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Raising the Bar

The Definitive Guide to Bar Calisthenics

By Al Kavadlo

PDF eBook 224 pages

Also available in Paperback

Read the foreword by Paul “Coach” Wade

Al Kavadlo believes you don't need a gym membership or any fancy equipment to get in the best shape of your life. All you need to build a strong, muscular upper body is a simple pull-up bar.

In Raising the Bar Kavadlo breaks down every type of exercise you can do with a pull-up bar. From the basic two arm hang, to the mighty muscle-up, all the way to the elusive one arm pull-up, the "bar master" takes you step by expert step through everything you need to do to build the chiseled frame you've always wanted.

Whether you're a die-hard calisthenics enthusiast or just looking to get in the best shape of your life, Raising the Bar will meet all your expectations—and then some!

"Raising the Bar is very likely the most important book on strength and conditioning to be published in the last fifty years. If you only ever get your hands on one training manual in your life, make it this one. Buy it, read it, use it. This book has the power to transform you into the ultimate bar athlete." —Paul "Coach" Wade, author of Convict Conditioning

"With Raising the Bar Al Kavadlo has put forth the perfect primal pull-up program. Al's progressions and demonstrations make even the most challenging exercises attainable. Anyone who is serious about pull-ups should read this book." —Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint

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Master The Art of Bar Athletics and Forge the Upper Body of Your Dreams—Without the Need for Weights, Machines or Gym Memberships!


The message is clear: you can earn yourself a stunning upper body with just 3 basic moves and 1 super-simple, yet amazingly versatile tool.

And what’s even better, this 3 + 1 formula for upper body magnificence hides enough variety to keep you challenged and surging to new heights for a lifetime of cool moves and ever-tougher progressions!

Cast in the "concrete jungle" of urban scaffolding and graffiti-laden, blasted walls—and sourced from iconic bar-athlete destinations like Tompkins Square Park, NYC—Raising the Bar rears up to grab you by the startled throat and hurl you into an inspiring new vision of what the human body can achieve.

No more slinking around as an under-developed and under-achieving shadow of your real potential…


Embrace Al Kavadlo’s vision, pick up the challenge, share the Quest, follow directions—and the Holy Grail of supreme upper body fitness is yours for the taking.

Raise the bar of your self-image, raise the bar on what it means to be a man, raise the bar on your fortitude, raise the bar on your toughness—and BE THIS:

• Stride down the mean streets with a whole new swagger—your etched set of washboard abs, your bristling pecs, your snarling forearms and your whipcord frame broadcasting a newfound strength and an animal vitality.

• Enter a room and command immediate, primal respect from male and female alike—as you exude a quiet sense of confidence and raw power.

All this from a bar and 3 basic moves…

A word of warning to the wise, though: you’ll discover drills included in Raising the Bar that take the wildest skill and the greatest of functional strength to pull off. Like any true Quest there are dragons to be faced here at your peril.

Be inspired by the ultimate vision of human performance you’ll see in many of the astonishing photos—but as Al Kavadlo would be the first to recommend, find a righteous band of training brothers and a solid training mentor if you are intent on attaining the greatest of feats that lay before you in Raising the Bar.

"If you have ever passed by a pull-up bar or playground set-up and wondered what to do OR if you think pull-ups are the only thing you can do with a 'pull-up bar' then you need Raising the Bar by Al Kavadlo. Al has done a superb job of demonstrating just what is possible with a bar, above the bar, and all around the bar...

I will be incorporating many of the exercises and tips from this great book.

In the tradition of the ancient gymnastics systems that understood that you cannot be completely fit if you only train on the ground Al challenges us all to Raise the Bar on our training."  —Brett Jones, Master RKC


Feel Better, Look Better and Sure-as-Heck Move Better—Guaranteed


So, let’s plunge on and get a load of what you’ll possess when you invest in Al Kavadlo’s ultimate upper body training program:

Chapter One: Pull-up or Shut-up

Well put indeed, Al! And again, you get the message: we’re not here to namby-pamby around, not here to diddle one little toe in the water. Wusses need not apply. Al’s pull-up program is NOT for shirkers or wannabes. If you’re ready to get to serious work and ready to grab your bar, then be our guest.

Like so many of us, Al chased his own endless parade of shiny balls that promised one get-fit-quick scheme after another. But when all was said and done, Al returned to what had worked best for him in the first place:

Bar + Bodyweight = Back to Basics

Al tried it all—you name it—and returned to the source of all that is good, to the mother ship: pull-ups, pull-ups and then more pull-ups…

Ah, pull-ups, yes, the great equalizer, "the purest way to measure or train pound-for-pound strength…"

To each his own in the strength game, but the bar will take you as far as you could ever dream for upper body physical development—if you let it and let Al show you how…

"Al has put together the companion manual for all the crazy bar calisthenics videos that you find yourself watching over and over again—a much needed resource.

Within this book is a huge volume of bar exercises that will keep your pullup workouts fresh for years, and give you some insane goals to shoot for."
—Max Shank, Senior RKC


Many females have an almost visceral fear of the pull-up. Al confronts this fear and the associated myths that drive that fear. Women, if you’ve been scared/on the fence about engaging with pull-ups, here is all you need to inspire you into pull-up action…Pages 7—8

The 3 best exercises for a novice to incorporate as a precursor to successful pull-ups…Page 10

This golden tip for your negatives could immensely enhance your strength development…Page 11—13

The surefire master tip for pull-up weaklings…Page14

This progressive Australian pull-up is a great secret for working toward the standard pull-up…Page 15

The single greatest error you can make with your pull-ups…Page 16

This "jumping" tip could be the magic strategy that propels you to pull-up glory…Page 17

The perfect assist—and how not to sabotage your partner’s progress…Page 18

Why you must steer clear of assisted pull-up machines…Page 19

The key muscle to zero in on for ultimate success in the pull-up…Page 20

The best thicknesses of bar to ensure maximal gains…Page 22

The very best grip position for fastest grip development…Page 24


Chapter Two: Oh Dip!

The next great move to master for upper frame magnificence is the Dip. Again, Al Kavadlo takes you deep and wide, serving up the complete menu of dip progressions and variants you’ll need to etch out your concrete triceps, chest and shoulders, while blasting your core.

Dip Novice? Then start your progressions with this drill for the best foundation…Page 30

The most common error dippers make—and how to avoid it…Pages 31—33

Parallel Dips are one of the best possible exercises for either gender. See why here…Page 34

How to establish the optimal width for effective dips…Page 38

Straight Bar Dips—this challenging yet under-utilized variation will scorch extra toughness into your upper frame while prepping you perfectly for the muscle-up…Pages 39—40

Now say hello to the monstrous full-body killer, The Korean Dip—don’t say you weren’t warned!...Page 42

Plyo-Dips Anyone? Anyone? Whether you run for the hills at the very idea, or you have skin in the game, check out the wow factor for champion level dipping…Page 45

"The only tool required to fully train bodyweight is a bar or something to hang on. I believe that this amazing book by Al Kavadlo, contains everything that is ever possible to do with a bar, from entry level to ‘mutant’ level. Thanks to the information contained in this book you will have material to practice and improve your skills for years". 
—Fabio Zonin, Senior RKC, Italian bodybuilding champion, Master Instructor FIF


Chapter Three: Hard Core Training

Those in the know (and those not trying to sell you a gizmo) all agree: if you can master the Hanging Leg Raise, you have mastered all you really need to stun the world with your brutish, hyper-functional six-pack.

Al Kavadlo gives the blueprint for Hanging Leg Raise mastery—just follow and get stronger.

The first progression on the path to HLR godhood starts here…Page 50

And here’s a perfect second progression, The Hanging Bicycle…Page 50

Ignore this crucial secret for HLR progress at your peril…Page 52

From the L-Hold to the incredible V-Hold—do if you dare!...Page 58

How to perform the One-arm Hanging Leg Raise for reps—and enter the bodyweight masters’ Hall of Fame…Page 63


Chapter Four: Advanced Pull-ups

As promised, there’s a whole wide world of fun and challenge lurking within the one Big Move that is the Pull-up in all its greatness. You may not have ever wished to BE a monkey, but you gotta feel humbled when you watch a chimp bounding around in the branches. You gotta envy the amazing tensile strength and the power-acrobatics that the chimp can pull off with a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders.

Well, jump into Al’s Advanced Pull-ups program and even the most brazen of high-flying chimps might bare his teeth at you in a gesture of grudging respect—and that’s nothing to the adulation and envy you’ll garner from the hominids-in-suits and other mere mortals who cross your path.

Heed this warning before embarking on Behind-the-neck Pull-ups and you will be fine…Page 65

The benefits of different width grips…Page 67

This special grip variation can both challenge the strong while being a useful tool for beginners…Page 68

The advantages of the Head Banger Pull-up…Page 69

The dread Commando Pull-up—another great weapon to stack in your arsenal…Page 70

The very cool Archer Pull-up will speed you on your way to the bullseye of a One-arm Pull-up…Page 71

Bang out some of these Typewriters for stronger shoulders and a more powerful core…Page 72

Get down with the little-known X pull-up…Pages 73—74

Master the startling L-sit Pull-up—and be proud…Page 76

To kip or not to kip? The more advanced you want to be, the more you should know how to best incorporate judicious kipping. Learn how and why here (One of the best secrets comes from your early childhood)…Page 77

These Plyo Pull-ups will help you develop the perfect combo of strength, power and confidence in your freestyle workouts…Page 79

Chapter Five: Enter the Muscle-up

Intensity, your name is "Muscle-up". So, if you want to add a full-auto burst of intensity to your calisthenics, make friends with Muscle-up and he’ll never let you down…

With its unique demand for both pulling and pushing power, the Muscle-up can singlehandedly build serious strength and sculpt a powerful upper body—and it does a serious number on your abs while you’re not looking. According to Al, then—and who am I to argue?—"the Muscle-up is truly the ultimate upper body exercise."

And who better to school you in the joys of the Muscle-up than Al?

Employ these two "cheaters" as a fantastic precursor to success in the Muscle-up…Page 86

The reps ratio for pull-ups and dips to ensure a solid foundation before attempting a Muscle-up—and another key progression to employ…Page 87

Use this False Grip, for an easier transition between the pull-up and dip phases of the Muscle-up…Page 89

How to employ the essential "S" shape for a successful Muscle-up…Page 90

Close-grip and wide-grip Muscle-ups for an even greater challenge…Page92

Employ this special false grip for slow Muscle-ups—for better leverage and to really cook your forearms…Page 93

How to develop monstrous grip strength and total body control, with the Muscle-up on parallel bars…Page 96

Behold the intimidation factor of the Muscle-over…Page 98

Only for the brave and very skilled: the Standing Muscle-over…Page 99

How to generate explosive power with the Reverse Grip Muscle-up…Page 102

Welcome to the extreme challenge of the Switchblade Muscle-up…Page 104

For those who like to live dangerously: the badass-beyond-belief 360 Muscle-up…Page 106

And finally, for you freaks of nature: the One-arm Muscle-up…Page 107


Chapter Six: Handstands and Shoulder Health

Could you be so obsessively in love with your pull-ups that you’re setting yourself up for serious shoulder problems and other dysfunctions—by not balancing your pull-up work with "equal and opposite" training in pressing?

Al Kavadlo’s pressing chapter will ensure that you maintain the necessary balance not only for shoulder health but for the highest levels of upper body fitness. The advice here is golden and essential for any serious bar athlete. Achieve the advanced drills in this section and you will be at the pinnacle of human performance.

How to use Shoulder Rollouts as the perfect warmup before an upper body workout…Page 110

How to perform the Frogstand—the perfect precursor for a freestanding handstand…Page 114

Wall walking: another excellent progression for training into a handstand…Page 115

Special tips for maintaining balance in the freestanding handstand…Page 116

The Press to Handstand—a much more challenging way to get into a freestanding handstand push-up…Page 119

Very risky! The Handstand on the Bars requires tremendous control and grip strength. Check it out…Page 123

Golden tips for acing the One-handed Handstand—and upping your personal wow factor…Page 124

The Pike Push-up: a brilliant way to ease into the Handstand Push-up…Page 129

The prerequisites for the Freestanding Handstand Push-up, for tremendous strength and balance…Page 130

The Handstand Push-up on Parallel Bars, for a bigger range of motion…Page 132

The Holy Grail of Push-ups: Can it be done? The One-arm Handstand Push-up invitational…Page 133

Chapter Seven: Lever or Leave ’Er

Only those with a burning passion for building bodyweight strength should proceed with body lever training. Are you that man of passion? If not, step aside—you have more than enough already to aim for and contend with. If yes, then please proceed into the dizzy realms of the hyper-achiever…

How to develop formidable strength in your core and enviable strength in your arms, chest, back and abs…Page 136

The Elbow Lever, hard enough, but the perfect progression toward a full Lever…Page 136

Advanced training tips for the perfect Elbow Lever…Page 137

The very challenging feat of the One-arm Elbow Lever—subtle tips for best success…Page 139

The Back Lever: as close as you may get to flying—a fun, functional and badass move that will build total body strength…Page 142

The High Angle Back Lever: check out the musculature you could achieve with this evil move!...Page 143

The Bent Knee Back Lever: a great way for newcomers to get a feel for the exercise…Page 144

The Front Lever: one of the most difficult and coolest calisthenics exercises you can ever perform—it’s like laying down on air…Page 145

The Counter-weighted Front Lever: here’s a nifty way to add weight, yet make your Front Lever easier…Page 148

Witness the One-arm Lever—this has to be seen to be believed…Page 152


Chapter Eight: Zen and the One-arm Pull-up

Al begins this chapter with a quote from Gandhi: "Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will". Now this I love—and never was truer word spoken than when confronting the one-in-10,000 or some say the one-in-100,00 achievement of the One-arm Pull-up.

Al clearly possesses that indomitable will, because he owns the One-arm Pull-up. Want to join him in the rare air where champions roam? Al gives you all the training tips you need—now you supply the necessary Will!

Pay close attention: here are the minimum prerequisites you should have under your belt, before embarking on the One-arm Pull-up challenge…Page 158

One-arm Hangs—the next step on the road to One-arm Pull-up glory!...Page 159

The Self Assist will move you inexorably closer to the ultimate goal…Page 162

This cunning tip can make the One-arm Pull-up that much more attainable…Page 164

Secrets for squeezing the juice out of those final freakish inches…Page 165


Chapter Nine: The Bar Brotherhood

Good things come to those who train. Better things come to those train with partners or in a group—almost always.

But training alone or with a bar brotherhood requires two further ingredients for true success: passion and joy.

Be inspired in this section by Al’s own story and personal example.

Chapter Ten: Beyond the Bar

Train hard, "eat bitter", but train with wisdom is the formula here.

As Al puts it so well: "If you aren’t willing to suffer for your passion, do not expect to achieve greatness".

Discover the keys to figuring out your own best training schedule, based on frequency, volume and individual conditioning…Page 181

Appendix: Sample Routines

You create your own destiny. A great body is yours for the taking simply by following the prescriptions in Al Kavadlo’s masterwork on bar calisthenics.

So, how do you organize your newfound training knowledge into the most effective routines? Of course, there is no one answer and your mileage may vary for any particular workout plan, but Al finishes with what has worked for him over the years. And again, who can argue with Al’s results?

The 5 Levels of workout routine in bar athletics and basic program design…Pages 187—188

Al’s favorite personal workouts, The Eliminator, Back to Basics and Pull-up Madness…Pages 188—189

So how do you rank? Al’s estimation of male and female Pull-up prowess, from Novice to Elite…Page 190


Read Reviews For: Raising the Bar (eBook)
9.46 out of 10 (46 reviews)
Rated 9/10 A Kick Ass Encyclopedia of Bodyweight Exercises
By Zach Even - Esh / Manasquan, NJ, USA

Al put together a kick ass encyclopedia of the most powerful and most commonly used bodyweight exercises amongst the various groups of bodyweight masters.

From the most simple form of each exercise progressing to the most challenging form of each exercise, Al covers it. As a Coach and bodyweight training addict I loved all the variations shown so I can now learn from Al.

This book is far beyond just pull ups and there are countless exercises for upper body and abs.

My only wish was that there were more workouts listed by Al but I also understand that the way Al trains is very instinctive when he trains himself or amongst his friends.

The plus side is that Al covers what is probably EVERY exercise he knows of, uses and teaches others, breaking down proper techniques, regressions and progressions. This is HUGE for the trainers out there who do NOT know how to adapt bodyweight exercises to each individual's fitness level.

If you're a fan of bodyweight training, between this book and Convict Conditioning you can turn your body into a deadly weapon!!!

Rated 10/10 Brilliant Book-simply brilliant
By Darius Rana / Sydney, Australia

This is a fantastic book-period! Al has provided some basic cues which have made my chin ups and leg raises much easier. This is a great piece of work and EVERYONE can benefit from it-Olympic lifter, powerlifter, bodybuilder etc. You dont have to do all the moves-you can pick a couple and run with them. Al shows some great progressions and tons of different movements. I could go on and on but the best thing would be to buy the book-you wont regret it.

Rated 9/10 Incredibly Happy with Raising the Bar!
By Adrienne Harvey / Winter Park, FL, USA

Originally I had the ebook version—which is good, but the large printed paperback was really worth the wait. The large photos to show exactly what Al Kavadlo describes in the text. Not only is the book incredibly informative and entertaining, it's literally a lot of fun to read. Several times I caught myself grinning—alone—while reading the book. It's hard to sit still and read parts of it, so go ahead and take it with you to the park, or where you are able to work with the very basics like a pull up bar. I've even been practicing parts of the elbow lever progression described in the book on the edge of a very heavy picnic table. Al's book is extremely liberating in that you can easily see how a workout can happen anywhere with little to no equipment. Thanks to this fun volume, I've already improved my basic pull up, am edging towards a muscle up, and have added a few fun variants (the "crowd pleasing" archer pull up immediately comes to mind) to the mix. My clients have also benefited, especially those working towards their first pull up. Having the book handy can also allow me to point out the concepts while we're discussing them. You'll probably start looking at your neighborhood a little differently as well—after checking out Raising the Bar, I've started to see many potential places for impromptu dips, finger tip pull ups, clutch flags, elbow levers and more.

Men and women of a variety of shapes and sizes are pictured throughout the book, which is encouraging and inspiring as well (ladies, there's some serious eye-candy in there too). In all seriousness, I look forward to incorporating more and more of the exercises from Raising the Bar into my own training, and with that of my clients.

Rated 10/10 Pull Ups, Muscle Ups, Handstands, WOW!
By Stephen Ventimiglia / Jamaica, NY, United States

Okay for all of you that think pull ups are basic easy, whatever type movements, think again! Al Kavadlo really turns it up on this book or should I say pulls it up! I love how he makes pull ups seem so achievable and the variety he shows really demonstrates why pull ups don't have to be boring. In my opinion I'd rather do any type of pull up than any lat pull down or row, but for those who only do weighted resistance exercises, pick this up because it will surely pull you through your exercise plateaus. Also, the sections on handstands he demonstrates is worth the buy alone. Al knows how to grab a readers interests and makes you want to put the book down and try his progressions out. Amazing book!

Rated 10/10 From Beginner to Super Human! This book has it all
By Daniel Krammer / Santa Cruz, CA, United States

I have to give a lot of props to Al for putting this book out! It is refreshing to see the back to basics calisthenics coming back into fashion because the truth is, it has always and will always be the best and cheapest way to work out. No frills, just hard core awesome moves and progressions. This book will help the beginner get their first pull up or leg raise, or it can take the already athlete to the next level.

I highly recommend this book, and I think the work that Al is doing is inspiring and highly motivational! keep them coming!

Rated 10/10 Informative, Exciting, Easy to Read
By Kyrie Fontana / Reno, NV, USA

Let’s be honest; upper body calisthenics can be intimidating. But with Al Kavadlo in your corner, you will be well on your way to perfect headbanger pull-ups, Korean dips, and maybe even standing muscle overs.

Al is not just a seasoned veteran of calisthenics, but he is truly an excellent teacher. In Raising the Bar, the Definitive Guide to Upper Body Calisthenics, he explains the subtle nuances and fun variations of the most important movements, from dips all the way to muscle ups and even the coveted one-arm pull-up.

Raising the Bar is packed full of not only exciting techniques for advanced practitioners but also adaptations that allow beginners to enter the rewarding world of upper body calisthenics. The Definitive Guide is indisputably the most fun and easy to read instruction manual in fitness to date. Get your copy now.

Rated 9/10 Raising the Bar is Form + Function
By Isaac Ray / Eugene, OR, United States

Raising the Bar provides both exercises known to most fitness enthusiasts as well as some unique to bar athletics. These unique exercises are where the real training gold of this book lies. That being said there are many exercises that go beyond fitness and enter the realm bar sports. So if this book is going to be a good fit for people depends on their personal goals. For someone who just wants to gain physical capacity this book may not be the best choice. But for those who want to take their training beyond being a workout Raising the Bar will do that for them. The only addition I would I wish this book had was an expanded section on program design but for those with a solid foundation in body weight training this should not pose a problem. If someone needs such a foundation Convict Conditioning will provide that foundation an more.

Rated 9/10 Great Book!
By Derek Howe / North Reading, MA, USA

This is an awesome book. Pictures are great and the information Al provides is really great. If you are into body weight training then this book is a great asset to add to your library. I've read the whole book and find myself going back time and again to check something out. Since I got the book, I have been practicing my hand stands and was able to do some hand stand push ups in about 2 weeks. Keep up the good work Al. Al also has some great tutorials on his website:

Rated 10/10 GREAT!!!!
By Cody Clark / Muncie, IN, USA

This book is easily in the top ten of bodyweight strength training books, Al's progressions are brilliant especially on the levers and Muscle Ups. i highly recommend this book to any one who wants to be a part of the few Bar elites.

Rated 10/10 Best book ever written!
By Rick Chafton HKC, FMS / Crystal Lake, IL, USA

As a personal trainer, I've spent years convincing my clients that they don't need any fancy, overpriced, useless junk to get a great workout. The greatness is within the simplicity. I've watched every trainer in the area mess up the concept of functional fitness with their "ideas". Balancing on stacks of bosu balls, using the other leg to pull on rubber bands, one arm using a shaky weight, and the other arm doing curl to presses with a half pound pink dumbbell, all while balancing a medicine ball on your nose sounds good in theory, but at the end of the day, nothing gets accomplished. Al, just like everything else Dragon Door publishes, manages to take the simplest of tools, and make it the most important. These movements are something that everyone not only CAN do, but we are all SUPPOSED to do them. They're in our DNA. Not like all the machines and circus tricks. Al has been a huge inspiration to me for quite sometime. This goes far beyond simple pullups and dips. This is the perfect book to go along with The Naked Warrior, Convict Conditioning 1 & 2, and Pavels flexibility work. Thank you Al, for writing such an awesome book.

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9.21 out of 10 (46 reviews)