We continue our warm-up to the much-anticipated release of the book ‘Complete Guide to Bodyweight Training’ with an interview with the author – Kesh Patel. For the previous instalment read Kesh’s guest article ‘Why train with bodyweight’.
***Update: Our review is now available >>>here***
Kesh, for our readers, perhaps you can briefly sketch out your coaching background and how it led you to write a book on the topic of ‘Body-weight Training’
As many industry professionals, I started out as a fitness professional 20 years ago. An early move into PT and funnily enough, sports psychology, gave me a good grounding for coaching and training others. Over the next 10 years I studied the classical disciplines of Pilates, the Feldenkrais Method, and Hanna Somatics, and alongside NLP, began to look for novel ways to embed their techniques into coaching and training. During this journey I was consistently fascinated by how the therapeutic/rehabilitative nature of these physical disciplines centred around the manipulation of bodyweight.
So then began another journey into the world of physical therapy and rehab, during which time I studied clinical sports therapy and various soft tissue manipulations. Once again, I began to find common ground – in that some of the most effective rehab techniques were based on simple manipulation of bodyweight. I guess the final instalment of my journey (and the one I continue to this day) is when I made the commitment to base my own pursuit of health exclusively around simple bodyweight training principles – a journey that has been shaped by the hundreds of clients I have worked with, as well as my own explorations into different bodyweight disciplines. I will also say that I’ve had what I consider a distinct advantage – I’m not a former athlete; I’m not a martial artist, gymnast, dancer or YouTube superhero – as is often the case when it comes to bodyweight training. This has allowed me to maintain an impartial, unbiased and realistic view of what human beings are uniquely designed to in accordance with their ancestral and developmental lineage.
Using running as an example, it’s easy to see how the deep squat is an essential movement to master, alongside other bodyweight-based exercises that drill the right shapes for running. And because running is an essential movement pattern in a lot of sports, these simple movements suddenly become foundation movements for many sports. – Kesh Patel
The the book is lavishly illustrated with detailed images of the many exercises covered. Does the book provide
one logical progression or is it more of an a la carte menu of movements that the reader can pick to his or her preference?
Part of my bodyweight journey and initial market research highlighted just how many bodyweight training books follow an ‘a la carte’ approach. It makes sense though – most people are primarily interested in the impressive movements, such as muscle ups, handstands etc. I was more interested in creating a logical and systematic progression, and one that was based on the human motor development model with key motor skill milestones. My preferred training modality for this framework was classic gymnastics progressions. In my eyes, this was the perfect blend of application and context. Every human goes through key motor skill milestones – just because we have achieved them as adults, doesn’t mean we continue to do them skilfully. So why not use the same model to restore, maintain and improve health in adults.
Acquiring skill in simple movements will also reduce injury risk when performing more complex movements. – Kesh Patel
What was your main reason for writing the book and what would you like readers to take away from it?
In all honesty, I wanted to highlight that making the right shapes leads to better performance. Acquiring skill in simple movements will also reduce injury risk when performing more complex movements. But on a deeper level there is a strong message that when you are obedient to the laws of nature and the laws of physics, and understand that humans move in a species specific way, you will move more efficiently with less injury.
Does the book provide an equally good starting point for the beginner still working on ‘on the knees’ push-ups and the seasoned calisthenics enthusiast?
Absolutely! The focus for beginners is on making and feeling the right shapes, then integrating these into more complex patterns – both statically and dynamically. The process of moving efficiently is also a strong focal point within the book, and I’d like to think that this would appeal to the more serious movement maverick. I think we can all learn a lot by being reminded of the basic building blocks of movement, whatever level of training we’re at.
Many mainstream gyms are still heavily focused on isolation machines and cardio equipment. Do you think such training has a place or is it a legacy of an overly simplistic view on fitness that we should perhaps rid ourselves off as quickly as we can?
Everything has a place if you can justify the context. In my opinion, when you view human health through an evolutionary lens, it’s hard to justify the use of such equipment as the most efficient way to improve health. Unfortunately modern environments justify fast approaches rather than those based on logical reasoning. In simple terms, millions of years ago humans had to adapt themselves to suit their environment. Now, technology and industrialisation has meant that humans have adapted their environment to suit them. And this adaptation has spawned a trend of fast fitness, fast food, and fast health. To address the question, I actually think this type of training represents a confused and over-complicated view of fitness. Should we rid ourselves of it? Yes – but something equally destructive will always fill the gap until we create a cultural change in the way we think and behave. I strongly feel that back to basics training in bodyweight is part of the solution.
You mention several of the leading brands within the area of body-weight training such as Parkour, Ido Portal, MovNat, Ginastica Natural, Animal Flow and others. How do you feel these compare especially in relation to which methods are easiest to pick up for novices wanting to get started with body-weight training?
Let’s first be clear. These ‘brands’ you mention are exactly that – brands. They’re not body-weight training; although they may involve body-weight exercises. I’m not questioning the positive effect that these disciplines/people have brought to the exercise and fitness community – that’s indisputable. But what comes to mind when you think of a Traceur performing a speed vault, or someone doing a 1-arm handstand? Think about it. You’re probably not thinking of all the micro skills, progressions that went into learning that skill. And that’s my point – individuals often want the end result quicker than their current fitness, health and skill will allow. The common ground between all the above skills, in my opinion, is gymnastics – just look at the training history behind the above methods. And this type of training takes time with constant drilling. You already did this in the first 4 years of life, so it’s nothing new. Once you can make the right shapes with your body and it has the foundation and resilience to adapt further, then by all means go and seek out these disciplines. Unfortunately, emotional marketing strategies and the ability to publish almost anything instantly has elevated the status of such disciplines and created a growing number of injured individuals who try to emulate the same techniques.
For the specialised athlete the question is always how do I fit in this more general training along with my specific trainingsuch as running. What is your advice for specialised athletes picking up this book and looking to implement it?
With any sport, it’s always important to meet the physical demands of performance with appropriate training drills. Simply performing exercises without proper context is just a waste of time and effort, and may be performance-inhibiting and/or lead to injury. Using running as an example, it’s easy to see how the deep squat is an essential movement to master, alongside other bodyweight-based exercises that drill the right shapes for running. And because running is an essential movement pattern in a lot of sports, these simple movements suddenly become foundation movements for many sports. Therefore, it’s not a case of fitting these into an existing programme – but instead selecting those that are essential to sports performance and making them an integral part of the program.
Its hard to discuss training without discussing injury these days. Whats your approach to ensure people you train have a relatively pain-free and enjoyable transition to body-weight training?
In my experience, injury comes from a lack of skill and inappropriate training progressions. Early human motor development and skill acquisition depends on learning micro skills that lead to key macro skills. The same goes for bodyweight training – what’s interesting is that all of us have gone through many of these basic bodyweight progressions during our early years. We’ve just forgotten how to manipulate our bodyweight. If you stick to these simple principles and to the guidelines of periodisation, you can significantly reduce your risk of injury.
When I first saw your book I expected it to be primarily a compendium of traditional calisthenics type body-weight exercises but your book branches further going into very dynamic movements such as Kong Vaults. How did you decide which movements to include in the finished book and which to leave out?
That was probably the most challenging part of writing this book! When you use a simple model such as the motor development
model to training, it allows you to think more about movement rather than exercises. Using the vault as an example, it’s simply one locomotive pattern that humans can perform – a way of getting from A to B. In its simplest form you are converting horizontal motion into vertical motion to travel over an object by learning to make the right shape at the right time. Where there was an opportunity to explore how different shapes/options could enhance or consolidate this process, I included the appropriate progression. Yes, the Kong Vault may appear to be an impressive exercise, but it’s still based on a basic vault mechanic, just executed with a different shape.
You have worked closely with Lee Saxby, who wrote the foreword to your book, did Lee’s philosophy on running technique shape the training system you present in the book?
I’ve been lucky enough to work closely with Lee for over a year now, and it wasn’t his philosophy on running technique that shaped this training system. More importantly he taught me how to apply effective filters to what I already knew using the laws of nature and physics as a contextual backdrop. Running, in particular, is a locomotor skill we learn once we have hit key developmental milestones. Many of these previous milestones are deeply rooted in bodyweight based stability and manipulative patterns of movement. In reality, the journey that has culminated in this book has been an exploration of the earlier components of motor development – and I think of running as the icing on the cake – the ultimate bodyweight exercise! Many training systems today, including other so-called bodyweight systems – are generally confusing, because they have no context. Lee’s influence has helped me to further contextualise skilful bodyweight movement as a valid modality for health and fitness.
Some body-weight movements like running are big enough topics to have had hundreds of books dedicated to them already. Did you still include running and what new information could runners expect to learn about their favourite movement in your book?
Yes, there is a small section on running as part of the locomotor repertoire of humans, but don’t expect anything new here! It’s simply a summary of skilful running that I learned from Lee Saxby. If you want to learn skilful running, then go and study with Lee! All I’ve done is present running in the wider context of human locomotion, and as one of many skill sets in physical health.
Many of the body-weight moves are shown being done indoors in a gym in a controlled environment. When do you recommend people try to branch out and try out the moves outside on natural surfaces and in shifting environments?
Controlled, safe environments are key to any training progressions, especially for beginners. But if it’s safe enough to train outside, then I’m all for training outdoors and getting the benefits of natural light and fresh air! Different terrains and environments will naturally provide additional proprioceptive demands that can only serve to enhance both the challenges of training and consequent adaptations.
What would be an ideal daily ‘practice’ for you in relation to body-weight these days?
For me personally, I always ensure I work through basic shapes both statically and dynamically every day. An ideal daily practice would likely involve regular deep squat progressions throughout the day, combined with some simple stability (e.g. static shapes) and locomotor movements (e.g. walking, running, quadrupedal/floor based). I’m a big fan of keeping the feet/ankles, hips and shoulders mobile, and so I practice these drills also. In all cases, I always try to stand, squat and walk at regular times throughout the day, rather than concentrating effort on one workout at a set time.
Successful practice is dependent on mastering the fundamentals (not the superhero feats we see on YouTube), and so I hope this book is just as relevant in 2 years time as it is now. – Kesh Patel
Did you have to leave anything out of the book that you would have liked to include? And perhaps on that note are you planning some online support features, such as videos or progressions to go with the book in the future?
In terms of exercises, experience has taught me that less is more. On the surface, the book contains many exercises; but on a deeper level, many of these drills are progressions of just a few basic building blocks. Therefore in this sense, I feel the book includes everything in line with its underlying message. The book will also launch in digital format containing about 15 videos of key exercises, and of course, future editions of the book will no doubt contain relevant updates. But as with many trends in the fitness industry, people like the ‘shiny new stuff’. In my opinion, bodyweight training is not a trend or fad, as it’s been around too long and is an important part of human motor development. The purpose of this book is to highlight that skilful use of bodyweight is species-specific, and regular practice can enhance health. Successful practice is dependent on mastering the fundamentals (not the superhero feats we see on YouTube), and so I hope this book is just as relevant in 2 years time as it is now.
It can be hard to communicate complex movement patterns without face to face coaching did this affect the selection of exercises in the book?
I absolutely agree. This is why I made every effort to focus on the basic building blocks of movement as well as providing as much context for each movement. Coaching movement is only a small part of being a successful coach – but if you are able to provide context and meaning to any coaching drill, this becomes a powerful tool for change. I hope the many images in the book also add to the ease of use and pick up of skills. For me it was more important to communicate the philosophy and context behind bodyweight training, because when this is understood, the book becomes more of a guide (as the name suggests!) rather than a definitive ‘bible’ of exercises. In an ideal world I would love to develop a workshop around some of the key movements and use the book as a map – in fact, this is something I am actively working on.
A lighter question as we finish off which move in the book is your personal favourite?
That’s a really challenging question! Rather than favourite moves, there are movements I really enjoy performing because they allow me to explore the principles of biomechanics and the importance of making the right shapes. Handstands, cartwheels, supports and crawling patterns are great fun and challenging when performed skilfully; but I’ve come to understand that each one depends on how skilful you are at making simple static shapes first. When you learn to make simple shapes, any movement (and their progressions) will become your favourite!
And finally if someone wants to learn from Kesh Patel in person how to do acquire all these cool moves how would they go about that?
As I mentioned previously, I’m hoping to develop a workshop around the book that will allow others to understand and learn some key bodyweight skills, and how to apply these to their own training and in coaching others. But bodyweight training is nothing new. I’m not an expert nor am I claiming to be one. Training in this way is a humbling experience as it still is for me, because every healthy human went through this journey already. In the first 4 years of life, we used gravity to shape our movement as we very quickly learned how to apply the laws of nature and physics to our own physical development. In a sense, I’m just putting you back on this path with a map – it’s now your job to navigate the territory in as much depth as you want.
Kesh Patel is the Training Director for VivoBarefoot where he has contributed several articles such as ‘Hello Mr Big Toe’. His new book ‘The Complete Guide to Bodyweight Training’ is scheduled for release for 25th September. Lavishly illustrated and full of movements, it will be worth having for runners and natural movement enthusiasts alike.
Watch out for our upcoming review and visit Kesh’s own website for more information.
Interested in bodyweight training? Schedule a personal consult with us to begin learning the fundamentals.