Category Archives: Body Weight Exercises

Parkour Part Deux

A few months back, I started learning some beginner parkour moves, such as precision jumps and underbars. I’ve been practicing a lot since then and I recently began incorporating some more difficult moves into my repertoire, like cat jumps and rail walking.

Cat Jumps

Cat jumps involve jumping up onto an obstacle like a fence or a wall that is too tall to climb. When the traceur (a parkour practitioner) is separated from an obstacle by a body of water or other uncrossable terrain, a cat jump becomes a necessary skill. For practice, however, it’s okay to cat jump without clearing any hurdles. After cat jumping onto an object, it is typical to continue climbing the rest of the object or to push off and reverse direction.

Rail Walking
Rail walking is a balance challenge that involves walking across a narrow bar or rail. It’s best to practice this on a relatively low surface, so that if you lose your footing, you can safely jump down.

360 Underbars

My parkour mentor, Rick Seedman, has also given me a new variation on the basic underbar – the 360 degree underbar, a fun “spin” on the basic move that involves rotating your body as you pass in between two parallel bars.

In addition to these new challenges, I’ve continued practicing the fundamentals; my precision jumping is getting better, although it’s still a work in progress!

Watch the video below for more!

Mastering Your Body Weight

Al Kavadlo One Arm HangWhile there’s no such thing as true mastery, it’s great to strive for ideals as long as we realize they are just that–something to reach for. On the road to superior fitness, it is good to have a sense of your place so you can determine the logical way to progress.

In gymnastics (which is just a highly advanced style of bodyweight training) skills are generally ranked A through F, with A skills being the easiest. The standards are quite high, as back levers and front levers are only considered A level skills and muscle-ups are simply listed under “basic skills.”

I thought a similar type of rating system might be nice for the rest of us. I decided to break down some of my favorite bodyweight exercises (and some that I aspire to one day have in my arsenal) using a 5 level system to assign them a difficulty rating. I’m not holding to the same standards that a gymnast might. Here is what I’m proposing:

NYC HandstandLevel 1 skills:
Squat
Plank
Dip (Bench)
Lunge
Push-up
Australian Pull-up

Level 2 skills:
Single Leg Deadlift
Hanging Leg Raise
Dip (Parallel Bars)
Back Bridge
Elbow Lever
Handstand
Pull-up

Level 3 skills:
L-sit
Pistol Squat
Handstand Push-up
Dragon Flag
Clutch Flag

Level 4 skills:
Back Lever
Shrimp Squat
One-arm Push-up
Human Flag
Muscle-up

Level 5 skills:
One-arm Pull-up
Front Lever
Planche
One-handed Handstand

It’s important to have a good foundation before trying advanced exercises like the planche and the human flag. Getting comfortable with basic skills allows you to progress in a safe and effective manner. Obviously, this list is not all inclusive so feel free to suggest additions. Furthermore, as different people have different strengths, you may find that you make quicker progress with some skills than with others. As always, strive to keep the beginner’s mind. No matter where you fall in the continuum, there is a new challenge ahead!

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The One Arm Chin-up (May 2010)

The one arm chin-up has been my favorite feat of strength since the first time I ever saw one performed. It’s a beautiful display of strength, power and control. Anyone who can do a one arm chin-up has automatically earned my respect, for to perform this move takes discipline, patience and determination.

No matter how strong you are, you simply cannot acquire this skill without lots and lots of practice. In previous posts, I’ve discussed some effective techniques to utilize while training for one arm chin-ups , like the archer pull-up and one arm negatives.

Last fall I was still working towards getting a single one arm pull-up. Now, after nearly 3 years of working on this move, I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can do two in a row!

Check out the video below for evidence that if you set your mind to something and dedicate yourself to it, you can make it a reality.

Front Levers and Back Levers

Back lever on pull-up bar

All of our body’s movements are performed through a system of pulleys and levers; your arms and legs are complex machinery, but they move under basic principals of physics and gravity. Front levers and back levers are an exaggerated example of that. What makes front levers and back levers unique is that instead of using leverage in your favor (like you do during a deadlift) you’re doing the opposite–using primarily your arms to move the rest of your body!

Front levers and back levers are two challenging exercises that require tremendous core strength as well as a powerful upper-body. Practicing towards these movements can build serious strength in your arms, chest, back and abs. Perhaps more importantly, levers train you to use your muscles to work together, which is how to utilize them most effectively.

Front lever on parallel bars

Front Levers
A front lever involves holding your body out in a straight line parallel to the ground with your hands grasping a bar(s) or ring(s). Your chest faces upwards. Note the placement of the hands is closer to being over the hips than it is to the shoulders. In addition to thinking about keeping your abs tight and extending your back, you need to be actively pulling your hands down towards your hips, engaging your lats, triceps and chest. A pullover is a great exercise to build strength for this movement.



Back Levers
A back lever is the same idea but now you are facing downward. These are also best performed with a pronated (overhand) grip. Keeping a narrow grip is also a good idea as it allows you to leverage some of your weight against your arms. A great way to practice performing a back lever is to lower yourself down into it slowly and/or use a bent knee position to progress to the full version. As you drop into position, pitch your chest forward to wind up with your hands over your hips.

Front lever with one knee bent

Variations
Like the human flag, front levers and back levers can also be performed on parallel bars. There are subtle differences between the two that I encourage you to explore for yourself. Also, remember that levers can be easier when using a bent knee position. Performing a front lever with a split-legged position or with just one knee bent also works as a great variation on the way towards the full lever position. Experienced trainees might want to challenge themselves by practicing towards a one arm lever–you can always find a new challenge!

Going Caveman in Mexico

Getting primal up on this bitch, er, beach.

I’m no stranger to caveman workouts and I love to keep variety in my exercise regimen. So during my visit to Mexico this week, I decided to take my primal training style to a whole new level.

Running barefoot on the beach, hiking through trails and climbing trees have been just a few of the activities I’ve explored during my time south of the border.

Since I began running, I have been a proponent of wearing high-tech footwear, but since reading Born to Run, I’ve been rethinking my stance on the importance of running sneakers.

It seemed fitting to experiment with barefoot running in the beaches and backwoods of Mexico–near the home of the legendary Tarahumara Indians, who are famous for their ultra-distance runs in minimal footwear.

Watch me play Tarzan in the video below:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhDoF7cFPFU

The One Arm Pushup

The one arm push-up is a classic bad-ass feat of strength. Master this one and you’ll not only impress your friends at parties, but more importantly, build monstrous strength in the process.

Big muscles are not necessarily the key to performing body-weight feats of strength–you need look no further than my 165 pound frame for evidence of that. The key is core strength and total body control.

It’s hard to get a consensus on what counts as the definitive one arm push-up. There are different variations, and like all other feats of strength from the pull-up to the human flag, everyone has their own opinion.
How Low Can You Go?
I like to go low on push-ups and I’ve even heard of trainers insisting that clients touch their chest to the ground on every rep. Other times I see trainers letting clients get away with only lowering themselves one or two inches. There needs to be a middle ground! You won’t benefit much from doing a one inch push-up but many people cannot maintain safe form while going chest to the floor.

I believe that the ideal range in somewhere between 90-110 degrees of flexion as measured along the OUTSIDE of the elbow, depending on the mobility of the individual. If you aren’t sure how low you are getting, have someone else watch you. Sometimes it’s hard to feel how your body looks when you exercise. People often think they are going lower than they actually are. I know–I was once one of them! In order for me to count a rep in any sort of competitive situation, I would need to see a minimum of 90 degrees of flexion.

Elbow in or out?
There are different ways to position your body when you do a one arm push-up. You can put your feet wide, you can put your feet narrow; you can put your arm out or keep your arm in. Most people will find keeping their legs in a narrower stance to be more of a challenge. Keeping the elbow in can be more difficult for some people as well, as it shifts the emphasis from the chest onto to the front delts and triceps. I don’t care which way you do them as long as you maintain control and keep your body straight (or mostly straight, a little rotation is unavoidable).

More Than Just One Arm
A strong midsection helps to get your whole body to work together. You also need to think about your opposite leg; If you are doing a one arm push-up on your right arm, your left leg needs to be engaged and vice versa. I find it best to practice keeping my whole body tight during the entire range of motion.

Progressing Towards A One Arm Push-up
Obviously you should have the strength to perform many two armed push-ups (at least 30 or 40 consecutively) before you even think about trying a one arm push-up. It’s also helpful to practice other push-up variations.

Another way to practice the technique for a one arm push-up is to perform it up on an angle using a bench or bar that’s a few feet from the ground. As you get stronger, you can lower the angle – eventually you’re on the ground!

…And Beyond
There’s a lot of new challenges that lie ahead once you get the hang of the one arm push-up, like plyometric one arm push-ups, one arm push-ups on a medicine ball and the one arm/one leg push-up. With so many ways to vary this classic, you can always keep your workouts fresh and challenging!

Note: Check out my new one arm push-up training tutorial for more info on this exercise.

Zero Equipment Workouts

If you want to exercise at home but you don’t have much room or equipment, you might feel like it’s impossible to get a thorough workout.

However, as long as you have enough space to get in a push-up position, you have everything you need!

Besides push-ups, there are many other exercises that you can do with limited space and no equipment. Jumping jacks, squats, lunges and planks are a few basics that come to mind.

Fitness on the Road

When you travel, maintaining your fitness routine can get bumped down your list of priorities. If the hotel you’re staying at doesn’t have the best fitness facilities, it gets even easier to rationalize skipping a few workouts.

Here are 3 sample routines for various fitness levels that you can do at home or on the road with limited time and space using only the bodyweight exercises listed above (and a few variations):

The Routines

Beginner:
Jumping jacks – 20
Squats – 10
Push-ups – 10 or to failure
Stationary lunges – 10 each leg
Front plank – hold for 30 seconds
Side plank – hold for 10 seconds each side

Intermediate:

Jumping jacks – 50
Jump squats – 10
Plyo Push-ups – 10 or to failure
Stationary lunges – 20 each leg
Plank – hold for 60 seconds
Side Plank – hold for 30 seconds each side
Handstand w/ legs against wall – hold for 30 seconds

Advanced:

Jumping jacks – 100
Pistol squats – 10 each leg or to failure
One arm push-ups – 10 each arm or to failure
Jumping lunges – 10 each side
Handstand – hold for 60 seconds
Plank with one leg – hold for 60 seconds each leg
Side plank with one leg – hold for 20 seconds each side

Whichever level you do, try to get through the entire circuit with as few breaks as possible. When you finish the circuit you may rest up to two minutes, then repeat. See how many times you can get through the routine in 30 minutes.

Watch the video below for demonstrations and more:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg2f9pieTVI

Related links:
Failure training
Lunges
Pistol Squats

All About the Human Flag (Part Four)

Human flag on bouldering wall

If you’re new to the human flag–welcome! Make sure to check out part one of my human flag series–it’s a great place to start!

Finding Places to Practice
Being able to perform a flag in one place does not necessarily mean that you’ll be able to do it anywhere.

I’ve done flags on many different surfaces: a bouldering wall, a fence and even construction scaffolding! But I’ve also encountered potential flag sites that proved to be too difficult (like trees).

Edit: I have since done a human flag on a tree

Different contexts offer their own unique challenges. The little nuances in your flagging surface can make a huge difference in your ability to let it fly. The thickness of the bar (or whatever you are gripping) as well as the height and stability of the object are all factors to consider when finding places to practice your human flag. Keep these considerations in mind, but don’t be afraid to get creative.

Human flag with underhand grip

Gradual Progression
While you might be eager to learn this move, bear in mind that you must gradually introduce your body to the human flag. In the beginning, just holding a bent leg flag for a couple of seconds would leave my obliques sore for days afterward. Additionally, developing shoulder tendinitis can be a concern, especially early on. You want to be warmed up before practicing your flag and make sure to give your body proper rest between efforts. Eventually you may be able to practice flags daily, but in the beginning a few minutes every two or three days is a better way to ease yourself in. Be patient–anything that’s worthwhile takes time. If you want to acquire this skill, you can. You just have to really want it and be willing to put in the work. The human flag can be a lot of fun, but it ain’t a game!

Beyond the Flag
I know what you’re thinking: what could possibly be harder than the human flag!?!

Flag pull-ups of course!

All About the Human Flag (Part Three)

Another modified version of the human flag.

As you may already know from my previous posts on training for the human flag, performing this feat of strength requires your full concentration. It also requires just about every muscle in your body! Let’s break it down piece by piece.

The Bottom Arm
The bottom arm is the foundation of the human flag. The job of your bottom arm is to support most of your body weight. To do this, you’re going to have to press into the pole as hard as possible. Try to fully extend your elbow and keep it locked out. It is essential to have a solid grip down low in order to execute the move properly.

As I mentioned in part one of my human flag series, parallel bars are great for performing the flag because you can get a firm grip with a lot of leverage. However, it is important to note that the thickness of the bar can make a great difference in the difficulty of performing a flag. A thicker bar is much harder to grip, which can make executing a human flag even more of a challenge.

A thick bar can pose problems when attempting the flag on a vertical pole as well. When using a vertical bar, I’ve found that the best way to hold onto a thicker pole (one that you can’t really get your hand around), is to employ an open grip with your wrist bent back and your index finger pointing down. Think about spiderman when he puts his hand out to shoot his webs. This hand position allows you to press your palm into the bar and spread your fingers out. A full underhand grip with the hand completely turned over (thumb down, pinky on top) works well for some people on the bottom as well. Having your thumbs pointed down is generally a good thing for leverage regardless of which hand we’re dealing with–this is why the underhand grip is favorable for the bottom hand but not for the top. (Check out Danny’s full underhand grip with his bottom hand in the photo from part two of this series.)

A close up of what I like to call "Spidey Grip."

The Top Arm
Most people who can do the human flag are better with their dominant arm on top. This is counter-intuitive, since the bottom arm does more of the work, but it is the case for most people. The top hand has a lot to do with controlling the movement; if the bottom arm is the anchor, think of the top arm as the steering wheel.

Gripping with the palm of your top hand facing down is the way to get the best leverage. (Having the palm of your top hand facing away from your body during the flag is generally more challenging than this position.) I’ve also done the flag with my palm facing towards my body. Even harder still is having your top hand in an underhand grip. This is not a technique I’ve seen done often.

When going for a flag, you want your top arm to be stiff, but don’t think about pulling with that arm. If you pull, your elbow will wind up bending, which makes for a sloppy looking flag. Just squeeze the bar tightly while trying to isometrically contract your whole arm. The bottom arm winds up doing most of the work.


Core Strength

Core Strength is key to being able to hold a flag for any length of time. Your abdominals, lower back and obliques (especially on the side that’s on top) play a big role in holding the position. Exercises like planks, side planks and one arm/one leg variations on planks can help you build that core strength. Try to work up to doing planks and side planks for several minutes at a time to help build up strength for the flag.


Legs

Your legs don’t play a huge role in performing the human flag, but you still ought to be mindful of them. Think about contracting your whole body when performing a human flag, including your glutes and your quads. A stiff body stays in the air better than a limp one.


Trainer Tip:

When going for a human flag between parallel bars, make sure that your hands are stacked directly on top of one another. Having your hands staggered makes it much harder to maintain control.

Make sure to read the final installment of my Human Flag series!

All About The Human Flag (Part Two)

Danny doing a flag on a vertical pole (mixed grip)

A lot of people ask me how long it takes to learn to do a human flag. It’s natural to ask this question but I think the best way to approach training to do a flag is not to think about the end result. It is a long road to the human flag and people who go in expecting a quick fix will likely be disappointed. It takes a lot of practice–even if you’re already fit. However, if you focus on the process rather than the end result, I think you’ll find it a more rewarding experience. It also helps to set small bench marks along the way by using easier variations to build your way up to the full human flag.

The key to gradual progression is to practice similar positions where you’ll have better leverage. Part of what makes the full human flag so challenging is that you’re using a relatively short lever (your arm) to hold up a very long object (your body). Since you can’t really make your arms longer, you need to find ways to make your body shorter in order to make the flag more manageable.

A vertical flag is slightly less challenging.

Try doing a variation where your body is closer to being vertical than horizontal. Almost like a crooked handstand (handstands, by the way, are a great way to supplement your human flag training). Besides being easier on your arms, this puts a lot less stress on the obliques, lower back and abdominal muscles, allowing you to get a feel for having your body up in the air while you build up the strength to fully extend your legs horizontally.

Once you can get the vertical flag, you can work towards lowering your hips down with your legs still up. Then progress to putting out one leg, and over time both legs. Practicing with your knees bent also works well as a precursory way of working up to the full human flag. Remember, any modification that gives you better leverage is a good way to work towards this skill. The important thing is consistent practice.

Watch me transition through progressive variations leading up to the full human flag:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zW9KdZyxqWk

Go to part three of my Human Flag Series!

Also make sure to read part one of my series on human flag training.

All About the Human Flag (Part One)

Human Flag on Vertical Pole

The human flag is one of the greatest body weight challenges of all time. When someone can hold a full human flag, it always attracts the attention and admiration of onlookers. It’s one thing to be strong–it’s another thing to be a human flag! However, brute strength is not the secret to success with the human flag.

Most people assume it’s strictly an issue of upper body strength, but there are other things to consider when training for the human flag. Achieving a full human flag begins by having a thorough understanding of these considerations. From there it’s simply a matter of practice, dedication, and patience.

Different Approaches
There are basically two different methods to performing a human flag. The one most people tend to picture involves a vertical pole, both hands grasping the pole with an overhand or mixed grip. This is the textbook position (photo is shown above).

Human Flag on Parallel Bars

Human Flag on Parallel Bars

The second approach is to perform the human flag between two parallel bars. Not the type of parallel bars that you would use for a dip, but rather bars that are stacked vertically in a parallel fashion. This allows you to put your hands into a neutral grip (with your palms facing each other), which I find a bit easier to control (as seen in the photo to the left).

Watch the video below for a tutorial on the classic human flag and check out part two of my human flag series for more.

Other human flag posts:
Convict Conditioning 2
Human Flags Everywhere!
Clutch Flag Tutorial

Plyos at the Park

Today I am going to show you three great upper body exercises (with variations) that you can try without a gym membership.

All you need to do this workout is a little warrior spirit and a park with some monkey bars and/or a jungle gym area. You can get creative with where you choose to work out as long as you get it done.

With springtime (hopefully) around the corner, I think you’ll find getting outside for plyos at the park to be a lot more fun than another go around on the stationary bike.

Training to do a Planche

Planche with bent armsJan. 2011 Update: Check out my new strategy for training the planche

The planche, like the human flag, is an advanced body-weight challenge that requires strength, balance and stability.

While it’s commonly seen in competitive gymnastics, few people are familiar with the planche and even fewer have thought to try it themselves. I’m hoping to change that!

The textbook planche position is almost the same as the push-up position–except your feet are not touching the ground.

There are several positions to practice while building up towards this, such as headstands, handstands and the crow (aka frogstand). It’s also helpful to practice planche variations with your legs bent or in a straddle position, as these are typically easier.

Before working on the planche, you should establish a solid foundation of core strength as well as upper body strength, through doing exercises like planks, push-ups, and dips.

The full planche is still a work in progress for me but after months of practicing, I can get my body mostly straight when my arms are bent.

I recommend learning a planche by practicing on parallel bars. You can easily (and inexpensively) build an apparatus to practice on using PVC pipe.

Watch the video below to see more:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vi2x6eyWcRM

More Human Flag!

Human flag with legs tuckedEditors Note: Click the words Human Flag Training for a newer, more thorough post on this topic.

The human flag is one the greatest tests of strength known to mankind. Some people would see that as something to shy away from.

I see it as a challenge!

The textbook form for a human flag involves keeping your arms straight and you body parallel to the ground. Like this guy.

On the way there, easier variations (flag with tucked legs, higher angle, etc) can act as precursors to the textbook flag position.

While I believe that everyone has the potential to perform at least some variation of a human flag, most people will be convinced that it is impossible for them upon their first attempt.

However, if you endeavor with patience and dedication, that which was once deemed impossible can become reality!

Watch the clip below to see more of my human flag training:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKeVMXiGAOo

All About Australian Pull-ups

Australian PullupThe bodyweight row or Australian pull-up places you “down under” the bar in a horizontal position to hit your muscles from a different angle than the traditional pull-up.

By hanging below a bar that is set just above waist height with your heels in contact with the ground, you’ll wind up at an angle that’s almost like an upside-down push-up.

From this position, brace your entire body as you pull your chest toward the bar and be careful not to bend your hips or shrug your shoulders. Pause briefly when your chest is an inch or two from the bar, then lower back down with control.

Because it is a different plane of motion, this exercise works the muscles from a different angle than standard pull-ups or chin-ups, placing additional emphasis on the muscles of the mid-back, as well as the biceps, abs and upper-back.

Using the Australian for Beginners
If you aren’t strong enough to do a pull-up, this is a great way to start to build toward your first rep. Once you can do 3 sets of 10 Aussies without struggling, it won’t be long before a pull-up is within your grasp.

Trainer Tip:
The higher up the bar, the better the leverage, so if performing an Aussie on a waist-height bar is too difficult for you, then start with a bar that’s closer to chest height instead.

Using the Australian in a Superset
The Australian pull-up is a great exercise to use in a superset with push-ups, since they work opposite muscle groups. You will get a great pump from doing this and it also allows you to keep your heart rate up. Due to the fact that you’re allowing certain muscles to rest while you are using others, you can maintain that elevated heart rate without burning out your muscles too quickly.

The Australian pull-up can also be used in a superset after the standard kind if you are trying to increase your reps on pull-ups.

Plyometric Australian Pull-up
As you progress with this exercise, you can turn the Australian pull-up into a plyometric movement by switching from a wide grip to a narrow grip on alternating reps. You can also switch back and forth from overhand and underhand grips in an explosive fashion to further increase the difficultly of this exercise.

Watch the video below for more about Australian pull-ups:

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Getting Started in the New Year

outsideChristmas and New Year’s have come and gone and now the aftermath of all the partying and pastry eating is probably evident on the scale. Even if you haven’t needed to move down a notch on your belt, the new year is always a great time to renew your interest in fitness.

That’s right folks, it’s time to get focused on exercise again–after all, it is going to be summer before you know it. If you’re planning a trip to the beach when it gets hot, better start planning to put in some work at the gym now. Not that vanity is necessarily the best motivation, but I digress.

jumpingIf you’re reading this at all, that’s a good start. It means you must have a desire to improve yourself–and that’s the first step!

So maybe you have the desire to improve your fitness level, but you don’t know where to get started. Well you don’t necessarily need to join a fancy gym or hire a trainer (although those things are nice!), because I will show you some quick exercises that you can do without eating up a lot of your precious time or spending any money.

There is no excuse not to exercise!

In the video clip below, I demonstrate 3 basic exercises, with variations for different fitness levels, that you can do at a local park or even at home. Remember to dress appropriately for the cold weather when you are working out outdoors this winter.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxnCiXR3XFA

Isometrics & Training for the Human Flag

The Human FlagEditors note: I recently added a series of articles with loads more info on Human Flag Training.

Several weeks ago I made this post about fun body weight challenges that I have been practicing, including the human flag.

Since then I have continued practicing the human flag and training to improve at it. Along the way, some people have inquired about how to work towards performing this feat of strength.

While the human flag requires a ton of upper body strength, the most important thing to have in order to perform a flag is core strength–the obliques, abs, and lower back play the biggest role in being able to hold the pose.

The plank is a classic isometric exercise.

The plank is a classic isometric exercise.

Isometrics
The flag falls into a category of exercises called isometrics. Isometric exercises involve contracting your muscles while holding a fixed position for an extended period of time. Planks, side planks, and other variations on these isometric exercises are a great way to start building the core stability required to perform a human flag.

The flag is one of the most advanced core exercises I’ve ever seen, so being someone who loves a challenge, I am drawn towards it and kept humble by it. If you expect to get it right away you will likely be disappointed.

It takes time to prepare your body for such a skill, but we’ve all got the time. If you can read this, then you’ve got a few spare minutes. It’s just a question of what’s important to you. You could be doing some isometrics right now! Stop making excuses and start working out.

Watch the video below for more details:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31TQyO8Ka2Q

The Crow Pose

The crow pose is the perfect introduction to the wonderful world of handbalancing.

It’s a great way for newcomers to get familiar with the feeling of supporting all of their weight on their hands before attempting a freestanding handstand or other more advanced maneuvers.

This posture, sometimes referred to as “frog stand” in other disciplines, improves balance and stability while it strengthens the arms, shoulders and core. The crow pose also helps build strength in the hands, fingers and wrists.

There are many other variations on this pose as well, such as the side crow, one leg crow and even a one arm/one leg crow.

Start with the basic version and work your way up to the others from there.

Watch the video below for demonstrations and more:

Plyometrics: Jump! Jump!

Plyometric Push-up

Plyometric Push-up

You might not know what plyometrics are yet, but there’s a good chance you’ve already done them at some point.

The term plyometrics refers to explosive types of movement that involve speed and power. Sometimes plyometric exercises are also referred to as “jump training.” Jumping rope is an example of a low intensity plyometric exercise, while depth jumps and plyo pistol squats are examples of advanced plyometrics.

But don’t think that means plyometrics are limited to your legs! The jumping push-up (often accompanied by clapping) and the kipping pull-up are two examples of upper body plyometrics.

Plyometric training is great for athletes (serious or recreational) because sports typically involve dynamic movements. Practicing these types of movements in a controlled setting like the gym often carries over into improved performance in sports and other activities.

Land with your knees bent

Land with your knees bent

The box jump is one of the most fundamental plyometric drills. Many types of athletes do box jumps to build power and increase their vertical leap.

Start by standing in front of a sturdy box or step (most gyms have plyo boxes or you can do them outdoors with a ledge or step). Squat down and jump up out of your squat position onto the box.

When you are doing plyometric jumps, make sure that you land with your knees bent in order to absorb the shock. Try to rebound from one rep right into the next.

Plyometric exercises allow you to take advantage of the elasticity of your muscles to get more milage out of each rep.

Watch the video clip below to learn more about plyometric training:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlGJaq840bQ

Muscle-Ups!!

Muscle-ups are one of the most intense body-weight exercises ever. They work so many different muscles and will get your heart and lungs pumping as well.

What is a muscle-up, you may ask? It’s almost like a combination of two of my favorite exercises: the pull-up and the dip, but way more intense than either of those on their own!

Muscle-ups are a pretty advanced exercise so I recommend that before you even try to work up to one, you get to the point where you can do 15 consecutive pull-ups and 20 consecutive parallel bar dips.

Close up of the false grip.

Close up of the false grip.

When doing a muscle-up it is important to note that the most effective grip is different than a traditional pull-up grip. Muscle-ups are typically done using what’s called a “false grip” which involves putting your hand farther over the bar, so that your palms are facing the ground and your wrist is cocked when you are hanging. This allows you a smooth transition from the pull-up phase of the movement into the dip phase.

If you want to work towards doing muscle-ups, it’s helpful to practice trying to get as high up over the bar as you can when doing pull-ups. Explosive pull-ups where you let go at the top can also be used as a precursor to doing muscle-ups.

When you perform a muscle-up, think about moving your upper body away from the bar on the way up rather than pulling straight towards it. Once you clear the bar, move your chest over it as you press yourself to the top of the movement. The arc of the body will create an S-shape pattern.

See my other muscle-up tutorial and check out the video clip below for more!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9w-xS2AudA

And if you’ve already got the hang of muscle-ups, check out my article on advanced muscle-ups.

Archer Pull-ups & More: Working Towards One Arm Pull-ups

Everyone asks me about training for one arm pull-ups (or chin-ups, or whatever you want to call them). They come in many varieties but I tend to put them all under the general umbrella of pull-ups. I’ve never really been a stickler for that sort of thing.

The video segment below shows you three different techniques that you can practice to work up to one arm pull-ups: one arm negatives, archer pull-ups, and one arm pull downs (on a cable machine).

Keep in mind that these are not the only ways to train towards one arm pull-ups. There are many paths that lead to the same destination–be creative!

Also, be prepared that the first time you try to do the one arm negative you will drop very quickly. When starting out, don’t think of it as a negative, think of it as just trying to keep yourself up. Gravity takes care of the rest.

Archer pull-ups are a great exercise regardless of if you want to work towards a one arm pull-up or not. When performing the archer pull-up as practice for the one arm pull-up, try to do as much of the work as possible with the arm closer to you. Think of your extended arm simply as a means of giving yourself assistance. Use it as little as possible. Eventually you won’t need it at all.

Check out part two of my series on working towards one arm pull-ups, featuring the one arm Australian pull-up.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5fstaqKVVg

The Human Flag, Kip ups and more!

flagOverall fitness means more to me than just being able to bench press a lot of weight or run really fast. Although those are both very noble pursuits (sprinting and weight training have been part of my routine in the past and probably will be again!), my main focus is currently on mastering my own body weight. Even though I use the word “mastering,” I understand that there is no such thing as true mastery. There is always a new challenge out there for those who will seek it out.

The human flag is one of the all time greatest body weight challenges; It’s been around a lot longer than something like an elliptical trainer! The human flag requires full body strength and tremendous focus. It also looks really cool!

Kip ups are another great body-weight-only physical challenge that I have been practicing for a while now. Performing a kip up requires agility, balance, coordination and explosive power. It is challenging on many fronts!

And when talking about body weight challenges, let’s not forget my personal favorite–the handstand!!!

Watch the video below for demonstrations of these three feats of fitness!
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZe4O43AMbs

Practicing the One Arm Pull-Up (Oct. 09)

One Arm Pull-UpThe first time that I ever saw someone do a one arm pull-up was in Tompkins Square Park in 2007. I was absolutely in awe and I knew I had a new challenge ahead of me. It was a very exciting time!

The one arm pull-up is a fickle mistress. It’s an elusive enigma that reminds me to stay humble and keep taking my vitamins. Some days it comes a bit harder than others. The one arm pull-up attempt in the video below is decent but still leaves room for improvement. With practice, I hope to eventually get my chin several inches above the bar. I’m also working towards starting from a dead hang. Gotta keep practicing!!!

Check out my article on how to train for a one arm pull-up!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR-CeZyjHQ8

Oh Dip!

Dips with feet on the ground (Phase One)

Dips with feet on the ground (Phase One)

Dips are a great exercise that you can do with just your body weight and minimal equipment. Doing dips will work your triceps, shoulders, chest, and just like most body weight exercises, your core. Unless you have a serious shoulder problem, dips ought to be part of your regimen.

Phase One

If you’ve never done a dip before, the best way to start is with your feet on the ground and your hands on a ledge or bench. Try not to bend your knees or lose your posture as you lower yourself downward. When your elbows get to a 90 degree angle, push yourself back up and repeat.


Phase Two

If phase one is easy for you, try performing dips with your hands on a bench and then put your feet onto another bench. The two benches should be of roughly equal height. Putting your feet up gives you less leverage, which means more work for your muscles.

Parallel bars (Phase Three)

Parallel bars (Phase Three)

Phase Three
If you are able to perform more than 20 reps of phase two dips with relative ease then you are ready to try dipping with your legs in the air. Typically this is done by holding onto a pair of parallel bars. A dip station is a pretty standard piece that any gym ought to have. (If your current gym doesn’t have a dip station, you might want to start shopping around for a new gym!)

Most men will be able to progress to phase three relatively quickly. It is generally a much longer process for women, due to the fact that women are born with less natural upper body strength than men. This is not me being sexist, ladies–it’s just biology!

Having fun with one arm dips!

Having fun with one arm dips!

Trainer Tips
If you are having a hard time with parallel bar dips, one way to practice towards doing them is to have a trainer (or other qualified spotter) give you assistance by holding onto your ankles in order to help you stabilize. Just make sure that your trainer isn’t doing too much of the work for you!

When you start to get really good at these, you can add an additional challenge by wearing a weighted vest or wearing a special belt that you can hang weights from. Dips can also be done with one arm!

Editor’s note: Check out this more recent post for more tricep dip variations.

Australian Pull-ups

Note: This is an old post. Make sure to check out my updated post on Australian pull-ups.

Australian Pull-up

The pull-up is one of the all time greatest exercises that mankind has discovered. Just like the other classics, the pull-up can be modified in an infinite amount of ways.

One of my favorite variations is what’s often referred to as an Australian pull-up. This variation involves hanging below a bar that is set just above waist height while keeping your heels in contact with the ground. You’ll wind up at an angle that’s closer to horizontal than vertical. The Australian pull-up is a great way to work up to doing a regular pull-up if you aren’t strong enough to do one yet.

Even if you are strong enough to do lots of pull-ups, the Australian pull-up is still worth putting into your routine. It puts a little more emphasis on the rear delts and the muscles of your middle-back; muscles that may not be getting completely and thoroughly worked with regular pull-ups alone. For those of you who are more advanced, try doing them as a superset right after a set of regular pull-ups. This is a great way to work towards adding more reps to your pull-up total!

The Australian pull-up can be done on a Smith machine (as pictured) or any bar that is about waist height as long as it is securely in place. The Smith machine is great for this exercise because it is adjustable (the higher the bar the easier it will be–so start high if you’re first learning) and secure. You can get creative with finding cool places to practice these and all types of pull-ups, just stay mindful of your safety.

Click the link to read about the ONE ARM Australian Pull-up!