While most of us will thankfully never end up behind bars, I think we can all take a lesson from convicts on how to not let your circumstances be an excuse for your fitness goals. Below we highlight bodyweight exercises used by prisoners the world over to get strong and stay strong.
Most of us know what press-ups, pull-ups and squats are. Most of us have included them in our day-to-day training at one point or another. But what if we want to take our bodyweight training to the next level Enter calisthenics.
Calisthenics is an umbrella term for strength training that uses bodyweight only and minimal external equipment. That's pushing, pulling, balancing, jumping, bending and swinging - which, depending on how it's implemented, can lead to increased strength, fitness, proprioception (balance) and flexibility.
There are few true sources of bodyweight training in book form, but those that do exist are wonderfully effective, informative and engaging for the enthused mover - beginners and experts alike. We can confidently say we've poured through all of those that are notable and well-known. Over the years, Jake our founder has not only read these books but used them as a training resource for months and years at a time. You may read them once and move on, follow a prepared program, meticulously construct your own routine based on what you learn, or keep them on hand as an in-and-out resource for years to come.
Get Strong is our number 1 recommendation for anyone from beginner to intermediate who would like a straightforward, clear program from start to finish. The format is a 16-week plan starting from entry-level bodyweight exercises and finishing 4 months later with impressive movements like handstand push-ups and pistol squats. It's in an easy-to-read grab-and-go format but includes essential information on other aspects of training such as warming up, mindset and supplemental exercises.
Complete Calisthenics is perhaps the most comprehensive book on bodyweight exercises that isn't from a gymnastics approach. This makes it more accessible than Overcoming Gravity (see below), yet it still has great depth. Kalym has a military background so the foundations are built with conditioning in mind, but there are plenty of advanced isometric movements such as front lever and human flag with detail descriptions of how to get there. There are some programs included, but the focus is thorough exercise descriptions and clear progressions.
Convict Conditioning is amongst the original bodyweight training books and was at least partly responsible for introducing the concept of progressive calisthenics to the relative masses. It has a no-bullshit approach and is rough around the edges - but Wade did develop the book in prison after all! The method focuses on 6 movements, each of which consists of 10 progressions to take you from the easiest expression to the most advanced. The final 6 movements range in difficulty - they are intermediate in gymnastic standards - but will challenge even seasoned bodyweight movers.
It's in the name, but Street Workout takes the urban, informal approach to calisthenics rather than the clinical gymnastics approach. It compiles common bodyweight exercises, gymnastic movements and moves invented in modern, street calisthenics in one place - so you can easily add new, exciting exercises to your workout. Street Workout is informative yet super-fun - we've found it to be a great addition to training in the park, where everyone's always looking for the next alternative press-up or pull-up variation.
Convict Conditioning is unquestionably one of the best selling books out there about calisthenics. Newcomers into bodyweight fitness start utilizing it and its BIG 6 system with the promise of real growth. I admit that the book is well written, organized, and polished, so many get inspired by the convict Paul Wade and his tale.
In and around the intensive technique explanation of these manuals, he crafts an intricate narrative of bodyweight training through history, weaving in the ancient Greeks, monks, prisoners, and legendary strongmen like Charles Atlas. \"They might have demonstrated their power by unleashing it on external objects like nails and barrels,\" he writes of these men, \"but in many cases they actually built that basic strength through control of the body.\"
Last year, the reigning purist of bodyweight training released the Convict Conditioning DVD Series, filmed at none other than Alcatraz. Only five of the \"Big Six\" have been covered in this series thus far (no handstand push-ups yet), and the 10 steps are accompanied by 10 \"commandments\" for each movement, detailing technique onscreen and in illustrated manuals.
The biggest mistake people make about bodyweight-only training is the idea that it is good for basic conditioning, but cannot build high levels of muscle and strength. To people who think this way, I say: Yes it can. You just need to know how to use the exercises progressively.
In reality, bodyweight training and serious muscle gain go hand-in-glove. You just have to take a look at an Olympic gymnast to see that. These guys only use bodyweight, but they often have physiques which would see them winning natural bodybuilding shows. And they don't even train to gain mass. Imagine what they would look like if they did!
I think what surprises most athletes who try it is the effect bodyweight strength work has on the joints. There's no getting around this: Done right, bodyweight training strengthens your joints instead of wearing them down. Why Because the body was meant to move itself. We literally evolved to push and pull ourselves around, and to squat and jump using bodyweight.
Unless you are a weight trainer, a heavy bench press just looks kinda boring, but bodyweight moves like muscle-ups, flags, L-holds, handstand push-ups, and one-arm pull-ups They impress people. They are fun and challenging to learn. Young athletes are leaving the gyms in a mass exodus. They are training outdoors, in parks, doing bodyweight arts like parkour.
Elderly men and women don't need a huge bench press or deadlift; they need to be able to squat in and out of chairs. If they fall, they need the strength to press themselves back up again. This is all bodyweight training! 153554b96e