How To Do The Prisoner Squat

Woman performs prisoner squat
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The name might evoke expectations of a particularly punishing progression of the unweighted squat, but the prisoner squat isn’t all that demanding a variation on the classic move. It’s simply a squat where you keep your hands on your head throughout, as if responding to law enforcement demands during your workout.

It’s not all that different from an unweighted squat then, but that still means the prisoner squat is one of the best bodyweight exercises, and it is a little more challenging than the standard move because you can’t use your arms for balance. It’s a good variation to try before moving on to more challenging weighted versions of the move like the barbell back squat or goblet squat, because you can’t use your arms for balance when they’re holding something heavy either.

Prisoner Squat Benefits

Because you can’t stick your arms out in front of you for balance, you’ll increase the demands on your legs and core. As with all squats the exercise works most of the lower body, with the quads and glutes doing the bulk of the work, and your core should be engaged throughout to keep your upper body in the right position.

How To Do The Prisoner Squat

Man performs prisoner squat

(Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Start with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing out slightly. Keep your chest up and place both hands on the back of your head, with your elbows pointing out to the sides. Lower slowly by moving your hips down and back, keeping your back straight and looking forwards, until your thighs are parallel to the ground, then drive back up, pushing through your heels. Aim to take three seconds to lower, pause at the bottom of the move, then take one or two seconds to return to standing. Aim for three sets of 12 reps.

Jake Stones

Jake was formely an intern for Coach and now contributes workouts from some of London’s top trainers. As well as training in the gym and running, he’s competed in the eight-hours-long overnight event Europe's Toughest Mudder twice and the 24-hours-long World's Toughest Mudder once.