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.
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.
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:
A lot has been happening here at Team Al headquarters these last few months! Between the link love I’ve gotten at Mark’s Daily Apple, being featured on Ross Training and my recent article on Sherdog, lots of new visitors have been stopping by – not to mention all the people who’ve found their way here through fans and friends sharing posts on facebook and twitter (thanks guys!).
Bootcamp at Tompkins Square Park has also been going great and I’ve been staying busy working with my personal training clients (not to mention my own, personal training).
Looking Forward/Looking Back
In the months ahead, look for new articles on a variety of topics including injuries and injury prevention, muscle-ups and – everyone’s favorite – the human flag! I’m also planning a new front lever tutorial and more posts on nutrition.
In the meantime, I’ve put together a new highlight clip of some of my favorite moments from the last several months as well as some rarities and never before seen footage:
And for anyone who hasn’t seen my highlights from last summer, check out the clip below:
This past Saturday, the best of the best from the NYC calisthenics scene got together to train at my favorite outdoor gym, Tompkins Square Park – and I was fortunate enough to be a part of the action!
Members of the world-famous Bar-barians, as well as Team Beastmode, Calisthenics Kingz and many others all united to train together, share their knowledge and feed off each others’ good energy.
Also on hand to represent NYC’s parkour community was Keith Horan, who dazzled the crowd with his blend of calisthenics and freerunning.
Throughout the afternoon there was no shortage of advanced moves like muscle-ups, L-sits, levers, handstand push-ups, planches and human flags. I also saw innovative variations and combinations of moves unlike anything I’d ever witnessed before. In spite of the intensity of the exercises, the vibe was casual and welcoming. In the end, we all had a good time and a great workout – my arms are still sore as I type this!
Watch the video below to see some of the action from this epic meet-up:
Kartik has been one of my most consistent and hardworking clients for a long time, so he’s no stranger to pull-ups and dips.
Despite a shoulder injury from before we met, Kartik’s built a considerable amount of upper-body strength and power in recent years and he’s now stronger and healthier than he’s ever been.
Always seeking to challenge my clients, Kartik and I decided it was time for him to begin training for his first muscle-up. After a few sessions spent practicing explosive pull-ups, straight bar dips and assisted muscle-ups, Kartik was ready to try the real deal. There were lots of unsuccessful attempts, but Kartik persevered and finally achieved his first muscle-up!
It's normal for one arm to come over first when you're learning to do a muscle-up
It wasn’t the best looking muscle-up, but nobody’s first one ever is. It’s normal to have to kick your legs and throw one arm over before the other when you’re first learning to get the movement pattern down. Do whatever you need to in the beginning – with practice you’ll learn to keep your legs straight and make the movement fluid. Don’t get hung up on perfecting your form before you can even do a single rep.
Now that Kartik got the first one out of the way, we can work towards improving his form. Check back this summer for an update on Kartik’s training and watch the video below to see his triumphant break-through moment:
For more information about muscle-ups, pick up a copy of my book, Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics.
New York City has so many great places to work out for free – you just have to be creative!
I’ve got nothing against training in a gym, but with spring finally blooming after a long snowy winter, my brother Danny and I couldn’t wait to venture back out to the streets of Manhattan for another edition of Sets in the City.
We all have the opportunity to better our bodies every single day. Instead of sitting around waiting for things in your life to magically fall into place, go out and make opportunities for yourself. Learning to improvise with whatever’s in front of you is a helpful skill in the world of fitness, but it’s an even greater asset in everyday life.
Watch the video below to see Danny and I getting it in anywhere we can with scaffolding pull-ups, muscle-ups and of course, the human flag.
Working out doesn’t have to be work – in fact it can be a lot of fun!
Play time is a necessary part of being human and that doesn’t stop once we finish kindergarten.
I got together with my brother Danny at Tompkins Square Park earlier this week to try out some new moves and we had a blast in the process.
We did some variations on basic exercises like push-ups, pull-ups and dips and even had fun with a little manual resistance training.
All in all we had a good time – getting a great workout was simply an added bonus!
Watch the video below for more:
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.
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.
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:
Always on the hunt for fun and creative ways to exercise, my brother Danny and I recently ventured out to practice some of our moves throughout the streets of Manhattan.
In addition to the usual array of scaffold pull-ups, muscle-ups and dips, we also practiced human flags, shrimp squats and hand balancing. It was chilly out, but after working out in the snow, this was a breeze.
For those of you who have a hard time fitting exercise into your day, remember that fitness and life are one in the same. You don’t need a gym to work out when the whole world is a playground!
Watch the video below for more:
The NYC marathon always attracts a crowd and this year was no different. In addition to the 37,000 entrants, there were millions of friends, family and fans lined up to cheer on the racers, giving the entire city Marathon fever!
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since I ran the NYC marathon, but time flies when you’re having fun. And hey – it’s been a good year!
This time around, I was excited to be a spectator. Being part of the crowd is almost as much fun as being in the race itself! It was a beautiful day and the positive energy was overwhelming.
The popularity of distance running is undeniable and everyone is welcome to participate. With entrants from all ages, nationalities and body types represented, it proved to me that anyone who sets their mind to it can run a Marathon.
Check out the photos below for more:
Age is just a number. So is 26.2.
Heel striking in Vibrams? Oh and he's in a funny costume, too.
Photos by Colleen Leung
You don’t have to belong to a gym in order to get a great workout. Being outdoors and enjoying the fresh air can make exercising even more of a positive experience. Add in a few friends who can help you stay motivated and you’ve got yourself a fun way to spend an afternoon.
As I mention in my book, We’re Working Out! A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness, my favorite place to train is Tompkins Square Park in NYC’s East Village. It has everything I need and it helps me keep my workouts creative.
TSP has built a cult following and become legendary in some circles. Thanks to word of mouth, a great community has taken shape over the years. In addition to doing my bootcamp class there every Saturday morning, I’m lucky enough to train with people who can teach me new things and push me to work harder. Rick Seedman and Alex Borisov of the Bar-barians are two of my favorite training partners lately. We were recently photographed by Felipe Passolas while we did our thing at TSP. I hope you find some inspiration in these pictures.
This takes a lot of practice.
Can't get enough human flag!
Who doesn't love monkey bars?
This tore up my hands!
We had a hell of a workout!