The Clutch Lever

The clutch lever is a unique bodyweight strength skill that works the entire upper body as well as the core muscles, especially the lower back.

A hybrid between a clutch flag and a front lever, the clutch lever is an intermediate-level skill that’s less challenging than the full front lever much in the same way that clutch flags are a good precursor to the human flag – but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna come easy!

Before you’re ready for this move, you’ll need a fairly high level of strength in your upper body, abs, glutes and grip. Make sure you’ve got a good foundation in push-ups, pull-ups and dips prior to beginning your clutch lever training.

To perform a clutch lever, stand next to a sturdy vertical pole and wrap your arm around it, clutching it tightly. Keeping your elbow fairly close to your body with your hand just above shoulder height, reach your opposite arm behind your back to get a solid grip on the pole right outside your hip. Squeeze tightly with both hands and lean your trunk back, using your forearm beneath you for leverage to lie back into a horizontal position. Allow your top arm to extend as you lean back; feel free to experiment with varying degrees of elbow flexion.

To achieve a successful clutch lever, you’ll need to maintain tension through your entire body. Also, be careful not to lean your weight too much toward the pole. Doing so can lead you to spin out of position. Though it may take some time to get the hang of this exercise, with practice you will be able to gradually work up to longer holds.

Watch the video below for more:

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The PCC Has Arrived!

The inaugural Progressive Calisthenics Certification workshop this past weekend was an amazing success!

Over 50 fitness trainers, athletes and exercise enthusiasts from all over the world showed up for a crash course in calisthenics and a chance to take on the Century workout to earn the the title of PCC certified instructor.

The enthusiasm of the attendees was overwhelming and the positive energy was impossible to ignore. Dozens of attendees achieved their first muscle-up, lever or human flag and many other personal bests were set during this groundbreaking event. It was truly a weekend I will never forget. Along the way, challenges were overcome, new friendships were formed and lives were forever changed.

The event blew away my expectations; between the wonderful attendees and my co-instructors Danny Kavadlo, Adrienne Harvey and Steven Low, this was the most impressive group of athletes I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my career so far.

Congratulations to the first class of PCC instructors! I can’t wait to do it again in August!

Al Kavadlo – June 2013 Update

This year has been going by so fast, it’s hard to believe summer is practically upon us. So much has been happening and so much more excitement is on the horizon!

This weekend, I’ll be leading the first ever Progressive Calisthenics Certification. You can read more of my thoughts on this groundbreaking event on the PCC blog.

In other PCC news, our first European workshop has been confirmed and will take place this November in Gothenberg, Sweden.

Write On!
I’ve begun work on my fourth book, tentatively titled Stretching Your Boundaries – Flexibility Training for Extreme Calisthenic Strength. The book will be released on Dragon Door Publications in early 2014.

My brother and fellow PCC master instructor, Danny Kavadlo, is also working on a new book. Danny’s book, Everybody Needs Training – Expert Tips for Personal Trainers, will be out this fall. I’m writing the foreword for the book and I’ve also been helping Danny with the photos.

Additionally, I’ve become a regular contributor to Bodybuilding.com. My recent article on handstands has generated a lot of interest in bodyweight training amongst the bodybuilding crowd. I’m very excited to get to spread the word about calisthenics over there!

Plus I’ve got two new YouTube videos for you to check out!

Zen Fitness

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee

Throughout my life, I’ve experimented with dozens of different exercise modalities.

I’ve used barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, sandbags, and just about every other heavy object I could think of to try lifting.

I’ve done parkour, martial arts, Marathons and yoga. I even tried a Triathlon.

I believe my various experiences have helped me become a more well-rounded physical specimen, but after all of those things, I always come back to the simplest, most direct way of training I’ve ever known – calisthenics.

I love calisthenics training because it requires nothing more than your body, your mind and your warrior spirit.

You don’t need to buy anything, go anywhere or put on any special clothing. Anybody can start right now.

As Maya Angelou once said, “Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.” (Or was that Ronnie Coleman?)

There’s a lot to love about calisthenics, but my favorite thing is how it keeps you in the present. When you’re working on developing a new skill, you need to give all of your attention to the task at hand.

When you are completely focused on your training, the division between body and mind breaks down and everything else seems to fall away.

This phenomenon has been called different things by different people. Whether you call it mindfulness, samadhi, flow state or any other name, it’s a beautiful thing when it happens.

This is actually the subject of my first book, We’re Working Out! A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness.

Over the years, I’ve learned and absorbed many things from different places, taken what’s worked for me, and used it all to develop my own theories and methods, which continue to adapt and take shape before my eyes. I’m constantly working to refine and expand my movement repertoire and I still look for inspiration in new and varied places.

I owe a thank-you to anyone I’ve ever trained, trained with, worked with, worked-out with or known in any capacity whatsoever. Some people have obviously had a greater impact than others, but everyone I’ve ever interacted with (even electronically!) has in some way shaped who I am today.

The video below shows a variety of exercises I’ve picked up (and in some cases modified) from different bodyweight disciplines, all blended into seamless, flowing movement.

Be present for your training, have fun and find your own path.

We’re Working Out! with Jack Arnow

My brother Danny and I recently had the pleasure of meeting and training with legendary bodyweight strongman (and fellow Brooklyn native) Jack Arnow.

A training partner of Jasper Benincasa, who’s considered by many to be the strongest pull-up bar athlete of all time, Jack is well-known for his accomplishments in the world of one-arm chin-ups.

Jack was actually one of the first people to ever write about the subject; his article on one arm chin-up training predates my book Raising The Bar by several years.

In his prime, Jack was known to perform a one arm chin-up while holding a 35 lb. weight. Now, at age 70, he’s still stronger than 99% of guys, regardless of age.

Watch the video below for more:

April 2013 Update

In anticipation of the paperback release of my new book, Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment, I’ve been making the rounds on the internet fitness scene.

Since my last update, I’ve written new articles for Bodybuilding.com as well as T-Nation, plus I designed a series of workout routines for followers of Tribesports.

There’s also this piece I wrote for the PCC blog about my experiences in the fitness industry.

If that’s not enough, I’m the featured coach this month on Breaking Muscle. Look for lots of content over there from me during the next few weeks.

We’re Work(shop)ing Out!
The inaugural PCC workshop this June has sold out and a second PCC in St. Paul has been confirmed for the weekend of August 23-25. Additional PCC workshops in other cities will be announced in the weeks and months to come.

Danny and I are also leading a couple of smaller, non-certification workshops on the East Coast this month. We’ll be at Nimble Fitness in NYC on April 14 and we’ll be in Milford, Connecticut for two workshops on April 28th. There are still spots open for these workshops.

I’ll also be hosting a book release party for Pushing The Limits! on April 26th in NYC.
Click here for all the details.

Plus I’ve got two new videos for you to check out!

Al Kavadlo – March 2013 Update

There’s been a ton of exciting stuff going on lately!

My new book, Pushing The Limits! Total Body Strength With No Equipment was released last month on ebook and has already started generating a buzz.

The paperback is officially set for release on Friday, April 26. Nimble Fitness will be hosting a book signing/release party that night and you are all invited to attend!

Speaking of Nimble Fitness, my brother Danny and I will be leading a one-day bodyweight strength training workshop at Nimble this April. (Click the link to find out more or register.)

I’ve also been featured on a bunch of other websites recently! Highlights include this guest post I wrote for Mark’s Daily Apple, this interview I did with Gold Medal Bodies and a great review of my Raising The Bar DVD on Bodybuilding.com.

If that’s not enough, I’ve got two new video clips to share. This first one was shot the day after NYC got hit by winter storm Nemo. There’s no workout like a snow workout!

This next one shows you what happens when you record super-slow calisthenics and then play it back in fast forward. We’re working out…in hyper-speed!

Pushing The Limits! Ebook

Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment is now available in ebook format! (Paperback coming in April.)

While my last book, Raising The Bar covers all the essential bodyweight exercises that require a pull-up bar, my new book focuses on my favorite bodyweight exercises that can be done with no equipment at all.

Pushing The Limits! covers dozens of types of push-ups and squats, including one arm push-ups and one-legged squats. The book also goes over back bridges, headstands, handstands and other inversions.

Click here for more information or to purchase your copy of Pushing The Limits!

Here’s what people are saying about the book:

When people ask me about bodyweight strength training, I point them to Al Kavadlo. Pushing the Limits! is a must-have for bodyweight training enthusiasts or anyone looking to build strength without lifting weights. Al lays out dozens of effective exercises for every fitness level, while making the journey fun and encouraging.”

Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint

“Whether you are an advanced bodyweight conditioning athlete or a wet behind the ears newbie, Al’s Pushing the Limits! has something for you. Easy to follow progressions allow you to master advanced push up, squat and bridging variations. All you need is the will to do it! No gym required.”

Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution

“In this awesome new book, Al only asks that you find ONE piece of equipment—your body! Stoic, Spartan, perfection…this book is bodyweight strength training for the ultimate purist!”

Paul Wade, author of Convict Conditioning

“This is the book I wish I had when I first started working out. Knowing Al’s secrets and various progressions would have saved me years of wasted time, frustration and injuries. The variations of The Big Three and progressions Al lays out will keep you busy for years.”

Jason Ferruggia, author of Renegade Muscle

“I LOVE this freaking Book!!! I will use it with my athletes, with the adults I train, in my own training and with my kids. This stuff reminds me of the old school Strength & Health Magazine, I’m fired UP!”

Zach Even-Esh, author of The Bodyweight Bodybuilding Training System

“Al is a master at developing the foundations of true strength through the use of the most complex, sophisticated and powerful training tool ever devised – the human body. Pushing The Limits! is a practical and entertaining book that describes ancient methods for building futuristic strength.”

Elliott Hulse, creator of The Grow Stronger Method


Click here for more information or to purchase your copy of Pushing The Limits!

The Century Workout

Over the last several weeks, interest in the upcoming PCC workshop this June has grown beyond my expectations.

We’re still more than four months out from the inaugural certification and we’ve already filled almost all of the 75 spots allocated for the event. This is going to be a truly momentous occasion!

As the PCC course material is based heavily on the work of Convict Conditioning author Paul Wade, a key part of earning the PCC title is passing Coach Wade’s “Century” test.

The Century is a strength and conditioning challenge that consists of 100 consecutive bodyweight repetitions performed as follows:

Men                                       Women
40 Squats                              40 Squats
30 Push-ups                         30 Knee Push-ups
20 Hanging Knee Raises     20 Hanging Knee Raises
10 Pull-ups                           10 Australian Pull-ups

A lot of people have asked about how the test will be judged. Here are some guidelines to make sure you are doing things the PCC way:

  •  The exercises must be performed in the order listed above. No exceptions.
  •  Squats must be performed with a minimum depth of top of the thighs parallel to the floor and a full lock out at the top of each rep. Arms may be raised in front, crossed, or placed on top of the head. Heels must stay flat the entire time.
  •  Push-up depth must reach a minimum of 90 degrees of flexion as measured along the outside of the elbow and a full lockout must be achieved at the top of every rep. A straight body position must be maintained throughout the entire range of motion. No sticking your butt into the air or leaving your hips down on the ground.
  •  Hanging knee raises must be performed with the knees being raised above waist level and a full extension of the legs at the bottom of every rep. Swinging shall be kept to a minimum. Arms must remain straight the entire set.
  •  Pull-ups may be performed with an overhand or underhand grip. The chin must clear the bar at the top of each rep and a full extension must be reached at the bottom. Kipping will not be allowed. (Australian pull-ups are to be performed with the bar at waist height and a straight body position must be maintained throughout.)
  •  Rest may be taken in between exercises, but each exercise must be completed in a single set. You may pause briefly between reps as long as the position is held (i.e. top of push-up position, bottom of pull-up, etc.)
  •  The reps may be performed as quickly as you like as long as all the above rules are adhered to. Form first!

In the videos below, you’ll see the Century demonstrated in real time by three different people: myself, my brother Danny, and our PCC co-instructor Adrienne Harvey.

Progressive Calisthenics

Since announcing the upcoming Progressive Calisthenics Certification, I have been getting more emails and messages than ever!

Many of the questions are about when the PCC will be coming to additional cities, others want to know what to expect when they attend. Though I don’t have any additional dates to announce yet, I can tell you that the amount of interest in this workshop has been even greater than we anticipated. It’s a safe bet that additional dates will be added. I’ll keep you posted as soon as details are confirmed.

In the meantime, Convict Conditioning author Paul “Coach” Wade (my collaborator on the PCC) has written an excellent FAQ page about the PCC that you can check out here.

I’ve also just posted the third video in my progressive calisthenics series. I saved the best for last: pull-ups!

And in case you missed them, here are the first two videos on push-ups and squats:

Al Kavadlo – Yearly Recap 2012

Without a doubt, 2012 has been the biggest year of my career so far!

Between the release of my second book, Raising The Bar, and the companion DVD, I’ve accomplished things this year I once would’ve thought impossible.

(Speaking of the DVD, take a look at begin2dig.com for a very thorough review, including some exclusive screenshots. There’s also this audio interview I recently did on PhysicalLiving.com.)

This website has grown a lot in the last year as well, receiving over a million page views in 2012. We’ve also added a message board forum and set up an official store to make it simpler to order my products. Plus the site got an awesome makeover courtesy of Chris James from MindTattoos.com.

I also achieved a personal goal of completing my first Triathlon this past July!

More To Come
From the looks of it, things ain’t slowing down in 2013. I’ve just about finished the manuscript for my next book, Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment, and I’m now in the process of making my final photo selections for the book. Once that is done, I will begin working with Dragon Door on designing the layout. It’s looking good for a spring release, with the possibility of the ebook version being available this winter.

The big news, however, is the upcoming Progressive Calisthenics Certification workshops, the first of which will take place June 7-9 in St. Paul, MN. If you’ve ever wanted to train with me in person, this is your chance. Spots are already filling up, so sign up now before it’s too late!

Speaking of progressive calisthenics, here’s the second installment in my video series:

Progressive Calisthenics Certification

I’m excited to announce that my brother Danny and I have partnered up with Dragon Door to bring you the world’s first ever Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC).

The inaugural workshop will be held in St. Paul, MN on June 7-9, 2013. I will keep you posted as more dates are added. (Click here for more information or to reserve your spot.)

The PCC was created by Convict Conditioning author Paul Wade, along with Dragon Door founder John Du Cane and myself. The curriculum covers everything from pull-ups to pistol squats as well as dozens of other bodyweight exercises. (More info on the curriculum can be found here.)

Unlike weight training, where you simply add more weight to the same movements to increase the intensity, progressive calisthenics involves changing your body position to create more or less favorable leverage in order to adjust the resistance.

Through gradually working toward more challenging exercise variations, you can continue to grow stronger without using anything but your own bodyweight.

If you want to know more about how progressive calisthenics works, check out the video below to see me demonstrating a push-up progression from a beginner’s incline push-up, all the way up to some pretty advanced variations.

I’ll be posting new video clips on pull-ups and squats in the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Click here for more info about the PCC!

Raising The Bar DVD

I’m very excited to announce the release of my new Raising The Bar DVD!

The DVD features all the essential exercises from my book Raising The Bar as well as some new variations.

In addition to detailed demonstrations and instructions, the DVD also includes new musical montages featuring the Kavadlo brothers signature brand of freestyle calisthenics.

The DVD is available through Dragon Door Publications as well as in the new Al Kavadlo store. (Check out the new shirts in the store too!)

Here’s what people are saying about the DVD:

“With Raising The Bar, Al Kavadlo has put forth the perfect primal pull-up program. Al’s progressions and demonstrations make even the most challenging exercises attainable. Anyone who is serious about pull-ups should get this DVD.”

– Mark Sisson, Author of The Primal Blueprint

“This DVD is the ultimate training course on bar athletics, masterminded and presented by the man who—for my two cent’s worth—is the greatest calisthenics coach alive today. Raising the Bar is motivational and looks cool as hell, but more important than that, it’s an incredible source of instruction.”

– Paul Wade, Author of Convict Conditioning

“Al Kavadlo consistently puts out the best info on calisthenics and bodyweight training. The book Raising the Bar is a killer introduction into the world of the Bar Athlete. Now with the release of the accompanying DVD, Al has truly raised the bar to a whole new level. The DVD combines solid info along with fun and entertainment, as only Al can.”

– Mike Fitch, Founder of Global Bodyweight Training

“Al’s unique coaching style really shines through on the Raising the Bar DVD. The clear cut progressions are fantastic for both men and women at all levels—from working towards a first pull up, to mind-bogglingly difficult muscle-up variations. There is absolutely something for everyone on this DVD.”

– Adrienne Harvey, Owner of Girya Girl Fitness

Watch the sneak preview of the DVD below and click the link to get your copy:

Minimalist Workout

A lot has been going on since my last update!

First off, I’ve been getting tons of messages from people who want to know if I’m okay in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Thankfully, I’m one of the lucky ones who didn’t get hit hard. The worst I had to deal with was a few days without electricity.

Times like these help me keep perspective and it’s super flattering to know how much you guys care about me. Thank you to everyone who took the time to write me to ask how things were going over here.

A Forum For ‘Em
Though I haven’t been updating my blog as often as I used to, I recently added a message board forum to this site so you guys can publicly post questions for me (and each other). It’s off to a good start and I expect to see the community grow over time. If you’ve ever wanted to ask me a question about anything, go sign up for an account and start posting!

Book It
For the last few months I’ve been hard at work on my next book, tentatively titled Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment. I’ve also begun the process of assembling photos for the book. (I’m giving people a sneak peek at of a few photos in the forum.) The book will be released in the spring of 2013.

Animal or Minimal
Of course, my quest towards mastering my bodyweight continues unabated. Though most gyms were closed due to the storm last week, it didn’t impede my workouts at all.

While I’m still getting my pull-ups and dips in wherever I can, I’m taking my minimalist approach to training even further by exercising primarily (and primally) with nothing but the ground beneath my feet.

Watch the clip below to see some highlights from one of my recent no-equipment workouts:

Al Kavadlo Fall 2012 Update

I’m excited to announce that the DVD companion to my book Raising The Bar is finished and will be available this November.

The DVD will include all the most important exercises and progressions from the book, plus a few new moves and new trainer tips.

Seeing the exercises performed in real time will be helpful for a lot of people, plus there are several entertaining musical interludes!

It’s almost like an hour long version of these two youtube videos, but better and shot in high definition.

Here’s what people are saying about the DVD:

“This DVD is the ultimate training course on bar athletics, masterminded and presented by the man who—for my two cent’s worth—is the greatest calisthenics coach alive today. Raising the Bar is motivational and looks cool as hell, but more important than that, it’s an incredible source of instruction.”

Paul Wade, Author of Convict Conditioning

“Al Kavadlo consistently puts out the best info on calisthenics and bodyweight training. The book Raising the Bar is a killer introduction into the world of the Bar Athlete. Now with the release of the accompanying DVD, Al has truly raised the bar to a whole new level. The DVD combines solid info along with fun and entertainment, as only Al can.”

Mike Fitch, Founder of Global Bodyweight Training

“Al’s unique coaching style really shines through on the Raising the Bar DVD. The clear cut progressions are fantastic for both men and women at all levels—from working towards a first pull up, to mind-bogglingly difficult muscle-up variations. There is absolutely something for everyone on this DVD.”

Adrienne Harvey, Owner of Girya Girl Fitness

“With Raising The Bar, Al Kavadlo has put forth the perfect primal pull-up program. Al’s progressions and demonstrations make even the most challenging exercises attainable. Anyone who is serious about pull-ups should get this DVD.”

Mark Sisson, Author of The Primal Blueprint

We’re Working Out!
I’m also excited to announce that I will be leading a bodyweight strength workshop at Q Crossfit in Randolph, NJ on Jan 12, 2013.

The workshop will cover the muscle-up, elbow lever, pistol squat, human flag and more.

Space is limited so reserve your spot asap!

Time Flies
October 2012 marks three years since I started this blog. In that time, I’ve written over 250 posts, had over 300,000 unique visitors and reached over 2,000,000 total views on Youtube.

I’ve gone from being a successful local personal trainer who started a blog in his free time, to a full-time writer/blogger/trainer with followers in dozens of countries. I’ve gotten messages from people all over the world who I’ve inspired to work out and empowered to improve their lives. It is truly a blessing to connect with so many people in such a positive way.

In the last three years, I’ve not only grown as a coach and a writer, but also as a student of movement.

Thanks for stopping by, commenting and showing your support!

We’re Working Out!
Al

Playing With Movement

Movement is movement. Whether you’re practicing calisthenics, doing yoga, or lifting weights, the body moves how the body moves.

There are only so many ways that our joints can bend and flex, yet when you start playing with variations on basic movement patterns, you’ll find the possibilities are limitless.

Changing one small aspect of an exercise can vary it just enough to increase the intensity. Combining moves can also create new challenges.

Get Some Play
Working out is best approached with a joyous attitude and an open mind. Movement offers an opportunity for growth and self-discovery, but it’s also supposed to be fun! Take the time to really be present for your workout and feel what your body is doing. Exercise should be one of the least stressful parts of your day. Don’t over-think things – just move!

What’s In A Name?
A lot of people ask me what I call some of the unusual calisthenics moves that I do. Many of the moves have names, but other times I don’t have an answer. It really doesn’t matter what you call things though. That which we call a kip-up by any other name would still look as sweet.

Check out the video below to see me playing with some variations on familiar moves like handstands and back bridges. Plus a few other things that I don’t even know what to call!

If you want to get sandals like the ones I’m wearing in the video, check out Xero Shoes.

Hand and Finger Strength

Hand strength is arguably the most functional type of strength out there. From carrying grocery bags to opening jars and packages, we use our hands in day-to-day activities more than any other part of the body. The hands are also a crucial component of most upper body exercises, so having strong hands will help your training all around.

Fingertip Push-ups
The fingertip push-up is a classic exercise that can take your hand strength to new heights. If you don’t have the ability to do fingertip push-ups yet, I recommend practicing the isometric plank position on your fingertips. Start with a few seconds at a time – eventually you should be able to build to a ten-second fingertip plank. Once you’ve achieved that, you’ll be ready to start practicing fingertip push-ups. Begin with just a few reps and slowly add more over time. Eventually you might be strong enough to try holding a fingertip plank on just one hand. A few select individuals can even perform a one arm push-up in this fashion.

If you aren’t able to hold the plank on your fingertips, try placing one hand flat on a slightly elevated object while the opposite hand is supported on the fingertips. Hold for several seconds, then switch hands.

It’s important to note that the term “fingertip push-up” is a bit of a misnomer. You don’t actually want to be all the way on the tips of your fingers, but rather on the pads of your fingers with the tips slightly bent back. Just don’t allow any part of your palm to touch the ground if you want it to be legit.

Pull-ups and Bar Hangs
Fingertip push-ups and hanging from the bar go together like peanut butter and bananas. Pull-ups can do a lot for your grip on their own, but if you want to give your hands some extra attention, try doing additional dead hangs after your pull-ups. When you’re strong enough, you can practice single-arm hangs as well. With any type of dead hang exercise, make sure to stay engaged through your shoulder blades. Don’t allow your chin to collapse into your chest.

Hold Everything
Once you can hold a fingertip plank for thirty seconds or more, I recommend experimenting with more difficult isometric fingertip holds. L-sits, elbow levers and even handstands are all fair game for the fingertips once you get strong enough.

Remember to tread slowly with fingertip exercises and don’t expect too much too soon. It’s a fine line between making your hands stronger and injuring yourself. Fingertip holds and bar hangs will be challenging, but they should not be painful.

Progressing from a basic fingertip plank to a fingertip L-sit or fingertip handstand can take years of practice. As always, listen to your body and take things slowly.

Watch the video below for more:

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Bodyweight Deadlift Alternatives

Neck BridgeI’ve met a lot of guys over the years who’ve been banged up from lifting weights and wanted to try switching over to calisthenics-based resistance training. Though these folks recognize the benefits of bodyweight training (improved joint health, increased mobility, greater proprioception, etc.), putting down the weights for good often comes with some hesitation.

One of the most common concerns I’ve heard about dropping the iron in favor of bodyweight training is that there’s no way to replicate the classic deadlift. Push-ups can replace the bench press, squats can be done on one leg to add resistance and pull-ups are better than any pulling movement you can do with a weight anyway. But that deadlift is a bit of a doozy.

Though the specificity principle still applies, you can in fact work your posterior chain and strengthen all the same muscles as the deadlift without any external weights.

Back Bridges
Anyone who’s got a solid back bridge can probably deadlift a respectable weight without too much trouble, though you’re unlikely to see too many guys who are even capable of getting into a full back bridge if all they’ve been doing is lifting for years. The bridge will challenge your flexibility as it simultaneously strengthens your hamstrings, glutes, lower-back, upper-back and shoulders.

Click the link for more info on back bridges.


One-Legged Bodyweight Deadlifts
While many weightlifters dismiss this exercise as being too easy, the one-legged bodyweight deadlift is a fantastic way to build strength in your hamstrings, glutes and lower back. If done slowly and with strict attention to detail, performing a dozen or two one-legged bodyweight deadlifts can be a serious challenge even for someone who’s used to moving some heavy metal. They’re also an excellent balance and stability challenge.

Click the link for more info on one legged bodyweight deadlifts.

Pistol Squats
That’s right, the pistol squat is such a well rounded exercise, it can fill in for both squats AND deadlifts. The pistol also requires considerable core strength (that means lower back too, not just abs!) in addition to strong glutes and hamstrings. Of course the pistol is a big time quad exercise as well – you get a lot of “bang” for your buck with pistols!

Click the link for more info on pistol squats.
Back Lever PCC

Levers
There are many ways to perform lever holds and they all require a strong back, powerful core and total body control. The elbow lever is typically the easiest for beginners to start with, though the more advanced back lever is especially demanding on the posterior chain. Try pulling into a back lever from the bottom up and tell me it doesn’t feel as hard as deadlifting a bar with twice your bodyweight.

Click the link for more info on back levers.

Alternatives Rock
While exercises like pistol squats and back levers require some strength to even begin training, newcomers can start practicing one legged deadlifts and back bridges early on in their training. As you get stronger, you can add assisted pistols and modified back levers into your routine, eventually working to the full versions.

Anyone who consistently trains these four exercises will no doubt build a powerful posterior chain that any weightlifter ought to respect. And if you really love deadlifts, there’s no reason you can’t use them in addition to these other moves; it doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario. Bodyweight training and weightlifting can happily coexist in the same program.

Watch the video below for more:

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Jumbo Shrimp Squats, Wolverine Push-ups and More!

It’s no secret that animal exercises have been a part of my training for a while now. I’ve crawled and climbed all over Tompkins Square Park and the rest of NYC many times, but there is always more to try!

Lately I’ve been playing around with some new moves, including a version of the shrimp squat that several readers have asked me about. The “jumbo shrimp squat” involves performing the move on an elevated surface to allow for additional range of motion.

I’ve also been messing with thumbless fingertip push-ups, which I’ve dubbed “wolverine push-ups” as well as a few other things. Check out the video below for more:

Al Kavadlo Summer 2012 Update

It’s hard to believe 2012 is more than halfway over already. But hey, time flies when you’re working out!

This has been a busy year for me and I’ve got a lot to keep myself occupied throughout the foreseeable future. In addition to my personal training clients and my own personal training, I have a couple major projects in the works.

RTB DVD!
Production has already begun on the companion DVD to my recent book, Raising The Bar, and I couldn’t be happier with how things are coming together. The DVD will feature my brother Danny and me demonstrating all the essential moves from the book, as well as some exercises that will be exclusive to the DVD. In addition to writing and starring in the DVD, I’m also the director and editor, so I’ve got a lot of work to do. But it’s fun work, kinda like pull-ups.

Pushing The Limits!
I’ve begun writing a new book, tentatively titled, Pushing The Limits! Total Body Strength With No Equipment. Where Raising The Bar is all about exercises that can be done on a pull-up bar, Pushing The Limits! will focus on floor exercises that require no equipment at all. Push-ups, squats and inversions will be the three main types of exercises discussed.

The DVD will likely be released this fall, with the new book coming Spring 2013. Both products will be distributed by Dragon Door Publications. As soon as I have more information, I will share it here.

In the meantime, check out this video of one of my recent no-equipment training sessions:

Ask Al: How Do YOU Train?

Other than how to do a muscle-up and what the “trick” is to doing the human flag, the most common question I get asked is what I do in my own workouts.

I first addressed the question last year, but things have changed since then. A lot of my training had been dedicated to preparing for the NYC Triathlon, but since finishing the race, I’ve shifted my primary focus back to strength-based calisthenics. I still do some yoga moves to warm-up, but I am no longer using any weights in my workouts (though I do barbell, dumbbell and kettlebell work with some of my clients). Weight training is a great way to build strength, but for now my interest lies solely in bodyweight training.

I’m Working Out!
Lately I’ve been enjoying longer workouts with more rest between sets and less structure than ever. I can easily spend two hours on a summer day at Tompkins Square Park just practicing various moves with little concern for the specifics of sets, reps, rest times, etc. And wouldn’t you know it – my skills have been improving!

The main things I’m currently focused on are hand-balancing (including elbow levers), finger strength, and lever holds on the bar. As I discussed in my recent post on why I don’t do cardio, these days I’m all about treating my workouts more as skill practice than anything else. I’m avoiding structured “sets and reps” workouts and staying away from training to failure (not that there is anything wrong with structured workouts and training to failure – in fact, I’d recommend both of those things for beginners). At this point in my training, however, my focus is on refining my skills and improving my body awareness during my movements, so I’m taking my time with things. I’m not so much concerned with getting stronger, but rather learning to utilize my strength more effectively. I’m still exercising pretty much every day (I take a rest day only on days when I am particularly sore or particularly busy) but I vary the intensity and duration of my training from day to day. Some days I’ll train for a couple of hours, other days I’m in and out in thirty minutes. Listening to my body is still a cornerstone of my philosophy, so when I feel like I’ve had enough, I call it a day. I’m also still doing some running and swimming for active recovery.

Goal Digger
Those of you who know my fitness philosophy are aware that I am not a fan of the goal-centric mentality that dominates the fitness world. Focusing on goals is often a distraction from the process itself. There are skills I’m looking to improve, but the best way to go about it is to take things one day at a time. With that in mind, my training on any given week might look something like this:

Monday: Muscle-ups, pull-ups, back levers, various fingertip holds
Tuesday: Handstands, handstand push-ups, elbow levers, hanging leg raises
Wednesday: Jump rope, pistol squats, back bridges, fingertip holds
Thursday: Low intensity swim
Friday: One arm pull-ups, one arm hangs, front levers
Saturday: Handstands, push-ups, dips, fingertip holds
Sunday: Pistol squats, shrimp squats, back bridges

What I am doing is basically a modified version of the classic bodybuilding style three-day split: mostly pulling exercises on one day, mostly pushing on another, with legs and low back on the third day. Then an active recovery day, then it repeats. This allows me to train daily while still allowing my muscles adequate rest. Isometrics like elbow levers, handstands and fingertip holds can be practiced more frequently, as the hands are very resilient and all of those skills involve balance and coordination as much as strength.

I’ve done a lot of different types of workout regimens over the years and this is by no means a strict protocol. I’m prone to improvise and go with what I feel on any given day. And of course, I still do the human flag on a regular basis, simply because people are always asking to see it, and I like to give the people what they want.

Twist Holds

Since the release of Convict Conditioning 2 last fall, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the exercise demonstrations I provided for the book. Most of the questions are about the clutch flag and human flag holds, but I’ve also gotten quite a few about author Paul Wade’s “trifecta” progression, particularly the twist holds.

There are several variations leading up to the full twist hold and I recommend beginners practice the basic versions for at least a few weeks (probably longer) before moving ahead. It’s important to take your time with each step to avoid setbacks and injuries.

Do The Twist
Twist holds give you a lot of bang for your buck, providing a fantastic stretch for your spine, hips and shoulders, as well as giving you a little extra core work. Along with the bridge hold and L-hold, twist holds are one of just three stretches that Coach Wade finds necessary for peak performance. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but he provides an entertaining (and pretty convincing) argument for this approach in the book.

To perform a basic twist hold, sit on the ground with your left leg straight in front of you, then bend your right leg and cross it in front of the other. Reach your left arm across your right knee while squeezing your obliques to rotate your trunk as far as you can. You can also play around with leveraging your elbow against your leg to get deeper into the stretch. Try to keep your chest tall and avoid shrugging your shoulders. I find it helpful to breathe slowly, gradually lengthening my spine with each inhale, and trying to squeeze a little farther into the twist each time I breathe out.

Twist Ending
The last step in the twist hold progression is to reach your arm beneath your top leg, while simultaneously reaching the opposite arm around behind your back, eventually clasping your hands. (It’s fine to use your other arm to help get the first one under your leg.)

There are a few other stretches that can help you out along the way, including the yoga “noose pose” (seen in the photo on the right), which helps you practice the shoulder mobility without having to twist as far as you need to in the full twist hold, and the more commonly known “triangle pose,” which provides the opposite benefit.

Even once you achieve the full twist, you can still work on increasing the stretch by trying to get your hands farther behind you and higher up on your back (two things I’m still refining myself). My twist hold still leaves plenty of room for improvement, but I intend to keep practicing.

Check out the video below (and get a copy of Convict Conditioning 2) for more info:

Death To Cardio

So long, Stairmaster!

After racing the NYC Triathlon last week, I’ve decided that I’m never doing cardio again.

In fact, I actually stopped doing cardio workouts a long time ago.

You may have seen me running, swimming and biking in this recent video clip, but that wasn’t cardio training – it was skill practice.

In the context of my overall training schedule, I don’t even see the race itself as cardio. It was a one-off endurance challenge, and really more mental than physical.

Trading Cardio
The difference between seeing your workout as “cardio” vs. seeing it as “practice” may be a subtle distinction, but I believe it is an extremely important one. People who “do cardio” tend to have one objective in mind: weight loss. As I’ve discussed before, exercise alone is not a very effective way to lose weight (you have to eat less crap in order to do that!), but the mindset you bring to any activity can greatly impact your experience.

Swimming for sure!

Rather than forcing yourself to simulate movement on a piece of machinery for a set amount of time, a better way to approach your training might be to work on skill improvement. While there are certainly benefits to “gym cardio” (improved circulation, increased cardiac output, higher oxygen uptake/utilization efficiency), part of what makes exercise worth doing is the activity itself. I personally never met anyone who genuinely enjoys an hour alone on the stationary bike, but it’s fun and exciting to do something like a triathlon – and all of us have that potential.

Skill Power
You can become a perfectly good runner without ever worrying about how many calories you burned, what your target heart rate is or even knowing exactly how much distance you’ve covered. And you’ll probably enjoy the process a whole lot more without wasting mental space on trivialities. Treat your workout as skill practice and the shift in perspective turns any health benefits into an added bonus. You might even forget you’re working out and start having some old-fashioned fun!

Don’t get me wrong – exercise isn’t always gummy bears and double rainbows, but it shouldn’t be torturous either. There are plenty of times when I feel challenged during a workout, but pushing through those uncomfortable moments leads to a better understanding of my body – as well as personal growth.

I firmly believe that any “fit” person ought to be able to run a few miles or swim to shore should they find themselves in such a predicament (in addition to being able to do some pull-ups, of course!). Besides, if you focus on improving at physical skills, you’re inevitably going to get in better shape along the way. Having a good body is nice, but being physically capable is empowering.

Kip-up Tutorial

The kip-up is a bodyweight skill that comes up in many disciplines including calisthenics, martial arts and parkour. It’s a great way to work on explosive power, hip drive and total body coordination. Plus if you ever fall on your butt during your training, returning to your feet via kip-up is the best way to redeem yourself.

On the other hand, you’ll probably look pretty dumb while trying to learn to kip-up, so if you’re shy about flailing around in public, better to practice this one at home. I also recommend using a soft surface for training this technique.

Kipping It Real
As the kip-up is a fairly advanced technique, I don’t recommend working on it unless you are already fairly lean and strong (and have healthy joints). I also suggest getting comfortable with back bridges first to make sure your spine is ready.

To perform a kip-up, begin by lying on your back with your palms flat on the ground on either side of your head. From there, roll your thighs up toward your shoulders and get ready to explode from your hips. To land a successful kip-up, you’ll have to kick your legs up and out as hard as you can and push off with your hands a split second later.

Kipping Point
Think about whipping your legs around in a circle so you land toward your toes. You want to try to get your feet under your center of gravity so you don’t fall backwards. Timing is crucial to landing this move and it takes a lot of trial and error. As always, be patient and keep at it. I’m still practicing toward putting more pop in my kip-up; fitness training is always a work in progress.

Watch the video below for more:

2012 NYC Triathlon Race Report

Ever since running the NYC Marathon back in 2009, racing the NYC Triathlon has been next on my fitness bucket-list. Well after last Sunday, I can now scratch that one off too!

The tri was a great experience, and finishing is an accomplishment that I will be proud of for the rest of my life. However, I went through many different feelings and emotions throughout the race. As the famous Dickens quote goes, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

The Swim
The hardest part of the whole race was dealing with the anxiety in the morning. From the moment I woke up I had butterflies in my stomach; I didn’t really settle into my groove until a few minutes after I got in the water. As someone who never really swam as a kid, jumping feet first into the Hudson was the part that I was most anxious about. (Only the pros dive in head first, thankfully!) Once I settled in, however, the swim went very well.

Though it has a bad reputation, the water in the Hudson was no more disgusting than the water at Coney Island where I did most of my open-water triathlon training. There was some seaweed to contend with and I bumped into a log once, but it was pretty minor compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard from other triathletes (though I did catch an elbow in the face near the start of the swim).

The downstream current in the Hudson definitely helped with my time, though I found myself getting pulled to the left as well. I spent a good deal of the swim trying to steer myself back to the middle. Though I couldn’t see or hear much in the water, I was reminded very loudly by some of the crew who were following along in canoes to “STAY TO THE RIGHT!”

As the visibility in the water was virtually nonexistent, I didn’t realize I was close to the end until I was within about 100 meters. Needless to say, I was quite pleased to see it when I did!

The Bike
After the swim there’s a barefoot run (on pavement!) into the transition area, which is just a field with a bunch of bike racks on it. I took my time in the first transition since I wanted to carefully remove my wetsuit, clean my feet, have a snack, drink some water, pee, etc. I also wanted to check that all my things were okay (they were). Since getting a good night’s sleep was a priority for me, I had left all my stuff there the night before. (Many participants forgo some sleep to bring their gear to the transition the morning of the race).

The bike ride was longer and more challenging than I had anticipated. Between the July heat and the steep hills, the ride dragged on for what seemed like an eternity. Since I was in one of the later start waves, the pack had thinned out quite a bit and there weren’t many other cyclists around. There were times when I didn’t see anyone else on the road at all. As I was alone for much of the ride, it didn’t feel like much of a “race” at all – I took it slow on most of the hills and eventually I made it to the end.

The Run
Once the bike ride was over, there was a huge sense of relief. So many things are out of your control during the swim and the bike (someone crashing into you, a flat tire, etc), but once I was onto the run, I knew it was all up to me. Nothing could take it away at that point.

I took the first couple of miles slow and easy and eventually started to find my legs in mile three. I kept it at a steady pace, splashing cups of water on my face every time I passed the aid tables (I managed to get some water down my throat as well.) The last mile of the run I kicked it up a notch, triumphantly crossing the finish line with a net time of 3:36:13.

After the race, I picked up my bike from the transition area and rode five more miles back to my apartment, rewarding myself with one of my favorite indulgences: pizza!

I didn’t look at a clock once during the race, which I think helped me pace myself and enjoy the journey without getting caught up in any of the ego stuff. I just listened to my body and tried to stay at a moderate level of exertion for most of the race. The only time I turned up the juice was near the end of the run.

In retrospect, I know I could have done the whole thing faster if I pushed a bit harder, but I have no regrets about my performance. With all the things that could potentially go wrong during a triathlon, I am just glad I made it across the finish line in one piece.



Results:

Swim: 28:22

T1: 13:01

Bike: 1:49:46

T2: 3:34

Run: 1:01:31

Total: 3:36:13

Watch the video below to see a photo montage of pictures from the event.
(Photos by Colleen Leung.)

Training For The NYC Triathlon

Like most fitness enthusiasts, I’m always in search of a physical challenge. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone has allowed me to experience a lot of personal growth. Besides, if you only do things that you’re good at, you probably won’t get to do that many different things.

Though I’m known primarily for practicing bodyweight strength training, I’ve also been a recreational runner for several years, having completed multiple races such as the Brooklyn Half Marathon and the NYC Marathon. In fact, I’ve often said that running is the most basic form of bodyweight training in existence. It’s an essential life skill that any fit person should be capable of doing. The same can be said for swimming and cycling. With that in mind, I’ll be participating in my first triathlon this summer. The NYC Triathlon is less than two weeks away and I am ready to rock!

Try to Tri
Triathlon training can be very demanding both time-wise as well as logistically. Arranging to train in three different modalities that all require unique parameters and equipment is overwhelming on it’s own, to say nothing of actually doing the workouts.

Add to that my continued dedication to my strength training during all this and we’re talking about a huge time commitment. Good thing I love working out!

Sink or Swim
Like most triathlon first-timers, the swim was the part I needed to work on most, so I’ve practiced swimming at least three times a week since I got accepted into the race last fall. Nine months ago I could barely swim 100 meters in a pool without a break; in less than two weeks I’m going to attempt to swim almost a mile in the Hudson River.

The rest of the race consists of a 25 mile bike ride, followed by a 6.2 mile run. While neither of those things is too daunting on their own, doing them back-to-back right after the swim is going to be a serious challenge. Though I’ve been running and cycling on and off for years, I’ve recently increased my milage in preparation for this race. My cardiovascular endurance feels solid and my legs are ready to go.

Strength and Conditioning
Of course I’ve also been doing strength work 3-5 times a week. But by treating those workouts strictly as skill practice (low reps, lots of breaks and only working on one or two things at a time), I’ve managed to maintain most of my strength and even improve at a few things like lever holds and hand balancing.

I’ve become a much better swimmer since beginning my triathlon training, and my running and cycling have felt as natural and fluid as ever. If you define physical fitness as being fit to do various physical things, then I am the fittest I’ve ever been. I’m not looking to set any speed records on this race – just finishing will be enough satisfaction. I’ve dedicated my career to calisthenics and bodyweight strength training, the triathlon is something I’m doing just for fun.

Watch the video below to see some highlights from my triathlon training:

If you’re interested in to getting a pair of running sandals like the ones I’m wearing in the video, check out Invisible Shoes.

Raising The Bar Book Release Party

I recently celebrated the official release of my new book, Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics. The festivities took place at Nimble Fitness in New York City.

After putting so much work into this project, it was great to get to celebrate the occasion with my family, friends, co-workers, clients and fans.

Throughout the night, lots of people came out to show support and purchase signed copies of the book. And of course with a pull-up bar on the premises, some of us just couldn’t resist getting in a few reps.

Watch the video below for more and check out the rest of the photos on Facebook:

Raising The Bar on Paperback!

I’m excited to announce that my new book Raising The Bar is now available on paperback!

The book release party is still scheduled for June 1, but due to popular demand, Dragon Door has decided to make the book available sooner. They are also offering a discount to anyone who orders the book before the end of the month!

Raising The Bar goes over everything you ever wanted to know about pull-ups, dips, muscle-ups and dozens of other exercises.

Click the link for more info on Raising The Bar.

If that’s not enough for you, I’ve also got a brand new workout video featuring my brother Danny and me in a calisthenics battle.

Check it out and leave your comments below!

Speed Reps

Last week, I wrote about super slow strength training. Today I want to focus on the other end of the spectrum.

While super slow strength training can emphasize form and stability, speed reps can help build explosive power and agility. Both are important things to have if you aim to be well rounded in your fitness.

Speed training is similar to plyometric training in that the movements are performed fast and explosively. Unlike plyometrics, however, you do not get airborne when you perform speed reps. In fact, when performing speed reps on exercises like pull-ups and dips that involve gripping a bar, I recommend holding on tightly!

Additionally, it can help to think about doing the negative portion of the rep as fast as possible, which will engage the antagonist muscles. This means if I am doing speed pull-ups, I will think about pushing myself down away from the bar at the top of each rep.

Before attempting speed reps of any exercise, make sure that you can first perform the exercise at a normal tempo with proper form. It’s also a good idea to thoroughly warm up before this type of training.

In the video below, you’ll see me doing some of my favorite warm-up drills before getting in my speed reps. I’ve borrowed some elements of parkour training as well as some Animal Flow movements, adding my own personal style as well.