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Convict Conditioning Update

handstand pushupAre any of you guys really, really good at exercises with only your bodyweight? I watch the Olympics every four years, and nobody ever captivates me quite like the gymnasts. Nowhere else do I see such inhuman levels of strength demonstrated with such apparent ease. Or such well-developed arm muscles.

I want in! But you’re not going to see me a-tumblin’ any time soon, although I do like to work on the rings a bit.

Six months ago

Back in December I wrote a book review of a bodyweight training book called Convict Conditioning. The book was written by a man named Paul “Coach” Wade, who spent a good part of his life in some very nasty prisons.

Convict Conditioning is Coach Wade’s strength training knowledge in book form. The book has more information than pictures, and more get-stronger-type-knowledge than anecdotes about prison life. Specifically, the book is about how to master extreme feats of bodyweight strength. In other words, here’s how you get super duper strong without having a ton of weights or space to use.

Each drill is presented in a 10 step progression, with step 1 being for the rawest of the bodyweight  fitness crowd.

Update on my progress

I bought the book as soon as it came out, even though I had been lucky enough to read a review copy a couple of months earlier. In the last couple of months, Coach Wade has checked in on me a couple of times online so we can talk about the lofty goal I had set for myself: the one-arm chin-up or pull-up.

For those of you who don’t know the difference between a chin-up and a pull-up, it has to do with which way your hands are facing. When you grab the bar with your palms facing away from you, that’s a pull-up. Towards you = a chin.

When you let go of the bar with one arm none of it matters anyway, because your body starts spiraling all over and feeling extremely heavy. In my case, the finished product is going to be more of a chin-up.

When I’ve corresponded with Coach Wade, he has assured me that at my size–6’8″ and 250+ pounds–even reaching step 6 or 7 would be a massive feat.

I’m happy to report that last week, I was able to chin myself with both arms, let go with my left hand, and then lower myself under control for about 25% of the range of motion. Bear in mind that it has taken over six months of steady practice to get to this point, but I’m convinced that the end is less than a year away.

For anyone who is curious about whether I’ve implemented biofeedback and Gym Movement Training into Convict Conditioning, the answer is yes. There are 10 steps in each progression, but as you know if you’ve been following my training in other places online, I test the movements that I perform on a given day. I’m never sure exactly what my workouts are going to look like until I get to the gym and test things out.

With Paul Wade’s book, I’m going into the gym with the idea that I’ll pick up at the step where I left off. If that doesn’t test well, I try to find another step, even if it is one of the more difficult ones up ahead. Even if it means getting fewer reps. So far this method has meant much faster progress than if I had tried to meet all the requisite reps at every step, in order, before moving on. (I’m still trying to hit them all just for fun, though).

Maybe this will come back to bite me, but I don’t think so.

Goals goals goals

For me, goals are what make life fun. Sometimes strength training goals are about the only thing that keep me happy when everything else stinks. The one-armed chin-up is a big fat goal. I can’t believe I’ve been working on it for this long already, but when I get it, I’m going to be roaring with triumph. You might hear it.

Update as of 11/6/2010 –

I have started incorporating some one-arm work with jumpstretch bands into my own arm chinup workouts. JS bands are basically giant rubber bands that you can use to counterbalance your own weight and reduce the resistance. I am constantly working on increasing the total amount of weight I can do chinups with while using two arms–so far my best is a chin with a 44 kilo kettlebell strapped on my waist. Note: it is popular in many of the kettlebell books to mention that you can do weighted pullups with your foot sticking through the handle of the kettlebell. I cannot recommend this once you’re pulling more than 24kilos. The top of my foot has seen some nasty bruising. I use a dip belt.

But back to the band work. I’m finding that, when it tests well, if I knot a jumpstretch band over the pullup bar and then put my foot into into it like a stirrup, I’m getting some very productive one-arm work in. I still think that there’s no downside to increasing my two-arm pulling power, but I don’t know that any amount of weight there would eventually translate into a one arm chin. I currently weight 245, and maybe if I was pulling 245 I could hit it with one arm, but that’s just not going to happen.

So, as often as the band work is testing well, I’m incorporating that as well now. I have also started doing some pulls with one hand holding a Rolling Thunder handle–this is a thick one-arm deadlift handle from Ironmind–it is incredibly challenging for the support grip and I feel like it is going to pay off well down the road. And if I can ever get around to it, I’m going to get another one of them so I can practice with two hands.

That is it for the current round of updates.

So–interested in taking the trip with me? Buy Convict Conditioning.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Todd July 14, 2010, 6:32 am

    Josh, that’s fantastic news about your progress on the one-arm chin up. I’m still working on getting ten clean chin ups with both arms. 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne July 14, 2010, 8:52 am

      Thanks Todd. The most I’ve ever done in a row is 14 pullups. That was about 40 lbs ago!

  • Heather July 14, 2010, 8:48 am

    Congratulations! I love this book, btw, and am slowly—VERY slowly—working my way through the push-ups. The squat stuff is a little easier, but I still can’t do a full, unassisted pistol. But I’m working on it. Hey, that handstand push-up goal. . . .how’s that one going? Or did I miss it? I haven’t made it that far yet, but applaud those who have! Congrats on the one-arm! That rocks and so do you! 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne July 14, 2010, 8:51 am

      Heather, I haven’t done it yet. I can’t even lower myself from the top all the way yet, not under control. But it’s getting there. As to the handstand pushup, I can get into a handstand against the wall, lower my head to the ground under control, and then pushup back up just a couple of inches. It’s still going to take a while. But thanks on all counts. How are you working on the pistols?

      • Heather July 14, 2010, 3:26 pm

        Meh, they’re goin’. . . . very, very slowly. I do ’em against my bottom step, where I can hold onto the newel post and support myself on the wall. I have tried doing a couple of them unassisted, but barely made it through one. But I’m still workin’ on it! 🙂

  • Asatar Bair July 14, 2010, 8:55 am

    I’ve gotta get back to doing pull-ups with the kind of intensity you’re talking about. I can do 5 pistols, though!

  • Ryan J Pitts July 14, 2010, 10:14 am

    Hey Josh,
    Good stuff. My son Logan (9) and I went out yesterday and did max two arm pull-ups (over hand). I hit 16 and he hit 5. We have not been performing them at all, so it was a what can you do now deal. We are going to test mace swinging, Heavy for me and moderate for him weight and see how doing them helps our pull-ups without doing pull-ups. As you know lat, pulling muscles are huge part of performing pulls or chins. The basic mace swing is a killer lat, core strengthener and I believe it will correlate to stronger and more pull-ups for both of us. And I may have to check out Con. cond. and try the 1 arm!

    • Josh Hanagarne July 14, 2010, 11:11 am

      Ryan, if you hit 16 without having been “performing them at all,” I’m very impressed. Even for a little guy like you:)

  • Paul Wade July 25, 2010, 2:10 pm

    Josh, I am impressed by your progress on this move, but I’m really not surprised.

    Patience and discipline are the keys to high levels of calisthenics strength. If anybody can achieve the one-arm pullup, I know YOU can…despite those massive, long arms and hulk-like body weight!

    I know you can push some serious iron too, but swallowing your pride and going through the hard road–battling with bodyweight–no athlete will never regret that.

    Trust me, when you get there I’LL be the one roaring.

    Pride, my man!

  • Casey July 26, 2010, 5:15 pm

    Awesome work Josh and this is a goal of mine as well! I’ve been having a lot of success with doing uneven grip chins lately. I can feel less and less strength each is needed by the assisting arm to get me over the bar each session.

    Next I’m going to switch to using a towel for the assisting arm and up the ante for the working side.

    You’ll get there. You’ve got the patience, discipline and the method, just a matter of time 🙂

  • Howard Spencer July 26, 2010, 9:41 pm

    Whooooo. Josh, I never knew you were so big, you could match up with LeBron James in the post (lol). Anyways, congrats on your progress, keep it up

    • Josh Hanagarne July 27, 2010, 11:19 am

      Not quite, but I might be able to beat him in a speed-reading contest or an SSST:)

  • bill patton February 11, 2011, 8:34 am

    josh – my name is bill patton – i run a fitness tracking website (mostly used by fans of CrossFit and military users from around the world). One of my guys just asked me to set up a Convict Conditioning module and while google’ing to see what the heck he was talking about i found this blog. If you’d like to see what i’m working on please drop me a line at admin logsitall.com