The World Is Your Gym

Below is a short clip of Herschel Walker sharing his early involvement with bodyweight exercise.


Unfortunately, many will watch the clip and instantly shift the discussion towards genetics. That’s not my reason for posting it however. I’m not here to suggest that pushups and sit-ups will propel you towards a successful NFL career.

I am posting the clip to once again highlight the potential of low-tech exercise routines. The average person can do quite well with little or no equipment. Herschel Walker isn’t the first athlete who thrived with a minimalistic approach. Similar stories have been posted about other NFL stars such as Walter Payton, Ray Lewis, and Jerry Rice.

Does anyone honestly believe that the average adult cannot get in shape with basic activities such as running and calisthenics? Imagine if it was common to wake up and work through a series of pushups, pull-ups, dips, squats, burpees, lunges, and so on. Such an approach to exercise not only works well but can be performed anywhere without anything.

Unfortunately, the low-tech approach doesn’t receive as much love from the fitness community. After all, if everyone exercised at home without equipment, much of the industry would suffer financially. Equipment manufacturers and gyms would rather have the masses depend on their services. And as I say this, I’m not knocking the entire industry. There are certainly quality products on the market that are potentially beneficial. It is worth noting however that such tools are rarely a necessity, particularly when discussing the Average Joe or Jane.

I found myself caught up in a perfect example of this idea on Sunday. I was at the beach with my kids. We were catching crabs underneath a dock. My son randomly looked up to the dock and asked if I could do pull-ups from it. I’m not sure what prompted the question, but I jumped up and started knocking off reps while my kids cheered me on.

My 4-year old daughter then made an innocent comment that the beach is a gym. The next thing I knew, my kids are running on the sand. An afternoon of crabbing and fishing suddenly shifted towards running up and down the beach. With nothing more than a dock and an open stretch of land, there was more than enough to perform a challenging, yet enjoyable workout.

I was only playing with my kids, but I could have easily had a full session of running, swimming, pull-ups, pushups, and more. A busy afternoon filled with such activities would be more than enough to keep the average person healthy and physically capable.

Training doesn’t need to be complicated. Get up, get outside, move, and don’t get lost in unnecessary complexity. Getting in shape is a simple process. You just need to get up and put in the work. Showing up (anywhere) is more than half the battle…


The person who is waiting for something to turn up might start with their shirt sleeves. – Garth Henrichs

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  1. Couldn’t agree with you more Ross. My staple workouts include: pushups, dips, pull-ups, squats, sprints, etc. When I want to go heavy I add a weighted backpack or I do pistols or one arm pushups. Can’t manage one arm pullups…yet 🙂 I do the workouts in my garage at home or even better, when the weather is nice I go to the park. Never gymless!!!!

  2. Great article. I originally started with a Gym to get into shape, and I do think it helped me initially to get into the fitness mood. After 2 years of regular gym, I decided to give up the membership and rely on low-tech workouts. I haven’t looked back since. Running, Burpees, Pull-ups, Kettle-bells, jump rope and cycling are all the workouts I need. There is enough variety to keep it interesting and keep the motivation level up.

  3. Totally agree with you on the no need for a gym as it is just a excuse for the most people to avoid moving their butt.
    But there also useful equipment like the endless rope machine what is very interesting if you have no ability to put up a long rope somewhere. But this peace also offer some very nice trainings angles for full body conditioning.

  4. Are you serious? $4000 for a piece of rope?

    I’ll pass. Buy a short strip of rope at a site like mcmaster instead and do rope pull-ups with almost anything.

  5. Recently I watched a documentary about Herschel Walker on either Netflix or ESPN..can’t remember.What stands out for me in the whole docu was that he was a “fat kid” who liked comic books and was extremely shy.Kids picked on him and beat him up all the time.On his last day of middle school some kids beat him again.He couldn’t take it anymore.He asked the local football coach what he could do.The coach said push-ups, sit-ups and run.He did it all summer.We are talking hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of daily sit-ups and push-ups.He chased trains like his favorite superhero to get faster.When he started school a few months later he was transformed from an overweight kid that looked at the ground when he walked to a high school football phenom.BTW he also said he thought about those kids making fun of him every time someone tried to tackle him.I think Herschel Walker’s athletic story isn’t about genetics but more about his desire to overcome obesity, shyness and poverty.

  6. Ross, I’ve watched many documentaries where Herschel walker spoked about his daily routine of 1000 pushups, 1000 pullups, 3500 situps, 1000 dips and sprinting. Do you think it’s possible to achieve such a high volume of work or do you think some of it was made to impress fans?

  7. We are all familiar with Herschel’s low-tech workout routine that he is said to follow to this day and at 50 years old he is in better shape than even so-called fit people half his age. Last I heard Herschel was competing in MMA and had won a couple of fights. I’ve heard or read stories of Herschel performing anywhere from 1,500-3000 pushups and 1,500-3000 situps daily. I’m sure those aren’t the only exercises Herschel performed when he was younger and especially what he does today. Granted, I do believe for the most part Walker doesn’t touch weights because you can build an awesome physique without ever touching barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, or machines. But I’m sure Walker just doesn’t perform countless regular pushups and situps daily without ever doing something more advanced like single arm pushups, handstand pushups, pullups, advanced forms of core and abdominal work etc. Also a lot of times when an athlete’s “weights” or number of calisthenics performed is written I would take it with a grain of salt, because often times these workout “weights” and “numbers” are often times exaggerated. I remember when Herschel put out an exercise book in the mid-eighties(forget the title) but I think it was written by Terry Todd, but anyhow Herschel was not only performing a variety of pushups and core work but also some basic weights and pullups, monkey bars, sprints, etc. Also read in an article in Sports Illustrated that Herschel performed his first bench press at the University of Georgia and benched 275lbs. Now let me tell you, 275lbs for a 220lb rock solid athlete of 18-19 years old isn’t great by any means, but for someone who had never even touched a barbell, it’s quite exceptional. Anyone who has ever lifted weights can tell you how awkward most movements feel when you first start lifting even when using light weights, so even for someone as fit as Herschel was, to bench press 275lbs the first time you ever touch a weight is fantastic.

  8. Kudos to Walter Payton for promoting the hellish hill training. Payton was one of the pioneers of hill training in the States, but me thinks the Eastern Bloc countries were on to hill training for decades.

  9. Hello Ross, I am Brazilian and I follow your blog constantly.

    Great article, very inspiring. I have followed his trajectory in the fitness world and I confess that I am a big fan of yours.
    I am really fan of the concept that you do not need much to have a healthy lifestyle. With few or even no equipment can keep the body fit and well balanced body.

    Thanks for the space given. Whenever possible I quote from his work on my blog.
    A big hug and success always!

  10. Great story regarding your family at the beach. Whenever I pick up my son up and start running and down the steps, he says “Daddy is strong!” … This comment goes to show that both our kids and loved ones, benefit from us being in shape.

  11. Great post! I’m actually starting a strictly bodyweight program on Monday, as a kind of experiment to see just how much I can achieve without using weights. Part of the reason for only using bodyweight is that I travel a lot for work, and with this plan I have NO EXCUSE not to get a workout done!

    Inspiring stuff, keep it up mate!

  12. Ross- Thank you for an awesome article. Like you always say, its not “what” you do, its how you “do” it. Working the basics intensely and regularly will shape up anyone. Please write more articles like this!
    Thank you,

  13. Not only is that “volume” crazy but when would anyone actually have the time to do that many “reps” of any exercise. Even knocking out 100-rep sets in the pushups and situps would still take up a good size portion of the day. When I used to do 1,000 pushups every other day I would do sets of maybe 65-80, then rest briefly, and then complete the required number of reps to make a 100 rep set. While I was certainly no professional athlete and not even in the same world as a physical specimen like Herschel, I was nonetheless in decent shape. I could maybe do 3 relatively quick sets with a couple minutes rest periods before the lactic acid buildup in my chest, shoulders, and especially the smaller triceps would prevent me from any more immediate productive sets. I would often wait a couple of hours later and perform another 2-3 sets attempting to nail 100-reps after at least getting 65-80 reps before stopping briefly. While the actual time I put in actually doing pushups was relatively brief, the time it took to actually get to 1,000 reps, including the long times between performing the exercises, took up a good portion of the day. Who knows maybe someone like Herschel could perform his 1,000 reps all in one workout with no long rest periods between. I’m sure the pushup record is probably at least a 1,000 reps, and if not, well into the hundreds of reps.

  14. I have done weight training for many years. In the last couple of months, I have lost motivation and I am bored when at the gym. So I have purchased a pullup bar, so I can do Dips, body rows and static abs excercises. I also have 2x16kg KB, 2x20kg KB and 2x24kg KB. So I will use what I have now, and quit my gym membership. Hopefully it all works out!

  15. Herschel walker is full of shit, the dude is delusional, the truth is, everyone knows, there is a guy in every gym, who can do what ever the hell he wants, eat whatever the hell he wants and looks better than 95% of the people there. The fact he could run 100m in 10 seconds is proof of his genetics. He is blessed like all the other black NFL players, no point in denying that he is a freak athlete.

  16. Certainly we’ve all seen classic mesomorphs. Hell, my brother was 5’11” and weighed a solid 215lbs in high school and never ever touched a weight and didn’t engage in any workout program other than playing sports. But while Herschel surely is blessed with great genetics, I’m sure he also put in plenty of time working at it. The article I read on Herschel in Sports Illustrated in the early eighties, stated that Herschel’s diet was very haphazard and that it included Snickers candy bars and cheeseburgers. But then again Herschel was 20-21 years old then, and we all can get away with poor eating habits at that age. The same article went on to tell how the young Walker also rarely slept more than three or four hours a night, this all could very well be bullsheet, but who knows. I’ve heard that the whole eight hours of sleep thingy is more pyschological than physical, but then again Herschel could be one to exaggerate the truth. Obviously good genetics or not you don’t look like Walker at 50 years old unless you’ve put some work into it. And work ethic like physical attributes can be something we inherit also, people don’t realize it but work ethic is a talent just as much as any physical skill.

  17. Work and gear, either Herschel is a direct descendant of the meanest, bad-est slave or is on gear, rarely will a 50 year old heavyweight, be so damn lean and jacked, maybe a 50 year old lightweight or middleweight.

    Walter Payton, Ray Lewis, and Jerry Rice, Walker, isn’t anyone surprised that they also happen to be black. Genetics much?

  18. Ray Lewis and Jerry Rice are great football players. Not great athletes. Wasn’t too long ago that people thought that blacks dominated boxing. Well now look. It’s white eastern Europeans who totally dominate all the heavier classes of boxing. Shot putter Brian Oldfield was white and at 6’5″ and 270-280lbs could sprint against football players like Lynn Swann and would beat world class female sprinters in short distances. Blacks dominated the heavier classes of boxing back in the sixties, seventies, eithties, and early nineties mostly because eastern Europeans weren’t allowed or encouraged to participate professionally. Fighters like Quarry and Chuvalo had all the heart and toughness of the eastern Europeans without the size and skills, while Bugner and Cooney had all the size and skill without the heart. Ray Lewis is really not that big of a man and like Walter Payton aquired a lot of his size through weight training or exercises. Herschel is the only one you mentioned who would be considered as a cut above an average mesomorph and was blessed with EXCEPTIONAL genetics.

  19. Certain activities depend more on genetics (Ex. a 7 foot basketball player, sprinting ability like Usain Bolt). With that said, most people who whine about genetics are people that want a reason to justify their own failure. It’s a tough pill to swallow to admit that someone else worked harder and longer, thus became more successful.

    Jerry Rice was almost overlooked in the NFL draft. Most scouts didn’t think he was fast enough. Ask anyone in the league to find someone who worked harder though… You won’t find any. Ray Lewis was also overlooked by many teams as he was thought to be too small for the NFL. Ask his teammates if anyone works harder than him… No one in their right mind could have guessed that either would end up becoming one of the all time greats.

    It is impossible to know what someone’s natural ability may be when the individual has grown up in poverty and literally fought and scraped his way DAY AFTER DAY for YEARS to become successful. Even so called naturals like Roy Jones may not really be naturals. His father basically forced him to train for HOURS as a kid, day after day.

    Imagine having a knowledgeable coach/trainer (his father) training him for YEARS throughout his entire childhood. Is it really a surprise that he became successful? I’ve been to Roy Sr.’s home. I’ve been in the driveway while he is training his fighters. He pushes them to their limit and then some. It is difficult to fathom how hard he pushed Roy Jr. (as he pushed his son harder than anyone). His success didn’t happen by accident.

    More often than not, you are good at what you grow up playing. Vasyl Lomachenko is a perfect example. He’s the best boxer to come out of the Olympics. He’s also someone who started as a kid and is pushed by his father. He trains for HOURS a day and has done so his entire life. Is it a surprise that after almost 20 years of training that he’s at the top of his sport?

    Some kids are pushed harder, want it more, and work harder. When this type of determination happens over several continuous years, the result is usually one that is successful.

  20. Thanks for the link. Great article and spot on. Desire, heart, work ethic, all can never be underestimated. Anyone remember the name Tony Mandarich? Mandarich was Green Bay’s big pick in the 1989 draft and was going to be the best lineman of all time. Sports Illustrated did a feature full length article on Mandarich titled “The Incredible Bulk” before he had even played one single second of pro football. Mandarich was built like King Kong and just about as strong. He was 6’6″ and weighed 304lbs while running the 40 at an astonishing 4.65 seconds and bench pressing 225lbs for 39 reps. Mandarich it was said was one of the top 5 all time picks for lineman EVER. Well needless to say the “Incredible Bulk” turned out to be an incredible bust. Along with an unbelievably arrogant attitude, Mandarich was terribly undisciplined. Mandarich only lasted until the 1992 season before he was cut by Green Bay. Of course long ago there was a small painfully skinny quarterback playing sandlot ball in Pittsburgh who would be drafted by the then Baltimore Colts. That unathletic looking bag of bones would go on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. You might have heard of him even though you never heard of Tony Mandarich, that man’s name was Johnny Unitas.

  21. Here is a clip of Tony Mandarich on Youtube. Youtube “Tony Mandarich on David Letterman 1989.” Mandarich is even talking about fighting Tyson and wanting to play in a larger market than Green Bay. Mandarich had earlier called Green Bay “a village.”

  22. Thanks for this post, my entire life I’ve been living more of a calisthenics lifestyle vs. training in the gym. And it really is surprising how much have and doubt I have received from others by doing this. “The body has a max on how much resistance can be created, eventually bodyweight will fail you and you’ll need extra resistance or you won’t go anywhere.” And while it is true that you continually need to be pushing towards the next level, the level of difficulty can be increased by manipulating the lever system. Also when you think of it when you compare gyms to the time period of the world, gyms are relatively new. And there were fit people before they existed. 🙂

  23. You can do so much with just your body weight, as is proven by NFL athletes the like of Herschel Walker, Walter Payton and Jerry Rice, to name just a few.
    Working with kids in the martial arts, we use body weight exercises exclusively, to build strength, endurance and speed. Pushups, squats, bicycles, mountain climbers, lunges and burpess are just a few of our favorites.
    Who needs a gym, when the whole world is our gym?

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