Sign Up For The Newsletter!

Convict Conditioning – History and Thoughts




This article took much longer to write than I had anticipated. It was June of 2019 when Al Kavadlo interviewed me for his podcast (also available here on YouTube), where we talked about all things calisthenics. The topic naturally turned to Convict Conditioning – as I had been the model for the original, while Al and his brother Danny had been models for the sequels.

During the interview, I’d mentioned how I believed I had pictures of Paul Wade – as I’d been in email contact with him and John Du Cane for the original project.

I needed to dig into this! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’d heard that “Paul Wade is not a real person” or “Jim is Paul” or “John Du Cane is Paul” or any number of variations on that theme.

Before we go any further – spoiler alert – the pictures I was thinking about were NOT of Paul Wade (more on that below), but researching this article was a fun look down memory lane.

Anyways when I did find the pictures that I thought were of Paul Wade, I couldn’t just drop them casually onto the internet though.

I had to write an article about it! Some sort of magnus opus about Convict Conditioning!

While I’ve abandoned the thought of this being the end-all, be-all article for Convict Conditioning – I will talk a little about the history of Beast Skills, the history of Convict Conditioning, and thoughts and musings on it all.

So please enjoy this slice of calisthenics history. I still feel so incredibly grateful for having been a part of it.


Is Paul Wade Real??

Let’s get this question out of the way first – as I probably hear it the most. I have not met Paul in real life nor talked with him on the phone, but I absolutely believe he is a real person. There was never any indication it was a group of people, or just John Du Cane, or any of the other crazy theories I’ve heard over the years.

I emailed him when prepping this article! – and received a quick and warm reply back, almost immediately.

I’d read somewhere in one of the corners of the internet that Paul had felt a little sorry that I was on the front lines for a lot of comments and critiques on the book – being the face of the product. No worries! I have tough skin, and I have never harbored any ill feelings. On the contrary, I am glad to be part of something that inspired so many people around the world to get up and get moving onto the path of bodyweight training.


Beast Skills – a brief history

The story of Convict Conditioning has to start with a brief history of Beast Skills.

Back in the fall of 2004, I started a blog to put down my thoughts on training. I was a year and a half out of college and had immensely enjoyed my time on the club gymnastics team there – Gymkana. Now Gymkana is a very unique club in that we worked both traditional gymnastics (rings, parallel bars, pommel horse) and non-traditional/acrobatic gymnastics (chair balancing, partner acro balancing, flipping through hoops of fire):


Screen Shot 2020-05-16 at 8.28.18 AM

Not me, but I’ve done this

My teammates and I enjoyed working “beast skills” during practice. Now out of college and out of that environment, I wanted to continue. Whenever I searched online for info on gymnastics and bodyweight training . . . there just wasn’t much at all.


Hey, that’s me! Sweet summer child.

At this point I could do a handstand (even freestanding handstand pushups!), and I knew a little about all this stuff. I figured I’d share my amateur thoughts and training experience in a series of blog posts. I realized the simple blog format would quickly be unsuitable and in the summer of 2005, I started! (15 years ago! Damn!). That same year, I received my NSCA-CSCS and stepped into the Personal Training industry full time.

The site was never my full focus, but I continued to grow it over the following years – receiving great support and feedback from all my readers. I could write volumes on how appreciative I am for every single person who’s read and shared a post, commented on one of my articles or videos, or just shot me an email. Thank you more than you will ever know!!

Anyway, site visits continued to grow and in the summer of 2007, I was requested to give a gymnastics seminar at Capital Jiu-Jitsu Academy by Jerry Hill (he is now the owner of CrossFit Old Town – hell of an athlete too!)

Had I coached gymnastics before? Yes! At Gymkana’s summer camps, but an adult gymnastics seminar was new territory for me.

My originally slated hour and a half seminar went twice that time! Whoops! We all had a blast, and this started a half-a-dozen year span of gymnastic seminars at CrossFit gyms all over the place (albums here)


 Amazing people. Amazing places. Such good times!!


Convict Conditioning – the beginning

By the summer of 2008, my website had picked up a bit of attention. I was still working full-time as a Personal Trainer for the past three years – and I enjoyed jumping into Beast Skills and putting together new articles or videos on occasion. It had been mentioned on CrossFit before, and by the summer had even been permanently linked on the front page!

Regardless of one’s thoughts on CrossFit now, truths revealed, and what it is has become – that time was magical. If you know, you know.

Screen Shot 2020-05-16 at 2.54.18 PM

This. Was. Huge.

With this attention, it was likely my website was getting in front of a lot of eyes. During that summer, Paul Wade reached out to me, said he loved the site and was writing a book on bodyweight training to be call Convict Conditioning.

Screen Shot 2020-05-16 at 3.03.52 PM

He was looking to get photos of the exercises for his book. Being older in age, he wanted someone younger who could better demonstrate everything. I thought this sounded like a fun project to help with – something that would get people the world over excited about bodyweight skills. (I think it did that quite well!!!)

I picked Paul for questions on specifics – I was cautiously skeptical, but wanted to know more. Paul updated me on the project – saying that John DuCane from DragonDoor was very interested and had offered him a contract.

I reached out to John to make sure everything was on the up and up – he confirmed. This is what really pushed me into accepting. I loved DragonDoor’s material for years – with Pavel’s videos and books (The Russian Kettlebell challenge and Power to the People) way back in the day, as well as their articles on bodyweight skills from Jack Arnow (whom I interviewed and consider a friend) and from others.

If Dragondoor was in on Convict Conditioning? Then I was in on Convict Conditioning!


Jack Arnow and I


Convict Conditioning – Photo Shoot

How glamorous is a photo shoot suppose to be?

Craft service tables?

Lounge chairs between shots??

Well mine was done at the Balance Gym after-hours all by myself (I worked there and had access). I’d finish up a long day of personal training, head home for dinner and work, then head back for some uninterrupted picture taking. It took me several nights of this to get through the list of required pictures – quite an exhausting stretch!

CCcollageSo. Many. Pictures. . . . So. Many. Nights. 

In addition, it was a one man operation with a timer on an old point-and-shoot camera (an old canon powershot elph?). I didn’t even have the advantage of seeing myself on screen as I was holding a pose! I’d set up the shot . . . hit the timer . . . run into position . . . hold the pose . . . review the picture . . . realize I’m out of frame . . . retake . . .  etc, etc. I don’t think I did any other workouts during that time!!

Paul gave me a long list of pictures to take. Slowly, one by one, I was clicking through that list. Paul was over the moon with how the pictures were turning out. I was excited to see the project come together.


Convict Conditioning – The Launch!

I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly what I was doing the day or week that the book launched – but I remember I was excited!

There’s a picture of me somewhere holding the book for the first time. I’ll put it in here when I find it. In the meantime, enjoy this more recent shot.



Convict Conditioning – The Thoughts

I often get questions about the progressions and programming of Convict Conditioning.

What do I think about it? Should I do this? Should I do that? Would I recommend the exact progressive exercises, sets, reps, etc that Paul Wade has written down?

I always tend to respond with – “I was the model for the book, not the author” – but I understand, as people can not get a hold of Paul, I am on the front line answering questions.


First off, I agree with a lot of what is in the book. You’ll find here (and in any discussion between fitness professionals) that there is a lot more in common than not.
I think the concept of starting easy and progressing slow is great – something overlooked by many people. (even more so than when the book first came out).
I think the energy and the motivation it creates – the belief that you can work hard and get incredible results with minimal equipment – is also fantastic and speaks deeply to my own training history.

But I understand that’s not what people want to hear – they want to hear specific differences. If we’re talking about that – the first is that I’ve tended to gravitate toward lower rep, higher set work than the book suggests. It’s worked for me and those I’ve coached.

For those asking then “What exact numbers should I hit then? What exactly should I do?” – I ask “What work have you put in? What have you already done?”. This is to not only ask what’s worked and what hasn’t worked for them – but to see if they’ve even started.

If we’re sitting on our butts – waiting for the perfect plan and the perfect path to move forward – then we’re suffering paralysis by analysis.

Should you do 3 reps or 30 reps? YES. Do both. Figure out how each feel. Just start putting in the work, violently execute any plan, and you’ll figure what works better for you.


On the topic of exercise selection – there were a few additional ones that I’ve found helpful over the years – things like the one arm lock-off and one arm negative for the one arm chin-up. Of course, I also once gave myself severe elbow tendonitis in both arms with these exercises, so use wisely!

I’ve also focused on a few additional exercises for the handstand pushups – both the two arm and one arm variety.
Specifically, I like chest to wall work and work with my feet on lower boxes.
I really had good success with one arm handstand pushup training with exercises like feet on boxes, hand on a parallette.
This helped me build up to my best one arm handstand pushup.

Different Coaches will approach things different ways, and even the same Coach will revise their approaches over time – I know I have!
So look for the similarities first, and use the book’s progressions and exercises to start. If you explore a little and change things up, that’s fine too. Have fun with it!


On the topic of exercise possibility – on whether these skills are actually possible and whether Paul could do them.

First, everything within this book is within the realms of possibility. You can see in my video links above and throughout my social media these skills being performed – and I am certainly far from world class.

Second, for whether Paul could do these things – there’s only one man who can answer that. “But there are no photos/videos!!” people will say. To that I say – not everything is recorded and documented on the level we see today, especially several decades ago (and in prison). I also don’t think it would matter if we had high resolution pictures and videos from every conceivable angle – people will still find something to critique and tear down.

When I worked on a “one arm perfect pushup” (one that had zero twist), there was always something that people would find wrong. It became an exercise in futility to argue the minutiae and made me want to throw my damn computer away.


Obligatory Swanson Gif

Moving on . . .


Convict Conditioning and Pictures of Paul Wade?!?

Grab your copy of Convicting Conditioning – turn to page 262 – see that guy in the bandana and jumpsuit??

That is NOT Paul Wade.


When I was talking with Al in the interview, I had a ton of pictures of this guy that I upon hazy recollection I thought were Paul. They were sent in a giant PDF that contained pictures and drawings of the exercises to be photographed.


This is something Paul sent to give me the overall feel that the book would have, and to discuss wardrobe. They prompted me to actually ask for a costume change to what you see in the book (beanie, tank top, jeans, and dark shoes) instead of the bandana and jumpsuit. I think I made a good call there!

Anyways, back in the day I never had the conversation with Paul of exactly who was in those pictures (it was not a major detail). In doing the due diligence for this article (and to make sure Paul was comfortable with me sharing any pics), I emailed him this past May to ask! His reply: 


So mystery solved there – just another bodyweight enthusiast. If anyone can find that guy, let me know. I should have searched for him when I visited Ireland several years ago!


In the same email, I also asked Paul if he would be willing to give a few photos for this article. His reply there:


Hahaha… can’t blame a guy for trying.


Convict Conditioning 2!

As you’ll hear in Al’s interview – I had a great time with the first Convict Conditioning book, but wanted to move on to other things!
When asked to help with Convict Conditioning 2, I politely declined. This was no slight against Paul, John, DragonDoor, or anyone connected to Convict Conditioning! Sometimes you just want to explore other paths.

I was also contacted by John DuCane to be a faculty member on their PCC cert. While this also sounded amazing, it just didn’t quite line up for my life at the moment. My old college housemate, Steve Low, was part of PCC for a bit of time. Yes, Steve who wrote “Overcoming Gravity“. The bodyweight community can be quite small sometimes!


A high percentage of people who could one arm chin in that house!

I think the work that Al, Danny, and Paul did with the follow-up editions was great, and continued the awesome energy and tradition!


Wrap it all up

This post felt similar to my Jasper Benincasa post – where we might FINALLY be able to see a piece of bodyweight history. Alas, this was not the case but I hope you still enjoyed the walk with me.

Convict Conditioning, Beast Skills, and the entire bodyweight community have been an amazing experience in my life and my journey continues – keep following me on Instagram and Facebook, and wander on over to Nerd Fitness where I do online coaching and help with an article or two.

Take care everyone. Stay strong.

Jul 04, 2020 | Category: Blog | Comments: none


Leave a Reply