A bit of background on this review. It was originally posted in the IGx (irongarmx.com forum) reviews section, and it references a specific IGx post regarding this product. I will attempt to provide links, and then was posted on the Draper Iron Online community in the review section.
First off, it's a large book. ~300 pages of information including a thorough index. I purchased this book because I've always had a significant interest in bodyweight training and conditioning and my last purchase from Dragon Door, Pavel's "Power to the People: Professsional" was excellent.
As I read this book, I got this vague feeling that the author was not who he said he was. I subsequently read on the Dragon Door forum that "Paul Wade" was a pseudonym, and that the author wished to keep his real identity private due to his previous incarceration in several US prisons.
There is language used in this book that indicates the author (or an editor) is from the UK. Little things like using "basin" for "sink" and stuff like that. But in the book, the author claims to have been incarcerated at the age of 22 in 1979, going to San Quentin, and later to Angola and then Marion, and had spent 23 years as a criminal, 19 of them incarcerated. A bit of a disconnect then, the author using some UK terminology.
To further support this, the websiteConvict Conditioning is registered in the UK. There are already bits and pieces of this website up, which you can view in the in the IGx training forum (NOT SAFE FOR WORK) IGx Convict Conditioning Thread by Smet Notably, the ad copy is up, the "Cellmates" section, with links of interest to visitors to Convict Conditioning, and interestingly enough, a consultation page, where a testimonial is already up, despite the consultation service not being live at this time, given the website's still under construction, and that the book just came out a little while ago.
There is also a blurb for "Convict Conditioning 2: Advanced Prison training Tactics", a sequel. Remember, at the time of this writing, the book as only been out for 2 weeks or so, despite proofs being sent to people back in April or May of 2009 (Craig Ballentyne mentioned the timeframe in his blurb for the book)
The author lists some of his accomplishments:
1. A dozen one armed handstand push ups WITHOUT support. To me this means he balanced on one hand in the middle of a room and did 12 one armed handstand push ups. Like he said, this feat cannot be duplicated by even olympic level gymnasts.
2. Won the inmate run push-up/pull-up competition for 6 years in a row at Angola.
3. Won the 1987 California Institutional Powerlifting Championship without ever having touched a weight.
Pretty impressive, but the anonymity of the author and the lack of records for any of those events tends to cast a bit of a shadow on them, particularly the 12 one armed, non-supported handstand push ups.
The first part of this books spends quite a bit of time selling you on bodyweight training or "old school calisthenics". It uses pictures of old time strongmen, most of whom, incidentally, built their muscle with weights and some gymnastics and handbalancing movements, but mostly weights. This hard-sell of calisthenics includes the tired, time-worn insistence that barbell and dumbbell training will invariably cause injury, while calisthenics will build you a muscular, injury-free body. It also revisits the concept of "functional training" without ever giving you any kind of solid scientific background about how calisthenics are less injury-causing and more functional than weight training.
One thing that bugged me a bit was the glamorization of the convict and of prison. The attempts to portray the convict as a modified archtype of "noble savage" does not reflect the realities of the American penal system. There is a big dose of "prison chic" that initially bugged me, so I just had to take it as a bit of tongue-in-cheek.
According to the author, there are six basic benefits of bodyweight training
1. It requires very little equipment
2. It develops useful, functional, athletic abilities
3. It maximizes strength
4. It offers lifetime protection and strength for the joints
5. It quicky perfects the physique (ironically using a picture of John Grimek here)
6. It normalizes and regulates bodyfat levels
As you can see, #2, #3, and #5 can easily be contested. #1 is absolute truth, #4 is questionable (see the rash if injuries pull ups and chin ups cause many crossfitters), and #6 has a good bit of truth in it.
There is more myth and hype in the explanations of those benefits than I care to get into, but it's similar to the stuff before it, where the book sells you on bodyweight training (I will now refer to this as BWT)
The book offers you progressions on six different exercises, called "The Big Six". These include the pushup, the pullup, the squat, bridging, the leg raise, and handstand push ups.
The progressions are where the book really gets into detail. Each of the exercises has ten progressions, with the first ones being so easy that almost anyone should be able to do them. I found some of the initial exercise choices to be curious, for example, the "shoulderstand squat". This is where you lay on your back, push your body up into a shoulderstand, reminiscent of a yoga pose, and then lower your legs so your knees approach your chin. If you are fat and out of shape, then the shoulderstand squat is going to be difficult for you to do because of that. I can see where if you were injured, the completely unloaded nature of this movement might help you regain range of motion.
Each step has guidelines on when to go to the next step. There is some unique use of props like a basketball and baseball to help you with limiting depth of movement and improving on the quality of the movements.
In my opinion, the progressions are the greatest strength of this book. I got several ideas on how to train very weak and detrained individuals to reach the point where push ups and pull ups are possible for them to do.
The training guidelines, or, how to put it all together, is a section that I find weak. For beginners, he recommends 2-3 worksets of the push ups and leg raise variations on Monday, and the pull up and squat variations on Friday. In my opinion this is kind of low volume.. He also describes the "grease the groove" technique, but insists some "fellow prison athlete" told him about it, and calls it "consolidation training".
In fact, there's a significant number of the RKC's Hardstyle techniques listed in here.
He recommends a deliberate pacing for repetitions. 2 seconds down, 1 second pause, 2 seconds up specifically for the push up, and deliberate speeds similar to this for the other movements, with the recommendation to occasionally do the movements explosively.
The recommendation to start slowly is appreciated, although his example is a bit over the top regarding this. All exercise should be started slowly, both to build skill, but also to allow the slower adapting connective tissue to acclimatize to the new stimuli. There are somewhat gentle reminders that consistency and quality is the key to successful physical training in any endeavor.
So, to summarize
-entertaining and interesting read
-good progressions, including the use of cheap and unique props.
-good explanation of exercises
-good, if basic, tips on how to keep your workouts on track
-unsubstantiated claims by the anonymous author
-excessive hard selling of BWT by running down weight training
-unnecessary criticism of bodybuilders, yet the fact that you can build muscle using BWT is a theme through out the book.
-glamorizing convicts, prison chic.
Overall I don't regret this purchase. I have a bit of an issue with the excessive marketing of this product, but that is a particular quirk of mine and it's a book that I will keep in my library. I did learn a few things from it, which makes it a worthwhile purchase for me. I have to admit that I will probably purchase the sequel as well.
A brief note: This book was ordered on December 8th and was received on December 10th using regular shipping. It arrived damaged. I emailed Dragondoor's customer service and they said that they are sending me a replacement copy. I was very pleased with both the speed at which the order arrived and the resolution of the problem I had with damaged materials. I received the new copy of the book on December 16th, so the DD customer service is doing a great job this holiday season.