Category Archives: Rants and Raves

Minimal Equipment Workouts

You don’t need to spend money on a gym membership or any fancy fitness gear to get in shape. You can actually get great workouts with no equipment at all. The only thing you need to get fit is the desire to better yourself and the ability to take action. If you are looking to get some equipment, however, the best thing you could buy (or build) is a standard pull-up bar.

Nothin’ but Bar
You could seriously train every muscle in your upper-body just by doing pull-ups, muscle-ups and dips on a straight bar – no other equipment is needed. As for your legs, you don’t even need a bar! Just doing lots of squats and lunges will make them strong and toned. If you decide to up the ante, pistol squats hit every part of your lower body as well as your core muscles. And if those get too easy for you, try doing pistol squats standing on a pull-up bar.

I don’t typically share specific workout routines here on the blog, but today is an exception! Here are three simple workouts that you can do with nothing but a pull-up bar:

The Trifecta
This workout is based on a pyramid training scheme and it will work every single muscle in your body – including your heart! Start by performing one squat, then immediately grab an overhead bar and do one pull-up, then drop down and do a push-up. Next do two squats, two pull-ups and two push-ups. Continue to add one rep to each exercise until you fail to get through the circuit. Then start taking one rep away and work your way back down. Try to keep your rest time to a minimum. If you’re not strong enough to do push-ups or pull-ups, feel free to substitute knee push-ups and Australian pull-ups in their place.

Core Crusher
Don’t be fooled by the name – though the emphasis of this workout is on the abs, obliques and lower back, it hits every muscle in your body!

First warm up by holding a plank for one minute. The rest of the workout consists of ten hanging leg raises (or hanging knee raises), ten back bridges (perform the back bridges with a two second hold at the top), then a 30 second side plank hold on each side. Try to get through this workout without any breaks (though you may stop to rest as needed). Feel free to repeat the sequence two or three times.

Area 51
This is an advanced workout that’s not for the faint of heart! It doesn’t take very long, but you’ll need to be strong to even try this one. Area 51 starts with one muscle-up on a straight bar. Once you’re over the bar, stay up top and do 30 dips. The next objective is to perform 20 pull-ups – all without coming off the bar. If you can get through the whole set, you will have performed 51 total reps. If you can’t do it all in one set, you may take a break in between the dips and the pull-ups and/or spread out the pull-ups into multiple sets. For the advanced trainee, area 51 can be used as a warm-up.

Watch the video below to see me performing the “Area 51” workout:


For more information, check out my book, Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment.

Why I Love Peanut Butter

Al Kavadlo Peanut ButterEver since I can recall, I’ve always loved peanut butter.

As a kid, PB&J sandwiches were a staple of my diet, and though I don’t eat as much bread these days (or as much jelly), I’d never think of ending my love affair with the creamiest of all nut-butters.

Peanuts are Nut-ritious
I didn’t think much about nutrition growing up, other than holding onto the belief that anything labeled as “healthy” probably tasted bad and should therefore be avoided. Had I known peanut butter could be good for you, that might have been a turn-off. (Though at the time I only ate the candy peanut butter anyway.)

In time my perspective began to change and by my early twenties longevity suddenly mattered, so I decided to start eating healthy. Or at least I tried to start eating healthy. With so much misinformation out there, it’s really hard to even know what’s healthy and what isn’t. But one thing I quickly found out was that Skippy and Jif and all my other favorite brands of PB had been processed to the point where they were just straight-up junk food. The good stuff is the natural peanut butter – the kind with the oil floating on top. Stirring it together can even be a bonus workout – it’s win/win!

Which Butter is Better?
Switching to natural peanut butter in my early twenties was a life-altering moment for me. This was also around the time I first heard about “good fats” (ya know, the non-hydrogenated kind). Look at the nutrition label on your peanut butter – some brands try to market themselves as natural when they are not. Stay away from PB that contains any ingredients other than peanuts (and possibly salt).

Not only is natural PB a healthier option, but I also think it tastes better. I didn’t think that right away though of course. Like exercise, natty PB can be an acquired taste, but I was hooked by the time I finished my first jar!

The Butter Battle
Just when I thought I had this whole nut butter thing figured out, new information about PB started to come to light. In certain circles, peanut butter was becoming the bad guy. Now the experts were saying that almond butter or macadamia nut butter were better options. It turns out that peanuts aren’t even nuts! It’s true – contrary to what its name might lead you to believe, the peanut is technically not a nut – it’s a legume.

Legumes Me?
I’ve never been too much of a stickler for terminology myself, but people sure love to categorize things! While legumes and nuts have many similarities, what makes the peanut more pea than nut is that nuts grow on trees, while legumes grow in the ground. Nutritionally, legumes tend to contain a high amount of lectins, which have been linked to gastrointestinal distress and other health issues.

The Good, the Bad and the Nutty
The world of nutrition can be a tricky place, and there are pros and cons to all situations. In spite of their lectin content (and by the way – just about all foods contain varying degrees of lectins), I believe this is a situation of the good outweighing the bad. Peanuts are inexpensive compared to almonds and macadamias, plus they are full of nutrients. They’re also a great source of protein and – most importantly – they’re delicious!

Smoothie Operator
Peanut butter is a versatile food that can be enjoyed in many contexts. I love blending peanut butter into a post workout smoothie along with a banana, a cup of milk and a little honey. It’s a recipe some of us know as “The Peanut Butter Banana Jammer.”

Peanut Butter Banana Jammer
2 Tablespoons of Natural Peanut Butter
1 Banana
6 oz. Milk (or another beverage of your choosing)
3-4 Ice Cubes
1/2 Teaspoon of Honey (optional)

Watch the video below for more!

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Diet and Exercise
Young Thai Coconuts
All or Muffin

Universal Strength Apparatus

Gymnastics rings are nothing new, but the popularity of suspension training has grown in recent years, and many different types of suspension systems have hit the market.

The Universal Strength Apparatus (USA) adds it’s own unique twist on the familiar theme by using a ladder-based suspension system.

Though I love simple bodyweight training, using a suspension trainer is a great way to spice up those workouts with an additional stability component. The good folks over at BodyWeightCulture.com decided to send me a USA so I brought it to Nimble Fitness to try out.

When you’re used to doing pull-ups on a bar, doing them while hanging from straps can be a shock to your muscles. The USA also proved harder for back lever practice when compared to the bar. The extra stability needed to keep the straps from wiggling really forces you go slowly and focus on form – even on basic exercises like Australian pull-ups.

The design of the USA also allows for a staggered grip on pull-ups and push-ups to add another challenge. Additionally, I messed around with a modified iron cross and practiced holding an L-sit while climbing up and down the ladder.

While certainly not a must-have item, the USA is a worthwhile tool for someone looking to mix up their bodyweight training. After all, the most versatile piece of exercise equipment in the world is something that we all have already – the human body.

Watch the video below to see more:

Beginning Running

Al Kavadlo Running the Brooklyn HalfAs a kid, I got into working out because I wanted to put on muscle. Running had absolutely no appeal to me; runners were skinny guys and I wanted to get diesel.

And besides, running sucks! Who the hell would want to run around for hours for no reason? I was going to do pull-ups and get jacked.

Ironically, most people who begin running are drawn to it for the exact reason that I was turned off – they want to be skinny!

Turns out we’re both wrong.

In the Running
Running has seen a boom in recent years, but along with that explosion there has also been a backlash. Distance running has been called “chronic cardio” by members of the primal community and has been blamed for countless ailments and injuries. A lot of the backlash against running is aimed at those who are motivated primarily by a desire to lose weight (and those in the industry who pander to them). Truth is, while running can burn lots of calories, unless you change your eating habits, you’re unlikely to see any significant weight loss from beginning a running program. In spite of this, I believe that everyone should give running a shot as part of their fitness program. Especially those of you who hate it.

For the Love of Running
When most people (even fit people) begin running, there is an adaptation period that can be unpleasant and frustrating. Once you cross that threshold, however, the improvement that you will feel in your day to day life is significant. The increased aerobic capacity and cardiovascular function is just the beginning. You’ll also develop leg endurance that can carry over into walking, stair climbing and other everyday activities.

Of course, the best motivation to run is simply that it feels great (once you get accustomed to it). Simple pleasures make life worth living and few things rank higher on my list than a good run. Running can be an acquired taste, but just like riding a bike, once you get the mechanics down and start to build some endurance, it becomes a whole different experience.

Al and Grace Kavadlo RunningDesigning a Running Program
In the beginning, start out with run/walk intervals. You don’t need to follow a strict protocol, just run at a steady pace for as long as you can (which might be anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes). When you need to, take a break and walk until you catch your breath.

Repeat this process for 20 or 30 minutes, then stretch out and call it a day. In time, your walk breaks will get shorter and shorter until you can eventually go for 30 minutes without a break.

Once you can do that, you can try alternating between jogging and sprinting for your interval training.

LSD Running
Anyone who’d want to run a Marathon must be tripping, right?

Seriously though, if you’re crazy enough to want to do a Marathon or Half-Marathon, be smart about it – you’re going to need to run at a substantially slower pace and gradually build up your mileage. This type of running is usually referred to as long slow distance or “LSD” running.

LSD running is slow enough that you can maintain a conversation while running, so feel free to invite a workout partner. Take your time on LSD runs, it should feel almost like how walking feels to a non-runner.

Running is Fun-ctional
For those of you who still think strength training is all you need, keep in mind that in the wild, you’re either quick or you’re dead. For that reason, running is the most functional bodyweight exercise out there. I don’t care how strong you are, if you can’t run, you’re not fit. But perhaps more importantly, you’re missing out on a lot of fun!

Related Articles:
Forefoot Running
Exercise vs. Skill
Barefoot Running

Al Kavadlo in My Mad Methods

The new issue of My Mad Methods magazine features an excerpt from my book, We’re Working Out! A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness, that you won’t read anywhere else (except in the book itself, of course).

For those of you who are unfamiliar with My Mad Methods, they offer expert advice on many unconventional training methods from kettlebells, to sandbags to bodyweight training. Check out their website to find out more and subscribe.

I am excited to be included amongst so many cutting-edge trainers in this issue. This is definitely not your run of the mill fitness magazine!

The Importance of Trainers and Training Partners

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.

Oh Brother!
My number one training partner is my brother Danny; he and I have been working out together since we were teenagers. We’ve done scaffold pull-ups, had a dead hang pull-up contest and even built a backyard pull-up bar. We sure love pull-ups!

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.

Bar-Brothers
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 Specificity Principle

Most of the fitness questions that I get asked start off with the same six words, “How do I get better at…”

The answer is always the same no matter what comes next.

“Practice.”

The specificity principle is a fancy way of referring to the simple fact that you get better at the specific tasks that you consistently practice. Whether it’s handstands or pistol squats or running, to improve your skills on anything, I recommend the direct approach.

For athletes, this means that much of their training time must be devoted to their specific discipline. The little bit of supplemental training they do usually consists of things like squats and cleans to maximize their strength and explosive power. After all, the combination of skill and strength is what leads to success in most sports.

For the rest of us, however, the specificity principle means that once we can establish a baseline of strength through basic exercises like squats, pull-ups, push-ups, etc, we can elect to devote our workout time towards whatever we like.

While skill enhancement isn’t the best means towards weight loss, finding new challenges helps keep your workouts fresh while allowing you to build up a skill set that can make you stronger and more functionally fit across different modalities.

Whether it be a sport, a race or just a good old fashioned pull-up contest, pick whatever interests you and devote your fitness time towards that task.

The goals themselves aren’t really important, but working towards something specific might help you stay focused. After all, goals are just a fantasy; the training that you do today is real.

Becoming a Personal Trainer (Part Two)

In part one of this series, I dispelled some myths about what it means to be a personal trainer. If you’re not disillusioned after reading that, here is my advice on how to get started.

Make it Personal
Anyone can stand there while someone does squats and push-ups; what sets me apart from other trainers in my personality. If you want to be a personal trainer, remember that your product is YOU. If you’re a nice guy, don’t try to be a drill sergeant. And if you’re a stone-cold bitch, there will be people who’ll need you to get in their face in order to push themselves. Nobody is the best trainer for everyone – embrace who you are and you’ll attract clients that you’ll click with.

Give ‘Em What They Want
When I started out in the fitness industry, I thought I needed to look like a bodybuilder in order to be taken seriously. I soon found out, however, that most personal training clients aren’t interested in putting on mass. In fact, they’re usually much more interested in losing weight. As absurd as it seems in retrospect, before I entered the world of personal training, I was hardly even aware that simply being thin could be a desirable body type. It took working for a commercial gym to realize that my fitness goals weren’t the same as those of the general public.

Workin’ for the Man
I’m happy not to be working for a chain gym now, but I’m glad I did for almost seven years. In fact, I think every new trainer would benefit from working at a commercial facility (though not necessarily for as long as I did) before working independently.

Sure you’ll have to deal with a few knuckleheads and the usual bureaucratic bullshit, but the benefits of working for a big-box gym are many. For starters, you’ll get to be around lots of other trainers with more experience, so you’ll get to see firsthand what works and what doesn’t. That’s not to say you should try to copycat the top trainers at your gym, but rather develop your own style based on what you observe to be effective.

In addition, working at a gym will allow you to pitch your services to people who are already interested. After all, if they are in a gym, chances are they want to improve their fitness!

Talk is Cheap
New trainers always like to tell me about how they just got a new client, but when I ask them how many sessions the client purchased or when their first session is, I often get a response like, “Oh, well they didn’t actually sign up yet, but they told me they are going to.” Truth is, potential clients will want to chat you up about your services, but most of them aren’t actually serious about hiring a trainer. Some people will continually tell you (and themselves) that they are going to start next week or next month, but in reality they are wasting your time (and theirs).

Don’t Sell Yourself Short
There is nothing wrong with offering a prospective client a complimentary or discounted first workout so they can try out your services, but don’t allow your clients to take advantage of you. The satisfaction you’ll feel from helping someone develop their body is a huge part of what makes personal training worthwhile, but it won’t pay the bills. While it’s reasonable to keep your rates relatively low until business picks up, remember that a trainer who charges substantially less than the competition is devaluing themselves and will appear amateurish in the eyes of others.

Introduce Yourself
A lot of people are intimidated by personal trainers, especially if they feel out of shape. These people need the help of a trainer the most, yet they will often be the least likely to ask for it. Be friendly and introduce yourself to everyone in your gym. When they have a question, they’ll remember that you were kind and approachable.

Give it Time
Just like getting in great shape takes patience and dedication, establishing a reputation as a quality personal trainer takes years. If you think personal training is going to make you lots of money without having to work hard, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening. However, if you are genuinely passionate about health and fitness, personal training can be a very rewarding career.

Check out my brother Danny’s new book, Everybody Needs Training for more proven success secrets for fitness professionals!

Becoming a Personal Trainer (Part One)

I often get questions from aspiring personal trainers who want my advice on how to begin. Before getting to that (which I do in part two), I first need to dispel some common misconceptions about what it means to be a personal trainer.

The Client is the Star (Not You!)
Personal training is not about how great you look in a tight shirt or how much you can lift – it is about your clients! Your job is to be there for them. Just like a good parent must put the needs of their child before their own, a good trainer always puts their clients’ needs first.

Knowing How to Train Yourself Doesn’t Make You a Trainer
Since most of your clients are not going to be athletically inclined, the workouts that you do for yourself are rarely going to have any relevance for your client. If I took a new client and tried to get them to do a pistol squat or even a pull-up, it would likely be embarrassing for both of us. You must understand the beginner’s mind as well as what they are capable of. Just because an exercise is easy for you, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy (or appropriate) for your clients.

Certifications Don’t Matter
Sure I learned some stuff from studying textbooks and preparing for exams, but it’s nothing compared to what I learned from actually training people. Just like reading a book about working out won’t make you fit, getting a PT certification won’t fully prepare you to train people. Some of the worst trainers I’ve ever met had all the credentials in the world and some of the best weren’t even certified at all. Knowledge and experience matter more than a piece of paper ever will, even if you spent a lot of money to get that piece of paper.

Your Clients are Your Boss
A lot of people think that being a trainer means you get to make your own schedule. This couldn’t possibly be farther from the truth. Most personal training clients are busy professionals who will need you to work around their schedule. Say a potential client has to be in the office by 9am and they want to work out in the morning. You’re going have to get your ass out of bed before sunrise to meet them before work or they’ll find another trainer who will.

On the other hand, some people prefer to get their workout in at the end of the day; 7am is one of the most popular times for personal training, but so is 7pm. If you’re not willing to put in long hours, you are not going to succeed. I’ve had countless days where the span of time between when I met my first client and when I ended my last session was 13 or even 14 hours. Don’t like long days? Personal training isn’t for you.

All or Nothing
If I had a dollar for every wannabe trainer who’s said, “I really want to be an actor/dancer/model/etc. but I figured I could make some extra money on the side by training people,” it would add up to a lot more than most of them ever made as trainers. The truth is, if you want to be a successful trainer, you have to fully commit yourself to the trade. If you’re turning down clients to go on auditions, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Sure a handful of people are able to find the balance between pursuing their art and pursing a career as a trainer, but they are few and far between. If personal training isn’t something you feel passionately about, don’t do it. You must be willing to sacrifice things in your life for this dream, or you will never make it.

Read part two for more of my advice on how to be a personal trainer.

Check out my brother Danny’s new book, Everybody Needs Training for more proven success secrets for fitness professionals!

Why I Don’t Use Exercise Supplements

The world of exercise supplements is full of lies. There’s the obvious bullshit cashing in on pop culture and the gullibility of the masses, like the stuff endorsed by Jillian Michaels or “The Situation.” But there’s also the more subversive lies, the ones that are “backed by science” which sometimes manage to mislead even the most savvy exercise enthusiasts.

We all know that statistics are easy to manipulate, and studies are constantly surfacing that contradict older studies, yet many people still fall victim to misleading claims from supplement companies.

Why?

Because people want a shortcut.

Don’t Believe the Hype
All supplement claims are based more on hype than evidence. The next time you read a positive supplement review, check to see if the magazine or website that you read it on happens to sell the product or receive sponsorship from the product’s manufacturer. As for other claims? Don’t underestimate the power of the placebo effect. A lot of people tend to just see what they want to see. Besides, once you’ve spent your money on a product, it’s harder to admit you were mistaken.

There are a couple of supplements that might actually have some impact on your training (ya know, like, if you’re a pro athlete or something), so let’s take a look at the few that are even worth disputing. The first of them is something most Americans are already using.

Caffeine
Anyone who’s had a strong cup of coffee knows that caffeine can give you a temporary boost. Your heart speeds up, your pupils dilate and you feel a sense of heightened awareness. There are numerous studies that have concluded that large amounts of caffeine can help endurance athletes, but hey, studies can be shown to “prove” just about anything.

I’ve tried using caffeine before running but never observed any significant benefits from it, so I don’t anymore. If I’m putting a potentially harmful chemical into my body, it might as well give me some sort of benefit that I can feel.

Protein Powders
Even though they taste bad and give most people a stomach ache, protein powders are among the top selling exercise supplements in the world. The rhetoric about how you’ve got to get tons of protein to grow is so powerful that it makes most people ignore the taste (and their irritable bowels) while they continue to shovel scoop after scoop of this crap into their bodies. Oh, and if you don’t have your protein shake immediately following your workout, you’ve just wasted your entire life.

Of course you need protein to synthesize muscle growth, but you can get plenty of it by eating real food. A 6-oz. steak has over 40 grams of protein, plus it feels a hell of a lot better in my belly than a shaker full of sludgy water.

Creatine
Creatine is a substance that is naturally found in the body (it’s actually a fuel source used during muscle contraction), by supplementing with it, you’re simply stocking up on extra so that you don’t run out as quickly (I know it’s a bit more complicated than that, but I’m trying to keep this brief). Studies have shown creatine to be effective in producing short-term strength gains and it will give you “the pump” – your muscles will swell up and retain water, making you a little stronger and bulkier.

After the “loading phase” in which you’re directed to take creatine several times a day, you drop down to a simple once-a-day dosage. Even though my chest got puffed up and I added a few pounds to my deadlift while taking creatine, after several weeks when I cycled off (the long term effects of ongoing creatine use are still unknown and potentially dangerous), all of the strength and mass I gained while taking the supplement went away with it. That’s still more than I can say for the other supplements on this list though; at least creatine actually helped my strength while I was using it.

Amino Acids (Glutamine, BCAA’s, etc.)
Amino acids are often referred to as the “building blocks of muscle” so it would make sense that adding them into your beverage in the form of a powder would mean more muscle. At least that’s what I thought when I started supplementing with glutamine ten years ago. However, after several weeks the only difference I noticed was that I had less money in my checking account (it also made my smoothies taste chalky). Remember that steak with its real-food protein goodness? It has all the amino acids you’ll need.

See For Yourself
I came to these conclusions after my own personal experiments with supplements over the years, but if you’re the type of person who just has to see for yourself, there’s no substitute for firsthand knowledge. Obviously there are a lot of people who disagree with my views, as the exercise supplement business continues to be a multi-million dollar industry.

The Skill of Strength

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Andy Fossett.

The word “fitness” is thrown around a lot these days, usually in conjunction with a new fad or product. We hear the word so often, that it’s easy to overlook its definition:

Fitness – The degree to which one is fit for the task at hand.

Since being fit to watch TV is different from being fit to run a marathon, play a game of soccer, or do a back flip, most people have varying personal definitions of fitness. In fact, we each define fitness personally as the ability to perform the specific tasks we choose.

When you look at things this way, it becomes clear that fitness is a skill – the skill to move your body as you desire. But if fitness is really just a measure of skill, why do most fitness programs focus exclusively on work capacity?

Rather than a mindset on improving weight/volume/time/reps/insert your metric here, what if we judged progress by our ability to perform a certain maneuver? It’s nice to push 10 more pounds overhead than you did a couple weeks ago, but how much cooler would it be to pop into a handstand in the office whenever you are bored? Or be able to hop over a fence if that mean neighborhood dog is chasing you?

For many goals, skill is the real key to achieving the particular type of fitness that you are after. These movements take time and practice to develop. For a prime example of how skill training effects the attribute of strength, we need look no further than gymnastics.

Gymnasts continually work to perfect movements of greater and greater difficulty. They start with the basics and add variables – a step, a twist, a less stable base. Though they may perform many repetitions of a particular movement, it’s always done with the goal of perfecting the skill. Quality comes before quantity; there is no gold medal for “the person who can spin around the pommel horse the most times.”

Instead of working to improve our skill in just a few movements that we are going to do over and over again, let’s try thinking like a gymnast. Let’s try working to improve our skill level in a basic movement, then move on and work at improving skill in a more difficult movement. It’s the opposite of most exercise routines, where the key word is “routine.”

It’s refreshing to train this way – mentally as well as physically. We change our goals from more/longer/faster, to better and more skillful. The kicker with this mindset is that training with a focus on skill also brings pretty impressive levels of strength.

How’s that for a side benefit of having fun?

A lifelong martial artist, Andy Fossett began studying fitness and physical training so he could teach his students more effectively. It became a bit of an obsession, and he co-founded Gold Medal Bodies to develop the skill of strength in 2010.

Related Posts:
Exercise Vs. Skill
Assessing Your Strength
Training for the Planche

Ask Al: How Much Do You Work Out?

I recently received a message from a reader who asked, “What does a regular week of training look like for you, and how much time do you spend on it?”

As I view training and life as one in the same, it’s hard to say exactly, but since I get asked this question often, I figured an attempt at an answer was due – so here goes!

I formally “work out” anywhere between 15-75 minutes a day, depending on my energy level and the intensity I’m going at. I take a day off if I feel sore or tired, which on average is about one out of every ten days, but I am pretty active in addition to that. And, no, I’m not worried about over-training.

How it Breaks Down
I do strength training sessions 2-4 times a week consisting of bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, muscle-ups, dips and pistol squats. I tend to practice feats of strength (human flag, one arm chin-up, etc.) during these workouts as well. If I’m pressed for time, I’ll simply do 100-200 total reps in as little time as possible (like this). I also throw in some parkour training and handstand practice during these sessions.

I’ve recently been swimming a few times a week, mostly for skill enhancement (plus swimming is a great form of active recovery the day after a strength training session). While swimming is my primary source of cardio these days, I still run once or twice a week as well, anywhere from around 3-8 miles. I used to do a lot more running but swimming has been taking the place of that. When the weather improves, I will bring some biking into the picture and hopefully start training for my first triathlon.

I also do a weight training day, kettlebell workout or yoga class about once or twice a month each, though I did all three on a regular basis for several years at other points in my training.

Other than that, I walk a lot and I live in a fourth floor apartment with no elevator, so I go up and down the stairs several times a day. I also conduct personal training sessions every day, which gives me extra physical activity. Since I still manage to spend several hours a day sitting in front of a computer, I throw in some stretching throughout the rest of the day too.

I wouldn’t recommend a regimen like mine for everyone, but it works for me…and I work for it!

Hiking in Minimal Footwear

Hiking is a great way to get in touch with nature, breathe in some fresh air and get a fun workout along the way. In addition to strengthening your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, hiking also provides a cardiovascular workout. It’s a great alternative to biking, running or other forms of cardio, and unlike the treadmill, where every minute can seem like an eternity, it’s easy to get caught up in the enjoyment of the hike and lose track of time.

During my recent visit to LA, I got to hike through Topenga State Park with my friend Mike Lieberman. We hiked around for hours and despite the drizzle and overcast skies, had a great time and enjoyed some beautiful views.

Less is More
I wore my Invisible Shoes on the hike and found them to be ideal for traversing the uneven footing. In general, “athletic” sneakers seem to weigh me down, making me feel clumsy rather than enhancing my performance. Since acclimating to the barefoot running technique, wearing anything more than a vans slip-on tends to feel cumbersome. Mike kept his footwear minimal as well by sporting his Vibram Five Fingers.

Hiking generally means more pounding on your feet than running or jogging on even terrain, so don’t start minimalist or barefoot hiking before getting comfortable with minimalist footwear in other contexts. Additionally, there are a lot of small, sharp rocks and other things to potentially cut your feet on during a hike, so I don’t suggest full-on barefoot hiking to anyone who isn’t a seasoned barefoot runner. Even with my Invisible Shoes, after three hours on the trails at Topanga, the soles of my feet were achy.

Take a Hike!
While hiking might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Los Angeles, there are a lot of places out there to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life while having a moment with nature. Even at home in NYC, I recently got in a hike at the Mohonk Preserve with the rest of the team from Nimble Fitness.

No matter where you live, it’s worth your while to find a place where you can go for a recreational hike. It’s a great way to get fit, have fun and expand your horizons. Oh, and feel free to wear whatever footwear you prefer.



Watch the video below for more:

We're Working Out! in LA

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.

No Year's Resolutions

I’m not making any New Year’s resolutions for 2011 and you shouldn’t either. No, we’re not already perfect, I’m simply taking issue with New Year’s resolutions as a concept.

Why They Don’t Work
Most resolutions fall into one of two categories, they’re either overly vague (I’m going to get fit in 2011!) or unrealistically rigid (I’m cutting out all grains and simple sugars for 2011!). These types of resolutions are problematic because they don’t hold you accountable and/or they set you up to fail (which can sometimes be a good thing, but not in this case).

Even “better” resolutions (I’m going to exercise at least three times a week in 2011!) are still useless. Why? Because the calendar is just something WE MADE UP.

We made it up so we can know to meet at a certain time on a certain day and keep track of history to the best of our abilities (and it’s very helpful for those things) but it’s not real. Days and months and years are based on the actual cycle of the planets and stars, yes, but we made up the details.

What You Can Do
Every day is just a day, but it’s also a new opportunity, regardless of whether it’s January 1st or December 27th. It doesn’t make a difference when you start making changes in your life. Your body reacts to the signals you give it every single day, so stop waiting for things to fall into place and start taking action today.

For those of you who may be new to fitness, remember to ease in slowly and be patient. Those of us working out every day and/or following healthy eating plans didn’t make drastic changes overnight.

Setting idealistic (unrealistic) goals is a waste of time. Focus on the process and take it step by step instead of looking ahead an entire year. The next 365 days will likely go by even quicker than the last, but if you set your sights on taking it one day at a time, you may be surprised by what the future brings.

Using Kettlebells as Parallettes

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Timothy Bell, PTS.

Kettlebells – we love lifting them, we love flipping them, some of us even love throwing them around! But did you know that you can get a workout without even picking them up off the floor?

Parallettes are low parallel bars used by gymnasts to practice static holds such as L-sits and training the planche. Not all of us have access to a set of parallettes, but fortunately a pair of kettlebells makes a great substitute.

Due to its fat, heavy base and raised handle, the design of the kettlebell makes it a suitable replacement for parallettes. The kettlebell’s height from the floor allows for ample space to pull your legs through when transitioning between the plache and L-sit, as well as going deep with handstand push-ups. When using kettlebells for parallette work you’ll want to choose two kettlebells of the same weight. The heavier the kettlebell, the stronger the base, and therefore the more stable it will be for your training. To reduce the risk of tipping over, I recommend using 50 lb. bells or heavier.

Parallette Practice

Note my use of the word “practice” when talking about parallette or any gymnastics training for that matter. In my experience, training both myself and my clientele, it is best to approach your parallette training as a practice rather than a workout in itself. There’s a few ways to put this concept into action. You could simply place your parallette training at the beginning or end of your workout, performing 5-7 sets of either L-sits, tucked planche holds, handstands, or a combination of the three. Putting them at the beginning allows you to take advantage of your full strength before you are fatigued from other execises. Doing them at the end forces your body to work very hard in an already weakened state, which will help you perform at a higher level next time you’re fresh and warmed up.

Another approach is to practice these techniques throughout the day, doing a few sets in the morning, and a few more later on (what Pavel Tsatsouline refers to as “greasing the groove”). This can even be done on rest days as a form of active recovery. Practice these basic holds daily, conquer them, and then move onto more advanced versions of each. There are endless variations you can use to strengthen yourself from head to toe.

Timothy Bell is a heath/fitness educator, founder of Jungle Fit Personal Training, and author of the Jungle Fit Body Weight Solution. For more information on Timothy Bell and Jungle Fit, visit www.Jungle-Fit.com

Nothing to Fear

While running down a flight of stairs trying to catch a train, I was recently made aware of a phenomenon that prevents many of us from reaching our potential. At the top of the stairs I could not run quickly, not because it was crowded, but because my body was afraid of mis-stepping.

When your body senses the risk of danger to be higher, skills that would normally be performed with no hesitation will suddenly cause nervousness. This is essentially why a fear of heights can be paralyzing for some.

If you’ve ever stood on the balcony of a tall building with a relatively low railing, you might have felt tentative approaching the edge. While you would never worry about falling over a low fence that was on level ground, as soon as that same scenario is 20 or 50 feet in the air, your perspective can change.

Nature or Nurture?
This fear of heights is likely an evolutionary defense mechanism built into humans to prevent us from falling, but since childhood, most of us have also been told by parents and teachers not to jump, climb or hang from things that are high up, so it’s hard to determine where to draw the line between intuition and conditioned behavior.

Whatever the reason for it, our fear holds us back more than it helps us. I’m not saying to disregard what your intuition is telling you, but rather to gradually push the limits back.

Face Your Fear
To reprogram yourself to move beyond this performance inhibiting behavior, you must start slowly. Go to a park and try doing a precision jump on ground level. Just a long jump with both feet taking off together and landing together. No running start. Now count how many feet you jumped.

The next step is to find two sturdy, elevated objects several feet from the ground that are closer together than the distance you just jumped. Since you know that you can cover this distance (you just did a longer jump on the ground!), you should be able to quiet that fear enough to give it a shot. Once you get comfortable with that, find a place to practice jumping a slightly longer distance. In time, you’ll be able to jump just as far while up high as you can on the ground, maybe even farther!

I also suggest experimenting with other parkour moves, like vaults to help you overcome your fears. Climbing a tree is another great way to build confidence.

Continue to push back your perceived limitations with consistent practice and in time, you’ll eventually be able to shut out fear and replace it with courage. You might even find that confidence sneaking into other aspects of your life.

A Year of "We're Working Out!"

October 2010 marks the one year anniversary of AlKavadlo.com. My blog has grown a lot over the last 12 months and so have I. Thanks to everyone who’s been supportive, followed this blog and left comments.

This blog is as much for you as it is for me so please continue to tell me what you like and don’t like, as well as what you want to see here in the future.

In order to commemorate this milestone, I put together a video montage featuring some of my favorite moments, along with outtakes and other never-before-seen footage. Enjoy!

Young Thai Coconuts

Young Thai coconuts are one of my favorite foods. They are delicious and packed with nutrients, yet most people have never even tried one.

As is the case with many healthy foods, young Thai coconuts are not readily available in many places, but if you look around at organic markets and health food stores, hopefully you can find some in your area.

Just to be clear, I am not talking about prepackaged coconut water. That stuff is inferior in every way. You need to get your coconut juice right from the source!

When choosing your coconut, avoid ones with cracks. If air has gotten in, the coconut may be spoiled. Once you’ve found a suitable coconut, you aren’t out of the woods yet. You still need to get that sucker open!

A Tough Nut to Crack
Most coconuts you will see in stores will already have the husks removed, so they should be relatively easy to open. There are a few different tools you can use for this process; I’ve had good results using a butcher knife. I am told machetes and chef’s knifes also work well.

Start by turning the coconut on its side and shaving off the top layer. Once you’ve filed it down, turn it back upright and grip it firmly. Using the corner of your knife, give it a good, hard whack near the edge. Dig your knife in deep before you remove it, then rotate the coconut and repeat the process. After 3-5 whacks you should be able to slip your blade in and pry it open.

Once you open the coconut, drink the water right away, as it will oxidize quickly and lose some of its potency. After you’ve drank the water, scoop out and enjoy the meat. I recommend using it in a smoothie along with cashew butter. Yum!

Watch the video below for more:

Coney Island Beach Workout

I love exploring parks and recreation areas and I’m always on the hunt for new places to exercise. In a big city like New York, you never know when you’re going to run into an opportunity for a workout!

That’s exactly what happened to me during a recent visit to Coney Island. A standard trip to the beach turned into an impromptu training session when I discovered there were pull-up bars and a “Parcourse FitCenter” down there. (That’s really what the sign says!).

There is enough equipment on the beach at Coney Island for anyone to have a great workout. There are pull-up bars, parallel bars and other equipment in the sand, and it’s all free for anybody to use.

If you take the Q or F train to the W. 8th street stop, you’ll see the fitness area is right on the beach outside the train station.

A company called gametime manufactured the fitness center at Coney Island. With more and more of these types of facilities popping up around the globe, it’s impossible to deny the popularity of bodyweight strength training. Keep an eye out around your neighborhood for good places to work out. If you can’t find any, contact your local government officials to let them know that your community needs free places where residents can exercise.

Contest Winners Announced!

Thanks to everyone who entered to win an autographed copy of my book, We’re Working Out! A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness. I appreciate all of your support via facebook and twitter.

In a way, you are all winners, but alas, I could only pick three people to receive the book. For the rest of you, make sure you check out the preview if you haven’t already. Without any further ado…

Congratulations to shemdog, Jess, and VelocityRD!

To claim your free copy , simply e-mail me the address where you would like to have it sent.

I’ll have some new content up on the blog later this week. In the meantime, check out a vintage video never before seen on AlKavadlo.com. It’s the first video I ever uploaded to my Youtube channel (I’ve come a long way!). If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe. My Youtube page contains all my videos from this blog as well as other bonus videos!

Win a Free Copy of We're Working Out!

Yesterday was my birthday, but I’m giving you a present!

Three lucky readers of this blog are going to win an autographed copy of my book, We’re Working Out! A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness.

To enter the drawing, simply retweet or facebook share one of these recent blog posts (You may enter up to three times!):
Make Your Own Sports Drink

All Kinds of Push-ups
All Kinds of Pull-ups

Once you’ve shared the post(s), leave the link to your twitter or facebook page in the comment section below – that’s it! You have through Labor Day to enter. The winners will be announced on Tuesday.

We’re Working Out!
Al

Make Your Own Sports Drink

The best way to be sure you’re eating unprocessed foods is to make as many of your own meals and snacks as you can. I’ve been encouraging you to make your own post workout smoothie using natural ingredients, why not do the same thing if you need to refuel during a workout? Why buy commercial sports drinks with all their high fructose corn syrup when you can make your own sports drink sweetened with raw honey?

The Power of Raw Honey

Honey is not just for sweetening foods and drinks, it’s been used for its medicinal power for thousands of years. From the ancient Greeks to modern day scientists, raw honey has been proven time and again to be beneficial to our health. It is full of anti-oxidants as well as vitamins and minerals.

Unfortunately, if you aren’t buying your honey from a trustworthy source, you might be getting (pardon the pun) a raw deal. There are many manufacturers who will add sugar and other sweeteners into their honey in order to cut costs, so BEE-ware!

Sports Drinks are for Athletes!

I recently had the misfortune of watching a guy eating a Subway sandwich while washing it down with a Gatorade. My issues with Subway aside, the flagrant misuse of sport beverages is an atrocity.

The whole purpose of a beverage like Gatorade is to replenish the salts and sugars that you expend while participating in endurance sports (Brawndo’s got electrolytes!). Last time I checked, sitting in the park eating a sandwich doesn’t count.

Regardless, you don’t really need Gatorade at all. If you have the inclination, just make your own sports drink. All you need is some water, raw honey, lemon and sea salt. It’s better for you (no suspicious sweeteners) and it’s a lot cheaper.

Watch the video below for more:

The Best Exercise for Weight Loss

People often ask me, “Al, what’s the best exercise for weight loss?” The problem with that question is it assumes exercise is the best way to lose weight.

While things like running and cross training are great ways to burn calories, the fact of the matter is that your diet has more to do with your body fat percentage than any other factor.

It doesn’t matter if you run every morning, lift weights in the afternoon and go to yoga at night. If you can’t keep your diet in check, you’ll likely have a tough time staying lean for the long haul.

Sure, exercise plays a part in weight loss – after all, exercise builds muscle, and having more lean muscle mass will increase your resting metabolism. Plus exercise burns plenty of calories. In spite of these factors, I maintain that the best way to get lean is simply to eat foods that are as close to their original state as possible. Go to your local farmers’ market and load up on fresh fruits and veggies (or grow your own). Check out my list of Al approved foods for more details.

Of course big corporations don’t want you to do that – it means less money for them. They want you as fat as possible and they will do anything they can to fool you into buying their lies. Speaking of which,Vitamin Water is being sued for the outrageous claims that they make on their packaging about increased energy and brain power. Seeing them get called out on their bullshit is (pardon my pun) quite refreshing.

So what should you eat? How about trying one of my delicious smoothie recipes!

Today I bring you “Al’s Old School PB&J.” I discovered this recipe by accident a few years ago and it became a cult sensation at my old gym. Here it is:

Al’s Old School PB&J

4 oz. Milk
1 heaping cup of berries (a mix of your choosing)
3 tablespoons of natural peanut butter
Honey (optional)
1/2 banana (optional)
3-5 ice cubes

Watch the video below for more:

NYC Summer Streets 2010

For the third year in a row, the NYC Dept. of Transit will be presenting the Summer Streets program this month, shutting down automobile traffic on Park Ave. from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park in order to let people walk, run and ride their bikes.

Summer Streets will take place on three consecutive Saturdays this month (August 7th, 14th, and 21st) from 7am to 1pm. Millions of people will participate – don’t miss out on the fun!

I was grateful for summer streets last year while I was training for the NYC Marathon. Running those distances was so much more fun without having to inhale car emissions, plus the energy of my fellow New Yorkers running and riding along side made those 18 and 20 mile training runs go (relatively) quickly.

If you’re looking to do a long bike ride or run, take advantage of Central Park; where the Summer Streets path ends, you can still do several additional miles in the park (which you can do anytime of year!). At the other end of Summer Streets is the Brooklyn Bridge, which will also give you a few extra miles to run or bike.

Whether you live in the city or are just visiting NYC, it’s a rare treat to get to run in the streets without any cars! Summer Streets is a wonderful, free activity that can be enjoyed with friends and family or in solitude. I’m hoping to participate more than once this summer – maybe I’ll see you there!

Check out the official Summer Streets website for more info.

Diet and Exercise (Part Two)

Yesterday I gave you an overview of my thoughts on diet. Today I am going into more detail about what I eat and what I try to avoid.

Plus I’ve included another of my favorite smoothie recipes!

Here is my list of “Al Approved Foods,” broken down into three categories:

Group 1 – Have as much as you want!
Water
Veggies
Roots
Seeds
Nuts and Nut Butters

Group 2 – Eat, but show some restraint.

Fruits
Grass-fed Beef
Free Range Chicken (and other poultry)
Fish
Pork
Eggs
Dairy
Peanuts (technically peanuts are legumes)
Beans
Olive Oil

Group 3 – Eat only in moderation.
Honey
Fresh Bread
Rice
Pasta
Coffee
Tea

Non-Approved Foods – Eat at your own risk!
High Fructose Corn Syrup (and anything that has it as an ingredient!)
Processed Breads and Cakes
Table Sugar
Soda and Other Processed Beverages
Ice Cream
Alcohol
Vegetable Oil

A lot of people have gotten great results from cutting grains and breads out of their diet completely. I’ve personally found that small amounts are okay as long as most of my carbs come from fruits and veggies. You should experiment and see what works for you. It’s also important to follow a plan that is realistic for the long term. People who follow very restrictive diets are less likely to stick with them.

Here’s today’s smoothie recipe. I call this one “Al’s Coconut-Cashew Concoction.”

Al’s Coconut-Cashew Concoction
1 Young Thai Coconut
2 Tablespoons of Cashew Butter
1 Banana
1 Teaspoon of Honey
6 oz. Milk (or use the coconut water)
3-5 Ice Cubes

This recipe will give you approximately 20 oz. of smoothie and 450 calories.

Diet and Exercise (Part One)

Al Kavadlo Eating Diet and exercise are arguably the two biggest factors in determining your overall wellness. Just like my workout regimen, I aim to keep my diet simple and stick to the fundamentals.

To paraphrase from Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, my dietary advice is this: eat real food, not processed crap.

A simple concept, but one that can be surprisingly difficult to implement in our current cultural climate.

Here are a few quick tips to help you out:

1. Look at the ingredients that are in the “foods” you purchase. If there are things in there that you don’t know what they are/can’t pronounce then it’s probably not food.

2. Stay away from “foods” that make claims like “low fat” or “low sugar.” They are usually compensating for some other nutritional shortcoming and/or are filled with chemicals to enhance the flavor.

3. Eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies! I cannot stress this one enough. Fruits and veggies are the foundation of a healthy diet.

It’s not always easy to practice ideal eating habits, so just take it one meal at a time.

Post Workout Nutrition
Post-workout is a key time to be mindful of your diet. This doesn’t mean you need to consume a bunch of supplements and protein powders, however. Exercise supplements are usually processed half way to hell and loaded with chemicals and sugars. Just eat real food! (Check out my list of “Al approved” foods).

Watch the video below to see me whip up one of my favorite post workout treats, which I’ve dubbed “The Blueberry Blaster.” Here’s the recipe:

The Blueberry Blaster
6 oz. milk (Use almond milk if you don’t consume dairy)
2 tablespoons of almond butter
1 teaspoon of honey
1/2 pound of fresh blueberries
1 banana
3-5 ice cubes

This recipe will give you approximately 20 oz. of smoothie and 500 calories.

Finding Your Target Heart Rate

I got an email recently from a runner (let’s call him Jim) who had just started wearing a heart rate monitor during his training. Jim was concerned because at 56 years of age, his maximal heart rate was “supposed to be” 164 beats per minute (bpm), yet during his threshold run he managed to get his heart rate all the way up to 172 bpm.

Was Jim putting himself in danger by exerting himself too hard?

Of course not! Theory is for science; practice is for living.

What do I mean by that? Simple, Jim’s theoretical maximum heart rate is 164, but in reality he got all the way up to 172 (which for the record is definitely not the fastest his heart could beat.) Instead of assuming that something is wrong with Jim, maybe something is wrong with the chart that told him he couldn’t get beyond 164. Don’t be afraid to question things, people!

Don’t Trust the Chart

Bogus Heart Rate Chart

The heart rate charts that appear in many fitness books and manuals that come with heart rate monitors are antiquated and based upon the fallacy that as you get older, your heart gets weaker. This might be true if you spend your entire life sitting at a desk, but if you are an active person, there is no reason why your heart can’t be just as strong at 56 as it was at 26. The other major problem with the chart (and with all charts of its nature) is that it assumes all people are identical! There is no one thing that is best for everybody and heart rate ranges are no exception.



Finding Your True Max Heart Rate

So how do you find your target heart rate? I have a very simple test. If you have a heart rate monitor it will help, but you can do this test as long as you have two fingers and a pulse.

First, warm up with one or two miles of easy running, then step up your pace a little bit for another mile. Once you have a good sweat going and your heart is pumping, sprint as hard as you can for as long as you can! Then check your heart rate. Add 5 to that number, and that’s your max heart rate.

Oh and don’t be foolish. If you have a heart condition or if you’ve never run more than a mile, don’t try this test just yet.

We're Working Out! Book Release Party

On Wednesday I celebrated the release of my debut fitness book, We’re Working Out: A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness, by signing copies at Nimble Fitness in NYC.

The party was a smash success thanks to the support of my friends (both old and new!), family, and clients who came out to celebrate with me and get their books signed.

Everyone in attendance had a great time, got to eat some healthy snacks and mingle with other fitness enthusiasts.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the event. Add me on facebook if you want to see more.

With some of my favorite clients!

A lot of people came out to show their support!

With my amazing editor, Amy Shigo.

All the ladies love We're Working Out!

Why I Don't Wear Workout Gloves

When I was in high school I got a pair of gloves to wear for lifting weights.

At the time I thought the gloves looked cool and since I had just gotten into working out, I wanted to have all the gear. I was probably concerned about preventing callouses too, but like most teenagers, looking cool trumped that.

Funny thing is, I wound up getting callouses anyway! Turns out there was still friction between my hands and the gloves when I would hold a heavy barbell or grasp a pull-up bar. Once I realized this, they started to look less cool to me.

Less is More

I’m a minimalist in most aspects of my life and this is a great example of that. For the same reasons I enjoy running with minimal footwear, I find working out barehanded to be a superior technique. If you’ve ever had to use a cell phone in the winter while wearing gloves you already know that having a glove in between your hand and whatever you are gripping acts as a barrier. Your coordination suffers and it’s harder to get a sense of what you are doing.

Get a Grip
Once you start going barehanded, you’ll likely see an improvement in your grip strength and your body awareness. I want to feel as connected as possible to what I am doing with my body and gloves just get in the way of that.

One exception is if you are going to be moving on your hands in an urban setting where there may be broken glass or other tiny, sharp objects on the ground. When that is the case, gloves can be a safety precaution. A callous, on the other hand, never hurt anyone.

Yes, you’re going to get callouses if you do lots of pull-ups or lift heavy weights – get over it. Nobody but you cares if you have callouses (even you ladies). Learn to see your callouses as a badge of honor – you earned them!