The Deck of Pain Workout aka Prison Style Fitness

Let’s face it. This confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to take its toll on everyone. More so when your exercise routine seems so bland with no access to the gym. But what if I told you there are fun ways to work out outside the gym?

Yes, with the deck of pain workout, aka prison-style fitness, you can exercise and have fun while at it. It is a very effective strength training exercise regimen. The best part is that it’s a no-equipment workout routine requiring a little space. By following a set of simple rules, you can stay fit and healthy without hitting the gym. This article will talk about how the deck of pain can be an effective exercise tool.

How the Deck of Pain Workout Works

If you have a deck of cards lying in your drawer, now is the time to get it out and put it to good use. Here is how it works:

  1. Allocate a bodyweight workout to each suit. For instance, the spades could be sit-ups, hearts could be pull-ups, and so on.
  2. Shuffle the cards.
  3. Take a card from the deck, then flip it over.
  4. The number written on the card indicates the number of reps, with aces being 11 and face cards being 10.
  5. Going by the number and suit, perform the corresponding exercise. So, if you pull the Jack of hearts from the deck, it means you will do 10 pull-ups. If you pull the 5 of spades, it means you will perform 5 sit-ups.
  6. After each exercise, rest for a few seconds, then draw up another card and repeat the process.
  7. Keep at it until the whole deck of 52 cards is exhausted.
The Deck of Pain / Thrive Quick Tips – AskMmen

Bodyweight Exercises to Incorporate in Your Deck of Pain Workout

Turn up your exercise routine a notch by incorporating a variety of exercise into your deck of pain workout to keep your routine fresh and fun. Ensure you jot down the movement that matches each suit. It wouldn’t do to stop midway to remind yourself of what the clubs cards stand for. The whole idea is to keep your heart racing in excitement! Try making a 6-week challenge for yourself, changing up the exercises that you assign to each suit with each workout session.

Some bodyweight exercises to incorporate using prison-style fitness deck of pain include:

  • Cardio Workout: High knees, mountain climbers, burpees, and jumping jacks
  • Core Workout: Wood chops, oblique twists, sit-ups, and leg lifts
  • Lower-body workout: Bridges, weighted deadlifts, squats, and lunges
  • Upper-body/Back workout: Triceps push-up, shoulder press, push-ups, and bent-over rows
  • Total body workout: Sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, and squats


This is not only one of the most foundational bodyweight exercises there is, but it’s also one of the best. Try out the many variants to push-ups so that different muscles can benefit from the workout.

A woman doing push-ups at home trying the deck of pain workout.
Push-ups is One of the Best Foundational Bodyweight Exercise. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Different push-up styles: Yes, I’m sure you know how to do a simple push up, but why not spice things up a bit? Try moving your hands apart, targeting your pecs rather than your arms. Next, move your hands close to each other, targeting your triceps this time around.

While doing this, lift your feet—you can try placing your feet on a chair while your hands are on the ground. This is an incline push-up that targets your upper pecs. You can also have a decline push-up with your feet on the ground and your hands on the chair.


While push-ups target your triceps, chest, and shoulder, pull-ups, on the other hand, focus on your back, biceps, and lats. You can use a horizontal branch of a tree as an improvised pull-up bar. Or you can mount a pull-up bar in a door frame.

A couple doing pull-ups.
Pull-ups Targets Your Back, Biceps and Lats. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Varieties of pull-ups: Just like with push-ups, you can also spice up your pull-up exercise routine. When doing a regular overhand pull-up, try widening your grip. This targets the muscles in your lats. You can also flip your hands around to perform some underhand pull-ups to target your biceps.


The squat exercise is ideal for those who wish to build muscles in their thighs, calves, and hamstrings without the need for much space or gym equipment. Like the other exercises, there are different types of squats.

A fit African-American woman doing squats.
Squat Exercise is Ideal for Those Who Wish to Build Muscles in Their Thighs, Calves, and Hamstrings. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Squat jumps: Rather than just going up and down in a controlled squat, you can take it up a notch by jumping. It requires more muscles to throw your body in the air than it would take to do a simple lift up. While doing this, throw one leg forward and one leg backward—this helps to target your legs.

Wall sits: This involves placing your back against the wall with your feet 12 inches away from the wall. Slide down the wall until your thighs are at a 90-degree angle to your torso. Hold that position for 15 seconds.


An exercise routine without an abs workout is incomplete. Now the good news is that there are lots of abdominal workouts that target the core muscles of the body. Here are a few of them.

A fit woman doing plank workout at home trying to do the deck of pain workout.
Plank Workouts Targets the Core Muscles of the Body. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Flutter kicks: This routine involves laying on your back with your feet raised 6 inches off the floor. Keeping your legs straight, lift one leg about 45 degrees while keeping the other one in the same straight position. Switch the position of the legs and repeat the process.

Planks: Plank workouts have ceased to be a YouTube sensation and has now become a core exercise to add to your fitness routine. With your face down, place your feet on the ground and prop yourself on your elbows with your arms bent at 90 degrees. Now clench your butt and abs. Hold still for as long as you can, and repeat.

Reinvigorate Your Workout with the Deck of Pain

If you find yourself losing the excitement that comes with your old exercise routine, then it might just be time to try something different. You need the variation in your workout routine, as it challenges you mentally and prevents you from being stuck at a plateau for a long time. Hence, if you have a small exercise space or your old workout routine bores you to tears, not to worry! The deck of pain workout, aka prison-style fitness, is a great tool for staying fit and healthy while having fun at the same time.