How to Avoid a Plateau in Convict Conditioning

In Bodyweight Mastery by Admin6 Comments

Recently I received a question on breaking through plateaus in Convict Conditioning (actually it was specifically about the sequel, Convict Conditioning 2, but the ideas apply for both these books and more). In this case a guy had a hard time with hanging grip work from CC2.

Although I think Convict Conditioning books are great and there is a lot of cool stuff in there, I would like to propose one major change in workout routines laid out in the books in order to avoid plateaus.

The main idea in both books, progression wise, is to start with one step and move to the next one only after you’ve got to a certain level in the first one. This is generally a good idea, but it’s a mostly linear form of progression. What happens when you try to progress linearly? That’s right, PLATEAUS.

Instead, I think it’s a better to change the intensity of the exercise which will consequently change the volume, help you in the long run and finally stop you from hitting plateaus. To do this I wave the intensity, which also changes up the volume of work done.

In the video above regarding doing grip work hanging from bars, towels or ropes you’ll see several exercises and how you can go back and forth between harder and easier versions to help avoid plateaus.

Don’t underestimate this principle in what it can do for you training. I do this with every exercise I do.


    1. Stick to the book’s method. Wade talks about “waving” in the section dealing with periodization (CC1). Don’t be too smart. Instead, follow his tips on troubleshooting plateaus.

      1. The person asking this question was sticking the the books method. Besides what I’m talking about here is not about periodization at all. If you don’t understand the different I recommend watching the video again.

  1. This was good advice. Most people would not think to do this. They just follow what the book tells them, me included! Sometimes it’s good to think outside the box!

  2. Logan

    As someone who has struggled with plateaus in convict conditioning I greatly appreciate your incites on using a higher step in the program as a way to vary the intensity and volume. Another tactic I use when I hit a plateau is to take a 10sec rest after my last work-set and then complete a sub-max. Also I’ll do isometric holds of 6sec at the top, middle, and bottom of the last rep of the sub-max. For exercises that are holds themselves I’ll just do the 10 second rest and sub-max. If the exercise is one like fingertip-pushups, where maintaining the hold after the last work-set is exceptionally difficult then I will do a sub-max with an easier step in the progression. The problem with these approaches is that it’s easy for the overly motivated trainee to cross from a sub-max into training to failure. So the wave concept you have presented provides a way of better managing exercise fatigue while stimulating adaptation in a new way within the progressive calisthenics framework.

    On a related note I’ve increasingly come to suspect that the rep and set recommendations presented in Convict Conditioning my not be ideal for the goal of strength. The general recommendation in the books is one that uses few sets and higher reps. Personally I find this recommendation to be one where an exercise can have a relatively low strength requirement in the beginning but become a real grinder by the end due to fatigue. This can lead to a situation where a trainee has plateaued on their current step but can easily complete the beginner standard on the next step. So it would appear that fatigue has become the limiting factor rather than strength in a program touted as designed for the attainment of strength. This seems to be a situation where the goals are not in line with plan being employed.

    Though I have been faithfully applying the recommendations in the books for over 2 years I plan to start experimenting with a program that uses more sets and lower reps. This approach would be one more in line with proven strength training methodologies, methodologies that specifically state that the body cares little for the means used to generate resistance, thus undermining the need for the double progression claimed. I have not come to this conclusion lightly but due to progress that has demonstrated a program that yields the slowest results of any that I have ever tried. If not for the demands of the highly mobile and unpredictable lifestyle of my job I would have likely abandoned the body-weight only approach. But body-weight is what I can depend upon consistently having access to so I must find a way to make it work for a wide variety of physical qualities, including high levels of strength. Also just about every other body weight strength training program I’ve seen deviates from the programing recommended in Convict Conditioning, including the modern body-weight master Al Kavadlo.

    So what do you think Logan?

    1. Isaac I like your method as well. Adding more work after a short rest can be the thing that will allow you to get through plateaus.

      Overall I would agree with you on the lower reps for the strength. Sometimes the jumps between one exercise and the next is huge. But any time you have specific exercises with sets and reps there will be lots of debate.

      Also look forward to Al being on my podcast in one of the coming weeks. I’m looking forward to that interview.

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