“I was sick for a stretch last year. Really sick. Do you know what made me feel better? Prison shows. The thing is, I noticed something during this time: Prisoners are really ripped.”
I was sick for a stretch last year. Really sick. Do you know what made me feel better? Prison shows. You see, that prosaic feeling you get after nosediving through Instagram for an hour and giving into the social burden to double-tap on all those holiday photos works both ways. Comparison can be a great weapon when you’re only measuring yourself against people in far worse circumstances – it’s like a reverse ego trip.
The thing is, I noticed something during this time: Prisoners are really ripped.
I’m obviously not the only one to have noted this because prison workouts are suddenly in demand the Free World over.
As far as I can tell, the trend may well have started with Britain’s ‘most notorious’ jailbird Charles Bronson. (He actually goes by Charles Salvador now, but let’s not split moustache hairs.) Back in 2007 he wrote a book called Solitary Fitness, which detailed how he managed 2000 sit-ups a day and could bend the bars on his jail cell.
Sounds like the kind of tenacity most of us are missing from our workouts, right? To find out more, I tracked down a guy who’s done a stretch of his own – let’s call him ‘Smalls’… and yes, it’s an ironic nickname.
In fact, let’s go with ‘Super Smalls and the Non-Intimidating Neck Tattoo’.
Anyway, Smalls agrees to meet for coffee. He orders a piccolo to my large soy flat white and proceeds to tell me that:
- a) I have nice eyes, b) soy milk is the devil, and c) prison workouts are almost all bodyweight exercises. I say thanks for the compliment, ignore the devil thing and ask about the exercises. Things like push-ups, dips, squats and burpees, he tells me…
When he says burpees I’m reminded to ask him about prison food – is it as bad as they say? Worse, he replies.
So, I ask, where should I start with my workout? Pull-ups, he says instantly. He then tells me he once did almost 50,000 pull-ups during a week in solitary. It makes my excuse of not being around to work out because I have to travel a lot seem flaccid at best. This prison workout thing might not be so crazy after all, I tell him. And much easier on the outside with luxuries like carpet and private showers, he says.
Later that day, in my carpeted bedroom, I track down the most popular of the prison workouts. An outfit called ConBody in New York appears to be so well adopted they now do live classes online. ‘Work out in the solitary confinement of your own home’, the tagline reads. The ex-con who started this company, Coss Marte, is affable and I take to him immediately, especially when he says I’ll be done with his workout in 15 minutes.
The moves all have names he came up with in prison. ‘Hello Dolly’, ‘the T-Bone’ – it’s almost cute. By the time he has me crab-walking back and forth, I’m sweating actual beads. I haven’t done a round of jumping jacks since I was about 12 and I feel it, not just the next day but on the spot.
I admit, though… I feel good, too! It’s quick, it’s effective, it has a great back story – what’s not to love? There’s no new age spirituality, no kale smoothies. It’s simple and it works. Or as Smalls would put it, “Even some weedy geek named Fergus could do it.” To all my fellow Ferguses, he’s right. If I can do it, you can, too. As the saying goes, you just have to do the time.
WHAT: Prison-style workouts.
HOW MUCH: US$5 a month.
WHERE: Visit conbodylive.com
I LOVED: How minimalist-slash-badass the whole thing is. It’s basically Marie Kondo meets Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I QUESTION: The abundance of neck tattoos in general.
Emma Markezic is a comedian, writer and self-confessed wellness cretin. Each month she tries a new trend. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @markyknowsbest.