How Prisoners Get So Muscular

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Authors Note: Having never been to prison, the following article is pure speculation. Enjoy.

We’ve all seen pictures or videos of prisoners and marveled at their excellent physical development. While no one is jealous of their predicament, many of them have bodies that make most regular men envious. One question often posed is “How do prisoners get so big?” After all, they eat a terrible, nutrition deprived diet, they probably don’t take any supplements, some of them don’t have weights to lift, they exercise seemingly non-stop. In fact, everything they do in regards to weight training goes against the conventional advice of eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, don’t lift more than 3 or 4 days per week, drink water non-stop, take supplements, rest when you’re outside of the gym, bodyweight exercises don’t add muscle, exercise one muscle per session only once per week, and don’t exercise for more than 45 minutes a day.

This is another example of why *conventional* advice is always wrong.

Prisoners follow none of the conventional magazine advice and have the bodies to show for it. This is how they do it:

1) They have to get big and strong. When they go in they will no doubt be one of the weakest, smallest guys around. In an ocean of sharks they are the seals. They HAVE to get bigger, it’s not an option. They set their mind to it and they do it with a single minded determination. Weaklings get picked on, the strong ones don’t. What the mind can believe, the body can achieve.

2) They have high testosterone. Guys who go to prison normally have higher testosterone than average, then they are placed in an environment drowning in testosterone and their own testosterone count shoots through the roof. You’ve got to have high T just to survive, to be on the lookout every day, willing to fight or kill at the drop of a dime. Testosterone is the building block of muscle and these guys are loaded with it.

3) They workout routinely. Prisoners always talk about routine and how important it is to them. Everything is on a schedule for them and they no doubt wait and look forward to the time they can lift. Routine is how anyone gets muscular, inside prison or out. Even the most normal of men who follow a strict lifting program over a period of years will get very, very muscular and strong. How many free men are able to dedicate themselves to the gym for a period of 10 years or more?

San Quentin. Even in 1947 prisoners were getting jacked.

4) They lift heavy. With a yard full of monsters watching you, you not only have to appear strong you have to BE strong, so these guys lift heavy, heavy, heavy. Progressive heavier lifting over a routine period of years will get anyone strong, muscular, and jacked.

5) They use conditioning exercises to get strong and ripped. Stuck in their cells they’ve got nothing but time for burpees and other bodyweight exercises that get the heart pumping and the fat melting. Endless pushups, hand-stand pushups, sit-ups, dips, and pull-ups will create big, broad shoulders, huge chest, thick arms, 6 pack abs, wide back, and a v-taper that the most dedicated of gym rats would be jealous of.

‘Armed and Dangerous’

6) They get enough sleep. They go to sleep and wake up at the same time every single day. Regular sleep is when the muscles recover and rebuild.

7) They eat at the same time every day. Their bodies know when to expect its flow of nutrients. Regular eating is extremely important for building and maintaining a world class physique. Even though these guys eat terribly nutrient void food, the body knows what to expect and can utilize what it is given. In addition to the free meals they receive every day, which can total over 3,000 calories per day, they can buy foods like tuna and protein powder from the commissary giving them extra protein and nutrients.

8) They have low stress. They don’t have the testosterone sapping stress of paying bills, working jobs, nagging wife, unemployment, child support, and other minutia. The kind of stress they do have, surviving, increases their testosterone.

9) Steroids – Prisons are notorious drug hotspots and that certainly includes steroids. Many criminals are in jail on drug charges, meaning they are no strangers to drugs. People who already use drugs are a whole lot more likely to use steroids than any regular Joe.

Prisoners are able to dedicate themselves, not just for a few months but for years, to getting jacked. They are provided all the food and sleep that they need. They lift to get strong as well as big. They exercise for a couple of hour’s every day. They have no stress that we in the outside world have.

If any free man was able to dedicate himself the way prisoners are dedicated he would be able to turn himself into a muscular monster, just like these guys.


Check out How to Build a Classic Physique to build a rock solid physique that can compete with these prison monsters.

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  1. pete smith says:

    It’s interesting to note the difference in leanness between the guys lifting in San Quentin in 1947 and the first picture. I prefer the lean, muscular look, as opposed to the power lifter look, as long as the lean muscle one has is capable of producing power and is not just “show” muscle.

    I suspect that a lot of steroid use takes place in prisons, which would help account for how some of these dudes can lift a lot of volume regularly without over-training and destroying their muscles. This is what Arnold and others did of that era. Drug-free lifters need to emphasize recovery more. Of course, there are plenty of lean, strong athletes who work out regularly with resistance, such as gymnasts, but a lot of these athletes experience joint/tendon problems in later life from over use.

    • Victor Pride says:

      Pete –

      the guys in 1947 were undoubtedly fed better food. today they appear to serve a lot of processed nonsense pretending to be food. the guys in ’47 at least ate real food which accounts for their leanness. the guys in ’47 most likely didn’t have access to steroids so we see dense, strong muscle on them rather than the blown up balloon muscles on hormone users.

      there is no doubt that current prisoners have access to steroids. how many use? who knows.

    • I honestly don’t think steroid use in prisons is huge. You can’t under estimate the capabilities of the human body. but hey who knows? Try it and find out is my mindset on the subject

    • Did 4 years in Indiana. There are NO steroids in prison. NONE. They lift all day and eat shit all day. Thats it. Ka poot.

  2. Hi Victor,

    I have been enjoying your posts for some time now and felt I had to comment on this one.

    The country’s ‘most dangerous’ prisoner here in the UK (I’m guessing you are based in the States by your vernacular?) is Charles Bronson, who has spent 24 years of solitary confinement inside a 12ft by 7ft cell, training bodyweight exercises religiously to keep his mind.

    He published a book in 2007 titled ‘Solitary Fitness’, detailing his workout routines, using only a 12 ft by 7 ft floor space, and his various strength feats. At five feet ten inches tall, he claims to be 210lbs and lists many feats – including 132 push ups in 60 seconds – at 55 YEARS OLD whilst eating prison ‘swill’ (i.e. nutrient void food). Prisoners in the UK can’t make money from selling books so his advice is completely objective, he is in no-one’s pocket – unlike the fitness industry. I love the irony that we have to look to a prisoner for the truth when it comes to training.

    I don’t doubt he is in prison for a reason (armed robbery was the original offence), but his training philosophy has changed the way I look at training and even life itself.

    I now do a wide variety of bodyweight exercises twice EVERY day – NO EXCUSES: roll out of bed and start. With a routine in direct opposition to the conventional advice I have lost 14lbs of fat in 6 months and appear more muscular than I ever have by simplifying my training.

    The book is on Amazon.

    Would be interested to know your thoughts.

    Finally, I wanted to say I think you are really on to something with your website here. I’ll end on a quote from Fight Club:

    “I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

    All the best


    • Victor Pride says:

      Stuart –

      i have not read the book but i have read quite a bit online about charles bronson. i also saw the movie – bronson. i can’t say anything about his routine but i will say that i believe 100% it is possible to get into peak physical condition using bodyweight exercises only. i also do not believe that rest days are necessary. i do a form of a ‘prison workout’ while traveling when i don’t have access to a gym. lots of burpees, body squats, pushups, incline pushups etc.. post bronsons routine if you get a chance.

  3. pete smith says:

    Stuart, i’d appreciate a synopsis of his workout advice for others, such as, what exercises does he suggest doing, and for how many reps, and how often? Thanks.

  4. Victor/Pete

    Routine is based on the following 8 exercises:-

    Push ups
    Sit ups
    Bodyweight Squats
    Star Jumps
    Step Ups
    Hand-stand Push Ups

    He advocates a ‘beginners’ program based on one set of ten reps for each exercise and adding sets and reps in a uniform fashion as quickly as your body will allow, 6 days on, one day off. I would also add that he worships push ups, in all variations, doing up to 3,000 (three thousand) a day.

    If the ‘routine’ is put on a pedal-stool one would be missing the point though.

    The book shows what can be done with minimal complication but maximum commitment and relentless drive. In other words – it gave me faith.

    Unless I have died in my sleep the routine will ALWAYS be completed. According to Charles, even amputation isn’t an excuse as one can “do exercises on your stumps”.

    I made my own routine, but followed the philosophy to the letter.


  5. I def agree with the fact, that i think people in prison are more in shape then people on the out. I have saw people, get big as hell off of push ups, dips and pullups in 3 months time. Without any weights at all.. I always wondered, because in jail, you do eat at the sametime, 6 noon and 5 pm. But the food isn’t grate at all….. in jail, people use a water bag, or books for weights along with mass push ups. I think eventhough the food is crappy, the key to the food is the fact (your not able to eat all that fast food, or food just cook in mass grease. Its kinda like getting a home cook meal everyday. Since being out from jail, i been back in the gym on the outs and im def not seeing the same results. Im getting my strong again and started taking suppliments (thinking i would have a advantage) because of all the extra proteins and the fact that i can consume better meals. (but my results have not even been near what it was for me, in prison) thats why i type in this workout. Then found this article. Now as of today, im going back to the prison workout and im going to see what happens. Def, thanks for the article

  6. Bodyweight exercise doesn’t add muscle? Tell that to my Large size t-shirt

  7. whats a routine to get big with bodyweight exercises to follow ?

    • Victor Pride says:

      Pushups, pullups, situps, body squats, chinups, handstand pushups. Daily for 45 mins to one hour.

      • Started Convict Conditioning last week because of this post and and the comment below from Ian Hunter. Posting weekly updates on my site if anyone is interested in the program.

  8. what a good book about bodyweight exercises for building muscle ?

  9. Hardcore Bodyweight workout makes you a badass. Check Frank Medrano and see how its done. Hannibal King is another example. You dont have to be a convict to get that badass body.These guys rule.

  10. Having been in prison, and worked out there, I can tell you that you got 6 and 7 right, while 8 is complete bullshit. The rest is, well, speculation. Prisoners work out to pass the time, and provides a sense of purpose, while the physical pain subdues the often extreme mental stress.

  11. Shannon Macri says:

    You don’t need weights to build your body. Basic body weight exercises mentioned above in a circuit fashion is all you need. Free weights just add to back problems. Prisoners know more than some idiot personal trainer you find at a $20 a month gym. lol.

  12. Generally depending on where people are serving times has a lot to do with what kind of training environment they have. Some states have banned weights from prisons and many jails may have fully equipped gyms. Many of the photos show guys with not overly huge physiques, the sort obtainable without gear. The 1947 is a good example of what an aesthetic physique looks like, heavy iron good nutrition.

  13. low stress?
    Obviously you have never been locked up.
    As far as calories, state side anyway what with the extra good you can purchase from commisary, alot of dudes are consuming 4000 calories. Thats why guys that dont regularly workout everyday get fat as hell doing time.
    In Japan this never happens because you’re lucky to get 2,500 calories, you work all day, and exercise is coordinated group calisthenics. Everyone comes out skinny.

  14. I found a couple of your assumptions incorrect: #8 They Have Low Stress is TOTALLY incorrect in most cases, as inmates are constantly stressed not only physically from threat of being attacked or forced to attack someone to prove yourself and/or your loyalty, and #9 Steroids is a BIG misnomer. No one in prison gives a shit about getting buff for the sake of being buff when they know they’re spending years of their life in prison with only other inmates to ‘admire’ their physique. Besides, no one is going to choose pushing expensive steroids with the risk of having more time added to their sentence when they can make 10 times the money slinging coke and other more profitable drugs.

    Everyone thinks prison is like what they see on television when it’s not. In the joint the big test is how much you can bench, and because of safety issues most prisons nowadays only have basic tools for lifting, usually only 3 bars preloaded with 135lbs, 225lbs, and the ‘big daddy’ bar loaded with 315lbs, and most often the ‘benches’ are just cement blocks with no cushions so inmates can’t use them for weapons.

    A typical prison ‘routine’ is working out your upper body 6 days a week doing bench presses and chin-ups in the yard (and body weight sh*t in your cell like burpees and bench dips and push-ups and handstand push-ups and the like), and usually only once a week doing deadlifts and maybe some squats . . . unless they belong to a lifting ‘club’. Squats are usually forced to be done by unracking the weighted bar off of a bench press stand, which as you can imagine is awkward at best, which is one reason why a lot of inmates do not do them very often unless using only body weight in their cells for high reps.

    The only ‘good’ things about lifting in prison are the facts that you have plenty of time, a set schedule you can’t do anything about, the fact that your average testosterone levels are higher than normal, and the fact that you force yourself to lift more weights for more reps so you don’t look like a p*ssy to all the other inmates eyeballing you in the yard, i.e. FEAR. But the drawbacks of the sh*t meals, worrying about someone hurting you just walking through the chow line let alone when you’re trying to crunch out 225lbs for reps on the bench press to prove yourself, and the complete MENTAL stress you have to deal with constantly does not make lifting in prison easy.

    The MAIN reason why some prisoners get so jacked is because the general public has been brainwashed into believing ‘Overtraining’ is the biggest epidemic to hit the world since the black plague. Overtraining is a gimmick that has been used over the past years as a tool to sell bodybuilding routines to people who are looking to workout as little as possible but want the fastest results possible. Ask any ex-con and they’ll tell you the same thing: “I pretty much lifted 7 days a week ‘cuz what the hell else was i supposed to do?”

    The point is most lifters need to quit being lazy, quit using the term ‘overtraining’ and the label of ‘hardgainer’ as excuses, and just shut the f*uck up and lift. And quit whining about your protein intake. Prison meals are usually made of around 80% carbs. Sure, protein is important, but it’s NOT as important as the bodybuilding community has led you to believe. They push the protein overconsumption gimmick simply to sell you their latest protein powders. Other than that, it’s a pretty good article.

    • I think you need to look up what misnomer means. I think you meant misconception, to which it is not. Steroids are very prevalent in prison, and they’re not as expensive as you think; especially when you only need 1 shot a week. There are also oral steroids…

      You obviously don’t know how to push yourself if you think overtraining is just something that’s brainwashed into the feable minded. I’m only 165 and bench 325. I only lift to failure. Most people in prison and in general probably don’t know how(or care) to push themselves to failure. They baby themselves. I’ve overtrained 3 times in 5 years. If you start getting insomnia with cold-like symptoms, you’re most likely starting to overtrain. If you don’t ignore the symptoms and back off, you’ll not only be fine, you might be stronger when you start to workout again. There’s programs built around overtraining on purpose for the supercompensation effect, although when I do it it’s an accident.

      Carbs are protein sparing. If you eat more carbs, you need less protein. If you had the choice, why would you choose more carbs over more protein? The newest studies show carbs are more responsible for cardiovascular disease than fat is. Whereas if you don’t have kidney disease, then there’s no such thing as too much protein. I stick to the usual 1g per lb. If I get less, I stagnate.

    • giovanni m. says:

      What I can do at this point is only agree with you. Back in 2009 I was locked up in Tijuana MX and all I did was 113 burpees (back to back) , pullups , and a small variable of the limited heavy free weights all that 5-6 days a week. I ate three times a day. At night ,dinner was rice water with sweet bread. Yeah that was my “post workout shake and meal” no protein at all( all you product taking people would have cried). Must I also mention that while in there I got contracted by a severe flu. I lost a considerable amount of muscle and weight. i got real skinny. But once I shook off the sickness , I was back to dropping to the ground and the pull up bar. In less than two weeks I regained what I lost. Your meals can be mostly carbs but if you get enough sleep , you will see gains. I took power naps during the day , everyday. 5 months later I came out and my girl couldnt stop touching my upper body. You can say that I have always worked out since I was 15 years old and maybe muscle memory kicked in while I was in there which facilitated my gains.
      But I did not use no protein powder, creatine , vitamins etc . Thats all marketing shit. It’s all in your mind and whether you have the heart to just do it.

      • Wow, actually I’am not surprised Giovanni I think myself too many of those protein powders might not be good for anyone to use all the time. A lot of my friends use pre workout stuff to help them get going but they are also not really necessary though. Charlie Bronson also says the same thing as well.

    • Great response. I like reading more then the article. Great insight. Thanks.

  15. I just did a 4 year federal term. The first 18 months was in a maximum and the last 2 and a half years was in a medium. The latter had weights, so I lifted regularly for the entire time I was there. I find it funny that so many people are speaking on prison stress levels or acting like you actually know the situation. To correct some of the fallacies or misconceptions: there are no steroids in prison (I’ve been to both state and federal), the stress factors are not stemming from someone attacking you in the chow hall, they come from being away from your children and family. You only have problems in prison if you ask for them, it isn’t like the movies where you have to stab people to protect your butt hole. Carbohydrates are toxic and most people, if they have money, or are crafty enough, can get a 1.5 protein/ body weight diet from high quality protein. You can get eggs, fish, and other meats regularly. No one in prison cares about how much you can bench, that’s the most ridiculous thing Ive ever heard. Most people that have any time don’t pay attention to anyone but themselves. And over training is not an invented phenomenon. I lift out here 4 days a week, opposed to 6 in the Penn, and the gains have been insanely better. In weight training, less is more.

  16. I did four years in a Illinois prison. There were no steroids. A lot of the people that were muscular worked out before prison. Some people did get big in prison, but they worked out 6 days a week for hours everyday. It was hard work not drugs. There were drugs other than steroids like weed and meth. Most people ate big with ramen and tuna to get there extra calories.

  17. prisoners only get that muscular when they’re FED.
    Prisoners in the US are off course fed and actually have a generally stress-free life compared to the HAMSTERS outside who are slaves to the rat race. The only thing that they worry about is looking tough – to avoid becoming bitches. -therefore their bodies adjust accordingly to this.
    keep in mind that research has proven that merely changing posture affects T levels moreso in prison where you would need to baically force yourself to be in a T-inducing tough-guy postrure 24-7
    BEsides that you get regulated sleep time, workout time, manual labor, and are fed regularly. Its like a typical bodybuilder life minus the protein shakes so how would you not get big in that scenario.

    Observe inmates from third world countries.
    Sure they’re some of the most cold-blooded alphas but they are
    They are not fed (US prisoners might be fed shit but get fed regularly)
    They are congested
    They cannot take a bath
    And they starve a lot
    because the prisons receive no funding at all – little to none.
    These people have to literally pay from their own pockets to be able to live a humane life inside

  18. Jesse goff says:

    I was thinking also the fighting off of constant ASS rapes is really good cardio

  19. I have spent ten years in state and federal facilities. I have seen plenty of creatine and protein powder smuggled in but never any gear.

  20. That low grade chronic stress kill your testosterone levels! The prison stress is more natural like that of the wild.


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