“All I hope for is to continue to be fortunate enough to keep doing the things I love and inspiring others to improve their fitness.”
We recently caught up with Al Kavadlo to talk about his journey from a scrawny Brooklyn teenager to one of the world’s most renowned experts on all things calisthenics and bodyweight training. Al Kavadlo, CSCS is one of the world’s leading experts in bodyweight strength training and calisthenics. Al has been featured in The New York Times and is a regular contributor to Bodybuilding.com and TRAIN magazine. The author of four books, including Stretching Your Boundaries and Pushing The Limits!, Kavadlo is also known for his appearance in the popular Convict Conditioning book series. Famous for smiling while performing some of the most difficult bodyweight exercises imaginable, Al has racked up millions of views on his YouTube channel. His no-nonsense approach to fitness and unbridled enthusiasm for calisthenics is tough to ignore! As lead instructor for the Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC), Al gets to bring his unique coaching style to fitness trainers and enthusiasts around the globe. For a list of upcoming workshop dates, click here.
Let’s start at the beginning, tell us about your first foray into strength training? What prompted it and what subsequently inspired the move from weights to bodyweight training?
I was a scrawny kid growing up in a rough part of Brooklyn in the 90’s and I didn’t want to get my ass kicked! [Laughs.]
I actually started with push-ups and pull-ups, then got into weight training. Eventually I came full circle and went back to calisthenics after trying many different types of workouts. There’s just something magical about bodyweight training!
For those who have been sedentary for years, perhaps all their lives, do you recommend easing into fitness with strength training, mobility work or a combination of the two?
I recommend people start with whatever interests them most, or if none of it is interesting, start with the least-worst option. Building the habit often matters more for beginners than the specifics of what they are doing. I often tell people that their only goal when starting out should be to get in the habit of working out at least three times a week.
Given the goal-orientated society we live in it can be difficult to not make goals our number one focus when training, what benefits are there in removing goals and simply prioritising the joy of movement?
One of the main problems I have with the goal-centric mindset that is so prominent in mainstream fitness is that it can lead to burnout, disappointment or worse.
When we let ourselves get too attached to expecting immediate results, it can lead us to give up when those results don’t happen as quickly as we might have wanted. Conversely, if you reach a given fitness goal but still don’t feel like you’re ‘there yet’ you might give up as well.
“A goal will only get you so far if you can’t embrace the process.”
I find it best to be flexible and just deal with things as they come. And of course, enjoying the activity itself is often the best motivation to keep going. A goal will only get you so far if you can’t embrace the process.
Of course goal setting isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I’ve set many goals for myself over the years. You just need to be willing to make adjustments to your timeline. It helps to keep your aspirations high but your expectations low! [Laughs.]
There are some fairly advanced calisthenics movements such as the human flag and handstand push-ups that can be incredibly daunting for newcomers. How can newcomers with limited strength and flexibility make steady progress to performing these movements and making them a reality?
It goes back to what we were just saying about goals. If you are starting out with calisthenics, it’s best to not even worry about things like the human flag for a while. Focus on the basics as they provide the foundation for the more advanced moves.
Like most young guys who get into fitness, my early motivation was purely aesthetic – I just wanted to look good! In my early 20’s I decided to try a yoga class and it was a humbling experience that help expand my horizons. I’ve since continued a regular yoga practice for over a decade and it’s been a really helpful part of my overall training regimen.
People always want to know about how I train. After my first few books about calisthenics strength training, I felt it was important to give my followers the full spectrum and talk about my yoga practice in a way that might make it more interesting or approachable for the average person.
I usually recommend that people start with my book Pushing The Limits! It has a lot of beginner-friendly exercises and routines, but it can also keep someone occupied for a long time, as the harder progressions can take years to achieve. Additionally, the book focuses solely on exercises that are performed with no equipment, so anyone can get started right away.
In addition to your books, blog, magazine articles and popular YouTube channel there’s – as of last year – the Progressive Calisthenics Certification which you’re a lead instructor for alongside your brother, Danny. Can you tell us about the PCC, who it’s for, what you’ll get out of it and how people can sign up for the Certification?
The PCC is the world’s first and best certification for fitness trainers who want to specialize in calisthenics. It’s a three-day, hands-on course with lots of practical work in addition to the lectures and discussions.
Even if you aren’t interested in a career in fitness, the PCC is still a great opportunity for calisthenics enthusiasts to spend an entire weekend honing their skills with other like-minded individuals. A lot of lasting friendships have begun at PCC workshops.
You’re working on a new book to be released through Dragon Door Publications next year. Is there anything you can tell us about the new title?
Though we’ve helped out with each other’s projects before, this new book will be my first full-on collaboration with my brother Danny. It will cover many exercises that we haven’t gone in depth with before in any of our books, as well as revisiting a lot of the classics. Plus we’ve been getting to work with some absolutely amazing photographers lately, so the pics in this book are going to be on another level.
New book aside, what else are you working on at the moment?
Between writing and shooting pictures for the new book, traveling to teach the PCC, trying to maintain a few personal training clients in NYC, writing for Bodybuilding.com, TRAIN magazine, and the PCC blog, plus trying to keep active on social media, I have a lot on my plate these days! The only other thing I am working on is maintaining my sanity! [Laughs.]
What future aspirations do you have?
All I hope for is to continue to be fortunate enough to keep doing the things I love and inspiring others to improve their fitness. I’ve already got everything any reasonable person could ever want from life.
I’m a big fan of ‘Coach’ Paul Wade, author of the Convict Conditioning series. I also really like what Mike Fitch is doing with Global Bodyweight Training and I’m also a fan of Ryan Hurst and Gold Medal Bodies. And of course I think my brother Danny’s books are pretty great, especially his newest one Diamond-Cut Abs!
Finally, where can our readers find out more information about you and how can they get in touch?
Thank you so much for joining us and taking time out of your busy schedule to answer all these questions.
My pleasure! Thanks for having me!
Check out our Paleo Minds affiliate links below. Every time you buy through them Amazon will kick back a small portion of the sale to us which helps with the day-to-day costs of the website such as domain names, website hosting and artwork.