Interview with Marcus Bondi about Bodyweight Training & Advanced Calisthenics

marcus bondi - interview

Allow me to introduce you to Marcus Bondi, who is one of Australia’s top fitness coaches, a multiple Guinness World Records holder, and one of the world’s leading authorities on bodyweight training and calisthenics.

This guy is incredible. For starters, he’s in his fifties and can do things that would put most men half his age to shame. He has set world records in both rope climbing and weighted pull-ups. He can also crank out advanced calisthenics exercises such as the human flag, front lever, muscle ups, and one-arm pull-ups, among others (with ease). He’s also been sighted doing many calisthenics exercises using grown men and women for extra weight (more on that below).

Marcus can not only perform many superhuman feats of strength, which would be impressive at any age – let alone 50+ years – but he also has a knack for teaching others to do the same. Naturally, I wanted to pick his brain all about training, and he happily agreed.

So, I sent him a list of questions, and here’s what he sent back…

Hey Marcus, could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your background in fitness?

Sure! My parents were fitness fanatics in the 70s. They did the whole ‘hippie-health-food’ thing and performed old-school calisthenics exercises every day; like sit ups, push ups, star-jumps etc, so I would just join in with them. From about 7 years old I played ice hockey for about 30 years, and still like to hit the ice occasionally for a few slappers! When I grew up and went to uni I did party a little bit, but would only allow myself a let night if I first did a bodyweight training session. In the 20-plus years since I have lived at Bondi Beach, I have really taken to daily bodyweight training session at the outdoor gym on the ocean front. I left my career in advertising and became a personal trainer on the beach; which was always a life goal!

You’ve talked about your early days when you couldn’t do a single pull-up, and now you’ve set world records for Rope Climbs, Muscle-Ups, Weighted Chin Ups, and One-arm Chin Ups. Tell me about this journey.

The journey is one of many reps… and enjoying every single one of them. I love doing pull ups, we always had a doorway pull up bar at home and my wife & kids would also do their gym-things to keep me company. I could do pull ups from about 5 years of age and just kept building from there; always adding and experimenting with different grip variations, reps ranges and rest times.

Top strength/endurance records broken:

* Official Guinness World Record: 5m Rope Climb/60 seconds time limit (27.8m)

* Official Guinness World Record: Weighted Chin Ups 100lbs/60 sec time limit 16 reps. Full dead hang reps.

* Official Guinness World Record: Weighted Chin Ups 40lbs / 60 sec time limit 28 reps. Full dead hang reps.

* Australian Record: One Rep Max Weighted Chin Up 91kg.

Muscle-ups, Human Flags, One-Arm Pull-ups, Front Levers. These are some of the feats of strength that you’ve mastered. How have you worked up to this level? And what advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Advice? GO SLOW! Build the foundations of your strength first! Don’t rush to do the fancy stuff; it will be better and fancier and safer and stronger and better if you first establish your fundamental strength foundations with raw quality power and endurance in push ups, pull ups/chin ups, jump squats and core work. Everything is much easier if you have the sheer strength to achieve your bodyweight fitness goals!

I know that bodyweight training builds a great physique, but you literally have women hanging off of you in many of your videos (e.g. weighted pull-ups). I’m happily married and not looking for dating advice, but what gives?

Haha, one of those strong women is my wife; and sure, viewed in isolation, the clips of me doing pull ups and chin us with dozens of super fit girls may seem bizarre, but in context, it’s quite ‘logical’. Allow me to explain; the clips are usually shot on the days we hold the Bondi Beach Bar Brutes months jam session, we have hundreds of fit people doing all sorts of crazy/awesome feats of balance, acroyoga and strength and fun; and every now and then I’ll do some weighted chin ups with an acrobatic girl (or two) hanging on to me for fun…

BUT, it’s not only girls; my last ‘human-weighted chin up’ clip was using a guy! American Nina Warrior superstar Travis Brewer came to Bondi Beach; so I did a set of chin ups with him… and he’s not as ‘light’ as some girls… I really had to try hard with him! He’s a great sport!

What do you do differently from most other professionals in the fitness community? How is your approach unique?

I believe everyone has their on ‘individual superstar’ within them, just waiting to be unleashed. No matter what one’s age/height/weight/hair colour or whatever…. they can achieve optimal personal health and fitness through a simple, yet dedicated bodyweight fitness regime. I ‘Go Slow’ with people; so we can accurately identify strengths and challenges with a view to customizing an ideal program for best results… and it has to be FUN! FUN is key; I don’t do ‘screaming-yelling torture training’. Careful progress with fun means you’ll avoid injury and progress inexorably to your goals!

Tell me why you’ve decided to make bodyweight training a major focus of yours. What is its unique value and how do you think this method fits into the overall picture when it comes to fitness? Is it merely a good supplement to strength training, or can it be used as a stand alone training modality?

Bodyweight training represents the original genesis of human/animal physical culture and fitness. For example, please check out the musculature of lions and gorillas; their incredible physiques are derived from bodyweight training! All the classical ancient schools of physical culture and health were very successfully based on bodyweight training. The ineffable advent of industry, machinery, technology and consumerism brainwashed good people into thinking that since automation made lief easier, that ‘fitness-machines’ would make health easier… Sure, modern technology plays a key role in health and fitness, but it’s crucial to remember that bodyweight training is the base, the foundation and the essential core of all physical exercise. Bodyweight training is so good for your physical, mental, emotional, intellectual and spiritual well being that it can be used as a stand alone fitness discipline!

What are some of your go-to exercises and workouts?

I am very excited about enjoying weighted chin ups at the moment! Something like this:

  1. 20 reps (no added weight) / rest 3 min
  2. 5 reps +20kg / rest 3 min
  3. 2 reps + 40kg /rest 3 min
  4. 2 reps + 60kg / rest 3 min
  5. 1 rep + 90kg/ rest 4 min
  6. 10 reps + 60kg / rest 5 min
  7. 20 reps + 10kg / finish!

Everyone can scale it to their relative weighted chin-up or pull up strength. To inform on safe weighted pull ups and chin ups, I have a ‘Weighted Pull Up Tutorial” that covers the extreme stuff from beginner level:

I find mixing up heavy and lighter weight really helps all your pull/chin up dynamics, endurance, stamina, explosive power and whatever else you want from a pull up but were too afraid to ask for!

Also, I like any workout with a solid cross-section of fast/slow reps, with lots of variety in hand-grip placement, e.g.:

  1. 20 push ups fast – hands shoulder-width apart
  2. 20 pull ups fast – hands shoulder-width apart
  3. 1 push up rep (yes, ONE!) super slow – as slow as you can go without actually stopping; should take about 15secs down and 15 secs back up!
  4. 1 pull up super slow
  5. 20 Jump squats fast!
  6. 1 squat super slow & low!
  7. Repeat x 5 sets!

You’re also a big fan of rope climbing. Is this something you’d recommend to your average fitness enthusiast? And if so, what are some of the things that most people don’t know about rope climbing, but should? Also, what are some things you can do with a rope that people in the fitness world wouldn’t necessarily know about? Do they fill a certain need when it comes to training goals that most other tools just can’t?

Rope climbing is crucial for all strength sports – you’ll find climbing ropes in every MMA gym, every Olympic gymnastics facility and every special forces training ground. It’s the most serious exercise on the planet and one of the most strenuous and rewarding. Rope climb will give you superior grip strength, which will also give you extreme total upper body power and even through to your core, glutes and thighs if you speed climb. Rope climb will give you the ability to fling your bodyweight around with just one hand. But it can be dangerous for beginners so they need to start slow and easy. I cover all the elements in this tutorial:

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see new and experienced trainees making in their fitness programs?

Too much too soon, too complicated, too much reliance on equipment. My main advice to everyone is SIMPLIFY, your life, man.

What are your top tips for getting better at pull-ups/chin-ups?

Do them often, do them with a variety of grips and range of movement and add small amounts of weight as you get stronger. Also, GRIP the bar with strength and purpose, don’t just ‘hang’ on the bar!

And how about the 1-arm pull-up?

Ahhh, the KING DADDY of pull ups! I love them; I am 6’1″/176lbs and can still crank out 5 full dead hang on each arm, which is a great party trick. But, WARNING! It takes years of careful training to perfect the technique so it is safe and effective. My unique techniques, like focusing on bringing your elbow to your lat using back power have helped many guys achieve a solid One Arm Pull Up – like this:

Core strength is a big component of calisthenics, and essential for achieving advanced feats of strength such as the human flag and front lever. Any tips for building the core strength needed for these kinds of feats?

I have been doing front levers and flags for over 20 years now – and hold a solid front lever for 30 seconds, so I advise dudes and dudettes do lots of L-sit pull ups and L-sit pull up static holds using a ‘mixed grip’ with your dominant arm using ‘overhand’ (pronated) grip and other arm underhand (supinated) grip. Also check out this tutorial with all my front lever secrets:

What is the #1 thing that people need to know about the mental side of training? And how can they get started applying it?

#1 THING: Enjoy your training time and know that every rep is making your body stronger, which in turn will allow you to live your life to it’s fullest potential, whatever that may be….

Nutrition is a difficult area for most people, and especially here in the USA. What do you think we’re missing? And could you summarize your nutrition philosophy?

Eat clean and lean! Drink lots of water! I eat mostly fruit and vegetables, with 1 serve each of chicken/fish/red meat once a week. I eat carrots every day. Find the vegetables you like and eat many of them. Don’t over-complicate your food; simple is best. Eat a cucumber, eat an apple….

How do you stay injury-free? Do you have any injury prevention and/or recovery tips you could offer?

Yikes; injuries caused by going too far will set you back! Listen to your body, back off if you feel pain. Don’t ‘ego-lift’ or ego-train! Be patient. Avoid any painful range of movement. Vary your training exercises.

What are the most important things to prioritize when training and what are the least important? And how do you go about prioritizing different training goals?

I find it’s best to identify your ‘favourite’ exercises and workouts and use them to ‘reward’ yourself for focusing on training that YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD BE DOING! I’m doing it with legs now; I ensure I hit legs hard with jump squats and pistol squats before I can do upper body training!

You’ve said that “Your body is your most precious material possession; respect and treasure it!” If you could sum up the major tenets of your training philosophy, what would they be?

Eat carrots every day (if you are ‘allergic’ to carrots, eat another vegetable). Keep your nutrition and workout ethic simple; if your mother doesn’t know what you are talking about, then, chances are, neither do you. Don’t do ‘bad’ things to your body; eliminate/minimise alcohol and other bad things! You know you should!

What is something you wish you knew about training when you were younger and still just getting started?

Train more and don’t drink alcohol.

Where’s the best place for someone to learn more about you and your work?

Oh that’s easy; please just check out my Instagram @marcusbondibeach or www.marcusbondi.com Best cheers to all the awesome pull up masters around the world who bang out reps while the earth spins around the sun and the universe! Yeah!

Thank you so much, Marcus! Ok…Okay! One last video. Check out Marcus and some of his crew at one of his monthly Bondi Beach Bar Brutes jam sessions…

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Health-First Fitness Coach

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