Convict Conditioning – Great Book for Home Training

Convict Conditioning cover

Convict Conditioning is a book dedicated to bodyweight training, better to say old-school calisthenics. The book was written by Coach Paul Wade, who has been in prison for decades. Why? I don’t know. Actually, I don’t know anything about him since I couldn’t find an interview with him at all. But, I don’t care who he is since I found the book very useful.

Because of the conditions of the prison, he created a workout system that requires almost no equipment at all. A system that takes a total beginner with minimal strength to extreme power. His plan is focused just on the essential exercises that build strength. No tricks, no “revolutionary” moves, only activities that have helped people to get fantastic power for thousands of years.

I love the book so that I may sound biased, but of course, Paul Wade’s program has its cons as well.

Here is a quick overview of the program

Convict Conditioning Review

The program is based on reaching the Big Six Master Moves, that is:

  • One-arm push-ups
  • One-arm pull-ups
  • One-leg squats (pistol squat)
  • One-arm handstand push-ups
  • Hanging straight leg raises
  • Stand-to-stand bridges

There is no doubt if someone can make many reps from the mentioned exercises above, he has an extreme strength. But, 99% of the Average Joe can’t make these moves.

That is why Paul Wade added 10 progressional exercises for each calling them 10 Steps. You start with easy exercises, and once you reach the recommended number of reps, you can step to the next one, then the next one, etc. The required reps are quite high, so when you are ready, your body is fully prepared for the next drill. I like this concept.

Here is the table with all the steps.

Push upsPull upsSquats
Half one-armHalf one-armHalf one-leg
LeverAssisted one-armAssisted one-leg
1. Exercise list
Leg raisesHandstandsBridges
Knee tucksWall headstandsShort
Flat kneeCrow standsStraight
Flat bent legWall handstandsAngled
Flat frog Half handstand push upsHead
Flat straightHandstand push upsHalf
Hanging kneeClose handstand push upsFull
Hanging bent legUnevenWall walking down
Hanging frogHalf one armWall walking up
Partial straightLeverClosing
Hanging straightOne-armStand to stand
2. Exercise list

Wade also lists many additional exercises besides the 10 steps to make the workout program more versatile.

The number of required reps and sets are varied from exercise to exercise, but typically they are between 1-3 sets and 20-50 reps.

From the chart above, we can conclude that this plan is useful for people at any level of fitness. Beginners or overweight people can get started with the first exercises that strengthen the body mildly. While more advanced athletes can join at 3rd or 4th steps.

We can also say that it’s a total body training program that works the body with natural moves improving not only the power but the muscle mass, endurance, functional strength, balance, and coordination. Everything that is required for a healthy and strong physique.

Finally, Paul Wade’s workout system is excellent for someone who can only workout at home. You just need something to hang on; no other exercise equipment is required.

A few words about the content

Part 1.

The book begins with the story of Paul Wade, how and why he started working out in prison. I found it really interesting when he talks about people at the jail with incredible power, guys who have never lifted a single weight in their life. For example, once he met an older man who made numerous one-arm pull up with two fingers. 🙂

He also talks about the false strength of the bodybuilders, and he compares the advanced old-school calisthenics trainee with them. That section may hurt someone who pumps iron, but I have to agree with him. I know, from my experience, that being big and muscular doesn’t equal real power in everyday life. That is why I turned to calisthenics a few years ago.

The only thing that the reader may not like is that he talks much about himself. The hundreds of push-ups he can do or the long hours of training in the cell. I didn’t care about that. Actually, I found it motivational.

Uneven push ups

Part 2.

This part is dedicated to learning the Big Six Master Exercises and the 10 steps. The exercise tutorials are well-written and easy to understand; pictures are also available. He describes why these exercises are essential, how they develop the body, and what you should pay attention to. Good content to understand the “science” behind the workouts and his claims.

Also, I have to mention that he emphasizes the correct forms. I absolutely agree with him.

This is my favorite part of the book.

Part 3.

This section is about how to create your workout routine, dedication, goals, and other training tips. Wade also shares a few workout plans, but I think they are suitable for total beginners who need time to get involved in bodyweight training. More advanced trainees should spend time creating their routines.

To sum up, the book is well-written and a good read. There are no overcomplicated instructions, and the system is easy to follow. Frankly, I liked the style of the book.

Solitary Confinement routine

Convict Conditioning Pros And Cons

What I like

  • Complete “prison bodyweight workout” program.
  • Well-chosen exercises that are natural to the body.
  • Easy to follow instructions.
  • Long-term plan to reach incredible strength.
  • Perfect for home training.
  • Suitable from beginners to professional athletes.
  • Motivational reading forced me to act.
  • Complete guide to progressive calisthenics.
  • Emphasis on correct form.


  • I would like to see more sample workout plans. The ones in the book are somewhat too easy.
  • I missed the tutorials for the additional exercises.
  • I would like to see “prison type” cardio training advice.

Is Convict Conditioning Effective?

I think there isn’t a program that fits for all, so we have to spend time understanding the principles of the system. Also, we must be honest with ourselves and aware of the weaknesses that we have to cure with the right training. This way, we can create our personalized workout plan.

And, yes, you need a big dose dedication, maybe years, to reach that level of strength when you can smoothly perform the Big Six Power Moves.

The internet is full of success stories and, of course, with negative opinions about Convict Conditioning. I don’t care about both because when I read the book, I feel the logic behind it. Of course, I don’t follow every word, and I’m going to create my workout plan, but this book is one of the best I’ve read about calisthenics training.

It’s a good source of information for everyone from beginners to advanced athletes. And I recommend it if you are interested in old-school strength training.

Note: You can download the Convict Conditioning app that guides us through each step.

Written by Imre

Imre has been working out for over 20 years. He likes all sorts of strength training and boxing. Since he's a busy father he works out only at home.