Make Your Own Workout

by Al Kavadlo on May 7, 2013

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Every day I hear from people who’ve read my books and want to thank me for writing them; these messages mean the world to me. As I discussed in my path to the PCC, the driving reason behind writing my books (and articles) is to connect with like-minded people with whom I can share my experience.

While most of the folks who write me do so to tell me how my guidance has helped them achieve new levels of strength, improve their body composition, or even take out a new lease on life, I also get messages with suggestions and criticisms. The most common complaint I’ve received regarding my books is from people who are disappointed that I haven’t provided more detailed structure on how to progress through the various exercises presented therein.

This is understandable. After all, between Raising The Bar and Pushing The Limits!, I’ve presented over two hundred different exercise variations for various goals and fitness levels, yet only a handful of sample routines.

However, this is neither an accident nor oversight; It’s a purposeful decision. While many fitness guides spoon-feed the reader with rigid specific regimens to follow, I’ve chosen to empower my followers by leaving the suggested program design open-ended.

My readers include folks of all ages, genders and athletic backgrounds. Each one starting off at a different place with individual strengths, weaknesses, goals and levels of commitment. The number of variables makes the amount of possibilities endless.

All of these people can get stronger with the same fundamental movement patterns, but each will do so at their own pace. I can’t predict exactly how everyone will progress. Trying to box all potential trainees into a one-size-fits all program will inevitably leave some folks progressing too slowly, while rushing others through the paces at a rate that is inappropriate for them.

Additionally, there are a myriad of unpredictable factors that can affect your workout on any given day: what you’ve eaten recently, the amount of sleep you’ve had, stress levels – even the weather. When I train clients in person, I come into the session with an idea of what I am going to do with them, but I always wind up making changes and improvising based on what is actually happening in front of me. I can do a lot for my trainees, but I can’t see into the future!

A workout regimen on paper is a good idea, but it’s still just an idea. You have to put your plan into action to get any benefits. And once you start doing that, it might not go exactly as predicted; you are inevitably going to need to make modifications. In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they couldn’t be more different.

Of course people need guidance and books are a wonderful resource. However, ignoring your body’s signals in favor of following a preconceived formula written by a stranger is taking a good idea too far. This is what I love about progressive calisthenics; in PCC, we teach pliable bodyweight progressions and exercise chains, not strict protocols and formulas.

Building your body isn’t the same as assembling that bookshelf you bought from Ikea. We aren’t all starting with the same pieces and we aren’t all building the same identical object. You really need to get to know your body for yourself in order for any fitness program to work.

In fact, it’s not actually the program that works at all – it’s you. Now let’s go get those reps!

About Al Kavadlo: A veteran of the fitness industry, Al Kavadlo has recently been appointed as the lead instructor for the Progressive Calisthenics Certification. Recognized worldwide for his amazing bodyweight feats of strength as well as his unique coaching style, Al is also the author of three books, including Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics and Pushing The Limits! Total Body Strength With No EquipmentRead lots more about Al on his website: www.AlKavadlo.com!

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  • Al,
    Great article! Your approach and philosophy to training (I prefer the term training vice working out) is awesome. In my humble opinion is exactly what is needed today in the area of fitness.

    Thanks for keeping it real and for the inspiration and motivation.

    • Thanks, Mick! It was great meeting you and Aiden at the book release party for Pushing The Limits!

  • Jim Perry

    i like your style Al… the last sentence is the lynchpin… “you”… being proactive.. creating a process for moving,, both with time for workouts.. and in daily life.. squat while at the water cooler.. lunge walk to the warehouse.. this is not a left foot/right foot program… there’s lots of personal responsibility here.. the rewards are in the quality of living and the awareness of self/body in the world… i’ve never been to anything like this PCC and i’m truly excited to be attending and participate in the learning. .. thankyou.. !!

    • Thanks, Jim! I’m glad you’ve embraced the idea of personal responsibility – the only way to get something done is to do it!

  • Paul

    I agree with what you mean about leaving everything open-ended. As each individual is uniquely different, and there is no specific formula that will work for everyone.

  • Well put! 🙂 Its interesting I usually have an over-arching goal for a given day’s workout – but nothing (weights, reps, exact progression) is ever EXACTLY in stone… If it’s just not happening that day, I’ll switch it up, or if I’m on fire, I’ll ramp up the difficulty and go with it!

    • Thanks, Adrienne! You gotta go with the flow!

  • The bodybuilding mentality that hit so hard in the ’80s (that gave birth to the so called modern age of fitness) will be difficult for some to “shake off”, so to speak. Having something broken into sets and reps for you makes doing the “work” for many achievable. While many want to be in shape, sadly, they still view the process as work, and hope it will become easier “if I just do this”. For a fortunate few, they will take a beginning routine and view it as an opportunity for exploration and create something totally new that works for them – just as Al clearly points out. He’s shown us a treasure trove of exercises, and the basic how’s and why’s – how you decide to use them is up to you – just use them and find what works for you and enjoy the process! When I was a kid, I just went to the local “monkey bars” at the playground and did whatever came to mind – but the trick was I was there almost 7 days a week and sometimes multiple times a day! It was fun and there was little if no formal instruction – just a group of guys doing pull-ups and dips till we were so pumped we were ready to head to the local 7-11, grab a slurpee and feel like the kings of the world 🙂

    • Thanks, Gil! That’s exactly what I’m talking about!

  • Paul John Wade

    I love to read articles like this. They are so badly needed.

    There are a million-and-one personal trainers out there willing to write endless “routines” for people. PCC is about generating master self-coaches.

    I know which is easier. I also know which is better.

    Well said, Al.

  • Your article is right on! I don’t know why so many people need to be told what to do. I can be very rebellious and so don’t understand this way of thinking. I balk at too much instruction, needing to find my own way of doing things – even if it’s back-assward. 😉

    Plus, at least with athletics, I’m remarkably clumsy and graceless. Seriously, not kidding. There is absolutely no way you could write a physical ‘instruction’ manual that was fit for me. I’ll find a way to hurt myself no matter what I do. Some people have it – and some of us just don’t!

    But I do take the amazing Pushing the Limits! book and others you’ve already done as great guideposts and learning materials! I am absolutely awed by you, your brother Danny and Adrienne Harvey too. You’re all like the ‘what could be’ mentors for me. 🙂 Each picture I see of you guys makes me catch my breath, like “No *&(&^ way!” I can’t believe they can do that!

    You Master PCC’s are like Batman to my girl Robin. I dig it.

    • Thanks, Rose! Just don’t give up on yourself – I was puny and un-athletic once myself. I’ve come a long way through patience and perseverance.

  • Great advice.Too many people are looking for a guru or majic beans. You just need a basic strategy,discipline, and hard work. You need to look at different ways to achieve your goals and learn from many people. You nailed this on the head Sir!

    • Thanks, Jim! Definitely no magic beans for sale here. 🙂

  • I right there with you Al. I don’t like providing specific workouts and routines in my books either. When I do it always comes with the disclaimer that they’re more from idea generation for you own workouts than to do them mindlessly.

    Just finished Raising the Bar last night. Gonna read Pushing the Limits now and I be putting up a review of them later.

    • Thanks, Logan! Looking forward to reading your reviews!

  • Word

  • Yo Ace. A possible reason so many are critical of the lack of a laid out set rep rotation with specific exercises to perform in a log book style is simply that most if not all western exercise has been taught that way for decades. Eastern physical culture focuses more on skill and movement adaptation prowess as a guide to progress than a set rep rotation style of measurement. It is similar to the criticism that body weight exercise offers too little in the way of a progression of difficulty. THese are the same folks who never worked toward a one arm pull up or single handstand pushup. As with anything of this nature, the change will come in a wave of awareness in the exercise community. All in good time. Keep up the great work. I for one truly appreciate it.

    • Good points, Joseph! Thanks for the comment!

  • Simeon Reigle

    Another great article. Keep up the good work.

  • Zach Gheaja

    Al . Just thought of this. what about the negative muscle up? that sounds kind of nice

    • Negative muscle-ups can be very helpful toward achieving a full muscle-up. However, you should already be quite strong before you are ready to safely practice negative muscle-ups.

  • Jo6ka

    Just the other day, we were discussing with a young guy about his workout routine. He was after one and only thing – he wanted us to come up with specific routine, which would help him to build muscle or whatever he desired. The ideas that crossed my mind that day were not much differnet from what i have just read in this top percentage article from Al Kavadlo. And yeah, I guess everybody who likes body movement and exercising should read this.

    What I like the most about your work (books, videos) Al and also Coach´s Wade Convict conditioning (and PCC in general) is the fact, that you show us principles, you show us a way and then let us freely walk the way. You are not hobbling anyone by excessively rigid and unnecessary rules (i think routines).

    Thanks for great article(s).

    and

    greetings from Czech republic
    (I am not quite accustomed to use english language in order to communicate with others, but i hope that at least something i have written make sense)

    • Thanks for the comment! It makes perfect sense to me!

  • Karen Lee

    Thanks for the insight, Al. Since my hubby and I picked up Convict Conditioning, and subsequently, your books, I’ve felt for the first time in my life like I know HOW to program for myself, and I am truly grateful for it. It IS empowering, and has brought a joy to my workouts that I’ve never had before.

  • Asatar Bair

    I like the routines in your books, Al. (I like the ones in CC#1 and #2.) Funny how you can never be too detailed for some people. But then you might get complaints about not being able to do the workout!

  • I like the guideline/suggestion approach to programming that you take in your books, it helps with the mindeset that can literally make workout and program design either automatic or just unending creativity. (People wonder why I give away so many workouts… it’s because I’m never going to stop coming up with them… it’s an unlimited resource). Thanks for not making more “rules” as effective, individualized calisthenics practice calls for breaking the rules sometimes anyway 🙂

  • Zach Gheaja

    I like to follow others routines to break out of my comfort zone and to gain new perspective. Sometimes following a prescribed routine from a trusted source can alleviate the burden of wondering if your effort will pay off, and you can use the extra mental energy to put into your workout.

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