Reading / Convict Conditioning

Convict Conditioning cover

I’ve found this book accidentally on some forum. Now I’ve finished it and here I want to tell you a bit about Convict Conditioning.

Today people consider bodyweight training as simple warmup exercises or endurance training. The problem is that the only way to progress them is to increase reps. You can easily progress with weight exercises – just add couple of kilos on a barbell to keep your reps low. But can we use bodyweight exercises for strength training? Yes, we can, and the progression exists.

This book is about forgotten art of bodyweight training, written by Paul Wade who spent 19 years in US prisons (some sceptics say that author is not a real person, but I don’t care). They had no barbells or fancy machines, but being strong was essential to survive. So they trained in cells using only weight of a body.

Look at statues of Ancient Greeks. How could they build up their strength and Davidian physiques far before drugs and barbells were invented? How did Spartans and Gladiators train? They all used calisthenics.

Well, I can retell you about half of the book in a single sentence: modern bodybuilding is a bullshit, calisthenics is cool!. So, yeah. The rest is about anatomy, different movements and programms. The book is definitely worth reading.

Laocoon and his Sons

The Big Six

This is the base of his system. It includes: pushups, squats, pullups, leg raises, bridges, and handstand pushups. Each of these movements is devided by 10 steps, forming a progression. Each one is more difficult than a previuos step. You can perform Step 1 of each movement unless you are disabled or have serious injury. Step 10 – The Master Step – is for real beasts. There are several variants of these movements, described in chapter Variants. You can perform them just for variety, explosiveness or for going beyond Master Step.

The key is to perform all movements slowly, without any cheating. Take start position, inhale, spend 2 seconds moving down, freeze for 1 second in finish position, exhale, return slowly to the start position. You can perform dozens of pushups easily? Just fix your hips and move slowly. I bet you will perform only half of your max reps. Btw this is completely opposite to modern CrossFit, where athletes move quickly, with cheating and always ignoring technique. That’s why I hate CrossFit, and why crossfiters will suffer soon.

It’s safe

All these bodyweight movements are natural and safe for your joints. They will prevent you from injuries and recover from existing ones, author said. I want to warn you though: take care of your wrists during handstands and planches, watch your back during planks and flags.

I got a serious back injury in 2007. I was performing weighted Good Mornings. Exactly as Bruce Lee injured his back in 1970. Now I still feel it every day. My back is my weak point. So now I do bridges, tuck planches, headstand hyperextensions, L-sits instead of weighted squats, deadlifts and good mornings. And one-leg squats can extremely load my legs without any axis load on my spine. That’s cool.

Lights out

One more advantage here: equipment is not required. You only need a pullup bar and a yoga mat. There are several important consequences from that. First, you can do it at home, on vacation or anytime when you have no access to (or time for) a gym. So no excuses! Second, even in a crowded gym you can perform these movements and you don’t need to wait in a queue to some machine with dozen of others.

I’m gonna read Convict Conditioning 2, master my movements and try new ones. I like the way calisthenics develops my body. It’s more balanced and functional, than just pumping iron. What train program do you follow? Leave comments below and share your progress. As always, questions are more than appreciated.