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A Lesson From The Convicts

My Mother works in the prison industry, in logistics. Her affinity for numbers and an intuitive grasp of bookkeeping led to her easily securing the job. This knowledge however, that, protected as she was by large, physically imposing guards, she was still surrounded by violent inmates with a predisposition for malevolence filled me with malaise and terror. Undeterred, I sought to understand my fears, to combat them with comprehension and alleviate them with knowledge. So I read, immersing myself in the biographies of both convicts and correctional officers, wardens and wards of the state, grown and juvenile. As I digested increasing anounts of information, a part of me, albeit begrudgingly initially, came to admire these men restrained behind unforgiving steel, stone and stigma. Obviously not the rapists and pedophiles, or vast majority of the murderers. All 3 groups should be put to death with extreme prejudice and malice, particularly the second one. But it was the gang members, those convicted of manslaughter, the frauds, cheats, thieves and enforcers, who I was reluctantly beguiled by. While their crimes were indeed deplorable and nothing to aspire to, the ones that had repented and dedicated themselves to self-improvement, doing good, and had, preferably, turned themselves over to Christ, were indeed esteemable. I coveted their quiet, unflinching resolve in the face of consistent attempts to belittle them, their superior physical strength and conditioning, gained with an indomitable will and earned by way of inhuman grit and gallons of sweat. They maintained a stoic, self-reliant front, defined by a steadfast refusal to be phased or downtrodden by outside forces. At that time in my life, these were qualities I desperately desired, so, when presented with the opportunity, I sought to emulate and eventually acquire them myself. Wisdom can often be found in the most unlikely places, and the quality of it is unaltered by its surroundings, regardless of whether its discovered in captivity, spirituality or affluence.

Im no yogi, priest, monk, shaman, healer, or any variation thereof. As such, aside from giving my personal experiences or discussing theory with others, I am in no way qualified enough to discourse on the discipline. Likewise, we all deal with stress differently, anguish and adversity with varying degrees of ambiguity. While I may meet issues head on, systematically dismantling them with cold, rational precision, others may seek refuge in the false safety of denial or the malady of addiction. To be honest, I have no patience for either, and lack the constitution to listen to psychological weakness and masturbatory self-righteousness and self-justification, so being the next Dr. Phil isnt in the cards for me. As such, I will discuss the only area I have extensive personal experience in, fitness.

The stories of prisoners I consumed hungrily tided me over while I trained, starved as I was regarding love and acceptance. The young black kid from inner-city Detroit, who entered Gen-Pop at a strung out, veiny and needle prodded 127 who emerged 2 years later at a solid, diesel 210, by way of little more than ramen, peanut butter and high volume pushups, ignited the fires of my perserverance and drive. Weights were hard to get to out to sea, unless you were willing to essentially sit in a waiting room in between sets, meandering about with shaker bottle in hand. Food, my beloved muse, is repugnantly expensive in large quantities, so to discover I could gain some serious size and stay relatively lean for less than $10 a day lifted my spirits. Meanwhile, Lion, the gang leader referenced in a book by Michael Santos, an academic and scholar, who has written extensively about the criminal justice system while incarcerated for 27 years on an overblown drug charge, would begin his daily physical onslaught with 1000 pushups, completed in under 30 minutes, before hitting both the iron pit and the track for several hours. To think of the stratospheric levels of formiddable fitness reachable in the most Spartan conditions is invigorating. Any man or woman would be a fool of stellar proportions to not abuse this advantage.

My small-space workout, completed in hotel rooms, Naval ships and roadside rest stops around the world, has sustained me indefinitely. Simple, refined, and effective. Field stripped and ready.

Squats
Handstand work
Pushups
Bridge work

A grab bag of beneficial, multi-joint, multi-plane movements, standing armed and focused, deployable at all hours. Pick a set, rep and rest scheme, and get to work. These 4 movement families will provide all of the muscular stimulation needed for all of your goals. High rep, medium tension movements performed for a moderate amount of sets will build muscle and torch fat. Conversely, high tension, high skill movements like the Freestanding Handstand Pushup, Pistol Squat and Stand to Stand Bridge, a la Convict Conditioning, will generate impressive strength and prodigious coordination. Perceptive readers will notice the absence of the pullup family of movements. Its lack of inclusion is not meant to detract from its innumerable health benefits. A thick, wide back, muscular, defined arms, a terrifying grip and a phenomenal strength to bodyweight ratio are indeed a very gratifying promise, but the simple fact is that I often had nowhere to do pullups. Not that it mattered much, due to a little known physiological quirk called Lombard's Paradox. It states that during the concentric phase of an exercise, the working muscle's antagonistic counterpart will still powerfully flex, even though, according to basic and widely accepted physiology and exercise science it should be relaxed. What this means is that, during all of those handstand pushups, the biceps and lats are working hard while the triceps, shoulders and upper chest push forward laboriously. In laymans terms, pushups help your pullups, although it is indirectly. To once again draw from my personal experience, I havent done pullups in any serious capacity for over 2 years. I instead devote the overwhelming majority of my time to handstand pushups and planche work. I have gained around 15 pounds of solid muscle in that same time frame as well. Yet, even though I havent trained the exercise, one that relies heavily on relative strength, fervently, have gained weight, and, according to modern dogma, have allowed them to atrophy, I can still reliably knockout 15 reps in the pullups with little effort. As always, is this incredible or even impressive? Certainly not. I know women that can do in excess of 35 pullups, and men that, at over 220 pounds of vascular, robust muscle, can do over 30 reps. Yet, they train this movement daily, I dont, and I can still do more than the average gym rat. The beauty of calisthenics is that of irradiation and interconnectivity. The body is strengthened synergistically, regardless of the movement performed. Youll notice I havent included detailed, rigid instructions this time around. That was not an oversight, but entirely intentional. Get to know these movements intimately and deeply, until they are embedded irrevocably in your CNS. Whether you save this for those times you need a brief reprieve from the gym, for a hectic travelling schedule where physical activity is indespensible, or you adopt it as your primary training method, matters not. Learn it, live it, love it. Get to work. If a man that lives on fucking honeybuns and ramen, forced by the state to subsist on a foul, soy infused diet, can do this and evolve into a behemoth, you have no satisfactory excuse. Sack up.

To add to this, I am in no way an exercise prodigy. All of my knowledge was gleaned from ranged, voracious, indiscriminate reading. If you have further interest in any of these teachings and long to delve deeper, I cannot reccommend Convict Conditioning by the marvelous Paul "Coach" Wade highly enough. That book changed my life, it is my Bible. I recieve no compensation for any purchase made. Fitness should be disseminated freely for the benefit of all. Buy the book. It is an investment that will pay bountiful dividends in health and vitality for the rest of your life.

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