was about the time that he told me what all of my friends in corrections tell me:  when you're a prison guard, you're largely a glorified baby sitter. 

I had to ask if there was any truth to the whole notion of guards getting worried that prisoners work out to the point where they get too powerful to effectively control.  As it turned out, that was another myth.  As I said above, most guys who are huge in jail were huge outside of jail.  It was explained to me that con-control wasn't done with one guard trying to subdue one inmate.  It's usually several guards subduing one unruly inmate and few prisoners ever get strong enough to overpower five guards with batons and pepper spray. 

This is about the extent of what I know about working out in jail and unless I hear it second hand, that's all I'll ever find out about the topic.  While it's interesting to find out the extent that people with little access to so much of the stuff the modern fitness world considers necessary to get in shape can develop themselves, I'm not in a burning rush to emulate everything they do these days in jail.  Based on what I've gleaned from talking about prison work outs, it's an awful lot like just about every other strength click:  they do some things right and do other things wrong.  The minimalism is the take-away from their training.  You really don't need much to get strong. 

1 comment:

jim said...

Hi Justin,
thanks for the post. I guess 'prison' can be seen as a metaphor also rather than literal, a prison of the mind to isolate and focus-in on streamlined goals and simple , measureable, functional workouts, done for years rather than fashion timelines. I've modified Convict conditioning to fit round other activities but its been measurably working for me for 2.5 years, bigger, stronger, less injury.