Prisoner Squats

Table Of Content

This comprehensive guide to Prisoner Squats will provide you with the knowledge and skillset necessary for executing this exercise perfectly, integrating it intelligently into your workout routine, and much more.

What Is A Prisoner Squat?

The Prisoner Squat is a bodyweight calisthenics exercise that focuses on strengthening the lower body and core muscles. It is a useful, low-impact exercise and requires zero equipment, making it an excellent addition to any workout routine.

To perform a Prisoner Squat, the lifter places their hands behind their head, as if they were a prisoner being ordered to do so. Then they perform a normal squat, using only their body weight as resistance and without any weight added.

Proper technique is essential when performing this exercise to ensure that it is done safely and correctly. By keeping the arms clasped behind the head during the full range of motion, the torso is held in a more upright position while maintaining proper form.

Muscles Worked By The Prisoner Squats

The prisoner squat mimics a standard squat, engaging the same muscles, except without any weight resting on your back or in your hands.

The prisoner squat, which has a similar motion to that of the barbell squat, requires you to utilize your quads, glutes, lower back (erectors), adductors (inner thigh), and abdominal muscles. Therefore, this squat variation stands out because it requires no weights or added load – making it a great bodyweight exercise.

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How To Do The Prisoner Squat

Master the Prisoner Squat with ease by following these simple steps!

  • Stand firmly with your feet shoulder-width apart and the tips of your toes lightly pointing outward.
  • Reach behind your head with both hands, clasping them together.
  • Inhale and engage the core, glutes, and quads.
  • Initiate the squat by thrusting your chest forward and simultaneously pushing back your hips.
  • For a proper squat, sink down until your legs are parallel with the floor or go all the way to a deep squat position.
  • Maintain your knees facing outward and don’t let them cave inwards.
  • Take a moment to pause at the bottom.
  • Activate and engage your glutes and quads, then powerfully burst upward back into the starting position.
  • Exhale.
  • Repeat this sequence for the desired number of reps.

Training Tips For The Prisoner Squat

  • When performing the Prisoner Squat, it is important to keep your upper back straight and chest proud at all times to maximize power output.
  • Push through your heels when squatting to create power and avoid tipping forwards onto your toes. Your heels should remain firmly planted on the ground throughout the movement.
  • Maintain proper form throughout the entire range of motion and use controlled movements for maximum effectiveness.

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Benefits Of Prisoner Squats

Benefits Of Prisoner Squats include:

Stronger Legs For Beginners

The Prisoner Squat is an effective exercise for developing the strength and stability of the lower body. By removing the weight of a barbell, this exercise allows lifters with no prior experience to learn proper form and range of motion safely.

Improved Stability In Back And Shoulders

Keeping the arms clasped behind your head provides additional stability and mobility to your upper back (thoracic spine) and shoulders. Increasing the range of motion.

Additionally, this position also encourages an open chest and better posture for the upper body. By maintaining this raised position, you can improve your stability in these areas.

Improved Squat Mechanics

Squatting with proper form and mechanics is essential for any athlete who wants to maximize their performance. By positioning the arms overhead, the body is naturally forced into a more vertical alignment while squatting.

This helps to develop better habits when transitioning to loaded Squat variations such as Front Squats, as it encourages a more upright posture during the exercise.

Better Balance

The Prisoner Squat is a great exercise to challenge your balance. Unlike the traditional Air Squat, your arms are locked into an overhead position and this places more weight higher from the ground which can make the movement feel less stable.

To help compensate for this, your body has to work harder to stay balanced – recruiting your core muscles, coordination, and stabilizing muscles to help you stay upright. This makes the exercise more challenging and effective in developing your overall fitness.

Can Be Used For Conditioning

The Prisoner Squat is a fantastic exercise to incorporate into functional fitness workouts that involve Air Squats. By performing this low-impact movement, you can improve your cardiovascular conditioning as well as strengthen your heart.

For example, in circuit training: The goal is to do exercises with minimal rest in between to keep up your heart rate. The Prisoner Squat fits this perfectly since it is an easy and load-free movement that can be done quickly. Just like burpees, mountain climbers, jumping rope, and jumping jacks, you can do a lot of Prisoner Squats in a circuit workout.

The risk of injury is low when using the Prisoner Squat, even if your technique isn’t perfect. However, proper form is still important for the best results.

Back Pain Alleviation Or Prevention

The Prisoner Squat is a simple yet effective movement that can help to alleviate and prevent back pain. When performed correctly, it requires an upright posture and opened chest, which helps to promote core strength and stability.

A stronger core helps to protect the spine from injury and allows it to better support the weight of the upper body, effectively reducing the strain placed on the lower back.

Additionally, improved posture resulting from a stronger core will help to reduce the risk of developing back pain in the future.

Effortlessly Executable Anywhere

With no equipment necessary and minimal space required, bodyweight exercises are possibly the most flexible form of exercise to customize and execute.

Drawbacks Of The Prisoner Squat

The Prisoner Squat is an exercise that has its place in certain circumstances, but it also has its drawbacks. Two major downsides are its limited progression and the fact that it is not effective in developing muscle strength or size.

Limited Progression

When it comes to progression, the only way to make the Prisoner Squat more challenging is by doing more reps or sets, but soon your body will adapt and you won’t get the same benefits from this exercise.

The key to any successful exercise program is progressive overload, and without the ability to use additional load, the Prisoner Squat’s effectiveness diminishes quickly.

Ineffective For Muscle Strength And Size

The Prisoner Squat is great for beginners and can be used as part of interval training or as part of high-intensity interval training sessions.

However, it is not effective in developing muscle strength or size. If you’re looking to get bigger or stronger, the prisoner squat is probably not the right exercise for you.

Prisoner Squat Mistakes To Avoid

If you plan to add prisoner squats into your exercise routine, there are a few mistakes you should avoid.


First and foremost, always remember the importance of technique. Just because this move doesn’t require any weight doesn’t mean it should be done without paying attention to your form; quite the opposite!

Pay close attention to your squat depth – you want the crease of your hip to go below the top of your knee – and keep your back as upright as possible. Additionally, make sure that your heels remain flat on the ground throughout the entire lift.


Don’t rely too heavily on prisoner squats either. As with any exercise, it will only be effective for a certain amount of time before your body adjusts. When this happens, you’ll need to progress and utilize a variation that includes load.

Your options can range from suitcase squats, goblet squats, or even cannonball squats. All of these are less technical and intensive than barbell squats – but they still involve some form of weight.

Be sure to revisit prisoner squats from time to time, as their simplicity allows for a great reminder of proper form. However, avoid relying on them as your main method of squatting, because as mentioned you need some kind of load to progress in strength and size.

Who Should Do A Prisoner Squat?

For those just starting their fitness journey or rehabbing from an injury, the prisoner squat is a great exercise to incorporate into their routine. This bodyweight move requires no additional load and can help build form and strength in the lower body.

It is also an ideal choice for those who are traveling and do not have access to gym equipment. When done correctly, the prisoner squat can be a useful tool to keep your body moving while on the road.

New lifters, rehabbing lifters, and traveling lifters will all benefit from adding prisoner squats into their routine. Not only is it an easy exercise for beginners to learn good form, but you can make it more difficult by slowing down the tempo of each rep.

Whether you’re just getting started, looking to rehab an injury, or on the road, prisoner squats are a great way to stay consistent with your workouts.

How To Program A Prisoner Squat

The prisoner squat may be an unconventional exercise, but it can still be a great addition to any workout routine. Here’s how to program a prisoner squat into your workout:

Start with 3-4 sets of 10 or more reps in a single workout. As your body gets used to the exercise, you can progress by increasing the number of reps per set, adding another set, or decreasing rest time between sets. Even if you’re already doing other loaded squat variations, incorporating a prisoner squat as a warmup will help get your muscles and joints ready for the day’s session.

Best Prisoner Squat Variations

These three prisoner squat variations are also designed to promote a strong, upright torso when lifting for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

  • Overhead Squat
  • Zombie Squat
  • Front Squat
  • Cobra Squat Hold

Best Prisoner Squat Alternatives

This exercise can be utilized by people of all ages, but as mentioned it has its limitations. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives to the prisoner squat that provide the same benefits and allow you to work on different muscles.

These alternative exercises are great for adding variety to your routine and keeping your workouts fun, challenging, and effective. Here are some of the best Prisoner Squat alternatives.

Suitcase Squats

Suitcase squats are an effective and relatively simple exercise for building strength and muscular development. This exercise is essentially a variation of the prisoner squat, but with a dumbbell in each hand, rather than having your hands held behind your head.

By adding an external load to your workout, it puts more strain on the muscles – enabling you to progress beyond the prisoner squat. This technique is less technical than other squat variations, making it an ideal choice for those wanting to take their routine to a higher level.

Suitcase squats are the perfect choice for lifters who are ready to go beyond the prisoner squat.

Cannonball Squats

Cannonball Squats are a great alternative to the prisoner squat. This exercise requires you to hold a single dumbbell, kettlebell, or plate against your chest and under your chin while performing the lift.

To ensure the correct range of motion, your heels must be elevated on a plate or other surface that raises them 1-2” preventing them from coming off the floor near the bottom of the squat.

This exercise calls for more technicality than some other options, but it’s still an effective way to progress beyond the prisoner squat. Furthermore, with the weight in front of you, the cannonball squat prepares your body for more advanced exercises like front squats.

Goblet Squats

Goblet squats and cannonball squats are excellent alternatives to the prisoner squat that offer the same benefits but with an added challenge. With the goblet squat, you hold the weight or dumbbell close to your chest with both hands while taking a wider stance compared to the cannonball squat to complete the lift.

It is a great starting point to build more strength and muscle beyond what a bodyweight squat can offer, while still being relatively safe and uncomplicated.

Additional Prisoner Squat Alternatives

Additional prisoner squat alternatives include:

  • Back Squat
  • Wide Stance Squat
  • Air Squat
  • Sumo Air Squat
  • Split Stance Squat
  • Cobra Kang Squats


Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about prisoner squats.

Are Prisoner Squats Effective?

Prisoner squats are a great exercise for strengthening the legs, glutes, and core muscles. Not only do they help to improve balance, coordination, and posture, but prisoner squats can also help alleviate or even prevent back pain. For those who are new to squatting or have been injured or weakened, this move is excellent for gradually regaining strength.

However, for those looking to make more significant progress in terms of leg muscle strength or appearance, prisoner squats will likely not be as effective.

Do Prisoner Squats Build Muscle?

For those starting in the world of fitness, bodyweight Squats are a great option to build muscle and tone the body. That being said, if your ultimate goal is hypertrophy then you would need to increase the weight with heavier squats for optimal results.

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