No single bodyweight exercise works your entire upper body as thoroughly as a muscle-up. It is truly the king of bodyweight exercises, bar none.
I’ve blogged about muscle-ups before, but it’s a topic that people continually ask about. With that in mind, I’ve created this guide towards getting your first muscle-up on a straight bar. (If you are using rings, check out my muscle-up on rings tutorial.)
In order to achieve a muscle-up on a straight bar, you must be able to comfortably perform pull-ups and dips on one, but there is no set rule for how many reps are needed as a prerequisite. Some people who can only manage six or seven pull-ups can muster up a muscle-up, others who can bang out twenty dead hang pull-ups still continually fail at getting through the sticking point; the muscle-up is a unique challenge and must be treated as such.
Before you’re ready to do a muscle-up, practice doing pull-ups with an exaggerated range of motion. Instead of stopping when the bar is below your chin, pull that sucker all the way down past your chest. Get as far over the bar as you can!
Jump Right In
It can be helpful to practice a modified muscle-up on a bar that is about chest height so you can use your legs to help jump into it. (If you can’t find a low bar, bring a step or a bench up to a high bar.) This will let you get a feel for the transition from being under the bar to getting on top without having to overcome your full bodyweight. With practice, you’ll learn to rely on your legs less and do most of the work with your upper body. Once you’ve gotten the hang of jumping into a muscle-up, you’re ready to attempt the real deal.
Kipping is Appreciated
When you are learning to do a muscle-up, it’s helpful to use your hips and legs to generate additional power to get your chest beyond the bar. Do whatever it takes to get yourself up and over – nobody’s first muscle-up looks perfectly clean. As you get stronger and more comfortable with the movement pattern, you can begin to work cleaning up your muscle-up technique, as well as working on other types of advanced muscle-ups.
More Muscle-up Tips Like all bodyweight exercises, trunk strength plays a big part in performing a muscle-up. Always practice your planks and L-sits to keep your abs strong.
Beginners might find it helpful to use a false grip when performing a muscle-up on a bar. This entails bending your wrists over the bar so that your palms are facing toward the ground.
Just like when you are working on getting your first pull-up, it can be helpful to practice negatives and use manual assistance while learning to do a muscle-up. If you are going to spot someone on a muscle-up, I suggest giving them a boost by holding them under one or both heels, as if you were helping them over a fence.
The back bridge is a timeless exercise that can help build total-body strength and improve your flexibility along the way.
Whether your focus is strength training, calisthenics, yoga or any other type of exercise, back bridging is bound to come up in some form.
While bridges are often performed isometrically, they can also be done for reps. Like all exercises, there are many variations on the back bridge. Here are a few of the basics:
Beginner Back Bridge
Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and your knees bent. Your feet will be flat on the ground. From here, push your heels into the ground, squeeze your butt and lift your hips as high as you can. You’ll also need to think about pushing your chest up and squeezing your shoulder blades together while your head stays on the ground. If you can’t keep your knees from bowing open, you might find it helpful to squeeze a yoga block or small exercise ball in between them.
This time you’re going to sit with your legs straight in front of you, almost like an L-sit except you’re not in the air. From here, lift your hips by contracting your hamstrings, glutes and other posterior musculature. Drop your head back, press your chest up and try to look behind you. You’ll wind up looking like an upside-down plank.
This starts off in the same position as the beginner back bridge except your hands are placed on either side of your head, palms down and wrists bent back. From here, press yourself off your back and onto the top of your head. You might want to place a towel or other soft object between your head and the ground when starting out. For an added challenge, try taking your hands away and supporting your upper body with just your neck. This variation is sometimes called a “wrestler’s bridge.”
Full Back Bridge
Don’t be in a rush to get to a full back bridge, as it can put a lot of pressure on your spine. If you aren’t ready for it, you could be in for a world of hurt.
However, if you are ready to try it, start by coming into a neck bridge. Next, press your hands into the ground, dig in your heels and push your chest forward. This last part is really important for those of us with tight shoulders, as pushing forward with the chest will facilitate a deeper stretch through the thoracic region.
It’s been over a year since I started training for the planche and progress has been slow. In fact, I took several months off last year to focus on other aspects of my training as I was getting frustrated with my lack of progress. It’s often been said that doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is the definition of insanity. With that in mind, I have retooled my planche training strategy.
In hindsight, I was trying to get to the finish line too quickly. Rather than establishing a solid foundation with the tucked planche and other variations by performing them with straight arms, I rushed into trying to achieve a full planche with bent arms. By practicing with my arms bent, I was able to get my body closer to the full planche, so it seemed closer to the final objective, but in the process I put more stress on my shoulders than they were ready for.
Luckily I knew to back off before I crossed the line between discomfort and pain. Now after a hiatus, I’ve been back to practicing towards a full planche. This time, however, I am employing a different method, using kettlebells as parallettes and working on getting comfortable with extended tucked planche holds before I move onto the harder variations. I’m also working on transitioning back and forth from the tucked planche to the L-sit. I’m not certain that this method will guarantee me success, but my previous strategy wasn’t getting me very far, so it’s worth a shot!
I stand by the other techniques I demonstrate in my old planche training video and will continue to practice them, but I will not be doing bent arm planche holds. The goal is to get a straight arm planche, so I shall practice with straight arms! I’ve also been throwing in some weighted pistol squats in an attempt to increase my abdominal and lower back strength.
It’s no secret that I’m a proponent of bodyweight strength training – pull-ups, push-ups and pistols have been staples of my fitness regimen for many years.
What you might not realize, however, is that yoga is also a style of bodyweight training that I practice regularly. That’s right, when you get down to it, yoga is simply another form of bodyweight training. It’s a great way to build strength, improve flexibility and perhaps more importantly, increase your body awareness.
Here are some yoga basics that can help with your strength training:
Chair Pose (Utkatasana) – The chair pose is basically a squat. While keeping your chest up and your shoulder blades retracted, you reach your arms into the air and sit back from your hips until the tops of your thighs are parallel with the ground. The difference is instead of going up and down for reps, in yoga the objective is simply to hold the chair pose for a given amount of time (or a certain number of breaths).
Chaturanga – Chaturanga is best known as a transitional pose in between the plank and cobra (or updog) poses in a sun salutation (I’ll get to those in a second). It is almost the same as the negative (lowering) phase of a push-up, only the elbows are kept closer to the body and the hips are positioned slightly higher.
Practicing chaturanga is a great way for novices to build towards doing push-ups. It teaches you to control your body while keeping your core muscles engaged on the way down, much in the same way that doing negatives helps when learning to do a pull-up. Chaturanga can also be held isometrically.
Half Monkey Pose – The flat back position in this pose (which has a few different names depending on who you ask) is very similar to the bottom position of a Romanian deadlift. To perform this pose, start in a standing toe touch position, then retract your shoulder blades and flatten your back. It’s a great way to learn what it feels like to bend over from your hips while keeping your vertebrae aligned, like you need to do to properly perform any type of deadlift.
The sun salutation strings several fundamental poses together in a smooth-flowing sequence designed to ease your body into your practice. While the sun salutation is often used as a warm-up in yoga, it can be a good warm-up for any type of workout. Sometimes I like to do them first thing in the morning after I get out of bed. You might even throw one into the middle of your day if you find you’ve been sitting for too long. Anytime is a good time for a sun salutation!
There are an infinite number of variations on the sun salutation, but basic poses such as mountain pose, forward fold, half monkey, downward dog, plank, chaturanga and upward dog (or cobra pose) are typically included.
If you’re curious about yoga practice, I recommend going to a class or, even better, getting one-on-one yoga instruction. There are many subtleties to performing these poses, and there’s no substitute for having a skilled professional there to observe and help you.
Check out the video below to see me doing my morning sun salutation.
I’m always on the hunt for cool new places to train outdoors, so while visiting my friend Mike Lieberman in LA a few weeks back, I made sure to hit up the world famous “Muscle Beach” in Venice.
With pull-up bars, parallel bars and rings for bodyweight training on the sand, and barbells and other gym equipment in a nearby area by the pavement, the set-up there has the best of both worlds.
Leave the Fire Behind
While it was great to check out Muscle Beach, the beach in Santa Monica has a workout area that I liked even better!
In addition to pull-up bars and parallel bars, Santa Monica had some new toys for me to try out! It was a lot of fun swinging around on the rings and going up the rope climb, though both were harder than I expected. Working out at this fantastic free gym right on the sand at the beach reminded me a bit of my recent workout at Coney Island.
All in all, my visit to LA was a blast! Here’s a few more photos from my trip. If you want to see the rest of them, join the facebook fanpage!
Watch the video below and check back later this week for more from my LA visit.
Savvy fitness enthusiasts know that doing endless amounts of crunches isn’t the smartest way to build a strong midsection. Planks and side planks are the most fundamental exercises to develop your core, but if you want to work toward advanced exercises like levers and human flags, the dragon flag can help you get there.
Though best known as a trademark move of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, the dragon flag has become a popular training tool amongst anyone who is serious about calisthenics and bodyweight training.
A dragon flag is typically performed lying face-up on a bench or on the ground with your hands grasping a sturdy object behind your head for support. From here, the objective is to lift your entire body up in a straight line, stacking it vertically over your shoulders in the top position.
Protect Ya Neck When performing a dragon flag, focus on using your abs, lower back and glutes to control the movement. Your hands are there for support, but don’t pull the bench into the back of your neck! Instead, use your core strength to roll up onto your shoulders.
Just like learning to do a pull-up, start by practicing the negative (lowering) phase of the dragon flag. Once you get confident with negatives, try doing a static hold at the bottom with your body hovering an inch or two over the bench. When you can hold this position for 2 or 3 seconds, you’re ready to start working on full dragon flags.
While a dragon flag technically requires you to maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your feet, it can be helpful to practice a modified version where you allow your hips to bend. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different progressions and variations on your way to mastering this exercise.
If you aim to master your bodyweight, the freestanding handstand is an essential skill. More than developing any one area, the freestanding handstand will help you learn to use your muscles together, allowing your entire body to function as a single unit. Developing this ability is important as you progress towards more difficult bodyweight exercises like levers and the human flag.
Before attempting a freestanding handstand, I recommend getting comfortable with simpler inversions like headstands and handstands against a wall. From there, move on to practicing basic hand balances like the crow pose.
Off The Wall
The freestanding handstand can be intimidating because there is nothing to catch you if you fall. You must take a leap of faith and go in with confidence that your body will know what to do if you tip over. If you’re having a hard time getting over your nerves, it can help to have a spotter. I also recommend practicing on a soft surface like grass or rubber.
While a freestanding handstand can be a challenging shoulder and arm workout when held for long enough, the balance is typically the most difficult part to learn. It takes a lot of time to find the “sweet spot” between over-balancing (tipping over) or under-balancing (falling back to your feet).
Unlike your foot, which was made for standing, your hand doesn’t have a true heel, so it’s best to put slightly more weight in your fingers than in your palms when balancing on them. If you are a tiny bit over-balanced, you can stay up by pressing your fingers into the ground. When you’re under-balanced, there is less you can do to keep from coming down.
A Tale of Two Handstands
In modern gymnastics, handstands are performed with a perfectly straight line from top to bottom. For this reason, a lot of people will tell you that arching your back during a handstand is bad form. In my experience, however, it is helpful to allow your back to arch while you are learning to find the balance. In time, you can work on reaching your legs upward, pressing into the floor and tightening your abs, lower back and glutes to achieve an aesthetically pleasing straight line from head to toe (or hands to toe as the case may be).
Practice, Practice, Practice
Transitioning from a handstand against a wall to a freestanding handstand is a challenging and potentially discouraging process. I was terrible at hand balancing when I started out, but I’ve been practicing for a while now. For me, the key has been consistency; I rarely miss a day of practice, even if it’s just a couple of minutes at the end of a workout. Some days it comes harder than others, but when I fall, I just get up and try again.
Last month, my brother Danny and I finally finished building his backyard pull-up bar. It wound up being a bigger project than we originally envisioned, but in the end, Danny was left with an amazing home gym.
I recently got to work out on the backyard bar during a visit to Danny’s house in Brooklyn. I’ve been trying out some advanced muscle-up techniques like plyometric clapping muscle-ups and slow, no-hands muscle-ups (technically the hands are used, but they aren’t gripping the bar), while Danny’s been continuing to practice the human flag and human flag pull-ups.
The bars in Danny’s set-up have a 2″ diameter, which is even thicker than the bars at Tompkins Square Park. The thickness of the bars adds an extra challenge to exercises like pull-ups, muscle-ups and levers, so practicing on Danny’s set-up is helping my grip strength. Training on the fat bars makes going back to standard ones feel easy.
It was a bit cold out but we still managed to heat up those bars!
The pistol squat is a challenging exercise, but with consistent practice, it can become relatively easy. Once you can do 10 repetitions on each leg, you should try adding a new challenge.
My two favorite ways to do this are by bringing weights into the picture or adding a balance component. If you want to use weights, I recommend kettlebells, but dumbbells or barbells can also be effective. Start by holding the weight in front of you in the rack position. Once you get that down, you can try holding a weight overhead during a pistol squat.
If you choose to add a balance element to your pistol training, start by standing on a bosu ball or a half foam roller. For an extra challenge, you can try a pistol while standing on a bar.
Once you are ready to try a one legged squat on a bar, you’ll need to practice catching yourself so you can land safely if you lose your balance. For this reason, it is best to begin practicing with a low bar. Knowing how to bail out of a botched attempt without getting hurt is essential before trying a pistol squat on a high bar.
Attempting an exercise like a pistol squat on top of an 8 foot high bar might sound crazy, but with gradual progression it doesn’t have to be risky. Build your confidence little by little and you might find that the ability to overcome your fears on the bars will carry over into the rest of your life. When you find yourself doing things you once thought impossible, remember that our only limits are the ones we impose on ourselves.
Crawling works your upper body, legs and core muscles, plus it can help improve your coordination. It can also turn into an intense cardio session if you keep it up for long enough!
One of the most basic crawls is the bear-crawl, which involves keeping your hips high in the air with your arms and legs straight. If you haven’t crawled since you were a baby, the bear crawl is a good way to ease back in.
The spider-crawl is a lot harder than the bear-crawl. Instead of keeping your hips up, the spider-crawl has you bending your arms and legs while keeping your hips down. Imagine you are trying to get through a narrow tunnel without letting your belly touch the ground.
You can also split the difference between these first two variations by keeping your arms straight but still bending your knees. This type of movement is sometimes used in parkour training and is similar to what Mark Sisson calls the “Grok crawl.”
Whichever variation you choose, crawling makes a great warm-up exercise, conditioning drill or active recovery technique. Feel free to experiment with different ways of incorporating these crawls (and your own versions of them) into your workouts.
Man has yet to fly without airplanes or helicopters, but performing a back lever feels pretty close! Practicing this exercise can help you build total body strength while giving you the sensation of being suspended in mid-air. Back levers are fun and functional, plus they look bad-ass!
Skinning the Cat
Before you attempt a back lever, you’ll need to learn how to “skin the cat.” Don’t worry, I’m not advocating harming any felines! In this context, the phrase “skinning the cat” refers to rolling your hips and legs over and around to the other side of the bar from a pull-up position.
Start by hanging from a bar with an overhand grip, then begin raising your legs with your knees bent. When your knees are all the way up to your chest, rotate your body around to the other side, keeping your legs tucked tight so they don’t hit the bar as you pass through. From here, extend your legs and let your body hang before reversing the movement.
Performing a Back Lever
Once you can get your legs over to the other side of the bar, you’re ready to start practicing towards a back lever. I like to get into position by straightening my entire body so that I’m hanging almost completely upside down with my legs above the bar and my torso below.
From there, start to lower yourself one inch at a time while pitching your chest forward. The objective is to get your body parallel to the ground with your hips directly under the bar. It’s helpful to have someone watch you or videotape you while you are doing this as you’ll likely have a hard time feeling when you are in position. Remember to contract your abs, lower back, hamstrings and glutes while performing this move. Your arms are only one small part of the equation.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
Jumping jacks are one of the most well known bodyweight exercises out there, but when was the last time that you actually did any?
Just like jumping rope, the jumping jack (technically referred to as the “side-straddle-hop”) is a low intensity plyometric exercise that involves your entire body. And like jumping rope, jumping jacks can turn into a serious cardio workout if done for a long enough period of time.
Jumping jacks are typically performed for a set number of repetitions. You can also do them for time, as counting can become a burden once you get into higher rep ranges. Jumping jacks make for a great warm-up exercise but they also work well as an active recovery exercise in the context of circuit training. Using them in between sets of pull-ups or dips, for example, is a great way to keep your heart rate up while letting your arms recover.
The Basic Jumping Jack
Most of us did this in gym class when we were kids. The basic jumping jack involves clapping your hands over your head while jumping in the air and opening your legs. This action is immediately followed by bringing your arms down while jumping back into a standing position.
Jumping Jack Variations
The “seal jack” involves clapping your hands in front of your chest instead of over head. This is a good variation for people with shoulder problems or other mobility issues.
Another variation is what I like to call the “monkey jack,” in which you jump up and down while alternately raising one arm and lowering the other. The foot movement on the monkey jack is different as well; instead of jumping with both feet together, the leg movement is more like running in place.
If you want to really challenge yourself, I recommend the “star jump”. A star jump begins with a deep squat in which you wrap your arms around the front of your legs. From there you simply jump as high as you can while spreading your legs and reaching your arms up over head.
The pistol squat is one of my favorite bodyweight exercises. Pistols are challenging on many levels, requiring core strength, leg strength, balance and flexibility. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with two-legged squats, you’re ready to learn the pistol. I like to break it down into three phases.
Pistol Squat – Phase One
Begin by sitting on a bench with one foot flat on the ground and the other extended out in front of you. Reach your arms forward and simultaneously press your foot into the ground while tightening your abs. Don’t let your heel come off the ground. If you’re strong enough, you should be able to lift yourself off the bench. Once you get to a standing position, try to lower yourself slowly and repeat. You will likely lose control during the lowering phase and wind up plopping down onto the bench at the bottom. That’s fine for now. In time your control will improve to the point where you no longer need to sit on the bench.
Take a seat during Phase One.
Pistol Squat – Phase Two
Stand on a bench with one foot hanging off the edge, then squat down so that the opposite leg drops below the level of the bench. You’ll be aiming for a larger range of motion than you did during Phase One, so make sure you lower all the way to the bottom. Sit back from your hips, reach your arms in front and lean forward from your waist in order to maintain your balance.
If you’re having a hard time with the balance, you can hold onto something to guide yourself at first. A broom handle works well if you are doing these at home. If you have a training partner, you can have them assist you by either holding your hand or standing near you so you can grab them if you lose your balance. Take it slowly with one and be patient.
Work your way up - Phase Two.
Pistol Squat – Phase Three
Get down into a deep squat with both feet flat on the ground. Try to reach one leg out in front of you while balancing on the other. You’re now at the bottom position of a pistol squat. Get comfortable with your balance here; it will come easier to some than to others. Once you can balance in the bottom position, try to stand up. It’s okay to use assistance until you can perform the move independently. With practice, you will build the necessary strength and stability to perform the pistol with confidence – then you can move onto advanced pistol squats!
Instead of using weights to do resistance training, try using a buddy!
Manual resistance is a great way to add a fun, new challenge to a workout. Manual resistance simply means that instead of using weights to oppose your muscles, you are using another person. So grab a friend and let’s go!
Here are 3 exercises that you can try using manual resistance:
Partner push-up: Have your partner place their hands on your upper back to provide additional resistance on your push-up. They can vary the amount of pressure in order to make it more or less challenging. If you get strong enough you can even try having your partner lie down on your back!
Fireman’s carry: Get your buddy up on your shoulders and try to walk or run a few meters while carrying them. Start with a partner who is of a comparable body weight to your own and remember to lift with your legs. If this sounds crazy, remember that when firemen do it they have the added challenge of a burning building!
Once you get comfortable with carrying your partner, you can try to do squats or lunges with them up there!
Manual resistance leg raises: Lie on your back, holding your partner’s ankles while they stand over your shoulders. Raise your legs up by engaging your abdominal muscles and have your partner push them back down when they reach the top. Try to lower your legs slowly, resisting your partner’s push. Focus on using your abdominal muscles instead of your legs.
These three suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. Get creative with manual resistance training and have fun!
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.