If you've read even one of the articles that brothers Al Kavadlo and Danny Kavadlo have published on Bodybuilding.com, you've seen them training—or just playing around—on the streets of New York City. This isn't just because it makes for a great picture (although it definitely does). These guys are really out there, turning heads and raising human flags in city parks and on the pipes and scaffolds of the concrete jungle.
But until now, neither of the pair had devoted part of their ever-growing lineup of book titles to the how and why of the street workout. They/ve teamed up to rectify that gap, releasing their first co-written project, "Street Workout: How to Sculpt a God-Like Physique Using Nothing but Your Environment" in June.
The Kavadlo brothers recently spoke with Bodybuilding.com to discuss their latest project and the allure of urban outdoor training.
Q. You've both trained or worked in gyms, but the pictures our readers see of you are always outdoors. How did the idea of outdoor training come to take such prominence in your physical training?
Al Kavadlo: Danny and I have done calisthenics since we were kids, but mostly indoors. Between then and now, we've also spent a lot of time in gyms and have incorporated many different modalities of training. Barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and more have come and gone from our training regimen. It's been exclusively body weight for the past several years.
As for training outdoors, I started my fitness career working as a personal trainer in big-box health clubs, but eventually found myself using less and less of the equipment and getting better results for my clients.
Ultimately, when I left that job, I started training most of my clients at Tompkins Square Park, which had already become my own primary training spot by that point. When you work at the same gym for a long time, it can be inspiring to find somewhere else to do your own workouts. I started working out at TSP in 2007, and it's been pretty cool to see how much the culture there has grown over the last 10 years.
Danny Kavadlo: No matter where you are or what equipment you're using, it comes down to thinking about exercise as movement patterns rather than dependency on a specific machine or device. When you strip things down to their simplest form, it blows the scope of possibility wide open.
I imagine you still encounter people staring or looking concerned. In your travels, have you encountered places where street workouts are closer to the norm?
DK: As I like to say, "The posse's getting bigger!" I feel that the people who stare aren't necessarily concerned as much as they are curious. After all, if you've never seen someone flagging off a street sign, it's bound to turn your head.
Personally, I don't think that a street workout is the norm anywhere. As much as it's gaining popularity all over the world, which is something that thrills me, it is still very much a grassroots movement. It's undeniable that there are more practitioners and outdoor venues than ever, but in the grand, global picture, it is still on the fringes of commercial fitness.
Both of you have written books that focused on goals or certain aspects of training. The streets were featured in photos for all of them. What made you turn the focus there for your new book "Street Workout"?
AK: We wanted to have one all-inclusive, definitive guide with a broader spectrum than any of those previous works. This book covers such a huge scope that I don't think we would have been able to write it without having done the others first. As authors, we've learned a lot from our previous works and listened carefully to reader feedback in order to fine-tune this book as best we could.
DK: "Street Workout" contains not only the most thorough and comprehensive collection of exercises of any of our books, but it's also an anthology of our travels and our experiences. We've been all over the world teaching Dragon Door's Progressive Calisthenics Certification. We've connected with street-workout practitioners globally, and we wanted to represent that.
But even beyond the exercises and the community, this book features the actual street! There is even a section called "Taking It to the Streets" where we break down how to utilize any street apparatus that you may find available. There has never been anything like this before.
At this point, how often do you guys get amazed by something you see someone do with their body? What's the last thing that dropped your respective jaws?
AK: No matter how long we've been doing this, there is always more to see! Whether it's an entirely new move, or a unique variation, there is no limit to the strength and creativity of the modern street-workout practitioner.
DK: I still remember how blown away I was the first time I saw a muscle-up or a one-arm pull-up. I recently witnessed a one-arm muscle-up for the first time, and that gave me the same feeling all over again.
AK: I've seen a few videos lately of guys doing one-arm planches and for me that's just mind-blowing. Achieving a two-arm planche is enough of a challenge for most mortals!
What are some unexpected kinds of strength, growth, or general physical transformation that happen from a steady diet of calisthenics?
AK: One of my favorite things about calisthenics is how the body adapts to the specific demands of the training. Since the only resistance is your own body weight, performing calisthenics exercises will gradually shape your body to its most functionally efficient natural state by building muscle and shedding fat to find its ideal set point.
DK: Beyond that, bodyweight training teaches you to bring awareness to how your muscles are interconnected and use them together to be as efficient as possible in your movement. Though performing isolation movements is a cornerstone of bodybuilding training, in calisthenics the opposite approach is typically more effective.
Do either of you pick up a barbell even out of curiosity anymore?
AK: It's been known to happen from time to time. Although my workouts consist exclusively of bodyweight exercises, if I happen to be at the gym and there's some iron laying around, I'm not averse to picking it up.
When I do, I find it's a myth that bodyweight training does not build absolute strength. The carryover between calisthenics and weight training is very real.
DK: For a recent article I wrote for Bodybuilding.com, "7 Movements You Need for Full-Body Strength," I shot some photographs of me lifting weights. I can still pull 2.5 bodyweight on a deadlift even though it is not part of my regular training protocol.
At this point in your journeys, what strength achievements are you most proud of?
AK: The one-arm pull-up will always be an accomplishment that I'm very proud of, because it's something I worked so hard to achieve, and I originally thought it might not ever happen.
DK: One-arm human flag!
How much should reps, sets, and written programs guide what advanced calisthenics practitioners do, and how much should be intuitive or improvisational?
DK: Reps and sets are very important, particularly when beginning a program. You have to establish a baseline before you can focus on freestyling or more advanced moves. Even for elite practitioners, there is still indubitably a virtue to both sets and improvisation.
AK: Agreed. It's great to have some structure to your training, but it's also worthwhile to be creative, even artistic, within your workouts. It's sometimes just as much about stimulating the mind and spirit as it is the body. A plan on paper is helpful, but it's good to be able to deviate from that and be spontaneous based on what you feel in the moment.
DK: On that note, "Street Workout" includes the most extensive section on programming, including assessments, workouts, and hypothetical splits that we've ever compiled in print for all fitness levels, from the humblest beginner to the most advanced athlete. If you have any interest in how far bodyweight training can be taken, you've gotta buy this book!