Criminal attorney William Kroger noticed something interesting when he visited some of his clients in California’s Pleasant Valley State Penitentiary. Before prison, they were out of shape, but a few months behind bars did wonders for their physique. Knowing that California removed all workout equipment from jails in the 1990s, he wondered how they could get in such great shape.
Determined to find out their secret, he recruited personal trainer Trey Teufel to help, and their efforts eventually became the Felon Fitness Workout Program. “To start, we reached out to inmates through various prisoner pen pal websites and asked them about their workouts,” Teufel tells Men's Fitness. “They were very polite and educated about fitness.” The common misconception when it comes to inmates is that they have nothing else to do so they just work out all day long. While Teufel agrees that it helps pass time, he explains that their workouts are much more thought out and systematic than many think. “They would break their workouts down into a leg day, arm day, and chest and back day,” says Teufel. “They also included aerobic and range of motion exercises to develop their cardio and flexibility.”
While surprised to see their commitment to achieving total body fitness, Teufel was even more surprised by their ingenuity. Using magazines and bed sheets they would construct their own set of dumbbells. “By wrapping up 50 or so magazines in bed sheets they created dumbbells that varied from 35 to 50 pounds,” Teufel explains. “They would also do pushups with anther cell mate on their back to make them much more difficult.”
For inmates, being physically fit in prison is not just a way of life, but a way to remain alive. In a world where you are always on alert to protect yourself, strength is essential. Teufel hopes to take the lessons learned from his Felon Fitness program to help those not serving time get into shape. He plans on launching Felon Fitness classes in local California parks in the near future. “Hopefully hosting these back to basic, kick your ass, leaning out programs can help one of America’s biggest (no pun intended) challenges, which is obesity.” This minimalist training program is a far cry from the four years he spent with a high-end gym, but he says he is happier helping a wider base of people get fit. “Felon Fitness can really help people who don’t have a personal trainer, or an expensive gym membership get in great shape.”