Category Archives: Strength and Conditioning

How to Do A Double Under

Al Kavadlo Double Under

Who knew you could burn fat and have fun at the same time?

Those of you who’ve been following me for a while probably know that I’m not a fan of “cardio workouts” – but I do love me some jump rope training!

Jumping rope burns a ton of calories, plus it’s a great workout for your heart, lungs, legs, grip…and brain!

You see, unlike mind-numbing treadmill or stationary bike workouts, jumping rope requires you to stay focused and pay attention to your body, which has major cognitive benefits.

And wouldn’t you know it – by focusing on the task rather than the outcome, you can have a more enjoyable experience – and still get ripped!

Double Under Technique
The double under is a particularly effective technique for expending huge amounts of energy and revving your metabolism, but it can also be quite challenging to learn. As such, make sure you are very comfortable with standard jump rope technique before you begin working on the double under.

In order to perform a successful double under, you’ll need to whip the rope extremely quickly and jump higher than normal to make room for the rope to pass beneath your feet twice before you land.

I also suggest keeping your hands relatively low and slightly forward of your hips. If your hands are too high or too far back, you won’t have enough clearance beneath your feet.

At first, you may only be able to perform one double under at a time, but with practice you will eventually be able to string together multiple reps.

Double Trouble
There’s often a lot of trial and error involved in figuring out the proper timing for a double under. It’s a skill that takes practice and patience to master, so try not to get too frustrated in the beginning.

It’s best to practice on a soft surface like rubber or grass in order to minimize impact on your joints. Also make sure to bend your knees and ankles upon landing in order to reduce impact.

It can also help to learn the technique with a lightweight speed-rope, like “The Bolt” from Crossrope.

Crossrope_Bolt_Set

Lighter ropes can move a lot faster than heavier ones, and I’ve found that ropes which weigh around 3 or 4 ounces tend to be ideal for learning double unders.

Once you’ve gotten fluid with your technique, you can try using an even lighter rope for more speed. Be aware, however, that very light ropes can potentially be harder to control, so some people will prefer to stick with a slightly heavier option.

That’s part of what I love about “The Bolt” from Crossrope: It comes with two ropes that are easily interchangeable – a lightweight 3 oz rope and a super-lightweight 1 oz rope.

Watch the video below for more:

The Benefits of Cold Exposure

Abominible Snow AlEvery time I take a shower, I go through a little battle inside my head.

Allow me to explain…

Several months back, I read Wim Hof’s The Way of The Iceman, and it inspired me to experiment with cold exposure training.

In the book, Hof suggests ending every shower by turning the dial all the way to the cold side, then staying under the frigid water for as long as possible.

The first time I tried it, I barely lasted 30 seconds and found the whole thing to be quite unpleasant.

When it was over, however, I felt a powerful surge of energy which encouraged me to do it again the next day. After doing this daily for a few weeks, I’d conditioned myself to withstand several minutes under the cold water.

Though I’m a bit skeptical of some of the bold claims certain proponents of cold exposure training have made, there are three clear benefits I’ve experienced from it, and that’s enough to keep me going:

1 – Increased Energy
Though I’m not typically lacking in vitality, I do feel especially energized right after a cold shower. When the water hits my skin, it really wakes me up and gives my nervous system a jolt.

The science also shows that when the body is exposed to cold, it causes the capillaries to contract and blood is rushed away from the extremities in order to keep the internal organs warm. In the moments following cold exposure, the capillaries expand and fresh blood is returned to those areas. That’s probably why I’ve had some really good workouts right after a cold shower.

2 – Improved Recovery
When you’re fired up, a cold shower is a great way to cool down. Though it may seem like a contradiction to my last point, cold showers are perfect after a workout, especially if you’ve built up a lot of body heat.

Cold exposure following an intense training session also seems to help relieve muscular soreness, which makes sense given the anti-inflammatory power of the cold. There’s a reason it’s common practice to put ice on a fresh wound or injury. The healing power of the cold is undeniable.

3 – The Ultimate Meditation
Frozen YogaThe cold has an amazing way of bringing you into the present moment. It’s pretty much impossible to daydream or think about anything other than the physical sensations you are experiencing while you are in the midst of cold exposure. All you can do is stand there, breathe and accept it.

Focusing on the breath is a cornerstone of virtually all forms of meditation training, as well as a major part of the Wim Hof Method. If you focus your mind deep inside your belly and take big, powerful breaths, it’s easier to keep from succumbing to the cold.

It can also be helpful to move around. If I’m doing outdoor cold exposure, this could mean hitting a few yoga poses and/or doing some light stretching. If I’m taking a cold shower, I might start by letting the water hit my back and legs for the first few seconds, then turn to the side for a bit and let it run over my shoulder, finally letting it hit my chest, armpits and face after I’ve had a little time to adapt to the sensation.

Cold War
Even after following Wim’s teachings for the last several months and experiencing the benefits firsthand, it’s still sometimes a struggle for me to turn the shower knob to the cold side. Occasionally there are days when I’m eager to feel the cold against my skin, but much of the time there’s a voice inside my head trying to talk me out of turning that dial.

And that’s a big part of why I keep doing it.

Forcing myself to override the part of my brain that desires comfort has made me mentally stronger.

Just like my calisthenics training, my experience with cold training has helped reinforce for me how to best approach potentially daunting tasks without getting overwhelmed. The key is to focus on breaking the bigger task down into smaller chunks.

Cold ExposureOn the days when I really don’t want to feel the cold, I tell myself I’m just going to do 30 seconds. Once I get to that point, it’s usually not hard to convince myself to endure another 30 seconds. After a minute, I try to convince myself to say in for another minute. Sometimes it even starts to feel good!

There are days when I time myself on my phone and make sure I do a full 5 minutes. Other days I don’t bother with the timer and just stay in for as long as I can handle.

In addition to cold showers, I’ve also experimented with outdoor cold exposure, ice baths and cold rooms (like the one in the photo to the left), which can all get very intense.

Of course, I do take a day off once or twice a week when I am feeling particularly dispassionate about experiencing the cold.

Just like strength training, it’s good to give your body a break from all that stimulation occasionally. Typically when I skip a day, I’m more eager to go for it the next time.

Cold, Hard Truth
Studies continue to surface about the benefits of cold showers, ice baths and other forms of cold exposure therapy, yet many people are still hesitant to give it a shot. We live in a culture that encourages comfort above all else, but being comfortable all the time does not allow us to grow.

I’m sure you have a friend or two who thinks that you’re crazy for doing calisthenics. Keep that in mind if you think I’m crazy after you watch the video below:

If you’d like more info about cold training, pick up a copy of Wim Hof’s The Way of The Iceman.

Learning to Tear a Deck of Cards in Half

Torn CardsLast Halloween I went to see my friend Adam RealMan perform his one-man sideshow act, which includes everything from sword swallowing and eating lit cigarettes, to bending steel and tearing decks of cards in half barehanded. Fun for the whole family!

I’d witnessed card tearing before on several occasions and found it to be entertaining and impressive, but I’d never thought to try it myself until that fateful evening.

After watching Adam’s performance, he and I got to talking and I happened to inquire about the card tearing feat. He immediately reached into his back pocket, whipped out another deck, handed it to me and told me to give it a shot.

After a quick primer on technique, I grabbed the deck as instructed and did my best to rip it in two.

“C’mon, Al – I know you’re strong! You can do this!” Adam said encouragingly, but alas he was mistaken. Instead of the cards tearing, it was the skin on my hands that tore, and I began to bleed.

“Oh yeah, that’s normal!” Adam told me. “My hands bled the first few times I tried it, too!” he continued.

After letting me struggle with the deck for a minute, Adam took the cards back from me and promptly finished what I had attempted to start, easily ripping the now twisted deck in two.

He then handed me another sealed deck from his pocket (circus people apparently carry multiple decks of cards on them at all times) and instructed me to go home and practice.

“Split the deck in half and see if you can tear 26 cards. Then build up from there.” he instructed me.

When I got home I followed his advice and was able to rip the half-deck in two. The next morning I ripped the rest of the deck in half. Then I went online and ordered a case of playing cards so I could continue practicing.

Other than the advice Adam Realman gave me on Halloween, and a few videos I watched on Youtube, I didn’t have much to go on besides my own trials and errors. So I kept working on tearing 20-30 cards at a time, and gradually started to increase that number.

Six months later I finally managed to tear a full deck of cards in half without crying, cursing or bleeding. Soon thereafter I did it on video and shared it to Instagram. It’s not pretty, but here it is:

Card Tearing Technique
After I shared that video, I sent it to Adam to get his feedback. His reply basically boiled down to, “That’s nice, but you’re doing it wrong.” Adam pointed out that when I tore the cards, the rip was beginning by the bottom of my hands and going up toward my fingers. He then informed me the correct way to do it is by initiating the tear from the top down.

I went back and re-watched those card tearing videos again and saw that Adam was right. All the guys on YouTube – including Logan Christopher, Jedd Johnson and Adam T. Glass – start the tear from the top down. It’s amazing how we can miss some of the smaller details when learning something new (even if those details are clearly demonstrated, as they are in those videos).

So the next few times I practiced tearing cards, I attempted to rip them from the top down, but no matter what I tried, the tear still started from the bottom. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

After asking around in my inner circle, it was recommended to me that I contact Chris Rider, one of the world’s top performing strongmen, and a fantastic teacher from what I’d heard.

Turns out Chris’ coaching helped a lot. In fact, during my first card tearing session with Chris, I made as much progress as I had in the previous few months training on my own. I obviously didn’t get any stronger in one hour, but Chris helped fix my technique. I was able to apply his advice effectively because I had built a lot of hand strength from practicing on my own already, even though I’d been making some mistakes. As my brother Danny always says, Everybody Needs Training – even me!

Card Tearing S

The technique Chris taught me starts by clutching the deck horizontally with the thumb, index finger and middle finger of your non-dominant hand. If you are right-handed like me, this means you’ll clutch the deck in your left hand. Once you’ve got a tight grip on them, aim to curve the cards in toward your palm slightly, then pinch the top corner of the opposite side of the deck between the thumb and the index finger of your dominant hand. Don’t put the fleshy part of your thumb on the deck. Instead, pinch it between the thumb itself and the outside of the index finger. This was the main mistake I was making before Chris corrected my technique.

Once both hands are in place, keep a firm grip and twist the cards into an S-like position by turning the top corner upward with your dominant hand as you continue to curl the opposite end of the deck slightly downward into your palm. Use your dominant hand to tear the deck toward you, while the other hand twists away, like you were revving a motorcycle.

Initiating the tear can sometimes be easier than finishing it. The final few centimeters are often the toughest part. As such, you may need to adjust the position of your hands slightly in order to complete the tear. It can help to slide the index finger of your non-dominant hand into the tear for more leverage on that side. You’ll also want to ease up on curling the deck inward. The S-curve is helpful to start the tear, but can make it harder to finish.

Here’s a more recent tear of mine with proper technique:

Wild Card
Some of you may be wondering why a calisthenics devotee like myself would spend so much time practicing a strongman feat like card tearing.

It’s a reasonable question, and my answer is that – just like calisthenics – card tearing is simply a lot of fun!

Furthermore, learning to tear a deck of cards is actually more like getting your first muscle-up than you might think.

In fact, all the physical feats I’ve achieved it my life require the same three fundamental things:

1 – Progressive Overload
Every form of strength training operates under the principle of progressive overload, which refers to developing strength through incremental resistance increases over the course of several weeks or months. In weight training, practitioners start with a light weight and slowly add more over time. In calisthenics, beginners build a foundation with basic exercises and work their way up to harder ones (pull-ups before muscle-ups, etc.).

In the case of card tearing, progressive overload just means beginning with fewer cards, then gradually working toward the full deck. I started with a half deck, but you can start with 15 or 20 cards and build up from there if a half deck is too much. Treat it like any other exercise: Practice a few times a week, doing 3-5 sets each session (each tear counts as one set), and aim to train at around 65-80% of your maximal strength. You shouldn’t be trying to tear as many cards as possible every time. It’s easy to get carried away with this, so take a week off if you begin to feel pain in or around your elbows.

Thumb Callous2 – Tolerance for Discomfort
In the beginning, your hands will hurt, but after a while you’ll get used to the sensation of the cards pressing into your skin. You may even start to develop callouses in strange new places. It’s just like how people who are new to pull-ups experience discomfort due to hanging from the bar, but eventually their hands toughen up and it is no longer an issue.

3 – Technique/Specificity
Like anything, the more you practice card tearing, the better you’ll get. You can understand the technique theoretically, but knowing it in a deeper sense only comes from firsthand experience, so be prepared to practice a lot before it really starts to sink in. I’m still not where I want to be with this skill, but I’m enjoying the journey.

Changing of the Card
A few months into my card tearing odyssey, my mom told me that I had some old junk laying around in her attic that she wanted me to throw away. Among the boxes were a bunch of old baseball cards from when I was a kid. For a second I was going to throw them out, then I realized I could use them for tearing!

I soon discovered that the type of cards you use can significantly alter the difficulty. In tearing several different brands of baseball cards, I found that some of them were thicker and harder to rip than others. (Don’t worry, none of them were particularly valuable.)

Even within the world of playing cards, there are many different brands and varieties, and some are harder to tear than others. The same brand of card won’t even be totally consistent from deck to deck. I encourage you to experiment with a variety of cards. The nice thing about the tougher ones is that you don’t need to use as many in order to challenge yourself and effect change.

Cards Torn in HalfGrip training is some of the most functional training you can do because we use our hands throughout the day more than just about any other part of our body. Most of us carry bags, open jars and pick up random objects every day. Since I’ve been practicing card tearing, I’ve noticed all of those tasks are starting to feel a little bit easier.

Though some will dismiss card tearing as a silly trick with no practical value, I believe it’s a great way to strengthen your hands and fingers, as well as your mental fortitude.

And there’s nothing wrong with being able to keep your friends entertained at parties.

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.

Strength Rules

Strength Rules

The wait is over! My brother Danny Kavadlo’s new book Strength Rules is now on sale in both paperback and ebook formats!

Strength Rules showcases Danny’s colorful personality and out-of-the-box philosophy on strength training and nutrition. It’s my personal favorite of Danny’s books so far!

Here’s what others have to say about Strength Rules:

“If you are a bodyweight master, this is the bible you will want to go back to again and again, to keep you on the straight and narrow. If you are raw beginner—Jeez, then get this book right now, follow the rules, and save yourself years of wasted effort! Strength Rules is as good as it gets!”
—PAUL WADE, author of Convict Conditioning

“Strength Rules by Danny Kavadlo is so good you can’t ignore it. It’s minimalistic. It’s low tech. It’s simple. It’s right.”
—DAN JOHN, author of Never Let Go

“I can’t say enough good things about Danny Kavadlo. I just love his entire approach, mindset and overall vibe. And Strength Rules has to be one of the coolest, most badass fitness books I have ever seen.” —JASON FERRUGGIA

So what are you waiting for? Go get your copy of Strength Rules right now!

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.