Danny Kavadlo On Body-Weight Training

by Danny Kavadlo on February 11, 2013

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I have been practicing calisthenics and strength training for over twenty-five years. When I was a kid, minimalism wasn’t a style of working out: it was the only way. We were a family of five living in a part of Brooklyn that many current Brooklyn residents still don’t even know about. There were no gyms and we were too young for them anyway. My memories of Phys Ed at school are limited to either sitting at my assigned floor spot, or getting yelled at by the psychotic gym teacher. So how did I fall in love with working out at such a young age? Push-ups.

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I remember having push-up contests with my brothers on the old linoleum kitchen floor of that house in deep Brooklyn. If one of us would get fifty, someone else would have to get sixty. Then seventy-five. Ninety. I can’t remember what I did this morning, but I sure do remember the way I felt the first time I completed a hundred consecutive push-ups.

To this day, the pushup is still the exercise I’ve performed more reps of than any other. Only now, I can do more variations. These new skills, of course, leads to new challenges. And that’s exactly what’s so great about progressive calisthenics.

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Next were pull-ups. There were no shiny packages of bars-that-fit-everywhere back then. No all purpose gyms as seen on TV. My schoolyard looked like a parking lot, not a playground. But we had to get our reps in somewhere, so we put a rusty metal bar in a doorframe. We were old school without even knowing it. After screwing two dark red grommets into the frame, we popped the bar in. It’s still there.

The pull-up contests we had back then were the stuff of legend. Rep after rep after rep. Set after grueling set. My brothers and I would spend hours in that room working that bar. We did it because it was fun. That’s the splendor of training with your body-weight only. Here we were, motivated by nothing other than our innate desire and necessity to move our bodies. This was Mother Nature at her finest: Pulling yourself over a bar. We were alive!

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My father, a practitioner of yoga since the 1970’s (way before there were “Yoga” sections at shopping mall book stores everywhere) introduced us to various headstands. One of my favorite teenage memories is returning home late at night to find my Pops doing headstands at 2am! My friends got a kick out of it too. But in all seriousness, there was always a great joy in watching him fully invert himself into a perfect tripod. At over 200 lbs, he was as graceful as a swan. He encouraged us to mess around with balance and flexibility at an early age, which is something I continue to do to this day.

Later on, I started putting extra emphasis on training my legs. I’m a big believer that you’re not strong if you don’t have strong legs. And I must say, I hit the ground running! I had only been doing classic leg exercises like squats and lunges for a few years before I tried pistol-squats. I was instantly addicted to the unique way this exercise combined full-body power with control, and even finesse. Again, I found myself attracted to the purity of this movement: The entire body acting together in harmony to get strong. Just you, your foot, and the earth… nothing more. Simple, yet so complex.

I learned (and I’m STILL learning) how to manipulate leverage and body positioning on single-leg squats to change the exercise. Just like with advanced pushups, there’s a certain beauty, an art form, to these workouts, due to the endless variations allowed by such minimalism.

Wilson Kavadlo doing push-ups.

Wilson Kavadlo doing push-ups.

In adulthood, I became deeply immersed in what is often described as “Extreme Calisthenics.” By coincidence (or perhaps cosmic plan), I became a father at the same point in my life. I am inspired now more than ever. These days performing (and studying) advanced moves like muscle-ups, bar levers, and human flags make me feel like a kid again! And of course, seeing my son knock out infinite sets of flawless squats makes me proud as a man.

Now he’s that kid in Brooklyn working on his pushups on the linoleum floor… And I’m that guy practicing headstands at 2am.

 

 

Danny Kavadlo, Master PCC, is a Personal Trainer in New York City. He’s worked with hundreds of clients, including athletes, models, and celebrities. He is featured in the Convict Conditioning Series & Raising the Bar, and is known globally as a motivator & leader in the calisthenics community. Learn more at his website: www.DannyTheTrainer.com

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  • Very nicely done.

  • Thanks Reggie!

  • Skeptic

    Wow. Why did you have to edit the video to take out all the ‘rests’, and therefore pretend to show 100 consecutive pushups ‘without rests’? Weak, man. The jerky video fools nobody.
    Unless of course, you just didn’t want an 8 minute vid posted, instead of your current 4 min. one. Still, its kinda sneaky and misleading.

    • The video is unedited. There is nothing misleading about it.

    • MP

      I can max 75 pushups in 1 set, doing 100 is hardly hard if you have progressively worked up to or beyond that.

      • Hey MP,
        I feel that after around 70, it becomes a test of will and practice. If you can currently do 75, of course you could do 100 if you made that a goal. Like you said, you’d have to progressively work up to it. Thanks for the comment!

  • It’s so cool that you had and have such a great relationship with you brother, and that your father passed along a love of these things to you, as you are doing for your son. Really nice article, thanks for sharing!

  • John

    Great Job! Have you done any pistol challenges?

  • Paul John Wade

    What a fantastic post, Danny–thank you. I didn’t know that about your pop, but he sure started some great things, my man; you look to be in PHENOMENAL shape in “Pushing the Limits!”

    Those Kavadlo genetics must be pretty strong…damn, that Wilson fella looks like a future legend!!

    • Thanks Paul. We trained hard for Pushing The Limits (business as usual!) And thanks for always providing positivity and supporting the cause! And yeah Wilson’s the new, improved version of his Pops!

  • jim perry

    and yes… yoga was certainly esoteric during those early 70’s days… and such a wonderful legacy within your family to share… i’ve heard that inversions are easier in the early/early morning hours,,, less disturbance in the air…. thankyou for the writing.. i’m inspired…!!
    jim perry

    • Thanks Jim. I always train better early mornings. Thanks for posting. So pleased to have inspired!

  • Adrienne Harvey

    So cool to hear how your Dad was such an influence – and I’m very impressed by the 100 push ups 🙂

    • Thanks Adrienne! That means a lot to me. The first 75 pushups were done with the body. The rest were done with the mind.

  • Aleks

    Danny, I love your take on calisthenics as an art form. I’ve always felt that the various different training modalities – kettlebells, bodyweight, barbells – are disciplines, but calling them an art is just as accurate and probably an even better way of looking at it. It really changes my perspective on my own training and is an ideal reminder that just as much as we are all athletes, we can all be artists as well if we just put in the sweat, love, and focus on devoting ourselves to improvement in some way. Great blog.

    Aleks Salkin

    • I agree Aleks. Many training modes can be considered an artform. Karate is. So is ballet. Why not calisthenics or others indeed! Thanks for your reply.

      • Rose Widell

        I think calisthenics is an art form too! And in the Kavadlo brother’s case – the graffiti of the art world – and I love me some street art!

        • Thanks Rose! We try to keep it visually exciting!

  • Dan Show

    Great article Danny, inspiring and motivating!

    • Glen Graham

      Cool story on how everything comes around full circle!

      • Thanks for the kind words Glen. The circle of life.

    • Thanks Dan. I’m happy to motivate!

    • Thanks Dan! Happy to motivate!

  • jeremy ormsby

    hey, wow, I’m so late in getting a word on this blog. oh well. Anyway, something thats been on my mind for a while is that most of the experts on here like yourself Danny, have been doing calisthenics for like ever. So even though my mom told me for years ‘you don’t need a gym, use your body!’, I didn’t know I could do what you guys are doing until a year ago. Anyway, I just got into a beginning phase of calisthenics, and wonder if Pavels “Grease the Groove” method still enables someone like me to get the tendon strength I want.

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