Hey all, need your collective wisdom please. Got my hands on a used bench, dumb bell and barbell set for a steal and want to get some muscle on me but I dont have anyone to teach/spot me, can't afford a gym membership and am pretty strapped for time as I do shift work. Imagine I'm a prisoner asking for advice with limited resources and knowledge.

I'm not trying to look like Mr Olympia or a fitness model. I want to achieve some practical strength and a body thats a decent mix of bulkiness and, well, "normal" and just stay there. Think Tom Hardy as Bane, Fedor Emelianenko, Bas Rutten or Bruce Willis in the original Die Hard. I dont wanna look like Hercules is what I'm saying. Just decent arms, back and legs, I'm a hairy ape so anything that gets the muscles bigger mitigates that genetic unpleasantness.

To that end I was wondering if someone could help me with exercises that are minimalist, solitary and efficient. I was considering doing just Deadlifts, Pushups and Dips (fork out some cash for a cheap dip bar i guess) and seeing how far that gets me. I can't do bench presses as I've no spotter, Back Squats seem alittle too unsafe for me as I'm alone, no one to teach/spot me, cant afford the rack and, honestly, I'm really just trying to get girls to notice me alittle more, I'm not going to invest emotionally and put my ego in lifting the weights for their own sake, you know? Why endanger my spine for a vanity project? Zercher squats instead? (i dont know)

Remember, I'm a "prisoner" with limited resources and knowledge so what else can I do to achieve what I want on my lonesome?

Calisthenics? Pushups (put barbell plates in backpack or something)? Any isometric exercises? I cant really practice Olympic Lifts by myself because I'm coming from a place of total ignorance and could really mess myself up in the long run.

So, yeah, anything I can learn/do on my own that wont endanger me and get really good results.

Theres not much a guy with not much can do :(

Any advice you can give or websites you could direct me to would be grand. Thank you

Tags: Exercise, Gym, Home, Minimalist, Poor, Workout.

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Just a few kwik notes and I may come back to this later. I am sure that Shane and Mr. Carl Monster will contribute as well.

No no particular order:

You do not need a spotter to bench. Pick a weight that you can do for X number of reps and leave 1 or 2 reps in the tank. When that gets easy then raise the weight. Leave the collars off the plates so if you get in trouble you can tip the bar and dump the weight. Or you said you have dumbbells….use them.

Squats will not hurt your back….but they are not practical if you do not have a rack. So do deadlifts instead. If you say “Gosh, deadlifts will hurt my back” then quit reading at this point because you are beyond hope. There is no bigger muscle working/producing exercise than deadlifts. You can either use your barbell or if you can load dumbbells heavy enough use them.

No matter what routine you pick you will never have to worry about being too big. I don’t even know you, but I can tell you that your diet and dedication are not enough for that to happen.

If all else fails and you feel like a “prisoner” then do an internet search for the “Prisoner Workout”.

There is a shit-ton of stuff you can do with what you have. And you can add to it easy. Search for “sandbag training”. One of the best websites out there if you want to learn how to do something is Youtube.

I am not going to feed you a plan, do your own research. If you have specific questions I will be more than happy to answer them.

You can always try the macebell, I made my own for under $30 bucks and have dropped some decent weight and tacked on a fair amount of muscle since picking it up.


First, search this site. Brett has tons of good articles, including a cool playground body-weight one. Then are tons of posts similar to yours where the experienced men here have laid it all down very clearly.

Prisoners are not alone in their workouts. Watch any Youtube video of that Kali guy and you see he uses others for this movements. You don't have that option if you say you are doing this alone.

In my judgement you have your motives backward, though I'll come out and say it's easy for me to say because I already have a mate. Women want a man who will be a good provider and decent fellow. Muscles may make it easier to get in the sack, but real relationship is not based on that.

I lift weights for their own sake, because I've realized muscles don't really have much to do with it, it's all a mind game. And in that, I've realized so much of life's struggles are also that way. 

So weightlifting has had effects far outside of my gym, far more beneficial than looking like any movie star (though that has not been a bad thing either).

If you are still reading this, after years of trying various things, I've come upon four movements that have had a pronounced affect on my body: squats, deadlifts, bench and overhead press.

If I had to pick one that has done the most dramatic I'd pick deadlifts. Doing them heavy has given me an overall thickness like nothing else has and still has me shaking my head when I see myself in the mirror.

I've done this all by myself; I watch youtube videos and read "Starting Strength" by Marc Rippetoe, that has each of the four movements explained in excruciating detail. He is also on Youtube.

Start with very light weight and work yourself up gradually. Each training session also has you practice the movements with lighter weights until your work sets. Slow and steady is the mantra here, there is no quick fix, and hitting things hard too soon is the recipe for hurting yourself.

Ironically, all my own gym injuries are from stupid things; dropping weights on my feet, etc, from rushing between sets.

Muscle building does not end in the gym, you will also need to focus on your diet and giving yourself enough rest to grow; though you sound young, so you will probably will be able to get away with a lot more abuse of those than I, a middle-aged guy.

Re-assess your goals and why you want to do them, research as much you can and you'll be rewarded if you work at it consistently and intelligently.

I frankly did not have the patience or discipline at your age to do this, it came much later in my life.

A ton of good advice here

Hey Zane! I would strongly recommend calisthenics. They're a great method of developing strength and muscle without a gym membership or equipment. They're also extremely efficient. One of the most fit men in my gym exclusively does body weight exercises; he's has a strength that's the envy of many of the regulars. 

Check out these articles from Bodybuilding.com if you're interested: (http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/bodyweight-bodybuilder-the-mass-bui...); (http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/how-to-build-a-calisthenics-body.html)

Finally, you mentioned purchasing a dip bar. While that may help, you can get a great dip workout on a chair or bench. Best of luck!

Solid advise so far. Here's another approach, check out some old school physical culture lifts.

Before we used benches there was the floor press.

Steinborn lifts. Before Milo Steinborn squatted an elephant in 1950 (bad ass pics out there), squats were an assistance lift. There were no racks. He perfected a technique to get the bar on his back. There's YouTube videos.

There's also variants. Hack squats. Zerchers. Clean and Bradford press into a high bar squat. Snatch and over head squat.

Which brings us to the Olympic lifts. Clean and jerk. Clean and press. Snatch. As Dan John says, "From the Floor Up".

Bent press. Two handed anyway. Circus style shit. I'm thinking of doing a cycle of old school lifts later in the year.

In addition to Rip's "Starting Strength", and Dan John's, "From the Floor Up"; there's Pavel's "Power to the People". It's an old Soviet era minimalist program from Russia.

I'll sum up:

1. Two lifts, dead lift and an upper body press. Pavel likes the bent press.

2. Performed five days a week.

3. Two sets of five each exercise. That is all.

4. When it feels light, add more weight. For the first few weeks you might be adding weight every day.

He also outlined a bulking program called, "The Russian Bear". It was the same two lifts at 2x5, with added drop sets of 80% your work weight to failure.

Don't get hung up on equipment. The old guys didn't have much and they had huge numbers. Arnold talked about doing dips with chairs placed back to back in "Education of a Bodybuilder". He also recommended six months of calisthenics before touching iron.

Which brings me round to something I was advocating before I read that book. If you can't move your body, you've no business touching iron. And on to an incredible prison routine.

"Convict Conditioning" by Paul Wade. Work your way through the body weight progressions to at least level 5-6 before picking up the iron. Also, during that time, get the "Couch to Five K" program. Do those two things and you'll be ready to begin any training program.

You're welcome for the reading list.

Good points here. Brooks Kubik's "Dinosaur" type training would be ideal for minimal equipment.

Good points. Brooks Kubik's "Dinosaur" type of training would be ideal for minimal equipment and was almost all based on old time strongman stuff.

Yup. The only thing I didn't like is his advocating High Intensity Training (HIT), going all out every workout. It's too much for us, and too much for a beginner. Things I did like:



Thick bars

Taking your weights for walks.

Even those, I think a guy should at least burn his newbie gains before implementing them.

It has been awhile since I looked at Kubik's stuff. You mentioned Dan John earlier and I love his stuff. Entertaining writer that is all about picking up weight and carrying weight around. Right now if I could name my favorite training authors they would be:

Dan John

Dave Tate

Jim Wendler

Joe Defranco (his Agile 8 is brilliant)

Paul Kelso (check out "Powerlifting Basics, Texas Style")

There may be others but these are my favorites and have most influenced my training

Throw in a couple grams of Dianbol a day and you've got the makings of 70s BIG. Cool website btw.

One of the things with still being in is, I have all this other crap I need to train for. PFT, CFT, my OIC is on this kick about keeping tactical skills up so we ruck with full packs. So I'm stuck on what Dan John calls the 80-10-10. Eighty percent of your training time is dedicated to your sport, ten to strength, ten for yourself (read: bench and curls). Can't focus on putting up numbers. I'm pretty much at maintenance with my strength routines now.

Been there and understand.


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