A lot of people think that a gym is a requirement if you want to get into really good shape and add on lots of muscle mass. Push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups are all good, but if you want to get bigger, you need to use free weights and progressively ramp up the weight or intensity to cause the body to adapt and repair.
Daniel trains bodyweight exercises only and he is in excellent shape, with plenty of muscle mass that has been acquired without the use of barbells, free weights, or machines. I spoke to Daniel to get more information on bodyweight training.
Spencer: What kind of exercise did you do before getting into bodyweight training?
Daniel: Before I got into bodyweight training I started training a discipline called parkour, for those unfamiliar with it, it’s basically training in a way where you move from one destination to the other in the most efficient way possible so trying to get through your environment very quickly and what interested me with that was that on the side, obviously to keep your body healthy you need to do a lot of bodyweight conditioning so for a few years I trained parkour, I really enjoyed it. Then after a while I got to a point where I was progressing and to get better you need to do more dangerous stuff to push yourself further and I realised I was doing it mainly for the bodyweight training aspect. So I decided to quit doing that and pursue some bodyweight training seriously and actually having set workouts.
Spencer: Before you were doing the parkour, were you going to a gym or were you in good shape naturally?
Daniel: To be honest with you I was your standard teenager, I was a little bit chubby. I was playing table tennis for a few years but nothing really that strenuous so no gym or bodyweight stuff at that point, no.
Spencer: And when you got into parkour originally was there any motivation like ‘oh I might lose a bit of weight’, ‘I might get into good shape’ or was it more of ‘hey, this is lots of fun, I want to do more of this’?
Daniel: It was more just to explore the movement, it wasn’t to get any type of physical results, it was just to have fun and pretty much play around.
Spencer: I’m finding that’s an interesting way for people to become motivated because some people will motivate themselves in wanting to change their body and that won’t always work for everyone. And for some people the whole idea of ‘hey this is fun’ is a cool way of going about it.
Daniel: Yeah, that’s the biggest thing for me, especially now. I wouldn’t be as dedicated if I didn’t enjoy what I was doing so definitely for the beginner it’s all about finding an activity that gets you active, is fairly strenuous but it’s also at the same time enjoyable.
Spencer: Do you think that bodyweight training is overlooked when people are trying to get into good shape?
Daniel: Yeah, definitely because the common person thinks that they need weights or some kind of external stimulus to develop muscle but that’s not true because does more whether it’s being contracted by an external weight or your own body weight so as long as there’s a live stimulus and it’s a strain on the muscle you should be fine and you can work your way up to various progressions with bodyweight training and I think it’s a matter of people not knowing that there’s a very vast number of exercises and progressions that you can do once a standard push up, a standard dip becomes too easy.
Spencer: During your answer there, I’m going to put a little video of you just showing how much muscle you’ve put on so people can see that you can get into really good shape just with bodyweight training. As far as bodyweight training, like the movements you perform, which ones have come easiest to you and which have been the hardest to either learn or be able to do?
Daniel: Well for me with the bodyweight training, I find that it’s a bit easier (I’m not saying that it’s easy, it’s still challenging), but pulling movements for me seem a bit easier so muscle ups, one arm pull ups, I’ve found that I have a better ability to obtain those skills in comparison to an exercise such as a planche which takes a lot more effort for me.
Spencer: When you started pull-ups, how many do you think you could get in a row?
Daniel: With full range of motion, probably about four to six.
Spencer: That’s probably where most people would be when they start and what are you at right now for in a row for pull-ups?
Daniel: I stopped training endurance a while ago but at my best it was probably about thirty without stopping with a full range of motion.
Spencer: Was that when you uploaded that video to Naso?
Daniel: No that was uploaded this year but I’m talking when I was training for endurance specifically the barbarian requirements. That was when I was able to do around thirty because the requirement was to do twenty five after just having done five muscle ups so you can imagine how hard that would be.
Spencer: We’re going to talk about barbarians in a minute. Next thing I want to ask you is have there been any little actions that you’ve taken that have gotten you big results?
Daniel: To be honest with you, not really, like if I was to say one thing that would help everyone out no matter what type of physical activity it is – consistency. It’s simple to understand but it’s very difficult to apply it. That’s my biggest tip being consistent. You don’t have to kill yourself every workout as long as your being consistent. Train, you know, three, four, five days consistently every week, then you will definitely see results.
Spencer: Do you have any tips for people that are struggling with consistency?
Daniel: Well, I think that these people that struggle often have too many goals or a very unrealistic goal to strive for from the start so pick one or two objectives that are reasonable and try and go for those because if you can achieve those then you will think to yourself ‘wow, I didn’t realise I could do this’ and you’ll move on to greater and greater things and you’ll possibly be able to push yourself.
Spencer: Have you done anything that you thought would give you a big result like making your sleep better and eating a cleaner diet and you found that it didn’t really affect you as much as you thought it would?
Daniel: I thought that training more with higher volume would naturally make you be able to do more of X but unfortunately that brought on a lot of injuries for me and that’s one thing I wouldn’t encourage people to do is try and push too hard because most people are still fairly young and they look up to these people they see on the internet, not realising that they have probably been training for six, seven, eight years. It’s important to take it slow. It’s still challenging.
Spencer: How have you dealt with your injuries and then how did you injure yourself and are there any precautions you’d recommend others take?
Daniel: Well, my main injuries started at the beginning of 2011. The first I got was elbow tendonitis. I’ve forgotten the technical name for it but it’s basically inflammation around the tendon and it gets sensitive when you perform any exercise. After that I took a bit of rest but not enough so I continued to train through it which is the worst thing you can possibly do and it came back even worse which required a longer layoff and then when I eventually got back to training again, I was at the park training with friends I was practicing some human flags and this isn’t a skill I usually practice and you know when you’re with someone, you want to train a bit harder. And I found out the next day that I could barely raise my shoulder up in front of me and that was without any weight, it was just trying to move my hand up. And I visited the physiotherapist and I needed to take one and a half, two months off and then following that I needed to do about four to six weeks of gradual rehabilitation so some precautions for that would be do not neglect warm-ups, listen to your body if it’s saying something’s wrong, don’t try and push through it. Take one week off because what’s one week when you could potentially if you push through it, have to take several months off like I did. And very important is joint prehabilitation so strengthening the joints etc.
Spencer: Do you have any videos on your YouTube channel that maybe I could link to that show how to deal with that?
Daniel: Definitely, especially if you are going to be doing handstands, I’ve got a wrist prehabilitation routine so it’s various stretches you can do to safely warm up your wrist prior to doing any handstand or anything that could stress your wrist out. I plan on making more videos in relation to the safety aspect in the future though so look out for that.
Spencer: I’ll link to the wrist one below and obviously if you make some others, I’ll update and put those there too. I remember I was, (I have a cottage up north) swimming across the lake with my friend. We decide to do a challenge and we got there and we got back and it wasn’t that long, probably like maybe two or three kilometres total. And I remember laying in bed that night and my shoulder (the right one) was just aching. I was almost in tears from how much it was hurting so definitely prehab is a really important thing for people to do.
Daniel: And the things that’s bad is that unless you have an injury, you think you’re invincible and unfortunately it almost takes a slight injury for you to realise that ‘hey, I’m not superman, I need to take rests, I need to take care of my body.’
Spencer: Was the elbow tendonitis from overuse?
Daniel: Yes, I think it was a mixture of things. It was overuse and perhaps training and exercise I wasn’t actually ready for. I was doing the back lever on rings and the proper way you are supposed to do it is prepare your tendons for hard exercise later on. You’re supposed to have your hands facing that way so it puts a lot of stress on the elbow tendons here. I believe that’s what made it flare up.
Spencer: If you were starting over again would you spend more time doing certain movements, or dieting and nutrition. What do you think has gotten you to your current strength level the fastest?
Daniel: Well, definitely with the bodyweight exercises, I’d highly recommend you practice skills with straight arms such as handstands, planches etc because I made the mistake of starting out with planches doing bent arm stuff because that was all I saw on the internet. I didn’t actually know any better. So that set me back a long time because to actually get better at the real planch, you need to have strong straight arm strength so that’s a big tip for those out there who are looking to get into the journey towards getting the planch but also in terms of nutrition for my first few years I was working out, I’m sure if you look back to one of my first videos, I was doing a handstand tutorial, I was a little bit chubbier there. So, it’s very important to take care of your nutrition. Just see what works for you and manipulate certain variables but mainly cut out junk food, you know soda and stuff like that.
Spencer: With nutrition, what have you found works for you?
Daniel: Well, I’m still experimenting with what works for me but lately I’ve been trying to follow a high protein, high fat and lower carbs. I think that’s working quite well for me, my energy’s quite consistent throughout the day. I don’t have those insulin spikes anymore.
Spencer: So sort of like a paleo diet. That’s what that sounds like.
Daniel: Yeah. But I still do have some carbohydrates but nowhere near what I did maybe two and a half, three years ago.
Spencer: Do you take any supplements?
Daniel: Well, at the moment, I take whey protein but not all the time. That’s the only real supplement I’ve taken in terms of the bodybuilding supplement but for joint health I take fish oil and also Vitamin C and I’ve found those to be quite beneficial. I haven’t had any flare ups and its particularly good if you don’t really have a high diet with fish included. So yeah, I take whey protein every now and then but I can’t say I take pre-workouts or creatine. I’m not saying creatine is bad but I’m just saving that for later on because I want to reach my natural limit before I start taking stuff like that. And especially for the pre-workouts, I don’t think they are very suitable for younger people because let’s face it, we’re young, we should have heaps of energy. We want to save the pre-workouts for possibly later in life and besides pre-workouts have got caffeine in them.
Spencer: What about Vitamin D, there’s a lot of talk about Vitamin D lately and how healthy it is for you. Do you take that? I know you are in Melbourne, Australia so you get sunshine all the time right? So I guess you’re luck in that. I’m here in Toronto so we’ve got winter and snow right now. So, Vitamin D time?
Daniel: I’ve never taken it myself but it could be useful depending on your situation, like you said.
Spencer: So if someone was to begin bodyweight training today, they’d never done any bodyweight training before, maybe they’d done some sit ups and push ups in their room before. Where would you recommend they start?
Daniel: Well, there are a few basic movements in bodyweight training. It’s important that you start with the basics to prepare yourself for the harder moves later on. So, I’d definitely recommend starting off with some basic, full range pull ups, chin ups, dips, some triceps dips, some basic bodyweight squats, various lunges, dips and pull ups. So, just the basics to get started focusing on the quality. That’s super important, the quality of each rep because there’s a lot of people out there that say ‘oh, I can do X amount of push ups’ but you’ll see that they’re doing a third of the range that a real push up is. So the take home message from this is I’d much rather see you do a workout of ten to fifteen challenging push ups where you’re really pushing yourself through the full range of motions using a tempo that will challenge you as opposed to high reps.
Spencer: And for quality of movement, your YouTube channel is great for that because you have a lot of tutorials on different moves. Are there any other resources or websites that you’d suggest people look into that are interested in bodyweight training?
Daniel: There’s a good website if you’re more interested in the gymnastics side of bodyweight training. It’s called gymnasticsbodies.com. Come to think of it, there’s not many sites, you can also go to bar-barians.com. There’s a nice forum on there where you can get advice from other people. That’s probably one of the best sources for the gymnastics side. I’m trying to be the one stop shop for bodyweight training so come check out my channel.
Spencer: So the Barbarians, who are those guys?
Daniel: Well, there were two dudes that started it, Zakaveli aka Zef and Jude in 2004. Basically a couple of guys who really enjoyed doing bodyweight training, doing pull ups and since 2004, they’ve been growing their team in New York and it was only in the last few years that they wanted to branch out and reach more of an international audience. And they set a series of requirements and if you were to complete those requirements no matter where you were in a specified time and using the form that was required by the owners, you could actually become a barbarian. So I was able to complete those requirements in 2010 and join the team so in short its basically it’s a group of like minded elite bodyweight training guys.
Spencer: I’m just doing a Google search for the requirements here. You can verify if these are correct. So you have to do five muscle ups, then forty five dips, then twenty five pull ups, fifty five push ups and then five muscle ups?
Daniel: Yeah. All in under six minutes. It should have that.
Spencer: Oh my gosh – in under six minutes too
Daniel: You feel pretty nauseous after you do that.
Spencer: When you tried for the first time, did you complete it or did you have to work at it for a bit?
Daniel: No way. It took me from when I wanted to start doing it, approximately a year to achieve it so there’s a few videos, I think I posted about three or four until I actually got the set requirements and when I was doing it, originally there was older requirements which were easier and I was just about to get there and then they upped them and I had to train even harder to get the new ones. But I guess that made it all the more worthwhile.
Spencer: Do you think you could still do those at this current time?
Daniel: It wouldn’t be pretty if I was to get the numbers out. It wouldn’t be as clean as I did when I actually posted that video due to coming back from injury and all.
Spencer: I’m checking out the gymnastics bodies website too.
Daniel: It’s a really good source. The site’s run by one of the elite coaches of gymnastics. There’s some very good articles in there that you should check out.
Spencer: Well, we’ll put a link to that below as well. So your also involved in the YouTube Nicks trainer program. What’s that been like?
Daniel: Oh it’s really been because it’s allowed me to get motivation from the other top YouTube fitness personalities, get lecturing from various people regarding how best to get our videos seen on YouTube, how to tag properly, how to use thumbnails properly, how to stick to a format that works for you, that’s entertaining for people and just basically working with other YouTube celebrities.
Spencer: I guess that’s cool for the people that are listening to this interview. That’d be a cool thing for them to check out too because they can see some other trainers and what they’re up to and what not. I think you’re the only one covering bodyweight exercise.
Daniel: Oh there’s actually someone else but that guy’s more into using stuff of that nature.
Spencer: So what’s next for you and where can people find out more about your training and exercise?
Daniel: Well, from here on, the plan is obviously to keep making the free videos. Helping people out as much as I can. More workouts, more tutorials on various skills. I plan to do more videos on stretching, I’ve started a new series called Stretching Sixty where I show various ways to stretch a muscle so you can do it anywhere pretty much. More joint preparation. My next project what I’m looking to work on is putting together an e-Book for beginners, so pretty much a good guide to get you started so that you can eventually work on harder moves and look on my channel. But in terms of where I want to keep going, also keep developing my website fitnessfaqs.tv so it’s pretty much an organised location where you can easily upload all my videos. Also there’s a section there if you’re interested in online personal training. I’ve trained over twenty, twenty five people in this year alone so it’s some good results coming out of that. So yeah, that’s my plans for the current while.
Spencer: And last question. What are your goals with your training, going forward?
Daniel: I want to improve my hand art, I really have a goal to achieve a really solid one arm handstand because there’s not many people that can hold a really perfect one arm handstand. I really want to separate myself from the pack. Obviously keep improving my general bodyweight skills other than the handstand so the front lever, one arm pull ups, things like that.
Spencer: Do you think a one arm handstand push up is possible? Have you ever seen that being done?
Daniel: I’ve seen one but they don’t go down really far. It just seems like a really not sure if it’s even possible. I’m sure someone will beast that out.
Spencer: Maybe you’ll be that guy one day.
Daniel: Yeah. Maybe.
Spencer: Alright thanks so much for talking to us. Take it easy – have a good one.
Daniel: No worries, thanks for having me Spencer.
Spencer: Hey guys I forgot ask Daniel one question and we were laughing after because I told him we were going to have to redo the entire interview but anyways here’s the other question I forgot to ask him:
Spencer: As far as equipment for people to purchase. Is there anything you’d recommend people start off with?
Daniel: Well one of the cheapest options which would be good would be getting a set of push up handles because it’s very safe on your wrists so you won’t really get any injuries especially when you’re starting out. But if you are looking to make a bit more of an investment, I really recommend getting what’s known as a power tower. It’s basically a dip station slash pull up station so you got your pull ups on one side and your dips on the other side and usually you can do your push ups on there as well and triceps dips so there’s a whole range of things you can do on there. And they usually cost anywhere from 150 to 300 US Dollars.
After speaking to Daniel, I was inspired to incorporate more bodyweight training into my current routine. It’s interesting that people think you need to get a gym membership and workout using a 3, 4, or 5 day split to add on muscle. I thought that too, but after watching Daniel’s videos and talking with him, I’ve realized that you can just train via bodyweight exercises and make great progress.
Have you tried bodyweight training? Or were you like me and skeptical that any worthwhile results could come from training this way?