Convict Conditioning

I am typing the first draft of this on a tiny keyboard attached to my iPad mini, so please excuse any typos. I will come back and do corrections and add pics once I am home. But I couldn’t wait to write about this, so I apologize if it looks liK3 a s3r1Al K1LL3r d1d Th15 3ntrY.

First, let me say that fitness is a never-ending journey. It is a lifestyle. Yes, you can and should make/track/keep goals and goal setting as a tool that helps your progress. And yes, you should always be open to doing what is best, not what is popular. With that in mind, what is best for me may not be what is best for you. I am a kinesthetic person – I really thrive and learn best when I do something or express emotionally what I am experiencing by way of my body. It’s the life I have always lived. After a few years of focusing on lifting weights, I have an admission to make: It isn’t making me happy or gratified the way dance and gymnastics did. I am bigger, stronger, and leaner. I have attained a much greater sense of confidence. But picking up heavy objects and putting them down again contains no soul or art. I want to reconnect with the outside, and I want to reconnect to delight. Gyms, weights, and the enormously flawed fitness industry/machine/complex/matrix do not make me happy. Those entrapments make exercise expensive, boring, and dangerous. I want to reconnect with myself and my love of flying, spinning, falling, and rising.

I have all but achieved most of my aesthetic fitness goals in the last year, yes; however, I need to also acknowledge that I wasn’t eating enough back when I was trying to gain mass as a mover. I was also working out for endurance when I was doing thousands of reps of everything over the course of a week. Building strength and mass comes from getting enough sleep (a real weakness in my fitness equation), plus adequate calories (which I was definitely not getting in years past), plus PROGRESSIVE CHANGE. You can build mass naturally with bodyweight exercises (e.g. look at gymnasts, street athletes, calisthenic trainees), but you have to make progression the foundation of your practice, just as with weight training. The duress has to get more intense every single time. Adding reps and adding sets isn’t the way. That works to a certain point before it becomes endurance training, but also consider assymetricality, monolateral movement, slowing down on the individual reps, wearing a weighted vest, and/or resting less and less between sets. All those nuances/modalities of challenge come together in small increments to help progressively intensify a regimen based upon calisthenics.

I realized I was getting better and better at building an inauthentic type of strength that had no connection to functionality and bodily interconnection. What point is there in moving heavier and heavier objects from here to there and focusing only on external aesthetics that I can never attain without steroids? I finally had enough after watching parkour/free running videos for months (and thinking I was too old to learn it); browsing the videos on YouTube by Barstarzz, Adam Raw, and Corey Hall (and dismissing it as impossible for me now that I’m getting weight lifters’ joint problems); and watching the show Arrow in rapid order (such an amazing man, Stephen Amell). The final straw was seeing XMen: Days of Future Past. These superheroes and mutants are crazy fit while stunting in their spandax… AND I WILL BE TOO!!

But how to relearn calisthenics of any kind after years in the gym, let alone build up to the types of acrobatic skills I’m seeing all over the internet? I tried to figure out if any of my YouTube heroes had playlists of videos that offer any sense of organization for progression, but that is just too damn difficult (if not impossible, given that the videos often don’t exist). But I found a system that is everything I wanted, and I read the entire book in one day. If I want the accompanying videos, they have them available; however, I really don’t think I will need them.


The system is called Convict Conditioning, and it was developed inside penitentiaries by a man who learned directly from the men who knew and passed on the old world traditions for strength training with only the body as exercise equipment. I used to tell people that my body was my gym, and this author makes that point repeatedly. I will become my own gym again. But this time I will be attempting to sleep better, I will already have MUCH improved eating habits, and I will be training for strength/mass this time around, not for endurance. Taking all these principles together at once, I look forward to continuing down the next road on my journey. I will make that journey on the bars that are peppered on the fitness trail that loops around my apartment complex…

Author: Devon Hunter

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  1. I just did Step 1 of Convict Conditioning for both Push-Ups (3×50 wall push ups) and Leg Raises (3×40 seated knee ups). Wednesday will be Step 1 for Pull-Ups and Squats. Friday will be Step 1 for Handstand Push-Ups and Bridges… This stuff, even at Step 1, is deceptively simple – today won’t make me sore, but while I was doing it, it definitely created way more burn than I was expecting… Oh yes… BarStarzz will be in my future… Give it time.

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  2. This week, I have done Step 1 of all six exercises. I don’t feel I mastered Step 1 for Leg Raises, so I am staying at level 1 for core work while moving ahead to Step 2 for all the others next week… EXCITED!!

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