Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade

The two worst tendencies I’ve come across for myself are the desire to over complicate things, and the desire to skip ahead. This can affect many areas of life, and one of the more practical things it sabotages is my health. Be it diet or exercise, these two things are more than capable of robbing one of results and motivation.

So, simplify, simplify.

Paul “Coach” Wade’s Convict Conditioning is simple and straightforward. Wade, a former inmate of the U.S. prison system, learned and taught calisthenics during his over 19 years of incarceration. Over the years he got the nickname “Coach” for teaching other inmates, and has since systemized his program.

Convict Conditioning is broken up into three sections. First, he introduces himself and explains why “old school calisthenics” are still relevant, if not horribly ignored, by modern society. This goes into some history, has a critique of modern methods, and makes a good case for them. There is an overview of the rest of the book, resources provided, making it clear that this is a process, and encouragement to “get started now.

The second section is all about the exercises themselves. This is where the book really separates itself from others that I have read. Wade introduces the “Big Six” in the first section; pushups, squats, pull-ups, leg raises, bridges and handstand pushups.

Each of the “Big Six” have ten steps, starting with an absolute beginner’s exercise, eventually progressing up to their final “Master Step” exercises. Each chapter covers one of the “Big Six,” initially going over the benefits, why the exercise is included, and other thoughts. Each chapter has ten exercises that you are expected to progress through, in order, to achieve its respective Master Step.

Additionally, each exercise has three benchmarks that need to met; a beginner’s standard, an intermediate standard, and a progression standard. Once you can meet the progression standard, you move onto the next exercise and try to meet its beginner standard. If you cannot, go back to the previous exercise for a while and try again later. Its sensible, its logical, and the progression is appreciated. Certainly, I’ve felt like other programs were simply throwing me into the deep end from the get go.

I will say that the pullup section might be difficult if you do not have something to work with. Some stores do carry door-mountable pull-up/chin-up bars, but I’m not sure how those will work.

The final section is on self-coaching, and ought be considered a “must read,” if not “must comprehend” before you begin doing any of the exercises. This is the only section of the book where I have used highlighter pens thus far, and that’s not something I normally do for any book. A lot of it is practical advice, some of it being “common sense” (a very uncommon thing, according to Benjamin Franklin), but its all useful.

Included in it are five workout programs, ranging from beginner to two advanced-only programs. Like the rest of the book, these are presented in a very straightforward fashion, complete with a Monday through Sunday schedule. There is a bit on hybrid training between using the gym and calisthenics, although its more of suggestions than a program. I assume that there’s an understanding that anyone attempting it would have enough knowledge of physical training to what they’re doing in this case.

Wade’s writing is good, clear, and most importantly, useful. Each exercise is accompanied with color photos, and each section feels dense. I never felt there was filler or gratuitously wasted white space and quotes padding out the page count, which is an important thing for a $40 book. The print quality seems quite good, as does the paper stock used. However, only time will tell how good the binding is. Its seems fine right now, but it’ll be a few years before one can say for certain.

I have started with Wade’s colorfully named New Blood program. As the name would guess from the name, it’s the beginner program, with only four of the six exercises progressions being present. Two days of exercise, the rest of the week is allowed for rest. As someone working towards better physical health and conditioning, this is a good thing. I’m not exhausted by the end of exercising, it during my breaks at work, and I’m not overwhelmed by having to learn a lot of new things. At the moment, I have skipped one of the exercises (shoulderstand squats) until I can lose weight. This is, actually, as recommended in the book. I look forward to doing them, myself, and New Blood does provide a progression standard to the next tier of programs.

At this time I can recommend Convict Conditioning for anyone interested in giving him or herself something to begin with. I do have to say that a physical copy of the book would be better than an eBook simply because it will be much easier to take notes with, and you can also photocopy things relevant to what you are doing at the time. I’ve already made copies of the overall progression charts, have half a dozen Post-It note bookmarks, and different passages highlighted!

I personally feel that Pavel Tsatsouline’s The Naked Warrior would make for good supplemental reading due to covering muscle irradiation. He explains it rather well, and very simply, but Pavel seems to generally write better for those who are already in shape and are knowledgeable on physical fitness. Also, Pavel’s writing style takes some getting used to, and can be considered an acquired taste. As such, Wade is much better for the average person, and doubly so for those who are beginners or essentially starting from scratch.

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