Category Archives: Inspirational

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:

Playing With Movement

Movement is movement. Whether you’re practicing calisthenics, doing yoga, or lifting weights, the body moves how the body moves.

There are only so many ways that our joints can bend and flex, yet when you start playing with variations on basic movement patterns, you’ll find the possibilities are limitless.

Changing one small aspect of an exercise can vary it just enough to increase the intensity. Combining moves can also create new challenges.

Get Some Play
Working out is best approached with a joyous attitude and an open mind. Movement offers an opportunity for growth and self-discovery, but it’s also supposed to be fun! Take the time to really be present for your workout and feel what your body is doing. Exercise should be one of the least stressful parts of your day. Don’t over-think things – just move!

What’s In A Name?
A lot of people ask me what I call some of the unusual calisthenics moves that I do. Many of the moves have names, but other times I don’t have an answer. It really doesn’t matter what you call things though. That which we call a kip-up by any other name would still look as sweet.

Check out the video below to see me playing with some variations on familiar moves like handstands and back bridges. Plus a few other things that I don’t even know what to call!

If you want to get sandals like the ones I’m wearing in the video, check out Xero Shoes.

2012 NYC Triathlon Race Report

Ever since running the NYC Marathon back in 2009, racing the NYC Triathlon has been next on my fitness bucket-list. Well after last Sunday, I can now scratch that one off too!

The tri was a great experience, and finishing is an accomplishment that I will be proud of for the rest of my life. However, I went through many different feelings and emotions throughout the race. As the famous Dickens quote goes, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

The Swim
The hardest part of the whole race was dealing with the anxiety in the morning. From the moment I woke up I had butterflies in my stomach; I didn’t really settle into my groove until a few minutes after I got in the water. As someone who never really swam as a kid, jumping feet first into the Hudson was the part that I was most anxious about. (Only the pros dive in head first, thankfully!) Once I settled in, however, the swim went very well.

Though it has a bad reputation, the water in the Hudson was no more disgusting than the water at Coney Island where I did most of my open-water triathlon training. There was some seaweed to contend with and I bumped into a log once, but it was pretty minor compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard from other triathletes (though I did catch an elbow in the face near the start of the swim).

The downstream current in the Hudson definitely helped with my time, though I found myself getting pulled to the left as well. I spent a good deal of the swim trying to steer myself back to the middle. Though I couldn’t see or hear much in the water, I was reminded very loudly by some of the crew who were following along in canoes to “STAY TO THE RIGHT!”

As the visibility in the water was virtually nonexistent, I didn’t realize I was close to the end until I was within about 100 meters. Needless to say, I was quite pleased to see it when I did!

The Bike
After the swim there’s a barefoot run (on pavement!) into the transition area, which is just a field with a bunch of bike racks on it. I took my time in the first transition since I wanted to carefully remove my wetsuit, clean my feet, have a snack, drink some water, pee, etc. I also wanted to check that all my things were okay (they were). Since getting a good night’s sleep was a priority for me, I had left all my stuff there the night before. (Many participants forgo some sleep to bring their gear to the transition the morning of the race).

The bike ride was longer and more challenging than I had anticipated. Between the July heat and the steep hills, the ride dragged on for what seemed like an eternity. Since I was in one of the later start waves, the pack had thinned out quite a bit and there weren’t many other cyclists around. There were times when I didn’t see anyone else on the road at all. As I was alone for much of the ride, it didn’t feel like much of a “race” at all – I took it slow on most of the hills and eventually I made it to the end.

The Run
Once the bike ride was over, there was a huge sense of relief. So many things are out of your control during the swim and the bike (someone crashing into you, a flat tire, etc), but once I was onto the run, I knew it was all up to me. Nothing could take it away at that point.

I took the first couple of miles slow and easy and eventually started to find my legs in mile three. I kept it at a steady pace, splashing cups of water on my face every time I passed the aid tables (I managed to get some water down my throat as well.) The last mile of the run I kicked it up a notch, triumphantly crossing the finish line with a net time of 3:36:13.

After the race, I picked up my bike from the transition area and rode five more miles back to my apartment, rewarding myself with one of my favorite indulgences: pizza!

I didn’t look at a clock once during the race, which I think helped me pace myself and enjoy the journey without getting caught up in any of the ego stuff. I just listened to my body and tried to stay at a moderate level of exertion for most of the race. The only time I turned up the juice was near the end of the run.

In retrospect, I know I could have done the whole thing faster if I pushed a bit harder, but I have no regrets about my performance. With all the things that could potentially go wrong during a triathlon, I am just glad I made it across the finish line in one piece.


Swim: 28:22

T1: 13:01

Bike: 1:49:46

T2: 3:34

Run: 1:01:31

Total: 3:36:13

Watch the video below to see a photo montage of pictures from the event.
(Photos by Colleen Leung.)

Street Workout

Spring is in full bloom here in NYC and there’s never been a better time for an outdoor training session.

With that in mind, my brother Danny and I spent the better part of the day yesterday strolling around lower Manhattan getting our reps in on anything and everything we could find.

We hit the bars at a few different neighborhood playgrounds and also made use of construction scaffolding and whatever else we came across.

We practiced push-ups, pull-ups, dips, pistol squats, human flags and lots of other challenging moves, once again demonstrating that you don’t need a gym or any fancy equipment to get a great full-body workout.

Watch the video below for more:

Related posts:
Human Flags Everywhere!
Sets in the City
Sets in the City II

Al Kavadlo Fall 2011 Update

I’ve been busy these last few months, but a lot of exciting things are happening!

First off, I’ve started writing my second book (that’s why you haven’t been seeing as many updates here on my blog).

The new book will include several specific workout routines as well as everything you’ll ever need to know about pull-ups, dips and muscle-ups – plus much more!

In the meantime, make sure you grab a copy of my first book!

In other news, I’m on the cover of the current issue of My Mad Methods Magazine! I’m also featured here, here and here.

Of course there’s also Convict Conditioning 2, which will be out on paperback next month. If you can’t wait that long, you can download the e-book right now!

Plus there is my newest workout video, shot by photographer/videographer Colleen Leung.

For those of you who are new here, this video will give you a good idea of what I’m all about. For those of you who’ve been keeping up with me for a while, it also includes a few variations of moves that you’ve never seen from me before!

Check it out and let me know what you think:

Never Too Old to Work Out

A lot of people in the calisthenics community know about Tompkins Square Park. It’s where the Bar-barians train, it’s where I train and thanks to youtube, it’s become a legendary park for bar training all over the world.

There is another group that trains at TSP, however. One that you’ve probably never heard of unless you’ve spent some time there yourself. That is, until now.

Old Dogs, New Tricks
A lot of people write to me with concerns about starting strength training later in life. In the video below, you’ll see three men in their 50’s and 60’s busting out some high level calisthenics. One of the fellows featured didn’t even begin this type of training until his 50’s.

You don’t stop working out because you get old, you get old because you stop working out.

Prepare to be amazed:

5B's Pull-up Jam 2011

This past Saturday I took the #4 train into Brooklyn for the annual 5B’s Pull-up Jam at Lincoln Terrace Park.

Unlike last year’s contest, however, I didn’t enter the actual competition. This time I just went to hang out, be a part of the good vibes and of course, get my reps in.

As always, there was lots of good energy, good conversation and of course, “good money!”

While the contest was happening in one part of the park, a crowd gathered near another set of bars for an informal freestyle exhibition. A lot of big names from the extreme calisthenics community were on hand to represent. There was no shortage of pull-ups, muscle-ups, levers and many other advanced moves.

All in all, everyone had a good time and a great workout. Thanks to all who entered and attended, and especially to everyone behind the scenes who made this event so much fun!

Watch the video below for more:

Pull-ups for Women

It’s no secret that pull-ups are my favorite exercise. They work your entire upper body, plus they’re cool looking and fun!

While learning to do pull-ups is hard for anyone, the task can be especially daunting for females. However, it is possible for any able bodied woman to perform pull-ups, as long as she’s willing to put in some work.

It almost goes without saying, but if you are overweight, pull-ups may not be realistic for you, so make sure you get your diet in check first.

Chin It To Win It
Pull-ups can be done with many different grips, though it’s usually best for beginners to start out with an underhand (chin-up) grip as this will allow you to utilize your biceps more.

Though the muscles of the upper back have the potential to become incredibly powerful, your arms are more likely to be developed and will be able to compensate in the meantime. With enough practice, the disparity between overhand and underhand grips should even out.

Assisted Pull-ups
The best way to learn to do a pull-up is to start with assistance. Have your trainer or training partner give you a manual assist by placing their hands on your back. A good spotter can give you just enough help to get you through a full range of motion without doing too much of the work for you.

If you don’t have anyone to assist you, use a stretch band, or stand on a bench and assist yourself by using your leg(s). You’ll have to use the honor system with this method – pull as much as you can with your arms and only use your legs to make up the difference.

Australian Pull-ups
Just like an assisted pull-up is easier than the free-hanging variety, the Australian pull-up will allow you to train a similar movement pattern without having to bear your full weight. The Australian pull-up will also get you used to keeping your core engaged, which is a key aspect of performing pull-ups.

Flex Hangs
As I mentioned in my original guide to learning to do a pull-up, holding a flex hang (the top position of a pull-up) for time is a great way to build up to doing the full range of motion. Try to work up to a 30 second hold. By then you should be able to get off a rep or two.

Check out this video of my friend and fellow trainer, Jessica Rumbaugh demonstrating that women can grind out pull-ups without turning into a dude.

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

Human Flags Everywhere!

The first time I ever tried to do a human flag was on the support beam of a cable machine at my old gym. I jumped up and squeezed as hard as I could but didn’t come close to staying up for even a second. I was pretty strong at the time too. After all, I was almost 30 years old and had been working out for most of my life by that point. Not one to be easily discouraged, I immediately made it my mission to master this feat of strength.

Self Flag-ellation

In spite of my early difficulties with the human flag, I pushed onward with my training. I began practicing flag variations with my arms and/or legs bent and eventually managed to get a little air. I stared using an actual pole, and was able to add a second or two every few weeks to my bent flag holds. Progress came slowly and after several months, I finally began building up to full holds. During this time I also trained pull-ups, handstand push-ups and planks, all of which help build strength for the human flag.

Raise Your Flag
I’ve now been consistently practicing for a few years and my flag skills have come a long way. Whereas I could only hold a straight-leg flag on an angle when starting out, I can now hold a full human flag with my body level to the ground for several seconds.

Be patient when beginning with this feat – part of what makes the human flag so impressive is that it is hard! If any guy who felt strong could master this move in three days, it wouldn’t really be much of a feat at all.

Odd Objects
Ever since I began human flagging, I’ve gotten a kick out of trying to pull off this feat in unexpected places. Any tall, sturdy object is a potential place to let it fly. I love a good outdoor workout and in a city like New York, there are so many fun places to practice human flags!

My brother Danny and I recently ventured around the city looking for new places to attempt the human flag. We flagged on phone booths, mail boxes and other everyday urban objects.

Check out the video below for more: