Real Bane Training: Building Mind and Body in Confinement

By on June 10, 2020

“Me in chains? You may fetter my leg but my will, not even Zeus himself can overpower”

Epictetus

Bane is the man who broke the bat. An individual capable of matching and even surpassing Bruce Wayne in his willpower, physicality, and strategy. So it should perhaps be no surprise that nearly all of my videos on Batman training are also surrounded by requests for a Bane training series.

And what better time than now to examine a character who developed incredible physical power from the confines of a prison cell. Stuck in isolation, as many of us are!

Bane training

For those not familiar with his story, Bane grew up in jail – imprisoned for his Father’s crimes. Despite having no access to the myriad resources of Bruce Wayne, Bane developed his body and mind through rigorous training, his own form of meditation, and as many books as he could gain access to.

Eventually, Bane became the test subject for a formula called Venom that would drastically enhance his already superhuman strength. The effects of the serum are temporary, but even without it, Bane represents a significant physical challenge to Batman.

Upon escaping Pena Duro prison, Bane visits Gotham and begins to systematically weaken Batman’s mental state before confronting him. It is then that he famously beats Bruce to within an inch of his life, before snapping his spine across his knee.

Bane prison workouts

Note: I had planned to make this video a few weeks ago, but then Jax Blade dropped one on this exact topic! His is great and you should go and check it out, it has loads of ideas taken straight from the comic. So, I was going to skip it, but it is just too perfect for the situation we’re in right now: training in isolation AND wearing masks that make us sound funny.

And as it turns out, I have some cool stuff to add to the discussion. So without further ado!

Isolation Training: Real Prison Workouts

Bane is a fan-favorite villain because he is the perfect warped reflection of Bruce Wayne. Bane’s power comes from the exact same place: an unbreakable will and commitment to bettering himself. So true was this, that he forged himself into peak human condition – body AND mind – all without leaving his four walls.

The awesome thing is that we have plenty of real world precedent for this. Of course, one of the most famous examples is Charles Bronson, who wrote Solitary Fitness. Real name Charles Salvador, looks like Dr. Robotnik, Bronson has written at length about training methods that can be utilized while in isolation. Many of these revolve around the use of unusual objects, or high repetition calisthenics.

High rep bodyweight training

Bronson brags that he can lift an entire snooker table, and perform 1,727 press ups in an hour. Bronson claims he performed 2,000 push ups daily!

In a previous video, I discussed how high repetitions of bodyweight exercises could be very effective for developing strength – but only when performed to failure. As closed chain exercises, the chance of injury is low. But at the same time, going to failure means that your body is forced to utilize all the muscle fiber involved in the movement: once the slow twitch fibers fatigue, there is no choice but to engage the fast-twitch fibers and larger motor units. In short, lifting 10% of your one rep max feels like 100% of your one rep max, once you’re on the 120th rep! And the neural adaptations are similar.

Charles Bronson Prison Workouts

At the same time, this can provide a huge build up of blood in the working muscles, resulting in significant hypertrophy, not to mention an increased blood supply for enhanced recovery via newly created capillaries.

This same strategy worked for the Indian Wrestler Gama who, legend has it, would train using sets of 5,000 Hindu squats and 3,000 Hindu push ups!

Wrestler Gama

Bronson isn’t the only guy to resort to super high reps while in isolation either. Another example is Mike Tyson, who reportedly used a similar method to develop massive legs in jail. He would use massive sets of squats to pick up and place down cards. I’ve heard different versions of this routine (some say 8 cards, some say 10), but generally the challenge involves creating taller and taller patterns from one side to the next, and then picking up each card individually before moving onto the next pile. This should be performed quickly.

When Tyson emerged from jail, his legs were huge and allowed him to generate more power in his blows.

When Tyson emerged from jail, his legs were huge

Using cards this way to make potentially mind-numbing workouts more interesting is apparently common. Another example is the “Deck of Pain,” which I read about first over at Art of Manliness. In this inmate fitness challenge, you go through a pack of cards one at a time, performing a different movement for each suit and reps depending on the number of reps.

This is an interesting aspect of training in isolation: finding ways to keep the training fresh and motivating, without a coach shouting in your ear or tunes coming through your headphones. It’s easier to monitor your progress and to push yourself to do one last rep when you can literally see a pile of cards on the floor, un-picked up!

Bane workout

This is pretty relevant for a post that’s as much about building an iron will as it is about building an indestructible body!

Other Tools

Bodyweight is one obvious option when it comes to training without gym access. But there are other options too.

Eventually, he gained the strength to bend those bars.

One is to use overcoming isometrics. I’ve discussed this topic before, but essentially, the aim is to push or pull against an immovable force. By pushing against a wall, or pulling against a tree (another method used by Gama by the way!), it’s possible to engage 100% of your strength. As far as the body is concerned, it’s the same as trying to lift or pull more than 100% of your 1 rep maximum. And once again, the body will adapt in the same way – increasing your mind-muscle connection and neural drive to help you engage more muscle fiber and more strength.

You may not see as much hypertrophy due to lower muscle damage, and the lack of full range of motion might also mean the strength gains aren’t as great. However, it also has unique advantages as there is no strength curve to contend with (for example) meaning that the 100% effort is sustained much longer than in a 1 rep max. It’s a great supplement to strength training, and if you’re in jail… well then it’s all you’ve got!

Alexander Zass Prison Training

You need to do this at three different joint angles at least, seeing as the area of effect is only around 30 degrees. Hold each rep for about 6 seconds.

In jail, you might use the bars of your cell. This is, according to stories, exactly what old-time strongman Alexander Zass AKA The Amazing Samson did. Zass served in the Russian army in WW1 and was placed in a prisoner of war camp. The story goes that he built up his strength by pulling against the iron bars every single day. Eventually, he gained the strength to bend those bars. At that point, he promptly stepped out his jail window. He went on to use this strength as a travelling strongman, breaking chains to wow audiences.

Training the Mind

Another way that Bane may have developed the necessary will power to forge his powerful body, is through meditation. I’ll be talking about this in another video, but meditation can strengthen and develop the anterior cingulate cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These are brain regions that relate to focus, motivation, and sustained attention. According to the comics, Bane not only mastered meditation while in jail, but also developed his own style of meditation.

Bane Meditation Isolation

I love this! We all assume that things like meditation are sacred practices we can’t tamper with. But someone has to push these concepts forward. And we’re all different. Why not experiment with your own techniques?

One method that might apply to someone like Bane, would be to use visualization to train body and mind. For example, this might mean playing chess against an invisible opponent.

According to the book The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, this is how the wrongfully imprisoned human rights activist Anatoly Sharansky managed to avoid going insane while in isolation. He played imaginary games of chess against himself, developing his skills enough to eventually emerge and defeat then-world champion Garry Kasparov!

Bane Strength

Playing chess without a board might sound incredible, but it’s actually a known “sport” called “blindfold chess.” Incredibly, some experts even play multiple games of blindfold chess against real opponents simultaneously: memorizing multiple boards simultaneously and the positions of every chess piece. One player, Alexander Alekhine, is reported to have played 26 simultaneous games – winning 16, drawing 5, and losing 5. That’s insane.

Sherlock Homes… up your game!

As far as I’m concerned, this shatters the notion of a working memory that is limited to 7 +/- 2 digits!

Imagine the incredible strategizing, memory, and capacity to juggle information that could be developed this way.

Similarly, practising mental maths could also be a powerful tool. In the same book, Doidge describes how Rudiger Gamm used this strategy to develop the skills of a “human calculator.”

Of course, Bane was also driven by his insane desire to destroy Batman. This gave him a central goal and a purpose that put the fire in his belly. This is something else we can all learn from. I’m not recommending that you choose an arch-nemesis and obsess about them… but having a goal is key to self-determination. Find your passion, and do that.

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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