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How to Do Prisoner Squats - Correctly... Safely... And For Amazing Looking Legs

I love prisoner squats.

They are so good for your legs and butt. Plus if you can't do step-ups... prisoner squats are a great alternative that hits a lot of the same muscles.

So I'm going to show you how to do a prisoner squat because their are some key mistakes a lot of women make... these can turn dangerous once you start adding in some heavier weights.

3 Steps To A Strong Prisonser Squat

Before we get started... make sure you have a thick mat.

I use to never use a mat for my knees but over the years of teaching so many LIVE classes for FWW LIVE... my knees have become sensitive to the hard ground.

Now I need a softer mat to protect my knees. I highly recommend you start using one from the get go!

1. Don't Crinkle Down

This is the biggest tip... right off from the get go.

When you're going down in a prisoner squat...

DO NOT crinkle down to the floor.

I'm trying to not to exaggerate, but crinkling down really is this awkward.

It's not that this is dangerous or anything crazy. It's that crinkling down...

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    Becomes impossible when you use heavy weights

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    It's not comfortable

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    It puts strain on your knees

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    And it puts you in an off balance position

Kindal about to go into her prisoner squat and show the crinkle down.
Kindal showing how you don't what to crinkle straight down during prisoner sqaut.

So what should you be doing?

2. Take a Big Step Back

Take a big step back as if you were going to take a knee on the ground.

By taking a step back, you are mechanically setting your body up to handle...

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    The weight of your body

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    The added weight you will be carrying

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    Plus the positions so your muscles can function correctly

You'll feel the difference immediately.

Look at the those pictures again and you can see the difference.

Kindal showing how to take a step back when doing prisoner squats.
form tip

So if you're like me and you're using a matt...

Stand in front of the matt and step back to it.

This gives you plenty of room for a large step and now you're in position to take on some heavy weights and get more from your prisoner squats.

I see too many women stand behind or on the mat and this forces you to crinkle down... not good.

3. Coming Up From The Bottom

This is the only other part of this exercise where women (and men) tend to struggle.

If you're just getting started with strength training... only do bodyweight until you can really build your coordination and strength up.

I see too many women lean forward over their front thigh to help them get up... or... even use their hands on their thighs to help get them up.

(Don't get wrong... when you go heavier you will need to lean forward a little... but only a little.)

If this is you, your front leg lacks the strength and engagement to get their body moving. So this is the first thing you need to work on.

Kindal showing what it's like if you lean too far forward during the prisoner squat.
Kindal showing how you don't want to use your hands to get up.
intensity tip

Something I love to work on is called end range of motion strength.

During the prisoner squat, this would be when one leg is down on the ground and the other is in front of your pushing into the ground to help you get back up.

Don't use a weight just yet...

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    Get into the kneeling position.

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    Use a belt, TRX, or ring to help you get your back leg one inch off the ground. (I'll show you more of this in a minute)

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    Flex and squeeze your thigh muscles in both legs.

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    Hold for 10 seconds to start.

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    Come back down and rest.

You're working on your ability to engage your muscle in this tough position.

A lot of times, it may not always be a strenth issue, but a brain to muscle communication issue. When you're doing this... you are building that communication pathway.

When you're coming up from the bottom...

Focus On Your Back Toes

I see a lot of people leave their back foot flat on the ground... i.e. the top of the foot is flat.

Rather... dig your toes into the ground.

This way when you're coming back up you can press into those toes and help drive force up to get your body moving.

This really helps!

Kindal showing her toes are not tucked and top of foot is on the ground.
Kindal showing how to use your back toes to help get up from prisoner squat.

Prisoner Squat Modifications

Use A TRX... Ring... or Belt

Depending on where you're working out this may be a little tough to do... but get creative in your home. I'm sure you can find something.

Use a ring or strap as you go back into your prisoner squat.

And while still keeping really good form... you can use the ring to pull yourself up a little bit.

This will help keep your torso tall as you build the appropriate leg strength.

Don't rely on this too much or you'll never get stronger... but this is one of the best modifications.

form tip

When using TRX or some rings to help with your prisoner squtas...

Make sure you start by standing pretty close to them.

If you're too far away... when you go down the rings will pull you forward and ruin your balance.

When you're standing make sure there's a little slack in the TRX or rings.

(Squeeze your legs muscles are at the bottom... during that end range of motion.)

Kindal show how close you need to be to to the TRX so it doesn't pull you over.
Kindal show the bottom of a TRX Prisoner Squat

Use a PVC Pipe or Broom Stick

There are two ways to use a PVC pipe that will help.


Use a PVC pipe as a cane to help you back up while you keep your torso tall.

This is identical to using the TRX or rings... but not quite as good. You will tend to over use the "cane"... but if you need it... it's better than doing prisoner squats with poor form.

Kindal showing how to use a pvc pike to help you support your prisoner squat.
Kindal showing how to use a box to help support a prisoner squat.


As you get stronger and you can keep your torso mostly upright when you prisoner squat... try this...

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    Grab your PVC pipe or broom stick and hold it so your hands are wide. Outside shoulder width.

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    Reach the pipe or broom over your head and work hard to keep your arms straight.

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    Complete the prisoner squat with your arms overhead the entire time.

This does a couple things...

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    It prevents you from using your hands or leaning to far over your front leg.

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    It works on your shoulder mobility which is a little bonus.

The prisoner squat will get much harder doing this. But just wait until you see some of the variations I have in store for you.

Kindal showing the start position of the overhead prisoner squat.
Kindal showing how to step back during the overhead prisoner squat.
Kindal showing the bottom of an overhead prisoner squat.
Kindal showing how to come back up from an overhead prisoner squat.
Kindal showing the top of the overhead prisoner squat.

Let me know if you have any questions about these modifications.

Low Prisoner Squats

Step 1

Before you start your prisonser squat... squat down just above half way. Let's keep this bodyweight for now.

Also make sure your legs are little closer together.

Step 2

Step back and complete a normal prisoner squat until you start your way back up.

Step 3

When you come back up, stay low. You'll stand to both legs but you will remain in that low squat... just above your thighs being parallel.

This version of the prisoner squat keeps your legs engaged the whole time. Great for increasing time under tension.

I think it helps with your joint strength and control as well.

Kindal showing you start low in a squat with this prisoner squat variation.
Kindal showing how to really step back during the low prisoner squat.
Kindal showing the bottom position of the low prisoner squat.
Kindal coming up from the bottom of the low prisoner squat.
Kindal at the top of the low prisoner squat... staying low.

Kettlebell and Dumbbell Variations

It's time to add some weight.

You can go:

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    Heavy with one weight

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    Heavy with two weights

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    Go mismatched

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    Go light but increase your reps

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    Keep it heavy and go only a few

Listen your body when you start using weight. Remember you don't want to lean to far forward where you either...

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    Lose control of the weight

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    Engage your back muscles because you're too forward

Kindal at the top of the prisoner squat with a kettlebell
Kindal at the top of the prisoner squat with a dumbbell.
Kindal going down in the racked kettlebell prisoner squat.
Kindal going down in the dumbbell prisoner squat.
Kindal at the bottom of the prisoner squat with a racked kettlebell.
Kindal at the bottom of the prisoner squat with a racked dumbbell.
Kindal coming up from the bottom of the prisoner squat with racked kettlebell.
Kindal coming up from the bottom of a dumbbell prisoner squat.
Kindal back to the very top of the kettlebell racked prisoner squat.
Kindal returning to the top of the racked dumbbell prisoner squat.

Weighted Overhead

I wanted to separate this version on it's own.

It's the same idea as the PVC pipe overhead prisoner squat... but now you have weight.

I prefer kettlebells to dumbbells, but you probably knew that alreay about me. What makes weighted overhead so good is...

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    The focus on your core strength throughout the squat

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    The focus on your shoulder strength

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    The focus on shoulder mobility

Try to reach your arms overhead and keep them straight. This is tough... I struggle with it all the time as well.

But the better you get a keeping your arms straight the stronger you will get overall.

Kindal at the top of the weighted overhead prisoner squat.
Kindal stepping back in the weighted overhead prisoner squat.
Kindal at the bottom of the overhead weighted prisoner squat.
Kindal coming up form bottom during overhead weighted prisoner squat.
Kindal back to the very top of the weighted overhead prisoner squat.

Prisoner Squat With Knee Drive

This just adds in a nice rhythm to the squat.

Drive you knee up and then take it straight back without the foot hitting the ground.

Kindal showing the knee drive during the top of the prisoner squat.

Prisoner Squat Bottom Variations

Start using some crazy and fun combinations.

One of my favorites is at the bottom of the prisoner squat... knock out:

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    A kettlebell curl (pictured)

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    A single or double press (pictured)

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    A halo

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    A reverse nordic (pictured)

Use your imagination and you can take this exercise to so many cool levels of toughness.

Kindal about to press at the bottom of the prisoner squat.
Kindal pressing kettlebells at the bottom of the prisoner squat.
Kindal about to do a kettlebell curl at the bottom of the prisoner squat.
Kindal at the bottom of the kettlebell curl during the prisoner squat.
Kindal getting back to the top of her kettlebell curl.
Kindal at the bottom of the prisoner squat about to do a reverse nordic.
Kindal going back into a reverse nordic curl at the bottom.

The Prisoner Squat Is An Amazing Exercise... Use It More!

I can keep going with variations of this exercise. That's what the exercise database is for... so make sure you look out for that on the site.

But use this exercise. It's one of the best for overall strength and coordination.

Check out some of the other exercises we've been profiling:

If you want to keep getting better at the prisoner squat and have me build you workouts with the prisoner squat in there...

Go read about the FWW LIVE app and LIVE training .

This is my small private group where we do:

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    Daily LIVE workouts

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    Every workout is recorded if you can't make them live

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    Coaching classes everyday to learn new things

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    Daily stretching and mobility so your body feels great all day long

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    Challenges and more!

Plus you get to talk to me and Dan personally as if you were being trained by us one to one.

Membership is capped so there may not be room left. But go learn about it and if there is... sign up for a trial or one of our 30 day programs .

It's the best online fitness program out there. Period.

Make sure you read some FWW LIVE success stories too. We have a lot of them and more are coming in every month.

Thanks for reading.

Make sure you follow me on social and reach out if you have any questions.

Kindal squating and working her way through a tough metabolic strength workout

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