In Barber’s Gym, a shabby-chic, converted railway arch in London’s Hackney Wick, Adi Gillespie is executing a flawless handstand. He then moves onto muscle-ups: a combination pull-up and dip, in which you hoist your whole torso above the bar. He finishes by throwing a medicine ball in the air, against the wall and on the floor, before dropping to his knees to catch his breath.
Now 26, Gillespie did gymnastics from the age of eight before getting into rugby, then joined the RAF at 17. When he left the Forces and the sport, he picked up bodybuilding, but eventually dropped the dumbbell bicep curls in favor of advanced bodyweight moves. “Calisthenics is more about learning skills, full-body control, and mobility,” he explains. “It’s not just about looking good.”
Shaped aesthetically by the likes of Ronnie Feig and Teddy Santis, Gillespie balances creating content and writing e-books with being a personal trainer to a Saudi royal. He’s also poised to launch an online and IRL training club called UVU (“you versus you”), which will combine a free blog and monthly member’s meet-ups. “I just want to inspire as many people as possible, but in the right way,” he says of the project.
Gillespie took a moment between workouts to discuss his own regimen and to impart some fitness and diet knowledge to us:
Start with the basics. Press-ups. Pull-ups. Hollow holds. If you want to do handstand press-ups, do pike press-ups. If you want to do clean muscle-ups, then you should be doing ten sets of ten pull-ups. Then instead of using momentum to do a big, swinging muscle-up, tie a resistance band through, and put your feet in it. As you get stronger, gradually lower the resistance. Basics. Everyone knows them. Nobody likes doing them.
If you can’t do pull-ups? Resistance bands. Bang, bang, bang. A lot of it is not that you need to get bigger, it’s that you don’t have the mechanics; your body doesn’t know how to do the movement efficiently. It’s neurological adaptation. Just practice the basics.
I’m trialling a new split which is one day on, one day off. If I’m working hard and trying to train at the same time, I’m not really getting the most out of either of them. Whereas if I do one day on, but intense – maybe even two sessions – all I’m thinking about is training. Then on the next day, I can concentrate on work and fully recovering.
You don’t grow in the gym. You grow by recovering and adapting. Beginners need to be training the same muscle groups every two days: whole body, day off. Or upper body, lower body. At first, I was in the gym every day doing this and that, with high-intensity finishers. You can get away with it most of the time when you’re young, but you don’t realize the impact on your central nervous system. The bodybuilder split – chest on Monday, back on Tuesday, etc. – only works if you’re pumped full of steroids.
People think I must have loads of women hitting me up all the time, or gay guys. Honestly, it’s mostly 17-year-old boys. A lot of them are like, “That motivational stuff you posted today, I really needed to hear that!” I don’t get lots of questions about training, I guess, because they’re cottoning onto the fact that there isn’t a perfect exercise or magic formula.
Some people ask me, “What’s the best way of getting in shape?” And the first thing I say is: “Find a style of training or sport that you like doing.” Because you’re more likely to stick at it. There’s no point in me telling you that this is the best plan if you can only do it for two weeks. Figure out what you like doing and do that. And don’t get too hung up about it. It’s just training.
For breakfast, I’ll have avocado on rye bread toast and a couple of boiled eggs. Then mid-morning, a bit of fruit or something; usually a load of mixed berries. For lunch, something simple like chicken and a bit of rice or sweet potato and vegetables, and something very similar for dinner. Then, in the evening, maybe a couple of biscuits and a cup of tea! Or, if I’m feeling a bit flat, I’ll have oats with peanut butter or a bit of Nutella.
I don’t weigh out my food. I stick to an 80% to 20% ratio, as in, if I want to eat something, I will. Most of the food I eat is whole. I also eat a lot of carbs, because I feel I need it. Really, for me, it’s just about monitoring yourself: how you feel, how you look in the mirror, your weight. That’s the only thing you should be basing your food intake on – apart from making sure that you’re putting enough nutrients into your body, obviously!
People get so fixated with weighing food. Like, if you go over your carb intake by 10 grams, you think you can see it in the mirror. I did the whole counting every single grain of rice and not going out with my mates for a year or two when I was 22, 23. Then I was like, “Whoah, what am I doing?” I’m in good shape now and I can go out, too. It’s just balance.
You don’t need to eat six meals a day. You do need to spread your food throughout the day. That said, intermittent fasting is big right now, and I can’t say it doesn’t work, because I’ve never tried it and I don’t know enough about the science. But I do know that spreading your food out helps with hunger, plus your body has always got protein available for recovery. As long as the basics are there, though – enough protein, a varied diet, whole foods, no processed stuff, low salt – it’s whatever works for your lifestyle.
I don’t really use any supplements. Over the last ten months, I wasn’t even taking any protein shakes. I felt like I was getting everything I needed from food. But I’ve just gotten into Form Nutrition, which is a really cool plant-based protein, and good quality. All these processed protein brands, they’re just feeding you shit by saying you need to have so much a day. Of course, you don’t need as much as they say you do.
I get a lot out of meditation. Especially because I’m always thinking about work. But the problem is, I get on the Headspace app and do 15 days in a row, then something up comes up and I don’t do it for two weeks. I need to get the habit down. That’s the kind of thing I want to push more: you’re not timid if you do meditation. Because that’s what goes through these young guys’ minds: “Meditation? Are you mad?” No, I’m not!
I’m a nature boy, really. I love it. Every weekend, I hit the trails on my bike, or I go hiking with my dad and brother. Stuff like that makes me happy. That, to me, is what training is about, apart from looking and feeling good. Because really, what’s fitness without going out and putting it to use? You don’t want to be some rigid beast.
What you feed yourself with daily has a huge impact. The things you read or watch on TV. The music you listen to. The people you talk with. All of that all adds up. They say that you become the average of the five friends that you spend the most time with. It’s all about replacing the bad inputs with the good inputs.
I stopped watching Netflix. But then I brought it back in, to take my mind off things. If you’re constantly inputting positive shit, you need a release, either from hanging out with your friends or hammering House of Cards. There’s a balance there as well.