One of my very favorite things about calisthenics is that you can do it anywhere. That fact in itself is endlessly fascinating to me. Think about it: in a day and age where people sit in traffic while they drive to the gym, or wait an hour in line to take a thirty minute spin class on a fake bike, the simple notion that a gym isn’t necessary is truly liberating!
Now, please understand that I have nothing against the gym. It can be a great place to train hard. I have had many spectacular workouts in gyms. I just believe that the gym is not the only game in town. Due to the simple and sublime nature of body-weight strength training, you can make a gym out of almost any place you want.
These very places themselves are a few of my favorite things too.
In the Backyard
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Some days we want that shortest distance, with no need to travel. Several years ago it dawned on me that the ultimate home gym could be mine, but I’d have to build it. So for a low price, plus some time and sweat, I built my first Backyard Pull-Up Bar. I could now rip through those reps anytime the urge struck me. This was even better than the indoor, mounted bars I’ve owned for most of my life. You see, I have always been a fan of outdoor workouts. I love being outside in general. However, these days, it seems we have a cultural obsession with climate control. We drive in cars with individually heated seats and exercise in air-conditioned buildings. I am pleased to say that the outdoor workout eliminates those unnecessary commodities. Nowhere can you dominate your own body-weight and release your inner beast like you can under the earth’s sky, truly in touch with who you are.
At any time of day, any time of year, all my favorite exercises are waiting at my doorstep. From powerful pull-ups, to perfect planks, to mighty muscle-ups, they’re all here. Several different bars and numerous angles provide for unlimited variations of many of the oldest and noblest exercises. It is also of note that these iron bars have a big, fat two inch diameter, which adds extreme grip training to every single workout.
My brother and fellow trainer, calisthenics icon Al Kavadlo, immortalized the Backyard Pull-Up Bar in his ground-breaking book Raising the Bar and its companion DVD.
In the Park
I am lucky enough to live in New York City, one of the main hubs for body-weight enthusiasts of all walks of life. There are many parks, playgrounds, and jungle gyms in the Big Apple, but none are as well known throughout the world as Alphabet City’s legendary Tompkins Square Park.
I’ve trained a hundred times at TSP at six o’clock on a Monday morning. I can tell you first hand that there is nowhere you will feel as motivated and inspired as you will there, no matter what time of day it is. While the city sleeps, serious-minded individuals can be found lunging, jumping, pushing, and pulling. Even in the rain or snow, you can always find some hard core body-weight aficionados out there doing their thing. In fact, it’s the first place I ever saw a one-arm pull-up.
But just as it is motivational to train amongst those serious athletes, it moves me equally to see how many new jacks train at TSP as well. You see, a certain solidarity exists at Tompkins. It spans across the entire community of the park, from the world-renown bar masters, all the way down to the young kids doing their first chin-up. Hell, where else could you observe an ex-con asking a drag queen for handstand advice? I’ve seen it at Tompkins. Ya’ gotta love Alphabet City!
In The Basement
Sometimes I do train indoors. Remember, by keeping things simple and pure, based on mechanics and movement, we can train anywhere we want to. So do dips in your kitchen. Practice your bridge-work in the living room. Put a pull-up bar in the hallway.
I personally like to train in the basement.
The basement has been used as a metaphor for the subconscious by everybody from Dostoevsky to the hit television series “Wilfred.” And it makes sense. When we are in the basement, we are in the building’s underground, free to explore the deepest, most primordial workings of its structure… and of our own!
Much of calisthenics training is based on unleashing our instinctual primitive movement patterns. In Convict Conditioning, Coach Wade discusses how you tap into your “tree dwelling” DNA when you pull your own body-weight when executing pull-ups. Well, you don’t get more primitive than that! There is no better place to explore the deep, dark movements of the mind, spirit, and body than underground, with just your physical self and your psyche, ready to train hard!
In the End
The places I listed above are just a few of my favorite things. Hopefully you have discovered some special work-out spots that are near and dear to you, where you can push yourself, free from judgments, and full of positivity. We all need somewhere we can work on self-improvement and awareness. Explore your options and be creative. Have fun with it.
The still photos were taken by my wife, Jennifer, during an improvised workout on the now-famous Backyard Pull-up Bar. The following videos demonstrate some diverse calisthenics training at Tompkins Square Park, and a basement workout based on push-up bar variations. Of course, I had to include a video in the backyard with my bro Al as well. Keep the dream alive!
About Danny: 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 about Danny at: www.DannyTheTrainer.com.