“Weeks 5-8 were a maelstrom of
activity and progression!”
Welcome back regular readers, I can say that now I’m on article four, right? If you’re new to the series it will probably feel more coherent to read from the start. So, weeks 5–8 were a maelstrom of activity and progression, by the end of the second month I’d switched plans again, pushed squats and the dreaded leg raises into overdrive and got carpet burns on my knees the non-fun way, I’m looking at you crow stands.
By week eight I’d pushed slowly further into the higher reps of incline pushups and horizontal pulls (as described last time). Progress wasn’t quite as quick as I’d expected, both exercises delivered a solid muscular burn at the higher reps and my wrists and forearms were still adapting to the hanging and pressing positions. Regardless my triceps and biceps were thickening and developing with the work and I was ratcheting up extra reps each time.
The most significant change was switching plans again – I know, so fickle. To recap, I’d been following a slightly modified good behaviour plan, three workouts a week covering two progressions at a time. I decided to introduce a few short runs into the mix because I’m an asthmatic and the better my cardio fitness the less my whistling lungs intrude on my quality of life. [Editor’s note: consider full-out sprints as an alternative to avoid falling victim to chronic cardio and the pitfalls that come with it.] I’d been spurred on by the restorative efforts of the shoulderstand squats on my knees and figured that I’d have to shift things around to fit a few 5km runs a week in without turning a workout into a full time job!
Veterano Plan is the next step up, besides spacing the exercises out evenly over the week there are no other changes. My plan was to hit the crow stands on the odd days and run on the evens to give the harder exercises more space to bloom. I wanted to get used to running after strength work to keep it challenging and boost my recovery times.
Crow stands were still kicking my ass, now here’s Fiona with the weather. Well, yes and no, by week eight I was still wrestling with them but this time I was clawing back some victories between the face plants and awkward landings (seriously, try falling over with your hands pinned to the floor by your bodyweight, you’ll try to put your hands forward every time). I was still more Bambi than Rambo but increasingly struck upon moments of Zen and held it together for thirty seconds which feels like a zillion years when you’re being some kind of callisthenic super-mushroom. The struggle continues…
Coach Wade has a little to say about warming up in chapter 11: Body Wisdom. In line with popular opinion, he’s for it of course, but contests the need to put in hours of warm up before a work set, obviously with caveats for age and injury. The Convict Conditioning school of warm ups is to do two reduced sets of similar but less intense exercises so your muscles get a wakeup buzz but are hungry for proper work.
If you’re on the first step there isn’t much you can do in The Coach’s school of warm ups, hence I injected a few light cardio moves and stretches to get the blood pumping. Once you get your teeth into the more challenging steps you want to put a more structured warmup in place to face the workout warm and supple.
Death of the Knee Tuck
Somewhere around week five I repeated the progression standard for knee tucks, the entry point on the leg raise progression, and then all hell broke loose. I’ve previously said how tough I found this exercise, especially as I’ve always considered my core pretty strong; despite this three sets of 40 knee tucks was enough to tax my stomach muscles and labour my breathing.
I was surprised to progress to flat knee raises and comfortably crush the progression standard on my first attempt. The exercise felt so easy I checked my form then moved up to flat bent leg raises the next week; usually I’d be circumspect around such rapid progression but clearly the tucks had lain solid foundations. The next week to my surprise I proceeded to flatten them too, with similar ease!
To briefly unpick the exercise itself, steps two and three of the Leg Raise progression are floor exercises, performed on the back and based on slowly lifting the legs (bent at 90 or 45 degrees respectively) to vertical and back. In my experience they are best performed slowly in two sets, with no more than a 2 minute rest between to maximise the benefit of the workout. The rectus abnominis isn’t a major muscle group so the body won’t panic and send reinforcements if it’s getting pushed around a bit, you have to bully it to get it to respond. That means good form, focus on breathing and the intensity of the exercise and keep the pressure on.
Vanity and Media Bull
I was cheered to read Coach Wade agreed entirely with my own views on stomach toning. As I said back at the start I’ve always struggled with a bit of squidginess around the middle, nothing repellent but enough that I’ve focussed more attention on that area than any other. I came to my own conclusion that sit-ups, crunches, etc. are a load of old bunkum. Unless you are already below 10% body fat, doing ab exercises in isolation will do precisely nothing for your outward appearance. In my early twenties I would get down and smash out two-hundred knee-up crunches a day, I got a strong core, I could take a punch but I didn’t get a six pack… because that’s not how body fat works.
The idea you can train the fat off one area is a harmful marketing myth to sell gadgets. Body fat appears systematically but is distributed with a bias towards the core, dependent on the body type. Coach Wade explains if you want to expose the abdominals it is necessary to train them hard, then lower the body fat through diet and exercise so they appear.
The other aspect is nutrition, the old adage is true, you can’t out-train a bad diet. I don’t just mean watching how much you eat, quality and nutrition is a massive factor. Convict Conditioning isn’t a get slim quick book, the idea of living clean and respecting your body is clear but not The Coach’s focus. What it will do is make you strong by creating muscles in a lean and sustainable way that facilitates effective fat burning. Combine with a healthy lifestyle and Charles Atlas is your uncle.
But What About Your Knees?
At the end of week five I finally put shoulderstand squats to rest and moved onto step two, jackknife squats which blew my mind. It turns out that the squat progression is perfect for my wonky knees and cranky tendons. Jackknife squats are essentially deep squats but the starting position is bent over, hands on a low table and the finish is a deep squat, feet flat and hands in the same position for balance.
The exercises were tougher on the legs than the previous step but still gentle and supported, the key factor here was that it got me used to the deep squat position and gave me a hell of an achilles tendon stretch. I hit progression standard on my first try but resolved to repeat it a few times to perfect my form and take advantage of the secondary benefits. By the end of week eight I was ready to move up and had taken a bunch of short runs with no knee or tendon troubles, the likes of which dashed my half marathon plans a few years back, so the future was bright!