Cut to the Core

by Eric Buratty on September 1, 2015

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Al Kavadlo Front Lever

It’s tempting to use the terms “core” and “abdominal” muscles interchangeably.

After all, having visible abs and sub-seven percent body fat gives us an automatic pass to forget training our core, right?

Not exactly.

You see, the truth is that the abdominal muscles are just a part of our core.


Because BROscience. And because I said so.

All joking aside, our entire core includes our upper back muscles, our lower back muscles, our psoas muscle and then our abdominal muscles.

That last area becomes especially important for earning our “beach body” card.

However, without a strong core, our “beach body” muscles are just there for show.

The good news is that Progressive Calisthenics happens to be the perfect way to wake these muscles up—even when they’re hidden beneath layers of fat.

What about abs being made in the kitchen (not the gym)? Yeah, yeah . . . we’ve all heard that one before.

We could just as easily counter that question with: What foods STRENGTHEN the core musculature?

So, instead of wasting time on semantics and dogmatic fitness debates, let’s cut to the core with more important matters.

Like WHEN and HOW to train the core for best results.

Who’s with me?

Al Kavadlo Beach Back Lever

WHEN to Train the Core

Ideally, we’ll train the core first thing during our workouts whenever we are:

  1. Making a comeback from a sports injury
  2. Combating some form of lagging or acute inflammation around a joint/tendon so that it doesn’t turn into chronic inflammation (i.e., performing an active recovery workout in place of a regular workout)
  3. Not feeling a solid muscle contraction where we need to on a given movement—which could lead to acute and/or chronic inflammation

Whenever we are feeling closer to 100 percent and beyond, we’ll train our core after emphasizing our lower body muscles.
This is because, when we target our largest muscles first, we elicit a favorable hormonal response that translates into greater energy expenditure from our core musculature.

What if we’re emphasizing our upper body muscles during our main workout?

Well, it’s still recommended to superset some lower body plyometrics and core moves during our warm-up to help get us get in the zone.

We could also consider throwing in some core moves as bonus work if we accomplish our desired training effect earlier than expected for a given workout day.

Just ‘cause, you know, that playing around stuff is good for us every so often.

HOW to Activate the Core

Now that we’re all on the same page with when we should train our core, I’m sure you’re dying to know how you can start applying this info . . . like yesterday.

Kavadlo Brothers Two Flags

In this capacity, here are some drills to help you feel what it’s like to activate the entire core musculature.
These are ordered from least to most challenging and should be practiced as such.

  1. Hollow Rock (Floor)
  2. Hollow/Reverse Hollow Sideways Roll (Floor)
  3. Reverse Hollow (Superman) Rock (Floor)
  4. Hollow/Reverse Hollow Swing (Start/Stop – Hanging)
  5. Sideways Hollow Swing (Start/Stop – Hanging)

Here’s what these moves look like in action in case you’re unfamiliar with the naming system I’ve used for them.

While it’s not necessary to structure your practice too much with these moves, it is recommended to just pick one or two at a time, and really focus on accentuating total body tension with them.

Implication or Application – You Decide!

As you’ll see and feel over time, a stronger core allows you to progress toward more advanced skills without fear of injury.

In particular, the similarities between the positions and transitions of these moves and those of front levers, kipping muscle-ups, and human (press) flags should be fairly noticeable.

Defying gravity rules!

Adrienne progression towards the human flag

Senior PCC, Adrienne Harvey working towards the full press flag with Step #6 Split Press Flag from Convict Conditioning Vol. 2

Now that you have further knowledge and tools to help you cut to the core, hopefully you will either imply other intelligent questions from this info, or apply greater integrity when using these muscles, moving forward.

In other words, knowledge is power, and the choice is yours in how you use it!


Eric Buratty brings six years of experience to the DC Metro Area as a Certified Personal Trainer, Progressive Calisthenics Instructor, Nutrition Consultant and Sports Injury Specialist. For more information about Eric check out his website,

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Al Kavadlo Presenting at Dragon Door Health and Strength Conference 2015

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of presenting at Dragon Door’s first-ever Health and Strength Conference. The event took place over two full days, consisting of lectures, Q&A sessions, and networking opportunities with heavy hitters from various corners of the fitness world.

Nearly 100 coaches, trainers and exercise enthusiasts gathered to listen, discuss and share their varied experiences with one another. Plus there were some pull-up bars, kettlebells and other strength training implements on hand for anyone who had the urge to get some reps in before and after the various presentations.

My brother Danny and I each gave our own separate speeches; Danny spoke about achieving a chiseled set of Diamond Cut Abs, while I lectured on the topic of Zen and how it relates to calisthenics.

Danny Kavadlo Presenting at the 2015 Dragon Door Health and Strength Conference

Including the Kavadlo brothers, there were a total of 13 presenters, each with their own unique stories and experiences. Knowledge was spread, insights were shared and thoughts were provoked. Though the presenters came from various backgrounds and areas of expertise, the similarities and common themes present throughout the weekend were hard to ignore.

Almost everyone spoke about the importance of consistency, while many speakers also stressed spending a good deal of one’s training time developing strong fundamental movement patterns. Whether it was powerlifting legend Marty Gallagher stressing the importance of the squat, deadlift and bench press, or Steve “Coach Fury” Holiner extolling the strength and conditioning benefits of DVRT training exercises like the sandbag clean and press, using your body’s musculature as one cohesive unit was a theme that came up again and again. This concept should also be familiar to anyone who’s practiced progressive calisthenics. Regardless of what modality you prefer or which system you find most effective for your goals, the basic movement patterns (squat, hinge, push, pull, etc.) remain the same.

The business of personal training was also a hot topic at the conference. Equinox’s top manager Rolando Garcia gave a wonderful presentation on the fitness industry, focusing on all the crucial components of success in the personal training industry, other than the actual training itself. Rolando got into some of the least talked about, yet most important topics for fitness professionals.

Other presenters included Dr. Chris Hardy, Max Shank, Zach Even-Esh, Andrea Du Cane, Jon Bruney, Phil Ross, Logan Christopher and Mike Gillette. Though these presenters spoke on a wide variety of topics, including everything from training senior citizens to training for a professional cage fight, similar ideas about cycling intensity, managing stress levels, and staying in tune with the body kept coming up.

As the weekend went on, we came to see that whether our roots are in strongman training, calisthenics, or any other discipline, we all have the same vision to become a better version of ourselves each day.

Surrounding yourself with others who pursue excellence can be a wonderful source of inspiration. The energy (and synergy) of the group was undeniable. We all walked away from the weekend buzzing with new ideas and ready for the challenges ahead.

Dragon Door Health and Strength Conference Group Photo 2015

Hope to see YOU at next year’s conference!


Al Kavadlo is the lead instructor for Dragon Door’s Progressive Calisthenics Certification. Recognized worldwide for his amazing bodyweight feats of strength as well as his unique coaching style, Al is the author of five books, including Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics and Pushing The Limits! Total Body Strength With No Equipment. Read more about Al on his

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