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Foreword to Raising the Bar


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FOREWORD to Raising the Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics

By Paul "Coach" Wade

A heavily muscled urban athlete lines up under the high bar and looks up at it grimly. He’s oblivious to his surroundings; the cars streaming past, the kids playing and shouting all around, the noise of the city. All he sees is that bar—he knows it’s the key to the extra muscle and power he needs to build.
A lean, tattooed convict queues up in the yard to work out on the rusty pull-up unit—he may only be able to use it twice this week, and he’s got to get his workout done fast and efficiently if he wants to stay on top of his game.
An elite gymnast arrives at the gym for her early morning session. After a brief warm-up, she heads to her second home—the horizontal bars. The true training is about to begin.
Some icy rain begins to spit as a tough, grizzled marine hops up to grip the iron chinning bar left outside the barracks. Like endless generations of warriors and soldiers before him, he’s mastering his bodyweight. Pull-ups, pull-ups, and more pull-ups for this wily vet.
What do all these fearsome athletes have in common? They’re using that damn bar! And with pretty good reason, too: the simple horizontal bar is the most important piece of strength and conditioning equipment there is—bar none. (‘Scuze the pun.) My mentor, Joe Hartigen—one of the great "unsung heroes" of physical culture—always used to say that a horizontal bar was the only essential piece of training equipment. He believed that you could replace the barbell with floor calisthenics (one-arm push-ups, bridges, one-leg squats, etc.) but there was no way to replace the value of a horizontal bar. You’ve just gotta work that bar!
Joe was right. Bar training is indispensable for strength athletes. Even if you are a hardcore lifter, you still need to train with a horizontal bar to unlock your maximum potential. Why? Physics. I learnt at least one fact back in school—on earth, gravity only ever pulls things downwards. (I didn’t stick around to find out why; something to do with apples, I think.) This means that when you lift weights, or perform floor calisthenics, you are only ever moving things up. Deadlifts, curls, push-ups, squats, cleans—you’re lifting things up, right? As great as these exercises may be, if you are only ever lifting up, you are building your body in an asymmetrical way. You need to pull down as well—and this requires a fixed bar.
Working with the fixed bar unleashes ferocious functional strength. A lot of coaches talk about "functional" strength, and give different definitions. For me, functional strength is the ability to move your own body through space. Other types of strength may be useful, but they all proceed from functional strength. This is the strength you need to escape an emergency—climb a wall, ramp over a fence, etc. Bar athletics is the ultimate "tester" of functional strength. It’s totally unforgiving. I know a lot of big, fat powerlifters who can pull huge amounts of iron in the gym. But can they do a muscle-up? A front lever? Five rollovers? No way!
Sadly, very few athletes devote enough time and energy to the bar. When they do, they see bar training as "pull-ups". This is a damn shame. Just as an expert lifter can use a barbell to perform a wide number of exercises, so a bar athlete can perform many different types of productive technique. Apart from the extensive family of pull-up techniques (archer pull-ups, anyone?), you can also perform an equally huge range of dips, presses, grip and ab exercises. The bar is also a great place for incredible total-body moves like muscle-ups and skinning the cat.
Why is the bar so misunderstood and underused? Part of the problem is that there has never been a definitive high-quality training manual on working with the bar. If you think about it, this is nuts. There are literally thousands of books dedicated to machine work, barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. But have you ever seen a comprehensive encyclopedia devoted specifically to bar training? Nope, me neither!
...Until now.
This here book is something very special. It’s likely the most important book on strength and conditioning to be published in the last fifty years. That’s a big claim, but I stand by it. Not only is it of historical importance as the only book I’ve ever seen that’s dedicated to bar athletics—the "missing link" of strength training—but it’s also a phenomenal conditioning resource in its own right. In this book you’ll learn all the techniques you need to succeed; you’ll find out how to dominate different types of bar set-ups; you’ll discover how to combine and balance your bar moves with other advanced training techniques, like handstand push-ups; and, just as crucial, you’ll be taught to forge all these new skills into a routine of laser-like efficiency.
What makes this book even more exciting is it’s author—"supertrainer" Al Kavadlo. Al is a modern master of bar athletics. His skills on the bar are beyond belief, and his ability to think "outside the box" in training and coaching are rapidly becoming a thing of legend. I could go on and on about Al, but I won’t. I’ll just say that after twenty years learning calisthenics behind bars, there’s only one man alive I go to when I have questions on bodyweight training. His name is Al Kavadlo.
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.
Heck, I’m excited for ya! There’s a horizontal bar near you, right? In a gym, a park, a sports field?
...Then what’re you waiting for, kid?
—Paul Wade, author of Convict Conditioning, 2012