Mike Fitch is the creator of Global Bodyweight Training and The Animal Flow Workout. He’s a fitness professional with nearly 20 years of industry experience as a trainer, presenter, writer and more.
Hey hey hey! The Kavadlo Bros are on the cover of the new issue of TRAIN magazine! What a way to start off 2019!
I’ve been a contributor to TRAIN since the very first issue and I’ve been in over 60 issues since the magazine’s inception, but being on the cover is a very special honor – an honor that Danny and I are extremely grateful for.
We owe a big thank you to every one of you for your support over the years. This would not be possible without you guys!
If you want to see more of this type of thing in the future, please continue to support us by picking up a copy wherever fine magazines are sold. It should be on the stands until the end of January, so grab a copy before they’re all gone.
(They don’t like smiling faces on their cover so I had to mean mug it for this shot. You can still tell that I’m smiling inside.)
The air baby is an advanced handbalancing exercise that combines strength, balance and skill.
It’s a visually breathtaking maneuver that can take years to perfect.
The air baby has origins in breakdancing, but it’s also become a trademark move of calisthenics and certain styles of yoga.
Though the air baby requires a high level of strength and control, the process of building toward the full movement can help you improve those attributes.
Here’s a 5-step progression you can use to achieve the full air baby.
Take your time with each step and be patient.
Step One – The Crow Pose
The first step toward learning an air baby is the classic Crow Pose. In fact, you can think of the air baby like a one-arm/one-leg version of the crow.
Step Two – One Leg Crow
Once you can comfortably hold the crow for 30 seconds, you are ready to try taking one leg away and reaching it outward. You will need to shift more of your weight toward your fingers in order to stay balanced in this position.
Step Three – One Leg Crow with Staggered Hands
After you can do a crow with one leg extended for more than 10 seconds, you are ready to try the pose with your hands staggered. The idea here is to place less weight in your secondary arm by keeping it farther away from your body. You will also need to shift the position of your primary hand so that your fingers are facing out to the side rather than forward.
At this point you can also begin to play with turning your body slightly sideways and starting to stack your hips. You may be surprised by how much core strength this demands, particularly in the obliques on the side of your primary balancing hand.
Step Four – Assisted Air Baby
Once you can hold the previous progression for longer than 10 seconds, you can take more weight away from your assisted hand by raising up onto the fingertips. Then you can gradually start removing fingers.
Eventually, you’ll be close enough to a full air baby that all you’ll need for assistance is one finger. Even still, it can be a pretty big jump between this step and the full air baby.
Step Five – Air Baby
Once you can hold the assisted air baby for several seconds with just one finger, you can experiment with starting to remove the assisting hand completely. Be prepared for a lot of trial and error as you learn to find the sweet spot between tipping too far forward and falling too far backward.
Additional Air Baby Tips
–You may need to experiment with the exact placement of your knee in relation to your elbow. If it is too high or too low, you won’t be able to balance.
–It can help to think about pressing the ground away with your balancing arm while crunching your obliques to keep your knee on your elbow.
–Keeping the extended leg contracted and squeeze the heel of your bent leg toward your butt.
–Don’t be alarmed if your knee and/or elbow gets chafed from the friction caused by practicing this exercise. Sometimes breakdancers will wear a wrap or pad on the elbow to help with this.
–It may be helpful to first learn the one arm elbow lever before going for the air baby, as they are similar in some ways, and the air baby is more difficult.
Watch the video below for demonstrations and more:
Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be Batman. Now I’m one step closer.
The calisthenics foot hang involves hanging upside down from a pull-up bar with no contact points other than the tops of your feet.
It’s a fun and challenging exercise that can build foot and leg strength as well as confidence and mental fortitude.
Feets of Strength
In the world of calisthenics, there are some exercises that you absolutely need to do: squats, push-ups and pull-ups, for example, are non-negotiable in my book.
Then there are exercises that are “nice to do” – if you are interested. You can get in great shape without these moves, but they do have added benefits, and perhaps more importantly – they look awesome!
So how does one begin to train for such a move? The first thing I recommend is learning to do a toes-to-bar leg raise – even if you need to bend your knees a bit for now.
Learning the toes-to-bar is a good prerequisite, as you pretty much need to be able to do this in order to get your feet in position to begin. It will also ensure a solid baseline of core strength, which plays a key role in the calisthenics foot hang.
When you are ready to try, start by hanging from a bar, then lift your legs all the way up and hook your feet over the top of the bar. Aim to get as close to your ankle joint as possible in order to give yourself the best leverage.
From there, slowly begin loosening your grip as you actively flex your toes toward your shins and squeeze your quads, shifting weight onto the tops of your feet.
If you feel ready, try moving one hand from the pull-up bar onto one of the side posts that supports the bar. Eventually you will be able to take both hands away from the bar, instead holding onto both posts for support. From here you can progressively put less weight in your hands over time until you feel ready to remove them completely.
Toe-tal Body Tension
Make sure you are actively maintaining tension throughout your body the entire time and remember to squeeze your abs. In fact, you may find it easier to hang in a sit-up position with your torso flexed forward at first.
If you feel like you are starting to lose your footing, be ready to grab the side posts and lower yourself down carefully before you fall. However, I recommend making sure there is something soft beneath you, just in case you slip.
Though the purest version of the move is performed barefoot, it may be helpful to practice with sneakers on at first.
Just like the skin on your hands when you were new to pull-ups, the skin on your feet will need to get conditioned to supporting your body weight. And yes, you can get callouses on the tops of your feet if you spend enough time hanging from them.
As is the case with all calisthenics exercises, a high strength-to-mass ratio is crucial to performing this move.
With enough practice, you can eventually get pretty comfortable hanging in this position. Then you can try doing it while simultaneously tearing a deck of cards in half.
Hanging upside-down from a pull-up bar by my bare feet while tearing a deck of brand new playing cards in half with my bare hands: Two very different feats that both involve strength, skill and focus. Thanks to my buddy @Irontamer for first putting the idea in my head to try this. When he suggested it to me I thought it sounded impossible, but here I am doing it! In fact, I think I might be the first person to perform these two feats simultaneously! Does anyone know of anybody else who has done this? And just so nobody thinks I’m a litterbug, I picked up all the cards and the plastic as soon as the camera cut. #FeatsOfStrength #FeetsOfStrength
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” –Lucius Annaeus Seneca
With 2017 winding down, it’s hard to believe another year is coming to an end.
It’s been a good one, and I’m excited to see what 2018 has in store!
Here’s a quick look back at some of my personal highlights from the past 365 days:
PCC? Yeah you know me!
My role as lead instructor for the Progressive Calisthenics Certification once again had me teaching bodyweight strength training workshops across the USA. I also got to teach in the UK, Poland and Australia!
It’s a privilege and an honor to continue to teach the world’s #1 bodyweight strength training certification all over the globe. If you’ve ever wanted to train with me in person, the PCC is the place to be!
I hope to see you at a PCC event in 2018!
Get Strong and Universal Strength
2017 saw the release of my latest book, which I co-wrote with my brother Danny Kavadlo.
Simply titled GET STRONG, the newest Kavadlo Bros book hit #1 in Amazon’s Exercise and Fitness category multiple times during the year.
Additionally, I released my first-ever online video course this year, called Universal Strength. The initial response from the first wave of people who went through the program was even better than I had hoped!
Universal Strength is currently closed for registration but will reopen in January. In addition to the 30-day structured video course, Universal Strength members also get access to my new premium membership club, where I’ve been uploading exclusive videos and answering people’s questions personally. I’m very excited to continue Universal Strength in 2018!
My animated We’re Working Out! App got a new update this year!
This latest update includes improved animations, more exercises and more workouts.
We also added a tracking feature so you can record your workouts and monitor your progress.
Go check it out!
I appeared in several magazines this year, including TRAIN magazine and Men’s Journal. I was also featured in Poland’s #1 strength training publication, Body Challenge.
Here are links to my top five articles that I published in 2017 (you may notice a theme):
T-Nation – Five Damn Good Reasons to do Bodyweight Training
Bodybuilding.com – The Top Five Newbie Calisthenics Mistakes
GMB Fitness – Five Steps to Achieve the Human Flag
PCC Blog – Five Reasons to Practice Pistol Squats
Bodybuilding.com – Five Advanced Pull-up Variations for Building Muscle and Strength
In addition to continuing to refine my calisthenics practice, I also began dabbling in some other feats of strength. This year I learned to tear a deck of cards in half and even started bending nails!
Damn it feels good to bend steel! Thanks to @hairculese for helping me achieve this feat! That's a 6" long 1/4" thick carriage bolt for anyone keeping score. The wraps are so I don't destroy my hands, though i hope to someday perform this feat completely barehanded. 😄💪 #GripStrength #OldSchoolStrong #OldtimeStrongman #BendingSteel
Attitude of Gratitude
I’m extremely grateful for all the good fortune that I received this year and I owe a big “thank you” to everyone who read my articles, purchased my products, or supported me in any way this year. I appreciate your continued commitment. Onward and upward in 2018!
Hey hey hey! We’re Working Out!
Who knew you could burn fat and have fun at the same time?
Those of you who’ve been following me for a while probably know that I’m not a fan of “cardio workouts” – but I do love me some jump rope training!
Jumping rope burns a ton of calories, plus it’s a great workout for your heart, lungs, legs, grip…and brain!
You see, unlike mind-numbing treadmill or stationary bike workouts, jumping rope requires you to stay focused and pay attention to your body, which has major cognitive benefits.
And wouldn’t you know it – by focusing on the task rather than the outcome, you can have a more enjoyable experience – and still get ripped!
Double Under Technique
The double under is a particularly effective technique for expending huge amounts of energy and revving your metabolism, but it can also be quite challenging to learn. As such, make sure you are very comfortable with standard jump rope technique before you begin working on the double under.
In order to perform a successful double under, you’ll need to whip the rope extremely quickly and jump higher than normal to make room for the rope to pass beneath your feet twice before you land.
I also suggest keeping your hands relatively low and slightly forward of your hips. If your hands are too high or too far back, you won’t have enough clearance beneath your feet.
At first, you may only be able to perform one double under at a time, but with practice you will eventually be able to string together multiple reps.
There’s often a lot of trial and error involved in figuring out the proper timing for a double under. It’s a skill that takes practice and patience to master, so try not to get too frustrated in the beginning.
It’s best to practice on a soft surface like rubber or grass in order to minimize impact on your joints. Also make sure to bend your knees and ankles upon landing in order to reduce impact.
It can also help to learn the technique with a lightweight speed-rope, like “The Bolt” from Crossrope.
Lighter ropes can move a lot faster than heavier ones, and I’ve found that ropes which weigh around 3 or 4 ounces tend to be ideal for learning double unders.
Once you’ve gotten fluid with your technique, you can try using an even lighter rope for more speed. Be aware, however, that very light ropes can potentially be harder to control, so some people will prefer to stick with a slightly heavier option.
That’s part of what I love about “The Bolt” from Crossrope: It comes with two ropes that are easily interchangeable – a lightweight 3 oz rope and a super-lightweight 1 oz rope.
Watch the video below for more:
The One Arm Elbow Lever (aka Crocodile) is one of my favorite handbalancing skills.
It takes a lot of practice and patience to learn to balance in this position, but once you get the hang of it, you can have a lot of fun with this move.
In fact, it doesn’t require much more effort than the two arm version once you get the feel for the balance.
Of course the first step toward learning a one arm elbow lever is to learn the standard two arm elbow lever.
Assuming you’ve got that taken care of, the next course of action is practicing a self-assisted version of the full one arm elbow lever by using your secondary arm to spot yourself.
As with the standard elbow lever, I recommend learning to do the one arm elbow lever on a bench or other elevated surface before trying it on the ground, as being elevated leaves more room for you to lift your legs into position.
The placement of the elbow for this exercise should be right by your hip – don’t go too close to your belly button, which is a common mistake. As such, you will need to lean your body ever so slightly toward your balancing hand in order to avoid tipping over in the opposite direction.
Additionally, when practicing on an elevated surface, you can experiment with wrapping your fingers around the side, or flat-palming it – one might come a bit easier to you, but both ways are ultimately worth practicing.
Once you have your elbow in place, tighten your abs and lift your legs. It’s best to start with your legs wide and knees bent in order to get a feel for the balance.
After both legs are in the air, you can begin to play with taking weight away from your assisting arm. I recommend going up on the fingertips to begin shifting more weight onto your primary hand. From there, you can slowly start taking fingers away.
Don’t be in a hurry to get to the full one arm elbow lever. Staying on one finger for a while can be a very helpful progression toward acquiring this skill.
Be My Lever
It will take a lot of practice, but eventually you will be able to balance solely on one arm. Once you get the feel for this, you can try fully extending your legs and eventually bringing them together. Holding a one arm elbow lever with your legs closed makes the balance significantly more difficult.
After it’s no longer challenging to hold a one arm elbow lever on a bench, you can explore performing the move on the ground, or even on bars and other odd objects.
You can also try changing the angle of your body to make the move more challenging, such as rotating to a sideways position.
Watch the video below for more:
Every time I take a shower, I go through a little battle inside my head.
Allow me to explain…
Several months back, I read Wim Hof’s The Way of The Iceman, and it inspired me to experiment with cold exposure training.
In the book, Hof suggests ending every shower by turning the dial all the way to the cold side, then staying under the frigid water for as long as possible.
The first time I tried it, I barely lasted 30 seconds and found the whole thing to be quite unpleasant.
When it was over, however, I felt a powerful surge of energy which encouraged me to do it again the next day. After doing this daily for a few weeks, I’d conditioned myself to withstand several minutes under the cold water.
Though I’m a bit skeptical of some of the bold claims certain proponents of cold exposure training have made, there are three clear benefits I’ve experienced from it, and that’s enough to keep me going:
1 – Increased Energy
Though I’m not typically lacking in vitality, I do feel especially energized right after a cold shower. When the water hits my skin, it really wakes me up and gives my nervous system a jolt.
The science also shows that when the body is exposed to cold, it causes the capillaries to contract and blood is rushed away from the extremities in order to keep the internal organs warm. In the moments following cold exposure, the capillaries expand and fresh blood is returned to those areas. That’s probably why I’ve had some really good workouts right after a cold shower.
2 – Improved Recovery
When you’re fired up, a cold shower is a great way to cool down. Though it may seem like a contradiction to my last point, cold showers are perfect after a workout, especially if you’ve built up a lot of body heat.
Cold exposure following an intense training session also seems to help relieve muscular soreness, which makes sense given the anti-inflammatory power of the cold. There’s a reason it’s common practice to put ice on a fresh wound or injury. The healing power of the cold is undeniable.
3 – The Ultimate Meditation
The cold has an amazing way of bringing you into the present moment. It’s pretty much impossible to daydream or think about anything other than the physical sensations you are experiencing while you are in the midst of cold exposure. All you can do is stand there, breathe and accept it.
Focusing on the breath is a cornerstone of virtually all forms of meditation training, as well as a major part of the Wim Hof Method. If you focus your mind deep inside your belly and take big, powerful breaths, it’s easier to keep from succumbing to the cold.
It can also be helpful to move around. If I’m doing outdoor cold exposure, this could mean hitting a few yoga poses and/or doing some light stretching. If I’m taking a cold shower, I might start by letting the water hit my back and legs for the first few seconds, then turn to the side for a bit and let it run over my shoulder, finally letting it hit my chest, armpits and face after I’ve had a little time to adapt to the sensation.
Even after following Wim’s teachings for the last several months and experiencing the benefits firsthand, it’s still sometimes a struggle for me to turn the shower knob to the cold side. Occasionally there are days when I’m eager to feel the cold against my skin, but much of the time there’s a voice inside my head trying to talk me out of turning that dial.
And that’s a big part of why I keep doing it.
Forcing myself to override the part of my brain that desires comfort has made me mentally stronger.
Just like my calisthenics training, my experience with cold training has helped reinforce for me how to best approach potentially daunting tasks without getting overwhelmed. The key is to focus on breaking the bigger task down into smaller chunks.
On the days when I really don’t want to feel the cold, I tell myself I’m just going to do 30 seconds. Once I get to that point, it’s usually not hard to convince myself to endure another 30 seconds. After a minute, I try to convince myself to say in for another minute. Sometimes it even starts to feel good!
There are days when I time myself on my phone and make sure I do a full 5 minutes. Other days I don’t bother with the timer and just stay in for as long as I can handle.
In addition to cold showers, I’ve also experimented with outdoor cold exposure, ice baths and cold rooms (like the one in the photo to the left), which can all get very intense.
Of course, I do take a day off once or twice a week when I am feeling particularly dispassionate about experiencing the cold.
Just like strength training, it’s good to give your body a break from all that stimulation occasionally. Typically when I skip a day, I’m more eager to go for it the next time.
Cold, Hard Truth
Studies continue to surface about the benefits of cold showers, ice baths and other forms of cold exposure therapy, yet many people are still hesitant to give it a shot. We live in a culture that encourages comfort above all else, but being comfortable all the time does not allow us to grow.
I’m sure you have a friend or two who thinks that you’re crazy for doing calisthenics. Keep that in mind if you think I’m crazy after you watch the video below:
If you’d like more info about cold training, pick up a copy of Wim Hof’s The Way of The Iceman.
There’s a street hustle in parts of Europe where passersby are offered the chance to win 100 euro if they can hang from a bar for two minutes.
To play the game, an entry fee of 10 euro is required, which seems like a small price to pay if you’re confident in your ability to hang.
The only problem is that nobody ever wins. That’s what makes it such an effective hustle.
A two-minute bar hang is no easy task, but it’s something that any serious calisthenics practitioner can accomplish.
So what’s the catch? How come nobody wins the 100 euro?
The answer is simple, but hardly noticeable upon first glance, hence the effectiveness of the con: The bar they have you hang from is very thick and – more importantly – it rotates.
Perhaps you’re thinking that a little bit of spin shouldn’t make it harder to hang. That’s what I thought, too, which is precisely why people fall for this game.
As The Bar Turns
I recently found myself in London teaching a Progressive Calisthenics Certification workshop at The Commando Temple, a fantastic place for calisthenics training, and home to some very serious grip enthusiasts. In fact, their head calisthenics coach and PCC Team Leader, Fitsz Dubova, is also a world-record holding grip strength competitor.
During one of the breaks at PCC, Fitsz showed me a pair of rotating handles that can be hung below a standard pull-up bar. Then he had me try to hang from them, so I could see for myself how they felt.
I was immediately surprised by how tough it was to hold onto the rotating handles, but I was still able to hang for a bit in spite of the increased difficulty.
Then Fitsz challenged me to try hanging from it on one arm.
On a standard bar, I can hang for a minute or longer on one hand, but on this thick, rotating apparatus, I was barely able to hang for two seconds!
Though I was intrigued, I didn’t get much time to play around with the revolving handles that weekend. After I returned home to NYC, however, I began thinking about them again.
I started looking around online, and came across an article on Jedd Johnson’s blog detailing how to make your own rotating grip handles. Then I went to my local hardware store and got everything I needed to assemble my own revolving pull-up bar handles.
Each handle consists of two pieces of PVC pipe – one inside of the other – with a foot and a half of chain threaded through and attached to a climbing strap with a carabiner. Placing one piece of pipe inside of the other is what causes the handles to rotate smoothly. They are cheap and easy to assemble.
Roll With It
Training with these handles has been a humbling experience. I’m no stranger to thick bar pull-ups, but the rotating nature of these handles makes them very tough to hold onto. I have pretty strong hands from decades of doing pull-ups on various types of bars, and I’ve messed around with a few kinds of grip boards and other climber’s training tools. Those of you who follow my blog also know that I recently started training to rip decks of cards in half. All of these things offer their own unique challenges, but these rotating thick grips are one of the most difficult grip tools I’ve encountered over the years.
If you have a very strong grip, you might not notice right away how much harder it is to hold onto a rotating bar or rotating handles, but as soon as you begin to fatigue, it will become immediately apparent.
Think about what you do when you are hanging from a bar and start to lose your grip. Most people instinctively try to choke their hands up a bit higher on the bar for more surface contact and improved leverage.
When you try to do this on a rotating handle, however, it just spins right back to where it was, forcing you to grip from a position of unfavorable leverage. It’s impossible to utilize any type of false grip on a bar that turns.
On top of that, these 2-inch grips are too think for most people to wrap their hand completely around, which makes the idea of hanging for two minutes that much more daunting.
Though I usually prefer to grip with my thumb on the same side of the bar as the rest of my fingers, as I feel that gives me the best leverage, I’ve been practicing pull-ups and hangs on these handles with my thumb wrapped around the other side in order to purposely increase the grip challenge.
I can hang from a standard pull-up bar for close to four minutes, but so far I’ve yet to stay on these handles for a full 60 seconds.
If I ever get to two minutes, I’ll be ready to try and win that 100 euro.
Watch the clip below to see my max set of pull-ups on these revolving pull-up handles:
Last Halloween I went to see my friend Adam RealMan perform his one-man sideshow act, which includes everything from sword swallowing and eating lit cigarettes, to bending steel and tearing decks of cards in half barehanded. Fun for the whole family!
I’d witnessed card tearing before on several occasions and found it to be entertaining and impressive, but I’d never thought to try it myself until that fateful evening.
After watching Adam’s performance, he and I got to talking and I happened to inquire about the card tearing feat. He immediately reached into his back pocket, whipped out another deck, handed it to me and told me to give it a shot.
After a quick primer on technique, I grabbed the deck as instructed and did my best to rip it in two.
“C’mon, Al – I know you’re strong! You can do this!” Adam said encouragingly, but alas he was mistaken. Instead of the cards tearing, it was the skin on my hands that tore, and I began to bleed.
“Oh yeah, that’s normal!” Adam told me. “My hands bled the first few times I tried it, too!” he continued.
After letting me struggle with the deck for a minute, Adam took the cards back from me and promptly finished what I had attempted to start, easily ripping the now twisted deck in two.
He then handed me another sealed deck from his pocket (circus people apparently carry multiple decks of cards on them at all times) and instructed me to go home and practice.
“Split the deck in half and see if you can tear 26 cards. Then build up from there.” he instructed me.
When I got home I followed his advice and was able to rip the half-deck in two. The next morning I ripped the rest of the deck in half. Then I went online and ordered a case of playing cards so I could continue practicing.
Other than the advice Adam Realman gave me on Halloween, and a few videos I watched on Youtube, I didn’t have much to go on besides my own trials and errors. So I kept working on tearing 20-30 cards at a time, and gradually started to increase that number.
Six months later I finally managed to tear a full deck of cards in half without crying, cursing or bleeding. Soon thereafter I did it on video and shared it to Instagram. It’s not pretty, but here it is:
Ive recently unlocked the ability to tear a deck of cards in half with my "bear" hands. One more party trick to add to my repertoire of pointless feats of strength. Still needs some cleaning up, but I can finally do it without crying, cursing or bleeding. 😂💪 #GripStrength #FeatsOfStrength #OldSchoolStrong #CardTearing #NotCalisthenics 😮
Card Tearing Technique
After I shared that video, I sent it to Adam to get his feedback. His reply basically boiled down to, “That’s nice, but you’re doing it wrong.” Adam pointed out that when I tore the cards, the rip was beginning by the bottom of my hands and going up toward my fingers. He then informed me the correct way to do it is by initiating the tear from the top down.
I went back and re-watched those card tearing videos again and saw that Adam was right. All the guys on YouTube – including Logan Christopher, Jedd Johnson and Adam T. Glass – start the tear from the top down. It’s amazing how we can miss some of the smaller details when learning something new (even if those details are clearly demonstrated, as they are in those videos).
So the next few times I practiced tearing cards, I attempted to rip them from the top down, but no matter what I tried, the tear still started from the bottom. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.
After asking around in my inner circle, it was recommended to me that I contact Chris Rider, one of the world’s top performing strongmen, and a fantastic teacher from what I’d heard.
Turns out Chris’ coaching helped a lot. In fact, during my first card tearing session with Chris, I made as much progress as I had in the previous few months training on my own. I obviously didn’t get any stronger in one hour, but Chris helped fix my technique. I was able to apply his advice effectively because I had built a lot of hand strength from practicing on my own already, even though I’d been making some mistakes. As my brother Danny always says, Everybody Needs Training – even me!
The technique Chris taught me starts by clutching the deck horizontally with the thumb, index finger and middle finger of your non-dominant hand. If you are right-handed like me, this means you’ll clutch the deck in your left hand. Once you’ve got a tight grip on them, aim to curve the cards in toward your palm slightly, then pinch the top corner of the opposite side of the deck between the thumb and the index finger of your dominant hand. Don’t put the fleshy part of your thumb on the deck. Instead, pinch it between the thumb itself and the outside of the index finger. This was the main mistake I was making before Chris corrected my technique.
Once both hands are in place, keep a firm grip and twist the cards into an S-like position by turning the top corner upward with your dominant hand as you continue to curl the opposite end of the deck slightly downward into your palm. Use your dominant hand to tear the deck toward you, while the other hand twists away, like you were revving a motorcycle.
Initiating the tear can sometimes be easier than finishing it. The final few centimeters are often the toughest part. As such, you may need to adjust the position of your hands slightly in order to complete the tear. It can help to slide the index finger of your non-dominant hand into the tear for more leverage on that side. You’ll also want to ease up on curling the deck inward. The S-curve is helpful to start the tear, but can make it harder to finish.
Here’s a more recent tear of mine with better technique:
Some of you may be wondering why a calisthenics devotee like myself would spend so much time practicing a strongman feat like card tearing.
It’s a reasonable question, and my answer is that – just like calisthenics – card tearing is simply a lot of fun!
Furthermore, learning to tear a deck of cards is actually more like getting your first muscle-up than you might think.
In fact, all the physical feats I’ve achieved it my life require the same three fundamental things:
1 – Progressive Overload
Every form of strength training operates under the principle of progressive overload, which refers to developing strength through incremental resistance increases over the course of several weeks or months. In weight training, practitioners start with a light weight and slowly add more over time. In calisthenics, beginners build a foundation with basic exercises and work their way up to harder ones (pull-ups before muscle-ups, etc.).
In the case of card tearing, progressive overload just means beginning with fewer cards, then gradually working toward the full deck. I started with a half deck, but you can start with 15 or 20 cards and build up from there if a half deck is too much. Treat it like any other exercise: Practice a few times a week, doing 3-5 sets each session (each tear counts as one set), and aim to train at around 65-80% of your maximal strength. You shouldn’t be trying to tear as many cards as possible every time. It’s easy to get carried away with this, so take a week off if you begin to feel pain in or around your elbows.
2 – Tolerance for Discomfort
In the beginning, your hands will hurt, but after a while you’ll get used to the sensation of the cards pressing into your skin. You may even start to develop callouses in strange new places. It’s just like how people who are new to pull-ups experience discomfort due to hanging from the bar, but eventually their hands toughen up and it is no longer an issue.
3 – Technique/Specificity
Like anything, the more you practice card tearing, the better you’ll get. You can understand the technique theoretically, but knowing it in a deeper sense only comes from firsthand experience, so be prepared to practice a lot before it really starts to sink in. I’m still not where I want to be with this skill, but I’m enjoying the journey.
Changing of the Card
A few months into my card tearing odyssey, my mom told me that I had some old junk laying around in her attic that she wanted me to throw away. Among the boxes were a bunch of old baseball cards from when I was a kid. For a second I was going to throw them out, then I realized I could use them for tearing!
I soon discovered that the type of cards you use can significantly alter the difficulty. In tearing several different brands of baseball cards, I found that some of them were thicker and harder to rip than others. (Don’t worry, none of them were particularly valuable.)
Even within the world of playing cards, there are many different brands and varieties, and some are harder to tear than others. The same brand of card won’t even be totally consistent from deck to deck. I encourage you to experiment with a variety of cards. The nice thing about the tougher ones is that you don’t need to use as many in order to challenge yourself and effect change.
Grip training is some of the most functional training you can do because we use our hands throughout the day more than just about any other part of our body. Most of us carry bags, open jars and pick up random objects every day. Since I’ve been practicing card tearing, I’ve noticed all of those tasks are starting to feel a little bit easier.
Though some will dismiss card tearing as a silly trick with no practical value, I believe it’s a great way to strengthen your hands and fingers, as well as your mental fortitude.
And there’s nothing wrong with being able to keep your friends entertained at parties.