“Prison is like high school with knives.”
– Raegan Butcher
Prison yard workout games
Around this time last year I was taking a weekend trip and was unable to hit the gym. While this wasn’t the end of the world, I did want to get a little exercise. Three days of doing nothing is a bit much.
Before my trip I asked around for some advice on body weight exercises. I obviously knew about stuff like push-ups and sit-ups, but I didn’t know how I could work my whole body.
A guy who actually started working out while in jail, and later became a powerlifting champion, ending up telling me about a game that him and the other inmates used to play. They’d take a deck of playing cards and assign a different exercise to each suit.
Clubs might be squats or diamonds could be push-ups. As long as you had upper and lower body routines it didn’t matter.
The face value of the card indicated how many reps you had to do. A two meant two reps, an ace was 11. It’s a pretty simple formula.
You started with a full deck and then worked your way through it. At the end of the exercise you’d have hit all your muscle groups. While it wasn’t a great substitute for lifting weights, it was better than sitting around all day.
I followed the advice and did the routine. It was, surprisingly, harder than I thought it would be. By the end I was dripping sweat and exhausted.
Why this routine works
According to my math, which isn’t particularly good, you end up doing 95 reps of each exercise. 95 squats, push-ups, sit-ups, and leg raises is a lot. That’s a total of 380 reps.
Having a deck of cards that tells you what to do also prevents you from losing motivation. Personally, I can’t concentrate unless I have a specific goal. Saying, “I’m going to do some push-ups” isn’t enough to keep me on track.
With cards you have a set objective that’s a lot harder to blow off.
Also, this program is easy enough that you can do it anywhere. I follow it when traveling or when there’s a snowstorm that keeps me from the gym. You don’t need any special equipment or a lot of space.
Lastly, this prison yard workout costs nothing. Forgetting your deck of playing cards at a hostel in Costa Rica isn’t a financial burden. You’re going to be out a dollar.
While I’ve upgraded to a FitDeck, simply because I use it at the gym too, I usually leave this at home when going off the beaten path. In a few weeks when I go hiking I’ll just be bringing my ordinary playing cards with so that I don’t lose anything valuable.
Is this a good alternative to lifting?
I like body weight exercises, but I don’t feel like they are nearly as good as a heavy lift. Picking up a couple hundred pounds will do far more for your muscles. However, there are plenty of situations where going to the gym is near impossible.
Guys who live in small towns, I’m from Iowa and have heard of this happening on several occasions, are sometimes unable to lift because their gym closes for a week around the Christmas season. Or dudes who are backpacking through another country won’t have any access to weights. And sometimes going to the gym in certain cities is just way too expensive.
In these cases doing some body weight exercises with a deck of cards is a great option. It’s going to keep you healthy no matter where you’re at in the world.