List of Issues Concerning Weightlifting in Prisons

By Strength Tech, Inc.

Many citizens and legislators form an opinion on weight lifting in prisons based on an incident or one issue. We encourage them to look at the "whole picture" before forming an opinion. This list of issues has been prepared to make everyone more aware of the many issues and facts surrounding weightlifting in prisons.

Negative Issues

  1. Inmates may use size and strength gained from weightlifting as a weapon against guards, other inmates, or the public upon their release.

  2. Guards feel intimidated by massive inmates.

  3. People do not want their tax dollars being used to provide gymnasiums, and new weight rooms for felons

  4. Weightlifting equipment could be used as a weapon against guards or other inmates

  5. Weightlifting equipment could be used as a tool to escape (bars as battering rams)

  6. Inmates might be injured while lifting weights. These injuries cost taxpayers dollars.

  7. We should not have better weight rooms in prison than in our schools

  8. It is time to get tough on criminals

  9. Weightlifting equipment is expensive and expensive to maintain.

  10. Prison is not supposed to be a "nice place." We don't want them to want to come back again and again.

  11. Inmates lack of knowledge of and/or discipline in following proper lifting technique, spotting technique, warmup methods, stretching exercises and cool down methods may result in injuries.

  12. Inmates lifting single rep max weights may injure themselves.

  13. Some inmates may injure themselves on purpose or just say they were injured to get out of other duties.

  14. Continuing to lift weights after release could lead to use of illegal steroids and association with those who sell them and other illegal drugs

Positive Issues

  1. Weightlifting privileges can be used as a behavior tool (get out of line and no weightlifting).

  2. Weightlifting teaches discipline, record keeping and goal setting, fills time, reduces boredom, burns off tension, improves self esteem and self worth.

  3. Lifting weights reducing inmate tension which directly reduces guard tensions, leading to improved guard and inmate wellness and morale.

  4. Weight training may reduce health costs, especially in aging populations.

  5. Weight training can keep a large number of inmates busy at once.

  6. Inmates require less supervision (guards) when participating in constructive open yard rec activities such as weightlifting than in many other situations.

  7. Inmates preparing for a meet will very rarely get involved in prohibited activities (they do not want to loose their lifting progress).

  8. Powerlifting meets offer an opportunity for inmate club sponsorship and involvement in many activities (setup, advertising, planning, concessions, photography, cleanup, printing programs).

  9. Inmates can develop their character through athletics and especially through lifting.

  10. Weight training teaches inmates that success requires work.

  11. Weight training builds self confidence, self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-concept.

  12. Current research indicates weight training may have greater anti-depression effects than many other forms of exercise.

  13. Current research indicates strength training may increase the success ratio of certain therapies and rehabilitation programs when integrated with those treatments.

  14. Inmates can become proud of their own ability.

  15. Weight training teaches inmates to rely on others and others on them (spotting lifts), a basic tenant of our social interactions (being there for each other).

  16. Personal Training / Personal Trainers is a possible job market for inmates upon their release.

  17. Well conditioned inmates are more employable upon their release.

  18. Most crimes happen during "leisure time." Inmates who fill their leisure time with recreational activities such as weight training and continue to do so upon their release are less likely to return.


  1. The National Correctional Recreation Association has a Position Statement strongly supporting the use of weight lifting in correctional settings.

  2. Many weightlifting programs are funded by money generated by offenders (commissary store funds, canteen funds, vending machines, long distance telephone income, and recreation fees), not by tax dollars.

  3. In facilities where weightlifting equipment was purchased by inmate funds, removing it without compensating the inmates could be considered theft.

  4. Most inmates are going to be released at some point in time

  5. In violent crimes committed with weapons, muscles are rarely the weapon of choice. Physical strength and size are insignificant to firearms and other weapons often used in commission of crimes.

  6. The weight lifting programs currently in place are prescribed by existing public laws

  7. Prison Powerlifting Meets are not new. They have been going on for over ten years in many institutions. They have only recently caught the attention of the media.

  8. The very act of removing privileges such as weightlifting may cause unrest and or violence.

  9. The prison population is changing, younger "gang" type inmates do not lift weights as frequently as the older population.

  10. Some prisons have removed weights and seem to be getting along fine.

  11. Some states:
    1. Ban free weights and still allow machines.
    2. Limit the size of the weights available to the inmates.
    3. Limit access to upper body strength building equipment
    4. Ban maintenance of existing weightlifting equipment. This is done to eventually remove all the equipment by removing each item from service when it breaks.

  12. Several states have proposed "No Frills" prison bills which in addition to banning weightlifting they:
    1. Ban or limit access to amenities such as television, cable TV, cigarettes, computers, conjugal visits, X rated movies, telephones, and hot plates.
    2. Ban other strength building or fighting activities such as bodybuilding, boxing, karate, judo and martial arts
    3. Limit access to legal research materials
    4. Limit food costs to that similar to the military
    5. Force inmates to pay a utility fee for their electrical appliances
    6. Ban pornographic materials
    7. Ban internal and external (between prisons) sports competitions

  13. The Federal Bureau of Prisons responded to the Zimmer Amendment with a list of questions and answers defining their position. Those questions (which also include references to musical instruments and movies) are a 10 page appendix at the end of this document.

  14. If weightlifting were banned, somewhat similar results could be obtained from lifting everything from law books, to beds, to other inmates, to their own body-weight in calisthenics.

  15. Some opponents say, fitness and exercise can be had with other sport programs (basketball, jogging, calisthenics).

  16. Many of those who participate in weightlifting will not participate in alternative sport and exercise activities if weightlifting is banned. Weightlifting has a unique appeal to certain individuals, who are not interested in other fitness activities.

  17. Some legislators have been accused of "publicity seeking" for bringing up or sponsoring the issue during this "get tough on crime" era.

  18. Many inmates may have difficulty continuing weight training upon their release due to gym membership costs. There may be an opportunity for establishing body weight exercise programs for them, but they would still not receive the social interaction of a gym atmosphere.

If you would like to learn more about weight lifting in prisons, please see our Weight Lifting in Prisons Page. If you would like to "take action" in this conflict, please see our How to Take Action Page.

If you are looking at a printed copy of this page and would like to know more about weightlifting in prisons or would like to have the latest update of this page, see our Strength Tech, Inc. web site which has hundreds of pages of coverage of correctional recreation and weight training in prisons.


If you become aware of any additional issues or facts not listed above or have any comments about our site, please contact us.

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© 1995, © 1996, © 1997, © 1998, © 1999, © 2000, © 2001, © 2002 and © 2003 by Strength Tech, Inc. Permission is given to reproduce and distribute this page as paper copies for the purpose of increasing the knowledge of others about the issue of weightlifting in prisons as long as full credit is given to Strength Tech, Inc., the entire page is copied and distributed together, Strength Tech, Inc. is identified as the source of the information and the copies are not sold. All other rights are reserved. Absolutely no permission is granted to reproduce this page or any portion of it in any digital, electronic format or internet format.

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Polson, Gary R., Strength Tech, Inc. "List of Issues Concerning Weightlifting in Prisons." Strength Tech web site. 27 Feb 2003. (Day Month Year you viewed the site).
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last update 21 March 2003

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