An Interview with Sven Kohl of Calisthenic Movement
2017 is nearly over and celebrations for Christmas are about all but a few days away. It’s always nice to head into a new year with inspiration and drive. One of my greatest sources of inspiration is the success of others. Interviews are one of my favourite things to do on this website because both you, and I, get some amazing takeaways to apply to our lives and our training.
A few months back I interviewed Alex Lorenz of Calisthenic Movement and promised an interview with Alex’s business partner, and the other half of Calisthenic Movement, Sven. Well, today is your lucky day because I bring you a full interview with Sven Kohl.
We talk about starting a YouTube channel, what order you should learn calisthenic movements in, keeping your body fat low, improving mobility, handling injuries, goals for the future, optimal methods for achieving advanced bodyweight moves and where Calisthenic Movement is heading over the next few years.
You don’t have to be a calisthenics connoisseur to benefit from Sven’s wisdom, either. Sit back and enjoy our chat!
1. Everyone knows you from Calisthenic Movement, but what was the life of Sven like before CaliMove? Could you tell us about yourself and your background?
Sven: My Grandfather was a sportsman and a sports teacher so I got into physical training pretty early. In my teen years I did sports like wrestling and boxing. At the age of 18 I started with weight & bodyweight training in the gym. I did the typical “gym stuff” like deadlifts, squats, benchpress, but also bodyweight exercises like pull ups and dips.
In my 20’s I decided to become a physical therapist. I successfully finished a 3 year education and worked as a physical therapist for about 2 years, but it wasn’t my dream to work for someone else. The education itself was great and it helped me a lot in my future career as a trainer. I quit my job and started Calisthenic Movement.
2. What made you fall in love with calisthenics training? I know you had a gym background (weightlifting) before you started calisthenics.
Sven: To be honest, the typical gym bored me. I did over 8 years and it wanted to do something different. Calisthenics was perfect for me. It is a mix between strength and skill training and you can also build a good physique with it.
3. Was making a fitness YouTube channel always in your sights, or was there a pivotal point where you became especially motivated to do it?
Sven: I started the channel only 3 months after I started with Calisthenics. Back in the day it was a very little community and everyone in it made videos to show their progress or to show his “team” to the world. In the beginning it was strange for me.This was before instagram at this time it wasn’t normal that everyone shared parts of their life with others online so I was not used to that. It was very strange to film myself and load it up.
4. From seeing old footage of you, it seems you had a good foundation when you switched from weights to purely bodyweight. What strength level did you have from your days in the gym, when you started looking to learn the more advanced moves like muscle ups, levers and handstands? For example, 10 pull ups, 20 dips and a 10 second L-sit…….
Sven: I could do around 15 Pull ups, 25 Dips and was able to do a L Sit for 19 seconds. That’s it. No levers, not Handstand, no Muscle Ups.
5. I watched your ‘Evolution Of Workout’ video and you made INCREDIBLE progress from early 2012 to mid 2013! What would you attribute your success most to? Was it consistency, a certain type of training or diet that helped you make such good gains?
Sven: These were my “newbie gains” in combination with a good program. As I already told you I’ve had a certain amount of basic strength at the beginning.
The main problem was not the strength but the technique. For some movements (planche, handstand, levers) you need a good body perception & coordination.
So I had to get used to that. After nearly 6 years I’m still making progess when it comes to the technical approach.
6. Nobody can see pictures or videos of you without commenting on how ‘shredded’ you are. What do you find helps you maintain such a low bodyfat level all year? Do you follow a certain eating style, do cardio or just naturally have a fast metabolism? Any tips for people looking to get to single digit body fat and stay there?
Sven: I think it’s a good metabolism in combination with a good diet. I’m more of a skinny type, gaining muscle mass was really hard for me, that’s the downside. To lower my bodyfat I do the 8/16 intermittent fasting and vary my calorie intake every few days.
7. You have mastered some very advanced moves and seem to naturally be good at pulling movements – like front lever and one arm pull ups. Did you find these moves came easier to you than others, and were there any moves that you’ve found very difficult to master and make progress on?
Sven: Haha that’s really funny because pulling movements are my weak point. In fact it’s easier for me to do Handstand Push Ups, Planche and Handstand Presses instead of Levers and OAP.
Frontlever is really hard for me. I have to focus on it to maintain my level when it comes to this exercise.
8. I remember seeing an interview from a few years back when you said your goals at the time were:
– More One Arm Pull Ups
-Increase Full Planche Time
– More Straight Muscle Ups
– Learn Tiger Bend Push Ups
-Increase Handstand Balance
Could you tell us what your current bests are for those moves and which ones you might not have achieved?
Sven: In some movements I’ve improved. The Handstand for example. This is a never ending story, I get better every year. But to be honest some of the moves like the bar muscle up I don’t do anymore (at least not regularly). When I master a movement and I can do it very clean for a couple of reps I switch to another challenging movement. I like to learn new stuff or improve movement to a point where I can do them very clean for a couple of reps, but I am not the “Sets & Reps Guy”.
9. Is there a certain style of training you like most when it comes to mastering/developing these moves – maybe things like GTG (Grease the Groove), high frequency, ultra specific training or even just a general approach?
Sven: GTG is great if you want to learn or improve a certain skill, but it is very boring and also very hard to manage.
Warm Up for only 1 set and then wait, and this around 5-10 times a day…..
At the moment I split my training into bent-arm and straight-arm training.
Day 1: One Arm Pull Up Exercises and some Basic Pull Movements + HSPU + Ring Dips & Archer Ring Push Ups + Lower Body Mobility
Day 2: Lever Training + Planche and Press to Handstand Training + Pistol Squats/Archer Squats
This is only an example. I vary my training every few weeks, I know my body very well and know when I have to do less or more and change something. For beginners or intermediates I wouldn’t recommend to do it this way. It’s better to stick to a solid program until you have the expierience and even then it’s not the best option for everybody.
10. What’s your take on training the basics? Do you still do days where all you do is basic pull ups, dips and push ups etc… for high reps? Do these still hold value even at an advanced level?
Sven: Basics are a must, even if I’m not a fan of “Sets & Reps”. You can’t do the hard moves every training. This will kill your body in the long term.
I include “easy training” sessions or implement basic exercises into my workout.
11. If someone has a ‘solid foundation’ and wants to go on to learn more intermediate moves, do you believe there’s a sensible order for achieving these moves? For example, the L-sit, muscle up, handstand and back lever are often grouped said to be the next step after the basics. Or do you feel you could just work on more advanced moves like front levers and planches if you wanted to train for them?
Sven: Handstand is a no brainer. It’s more about balance so you should start as early as possible with it. When it comes to the other movements it’s hard to say because some people are more mobile, some are stronger at push and some are stronger at pull, but in general I would say to start with L Sit, Backlever and Muscle Up.
12. What are your current goals for the future? One Arm Handstand, Iron Cross, Manna or even a mobility goal like middle splits etc?
Sven: I am 33 years old so my goal is to maintain my level and physique and don’t injure myself haha 😀 But of course I have some wishes for the future: One Arm Handstand is on my list. At the moment I also like skill combination sets. You can see some of them on our instagram account.
13. El Eggs is famous for his flexibility (and blue shorts!) But from what I’ve seen, flexibility hasn’t come as naturally to you. Have you worked on your mobility and what style of flexibility training do you like most?
Sven: I don’t like passive stretching that much, I am more of an active type (mobility). I also implement mobility training into my workouts. It’s a slow process, but in the last years I improved my hip and shoulder mobility a lot.
14. Did you find a lack of mobility to be a limiting factor at some points in your training career?
Sven: For some movements it can be a limitation. For example toes to the bar or a V Sit. If you lack in mobility you have to compensate it with other muscles, this is not efficient. So when it comes to those movements it’s much harder for me than it is for El Eggs, but I wouldn’t say that my mobility is bad. Only El Eggs is very good in it 😀
15. Calisthenics comes with a high risk of injuries. Have you had any injuries and what advice do you have for anyone struggling with an injury?
Sven: Yes, even as a physical therapist I had to deal with it. If you push your limits it can happen, but it wasn’t that bad that I had to quit training for a while. The good thing is that I know what I can do to regenerate, I can therapy myself to a certain point. In the past I had to deal with a golfers elbow and some shoulder problems. In this time I couldn’t do One Arm Pull Ups or Handstand Push Ups. Some young guys out there feel invincible until they injure themselves for the first time, it happens to most out there who train very hard to get better.
My tips are:
1. Start low, increase slow (El Eggs’ quote ;D) Don’t rush it. Even if you get better very quick. It’s not only about your muscles. Structures like ligaments & tendons need a lot more time to adapt.
2. If you have to deal with an injury don’t quit your training at all. Of course it depends on the injury, but in the most cases you will regenerate faster, if you move your body and work on your mobility. Do easy movements you can do without pain and increase the level slowly step by step. (Always consult your doctor first).
16. What training advice would you give yourself if you could go back to when you first started working out, either with calisthenics or generally?
Sven: Take your time young lad 😀 Don’t rush it. I know you like working out and you are really passionate about it. But progress comes faster if you don’t overdo it and give your body time to adapt.
17. What would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learnt over the years from life?
Sven: I’ve learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses and what I want to do with my life.
18. Where do you see the future of CaliMove in a few years from now? A bigger team, more programs, more workshops??
Sven: We are working on a lot of new projects. But I can’t tell you about all of it at the moment. We will come up with more programs on a complete new platform. New videos, new design, better presentation, easier to understand etc..We will also step up our game in every other point (YouTube, Workshops, PT etc.). At the moment we’re building up our own little gym (@black_white_gym in Leipzig, Germany) this is also a great improvement for us.
It’s always fascinating chatting to great people and I’m forever amazed at how willing to talk they are. We all have busy schedules and making time can be difficult. I’d like to say a big thank you once again to Sven for chatting to me and shedding some light on what it takes to get to a very advanced level in an ever-growing community.
Something I also found very fascinating was the occasional discrepancy between Alex and Sven’s views on certain subjects; which shows wonderfully how you can have differing views within partnerships and still be a great team.
CaliMove have a Christmas sale on from 22-26th of December, for anyone looking to try their workout plans and products. If you wish to read more about their workout programs, please read my review of their level 4 intermediate plan: How Good Are Calisthenic Movement’s Programs? (A REVIEW)