All posts by Al Kavadlo

Stretching: Before or After Your Workout?

Sophia is very flexible!

Sophia is very flexible!

Most fitness professionals agree that stretching is a worthwhile part of a well rounded exercise routine, but lately there seems to be a lot of debate about when to stretch.

For a long time, conventional wisdom held that stretching should be performed before your workout, as a means to loosen up the muscles.

The theory behind it being that tight muscles would prevent athletes from being able to perform at peak levels, and that loose muscles were also less likely to get strained. This is still common practice for many recreational athletes.

Men are generally less flexible than women.

Men are generally less flexible than women.

However, recent studies, like the one mentioned in this article from last years New York Times, have indicated that stretching prior to exercise can potentially loosen you up too much, thereby actually decreasing performance capabilities while increasing susceptibility to injuries. Go Figure.

Personally, I am not a big fan of stretching before a strength training or cardio session; stretching tends to have a calming effect on me, whereas I want to be amped up before a run or training session. Stretching at the end of a workout when my body temperature is already up and I am more relaxed has usually felt better for me.

I don't recommend you try this unless you're warmed up

I wouldn't try this without a warm up first!

On the other hand, stretching can be a means of warming yourself up. Flexibility is a cornerstone of yoga practice–and I am a big advocate of yoga (I do it myself, in fact). If you do like to stretch as a warm up, just be careful not to push your stretches too far at the start. You have to ease in.

Like I often tend to point out, there are so many different approaches and it’s up to you to figure out what works best for your body. I know a lot of people who want to just be told what to do without having to think, but I urge you not to take that path!

Pay attention to your body while you are working out and experiment with different approaches to see what feels right. Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to make mistakes; there aren’t always such clear cut distinctions between right and wrong. Case in point–this recent article from the Times suggests that having tight hamstrings could actually be beneficial!

For more information, pick up a copy of my new book, Stretching Your Boundaries.

Client Spotlight: Emma Robinson

Emma pullupEmma Robinson is a one of a kind client. As a former Olympic medalist (Emma’s won both sliver and bronze medals in rowing, at the 1996 and 2000 games respectively), she is no stranger to busting her butt in the gym. Emma is one of the hardest working, most determined people I’ve ever met. She’s also one of the strongest!

But when I first met Emma, it had been years since she had been on any type of strict exercise regimen. Even though she had at one point in time reached the pinnacle of athleticism, she was still a bit intimidated by starting over in the gym by herself. Throughout her athletic career, Emma had gotten used to working out with coaches, so she decided to take me on as her trainer.

Emma has come a long way since then, and while she no longer rows competitively, she knows how important it is to continually push her body to the limit. Emma loves doing pull-ups and dips, and I thought a little friendly competition might give her the extra motivation to push herself even harder, so I challenged her to a pull-up and dip contest.

Since I am a guy (and guys naturally have more upper body strength) I decided to do my pull-ups and dips with a 45 pound weight hanging from my waist to level the playing field.

For the last event, Emma selected power cleans–nice choice!!!

Watch the clip below to see how it went. Behold: The Al-ympics!

Step-Ups to Work your Legs and Butt

Step UpIt’s a stereotype because it’s true–too many guys in the gym just want to work their upper body. Alas, there is more to strength training than bench presses and curls. In order to be truly fit, your entire body must be fit–and able to function as one unit. The step-up is a great example of an exercise that trains your body to do just that.

While it is primarily a lower body exercise, the step-up works your core and, if done with heavy enough weights, your arms too. After squats, deadlifts and lunges, step-ups are next on my list of favorite leg exercises.

What’s the Difference Between a Step-up and Simply Going Up Stairs?

Running stairs can be a great cardio workout, but it’s not going to make your legs a whole lot stronger. When you do a step-up, you need your step to be higher than the stairs on a staircase. Doing a step-up onto a 6-inch step is like doing a squat and only going down 6 inches–it’s not going to do much other than make you look like a newbie. In order to really effect change in your muscles, you should use a step that puts your knee at a 90-degree angle when you plant your foot down on it.

How to Incorporate Step-ups into Your Workout

You should add resistance to your step-ups by holding weights in your hands, or by resting a barbell across your back. You’ll want to perform sets of 6-15 reps per leg, with enough weight to leave your legs quivering by the end of the set. You can perform step-ups by alternating legs, or by repeating the same leg for a set and then switching legs. I’ve found that in the context of conditioning workouts, alternating can sometimes be beneficial, whereas going one leg at a time is generally better for building strength.

Step ups can be performed laterally as well. (Stepping onto the step from the side). This works more of your inner thighs and hips as well as your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

Trainer Tips

When performing a basic step-up, try to think about pushing through the heel of your foot, as opposed to having all the weight on your toes. Also be mindful of engaging your abdominal muscles on the way up in order to stay stable.

And ladies, don’t be afraid to test your limits with how much weight you can use on these. They are not going to make your legs huge–just firm and toned!

Cross Training for Runners (and Everyone!)

Cycling can be used as cross training for runners.

Cycling can be used as cross training for runners.

I hurt my foot the other day and didn’t feel up to running; even walking was causing me some discomfort. I knew that it would be foolish to try to run, but I really didn’t want to blow off my training altogether. Figuring that the impact of my foot hitting the ground while walking was the main cause for the discomfort that I was feeling, I decided to do some impact-free cross training. Starting off on the elliptical trainer, I figured I would just take it from there. Once I got into it, I started feeling pretty good!

However, after fifteen minutes on the elliptical trainer, I started to lose my patience (I’m not a big fan of cardio machines!), but instead of stopping my workout, I switched it up and got on a bike for fifteen minutes. My foot felt fine on the bike as well. Finally, feeling a bit frustrated that I wasn’t able to keep my heart rate as high as I wanted on the bike, I made another switch, this time to the stair stepper. Without even really planning for it, I completed a pretty decent cross training workout by the time I was done!

Cross training is basically just a fancy sounding way of saying “doing different stuff.” Mixing up different types of cardio helps to keep your workout from getting monotonous–and it’s better for your body, too. Your body is capable of many different movement patterns, and they all effect your muscles in slightly different ways. If you are a runner, cycling can be a great alternative on those days when you don’t feel up to running for whatever reason. Conversely, if you are more of a cyclist, then you can use running as cross training. As always, you are encouraged to experiment and find what feels best for you.

Cardio machines like the elliptical trainer and exercise bike might be nice alternatives to running, especially for people with injuries or ailments, because they can potentially cause less stress to your joints and connective tissues. But don’t feel confined to the gym! Get out in the real world and use your body. The gym is only practice for the real thing–life itself.

One Arm Australian Pull-ups and More!

When doing a one arm Australian pull-up, you are down under the bar

When you do a one arm Australian pull-up,
you wind up down under the bar!

Last month I gave you some tips to get started on building up to one arm pull-ups. Here are three more tools to have in your arsenal along the way.

The One Arm Australian

The one arm Australian pull-up is a worthwhile exercise in its own right, though it’s never been one of my favorites. However, it can be a useful tool to help build towards a classic one arm pull-up. Since at least one leg stays on the ground, it is a little easier to perform than a regular one arm pull-up.

When attempting the one arm Australian pull-up, concentrate on engaging your abs and your back muscles–don’t just focus on using your bicep strength. Remember that when you do a one arm Australian, it’s natural for your body to roll a little bit in the direction of you arm.

Keep your whole body tight when performing a one arm flex hang

Keep your whole body tight when performing a one arm flex hang

The One Arm Flex Hang

The flex hang, which involves holding your body at the top of a pullup position, is commonly used to build strengh and endurance in the upper body. Female marines are required to perform a flex hang in order to prove themselves worthy of that title.

The flex hang can also be performed using only one arm. At first, I recommend keeping your legs tucked close to your body as it will allow you to engage more core strength. As you get better you can try practicing with your legs extended.

Weighted Pull-ups
Weighted pull-ups are another great way to build the strength that you’ll need to perform a one arm pull-up. Just like the one arm pull-down, pick a weight that you are only able to get around 3 reps with. Going for a one rep max on this is also beneficial, but make sure that you are warmed up first!

Don’t assume that you need to be strong enough to pull double your body weight with two arms in order for it to carry over into a one arm pull. Once you can do weighted pull-ups with around 65-75% of your body weight, that will roughly translate into a one arm chin-up.

Keep in Mind
It’s important to mention when discussing one arm pull-ups (of any kind) that your secondary arm does not touch your primary arm in any way. It can be stiff against the body or it can be out in the air, but if you are holding your arm or wrist you are not doing a true one arm chin.

The one arm pull-up (or chin-up) is a very elusive move and requires a lot of patience, consistency, and dedication. So the question you need to ask yourself is this: How badly do you want it?

Watch this video for demonstrations and more!

Plyo Pistols

Fire that pistol!

Fire that pistol!

I am always seeking out new physical challenges and the pistol squat is one of my favorite exercises. So when I came across this video of Steve Cotter doing jumping pistol squats onto a ridiculously high step, I decided that was a skill I wanted in my arsenal.

Of course there’s only one way to make that happen–practice!

The box that I am jumping onto isn’t nearly as high as Steve’s, but I am just starting out! Gotta keep practicing–It’s always a work in progress!

Keep in mind that doing this sort of thing at all is still a very advanced technique. The more difficult the physical challenges get, the more careful you need to be of the risks involved. You should probably first get comfortable with plyometrics and pistol squats on their own before combining the two.

Check out the video below for more!

Client Spotlight: Mike Lieberman

Mike is gettin' diesel!

Mike is gettin' diesel!

Mike Lieberman has been a good friend of mine for a long time, but he recently felt inspired to get in better shape, so he got me to start training him.

Mike has had the nutrition aspect of holistic wellness down for a while. Now that he is stepping up his workouts, he can really take his health and fitness to the next level.

Mike is also very concerned about the environment and the green movement, so I make sure that the only energy expended during one of Mike’s workouts is his own. We’ll never use electrically powered equipment during our training (treadmills, etc.).

Mike’s goals include building more upper body strength and improving core stability. He wants to get better at pull-ups and eventually build towards doing a muscle up!

Watch this video of our most recent workout!

Are You Really Running on That Treadmill?

Get out and go for a run!

Get out and go for a run!

I have often been heard to remark that indoor cardio (with machines like treadmills or stationary bikes) is, at best, a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, it is nice to be able to know exactly how fast of a pace you are keeping. And it’s nice to be able to adjust your intensity with the push of a button. Treadmills can also be beneficial when doing interval running and/or sprints.

But my big gripe is with people who consider themselves “runners” but have never actually run outdoors.

Anyone who has a considerable amount of mileage under their belt on both treadmills and actual terrain already knows that they are quite different experiences.

When you’re on a treadmill, the conveyor belt moves towards you and you stay in the same place. All you do is lift your foot. You don’t actually propel yourself forward. All this probably sounds obvious, but bear in mind that this phenomenon makes it considerably less work, and it can give you a false sense of how fast you are.

You might be setting yourself up for a rude awakening when you actually start running for real. It is so much more challenging–and of course, the greater the challenge, the greater the reward!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to sound like an elitist here. Treadmills are great for all the reasons I mentioned above. But it’s easy to rely on them too much. They are designed to supplement actual running–not replace it. The majority of your training should be done on real terrain. If you only run on the treadmill, you are missing out on one of the greatest joys that I’ve known in life.

The recent boom in popularity of outdoor running is undeniable. This past November, over 42 thousand people completed the NYC marathon (including me)–the most finishers ever!

So think about it, are you really running on that treadmill?

The Double Kettlebell Get-Up

Two Kettle Get up Last month I introduced you to one of my favorite exercises, The Turkish Get-Up.

In today’s video, I attempt a new feat of strength–performing the Turkish get-up with two kettlebells in one hand–The Double Kettlebell Get-Up.

Just holding on to both kettlebells at the same time is a challenge in its own right!

The combined weight of the two Kettlebells is 70 pounds. I weigh around 165 pounds, so it’s not quite half of my body weight. I’d love to eventually build up to doing a get-up with my entire body weight!

There’s always a new challenge out there–don’t get complacent with your workouts!

Running Accessories: Heart Rate Monitors

I'm in there somewhere In life, there are things that you need to have and there are things that are nice to have. You need basic things like food and shelter–we can’t survive without them.

On the other hand, luxuries like cell phones and elevators fall into the category of nice to have. Sometimes we feel like we need them–but we wouldn’t die without them.

In running, the only thing that you really need is your body itself. For me, that simplicity is part of the appeal of running.

Hopefully you have a body already, so let’s focus on some of the other things, the ones that are nice to have. Afterall, there is nothing wrong with having nice things.

Heart rate monitors typically have two components: a wristwatch and a chest strap.

Heart rate monitors typically have two components: a wristwatch and a chest strap.

Heart rate monitors allow you to gauge your intensity by telling you your average heartbeats per minute.

This can be be helpful if you have a tendency to sell yourself short and not push yourself hard enough. It can also be helpful if you are bad at pacing yourself and push too hard at the start.

The biggest drawback of wearing a heart rate monitor is that it can be uncomfortable, especially during longer runs. They often have an elastic band that wraps around your torso, which can get sweaty and start to feel heavy after several miles. Many heart rate monitors have other features as well, like calorie counters (which don’t always give accurate readings).

While heart rate monitors have their pros and cons, I think that they are overall a worthwhile accessory and can be a valuable performance tool. There are other means to track your intensity (like a simple wristwatch, for example), but the heart rate monitor is probably the most reliable, without being too much of a hassle.

Isometrics & Training for the Human Flag

The Human FlagEditors note: I recently added a series of articles with loads more info on Human Flag Training.

Several weeks ago I made this post about fun body weight challenges that I have been practicing, including the human flag.

Since then I have continued practicing the human flag and training to improve at it. Along the way, some people have inquired about how to work towards performing this feat of strength.

While the human flag requires a ton of upper body strength, the most important thing to have in order to perform a flag is core strength–the obliques, abs, and lower back play the biggest role in being able to hold the pose.

The plank is a classic isometric exercise.

The plank is a classic isometric exercise.

The flag falls into a category of exercises called isometrics. Isometric exercises involve contracting your muscles while holding a fixed position for an extended period of time. Planks, side planks, and other variations on these isometric exercises are a great way to start building the core stability required to perform a human flag.

The flag is one of the most advanced core exercises I’ve ever seen, so being someone who loves a challenge, I am drawn towards it and kept humble by it. If you expect to get it right away you will likely be disappointed.

It takes time to prepare your body for such a skill, but we’ve all got the time. If you can read this, then you’ve got a few spare minutes. It’s just a question of what’s important to you. You could be doing some isometrics right now! Stop making excuses and start working out.

Watch the video below for more details:

Client Spotlight: Trish Balbert

Trish NowFor the last two years, Trish Balbert has been my most dedicated and consistent client, usually training with me four times a week. Everyone at our gym knows Trish!

But before I even met her, Trish had been no stranger to exercise. She had already lost over 80 pounds and had worked with several trainers before me. She even did some nutritional counseling herself.

Trish rarely misses a training session. She’s usually excited to come to the gym, but also knows how important it is to get there even on the days that she doesn’t feel like it.

What a transformation!

What a transformation!

Despite past injuries, such as an extruded disk in her lower back which required surgery, Trish has gained a lot of strength and has become more functionally fit in the last two years.

But she doesn’t use old injuries as an excuse–in fact it’s just the opposite–Trish needs to work out and keep her core strong so that she doesn’t need to have surgery again.

Trish is still concerned about keeping her weight down and she understands that fitness is an ongoing journey. She continues to stay the course, often doing supplemental cardio sessions on her own in addition to our workouts together.

We usually tend to alternate our focus between upper body and lower body workouts from one session to the next, although we have done total body conditioning as well. Trish’s favorite exercises include dips, Australian pull-ups, and lunges.

Watch the video clip below from one of our recent upper body strength training sessions:


The Crow Pose

The crow pose is the perfect introduction to the wonderful world of handbalancing.

It’s a great way for newcomers to get familiar with the feeling of supporting all of their weight on their hands before attempting a freestanding handstand or other more advanced maneuvers.

This posture, sometimes referred to as “frog stand” in other disciplines, improves balance and stability while it strengthens the arms, shoulders and core. The crow pose also helps build strength in the hands, fingers and wrists.

There are many other variations on this pose as well, such as the side crow, one leg crow and even a one arm/one leg crow.

Start with the basic version and work your way up to the others from there.

Watch the video below for demonstrations and more:

Plyometrics: Jump! Jump!

Plyometric Push-up

Plyometric Push-up

You might not know what plyometrics are yet, but there’s a good chance you’ve already done them at some point.

The term plyometrics refers to explosive types of movement that involve speed and power. Sometimes plyometric exercises are also referred to as “jump training.” Jumping rope is an example of a low intensity plyometric exercise, while depth jumps and plyo pistol squats are examples of advanced plyometrics.

But don’t think that means plyometrics are limited to your legs! The jumping push-up (often accompanied by clapping) and the kipping pull-up are two examples of upper body plyometrics.

Plyometric training is great for athletes (serious or recreational) because sports typically involve dynamic movements. Practicing these types of movements in a controlled setting like the gym often carries over into improved performance in sports and other activities.

Land with your knees bent

Land with your knees bent

The box jump is one of the most fundamental plyometric drills. Many types of athletes do box jumps to build power and increase their vertical leap.

Start by standing in front of a sturdy box or step (most gyms have plyo boxes or you can do them outdoors with a ledge or step). Squat down and jump up out of your squat position onto the box.

When you are doing plyometric jumps, make sure that you land with your knees bent in order to absorb the shock. Try to rebound from one rep right into the next.

Plyometric exercises allow you to take advantage of the elasticity of your muscles to get more milage out of each rep.

Watch the video clip below to learn more about plyometric training:


Assisted Stretching

Hamstring/groin stretch It’s common knowledge that flexibility is an important part of overall fitness, yet many people still neglect this key component of a well rounded exercise regimen.

One way to make stretching more interesting (and in many cases more effective), is by having a partner or trainer to assist you.

One great stretch to do with a partner is for your hamstrings and inner thighs. Start by sitting upright with your legs stretched out in a V shape.

Have a partner sit across from you in the same position with one person’s feet pressed up against the other persons ankles. The person with shorter legs should have their feet on the inside (see photo). Grab your partners wrists and have them pull you in.

Keep your back straight and your chest up and take the stretch in your hips and legs. Hold for at least 20 seconds and then switch and stretch your partner.

Chest stretch Another great stretch to have a partner assist you with is the one pictured to the left.

Sit with your hands behind your head and your fingers laced together. Have your partner stand behind you and pull back on your elbows. It may be helpful to have your partner’s knee or torso pressed against your back for leverage. You will feel this stretch in your chest and shoulders.

Remember to breathe deeply and try to stay calm while stretching. Of course, thinking about relaxing always makes it harder! Simply focus on your breath to help you relax.

Headstands and Handstands

There are a lot of different ways to do a headstand.

There are a lot of different ways to do a headstand.

It’s important to use your head when you’re working out–literally!

Headstands and handstands are great ways to improve your balance, core stability, and upper body strength. They are also a lot of fun!

Using the tri-pod technique is one way to learn to do a headstand. Start by placing your head on the ground with your hands about shoulder width several inches below your head. Your head and hands should be in a triangular formation. (See the video clip below for a full demonstration.)

Next, straighten your legs so that your hips are over your head and walk your legs up onto your arms. Slowly shift your weight into your head and lift your legs away from your body. I recommend practicing with a wall behind you in the beginning since you will likely lose your balance a lot at first.

There are other ways to get into a headstand but this is a good one to start with. Eventually you may even try to work up towards doing a hands-free headstand.

Handstands are generally harder than headstands for most people because less of your body is in contact with the ground. Handstands are not only great for building strength and control in your core, but also in your shoulders, arms, and hands–a lot of being able to do a handstand is in the hands themselves.

I haven’t had any sort of formal gymnastics training but through practice and dedication, I have taught myself how to do these moves. I continue to practice regularly and it continues to be something that challenges me. Consistent practice is the common theme here, people!

See the video below for demonstrations and more:

Cold Weather Running Tips

Winter is just about here, but that doesn’t mean your running regimen needs to get put on ice. You shouldn’t feel confined to using a treadmill for the next three months either. In fact, if you plan accordingly, running outside in the winter can be fun and invigorating!

Layering your clothing appropriately is very important when running in temperatures in the forties and below. I like to start with compression shorts or pants, and a compression shirt as my bottom layer. Compression shorts and tops are stretchy and should fit you tightly (no you don’t wear underwear with them). Under armor is one brand that I would recommend. Compression gear is also great for preventing chafing.

Depending on how cold it is, the next layer will either be a t-shirt or something a bit heavier like a thermal shirt on top, with track pants or sweats below. The last layer could be a fleece, windbreaker or hoodie, depending on how cold it is. Gloves, hats, and earmuffs become important as well in colder weather.

At first, running in the cold may seem unpleasant, but once you get a mile or so in you’ll warm up and start to feel better. Even though it’s cold, you should still work up a good sweat, so make sure that you drink plenty of water before and after your run (just like you normally do, right?).

Extreme conditions such as snow storms and temperatures below zero could put a damper on your running plans, but if you dress appropriately, you’ll be surprised how much cold weather running you can endure–perhaps even enjoy.

What will you do during your runs this winter in order to combat the cold?

The Turkish Get-up

Turkish Getup

Start by lying on your back with the weight straight up in the air

Want one strength training exercise that can work your entire body and get your heart pumping?

The Turkish Get-up is a classic exercise that involves pretty much every major muscle group in the body.

It’s the type of feat that you might expect to see performed in a circus act, but it is also a great way to give yourself a challenging workout!

The exercise starts with you lying flat on your back with one arm up in the air. Then you stand up.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Transitional phase of the get-up.

Transitional phase of the get-up.

Well, that’s pretty much what the exercise boils down to in the most basic way, but there is a technique that’s a bit more complicated.

While one hand is holding the weight overhead, you post off the ground with your opposite hand, using your core strength to sit up. Next, lift yourself up and slide your hips through until you’re on one knee. From here simply stand up like you would getting out of a lunge. You can practice with your hand empty at first to get a feel for it, but the idea is to perform the exercise holding a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell.

There are a few different ways to approach this exercise but the basic idea stays the same: lie on your back holding a weight and stand up. The weight stays straight overhead and your arm stays locked the whole time.

Check out my video segment for a more detailed demonstration.


Client Spotlight: Amanda

amandaAmanda is living proof that there’s no reason for women to be afraid that doing weight training will turn them into a beefed-up bodybuilder.

As a former basketball player, Amanda’s used to dedicating a lot of her time to fitness. She also knows the value of having a coach.

Amanda started training with me this past spring after having had knee surgery. When we started out, she was barely able to do squats only going half of the way down, now she does squats with almost 100 pounds on her back and does a full range of motion. We have even started working towards one legged squats!

Amanda is the best combination of things to have in a client: she’s a natural athlete and she has a tremendous work ethic in the gym. She continues to push her limits and I’m excited to see what she’ll do next!

Watch this video from one of our recent training sessions:

Squats and Deadlifts

KavadloSquatSquats are probably the single most common exercise that people need help with in order to achieve proper form.

The main thing to know about squatting with proper form is to go all the way down until the top of your thigh is below parallel to the ground. That might be lower than you think. You should ask someone to watch you to be sure.

Also keep in mind that your heels should not come off the ground at any point during the lift. Third, the movement should be initiated from the hips, not the knees. What I’m saying is, stick your butt out!

A deadlift, to put it simply, involves picking up a weight that’s on the ground in front of you. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to lift heavy objects with your legs and not your back–that advice is talking about the deadlift! It is a great functional exercise for this reason.

Another way to look at deadlifts is that they are similar to squats except that you are holding a weight in front of you. The two most common types of deadlifts are the Romanian deadlift and the more traditional Olympic deadlift. The Romanian deadlift involves less knee flexion than the Olympic deadlift.

Romanian deadlifts involve less knee flexion.

Squats and deadlifts are amazing postural exercises but you must really focus on good posture while you do them in order to get those benefits. Keep your chest held high and pull your shoulder blades together!

Deadlifts work your grip strength and lower back, but they also work your hamstrings and glutes. Make sure you don’t use your back too much on these and that most of your range of motion is coming from your hamstrings. That means just like squats, stick your butt out when you do a deadlift.


Muscle-ups are one of the most intense body-weight exercises ever. They work so many different muscles and will get your heart and lungs pumping as well.

What is a muscle-up, you may ask? It’s almost like a combination of two of my favorite exercises: the pull-up and the dip, but way more intense than either of those on their own!

Muscle-ups are a pretty advanced exercise so I recommend that before you even try to work up to one, you get to the point where you can do 15 consecutive pull-ups and 20 consecutive parallel bar dips.

Close up of the false grip.

Close up of the false grip.

When doing a muscle-up it is important to note that the most effective grip is different than a traditional pull-up grip. Muscle-ups are typically done using what’s called a “false grip” which involves putting your hand farther over the bar, so that your palms are facing the ground and your wrist is cocked when you are hanging. This allows you a smooth transition from the pull-up phase of the movement into the dip phase.

If you want to work towards doing muscle-ups, it’s helpful to practice trying to get as high up over the bar as you can when doing pull-ups. Explosive pull-ups where you let go at the top can also be used as a precursor to doing muscle-ups.

When you perform a muscle-up, think about moving your upper body away from the bar on the way up rather than pulling straight towards it. Once you clear the bar, move your chest over it as you press yourself to the top of the movement. The arc of the body will create an S-shape pattern.

See my other muscle-up tutorial and check out the video clip below for more!


And if you’ve already got the hang of muscle-ups, check out my article on advanced muscle-ups.


Hey Ladies, listen up – this one is for you!

Lunges are one of the best exercises for toning and strengthening your legs and butt.

Fellas, don’t think this means you don’t have to bother with them, though – lunges should be a staple of anyone and everyone’s fitness regimen.

Lunges hit all the major parts of your lower body, they get your heart pumping, and they are great for revving up your metabolism.

Lunges can be performed in place, or by stepping forward and then lowering yourself down until your back knee is just above the ground. Typically, one might alternate legs, continuing forward with each step (often called a “walking lunge”).

Lunges with a twist!

Lunges with a twist!

Lunges can also be done by stepping backwards (“back lunge”), side ways (you guessed it–“side lunge”), or any other way you can think to do them. A stationary lunge is sometimes called a “split squat.”

When doing lunges, stay mindful of keeping your front foot totally flat and not letting the heel up (the heel of your back foot ought to be up, however). Also make sure to keep your posture and don’t allow your front knee to cross in front of your toes.

For added resistance you can perform lunges while holding dumbbells, resting a barbell on your back, using a kettlebell, or any other way that you see fit to. Get creative!

Watch the video below for more:

Client Spotlight: Armen Gemdjian

Armen GemdjianArmen is one of the toughest chicks that I know. When she first took me on as her trainer last December, she could barely even do one decent pushup–she has come a long way since then! Now that she’s made progress with pushups, we have been focusing on other challenges, such as kettlebell training.

Still gotta keep practicing those pushups though!

Two of Armen’s current goals are pull-ups and parallel bar dips. Armen also takes spinning classes regularly and she is planning on running her first 5K race next month.

Check out this video clip from one of our recent training sessions:


The 50 Pull-up Challenge

A lot of people have asked me about how to go about increasing their reps on pull-ups. There are a lot of ways one can successfully do this, but the method that I am proposing is probably the most simple and direct.

The 50 pull-up challenge consists of doing 50 pull-ups in one workout, no matter how many sets it takes you. Even if it means you are doing sets of one rep by the end. You are allowed as long of a break in between sets as you need.

For example, you might start out with a set of 10, followed by a set of 8, followed by a set of 7, then 2 more sets of 5, 3 sets of 3, 2 sets of 2, and end with a couple sets of 1. This could take a while at first, but over time the amount of sets that you can do this in should go down.

At first I would recommend only doing this once or twice a week, as it will be a bit of a shock to your body. Eventually, however, you can condition yourself to doing this just about every day.

After a month or two, you could have it down to 4 or 5 sets. Highly fit individuals can do this in one or two sets. After a while it could simply be your warm up!

This same approach can be used to increase reps on pretty much any other exercise as well, like push-ups, dips, or even pistol squats. Additionally, if 50 is just not realistic for you right now, then pick a smaller number (maybe 30?) and then build up from there. For women it might be better to do the challenge with modified pull-ups.

The 50 Pull-up Challenge is not for beginners or the faint of heart! If you are not ready for it yet, doing the challenge with pushups instead of pull-ups is a more modest task to approach first.

Client Spotlight: Kartik Tamhane

kartikI met Kartik back in the summer of 2005. He approached me during my workout while I was in between sets of deadlifts. I remember he seemed amazed that I was doing deadlifts after just finishing up three sets of squats.

Soon after that initial meeting he started training with me and he has stuck with it ever since, longer than any of my other clients. Now he’s done squats and deadlifts back to back himself on many occasions.

When I first began working out with Kartik, he had recently gotten over a shoulder injury and was worried about doing things like pull-ups and dips. But over time his shoulder has gotten so much stronger and more stable.

Now Kartik can do 15 consecutive wide grip pull-ups and 20 consecutive dips!

Watch the video clip below and see for yourself:


Archer Pull-ups & More: Working Towards One Arm Pull-ups

Everyone asks me about training for one arm pull-ups (or chin-ups, or whatever you want to call them). They come in many varieties but I tend to put them all under the general umbrella of pull-ups. I’ve never really been a stickler for that sort of thing.

The video segment below shows you three different techniques that you can practice to work up to one arm pull-ups: one arm negatives, archer pull-ups, and one arm pull downs (on a cable machine).

Keep in mind that these are not the only ways to train towards one arm pull-ups. There are many paths that lead to the same destination–be creative!

Also, be prepared that the first time you try to do the one arm negative you will drop very quickly. When starting out, don’t think of it as a negative, think of it as just trying to keep yourself up. Gravity takes care of the rest.

Archer pull-ups are a great exercise regardless of if you want to work towards a one arm pull-up or not. When performing the archer pull-up as practice for the one arm pull-up, try to do as much of the work as possible with the arm closer to you. Think of your extended arm simply as a means of giving yourself assistance. Use it as little as possible. Eventually you won’t need it at all.

Check out part two of my series on working towards one arm pull-ups, featuring the one arm Australian pull-up.


Finding Inspiration at the 2009 NYC Marathon

Blindness and age didn't stop this woman from finishing the NYC Marathon.

Blindness and age didn't stop this woman from finishing the NYC Marathon.

This is a guest post by Mike Lieberman. He came to support me at the marathon, and took some great pictures. (It’s also his voice you hear cheering me on in my marathon video.) In watching the marathon, he was inspired by some of the participants and asked to write a post.

I went to check out Al on Sunday and support him in running his first marathon. Besides supporting him, I found a great source of inspiration while I was waiting for him to run by – the “handicapped runners.” This group included a 75 year old blind woman, a dude with cerebral palsy on a modified bike, an older couple using one of those bikes that you peddle with your hands and some dude with no legs using a similar bike.

I stood there in complete and total amazement. I felt like starting to run myself. The feeling that overcame me was a bit overwhelming.

The only thing that made them handicapped was the label that we placed on them.

It got me thinking about family and friends who come up with excuses as to why they can’t exercise. I don’t expect everyone to run a marathon, but at least doing some form of physical activity to know that you are alive.

Take the stairs, walk for 20 minutes, step away from the TV and do something!

I have a relative who is on Weight Watchers and drives the three blocks to the meetings. Am I the only one that finds that to be ironic?

Or another who complains about all of their “ailments” and does 0 physical activity. These ailments are just excuses for living a dormant life.

It saddens me to see people that are close to me come up with excuses as to why they can’t take care of themselves, then complain about their ailments. handicapped marathoners

You think the 75 year old blind woman says, “I’m blind, I’m not doing this.”

You think the dude with no legs says, “I have no legs, I’m not doing this.”

These runners gave me a whole new appreciation for life, inspiration for working out and taking care of myself. It showed me that with the right attitude, anything is possible.

We are all going through our own thing in life. I get that. It comes down to how you deal with what happens. Are you going to feel bad about yourself and do nothing? Or are you going to take that negative and use it as a source of inspiration?

I’m not sure about you, but I’m certainly not letting a 75 year old blind woman show me up.

Mike Lieberman resides in New York City and provides simple solutions for living in a complex world. Besides his own blogs, he contributes to others across the web. You can find all of his work at and follow him on Twitter @CanarsieBK.

Running the 2009 NYC Marathon

Running the NYC Marathon was such an overwhelming experience. Just getting from my apartment in the East Village all the way out to the start in Staten Island was an ordeal all in itself.

My day started at 5am when I got out of bed and immediately started drinking water and eating bananas. I wanted to be sure I was hydrated and had lots of potassium in my system. Plus I love bananas!

By six I was already out the door and on my way to the train to catch the 7am ferry to Staten Island. After the ferry ride, there was a shuttle bus to the check in area. Then I had to check my bag, wait for a porto-potty and find my way to the start corral. By the time I got there it was already 9:30. Even though at times it was disorienting or frustrating due to the incredibly large crowd (over 40,000 entrants!), the New York Road Runners did a great job organizing this amazing event!

Thousands of us waiting in line to check in.

Thousands of us waiting in line to check in.

The race itself was incredible. The excitement of the crowds, the support of friends and family, and the beauty of the city itself all served to make for an unforgettable experience. The highs were some of the most amazing moments of my life, the lows were among the hardest. I felt great for the first 3 hours of the race but around mile 19 or 20 my legs started to feel very fatigued.

My original plan was to finish in under 4 hours, but I knew I couldn’t keep up a 9 minute mile pace any longer, and if I tried I would be asking for trouble. At that point the game plan simply became to finish the race. From then on I knew that no matter how much pain I was in, even if I had to crawl, I was not going to stop until I crossed the finish line!

I finally made it at 4:22:11, which averages out to almost exactly a 10 minute mile pace. Crossing the finish line was an unexplainably exhilarating feeling, but it was soon followed by one of the worst feelings in the world. When you finish a marathon it hurts to walk, but the only thing that hurts even more than walking is having to stop and stand. And that’s exactly what you have to do for a good twenty or thirty minutes while everyone is huddled together trying to get their bags, take photos, and meet with loved ones. But overall it was an absolute blast! I definitely plan on doing another marathon at some point, but I think my next race is going to be a 5k.

Check out this short video clip of me taken during mile 23:

The Human Flag, Kip ups and more!

flagOverall fitness means more to me than just being able to bench press a lot of weight or run really fast. Although those are both very noble pursuits (sprinting and weight training have been part of my routine in the past and probably will be again!), my main focus is currently on mastering my own body weight. Even though I use the word “mastering,” I understand that there is no such thing as true mastery. There is always a new challenge out there for those who will seek it out.

The human flag is one of the all time greatest body weight challenges; It’s been around a lot longer than something like an elliptical trainer! The human flag requires full body strength and tremendous focus. It also looks really cool!

Kip ups are another great body-weight-only physical challenge that I have been practicing for a while now. Performing a kip up requires agility, balance, coordination and explosive power. It is challenging on many fronts!

And when talking about body weight challenges, let’s not forget my personal favorite–the handstand!!!

Watch the video below for demonstrations of these three feats of fitness!

Pistol Squat with 40 lb. Kettlebell

pistol w kettleI love to challenge myself by attempting various feats of strength. I also love the pistol squat–it’s one of my favorite exercises and I’m always looking for different ways to make it challenging.

In this video segement, I attempt a pistol squat with a 40 lb. kettlebell–and manage to get off two reps! I guess next time I gotta go heavier!!!

Click the link for more info on one-legged squats. You might want to start practicing without the kettlebell first.