Category Archives: Body Weight Exercises

Clean Up Your Muscle-up!

Since releasing my book Raising The Bar (and the companion DVD), dozens of people have written to tell me how my training advice helped them achieve their first muscle-up. Oftentimes they will send video footage along with it. I love getting these types of messages!

As we’ve discussed before, however, many peoples’ first muscle-up ain’t always so pretty. Though I am happy to grant some leeway on form when someone’s learning a challenging new exercise, I don’t want people all over the world doing ugly muscle-ups (“ugly-ups” as I like to call ’em) and crediting me with having taught them that way.

Clean and Clear
While getting your first muscle-up is a wonderful fitness objective to work toward, simply getting your torso over the bar shouldn’t be the end goal. Once you’ve achieved your first muscle-up, it’s time to work on improving your form.

But before we get to cleaning up your technique, let’s go over the two most common issues people new to the muscle-up kingdom may encounter:

Uneven Arms
While allowing one arm to come up before the other can sometimes be a helpful gateway to cleaner muscle-ups, it is generally not a good long-term strategy. Though it may be the only way you’re going to get a feel for the crucial transition from below the bar to being on top, it’s best to try to shake this habit as soon as possible.

Excessive Kipping
Almost everyone needs to kip a bit to do their first muscle-up, but once you can perform a few reps you should aim to steadily reduce your kip. Though a little kipping is certainly acceptable if you’re doing reps on the bar, do your best to keep it to a minimum. If your knees are bending more than an inch or two or your legs are casting out too far in front of the bar, you need to clean it up.

Fixing Your Form
Even if you’re pretty good at muscle-ups, chances are you can benefit from the following training tactics. I recommend these three techniques for getting rid of the common form flaws and establishing yourself as a muscle-up master.

Just like in your early pull-up practice, negatives are a great way to establish a movement pattern in your nervous system. Start at the top of a muscle-up and lower yourself slowly to the bottom of the dip position with your chest leaning over the bar. Brace yourself and transition as carefully as possible from having your chest above the bar to the top of a pull-up position. Squeeze your abs tight and reach your legs away from the bar to counterbalance. At first you may not be able to control it much, but with time you will eventually get the hang of going slowly through the transition. Once this happens, controlled muscle-ups will soon follow.

Gradual Kip Reduction
Don’t expect to suddenly go from your first sloppy muscle-up to replicating the opening of Andreas Aguilar’s 1991 World Pro gymnastics routine. The only way to significantly minimize your kip is to do it slowly and gradually. If you find yourself bending your knees during your muscle-ups, focus on keeping your legs straight(er). If you’re bucking your hips too much, imagine there is a wall a foot or two in front of the bar that you don’t want to crash into.

When the objective is to improve your form, focus on performing fewer reps at a time. Sets of just one or two reps will allow you to focus on the subtle details of the movement pattern without getting fatigued. Like the old saying goes, “quality over quantity.”

False Grip
It’s great to practice explosive muscle-ups but slowing the movement down can add a whole new challenge, allowing you to build more strength in the transition from below to above the bar, which is the most crucial part of the exercise.

In order to do this, it’s helpful to use a false grip, which entails bending your wrists over the bar so your hand won’t need to roll around it during the transition. When you get to the top of the pull-up phase, your hands will already be in the right position. Some people even find an exaggerated false grip with closed fists resting on the bar to be ideal.

If you have access to them, learning the muscle-up on gymnastic rings can be a useful tool to help perfect your bar muscle-up. While the two skills are each unique in their own ways, there is a lot of carry-over from one to the other. If you don’t have rings, practicing a false grip muscle-up between two parallel bars can give you a similar feeling.

Watch the video below for more:

For more information about muscle-ups, pick up a copy of my book, Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics.

Related posts:
Getting Your First Muscle-up
Kartik’s First Muscle-up

PCC Australia

The Progressive Calisthenics Certification is heading down under!

Danny and I are extremely excited for the chance to travel to Melbourne, Australia to teach the PCC workshop on February 21-23, 2014.

Click here to sign up!

I’ve been getting emails from people all over the world asking when the PCC will be coming to their neck of the woods. Sit tight – PCC will be visiting many different cities over the next several years. Click here for a list of all upcoming PCC dates and watch for more announcements in the months ahead.

The Clutch Lever

The clutch lever is a unique bodyweight strength skill that works the entire upper body as well as the core muscles, especially the lower back.

A hybrid between a clutch flag and a front lever, the clutch lever is an intermediate-level skill that’s less challenging than the full front lever much in the same way that clutch flags are a good precursor to the human flag – but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna come easy!

Before you’re ready for this move, you’ll need a fairly high level of strength in your upper body, abs, glutes and grip. Make sure you’ve got a good foundation in push-ups, pull-ups and dips prior to beginning your clutch lever training.

To perform a clutch lever, stand next to a sturdy vertical pole and wrap your arm around it, clutching it tightly. Keeping your elbow fairly close to your body with your hand just above shoulder height, reach your opposite arm behind your back to get a solid grip on the pole right outside your hip. Squeeze tightly with both hands and lean your trunk back, using your forearm beneath you for leverage to lie back into a horizontal position. Allow your top arm to extend as you lean back; feel free to experiment with varying degrees of elbow flexion.

To achieve a successful clutch lever, you’ll need to maintain tension through your entire body. Also, be careful not to lean your weight too much toward the pole. Doing so can lead you to spin out of position. Though it may take some time to get the hang of this exercise, with practice you will be able to gradually work up to longer holds.

Watch the video below for more:

The PCC Has Arrived!

The inaugural Progressive Calisthenics Certification workshop this past weekend was an amazing success!

Over 50 fitness trainers, athletes and exercise enthusiasts from all over the world showed up for a crash course in calisthenics and a chance to take on the Century workout to earn the the title of PCC certified instructor.

The enthusiasm of the attendees was overwhelming and the positive energy was impossible to ignore. Dozens of attendees achieved their first muscle-up, lever or human flag and many other personal bests were set during this groundbreaking event. It was truly a weekend I will never forget. Along the way, challenges were overcome, new friendships were formed and lives were forever changed.

The event blew away my expectations; between the wonderful attendees and my co-instructors Danny Kavadlo, Adrienne Harvey and Steven Low, this was the most impressive group of athletes I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my career so far.

Congratulations to the first class of PCC instructors! I can’t wait to do it again in August!

Al Kavadlo – June 2013 Update

This year has been going by so fast, it’s hard to believe summer is practically upon us. So much has been happening and so much more excitement is on the horizon!

This weekend, I’ll be leading the first ever Progressive Calisthenics Certification. You can read more of my thoughts on this groundbreaking event on the PCC blog.

In other PCC news, our first European workshop has been confirmed and will take place this November in Gothenberg, Sweden.

Write On!
I’ve begun work on my fourth book, tentatively titled Stretching Your Boundaries – Flexibility Training for Extreme Calisthenic Strength. The book will be released on Dragon Door Publications in early 2014.

My brother and fellow PCC master instructor, Danny Kavadlo, is also working on a new book. Danny’s book, Everybody Needs Training – Expert Tips for Personal Trainers, will be out this fall. I’m writing the foreword for the book and I’ve also been helping Danny with the photos.

Additionally, I’ve become a regular contributor to My recent article on handstands has generated a lot of interest in bodyweight training amongst the bodybuilding crowd. I’m very excited to get to spread the word about calisthenics over there!

Plus I’ve got two new YouTube videos for you to check out!

Zen Fitness

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee

Throughout my life, I’ve experimented with dozens of different exercise modalities.

I’ve used barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, sandbags, and just about every other heavy object I could think of to try lifting.

I’ve done parkour, martial arts, Marathons and yoga. I even tried a Triathlon.

I believe my various experiences have helped me become a more well-rounded physical specimen, but after all of those things, I always come back to the simplest, most direct way of training I’ve ever known – calisthenics.

I love calisthenics training because it requires nothing more than your body, your mind and your warrior spirit.

You don’t need to buy anything, go anywhere or put on any special clothing. Anybody can start right now.

As Maya Angelou once said, “Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.” (Or was that Ronnie Coleman?)

There’s a lot to love about calisthenics, but my favorite thing is how it keeps you in the present. When you’re working on developing a new skill, you need to give all of your attention to the task at hand.

When you are completely focused on your training, the division between body and mind breaks down and everything else seems to fall away.

This phenomenon has been called different things by different people. Whether you call it mindfulness, samadhi, flow state or any other name, it’s a beautiful thing when it happens.

This is actually the subject of my first book, We’re Working Out! A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness.

Over the years, I’ve learned and absorbed many things from different places, taken what’s worked for me, and used it all to develop my own theories and methods, which continue to adapt and take shape before my eyes. I’m constantly working to refine and expand my movement repertoire and I still look for inspiration in new and varied places.

I owe a thank-you to anyone I’ve ever trained, trained with, worked with, worked-out with or known in any capacity whatsoever. Some people have obviously had a greater impact than others, but everyone I’ve ever interacted with (even electronically!) has in some way shaped who I am today.

The video below shows a variety of exercises I’ve picked up (and in some cases modified) from different bodyweight disciplines, all blended into seamless, flowing movement.

Be present for your training, have fun and find your own path.

We’re Working Out! with Jack Arnow

My brother Danny and I recently had the pleasure of meeting and training with legendary bodyweight strongman (and fellow Brooklyn native) Jack Arnow.

A training partner of Jasper Benincasa, who’s considered by many to be the strongest pull-up bar athlete of all time, Jack is well-known for his accomplishments in the world of one-arm chin-ups.

Jack was actually one of the first people to ever write about the subject; his article on one arm chin-up training predates my book Raising The Bar by several years.

In his prime, Jack was known to perform a one arm chin-up while holding a 35 lb. weight. Now, at age 70, he’s still stronger than 99% of guys, regardless of age.

Watch the video below for more:

Pushing The Limits! Ebook

Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment is now available in ebook format! (Paperback coming in April.)

While my last book, Raising The Bar covers all the essential bodyweight exercises that require a pull-up bar, my new book focuses on my favorite bodyweight exercises that can be done with no equipment at all.

Pushing The Limits! covers dozens of types of push-ups and squats, including one arm push-ups and one-legged squats. The book also goes over back bridges, headstands, handstands and other inversions.

Click here for more information or to purchase your copy of Pushing The Limits!

Here’s what people are saying about the book:

When people ask me about bodyweight strength training, I point them to Al Kavadlo. Pushing the Limits! is a must-have for bodyweight training enthusiasts or anyone looking to build strength without lifting weights. Al lays out dozens of effective exercises for every fitness level, while making the journey fun and encouraging.”

Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint

“Whether you are an advanced bodyweight conditioning athlete or a wet behind the ears newbie, Al’s Pushing the Limits! has something for you. Easy to follow progressions allow you to master advanced push up, squat and bridging variations. All you need is the will to do it! No gym required.”

Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution

“In this awesome new book, Al only asks that you find ONE piece of equipment—your body! Stoic, Spartan, perfection…this book is bodyweight strength training for the ultimate purist!”

Paul Wade, author of Convict Conditioning

“This is the book I wish I had when I first started working out. Knowing Al’s secrets and various progressions would have saved me years of wasted time, frustration and injuries. The variations of The Big Three and progressions Al lays out will keep you busy for years.”

Jason Ferruggia, author of Renegade Muscle

“I LOVE this freaking Book!!! I will use it with my athletes, with the adults I train, in my own training and with my kids. This stuff reminds me of the old school Strength & Health Magazine, I’m fired UP!”

Zach Even-Esh, author of The Bodyweight Bodybuilding Training System

“Al is a master at developing the foundations of true strength through the use of the most complex, sophisticated and powerful training tool ever devised – the human body. Pushing The Limits! is a practical and entertaining book that describes ancient methods for building futuristic strength.”

Elliott Hulse, creator of The Grow Stronger Method

Click here for more information or to purchase your copy of Pushing The Limits!

The Century Workout

Over the last several weeks, interest in the upcoming PCC workshop this June has grown beyond my expectations.

We’re still more than four months out from the inaugural certification and we’ve already filled almost all of the 75 spots allocated for the event. This is going to be a truly momentous occasion!

As the PCC course material is based heavily on the work of Convict Conditioning author Paul Wade, a key part of earning the PCC title is passing Coach Wade’s “Century” test.

The Century is a strength and conditioning challenge that consists of 100 consecutive bodyweight repetitions performed as follows:

Men                                       Women
40 Squats                              40 Squats
30 Push-ups                         30 Knee Push-ups
20 Hanging Knee Raises     20 Hanging Knee Raises
10 Pull-ups                           10 Australian Pull-ups

A lot of people have asked about how the test will be judged. Here are some guidelines to make sure you are doing things the PCC way:

  •  The exercises must be performed in the order listed above. No exceptions.
  •  Squats must be performed with a minimum depth of top of the thighs parallel to the floor and a full lock out at the top of each rep. Arms may be raised in front, crossed, or placed on top of the head. Heels must stay flat the entire time.
  •  Push-up depth must reach a minimum of 90 degrees of flexion as measured along the outside of the elbow and a full lockout must be achieved at the top of every rep. A straight body position must be maintained throughout the entire range of motion. No sticking your butt into the air or leaving your hips down on the ground.
  •  Hanging knee raises must be performed with the knees being raised above waist level and a full extension of the legs at the bottom of every rep. Swinging shall be kept to a minimum. Arms must remain straight the entire set.
  •  Pull-ups may be performed with an overhand or underhand grip. The chin must clear the bar at the top of each rep and a full extension must be reached at the bottom. Kipping will not be allowed. (Australian pull-ups are to be performed with the bar at waist height and a straight body position must be maintained throughout.)
  •  Rest may be taken in between exercises, but each exercise must be completed in a single set. You may pause briefly between reps as long as the position is held (i.e. top of push-up position, bottom of pull-up, etc.)
  •  The reps may be performed as quickly as you like as long as all the above rules are adhered to. Form first!

In the videos below, you’ll see the Century demonstrated in real time by three different people: myself, my brother Danny, and our PCC co-instructor Adrienne Harvey.