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Beginner Advice From 5 Calisthenics Experts (Includes Al Kavadlo)

November 20, 2017

Beginner Advice From 5 Calisthenics Experts (Includes Al Kavadlo)

If you're looking for some calisthenics inspiration then you don't need to look much further than Instagram. A quick search will bring back thousands of results. But what if you want some consistently good advice and inspiration from experts in the field who know they're stuff? We've hunted down some of the leading trainers and practitioners to hear how they started out and what advice they have for beginners.

Ricky Warren

Ricky Warren - Calisthenics - Urban Strength Interview
Photo Credit: @rix.official
Ricky Warren is the head coach and founder at Bodyweight Gurus. He's a mobility and MMA specialist who blends yoga and calisthenics training to produce stellar results. You can follow his instagram @rix.official.

How did you originally get into Calisthenics training?

After training in multiple martial arts since 7 years old, in 2012, I saw a muscle up and flag on Youtube by Hannibal for King and decided to try them out on a soccer goalpost in a local park. I could do the movements but they weren't as clean as his, so I decided to keep at it and the rest is history.

What are the biggest mistakes and myths you see in calisthenics training?

Trying advanced things too early without learning any theory first. Not resting enough. Not stretching and releasing muscle tension. I'm not sure of any myths per say but there is a difference between good execution and poor execution, and knowing this is important if you want to become great.

And what are the biggest time wasters for novices?

Overtraining.

What is one movement you are working on mastering right now?

Full maltese planche on floor/ box splits.

Who or where do you look to for inspiration?

Everything and anyone can teach you something. If you look carefully enough you can apply anything. You have to live it and dream it in every nerve and sinew of your body, creating a thirst for understanding. This will steer your perception always in the direction of progression in your field and everything can be applied to it if you are always thinking of it.

Madeleine Leander

Madeleine Leader - Calisthenics - Urban Strength Interview
Photo Credit: @maddelisk_workout

Madeleine Leander is a Swedish Street Workout Champion with a PhD in Mathematics. Her calisthenics moves kick butt and she regularly posts videos on her instagram @maddelisk_workout.

How did you originally get into Calisthenics training?

I used to train with weights quite a lot before I started to move over to more bodyweight training, around seven years ago. I always looked at the weights I was lifting and tried to do better. After a time with less training I found it very hard to improve. I couldn't lift the weights I used to be able to and felt like I needed other goals to focus on. That is when I decided to learn how to do a muscle up. The goal from the start was to do a super strict muscle up. I looked for inspiration on Youtube and read up on bodyweight strength training. Then I made a plan that I thought would work well for me. It included a lot of training for my false-grip, including false grip lat pull-downs and other odd exercises I came up with. My plan worked better than expected and I was able to do my first muscle-up four months later. Around that time I fell for calisthenics. I loved the feeling of teaching my body new things rather than only look at the numbers on the weights I was lifting. It resulted in me starting to work on front lever, back lever, handstands, mobility and more. It's been four years now and I still love this kind of training. I still lift weights though, because I really like variation.

What are the biggest mistakes and myths you see in calisthenics training? And what are the biggest time wasters for novices?

I see a lot of people who are trying to move, in my opinion, too fast. When you try to do exercises you are not ready for, you very often do them with bad form and have a high risk of injury. One such example is the muscle-up. I see a lot of people with one goal - to get up. But doing a muscle-up, when you don't have the strength to do a proper one, with a huge kip and taking one arm up before the other comes with a lot of risks. Especially for shoulders. I don't think that kind of training is worth the risk or the time, many people would rather benefit from building the strength up first.

What is one movement you are working on mastering right now?

At the moment I'm working a lot on my handstand balance with the goal to be able to do a one arm handstand. To achieve that I work a lot on my alignment and shoulder mobility.

Who or where do you look to for inspiration?

I use Instagram a lot as a source of inspiration. Now that I'm working towards a one arm handstand I like to watch people who has already gone through the journey I'm on. Among others I follow @garagegymgirl.

Al Kavadlo

Al Kavadlo - Calisthenics - Urban Strength Interview

Photo Credit: @al_kavadlo

Al Kavadlo is a leading figure in the calisthenics movement. Author of several books, including the best selling Get Strong, he's also lead instructor for the Progressive Calisthentics Certification (PPC). He's online training program Universal Strength is perfect for advancing your calisthenics training. You can follow him on instagram here @al_kavadlo.

How did you originally get into Calisthenics training?

I began working out when I was 13 years old. At first my interest was mainly aesthetic. I was a scrawny kid and I wanted to put on some muscle!

As a teenager, I started out with calisthenics basics like pull-ups, push-ups and dips. Over time, I began exploring other training modalities like barbells, kettlebells, machines, sandbags, etc. Funny thing is, after trying everything, I eventually came full circle and returned to bodyweight training. I love the simplicity of it and how you can do it anywhere.

What are the biggest mistakes and myths you see in calisthenics training? And what are the biggest time wasters for novices?

The biggest myth is that some people think you can't get strong with just bodyweight exercises. On the other hand, a lot of people want to rush ahead to the advanced moves too quickly. You've gotta put in your time with the basics first.
And other thing I see often with beginners – and it's something I did myself when I got started – is to ignore the lower body. You gotta work your legs, too!

What is one movement you are working on mastering right now?

It's all a work in progress! There are some moves that I'm pretty good at, but I wouldn't say that I've really mastered anything.

Who or where do you look to for inspiration?

There are lots of inspirational people in my life like my brother Danny Kavadlo and my wife Grace Kavadlo, who are both fitness trainers themselves. I also have lots of friends who inspire me all the time. I'm lucky to be surrounded by so many strong motivational forces!

Sarah Bartlett

Sarah Bartlett - Calisthenics - Urban Strength Interview

Photo Credit: @sarahbartlettcoach

Sarah Bartlett is a fitness trainer, Australian Ninja Warrior contestant and Tough Mudder ambassador. You can read more on her website or follow her on instagram @sarahbartlettcoach

How did you originally get into Calisthenics training?

I was a gymnast from a young age and competitively from 11-16. I suppose it was kind of a natural progression once I got back into fitness as an adult, that I would move back towards bodyweight training and into calisthenics. After getting back into some gymnastics training and ring work in the gym, I went down to Bondi one day with a girlfriend to do the Coastal walk and met Marcus Bondi at the Bondi Outdoor Gym. We trained together that afternoon and nearly every week since then at the Bondi Outdoor Gym. I have been training in this style for the past 2 years now.

What are the biggest mistakes and myths you see in calisthenics training? And what are the biggest time wasters for novices?

Anything that involves 'cheating’ in the movement to achieve the trick. Coming from a gymnastics background, my belief is that if you can’t do it with control and slow tempo, then you don’t really have it down. Obviously that can’t be applicable to all movements, but as a general rule. The perfect example would be pull ups and “kipping pull ups”. In my opinion, if you can’t execute a movement pattern fully through your safest and greatest range of motion (i.e a full range pull up, utilising your lats as the prime mover and keeping the scapulae depressed and engaged), then you probably shouldn’t be applying plyometric force through the joints to achieve that range (like kipping does).You’re wasting your time if you learn movements by cheating the foundations; Because the foundations are always mobility, neuromuscular control and core stability - which, simply put, cannot be cheated, and if not learned from the outset, you will be limited insofar as which skills you can achieve. True mastery comes from patience and consistency. Do the work.

What is one movement you are working on mastering right now?

I will forever be attempting to master handbalancing - something I am constantly working to improve and love working on as there is always a new way to challenge yourself. At the moment I am also working on some more dynamic bar skills, such as mounts, circles and transitions.

Who or where do you look to for inspiration?

Many of my closest friends are now some of my biggest inspirations - I am fortunate enough to have met some incredibly talented and dedicated individuals along the way, many of whom I have travelled to the other side of the world with, or met over there and trained with. Calisthenics has provided me with so many incredible experiences and friendships over the past couple of years, and the community, culture and curiosity is spreading like wildfire - I can’t wait to see where this incredible sport is in the next 5-10 years! That itself keeps me so motivated. For inspiration for tricks and skills, Instagram and Youtube are great resources, just search “calisthenics.”

Malin “Malle” Jansson

Malin Jansson - Calisthenics - Urban Strength Interview
Photo Credit: @malinmallejansson


The Swedish are into their calisthenics and Malin Malle is no exception. She's a street workout influencer who runs a popular Youtube channel. She regularly posts short videos on Instagram @malinmallejansson.

How did you originally get into Calisthenics training?

I met my boyfriend and a friend who were both into calisthenics and they literally made me come and try it out. I was so afraid in the beginning since I didn't know of many girls that did it and I didn't think I was strong enough to do it. Although I was so curious about the sport and it seemed fun so I tried it and fell in love.

What are the biggest mistakes and myths you see in calisthenics training? And what are the biggest time wasters for novices?

That people think you have to be so strong in the beginning to start with this. But now I know that there's so many different levels to be on and no matter where you are in progress, there is always something to work on.

What is one movement you are working on mastering right now?

Right now I'm working mostly on the one arm handstand, but also front-lever and planche.

Who or where do you look to for inspiration?

My teammates!


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