Review of “Convict Conditioning” (Paul Wade)

Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade, published in 2010. Also Convict Conditioning 2, a followup published a year later. Rating: 4/5.

convict-conditioning-coverA couple of months ago, I was walking in a park with my dad. We passed an outdoor gym sort of place and decided, “Why not try out some of the exercises?”

It was quite embarrassing – for me, that is, not my old man. I eked out maybe two or three pull-ups, only the first of which was in perfect form. He did more than a half dozen without problems.

This I found to be strange, as I am not objectively a weak man. Until I stopped going to the gym – I can never be motivated enough to keep going at it for more than a few months without a break – I was doing 75 pound dumbbell bench presses and 50 pound dumbbell shoulder presses. This was significantly more than my dad could do though he doesn’t go the gym at all really. But he whooped my sorry ass at pullups, and even came close on pushups.

I recalled this episode when reading through Convict Conditioning, which had been recommended to me as a good intro to calisthenics. Paul Wade is an ex-con who, by his own admission, spent 19 of the past 23 years in some of America’s toughest prisons for various drug offences. (Some commentators have voiced skepticism as to whether the author is a real person. If I had to guess I’d say he is, but even if the whole jailbird thing was a marketing ploy, I honestly couldn’t care less; my interest is in effective information, not personalities). Most prisons don’t have much in the way of gyms. There are no free weights – for good reason, as you might imagine – while barbells only come in a very limited number of weight categories, which makes progressive training impossible. As such, the cons have to improvise and practice self-reliance to bulk up. And Paul Wade was one of the best at this.

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