I’m a big fan of the Convict Conditioning books and I’ve been training based on their system for sufficient time to realize how to maximize my results. Convict Conditioning book’s purpose is to increase maximal strength utilizing 6 progressive calisthenics exercises broken into 10 steps of increasing difficulty. The training system starts with the easiest possible step (exercises like wall pushups) and progressively moves further to the hardest step, like the almighty one arm pullup.
Everybody knows that the training methods used in the Convict Conditioning books are meant to work the nervous system for strength gains rather than the muscular system for aesthetics. But from my experience I realized something else, and the truth is that the books teach us how to attain a brutally strong body as well as how to gain solid muscles – like the Greek Statues illustrate. The fact is that many of you have so little results with either, but the good part is that you have in your hands one of the most powerful tools to start to forge your body into something like the books want you to become. You only need to understand how to utilize them properly. And fear not! I will help you understand how to do it.
In this article I am going to break all the confusions about Convict Conditioning, so you can really start working on your dream physique and strength utilizing only C.C. Volume 1 schedules.
Let me introduce myself:
My name is Adorian Moldovan, 26 years old, and I am a calisthenics athlete. What you saw in my picture above represents 2-3 years of bodyweight exercising. I am a completely natural athlete, since I only train and eat natural foods. My fitness knowledge/wisdom comes from my own experience and Paul Wade’s books: Convict Conditioning and C-Mass.
I am going to assume that you have read all the books and have been training for a while by their given systems. My methods of utilizing Paul Wade’s books applies to any athlete regardless of their strength level. You should only worry about your bodyfat excess, since is better to be lighter when learning to master your own bodyweight against gravity.
From the beginning I had these goals: to be strong, functional, muscular, and healthy. And the only way to achieve these results is to be an elite athlete.
How to train with Convict Conditioning:
If you analyze the progression standards you will see that Coach is actually inviting us to do more repetitions to increase adaptability or strength-endurance on a certain exercise. This means that if you want to surpass the current step you need to go beyond 20 reps or even to add some exercise variations -which are not included in the system, but are mentioned immediately after the MASTER STEP– for a sufficient time until you get stronger for the next step.
Now, analyze the master steps and you will notice that the ultimate challenge is the elite standard. The elite standard contains an almost impossible amount of repetitions, because the difficulty level for the ultimate exercise is damn high.
I see a lot of people who understand that the BIG SIX are not about volume workouts at all. That, somehow it was especially designed for lazy athletes to work for their big dreams with only 2-3 sets of maximum 10-20 repetitions and with 3-4 exercise variations with a frequency maximum of 2 days a week on the same routine. I am sorry to break your dreams, but you will probably never reach the master steps this way!!! If you were able to do the elite standard for one-arm pushups for instance, which is 100 strict reps, then you would look much better than I look in the picture above. You cannot develop this amount of enormous and monstrous strength-endurance without being ripped as hell and strong as an X-Men mutant.
In the end of the book coach Paul Wade is actually saying that he did a lot of high volume workouts in the past and his book is not about such things. Somehow he found a way to train for maximal strength only, considering that the high volume workouts have nothing to do with pure-raw strength. If you followed what I said above then what Coach is saying is kind of contradictory.
This is a fact: the only way to get better at a very intense exercise is to work on it very often and beneath it with some easier variations. Don’t get me wrong! If you want to master the archer pullup for instance, that means you should work around 10 sets of max. reps. each time until the exercise become easy. 1-2 years may pass before you are able to work upon assisted one arm pullups. And your workout is not done. You did archer pulls, but after this you continue the routine with some other variations.
If you ask me, I’d say the volume workout is directly correlated with relative strength, maximal strength, strength-endurance and hypertrophy. The reason is very simple: you always work at low-medium-high intensity with high-medium-low sets and reps. Do this mixture each workout and your goal in becoming the ultimate unstoppable athlete will have a more realistic chance of being realized.
If you are struggling to do the regular exercises, then do not set a goal like: one arm pullup in 6-12 months. You will be disappointed. Be realistic and work hard to master the very basic moves from the book. In other words, if your current level does not permit you to do 100 pullups in less then 10 minutes, then you will never reach the next step and even if you do, you’ll get stuck on it. Because you do not have yet the endurance to work on the basics, there is no way you can work more reps for a more intense exercise. Doing a single assisted one-arm pullup is hard, but to build a workout upon it means a lot of volume workouts. You need to build that muscular endurance if you want to recover better and to be able to work other harder progressions. Coach Wade said that when he struggles to learn a very hard exercise then he goes back to his basic workouts and tries to increase the number of sets and reps until his body adapts and becomes even stronger.
I never train archer pullups, uneven pullups, or even assisted one arm pullups. I train the basic and regular pullups with my own bodyweight or a 10 kg. vest and do around 100-200 pullups on a single workout 2-3 times a week. If you ask yourself if I have the strength to work the next level, then the answer is YES. Once in a while I test myself for the master step and see if I can do it, so there is no need for me to start working on other variations. I just need to become better at these basic moves and everything will fall into place. If I would train exactly by the book, then I would start with assisted one-arm pullups, then uneven and only after I would aim for basic pullups. But my goals are not necessarily to do one arm pullups and I can do one rep as a consequence of my hard training.
Paul Wade says that we need to mix and match. This means we need to personalize the BIG SIX as much as we can. We can’t and we shouldn’t follow strictly the routines exactly as they are presented, because they are not 100% according to your own lifestyle, general athleticism and some other issues that you may not be aware of. He offers us the wisdom to know which exercises to pick and how to generally organize them in a workout plan, progressively, to reach the master-elite standard. That is his vision about how things should be. And I fully agree with him. I just have some different views that may help you reach your goals.
In a more concrete way, the most fundamental exercises are:
1) Pushups: regular pushups, closed/diamonds pushups, decline pushups, incline pushups and wide pushups, dips.
2) Squats: regular squats, assisted squats, plyometric squats, assisted one leg squats, pistol squats.
3) Pull-ups: regulars, closed grip chin and pull, horizontal pullups, wide pullups.
4) Leg raises: floor leg raises, knees raises, hanging leg raises, V raises.
5) Bridges: full bridges, short bridges.
6) Handstand Pushups (H.S.P.U.): wall handstands, handstand pushups, pike pushups.
These exercises are not all presented in the BIG SIX. But he mentions them in the book as good alternatives! They are not there only to fill the book with more pages. You need to work with them too.
As a beginner each variation is hard, because you have only basic strength to do a couple of regular pullups and pushups. Of course, at this level you will not be able to train for handstand pushups and uneven pullups yet. It’s way too soon for that!
First you need to develop really good strength-endurance for the basic exercises like the ones mentioned above. Let’s assume that you can’t yet work your handstand pushups. This means you need to work exercises like diamonds, pushups, incline pushups, wide pushups and dips. After a good period of time your body will get stronger and you will be able to start working your handstand pushups. When this moment arrives you can integrate your handstand pushups as your first exercise in the routine. Finish 10 sets and then move to lighter exercises like dips, diamonds, decline, levers etc. My methods go exactly in an opposite order than the Convict Conditioning system. After a very good warmup I start with the hardest variation because I need to be fresh for it. To do 10 sets of HSPU is not easy. If I would start with pushups, then I would have no energy left in the tank to work my HSPU.
Let’s take the pullup routine for instance. If you are struggling with close grip pullups, then you should start working with it. Include some other variations in your workout such as regular pullups, chinups, wide and horizontal pullups. I would not start doing useless jackknife pullups or vertical pulls if I find them real easy! Those exercises are good only to strengthen your body for the next variations I mentioned here. Do at least 4 sets for each variation and you will get a lot of endurance, strength and hypertrophy response from your body.
- Strength is a skill. The more often you train, the better you get. Workout the same muscle groups at least 2-3 times a week. This helps you build muscle too.
- Do not be afraid to push yourself for higher sets and reps. You can’t become real strong and have an awesome physique the other way around. Lie to yourself as much as you want, but work always pays off.
- Forget about 3-5 minutes of rest time between sets. You need to rest at maximum 2 minutes if you want to gain endurance and muscles.
- My method is a mixture between Convict Conditioning and C-Mass. I like doing all types of workouts for better results.
- You should train at least 4 times a week. But if your goals are truly big, then 5-6 times is better.