Convict Conditioning Review: A Prisoner’s Calisthenics Book

Two hands behind a jail

The Convict Condition books have attracted their fair share of both fans and detractors. We have read all 3 books, Conviction Condition, Convict Conditioning 2 and Explosive Calisthenics all authored by the illustrious Paul Wade. Written by an alleged ex-convict and presumably for convicts, soon-to-be convicts or those who seek the wisdom and lessons learnt from the harsh experience of being a convict, these books certainly have their allure. In a nutshell, Convict Conditioning explores actionable Calisthenics for when we’re very restricted in the room we have and the equipment we get to use. In other words, as if you’re confined to a prison cell most hours of the day. We’ll see what Paul Wade has to say in this Convict Conditioning review.

What Convict Conditioning is About

Convict Conditioning is a Calisthenics Book by Paul Wade. Its intent is to give the reader the tools to become fit to an athletic level, without reliance on outside input like coaches or any equipment that a convicted criminal in a prison cell might not have access to. The meat of the book is about dynamic Calisthenics, since Calisthenics is ideal in a situation where you can only use your own bodyweight and you have little to no additional tools.

Explosive movements and some plyometrics are emphasized to combine your Calisthenics with fighting techniques (which you acquire elsewhere). Explosive strength, rapid reactions and agility are welcomed in Convict Conditioning since, as the rationale goes, a real fight rarely lasts longer than a few seconds. This means less focus on stamina and doing large sets, and more on giving everything you have all at once to overwhelm an opponent with your strength, agility and fighting technique.

About The Author Paul Wade

Not much is known about the figure of Paul Wade. According to Paul, he is a former convict who spent most of his time in prison working out. His fellow inmates encouraged him to document his methods and write a book about it. He decided that he wanted to train like the old dogs in prison did, finding the older techniques more effective in preparation for trouble (e.g., a fight) than how the younger generations trained. Presumably, the older generations didn’t go for looks but for functional strength, while influences from bodybuilding and weightlifting since the 1980’s and 90’s put more emphasis on building large, bulbous muscles.

Paul Wade has given only 2 e-mail interviews in the last decade, there are no pictures of him, and he hasn’t disclosed any other information about himself. We can’t even verify whether he did time or not and this secrecy has left doubts as to Paul Wade’s existence with some people. We’re certain that someone wrote the Convict Conditioning series, but we don’t know for certain who.

This doesn’t automatically mean it’s a scam or false. Many ex-convicts decide to keep their history incarcerated under wraps or at least try not to hang their dirty laundry out for everyone to see. However, for someone who apparently takes pride in their status as an ex-convict and who seeks to build a persona around being an ex-convict and a huge Calisthenics-buff, Paul Wade is oddly elusive.

Convict Conditioning Books

Convict Conditioning is now a series of books and as far as Calisthenics self-help books go, quite popular. Books 1 and 2 should be read consecutively, while book 3 can be read and used standalone from the previous two entries. It’s for this reason that we’ll take Convict Conditioning 1 and 2 together in this review, and we’ll add the third book more briefly. Entries in the series are as follows:

Convict Conditioning: How to Bust Free of All Weakness
  • Tagline: Using the Lost Secrets of Supreme Survival Strength
  • Published: July 19, 2018
  • Author: Paul Wade
  • Publisher: Dragon Door Publications
  • ISBN-10: 1942812159
  • Available Here: eBookPaperback

Get it here:

Convict Conditioning 2
  • Tagline: Advanced Prison Training Tactics for Muscle Gain, Fat Loss and Bulletproof Joints
  • Published: June 26, 2018
  • Author: Paul Wade
  • Publisher: Dragon Door Publications
  • ISBN-10: 1942812140
  • Available Here: eBookPaperback

Get it here:

Explosive Calisthenics (Convict Conditioning 3)
  • Tagline: Superhuman Power, Maximum Speed and Agility Plus Combat Ready Reflexes ─ Using Body Weight-Only Methods. This Third Volume In The Convict Conditioning Series
  • Published: January 1, 2015
  • Author: Paul Wade
  • Publisher: Dragon Door Publications
  • ISBN-10: 0938045830
  • Available Here: eBookPaperback

Get it here:

We’ll start each Convict Conditioning review with its introduction, then we’ll explore the basics of what’s being taught, the system the book has in mind and what progression it expects. Then we’ll give our own opinions on their efficacy and what we expect it can do for you.

Convict Conditioning Review

Convict Conditioning 1 sets out with a lengthy explanation why old school bodyweight training is superior to modern training methods. It draws many parallels to early 20th century strongmen and to the popular image of the Spartan warrior. Although it is true that Greek warriors did use Calisthenics to train their bodies and some of their muscled men were very impressive, it’s not necessarily the case that newer is worse and that older is better. Men back in the old days also trained for good looks, not just to be better fighters. In fact, even in Spartan society, famous for its warriors, warfare was very rare. Most generations came and went without ever prodding another Greek with a spear. It’s the popular image we have of Spartans and other Ancient Greeks, but which is ultimately only confined to a tiny span of time in their history (mainly the Peloponnesian Wars from 431–404 BC and the Persian expeditions).

Part 1: The “Bix Six” Movements

The first part of Convict Conditioning’s content after its introduction explains the Big Six movements which will be used throughout the book to build muscle and strength. In a nutshell these are: Push-Ups, Pull-Ups, Squats, Leg Raises, Bridges and Handstand Push-Ups. Together, these 6 exercise types build arm strength both pushing and pulling, lower-body strength and core strength. Most of the rest of part 2 then goes into explaining the basic forms of each of these techniques and several variations for each technique. To summarize, Convict Conditioning uses the following core techniques as its base point:

  • Push-Ups
  • Pull-Ups
  • Squats
  • Bridges
  • Leg Raises
  • Handstand Push-Ups

The idea here is that the self-coaching trainee master these easy Calisthenics Moves and then incorporates or replaces the easier moves with the more difficult variations as he or she progresses. This is an easy enough concept for beginner Calisthenics who otherwise often make the classic Calisthenics mistake of training too many things at the same time.

The big caveat here is of course that Handstand Push-Ups are a variation of Push-Ups and are treated as a class apart. Most of the book is geared towards reaching a level where Handstand Push-Ups become possible.

Part 2: The 10 Steps (Per Movement)

Each of the above 6 movements are then further categorized based on difficulty and assumed effect they have on your progression. These harder variations are treated as steps on a ladder you ought to progress to get that desired level where you have “elevator cable legs” or “armor-plated pecs”. Each movement category starts with an introduction into the benefits of that movement and teaches you the proper, strict form of that movement. After that, Convict Conditioning explains all the variations of that movement including easier precursor techniques. As an example, for Push-Ups this would look like so:

  • Introduction, benefits and pointers to the Push-Up Technique
  • Incline Push-Ups
  • Kneeling Push-Up
  • Half Push-Up
  • Strict “Full” Push-Up
  • Close Push-Up
  • Diamond “Uneven” Push-Up
  • “1/2” One Arm Push-Up
  • Lever One Arm Push-Up
  • One Arm Push-Ups

Finally, the reader is presented with a suggested progression chart, indicating the 10 steps for going from the easiest variation up to the hardest variation. The progression here can be very tough and, in some cases, not recommended by us at all. For the Pull-Ups, for example, we found a curious progression between steps 8 and 9 are potentially problematic:

  • Step 8: “1/2” One Arm Pull-Up
  • Step 9: Assisted One Arm Pull-Up

It is generally recommended to first do Assisted One Arm Pull-Ups to allow the tendons and joints to gradually gain the strength necessary for pulling your weight alone. The “1/2” One Arm Pull-Up puts all the strain on just your wrist unassisted, regardless of where you put your other hand. These variations should at least be practiced the other way around. 

Handstand Push-Ups are another point of contention. There’s nothing wrong with Handstand Push-Ups, but also aren’t the be all, end all of building strength. The strict one arm Handstand Push-Up, e.g., unassisted, is a myth since our biomechanics simply don’t allow it. Your weight would always heave to one side enough that you’ll tip over. This is regardless of how strong your arms, core and shoulders are; you could maybe maintain the strength and posture, but you’ll simply tip over and plummet. Point-in-case, even the pictured inmate in Convict Conditioning only ever does wall-assisted one-arm Handstand Push-Ups at best.

Having the Handstand Push-Up as a separate element, to be trained as part of a full-body split is also problematic. Now your system all but demands that Push-Ups are represented twice in your schedule, potentially leading to overworking the shoulders and triceps, or being less efficient with the rest of your body.

Part 3: Self-Coaching

The last part of Convict Conditioning is about self-coaching and seeing progression through discipline and consistency. The reader is warned here that progress takes patience and that all the steps in part 2 should be taken in order and with their due diligence. Some pointers are given if progression is lacking despite following the plan; like curing sickness, losing body fat, increasing rest times and simply sticking with the current step for longer.

Part 4: Convict Conditioning Workout Program

The last part of Convict Conditioning has the workout programs, using the Steps and Movements described before this part. Programs are represented with a simple chart listing each day of the week and which movement type you should do. It’s up to you to progress up the “ladder” of variation types yourself. 

Beginners are subjected to very low intensity training, with a low number of sets and with more rest days than workout days. Convict Conditioning would make it very hard to see optimal progression for the beginner. We always recommend a low intensity but full-body workout which targets each muscle between every 48 to 72 hours. It’s easiest for beginners to see progression by doing anything, and a relatively disciplined full-body exercise can get them a long way. A hiatus that is too long will keep hypertrophy from setting in.

More advanced schedules see your workout nearly every day, targeting different muscle groups almost every day. These aren’t very clean push-pull Calisthenics splits either, as in some cases Push-Ups are immediately followed by Handstand Push-Ups the following day. 

Finally, you are given options for hybrid workout schedules which combine factors from the standard workouts.

Convict Conditioning 2 Review

The book starts with an introduction into how Paul Wade supposedly gained his wisdom about training behind bars. It promises the information needed to become a superior athlete and shows some pictures of inmate training. No images of Paul Wade himself are shown. Convict Conditioning 2 focuses on building hand and forearm strength, the neck and calves and the joints. According to Paul Wade, these are often neglected areas, but which are important to become strong. 

Like in book 1, Convict Condition 2 is separated into multiple parts, first explaining the techniques and then its variations before giving workout programs.

Part 1: Shotgun Muscle (hands and forearms)

To strengthen the hands and forearms, Paul Wade suggests various dead hang techniques. He draws parallels to again strongmen of the past but also to how apes make use of arboreal locomotion, e.g., moving through the trees. He argues that similar forearm and grip strength can be achieved by mimicking these movements which mostly consists of hanging. This comparison only partly holds true, as we humans evolved to be steppe walkers and not tree dwellers, hence our upright posture and more muscled lower body than upper body as opposed to most other primates who have a hunched posture and a more muscled upper body than lower body.

However, “simply” hanging can increase grip strength and forearm strength. The dead hang is a precursor technique to learning the perfect form Pull-Up, after all. 

Before the dead hang is introduced, various grips are explained like the support grip, the hook grip, the false grip, the hang grip, the pinch grip and a few others. The horizontal hang is then explained along with its benefits. The reader is then presented with hang variations, going from easiest to hardest in the same format as book 1’s “10 steps” progression for each movement type. The idea again is to train each consecutive variation until it is mastered and then progress to the next level.

For the dead hang the progression looks like this:

  • Introduction, benefits and pointers to the Push-Up Technique
  • Bar hang
  • Uneven hang
  • One arm bar hang
  • Towel hang
  • Twin towel hang
  • Uneven towel hang

The section is again concluded with a 10-step plan to go from the bar hang to the uneven towel hang. Bar the Support Grip and the Hang Grip, none of the other grips are used in these exercises. 

As a part of this section, two sub-sections are dedicated to further increasing grip strength and finger strength. Pointers and suggestions are given next on developing explosive strength while doing Pull-Ups and increasing the finger strength by decreasing the number of fingers you use for your dead hangs. The second sub-section goes into developing and progressing with doing Push-Ups on your fingertips. 

Part 2: Capturing the Flag

Part 2 is about acquiring and mastering the Human Flag, a very advanced technique which sees the practitioner hold onto a vertical bar and suspending themselves with their body straight and horizontal, mimicking the shape of a flag in the wind. It is explained that flags work all lateral muscles of your sides and core as well as your thighs. The two types of Human Flags are also explained, the Clutch Flag and the Press Flag. Pictures are shown of 2 known athletes performing both flags, neither of which are Paul Wade. Instead, Calisthenics YouTuber Al Kavadlo is one of the performers shown.

The Clutch Flag is practiced in 8 steps, starting with simply holding the pole the correct way and hanging from it. The Clutch Flag is then gradually pushed outward until its final form is achieved. The progression is as follows:

  • Learning the correct holding technique with tips and pointers for progressing
  • Clutch hang
  • Diagonal split clutch
  • Diagonal tuck clutch
  • Diagonal clutch
  • Horizontal tuck clutch
  • Horizontal split clutch
  • Bent-leg horizontal clutch
  • Clutch Flag

This section is closed off with a suggested 8-step plan to progress along the variations until the Clutch Flag is achieved. The next section follows a similar plan for the Press Flag. This variation is a lot harder. 

Part 3: Bulldog Neck

In this part, the neck is targeted as the ‘weakest link’ in the body and a series of exercises are suggested to strengthen the neck muscles. The setup is the same as the rest of the book and as in book 1 in that a set of progressively harder exercises are explained. This section (and the following one) is considerably shorter in length. 

The neck is trained using a series of bridge exercises but using your head instead of your hands. This puts most of the strain on your neck. You should progress very carefully with these exercises as the mechanics of them will always put a lot, if not most, of the force exertion on your spinal cord. We did not like the lateral neck exercises which see you put your forehead to the ground, lift your butt to put all the weight on your neck and then bending the neck to one side.  That just seems like a catastrophe waiting to happen.

The calves are trained with a series of calve raises and plyometric jumps. This section was the least interesting to us but in theory will lead to stronger calves and more explosive strength.

Part 4: Joint Training

Part 4 is reminiscent of Mobility Programs, in that Paul Wade advocates for stretching to be done under tension. Strength and agility are trained simultaneously to create a high range of motion where functional strength can be maintained throughout the whole motion. Active stretching versus passive stretching is explained, and the goal is to perform the trifecta. Unlike the other sections in both book 1 and Convict Conditioning 2, no clear step-plan is presented to reach this state of suppleness. Instead, a series of seated holds are suggested, like the Bent-Leg Hold and L-Hold. These exercises tend to work core strength and help strengthen your wrists, but they are not purely Mobility exercises.

The second part to Joint Training is a set of seated stretches, all variations of the Twist Hold, which stretches the back muscles, lateral muscles and works the spine.

Part 5: Wisdom

Convict Conditioning 2 concludes with a lengthy section about “Wisdom from prison”. This includes, again, pointers for rest, sleep and a Calisthenics diet in prison. Other topics include how to deal with injuries and best recuperate from them with exercise, and some psychological advice to keep going despite the dull nature of prison life. 

Explosive Calisthenics Review

Explosive Calisthenics is the third book in the Convict Conditioning series and in terms of content and structure comes closest to the original, book 1. Many of the same core concepts come back and are used to create staged workout programs that become progressively harder as you advance through the levels. The aim is to create a body for yourself, which is agile, strong and capable of explosive strength. Since this is a rehashing of book 1, we’ll focus on the differences rather than repeating the same. Everything in Explosive Calisthenics is largely the same as in Convict Conditioning 1 with maybe only slight alterations in exact chronological place, except:

  • A greater emphasis on plyometrics and Explosive Calisthenics starts with Power Jump exercises instead of Push-Ups
  • A greater emphasis on explosive strength as exercises are now frequently with a pop-up or lifting off the floor, like the Clap Push-Up and the Superman.
  • Mobility is more seamlessly incorporated into the “Bix Six” with exercises like the Kip Up and Shoulder Roll.
  • Agility is practiced with flips, like the Front Flip, Back Flip, Cartwheels and various jumps.

Explosive Calisthenics is much flashier and more skills-based than Convict Conditioning 1. The system and method of learning is the same, but the exercises are of dubious value in a “prison fight”. Front Flips, Back Flips, Cartwheels, are all impressive feats of human agility but find limited application in martial arts or brawling. Explosive exercises like the Clap Push-Up do have their place in Calisthenics and do help build explosive strength.

Progression in these skill-based exercises is more plausible than say, Convict Conditioning 1’s transition from ½ one-armed Pull-Ups to Assisted Pull-Ups.

Convict Conditioning Review Conclusions & Our Opinions

We have a lot to say about Convict Conditioning as we just reviewed 1200 pages of prison Calisthenics. What do the books aim to do, exactly? Paul Wade says that it’s a helpful guide for the recently convicted prisoner to quickly build functional strength and agility. The setup is to create a body that is ready and capable of surviving a fight. Calisthenics and Martial Arts do have a shared history and are still mutually beneficial to this day. The books paint a romanticized picture of what it’s like being incarcerated and the need to get in shape and be ready to fight. The choice of words, tone of voice and stylistic choices all refer to correctional facilities and the way of life inside them.

The Basics

The basics do check out. Convict Conditioning offers a simple, full body workout with quite comprehensive descriptions of the basic, strict exercises along with easier and harder variations. It keeps the practitioner doing only a limited set of exercises which for the most part are very effective. 

The Progression Curve

Progression is where Convict Conditioning could see some improvement done. Most of the workout schedules don’t tell you exactly which exercise to do, only which movement type of the Big Six. It’s largely up to you to follow the 10 Steps for each movement type at every exercise moment. If you were to follow the suggested schedule as a beginner, this would mean weeks at best, months more probable, of staying at the easiest variations. This is the opposite of what Paul Wade tries to convey; you don’t have years to prepare, you need to be ready now. In some areas, like the Pull-Up, progression steps even seem backward and potentially unsafe for your wrists. 

The essence, though, is a progression from going to a full-body split to a push-pull split as you become stronger and need a more focused approach. This is also the method we recommend for beginners ambitioning to become at least intermediate practitioners of Calisthenics.

Another curious aspect which muddies the water of clean progression towards a push-pull split is the Handstand Push-Up. Rather than being classed as a very high variation of the Push-Up, it is treated as its own movement type and thus is incorporated as a separate exercise-type altogether in the workout schedules. This leads it to being injected into weeks alongside other push days featuring Push-Ups already. Doing Push-Ups on one day and Handstand Push-Ups the next defeats the purpose of a push-pull split.

The Skills

We found Convict Conditioning 2 and Explosive Calisthenics more interesting because they are more skill based. The various grips, hangs and the Human Flag progression check out. The more athletic nature of Explosive Calisthenics is also more alluring. However, if you want to become strong, then the basics are the most important. No number of front flips and back flips will save you in a fight. This is where we found Convict Conditioning to become more fanciful. The rolls and jumps we can see being beneficial, if only for absorbing a fall or working on your stamina. But instead of cartwheels, if this is about actually getting fit enough to fight off a prison shanking, you’re better off learning to kick someone.

That aside and just looking at the skills, Convict Conditioning 2 does a very good job at progressing the Human Flag. 

Explosive Calisthenics adds a more explosive and plyometric take on Convict Conditioning 1. These skills checkout in essence, even if most of the taught grip types aren’t utilized.

The Marketing Ploy

The way Convict Conditioning is packaged is largely marketing. The programs it offers are no different from many other Calisthenics Programs in principle and the whole idea that this would in any way prepare you for prison life or give you an ‘edge’ over others because Convict Conditioning hardens you in a special way is a marketing ploy to sell the book.

Most convicts do not spend most of their time in a cell but are out working either on prison grounds or even outside of the prison. What Convict Conditioning is selling is the idea of the U.S. prison system in the popular imagination, as seen on TV and pandered by the media. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons[1], around 50% of the prison population in the United States are confined in “Minimum” and “Low” security facilities. Minimum security prisons, often referred to as Federal Prison Camps, have little if no perimeter fencing at all. Prisoners there mostly work or study outside of the prison camp during the day and live in open-door dormitories. Much of the same can be said of convicts in Low Security facilities. 

If we count in Medium Security facilities, we’ll have accounted for over 85% of the U.S. prison population. In these facilities as well, prisoners are expected to work during the day, during which time their cells are left open, albeit that perimeter security is much tighter.

This does not detract from the efficacy of what’s in the Convict Conditioning book, but it also does not add to it. The programs themselves should be examined as-is, free from any bias and especially free from any sensationalism. 

The same can be said about the claim that this book appeals to so-called “3-percenters”, evoking patriotic sentiments. There is no inherent problem with being patriotic (unlike what the media wants you to believe nowadays), but a book apparently by a convict for convicts or at least admiring the convict life has nothing to do with patriotism. The opposite even.

Convict Conditioning seems to want to pander to both sides; an imagined “anti-government element” in society but also the law-abiding patriot. It only takes a little scrutiny to make the whole messaging behind Convict Conditioning fall apart instantly.

Paul Wade the Faceless

Finally, we can’t escape the matter of credibility. You don’t need a degree to be a credible source, and experience can make you a good teacher. However, we’d like to be able to verify your experience and with Paul Wade we simply can’t. He hides his true persona, his face and his history. There is no way of telling whether anything he states in his books about his background is real or if even Paul Wade himself is real and not a pseudonym. Books which need credible sources can’t have those sources anonymously or under pseudonyms. We need to know what you base your credibility on and in Paul Wade’s case, there is no basis at all. 

We don’t say this lightly at all and it could very well be that Paul Wade exists or is a pseudonym of a real ex-convict. But with no way of telling, we have no choice but to err on the side of caution here. The rest of the book is also heavily romanticized when it comes to the convict’s experience, so unless the author comes out and messages to the world “this is me, I was in prison here and for this long”, we’ll assume that Paul Wade is fictitious. He’s more than welcome to change our minds at any time.

Who is Convict Conditioning For?

If you’re looking for a limited set of techniques for a full-body workout and an easy-to-follow progression, then Convict Conditioning is for you. The material checks out more than what it gets wrong, for sure. However, there are better options available, especially when it comes to progression. There is nothing particularly special about Convict Conditioning and it does get some important things wrong.

A more efficient progression can be had by following a regular, unpretentious, Calisthenics Program. A program which does what Convict Conditioning promises, getting strong quickly with ample agility and explosive power, is Cali Move Body Transformation

Frequently Asked Questions About Convict Conditioning

A couple more questions we wanted to answer about Paul Wade and his Convict Conditioning.

Who is Paul Wade?

Paul Wade is the author of Convict Conditioning, a series of Calisthenics books on exercising in a confined space with little equipment. Most of the books revolve around becoming strong and agile and possessing explosive strength to survive a prison fight.

What is Convict Conditioning?

Convict Conditioning is a series of Calisthenics books exploring the reality of exercising in a confined area with little to no equipment, like a prison cell. It emphasizes explosive strength and agility, readying the body for the realities of a prison fight which rarely lasts longer than a couple of seconds.

Does Convict Conditioning Work?

Convict Conditioning largely checks out and does a good job explaining many basic exercises, along with easier and harder variations. The offered progression steps to go from easier variations to harder variations also largely work, however there are some hiccups which are potentially dangerous or simply unworkable because of ergonomics.

Is there a Convict Conditioning app?

No, there is no Convict Conditioning app. You can only read the Calisthenics books available on Amazon.

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