Category Archives: Strength and Conditioning

The Rest/Pause Method

The mind is the most powerful muscle in the body, for without the mind, your physical muscles are useless. The rest/pause method will test the limits of both your body and your mind, while allowing you to push your strength and endurance to new heights.

The rest/pause method involves taking short breaks during a long set in order to get more total reps. Instead of stopping after you reach a pre-determined number of, let’s say, push-ups, just rest at the top with your arms locked out once fatigue sets in. Take a breath or two, then keep pushing out one rep at a time, with several seconds in between reps if need be. This will allow you to push the boundaries of muscular failure.

Incorporataing the Rest/Pause Method

Push-ups are one of the best exercises to use this technique with, but rest/pausing works great with pull-ups, squats and even muscle-ups.

After an intense session using the rest/pause method, it’s important to have a rest day or a recovery workout the following day. Rest/pause workouts are best used as a shocking technique, so they shouldn’t be done more than once or twice a week.

The power of using your mind and taking it one rep at a time can often lead to groundbreaking workouts. The rest pause method recently allowed me to set a new personal best in muscle-ups. Luckily, I was able to get it on film!

Check out my brother Danny rest/pausing his way to an epic set of over 100 push-ups!

Crawling Towards Fitness

Before he learns to walk, man must first learn to crawl.

While I don’t consider walking the best exercise, crawling can actually be a pretty intense workout!

Crawling works your upper body, legs and core muscles, plus it can help improve your coordination. It can also turn into an intense cardio session if you keep it up for long enough!

One of the most basic crawls is the bear-crawl, which involves keeping your hips high in the air with your arms and legs straight. If you haven’t crawled since you were a baby, the bear crawl is a good way to ease back in.

The spider-crawl is a lot harder than the bear-crawl. Instead of keeping your hips up, the spider-crawl has you bending your arms and legs while keeping your hips down. Imagine you are trying to get through a narrow tunnel without letting your belly touch the ground.

You can also split the difference between these first two variations by keeping your arms straight but still bending your knees. This type of movement is sometimes used in parkour training and is similar to what Mark Sisson calls the “Grok crawl.”

Whichever variation you choose, crawling makes a great warm-up exercise, conditioning drill or active recovery technique. Feel free to experiment with different ways of incorporating these crawls (and your own versions of them) into your workouts.

Watch the video below for more:

If you’d like an Al Kavadlo/We’re Working Out! T-shirt like the one I’m wearing in the video, they are now available for purchase!

The Clean and Press

If you’ve ever watched weightlifting in the Olympics, you’ve likely seen the clean and press. There are many variations on this movement, but in its most basic sense, it simply involves lifting a heavy weight off the floor and over your head in an explosive fashion.

There are many ways to fit the clean and press into your routine. You can load up the bar and do a single rep as a test of strength, or use it as a conditioning exercise by doing high reps with a low to moderate weight. In spite of these two terrific applications, I hardly ever see anyone doing them at the gym.


The Clean

I’ve often thought of the movement involved in the clean to be the opposite of a muscle-up. Instead of using your explosive power to get your body up over a bar, when you do a clean you’re using it to move the bar up over your body.

The clean starts like a deadlift, but continues all the way up until the bar is caught in front of your chest (similar to a front squat). The movement is initiated from the hips; as you pull the bar straight up in front of you, your heels should come off the ground. When the bar is as high as it can go, you drop down underneath it, making a shelf with your arms to catch it.

The Press
Just like the clean, the press is initiated from the hips and lower body. The arms should almost become an afterthought. The power from your legs should transfer up into your arms seamlessly as you complete the lift.

Kettlebell Clean and Press
The balance of a kettlebell is different than that of a barbell due to its shape. Get comfortable with the proper kettlebell swing before learning cleans. You must learn to use your hamstrings, glutes and core muscles to generate power from your hips.

Since kettlebells aren’t connected, you can rotate your forearms when you’re doing cleans with them. If the barbell clean and press is like a bar muscle-up, the kettlebell clean and press is more like a muscle-up on rings. Turn your wrist through to prevent the kettlebell from flipping over and smacking your arm too hard.

The clean and press is a complex movement; it takes practice to get the feel and the timing of it, so start with light weight. It is best to have a trainer present when learning a difficult new exercise.

Watch the video below for more on the clean and press:

Thanks to Nimble Fitness for letting me film in their facility.

Assessing Your Fitness (Part Two: Endurance)

In my early twenties, I could deadlift almost twice my bodyweight, but I couldn’t even run one mile. My weak link was exposed when I attended a personal trainer workshop that included a barrage of fitness tests, one of which was a 1.5 mile run.

Even though I didn’t finish last, it was a bit embarrassing for me. The experience prompted me to shift my focus from strength and hypertrophy to working on overall fitness. I started running and practicing yoga and in 2009, I ran the NYC Marathon.

The spectrum for endurance sports is quite large and it is constantly increasing. When I first heard of the Ironman, I couldn’t conceive of how that was even possible! I now know many people who’ve finished Ironmans (yes, regular people just like you and me!). There’s even a DOUBLE Ironman for those rare individuals who think 140.6 miles just isn’t enough. I’m not proposing that we all go out and start competing in triathlons, but developing your cardio conditioning can make everyday activities easier and more enjoyable.

Testing Your Endurance

The funny thing with cardio is that it doesn’t always carry over from one activity to the next. This is part of the appeal of triathlons, as they test your endurance over three modalities. It’s amazing how sometimes a person can be good at one activity and very bad at another. Take me for example, I’m a decent runner and cyclist, but I’m a weak swimmer. (I’ve recently started practicing more though – I’m hoping to do my first tri in 2011!)

I’ve also known a few good runners who couldn’t even ride a bike, so skill specificity has a lot to do with it. You get better at what you practice; it’s really that simple. Wanna be a good runner? Run!

With that in mind, here are some guidelines to judge your aerobic endurance. (I’ve decided to make these gender neutral.)

Swim 750 meters (just under half a mile) in under 20 minutes
Bike 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) in under 40 minutes
Run 5 kilometers (about 3.1 miles) in under 30 minutes

I’ve chosen these distances because they are the standards used in most sprint triathlons. You don’t need to be able to do all three in order to test your conditioning. However, if you can’t pass at least one of these requirements, you ought to work on your cardio. (Serious athletes can do these requirements in less than half the time.)

One more thing, I’m not talking about running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. If you want to truly test your cardio, don’t use machines! For the swim, feel free to use a pool.

Make sure to check out part three of this series for information on assessing your flexibility.

Assessing Your Fitness (Part One: Strength)

There are generally three categories used to assess physical fitness: strength, endurance and flexibility. Within each of those groups, however, there are many variables to consider.

The strength required to throw a baseball 90 miles-an-hour is very different from the strength used to deadlift 700 pounds or that which is needed to perform a back lever. (I challenge you to find one person who can do all three of those things!)

The same is true of endurance; climbing stairs requires a unique type of stamina when compared to swimming or running.

Even flexibility gets tricky to gauge; throwing a roundhouse kick at eye level requires flexibility, but it’s different than the flexibility needed to perform a back bridge.

While specific skills like the ones mentioned above can be used to assess strength, endurance or flexibility, I believe an individual should meet several requirements to be deemed fit.

Notwithstanding my belief that goals are far less important than the actual practice of regular exercise, I’ve decided to put forth the following guidelines to use for self-assessment. Let’s start with strength.

Assessing Your Strengths (And Weaknesses)

There are basically two ways to measure or improve your strength: move your own bodyweight (my favorite) or, as Mark Sisson likes to say, “lift heavy things” (which is also very effective).

To meet my standards for basic strength, an individual should be able to perform the following:

Men

40 Push-ups
10 Pull-ups
50 Squats

Women
10 Push-ups
15 Australian Pull-ups
50 Squats

You might be thinking, “Al, doing 40 push-ups is a test of muscular endurance – not strength!” And you wouldn’t be wrong to think that. I told you these types of assessments can get tricky!

If you are looking to test your strength for one rep, then use weights. Keep in mind that even with weight training, it is best to judge your strength relative to your body weight. A 250 lb. man should be expected to lift a lot more than a man who weighs 165 lbs. With that in mind, anyone who I consider strong will likely meet the following minimum criteria:

Men

Clean and Press 50% of your bodyweight
Squat 90% of your bodyweight
Deadlift 100% of your bodyweight

Women
Clean and Press 35% of your bodyweight
Squat 60% of your bodyweight
Deadlift 70% of your bodyweight

Remember that these are not hard and fast rules with which to judge yourself. Simply use this as a way to assess what aspects of your game might be worth giving extra attention – then get to work!

It should be noted that technique is a factor in performing these lifts as well. Make sure you understand the mechanics of any given exercise prior to testing your limits.

In parts two and three I discuss my thoughts on assessing endurance and flexibility. Use the comment section below to share your thoughts on assessing strength.

Client Spotlight: John

You might not know it by looking at him, but John is one hell of an athlete, having completed multiple marathons and Ironmans. Since his last marathon, however, John had gotten lax with his training and diet. Nothing lasts forever; if you don’t use it – you lose it!

A few months ago, John decided it was time to get serious again and enlisted me as his trainer. John has since lost over 25 pounds; his conditioning is coming back and he says he feels stronger than ever. Not bad for a guy who just celebrated his 40th birthday!

John loves healthy competition, so when he heard about the 100 Rep Challenge he wanted to give it a shot. I designed the following 100 rep workout to test John’s strength, conditioning and balance.

John’s 100 Rep Challenge consists of:
20 Push-ups
20 Lunges
20 Australian Pull-ups
20 Squats
20 Dips

All that is to be done in succession with as few breaks as possible.

Watch the video below to see if he can make it:

Don’t forget to check out the 100 Rep Challenge official website for more info.

All Kinds of Push-ups (Part Two)

The push-up is one of the most versatile exercises out there. Whether you are a novice or an experienced athlete, push-ups ought to be a staple of your fitness regimen. I already showed you some push-up variations that you can do with just your body weight. Today I’m giving you some options that involve a few pieces of basic equipment.

Medicine Ball Push-ups

Medicine balls are one of my favorite pieces of exercise gear because they’re easy to travel with and have many applications. When you place your hands and/or feet on a medicine ball during a push-up, you’ll have to further engage your core musculature to keep from falling off. Adding multiple medicine balls will make it even more challenging. (For example: hands on one ball, feet on a second ball.)


Stability Ball Push-ups

Stability balls can be used to facilitate additional engagement of the core muscles during the push-up as well. While the basic idea is the same as the medicine ball push-up, the stability ball has a different feel to it and can provide its own unique challenge. Furthermore, putting your feet on a large stability ball will change the angle of your push-up, requiring additional upper-body strength as well as added core stability.

Suspension Straps

Another way to add a stability component is to use suspension straps or gymnastics rings. Performing a push-up with your hands or feet in straps requires balance, strength and total body control.

Remember, these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. There are endless ways to mix up your routine. Don’t be afraid to experiment for yourself and discover new challenges.

Watch the video below to see me demonstrating these variations at Nimble Fitness in NYC.

All Kinds of Push-ups

The push-up is about as close to a perfect exercise as you can get. Push-ups require no equipment (even pull-ups require a bar) and they can be modified in an infinite number of ways.

If you can’t do a push-up yet, start by practicing on your knees or up on an angle until you build the necessary strength and coordination. Planks and side planks are also great exercises to help with working towards push-ups.

Push-up Grips
The traditional push-up involves putting your palms flat on the ground, but you can also try doing push-ups on your fists, which is more difficult. For an added challenge, you can tent up your hands and perform push-ups on your fingertips. If that’s still not enough, you can start taking some of those fingers off the ground!

Hand Placement
The standard hand placement for a push-up is slightly wider than shoulder width. If you want to add more emphasis to your triceps, try a narrower hand placement. To place more emphasis on your chest, position your hands wider.

Foot Placement
When performing this exercise, you’ll find that keeping your feet farther apart will make the push-up slightly less difficult. When learning advanced variations, start with a wider stance and work your way towards keeping your feet shoulder width or narrower.

Danny gets airborn with a plyo push-up.

Plyo Push-ups
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with traditional push-ups, try getting explosive and pushing your upper body completely off the ground. Once you get the hang of this, start adding in claps, arm waves, or other movements to show your personal style. Eventually you might work up to getting your entire body off the ground!


Hindu and Dive Bomber Push-ups

The Hindu push-up is a challenging variation that involves starting with your hips way up in the air (similar to the yoga pose downward facing dog). From there, lower your face towards the ground, then scoop your chest up while dropping your hips down (ending in a position similar to the yoga pose upward facing dog). Shift your hips back to the start position and repeat. A dive bomber push-up is pretty much the same, except you get back to the starting position by doing the move in reverse.

The One Arm Push-up
The one arm push-up takes lots of practice as well as total body strength. Check out this post on performing one arm push-ups for more info.

Plyo One Arm Push-up?
There is a famous Zen koan which asks, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I couldn’t help wondering, “What is the sound of a one hand clapping push-up?”

Watch the video below to find out:


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

All About Squats

AlKavadloSquatThe squat is the king of all lower body exercises. Squats work every muscle in your legs as well as your abs and lower back. Since your legs are such large muscles, they require lots of blood and oxygen to perform squats. This makes squatting a great way to give your heart and lungs a workout too.

To perform a squat, stand up straight with your feet approximately shoulder width apart. Reach your arms forward and bend from your hips, knees and ankles, lowering until your hamstrings make contact with your calves, while being sure to keep your heels flat on the ground the entire time.

Pause briefly at the bottom before standing back up to the top position. Experiment with different foot positions. Some people may feel better with their toes turned out, while others will prefer to keep their feet parallel.

Don’t Know Squat
A lot of personal trainers might tell you the proper form for a squat requires you to keep your knees behind your toes. However, this is not always the case. Telling a client to keep their knees behind their toes during squats is a cue to help them understand the mechanics of moving from the hips. It isn’t necessarily the literal truth for everyone. As long as your heels stay down, it’s perfectly fine if your knees wind up a bit ahead of your toes.

Al Kavadlo Deep SquatDorsi Flexion
The term “dorsi flexion” refers to the movement that occurs at the ankle joint during a squat. People with more ankle mobility can keep their heels flat and put their knees in front of their toes at the same time because of dorsi flexion. Just be sure to initiate your squat from the hips, keep your heels down and maintain a tall chest. If those requirements are met, then you’re good to go.

How Low Can You Go?
Another common cue for squatters (no, not the punks living in the abandoned warehouse) is to lower down until you’ve reached 90 degrees of flexion at the knees. This is another generalized cue that is true for some, but not ideal for all.

Use as much range of motion as you can, and aim to eventually work toward a full squat if you are not able to get there currently.

Watch the video below for more info:

Al Kavadlo Pistol

Advanced Squat Techniques

Pistol Squats
This is a one legged squat where the non-squatting leg is held in front of the body. Don’t be fooled by the phrase “one legged squat” however, the pistol squat is an exercise that requires full-body strength and tension.

Shrimp Squats
The shrimp squat is a one legged squat where the non-squatting leg is positioned behind the body, rather than in front as it is with the pistol. Some folks might find this variation more challenging, while others may find it more accessible.
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Pyramid Sets

Pyramid sets are a fun way to breathe new life into your workout routine. Without changing any of your exercises, you can use pyramid sets to shock your body and progress your training.

The term “pyramid set” typically refers to multiple sets of an exercise (or exercises) with descending or ascending numbers of reps in concurrent sets.

For example, you might only do 1 rep on the first set, then do 2 on the second all the way up to ten. Then you can start working your way down, like going up and down the steps of a pyramid.

You can do this with a circuit workout as well, performing increasing reps of several exercises in succession. (1 push-up, 1 pull-up, 1 dip; 2 push-ups, 2 pull-ups, 2 dips, etc.)

This type of pyramid protocol can become a serious endurance challenge after a few sets. It’s also a way to make a game out of building up your conditioning. Changing the number of reps not only mixes it up for you mentally, it also keeps your body guessing. But don’t forget, working out is serious business – it ain’t a game!

Pyramid sets are commonly seen in weight training as well. In this context, one will usually increase the weight as the reps decrease. In the weight room you might do your first set of squats with 95 lbs. for 10 reps, then 135 lbs. for 8, followed by 185 for 6, etc. This is a great way to build strength and size.

Check out this video of me trying a pyramid workout that I got from my friends The Bar-barians. The pyramid goes from 1-5 reps with pull-ups, muscle-ups and dips. Boy were my arms tired!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cl9EVomoGtM