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How to Get Fit When You’re Broke (or in Prison)

Updated: Aug 17, 2016 02:18
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Summer’s just around the corner. If you live somewhere other than foggy, body-positive San Francisco, that means beach weather and the pressure to do something about your muffin-top or chicken-legs or man-boobs. If fitness isn’t already a part of your life, you might think a gym is the only place to find it.

But the truth is, you don’t need state-of-the-art equipment and a smoothie bar and trainers who look more like Apple Store Geniuses–COUGH COUGH Equinox–to get in shape. Your own body is the best piece of workout equipment there is. From Sparta to San Quentin, some of the toughest badasses in history have gotten in shape using primitive bodyweight exercises.

Here are a few free (or really cheap) alternatives to the gym to get fit in time for summer.



On February 2nd 1998, the California Department of Corrections banned weightlifting in the state’s prisons. Since then, prisoners have had to settle for bodyweight workouts. Those guys in prison documentaries still look pretty swole. What’s your excuse?

Prison workouts use no equipment, since prisoners don’t have any, and can be done in the tiniest of spaces. This is a great place to start if you’re new to fitness since it forces you to learn the most basic movements and your chances of injury are low.

You can find prison workouts at:

Art of Manliness

Men’s Fitness

The infamous 300 challange

The legend: Kali Muscle 


For a challenge, try this sadistic prison yard inspired game with your workout buddy or cellmate. You’ll need a deck of playing cards. Assign an exercise to each suit:

Clubs – Pushups

Spades – Pullups

Diamonds – Squats

Hearts – burpees

Draw a card and do the exercise for that suit. The number tells you how many reps. Face cards are ten, aces are eleven.



Take what you learned in prison to your local playground… Playgrounds are like bodyweight gyms. The Art of Manliness has a video introduction to playground workouts, and plenty of YouTubers have put theirs online.

Take laps around the block between sets to throw in a bit of cardio.

Just remember, the kids have priority. It’s their yard.


The U.S Navy put together this FREE PDF for gentlemen (and now ladies) preparing to try-out for BUDS, the notorious boot-camp for SEALS.


This is a six month, six-days-a-week, 2-a-days workout designed to make you drown-proof. The emphasis is on grueling bodyweight work. You do hundreds, and eventually thousands, of pushups and flutter kicks followed by intense swims and runs on alternating days. And all of this costs exactly nothing. God bless America.

This free PDF is like a Rocky montage for endurance athletes. If it’s mirror muscles and bulk you’re looking for, you might be disappointed but you’d also be missing the point. The SEALS are all about raiding beaches, not building beach bodies.

For an added challenge try doing these workouts ‘cold wet and sandy’ or after skipping a meal.


I don’t have the stats right in front of me, but I’m pretty sure YouTube is about 20% yoga tutorials. For a more structured approach, that you can substitute for a regular class, try Gaia’s My Yoga for just $10-a-month.

Yoga goes great with prison and military style workouts for injury prevention. Some of us have to learn that the hard way.



There are exactly zero situations in real life that call for you to execute a flawless Olympic lift. On the other hand, life will constantly throw heavy things at you to pick up and carry.

Getting into the sandbag fitness sensation is cheap and simple:

STEP 1: Find a small duffle and fill it with 60-80 pounds of sand.

STEP 2: Learn some sandbag exercises and work them into your bodyweight training.

Atomic Athlete has the best sandbag program out there, and it’s just $50 for life. Their motto is ‘stronger, faster, harder to kill.’

Lately, my own training has been a mix of sandbag work, the Navy PDF, and long swims. I have been continuously sore for months.


Whether you’re busting out knuckle pushups in your prison cell sized cube at work, or shivering in the leaning-rest on the beach at dawn like a frogman in training, here are some tips to make the most of your bodyweight workout.



This hyper-macho maxim has its origins in the testosterone pit of the Marine Corps, but has since become the hashtag of choice for Crossfitters, Tough Mudders, and wannabe Spartans the world over.

Resistance is what makes you stronger. For best results in your bodyweight training, you need to amplify that resistance. That doesn’t just mean upping the weight. We’re talking colder runs, deeper calluses, shorter rests, and finishing the set before you hydrate. Learn to love to be miserable.



Arnold Schwarzenegger once said ‘more plates, more dates,’ referring to 20-kilo barbell plates. As broke-asses pushing out burpees, we don’t have any plates. So if we want to increase our number of dates, we’ve got to increase our number of reps and sets. You can’t make your pushups much heavier, even with a weighted vest. But you can do more of them–like a prisoner with nothing but time–or do them agonizingly slowly with perfect form, like they do in boot-camp.


If you’re training with a friend and he or she half-asses a rep, be sure to call them out. Holler ‘no rep’ and keep counting the same number like John Lennon’s ‘number nine number nine number nine,’ until your friend gets it right.


Rather than cranking out all your reps in one session, you can space them out over the day. This is particularly useful when it comes to the ones you’re not great at–for most people that’s pull-ups. Do an easy number of reps every waking hour. You’ll rack up a ton of reps without breaking a sweat.


Put that $9 smoothie down. Let your over-priced membership run out. Burn your neon light-weight running attire and pickup a pair of Silkies, don a raggedy t-shirt, and get to work on becoming the kind of person who can’t get through an article like this one without a burpee break. Grease that groove.

Images:, set and setting blog, Jason Alditor

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