What Do I Know?

by Danny Kavadlo on May 24, 2016

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Danny Kavadlo LeadPhoto Dunce Hat

What do any of us know?

I, for example, am nothing more than a product of my own reason and common sense. I pair perception with experience. I observe, report and conclude, all the while, trying my hardest to do the best I can within my capacities.

But do I actually know anything?

Given my many limitations, I get asked a great number of questions. Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for each one I receive and I certainly do not wish to appear otherwise. I consider it an honor that any of you value my opinion enough to have me weigh in on your training, diet or life, and I thank you for the opportunity. But the truth is that I can’t possibly know all the answers to every query that anybody may have. I do my best. But sometimes my lack of firsthand experience with a given situation holds me back.

For example:

2QuestionA

There is no one-size-fits-all resolution here. A beginner and advanced practitioner will have wildly different rest periods. It depends how long and frequently this person has been training, what their current physical condition is, genetics, outside habits, environment and more.

Still, I am glad the person in the above scenario had a specific question. Sometimes, they’re not quite as thought out:

3QuestionB

Um… ok. Sure. Get back to me…

I live by trial and error. I’m no different than you. In fact, you shouldn’t instantly look to me until you’ve made some important personal discovery on your own. That’s not to say that I cannot be of service. Of course I can, but I encourage you to do some soul searching first. Know thyself, friends. There is no experience like firsthand experience. Don’t look at me. Look at you. While some think I’m a guru, others are not so kind. The truth is, I’m somewhere in between.

Great Book Review of Danny Kavadlo's Strength Rules


5Douche Guru or douche? The truth is, I’m somewhere in between.

Not only do I accept these natural differences in people’s opinions, I embrace them. I am an advocate of free thought and individual will in all their forms. I’m grateful when my beliefs evoke a passionate resonance in anybody in whatever capacity they’re capable of. Some feel that my words are inspirational; others are less kind.

6Inspiration

7LoserAnd still, some folks would prefer if I just went away. Well I’m not.

I’m not going away.

I’m not going away.

How about this fun comment on a recent Danny’s Dos and Don’ts article:

9DONT

That’s cool. Look, there are a lot of people out there. The natural constraints of my knowledge and intellect may not provide what you seek. Perhaps I can’t give you what you need.

Or can I…?

We all have opinions. That’s what makes life beautiful—the transparent fact that it beckons to be lived. You see, progressive calisthenics (or bodyweight training, street workout, whatever you want to call it—I don’t get bogged down on semantics) embodies an experiential component more than it demands wrote text. In a way, our very training ties into not knowing anything. We dispel dogma. We celebrate improvisation. We choose movement over academia. These are the attributes that comprise excellence in our realm.

Every truth-seeking individual on this planet will undoubtedly go through changes. Things we know (and things we thought we knew) can morph over time. This is how we evolve. Therefore I urge you to experiment, to reason and to go with your senses. Trust your intuition but keep an open mind. Learn from what’s around you every day. After all, the purest form of science is observation. Remain nonpartisan and objective, particularly when it comes to matters of the self.

I don’t know anything. You decide for you.

You have the power!

You have the power!

Keep the dream alive,

-DK

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Coaching and Using Powerful Push-up Elbow Positions

by Adrienne Harvey on May 17, 2016

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Adrienne Harvey One-Arm Push-Up

I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been a PCC or SCC workshop where the following question hasn’t come up:

“Where do I put my elbows during the push-up?”

Or if it isn’t asked, there’s always more than a handful of people who need some coaching on elbow placement with the push-up.

Al’s answer is a real winner, and we can all benefit from hearing and reviewing it. Basically, you want to make sure your elbows stay below your shoulders. Keeping them way out at a 90 degree angle to your torso is not ideal, but they don’t have to be right next to the body either. For most people, the ideal arm position will create somewhere between a 0-60 degree angle between the upper arm and the torso.

Push-Up Elbow Range 0-60 degrees

The good news is the range of 0-60 degrees allows each of us to find a strong and comfortable place, but by intentionally varying the angle in our sessions we can recruit different muscle groups more intensely. Generally speaking within this safe range, when the elbows are close to the sides as on the left photo above, there’s more emphasis on the triceps and front delts. When the degree is greater, we can experience a little more recruitment of the pectorals.

There’s several reasons that the elbow issue keeps coming up, and will probably continue to be up for discussion with trainers and enthusiasts alike. Here are three of the bigger reasons:

  1. There are a LOT of heavily used stock photos of people doing push-ups with their arms way out at big 90-degree angles. This is actually a huge pet peeve of mine because you’ll see these photos in well known, famous magazines and advertisements for everything from workout wear to every supplement you can imagine. The most extreme example I’ve seen was a (at least we were told) highly converting photo chosen to promote my friend’s boot camp. The woman in the stock photo had her elbows cranked out to such a degree that doing a push-up from that picture-posed position looked physically impossible!I could continue with more examples, but you get the idea—we’re all surrounded by tons of strange visual examples of something as simple as a push-up. It’s easy for even experienced exercisers to start thinking that this super-wide elbow angle is a preferred position, considering how often we see it in supposedly authoritative mainstream books, magazines, ads, etc. for men and women!
Elbows up too high can put shearing force on the shoulder joints, etc. I hated even taking this picture. OUCH!

Elbows up too high can put shearing force on the shoulder joints, etc. I hated even taking this picture. OUCH!

  1. The elbows can sneak out and up when someone has moved ahead to a more difficult variation too quickly. I’ve also seen many people start out with a great elbow position, then as they fatigue, the elbows start coming forward as compensation. At the same time, you’ll see their head jut forward to the ground as another, often simultaneous compensation. Beginners can sometimes be so focused on hitting a particular rep goal, that they won’t even feel these compensations happening.That’s where you, as a great instructor can help out.

    If you are training on your own, check in from time to time by shooting a short video (just for you) on your phone and checking your form. Whenever I feel like something is “off” with any given exercise, I get out the camera, it’s a great tool. When you’re coaching a client and they’re doing well, you can also shoot short videos of them on their own phones—they will now have that as a reference (they’ll also probably proudly show it to their friends and end up sending you referrals). It takes everyone some time to build the body awareness to know when the form is breaking down. This is part of why it’s so important NOT to rush through the beginning steps of any calisthenics exercise.

  1. I’m sad that we need to bring up this third reason. As with the “squat depth” debate there still are still plenty of dogmatic trainers out there who are insisting that “there can only be one” (true for the Highlander, but not for elbow position) correct elbow position for everyone all the time. So, feel free to break free from the “right and wrong” dogma and find your effective elbow placements within that generous 0-60% angle area. Experiment, have fun, and don’t do anything that hurts!

The important thing to remember (and which is stressed at both the SCC and PCC) is that the exact elbow position will vary with each person. It can even be fun to challenge yourself within this range after you’re comfortable with your own ideal elbow position. Always remember to think of pointing your “elbow pits” forward at the top of the push-up, and the points of your elbows aimed at your feet or toes. This will help maintain your position and keep the reps nice and productive for building strength and habits.

Point the elbow pits forward at the top of your push ups

Point the elbow pits forward at the top of your push ups

What if someone can’t perform a push-up without putting the elbows way up high with their shoulders crushing their ears? This simply means they’ll need to work on an earlier step in the progression until they have enough strength. Push-ups on railings are great for teaching the elbow position while building the requisite strength. Be extra sure that the hands are placed in line with and below the shoulders, no matter what surface is used. Knee pushups performed with absolute precision are also very useful for gaining the strength and habit of a healthy elbow/shoulder position.

The same idea applies for the often-maligned, but still very effective knee push up…

The same idea applies for the often-maligned, but still very effective knee push up…

It also applies to the raised push-up step…

It also applies to the raised push-up step…

Let’s start with the “smallest” angle. This is with the arms right next to the body—even touching. Yoga enthusiasts may recognize this position as similar to when they perform the chaturanga series of movements. The hands are almost automatically placed right under the shoulders with this position too. It’s a very stable feeling for most people. If I’m going for high reps, or am helping a student activate and use the whole of their torso (lats, serratus), then this is a great go-to position.

People with large lats from serious pull-up habits, as well as those who may have a few pounds to lose will naturally need to take their arms a little further away from the body. They will of course need to still be sure to engage the lats, keep the shoulders away from the ears and maintain a plank position and tension throughout the body.

Paying attention to elbow placement VERY much applies for the more advanced variations like this feet raised push up. A good elbow angle will ensure that you don’t face plant when you first progress to this variation.

Paying attention to elbow placement VERY much applies for the more advanced variations like this feet raised push up. A good elbow angle will ensure that you don’t face plant when you first progress to this variation.

Taking the elbows out to a 45 degree or larger angle will usually be a choice of personal preference given physiology, or a choice made to make the exercise different or a little more difficult. We know that taking the hands out wider past the shoulders will be more challenging for most as well. When you’re ready, explore different hand positions, and then prepare to progress to a really fun intermediate/advanced push-up, the archer push-up.

Danny Kavadlo performing a precision demonstration of the archer push-up at a recent PCC workshop.

Danny Kavadlo performing a precision demonstration of the archer push-up at a recent PCC workshop.

No matter what elbow angle is best for you, a real power-booster with the push up is the idea of having a spiraling feeling throughout the arm, and especially with the hands through the ground. A useful cue for this is to have your fingers pointing forwards, but at the top of the push-up, your “elbow pits” (see earlier phoot) will also be pointing forward. In a pinch—like those last few crucial reps of the Century Test—this spiraling feeling can make the difference between pass and fail.

Figuring out your optimal elbow angle can also lead to great success with the intermediate/advanced variations below, and of course your path to the one-arm push-up:

Close push-ups are safer and more effective when the elbow placement is right for you.

Close push-ups are safer and more effective when the elbow placement is right for you.

Neuro-Grip Push-Ups are nearly impossible without good elbow placement.

Neuro-Grip push-ups are nearly impossible without good elbow placement.

And the scary-looking back of the wrist push-ups (work up to these gently and only if appropriate for you) simply DEMAND proper form…or else!

And the scary-looking back of the wrist push-ups (work up to these gently and only if appropriate for you) simply DEMAND proper form…or else!

Hopefully these ideas will help you and your clients/students continue to get strong and progress with the eternally useful, do-anywhere push-up. Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Train STRONG!
Adrienne

****

Adrienne Harvey, Senior PCC Instructor, RKC-II, CK-FMS, has been RKC Certified since 2010, and RKC Level 2 certified since 2011. Kettlebell and bodyweight training have been crucial in Adrienne’s personal quest for fitness.  A core member of the PCC team, Adrienne loves sharing her knowledge with small groups and individuals. She also loves to develop recipes and workout programs to further support performance, body composition, and of course—FUN.

Adrienne will be leading a one-day SCC (Strength Calisthenics Certification) Workshop in Gaithersburg, MD next month, and joining the Kavadlos at the PCC in New York next month as well. There are still a few spots available for each workshop, sign up today.

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Progressive Calisthenics In The City Of Angels

May 10, 2016

I’m picking up good vibrations. After two immensely successful events in Encinitas and Mountain View, CA last year, the Progressive Calisthenics Certification made its return to the Golden State this past weekend. This time, manifest destiny brought us to the county of Los Angeles. I’ve been California dreaming of this for a long time! The […]

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Strength from Down Under – Aussie Pull-ups & Beyond

May 3, 2016

“We all came here for the pull-ups!” I love to see faces light up when Al or Danny say these words at the start of the PCC pull-up module. But before even getting into full pull-ups, we begin by practicing some lead-up steps, including the bodyweight row, aka the Australian pull-up. Often dismissed by advanced […]

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The Centerline Principle of Strength & Power

April 26, 2016

I first learned about the magic of the centerline principle in martial arts. Everything from powerful kicks to dodging punches involved moving in relation to the center of my body as well as the center of my opponent. As it turns out, the centerline is not only the key to powerful kicks but also developing […]

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Training Through Injuries (AKA: That Time My Friend Sat On My Thumb)

April 19, 2016

Yup. My friend sat on my thumb. We’ve all been injured at some point, and most of us are familiar with how it can derail our training. In response to the sprain I suffered, I had to decrease the size of my training repertoire and remove everything that required an opposable thumb. Those who’ve had […]

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London Calling

April 12, 2016

After over thirty events in dozens of cities, spanning multiple countries and four continents, the Progressive Calisthenics Certification keeps getting better and better. More personal records, more lifelong friendships and more experiences that we’ll never forget. Every time we do another PCC workshop, I go in with big dreams, and still I find my fitness […]

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Workout Tips for Busy Professionals

April 5, 2016

“Hey Honey, let’s quit!” That’s what I said to my wife today about two minutes into the workout we were doing together. She looked at me incredulously and said, “No!” Well, back to push-ups, pull-ups and squats for me. Once we finished the workout, I was glad I’d chosen to train with my wife. Usually, […]

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How To Get Better At Pull-Ups

March 29, 2016

Pull-ups are my favorite exercise. I started practicing them at age 13 and throughout my lifetime I’ve pulled my chin over a horizontal bar more times than I can count. That’s probably why I’m good at them. But that’s not the case for everyone. In fact, for many PCC candidates, the pull-up is the most […]

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Perfecting The Hanging Knee Raise

March 22, 2016

I get a lot of questions from potential PCC candidates about our Century Test. It’s understandable that folks want to be prepared for the testing that comes at the end of the PCC weekend, and it’s often the same questions that come up: Am I allowed to come off the bar during the pull-ups? Am […]

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