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The “Prison Workout” Perfect, Fun Exercise for Urban Setting

The prison workout is the perfect way to get in shape without silly routines and machines. The prison workout is the perfect way to get in shape without silly routines and machines. Photo: Colleen Leung

Concrete floors and rusty bars don’t seem like the ideal workout space, especially compared to a spacious, fully equipped gym. Yet, the urban environment has inspired a new breed of training. It’s usually called “the prison workout” but is also sometimes known as “convict conditioning” or simply “bodyweight strength training.” It’s a great workout for someone who needs action but is bored at the gym. Instead, the focus is internal and only occasionally relies on scaffolding, city parks, or parking meters for the bare equipment needs. Because of the minimalistic approach, it’s also one of the greenest workouts around.

Staying true to its moniker, the training system was developed by prisoners who didn’t have access to weights or equipment. Of course, they weren’t the first to use basic calisthenics to get in killer shape. For example, the Spartans, the fiercest warriors of their time, were masters of body conditioning techniques.

“Let me be clear that calling it a ‘prison workout’ is a marketing thing. What I do is bodyweight strength training or calisthenics,” says Al Kavadlo, a personal trainer and bodyweight conditioning advocate with over 18 years of experience. His client roster ranges from two-time Olympic rowing medalist, Emma Robinson, to a 72-year-old CEO.

Most recently, Al and his brother Danny were pictured on the cover of Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning 2, a book series that, for many, was the initiation to purist strength training. The photo shows the brothers showcasing their two-man human flag almost effortlessly.

So what does this workout look like?

“My favorite place to train is Tompkins Square Park,” says Al.

I like bodyweight training because it is simple. People want to make fitness more complicated than it needs to be.

The park is a concrete playground on the Lower Eastside of New York City. It contains an elaborate jungle gym replete with bars at various levels and angles.

“Today my workout was simple. I did 100 pushups and 50 pull-ups broken up into several sets. It took me about 15 minutes, including warm up. Some days it’s more complicated but a workout as simple as that one can be effective and time efficient,” he says.

Other times, Al’s workout is pull-ups on construction scaffolding, pistol squats on benches, and muscle-ups on monkey bars.

He suggests a few starter routines on his website, such as The Trifecta:

This workout is based on a pyramid training scheme and it will work every single muscle in your body – including your heart! Start by performing one squat, then immediately grab an overhead bar and do one pull-up, then drop down and do a push-up. Next do two squats, two pull-ups and two push-ups. Continue to add one rep to each exercise until you fail to get through the circuit. Then start taking one rep away and work your way back down. Try to keep your rest time to a minimum. If you’re not strong enough to do push-ups or pull-ups, feel free to substitute knee push-ups and Australian pull-ups in their place.

Al’s journey from a “tall, scrawny kid” to human flag practitioner was no overnight success story. He explored many techniques including “lots and lots of machines,” he says with a laugh. Eventually, Al realized that his mind and body were all he really needed to get into shape. The result was his first book, We're Working Out: A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness about motivation and the essence of the workout and a newfound dedication to fitness.

“I like bodyweight training because it is simple. People want to make fitness more complicated than it needs to be. However, just because it is simple, doesn't mean it’s easy,” he adds.

From a leaner, stronger physique and a confidence that isn’t dependent on specialized gear or equipment, to a street-wise, versatile workout that can be accomplished anywhere in the world, the benefits of bodyweight training are plenty. Check out some of Al’s free tutorials on his favorite strength conditioning moves, like the pistol squat and pull-ups, and let us know if this is a routine you’ll be taking on.

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Al Kavadlo and his brother get busy in NYC, prison style.
Last modified on Friday, 13 July 2012 17:39

Laura Vladimirova is a freelance journalist currently based out of New York City. Years of long-term travel abroad have made her a passionate lifestyles writer. Her favorite subjects include art, people, archaeology, travel, cultural events, health, and green living. When she's not typing away at her keyboard or getting her passport stamped, she's probably enjoying the great outdoors.

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/LauraV

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