top of page

Convict Conditioning

A great book despite the lying cover art

Rating: B

Length: 288 pages, though length doesn't really mean much for a non-fiction reference manual, does it?

Yo, this book. This book is a great resource for pretty much any fitness enthusiast looking to improve their physical condition and plenty more people besides that. At the same time, it's a little different from most other fitness references that I've read in that it does have a little narrative built in, so let's tackle it one piece at a time.

The main gimmick of the narrative is that the author learned the information while spending time in prison. So far as I'm aware, it remains unknown in the public domain whether that's true, and so far as I'm concerned, who fucking cares? Yeah, there are a lot of neat little stories sprinkled throughout the work, but they're just there as window dressing or to add a measure of levity. The real meat of the book is in the actual information (just as it should be for a non-fiction book).

That having been said, there are some problems on that front as well, but I suppose I should explain how it's set up first.

The basic premise of the book is that the human body can be conditioned for strength using just 6 categories of movements: push ups (chest, arm extensors), pull ups (upper/middle back, arm flexors), squats (legs, midsection, lower back), leg raises (midsection, hip flexors, leg anterior chain), bridges (back, hip extensors, leg posterior chain), and handstand push ups (arm extensors, shoulders, upper back). That makes logical sense, right? I'd say there's an argument to be made that handstand push ups are unnecessary, but they do offer a very different challenge from regular push ups, so I don't mind their inclusion (not to mention that they're so badass).

Then, within each movement category, Wade presents 10 progressive steps to go from being an absolute beginner to being an athletic superstar. Each step comes with a fairly detailed explanation of how to do it (although some of these are misleading, which I'll go into further when I get to the book's misrepresentations later on), one or two tips to make it slightly more or less challenging to help with bridging the gap between steps (these are largely useless, in my opinion, but they might be more helpful for people without a strong background in mechanical engineering), and set/rep targets for beginners, intermediates, and experts of that particular movement. The set/rep targets are a great guide, which is part of what sets this book apart from similar works, such as Street Workout by Al Kavadlo, though you do have to take them with a little skepticism when it comes to some of the later steps. I mean, yes, nobody would disagree that you're an expert at pistol squats if you can do 2 sets of 50 on each leg, but that's a major overkill.

It's also worth noting that the book was clearly intended for a male audience. While I know females are plenty capable of being strong, it's a biological fact that they tend to have lower levels of muscular growth hormones. Their mechanical advantages (specifically in their hip structure) can compensate for that when it comes to lower body- and core-focused movements, but the upper body movement target reps should probably be toned down by 10-20% for most women (bear in mind that everything higher than step 5 in any movement has sets of only 6-20 reps for their progression targets since each individual rep becomes increasingly difficult, so this is only a difference of 1-4 reps per set once one reaches the advanced steps).

The progressions all work fairly well for steps 1-6 for each movement category, but some of them are rather questionable in the later stages. For instance, I didn't find much value in steps 8 and 9 for squats, so I opted to figure out my own intermediate steps to go from close squats to pistol squats. Similarly, step 9 for leg raises seems entirely unnecessary. The biggest issue with the progressions, though, is in the handstand push ups, where the book seems to be outright lying.

Okay, maybe it's possible that there are people out there who can do one-armed handstand push ups with control through the full range of motion, but considering that there's not a single video on YouTube showing it in the same way as what's described in Convict Conditioning, I'm going to call bullshit on that one. Personally, I'm planning on ignoring the entire progression for handstand pushups after either step 5 or 6, replacing it with working towards doing freestanding handstand push ups instead.

Sadly, that's not the only point in the book where it's lying. It's also impossible to meet some of the form descriptions, such as having no lateral hip displacement when doing one-armed push ups with your feet together. What's even funnier about these is that there's an official DVD set for Convict Conditioning (sold separately from the book) for people who'd rather see it than read it, and since those required people to actually demonstrate the movements in their entirety rather than just taking a couple of still pictures, they're not entirely in compliance with the form descriptions in the book. Putting aside that the one-armed handstand pushup was shown by filming the negative portion of the movement and then playing it in reverse to act as the positive, they also show "cheats" like hip shifting during one-armed push ups or having some landing impact on closing bridges, neither of which are really cheating because the human body simply has to do those things in order to go through that movement. The DVDs throw in an actual cheat of their own with suggesting to use some "body English" (which sounds classier than hip/leg swing) for steps 7-10 of the pull up progression. That's unnecessary, both from my own experience working on step 7 and from videos of people like Al Kavadlo doing one-armed pull ups without needing additional momentum.

After the progressions, there's also some further discussion on warming up, possible workout templates, tips for sticking with your routines, and more along those lines. It's all well and good, for the most part, but there's nothing really unique in there, so if you've seen the same type of information in other fitness books, I don't expect you'd be missing out on much by skipping it.

Ultimately, despite the lies, it's actually a pretty great book. You might think that'd be a big sticking point for me, particularly for a work that's meant to be informative, but anyone who's taking it upon themselves to improve their fitness should be paying attention to their body and tailoring what they're doing to their own personal circumstances rather than blindly following generic instructions set out by some dude who wrote a book. After all, the front matter of Convict Conditioning does state that it's for entertainment purposes only, and while I understand that's at least partially a legal consideration, the underlying implication is that you really shouldn't be placing your full faith in everything it says. 5/6 of the progressions are very good, even if they have some extra steps that could've been trimmed out, and half of the sixth is good, too. That's enough for a solid B grade.

Rating: B

Length: 288 pages, with content that'll take years to actually work through

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
RSS Feed
Search By Text
Search By Tags
RSS Feed
bottom of page