From Pentonville on remand to personal trainer in demand.

After being locked up for more than a year, LJ Flanders, from Essex, overhauled his mind and body and has now turned his life around to become a fitness expert and author…

Think of the words “exercise” and “prison” and images of sculpted men doing press ups and lifting weights like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear spring to mind.

But in reality exercising within the confines of four very small walls in nothing so glamorous – or easy.

Essex based author LJ Flanders knows this from experience. The 26-year-old has gone from Pentonville inmate to personal trainer and businessman after deciding to turn the negative aspects of a 14-month stint in the north London prison, into a positive.

As David Cameron last week pledged to bring in the “biggest shake-up of prisons since the Victorian era” and vowed to crack down on levels of violence, drug taking and selfharm behind bars, LJ is one of the rare but amazing success stories of the overcrowded prison population.


LJ used his time behind bars in 2011 to educate himself and improve his chances of making something of his life once released.

Refreshingly LJ has taken full responsibility for his past actions. When he was 21 he was involved in a fight which spiralled out of control. It landed him 14 months behind bars for the crime of GBH He says: “There was nobody else to blame except me. I was young and found myself in a situation that got totally out of hand in a split second.

“I’m a different person now, I’ve learnt a lot and I now spent as much time as I can visiting prisons to help other inmates, to show them you can be whatever you want to be if you work hard enough.”

It was while he was in Pentonville that LJ came up with the idea for his book, Cell Workout. He coped with long periods of confinement by trying to keep fit in his cell. But this wasn’t always easy.

“With limited access to the gym, I began working out in my cell,” he said.

“But unlike you see on TV and in films there are only so many standard press ups or sit ups a person can do without getting bored!

“It was then that I began thinking up specific exercises that can be done within a small space and without access to accessories and fancy weights and equipment.”

This new found passion soon led to LJ studying for a City and Guilds personal training course and in turn to him securing a job working in the prison gym.

LJ then found he was inundated by fellow inmates asking him to come up with structured workouts for them – exercises they too could do while locked up in their confining space.


He says: “I was spending 23 hours a day in my cell. It was hard. Like most people will tell you though the most difficult part was being away for so long from friends and family. That’s what gets you the most. It’s a lonely time.

“For me exercise really helped me to cope with it all, both physically and mentally.

“But like a lot of people who are interested in their personal fitness, I only knew the basics of training, using weights and cardio. After scouring the prison library looking for sources to help write these programs, I soon realised that information was very limited, barely skimming the surface of what I was looking for.”

Eventually LJ put pen to paper, and came up with various exercises for each body part, writing the descriptions and drawing diagrams to go with the text. This became the blueprint for his book.

When he was released from Pentonville, LJ embraced his new found fitness regime and became a personal trainer at a Virgin Active gym in Chigwell. He also decided to publish his Cell Workout book to reach a wider audience.

“Once I got out I had access to the Internet and spent hours researching the topic. Months later I finally had a clear vision of what I wanted my book to be – a definitive and extensive guide to bodyweight training.

That is exactly what I had wanted but couldn’t find, when I needed it most.”

LJ was helped in making his book idea a reality by the Essex Innovation Programme and The Prince’s Trust who helped him through the logistics of publishing. Cell Workout is now selling well on Amazon and has even sold in America and across Europe. LJ is keen to point out the exercise regime is ideal for anyone who has a shortage of space in which to work out, including people living in flats or bedsits.

“Although it was born out of exercising in a prison cell the exercises are for everyone,” he said.

LJ nowworks as a personal trainer with clients across Essex and also is in the process of starting his own educational and fitness business to support prisoners and especially young offenders.

He has visited several prisons lately to take inmates through his high intensity cell workout programme – though this time entering through the front door as a visitor.


He added; “I also talk about how I ended up in prison and how I have changed my life.

“I hope to encourage others to do something positive when they get out. I especially want to work closer with young and vulnerable prisoners who have a high chance of re-offending because of the lack of education support in prison and in their backgrounds.”

LJ also says the biggest lesson he’s learnt from life on the inside is not to take people for granted: “I’ve got an massive appreciation of what I have in life – a wonderful girlfriend, family and friends,” he said.

“Prison is not a nice place, it’s daunting and I never want to go back.

There are a lot of others out there who feel the same, they just need a bit of support. Becoming an author is something I never thought could have happened to me, but I have.

“It’s given me a tremendous sense of achievement and I want to help others get that same feeling.”

ý L.J will be making a personal appearance at Basildon Library in St Martin’s Square, on March 8 at 7.30pm as part of the Essex Book Festival.

Tickets cost £7 for adults, £5 for under 25 year olds.

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