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Interview with Chris Beardsley from Garage Gym Online

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Hey everyone, Chris Beardsley, my UK buddy from Garage Gym Online was kind enough to let me hassle him with some questions. I have nothing but admiration for the lad, and I hope you’ll enjoy the interview.

Josh: It is difficult to deal with your level of awesomeness? I imagine you’re constantly fighting the descent into egomania. Admirably, I might add. You project an aura of down-to-earthness.

Chris: If I didn’t know that this is how you talk to everyone, I’d be flattered. Briefly. Then I’d assume you were trying to persuade me to do something I didn’t want to do. This is because my day job is in Mergers and Acquisitions and we are all by nature really suspicious people. We spend our lives trying to second guess other people’s motives. We’re a lot like Samuel Vimes in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, only a lot less idealistic and less likeable, obviously.

It’s funny that you’ve picked up on the idea that I am down-to-earth. A while back, Franz Snideman said something similar; he said he liked my common sense approach to health and fitness. I don’t really see it. What you’re seeing might just be my typically English upbringing, and, more specifically, my Midlands background. We Midlanders are very much a “back to the basics” and a “no nonsense” kind of people but there’s still a lot of drive, determination and energy there. Still waters run deep, maybe.

J: Just kidding. Thanks for letting me pester you. You’ll think I’m lying, but I’m pretty excited about this interview.

C: I’m pretty sure you’re lying but that’s OK. I’m a naturally suspicious person, as I said above.

J: Where are you from? Other than the fact that you live there and the fact that I love English Muffins, why should I visit Merry Old England?

C: I am from Nottingham, England. It’s in the Midlands, which is called the Midlands because it is between the South and the North (England is a very simple country). For those of you who want to pinpoint Nottingham on the map, if you stuck a pin pretty much in the centre of the UK, you wouldn’t be far off. And, of course, Nottingham is the spiritual home of Robin Hood, which is great for those 5 minute conversations you have with the locals while you’re travelling.

I’m not sure why you would want to visit England, unless you had people to see. There really isn’t a lot to look at here that you can’t see more of somewhere else in the world for less money, with better weather and where there are friendlier people. We’re a pretty miserable bunch.

There is something about England, though, that is hard to put into words. Those of us who take the time to get out into the countryside definitely acquire a strong affinity for it. I think Kipling probably captured some of its essence in the Roman Centurion’s song. I don’t think I would ever want to live anywhere else.

J: What do you think the biggest difference between the UK and the USA is, in terms of the strength training world? I ask because Adam Glass told me that Europeans value strength the way the fat Americans value abs. Is there a difference?

C: There isn’t a popular culture of strength training in the UK by any means. It is far more acceptable to be a triathlete, a marathon runner or to play five-a-side football or squash. People here very much associate the word “fit” with skinny, endurance types.

I think the biggest difference between the UK and the US in terms of strength training is that the US has a much more formalised approach to strength training in schools. It seems to me that, in the US, whole classes of young men are going to the weights rooms in schools to lift weights to get better at sport. That idea does not exist (or did not exist) while I was at school in the UK.

In contrast, our teachers told us that lifting weights would stunt our growth and that we couldn’t lift until we were sixteen. At that age, we were shown a small multi-gym style facility (not free weights), given a brief tour and left to get on with it. I suppose the main reason for this lack of institutionalised strength training is that the main sport that people follow in the UK, soccer, doesn’t really need a great deal of strength or power.

J: I don’t meet a lot of people who have a weighted chin and dip obsession like you do. How did you come to put so much focus into those two movements?

C: That’s a very long story. Although I am relatively short, my first sporting love was swimming and I was a club swimmer for many years. I read up about the great British swimmer Mark Foster and his extensive use of “land training” and began doing pull ups and dips to build strength and endurance for swimming.

When I left Nottingham to go to university, I started a ten year trip away from home that took me to the far North of England, London, the South coast of England, France, Germany and Israel. For much of that time, I lived in little studio flats and only had a pull-up bar to train with. I took a bit of climbing kit and before I knew it I was doing weighted pull ups and dips using the climbing harness to hang weight off. I did weighted pistols, too, but they need even less equipment.

When I settled back in Nottingham, about four years ago, I decided to start strength training properly and since I already had a reasonable base in those movements, I used them to build on. I set myself the goals of a double-bodyweight chin and dip and a 1.5x bodyweight pistol and I hit them a while ago.

I’m actually trying to wean myself off doing them so much now. I have other goals I want to pursue right now and they are mostly just getting in the way.

J: What is the best fitness goal a person can set for themselves?

C: I think it’s important to set a goal that involves something you actually enjoy doing. There is nothing more upsetting than someone who decides to do a marathon because they “want to get fit” and then hates every minute of it.

Having said that, I would urge people to spend a little time considering how they can forestall the effects of our sedentary lifestyles and of the ageing process. With targeted resistance work (to help retain muscle and bone mass) and appropriate mobility and stability work, I think it’s possible to become one of those annoying people who are really sprightly in old age. At least, I hope so. Let’s do another interview in about fifty years and we’ll see. I might be ready to another one by then…

J: I’m a huge fan of your book reviews. Not many people can find books that I have never even heard of as consistently as you do.

C: Thank you. Mostly, I just pull books off my shelves and reread them. When that fails, I go into second-hand bookshops and buy things that look interesting.

I enjoy finding books other people haven’t heard of. I guess that stems from a fear of being bored and of being boring. I really don’t like to duplicate what other people are doing. I could never be one of those people who sees something cool and just copies it.

J: Pick 5 fitness books that you wish everyone would read.

1. Biomarkers – when I first read Clarence Bass’s review of this book, I don’t think I wasted any time in clicking through to Amazon to buy it. It’s a simple idea that, as Bass notes, is becoming demonstrably true in the observation. Biomarkers asserts that the effects of the ageing process can be largely mitigated against, even reversed, by gaining muscle through strength training.

2. Starting Strength (review by Josh) – everybody has this on their list. But I’m not being boring. I put it on the list because everybody talks about it and nobody actually reads it. If they did, the strength forums of the world would be a lot quieter.

3. Maximum Strength – I’m not sure that this book is for absolutely everyone but the mobility and stability warm-ups are worth the cover price alone. I suppose Magnificent Mobility might be a better choice, but that’s a DVD and not a book…

4. The Escape Artist – this is a book about cycling but, more importantly, it’s about love and loss and the male psyche. If you have a male in your life that you don’t fully understand, perhaps one that is always trying to be competitive, try reading this book. It will help.

5. Feeding the Rat – Al Alvarez shoe-horned more into his long and fruitful life than I will ever manage. He had a successful academic career at Oxford before becoming a full-time writer. He associated with literary giants, climbing legends and poker champions. In this book, he tries to get to the bottom of that need that drives climbers on to perform at their limit, purely for the satisfaction of doing so.

J: If you could change one thing about the fitness industry, what would it be?

C: I think Mike Boyle is spot on. I think it is incumbent upon us to educate people about fitness.

We know that real fitness includes good mobility and stability, decent cardiovascular fitness and an acceptable level of functional strength and muscle mass. In stark contrast to that definition, most people, in the UK at least, think that “fit” is about running a marathon or playing soccer, which is only a small part of the story. I think the education gap between the initiated and the general public is wider than many of us strength enthusiasts would like to believe.

So if I could change anything about the fitness industry, it would be that fitness enthusiasts would stop arguing with each other about tiny details when most normal, uninformed people are struggling with the basics. As a group, I think we should be talking about how we can club together, break into the mainstream and educate people that we wouldn’t normally reach.

J: What are your goals for your website?

C: Personally, I benefit hugely from putting my thoughts out there and receiving feedback from like-minded people. I would struggle to be so enthusiastic about health, strength and fitness if I didn’t have that connection, as I train at home and don’t have many local friends who share the same passions. I guess I would like to increase my network in the future, which will in turn increase my knowledge and ability to refine my thoughts. I have been very privileged to correspond this year with Bret Contreras, Tim Henriques, Eric Moss and Rob Russell, to name but a few.

Professionally, I am trying to create a very open and complete picture of my approach to personal training. In the future, I want people to be able to read my blog and see immediately that:

  • When I qualified as a personal trainer, I didn’t just show up to class and pass the exam, I engaged on a deep level with the issues and did a lot of my own thinking;
  • I care very deeply about other people’s overall health and well-being and I am passionate about how our current lifestyle is damaging those things;
  • I am not a one-size-fits-all kind of person. I really do want to find the best tool for the job in each case and I am not precious about methodologies or training tools; and
  • I am very dedicated to my own training goals and I believe that chasing goals is one of the most fulfilling experiences a person can have.

J: Let’s assume that everyone reading this also reads your site. What is something you would like them to know about you that they don’t?

C: It can be a bit of a balancing act having a full time job in finance while maintaining a daily blogging schedule and lifting regularly. For my main articles, I tend to run a couple of weeks ahead just in case something comes up and I have to stay late at work. I also manually approve all comments, which I know frustrates some people, but I can only really check the blog once a day and I’d rather not have any spam slip through the net…

J: Thanks again for doing this Chris, I have really enjoyed it. If there’s a better online gym than your hangout, I’ve yet to find it.

C: Anytime!

Please visit The Garage Gym Online for more of Grandmaster Beardsley.

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  • Megan (Best of Fates) December 3, 2010, 9:01 am

    It’s so interesting they taught that strength training made you weak – my dad told me that when he was on the high school basketball team, they weren’t allowed to use weights for the same reason!