What is the most effective “system” I’ve used for fitness?
I’ve bought tons of books, read nearly every article on fitness and health that I can get my hands on. So if I had to give you just one book, one “system”, what would it be?
People will be surprised, because the stuff I’ve used the most for about the last nine years have been gool ‘ol calisthenics. Actually, calisthenics on steroids. Back in 2001, I saw an advertisement for a book by Matt Furey, called Combat Conditioning. In the book, Furey told of meeting wrestling legend Karl Gotch, then 76 years old. Gotch did not lift weight during his career. Instead he used the ancient Indian wrestler’s exercises: Deep knee bends, Hindu pushups and the back bridge. Gotch began training Furey, who was a former Division II national wrestling champ, a personal trainer, and certainly not ignorant of fitness techniques. Furey was amazed at the effectiveness of the exercises Gotch showed him. Instead of the stiffness that sometimes came with weight training, Furey found himself flexible and strong. Furey was also surprised at how much strength Gotch retained in his old age.
I have nothing against lifting weights. But difficult calisthenics are better. Things like one-legged squats, hand stand pushups and other challenging bodyweight drills have a very interesting effect: They provide a combination of balance, strength and endurance difficult to achieve with weights.
Combat Conditioning is filled with exercises that Furey learned from Gotch, some from Chinese martial arts, as well as some Furey learned while training under Dan Gable at Iowa State University. Some of them are grueling, like Hindu jumper squats, uphill buddy carries and bridging. Others are simple. Furey also talks about the sublime effectiveness of skipping rope, hill sprints and calisthenic circuit training. He has several workouts set up at the back of his book. Many of these are very difficult, and most people will not be able to finish them when they first begin this type of training. The 500 pushup workout is very tough. Then there’s the Karl Gotch Bible. Take a deck of cards and have someone deal one card at a time ot you. Black means Hindu pushups, red means bodyweight squats. Do the number on the cards. Face cards equal ten and aces can be anywhere between 11 and 20–you set the number before you start the session.
Another man–perhaps one of the greatest scientists ever produced by Russia–Nicolai Amosov–was a proponent of calisthenics and running. Everyday, he performed his “complex” of calisthenic drills and ran about 5 miles. He began his routine after leaving the Russian army, when he found that he was losing muscle and gaining fat. His energy levels shot through the roof. He wrote a book–Thoughts on Health– in 1965 about health and fitness. It made Amosov a literal hero to the people of Russia. Through his studies on human cybernetics, he developed his theory on human longevity: The Theory of Limit Loads. The theory states that for our bodies to maintain youthful vigor, it must be used–and used a lot.
So, to wrap it up–what should you do if you find yourself in a sad physical state? Start moving! Anything! Too broad? Here’s a place to start:
- Perform calisthenics everyday or every other day. Very the intensity, reps and overall difficulty. Pushups, pullups, situps, bodyweight squats. Oh yeah–and the dreaded squat thrust. If you need help, buy the of the many products out there that give tons of calisthenic variety.
- To maximise athletic benefits, add some kettlebell training. The KB will hit two areas that are difficult to reach using calisthenics alone: Grip strength and lower back strength.
- Massively reduce sugar intake. This means dropping the most horrible “food” ever made by Man: Soda. When you eat carbs, do so in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Skip a couple of meals a week.
- Keep a positive attitude about life. Cynics are unhappy people and have never changed the world.
- Challenge yourself. Remember: Progressive overload. Set goals and reach for them. Never give up.
- Remember the words of Nicolai Amosov:
“So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the experiment continues! We are pushing pessimism back. Limits for old men are abolished. Life is a pretty good thing after all.”