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With its “hard time” anecdotes, illusive author, and “anybody can do it” promises, many people believe Convict Conditioning to be little more than a pipe dream marketing ploy. And yes, some of my biggest complaints with Convict Conditioning stem from its overuse of “fluff” for the sake of motivation and credibility. Still, there is a modicum of value to be found in Convict Conditioning once the nonsense is removed and there is a clear understanding of its potential. I’m still not sure it is the best resource for people interested in calisthenics, but there is some good stuff in here. But really, what is Convict Conditioning? Read on for the nitty-gritty.
Program: Convict Conditioning
Creator: “Coach” Paul Wade
Length: No specific timeline
Required Equipment: Pull-Up Bar
Suggested Equipment: Baseball (or object of similar size), basketball (or object of similar size)
What Is Convict Conditioning?
Convict Conditioning is a 300-page book of a lot of (unnecessary) things, but the most important and best part of it comes in its “Big 6” exercise progressions. The author goes into intense detail about these Big 6 moves, complete with ten progressions for each one that eventually allow you to achieve some amazing feats. This book is not necessarily a workout program – it is a very in-depth explanation of Paul Wade’s Big 6 exercise moves, with goals to progress from the easier moves to the harder ones. In addition to that, there is, admittedly, a whole lot of nonsense mumbo-jumbo about his time in prison, the people with whom he has worked, and loads of other annoying anecdotes that just plain get in the way of everything you actually WANT from a book like this. But who knows? Maybe a lot of readers are interested in that.
The Big 6 include:
- Pushup: 1-arm Pushup
- Squat: Full 1-Leg Squat (AKA Pistol Squat)
- Pullup: Full 1-Arm Pullup
- Leg Lift: Hanging Straight Leg Raise
- Bridge: Stand-to-Stand Bridge
- Handstand Pushup: 1-Arm Handstand Pushup
Each of these final Big 6 phases are extraordinary achievements for anybody! Convict Conditioning leads up to them with nine prior progressions, starting with the easiest (ie, wall pushups), suggesting goals for each one, and then eventually getting to the final stages which are listed above. Obviously, some of these are much easier than others, and the author suggests mastering certain moves in one category before even starting in another.
- Many progressions are realistic. Starting with easy moves like wall pushups, vertical pullups, etc., the progressions slowly but surely get much more difficult. The idea is that with enough time and practice, you will master each progression to eventually reach the final, 10th progression. There is an Amazon reviewer who has updated his progress over the past few years, which is amazing.
- Designed for literally anybody. This part is true. The early progressions truly are easy enough for anybody to do, barring physical handicaps. It doesn’t matter what your age is, or what injuries you’ve had in the past. You should be able to make progress with the Big 6.
- Insane level of detail. Paul Wade goes very in-depth about each progression of the Big 6. There are photos of a person doing each move so you understand how they look. Furthermore, each section has variants for the Big 6, which is meant to give ideas for related but alternative moves for your Big 6 workouts.
- Suggestions for self-coaching. Since this is not an actual workout program, the final section of the book has suggestions for how to actually do your workouts. This can be beneficial for folks who already have their own workout regimen and just want some insight to improve it.
- Author is nebulous. Seriously, who is “Coach” Paul Wade? Is he real? Is he really just a penname for Al Kavadlo? Nobody knows.
- The guy in the photos. The guy in the photos is not Wade. He is another fitness expert with his own website. And, sure, I’m not saying I always have perfect form but… His form isn’t correct in some of those photos.
- Too much BS to flip through. I don’t know about you, but I don’t buy workout programs to read people’s long-winded stories. This book has a lot of those, and other unnecessary anecdotes. You’ll need lots of bookmarks for the actual workout content so you don’t have to sift through all the nonsense that the author rambles on about.
- Certain progressions aren’t great. The pullups in particular, I found to be a little too lofty and unrealistic for me. A little searching on the web will provide you with much better progressions for 1-arm pullups. Furthermore, I don’t see myself ever achieving a 1-arm handstand pushup, nor do I care to. But if I ever do get there, I’ll let you know.
- Bridges? In all my calisthenics research, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody emphasize the usefulness of mastering bridges as much as Convict Conditioning. While bridges do require incredible strength, they are more about flexibility. You are better off doing other exercises to strengthen your lower back (ie., deadlifts). Out of all the Big 6, it didn’t take me long to completely ditch the bridge progressions altogether. And frankly I can’t imagine mastering the bridge is a top priority among prisoners
- Not an actual program. There are some helpful suggestions at the end of the book for creating your own CC program, but I know many people need that structure in their workout routines.
- Not written for women. The whole book is written with a very macho voice. The author’s directions and stories are almost entirely about and intended for men, which is a mistake. Especially since some of these moves will be easier for women to achieve than men.
- You will need to make adjustments. As I used Convict Conditioning, I constantly found myself making adjustments to its suggestions and progressions. For example, it says you have to start at Progression #1 for each of the Big 6 regardless of your fitness level. Seriously? I’m not going to waste my workouts by doing wall pushups when I can easily hit 20 reps and 3 sets of regular pushups without a problem.
- Overall credibility is poor. I don’t want to discount the potential of CC and how factual all this could be in regards to actual prisoners working out and achieving these incredible moves. But really, I find the entire book and its “author” to lack the credibility that so many other calisthenics experts offer. Maybe I’m a fool for thinking this way. But the fact that he is unknown to everybody makes me question what the true intent of selling this book really is. Can Paul Wade himself do a 1-arm handstand pushup? We’ll never know. So as of now, I find the whole persona to be bogus.
I guess I should just be up front and say that there are much better resources for progressing in calisthenics than Convict Conditioning. After reading this review, and maybe after reading the book itself, you still may not have an answer to my original question: what is Convict Conditioning really supposed to be? There are some amazing concepts buried in the 300 pages here, but at the end of the day, I believe you can make great strides in calisthenics through other means. Do some research and read other reviews before you buy it.
My Score: 2.5 out of 5
If you are just getting started with calisthenics, I suggest looking into the Bar Brothers program. Have you used Convict Conditioning? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!