Al Kavadlo: Zen Fitness Via Bodyweight Training

When I examine the things I am passionate about, I am struck by the diverse nature of my interests:  CrossFit and sprinting, beekeeping and gardening, entrepreneurship, food, health, diet, and family.  For me, having many areas to learn and grow in is what keeps life interesting, and perhaps for you as well.

But, within a broad set of interests, you need to be focused in order to be successful.  And if I am learning anything from my friend Al Kavadlo, it is about finding a proper balance.

Al Kavadlo We're Working Out

Many of you already know Al Kavadlo from his guest posts here at My Athletic Life, from his website, his Youtube videos, or from his appearance in Convict Conditioning 2 – he is an expert in developing fitness outside of the gym.

In addition to his expertise in bodyweight fitness training, Al is also a student of Zen Buddhism.  And by combining those two interests with some stellar writing skills, Al has created a popular book called We’re Working Out:  A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness.

I recently had the good fortune to learn a bit more about Al’s background, his approach to fitness, and his plans for the future.

Al, on your website, you mention growing up as a “skinny kid” with limited athletic ability.  When you found your way to weight training, was it something you excelled at immediately or were early gains difficult to come by?

When I was twelve years old I went through a growth spurt and I was fully grown  by the time I was thirteen (I’m 5’11”).  Problem was I only weighed around 125 lbs!  I started doing push-ups and pull-ups around that time, so I had a decent foundation when I began lifting weights in gym class freshman year of high school.  Like most teenage boys, I made pretty good gains those first few years.  Having all that natural testosterone flowing through my veins certainly didn’t hurt!  It’s actually kind of ironic that I went through trying so many different types of workouts over the years, only to eventually wind up going back to the basics.  Though pull-ups have always been a staple of my training.

After college you became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and spent a lot of time in the gym for your own training and to assist clients.  Do you think that experience was necessary or simply helpful in what you are doing today (primarily bodyweight training)?

I wouldn’t say it was necessary, but it certainly helped.  I learned a lot about body mechanics through weight training and built a good foundation of strength that certainly had some carryover when I went back to bodyweight work.  But anyone can get just as strong as me using only their bodyweight.

Can you offer a bit of background with respect to your workout philosophy as well as an overview of your book We’re Working Out:  A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness?

My workout philosophy is basically the opposite of what everyone in mainstream fitness is trying to sell you.  There are no quick fixes and magic secrets – you have to do the work!  But it can be an enjoyable and enriching experience that will teach you a lot about yourself.  This book is less of a step-by-step guide and more of a fitness (and life) philosophy book.  There is a saying I like: “Catch a man a fish and he’ll eat for a night, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”  This book is designed more to show you how to make your own workout program, rather than just following my routine.  It is not like any fitness book you’ve ever seen before.

In addition to your book, you also had a prominent role in Convict Conditioning 2.  How did you get involved in that project?

Paul Wade first contacted me in 2010 about an article he was writing for Rob Drucker’s website, Muscles of Iron.  He wanted to use a couple of photos from my blog in the piece.  I gladly agreed and from there we got to discussing our training styles and philosophies via email.  I sent him a copy of my book and he loved it, which was very flattering for me.  Then he asked me about modeling the flag and trifecta for CC2 this past spring.  He gave me a list of shots for the book and I was able to provide him with what he wanted.  I also sent Paul a bunch of other shots I had taken that I thought he might like to use.  One of them was of my brother Danny and I doing the 2-Man Flag.  Paul and Dragon Door president John Du Cane really liked this shot and the rest is history.

Convict Conditioning 2

A lot of your videos show you doing some pretty incredible feats of strength.  For someone new to bodyweight training, where do you recommend they start?

Thanks, Tim!  Always start by laying a solid foundation with the basics: push-ups, pull-ups, dips, Australian pull-ups, squats, lunges and planks are great ones to start with.  You could do nothing but those exercises for a long time before you need to worry about trying anything advanced.

What are some of the specific strength or exercise related goals that you are personally working towards?

The full planche has become my white whale.  It always seems so close, but still out of reach.  Eventually I’ll get there!  I’m also thinking of doing a triathlon in 2012.

Lastly, I hear you’re working on a new book to be released in 2012.  Is this an extension of your existing book, or something totally different?

This is a totally new book, Tim.  As I said, my first book lays out my philosophy and helps you develop the proper mindset.  This next book will contain more routines and tutorials on specific exercises.  There will also be plenty of my usual anecdotes and rants in there, too – plus lots and lots of new photos.

Thanks Al!

Anyone else have a bodyweight fitness goal they are working on?  Do you incorporate bodyweight training as part of your overall exercise program?  Let me know what you think.

And a related post you might enjoy is Beast Skills:  An Interview with Jim Bathurst.

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Tim Huntley , is currently the COO of Paired Health and was formerly the CEO of Ganymede Software. Tim spends his free time advising high tech start-ups, serving on the board for the Track and Field Athletes Association, and writing on his blog, An Entrepreneurial Life.

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