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Foreword to Al Kavadlo's Pushing the Limits


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Foreword to Al Kavadlo's Pushing the Limits!
By Jason Ferruggia

I’m kind of jealous. I know I shouldn’t be but I am. I wish I had authored a book that was this badass and visually stunning.

About a year ago my good friend Derek Brigham (who did the amazing job with the layout and design of Pushing the Limits!) emailed me to tell me I had to check out a new project he worked on. It was a book called Raising The Bar by Al Kavadlo.

I came to find that like me, Al is an East Coaster, covered in tattoos with a love for old school professional wrestling and bodyweight training. Immediately I was interested. What I didn’t know at the time was that Al did a lot of his workouts in the exact same park I once lived across the street from and spent several months training at.

It was the spring of 2005. For the previous ten years I’d been running my own hardcore training center in New Jersey called Renegade Gym. Even though New York City was only a half hour away I’d never spent more than 24 hours there. I was too busy coaching for twelve hours a day on the gym floor. But that was about to change. A few things happened with my business that made it possible for me to do something I’d always wanted to do- move into New York City. I sold my house in the suburbs and relocated to the East Village; 1st and Avenue A to be exact.  

After finding a gym to train clients I was faced with the even more difficult challenge of finding a place to train myself. I always kept Renegade stocked with the best and most unique equipment available so I’d become spoiled. An average public gym with a bunch of machines and testosterone sapping music wasn’t going to cut it. I had to look elsewhere. Little did I know when I found my apartment, that Tompkins Square Park, which was right across the street, would later become famous on YouTube as the home to some of the most impressive masters of bodyweight strength training the world has ever seen.

One day, after growing tired of checking out one chrome and fern place after another I decided to go train in the park. Bodyweight exercises had always been a staple in my programs but never the main focus. At the very least I figured I could make do on them for a while. When I got to Tompkins I started doing the basics like chins and dips. There were a few other guys at the park doing the same. After thirty minutes or so I was about to head back to my apartment when four guys started warming up on the bar.

These dudes were ripped and jacked. They moved with effortless ease and were doing things I’d never seen before. I decided to extend my workout so I could hang around and watch. By the time this mind-blowing display was over I was convinced that I wouldn’t be heading back inside to the gym anytime soon.

Since the day I started training back in the late 80’s I was always a fan of guys like Arnold and Bill Kazmaier. My workouts were largely influenced by Iron Game legends such as John McCallum, Ed Coan, Arthur Saxon and Dorian Yates.  That meant that loading up a bar and hoisting heavy weight was a mainstay in all of my programs.

We had a few big barbell lifts each week and the rest of the program was made up of dumbbells, strongman and bodyweight exercises. I’d always admired the physiques of male gymnasts and was inspired by their training. That’s why we always did tons of dips, chins, inverted rows, glute ham raises, pushups and single leg squat variations. But I’d never forgone the barbell completely. The bodyweight exercises were thought of simply as "assistance work." Chins and dips were the potatoes and veggies. Squats or bench presses were the steak.

Until that day in Tompkins Square Park.

I’d suffered my fair share of injuries over the years and decided I could use a break. I was living in a new city so it seemed like a good time for a completely new style of training. I decided I’d train outside for the entire summer. Give it a solid twelve-week run where I didn’t touch a weight and see what would happen. Every day I went across the street and trained alongside guys who would later become legends on YouTube. I pushed myself to get better, to try new variations of exercises, to keep getting stronger. And I loved every minute of it.

By the time Fall rolled around I’d improved dramatically on all bodyweight exercises and shockingly, was able to run faster and jump higher than ever before. I didn’t gain much size but it was the summer and I wasn’t really eating for that goal. However, I certainly didn’t lose any, as I’d always feared. If anything I was carrying the exact same amount of muscle and noticeably less bodyfat.

At that point I was 100% convinced that anyone could get strong, ripped and jacked on nothing but bodyweight training. The added bonus is that it doesn’t beat you up like traditional barbell work does.

Eventually my love for picking up heavy stuff drew me back in and I returned to the gym. I’m an old school physical culturist at heart and could never completely forego weights and strongman training. But bodyweight exercises always make up at least 50-75% of my workouts.

Even my guys who are obsessed with pushing up their squats and bench presses know that we use exercises like chin ups and pushups as a measuring stick. If your numbers on the barbell lifts are going up but your performance on bodyweight exercises is going down that means you aren’t gaining true functional strength; you’re simply gaining bodyfat and improving your leverages.

So you could say that bodyweight training keeps you honest.

Pushing the Limits! is the book I wish I had when I first started working out. Knowing Al’s secrets and various progressions would have saved me years of wasted time, frustration and injuries. As awesome as Raising the Bar was I think Al has taken it to another level with Pushing the Limits!. The variations of The Big Three and progressions Al lays out will keep you busy for years.

I love the fact that Al stresses slowly working your way through one level to the next and explains how connective tissue doesn’t adapt as quickly as muscles do. In the instant gratification world we live in this is critically important. To remain injury free and able to train long into the future you absolutely have to heed his words and deliberately work your way through each step without ever trying to rush them.

 A lot of times people see certain bodyweight exercises performed and think they’re too easy so they disregard their effectiveness. This won’t be the case when you work up to the hardest progressions Al has in store for you. Even the strongest lifters will be challenged to the max. Other times people see advanced bodyweight exercises and think that there’s no way they’d ever be able to perform such a circus trick. That’s simply because they don’t know the proper steps to take to get there.

Al will teach you those in Pushing the Limits!, and a few months from now you’ll be doing things you never would have dreamed possible. You also look, feel and perform a whole lot better than you do right now.

In strength,

Jason Ferruggia