Convict Conditioning 2
A World Premier Book Review
By Robert Drucker
Convict Conditioning 2 is one of the best and most comprehensive books ever written about productive strength training. Photo courtesy of John Du Cane and Paul Wade.
When the first volume of Convict Conditioning was released a few years ago, the world of physical culture gained a truly remarkable road map for achieving strength and fitness success. Through his book, author Paul Wade revealed to the World a powerful and progressive system for building functional muscle, and his prescribed training routines helped thousands of people to become physically fit, strong, and powerful.
The Convict Conditioning System requires no weights, no special training equipment, no supplements, nor any fancy gadgets. It is based on a systematic and progressive scheme of old-school calisthenic exercises known as the “Big Six”. But, don't be fooled; the Convict Conditioning System is not some sissified course consisting of bends and twists, jumping jacks, hurls, and high kicks. Nope, the system that Paul Wade promotes can turn a complete weakling — step by step — into a graceful machine of muscle, strength, and functional power in record time. And, if you are already an accomplished strength athlete, the Convict Conditioning System can be used to fill in development gaps, correct weak links in your strength chain, and bring forth new training progress.
Bold claims you may say? Advertisement nonsense? Well, let me divert off course for just a minute here so I can give you some background information. I am a hard-core bodybuilder, and I have lifted weights consistently for over 30 years. At one time, not too long ago, I believed that in order to build powerful muscles you had to lift heavy iron. In addition, I held firm to a common belief that weight training builds complete strength and development. Well, to make a long story short, now I think otherwise. Here is why: When Paul Wade sent me a copy of Convict Conditioning to review last year, I read every word in it and experimented with his advocated methods (the best I could, anyway) before I wrote a single sentence about his book. Being a weightlifter, I figured that I would cruise through his Big Six exercises with no problems whatsoever. To say that I was wrong would be a gross understatement. I simply got my ass kicked when I tried to skip beginning steps and advance to the higher levels of Paul's progressive system.
And, here is what I found out – the hard way: Despite all the weight training that I had done, I was no match for the high-level calisthenic exercises recommended and outlined in Paul's book. I lacked the muscular coordination, the required neural patterns, the joint mobility, and the deep core strength needed to gracefully perform the more advanced “Convict” exercises, such as the plank, one-leg squats, and wall walking bridges. And, this is just a small sampling; many other variants of the Big Six kicked my butt, too.
Now, I can tell you something critically important about physical training from first-hand experience. It is this: If you want a balanced and symmetrical physique, no weak links in your strength chain, “real-world” strength and power, strong and supple joints, and a huge reserve of physical and mental stamina, you owe it to yourself to look into Convict Conditioning System.
Based on personal experimentation with the Convict Conditioning methods, I can say with total sincerity that this system really does work. When implemented as Paul Wade recommends in his two books, the Convict Conditioning System can be used to build all voluntary muscles of your body, as far as your genetic potential will allow. And, the training techniques Paul Wade teaches can do wonders for your joints and connective tissues, making them strong, supple, mobile, and injury resistant.
A weakness of many training styles and methods is that they place too much emphasis on the showy muscles of the arms and chest, and little or no focus is directed at the less visible but stronger muscles of the back, trunk, hips, and legs. In addition, many traditional training methods fail to sufficiently develop vital support structures and connective tissues that form the “backbone” of the strength chain. These support structures include various synergists, stabilizing muscles, and connective tissues, such as tendons, ligaments, and soft cartridge.
Before we discuss the Convict Conditioning System and review the sequel book, I would like to explain a few terms just in case you are not familiar with them. Prime movers or agonists are muscles of primary importance in producing body movement. These muscles cause a limb to move through a joint's range of motion by contracting. Synergists are muscles that assist prime movers to keep joint movements even and controlled, and they help prevent injury by controlling and restricting the range of motion a joint undergoes. Stabilizing muscles help to stabilize a joint when it is under tension and undergoing movement, and they help to keep the body stable when movement occurs. A tendon attaches a section of a muscle to a bone, and a ligament connects bone to bone and functions as a shock absorber.
Now, let's consider a simple example to help put things in perspective. When the lower leg is raised towards the buttocks, the hamstrings muscles at the back of the leg function as a prime mover while muscles of the calf and lower buttocks serve as synergists. And, the knee is stabilized by ligament-like structures within it and by the quadriceps and hamstrings muscles, as well. Additionally, tension is put on the hamstring tendons that attach the hamstring muscles to the lower leg.
The example given above demonstrates an important concept: When the body is called upon to perform a complex strength task, such as a handstand pushup, a multitude of prime movers, synergists, and stabilizers must work together in a perfect and coordinated harmony to maintain balance, keep the body stabilized, and bring forth maximum force output. In addition, various ligaments, tendons, and other support structures must be able to withstand the internal forces placed upon them, or injury is sure to result. I bring up these points to illustrate that an effective strength building program, one that will prepare you for the “real” world, must proportionately develop all muscles and support structures, not just a few showy muscles. And, this is where the Convict Conditioning System really shines.
Put in other words, unlike many common bodybuilding programs, the Convict Conditioning System is designed to build the entire strength chain. Paul Wade knows that the body can never be stronger than its weakest link, and he goes out of his way to show us how to build every link in this chain. If you put his methods into practice, I doubt that you could do better to strengthen your entire body and “bust free of all weakness.”
I want to make it clear that I am not advocating here that iron lifters drop their barbell routine and move over exclusively to Convict-style bodyweight training. However, I will tell you from firsthand experience that if you are an iron devotee, you can likely improve your lifting, reduce injury potential, and gain overall body strength if you study the methods and techniques presented in the Convict Conditioning System and incorporate a few of them (or more) into your barbell workouts. This is a topic that I hope to explore in detail in future articles.
However — and brace yourself for some culture shock — if you are getting tired of pushing heavy iron, or if you are plagued by injuries brought on by moving big barbells around, the Convict Conditioning System may be just what you need to get out of a training rut, rejuvenate your body, and stimulate new gains. I'm talking about dropping the weights and converting entirely over to Convict-style bodyweight training, at least as a consideration. For many “iron” folks, this may be the best way to go. I would never have suggested this as an alternative four or five years ago, but my viewpoint has been changing as I continue to learn more about old-school calisthenics, especially as advocated and codified by Paul Wade.
So far, Paul Wade has written two books about his system of training. The first volume is appropriately titled Convict Conditioning and subtitled How to Bust Free of All Weakness Using the Lost Secrets of Supreme Survival Strength. This sensational work was first published in 2009 by Dragon Door Publications, and it continues to be one of their top sellers. This is the core or starting book, and it covers what Paul calls the fundamental strength system. If you are new to this style of training, this is the book to start with. It will show you how to perform the fundamental Big Six exercises and their progressive variants, and it will teach you the theory behind the Convict Conditioning System. I analyzed Paul's first book last year, and a link to this review is provided at the end of this article.
You are taught how to master the one-arm towel hang in Convict Conditioning 2. Master this exercise and you will have a grip of steel. Exercise demonstrated by Jim Bathurst. Photo courtesy of John Du Cane and Paul Wade.
The second and new book in the series, titled Convict Conditioning 2 and subtitled Advanced Prison Training Tactics for Muscle Gain, Fat Loss and Bulletproof Joints, is currently being prepared for publication. I recently read a review copy of this book, and I must say that Paul Wade's new work is a masterpiece and a must read for all students of physical culture. Whether you are a wrestler, a weightlifter, a powerlifter, a bodybuilder, a martial artist, a gymnast, a boxer, a bodyweight trainee, or some other kind of strength athlete, the information presented in CC2 can almost certainly help you reach your training goals.
For the rest of this article, I’m going to cover what CC2 is all about and how it can help you. Let me begin by saying that it is a big book, consisting of over 300 muscle-building pages broken down into three sections. In addition, a special bonus chapter for weight-training enthusiasts concludes the thick tome.
A Quick Overview
Part I of CC2 is titled Shotgun Muscle, and Paul describes it as a “condensed encyclopedia of prison training methods guaranteed to turn your puny little shotgun muscles into goddamn artillery cannons!” This section is devoted to “toughening up” important but often neglected muscles, those which don't usually get primary attention, but which are very important to achieve total body power, super strength, and balanced development. In this section, chapters two through six are devoted to building the hands and forearms; chapters seven through nine are devoted to building the lateral chain, or two sides of the body; and chapters 10 and 11 will show you how to build a “bulldog” neck and powerful calves.
Part II of CC2 is titled Bulletproof Joints, and here that the author presents a powerful array of techniques and strategies for making your joints and connective tissues super strong and mobile. He also explains why your joints and connective tissues must be strengthened to develop enduring body strength. In addition, Wade presents his viewpoint on how to get the most from stretching, and his approach certainly doesn’t follow the mainstream stuff you’re used to reading about.
Part III of CC2 is titled Wisdom from Cellblock G, and in this section of CC2 Wade discusses how your life-style choices have a dramatic effect on your muscle-building success. Sound advice is given regarding how to live outside of the gym to achieve optimal training results and good health, how to heal an injury, and how to think like a champion. Paul also entertains and motivates with several personal stories to exemplify the principles discussed.
Let's now take a more detailed look at CC2. We'll start at the beginning of the book and move our way up, chapter by chapter. And, hold on tight because it is going to be a one heck of a ride!
One of my favorite physical culture writers is Brooks Kubik, and I was pleasantly surprised when I first opened CC2 and noticed that he wrote the foreword in this book. No, I was pleasantly shocked! “What the hell is Kubik, a big weightlifter, doing in a bodyweight book,” I immediately asked myself before diving straight into his foreword. And, as I started reading, Brooks explained everything. You see, he and Paul share one thing in common – they both are devoted to old-school training. And, even though their training specifics differ, the mutual respect they have for each other is apparent. Consider what Brooks says at the end of his foreword: “You hold in your hands a book that can help you build some serious strength. Use it wisely, and use it well — and grow strong!” I couldn't agree with Brooks more.
Following the special foreword from Brooks Kubik, Wade takes things over. He kicks things off with “Opening Salvo”, sort of a pre-introduction to CC2 that provides a brief explanation of what it is all about. He also lets us know right away not to expect conventional answers in his book. He writes, “. . . the stuff that comes out of my mouth is, very often, the exact opposite of what the modern fitness scene thinks is acceptable.”
The author also explains that much of CC2 was written to address numerous questions that he has received from readers since the release of his first book. As taken directly from his book, a few of these questions that the author addresses are:
- What about the extremities of the body? The neck, forearms, and calves?
- How do I train the muscles at the sides of the body?
- What's your philosophy for building strong joints?
- How do convict-athletes get so big on the prison diet?
- Do inmates have any tricks for dealing with injuries?
- What about mental training in jail?
So, right off the bat you can see that we are not dealing with an ordinary bodybuilding book here. Instead, Paul really gets down and dirty, and in CC2 he reveals numerous muscle-building “secrets” that you probably can't find anywhere else. These are training secrets that the author learned while he was incarcerated for many years in some of America's harshest prisons, and you can bet that they can make you super tough.
Moving forward, we come to Chapter 1 of the book, and this serves as the official Introduction to CC2. Here, Paul Wade begins things by providing an overview of the Convict Conditioning System. The Big Six lie at the center or “nucleus” of the system, and Wade explains that three specialized branches of training radiate from this center core. These three branches are survival athletics, dynamics, and advanced strength calisthenics. The survival-athletics branch involves specific training for stamina training, combat fitness, and muscular endurance. The dynamics branch involves specific training for explosive power, agility, reflexes, and speed. And, the advanced strength-calisthenics branch involves specialization training (hands/forearms, lateral chain, feet/calves, and neck), joint training (tension-flexibility, mobility, and the Trifecta), and alternative factors (nutrition, psychology, detox, and healing).
Paul explains that his first book covers the core of the Convict Condition System - the Big Six and their progressive variants and that his second book, CC2, is devoted to the Advanced Strength-Calisthenics branch of his system. He also emphasizes that the concepts presented in the first volume are expanded upon in CC2.
So what about the two other branches – Survival Athletics and Dynamics? Well, you will have to ask for them. Referring to these two branches, Paul states, “If you guys and girls tell me you want it, they’ll get their very own volume too.” Okay Paul, I’ll get the request campaign going: Please write these two additional volumes!PART 1: SHOTGUN MUSCLE
Following Paul's brief introductory chapter, things get even hotter. Chapters two through six are devoted to strengthening the hands and forearms. And, like the rest of this book, you don't get the usual garbage here. Nope, in these five chapters Paul takes you through a complete course for building BONE CRUSHING hand power. But be warned, this is not a course for little boys or girls. And, you won't be squeezing a nice little set of hand grippers. And, sorry – thick bar training is not going to cut the mustard here, either. And, please, don't even think about wrist curls or reverse curls. We're converting over to old-school forearm training here, folks!
Chapter 2 is titled Iron Hands and Forearms, and it is subtitled Ultimate Strength — with Just Two Techniques. Wade kicks off this chapter by giving modern methods for strengthening the forearms, wrists, and hands a thorough thrashing. And after eradicating the modern crap, the author wastes no time telling you about a single core technique, a single type of exercise that can quickly make your hands and forearms “superhumanly strong — with wrists, fingers, thumbs and tendons as powerful as your genetic potential will allow.” So what is this special exercise? It is the hang grip, and Mr. Wade gives sound evolutionary and anatomical arguments why this movement is key for packing the lower half of your arms with muscle and might. The author also illustrates and compares seven major styles of hand-grip positions, and he explains why hang grips offer a distinct advantage for building forearm power.
The hang grip will certainly build enormous finger-closing strength, but Paul warns us that the muscles that open the fingers must also be trained hard to achieve a proper strength balance. For these extensor muscles, the big man prescribes fingertip pushups. But, don't laugh. Wade's progressions of hang grips and fingertip pushups in the next chapter will have your forearms and fingers squirming. You can count on that.
Chapter 3 is subtitled A Vice-Like Bodyweight Grip Course, and it gets into the details of hang progressions. Here, Paul explains various hanging methods, and he also gives over a dozen great tips for making your grip training safer and more effective.
One thing (of many) that is really nice about Wade’s presented grip-building course is that the progressive training program he outlines does not require anything more than a chinning bar and a few towels to implement. So, there is no need to spend big bucks on fancy ropes, rings, or other gadgets. Just get a couple of old towels; head over to your chin bar; and you’re good to go.
Like all of Wade’s training programs, his grip course is based on a series of progressions. You’ll start with some relatively simple moves at first and gradually work your way up to more difficult variants. In all, the “Coach” details eight progressive steps or variants of the grip hang. In order of increasing difficulty, these steps are the (1) horizontal hang, (2) the bar hang, (3) the uneven hang, (4) the one-arm bar hang, (5) the towel hang, (6) the twin towel hang, (7) the uneven towel hang, and the (8) one-arm towel hang. The one-arm towel hang is the “Master Step,” and once you can perform this movement as recommended by the author, your grip will be three or four times stronger than that of the average person!
Learn how to perform the clutch hold as taught in CC2 and you will not have any weak links in your lateral chain. Exercise demonstrated by Al Kavadlo. Photo courtesy of John Du Cane and Paul Wade.
I can’t say for sure, but I think as a conservative estimate less than one person out of every 100,000 could perform a one-arm towel hang for five consecutive minutes. This is the “super grip” standard set by Paul Wade in CC2, and when you reach this level you will be ready to take on the “Advanced Grip Torture” plan outlined in Chapter 4.
In Chapter 4, subtitled Explosive Power + Titanium Fingers, Wade prescribes a variety of advanced methods and techniques to make your grip hangs harder and more effective. We’re talking about stuff like performing hang grips with doubled-over towels, with finger holds, and with kipping. These advanced forms of the grip hang are fully explained and illustrated in the book, so I won’t provide details of them here. However, I’ll tell you that if you master these advanced movements, you will have to take special care not to inadvertently crush the things you may grip. Think gorilla hands!
How often do you perform fingertip pushups? Once in a while? Never? Well, if you read Chapter 5, subtitled Keeping Hand Strength Balance, you’ll learn in detail why you ought to be performing this exercise regularly! And, Wade takes you through a complete fingertip-pushup training course; nothing is left out. You learn how to best position your hands, how to prevent finger bowing, and how to warm up properly to prevent hand or finger injury.
In Chapter 5, you also get plenty of training tips for building the extensors, the muscles that give your fingers “open” strength. The author also provides a detailed and fully illustrated training plan, one which consists of 10 progressive variants of the fingertip pushup. The 10th variant, the master step, is the one-arm fingertip pushup, and when you work up to this movement “your fingers and thumbs will be more like solid titanium piping than the flimsy, helpless digits most modern men have.”
Chapter 6 is titled Forearms into Firearms and subtitled Hand Strength: A Summary and a Challenge. This chapter gives a nice summary of the MANY methods, techniques, and tips given in the previous four chapters for building a super grip. The more important training ideas are reiterated for clarity, and a bullet-point list provides a superb and concise reference of these ideas. The author also outlines a sample forearm workout program to begin with, and plenty of helpful tips are given for tailoring the program to best fit your needs as you advance. In addition, for those of you who may think that all this bodyweight stuff is “easy”, Paul invites you to undergo a challenge he calls the Convict Conditioning Iron Gauntlet. And, if you can defeat it, Paul says that he will bow down to you. Good luck!
Chapter 7 is titled Lateral Chain Training and subtitled Capturing the Flag. Here the author explains that the voluntary muscles of the body can be classified into three categories based on their anatomical location. There are the muscles in the back of the body (hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, traps, triceps, posterior deltoids, etc.), and these are referred to as the posterior chain. There are the muscles in the front of the body (abs, pectoral group, quadriceps, front hips, biceps, etc.), and these are referred to as the anterior chain. And, there are the muscles along each side of the body (latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior muscles, intercostal muscles, obliques, hip abductors, etc.), and these are referred to as the lateral chain.
Many strength athletes make the mistake of over emphasizing their anterior muscles (which are the ones you see most readily in a mirror), while under emphasizing their posterior and lateral chains. Paul frowns upon this mistake, and he emphasizes that all three chains must be trained equally by applying techniques and exercises “which integrate the body as a total unit.” Only then, the author asserts, can great strength and balanced muscular development be achieved.
In similar light, Wade also emphasizes that isolation training does little to promote muscular development and strength. As an example of this, Wade analyzes how most exercise enthusiasts train their “obliques”, and he explains that the isolation techniques they implement do little to give them strong and capable muscles.
Fortunately, the Big Six exercises outlined in the first volume of Convict Conditioning do an incredible job stimulating all muscles of the posterior, anterior, and lateral chains, including the obliques. However, some strength athletes may need or desire to build their obliques and other lateral-chain muscles to a greater extent than can be realized through a generalized training program. For these folks, Wade again comes to the rescue. His fix is the flag, an ancient exercise that pack power across your entire body. And, two forms of the flag are introduced in Chapter 7, the clutch flag and the press flag.
Chapter 8 is titled The Clutch Flag and subtitled In Eight Easy Steps. This title says it all, so I’ll just mention that here, as usual, Paul does a terrific job explaining the ins and outs of each progressive step, and he provides plenty of color photos to make sure that you can “see” what is going on. A “How to Progress” table is also provided, and it explains how long, how much, and how often you should train. Additionally, you are told exactly how to work up the progression ladder to achieve optimal results and gain mastery of the clutch flag. The “Coach” also provides some great tips for finding a place to practice the flag movement at no cost to you.
Once you have mastered the clutch flag, Wade invites you to begin mastery of the press flag in Chapter 9. This Chapter is titled The Press Flag and subtitled In Eight Not-So-Easy Steps. Note the word “Not” in that that subtitle, and consider this negative word a warning that mastering the press flag will require serious effort on your part. However, if you put in the required effort to become a master of this movement, your lateral chain muscles will become BRUTALLY strong. The strength benefits to the sides of the body brought forth by this exercise, Wade points out, cannot be equaled by lifting a barbell, dumbbell, or any other heavy object. If you don’t believe this, just try to perform the press flag for a single second; this should be all that it takes to convince you that Paul’s assertion is true.
Although the press flag can be a very difficult exercise to master, Paul offers a path in Chapter 9 that will greatly facilitate learning and progress. He begins by showing you three sound and basic ways to place your hands during a press flag. Then, he provides some basic theory behind the exercise so that you can really understand how and why it works. The “Coach” also teaches you vital “tricks” and techniques for holding onto a press flag and for kicking up into a vertical flag position. And, after explaining these two techniques, the big man provides you with several tactics and tips to help smooth the road you will follow during your journey to press-flag mastery. Eight progressive steps for gaining press-flag mastery are also detailed with lots of photos, and you're told exactly how long, how much, and how often to train. And, just in case you ever want to go beyond the “master” phase of the press flag, Wade tells you how to keep keep moving forward with any Master Step by making some tweaks.
Learning the press flag by practicing the methods and techniques taught in CC2 will place you among the strength elite. Exercise demonstrated by Al Kavadlo. Photo courtesy of John Du Cane and Paul Wade.
If you have read my article series, Building Neck and Body Power, you know that I am a firm believer in training the neck regularly. Therefore, I was very happy to see that Chapter 10 of CC2 is devoted exclusively to building a thick and strong neck. This Chapter, titled Bulldog Neck and subtitled Bulletproof Your Weakest Link, will teach you every thing you need to know to get your neck bulging with powerful muscle. And, it will also teach you why building your neck is one of the best things you can do for your body.
The neck-building program Wade presents in Chapter 10 is based on just two exercises — the wrestler's bridge and the front bridge. But, these two exercises, the big guy points out, are all you need to build a super neck. You can forget about neck straps and fancy neck machines.
The bridge movements must be learned methodically and correctly to achieve the results you want and to ensure your safety. Furthermore, many beginners don't have the flexibility required to perform a full bridge. But not to worry, once again Paul has everything covered. He presents a well thought out and progressive training program for mastering these two movements, beginning with relatively simple preliminary versions of the bridge. And, in case flexibility is an issue, he takes you through four postural stages that will gradually condition the muscles and ligaments of your thighs, back, and hips, thereby increasing your range of motion and preparing you to perform higher-level variants of the bridge. And throughout his detailed instructions, there are plenty of photographs so that you can “see” the action every step of the way. And, yes, Paul outlines recommended neck-building routines appropriate for your level of progression. If you follow these recommended routines, one thing is for sure – you will end up with a very powerful neck. You also gain total body power, as bridges work nearly every muscle from head to toe quite vigorously!
Do you want to own thick, powerful, and athletic calves? Are your lower legs in need of a major tune up? If so, simply head over to Chapter 11 of CC2, titled Calf Training and subtitled Ultimate Lower Legs – No Machines Necessary. Here, you’ll find everything you need to know to turn your lower legs into diamond-shaped mountains of muscle.
Wade starts off Chapter 11 by explaining why developing your calves will give you more functional strength and athletic ability. Then, he crushes the myth that to build your calves you need to train them with a calf machine or with free weights. And, after setting the record straight about machines and weights, the author emphasizes that effective calf training can best be accomplished by using only your bodyweight — if methods of progression, referred to as tougheners, are understood and applied.
Wade defines a “toughener” as “an element within the make-up of any given exercise that makes it harder.” And, after telling us what a toughener is, he explains the three fundamental calf tougheners and how they can be incorporated into a bodyweight calf-building program to make it progressive. Later he discusses six more advanced calf tougheners.
Using the bodyweight-style standing heel raise (calf raise) as an example exercise, “Coach” Wade shows how eight progressive variants of this exercise can be derived by incorporating the three fundamental calf tougheners in various combinations. What you end up with is an eight-step bodyweight calf-building program that can be made progressively more difficult and effective as your calves grow stronger and tougher. Again, Wade leaves nothing out. Each stage of progression is fully described and explained, complete with training programs and recommended progression standards (targets). But that's not all . . .
After presenting his eight-step calf-building program, the “Coach” continues piling on lots of calf-building tips and ideas. You learn how best to warm up the calves, how long they should be rested between training sets, how often they should be trained, and how to incorporate progressions most effectively. Then, you get a bunch of advanced calf-building tips in case you ever want to take your leg-building quest as far as it can possibly go. Advanced topics discussed include intensity techniques, super-high reps, nonstop sets, integration training, explosive work (plyometric training), circular mobility, and reciprocal development. Super exciting stuff, folks!PART II: BULLETPROOF JOINTS
As an introduction to Part II of CC2, Paul Wade states, “One of the most crucial aspects of strength development and bodybuilding is joint training. If your joints are weak, there’s no way you can be strong – at least, not for long, and not without a whole heap of pain.”
With Paul's statement in mind, I’ll just add that if you want to be as powerful as you can be, you might want to head over to Part II of CC2. This section of Wade’s book opens with Chapter 12, titled Tension-Flexibility and subtitled The Lost Art of Joint Training. Here you’re going to learn the difference between mobility and flexibility. And, you’re going to learn that it is the former physical trait, not the latter, that you should seek if you want to become brutally strong, possess joints, tendons, and ligaments of steel, and have a long-lasting training career.
Paul Wade is an advocate of active stretching exercises, such as this one demonstrated by Jim Bathurst. Photo courtesy of John Du Cane and Paul Wade.
This is not to say that training for flexibility is bad. As Wade points out, conventional stretching programs have their valid uses. But, to be able to continually withstand the punishing forces of hard muscle-building workouts, your joints need the support and stimulation that can only be provided by exercises that generate high levels of tension-flexibility and which build supple-strength. This is Wade’s message in Chapter 12, and the author goes to great length to explain exactly what tension-flexibility is, what supple-strength is, why both traits are critically important to the strength athlete, and why conventional stretching programs can make you vulnerable to injury. You’ll also learn quite a bit about what can cause injuries to joints, ligaments, tendons, and soft tissues. But, most importantly, you’ll learn how to prevent such injuries.
Cruising over to Chapter 13, titled Stretching — The Prison Take and subtitled Flexibility, Mobility, Control, you’re going to learn “why old-time bodyweight athletes didn’t stay up nights worrying about their flexibility.” You’re also going to learn how to stretch actively to increase the ROM (range of motion) of your joints safely and in a balanced way. And, you’ll discover how and why joint circling can bring new life and relief to your joints. What you read here will likely challenge your thinking, and you will almost certainly question conventional standards as your thinking gets going.
When you arrive at Chapter 14, subtitled Your “Secret Weapon” for Mobilizing Stiff, Battle-Scarred Physiques — for Life, the old man is going to teach you all about the “Trifecta”. This is a three-component program that Wade developed to help “worn” athletes improve joint functioning and health. It is meant to be used as a supplement to your normal calisthenics training program, but it can also be implemented as a primary exercise program. In either case, Wade has found it to be super effective for providing joint relief and for improving your ability to generate intense muscular contractions. And, it can even be used to help weightlifters who may be suffering from various aches and pains. In fact, the Trifecta was first developed to help a weightlifting enthusiast rejuvenate his aching joints.
The Trifecta consists of three elements or objectives. These are: (1) provide balanced training to all three chains – the anterior, the posterior, and the lateral, collectively referred to as the functional triad; (2) stimulate synovial fluid in the joints, a fluid that provides both nourishment and lubrication; and (3) practice active stretching to generate tension-flexibility and build supple-strength.
Brilliantly, Wade developed training program consisting of three holds that can be used to meet all three objectives of the Trifecta! These three holds are the bridge hold, the L-hold, and the twist hold, and they are introduced in Chapter 14. In addition, Wade discusses the theory of the Trifecta, and he provides practical application tips before closing out this chapter. A sample Trifecta workout is also suggested to round things off.
The power of the Convict Conditioning System really comes alive in Chapter 15, titled The Bridge Hold Progressions and subtitled The Ultimate Pre-hab/Rehab Technique. Again, bridge holds are one of the three key exercises of the Trifecta.
Bridge holds develop the deep muscles of the spine, and Wade stresses that strengthening these muscles can help eliminate the typical back pains that 80% of Americans suffer from. In contrast, the author points out that weak muscular development along the spine is an invitation to aches, pains, poor posture, frailness, and a multitude of other problems.
As we progress across Chapter 15, Paul expands on the information that was provided about bridging earlier in the book. He explains why the isometric style of bridging is most suitable for increasing flexibility and “oiling” the joints, and he gives some excellent tips for performing the bridge for joint health. And although it is impossible to list every benefit that the bridge hold can bring forth in a single chapter, Wade provides an excellent bullet list of the most important benefits. When you read through this list, you'll get a really good idea why Wade thinks so highly of the bridge exercise.
But, that's not all, of course. No exercise chapter in a Convict Conditioning book would be complete without a detailed and step-by-step exercise progression series. And, Wade follows this rule with the bridge hold by providing four progressive preliminary steps for mastering this exercise, each which includes a companion photo so that you can readily “see” what the big man is talking about.
As we enter into Chapter 16, subtitled Cure Bad Hips and Low Back — Inside — Out, we get into the nitty-gritty of the L-Hold, the second key exercise of the Trifecta. Here, you need to throw away what you think you know about ab training — unless you're one of those rare individuals who already understand how silly modern training for the “six-pack” look is. This is because, as Paul Wade drills home, it is the deeper “internal alignment” muscles of the abdomen and hip girdle that must be developed to attain strength and health, not the flashy “six pack” external muscles most everybody concentrates on. For one, developing and strengthening these deep alignment muscles is the key for curing a variety of hip and lower back problems that so many of us suffer from.
Practice of the L-hold will strongly contract the anterior chain and actively stretch the posterior chain. Exercise demonstrated by Jim Bathurst. Photo courtesy of John Du Cane and Paul Wade.
The L-hold is Paul's exercise of choice to really stimulate the alignment muscles of the abdomen and hip girdle. And, true to his formula, he provides a four-step progression series, complete with plenty of photos, to set you on a successful path to L-hold mastery. Then, the “Coach” wraps up Chapter 14 by listing a variety of health benefits that practice of the L-hold can bring forth. He also talks a bit about the V-hold, an advanced extension of the L-hold. The V-hold will work the posterior chain to a remarkable degree, even more so than the L-hold. Work up to this exercise, and you'll have one damn strong mid section!
Every strength athlete needs to pay strict attention to what Paul Wade says in Chapter 17, and this especially includes bodybuilders and weightlifters. In this chapter, titled Twist Progressions and subtitled Unleash Your Functional Triad, the Convict Man talks more about those deep, often ignored alignment muscles. But, this time the focus is on the hidden muscles of the shoulder girdle.
After reiterating that the alignment muscles of the spine, hip girdle, and shoulder girdle must be kept strong to “keep the entire musculo-skeletal system where it should be for optimal health and function,” Wade dives into a very informative discussion about shoulder pains and injuries. He explains that modern bodybuilding methods do not sufficiently stimulate the alignment muscles of the shoulders, particularly the rotator cuffs. And, the author asserts that this insufficiency is a leading cause of shoulder pains and injuries among “lifters” and machine users.
An exercise that does stimulate the rotator cuffs and help to prevent or cure shoulder pains and injuries, says the “Coach”, is the twist hold. He also asserts that twisting helps to align the spine, reduces tension and stiffness in the back, tones and stretches the sides of the body, and “boosts the hell out of trunk and torso flexibility.” So important is twist holds, Wade even grants this exercise a special status. He states, “If you are doing Convict Conditioning-based workouts, you are already getting some of the benefits of bridge holds (from dynamic bridging) and L-holds (from leg raises). If you don't want or feel the need to perform a separate joint health/mobility program like the Trifecta, no problem. But if you take nothing else from this book, at least add a program of twists.”
Now, the twist hold is not exactly the easiest exercise in the world to master. So Wade once again does his magic, and he gives you a complete four-step progression plan. And, yep — you get plenty of photos and workout tips. And, as a chapter finale, Wade lists important health benefits that practice of the twist can bring forth. He also tells you why strength athletes looking to build “bulletproof” joints should avoid contortionist-like movements “like the plague.”PART III: WISDOM FROM CELLBLOCK G
As you have seen, the first two sections of CC2 are devoted almost entirely to what we should be doing while you we in the gym. And, of course, the training information provided by the author is stupendous. However, in the third section of Wade’s sequel book, the “Coach” tells us what we ought to be doing during the time that we are not in the gym, and the information he provides in this part of the book is enlightening, to say the least. Never before have I come across such a helpful mental model for physical culture success as Big Paul presents. And, it is very obvious that Wade really understands the many difficulties and stresses that the average trainee faces day in and day out. Rarely do I get the feeling that an author has any clue about “reality” life when I am reading a strength book.
Part III begins of CC2 with Chapter 18, titled Doing Time Right and subtitled Living the Straight Edge. Here, Wade discusses life-style factors that “make the difference between so-so results and phenomenal results.” Nearly all of the ideas and lessons provided in this chapter were derived from the author's personal experience during his many years of incarceration, but we all can benefit tremendously from them — right here in the “free” world.
Starting with a fascinating discussion about the importance of discipline, Wade will show you how to unlock your latent talent and bring forth positive results. And, his account of the military-like discipline and enforced regularity encountered in the prison system delivers quite a powerful message.
Many of us struggle to get enough sleep, but Paul Wade tells us straight up why getting enough rest is critical for building stronger muscles. And his prison stories about sleep (or lack of it) are both entertaining and educational.
Can you grow bigger and stronger if you have a hard job, such as a dock laborer, a steel foundry worker, or a 12-hour-shift factory worker? Wade tackles this question, and what he says isn’t good news for excuse makers.
What about stress? Is this the evil doom of bodybuilding success? Well, let me just say that Paul says one thing to address this question, one of the powerful statements I have ever read, that may change your outlook on stress forever. It’s the line in Chapter 18 about Guerrillas fighting in war zones, so when you come across this in CC2 pay special attention; its underlying message will give you something quite profound to think about.
Does sex interfere with athletic success, or is this assertion just a myth based on false assumptions? Once again, Wade has an opinion to offer, but don’t worry – somehow I doubt that it is going to change your lifestyle one bit.
Do you need an incentive to quit smoking? If so, read the “Skin dips” section in Chapter 18; this ought to do the trick. Paul’s detailed explanation of what happens inside of your body when you smoke a cigarette ought to scare anybody straight.
And, what about anabolic steroids and other similar drugs? How dangerous are they? Do they provide a short cut to muscle building success? What psychological and physiological effects do these drugs bring forth? Wade answers all of these questions and more. And, by the time he is done answering them, I am confident that you will think twice before taking an injection or popping down a few pills.
Like his training and personal philosophy, Paul’s viewpoint of nutrition was largely shaped by his experiences in prison. And in Chapter 19, titled The Prison Diet and subtitled Nutrition and Fat Loss Behind Bars, Wade singlehandedly wreaks havoc on popular beliefs about eating, supplementation, and obesity. But, what the “Coach” says may help you to become a healthier, happier, and stronger person – and save you quite a bit of money at the same time.
As an introduction to his nutrition philosophy, Paul gives much information about how he ate during his years of incarceration. He also provides a three-week sample menu dispensed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. His introduction sets the stage for proposing that eating “three squares” a day is not only sufficient for building muscle, it is optimal for gaining strength and health.
Moving on from his “three squares” advice, Wade provides basic eating guidelines that he wants you to try, “before you blow your hard-earned dollars on protein powder, nutrition bars and supplements.” Wade then turns his attention to drinking water, and he shares his viewpoint about tap water versus bottled water. What he has to say may save you a few more dollars and help to save our environment as well.
Speaking of water, did you know that this abundant substance makes up more than 70% of your muscles? It's true, and this fact should have all of us asking, “Where does all that expensive protein powder go after it is consumed?” Well, Paul gives his answer to this question, and the sound logic that he provides ought to have you thinking extra hard before you turn over any more of your hard-earned dollars to the nutrition store.
The best way to lose body fat is to exercise more, right? Not so fast! Wade tells us why this isn’t so, and you can bet that his prescription for shedding unwanted pounds will get you leaner in no time. And, even though exercise alone won't make you ripped, Paul explains why bodyweight training creates “a secret weapon” that helps keep the blubber away.
Train right, eat well, and get enough sleep. This triad covers everything required to grow strong and fit – right? Wrong! If you want your physique to blossom, you must also know how to prevent injuries, and you must know how to provide “fast-healing” treatment should one occur. This is why I urge you to read Chapter 20, titled Mendin' Up and subtitled The 8 Laws of Healing. In this chapter, the author gives many sound and practical tips for reducing injury potential in the gym. And, he tells you step by step how to heal an injury as quickly as possible should you get one. Through his “8 Laws”, you'll learn how to protect yourself, how to apply immediate therapy with the “P.R.I.N.C.E.”, how and why to keep training to speed up recovery, how to work injuries out, how to aid recovery with heat treatment, how to build back your strength, and even how to think to aid recovery. This is great stuff, and the detailed information that Wade provides may one day be just what you need to save your training career.
Al Kavadlo practices the twist-hold to build his lateral chain and to strengthen his rotator cuffs. This movement, which Paul Wade teaches how to master in CC2, helps to keep the body free of injuries by providing active stretching. Photo courtesy of John Du Cane and Paul Wade.
When I first received a review copy of CC2, the first thing I did was glance at its Table of Contents to see which chapter would catch my attention the most. I got my answer after seeing that Chapter 21 – the last in the book other than a special bonus chapter – is devoted to the mind and its role in strength building. I am particularly interested in the mental side of training, and for this reason I read Paul's final chapter first. Right away I was drawn into an amazing story, one which features a 10-year-old Paul Wade hearing the last words his grandfather would say to him before his death. This story is called We Are All Alone in the Dark, and Wade’s analysis of it brings forth tremendous insight for understanding how our mind can sometimes be our greatest enemy. I won’t spoil the story by telling you the details before you get a chance to read it on your own, but I will tell you that this story will help you understand why you must positively control your mind if you want to become a successful strength athlete, or be a successful anything!
Fully realizing the great importance of establishing positive mind control, the author ends his his book (other than the bonus chapter) by telling us about six mental “demons”. These “negative inner states”, he explains, can kill our drive and warp our thinking – but only if we let them. And, with this acknowledgment, Paul shows us how to “tackle” each of these six “demons”. His teachings here not only can help you become stronger and mightier, what he says can also help you become a more productive and more fulfilled person.
One thing I noticed while reading CC2 is that Paul Wade relates more personal experiences from his prison days than he did in his first book. And, a few of the stories that he shares practically bring you right into the penitentiary, face to face with some of the toughest convicts on the planet. In one such story, brought to life in Chapter 20, the “Coach” shares with us how he was badly injured during the “famous” 1982 riot at San Quentin. It is one heck of a story, and what Paul relates will have you on the edge of your seat. You’ll also “see” why it was critical for Wade to develop a healing program that works quickly!BONUS CHAPTER — PUMPIN' IRON IN PRISON
By now, you ought to know that Paul Wade is not exactly a big fan of weight training. Nonetheless, he provides this bonus chapter to address the many questions he has received concerning weight training in the prison system. And, the information that the “Coach” provides not only provides a unique insight to how some convicts train with weights, many misconceptions about weight training in prison are identified and set straight. In particular, Paul discusses the public's misconception that weight training turns inmates into brutally strong raging animals. And, the information that he provides offers a perspective of the penitentiary system (and the political system that rules it) that only an ex-convict could provide. Very educational and enlightening.
All of the chapters in Convict Conditioning end with a “Lights Out!” for some final words, so I thought I would do the same here. Having now read every word in CC2, I can say without a doubt that this is one of the best books about productive strength training ever written. I urge all readers of Muscles of Iron to buy a copy of this book as soon as it becomes available. It doesn't matter whether you are a wrestler, a weightlifter, a powerlifter, a bodybuilder, a martial artist, a gymnast, a boxer, a bodyweight purebred, or some other kind of strength athlete, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It offers insights about training and health that you won't find anywhere it, and the perspectives which Paul Wade provides will have you thinking like never before.
And, if you have not already done so, be sure to order a copy of Paul's first book, Convict Conditioning, and read it first. And, be looking for Convict Conditioning 2. Dragon Door is currently preparing this book for release, and I expect it to be available for purchase before the end of this year.
If money is an issue, stop your purchase of protein pills, drop your gym membership, and / or cancel your subscription to whatever muscle magazine you subscribe to. Do what you need to, but get both volumes of Convict Conditioning! I can tell you that what Paul Wade has to offer you will pack functional muscle and strength on your frame FAR better and faster than just about anything else you can buy.
Convict Conditioning, Paul Wade's first book, can be ordered from Dragon Door via http://www.dragondoor.com/. The cost of the book at the time of this writing is $39.95.