All posts by Al Kavadlo

Bodyweight Bootcamp at Nimble Fitness

If you’re in the New York City area and you’ve wanted to train with me, now is your chance!

Beginning Saturday January 7, I’ll be bringing my bootcamp workout class to Nimble Fitness, NYC’s #1 personal training facility.

This 12-week series will meet every Saturday morning at 10am from January 7 until March 24. Enrollment will be limited to 15 people.

The Bodyweight Bootcamp workout utilizes old-school bodyweight calisthenics as well as the TRX suspension system to challenge your strength, agility and cardio endurance. This fast-paced 50 minute workout class will jump start your fitness in the new year and help you push yourself to the next level of strength and conditioning.

Cost: $200 for 12 classes

Click here to sign up!

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

The Ultimate One Arm Push-up

One of my favorite sayings is, “In the world of the blind, the one eyed man is king.”

Well, in the world of calisthenics, the one arm push-up is king!

As I discussed in my one arm push-up tutorial, the legs are usually spread fairly wide for balance and stability during a one arm push-up.

However, the move can be made much more difficult by bringing the feet closer together.

In fact, the “perfect” one arm push-up remains an enigma in the world of calisthenics. Can a true one arm push-up be done with the heels touching?

Watch the video below to see me give it my best effort:


For more information, check out my book, Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment.

Convict Conditioning 2 on Paperback!

The wait is almost over! On December 8, 2011, Convict Conditioning 2 will officially be available in paperback!

This follow-up to the groundbreaking bodyweight training guide Convict Conditioning contains the most thorough write-up of how to train for the human flag ever in print. Author Paul Wade and I worked together to design the flag progressions, so for everyone whose written me asking for more advice on this move, make sure you pick up a copy!

The cover of the book features a photo of my brother Danny and I performing our infamous two man human flag and the inside of the book features over 50 additional photos of Danny and myself. In addition to the section on human flag training, there is lots of other useful info crammed into the 300+ pages of Paul Wade’s latest masterpiece.

You can pre-order your copy right now from Dragon Door and it will ship on the release date. This is a very exciting time!

Al Kavadlo Fall 2011 Update

I’ve been busy these last few months, but a lot of exciting things are happening!

First off, I’ve started writing my second book (that’s why you haven’t been seeing as many updates here on my blog).

The new book will include several specific workout routines as well as everything you’ll ever need to know about pull-ups, dips and muscle-ups – plus much more!

In the meantime, make sure you grab a copy of my first book!

In other news, I’m on the cover of the current issue of My Mad Methods Magazine! I’m also featured here, here and here.

Of course there’s also Convict Conditioning 2, which will be out on paperback next month. If you can’t wait that long, you can download the e-book right now!

Plus there is my newest workout video, shot by photographer/videographer Colleen Leung.

For those of you who are new here, this video will give you a good idea of what I’m all about. For those of you who’ve been keeping up with me for a while, it also includes a few variations of moves that you’ve never seen from me before!

Check it out and let me know what you think:

Convict Conditioning 2

After much anticipation, Dragon Door Publications has finally released Convict Conditioning 2!

While the actual paper book will not be available for purchase until mid-December, you can download the E-book in PDF format right now by clicking the link above!

This follow-up to the groundbreaking bodyweight training guide Convict Conditioning contains the most thorough write-up of how to train for the human flag ever in print. Author Paul Wade and I worked together to design the flag progressions, so for everyone whose written me asking for more advice on this move, make sure you pick up a copy!

The cover of the book features a photo of my brother Danny and I performing our infamous two man human flag and the inside of the book features over 50 additional photos of Danny and myself. In addition to the section on human flag training, there is lots of other useful info crammed into the 300+ pages of Paul Wade’s latest masterpiece. Check out DragonDoor.com for more info.

Active Vacation

Just because you’re on vacation, doesn’t mean you should be lazy. When I visited Punta Cana, Dominican Republic last week, I spent plenty of time relaxing on the beach and lounging in the pool, but I also got plenty of exercise.

I swam in the ocean, jogged along the sand or played tennis every day I was there. I also made sure to get my reps in using anything and everything I could find!

I did back bridges in the sand, muscle-ups on the lifeguard posts and other bodyweight calisthenics whenever I saw an opportunity.

Punta Cana is a beautiful city with some amazing scenery. The sun and surf gave me inspiration to work out and the beach offered some unique challenges.

Watch the video below for more:

Never Too Old to Work Out

A lot of people in the calisthenics community know about Tompkins Square Park. It’s where the Bar-barians train, it’s where I train and thanks to youtube, it’s become a legendary park for bar training all over the world.

There is another group that trains at TSP, however. One that you’ve probably never heard of unless you’ve spent some time there yourself. That is, until now.

Old Dogs, New Tricks
A lot of people write to me with concerns about starting strength training later in life. In the video below, you’ll see three men in their 50’s and 60’s busting out some high level calisthenics. One of the fellows featured didn’t even begin this type of training until his 50’s.

You don’t stop working out because you get old, you get old because you stop working out.

Prepare to be amazed:

Natural Movement and Functional Exercise

During a recent workout at Tompkins Square Park, I observed a father and son playing catch. The dad was around my age and the boy looked to be about three years old.

At one point the child missed the ball and the dad went to retrieve it. I watched him bend down with his back rounded, shoulders slumped and knees pitched way over his feet. (What you might call “bad form” on a squat or deadlift.)

A few minutes later, the boy missed the ball again, but this time the father let him retrieve it himself. When the tot picked up the ball, he squatted down from his hips with his chest up tall and lifted it without the slightest bend in his back – or any overt awareness of the movement pattern. It seemed to happen very naturally. He certainly had no idea what he’d just done can be difficult for many personal training clients!

Child’s Play
Lots of the exercises I teach my clients are movement patterns that children instinctively know, yet through years of neglect, the adult body has forgotten. However, with practice the movements usually return, and with them come increased strength, flexibility and of course, functionality.

Kids typically perform squats and deadlifts without anyone having to show them how. Yet when a deconditioned adult tries to perform these movements, they may feel very unnatural. We’ve spent our entire lives sitting in couches, chairs and cars, steering our bodies away from natural movement patterns. We’ve done this to the point where we’ve unlearned instinctive habits like lifting from the legs, and replaced them with lower back pain and hip ailments.

Functional Exercise
The best exercises are those which mimic natural movement patterns, like the aforementioned squat and deadlift, but sometimes functional exercises aren’t natural movement patterns. A pistol squat certainly isn’t something the body “naturally” does, but it’s a fantastic exercise nonetheless. The pistol takes a natural movement pattern and exaggerates it, making it more difficult, thereby causing the body to adapt and improve. That’s what makes it a functional exercise – it has carryover into real life scenarios. The pistol improves balance and makes each leg individually strong, so when you need to use them together, they can be an even stronger team.

Function or Fashion?
While taking a natural movement pattern and adding difficulty to it is a great way to bring a practical element to your workout, sometimes “functional training” gets so far removed from the original source that it misses the point. Standing on one foot on a bosu ball while doing an overhead dumbbell press is probably less functional than just using heavier dumbbells on stable ground.

Don’t fall for a “new exercise” just because it looks complicated or involves high-tech equipment. You don’t need anything fancy to get functionally fit. Real-life scenarios might involve standing on a shaky surface or pressing a heavy object, but they rarely involve both at the same time. A heavy standing overhead press is already a stability exercise – it demands that you use your entire body!

If you want to mix up your pressing routine, a handstand push-up might be a better choice. Admittedly, being upside-down isn’t something that will come up in day to day activity for most of us either, but the HSPU demands a high strength-to-weight ratio as well as stability and full body control. The HSPU also requires you to push yourself away from the ground, rather than pushing a weight away from your body, which will automatically engage your scapular musculature and build rotator cuff stability. You’ll be much less likely to make the mistake of pressing with your neck instead of your shoulders. Like all inversions, another benefit of the HSPU is that it can improve circulation.

Have Fun(ction) With It!
There are many ways to take natural movement patterns and increase their difficulty in a functional context. Adding weight, bringing in a plyometric element or using a stability component are some of the best ways to accomplish this. But remember, you don’t need wobble boards and other such gadgetry. Be weary of any fitness equipment that isn’t a weight or some type of pull-up apparatus. As a general rule, the more equipment that is required to perform a given exercise, the less functional it’s likely to be.

Below are some examples of functional exercises in each of the categories mentioned above:

Natural Movement + Weight
Squat
Deadlift
Clean and Press
Natural Movement + Plyometrics
Jump Lunge
Plyo Pull-up
Clap push-up
Natural Movement + Stability
Pistol Squat
Ring Muscle-up
One Arm Push-up

Final Thoughts
This list is just the tip of the iceberg! The world of functional fitness includes endless variations on these and other exercises. There might be some that are more effective for you than others. Experiment for yourself and let your body be your teacher.

One Arm Push-up Training

Single limb exercises are a great way to add a challenge to your calisthenics regimen. Along with the pistol squat and the one arm pull-up, the one arm push-up rounds out the trifecta of isolateral bodyweight exercises.

While a certain amount of asymmetry might be unavoidable (a right handed person is almost always going to be right dominant), training movements like the one arm push-up can go a long way towards building a strong, balanced body.

Triangle Tango
It’s important to note that the form of a one arm push-up is a bit different than the standard two arm variation. Your legs will likely need to be a bit wider than a regular push-up position and your hand should be directly under your body, rather than off to the side. The three points of contact with the ground (foot, foot, hand) will make a triangular formation. Very strong individuals may be able to keep their feet a bit closer together. The ultimate one arm push-up is performed with the feet touching.

Incline One Arm Push-up
Like any other difficult bodyweight exercise, a great way to work towards a full one arm push-up is to practice using a position where you will have better leverage, thus making the movement a bit easier. The best way to do this with the one arm push-up is by practicing on an inclined surface, such as a rail or bench.

Self-Assisted One Arm Push-up
Using your secondary arm to spot your primary pushing arm is another tried and true method for perfecting the one arm push-up. This can be done by resting your opposite arm on a brick, medicine ball or other nearby, slightly elevated object.

L7 Diamond Push-up
Another type of self-assisted one arm push-up is what I call the “L7” push-up. This variation is similar to a diamond push-up, except one arm will rest on the back of the hand instead of the palm (when done with the right hand turned over, your fingers will look like the letter “L” and the number “7”). Since having a lot of weight on the backs of the hands can be uncomfortable, this variation forces you to push more with the opposite side.

Negative One Arm Push-up
Slow, controlled negatives are another excellent technique for building to a full one arm push-up. With your feet spread apart, perform a diamond push-up, then take one hand off the floor and lower your chest to the ground as slowly as possible. Bring the second hand back in when you reach the bottom, perform another diamond push-up, then do a negative on the other side.

Pistol Position One Arm Push-up
This move isn’t much easier than a standard one arm push-up, but if you’re real close it could help put you over the top. Get into the bottom position of a pistol squat, then place the hand opposite your squatting leg flat on the ground. Lean over towards that hand, bringing your nose right to the floor and then press yourself back up. For a full body workout, try doing a pistol squat in between each push-up.


For more information, check out my book, Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment.

Backyard Pull-up Bar Part III

Last summer my brother Danny and I built a backyard pull-up bar at his home in Brooklyn. The original set-up featured two bars of different heights connected by crossbeams for extra stability.

Recently, Danny had the idea to make an adjustment to the backyard pull-up bar set-up by switching the crossbeams on the right side into parallel beams. This one minor adjustment has opened up a lot of new possibilities for our backyard workouts.

In addition to practicing various types of pull-ups, muscle-ups and levers, we can now work on human flags off the parallel bars as well as using them for assisted one arm pull-ups.

Watch the video below to see some highlights from one of our recent training sessions:

Related Posts:

Building a Backyard Pull-up Bar

Backyard Pull-up Bar Part 2: Back to the Bar

Elbow Levers

Al Kavadlo Elbow LeverThe elbow lever is a unique hand-balancing skill that will challenge your core strength as well as your coordination.

It’s a great skill to practice concurrently while learning the freestanding handstand, but it also looks pretty neat in its own right.

Before attempting an elbow lever, I recommend getting comfortable with the crow pose. Once you can hold a crow for 10 seconds or longer, you may be ready to move onto the elbow lever.

As the name implies, an elbow lever is performed by leveraging your bodyweight against one or both elbows while balancing on your hand(s) with your body stretched out in a horizontal position. Though it looks similar to a planche, the elbow lever is a less difficult skill due to the fact that your upper-body is resting on your arm(s).

Elbow Lever Technique
Make sure to keep your abs contracted and engage your lower back as you raise yourself off the ground. It is also important to pitch your upper-body forward in order to counterbalance the weight of your bottom half.

Though this move can be performed on a variety of surfaces, I recommend starting out by practicing on a bench, step or any other flat, raised object. This will allow you more room to lift your legs into position, as opposed to the limited amount of space when starting with your hands on the floor.

It may take some time to get used to the sensation of having your elbows jutting into your abdomen; beginners tend to find it especially unpleasant. With practice, however, you can eventually learn to make peace with it.

One Arm Elbow Lever
Though breakdancers and other skilled hand-balancers have a way of making this move seem effortless, the one arm elbow lever is a very challenging feat, so be patient if you endeavor to add this one to your arsenal.

Just like the two arm version, start out by simply trying to get your feet off the floor to get a feel for the balance before attempting to fully extend your body.

It may be helpful to spot yourself with your free hand in the beginning by reaching it to the side and resting one or several fingers on the surface upon which you are balancing.

Holding your body in a triangular formation with your legs in a straddle can make it a bit easier to find the balance with this exercise. With practice, you’ll improve to the point where you can work on bringing your body into a straight line.

Watch the video below for more:

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The Twenty Pistol Squat Challenge

Those of you who’ve been keeping up with me may recall the twenty pull-up challenge. Now I’m throwing down a twenty pistol squat challenge!

People often write to me wanting to know how to get better at pistols. The best way is simply to practice! Do this challenge as often as you can and you will quickly get better at them.

In the beginning, give yourself a rest day between efforts if your legs are sore afterwards. Over time you may build to practicing this routine daily. There is no trick – you just gotta keep working on it.

Ready, Aim, Fire!
The great thing about this challenge is that anyone strong enough to do just one pistol squat can participate. Even if you can’t do a single pistol yet, you can try the challenge with self-assisted pistols holding a pole, suspension trainer or other sturdy object for support.

There are three variations on the challenge; those of you starting with self assisted pistols should be able to perform an unassisted pistol by the time you’ve mastered the advanced version. Then you’re ready to go back to the start and do the challenge without assistance!

Beginner
Alternating legs, perform 40 total pistol squats (20 each leg) in as little time as possible. Rest in between reps only for as long as you need to in order to maintain good form. This may be anywhere from a couple of seconds to a couple of minutes depending on your fitness level. You can break the reps up however you like. Do them one at at time with long breaks in between if you need to – however you do it is fine as long as you get your reps in. With enough practice you should be ready to move to the next step relatively quickly.

Intermediate
Perform 10 consecutive pistols on each leg in a single set with as little time between reps as possible. Don’t sacrifice good form to do them quickly – keep your reps clean. Rest for as long as you want and then do the other leg. Take another break and then do it all over again.

Advanced
For the advanced version, the objective is to perform 20 consecutive clean reps on each leg without stopping. A true master of this challenge will be able to perform all 40 reps in less than two minutes. I’m still working on perfecting it, but I’m getting close.

Watch the video below to see me give it a shot:


For more information, check out my book, Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment.

Freestyle Calisthenics Workout

I was so sore after the 5B’s Pull-up Jam this past Saturday that I actually decided to take a few days off from training. Though it’s common for me to train every day, we all need to rest once in a while. My body was telling me to take it easy, so I listened!

After taking the time to fully recharge, I went to the one and only Tompkins Square Park this morning for a freestyle calisthenics workout. I worked on all different kinds of push-ups, including handstand push-ups as well as front levers, muscle-ups and dips.

Watch the video below for more:

5B's Pull-up Jam 2011

This past Saturday I took the #4 train into Brooklyn for the annual 5B’s Pull-up Jam at Lincoln Terrace Park.

Unlike last year’s contest, however, I didn’t enter the actual competition. This time I just went to hang out, be a part of the good vibes and of course, get my reps in.

As always, there was lots of good energy, good conversation and of course, “good money!”

While the contest was happening in one part of the park, a crowd gathered near another set of bars for an informal freestyle exhibition. A lot of big names from the extreme calisthenics community were on hand to represent. There was no shortage of pull-ups, muscle-ups, levers and many other advanced moves.

All in all, everyone had a good time and a great workout. Thanks to all who entered and attended, and especially to everyone behind the scenes who made this event so much fun!

Watch the video below for more:

Front Lever Training

The front lever is one of the most difficult (and coolest looking) calisthenics exercises of all time. Performed either as a static hold or for reps from a hanging position, the front lever involves pulling your whole body up til it’s parallel to the floor, almost like you are laying down…on air!

In the continuum of bodyweight strength training, a static front lever hold ranks amongst the most difficult feats. I’d put it somewhere between the human flag and a full planche.

First Things First
Achieving a front lever requires serious back strength as well as total body control. Before you consider front lever training, you should be able to perform at least 10 dead hang pull-ups and several full range of motion hanging leg raises. I also recommend you learn to do a back lever and a dragon flag first.

Tuck Front Lever
The easiest variation on the front lever is the tuck front lever. Hang from a pull-up bar and squeeze your legs into your chest while rolling your hips back until your torso is parallel to the ground. Try to stay up and hold this position for as long as you can.

More advanced variations can involve extending one leg while keeping the other tucked or keeping both legs in a half-tuck position. There are many steps in between the tuck front lever and the full position.

Straddle Front Lever
By opening your legs during a front lever, you’re not only changing the balance, you’re also shortening the lever, both of which make this move slightly easier than a full front lever (though still more difficult than the tuck lever). You’ll need better than average hip mobility to pull off a decent straddle front lever, so make sure you’re stretching regularly.

Front Levers for Reps
When building up to a front lever hold, performing front levers for reps can be a very useful tool. Keep your whole body tight as you use your lats to pull your body into the lever position, then lower back down to a dead hang and repeat. The movement pattern is similar to a dumbbell pullover, except you’re moving your entire body instead of just a dumbbell!

When your form breaks down, switch to hanging leg raises. This can make for a very difficult superset.

Front Lever to Muscle-up
The front lever to muscle-up is a great way to work towards improving your front lever hold, as well as a bad-ass move in its own right. It’s easier to do the muscle-up first, then lower yourself into the lever, maintaining total body tension the whole time. Hold the lever position, then pull yourself back over the bar and repeat. Try using a false grip for this maneuver.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Working your way up to a front lever hold can take a very long time. Be patient and gradually build to several seconds on each step before moving onto the next one. If you find yourself getting stagnant in your progress, take a break from front lever training while you continue to work the basics (pull-ups, push-ups, etc.) then come back to it after a few weeks. In the big picture, a little time off can sometimes give you a renewed focus. The front lever is a very difficult move and I am still working on perfecting it myself!

Check out the video below for more:

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Turkish Get-ups

If you’re looking for a great full body exercise, you’d be hard-pressed to find one better than the Turkish get-up.

Turkish get-ups involve full-body strength, flexibility and coordination in a way that few other movements offer. They’re especially good for your shoulders and core, and they can have functional carryover for handstands and handstand push-ups.

If you’re new to this exercise, start with no weight or use a very light weight until you get a feel for the movement pattern. Some people will get it quicker than others, so be patient if you struggle at first. Remember, it’s always beneficial to have one-on-one instruction from an experienced personal trainer when learning a difficult new exercise.

Get Up
Originally developed as a military technique for self defense, the Turkish get-up has become a viable tool for athletes and strongmen of all kinds. The lift involves moving from a position where you are flat on your back into a full standing position, the whole time keeping a weight extended above you in one hand.

Get On Up
Though there are a few different variations on specific techniques, the classic Turkish get-up starts with the lifter bending the leg on the same side where the weight is being held. That foot is used for leverage to roll the torso up onto the opposite hip and elbow. From here, roll onto your palm, bridge your hips, and drag the far leg under your body. Complete the move by standing up just like you were coming up out of a lunge.

Make sure you keep the arm holding the weight straight during the entire lift. Think about actively pressing through that shoulder the whole time. Keep your eyes on the weight, maintaining a tight grip with your arm vertical.

Get Down!
Once you get to a standing position, you’ll need to return to the ground to complete the lift. Take it slow and controlled. Sometimes getting down can be harder than getting up!

Trainer Tips
Don’t worry about going for high reps on these, a few at a time is plenty. You might be surprised how quickly you’ll fatigue, even with a light weight. As always, form first!

Once you are comfortable with this exercise, it can be used to assess your strength. If you can do even half your bodyweight on a Turkish getup, you are extremely strong! (When going heavy, use your free arm to get the weight into position before starting the lift.)

Watch the video below for more:

Thanks to Nimble Fitness for letting me shoot this video in their facility.

Human Flag on Human Flag Pole

The human flag is among my favorite bodyweight feats of strength, so I’ve spent a lot of time practicing it. The better I get at the flag, the more fun it becomes to push the boundaries of the exercise.

Though holding the textbook human flag position is still extremely challenging (holding a vertical pole with both arms totally straight, body completely side-on and level to the ground), it’s fun to mix it up by working on other variations.

Two Man Human Flag

Recently, my brother Danny and I did human flags everywhere, letting it fly on trees, phone booths, mailboxes and anything else we could find. The only place we hadn’t practiced the human flag was on each other – until now.

There are many different ways that we could approach this feat, but after a little trial and error, I’ve found that holding onto Danny’s forearm and ankle seems to be the most stable position. Perhaps with more practice, we’ll be able to try it other ways.

Doing coordinated two-person bodyweight feats adds a whole new element to training. While we’re still amateurs at this skill, we’re starting to get a feel for it. But don’t go calling Barnum’s just yet!

Watch the video below for more:

Calisthenics and Body Awareness

There is a lot to love about calisthenics and bodyweight training – besides being fun and cost-effective, zero equipment workouts are also convenient for travel.

My favorite aspect of bodyweight training, however, is how it teaches you to become aware of the subtle nuances of movement.

Using machines instead of your bodyweight (or free weights) neglects this key aspect of fitness. Don’t even get me started on people who read magazines or watch television during their “workout.”

Lost in Space
I am continually amazed at how out of touch the average person is with their body. For example, when I ask a new client to try moving their shoulder blades without moving their arms, they usually cannot find the coordination to make it happen. However, these types of subtle movements can be the difference between learning to do a pull-up correctly and injuring yourself.

Proprioception refers to the sensory ability to feel different parts of the body moving through space in relation to each other. I almost always do some yoga with my strength training clients to help with their proprioceptive capabilities. Only once somebody truly learns to feel how their body moves, can they make significant gains in strength.

Clearly I’m not a fan of exercise machines, especially when compared to bodyweight strength training or weight training, but those of us who feel that way are on the fringes. Go into any commercial gym and you’re bound to see way more machines than free weights. In some of these places, you’re lucky if there is even a pull-up bar or an open space to do push-ups.

Throw out your treadmill!

Rise of the Machines
Most commercial fitness facilities are not designed to get you fit – they are designed to get your money. The fancy looking machines you see in these clubs are all hype. They don’t work as well as bodyweight exercises, but they sure do look high-tech! Sadly, that’s enough to trick the average person into shelling out lots of money for a gym membership they’ll probably never even use anyway.

This doesn’t mean you can’t sculpt nice looking muscles using machines, it’s just a ridiculous way to go about it. Selectorized fitness equipment movement patterns are not natural, and will have less carryover into real life activities. Plus you’re much less likely to understand the movement of the human body if you’re never really moving! If everything you do for your workout involves sliding a fixed piece of machinery along a predetermined path, you’re just going through the motions. You’re not truly creating movement.

Less is More
While modern exercise equipment has only existed for a few decades, human beings have achieved fantastic physiques since the days of the ancient Greeks. If you want to build a better body, the only piece of equipment you’ll need is something you already have – YOU! Stop making excuses and start working out!


For more information, check out my book, Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment.

Muscle-up Variations

No one move works the entire upper body as thoroughly as the muscle-up. In fact, muscle-ups are on their way to replacing pull-ups as my number one favorite exercise.

If you’re unfamiliar with them, check out my guide to getting your first muscle-up as well as my original post on muscle-ups.

Muscle(up) Confusion
Varying your training forces the body to continually adapt, so I’m always working on acquiring new skills and expanding my arsenal. The better that I get at doing muscle-ups, the more I try to challenge myself with different modifications. I’ve blogged about advanced muscle-ups before, but I’ve been working on some new techniques since then.

Slow Muscle-ups and the False Grip
The transition between the pulling and pushing phases of the muscle-up is the hardest part for beginners. Some people find that using a false grip (cocking your wrist over the bar) can be helpful, as it eliminates the need to roll your hand over the bar during the transition.

A false grip is especially important when attempting to perform slow, controlled muscle-ups. In such instances, if can be helpful to use an exaggerated false grip with your closed fists completely on top of the bar.

Wide Grip/Narrow Grip
Just like pull-ups, the muscle-up can be done with a wide grip or a narrow grip. Both add their own unique challenges to the exercise, though the close grip can be especially tough. Work on gradually bringing your hands closer together over time, eventually working up to the point where they are touching.

X-Muscleup
As the name implies, this muscle-up involves crossing your arms like an X, with each hand over the opposite side’s shoulder. When you do an X-muscleup, the arm that is on the bottom has to do most of the work, so start by learning with your dominant side underneath. It took me lots of practice to get the hang of these and I still need to work on cleaning up my form. Even if you are very good at muscle-ups, expect to get a humbling the first time you try this one.

Clapping Muscle-up
Any time you generate enough explosive force to get airborne, you are doing plyometrics. If you do enough muscle-ups, eventually you can try to push beyond the normal range of motion and propel yourself completely off the bar. Once you’re in the air, you may choose to toss in a clap or other freestyle movement of your choosing. When practicing plyo muscle-ups, use your hips to “cast off” the bar for more height.

Switchblade Muscle-up
The switch grip or “switchblade” muscle-up is one of the more difficult plyometric variations. To perform the switchblade, start out hanging below the bar in an underhand (chin-up) grip. From here, pull yourself up explosively, reversing your grip during the transition phase. You’ll have to generate tons of explosive force to get high enough over the bar to catch yourself and push through the dip phase to complete the exercise.

Watch the video below for more:

Pistol Squats

Kavadlo Bros Pistol SquatThe pistol squat is a fantastic exercise for building lower body strength, balance and flexibility. But of course there’s a catch – you have to be strong, well balanced and flexible in order to even do one!

The main muscles involved in the pistol squat are the quads, glutes and hamstrings, though a strong core is also essential. Like all advanced bodyweight exercises, pistols require a high strength-to-weight ratio, so if you’re carrying around a lot of excess body fat, you’ll need to clean up your diet and shed some pounds before trying to learn this exercise.

I’ve blogged about the pistol squat before, but it’s a topic that I get asked about often, so it’s worth discussing again.

The Flex Pistols
When you do a pistol squat, there are three joints involved: the hip, knee and ankle. In order to achieve a full range of motion, you will need to be flexible in all three. People who overlook the ankle flexibility will wind up shooting themselves in the foot (so to speak). You have to dorsiflex in order to perform a true pistol. Your knee should slide right up by your toes without your heel coming off the ground, otherwise you’ll fall back on your butt. If your heel does come up, you may be able to maintain your balance, but the change in leverage can be harmful to your knee.

Pole Position
Once you get comfortable with going deep on a standard two legged squat, you can do self assisted pistols by practicing in front of a vertical pole. Begin by standing in front of the pole, loosely grasping it with one or both hands. Now reach one leg in the air as you squat ass to ankle on the other, using the pole to guide yourself through the full range of motion.

When practicing pistol squats, it helps to think about squeezing your abs, particularly on the way up. Also bear in mind that keeping your other leg outstretched can be just as demanding as the squat itself. Squeeze that leg tight and reach it away from your body.

Pistol Progressions
For the advanced trainee who can perform several pistols in a row, there are many ways to add a new challenge. You could try my twenty pistol squat challenge or grab a kettlebell and do weighted pistols. Holding you hands behind your head is another way to add difficulty – this seemingly minor change in leverage will make the exercise significantly harder. If those get easy for you, try pistols balancing on top of a bar. If you’re more concerned with explosive power, you could even attempt a plyometric pistol squat.


For more information, check out my book, Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment.

Pull-ups for Women

Screen Shot 2016-12-13 at 9.24.19 AMIt’s no secret that pull-ups are my favorite exercise. They work your entire upper body, plus they’re cool looking and fun!

While learning to do pull-ups is hard for anyone, the task can be especially daunting for females.

I’ve met a lot of women who didn’t think it would ever be possible for them to do a single pull-up.

The good news is that I’ve gotten many of them to break through that barrier and achieve their first rep – and in most cases, many more!

If you can’t do a pull-up yet, don’t get discouraged – there are a few things you can do to work your way up to that first one.

Chin It To Win It
Pull-ups can be done with many different grips, though it’s usually best for beginners to start out with an underhand (chin-up) grip, as this will allow you to utilize your biceps more.

Though the muscles of the upper back have the potential to become incredibly powerful, your arms are more likely to be developed and will be able to compensate in the meantime. With enough practice, the disparity between grips can start to even out.

Flex Hangs
As I mentioned in my original guide to learning to do a pull-up, holding a flex hang (the top position of a pull-up) for time is a great way to start building toward your first full pull-up. Begin with an underhand grip and focus on keeping your whole body tight. Don’t just use your arms! Tense your abs, legs and everything else.

At first you may only be able to hold this position for a few seconds. This is fine. With practice, you can eventually work to a 30 second hold, at which point you will be close to your first pull-up.

Negative Pull-ups
The term “negative pull-up” refers to the lowering phase of the exercise and is a fantastic way to get a feel for the movement pattern of the full pull-up, without having to perform the entire range of motion.

Jump or use assistance to get your chin over the bar, then hold the top position for as long as you can. When your arms start to fatigue, lower yourself to a right angle at your elbow and hold there. From here, slowly lower yourself to a full hang.

Aussie Pull-up
Australian Pull-ups
Just like an assisted pull-up is easier than the free-hanging variety, the Australian pull-up will allow you to train a similar movement pattern without having to bear your full weight.

The Australian pull-up will also get you used to keeping your core engaged, which is a key aspect of performing pull-ups.

Start out hanging below a bar that’s about waist height with your legs extended so you form a straight line from your head to your heels. Grip tightly and brace your entire body as you pull your chest toward the bar, then lower yourself back to the bottom with control.

To make the Aussie pull-up more accessible to beginners, you can use a bar that is chest height instead of waist height, which will allow for more favorable leverage.

Watch the video below for more:

The Single Leg Deadlift

Bodyweight training is my bread and butter, but deadlifts are still a great exercise. The single leg bodyweight deadlift is a nice alternative to traditional barbell deads and they don’t require any equipment at all.

Much like a pistol squat is exponentially harder than a regular air squat, single leg deadlifts are more challenging than you might think. Doing a deadlift on one leg takes strength, balance and flexibility.

While I consider the one legged deadlift a full body exercise, the main muscles involved are the hamstrings, glutes and lower back.

The movement of a single leg deadlift is not unlike that of a drinking bird. As you lean your upper body forward, reach your opposite leg out behind you. This will not only help you balance, it will also further engage your lower back as well as the leg that’s in the air. I like to touch my hand to my opposite foot at the bottom to keep from externally rotating at the hip.

Watch out that you don’t bend your spine on the way down, but rather take the stretch in your hamstrings. The idea is to keep your back flat and pivot from the hips.

Watch the video below for more:

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Getting a Tattoo

Tattoos and working out have a lot in common. Both are a means of beautifying the body, both involve mental toughness (and can help develop that mindset) and both involve putting yourself through an ordeal in order to achieve a desired outcome. They can also both become a little addictive once you get going!

I got most of my tattoos during my teens and early twenties, but recently I was once again hit with the itch for some new ink. Since I already have script writing on my wrists and neck, I decided to get similar lettering on my ankles in order to tie it all together. I chose the words “Decision” and “Action” because that’s about as succinctly as I can sum up the formula for success. You have to follow through with your plans, otherwise they are totally useless. It’s good to be reminded of that, and now I will be every day.

New Tattoos and Working Out
Since this particular tattoo was relatively small, the healing process didn’t interrupt my workout regimen. However, other pieces that I’ve gotten have required a few days off from training (which is part of the reason why I’ve slowed down with acquiring new ink). Larger tattoos and those in sensitive areas (knees, ribs, elbows, etc.) tend to require the most rest time.

I get a lot of questions about my tattoos and the tattoo process, so I decided to bring my camera along with me and get a little footage during my recent appointment with one of NYC’s top ink-slingers, Alex Sherker of East Side Ink.

Watch the video below to see how it went:

Sifting Through the Madness

Grains are heart-healthy, grains are toxic; free weights are the best way to strength train, free weights lead to injuries; red meat is an excellent source of protein, red meat will give you cancer; cardio workouts are good for your heart, chronic cardio will leave you weak and tired; red wine is good for you, drinking alcohol destroys your liver; tuna is a great source of omega-3’s, tuna causes mercury poisoning.

With so much conflicting information out there about diet and exercise, how is one to know what to believe?

Belief Systems
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all have a belief system by which we judge new information. Our foundational beliefs shape our opinions about everything we encounter in the world.

My belief system is based primarily on three things: experience, logic, and intuition.

Experience
One of my favorite Buddhist quotes says, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who has said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own experience.” I believe this to be some of the best advice ever given. There is nothing that I trust more than my own reason and firsthand experience – and there is nothing you should trust more than yours.

Logic
If something comes up that I don’t have firsthand experience with, utilizing logic becomes the best course of action. That just means I ask myself, does this make sense? If it doesn’t make sense, there may be something that I’m overlooking, or it may simply be bullshit. That’s where intuition comes in.

Intuition
Experience means relying on your five senses; in a way, intuition is our sixth sense. Trusting your intuition means believing in yourself.

If I need to make a decision about something that I have no prior experience with and I can’t come to a logical conclusion, intuition is all I have left to go on, so I’ll do what my instincts tell me. If my instincts wind up being wrong, at least I’ll have some experience to go on the next time I’m presented with similar circumstances.

Question Everything!
There are countless “experts” out there who claim that their method is the best or the only way to achieve success. The more sure someone seems of their beliefs, the more I’m inclined to question them. I always try to challenge my own closest held beliefs as well – that’s actually how I came to my decision to stop taking exercise supplements.

Whenever someone is trying to sell you something, their motivation is suspect. That’s not to say that there aren’t honest salespeople out there, but they are few and far between. Other times, we as customers are so desperate for a solution to our woes that we will abandon our common sense and buy into an idea that we know is too good to really be true. Don’t let your emotions override your sense of reason when making important decisions.

Faulty Belief Systems
Many people base their actions on shaky foundational beliefs. My hope is to steer you away from these pitfalls.

Getting up on my high horse

Dogma
While the term is often used in religious contexts, dogma pops up everywhere from political ideologies, to science (we’ll get to that in a minute), and even in the world of health and fitness.

Don’t assume that just because the experts agree on a given concept or practice that it must be right for you. Following dogmatic principles can often mean the opposite of trusting your own experience and that can get you into trouble. Anyone who disregards their real life experience because it conflicts with “the way things are supposed to be” is making a huge mistake.

Faith
If intuition is the belief that our instincts will lead us to make good choices, faith is the opposite of that. It’s a subtle distinction, but as instinct implies that we trust in ourselves to find the answers, faith means believing that something outside of yourself will guide you in the right direction. Some people believe in destiny; I’m more interested in manifesting my own.

Science
Science isn’t always an exact science and controlled experiments aren’t real life. When things happen in the real world, there are a lot of factors involved. The more factors involved, the more difficult it becomes to determine causality. The chasm between theory and practice makes most studies about diet, exercise or pretty much anything else irrelevant. Secondhand knowledge will always be inferior to one’s own practical experience.

Furthermore, just like you have to question a salesperson based on their motivation, you must also question science when it comes from a sponsor who’s invested in a particular outcome. Even “unbiased” or “double-blind” studies can be unknowingly influenced by those involved in the experiment, and test subjects may not be accurately reporting data in the first place.

Don’t Take My Word For It
This is not a call to action to adopt my belief system, but rather an urging to question your own beliefs (and mine). When faced with information that doesn’t mesh with your own experience, logic or intuition, proceed with caution.

We're Working Out! at East River Park

Between the skyscrapers and the scaffolding, New York City also happens to have a lot of great public parks.

While Tompkins Square Park is still my number one place to practice bodyweight training, NYC’s East River Park is another great place to get a fun workout.

Not only does East River Park have pull-up and dip bars, it also has a quarter mile running track, tennis courts and more!

East River Park runs along the FDR parkway from Houston St. to E. 10th street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

I recently met up with my friends Rick Seedman and Mark Leitz of the Bar-barians for a workout at East River Park – and what a workout it was! We did the usual push-ups, pull-ups and dips, as well as muscle-ups, L-sits, levers and more. Having great training partners keeps me motivated to continue pushing my boundaries.

Watch the video below to see some highlights from our workout:

Avoiding Injuries in Strength Training

Anyone who’s worked out consistently for long enough has no doubt had to deal with an injury at some point. Setbacks can be frustrating, but if you train hard, eventually some type of injury may be inevitable.

In spite of over two decades of strength training, however, I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid anything serious. The worst I’ve had to deal with was a strained rotator cuff, some mild tendinitis and a few cuts, scrapes and bruises (mostly from freerunning and parkour). If you train smart, you should be able to avoid any serious injuries as well.

Listen to Your Body

One of the most common questions I get asked is, “Is it okay to work out every day?” There is no universal answer that applies to everyone, as individual conditioning varies greatly from person to person. As a general rule, however, let your body rest if you feel sore, achy or tired. If you want to work out and you’re still sore from a previous session, you might take a day to focus on flexibility or work around your sore muscles using a split routine. Another option is to simply do a low-intensity active recovery workout.

You might not always like what it has to say, but listening to your body is the best way to avoid injury. When you have aches and pains, you need to back off. Pay attention to how your body responds to different training programs and act accordingly.

Balancing Act
It is important to make sure that your strength training routine doesn’t favor any one movement pattern too heavily. The phrase antagonistic balance refers to maintaining a healthy symmetry between opposing muscle groups. If your routine is all push-ups and no pull-ups, you’ll likely wind up with shoulder problems and poor posture. Likewise, neglecting your glutes, hamstrings and lower back can also lead to joint pain and postural issues. This is why deadlifts and/or back bridges should be a mainstay of any fitness regimen.

Gradual Progress
People who get injured in training usually do so because they attempted something far outside of their capabilities. While ambition is a great asset, you’ve got to be objective about what your body is realistically capable of handling. I’m all for pushing the boundaries of human performance, but you have to do so gradually!

Check out my master list of exercises to get an idea of how to progress intelligently in the world of bodyweight strength training. You’ll typically want to get to about 10 reps of a given exercise before moving on to harder progressions. For static holds (like planks and L-sits), aim for a 30 second hold or longer.

Live and Learn
Injuries may sometimes be unavoidable, but I believe we are all ultimately responsible for our own fate. Be smart, stay humble and pick yourself up when you fall. If you do get injured, perhaps you can learn from the experience and avoid repeating your mistakes. Remember, an expert is just a beginner who didn’t quit.

We're Working Out! in St. Louis

During my visit to St. Louis this past Memorial Day weekend, there wasn’t much time for a formal workout session, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose footing as I ascend towards mastering my bodyweight. With that in mind, I decided to get my reps in throughout the day anywhere and everywhere that I went.

In addition to attending a few family functions, I hit up the usual tourist attractions like the St. Louis Zoo, the Missouri Botanical Gardens, Grant’s Farm and of course, the famous St. Louis Arch. Though I didn’t strictly adhere to a healthy eating plan while vacationing, I made sure to practice push-ups, pull-ups, muscle-ups, dips, L-sits and of course, the human flag.

You don’t need a gym to get your workout in!

Watch the video below for more: