Saturday 22 March 2014

Get lean with bodyweight exercises

This is the story of this site’s banner: the story of an article that was never written. And it all started with my cat!

I must confess, I have limited amounts of energy: I let work get the better of me quite easily, and when I get busy, my whole life seems to collapse. Winter and springtime are always a busy time for me.

Around this time last year, I realized the winter months had taken their toll: I’d fallen into a slump, my training had virtually become non-existent, and I’d piled on a few pounds. At 80 kg (176lbs or 12 ½ stones) I was the heaviest I’d been since I could remember.

It was then that I decided I could actually make the best of a bad situation: I could use this opportunity to write an article on how bodyweight strength training could be used for weight loss. I would put together a 12 week program, and I would document my progress with weekly pictures. No fake before and after pictures here, no photoshopping: just clear weekly photos, from the same angle, illustrating my progress.

And yes, it was Gingie –my cat- who provided me with the inspiration… Put simply, he is the best bodyweight athlete I know: he can easily lick his own butt, clear three times his own height in one vertical jump, and climb the least accessible of trees!

More importantly, the thought occurred to me that Gingie and I shared similar training principles when it came to weight loss and keeping lean: (!)

-          Bodyweight training, in my view, is ideally suited to getting lean. Whether your aim is to achieve a muscle up or (in Gingie’s case) to jump on the kitchen window sill, specific training will involve not only developing the right muscles, but also getting rid of superfluous fat. There’s a peculiar symbiosis at play: being strong, lean, and not overly bulky is essential to become good at bodyweight exercises, and in turn bodyweight strength training helps you develop and optimize your power-to-weight ratio. If you look at the physique of bodyweight athletes, you see incredibly strong and resilient, yet very lean bodies. My training consisted of the basic routine on this site.
-          Cardio: obviously, like any other cat, Gingie is no great fan of steady state cardio due to his lack of sweat glands. And, whilst I do not share his reservations, current research has often highlighted the benefits of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) for weight loss… Seeing him sprint around the garden like a mad banshee, before having a little rest and starting all over again, I decided to alternate my bodyweight strength sessions with tabata sprints on the rowing machine, and sprinting sessions on the local football field. I also decided to re-learn to use my natural springs (my feet and my legs), and included some barefoot running and plyometrics.
-          Paleo: no carbs or sugars for Gingie… He is a strict follower of the paleo diet. And whilst I liked the idea, this seemed like way too big of an imposition for me: I simply cut out all sugars, with the exception of 80% cocoa dark chocolate, and I did my best to limit my carb intake. I did not count calories or consciously restrict my total intake, and I didn’t pay anal obsession to my macros: I ate when I was hungry, and pretty much what I wanted other than what I mentioned above. I also loosely followed the principles of leangains, which in my case simply involved skipping breakfast. This proved a little tough in the initial two or three days, but soon I got used to it, and it became second nature.
-          Sleep: I made sure that I got plenty. Nowhere near as much as Gingie’s 18 hours a day, but 8 or 9 hours a night… This together with my increased protein and fat intake boosted my testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) production.
-          Stretching: Gingie is always stretching… I swear he stretches in his sleep! I simply made sure that each session started with dynamic stretching, and that it finished with 15 mins of static stretching, following the basic static stretching routine on this site. 
-          Fighting and playing. Gingie is a warrior, and he fights from his back. I struggle to find the time to attend martial arts classes nowadays, but I forced myself to go to a couple of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sessions over the course of those 12 weeks. I got my ass handed to me; I realized how much my cardio sucked; but it was also a reminder of how much fun martial arts training can be, and of the sense of confidence and pride it can instil in you.

So what were the results?

Well, the banner illustrates my progress: I went from 80kg (176lbs) to 70kg (154lbs) in the space of 12 weeks.
Strength-wise, I progressed from 3 sets of 4 pull ups, to 5 consecutive muscle ups and a 10s front lever.

Clearly, I did lose weight.
But did I pack on muscle, and did my absolute strength levels increase?
This is a question I find very difficult to answer myself. I wasn’t a newcomer to bodyweight training, and a large part of the muscle mass you see in the week 12 photo was already there, hidden under the layers of fat. Certainly, my power-to-weight ratio improved, but this could be largely the result of weight loss.

However, the pictures also suggest mass gains in my lats, delts and triceps, and this goes against the received notion that, in order to gain muscle you have to eat a calories surplus, and that therefore it is almost impossible not to put on fat at the same time. Bodybuilders know only too well this process of bulking and cutting…
I do not have scientific evidence for it - it is something highly subjective-  but I do think following the leangains protocol allowed me to retain –certainly-  but also to put on muscle while losing weight.

Gingie’s 10 principles of cat training

I never published the article I originally intended to write about my cat, the fitness trainer.
It just seemed too gimmicky, too forced and too contrived.

However, I have kept these 10 principles, inspired by him, on which I have based what I wrote here:

1.       De-clutter. Make time for yourself, and look after your body and your health. Every day.
2.       Cut the carbs, cut the sugars and all the crap processed food. You don’t have to follow a strict paleo diet for this, but make sure to eat lots of greens and fruits, quality meat and other sources of protein. Eat to satiate your hunger.
3.       Rest and sleep lots. Not only does it allow your muscles to recover, it will also boost natural Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and testosterone production.
4.       Stretch. Every day. Dynamic stretches before a workout; static stretches after.
5.       Follow a bodyweight strength training program, at least 3 times a week.
6.       Do High Intensity Interval Training at least twice a week. Look into Tabata circuits & other similar protocols.
7.       Do plyometrics (but no more than once a week).
8.       Develop your body’s natural springs. Walk and run barefoot (but introduce this very gradually).
9.       Pick up a martial art.
10.   Rediscover your natural environment, and learn to move in it. Do your pull ups on tree branches, your push ups on a grassy lawn.


  1. Hi, just want to say thank you for the site and the information. I have found your older site while looking for alternatives to pull-up bars, and I found it informative, except for the weight loss advice: calories in vs calories out. I did not comment, since I know that the conventional wisdom is hard to counter, but I'm glad to see you are incorporating some good nutritional advice.
    Yes, calories in must be equal with calories out plus storage, because it's the Law. However, the problem has been always storage, not the obviously true Law of energy conservation. Insulin plays a role, but, most importantly, it is a problem of not being able to use the energy coming from sources that the human metabolism is not equipped to handle. Most of the source of energy comes from plant seeds of one form or another these days, which most humans are not well adapted to use, and consequently, they cumulatively store that energy, until they develop some vary serious conditions.

  2. Thanks for the article. Love the site.

  3. Can you provide the details of your nutrition? Can leangain protocol be followed by beginners?

    1. Just consult the leangains site for more details.

  4. You mentioned the muscle was already there. How did you gain that muscle before you started your BW routine?

    1. BW training. You can see my old routine on
      Start Bodyweight is just an updated version of the Bodyweight666 routine.

  5. Awesome site. I've seen pay for sites and ebooks with less passion and information than what you are giving for free. I'm inspired. Coming from someone with lower back pain every winter followed by syatica, the stretching daily routine alone is proving useful. I can't wait until I can do a muscle up.

  6. Did you cut all dairy as well on this program?

  7. besides training fasted in the mornings, what are your typical eating habits? as far as postworkout and throughout the day?

    does the fast begin at some hour before bed?


  8. Hi, In the article you first say you alternate your strength sessions with HIIT, but later you say that you should train 3x a week strenght and 2 times HIIT a week. So what do you recommend. Training 5times a week or 3 times and sometimes alternate

  9. Having high intensity workouts on a regular basis is another great way to boost natural HGH production. Go burst training that helps you speed up your heart rate above the anaerobic threshold. The anaerobic threshold is the point during workout at which the body has to switch from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism. It is used to determine the intensity of exercises.

    Understand the fact that intensity is much more important than the duration of your exercise sessions, when it comes to HGH stimulation. Very intense but brief workout sessions can help you restore the hormonal balance of your body, which includes HGH production.