I’ve been been doing Convict Conditioning for about 7,5 months now, and I thought this would be a good time to make a list of my first findings regarding the
program approach. I will also give my answers to questions practitioners or potential practitioners often have.
First off, a few lines of introduction. CC is a book written in 2012 by Paul Wade and published by Dragon Door. The book is a training manual on Progressive Calisthenics. It contains progressions for “The Big Six”, the six groups of exercises that, according to the author, you need to perform in order to train every muscle in your body. The exercise groups a.k.a. progressions, are the Pushup, the Leg Raise, the Pullup, the Handstand Pushup, the Squat and the Bridge targeting chest and biceps, abdomen, back and arms, shoulders, legs and spine respectively. Every exercise group consists of 10 steps, Step 1 being the easiest in the series and Step 10 being the ultimate, the Master Step. The trainee must first complete a certain number of sets and reps with the prescribed form for a step before he or she can move on to the next one.
The book is supposedly written by a man, Paul Wade, who spent 20 years in several penitentiaries where he learned the secrets of bodyweight training by his former Navy Seal cellmate. He mastered that type of training to such a degree that it earned him the nickname “Entrenador” or “Coach”. As if that is not intriguing enough, Paul Wade has chosen to remain unidentified since there are no images or footage of him.
Without further ado I will present my opinion on the book: I believe it is a fantastic manual on bodyweight training. Below I will summarize what I think and what I’ve come to realize in the time I’ve been training “like a convict”.
- To get things straight right off the bat, the book has a training manual part with a myth part built right into it. In other words, the prison story may or may not be real. Paul Wade, if that’s his real name, may be a real figure, an exaggerated figure, a character made up from real or fictional ones, or even completely made up. Having said that, I personally don’t care whether or not the story is real. It is a good story which makes the book more interesting and the reading easier. It sucks you in. Whoever wrote the book has a good way of writing. The main criticism the book gets is based on that aspect of it, therefore I wanted to address this right away.
- The above brings me to the main point: the book offers in my opinion an overall very good set of progressions. Simply put, it’s showing you how to train in order to be able to perform some of the most difficult moves the human body can do from a strength perspective. For the most part, the steps make sense the way they are laid out, each step adding a degree of difficulty to the previous one.
- I really like the fact that each step has a target number of sets and reps that you need to reach before you can advance to the next. That way you don’t have to wonder whether you’re ready or not. If you can perform the prescribed number, then you should give the next step a shot.
- However, the progressions are not binary. What I mean is, I’ve found out that you shouldn’t have a “I can do/I can’t do” approach. There is virtually always room for improvement in any step. Even the earlier steps in the progression, the “easy” ones, can give you a run for your money if you perform them the right way.
- Talking about the right way, it is generally advised to maintain a slow 2-1-2 tempo with strict form as shown in the book. That is 2 seconds on the negative part, 1 second pause, 2 seconds on the positive for the majority of the movements. Strict form means different things for different exercises but in general keep your body braced, form straight lines, no shagging, maintain a breathing pattern etc.
- What all that means in the end is that rushing to get to the next step does not mean anything because the stuff you leave behind and don’t fix you will run into later down the road. An example is grip strength for pullups, another is ankle mobility for squats and the list goes on and on. Basically how strong your muscles are is only one variable in the equation. There are others just as important when we are talking about advancing a step. Such as flexibility and balance. This is why you should, according to the coach and to my personal experience so far, try to milk every step – take as much out of it as possible before moving on. He also calls it putting strength in the bank. Another way to see it is don’t advance when you do it right, rather when you can’t do it wrong.
- A good way to milk a step is to turn on the mind-to-muscle connection. I have done that a few times and I can say I see a rise in difficulty. The way I interpret mind-to-muscle is really concentrating on the target muscle and adding tension to it on purpose. Flexing it while performing the move. I can guarantee that this will make the exercise harder which means potential strength gains.
- Coach Wade emphasizes that you should start from step 1 of each progression no matter how strong you already are. Even if you can bench press 100kg, he states that you should do your time by doing wall pushups. He argues that this is for developing a good moving pattern as well as allowing the tendons and ligaments the time to adjust. Personally, I spent one or two weeks on the first step of some of the progressions with the exception of some hard ones, like the Wall Headstand which took me a couple of months to achieve.
- If you’re like me, get ready to become friends with inversions.
Part 2 coming soon.