Prison Strength Training & Convict Conditioning


robert deniro cape fear

MANY years ago (2005 or 2006) I took a trip to the prison where the movie Lock Up was filmed with Sly Stallone. I wanted to learn how the inmates trained. In a nut shell, I was hungry to learn from anyone who was strong, fast and powerful.

I had seen a documentary on how inmates are training every day with all bodyweight or any object they could lift and so I was intrigued immediately. I found out that a friend of mine had a family member who was a LT working with "The Lifers" at Rahway State prison. This friend of mine introduced me to her Dad who was open to bringing me in to chat with these guys about their training regimen.

I wound up taking a 1/2 day trip behind those walls and spent hours upon hours talking training with some of the guys. I look back and can't believe I did such a thing. I took a "sick day" from work to learn and improve my training and today, Coaches won't learn beyond Instagram or YouTube. Heck, many Coaches won't leave their house for a local seminar and here I am going to prison to get my learn on! My passion for training has always been through the roof, so I see no reason to assume I am "Good Enough" as a Coach. Instead, I am always striving to learn more.

I'd say your current day "Fitness Guru Influencer" isn't go inside a prison to learn training methods to share with you.

I'll go more in depth with what I learned with a video inside The Underground Strength Academy. For now, I will break down some of my thoughts and how you can learn from the guys who are in prison, strength training on a serious level.

It's VERY interesting to see how inmates can look the way they do and, as seen in the video below, how they can demonstrate the strength they do... Deadlifting 500 lbs and well over. These guys are strong and jacked with NO fancy equipment, shitty food at best and high volume of work.

When people say prison is the perfect place to get BIG and Strong, inmates have no job, no this, no that, etc. come on, do you really think it's stress free for those guys? Every day they are training for life. Do we need excuses here in the free world and a green light to complain how our life is too hard to eat well, train hard and get big and strong? Excuse makers NEVER kick ass and get results.

If you're not strong, point the finger at yourself. Do the work. Eat and sleep as you NEED to, not just how you WANT to. Getting strong begins in the mind. Never forget that. If deep down you don't like doing the work, forget it, you'll never get strong.

The inmates I met with focus on a select few things you can learn from:

- Free Weights and the Basic Powerlifting and Bodybuilding movements.

The guys who were athletes on the early days boxing team were sprinting on the track that Sly built them as well as playing basketball. Basketball is a blend of sprints and jump training, both are excellent for sports and strength.

Just like the days of the Golden Era, free weights WIN every time. The basics pack on the most size and strength while delivering results the fastest. Pretty boy bodybuilding is OUT. Squats, Deads, Benching and heavy curls, plenty of calisthenics and basic nutrition.

prison strength powerlifting

- Bodyweight Training on a regular basis. High reps for muscular endurance as well as muscular hypertrophy. Bodyweight training performed through the day in a 'Grease the Groove' fashion ala Pavel, always performing the exercise when fresh, with solid technique, never training to failure to maximize gains in size and strength while ensuring full recovery.

The guys I spoke with in prison, one group of guys did calisthenics every morning before breakfast. These were the guys that used to be on the prison boxing team when they were younger. One of them told me that every morning he does 5 x 50 push ups and drinks some green tea before heading to breakfast and then the yard.

Another guy, the biggest guy in the gym, he would train with free weights all week on Monday - Friday, then on Saturdays he trained with ALL bodyweight, 100 reps of every bodyweight exercise he could think of. And this guy was HUGE. He looked to be 275-285. Most big guys can't do pull ups. Heck, most high school kids can't do pull ups.

His program reminded me of the volume of old school bodybuilding and a blend of what I learned in the late 80s and early 90s when we trained one body part a day but did tremendous volume. He told me the exact weights he used on all the exercises. 100 lb seated dumbbell curls, benching a specific weight, press behind the neck a specific weight. His training memory was forged in stone.

The strongest guys understand that "Strong is STRONG". Which means, you should be strong with the weights and calisthenics.

- Using ALL training methods to keep the mind strong and to develop confidence & mental toughness. Never discriminate against the many ways you can get stronger. 

These guys understand that training is a ritual, a place where they can clear the mind of all problems and focus on something good, take care of their own health, both physical AND mental. It's about taking ownership which translates to a stronger Life.

At The Underground Strength Gym, we train for Mind AND Body. To become a Great athlete, the mind must be strong, not just the body. If you only train for appearance, well, that motivation is fleeting. It is superficial. You must train for something deeper and more meaningful than big biceps.

prison strength odd object lifting

- Use of Odd Objects -  Inmates are not cry babies like many of the "Fitness Gurus" telling you that their way is the only way and the best way. These guys train with anything they can lift.

These men are using water filled bags and jugs, lifting their bunk beds, etc. I remember watching a video ages ago with inmates training using the picnic tables that were out in the yard after their weights were removed from the yard.

That Video inspired me to use the picnic table when training athletes outdoors, using an endless array of exercises. We would perform picnic table circuits with my wrestlers at a school yard; table press, split squats, floor press, jumps on the table, etc

I wonder if the book Dinosaur Training is floating through some prison libraries?

Now, before you begin complaining about the fact that inmates are being given credit or admired, let all that go for 5 seconds.... I am looking at their training, NOT what they did in life, good or bad. I'm not judging people. I am learning from those who are STRONG. Period. End of Story.

The complaining and excuse making needs to end. It's plain and simple, don't use my website as a ground for complaining, instead, it's a place to learn, share and become inspired. DO. THE. WORK.

Let's get STRONG. Period.

Live The Code 365,


PS: This is THE place where strength training, muscle building and sports performance are taken to a whole new level, I'm there for you, 24-7-365 with our private forum.

I'll get an in depth video reviewing my time visiting the prison and everything I learned.

24 Responses

  1. Man recently I get my hands on Convict Conditioning. One word: Thanks. Thanks for recommending this. I was doing bodyweight stuff earlier, using Pavel’s method (Naked Warrior way) but Coach Wade has shit that works for me better.
    BTW: Today in a locker one guy asked me if I do legs at all, or only upper body. Maaaaan whats wrong with these guys?

    1. I thought Coach Wade was maybe a fictional character. But, after I wrote the first edition of The Encyclopedia of Strength and Coach Wade read one of the preview copies, he emailed me to praise my book. He is out there, we don’t know who or where, but his work is Powerful and that is what matters.

  2. As a police officer, I think this is something EVERY police officer should watch. Talk about motivation to stay in shape!

  3. You wanted feed back to your topic concerning what is a strong mind last week. This video projects this quality.

    The strength to overcome regardless of where you find yourself.

    Sir, i thank you for this video.

  4. Dedication to a purpose- that’s what it takes. These guys have the crappiest food available, no supps. Just time and dedication. And yet 80% of these guys could hold their own on a BB stage. Definately motivating.

    On a side note, I know you don’t want us to get all political and philosophical Zach, but what if these guys could set themselves similar powerful and inspirational goals when they get back on the outside? To use their lives productively for good purpose. THAT’S what we should be preaching to the inmates in any “correctional” facility.

    Sorry couldn’t resist my 2c.

  5. I think it would be interesting to see a documentary on strength and survival in today’s world. Not just the world of crime and fighting, but also in the corporate world and such. Lots of people tell me that getting in shape and getting stronger gave them a leg up in advancing heir career and their standing among their peers.

    Bottom line is that strength is about survival and living life in the best ways you can. I think this is true for anyone no matter who they are.

    1. I assume the majority of the most successful have prioritized their strength and health, NOT always, but the majority.

  6. Zach whats up. i have had the book for some time now and read it all the time. i use the bodywieght stuff when i’m injured or just wanting to work through some stuff in my head. its great to be able to get to a place in my head where nothing else disturbs me and i can just dance with the thoughts in my head. I really try to focus on the little things in the book and work on technique constantly, you know a little tweek here and there to maximise benefits and all. thanks for promoting a perfect tool, this will help alot of people get into their minds again. you’re the best

  7. I did 5 years in TDCJ-ID (Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division) and all of the units that I did time on banned weights because the inmates were in superior shape to the staff. Even though we had no weights, we used one another as well as anything we could find to circumvent this problem and get it in. Even without weights, I went from 185 to 215. When the human spirit is motivated to make the body strong, there is nothing that can/will stand in the way of attaining this accomplishment. This is, perhaps, the #1 thing that pisses me off when I hear people making excuses for not jumping into the fire. THERE ARE NO FUCKING EXCUSES!

  8. John Cintron says:

    Zach great post. I went and bought convict conditioning because of your page. I am currently doing some of the exercises in my program like coach Wade tells you to do them and it makes everything much harder. Also I remember a documentary on prison.There was one black guy that was not allowed to lift weights . He was confined to his cell. He was so strong that he had broken out of handcuffs and straight jackets. He had to be the most jacked up guy I ever saw. He would take his matress and roll it up and do hundreds of squats in his cell. I have yet to be able to find that clip.


  9. It wasn’t prison it was bootcamp, but when I was in bootcamp I was itching to lift weights. We had a machine in our barracks but it had no pin so another guy found a bolt and we would sneak down at night to lift. We would put towels between plates so you couldn’t hear the clanking of plates.
    It is unfortunate that the inmates don’t have that outlet, but I can see why the guards don’t want them lifting because they would out power them. Maybe take a lesson from this and lift. The prison guards I know are all powerlifters and some big dudes, but I am sure there are some that don’t lift at all.

  10. Milt, right on, I am ALWAYS shocked to see law enforcement who are weak and out of shape, it confuses the hell out of me!

  11. Dustin, agreed my man, I’d be training to be bigger, faster and stronger then them!

  12. Coach PC – I hear ya, I interviewed a guy who was an inmate in Cali, ALL bodyweight, he was STRONG AS HELL, pound for pound, un-real!

    He passed away 2 yrs ago though 🙁

    After prison he became addicted to fitness and the lifestyle, was a powerful lifter, I saw him clean and press a 185 lb barbell with ONE hand and strict press it, it was NUTS!

    He weighed 205 lbs only! He was a GREAT guy but he passed on 🙁

    1. William H says:

      Hi Zach,
      Would like to read more about this Inspirational guy. Can tell he learned to flip challenges into Opportunities!

      Live the Code 365

      1. This was a long time ago, 20 years ago…… Who knows if they are even still alive, heartbreaking to imagine that.

        Time goes way too fast!

  13. Matt, you are right bro, I met many strength addicts who were corporate and they dominate their world of business, dominate!

  14. Rudy, those who get out, sometimes do this, I had a friend who did this and he was on a great roll, but he had cancer and lost his battle.

    He was an amazing guy, inside and out. A very sad time.

  15. John I saw that video ages ago! He was JACKED!

    His arms were unreal! He was doing straight leg sit ups with only his feet supported, it was UN-real, looked like Bruce Lee plus 50 lbs!

    I also think the guy was in his 50s already!

  16. Zach great comments and video. I work in a correctional facility and find myself frustrated every day because my co-workers just don’t get the importance of training for the job. YOU WORK IN A JAIL! IT IS YOUR JOB TO BE READY FOR ANYTHING!

  17. Another Great NO EXCUSES Post Zach! Here’s something else to think about, besides the fact that many prisons no longer have a weight yard to train in, and therefore have to improvise, none of them have ideal food.

    We are so worried about our drinks, powders, meals, shakes and “improvement concoctions” that we lose sight of what makes us strong. We also use it as an excuse for training (or not). It is time spent doing the work that makes us strong and nothing else. Period!

  18. Zach can you please tell me which documentary was of that guy..please and thanks

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