Watch any movie or TV show that features a prison and you’ll almost certainly see a scene set in the yard where muscular inmates spend their time pumping iron and looking intimidating.

Of course real life is often quite different from fictional representations, so how do inmates in genuine jails around the country keep fit, and does this offer any lessons for staying in shape that can apply to those of us on the other side of the fence?

Bodyweight workouts in Texas

While prisons in Texas, like Brazonia County Jail, will provide a certain amount of workout equipment to inmates, the problem which many face is actually getting access to these resources. From being allowed limited time outdoors to having to cope with internal hierarchies and conflicts, the average inmate may not be able to guarantee access to weights and other workout gear.

This is why bodyweight workout techniques are far more common in prisons from Texas to Anchorage and beyond. A combination of classic pushups and situps, combined with exercises involving the structures of the cell itself, such as the bed frame or even the bars, can help inmates to burn calories and build muscle without needing to venture into the yard or risk getting in the middle of a gang dispute by using the wrong piece of equipment at the wrong time.

Food & nutrition in Florida

Prison food is simple fare, mostly because it is cheaper to serve up meals to inmates which are rich in carbohydrates, fats and sugars. This gives them more than enough energy to see them through the day, and partly explains why prisons actually have a growing obesity problem in states like Florida and California.

The solution that some inmates take to this, aside from aiming to workout enough so that they do not pile on the pounds in the first place, is to skip some mess hall meal times altogether and instead put their own dishes together. This is reliant on having access to commissary supplies, which can be purchased with cash supplied by friends and family on the outside. Healthy care packages sourced in a similar way will give inmates a degree of autonomy over what they put inside their bodies, just as any person in the outside world might aim to achieve.

Team sports nationwide

Although the approach to recreation time differs from prison to prison, plenty of facilities allow inmates to get involved in team sports. This lets them burn calories, blow off steam and could even lead to lower levels of reoffending, according to some studies.

Basketball is one of the most common prison sports, because it requires minimal equipment and does not involve potentially dangerous apparatus. Baseball is also played in some places, although this has to be more thoroughly supervised to avoid incidents.

In essence, inmates in prisons still need to be motivated to stay in shape and lose weight, just like anyone. They just have more time to dedicate to exercise, if they have the impetus.