If you think pistol squats are the be-all-and-end-all of bodyweight leg exercises, think again. The shrimp squat is a challenging single-leg bodyweight movement that can humble any sharpshooting pistol squatter.
Instead of being positioned in front of the body as it is with the pistol, when you perform a shrimp squat, your non-squatting leg is held behind the body.
As a result, the movement pattern becomes more hip-driven, which almost makes it closer to a lunge than a squat.
To perform a shrimp squat, begin in an upright position, then bend one knee so you can grab your ankle behind your back (just like you would if you were stretching your quads). From here, slowly lower yourself down until your knee touches the ground, then stand back up. Easier said than done!
When performing the shrimp squat, reach your free arm out in front to counterbalance the weight of your leg behind you. Like most other squats, you’ll need to pitch your chest forward on the way up to keep from falling backwards.
To regress the shrimp squat, you can try holding both arms in front of your body. Conversely, you can place both arms behind your back to make the move more difficult. This will put you at a serious mechanical disadvantage, plus you’ll no longer be able to use your free arm for balance.
You can also stand on an elevated surface to increase the range of motion for an additional challenge.
Young Thai coconuts are one of my favorite foods. They are delicious and packed with nutrients, yet most people have never even tried one.
As is the case with many healthy foods, young Thai coconuts are not readily available in many places, but if you look around at organic markets and health food stores, hopefully you can find some in your area.
Just to be clear, I am not talking about prepackaged coconut water. That stuff is inferior in every way. You need to get your coconut juice right from the source!
When choosing your coconut, avoid ones with cracks. If air has gotten in, the coconut may be spoiled. Once you’ve found a suitable coconut, you aren’t out of the woods yet. You still need to get that sucker open!
A Tough Nut to Crack
Most coconuts you will see in stores will already have the husks removed, so they should be relatively easy to open. There are a few different tools you can use for this process; I’ve had good results using a butcher knife. I am told machetes and chef’s knifes also work well.
Start by turning the coconut on its side and shaving off the top layer. Once you’ve filed it down, turn it back upright and grip it firmly. Using the corner of your knife, give it a good, hard whack near the edge. Dig your knife in deep before you remove it, then rotate the coconut and repeat the process. After 3-5 whacks you should be able to slip your blade in and pry it open.
Once you open the coconut, drink the water right away, as it will oxidize quickly and lose some of its potency. After you’ve drank the water, scoop out and enjoy the meat. I recommend using it in a smoothie along with cashew butter. Yum!
The pull-up is my all-time favorite exercise, so naturally I write about it a lot.
Unfortunately, not all of my readers can do a pull-up…yet.
Many of you have told me you feel like you’ll never be able to do a pull-up.
Well that’s crap!
If I can do it, so can you.
Pull Yourself Together (And UP!)
As is the case with all bodyweight exercises, the heavier you are, the harder it is to do a pull-up, so the first area to assess is your weight. Hopefully, you’ve already started cleaning up your diet. Once you drop the fat, doing a pull-up gets way more realistic.
Another reason you may be having a hard time doing pull-ups is lack of upper-body strength. This is more often an issue for women. It’s just biology ladies – you don’t have as much natural upper-body strength as men. This does not mean you are incapable of pull-ups, it just means that you have to work a little harder for it. (Check out my pull-up tutorial for women for more info).
You Don’t Need Machines
When I was a rookie trainer, I used to put clients on the assisted pull-up (Gravitron) machine. In theory, every few weeks I’d be able to lower the amount of assistance until they didn’t need it at all anymore. In theory.
In reality, none of my clients ever made the leap from not being able to do a pull-up to being able to do one using the Gravitron. The problem is that it takes most of the stability away from the exercise, making it closer to a lat pull-down than an actual pull-up.
How to Work Towards Pull-ups
The best ways to work towards pull-ups are manually assisted pull-ups, flex hangs, slow negatives and Australian pull-ups.
Manually assisted pull-ups are when you have your trainer spot you on the way up by pressing on your mid-back with their hand(s). I prefer this method over the “hold the feet” method for the same reasons I dislike the Gravitron.
The term “flex hang” refers to holding the top position of a pull-up, and is performed for time.
Negative pull-ups are when you lower yourself down from the top position of the pull-up. Performing slow negatives is a fantastic way to get a feel for the movement pattern of the full pull-up, without having to perform the entire range of motion.
Start by holding a flex hang for as long as you can. When your arms start to fatigue, lower yourself to a right angle at your elbow and hold there. Continue to fight gravity the rest of the way down, carefully lowering to a full hang.
Things like lat pull-down machines and Gravitrons aren’t totally useless, but they should not be used as your sole means of working this movement pattern. Moving your own body weight is a unique skill that requires practice and patience.
Parkour involves strength, agility, quickness and grace. Precision jumping is a fundamental parkour move that encompasses all of those traits. I first learned of precision jumps when I was beginning parkour this past winter and I’ve been practicing them ever since.
As the name implies, this skill is about leaping onto a small target (often a ledge or rail) with the utmost accuracy. Precision jumps are typically performed from a stationary position, with both feet together during the take off and the landing.
You can precision jump between two points of equal height, from high to low or from low to high. Jumping from a lower surface to a higher one will make it harder to cover long distances, while jumping down will allow you to cover a greater distance (though downward precisions can be harder to control).
Remember there are no set parameters in parkour; the idea is to work with what you’ve got in front of you. Don’t feel confined by so-called “rules.”
Precision Jumping Technique
To get the most distance out of your precision jump, lean forward from your ankles while reaching your arms up and away from your body. Once you are in the air, bring your legs up to get as much height as you can. More height means more distance!
Keep your eye on your target and remember to sink into the landing like you were performing a squat – this will help you absorb the impact. For this reason it is common to land towards the balls of your feet. Your objective should be to have as quiet of a landing as possible.
Precision jumping, like most things, is about your mental state as much as it is about physical fitness. It can be scary to attempt a long jump (especially if you are high up!), and if you psyche yourself out, you probably won’t make it. It is best to begin practicing with distances that you can cover without any hesitation.
I love exploring parks and recreation areas and I’m always on the hunt for new places to exercise. In a big city like New York, you never know when you’re going to run into an opportunity for a workout!
That’s exactly what happened to me during a recent visit to Coney Island. A standard trip to the beach turned into an impromptu training session when I discovered there were pull-up bars and a “Parcourse FitCenter” down there. (That’s really what the sign says!).
There is enough equipment on the beach at Coney Island for anyone to have a great workout. There are pull-up bars, parallel bars and other equipment in the sand, and it’s all free for anybody to use.
If you take the Q or F train to the W. 8th street stop, you’ll see the fitness area is right on the beach outside the train station.
A company called gametime manufactured the fitness center at Coney Island. With more and more of these types of facilities popping up around the globe, it’s impossible to deny the popularity of bodyweight strength training. Keep an eye out around your neighborhood for good places to work out. If you can’t find any, contact your local government officials to let them know that your community needs free places where residents can exercise.
In a way, you are all winners, but alas, I could only pick three people to receive the book. For the rest of you, make sure you check out the preview if you haven’t already. Without any further ado…
Congratulations to shemdog, Jess, and VelocityRD!
To claim your free copy , simply e-mail me the address where you would like to have it sent.
I’ll have some new content up on the blog later this week. In the meantime, check out a vintage video never before seen on AlKavadlo.com. It’s the first video I ever uploaded to my Youtube channel (I’ve come a long way!). If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe. My Youtube page contains all my videos from this blog as well as other bonus videos!
The best way to be sure you’re eating unprocessed foods is to make as many of your own meals and snacks as you can. I’ve been encouraging you to make your own post workout smoothie using natural ingredients, why not do the same thing if you need to refuel during a workout? Why buy commercial sports drinks with all their high fructose corn syrup when you can make your own sports drink sweetened with raw honey?
The Power of Raw Honey
Honey is not just for sweetening foods and drinks, it’s been used for its medicinal power for thousands of years. From the ancient Greeks to modern day scientists, raw honey has been proven time and again to be beneficial to our health. It is full of anti-oxidants as well as vitamins and minerals.
Unfortunately, if you aren’t buying your honey from a trustworthy source, you might be getting (pardon the pun) a raw deal. There are many manufacturers who will add sugar and other sweeteners into their honey in order to cut costs, so BEE-ware!
Sports Drinks are for Athletes!
I recently had the misfortune of watching a guy eating a Subway sandwich while washing it down with a Gatorade. My issues with Subway aside, the flagrant misuse of sport beverages is an atrocity.
The whole purpose of a beverage like Gatorade is to replenish the salts and sugars that you expend while participating in endurance sports (Brawndo’s got electrolytes!). Last time I checked, sitting in the park eating a sandwich doesn’t count.
Regardless, you don’t really need Gatorade at all. If you have the inclination, just make your own sports drink. All you need is some water, raw honey, lemon and sea salt. It’s better for you (no suspicious sweeteners) and it’s a lot cheaper.
The push-up is one of the most versatile exercises out there. Whether you are a novice or an experienced athlete, push-ups ought to be a staple of your fitness regimen. I already showed you some push-up variations that you can do with just your body weight. Today I’m giving you some options that involve a few pieces of basic equipment.
Medicine Ball Push-ups
Medicine balls are one of my favorite pieces of exercise gear because they’re easy to travel with and have many applications. When you place your hands and/or feet on a medicine ball during a push-up, you’ll have to further engage your core musculature to keep from falling off. Adding multiple medicine balls will make it even more challenging. (For example: hands on one ball, feet on a second ball.)
Stability Ball Push-ups
Stability balls can be used to facilitate additional engagement of the core muscles during the push-up as well. While the basic idea is the same as the medicine ball push-up, the stability ball has a different feel to it and can provide its own unique challenge. Furthermore, putting your feet on a large stability ball will change the angle of your push-up, requiring additional upper-body strength as well as added core stability.
Another way to add a stability component is to use suspension straps or gymnastics rings. Performing a push-up with your hands or feet in straps requires balance, strength and total body control.
Remember, these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. There are endless ways to mix up your routine. Don’t be afraid to experiment for yourself and discover new challenges.
Watch the video below to see me demonstrating these variations at Nimble Fitness in NYC.
The push-up is about as close to a perfect exercise as you can get. Push-ups require no equipment (even pull-ups require a bar) and they can be modified in an infinite number of ways.
If you can’t do a push-up yet, start by practicing on your knees or up on an angle until you build the necessary strength and coordination. Planks and side planks are also great exercises to help with working towards push-ups.
The traditional push-up involves putting your palms flat on the ground, but you can also try doing push-ups on your fists, which is more difficult. For an added challenge, you can tent up your hands and perform push-ups on your fingertips. If that’s still not enough, you can start taking some of those fingers off the ground!
The standard hand placement for a push-up is slightly wider than shoulder width. If you want to add more emphasis to your triceps, try a narrower hand placement. To place more emphasis on your chest, position your hands wider.
When performing this exercise, you’ll find that keeping your feet farther apart will make the push-up slightly less difficult. When learning advanced variations, start with a wider stance and work your way towards keeping your feet shoulder width or narrower.
Danny gets airborn with a plyo push-up.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with traditional push-ups, try getting explosive and pushing your upper body completely off the ground. Once you get the hang of this, start adding in claps, arm waves, or other movements to show your personal style. Eventually you might work up to getting your entire body off the ground!
Hindu and Dive Bomber Push-ups
The Hindu push-up is a challenging variation that involves starting with your hips way up in the air (similar to the yoga pose downward facing dog). From there, lower your face towards the ground, then scoop your chest up while dropping your hips down (ending in a position similar to the yoga pose upward facing dog). Shift your hips back to the start position and repeat. A dive bomber push-up is pretty much the same, except you get back to the starting position by doing the move in reverse.
The One Arm Push-up
The one arm push-up takes lots of practice as well as total body strength. Check out this post on performing one arm push-ups for more info.
Plyo One Arm Push-up?
There is a famous Zen koan which asks, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I couldn’t help wondering, “What is the sound of a one hand clapping push-up?”
Lunges are one of my favorite leg exercises, but like everything in life, you don’t want your leg routine to become, well, routine.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable and confident with regular lunges, give yourself a new challenge. Turn them into a plyometric exercise by adding a jump. Here are 3 ways to do this:
Stationary Jump Lunge
Lower yourself into the bottom position of a lunge with your feet about a leg’s length apart. Jump up out of the lunge, gently landing back where you started. You can swing your arms for momentum or keep them at your sides. It might take a little practice to land comfortably without losing your balance. You can also try to jump laterally, so that you’ll land a few inches to the side of where you began.
The cycle lunge is a harder variation of the jumping lunge. It starts out the same as the stationary jump lunge, but once you are in the air, quickly switch legs before you land. Continue to alternate legs, going from one rep right into the next.
Lateral Leapin’ Lunge onto Bench
Jumping up onto a bench can be hard enough without making it a lunge too, so don’t try this one until you’ve gotten good at the other types of jumping lunges. You’ll need to find a relatively long surface to leap up onto; a bench works great but feel free to explore other options. Once you’re ready to go, lunge down next to the surface you plan to jump (remember to position yourself parallel to the object) and go for it!
Have a Safe Landing
Always stay light on your feet during the landing phase of a jump. Remember that lowering down into the lunge as you hit the ground will help you to absorb the impact. These types of exercises will help you to build strength and flexibility, as well as balance and total body control.
You don’t have to belong to a gym in order to get a great workout. Being outdoors and enjoying the fresh air can make exercising even more of a positive experience. Add in a few friends who can help you stay motivated and you’ve got yourself a fun way to spend an afternoon.
TSP has built a cult following and become legendary in some circles. Thanks to word of mouth, a great community has taken shape over the years. In addition to doing my bootcamp class there every Saturday morning, I’m lucky enough to train with people who can teach me new things and push me to work harder. Rick Seedman and Alex Borisov of the Bar-barians are two of my favorite training partners lately. We were recently photographed by Felipe Passolas while we did our thing at TSP. I hope you find some inspiration in these pictures.
People often ask me, “Al, what’s the best exercise for weight loss?” The problem with that question is it assumes exercise is the best way to lose weight.
While things like running and cross training are great ways to burn calories, the fact of the matter is that your diet has more to do with your body fat percentage than any other factor.
It doesn’t matter if you run every morning, lift weights in the afternoon and go to yoga at night. If you can’t keep your diet in check, you’ll likely have a tough time staying lean for the long haul.
Sure, exercise plays a part in weight loss – after all, exercise builds muscle, and having more lean muscle mass will increase your resting metabolism. Plus exercise burns plenty of calories. In spite of these factors, I maintain that the best way to get lean is simply to eat foods that are as close to their original state as possible. Go to your local farmers’ market and load up on fresh fruits and veggies (or grow your own). Check out my list of Al approved foods for more details.
Of course big corporations don’t want you to do that – it means less money for them. They want you as fat as possible and they will do anything they can to fool you into buying their lies. Speaking of which,Vitamin Water is being sued for the outrageous claims that they make on their packaging about increased energy and brain power. Seeing them get called out on their bullshit is (pardon my pun) quite refreshing.
So what should you eat? How about trying one of my delicious smoothie recipes!
Today I bring you “Al’s Old School PB&J.” I discovered this recipe by accident a few years ago and it became a cult sensation at my old gym. Here it is:
Al’s Old School PB&J
4 oz. Milk
1 heaping cup of berries (a mix of your choosing)
3 tablespoons of natural peanut butter
1/2 banana (optional)
3-5 ice cubes
The squat is the king of all lower body exercises. Squats work every muscle in your legs as well as your abs and lower back. Since your legs are such large muscles, they require lots of blood and oxygen to perform squats. This makes squatting a great way to give your heart and lungs a workout too.
To perform a squat, stand up straight with your feet approximately shoulder width apart. Reach your arms forward and bend from your hips, knees and ankles, lowering until your hamstrings make contact with your calves, while being sure to keep your heels flat on the ground the entire time.
Pause briefly at the bottom before standing back up to the top position. Experiment with different foot positions. Some people may feel better with their toes turned out, while others will prefer to keep their feet parallel.
Don’t Know Squat
A lot of personal trainers might tell you the proper form for a squat requires you to keep your knees behind your toes. However, this is not always the case. Telling a client to keep their knees behind their toes during squats is a cue to help them understand the mechanics of moving from the hips. It isn’t necessarily the literal truth for everyone. As long as your heels stay down, it’s perfectly fine if your knees wind up a bit ahead of your toes.
The term “dorsi flexion” refers to the movement that occurs at the ankle joint during a squat. People with more ankle mobility can keep their heels flat and put their knees in front of their toes at the same time because of dorsi flexion. Just be sure to initiate your squat from the hips, keep your heels down and maintain a tall chest. If those requirements are met, then you’re good to go.
How Low Can You Go?
Another common cue for squatters (no, not the punks living in the abandoned warehouse) is to lower down until you’ve reached 90 degrees of flexion at the knees. This is another generalized cue that is true for some, but not ideal for all.
Use as much range of motion as you can, and aim to eventually work toward a full squat if you are not able to get there currently.
Watch the video below for more info:
Advanced Squat Techniques
This is a one legged squat where the non-squatting leg is held in front of the body. Don’t be fooled by the phrase “one legged squat” however, the pistol squat is an exercise that requires full-body strength and tension.
The shrimp squat is a one legged squat where the non-squatting leg is positioned behind the body, rather than in front as it is with the pistol. Some folks might find this variation more challenging, while others may find it more accessible.
There were six events: muscle-ups, pull-ups, push-ups, dips, squats, and sit-ups. I only participated in the first two events as it had been a long day and with so many participants, the contest was going to go into the night.
The muscle-up contest was first, and it was the only event that wasn’t divided into weight classes. I got to compete with the big boys (literally!). For this event, competitors were given 2 minutes to do as many reps as possible without coming off the bar. I managed to get 18 reps, which was enough to finish it the upper 50% of the competition but not enough to take home a trophy.
The pull-up contest had a lot more competitors and, as a lightweight (I’m barely 160 lbs. these days), my division went last. For this event, we were again given 2 minutes, but we were allowed to come down from the bar in order to rest. The judges were being lenient with form, allowing kipping and not enforcing a dead hang. They were, however, very strict about the chin clearing the bar for a rep to count. I managed 43 official reps in the two minute time allowance, as a few of my reps were not credited.
All in all it was a great day and I hope to participate next year. Watch the video below for more:
For the third year in a row, the NYC Dept. of Transit will be presenting the Summer Streets program this month, shutting down automobile traffic on Park Ave. from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park in order to let people walk, run and ride their bikes.
Summer Streets will take place on three consecutive Saturdays this month (August 7th, 14th, and 21st) from 7am to 1pm. Millions of people will participate – don’t miss out on the fun!
I was grateful for summer streets last year while I was training for the NYC Marathon. Running those distances was so much more fun without having to inhale car emissions, plus the energy of my fellow New Yorkers running and riding along side made those 18 and 20 mile training runs go (relatively) quickly.
If you’re looking to do a long bike ride or run, take advantage of Central Park; where the Summer Streets path ends, you can still do several additional miles in the park (which you can do anytime of year!). At the other end of Summer Streets is the Brooklyn Bridge, which will also give you a few extra miles to run or bike.
Whether you live in the city or are just visiting NYC, it’s a rare treat to get to run in the streets without any cars! Summer Streets is a wonderful, free activity that can be enjoyed with friends and family or in solitude. I’m hoping to participate more than once this summer – maybe I’ll see you there!
Pyramid sets are a fun way to breathe new life into your workout routine. Without changing any of your exercises, you can use pyramid sets to shock your body and progress your training.
The term “pyramid set” typically refers to multiple sets of an exercise (or exercises) with descending or ascending numbers of reps in concurrent sets.
For example, you might only do 1 rep on the first set, then do 2 on the second all the way up to ten. Then you can start working your way down, like going up and down the steps of a pyramid.
You can do this with a circuit workout as well, performing increasing reps of several exercises in succession. (1 push-up, 1 pull-up, 1 dip; 2 push-ups, 2 pull-ups, 2 dips, etc.)
This type of pyramid protocol can become a serious endurance challenge after a few sets. It’s also a way to make a game out of building up your conditioning. Changing the number of reps not only mixes it up for you mentally, it also keeps your body guessing. But don’t forget, working out is serious business – it ain’t a game!
Pyramid sets are commonly seen in weight training as well. In this context, one will usually increase the weight as the reps decrease. In the weight room you might do your first set of squats with 95 lbs. for 10 reps, then 135 lbs. for 8, followed by 185 for 6, etc. This is a great way to build strength and size.
Check out this video of me trying a pyramid workout that I got from my friends The Bar-barians. The pyramid goes from 1-5 reps with pull-ups, muscle-ups and dips. Boy were my arms tired!
Your objective is to do the workout as quickly as possible. Keep in mind, however, that good form should always come first. Do not sacrifice good from in order to get through it quickly – every rep is important!
If this version of the 100 rep challenge is too advanced for you, check out the 100 rep challenge official website for other quick, simple and effective workouts. A 100 rep challenge E-book is also in the works (more info to come soon). In the meantime, check out this video of me attempting the whirlwind. If anyone reading this is bold enough to try The Whirlwind, let me know how it goes!
Yesterday I gave you an overview of my thoughts on diet. Today I am going into more detail about what I eat and what I try to avoid.
Plus I’ve included another of my favorite smoothie recipes!
Here is my list of “Al Approved Foods,” broken down into three categories:
Group 1 – Have as much as you want!
Nuts and Nut Butters
Group 2 – Eat, but show some restraint.
Free Range Chicken (and other poultry)
Peanuts (technically peanuts are legumes)
Group 3 – Eat only in moderation.
Non-Approved Foods – Eat at your own risk!
High Fructose Corn Syrup (and anything that has it as an ingredient!)
Processed Breads and Cakes
Soda and Other Processed Beverages
A lot of people have gotten great results from cutting grains and breads out of their diet completely. I’ve personally found that small amounts are okay as long as most of my carbs come from fruits and veggies. You should experiment and see what works for you. It’s also important to follow a plan that is realistic for the long term. People who follow very restrictive diets are less likely to stick with them.
Here’s today’s smoothie recipe. I call this one “Al’s Coconut-Cashew Concoction.”
Al’s Coconut-Cashew Concoction
1 Young Thai Coconut
2 Tablespoons of Cashew Butter
1 Teaspoon of Honey
6 oz. Milk (or use the coconut water)
3-5 Ice Cubes
This recipe will give you approximately 20 oz. of smoothie and 450 calories.
Diet and exercise are arguably the two biggest factors in determining your overall wellness. Just like my workout regimen, I aim to keep my diet simple and stick to the fundamentals.
To paraphrase from Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, my dietary advice is this: eat real food, not processed crap.
A simple concept, but one that can be surprisingly difficult to implement in our current cultural climate.
Here are a few quick tips to help you out:
1. Look at the ingredients that are in the “foods” you purchase. If there are things in there that you don’t know what they are/can’t pronounce then it’s probably not food.
2. Stay away from “foods” that make claims like “low fat” or “low sugar.” They are usually compensating for some other nutritional shortcoming and/or are filled with chemicals to enhance the flavor.
3. Eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies! I cannot stress this one enough. Fruits and veggies are the foundation of a healthy diet.
It’s not always easy to practice ideal eating habits, so just take it one meal at a time.
Post Workout Nutrition
Post-workout is a key time to be mindful of your diet. This doesn’t mean you need to consume a bunch of supplements and protein powders, however. Exercise supplements are usually processed half way to hell and loaded with chemicals and sugars. Just eat real food! (Check out my list of “Al approved” foods).
Watch the video below to see me whip up one of my favorite post workout treats, which I’ve dubbed “The Blueberry Blaster.” Here’s the recipe:
The Blueberry Blaster
6 oz. milk (Use almond milk if you don’t consume dairy)
2 tablespoons of almond butter
1 teaspoon of honey
1/2 pound of fresh blueberries
3-5 ice cubes
This recipe will give you approximately 20 oz. of smoothie and 500 calories.
When I met Betsy last October, it had been a while since she had last worked out. As a former varsity tennis player, however, she was able to jump back in quickly, immediately becoming one of my most committed and consistent clients.
During the months that we trained together, Betsy made significant progress in her strength, endurance and agility. When she left NYC for California in February, we felt optimistic that she could continue building on the foundation we created.
Betsy recently got word that I was going to be in San Francisco for a wedding this week and she made sure to get a workout in with me. I was excited for the chance to see her and equally excited to see that she’s still got it! Betsy has been working hard and staying fit.
At first Betsy was a bit apprehensive, but with a little practice she quickly loosened up and started to get the hang of it. This is often the case when starting out. Parkour is as much psychological as it is physical – the challenge is more often in the mind.
Watch the video below to see how it went:
There’s nothing like a new city to help invigorate your workout!
San Francisco is a beautiful place with lots of parks and other places to practice vaulting, rail walking and the human flag (as well as other moves) and I had a blast finding places to try them out.
The San Francisco police department wasn’t always cooperative about me turning their city into my playground, but they were more polite about shutting me down than the NYPD tends to be when they’ve brought a stop to my playtime.
In spite of the man trying to keep me down, I still managed to get a lot of exercise and have a lot of fun. Check out the video below to see some highlights.
The urge to climb is one of our most primitive instincts and it need not be ignored. Tapping into your inner Tarzan can also be a great workout!
I recently got to go caveman at NYC’s famous Central Park for my first all-tree-climbing workout. It proved to be more challenging than I expected – but it was a lot of fun!
Not all trees are created equal. If you want to get in touch with your inner monkey, I recommend starting with an easy one.
What makes some trees easier to climb than others?
For starters, a tree that slopes on an angle will almost always be an easier climb than one which goes straight up. Look for a tree with lots of bumps, knobs and other places to grip. Thicker trees generally pose more of a challenge as well, so start with a relatively skinny one.
The technique for tree climbing is very similar to the technique used for rock climbing; you’ll want to use your legs as much as possible and keep your body close to the tree. Finding places where you can pause and catch your breath on the way up can be beneficial.
Just like rock climbers, serious tree climbers will utilize harnesses and other tools, but equipment-free climbing can be a challenging, (relatively) safe and effective workout as long as you recognize your limits. While I always encourage everyone to push their boundaries, use common sense and take responsibility for yourself.
When you em-“bark” on your tree climbing adventure, I recommend wearing comfortable clothing (but avoid garments that can easily tear). Trees can be rough and if you aren’t careful, you’ll end up with ripped clothing in addition to the little cuts and scrapes that you are likely to get on your forearms and hands.
Have fun climbing, but remember not to go too high too soon. Getting down can sometimes be even trickier than getting up!
The pull-up is my all time favorite exercise. It’s simple, effective and can be varied in an endless amount of ways. Pull-ups work the entire upper body, particularly the lats and other back muscles.
The standard pull-up is performed while hanging from an overhead bar with your hands a bit wider than your shoulders and your palms facing away from you. Keeping your whole body tight, begin to pull yourself upward. When your chin passes the bar, you’ve completed one repetition.
The chin-up is the most common pull-up variation; it’s the same as a pull-up except your palms are facing towards you. Changing the grip from overhand to underhand places more emphasis on the biceps.
Wide Grip vs. Close Grip
Feel free to vary the width of your grip with chin-ups and pull-ups. Wider grips will generally be a bit harder as they place more emphasis on the lats; a closer grip puts more emphasis on the arms, chest and shoulders.
Neutral Grip & Commando Pull-ups
You can also do a pull-up with your palms facing towards each other. This is typically done on two bars that are parallel to each other (commonly referred to as a neutral grip). There is also a variation where you do a neutral grip pull-up on one bar with your hands staggered, alternating which side of the bar your head passes on the way up. This is often called a commando pull-up.
Behind the Neck Pull-ups
This is an exercise that I recommend being careful with. If you’re new to pull-ups or you’ve had shoulder/rotator cuff issues, it might be best to leave these out for now. However, for those of you who are comfortable with pull-ups and have healthy shoulders, going behind the neck can be a challenging and worthwhile variation.
Dead Hang Pull-ups
When performing pull-ups, you want to use a full range of motion. The dead hang pull-up ensures that you are doing just that. During a dead hang pull-up, your arms are fully extended at the bottom of each rep, bringing your body to a dead hang. Absolutely no momentum is used to pull your body upwards.
Unlike the dead hang pull-up, when you do a kipping pull-up you are intentionally using as much momentum as possible to swing yourself over the bar – be explosive! There are a few different kipping techniques out there. Mine is a bit unorthodox but it works for me.
Once you get comfortable with pull-ups and kipping pull-ups, try some plyometric variations. Any explosive pull-up that involves letting go of the bar is a plyometric pull-up. One of my favorite plyo pull-ups is the clapping pull-up.
An archer pull-up involves using a very wide grip and only bending one elbow as you pull yourself up. The other arm stays straight. The top of the rep looks almost like you are drawing a bow and arrow. The archer pull-up is a great technique to help practice towards the one arm pull-up.
The One Arm Pull-up
The one arm pull-up is the granddaddy of them all! It takes tons of practice and patience to acquire this skill, but if you are willing to work for it, it’s within your grasp!
A Life of Possibilities
This is by no means an all-inclusive list. There are infinite pull-up variations so feel free to get creative! Watch the video below to see demonstrations of these pull-ups as well as several other variations, such as the L-sit pull-up the “X pull-up.”
The L-sit is a classic isometric exercise that works your entire body, emphasizing the abdominal muscles.
In order to perform an L-sit, you’ll need a strong core, strong arms and better than average flexibility in your hamstrings.
I recommend learning the L-sit by practicing on parallel bars or push-up bars (although you can practice this move with no equipment).
If you have bars, begin by holding yourself upright, like you would at the top of a parallel bar dip. Then start raising your legs straight out in front of you until they are parallel to the ground. Your body will wind up looking sort of like the letter “L” (hence “L-sit”). If you can’t get to this position right away, practice with your knees bent to work your way up to the full position.
Exercises like planks and side planks are also a great way to help build core strength. I recommend practicing them concurrently or as a precursor to the L-sit. If your abs are strong and you’re still having trouble doing an L-sit, tight hamstrings might be what is preventing you. A consistent stretching regimen can gradually loosen your hamstrings, but it will require patience and diligence.
If you don’t have bars or handles, you can try working your L-sit on the ground. Bear in mind that this is more challenging due to the fact that you have less leeway to lift into the hold.
Begin with your palms flat or try holding yourself up on your fingertips. Once you can hold a full L-sit for 30 seconds, you are ready to progress to harder core exercises like front levers, back levers and the infamous human flag.
I got an email recently from a runner (let’s call him Jim) who had just started wearing a heart rate monitor during his training. Jim was concerned because at 56 years of age, his maximal heart rate was “supposed to be” 164 beats per minute (bpm), yet during his threshold run he managed to get his heart rate all the way up to 172 bpm.
Was Jim putting himself in danger by exerting himself too hard?
Of course not! Theory is for science; practice is for living.
What do I mean by that? Simple, Jim’s theoretical maximum heart rate is 164, but in reality he got all the way up to 172 (which for the record is definitely not the fastest his heart could beat.) Instead of assuming that something is wrong with Jim, maybe something is wrong with the chart that told him he couldn’t get beyond 164. Don’t be afraid to question things, people!
Don’t Trust the Chart
Bogus Heart Rate Chart
The heart rate charts that appear in many fitness books and manuals that come with heart rate monitors are antiquated and based upon the fallacy that as you get older, your heart gets weaker. This might be true if you spend your entire life sitting at a desk, but if you are an active person, there is no reason why your heart can’t be just as strong at 56 as it was at 26. The other major problem with the chart (and with all charts of its nature) is that it assumes all people are identical! There is no one thing that is best for everybody and heart rate ranges are no exception.
Finding Your True Max Heart Rate
So how do you find your target heart rate? I have a very simple test. If you have a heart rate monitor it will help, but you can do this test as long as you have two fingers and a pulse.
First, warm up with one or two miles of easy running, then step up your pace a little bit for another mile. Once you have a good sweat going and your heart is pumping, sprint as hard as you can for as long as you can! Then check your heart rate. Add 5 to that number, and that’s your max heart rate.
Oh and don’t be foolish. If you have a heart condition or if you’ve never run more than a mile, don’t try this test just yet.
I know what you might be thinking, “Advanced muscle-ups? Aren’t muscle-ups already an advanced exercise?”
Yes, the muscle-up is a fairly advanced exercise by itself, but with practice, muscle-ups will eventually become manageable. That’s when it’s time to raise the bar!
If you know about plyometrics, it’s easy to figure out what a plyo muscle-up might look like. To do this move, keep pushing after you get to the top of your muscle-up and try to
get some hang time.
A muscle-over takes the plyo muscle-up to the next level. Instead of just getting a little hang time at the top, a muscle-over involves throwing your entire body over the bar. This is typically done by bouncing your hips off the bar at the top to get a little extra momentum (sometimes referred to as “casting off”). Psychologically, the muscle-over can be quite intimidating at first, but do not let your fear stop you from trying. If you can do a muscle-up and a vault, you can do a muscle-over.
Reverse Grip Muscle-up
Unlike the pull-up, which is typically easier with an underhand grip, performing a muscle-up with your palms facing towards you is much harder than with your palms facing away. In order to perform a reverse grip muscle-up, you need to generate a lot of explosive power by kipping from your hips and creating a large arc with your body as it moves over the bar. Since you can’t use a false grip when your palms are facing you, allow your palms to spin around the bar on the way up.
The circle muscle-up begins like an archer pull-up. Once you get your chin over the bar, begin bending your straight arm and shifting your weight to the other side as you press your body all the way to the top. This move takes a lot of practice but if you are willing to put in the work, it is attainable.
Performing any of these moves requires strength, skill and grace. They’re all still works in progress for me. If you’ve read this far and you don’t know about the Bar-barians, check them out. I made up some of these names for moves but I didn’t make up the moves themselves. Make sure you’re comfortable with how to do a muscle-up before trying these advanced progressions.
The Basic Front Plank
The standard push-up position is the most simple type of plank. Make sure to keep a straight line from the top of your head to the heels of your feet; don’t let your hips drop or your butt go up in the air.
The basic plank (Front plank)
A slightly harder variation involves supporting your upper body on your elbows instead of your hands. For the beginner, a nice core challenge is to try alternating between the basic plank and the elbow plank. Make sure to keep your hips steady and stay on your toes.
One Arm/One Leg Plank
Once you’re comfortable with the elbow plank, you can add a new challenge by taking one arm or one leg out of the equation. Eventually you can try a plank on one arm and one leg; the fewer limbs you have on the ground the more you’ll need to use your core.
Side planks put more emphasis on your obliques (the muscles on your sides) than on your abs (though they still get worked!). Just like a front plank, you can perform a side plank on your palm or your elbow, and with one or two legs. Transitioning from a front plank to a side plank and back is another fun challenge.
Planks are often held isometrically (in a fixed position) for a given length of time. Try to build up to a minute with the simpler variations before progressing. One you’ve mastered the plank, you should consider training to do a planche.
Vaulting is a technique used to hurdle an object (often with a running start). Unlike a track and field hurdle, however, you use your arms when you perform a vault.
There are countless variations on the basic vault (one arm, two arms, 360 degree turns, etc) but the idea remains the same – get your body over a sturdy object quickly and efficiently.
Another great thing about an exercise like this one is that you can always find places to practice. You can vault over rails, tables, fences and even cars. There are no constraints in parkour so get creative and try vaulting over anything and everything as many different ways as you can.
How to Vault
To perform a vault, place your hand(s) on the object as you begin jumping over it. You should feel your weight shift from your legs into your hand(s) as your feet come off the ground. When you are learning, put your foot on the bar to spot yourself as you go over the bar if you need to. Start with lower objects and build up to challenging yourself by attempting to vault higher ones. This exercise can be a great confidence booster once you start getting comfortable with it.
Al Kavadlo is not liable for any injuries or damages that individuals might incur by attempting to perform any of the exercises or feats of strength depicted or discussed on this website.
Any individual attempting to does so at their own risk. Consult with your physician before beginning an exercise regimen.