Our ancient ancestors were incredible bodyweight athletes. Just a basic grasp of history will make you realize how true this statement is. What’s more, they were explosive athletes: can you imagine the inherent power, the speed, the agility and reflexes it would take for a team of human beings to take down a mighty creature like a rampaging boar, a wildebeest or even a giant mammoth?
Hell, who wouldn’t want to have all that back today? Who wouldn’t want to become that explosive again—for sports, athletics, or maybe even self-preservation in a survival situation? Perhaps just for the natural pride of knowing that you’ve taken your body back to the primal “default” settings you were always meant to have?
Mother Nature gave you this incredible machine for becoming almost Spider-Man explosive. That machine is your own body. But somewhere along the way, something in the fitness world went wrong. We turned our backs on this birthright. Instead, athletes looking to gain qualities like speed, power, and agility started using gimmicks. They are jumping off boxes; using straps and bands; throwing weighted balls around; and dancing around cones. None of this will get you explosive as fast as just moving your body! Your body is really all you need. It was all we ever needed.
Did your ancestors have any of this crap?
Explosive Calisthenics: Convict Conditioning Style
Here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re going to follow a Convict Conditioning approach. We’re gonna field-strip our training: we’ll get rid of the crash mats, the foam pits, wedges, wires and spotters. You just need to find something to hang from—a bar, a branch. No more specialized gear than that. We’re going back to basics, baby!
Forget intricate training schedules with hundreds of exercises programmed into a periodized routine. None of that junk works—it spreads your energy and focus too thin. We are going to use just a handful of movement “chains”—we’ll pick six of the finest, most mind-blowing examples of explosive speed and power on the planet, then we’ll work up to them progressively.
The “Explosive Six”
First, don’t get me wrong: slow strength is crucial for the athlete—it builds muscle mass, teaches the soft tissues to resist force, and builds joint integrity. But it shouldn’t be the end of your calisthenics story! In the real world, you gotta be able to use your strength quickly, and with agility. You gotta EXPLODE!
In Convict Conditioning’s “Big Six” I shared with you my philosophy on the world’s greatest bodyweight strength exercises. But there is more to the story. There is also an “Explosive Six” which will turn that strength into incredible power. Take a minute to absorb the Master Steps on this list:
1. The Suicide Jump
Forget box jumps and go old school. This move is long known as a bodyweight feat for only the finest jumpers: Grab a broomstick…and jump over it. Sound easy? Try it, dude—you’ll find out how it got its name.
2. The Superman
Also known as the flying Superman, this is possibly the archetypal power pushup: you just bend your arms, and explode your entire body off the ground, before shooting you’re your arms then landing safely. Warning: medicine ball work will not get you there!
3. The No-Hands Kip-up
You’ve seen Jackie Chan do it; you’ve seen The Rock do it. Lie on your back and BANG! Whip up onto your feet. But since you’re cooler than those two dudes, I’m gonna teach you to do it with no damn hands.
4. The Front Flip
Forget the relatively slow Olympic lifting everyone is into these days. Now we are talking speed-strength. Now we are talking perfection of muscular synergy. No running. No steps. From standing, explode 360 degrees and land on your feet like a cat.
5. The Back Flip
Beloved by parkour masters, martial artists and acrobats—if one exercise symbolizes agility, it has to be this one. We all know it—dip down and flip around, landing on your feet without using the hands. But how many have learned it? Mastered it, dominated, it? No funny little plastic cones required.
6. The Muscle-Up
The first five moves in this list build incredible power and speed. But they are performed off the floor. For a balanced power-physique, you need to pull upwards, as well. And for true explosiveness—which works every muscle in the upper-body and trunk—there’s only one choice. Hang from the bar and power up and over!
Knowledge is power
Just take a look at that roll call. It’s pretty elite right?
Let’s dream for a moment. How much raw power would you possess—in every single muscle of your body—if you could bust out all six of these movements? How fast would you be? How conditioned would your responses, your reflexes become? How much would all that power improve and enhance your strength training, your bodybuilding, your sports? Furthermore, how many athletes do you know who can complete all six? Hell, how many human beings in history could? And yet, achieving this incredible level of ability can be done.
…And it might be easier than you think. But you need to open your mind and drop all thinking about modern methods, current gimmicks and trends, and be prepared to go Spartan as Hell. Old, old school.
Don’t be misled into thinking in terms of gymnastics, either. Gymnastics is great, but it’s a sport based on aesthetics and external judgment. What I want to share—progressive, explosive calisthenics—is much more ancient. We’re just moving. Nobody is judging you. I’ll help you find your own way. It doesn’t matter if you put this foot out of alignment, or that arm in the wrong direction. As long as you are building power, you are winning!
Most athletes—even dedicated, impressive men and women—shy away from “big” exercises like these. They assume that only naturally gymnastic folks can do them, and that they gotta start off real young.
Any regular man or woman can build up to these exercises! You just need to do so progressively.
I am incredibly proud of my first book, Convict Conditioning. One of the reasons I’m so proud is that the manual persuaded many thousands of folks who were intimidated by incredible strength feats—like the one-arm pullup and pushup—to begin working on these movements by starting easy. Sure, you can’t pull off a one-arm pushup on your first day of training! But you can do wall pushups well, right? And when you’ve been working with them for a while, you can do incline pushups. Then kneeling pushups. Eventually, asymmetrical pushups. And before you know it, you’re on your way: you have experienced—first-hand, not via theory—the fact that progressive calisthenics can unlock your innate strength!
The exact same is true for the legendary explosive movements above. You can achieve each of them—if you know the “secret”. What’s the secret? The correct progressions.
My new book, Explosive Calisthenics is the third volume in the Convict Conditioning series. In it, I’ll be teaching you all the programming theory you need to optimize your power training. I’ll give you my training tips, my “performance hacks” to get you crashing through barriers. I’ll also give you dozens of extra zero-equipment drills to help you in your training. But most importantly, I’ll share with you my progressions. Each movement in the Explosive Six is carefully broken down into ten steps—ranging from “pretty easy” all the way up to the Master Steps above—and beyond. And I promise you, you don’t need a gym, foam mats or a spotter. Just your body, like I said.
I know all you reading this have been thinking about, and working on, your bodyweight strength—and I love you for it. But—if you’re ready—it’s nearly time for us to commence a new journey together. It’s time to shift up a gear—several gears—and transform that strength into power.
It’s time to go back to where we were meant to be, kid.
It’s time to explode.
Paul “Coach” Wade is the author of Convict Conditioning, Convict Conditioning Volume 2, the Convict Conditioning Ultimate Bodyweight Training Log, and five Convict Conditioning DVD and manual programs. Click here for more information about the Convict Conditioning DVDs and books available for purchase from Dragon Door Publications.