Beating Obesity With Calisthenics - Dave's Story

I’ve always been a little overweight. Actually, that is an understatement. If you averaged it out over the past fifteen years, I’ve "always been a little overweight". If you spot-checked at different times throughout that period, you’d see that I’ve been very overweight, and obese on occasions. I’ve lost approximately twenty stone across my lifetime, and gained most of it back again too.

I’ve tried every fad diet and weight-loss craze (including some pharmaceuticals) in a bid to shift the flab. Along the way I’ve picked up a toolbox of tips that can help even the most unfit and inactive person lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle - the clue is in those last four words to be honest.

My journey to calisthenics has been a long one but I’ve learned a lot along the way; here’s my story:

At 16, like most young men, I was in reasonable shape. A big spurt in testosterone from 12-16 meant I sprouted up to a mighty 5’8” and lost all of the puppy fat I’d carried since boyhood. Unfortunately, I began working in McDonald’s soon thereafter. Endless nights outside playing football gave way to 4pm-1am shifts and crucially, free fastfood. My weight ballooned without me realising it.

I often read these type of stories and think, “how can you add five stone without noticing!?” But, thinking back, weight can and does creep up on you. Food addiction is, as science increasingly shows, is real. Once you start on a downward spiral of unhealthy eating your hormones and gut bacteria require you to feed their cravings. You’re so concerned about where the next bag of Sweet Chilli Kettlechips is coming from that you don’t notice the fact that your top button is permanently undone. More on that later…

At 19, I booked a 'lad's holiday' to Faliraki. Embarrassed about my shape, I joined the Glasgow Club, a chain of Council-run gyms. Laying off the fast food (although making choices which were scarcely better, in hindsight) I dropped to a trim twelve stone in time for Faliraki. My exercise regimen consisted off a twenty minute treadmill run and a wee shot of every one of the Nautilus machines - one set to failure! After a workout I would fast to make sure I really got the benefit! Looking back, I’m surprised that I got any results at all! Nonetheless, the fat came off, but it wasn’t to last.

Shortly after I left McDonalds I moved to Spain and unfortunately I piled the pounds back on. I discovered a passion for Spanish food, red wine, Spanish beer and Atletico Madrid. the majority of these passion's have proven to be bad for my long-term health (and Atletico have had their moments too). My Iberian hedonism saw my bodyfat increase to levels even Ronald (McDonald) couldn’t quite manage.

On my return, I decided to give weight loss another go. This time, calorie restriction was the name of the game. 39p packets of noodles for lunch (Hey, only 127 calories per packet!) and plain sandwiches saw the weight slide off again. I took up bodybuilding, boxing and running at this point, managing to finish a few 10km races. My performance wasn’t particularly great, probably owing to the fact that I
must have been seriously nutrient depleted with such a bad diet. Again, the fat wouldn’t stay off and I was soon looking out the 38" waist trousers again...

In 2007 I started university, studying law. I loved uni, but studying such an intensive course was all-consuming. I took on a massive extra-curricular workload and, once again, exercise and nutrition fell by the wayside. Periodic dalliances with the campus gym didn’t last and my weight skyrocketed to hitherto unseen levels. Experimenting with a low-carb, ketogenic diet and doing gardening work meant I lost a load of fat one summer but I piled it back on with interest the next semester. I left university with an honours degree and an impending heart attack.

In 2012, the London Olympics changed everything for me. I finished my postgraduate legal qualification and settled down to a summer of sport. Watching Mo Farah, Jess Ennis and Greg Rutherford run and jump into history lit a fire under me - Mo Farah, in particular. Mo is just five days older than me and watching his spectacular performance in the 10km and 5km inspired me to run again. This time, with a better approach to nutrition and a more structured approach to training helped me enormously. Less than a year later, in April 2013, I ran my first Marathon. My bodyfat really dropped, and I’ve pretty much kept it off ever since.

Why Calisthenics?

I’ve tried pretty much every training method and modality there is – bodybuilding, running (distance and interval), Kettlebells, circuits, HIIT, weightlifting, powerlifting and nothing, and I mean nothing, produced such quick results as simple bodyweight training. After a few short weeks of pull-ups, press-ups, sit-ups, dips, burpees and squats, I added several kilos of muscle and my upper body filled out remarkedly.

With 'traditional' weight training, it can be difficult to judge intensity, the right amount of weight to use, the right amount of sets/reps and the right amount of recovery – and that’s before you begin to consider the right technique and the correct balance of exercises to generate the desired results. With bodyweight exercises, your body is your guide – when you can no longer sustain the effort required to perform the move you’re trying then that move is over. Once you’ve exhausted all the options, the workout is over!

That said, there are any number of moves you can perform so you should be kept busy for a while!

From speaking to others, I think my journey is fairly typical. I started off with no clue what I was doing, started running, graduated to Arnold-style bodybuilding, then I gradually made my way into functional fitness.

In late 2014 I decided to push my training to a new level as I wanted to try and join the Royal Marines Reserve. This obviously meant a much more focused approach to training in order to meet the demanding standards required of one of the world’s elite infantry regiments. Like all military units, the training and physical requirements are most definitely 'old school'. Marines training is based around press-ups, sit-ups and pull ups, with long-distance load carrying, rope climbing and fast-paced assaults courses thrown in. As functional training goes, it’s hard to beat.

As I explored these methods further, I came across the Convict Conditioning books and George Hebert’s Method Naturelle. These books were my entry point to the world of Calisthenics and a chance meeting with James on Facebook seemed like fate!

So here I am, and that was my story about beating obesity with calisthenics.

If you are going to take anything from reading my story, make it this; it's never too late to change.


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