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…