By this point, I'm sure a lot of you are thinking "FUCK THIS BODYWEIGHT SHIT, BRING THE WEIGHTS", which I'll have to admit I was thinking a hell of a lot during my interviews. No matter how vehemently people insist they get huge off bodyweight exercises, I have never found that I can get serious gains with bodyweight-only work. Perhaps it's that my diet won't support growth during those ventures, the fact that I would probably be walking around at 145 lbs if I wasn't diligently out-eating my appetite multiple times a day and supplementing with protein while lifting far more poundage than my tiny frame was ever designed to handle, or simply the fact that high rep work with or without weights has never served to do more than add conditioning and definition to my body, but I harbor more skepticism for light rep work than Flat Earthers have for any sentence that might issue forth from Neil DeGrasse Tyson's mouth at any given moment. Nevertheless, inmates definitely swear by it... though they were more than happy to tell me about their forays (and subsequent massive gains) from the wacky odd-object lifting they get up to in lockup.
It's working for former-NFL-badass-and-almost-future-Hall-of-Famer-but-serial-rapist--is-going-to-die-in-jail Darren Sharper, it seems. Perhaps he'll avoid getting diabetes for a few extra years, bu with any luck he'll die slowly of AIDs
ODD OBJECT LIFTING IN LOCKUP
"I would walk the length of the 50-foot cell and back and do 25 push-ups. I would do it for one hour, I would do it for two hours. I would get a minimum of 500 push-ups—regular, elevated, diamond push-ups. I would also do dips on a half-wall—kind of like you’re climbing over a fence.
Another day I would do pull-ups. They had a stairway and there was no backing to it. It was metal and it was grated—you couldn’t just grab the stairway. You had to take toilet paper and roll it up and put it over the grate so it wouldn’t hurt your hands. I would do five pull-ups then walk back and forth and then another five pull-ups.
They would bring in coffee at five o’clock in the morning in this round jug. It was quite large—it probably held four gallons, five gallons—and we would wrap the laundry bag through the handles and we would do curls with that"
Laundry Bag Lunacy- Ryan Fergueson, author of Stronger, Faster, Smarter, which chronicles the author's ten year stint in jail (in which he was in the best shape of his life) for being accused of a crime by a friend who had dreamt it.
The first method, which I like to call "Laundry Bag Lunacy", is not terribly dissimilar to Arthur Saxon's old school sandbag lifts, albeit with much lighter weights, as it's not common to find hundred of pounds of flour, iron blocks, buckshot, and sand laying around a jail cell or common area. Inmates will use their laundry bags (or in California, where inmates are allowed pillowcases), which are bags made of nylon netting and apparently so flimsy and torn that they put one in mind of a clapboard shanty in some third world shithole like Eritrea. The way the inmates with whom I spoke described the state of their laundry bags in county jail made it sound like all they needed was a mournful Sarah McLachlan song and some sad-eyed puppies in them for a commercial to spawn the greatest crowdfunding campaign in history. In any event, these battered and torn sacks are called into action daily in lockup as they're filled with whatever is handy until they reach the desired weight... which is not to say, however, that they have any idea what it weighs. Instead, they pick a weight that's challenging for everyone who's going to be involved in the group circuit of the exercise and go ham like they're Road Warriors during a particularly heavy coke and D-bol binge.
"Strength is Life, Weakness is Death"
- Swami Vivekananda
- Swami Vivekananda
No one cared what Stallone actually weighed in Rambo because his forearms were so fucking big it looked like Sly could snap an assault rifle in half with his bare hands and stuff it up the collective ass of every combatant in Burma.
Typically, inmates will use bottles of water, books, magazines, blankets, food, and whatever else they can pile into their bags... making it a veritable smorgasbord of odd items to add to their buffet of muscular brutality, if you will. Using these bags, they'll do bicep curls, tricep extensions, lateral raises,upright rows, and unilateral overhead presses. While this method might seem cruder than Uncle Eddie in the National Lampoon's Vacation movies, it's as effective as lifting steel and places even more strain on the hand, wrist, forearm, and stabilizers than iron... so we all might think about adding daily sandbag work to our regular training. After all, rare is the man who is mocked for his oversized forearms... frankly, if Sylvester Stallone teaches us anything, it's that massive, vascular forearms make a decently muscular build look positively fucking murderous.
Frankly, inmates are pretty fucking crafty, because when they hook their bags to a mop handle, their lifts start to resemble those done with an earthquake/bamboo bar.
Another mode of use for the laundry bag is to tie them to a mop handle and then mimic any exercise one might do with a barbell and added chain weight. That is to say, nothing explosive enough to send a length of chain or an abrasive bag filled with odd, often hard and pointy objects, flying into the lifter's eye. No matter what the lift, however, the goal of each set and rep was the same- to make the absolute fucking MOST of every possible advantage in an effort to move forward. To wit:
"Prisoners also fill pillowcases with sand to use as dumbbells. In cells people fill trash bags with water and placed inside a bucket with a handle for shoulder shrugs and lateral raises. [One inmate]’s favorite solution is to stack 40 or 50 National Geographic magazines in a laundry bag for bicep curls and tricep extensions" (Wade).... in other words, no one cares how you do it, so long as you get it done.
Apparently, Marcus Mariota is a fan of partner-assisted rope work as well. If it works for soy-filled inmates and hyper-rich NFL players, it could probably work for you as well.
If you've got a partner, this shit is awesome for getting in a workout, or getting a pump on before hitting the bar or the beach (don't act like you've never done it, fuckface. I know more than one guy that has or does travel with dumbbells in his truck for that reason). These types of exercises are best done with a towel folded lengthwise in fourths or twisted to make it rope-like, and is best used for exercises like pushdowns and curls, wherein the partners work opposing muscle groups. To do that joint exercise, partners stand facing one another, and one grabs the towel at the ends overhand, while the other grabs the towels with the same grip in the center, keeping his hands one fist width apart. Then, one does curls against the other's effort to extend his arms to a full tricep contraction with their elbows pinned in at their sides.
Other variations include upright rows vs. pushdowns, reverse curls vs. pushdowns, and laterals vs unilateral (one handed) pushdowns. If you hadn't noticed already, PRISONERS ARE ALL ABOUT THEIR TRICEPS (or "back arms", to use their vernacular).
Little -know superhuman Mac Batchelor was a massive fan of barrel lifting, so he'd approve of the water filled trashcans inmates use for big weights. If he his corpse wasn't writhing with maggots and generally succumbing to putrefaction, that is.
Water Weight Chaos
Serious water weight resistance is damn near as ingenious as the invention of velcro. Forget the 20 oz water bottles we previously covered- this is real weight. The preferred method for using water weight in jail is to fill a 55 gallon garbage can with water, then bear hug it and use it as a sort of stone lift / partial deadlift, shrug, or for tandem shoulder work with a partner doing unilateral shrugs, overhead press, or laterals (with a lighter weight).
Another method is to knot the partially filled liner around a plunger handle and use that for a barbell for curls, overhead lockouts and overhead squats, and anything else they one might think up. Similarly, the liner could be put into an office-sized trashcan, then put into a laundry bag and used in a workout like the following suggested circuit:
- Bicep Curl x 5 sets to failure
- Overhead Extensions x 5 sets to failure
- Upright Rows x 5 sets to failure
If you need some extra motivation, just watch Lock Up or Tango and Cash for a little Stallone-style jailhouse shenanigans.
Add to that ten sets of pullups, pushups, and dips for as many reps as possible and 400 yards of lunges a day, six days a week, and you've got a program that put 60 lbs of Prime, Grade A beef on on inmate I interviewed in a mere eight months. I know that seems like an outlandish claim, but you have to consider the fact that most inmates arrive in jail underweight, underfed, strung out on drugs, and under-rested. Thus, having such normalcies as regular meals, no- or limited-access to the chemicals to which they were previously addicted, and near-constant training can have a profound effect on their physique. That, topped with the inmates' additional food choices/calorie bombs from commissary, should allay the bulk of your incredulity. As you'll see in upcoming articles, these guys eat as crazily and intensely as they train.
"Man's spiritual nature is the cause of his material personality- his objective universal form is a crystalized idea."
- Manley Hall
In other words, motherfuckers, if you truly believe it and strive for it, you can achieve it. Drive all doubt from your mind and allow your indomitable will to direct your hypertrophy, fat loss, massive strength gains, and increased muscular endurance. Let none escape.
Moxley, Mitch. I got in peak shape while I was in jail(and wrongly convicted of murder). GQ. 14 May 2015. Web. 8 Oct 2016. http://www.gq.com/story/fitness-in-jail-prisoner
Wade, Jonathan P. Prisoners talk about strength training. Motley Health. Web. 8 Oct 2016. http://www.motleyhealth.com/strength/prisoners-talk-strength-training