Convict Conditioning

Category: fitness. Date read: October 12, 2018. My rating: 4/5. Buy on Amazon.

Explains what calisthenics is and proposes a simple but complete program that only requires time and commitment. No equipment, no excuses, only hard work.

Note: These notes doesn't include the actual calisthenics program explained in the book.

Calisthenics (...) it comes from the ancient Greek kallos meaning "beauty", and sthénos, which means "strength". — Paul Wade

Calisthenics is a strength training system.

These are the main benefits of doing calisthenics:

Convict Conditioning is a calisthenics program based around six types of movements—the "Big Six":

  1. Pushups
  2. Squats
  3. Pullups
  4. Leg raises
  5. Bridges
  6. Handstand pushups

Each type of movement of the "Big Six" is divided in "Ten Steps" of increasing difficulty.

Given a type of movement and a step, there's a progression chart to get from the given step to the next.

The last step of each type of movement of the "Big Six" is called the "Master Step":

  1. One-arm pushup
  2. Full one-leg squat
  3. Full one-arm pullup
  4. Hanging straight leg raise
  5. Stand-to-stand bridge
  6. One-arm handstand pushup

Start slow and start from the beginning.

Don't rush to go to the next step. It's more important to learn everything you can from the given step (considering both equilibrium and coordination as well as strength) before going to the next level.

Do each repetition in 5 seconds: 2 seconds "going in", 1 second in the hardest point, and 2 seconds "going out".

Never bounce out of any movement. Avoid fast, plyometric, movements. Smooth technique develops more strength.

Always leave some energy in your muscles so you can control your body. Don't train to failure.

Adapt exercises between steps or progressions if you need to go slower. In reality, there's an infinite number of steps. The program is a guide, not a rule. Most exercises have variations.

Alternating exercises per day (versus doing the same routine every day) helps the body not to get used to the routine.

Focus on the form, on the timing (2-1-2), and on the difficulty. It has to be difficult. This program is designed to take very little time but it must be a very intense workout.

Warm up by doing a couple of sets of the type of movement your exercising today but at an easier level. Aim at 50% of your maximum in your warm up sets.

Rest enough between sets so that you can start the next set and give it your all.

Progressions with a lot of repetitions are meant to increase coordination rather than strength. Even though it's not focused on strength, they're still important.

Cardio is important but there are a lot of different ways to get your cardio, including bodyweight exercises with higher repetitions.

Active stretching is better than passive stretching.

Sleep. Start every workout fully rested and ready to give it your fullest.


Avoid bizarre angles and hand positions. Use your palms flat on the floor to avoid injuries.

Keep the torso, hips, and legs aligned.

Keep the legs together.

Straighten your arms at the top of the movement but don't hyperextend the elbows.


Real strength comes from the force transmitted from the ground up through the legs and hips.

Don't use barbells. They compress the vertebrae and makes you do awkward movements.

Squat until your hamstrings are pressing on your calves and you cannot descend any further.

Straighten your legs at the top of the movement but don't hyperextend the knees.

Bend forwards as little as possible, only enough to avoid falling backwards.

Don't lift your heels, stretch your calves instead.


It's the safest upper back exercise.

Pull until your chin is above the bar at the top of the movement and don't go further.

Keep your arms almost straight at the bottom of the movement. Never relax into a full arm stretch.

Push your shoulders away from your head, never relax your shoulders.

Use whatever hand grip works for you.

Leg Raises

Pull in your stomach during ab movements to train your transversus.

If you have tight hamstrings, stretch them before exercising.


Curve your spine, don't allow it to be straight.

Raise your hips high off the floor.

Straighten your arms and legs.

The first three steps will help you ease old injuries, increase backwards flexibility, and loosen the hip flexors. Take your time on these exercises.

Handstand Pushups

Position your elbows angled forward in a natural way avoiding unnatural elbows at your sides.

Put your hands shoulder width apart.

Don't force your elbows apart, they will naturally angle inwards.

Keep your back gently curved. This is natural to keep equilibrium in the inverse position.

Only your heels should be touching the wall, with enough pressure to retain balance, not your whole weight.