Todd Kuslikis is the founder of A Shot of Adrenaline—an awesome site focused on getting fit and healthy through bodyweight training.
I’ve been a fan of Todd’s for a while now, and am in serious awe of his ability to do crazy tough bodyweight exercises like freestanding handstand push ups, muscle ups and levers. Recently, I was lucky enough to interview him about his own progress with bodyweight training and how he recommends others approach mastering their own body weight.
Here’s what Todd had to say:
What’s your background? Have you always been so strong?
My background is in martial arts and massage therapy. Many people don’t realize, but these two arts are very closely related. Massage therapy (or more specifically medical manual therapy, which is the branch I learned) focuses on healing the body through a holistic approach. I focused on helping people improve joint integrity. This included paying attention to ligaments and tendons, as well as muscles.
How does this relate to strength, you might ask? Well, true strength is the ability to control your body as a unit, not about moving as much weight as possible in one limited range of motion. The human body is a unit and needs to be treated as such. You are only as strong as your weakest link.
Have I always been strong? Absolutely not. I only started to build strength when I began to view and treat my body as a single, cohesive unit.
Why did you get into bodyweight training to begin with? Why not heavy weights to build big bulky muscles?
Many years ago, I practiced Kenpo Karate. During the practice sessions, my teacher would put us through intense bodyweight training routines. This wasn’t the average workout of just push-ups, squats and pull-ups. We moved from hindu push-ups to dolphin push-ups to pistol squats, with no rest breaks for a significant amount of time. It was excruciating.
After a while, though, our bodies got used to the training, adapted, and became super strong. I had never been interested in building super huge muscles. I see having large muscles as one-dimensional. It’s a component, but not the be all and end all of fitness. True fitness includes mobility, strength, balance and control, correct breathing techniques, endurance, muscular growth, and many other components.
What are some of your favorite bodyweight exercises ever?
My favorite exercise of all time is the Gracie Drill. I invented this exercise after watching MMA legend Rickson Gracie train. It forces the trainee to develop coordination and strength while training the entire body. Of course, I enjoy muscle-ups, handstands and front levers, but the Gracie Drill is an incredible whole body movement that everyone can benefit from.
On that same note, what’s the coolest exercise you can currently do?
A few weeks back I launched a 12 Week Calisthenics Challenge. I asked everyone to choose a goal that they wanted to accomplish in twelve weeks. My goal was to do ten freestanding handstand push-ups. I achieved that goal a few weeks into the challenge. That’s probably the coolest exercise I can do.
I’m guessing you’re always pushing yourself to go to new levels—what are your biggest fitness goals at the moment?
Just recently I purchased a set of gymnastic rings. It might be hard to believe, but until then I’d never touched a pair of gymnastic rings in my life. I’d heard how effective they are for building strength, so I set them up the other day and was blown away by how difficult some basic moves were. For example, I can normally do a muscle-up on a bar, but I couldn’t come close to a full muscle-up on the rings.
So that’s my next goal. I’d like to be able to do a muscle-up on the rings. I’m also working towards a planche, but I’m focusing on developing my hanging strength at the moment.
How long should people expect to train before they’re able to do advanced calisthenics exercises? Any advice on staying motivated during the inevitable slow progress of bodyweight training?
I recommend allowing your training to progress slowly. It may sound contradictory, but the fastest way to improve at calisthenics tricks is to take it slow. The body needs time to restructure itself. Hypertrophy (muscular growth) can occur relatively quickly, but calisthenics tricks like handstands and front levers require a lot of strength and mobility in the ligaments and tendons. Developing those things takes time. If you try to rush it, you’ll only get injured and have to back off. This slows progress. Give your body the time it needs to recover and you’ll progress at the right pace.
Fitness is a lifelong journey. There should be no rush to be able to perform a specific move. Once you’ve developed the habit of exercising consistently, you begin to enjoy it. It becomes second nature, just like brushing your teeth.
To stay motivated, I recommend watching videos on YouTube. Motivation needs to be nurtured or it will die. Think of it like a seed that needs to be watered and cared for.
Unfortunately, a lot of people suffer from “shiny object syndrome”. They set a goal but are easily distracted by the next enticing goal. They do this for years and never achieve anything. Stick to one thing and work towards it until you get there. Be laser-focused.
What advice would you give to people just starting out with bodyweight training and for those people who want to get into calisthenics but don’t exactly know where to start?
Beginners need to focus on one thing, and one thing only. This one thing is more important than finding the perfect training method, eating properly, or anything else. That one thing is making exercise a habit.
I usually recommend beginners start off with just 5-10 minutes of practice a day for several weeks. Their first goal should be developing consistency, not getting stronger, building muscle, or doing cool tricks. Consistency is a snowball that will grow and transform every area of your health. Habits are the most powerful things we can develop as humans. That’s where people should start. Again, finding the right training method makes little difference to the absolute beginner. Just focus on developing the habit.
Can you give a quick summary of the Bodyweight Bundle and who would benefit from it?
The Bodyweight Bundle is a collection of eBooks and videos that cover all areas of calisthenics training. Whether you’re looking to build strength or muscle, lose body fat or do cool tricks, it includes everything you need.
It has something for everyone, from beginner trainees to elite gymnasts.
Check out the Bodyweight Bundle here.
Any other words of wisdom or encouragement for people wanting to master their own bodyweight and get in crazy good shape without tons of equipment?
One of the greatest feelings in the world is being in full control of your own body. Calisthenics is about more than just fitness. The principles of bodyweight training carry over to your every day life. For example, when you focus on breathing slowly and relaxing into a challenging trick, you develop the ability to relax in any difficult situation.
Say your boss is yelling at you, or someone knocks your books on to the floor at school. You can learn to control your mind and emotions in the same way you’ve practiced controlling your body. It’s all connected.
That’s why calisthenics training is the best fitness system around.