As someone who enjoys bare-chested, outdoor winter calisthenics workouts, Wim Hof’s extreme cold weather feats immediately appealed to me. Hof holds several world records for cold-endurance, including running a marathon above the arctic circle in Finland wearing nothing but a pair of shorts!
In this new book, Hof and his coauthor discuss not only the methods that allow Hof to perform his otherworldly feats (breathing techniques, mental training, etc.), but also the science behind them.
I’ve been meditating and doing breath work for a long time, but a third of the way into reading The Way of The Iceman, I suddenly felt compelled to take a cold shower. I’ve been taking one every day since and loving the effects.
Wim Hof’s Method is so simple that anyone can get started right away. And the results are so palpable that once you start, you’ll almost certainly want to keep going.
After a few weeks of practicing Wim’s method, I found myself training outdoors in the snow with nothing but a pair of shorts!
There are only so many ways that our joints can bend and flex, yet when you start playing with variations on basic movement patterns, you’ll find the possibilities are limitless.
Changing one small aspect of an exercise can vary it just enough to increase the intensity. Combining moves can also create new challenges.
Get Some Play
Working out is best approached with a joyous attitude and an open mind. Movement offers an opportunity for growth and self-discovery, but it’s also supposed to be fun! Take the time to really be present for your workout and feel what your body is doing. Exercise should be one of the least stressful parts of your day. Don’t over-think things – just move!
What’s In A Name?
A lot of people ask me what I call some of the unusual calisthenics moves that I do. Many of the moves have names, but other times I don’t have an answer. It really doesn’t matter what you call things though. That which we call a kip-up by any other name would still look as sweet.
Check out the video below to see me playing with some variations on familiar moves like handstands and back bridges. Plus a few other things that I don’t even know what to call!
If you want to get sandals like the ones I’m wearing in the video, check out Xero Shoes.
Ever since running the NYC Marathon back in 2009, racing the NYC Triathlon has been next on my fitness bucket-list. Well after last Sunday, I can now scratch that one off too!
The tri was a great experience, and finishing is an accomplishment that I will be proud of for the rest of my life. However, I went through many different feelings and emotions throughout the race. As the famous Dickens quote goes, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
The hardest part of the whole race was dealing with the anxiety in the morning. From the moment I woke up I had butterflies in my stomach; I didn’t really settle into my groove until a few minutes after I got in the water. As someone who never really swam as a kid, jumping feet first into the Hudson was the part that I was most anxious about. (Only the pros dive in head first, thankfully!) Once I settled in, however, the swim went very well.
Though it has a bad reputation, the water in the Hudson was no more disgusting than the water at Coney Island where I did most of my open-water triathlon training. There was some seaweed to contend with and I bumped into a log once, but it was pretty minor compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard from other triathletes (though I did catch an elbow in the face near the start of the swim).
The downstream current in the Hudson definitely helped with my time, though I found myself getting pulled to the left as well. I spent a good deal of the swim trying to steer myself back to the middle. Though I couldn’t see or hear much in the water, I was reminded very loudly by some of the crew who were following along in canoes to “STAY TO THE RIGHT!”
As the visibility in the water was virtually nonexistent, I didn’t realize I was close to the end until I was within about 100 meters. Needless to say, I was quite pleased to see it when I did!
After the swim there’s a barefoot run (on pavement!) into the transition area, which is just a field with a bunch of bike racks on it. I took my time in the first transition since I wanted to carefully remove my wetsuit, clean my feet, have a snack, drink some water, pee, etc. I also wanted to check that all my things were okay (they were). Since getting a good night’s sleep was a priority for me, I had left all my stuff there the night before. (Many participants forgo some sleep to bring their gear to the transition the morning of the race).
The bike ride was longer and more challenging than I had anticipated. Between the July heat and the steep hills, the ride dragged on for what seemed like an eternity. Since I was in one of the later start waves, the pack had thinned out quite a bit and there weren’t many other cyclists around. There were times when I didn’t see anyone else on the road at all. As I was alone for much of the ride, it didn’t feel like much of a “race” at all – I took it slow on most of the hills and eventually I made it to the end.
Once the bike ride was over, there was a huge sense of relief. So many things are out of your control during the swim and the bike (someone crashing into you, a flat tire, etc), but once I was onto the run, I knew it was all up to me. Nothing could take it away at that point.
I took the first couple of miles slow and easy and eventually started to find my legs in mile three. I kept it at a steady pace, splashing cups of water on my face every time I passed the aid tables (I managed to get some water down my throat as well.) The last mile of the run I kicked it up a notch, triumphantly crossing the finish line with a net time of 3:36:13.
After the race, I picked up my bike from the transition area and rode five more miles back to my apartment, rewarding myself with one of my favorite indulgences: pizza!
I didn’t look at a clock once during the race, which I think helped me pace myself and enjoy the journey without getting caught up in any of the ego stuff. I just listened to my body and tried to stay at a moderate level of exertion for most of the race. The only time I turned up the juice was near the end of the run.
In retrospect, I know I could have done the whole thing faster if I pushed a bit harder, but I have no regrets about my performance. With all the things that could potentially go wrong during a triathlon, I am just glad I made it across the finish line in one piece.
Watch the video below to see a photo montage of pictures from the event.
(Photos by Colleen Leung.)
Plus there is my newest workout video, shot by photographer/videographer Colleen Leung.
For those of you who are new here, this video will give you a good idea of what I’m all about. For those of you who’ve been keeping up with me for a while, it also includes a few variations of moves that you’ve never seen from me before!
A lot of people in the calisthenics community know about Tompkins Square Park. It’s where the Bar-barians train, it’s where I train and thanks to youtube, it’s become a legendary park for bar training all over the world.
There is another group that trains at TSP, however. One that you’ve probably never heard of unless you’ve spent some time there yourself. That is, until now.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
A lot of people write to me with concerns about starting strength training later in life. In the video below, you’ll see three men in their 50’s and 60’s busting out some high level calisthenics. One of the fellows featured didn’t even begin this type of training until his 50’s.
You don’t stop working out because you get old, you get old because you stop working out.
This past Saturday I took the #4 train into Brooklyn for the annual 5B’s Pull-up Jam at Lincoln Terrace Park.
Unlike last year’s contest, however, I didn’t enter the actual competition. This time I just went to hang out, be a part of the good vibes and of course, get my reps in.
As always, there was lots of good energy, good conversation and of course, “good money!”
While the contest was happening in one part of the park, a crowd gathered near another set of bars for an informal freestyle exhibition. A lot of big names from the extreme calisthenics community were on hand to represent. There was no shortage of pull-ups, muscle-ups, levers and many other advanced moves.
All in all, everyone had a good time and a great workout. Thanks to all who entered and attended, and especially to everyone behind the scenes who made this event so much fun!
I’ve met a lot of women who didn’t think it would ever be possible for them to do a single pull-up.
The good news is that I’ve gotten many of them to break through that barrier and achieve their first rep – and in most cases, many more!
If you can’t do a pull-up yet, don’t get discouraged – there are a few things you can do to work your way up to that first one.
Chin It To Win It
Pull-ups can be done with many different grips, though it’s usually best for beginners to start out with an underhand (chin-up) grip, as this will allow you to utilize your biceps more.
Though the muscles of the upper back have the potential to become incredibly powerful, your arms are more likely to be developed and will be able to compensate in the meantime. With enough practice, the disparity between grips can start to even out.
As I mentioned in my original guide to learning to do a pull-up, holding a flex hang (the top position of a pull-up) for time is a great way to start building toward your first full pull-up. Begin with an underhand grip and focus on keeping your whole body tight. Don’t just use your arms! Tense your abs, legs and everything else.
At first you may only be able to hold this position for a few seconds. This is fine. With practice, you can eventually work to a 30 second hold, at which point you will be close to your first pull-up.
The term “negative pull-up” refers to the lowering phase of the exercise and 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.
Jump or use assistance to get your chin over the bar, then hold the top position for as long as you can. When your arms start to fatigue, lower yourself to a right angle at your elbow and hold there. From here, slowly lower yourself to a full hang.
Just like an assisted pull-up is easier than the free-hanging variety, the Australian pull-up will allow you to train a similar movement pattern without having to bear your full weight.
The Australian pull-up will also get you used to keeping your core engaged, which is a key aspect of performing pull-ups.
Start out hanging below a bar that’s about waist height with your legs extended so you form a straight line from your head to your heels. Grip tightly and brace your entire body as you pull your chest toward the bar, then lower yourself back to the bottom with control.
To make the Aussie pull-up more accessible to beginners, you can use a bar that is chest height instead of waist height, which will allow for more favorable leverage.
The first time I ever tried to do a human flag was on the support beam of a cable machine at my old gym. I jumped up and squeezed as hard as I could but didn’t come close to staying up for even a second. I was pretty strong at the time too. After all, I was almost 30 years old and had been working out for most of my life by that point. Not one to be easily discouraged, I immediately made it my mission to master this feat of strength.
In spite of my early difficulties with the human flag, I pushed onward with my training. I began practicing flag variations with my arms and/or legs bent and eventually managed to get a little air. I stared using an actual pole, and was able to add a second or two every few weeks to my bent flag holds. Progress came slowly and after several months, I finally began building up to full holds. During this time I also trained pull-ups, handstand push-ups and planks, all of which help build strength for the human flag.
Raise Your Flag
I’ve now been consistently practicing for a few years and my flag skills have come a long way. Whereas I could only hold a straight-leg flag on an angle when starting out, I can now hold a full human flag with my body level to the ground for several seconds.
Be patient when beginning with this feat – part of what makes the human flag so impressive is that it is hard! If any guy who felt strong could master this move in three days, it wouldn’t really be much of a feat at all.
Ever since I began human flagging, I’ve gotten a kick out of trying to pull off this feat in unexpected places. Any tall, sturdy object is a potential place to let it fly. I love a good outdoor workout and in a city like New York, there are so many fun places to practice human flags!
My brother Danny and I recently ventured around the city looking for new places to attempt the human flag. We flagged on phone booths, mail boxes and other everyday urban objects.
A lot has been happening here at Team Al headquarters these last few months! Between the link love I’ve gotten at Mark’s Daily Apple, being featured on Ross Training and my recent article on Sherdog, lots of new visitors have been stopping by – not to mention all the people who’ve found their way here through fans and friends sharing posts on facebook and twitter (thanks guys!).
Looking Forward/Looking Back
In the months ahead, look for new articles on a variety of topics including injuries and injury prevention, muscle-ups and – everyone’s favorite – the human flag! I’m also planning a new front lever tutorial and more posts on nutrition.
In the meantime, I’ve put together a new highlight clip of some of my favorite moments from the last several months as well as some rarities and never before seen footage:
And for anyone who hasn’t seen my highlights from last summer, check out the clip below:
Throughout the afternoon there was no shortage of advanced moves like muscle-ups, L-sits, levers, handstand push-ups, planches and human flags. I also saw innovative variations and combinations of moves unlike anything I’d ever witnessed before. In spite of the intensity of the exercises, the vibe was casual and welcoming. In the end, we all had a good time and a great workout – my arms are still sore as I type this!
Watch the video below to see some of the action from this epic meet-up:
Kartik has been one of my most consistent and hardworking clients for a long time, so he’s no stranger to pull-ups and dips.
Despite a shoulder injury from before we met, Kartik’s built a considerable amount of upper-body strength and power in recent years and he’s now stronger and healthier than he’s ever been.
Always seeking to challenge my clients, Kartik and I decided it was time for him to begin training for his first muscle-up. After a few sessions spent practicing explosive pull-ups, straight bar dips and assisted muscle-ups, Kartik was ready to try the real deal. There were lots of unsuccessful attempts, but Kartik persevered and finally achieved his first muscle-up!
It's normal for one arm to come over first when you're learning to do a muscle-up
It wasn’t the best looking muscle-up, but nobody’s first one ever is. It’s normal to have to kick your legs and throw one arm over before the other when you’re first learning to get the movement pattern down. Do whatever you need to in the beginning – with practice you’ll learn to keep your legs straight and make the movement fluid. Don’t get hung up on perfecting your form before you can even do a single rep.
Now that Kartik got the first one out of the way, we can work towards improving his form. Check back this summer for an update on Kartik’s training and watch the video below to see his triumphant break-through moment:
New York City has so many great places to work out for free – you just have to be creative!
I’ve got nothing against training in a gym, but with spring finally blooming after a long snowy winter, my brother Danny and I couldn’t wait to venture back out to the streets of Manhattan for another edition of Sets in the City.
We all have the opportunity to better our bodies every single day. Instead of sitting around waiting for things in your life to magically fall into place, go out and make opportunities for yourself. Learning to improvise with whatever’s in front of you is a helpful skill in the world of fitness, but it’s an even greater asset in everyday life.
While books and websites can be entertaining and educational, there is no substitute for the inspiration that comes from a real flesh and blood training partner. Anyone who has had a great personal trainer or worked out with athletes can tell you that there is no better motivation in the world.
Grok and Roll
Though it’s great to train with someone so similar to myself, working out with different trainers and training partners has led me to expand my horizons. From my caveman workout with Lenny Lefebvre, to my MMA workout with Matt Ruskin, I’ve been lucky to have lots of great training partners over the years.
Another of my favorite workout partners is my friend Rick Seedman from the Bar-barians. Rick and I spend a lot of time training together at Tompkins Square Park. We’re constantly pushing each other to test our limits.
Don’t Get Dependent
While it’s great to get a session in with friends when possible, don’t get dependent on them. It’s not going to be feasible to train with a partner every workout; remember that you need to find intrinsic motivation as well.
Watch the video below to see some highlights from my recent workout with Rick:
The NYC marathon always attracts a crowd and this year was no different. In addition to the 37,000 entrants, there were millions of friends, family and fans lined up to cheer on the racers, giving the entire city Marathon fever!
This time around, I was excited to be a spectator. Being part of the crowd is almost as much fun as being in the race itself! It was a beautiful day and the positive energy was overwhelming.
The popularity of distance running is undeniable and everyone is welcome to participate. With entrants from all ages, nationalities and body types represented, it proved to me that anyone who sets their mind to it can run a Marathon.
Check out the photos below for more:
Age is just a number. So is 26.2.
Heel striking in Vibrams? Oh and he's in a funny costume, too.
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!
You can have anything you want. It all starts with your mind.
Exercise is the most clear cut example of how we can use our minds to manifest the reality of our choosing. Once you put that mental focus into action and start a consistent workout routine, your body starts to change right before your eyes.
If you have the mental focus to be in tune with your body, and you practice using that body, you can actually effect physical change in yourself. How cool is that? Really think about it.
The amazing thing is, everything else in life is pretty much the same way. Anything that you give your full mental focus to can be yours. That doesn’t mean it’s going to come easy, but if you want it badly enough, and you take the necessary steps towards that path, things that may have seemed impossible can become possible!
There were many challenges I once deemed out of my reach, but have since overcome; muscle-ups, human flags and one arm chin-ups were all exercises that once intimidated me. When I doubted my ability to perform these feats, I shut myself off from my potential. Once I realized that, however, I began to adjust my beliefs and start taking action to manifest my dreams. With practice and discipline I have since trained my body to do those feats and many others. And you can too!
Do you have a hard time fitting workouts into your busy schedule?
People often ask me when is the best time of day to exercise. Let’s weigh the pros and cons of a few different approaches:
A lot of people like to exercise first thing in the morning in order to get it out of the way. If you do your workout before the stresses of the day start to pile up, then you don’t have to worry about life getting in the way and derailing your plans. I like this approach.
On the other hand, a good night’s sleep is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. Sacrificing sleep in order to get a morning workout might be solving one problem, but it creates a new one in the process. Besides, you’re unlikely to muster up the energy for a great workout if you’ve only had 4 or 5 hours of sleep.
The Lunch Crowd
If you can slip away from the office in the middle of the day, it can be a great time to fit some exercise into your schedule. Gyms are usually pretty quiet in the afternoon, which can let you get your workout done without a lot of distraction and wasted time. Just make sure you don’t skip lunch. Nutrition (especially post-workout) is a key part of the fitness equation.
The evening is generally the most popular time to go to the gym. After a stressful day, exercise can be a great way to blow off some steam. Plus you don’t have to wake up any earlier than usual!
The downside is that the gym can be very crowded and you may wind up spending half of your time waiting for the equipment you need. It’s helpful to have a back up plan and to be able to improvise in these situations.
Additionally, some people find that evening workouts rev them up too much and cause insomnia. If you are going to the gym in the evening, you might want to give yourself a few hours to settle down before bed.
It takes time to make a habit stick–eventually early risers will go to bed earlier and it will get easier. But for night owls, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can allow for deeper and more restful sleep.
No matter when you get your workout in, the important thing is consistency. Get it in when you can fit it in, but don’t stop working for it or it might stop working for you!
For the last two years, Trish Balbert has been my most dedicated and consistent client, usually training with me four times a week. Everyone at our gym knows Trish!
But before I even met her, Trish had been no stranger to exercise. She had already lost over 80 pounds and had worked with several trainers before me. She even did some nutritional counseling herself.
Trish rarely misses a training session. She’s usually excited to come to the gym, but also knows how important it is to get there even on the days that she doesn’t feel like it.
What a transformation!
Despite past injuries, such as an extruded disk in her lower back which required surgery, Trish has gained a lot of strength and has become more functionally fit in the last two years.
But she doesn’t use old injuries as an excuse–in fact it’s just the opposite–Trish needs to work out and keep her core strong so that she doesn’t need to have surgery again.
Trish is still concerned about keeping her weight down and she understands that fitness is an ongoing journey. She continues to stay the course, often doing supplemental cardio sessions on her own in addition to our workouts together.
We usually tend to alternate our focus between upper body and lower body workouts from one session to the next, although we have done total body conditioning as well. Trish’s favorite exercises include dips, Australian pull-ups, and lunges.
Watch the video clip below from one of our recent upper body strength training sessions:
Blindness and age didn't stop this woman from finishing the NYC Marathon.
This is a guest post by Mike Lieberman. He came to support me at the marathon, and took some great pictures. (It’s also his voice you hear cheering me on in my marathon video.) In watching the marathon, he was inspired by some of the participants and asked to write a post.
I went to check out Al on Sunday and support him in running his first marathon. Besides supporting him, I found a great source of inspiration while I was waiting for him to run by – the “handicapped runners.” This group included a 75 year old blind woman, a dude with cerebral palsy on a modified bike, an older couple using one of those bikes that you peddle with your hands and some dude with no legs using a similar bike.
I stood there in complete and total amazement. I felt like starting to run myself. The feeling that overcame me was a bit overwhelming.
The only thing that made them handicapped was the label that we placed on them.
It got me thinking about family and friends who come up with excuses as to why they can’t exercise. I don’t expect everyone to run a marathon, but at least doing some form of physical activity to know that you are alive.
Take the stairs, walk for 20 minutes, step away from the TV and do something!
I have a relative who is on Weight Watchers and drives the three blocks to the meetings. Am I the only one that finds that to be ironic?
Or another who complains about all of their “ailments” and does 0 physical activity. These ailments are just excuses for living a dormant life.
It saddens me to see people that are close to me come up with excuses as to why they can’t take care of themselves, then complain about their ailments.
You think the 75 year old blind woman says, “I’m blind, I’m not doing this.”
You think the dude with no legs says, “I have no legs, I’m not doing this.”
These runners gave me a whole new appreciation for life, inspiration for working out and taking care of myself. It showed me that with the right attitude, anything is possible.
We are all going through our own thing in life. I get that. It comes down to how you deal with what happens. Are you going to feel bad about yourself and do nothing? Or are you going to take that negative and use it as a source of inspiration?
I’m not sure about you, but I’m certainly not letting a 75 year old blind woman show me up.
Mike Lieberman resides in New York City and provides simple solutions for living in a complex world. Besides his own blogs, he contributes to others across the web. You can find all of his work at CanarsieBK.com and follow him on Twitter @CanarsieBK.
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.