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Exercise guru Al Kavadlo: Bodyweight strength training is foundation of fitness

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Fitness guru Al Kavadlo is one of the world's leading experts in bodyweight strength training and calisthenics. Kavadlo has the rippling physique one would expect from a top trainer, but possesses a Zen-like approach to exercise and an unexpectedly disarming personality.

In an exclusive interview, Kavadlo discussed why bodyweight strength training should be the foundation of your exercise routine and how focusing less on aesthetics can actually give you the body of your dreams.

Kavadlo, the author of Pushing the Limits, started off doing push-ups and pull-ups as a teen hoping to build strength and muscle mass.

"I first got into strength training as a teenager and did weight-training," said Al. "But as time went on, I became more and more focused on bodyweight training. The more time I spent on calisthenics moves, the less time I did weight training. Before long, I gave up weightlifting altogether.”

'Focus on the Process and Your Body Will Change'

Kavadlo really enjoyed the freedom calisthenics gave him, as it fit his laid-back, no-fuss personality. He said a major selling point of calisthenics is convenience and cost. "You don't need an expensive gym membership," he said. "You can do it wherever you are when you travel. And it gives you a lean, athletic build."

Al's minimalist fitness approach has made headlines, and was profiled in a widely read 2013 New York Times feature discussing how progressive calisthenics is the wave of the future. Kavadlo said bodyweight training can give you six-pack abs, but his fitness approach focuses less on vanity and more on functionality.

"I don't dwell too much on aesthetics," said Kavadlo, who has done the New York City Marathon and the New York Triathlon. "So much of the fitness industry is dominated by the idea of achieving a certain appearance."

Al has nothing against weightlifting, but said it's a completely different animal than calisthenics. "In bodyweight strength training, the idea is to engage the whole body," he said. "Progress is made by moving on to more difficult exercises, not by adding weight.”

Ironically, by doing bodyweight exercises (and following a healthy diet), you naturally develop a chiseled physique without the neurotic preoccupation that drives most people.

"Focus on the process and your body will change," said Kavadlo, who also wrote Stretching Your Boundaries and is featured in the Paul Wade book, Convict Conditioning.

Al said women can benefit from bodyweight exercises because it builds strength without adding bulk. He said every workout routine should incorporate some kind of squat, some kind of pushing, and some type of pulling motion.

'Exercise Should Be Enjoyed'

As for diet, Kavadlo doesn't subscribe to a particular eating plan, but limits processed junk foods. He occasionally indulges in sweets and high-carb foods, but doesn't go overboard. Like his training, Al's diet philosophy is not extreme and focuses on both health and happiness.

In recent years Al and his brother Danny Kavadlo (who's also a trainer) have gotten tremendous buzz for their workshops in progressive calisthenics. Their outdoor classes in New York's East Village are extremely popular, and their YouTube tutorials have garnered more than three million views.

Kavadlo is happy with the attention progressive calisthenics has received, but his primary goal is to get people off their couches and pulling their own weight — literally. By making exercise fun, he hopes it will encourage people to embrace an active lifestyle that will help them look and feel their best.

"Exercise is good for you," he said. "And it should be something you look forward to."

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