If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing Tom Hardy’s film Bronson, you’ll know that Charles Bronson is considered to be one of the most violent criminals in England. The central focus of many documentaries regarding violence in prisons, treatment of prisoners in England as well as psychiatric studies, he is a man who has intrigued as many people as he has terrified.
Whether you are a fan of his incredible facial hair, or the story of how he basically punched his way to fame (a lifelong ambition of his), or perhaps you’re an aficionado of his art work, one thing is certain, Bronson knew how to stay physically strong. Without access to any real equipment, on account of him spending most of his time in solitary confinement, Bronson had to learn how to exercise efficiently. In all fairness, this makes him one of the most prolific lockdown exercisers in the world.
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*Interesting fact, Tom Hardy struggled to keep up with Bronson’s workout routine!
Apart from a few brief stints on the other side of the bars, Charles Bronson (born Charles Salvador) has been serving time since 1974. Many believe that exercise was the only way that Bronson was able to overcome the difficulties both mental and physical that come with solitary confinement. The finest example of what a good regime is capable of he has gained an almost super human strength and makes claims of being able to crank out one hundred and seventy two pushups in a minute, pick up a pool table and bending a steel prison door with his bare hands.
While some of these claims may seem exaggerated, the records he has set while in prison for exercise are not. For example, he holds the record for most push ups in sixty minutes. A pec-shearing 1,727!
Body Weight Workouts
With gyms around the world being closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of gym goers were at a loss with how to train. But the benefit of a good body weight workout is that it can be done absolutely anywhere. In your bedroom, living room, garden or in solitary confinement.
Strength and cardio can be trained in just one workout, either by increasing the speed at which the exercises are performed or by shaving down the rests periods.
Planning The Exercises
Planning ahead is important and working in a number of variations of each exercise and the order in which they are done will keep things interesting. The below can keep you busy for over a month and small adjustments make all the difference, but these are some of the best to start with. The good old fashioned Bronson style exercises that he used to create his legendary strength.
A biggy in the training world and one of the all-time “must do” leg workouts. The squat is one of the most basic yet effective athletic movements. In just one exercise, you work your quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, and inner thighs.
Prisoner Squat: Simple and straightforward. Place your hands behind your head to maintain posture, squat down until your thighs are below parallel to your knees and come up. The old “ass to the grass” adage is a good one for this.
Any weight will do: Barbells are often not a usual household item however anything that can be held in the arms can add weight to this exercise. If you have a gym bag and some books, you’ll be surprised at fast things can get heavy.
Squat Jumps: No good if you’re tall and live in a small house, but this is a plyometric version of the squat which helps build explosiveness and engage those twitch muscles. Prison squat to the lowest position and then from that position jump as high off the ground as you can. Then, upon landing immediately sink into another squat and jump again. With this one make sure you control the descent because this exercise can hurt the knees if you’re not warmed up or in control.
Pistol Squat: A one-legged full squat. A basic squat with one leg stuck out in front of you. It’ll take a couple of months to be able to do this effectively and even then don’t feel bad if you need to stabilise yourself with a hand against the wall. Rest assured that when we’re allowed to socialise this will be a party trick you’ll come back to again and again.
In Bronson’s book “Solitary Fitness” he cites that he performs 2000 push ups a day. We wouldn’t suggest you start that way, because you probably have more to do with your day than sit in a cell and stare at a wall. But it is important to have goals, and this is completely achievable. If you start with ten pushups in the morning, ten at lunch and ten in the evening and each day aim to increase that number by five or more, you’ll soon be whacking out a couple of thousand in a day.
Variable Pushups: The main muscles worked with a pushup include the chest, anterior (front) deltoid and the triceps. By making minor adjustments of the hands you can increase the difficulty with ease to work the muscles at different angles.
Narrow or Wide Hand Placement: Adjust the position of the hands to emphasize different muscle groups. For example, narrow hand pushups works the triceps while wider hand pushups focusses on the pectorals.
Hindu Push-up: This is a dynamic full-body movement that will build strength and flexibility in your chest, shoulders, back, hips, and triceps. Position yourself by standing with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders. Bend down and place your hands on the floor while keeping your arms and legs straight. So that you look like an upside down V shape with your bum in the air and your head near the ground. Scoop yourself forward as if you want to polish the floor with your chest until your hips are close to the ground. Get a good stretch of your back and then reverse the movement back to the starting position. Repeat.
Handstand Push-up: Undoubtedly one of the most effective shoulder workouts the handstand push up needs only a wall to perform it on. Simply assume a handstand position against the wall like you did when you were a child. Then once in a comfortable position you slowly, with control, bend the arms and lower the head to the floor and then push yourself up again. The strain on the shoulders, upper back, arms and core are constant on this one so rep it out until you fail. Once you’ve conquered that, don’t use the wall.
Granted this is a tricky one if you don’t have something to pull up on, but without a doubt pull ups are the most applied back workout and work all of the major back muscles. Even for seasoned gym goers, the body weight pull up is considered a real show of strength. And it works everything from your forearms, biceps, chest, traps and your lats (the wing muscles).
What you’ll need is somewhere to hang, and if you don’t have that you can purchase a pull up bar for the door for less than £30 on Amazon. If you can’t do that, then anything that you can grip onto and hang from, say a doorframe (workout for your fingertips) or a jungle gym or tree branch will be more than sufficient.
Just like the push up, pull ups can be modified to work different muscles groups or to make the exercise more difficult. A small amount of variation can result in a big difference and this really is a “must do” exercise.
Chin-up: Hold the bar with your palms facing you and a fairly narrow grip, lift yourself until your chin is over the bar. Direct strain will be on your biceps and your lats. Keep the motion smooth.
Mixed Grip Pull-up: One hand grips the bar overhand and the other underhand. Do five and then swap the grip and do five. Repeat.
Commando Pull-up: If you’ve seen Rocky, you’ll recognise this one. It includes an underhand grip with one hand and an overhand grip with the other. Pulling up with the head on one side and then the other. Great variations and good for repping out sets.
Typewriter Pull-up: Grab the bar with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull yourself up until your sternum is at the bar. Now, move your body toward one hand, taking some of the weight off the opposite hand which should straighten. Keeping your sternum level return your body to the centre and do the same with the other side. Then return to centre. That is one rep done. *You do not need to make the sound of a typewriter ding but you get extra points if you do.
Narrow/Wide Grip: You can adjust your grip width to focus on different muscle groups. Try doing pull-ups with your hands right next to each other or as far apart from each other as you can.
One-handed Pull-up: One handed pull ups immediately puts you in a different level of awesomeness.
Towel Pull-ups: Hang two towels from your bar and grip one in each hand. Pull yourself up. Great for grip strength and especially good if you want those big forearms.
A mainstay for anyone wanting big arms, dips work the triceps, pecs, shoulders, forearms and core. You don’t need a fancy dip rig to do them. All you need is a chair or a bed. Place your hands on other side of a chair and prop your feet on the bed and lower your bum to the floor and then push up. Kind of like a reverse push up.
Dips are a simple muscle blaster. They don’t take much skill, but there are some variations of them that are awesomely impressive.
Horizontal Bar Dips
Frankly speaking, if you can do this exercise you are already at a good level of fitness as it requires a supreme strength of core, grip and control. With a horizontal bar behind you, grip the bar with both hands and do a basic dip as many times as you can. If you can manage five in a row, you’re in a small percentage of people who can and may potentially have heat vision and be bullet proof.
Hanging Leg Raises!
Blasting the abs, obliques, intercostals the hanging leg raise also targets the quads, hips, forearms and shoulders. Increasing grip strength and resilience.
Variable Hanging Legs
Straight Leg Raises: Grab and hang from a bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width overhand grip. Keeping your knees straight, raise legs by flexing hips until they are completely flexed, or knees are well above hips. Return until hips are extended downward.
Hanging Windshield Wiper: Perform a straight leg raise, but when your feet come to the top positions, brace your abs and rotate your legs to one side as far as you can. Rotate to the other side. Repeat. *Again, you don’t have to make a sound like a windscreen wiper, but if you’re alone you may want to try.
Bent Knee Leg Raises: If you can’t do a straight leg raise, you can modify it by bending your knees and raising them into your chest.
If you’re doing these right you’ll hate them! You will see all professional athletes lauding burpees, from footballers, CrossFit champs and military trainers. The burpee is a full movement that activates every muscle group from your ankles to your ears!
From a standing position go to a squat position with your hands on the floor and kick your legs back into a push up position. Immediately return your feet back to the squat position. Jump up as high as possible from this position and reach for the sky. Upon landing repeat.
At Home Workouts
One thing is clear is that Bronson loved variation in his workouts and throughout his training he utilised different routines, collections and challenges. From athletic champions to exquisitely moustached prison thugs, one thing unites them all in their training. The best results require you to shake things up. So below we’ve got a series of challenges for you to try.
One Hour Blast
Pick one exercise for each body group and set a timer for sixty minutes and aim to get six hundred reps within sixty minutes. How you break them down into sets is entirely up to you but aim to smash out six hundred within that hour on that one exercise.
Monday– Legs- Prison Squats
Tuesday– Shoulders – Handstand Pushup
Wednesday– Back – Commando Grip Pull Up
Thursday– Chest – Wide Hand Push ups
Friday – Arms – Dips and Chin Ups.
Saturday– Body Challenge – Burpees
Sunday – Rest and recovery
Bring Sally Up
Some years ago, this was a very popular Youtube challenge and it has never gone away thanks to its effectiveness. It can be worked with any exercise, but for example on a chest day you will do a basic push up. You put on the song “Bring Sally Up” and then on every “bring sally up” you straighten the arms then on “bring sally down” you bend the arms but never allow your torso to touch the ground. During the bridge of the song you have to hover and hold the position and then repeat. It is an absolute killer and works the muscles in a completely different way. Lots of fun and a good challenge. Can be done with squats, pull ups and even burpees.
A popular exercise for an equipped gym, for German Tens you basically use one exercise and aim to get ten sets of ten reps with a sixty second rest in between. Pick two muscle groups i.e. “legs and shoulders” and work one muscle group at a time through the sets until you get to one hundred and then stretch and start on the second muscle group. This exercise works best with big compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups, so it works perfectly for the exercises listed above.
Ten Every Thirty Minutes
The monotony of Lockdown is what a lot of people have found affects them the most. However, exercise does not necessarily have to happen in one set hour. For Ten on Thirty, every thirty minutes you do ten reps of an exercise. So, let’s say from 8am to 8pm every thirty minutes you do ten reps of that day’s exercise.
Monday– Legs- Prison Squats
Tuesday– Shoulders – Handstand Pushup
Wednesday– Back- Commando Grip Pull Up
Thursday– Chest- Wide Hand Push ups
Friday – Arms – Dips and Chin Ups.
Saturday– Body Challenge- Burpees
Sunday – Rest and recovery
10 reps every thirty minutes.
That would mean that over a twelve hour period you will have effectively done 240 reps of each exercise throughout that day! Plus, this particular approach keeps the mind and body always anticipating exercise and so the body will start keeping itself in a highly energised state which will help keep the metabolism and energy levels high!