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Convict Conditioning: Catastrophe and Recovery

Steve-Harvey-pull-up-192x300What happened Steve?” you may well ask, “You were all set to bring us up to date with your progress, we were on the edges of our collective seat and then, like Keyser Soze, you vanished.”

You’d be right on all counts, too. I was all set. I had a plan; I was on top of my game and then, sudden as a cartoon piano from the blue, life got me and I found myself way off the wagon and stranded at the roadside. Unlike Keyser Soze you are going to hear from me again, though, here’s what happened.

I’d been Conditioning hard for a few months, three times a week on the Good Behaviour plan and I was progressing well. I’d worked past mid-point on most of the core progressions: pull-ups, push-ups and squats. The exercises began to transition towards one-handed variations. Push-ups and pull-ups used a close grip to force a greater share of the work onto the smaller muscles; Squats used a narrower stance which really tested my ankle flexibility.

I’d worked right up to the ‘Master Step’ in leg raises and was wrestling with the 60 hanging reps to complete it. The biggest issue was that my door frame bar wasn’t high enough for my straightened legs to swing freely and I ended up scuffling around in the carpet, nerfing my reps. My rather brutal solution was to hold myself in upper pull-up position to do the exercise; needless to say this added a whole new dimension of arm endurance into the mix and progress was slow and steady!

As I moved towards the later steps in each progression I noticed that my progress began to slow, I was still making gains but only by a rep or two each week rather than the wildfire gains of the earlier steps. I was happy to be wrestling with the tougher stuff but it didn’t make for captivating subject matter when it came to writing time.

Stumbling Block

I’d also been running a few times a week to keep my asthma in check and chip away at my body fat. Mindful of the perils of chronic cardio I kept the runs to 5km and worked on my power, it was far enough to stretch my legs and get my heart going. Unfortunately it was here that my downfall began.

One day whilst in the closing throes of my usual circuit my GPS whispered in my ear that I was on track for a pretty damn fast time. I was feeling strong but my calf was niggling me a little more than usual. I could have played it safe and stopped, instead I gambled. I crested the final hill at race pace and just as I sighted the easy 200m finishing straight something tore in my calf ; instead of a glorious finish I was hobbling back down the hill feeling conspicuous in my sudden lack of pace .

The Fallout

The most disruptive thing was how so small an injury broke my exercise habit, running was suspended for a month and squats had to go on hiatus because they aggravated my calf. The cooler months were upon me and I’d slowly slipped into bad eating habits in the false confidence that the training was soaking up any excess. I’d just become conscious of a new doughiness about my middle when the other shoe dropped.

Another unremarkable day, shortly after two sets of close press-ups, my shoulder started to emit a dull ache that ran down towards my bicep. It didn’t last long, I stretched out, rolled my shoulder loose and mentally consigned it to the usual body grumblings of no longer being an immortal twenty-something. I forgot about it until two nights later after pull-ups night (we know how to party ’round here) when I was woken by that same dull, throbbing ache which ebbed and waned depending on how I held my arm. It worsened each night for a week until I could no longer pretend I didn’t have repetitive strain injury.

There was no working around my shoulder and calf. I managed a few floor based leg raises as hanging wasn’t an option, neither was anything in push-up position and the overhead grip of bridges was equally intolerable. Long story short, training went under the bus for a month over Christmas, the absolute worst time to ditch your fitness regime. Temptation and opportunity was everywhere and I found myself stumbling into the new year, blinking and dragging an extra stone of belly with me.

So that was it, I gave up, bought a floral mu-mu and set upon an existence of unshared family size pizzas, pillowcases of cheesy poofs and luminous orange beverages from Scotland. Well not quite… clearly I’m a sucker for a challenge and bloody minded enough not to take RSI for an answer.


Five or six weeks rest was enough to shake off my achy oppressor and back to it I went, but oh so gently. I dropped back a step or two in most exercises and met each workout with lavish warm-ups, perfect form and zen master level body awareness. It was a bit heart breaking at first, the extra weight and time out made everything harder, because they’re bodyweight exercises, and I felt so weak compared to six weeks before.

Fortunately six weeks wasn’t enough time for my previously acquired muscle tone to go completely out of the window, I recovered in leaps and bounds, safe, well warmed-up ones, but definitely faster than the first time I pushed through the sets. I cut down on the bad foods, took on a Krav Maga class for a cardio boost (and lashings of the old ultra-violence) and re-established good training habits. Five weeks later I had recovered much lost ground and the belly was starting to dwindle. I always find it a tough proposition to dump body fat over the winter, it seems my every fibre is screaming “For the love of all that’s sacred eat some ruddy starch this very minute” all the live long day.

When Michael—Paleo Minds founder—and I talked about getting clobbered by the injury fairy he said (editor’s note: as eloquent as ever) to me IMG_20150906_121108It’s real life, man. Shows you’re human; sometimes shit happens.” Which is so true and inadvertently summed up the message of this piece, it’s not about the falling down, it’s about not losing heart, getting back up and swinging again. My training had insulated me to an extent and I got back on track much faster than I would have been otherwise. A good body conditioning regime provides a certain degree of protection from injury and a springboard to full recovery. I’ve still got a way to go before I’m back to my previous condition but I’m gaining ground a little every week; I’ve even revisited my old buddy the crow stand.

There’s always the risk something can come along and screw up your best laid plans, even with The Coach’s careful injury avoidance methods we’re ultimately fragile creatures. Catastrophe is largely out of our control, what we can do is determine our response to them. I’ve learned two things from this little diversion, to be proactive in recognising emerging problems and to get back up and training again as soon as safely able. I had the alarm bells with my calf again a week ago and this time instead of pushing through I listened to my body and stopped, as a result it hasn’t interfered with my Convict Conditioning training and I’m still making up lost ground just as quickly as before. Maybe an old dog can learn a new trick or two after all.


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About Steve Harvey

Steve Harvey is a lifelong fitness junkie who believes in working out smarter for the best quality of life. Besides being a total coffee nerd and budding minimalist, he is interested in productivity hacks, cinema and body-sympathetic eating.

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