Convict Conditioning by “Coach” Paul Wade

Ah, DragonDoor, the modern day version of one of those companies that used to sell stuff in the back of comics books.  You promise so much to your customers, but do you live up to the hype?  Well, sometimes.  Certainly though, this is one of those times.  I hold a special place in my heart for Convict Conditioning, because its the book that kicked off my passion for calisthenics.  Before CC, I was a wannabe runner scouring the net for exercises that I could do as cross training.  I’m in college and self supported, so my disposable income is, how should I put this?  Nonexistant.  There we go.  Being frugal by necessity, I quickly learned that all those awesome exercises that Google was telling me  to do were out of my range because I can’t afford a gym/don’t own a weight bench/don’t have dumbbells/etc.  Bodyweight calisthenics quickly became my weapon of choice, but there are so many!  Which ones should I choose?   Will it work my whole body?  How many should I focus on?  Theres an old saying that when you are ready for a teacher, the right one will appear.  When I heard of Convict Conditioning, it sounded intriguing yet hoaky.  Obviously any book named something so stupid can’t have anything worthwhile to say, right?  WRONG.  What’s more spartan than a prison cell?  NOTHING I CAN THINK OF, thats what.  Convict Conditioning single handedly planted the seed for the Spartan Strength philosophy, so if you think my site is even just a little bit neat, you need to read this book ‘cuz its this blog’s Daddy.

“Coach” Paul Wade, which may or may not be his real name, and also who may or may not be any number of other Dragon Door authors (my bet is Pavel), supposedly went to prison for a long amount of time for an unspecified crime, and during his stay in the poke he became obsessed with strength because strength=not getting cornholed daily.  Most jails of the time, and even a lot today, didn’t/don’t have a weight room.  Even if they do, what they have is pretty pitiful compared to even the most inadequate local gyms.  What prisoners lack in equipment, they make up for in infinite amounts of free time.  Wade learned how to do some basic bodyweight exercises from a Navy Seal cellmate, and then the student became the teacher.  Wade experimented with numerous variations of each exercise, and then whittled away the ones that were a waste of time.  What he was left with were six of the most ass kicking exercises you could possibly do in the comfort of your own prison cell.  The “Big Six” as he calls them, are one armed push ups, standing bridges, one armed pull ups, handstand push ups, one legged squats (or “pistols”), and hanging leg raises.  All these exercises combined hit every muscle in the body as hard as possible.  He also lists progressions for each of the “Big Six.”  One may start with wall push ups, work up to girly push ups (knees down), finally make it to real push ups, then do diamond push ups (hands together), then uneven push ups (one hand on a basketball to emphasize one arm over the other), and then finally, when you are sufficiently uber-manly, the dreaded one armed push up.  When you make it to this you don’t really need anything stronger because you should be at nightmare mode.  Its easy to see how with a bit of dedication, anyone can make it to the “Big Six” given enough time.  I find that very reassuring and comforting. Wade does a great job explaining how to do each exercise (along with pictures of each exercise performed by Jim Bathurst of Beast Skills), and he also sufficiently explains what muscles are used for each one.  In the end he is even kind enough to through in some potential routines and info about how to implement the “Big Six” in a routine.   This book is a self contained encyclopedia, I swear.

But its not all rainbows and butterflies.  As much as I love Convict Conditioning, it has some major flaws.  Number one, I GET IT, YOU WENT TO PRISON AND PRISON IS SCARY.  You don’t need to keep bringing it up over and over to reinforce your “cred.” The whole prison theme is kind of silly and a turn off.  I like the back story of getting totally ripped in prison, but he just beats that horse to death.  Also, he really sells himself and his ideas so hard that it makes you wonder if he is even credible.  I get that doing enough pull ups will get you a strong back and biceps, but I doubt it will give you a back as big as a barn door with rippling muscles that look like a snake orgy on your shoulderblades.   My biggest gripe though, is the fact that the final step of the handstand push up progression is a one armed handstand push up. Thats a push up that you do in a handstand, but with ONE ARM.  Is that even possible?  Jim Bathurst, the guy who is in the pictures, can’t even do it.  He can HOLD a one armed handstand.  He can even lower himself and do a negative, but he cannot PUSH UP back into the hold.  If the guy who wrote the book picked someone else to do the pictures, and even THAT GUY couldn’t do the damn exercise, I really doubt that anyone can, no matter how much “anything is possible” BS Wade spews.  Oh yeah, and the book is like $40 plus S&H. Ridiculous.

I would have also liked to see some info about calves, neck and forearm work, as well as some info about recovery, cardio and the prison diet, but I heard that the original version of CC was over 800 pages and that they had to split it into two books. Supposedly all that stuff wasn’t important enough to make it into CC1, so sometime in the future Dragon Door will come out with CC2 that will have all those goodies, as well as a Convict Conditioning DVD that will have video lessons on how to do all of the exercises (or you can search “convict conditioning” on youtube and watch folks do it for free right now).

So overall, this overpriced book is written by a possibly fake yet totally annoying ex-con teaching you how to do seemingly impossible gymnastics.  Why should I buy this again?  Oh yeah, because its A SOLID GOLD DIAMOND OF A BOOK, thats why.  Seriously, I can think of no other book that is so perfect and complete in itself.  If you never read another book on strength training you would be completely and utterly fine.  You won’t become bodybuilder huge if you follow Wade’s advice, but you will become impossibly ripped at a healthy weight (bodybuilding is probably NOT healthy in the long run). Not only that, you will become impossibly ripped with only 6 exercises.  How simple is that?  This is definately a case of less is more.  You can try to do a hundred different exercises that hit your muscles a hundred different ways, but if you can do these six exercises well, you really don’t need anything else. 

Oh yeah, and another thing.  If you don’t want to pay $40, its really easy to download a pirated PDF if you look hard enough, but you didn’t hear it from me.  If you like the book as much as I did (and you probably will) then don’t be douchebag and order the book so you have a hardcopy to keep in your personal library.  Also support the author, pirating is a crime, yada yada yada…

The world’s best workout tool … THE FLOOR!

Yes, you read the title right, and it’s no joke. THE FLOOR is a dual strength/cardio trainer thats been popular with incarcerated fitness enthusiasts (a.k.a. prisoners) since the invention of crime! THE FLOOR is not very portable, but oh-so-affordable that you a can use a new one where ever you go! THE FLOOR is so popular that virtually ALL buildings are built with one pre-installed (space stations/bottomless pits do not apply)! But we saved the best for last! Truly the greatest thing about THE FLOOR is that it is absolutely, 100% FREE OF CHARGE! We have already shipped one to your house for an unlimited free trial! Don’t believe us? Look down, you’re standing on it!

All jokes aside, there is absolutely, positively no greater asset to a cheapskate who wants to build some muscle/lose some fat than the very thing beneath you right now. The amount of exercises that you can perform without any kind of device or weight is staggering. These are often referred to as “bodyweight exercises” or “calisthenics” and they are just about as close to a perfect exercise as you can get. A few examples of calisthenics would be push ups, sit ups, and burpees. Some (myself included) even consider running and walking to be a calisthenic exercise due to the fact that the only resistance is your own bodyweight and there is no equipment involved (especially if you are of the barefoot persuasion)!

I consider calisthenics to be the perfect exercise for several reasons. The first is that they don’t require you to buy any special equipment or join a gym. Most can be done in your underwear (or less!) in the comfort of your own home. Since they don’t require anything, you can do them anywhere! At work, in a hotel room, in the park or your backyard, there is virtually no place where you cannot bust out a few push ups. Calisthenics are so easy to learn and can be done anywhere without needing equipment, so there is NO EXCUSE NOT TO DO THEM. Convenience is a double-edged sword, people.  Be careful what you wish for!

Another great thing about calisthenics is that virtually all of them are compound exercises that give you functional strength.  Bodybuilding culture has leaked out into the mainstream and people are starting to think that “isolation” exercises are a good idea.  They aren’t.  Think about leg extensions.  They “isolate” the quadriceps muscles in the legs.  Putting all the strain on the quadriceps is great for making them get bigger, but how often do you use that motion in real life?  Never, thats when.  A bodyweight squat is by far the superior choice for leg strength, becuase it uses all the leg muscles, not just one of them.  Why work one muscle when you can work all the muscles in a body part in the same amount of time in a more functional way?  When you do a bodyweight squat, your calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes all work together, just like they would in a real situation.  When they all learn to work together, they are far stronger than the sum of their parts.  Its what our bodies were designed to do.  There is a calistenic for every muscle group in the body, and they are all equally capable of kicking your ass if you do them right. 

Last but not least,  calisthenics are the best because they can be made progressively more difficult (or less difficult, depending on your needs).  Can’t do a full push up?  Let your knees touch the floor.  Regular push ups are too easy?  Try putting your feet up on a chair, increasing the amount of proportionate weight your arms and chest have to press.  Once that gets too easy, you can always throw in some good old-fashioned one arm pushups.  That should keep you busy for a while.  Virtually all calisthenics can be reduced to a version so easy that your grandma could do them, or so hard that they would make The Terminator cry like a baby.  The choice is up to you, and the possibilites are limitless.

Calisthenics aren’t just for building muscle, though.  If done with speed, they can provide a chest thumping cardio workout as good as any run.  The Burpee, scourge of middle schoolers across the nation, is a combination of a pushup, squat and jump that will give even the most grizzled long distance runner a thorough heart workout. 

The take home point is this: with so many exercises that can be done with just a bit of floor space, whats stopping you from getting in shape RIGHT NOW? If your bedroom is so covered with dirty clothes that theres no place to workout, then go outside.  If its raining, then clean your damn room.  The only thing thats stopping you from getting ripped is you.  Step out of your comfort zone and hit the deck, soldier.  Its time to rock ‘n roll!

COMING SOON: In depth analyses of the push up, the squat, and other great calisthenics.  Look for them in the “Exercise” section.

Knowledge + Discipline = Spartan Strength

The formula above is deceptively simple. It is simple because there isn’t much to it.  I provide the knowledge, you provide the discipline, and pretty soon you’ll be in better shape than you may have thought possible.  It is deceptive because while discipline may only be half the equation, its actually 99% of the effort.  Anyone can read some sheet music, but that dosen’t mean that they can play the piano.  No, it takes lots of practice and dedication to acquire a skill like that, and getting healthy is a lot like learning to play the piano.  If you are doing it right, then you are spending 1% of your time reading what to do, and 99% of your time actually trying to do itWhile I can provide you with all the knowledge you need regarding doing a lot with a little, its up to you to actually use it.  The best advice in the world is wasted if it is not followed.  A Zen master once said that his teachings were like tea leaves, useless by themselves, but when a student puts them into practice with study and meditation, the leaves steep in the hot water of the student’s discipline and release the flavor of enlightenment. I couldn’t have come up with a more perfect metaphor. Put what I say into practice. If it works for me, I bet it will work just as well for you.  The knowledge you can gain from this blog, plus some determination to succeed dug up from the very depths of your soul will make you stronger than you have ever been, and I’m not just talking muscles.  The kind of person who can persevere through doubt and frustration is the kind of person who will succeed at whatever they try.  Being healthy means a lot more than big biceps and low bodyfat.  Spartan Strength refers to  strength of the body as well as strength of the mind, and you can’t have the former without the latter.