Category Archives: Body Weight Exercises

One Arm Elbow Lever Tutorial

One Arm Elbow Lever CrocodileThe One Arm Elbow Lever (aka Crocodile) is one of my favorite handbalancing skills.

It takes a lot of practice and patience to learn to balance in this position, but once you get the hang of it, you can have a lot of fun with this move.

In fact, it doesn’t require much more effort than the two arm version once you get the feel for the balance.

Of course the first step toward learning a one arm elbow lever is to learn the standard two arm elbow lever.

Assuming you’ve got that taken care of, the next course of action is practicing a self-assisted version of the full one arm elbow lever by using your secondary arm to spot yourself.

As with the standard elbow lever, I recommend learning to do the one arm elbow lever on a bench or other elevated surface before trying it on the ground, as being elevated leaves more room for you to lift your legs into position.

Elbow Placement
The placement of the elbow for this exercise should be right by your hip – don’t go too close to your belly button, which is a common mistake. As such, you will need to lean your body ever so slightly toward your balancing hand in order to avoid tipping over in the opposite direction.

Additionally, when practicing on an elevated surface, you can experiment with wrapping your fingers around the side, or flat-palming it – one might come a bit easier to you, but both ways are ultimately worth practicing.

Self Assisted One Arm Elbow LeverOnce you have your elbow in place, tighten your abs and lift your legs. It’s best to start with your legs wide and knees bent in order to get a feel for the balance.

After both legs are in the air, you can begin to play with taking weight away from your assisting arm. I recommend going up on the fingertips to begin shifting more weight onto your primary hand. From there, you can slowly start taking fingers away.

Don’t be in a hurry to get to the full one arm elbow lever. Staying on one finger for a while can be a very helpful progression toward acquiring this skill.

side elbow lever

Be My Lever
It will take a lot of practice, but eventually you will be able to balance solely on one arm. Once you get the feel for this, you can try fully extending your legs and eventually bringing them together. Holding a one arm elbow lever with your legs closed makes the balance significantly more difficult.

After it’s no longer challenging to hold a one arm elbow lever on a bench, you can explore performing the move on the ground, or even on bars and other odd objects.

You can also try changing the angle of your body to make the move more challenging, such as rotating to a sideways position.

Watch the video below for more:

Revolving Pull-up Handles for Grip Strength

Rotating Thick Pull-up Handles
There’s a street hustle in parts of Europe where passersby are offered the chance to win 100 euro if they can hang from a bar for two minutes.

To play the game, an entry fee of 10 euro is required, which seems like a small price to pay if you’re confident in your ability to hang.

The only problem is that nobody ever wins. That’s what makes it such an effective hustle.

A two-minute bar hang is no easy task, but it’s something that any serious calisthenics practitioner can accomplish.

So what’s the catch? How come nobody wins the 100 euro?

The answer is simple, but hardly noticeable upon first glance, hence the effectiveness of the con: The bar they have you hang from is very thick and – more importantly – it rotates.

Perhaps you’re thinking that a little bit of spin shouldn’t make it harder to hang. That’s what I thought, too, which is precisely why people fall for this game.

As The Bar Turns
I recently found myself in London teaching a Progressive Calisthenics Certification workshop at The Commando Temple, a fantastic place for calisthenics training, and home to some very serious grip enthusiasts. In fact, their head calisthenics coach and PCC Team Leader, Fitsz Dubova, is also a world-record holding grip strength competitor.

During one of the breaks at PCC, Fitsz showed me a pair of rotating handles that can be hung below a standard pull-up bar. Then he had me try to hang from them, so I could see for myself how they felt.

Fitsz demonstrates a one arm pull-up at PCC

Fitsz demonstrates a one arm pull-up at PCC


I was immediately surprised by how tough it was to hold onto the rotating handles, but I was still able to hang for a bit in spite of the increased difficulty.

Then Fitsz challenged me to try hanging from it on one arm.

On a standard bar, I can hang for a minute or longer on one hand, but on this thick, rotating apparatus, I was barely able to hang for two seconds!

Though I was intrigued, I didn’t get much time to play around with the revolving handles that weekend. After I returned home to NYC, however, I began thinking about them again.

I started looking around online, and came across an article on Jedd Johnson’s blog detailing how to make your own rotating grip handles. Then I went to my local hardware store and got everything I needed to assemble my own revolving pull-up bar handles.

Each handle consists of two pieces of PVC pipe – one inside of the other – with a foot and a half of chain threaded through and attached to a climbing strap with a carabiner. Placing one piece of pipe inside of the other is what causes the handles to rotate smoothly. They are cheap and easy to assemble.

Roll With It
Training with these handles has been a humbling experience. I’m no stranger to thick bar pull-ups, but the rotating nature of these handles makes them very tough to hold onto. I have pretty strong hands from decades of doing pull-ups on various types of bars, and I’ve messed around with a few kinds of grip boards and other climber’s training tools. Those of you who follow my blog also know that I recently started training to rip decks of cards in half. All of these things offer their own unique challenges, but these rotating thick grips are one of the most difficult grip tools I’ve encountered over the years.

Rolling Thick Grip

If you have a very strong grip, you might not notice right away how much harder it is to hold onto a rotating bar or rotating handles, but as soon as you begin to fatigue, it will become immediately apparent.

Think about what you do when you are hanging from a bar and start to lose your grip. Most people instinctively try to choke their hands up a bit higher on the bar for more surface contact and improved leverage.

When you try to do this on a rotating handle, however, it just spins right back to where it was, forcing you to grip from a position of unfavorable leverage. It’s impossible to utilize any type of false grip on a bar that turns.

On top of that, these 2-inch grips are too think for most people to wrap their hand completely around, which makes the idea of hanging for two minutes that much more daunting.

Though I usually prefer to grip with my thumb on the same side of the bar as the rest of my fingers, as I feel that gives me the best leverage, I’ve been practicing pull-ups and hangs on these handles with my thumb wrapped around the other side in order to purposely increase the grip challenge.

I can hang from a standard pull-up bar for close to four minutes, but so far I’ve yet to stay on these handles for a full 60 seconds.

If I ever get to two minutes, I’ll be ready to try and win that 100 euro.

Watch the clip below to see my max set of pull-ups on these revolving pull-up handles:

Get Strong with the Kavadlo Brothers

GetStrongCoverDo you want a simple, effective exercise program that you can do anywhere?

Have you been searching for the best calisthenics progressions to build muscle and strength?

Are you looking for a program with proven exercise sequences, exact set and rep ranges, warm-ups and rest days?

You asked for it – you got it!

GET STRONG is the latest collaboration from me and my brother Danny and the first Kavadlo Brothers book to feature a detailed 16-week program.

Here’s what others are saying about GET STRONG:

“GET STRONG is a phenomenal program. In this book, the Kavadlo Brothers will guide you from the very beginning and help you build a proper foundation. From there, they’ll gradually progress you through four phases of strength, giving you the progressions and programing details to take you beyond what you ever thought possible.”
–Mark Sisson, Author of The Primal Blueprint

“To be strong is one thing, to teach strength is another. The Kavadlo brothers embody both. They explain everything in great detail while providing clear images of them using the world as their gym.”
–Ed Checo, Founder and CEO of Barstarzz

“I have read every word the brothers have written at least a dozen times, and there is no doubt about it–this is definitely the best book they have ever produced. Both the brothers teamed up for this one, and the elite-level calisthenics knowledge and passion these men have accumulated over decades of training and coaching at the highest level really shows on every page.

It’s got all the programming you need to get to the highest possible level of bodyweight strength, plus, it’s full of the wisdom and tactics you need to be able to apply that programming. I am very, very excited to see what students of bodyweight strength–newcomers and old dogs–are gonna be able to achieve with this book!!”
–Paul “Coach” Wade, author of Convict Conditioning

Order your copy of GET STRONG now!
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The Top Five Calisthenics Legs Exercises

Calisthenics LegsYou don’t need to rely on lifting weights to build strength and muscle – not even on leg day. Calisthenics training is a fantastic way to build strength throughout your entire body.

There’s a plethora of awesome calisthenics leg exercises, so it was hard to narrow this list down to just five. Some of my favorite exercises like the pistol squat and drinking bird did not make the cut.

That said, the following moves are the most universally proven for building strength and muscle – and that’s the whole point of this list. They are presented in approximate order of difficulty.

Legs get to it!

The Classic Bodyweight Squat
Unquestionably the most fundamental strength building exercise for the legs, the classic bodyweight squat hits all the muscles of your lower body, and may be a mobility challenge as well. Working your way up to 40-50 consecutive bodyweight squats will set you up with a fantastic foundation to progress your lower body strength training.

Walking Lunge
The walking lunge requires a bit more body awareness than the standard squat. It also introduces a balance component, and is a great way to hit your leg muscles from different angles. Walking lunges are the perfect complement to bodyweight squats.

Archer Squat
This asymmetrical squat variation is a beautiful merger of strength, flexibility, balance and control. It’s also a great way to target your inner thighs and can be an early lead-up step toward one-legged squats. You may have seen this move referred to as a “cossack squat” or “side-to-side squat” but no matter what you call it, it’s a fantastic exercise for the lower body.

One Leg Box Squat
Having a box, bench or other object beneath you is the perfect way to begin training single leg squats. It’s common for beginners to lose their balance at the bottom of a one leg squat. As such, the box can provide safety and stability as you build the strength and control to perform a freestanding, unassisted one leg squat.

Hover Lunge
The hover lunge is more of a pure strength exercise than other single leg squat variations like the pistol squat and shrimp squat, which have a much greater mobility component, hence their exclusion from this list.

You can think of this almost like a lunge where your rear foot remains hovering in the air. You’ll need to lean forward a bit more than in a standard lunge in order to stay balanced while on one leg. Reaching both arms forward helps with the balance as well. Be careful to lower yourself down with control – especially during those last few inches – to avoid any impact on your rear knee.

Watch the video below for more:

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Dragon Door Bodyweight Master Pull-up Bar Review

Dragon Door Bodyweight MasterAs much as I love pull-ups, I hadn’t actually had a proper pull-up bar in my current apartment until recently. My place doesn’t have the type of door frames that can accommodate a doorway pull-up bar, and since I live close to Tompkins Square Park, I’d been happy to head there for all my pull-up bar needs.

That changed recently when I received a Bodyweight Master Pull-up Bar from Dragon Door. As a long time member of the Dragon Door family, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one before they went on sale to the general public. So I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with the Bodyweight Master prior to compiling this review.

After having the Bodyweight Master Pull-up Bar from Dragon Door at home for the last few months, I can definitively tell you that it is the best freestanding pull-up unit that I have ever used. Besides being great for all kinds of pull-ups (including neutral grip), the Bodyweight Master has attachments that allow for parallel bar dips, Australian pull-ups and even human flag training.

Bodyweight Master human flagBuild-A-Bar
The Bodyweight Master arrives unassembled but doesn’t take very long to build. I’m not particularly handy, but I was able to put it together in about 90 minutes with the help of my wife. Someone with more experience building things could probably have done it faster.

The bar itself is made of steel and it is 1.5 inches in diameter. It has a rough feel to the touch, which makes it easy to grip. The unit weighs 104 pounds and can support up to 350 pounds, according to the manufacturer’s website.

The Bodyweight Master pull-up bar is adjustable in height, so it can accommodate users of all sizes (the bar can be set as high as 8’4″). While it is much sturdier than other freestanding pull-up units that I’ve used, the taller you set the bar, the less stable it becomes. Additionally, if you are practicing explosive calisthenics on this bar, be prepared for it to shake a little bit. Unfortunately, this is the nature of any freestanding, adjustable pull-up unit. A bar that’s fixed to the ground or mounted to a wall will always be more stable than one which is not.

There are holes on the bottom of the Bodyweight Master that allow it to be bolted down for maximum stability. However, I rent an apartment and have my unit set up in the living room, so that’s not a viable option for me.

Grace Kavadlo Dip
Big Dipper
As mentioned earlier, part of what makes the Bodyweight Master so unique compared to other home pull-up units are the attachments which allow for parallel bar dips. These dip handles are easy to take on and off, and are very stable. They can also be set to any width you like, which further adds to the versatility of the unit.

Beyond that, the Bodyweight Master includes a low bar that allows for Australian pull-ups, which is very easy to put on, take off and adjust. When the low bar is in place, it can also be used in conjunction with the high bar to practice a parallel grip human flag or other exercises that require two bars which are stacked vertically. You can even use the low bar to elevate your feet for incline push-ups or other such exercises.

All in all, I highly recommend the Bodyweight Master to anyone who’s looking for a freestanding pull-up unit. Compared to other products of a similar nature (like the TAPS unit, for example) the Bodyweight Master is a fantastic value and a superior product.

Watch the video below to see the Bodyweight Master in action:

Click the link for more information on the Bodyweight Master from Dragon Door

Five Animal Movements for Strength and Conditioning

Al Kavadlo AnimalPart of what makes calisthenics training so much fun is how it helps us reconnect with our animal instincts.

Crawling, climbing, running and jumping are hardwired into our DNA. There’s just something special that happens when we tap into our primal roots. It feels good to move!

The realm of bodyweight training is not limited to strength based movements like push-ups and pull-ups, or even advanced skills like the human flag or handstand. Far from it! The spectrum of human movement is virtually infinite.

The following animal inspired exercises combine strength, conditioning, mobility and body control in a fun and surprisingly challenging way.

You can practice them for time and/or distance, as they don’t lend themselves to strict sets and reps as well as many classic calisthenics exercises. Focus on keeping your movements fluid and controlled – and don’t forget to have fun!

Animal Crawl
Start on all fours with your knees below your hips and your palms directly under your shoulders. Lift your knees a few inches from the floor and begin crawling forward, while keeping your back flat and level with the ground. Try this one moving backwards for an added challenge.

Crab Walk
Sit on the floor with your knees bent so your feet are flat in front of you. Place your palms just below your shoulders and lift your hips up, putting all your weight in your hands and feet. Push down with your shoulders to maintain your posture and begin crawling forward. The crab walk works well in reverse, too.

Frog Hop
Get into a deep squat and place your hands on the ground just in front of you. Shift your weight into your hands and hop your feet in between them, using your arms to help pull yourself forward. As soon as your toes touch down in between your hands, reach your arms forward again and repeat, taking the momentum from each hop into the next repetition.

Lateral Frog Hop
Get into a deep squat then straighten one leg, reaching it all the way out to the side. Place your hands on the ground outside your bent leg, then jump your legs and hips into the air, switching the position of your legs in the air so you land with your opposite leg extended. Then shift your weight across and repeat. Make sure to practice in both directions.

Three-Legged Dog
Get into a “downward dog” position (like a push-up with your hips raised into the air) then lift one leg as high as you can. From here, take a small hop forward with your grounded foot, then gently slide both hands forward, making each hop flow right into the next. Make sure to work both sides evenly.

Watch the video below for more:

The Top Five Ab Wheel Exercises

Standing Ab Wheel RolloutA lot of people know that I’m not a fan of fancy training equipment – that’s part of why I love bodyweight exercises!

The ab wheel, however, is one of the few calisthenics accessories that I deem worthwhile. It’s a very simple, portable piece of equipment that can help facilitate a fantastic full-body workout.

That’s right, the “ab wheel” actually works much more than just your abs. The exercises below will challenge your arms, shoulders, chest, back, glutes and even your legs, as well as your midsection.

Here are my top 5 ab wheel exercises, listed in order from least to most difficult:

Ab Wheel Plank
If you’ve never used an ab wheel before, this is probably where you should start. Get into a standard push-up position, only with your hands gripping the handles of the ab wheel instead of being placed on the floor. You may be surprised at first by how much the instability of the wheel increases the difficulty of the plank. (If you aren’t able to hold an ab wheel plank yet, you can modify the exercise by placing your knees on the ground instead of your toes.)

Walking Ab Wheel Plank
Once you get a feel for holding a plank on an ab wheel, you can experiment with moving in that position. Take small steps and grip the handles tightly to avoid tipping over. Maintain a straight back the whole time, keeping your hips in line with your shoulders and legs.

Kneeling Ab Wheel Roll-out
There are essentially two types of ab exercises: The first finds the abs performing some kind of trunk flexion. Crunches, sit-ups, and knee tucks are all examples of this type of ab exercise. The second type are exercises in which the abs are used primarily in a stability/anti-extension role. These include planks, hollow body holds, and front levers.

The classic ab-wheel roll-out gives you the best of both: It involves flexing and extending the trunk (like the exercises in the first category), but the most intense part of the movement happens when your body is extended horizontally, with the abs working in an anti-extension capacity (like the exercises in the second category).

Begin in a kneeling position with the ab wheel beneath your chest, then roll the wheel away from your body as you pivot from your knees, bringing your hips and torso down toward the ground. Avoid arching your back or piking your hips in the air. The lower you go, the harder the move becomes, so feel free to start with a partial range of motion at first. Eventually the plan should be to reach your arms completely overhead with your body hovering about an inch above the ground.

Reverse Ab Wheel Roll-out
For this variation you will once again begin in a plank position, except with your feet on the handles of your ab wheel instead of your hands. From there, carefully tuck your knees toward your chest, then extend your legs back into a plank position. Go slowly in order to avoid toppling over.

Standing Ab Wheel Roll-out
This is the granddaddy of all ab wheel roll-outs! Extending the range of motion by raising up onto your toes significantly increases the difficulty of an already tough exercise. As with the kneeling version, avoid arching your back or piking your hips in the air when performing this exercise. In fact, it is not uncommon for the lower back to fatigue before the abs when performing ab-wheel roll-outs, so be mindful of your lumbar region when performing this exercise.

The full standing ab-wheel roll-out may very well be the single best exercise for developing your midsection, but you’re going to have to work your way up to it gradually.

Watch the video below for more:

If you would like to get an ab wheel like the one I’m using in the video, check out Fitwood. They are currently offering a ten percent discount to my followers! Simply use the code AL10 at checkout to receive the discount.

The Top Five Push-up Variations for Building Strength and Muscle

Push-up1The push-up is one of my all-time favorite exercises. It’s simple, effective and doesn’t require any equipment besides the floor beneath your feet.

Push-ups are fantastic for building strength and muscle in the entire upper-body, particularly the chest, shoulders, triceps and abs.

My other favorite thing about push-ups is that they can be infinitely progressed and modified to keep your muscles guessing…and growing!

Though there are countless variations on the basic push-up, the following five are among the very best for building strength and muscle:

1 – Classic Push-up
The classic two arm push-up will never go out of style! Make sure you maintain a straight line from the back of your head to your heels throughout the entire range of motion. Also be sure to lower yourself all the way to the bottom and achieve a full extension of your arms at the top.

2 – Feet Elevated Push-up
Elevating your feet during a push-up changes the weight-to-limb ratio, placing more of your weight in your hands, and thereby increasing the strength and muscle building potential of the standard push-up.

3 – Archer Push-up
This variation finds one arm doing the bulk of the pushing while the opposite arm remains straight, acting as a kickstand of sorts to help stabilize the body. You can think of the archer push-up almost like a self-assisted one arm push-up.

4 – One Arm Push-up
By removing one arm from the equation entirely, you automatically double the amount of work performed on your other arm. Taking away a contact point also forces your abs and other core muscles to pick up the slack, thereby giving added benefit to this challenging movement.

Check out my full one arm push-up tutorial for more.

5 – One Arm/One Leg Push-up
Taking away a leg makes the one arm push-up even more challenging, and can help take your strength and muscle gains to the next level!

Remember to use cross-body tension to stay balanced during this difficult variation. That means that when you are pushing with your right arm, you will balance on your left leg, and vice versa.

Watch the video below for more:


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The Top 5 Pull-up Variations for Building Strength and Muscle

Al Kavadlo Pull-up MuscleIt’s no secret that pull-ups are my favorite exercise. There are an endless number of ways in which you can alter or modify the classic pull-up – and I love them all!

Still, the question remains: What are the very best pull-up variations for building strength and muscle?

Though all types of pull-ups work the entire upper-body (including the abdominal muscles), the following 5 variations are the very best for building strength and size:

Pull-up
The classic overhand pull-up has been a strength training staple for as long as the concept of “working out” has existed. Focus on driving your elbows toward your hips to fully engage your lats.

Chin-up
This underhand version of the classic pull-up is a great way to add emphasis to the biceps. It can also be a less difficult variation for beginners who struggle to perform pull-ups with the overhand grip.

Commando Pull-up
For this variation you will grasp the bar with your hands facing one another in a close grip, and your body positioned in line with the bar. This means you will have to pull yourself toward the side on the way up, which creates a unique challenge. Make sure to alternate which side of the bar your head passes with each rep.

L-sit Pull-up
The L-sit pull-up is a fantastic way to increase the demand on your abs, while also increasing the strength and muscle building potential for your entire upper body. Due to the change in leverage, all of your muscles will have to work harder than in a standard pull-up.

Archer Pull-up
The archer pull-up is an advanced variation that involves keeping one arm straight while relying primarily on the opposite side to do the bulk of the pulling. Begin like you’re performing a very wide pull-up, but bend only one of your arms as you pull your chin over the bar. This means your torso will shift toward that side while the opposite arm stays straight. The hand of your straight arm may need to open and roll over the bar at the top of the range of motion, depending on your wrist mobility.

Watch the video below for more!


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Hand and Wrist Warm-ups for Calisthenics

Al Kavadlo Straight HandstandWhen performing handstands, push-ups and other calisthenics exercises, the hands and wrists bear most of the burden.

Even when we hang from a pull-up bar, our hands and wrists play an important role.

For this reason, it is important to warm them up properly before your calisthenics or handbalancing practice.

In the video below, I demonstrate six simple warm-ups you can perform for your hands and wrists before beginning your practice:

–Wrist rocks
–Wrist rolls
–Wrist circles
–Side-to-sides
–Reverse side-to-sides
–Fist spreads

I recommend performing each of these movements several times in each direction before beginning your training. Also feel free to perform additional reps while you rest in between efforts.

The exercises in the video go by fairly quickly, so you may need to watch it a few times.