All About the Prisoner Squat! (NEW)

There is such a large variety of squat variations one can do in order to improve their physical fitness. Most people have heard of sumo squats, single-leg squats, or even just your average squat, but what about the prisoner squat? The prisoner squat, also known to some as the cobra squat, is a great bodyweight, no equipment, calisthenics exercise that helps warmup the body, while also strengthening the lower body and core.

What is a Prisoner Squat?

A prisoner squat is a squat variation where the person places their hands behind their head, just as a prisoner would do, hence the name. The position of the hands is essentially the same as what you would do while doing crunches. Along with this hand placement, the person exercising proceeds to do a normal squat, lowering their hips from a standing position and standing back up.

How to do a Prisoner Squat?

Firstly, stand with your legs slightly wider than your hips and keep your feet parallel, just as you would do with a “normal” squat. Then, proceed to lift your arms up and place both hands behind your head, as a stereotypical prisoner might do. You can place one hand on top of the other or keep them clasped, the finger placement isn’t super strict. As long as both of your hands are placed on the back or top of your head, you will benefit from this variation.

Once you have the “prisoner” portion solved, you can now proceed to squat. Make sure to keep a lifted chest and pull your elbows back, then bend your knees and lower down into a sitting position until you’re below parallel, meaning your hips should drop just below your knees. Always make sure to keep proper posture and don’t let your back round forwards. Stand back up to your original starting position, and proceed to repeat the process, doing as many reps as needed for your workout program or simply as many as you can do.

Prisoner Squat Benefits

There are tons of benefits of doing the prisoner squat variation. The first being that it can be modified in many different ways. The variation is good for beginners, as well as people more advanced in their workout journey. People who want a more advanced workout can simply add weights in their hands. For those who may be pregnant, or those who may be weaker just starting out their workout journey, it can easily be modified for safety by doing the squat against a wall.

A prisoner squat is the perfect way to isolate your leg muscles!

Did You Know?

This variation also helps people work on their squat form, due to the positioning of the hands essentially forcing one into keeping their torso vertical. It can help trainers identify their clients strengths and weaknesses in their form, so that they can better train with all of the other squat variations. The prisoner squat can also help improve balance, as the hand placement makes the body work harder to stay upright. Lastly, they’re a great addition to circuit training, as they require no weights.

Prisoner Squat Alternatives

Prisoner Squat vs. Air Squat

The only difference between the prisoner squat and the air squat is your arm placement. When it comes to air squats, you have the ability to use your arms in order to balance, as you have them either clasped in front of you or reaching out in front of you as you squat. The prisoner squat forces your muscles to work harder in order to stay upright as you squat, since they’re placed behind your head. This makes the prisoner squat more efficient for working on balance, and targeting your core, while the air squat is more of a general body workout.

Prisoner Squat vs. Regular Squat

The prisoner squat is essentially the same as a regular squat, but it does have a few small differences. The squatting motion is the same, placing your feet hip-width apart and lowering into a sitting position below parallel. With your standard regular squat, weights are added, whereas the prisoner squat is a bodyweight workout with no extra equipment required. The regular squat also has different arm placement as they are typically holding weights in front of your body with arms slightly bent. When doing the prisoner squat arms should be placed behind your head while squatting.

Prisoner Squat with Dumbbell

The hand placement of the prisoner squat can make incorporating weights seem a bit more difficult but it’s definitely possible! Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a weight in each hand. Proceed to lift your arms behind your head, resting the weights against your upper back and shoulders. Ensure that your posture is correct with your torso upright, push your hips back, and lower to below parallel. Pause for just a moment and then push your body back up and stand up straight.

Muscles Worked

The prisoner squat primarily works the lower body, more specifically the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, as well as the hip flexors. Additionally, because of the positioning, there can be no help in momentum from your arms, ensuring a great targeted workout for the core and abs. You will keep your upper back muscles and lats engaged for the entirety of the exercise.

Prisoner Squat Jump

Another modification you can add to your prisoner squat is a jump. Incorporating a jump into the squat will elevate your heart rate even more and will give the legs more of a targeted workout. Again, start with your feet hip-width apart and place your hands behind your head, all while pushing out your chest and keeping a straight torso. Slowly lower your body into a squat, pushing your hips back and bending the knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground.

During this, ensure that your knees stay inline with the toes. Then, press your heels into the ground and explosively jump into the air with your legs straight, while keeping your hands placed behind your head throughout the entire movement. When landing ensure you go in with soft knees and bend them slightly, in order to avoid injury. Then immediately start proceeding back into a squat, and repeating for however many reps you’re incorporating into your workout plan.

Final Thoughts

The Prisoner Squat is another great exercise to add to your expanding range of exercises. Whether you do it regular, against the wall or as a jump version, the prisoner squat is an excellent exercise helping you to keep your posture upright and your legs engaged. It forces you to resist using momentum to accomplish the exercise. If you are deciding whether to do it versus the air squat or a regular squat, this might be the version that suites you best.

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