Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Al Kavadlo

Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Al Kavadlo

Al Kavadlo’s Pushing the Limits is a simple, straightforward guide to using bodyweight exercises to achieve full-body fitness without equipment. The book is an in-depth exploration of Kavadlo’s three favorite equipment-free floor exercises: push-ups, squats, and inversions (bridges), which BJJ Legends readers will recognize as key movements for passing guard, escaping a mount, maintaining strong posture, creating space when trapped in side control, etc. For those looking for off-the-mat ways to enhance their Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Pushing the Limits will show you how to get stronger, improve your range of motion, and increase your body’s durability without spending a dime on equipment.

“Al Kavadlo is one of New York City’s most passionate and successful personal trainers. A fixture in the ever-changing fitness scene, Al has worked with all types of clients including athletes, models and even an Olympic medalist.” – from author bio, Pushing The Limits


 Muscles, Graffiti, Tattoos, Concrete, and Steel

The best way to describe the book’s appearance is “urban.” The exercises are demonstrated by Al Kavadlo and his brother Danny – both heavily tattooed – in various outdoor locations throughout NYC with backdrops consisting of the Williamsburg Bridge, riveted steel beams, rooftops, city parks, alleyways, mail boxes, subway stations, etc. If tattoos and graffiti offend your sensibilities, avoid this book.

The next word is “fun”. Al and company look like they’re having a good time. Kavadlo’s enthusiasm for the material is apparent in the tone of his writing and the big smile that’s on his face in most of the photos.

Pushing The Limits begins with a foreword by acclaimed strength coach Jason Ferruggia, followed by an introduction in which Kavadlo explains his preference for bodyweight exercises over isolation exercises. He also takes a moment to address the fears of women who don’t want to “bulk up” by following these routines.

Work Your Way Up. Get Strong, Get Humbled, then Get Stronger

Kavadlo’s book is laid out in nine chapters packed with variations on the three stalwarts of the equipment-free bodyweight exercises: push-ups, squats, and inversions. Readers who consider themselves to be in excellent shape will be humbled by the advanced variations on these old standbys.

In each chapter, Al Kavadlo starts by emphasizing the importance of proper posture, good form (foot positioning, spine alignment, smooth movements), and performing the exercises through a full range of motion. Easier variations are provided for beginners and the advanced variations will push the limits of even the strongest athletes. Examples of the instructional flow:


al pushup

“The push-up is about as close to a perfect exercise as you can get.” Al Kavadlo leads beginners up to the regular push-up via planks followed by wall, knee, and incline push-ups. Once the practitioner is comfortable, they can move into advanced push-ups (diamond, decline, knuckles, fingertips, planche, plyometric, etc.), and then on to the one-arm push-up variations.


al pistol squat
“The king of all lower body exercises… Without squats, it’s virtually impossible to build a functionally strong body.” Again emphasizing the importance of form (Heels on the ground. Stick the butt out. Keep trunk upright. Feet pointed forwards. Maintain a straight line through head, shoulders, and heels), Kavadlo builds up to the squat with bench squats, then progresses to advanced variations and finally to the leg-burning pistol squat section that is guaranteed to cause your body to produce prodigious volumes of sweat, lactic acid, and profanity.


al bridge

Inversion exercises offer a unique combination of benefits: they strengthen your back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves while working your core strength, balance, and proprioceptive awareness. Novices are led to the basic bridge via the beginner’s bridge, straight bridge, table top, and neck bridge, then invited to up the ante with variations including wall crawls, drop backs, tripods, headstand pushups, and scorpions. These are guaranteed to get some blood to your brain.

Building a Workout Routine
At various places throughout the book, Kavadlo answers common questions about knee safety, numbers of reps, training frequency, and whether to split workouts by muscle group. He also explains that while muscle fibres adapt to increased activity relatively quickly, connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, cartilage) take longer to strengthen. This is why it’s so important to work your way up. As Al says, “train consistently, progress slowly, and respect your body.”

Appendix A is full of additional beginner and advanced exercises that didn’t neatly fit into the push-up, bridge, inversion, or equipment-free category. There’s an explanation of how these exercises relate to the other exercises in the book.

Appendix B lays out some sample routines of full-body workouts and split workouts. For those who want to know what their fitness “belt level” is, there’s an “Assessing Your Strength” chart with approximate rep number benchmarks ranging from Novice up to Elite.

There’s something in this book for everyone, especially readers of BJJ Legends. Functional strength is the only strength that matters on the mats, and the exercises in Al Kavadlo’s Pushing The Limits are guaranteed to supercharge your functional strength. If you work at a desk and your lower back is turning to pulp, the exercises in this book (in conjunction with advice from a healthcare professional) have the potential to get you back on track and save you years of pain and degeneration. And anyone who finds themselves doing a full bridge with their training partner standing on their stomach, make sure to send us a photo!  Al’s book is availlable as paperback or as an e-book from Dragon Door.

Don’t forget to check out Al at his website and Facebook for a huge amount of videos and information.

Pushing The Limits: Chapter Breakdown

Chapter 1: Push-Ups
Chapter 2: Squats
Chapter 3: Bridges
Chapter 4: Advanced Push-Ups
Chapter 5: Advanced Squats
Chapter 6: Full Inversions
Chapter 7: Owning the One-Arm Push-Up
Chapter 8: Troubleshooting the Pistol Squat
Chapter 9: All Together Now

Appendix A: Bonus Exercises
Appendix B: Sample Routines

Pushing the Limits! Total Body Strength with No Equipment by Al Kavadlo
2013 Dragon Door Publications
ISBN 10: 0-938045-86-5
ISBN 13: 978-0-938045-86-1
241 page pdf ebook

Other books by Al Kavadlo:

Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics (Dragon Door Publications, 2012) book or E-book

We’re Working Out! A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness (Muscle-up Publications, 2010)

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