Sunday, December 16, 2012

al kavadlo: raising the bar on using the bar - dvd review

Pull ups rock, right? They are a fundamental, do anywhere, super core, righteous bodyweight exercise. They are the foundation to so many other things of goodness, too, in self-strengthening skill work. Despite this, if you walk into any room (including a gym), the number of people who can do a full tactical pull up (palms facing away, neck to the bar, straight pull without momentum) will be, it seems, vanishingly small.

But don't worry: Al Kavadlo of We're Working Out Youtube  fame is here to help, with a DELIGHTFUL DVD called Raising the Bar on pull ups and all moves (including levers and dips) related to pull ups - and bar work.

In fact, this video is so engaging you'll enjoy it if either (a) you already do pull ups - and are interested in getting into their variants like muscle ups or one arm chins (b) you have no intention of doing pull ups or (c) you know people who would like to do pull ups and haven't quite cracked it yet. Anyone you give this to will find something delightful in it.

And Yes i said "delightful"- a couple times. You may ask: can something mc just called "delightful" be taken seriously as a grrr me do pull ups grr type product. Well yes, indeed. And that's part of the delight. You can grr if you wish (Al's brother Danny who demos the movements, too, puts out some of that grr - just so you can do that vibe, too). Or, as Al makes clear from his own presentation, no grring required to be serious about our practice.

Smiling AND doing a one arm
hanging V-sit? What's not
to love? Feel inspired?
Personally, if someone's smiling while doing a one arm pull up,  that's just gosh darn inviting, don't you think? Like, if a guy's all RRR and looking super intense doing a dip it's like "that's super hard ---- oooo - i dunno if i could do that." Whereas seeing Al, the vibe is totally "wow, that looks like fun. i'm gonna give that a go."

And towards that go getting, Al K. puts out a good series of progressions for each of the movements described and illustrated.

[Update: interview with AK about raising the bar now posted - Jan, 2013]

The DVD itself covers
  • Pull Ups - about a million varieties for all levels - from beginner to advanced like the archer pull up
  • Dips - again, both progressions to get started with the move, and then to move on up
  • Various intensifiers like hanging leg raises - again with progressions - L sits, V sits
  • Hand stands - from wall assisted to free standing
  • Muscle Ups and Levers
  • One arms - of course - one arms.
  • Practice - putting these movements together for developing strength and skill - Al and Dan
  • Walk about - a great section of this vid is the proof that bar work is available in all sorts of places - and considering how constantly New York is under construction, the opportunities there to grab a scaffolding bar and pull up are celebrated. 
Frame of Reference: DVD as Bar Progress Resource 
There is a bloody lot of material on this DVD. It's over 50mins long, and feels very rich. An imagined use is as a reference for progressions. For example, someone working on getting a pull up may watch chapter one to get all the ideas about hand position and progressions, and then dig into a particular progression for awhile, knowing that once they get that step, the next one is there to study, such as simply playing with grip position - chin, pull and neutral variants. 

If one's focus is hand stands or levers or muscle ups - just go to that chapter and run the well considered progressions.

Presentors: Al and Danny Kavadlo - Awesome combo
One of the many unique and compelling aspects of this DVD is that while written, produced and edited by Al Kavadlo, his trainer brother Danny joins him to show a slightly different body type approaching the same movements. And if you've followed any of Kavadlo's We're Working Out Vids, it's interesting to see Danny's New Look - a great complement to Al's. 

The Brothers Kavadlo in Raising the Bar.
So the video gives us two different bodies doing the moves individually, and then shows them carrying out the moves in sync. Now that's FUN! 

Synchro Rollovers

These guys are both inked up pretty intensely - but they look very distinct even here. It's very interesting. The ink is also - i think - why when they do their work shirtless it doesn't feel like they're showing off - being buff studs. It feels like they have their ink on. Dunno - it just works.Very urban: the ere art fits in with the art/graffiti around them. Definitely city boys. This is real. I'll come back to that realness in a sec. In the meantime, a brief overview of the work through which the Kavadlo bros take us with the bar.

HUGELY accessible and CHALLENGING across all levels.
It's no small thing to create a DVD that works for beginners to advanced and all the spaces in between. Al's achieved this though. There will be very few people in the population who can say to each move on this vid, ya i got that i own that, Next. And even those few souls will appreciate the presentation of the material. When they get folks coming to them to say "how do you DO that??" you can now say - you brave people - 'Well here, check out Kavadlo's Raising the Bar - i know i did!"

Duel Dipping
DIPS There's a nice logic to the chapters on the DVD too - after pull ups, we get Dips - a great triceps focused, full on body movement. If you think you know everything about dips - on parallel bars or rings, have you experienced the Korean Dip on a straight bar? The plyo dip? of course - there has to be a plyo dip. There's even psuedo cycling while dipping in case you don't think your core is getting enough attention.

HANGS: No Pull Ups Required Speaking of which - here's where all sorts of hanging leg variants come into play - including awesome progressions.  The cool thing about these hanging variants is that we do not have to be pull up masters to do these: can we hang from the bar? 

How to hang is covered in the video - and believe me there is technique here so as not to stress the shoulders. Hanging is kinda a misnomer i think - that sounds really slack - but a good hang sucks in the shoulders - the back is nice and active while the core is also working and then from that hand we get some leg work. 

Aside, a wish: If i had my way - or enough money to have my way - i'd have pull up bars installed everywhere - starting with my campus - attached to buildings, and posts driven into the ground. Everywhere pull up bars. And the verticals can be used for human flags, and shinnying up and down

ADVANCED From basic pull ups, we get (bien sur) advanced pull ups - all sorts of playing with hand/shoulder combinations - that not only are a whole new workout place with pull ups but explore new positions - slightly below the bar; above the bar - all over the bar. Sweet stuff. 

MUSCLE UPS And yes for those at the ten bodyweight pull up place (i just hit that this fall - happy happy - let me say again, getting lean makes pull ups suddenly easier - go figure) - then there's a thumbs up to work the Muscle Up on a bar - or what looks really lovely - on parallel bars. 

Then as with each chapter, we get some sequences on how to put these variants together into some nice working funky combos. 

Wall-supported Hand Stands for Shoulder Strength:
The push to the Pull up Pull
Balance the bod - HAND STANDS Here's one step off the bar to doing some inversion orientation. Why? doing pulls, gotta counterbalance with some pushes - ain't nothing like handstands for this. Now i like to work shoulder stand press ups every day, but i cannot get that balance thing yet so i imagine i shall back away from the press ups to balance and maybe hand walking - why? it looks COOL! - and see someone go from a frog stand to a hand stand (yes that's in here) - well that's on my "i couldn't do that" - but thanks to this DVD i'm thinking - well - i can practice that. Already one simple tip from Al in this section improved my frog stand times immediately - like wow. 

But the biggie here? Kavadlo cares (i can see that as a t-shirt slogan). Really - we do pulls; we need pushes. So while not on the bar it supports the bar. In balance. Very nice, don't you think? Don't you want this video even more now because it's so thoughtful? 

Bench Levers towards Bar levers - and still Smiling
LEVERS? well, you can do them on a bench or a bar - hence being on this DVD - they're bar movements. And personally? i've now hit the wall - from this point i'm watching for pleasure as opposed to practice - maybe next year at this time i'll be ready for this part of the DVD - and isnt' that cool? Like i said: lots of room to grow. 
That said, Skin the Cat is in here - as a progression - and i've been doing that since i was a little kid so i guess i have a wee bite of this - towards a real back lever - so goodness - maybe not quite a year away...

FULL CIRCLE: ONE ARM PULL UPS:  And then, way out there, the sinecure of bar movements, the sex on a plate, he's so fine movement of pull ups: the one arm.

When i was but a grad student, twenty something, training with the x-country team, every once in awhile the guy who worked the desk at the uni gym - forty something very craigy and lean and fit - would come into the gym and pull a few one arms in his t-shirt and sweats. I can't think of one gal there who didn't swoon just a little bit. Somehow a 20 year old doing that just wouldn't have had the same effect - not that there was a 20 something in the gym who could do that. mm mm mm.  You know the difference in the second real star wars where Luke goes after Darth Vadar and whips out his light saber and then Darth brings his out, slow and controlled? That sorta thing. Nothing says experience like a well executed, controlled, slow, strong one arm pull up. But i digress.

The brothers Kavadlo present a set of progressions and variations for this movement too. For instance: can we hang from a bar, one armed - no shoulder stress? How get that full range of motion practice? They have solutions there too. 

Presentation: Excellent
The filming, editing, presentation of this video is EXCELLENT - Kavadlo produced and edited the whole thing. The music, as with his We're Working Out vids is his own, too.

You know how most DVD's are filmed inside in a studio and they just have that kinda contrived vibe to them?  Well, Raising the Bar  is NOT a studio DVD. This whole thing takes place outside, in the real, mainly at Thomkin Square Park in NYC. It's a real space where Al actually works out and children play and sirens scream.

Nice use of camera angle to show position on pull up
But also unlike a lot of single camera health DVD's that more or less set up in front of the athletes and that's it? One angle throughout - well, Al's thought about the shots for these moves. We see the move from the whole body; we get shots close up; we get shots from the top of the bar. And it's done so well, we don't notice the cuts to get the shots because they just feel logical in terms of conveying what we need to see to understand the movements.

Even the audio has been well-considered. Good audio on site describing the moves, and voice over the particulars of the movements for good attention to detail.

I mentioned the body art and how the guys fit in with the environment they use in the vid. Urban and real. This real-ness is another delightful and compelling part of the video - and another reason why i recommend it so highly - these guys walk the talk. They completely embody what they're talking about, they demo it, and you know from this presentation is not only part of what they do themselves, but what they have rather a lot of reps coaching others to do, too.

HIGH TRUST If you're interested in coaching fitness, this DVD is a masterclass in presentation. If you're into learning these moves, this is a presentation you can trust. Getting both of these attributes in one package? Goodness.

Aside 2: What's on the Feet?? yes that's Al Kavadlo movin' in some sweet Xero Shoes (review)

Recommendation: Buy and Give Raising the Bar

buy it for about 16 different reasons - just buy it - for yourself and for someone you love

As said, there is nothing not to enjoy in this DVD. The case for its purchase, as i hope i've made above, is pretty clear whether we're interested in bodyweight practice ourselves, or helping folks casually or professionally, this presentation is a gift. As a class in how to make an instructional video - pretty nice work there too.

BUT wait, there's one more reason: Al Kavadlo has been giving it away on YouTube for years now. If you want to learn how to do anything bodyweight from a dragon flag to a Human Flag, he's there with his zippy happy We're Working Out videos. My sense is that buying Raising the Bar is a nice way to give back and to say "thank you" to Al for all those freebies. Not only does the purchase become a thank you, but we still get all this great content. A bargain, a value, a gift.

the human flags in the real - no special equipment required

Summing up. I can't think of when i've been this impressed with a package - especially since really Al K. put the package together himself - this is his vision of what Raising the Bar should be. Plainly he's attracted a swell crew and willing publisher to support that vision. Again, the biggie for me is the realness of the presentation as well as the friendliness. We can smile and make progress; we can make amazing progress with our bodyweight alone; we do not need a gym. What the workouts together show is that we do need each other - or do well when we can help each other.

Nice nice material, nice presentation, nice story. Great model DVD. Enjoy - and if you really want a kick, put Raising the Bar in someone's stocking this holiday. And if you think it's too late to get the physical copy, order it and stick a pic of the cover into the stocking so they know it's coming.

In an upcoming episode of b2d, we'll have an interview with Al K about the making of Raising the Bar, and some of his fitness philosophy. Really cool, nice guy on top of the talent for training modelled here. In the meantime, while you wait for your DVD to arrive, check out Al's website. Interesting cool articles there too.

Best of the Season Getting To, On, Up and Raising the Bar.

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