All posts by Al Kavadlo

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:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMzHaYdo7Rg

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:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xRNJwdniac

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.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5fstaqKVVg

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 CanarsieBK.com 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!
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZe4O43AMbs

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.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy0J5Z4LWgE

Client Spotlight: Dan Budiac

BudiacDan Budiac started training with me in August of 2008. Before I started working with Dan, he had been training with my brother Danny; I was lucky that Dan had a really good trainer before me so he already had a good foundation.

In the time I have known Dan, he has finished several races of varying distances, including setting a personal best 5K time of 25:48. Dan has qualified to enter the 2010 NYC marathon and is currently working on building strength and adding a little muscle this winter, while still maintaining some cardio base.

Dan’s current plan involves 2-3 days a week of strength training and 2-3 days a week of running. In the spring, it will be time to focus on getting back to running more and building up towards longer milage.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cL2bc9RDfM
Check out this quick video clip from one of Dan’s recent training sessions with me!

Kettlebell Training

kettlebellI first saw a kettlebell back in 2002, when a friend of mine introduced me to the one arm snatch. (No I’m not trying to make any inuendo here, that’s the name of an exercise that’s commonly done with a kettlebell!)

I thought the kettlebells were pretty neat but I was very focused on bodybuilding at the time. Kettlebells didn’t seem to have any place in a bodybuilding routine so I had no use for them. After all, I was pretty damn sure that anyone whose workouts didn’t revolve around squatting heavy, doing deadlifts, and going all out for 8 reps on bench press was surely wasting their time!

Obviously I had a very narrow view of things but I’ve learned a lot (and been humbled a lot!) over the years. I experimented with kettlebell workouts occasionally after that first encounter and eventually wound up becoming a certified kettlebell instructor through NYHRC in 2008. This past summer I met Shir Konas, one of the top kettlebell intsructors in NYC. Shir has helped me take my kettlebell technique to the next level.

There are a lot of subtleties to performing kettlebell lifts safely and effectively. Having experience in conventional weight training is a great foundation to start from, but I still advise anyone interested in working out with kettlebells (even an experienced lifter) to solicit a qualified instructor.

Check out this video clip of me doing a pistol squat with a 40 lb. kettlebell!
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy0J5Z4LWgE

Practicing the One Arm Pull-Up (Oct. 09)

One Arm Pull-UpThe first time that I ever saw someone do a one arm pull-up was in Tompkins Square Park in 2007. I was absolutely in awe and I knew I had a new challenge ahead of me. It was a very exciting time!

The one arm pull-up is a fickle mistress. It’s an elusive enigma that reminds me to stay humble and keep taking my vitamins. Some days it comes a bit harder than others. The one arm pull-up attempt in the video below is decent but still leaves room for improvement. With practice, I hope to eventually get my chin several inches above the bar. I’m also working towards starting from a dead hang. Gotta keep practicing!!!

Check out my article on how to train for a one arm pull-up!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR-CeZyjHQ8

Oh Dip!

Dips with feet on the ground (Phase One)

Dips with feet on the ground (Phase One)

Dips are a great exercise that you can do with just your body weight and minimal equipment. Doing dips will work your triceps, shoulders, chest, and just like most body weight exercises, your core. Unless you have a serious shoulder problem, dips ought to be part of your regimen.

Phase One

If you’ve never done a dip before, the best way to start is with your feet on the ground and your hands on a ledge or bench. Try not to bend your knees or lose your posture as you lower yourself downward. When your elbows get to a 90 degree angle, push yourself back up and repeat.


Phase Two

If phase one is easy for you, try performing dips with your hands on a bench and then put your feet onto another bench. The two benches should be of roughly equal height. Putting your feet up gives you less leverage, which means more work for your muscles.

Parallel bars (Phase Three)

Parallel bars (Phase Three)

Phase Three
If you are able to perform more than 20 reps of phase two dips with relative ease then you are ready to try dipping with your legs in the air. Typically this is done by holding onto a pair of parallel bars. A dip station is a pretty standard piece that any gym ought to have. (If your current gym doesn’t have a dip station, you might want to start shopping around for a new gym!)

Most men will be able to progress to phase three relatively quickly. It is generally a much longer process for women, due to the fact that women are born with less natural upper body strength than men. This is not me being sexist, ladies–it’s just biology!

Having fun with one arm dips!

Having fun with one arm dips!

Trainer Tips
If you are having a hard time with parallel bar dips, one way to practice towards doing them is to have a trainer (or other qualified spotter) give you assistance by holding onto your ankles in order to help you stabilize. Just make sure that your trainer isn’t doing too much of the work for you!

When you start to get really good at these, you can add an additional challenge by wearing a weighted vest or wearing a special belt that you can hang weights from. Dips can also be done with one arm!

Editor’s note: Check out this more recent post for more tricep dip variations.

Australian Pull-ups

Note: This is an old post. Make sure to check out my updated post on Australian pull-ups.

Australian Pull-up

The pull-up is one of the all time greatest exercises that mankind has discovered. Just like the other classics, the pull-up can be modified in an infinite amount of ways.

One of my favorite variations is what’s often referred to as an Australian pull-up. This variation involves hanging below a bar that is set just above waist height while keeping your heels in contact with the ground. You’ll wind up at an angle that’s closer to horizontal than vertical. The Australian pull-up is a great way to work up to doing a regular pull-up if you aren’t strong enough to do one yet.

Even if you are strong enough to do lots of pull-ups, the Australian pull-up is still worth putting into your routine. It puts a little more emphasis on the rear delts and the muscles of your middle-back; muscles that may not be getting completely and thoroughly worked with regular pull-ups alone. For those of you who are more advanced, try doing them as a superset right after a set of regular pull-ups. This is a great way to work towards adding more reps to your pull-up total!

The Australian pull-up can be done on a Smith machine (as pictured) or any bar that is about waist height as long as it is securely in place. The Smith machine is great for this exercise because it is adjustable (the higher the bar the easier it will be–so start high if you’re first learning) and secure. You can get creative with finding cool places to practice these and all types of pull-ups, just stay mindful of your safety.

Click the link to read about the ONE ARM Australian Pull-up!

Rainy Day Running

It’s been raining a lot lately here in NYC. With the marathon looming two weeks away it’s got me thinking about what it would be like to have to run it on a day like today. This past spring I ran in the NYRR Scotland Run. It was a miserable rainy day like today but I gave it my all–and at least I got this great souvenir photo out of it!

Scotland run 09