Kentucky Strong: Prison Strong?

TAGS: prison, adversity, Chase Karnes, iron game, weight training, supplements, Nutrition

Obviously, prison is a very serious place. I don’t condone the lifestyle of those who end up behind bars. There are some very violent and bad people in there, but there are also some people who’ve just made some big mistakes and eventually get out. Regardless of your opinion on whether inmates should be allowed to train in prison or not, I do think that we can learn a thing or two from them. I recently got to learn a little more about how they do things behind bars.

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A few weeks back, I met a guy who had done some time. He was a friend of a friend of a friend who I ran into randomly. He had made some bad choices, had done his time, and was now a free man. For some reason, I felt ballsy enough to ask him some questions about his time spent in prison, more particularly about training and eating in prison. This guy was in his 50s and had a decent build. You could tell that he used to train.I’ve always been intrigued by training in prison. Years ago, when I was in high school, I saw a documentary on TV about it. I had been training for a few years at the time and had a decent base, but these guys in prison where jacked and strong. How the hell can they get that big with prison food, no supplements, and no drugs (anabolics)? Some of the guys on the documentary even said that they’d never really trained before entering prison.

Below is the conversation that took place with this man. I was very appreciative of his time and the fact that he was open with talking about that part of his life.

When you trained in prison, what was your training program like?

Usually, we trained six days a week. Because we had powerlifting competitions at the prison, we based everything around the squat, bench press, and deadlift. We didn’t really have a training program. Instead, we just did what the strongest guy in the gym was doing. You see, training in prison isn’t about impressing the ladies. It’s about being able to take care of yourself and handle yourself in a bad situation. This shit is serious. It's prison, man. You have to protect yourself. It’s life or death in there. The best way to do this is to get stronger.

Tell me more about the strongest guy in the pen with you.

He was in his 30s, about five-foot-eight, and 185 lean pounds. He could squat and deadlift 600 pounds and bench press a little over 400 pounds. He was a machine. He did weighted dips with at least 100 pounds hanging from his waist for tons of reps.

Impressive. So I’m assuming that these numbers are “raw” because I know good and damn well they don’t let you purchase powerlifting gear in the clink. No bench shirts or squat suits?

You're correct. He didn’t use any of that. It was just him and the bar.

So you mentioned weighted dips. What other movements where the staples of your training?

Well, like I said, we trained the squat, bench press, and deadlift. We also did weighted dips, chin-ups, sit-ups, hanging leg raises, close-grip bench presses, pull-ups, front squats, curls, skull crushers, and stiff-leg deadlifts. That’s really about it. We may have done some other stuff here and there but nothing worth mentioning. We’d just go in and work as hard and as long as we could.

Typically there wasn't any rhyme or reason to it. We’d work up heavy on the squat, bench, and deadlift. Then we’d take weight off the bar and do even more sets. Really, we all were just training to be stronger than everyone else in the gym. If that guy did eight reps, then by God I’m going to do nine. If he was pulling 505, then I’m throwing 510 on that bar. All we knew was to work hard. We didn’t have any machines or any of that jazz. Really, we just had some squat stands, benches, barbells, dumbbells, and plates. We just trained for a couple of hours each day, except Sundays. Sunday was a rest day. Some guys went in and hit weighted dips those days. Everyone loved some weighted dips.

Interesting stuff. I don't have any doubt that training like that will get you big and strong. But I don’t understand how you can get bigger on low quality prison food, especially such a low protein diet. I don’t know exactly what prison food is like, but I’d imagine it being worse than school food. And that shits nasty and not very conducive to getting big and strong. What did you all eat?

We ate as much prison food as they allowed us. But you're right—it was low quality and low protein. Beans and rice...junk like that. But we were allowed to buy things from the canteen. So all the guys who took their training serious just saved up all their money and bought food from the canteen to eat in their cells. Literally every penny was spent on food.

OK, that makes sense. What about drugs? Did guys smuggle anabolic steroids in somehow? Could they even afford them? I’ve always heard that they did.

Oh, guys smuggled drugs in. Lots of drugs. But no, no steroids were ever smuggled in. That shit was too expensive. We were all pretty tight when it came to information like that. I mean, shit, the strongest guy was 185 pounds, not 300 pounds.

Yeah, I guess you have a point. Well, I don’t want to waste your day out in the sun talking about that point in your life, but I do appreciate your willingness to talk with me. Like I said, I’m always looking to learn as much as I can about training. Thanks.

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So there you have it—straight from the mouth of someone who’s done the time on how he trained in prison. I’m sure all prisons are different, but this was his experience. I had some big take-home points, some of which were unspoken, after talking with him:

    • Training in prison is for self-defense and protection first and foremost. It’s life or death. Life or death—that’s more serious than a powerlifting meet, Strongman competition, or even setting a record. That’s some motivation in and of itself. The motivation to live may be the strongest motivator of all.
    • Because they didn't have any fancy equipment, they couldn’t get distracted from the basics—the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
    • Training six days a week for two hours at a time may seem like too much or “overtraining.” It probably would be for most people, but keep in mind that these guys have the other 22 hours of the day to “recover.” They eat, sleep, and train. That’s it. Maybe some of those out in the real world who are afraid of “overtraining” just don’t want to work hard.
    • They don’t have 1,000 different training programs or nutrition programs to choose from. All they know is to train hard and eat a lot of food. They have a limited number of exercise options and food options. It isn't rocket science. The basics and food work.
    • Supplements aren’t 100 percent necessary to get big and strong.
    • Training partners can definitely help motivate and push you, especially when there's competition between you.
    • The biggest thing that stood out to me is that if you want it bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen. Even if everything is lined up perfectly, make it happen.

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