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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

REVIEW: Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade

I’ve just finished reading the book ‘Convict conditioning’.  It was an interesting read...but....the author had some unfounded views about both using external weights & bodyweight exercise.  Let’s look at some of his views (I am paraphrasing his views below):

VIEW: Bodyweight exercise makes ones joints stronger & healthier for life, whereas weight training destroys joints.
RESPONSE: Well, not necessarily, if you’ve known any gymnasts then you will realise that they are more often than not suffering wrecked joints & most use ONLY body weight exercise, they also suffer unbalanced development between muscles pretty much universally, so using bodyweight alone will not guarantee healthy joints.

VIEW: Body weight is a natural way to move ergo it is superior.
RESPONSE: SOME body weight exercises move the body in a natural way, so something like a squat would be a normal way to move to the body, but would the same thing be true of a walking on the hands?  When in nature did a human walk on their hands, or do a planché push-up, or do as the author has done a one hand handstand push-up.  In nature these things are not done, so if only move done in nature should be done, then these should not be done.

VIEW: Weights are not used in nature, so as you are never exposed to them in nature you should not be exposed to them in training.
RESPONSE: This is false.  Let’s give some examples.  I want to move a big rock, it’s in my way.  I pick it up!  I meet an awful guy who comes into my house & wants to abuse my family.  I fight him, throw him about a bit, lift him up & chuck him out of my home!  My friend falls off a cliff, he’s hanging on for dear life, I grab his arm & rescue him.  I’m a hero!  In nature you carry children, sick people to safety, food & supplies...the list is endless & humans have done it since we first became upright.  Carrying stuff, moving stuff, even heavy stuff is as nature to a human as moving their own body.

On the plus side I would say he is right about the need to be able to display strength & being able to use the body is important.  I would say if you can’t do push-ups, full squats & pull-ups at the very least, then you need to spend some time learning to use your body.  I have seen massive guys who can’t do anything, sometimes they can’t even lift their arms over their heads as they have damaged their bodies so much through improper weight training over many years (often they focussed on the ‘T-shirt muscles’).   I do believe that you build a decent physique using bodyweight alone, but I believe you can also do that by including weights as well (yes even the odd machine if you wish to).
So, to sum up I found the book useful in terms of which exercises you can do, the progressions & methodology, but on the other I found it a little too zealot, he was certain he was right & everyone else was wrong, his was the only right way.  Well in truth anyone who says that is actually wrong.  Not every athlete today is a steroid user, I know many who are not, but are as good, if not better than any old-time athlete in their field as they combine modern nutrition, with modern pre-hab, screening & training to produce a better result than they knew how to achieve years ago-I’m sorry but it is true!   Most, if not all use weight training to achieve strength, then skill training to attain maximum performance.  Could you use body weight training & skill training to achieve the same results?  Maybe in some cases, but some of the progressions would be no good in some cases, it depends on the sport & the movement in question, so the answer is not as easy as it sounds.  The idea of building strength, then displaying strength is not new.  The author states that’s body weight exercise was around when the Greeks where training.  Well so was lifting external weights!  In fact the most famous story in weight training is about the Greek wrestler Milo.  He was unbeatable (by all the other wrestlers who I presume just did calisthenics), his secret?  He carried a baby bull everyday on his shoulders around an arena & as it slowly grew, so he became stronger, yes he used progressive resistance with an external weight!  I know that’s not a very ethical story (using an animal), but it does demonstrate that the Greeks understood that external loads where important.  Further more in every culture where strength is admired they tend to use external loads as well as body weight movements.  In Japanese martial arts they use heavy club-like tools, in Indian wrestling they use heavy maces, in colder climates lifting ‘manhood stones’, in other cultures heavy stone throwing for distance, the list goes on!  I did a quick google search as I seemed to remember that even in ancient Egypt they practiced a form of weight lifting & sure enough it seems there is evidence that they did!  So my view is that both body movement & weights make the best combination of exercises for a human & have done at least as long as we’ve had methods of recording information!

To prove my point himself the author on page 26 talks about John Grimek.  Yes John did do some bodyweight movements, he was very gymnastic.  He was also a World class weightlifter & bodybuilder.  He was in fact known to practice “1001 exercises”, from the old time bent press (yes ‘bent’, not ‘bench’), to Olympic weightlifting, to curling a barbell & was even deadlifting a decent weight well into old age, he could also walk on his hands, tumble & do other gymnastic feats.  So, the author actually proves the point that weights plus learning to use the body correctly is actually a good method to achieve results.  The other example is Doug Hepburn who again started lifting weights & went on to Olympic fame as a weightlifter, so it was the bodyweight/weights combination that appeared to work best for him as well – as a side note Doug later in his life set some records for lifting when over 70 years old as a strict vegetarian that as far as I know have yet to be beaten.

Having said all that I do think the book is worth reading.  You do not have to swallow the dogma of the author, but you can use the exercises, progressions & ideas in your training!  Plus let’s face it, doing a one arm chin, a planché push-up or walking on your hands does look pretty cool to most people!

OK let’s get to the good part of the book.  The exercises & progressions!  First off these are all pretty good.  Even those in post rehab should be able to do most of the easier progressions (as normal check with your medical advisor first) & you can move on to some really advanced progressions that will challenge just about anyone.
The exercises are broken down into 6.  These are the push-up, the squat, the pull-up, the straight leg raise, the bridge & the handstand push-up.

The progressions are broken into 10, so each of those 6 exercises start with a dead easy version that most people can do, then each of the 10 variations get slightly harder until you reach a REALLY hard ‘Master step’ (as it’s called, the hardest version possible).  So in the book you get 60 exercises fully explained with photos & written descriptions, along with that you get a whole pile of variations to do if you feel like a change & also some variations to go beyond the ‘master step’ once that is mastered.  So, basically you get a LOT of information for your money.  In the end the author does the pragmatic thing & does include details about how to add to bodyweight moves to a program using weights.  This is great as most of his audience will be iron-heads so it makes sense to include that even if the author does not agree with their use.

Overall, if you ignore rhetoric & focus on the training it is a good book.  I know you seem to need a ‘hook’ for products these days, so I suggest you ignore the title, ignore the rhetoric , but take the training seriously as it could be useful for you.  Finally if you are looking for a bodyweight exercise program, then this would be a good option.  For those who train with weights it gives you a reasonable ‘game plan’ for adding in some bodyweight stuff that will challenge you over time.
My final point is do what the book says & start with level 1 even if you can do more & spend say at least 4 weeks on every level before moving on (as you progress you may need more than 4 weeks before progressing up a level,  but probably not for the first few levels if you are healthy).  I think the program is pretty good & you should get good results. You’ll also be able to impress your friends with some fun bodyweight ‘tricks’ like 1 arm chins, 1 arm push-ups & other cool stunts!

On a (kind of) unrelated point it's also good to support vegans if they end up in prison (easily done with the draconian laws they have these days), so pop over to the Vegan Prisoners Support Group & help vegans in prison get ethical food choices, toiletries, clothing etc.


Unknown said...

Hey I am actually trying to build some muscle while doing a vegan style diet starting November 1st and P90X...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting these. As a purchaser of the book its nice to see that others are out there doing Convict Condioning as well! I’ve actually just started doing CC and am logging my entire journey for others. If you want take a look and provide me with any constructive criticism, it would be greatly appreciated.

If you want to follow my Journey all posts are tweet’d:

Thanks in advance, and keep pushing!


#convictconditioning #bodyweight #training #calisthenics #cc