Prioritizing Goals at Different Training Levels, with Al Kavadlo

It should seem pretty obvious that someone just starting out with training should be doing different things with their training than someone who’s been at it for a while.

Unfortunately, though, many people throw themselves into training and try to keep up with “the big guys.”

In this episode, Al Kavadlo co-hosts and he and Ryan talk about how to adjust training goals depending on what level you’re at, and why people coming from different backgrounds shouldn’t necessarily be doing the same things.

Here’s a little snippet of their discussion:

“Doesn’t matter that much which specific program you are following. Just as long as you stick to it and build the habit.”

Al Kavadlo is one of the world’s leading experts in bodyweight strength training and calisthenics. The author of four books, including Stretching Your Boundaries and Pushing The Limits!, Kavadlo is also known for his work in the popular Convict Conditioning book series.

As the lead instructor for the Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC), Al gets to bring his unique coaching style to fitness trainers and enthusiasts around the globe.

You can reach Al on his website, Facebook, and Instagram.

What you’ll hear:

(00:55) Ryan and Al want you to get your priorities in order(01:42) Al’s advice to any one beginning calisthenic training(04:29) Why Ryan expects you to not get it the first time(05:17) The importance of structure(06:00) What to do if things don’t go according to plan(12:30) Training when you’re “advanced”(13:30) The endless possibilities with calisthenics

Ryan: Hey everybody welcome to another edition of the GMB show. On this show today, Al Kavadlo is my co-host. How are you doing man?

Al: Hey, hey, hey. I’m really excited to be co-hosting with you Ryan.

Ryan: This is going to be fun. We’re going to try something new today. Instead of doing an interview thing, Al and I are just going to pick a topic, chat about it, see how it goes. First off though, how are things in New York for you man?

Al: It’s been a very mild December. It’s been really great. I’ve been able to do a little more outdoor training than I usually can this time of year, and I’m going to ride it out as long as I can. Although probably by the time we air this it’s going to be freezing and snowing here. I probably just jinxed it by saying that.

Ryan: Well, speaking of training, let’s just get right into it. Our topic for today is, we’re actually going to talk a little bit throw this around, talk about looking at beginners, intermediate, and advanced trainers, and looking at priorities. Basically what should we be looking at if we’re a beginner? What should we be focusing on if we’re an intermediate, or an advanced practitioner? You work with a lot of people, I work with a lot of people. With the new year of course, there’s a lot of people out there who are like, “Oh yeah, because it is a new year I want to do this, this, this, this, and all this, this kind of stuff.” As a beginner really, if we’re coming back to training, maybe for the first time. Maybe we took time off, or maybe we’re coming into the body weight world training, learning some new skills. What do you think? Where should we be starting man, as a beginner?

Al: Well, I just had a training session with a client of mine earlier today, and we were talking about goals with the new year being here and everything. I had been working with this person for a little over a year. In fact she just got started after a long hiatus a little earlier, about a year ago. We were setting goals this time last year. The only goal I said for her at that time I said, “We’re just going to try to train three times a week. Whether it’s with, I don’t expect you to train with me three times. If you can meet with me once a week, and go to a yoga class, or go for a run, or do some strength training on your own. You’re just going to try to exercise three days a week.” That was the only goal in the beginning, and she made it the whole year.

We were able to set a little bit more of a concrete goal moving into 2016. Now our goals are to do a full dead hang pull-up, and hold a free standing handstand for ten seconds. I had to remind her, in order to get those goals, the first goal has to still be in place. Consistent training, and that’s I think for beginners the most important thing. It doesn’t matter that much which specific program you’re following, just as long as you actually stick to it, and build a habit.

Ryan: Absolutely, it’s the same thing is that consistency with me too. This is something I tell my trainers, and everybody that I teach is, “You got to show up.” Where there’s going to be days where you’re like, “I would rather do something else.” [crosstalk 00:03:04]

Al: If you’re looking for an excuse you’ll always find one, right?

Ryan: That’s right. Just my Judo, way back when I first came to Japan, and it was with my Judo career, and everything. My coach I remember he was like, “You’ve just got to show up on the mat. You’ve just got to step on the mat.” Because it’s you determine how things are going to be, and so no one else, you Al, or me, I’m not going to be able to hold that person’s hand, and get them to do it. You decide, but first of all you’ve got to do is just step on the mat. As far as beginner goes, yeah consistency. Personally I, if there’s a particular skill that you wanted to work on, yeah I think that’s cool.

That’s great, but I wouldn’t get too much into thinking it has to be a certain way, and all these details in the programming, and what not. Because let’s face it, being on the internet all the time, you can always find another program out there that maybe you should be following, or some other person that you see doing something, and you want to learn how they got it. Maybe you want to change things up, but consistency. Just stick with that one thing, and keep going with it, it’ll gradually get you to the point where you’re maybe able to do it.

Al: I want to do it perfectly the first time Ryan, isn’t that how these things work?

Ryan: Absolutely, and I’m sure you’re the same way. Don’t you love it when you get an email or something, and somebody says, “I watched your tutorial, and I tried it once, and I didn’t get it.” Well [crosstalk 00:04:34]

Al: Just give up on life right?

Ryan: Yeah, yeah. That’s a good example there of you and I have done these particular skills thousands, and thousands of times. That’s why we did the tutorial. We’re not going to do a tutorial on something that we just learned yesterday. I mean I hope not. As far as beginners, to go back to what you said, that consistency. I think another thing too is if you’re going to work with somebody, work with somebody that you can trust, that you believe in, and be able to follow the process. As you start to go with it, what would be the next step then, as far as after that consistency. Once you have that down, where would you go from there?

Al: Well, it is really helpful in the beginning to have some structure. Because like you said, there are a lot of options out there, and it can be overwhelming just trying to figure it out for yourself. I like to use this analogy. I’m not a very good cook, but if I’m going to cook something I try to get a recipe, and I try to follow the recipe as closely as I can. If I don’t screw it up too bad, sometimes it comes out tasting okay. A really good chief doesn’t need to follow a recipe. They can just go into a kitchen, look at the ingredients, and probably have ten different great dishes they can make right off the spot. Eventually if you cook enough you might get that good, and if you train enough you might get to that point with your workouts, where you can just mix, and match, and do what you want. In the beginning it is nice to have recipe and know what you’re looking to do.

Now having said that, sometimes you have that recipe, and oh the recipe calls for this, and I don’t have that ingredient, let me use this one instead. Sometimes you have a workout, and the workout requires oh there’s pull-ups in this workout. I don’t have a pull-up bar. Okay, well let’s leave those out, but we can still do the other five exercises. That’s a dangerous thing that happens too. Sometimes people think I can’t do this exactly as written, forget, see you, I’m not going to do it all.

Ryan: That’s such a good point. Like you said, people we all tend to look for excuses not to do something, but with that consistent, too understand that just because you can’t do something some way, or exactly that way doesn’t mean that you should give up. That’s a really good point you bring up about pull-ups. Because, depending on where you are in the world, it’s winter, and you might not want to go outside, and grab ahold of that bar, and do your pull-ups. Hey, there are other things that you can do. Just make sure again that you at least do something.

I think another thing too is, and I think this is where looking at priorities and things like that, changing up, and having these backup workouts. That even though it might not be your main priority, at least knowing that you did something that will help that main thing. Something that I like to take a lot about is have your main focus. Why are you doing this? If you’re working to get a handstand, well then do things that are going to help your handstand. Instead of saying, “Oh well, I can’t do my handstands today because my shoulders are sore.” You can do something like working on wrists. Maybe you can work on your core, and doing something like that, that’s related. Even though it might not be the exact same thing that you need to do, it’s at least helping.

Al: I do handstands when my shoulders are sore all the time. I imagine you do to.

Ryan: Oh yeah.

Al: It’s actually like, my shoulders are sore. I can still do a handstand. I can still work on that.

Ryan: Right, yeah, yep. That’s a thing too, because a lot of people [crosstalk 00:08:17]

Al: That’s again a difference between being a beginner, and being more advanced also.

Ryan: Yeah, and I was just going to say that. That’s a really good point. Yesterday one of my buddies came over from Singapore. We were playing around on the hand balancing canes, and I haven’t done one arm handstands on the canes in a really long time. I was nervous, because I was like, “Am I going to be able to do this today?” It was one of those things where I’d done it so many times before, that it really didn’t matter how I did it that day. It was just a matter of getting back into it, and doing it. I think this is maybe something else that I found out a lot of people think is, when you get back into something … Now let’s say you’re intermediate level, or maybe even at advanced level … Don’t expect to e able to do things exactly how you used to do them the first time you get back to it.

Al: Yeah.

Ryan: I don’t know about you, but me I can’t just think that I can do something right off the bat.

Al: I’ll tell, you the conversation I was having with my client, where we were talking about goals, and we set the goal for her to do the pull-up and the handstand. She asked me she’s like, “Al, do you have goals?” I said, “My goal is to not … Anymore advanced.”

Ryan: Hold on buddy I just lost you. Hold on. Okay, and we’re rolling. We’ll go from there. Go.

Al: It’s funny because the client I was talking to the other day, and we were talking about goals that she had for next year … The pull-up, the free standing handstand … She turned around and asked me she said, “Al, do you have goals for 2016?” I said, “My only goal is to not lose the skills I already have.” If I can keep what I’ve got, and get a year older, that’s great.

Ryan: That’s so funny you said it, and I’m sorry I keep interrupting you, but that’s exactly mine. What right now I’m on maintenance mode. That’s where I am right now. People are like, “Dude, what new skills are you working on?” It’s funny because I actually look back on 2015, and I was like, what are some of the goals that maybe I got, but I can make a little better, and that’s it. Instead of thinking that it’s some brand new, just huge goal or something like that. I love hearing that about you too. Because I was like, “Yeah, all right. Yeah.”

Al: I get a lot of people who say to me something like, “Oh I did my first muscle-up, now what?” I’m like, “Well, now try to do a good one,” or, “I did my first …”

Ryan: Okay, and we’re good to go, go.

Al: I hear from a lot of people, and they’ll come to me and say, “Hey Al, I just got my first muscle-up, now what?” I say, “Well, see if you can do a good one,” or they say, “I just did my first pistol squat.” I say, “Okay, can you do it a little slower without balancing at the bottom? Without hunching your back over quite so much?” It’s just gradually cleaning up that form, tightening up the technique. The more you spend time with these exercises, the more you realize how much room there is to keep cleaning it up, and keep cleaning it up.

Ryan: Let’s just even look at the basics right?

Al: Yeah.

Ryan: Because a lot of people think you’re done with the basics. I don’t think I’m ever done with the basics.

Al: No.

Ryan: Because a lot of people look at it like, “Okay, I’m going to do the basics, and then I go here, and then I go here.” I look at it like as an upward spiral. Where you always come back to the …

Al: I like that.

Ryan: Right, you come back to the basics at a higher level, so you’re always getting better, and the better your basics get, everything else will get better. Rather than thinking, “Oh, I’m going back to the basics.” No, you’re … I don’t even know what you say. I’m improving the basics. I don’t know.

Al: Yeah.

Ryan: Ultimately that upward performance spiral of sorts.

Al: Absolutely.

Ryan: Looking at every movement that way. I actually just saw a video yesterday of this guy, and it was interesting, and you might have seen it. It was is this a perfect muscle-up, or just a high pull-up?

Al: Yes, the joop, just right.

Ryan: Yeah.

Al: Yeah, I’ve seen a couple guys who could do that in person too. It’s something.

Ryan: Wow, it’s amazing right?

Al: Yeah.

Ryan: To me, it’s not how many really you’re doing, but it’s how beautifully you can do it.[crosstalk 00:12:30]

Al: Quality of quantity.

Ryan: Right, and so I just thought that was just amazing. That’s I guess what I was getting at. Speaking about looking at me and my maintenance. It’s not just keeping it on the same level, and making sure I can just do something. It’s taking what I was doing, and making it better, instead of thinking that I need to go and do triple back flips, or a double back flip even, or something like that.

Al: Yeah. It’s good to have a sense of humor about it too.

Ryan: That’s another thing to, is having a sense of humor. [crosstalk 00:13:06]

Al: Training should be fun.

Ryan: Yeah right, so what about an advanced. As far as when we get into the advanced? I think it’s still the same, no matter what you do, as you get more advanced. Maybe even coming back to the basics on an even higher level. Let’s say that if you’re at a very advanced level, you’re probably spending a bit more time working out, and you’re probably maybe a trainer, or maybe this is your job. I do find that a lot of people who are more in the advanced level, especially me, tend to need more recovery time. It’s not about doing more training. It’s looking at being smarter, and actually taking those goals, and honing in on maybe where you need the most work in order to make everything else better. What about yourself? Because you’re at an advanced level obviously, but what are some of the things that you find yourself focusing more on? I’m not just talking skills per se, but your actual way you train.

Al: I have two things I want to address that you talked about. The first thing is, is even if you’re really advanced in one department, and you might not be very advanced in another. I have some skills that I have down pretty solid, and other skills that still need a lot of work. The continuum of calisthenics is so big that maybe you’ve got a really good muscle-up, and really good pistol squat, but the back bridge needs work, the handstand needs work. Whatever other skills it may be. I meet a lot of people like that. I have a lot of people who come to my workshops who maybe have one or two skills down really, really good, but then it’s amazing to see. Wow this guy can do a human flag, but he can’t even do a back bridge. There’s quite a lot of people that that’s the case for.

The other thing is the recovery thing that you brought up. I think it’s so important to remember that recovery is very important. Because yes we want to train, but at a certain point, if you’re not recovering, you’re not going to be able to make progress because you’re never going to be at 100% going into your workout.

Ryan: Right, right.

Al: You need to find that balance between how often you’re training, and how intensely you’re training. I see these workouts sometimes listed on the internet, of people just these crazy reps. Like 500 push-ups, 500 dips, 400 pull-ups, and I do a workout like that every once in a great while, and I’m sore for a week afterwards, and I can’t do anything. I try to take the volume down a little bit lower, because I like to train more frequently. If I’m sore for too long afterwards, I’m just frustrated and annoyed. Sometimes I’ll try to workout anyway, and that’s when you have those days where you’re like, “Well, I’m just going to work on my handstand today.” You’re like, “May my handstand really sucked today.”

Ryan: I hear you, no that’s so true. As I get older, and I’m not playing the age card, or anything like that. I just found that my intense, really intense workouts, I’m not that often at all. Just like what you said. When I hit it, I’m going to hit it hard, but I think as you get a little better, and I don’t even consider myself advanced to be perfectly honest. It’s more like, “Okay, I can do particular skills, and I can do a few things, but I still need so much work it’s ridiculous.”

Al: Yeah.

Ryan: I focus more now on what do I really want to do that day. I’ve got my overall goal where I want to go, but it’s more like, “Okay, this is what’s going on with me today. This is how I’m going to hit it.” Then I will I guess test myself. My really intense workouts are more of a mental challenge for me recently. Because that is actually something I’m really working on, to be honest. Is going deeper, and figuring out how far I can push myself, but not like I used to do when I was 23-years-old, or I was stupid doing crap that I shouldn’t have been doing. [crosstalk 00:17:11]

Al: You have to learn right.

Ryan: Exactly, exactly.

Al: You have to test where those boundaries are.

Ryan: Yeah, and so now I’m actually finding that simply the fact that my workouts aren’t as intense as they were, when I do have an intense workout I’m actually able to do a lot more. Well, obviously it’s because of the recovery and things like that.

Al: You’re fresh for it.

Ryan: Right, but I find that I actually enjoy it more. You’re the same way, enjoyment and making sure that it’s fun.

Al: Yes. Well that’s what going to allow you to stay consistent. If you hate it, you’re going to give up after a little while.

Ryan: Yeah exactly, and that’s what I was going to say. I think bringing it back to that. As a beginner, maybe stepping back and looking at do you enjoy it? If you’re just doing something because you think you have to do it, then it’s probably good to step back, and reflect on why you’re choosing to do this. Even as an intermediate or an advanced practitioner as well. Just because someone says you should be doing something doesn’t mean you should do it, nor maybe should you be doing it. Think about what’s good for you and go from there. I know in your case, I mean both of us, we have a certain level that we have to uphold in order to go around the world and teach people, and so that’s our maintenance. We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t enjoy it.

Al: Right.

Ryan: Let’s be honest there are days where we’d like to take a day off, and we do.

Al: Yeah.

Ryan: I think looking at a beginner, why are you doing it? Do you enjoy it? Is that going to be something that you can continue to do? Rambling there, sorry about that, but consistency for you though, going back, what are some things that you find that help you to stay consistent?

Al: Well, I think for me, and hope that this doesn’t make people feel like, “Oh I’m going to give up, because it comes easily to Al.” I’ve been doing this for so long that it’s just so ingrained into my lifestyle, it’s not something that I really have to make myself do anymore. It’s not only, like you said, it’s my career, it’s my passion, it’s just such a big part of my life that of course I’m going to train. I’m more likely to be frustrated if I’m too sore and have to take a day off, than to be like, “Oh, I got to force myself to workout today.”

Ryan: Right, right.

Al: I don’t really have that concern the way someone might if they’re a beginner.

Ryan: Sure.

Al: Because it’s just, there’s no question about it. It’s like of course I’m am. I’m going to brush my teeth everyday too, it’s just something I’ve done for so long, it’s just part of my life.

Ryan: No, I get that. Yeah, because I mean we’re the same with that.

Al: That’s why people have to force themselves in the beginning sometimes. Because eventually if you stick with it for long enough it just does become second nature, and you do find more enjoyment in it, and you do start to feel the benefits more. I think that that is the turning point for most people. Is when they have that moment where maybe the put on a pair of jeans that they haven’t worn in awhile, or they see a friend who they haven’t seen in awhile, and friend goes, “Oh, you’re looking good,” or they are able to do that first pull-up, or whatever it might be. Once that happens for them, then it’s that ah-ha moment, this is why I’m doing this. The suffering, or whatever it may feel like.

Ryan: Right, right. [crosstalk 00:20:30]

Al: You see why you’re doing it.

Ryan: You bring up a good point. I mean, and for those of you listening don’t take it the wrong way. You do have to suffer a little bit, and no one wants to hear that, but there is a point where you’ve got to push through that. Not to injury. I’m not talking about that, or anything like that. My big joke is embrace the suck. Because sometimes that happens, but it reminds me of my kids, and you brought up brushing your teeth. Because I have an 8-year-old, and a 6-year-old. It’s like World War III when they were younger trying to get them to brush their teeth, but now they understand, “Okay wait, this is just something you do, and you do it, it’s going to help you.” You try and make it more enjoyable. You get the cool toothbrushes for them everything like that.

Al: What you’re saying essentially is being a fitness trainer is like getting a child to brush their teeth basically?

Ryan: Basically is what it is, and sometimes you have to give, not giving them treats but, “Hey, if you do this then you get this, thing.” That is a thing, it’s that mental aspect of it is so important. That’s why I think having that why you do something is so important. Because again, if it’s just someone telling you, “Oh, you have to do this.” Without you having that desire to do it, then it’s going to be tough. If it’s your own why. Why do I want to do this? Oh, I want to do this because I need to lose weight in order to be healthy for my children. I need to get this pull-up in order, by me getting this it’s going to make me feel better, or whatever it is. Sometimes people will be like, “Whoa, that sounds kind of wrong,” but again, that’s why we do stuff. In the very, very beginning a lot of people don’t just say, “Oh, I want to do a one arm chin-up.”

Al: I hope they don’t say that in the beginning. [crosstalk 00:22:34] You’re going to be disappointed for a long time if they go in like that.

Ryan: From the very, very beginning right. Yeah, but if you step back and say, “Oh, I want to be able to comfortably get out of my chair, and be able to do something,” and setting yourself up for these little wins on the way, and making things progressively … Make them at a way that you can progressively go towards this goal. Then it’s going to workout okay. I think that me saying embracing the suck, just simply means putting in the work, and putting in the time, but setting it up so that you’re doing it at a way that you’re going to create these little wins along the way.

Al: I’ll tell you Ryan I have two …

Ryan: Brushing your teeth everyday.

Al: …I have two final thoughts that you just made me think.

Ryan: All right.

Al: The first one is, why do it? Because you can, and because you have such direct control over it, and there are so few things in life that are like that. Now so much of life is, “Oh, this person knows this person,” or, “This person has an in at this thing,” or whatever, “They won this raffle,” or God knows what. Fitness you have to earn it, and that’s what’s beautiful about it. It doesn’t matter where you’re starting off, or who you are. If you’re rich, or if you’re poor, if you’re black, if you’re white, if you’re straight, or you’re gay. Whatever it is, if you put in the work, boom, you get the results.

Ryan: Yes.

Al: I think that that’s such an empowering phenomena, why wouldn’t someone want to embrace that, and reach their full potential? You know, I don’t even remember what the other thought is, let’s just end on that one. That was a better thought.

Ryan: Sounds good man. All right, thanks for listening everybody. I hope you enjoyed this show. Look for, look forward to upcoming shows. Because I’m going to have Al on here again, and by the way, if you have any questions that you would like for me or Al, or both of us to answer, please let us know. Also happy New Year everybody.

Al: Hey, hey, hey. Thanks for listening.

Ryan: All right, cheers talk to you soon brother.

Al: That was great, let’s do it again.

Ryan: Thanks everybody, all right.

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