It might come as a surprise to many of that you that a person who’s devoted the bulk of his life to training and training-related pursuits, posting elite totals in every meet through injuries and sickness, might suffer from burnout, but I assure that it can and shall at some point rear its hideous, boil-faced visage into your line of sight and wreak utter havoc on your existence. By my estimation there was not a single week between August 1995 and February 2015 that I trained less than four times in any given week, even as I was traveling around Asia and Europe, tearing my triceps and bicep (twice), marriage, divorce, and any other ridiculous thing of which you could think. Finally, I cracked last year, and my training slipped into the abyss as I partied my ass off and watched nearly every horror movie above a D-grade available on the internet. Despite my irregular training, utter lack of squatting (it’s insanely hard to squat drunk), and a diet that essentially consisted of tater tots, chicken fingers, pizza, Diet Coke, and enough vodka to drown even the staunchest Putin-supporting Russian, I managed to more or less maintain my physique and strength levels for the better part of 8 months. Eventually the wheels fell all the way off as I found it hard to even grind through half hour workouts, and I basically quit training for a couple of months, a couple of times, over the succeeding 6 months. Though I kind of regret having done so, I was snapping out at cashiers over nonsense when I was training because I was so irritated at having to continue to force myself through the gym every day as I had from about 2011 through the beginning of 2016.Every workout, light or heavy, long or short, odd lifts or conventional, had become one massive mental cage fight held in some dank German dungeon with caestus gloves… and writing about training was several times even more painful than that.
However, you might look at the fact I let my training slip harder than an elderly broad in socks on black ice, I learned a great deal about starting back up after relatively long layoffs (anywhere from two weeks to a couple of months, how to diet to facilitate the greatest gains when on a comeback and regained my interest in trying unconventional methods to regain lost strength. This is what led me to try the methods used in jails around the country, as I have known quite a few guys who’ve spent time in jail and prison, and they always looked better coming out than when they went in. That said, I cannot say the same for chicks- either they lack access to the gym, have no interest in training while in lockup, or just eat waaaaaaay too many or too few honey buns in there, because they almost invariably come out either looking half-starved or like they got hit in the face with a hot shovel coated in mayonnaise. In any event, what I’d seen with the guys I knew left me wondering what might be accomplished if I took what they’d discovered in their experiences and added my own personal Ed Gein meets L. Ron Hubbard meet Jack Palance type of insanity. With that, we shall continue where we left off in jail and prison training.
Burpees – I DESPISE burpees. I loathe them more than mayonnaise and I refuse to even allow an unopened jar of that vile nonsense with my bare hands… I hate it to the point I allowed liquid to exit my ocular cavities while screaming like a woman when a giant bag of that gelatinous white horror ripped as I was trying to empty it into a vat of what was to be ranch dressing while helping a buddy’s cousin by working in his salad dressing factory for a couple of days. Hitler had a full blow love affair with the gypsies in comparison to my near psychotic hatred of burpees. Inmates, however, seem to love that loathsome exercise nearly as much as Crossfitters, and do them with the same sort of frequency and variation- daily, and in every conceivable
permutation. Google them if you want some ideas or click here for a selection- the only type that don’t fill me entirely with vitriol and venom are 8 count burpees with a pull up and a pushup included, as they at least get a tiny bit of strength work in there, rather than simply being a test of mental fortitude and one’s ability to maintain their composure while incredibly annoyed and out of breath.
Dips– Ahh, the perfect counterpoint to burpees. Fun to do and known affectionately in the better-informed circles of the strength training worlds “the upper body squat”, dips are phenomenal for building huge shoulders, pecs, triceps, seem to somehow contribute to building big traps (I have no idea why, but inmates swear up and down that dips are responsible for their trap size), and bring out the vascularity and striations in your pecs and shoulders.
Bench Dips-This exercise is massively popular due to the great importance inmates place upon “back arms”, the most vaunted of muscle groups in jail. Though I abandoned these as too easy and too much trouble than they were worth when I was a mere 150 lbs., using 4-5 additional plates for extra resistance, prisoners appear not to have come to that conclusion yet. I would recommend against these, but it’s entirely your call as to whether you find utility in these.
Handstand Pushups– These are a bit rarer than the exercises, but still
occur. When these are done, they’re done with a spotter and a liberal amount of assistance from their spotter.
Hanging Leg Raises– Done of anything handy for whatever volume you choose. There’s nothing fancy with the form on these in jail- they’re done just as you would do them in the gym.
Sit-ups and Crunches– Again, the volume is totally up to you. Just as they inmates are with hanging leg raises; these are typically not done in any super-cool jail style manner. It seems the majority of these are done sitting on one’s bunk, with their feet wedged underneath a crossbar to keep their asshole and tailbone from being ground into dust doing them on the concrete.
Planks– These are particularly popular in lockup because they offer the opportunity for direct competition, wherein two or more people compete to see who can hold a plank the longest.
TRX-style movements are all the rage in jails and prisons, and I highly doubt any of the inmates using that method have ever even heard of TRX. The methods they’ve been using have likely been in use for decades, and I would not be the least bit surprised if they been the inspiration for strap systems like TRX.
Rows– Using a sheet wound into a spiral (which gives it far more tensile strength), inmates hook the sheet around one of the uprights of their bunk beds or a staircase at roughly eye level, brace their feet on the ground (often using a partner’s planted foot to serve as the brace) while laying back at a fairly extreme angle, and then do rows just as they would seated with a cable stack. Essentially, the movement is a semi-horizontal pull up with a rotating grip, roasts your mid-back and traps after a few sets if you keep your elbows tucked hard into your sides as you pull, and is awesome for extra volume on your back.
Face Pulls– One of my favorite accessory exercises, face pulls are awesome when done in the same manner as the sheet rows. For these, however, you simply keep your elbows high and flared as you pull your face toward the point at which you tied the sheet. This ill trash your traps and will give you that badass look you see on some guys where it looks like they’re getting “back titties”- basically help grow what look like a sick set of pecs on your upper back.
Flys– This exercise uses the same setup as the exercises, but the lifter
faces away from the upright and does what amounts to a cable crossover. These are an awesome finisher for a brutal Deck of Death workout mentioned in the previous installment, as well as a hell of a standalone exercise for chest if done with enough volume.
Chest Presses– A great finisher for every set of the flies, if you want to bang out more reps after you’ve hit failure on a set of flies, these simply change the movement for the flies slightly. Pressing more level with the floor shifts the focus more to the upper pecs, 25 degrees lower moves the focus to the pecs, and 20 degrees lower shifts the focus to the lower pecs (which is pointless, but if that’s your thing, do it, I guess).
Curls– These are done with the exact same setup as rows, but the movement changes in that the elbows remain stationary, locked into their sides, as the lifter curls himself toward the uprights. These are pretty badass, as the lifter can use a wide array of grips to shift the focus of the movement to the forearms (with a reverse grip), to the brachialis (for bicep thickness and strength using a hammer/neutral grip), the entire bicep with the usual supinated curl grip, and a mix of those grips (which is, of course, my favorite method), rotating the grip through the curl from a reverse grip to a completely supinated grip wherein the pinkies are pointed toward the outside of the biceps at peak contraction.
Triceps Extensions– These are done with the same setup again but facing away from the. upright. This is by far and away my favorite triceps exercise, as doing these modified overhead extensions trash my
triceps like they have never been trashed. Trashed like a dead hooker left in a forgotten dumpster filled with dog crap and left in the hot Florida sun all August kind of trashed. Like curls, these can be tinkered with by changing the grip, and I really like doing them with a neutral grip that shifts to a slight outward push at full extension to get an extra squeeze in the outer head at peak contraction. If you haven’t yet caught on, these are like a French press/overhead extension, leaning away from the upright with your feet braced at the bottom of the upright or near it, elbows pinned at your ears through the movement, flexing your trips to bring you to a standing position at peak contraction.
Shoulder Press-This is a badass burnout exercise, done with the same motion as the chest press, but angled higher so the press is being done in a straight line from your shoulders past your head in line with your neck (just like if you were standing upright).The stressors feel slightly different because of the odd angle, but the effect is the same- your shoulders end up pumped and fried after 10 or so sets to failure.
Though my skepticism about the TRX system upon first seeing it likely rivaled those of Hitler’s generals when they heard Hitler had demanded tanks nearly 200 tons in weight and the simultaneous conquest of three continents by a relatively small single country and its bitch-ass allies, thinking it to be the stunted produce of hipsters’ collective minds, I could not have been more incredibly wrong. As far as assistance work goes, you would be hard pressed to find a better way to get in a metric assload of work in a short period of time. Moreover, the fact that TRX-style movements are closed-kinetic-chain movements leaves people far less susceptible to injury than with machines or dumbbells, as the movements are far more natural. In short, you guys need to get in on this, as the speed with which they increase your overall muscularity and muscular endurance is nigh on frightening.
Does that mean I’m suggesting you forego weights for bodyweight movements? Certainly not- I’m simply suggesting that the addition of bodyweight movements to your regular routine could yield some seriously impressive results. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve noticed in the past that the addition of a few hundred pushups a day has contributed greatly to pushing through plateaus on the bench press, and the addition of pull-ups to any workout always results in more muscularity than weights alone. Maybe that’s even a bit mental, but whatever it is about bodyweight movements, they seem to simply provide a ton of upside with very little downside, so just add some to your workouts and keep your teeth together about it, Nancy.
Up next, we’ll cover makeshift weight/odd object work that goes on inside prison walls and their actual lifting techniques and training
style lifting real iron. While it might seem counter intuitive for the advocates of the modern day, internet-led [bitch-made, ahem] “intellectual”, double-blind study affirmed lifting regime, inmates provide an unbelievably interesting and compelling counterpoint with what amounts to a balls-out, real-world perspective. And at the end of the day- if it worked for Kali Muscle, it might be worth looking into.