Whereas the sports-minded pretty boys of the 90s used to breakdance to get the girls, today, they’re more likely to get into street-workout, also known as Calisthenics. A physical discipline that has exploded on a worldwide basis, with proponents such as Hannibal for King and Bar’s Brothers taking the lead, it has only reached the country’s urban parks and playgrounds in the past two years, with just a few crews contributing to its local notoriety. One of the country’s most notorious and well known groups is Wolf’s Bar, a six-member-strong team of toned and tense youngsters aged between 16 and 25. With dreams of making it big and played to a backdrop of bass-heavy trap, their endearing and entrepreneurial story is one a bunch of kids from different backgrounds brought together by one common passion and, quite possibly, shaping a future out of it for themselves.This feature was first published in our February-March print edition – Photography David Widart
AKHMEDOV (21) – To change physically, I didn’t like my physical appearance. After six-seven months it became a passion and my goal then was not only to change my appearance but also to learn new tricks by watching youtube. I started two years and a half ago.
MALIK (20) – My story is the same as my brother’s. I started for my appearance then continued for my passion. I practice the sport since two years, and it’s now one year since we’ve grown into a collective.
JUNIOR (25) – I too started a year and a half ago. With just tractions first then I started wanting to do more figures. I then met the rest of the crew and we’ve been training together for a year.
MARVIN (16) – To begin with, I used to do “Parcours”. I used to do a lot of sport but “Parcours” was the main one. And I started Street-Workout rather stupidly, because my girlfriend egged me on, because I was rather thin. So I saw it as a challenge and started to train heavily. Then I met Frederico and Thibault at the park who were already into it since a year so we stayed in touch. Then two months later (in July), Frederico talked about starting a project, a crew and said we’d go downtown and put on a show. Since the show got a really good response, we decided to do this regularly.
FREDERICO (18) – The initial idea was to do a project, to show people in Rue Neuve what Street-Workout was. It was during the car-free Sunday on 21st September 2014. After that day, we decided to start a team because there really was a strong bond between us all. We didn’t really know each other before, the team grew naturally. My bestfriend, Thibault Casterman, and myself knew each other since we were kids. I had gone on holidays to Spain and had seen a guy out there doing street workouts. And it blew me away. On that same day I started, with tractions. Then when I got back to Belgium I spoke about it to my best friend Thibault, showed him the Bar’s brothers page, and he was hooked. From then on, we started together. Then I had a brief period of lull, Thibault and I had a bit of a falling out for a while (2 months). We then made-up thanks to the bars, scheduled a meeting at the park and started training again. That first meeting was at a basic fit in Wemmel. Today, they’ve taken those bars down because of insurance issues and risk of injuries. But also because on that day we had made a video for the launch of our website, and we had made too much of a show. Which basic fit didn’t like too much.
JUNIOR – I had seen a few videos of the two brothers before meeting them, and I also had seen a video of Thibault. But I didn’t know anyone beforehand.
ALL – It’s really Frederico that brought us all together. We all met at Simonis metro station on the car free Sunday and it started from there.
AKHMEDOV – We climbed scaffolding, then put some music on and there were like 100 people. Then we took our tops off and there were even more people (laugh). We made a small video of that day, barely 15 seconds, which we then uploaded to Youtube and it got a huge buzz – 90000 views in 2-3 days. So we decided to create a Facebook page, to give ourselves a name.
On the name, Wolf’s bar
AKHMEDOV – Why Wolf? Because it represents solidarity, strength, always moving in packs, always supporting one another. We feed off each other to get better, to improve.
FREDERICO – There’s no real alpha in the group, we’re all alpha. And we all get along.
AKHMEDOV – What you need to know is that street-workouts is a blend of two disciplines: Calisthenics (old of 2000 years), which consists of building up your muscular mass with your own weight (Push ups, crunches, tractions) and gymnastics. There’s a strong artistic element to it given the figures we do. So it’s strength and moves. But we don’t consider ourselves to be gymnasts because we do this in the street. Plus gymnastic is all about technique, less about strength. And we’re about both, with a tendency more towards the strength.
FREDERICO – We also don’t consider ourselves to be gymnasts because we didn’t learn any of this in a sports club or an academy. We taught this to ourselves in the street, where we trained on concrete floors.
MARVIN – It’s a derivative of “Parcours” because we come from and use the streets.
AKHMEDOV – A good routine starts with a run and stretches. It’s important to train on a body that’s prepared otherwise you get injured. Then, personally, I’d start with a series of dips, then go onto the parallel bars and finally finish with push ups. That’s the base. Those three exercises are the basis of what we do.
MARVIN – But you shouldn’t forget to also train your legs. A lot of people neglect the legs and only focus on the top. It doesn’t work if you’re all muscles on top but that below is weak. So for legs you do pistols or squats.
MALIK – And all that without using weights, at least not at the beginning. At the start you just train on your own body weight. Then after a while you’ll take weight belts, just to add a bit of a challenge.
FREDERICO – Yeah if you don’t take on a bit more weight than your body weight, you don’t really improve, you stagnate. It’s a bit like Sangoku and his boots. So you’ll never see us in a gym pushing weights.
AKHMEDOV – That’s right. Personally, I’ve never done any weight lifting as such. I mean I have to please some friends now and then, but never seriously. If I had, it’d slow my training down.
MARVIN – What I always recommend is to combine street-workouts with “Parcours.” That’s what I do. One feeds into the other, and vice versa. There’s a lot of parallels to be done between both disciplines. The strength I amass through my street-workout trainings help me in “Parcours.”
AKHMEDOV – We taught ourselves everything simply by watching videos.
FREDERICO – We’re autodidact, entirely self-taught.
MARVIN – We are coaches but we’ve never had coaches ourselves.
JUNIOR – The idea is that we watched a lot of videos and then simply tried reproducing. them. Then, once we got the hang of it, we tried new tricks, new figures.
AKHMEDOV – That’s maybe one of the only negative aspects I see with all these young kids getting into street-workouts. A lot of them want to rise to the top without putting in the hours, without taking it seriously and training properly. They want to get straight into the figures and tricks without working their muscular strength. And so they get injured rather quickly.
FREDERICO – It’s kind of funny because when I see these kids on bars, you see the way they catch the bar and you have the feeling they’re going to snap their wrists or forearm.
AKHMEDOV – I had to do 6-7 months of muscular training before going on to figures. These guys, they want to start doing tricks straight away. Which is a bit sad…
On practice around the world.
AKHMEDOV – In France, it’s existed for 4-5 years now. In Russia and Ukraine it’s existed for much longer than that. I know that the first ever world championship happened in 2002 in Lithuania. But calisthenics has existed for decades. It’s kind of the father of weight lifiting
On recent surge of practice
AKHMEDOV – First is because, with street-workouts, you notice a change in your phycial appearance quite quickly. In a month and a half’s time, I had already noticed my pecs sculpting, my little vein on my arm popping out. That helps motivation. Secondly, you use your body in an incredible way. Like a flag for example. A few years ago, doing a flag was something I saw as incredible, whereas in the world of street-workouts its one of the most basic tricks.
MARVIN – Also, lets not forget that, today, young kids are attracted to street-workouts because it strengthens your body, but correctly. Because body-builders, on the other hand, are much too large, with humongous arms. Body-builders can lift weights, yes, but ask them to get on their hands, or climb up a wall, and it’s a whole different ballgame.
MALIK – But careful, we’re not saying body-builders have no strength. They do, just a different one than ours.
MARVIN – Street-workouts strengthens you correctly, it helps in everyday life.
FREDERICO – Its more proportionate, it gives you a body that is well-sculpted.
JUNIOR – It’s a more natural process. As your training goes on, your body sculpts itself accordingly. Muscles appear naturally, lines get drawn naturally.
On discipline’s notoriety.
MARVIN – Hannibal for King, a big black dude from New York.
FREDERICO – He really has a crazy reputation
AKHMEDOV – He comes from a poor background, always sports the same clothes. But he’s really credited with shining a light on the discipline. He has a few videos that have gone viral, and they helped to push the discipline forward. Because at its roots the discipline originated in the former USSR. But Hannibal really pushed it on a global scale.
JUNIOR – Yeah, he’s the first to have put a video of street-workouts on the net.
AKHMEDOV – But me, personally, it wasn’t Hannibal who got me motivated to take on the sport. For me, the Bar’s Brothers were the ones to tune me on to it.
FREDERICO – Yeah, their Youtube channel counts over 10 million views. But now, every country has it’s own group, its own branches.
AKHMEDOV – We’re always competing, participating in contests. We recently went to Eindhoven, where the other Belgian crews were also present.
MARVIN – You have members of a jury that come from other countries, it’s quite well done.
AKHMEDOV – Yeah you generally have three members in the jury. One that evaluates the freestyle, another than judges the strength and a last one that looks at combinations.
FREDERICO – Depending on the contests, we’re either competing individually or in teams. In Eindhoven it was individually.
MALIK – The team-based contests are like marathons. In Eindhoven for example, Thibault had to do 40 tractions, then I had to follow that with 75 dips then it’s up to Frederico. And the first team to have finished has won.
On how they compare with other international groups
AKHMEDOV – Our strength is the fact that we’re a group where everyone has their own specialty. Marvin for example is more into freestyle and agility. Junior is strength. Everybody has their strong point, and together we really complete each other.
FREDERICO – We make a small bit of cash out of this. We’ve opened an academy in Jette and we have 45 affiliates.
JUNIOR – Our variable revenue comes from being booked for company events, shows and videos. And our fixed revenue comes from the academy, which we started in September.
MALIK – I think that in Belgium we’re the first academy to have opened, the first club.
On their Youtube videos
FREDERICO – One of our videos went viral something crazy, with 130,000 views. Thibault wanted to monetize that, get some advertising revenue out of it, but I preferred not to. Mostly because the music we use in our videos haven’t been cleared for use, and we’d probably get into trouble. Worst, we could get our account and page suppressed. So I suggested that we think about it and not do anything hastily. One of the ideas I had was to collaborate with a Belgian musicians, producer or group to bypass the issue of rights.
JUNIOR – So for the moment we’re putting more of a focus on our Facebook videos, boosting them a little bit to grow our fanbase.
FREDERICO – We want to be present on all networks, Instagram included. So we’ve recently started sponsoring our posts on Instagram too, get more visibility out of them. But I’m not sure it works that well.
JUNIOR- Yeah, I think Facebook works better for the moment. When we do boost one of our videos, we can see the return directly because someone books us for one of our shows.
On other occupations.
JUNIOR – I just graduated from EPHEC and now work in a company doing digital advertising.
AKHMEDOV – I’m still a student, studying marketing at EPHEC.
MANZUL – I’m a student too, doing physical education.
MALIK – I’m currently looking for a job. I started studying, continuing until last year, but it just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t concentrate in class, couldn’t get into it. I couldn’t stay put for eight hours in class. Couldn’t get up in the morning, would never go to class, would go to sleep late at night. So I quit. So I decided to invest all my time in our group, meaning that when the rest of the boys are in class I spend my days strategizing, thinking, planning and plotting. I also did some personal training this summer, coaching people on a one-to-one basis. But it only lasted during the summer, and once September came all my clients stopped.
MARVIN – I study too, in Marcinelles.
On Wolf’s bar
JUNIOR – For the moment we look at it like an advanced hobby, something that is more than just a passion. There’s something serious about it. It brings us some revenue, but it’s not a full-blown profession yet. I’d love it to become that though.
FREDERICO – Everybody has their vision of it you see. Junior already has a job, so Wolf’s bar is maybe a bit less of a priority. For me, it really represents one of my only chance of success. So that’s why I really try to invest myself fully into it and explore all the possibilities of making it. With my studies I didn’t find it in me to be as disciplined as I am with the group.
FREDERICO – this summer I trained everyday, made myself a routine and stuck to it. Mostly because my friends told me I was getting fat, so I wanted to do something about it. I gave myself both physical and nutritional objectives and stuck to them. You know, from the moment that I stopped going to college, I decided to take matters into my own hands and to lead the life of a sportsman. I do party a little, just like Junior, but it never gets in the way of my training routine.
AKHMEDOV & Malik – We’ve never drank alcohol, and party rarely, so it isn’t really a problem for us. And Thibault never drinks either.
JUNIOR – If we know we have a contest we won’t go out partying and drinking. We can set a few limits when we need to.
AKHMEDOV – But you really could say that it not only changed our physical appearance, but our strength of character too. We’ve developed a sport philosophy in that way. For example I always try to go to sleep before midnight, I don’t drink, don’t smoke, pay attention to what I eat.
MARVIN – doing street workout, our mind is always switched on, even in class. For example we’ll see a chair and will be thinking of the tricks we could be doing with it. Even during days that are supposed to be for rest, we still can’t stop. We’re always moving. It’s just like parcours.
FREDERICO – Even at night, when I’m in bed, I’m still thinking about tricks I can pull, things to do with Wolf’s bar. It’s obsessing. The minute you say a bar, or a pole, you think of what you could be doing with it. Especially before a contest, it’s horrible, that’s all you can think about. Always thinking about what we could do to impress the judges. People think we’re crazy.
On people’s reaction
AKHMEDOV – Well, if we take women’s reactions, I’d say it’s positive – hahaha. Jokes aside, at school, all my teachers and even the principal, they all support what I do. They always come and congratulate me, saying they’ve seen such or such a video of ours. And yeah, like I just said, it impresses the girls so that’s good. To be honest, in Brussels, I’d say that most youngsters first get into street workouts for the girls.
MALIK – Some people, who see us doing tricks in the streets, say that we’re showing off, they don’t understand that for us it’s automatic. In the park where my brother and I train, opposite the bars where we workout, there’s a bench where a few kids hang out and you’d always have three of four of them rolling up and smoking. They’d always look at what we were doing. Then, a month later, we come back to the bark and see that they’re having a go at the bars. We were proud of that, as we got them off the benches and onto the bars.
On girls in the discipline
AKHMEDOV – they aren’t that many. In Brussels, I can think of one, Veronica, that practices it. They think that they’ll get big arms so they don’t really do it. And those that do, mostly do it to impress us. Then some of them are a bit shy, as it’s mostly dominated by men, so they don’t even approach us.
FREDERICO – We’re actually looking for a girl to join the group, a girl that really wants to get into it and evolve with us, the idea being that she’d help us attract a female audience. Having a girl as part of the group would widen our appeal, which would help us develop the sport, and also our clientele.
On developing the discipline
AKHMEDOV – At its core, we want to develop the discipline, make it better known. In Brussels, and maybe even in Belgium, when we started it, no one else knew of it or practice it – they really was just us. And now you see a growing number of people getting interest in it, and that’s down to us.
FREDERICO – And so once the notoriety of the sport has improved, we’re looking at it to build our careers, profit from our exposure and reputation.
JUNIOR – that’s the performance side of what we do, getting our pecs out and showing off our bodies. It’s part of the show.
AKHMEDOV – that’s our joke card.
FREDERICO – We always start off with our polo shirts, and mid-show we take them off to get the crowd going.
AKHMEDOV – It’s also to show people that you can get toned, and fit, without necessarily having to go to the gym.
JUNIOR – It also helps us see a progression with ourselves, from one video to the next.
On belonging and appartenance
FREDERICO – The fact of having developed our own identity and our own brand, complete with its own uniform, we’ve gained quite a following. Kids wear our t-shirts put profile pictures of themselves wearing them. There’s definitely a sense of belonging that they seem to look for.
AKHMEDOV – Even our all-blue uniforms, I see kids wearing blue trousers and sneakers just like us.
MALIK – Yes it’s nice, we notice that we’ve become role models to some youngsters.
AKHMEDOV – Adrenaline is really important to what we do. And the music we play whilst working out is just as important, especially the drop. The drop somehow gives us the tempo and the impetus for a trick, it regulates it.
MARVIN – that’s right We feel the music and use it in our performance.
FREDERICO – If there wasn’t any music everything would change. I don’t think we’d be able to train without it. Mostly trap music, something with a lot of bass.
AKHMEDOV – We really use adrenaline, especially during contests, where we manage to pull off tricks that we wouldn’t normally do during training.
FREDERICO – To me, adrenaline is worst than pre-workouts.
MARVIN – it’s like three Redbulls in one.
On making a living from street workouts
FREDERICO – I think it’s possible. I’m sure of it.
AKHMEDOV – My security net is being a coach or P.E teacher, but Wolf’s bar’s my passion, my wish. I’d much prefer being able to live off Wolf’s Bar.
MALIK – As I mentioned earlier, I also study marketing and that’s my security net. But I always use what I’ve learned for Wolf’s Bar – that’s my number one priority.
FREDERICO – Whatever happens, Wolf’s Bar really has given us a lot of experience in all domains, not only sports.
AKHMEDOV – A lot of people know us now, and there’s something to gain from that. Even policemen, believe it or not, recognise us from our videos.
On the future
AKHMEDOV – We’re really looking forward to “Belgium’s got talent” as we know that even if we only make it to the semi-finals it’ll open loads of doors for us. We had applied last year but it got cancelled so we’re really banking on this year to get through the door.
MARVIN – And as the selection process is based on our well-known applicants already are, our reputation, and the fact that a lot of people already know us, will definitely help.
FREDERICO – we’re proud of coming from Brussels and represent the city to the fullest during contests.
AKHMEDOV – Internationally we big Brussels up but within Brussels itself no. Brussels, and its politicians, have promised us a lot of things and never follow through on them. I’ve been battling with authorities for over a year and a half now. They were supposed to build two parks for us in January 2016 and nothing has happened yet. It’s always excuses excuses and now the project has been pushed back to November 2016.
FREDERICO – We were invited to the Cabinet of Pascal Smet to discuss the construction of a park. He even promised to support us financially but nothing ever happened.
MARVIN – That’s politicians for you. They talk a lot…