“So, tell me about this Convict Conditioning,” says Russ…

… when he flagged me down in the parking lot the other night after my elder son Spencer’s baseball game. It’s a father-and-sons project in the Wilson household. We began in early February of this year. After 4-1/2 months, we’re seeing results in the way both Spencer (aged 14) and Duncan (11-1/2) are hitting the baseball.


Convict Conditioning (supplemented by Convict Conditioning 2) is the name of the bestselling bodyweight training manual written by Paul “Coach” Wade. Bodyweight training is done without the aid of a gym, weights, machines, or any type of equipment. The author spent almost 30 years behind bars, training thousands of prison athletes who had nothing but a cot and a sink on hand (and both of these things he utilized).

As a personal training program, Convict Conditioning appealed to me for two reasons. Firstly, I have no interest in joining a gym, because it costs too much money and time in travelling, changing, waiting for others on workstations (not to mention listening to horrid music, and watching inane television, the alternative being to plug yourself in to a personal isolation device via ear buds). And secondly, I don’t care to invest in any kind of gym equipment at home.

The author and publisher of Convict Conditioning have found a way to connect with millions of other guys like me. Coach Wade doesn’t miss an opportunity to discredit the bodybuilding industry, along with the supplements industry, the personal training industry, and the like. Fine with me. He explains the rationale behind bodyweight training and traces its history from ancient times. Along the way, he establishes that the strongest men in history had no gym equipment like exists today.

Wade bases his whole program on six basic exercises, which he calls the “Big Six”. They are the pushup, the squat, the pullup (a.k.a. chinup), the leg raise, the bridge (for the spine), and the handstand pushup. The last two are advanced exercises. He recommends that beginners (which is everyone new to the program) start with just the first four and stick with those for a long time.

I laid out a program based upon Coach Wade’s “New Blood” routine. He sets various objectives for his Ten Steps within each exercise. The man (boy) who completes these ten steps will possess what Wade calls “superhuman strength”. Based upon what the program delivers at that stage, I am in accord with Wade. Anyone who can do a handstand pushup, unsupported, one ONE HAND, possesses superhuman strength. Ditto for one-armed pullups. By the way, ladies—Wade makes no mistake of the fact that this is a male-centred program. I’m no expert on human physiology, so I’ll leave it at that. Your mileage may vary.

The program I organized for my sons and I will see us taking between 3 and 6 months per step. The beauty of Convict Conditioning is that it is a creature of slow growth. You only do the exercises once a week. That’s right—once a week. Any more than that causes muscle strain, which inhibits growth and leads to injury (which inevitably causes you to quit the program).

The Step One level exercises are easy, but essential for developing good form (here I am, doing Step One of the pullup, against a vertical support post).


Step two is a little harder—me doing a horizontal pullup under the kitchen table…


… and Spencer doing an incline pushup, scaring the betta fish in their bowls.


A side benefit to Convict Conditioning is weight loss. Coach Wade points out that, because you are working against your own body weight, you will subconsciously program yourself to lose weight. He doesn’t care whether you believe him or not—he says that it automatically happens, based upon the thousands of men he has trained.

Convict Conditioning is a bonding exercise for my sons and I, in addition to a fitness program. We do the exercises religiously (two on Mondays, two on Fridays) every week. We’ve even devised a “convict handshake” among the three of us, to congratulate each other (it involves one guy holding his arms up like two vertical jail cell bars, the other two shaking hands between them). Where I’m really happy about the program is in my vantage point in the bleachers at baseball games, when one of the boys connects with the ball for a multi-base hit.


If you’re interested in getting started on Convict Conditioning, I’d be happy to share with you the Excel spreadsheet I laid out for my sons and I. Kindly email me at ian@canadianbranchline.com.

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