When I think of crazy physical feats I normally think of circus acts and Chinese acrobats. Or unsettling acts on Ripley’s Believe it or Not. The kind I’m talking about though, with admiration, are those cool moves that have stood the test of time, the perpetually awesome, yet still evasive things that never find their way into how-to manuals. They’re almost taboo, these super-techniques, and because of that most “normal” people (like me) disregard them as untouchable—they’re thrust into the “I could never do that” category. Fortunate for us, there is one man who aims to change all that. His name is Jim Bathurst, and he is widely regarded these days as the go-to guy for these super-awesome moves. Or BEAST SKILLS.
You’ve taken a small hiatus from new tutorials on Beast Skills. What new skills are you working on now?
I've been working to improve my one arm handstand for ages. I see videos of guys with much longer holds with this skill and it drives me to practice it more. I've been working towards a double-bodyweight chin-up and hope to see the carryover it may have for multiple repetitions in the one arm chin-up. I've been playing around with the one arm handstand pushup, but I need to step back and attack that skill differently than what I've been doing. I haven't given it serious training time, but I'd like to start working towards the one arm front and back lever.
Like in the John Gill picture. (We’ll get to that later…) What tutorials can we look forward to in the near future?
Well, by the time this interview is published, there should be a new one arm pushup tutorial up on the site. A planche tutorial, an iron cross tutorial, an advanced handstand press-up tutorial, rafter chin-ups, and a tiger bend, are just some of the tutorials on my wish list to write-up and complete.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The one-armed pushup tutorial is finished, true to his word. Get it here.] So far you’ve got 26 tutorials up on Beast Skills—do you ever think you're going to run out of exercises to write about?
I don't think so. As my skill and strength increases, I'd hope that I can write about new and more challenging skills. And despite all I've seen, there are still some new things here and there that amaze and inspire me.
How long does it normally take you to establish a skill? Please tell us it’s a couple of days…
The time varies widely, from a couple months to a couple years. And of course, any skill could be improved upon, so it's harder to nail down an exact start and end date. It's always an ongoing process to strengthen and improve certain skills.
Good to hear that you’re still human. Have you ever just hit a wall with any skills you're learning? What do you do to break through that?
Of course! I felt like I was going nowhere with the planche for ages. Sometimes it's not really a matter of breaking through the wall, but slowly chipping away at it. Try to determine your weaknesses in the skill. For me, this involves reading anything and everything I can about the skill and watching videos repeatedly and trying to pull new things out each time. Sometimes I'd take a break to give my mind a rest.
Anyone who's every trained for any significant amount of time knows what it's like to hit a plateau. Sometimes you get past it with an increase in strength, sometimes it takes a refinement of technique. Sometimes both.
Are there any skills that really intimidate you?
The one arm front lever and one arm back lever are a bit intimidating at the moment due to the extreme difficulty I find in working the skills in any way, but as far as anything "scaring" me, not yet.
What about if Richard Simmons came out with a new move? Would that scare you?
Haha, perhaps. On a complete side note, my girlfriend recently met Richard Simmons on a flight out to California. He’s a target for easy jokes, but he’s overwhelmingly passionate about what he does, and I think any trainer would like to survive as long as Richard has in the industry. You have to respect that.
Definitely, and truth be told, I think anyone who’s in it for the right reasons—like Richard Simmons—deserves our respect. Looking back, were there ever any skills you never thought you'd get, and if so, how did you overcome that feeling?
The planche felt absolutely impossible for years. I tried everything under the sun to improve it. Quite honestly, there were plenty of times when self-doubt started to creep in. It happens to everyone. And sometimes when that happens, you just need to back off for a bit and give it some rest. Read up on the skill, find a new way to approach it and a new motivation for it. Remember, training should ultimately be enjoyable, not dreadful.
You're also a personal trainer—a CSCS to be specific—what are some of the things you see people doing wrong? If you could educate the masses on a few things, what do you think you'd tell them?
I'm lucky enough to work in a fairly progressive gym, so I don't have too many stories, but I still see my share of things. One is disregard for proper technique. Now there's a difference between good and great technique in various lifts, and then there's just god-awful, horrible technique that should put these people in the hospital. Take the time to learn good technique, then train and refine to make it great technique. Good technique will protect you from injury, great technique will increase your strength. We have to be technicians - Kirk Karwoski told me that. I'll listen to absolutely anything that man says.
Speaking of technique, a lot of people focus heavily on the movements, weights, etc, but how important is proper nutrition?
Proper nutrition is huge. It's vital in supplying your body with the energy it needs, as well as recovering properly from workouts. If you're not thinking about proper nutrition, then you're severely limiting yourself. And while there have been huge advances in what we know about nutrition, it doesn't have to be overly complicated for most people. Jack Lalanne was giving simple, sound nutritional advice back in the 50's. We all generally know what to eat, or can learn the basics quickly. The real challenge is actually following a healthy eating plan and fitting it into your life.
What would you say the single most important element of a training program is?
It’s simple – the body adapts. You have to challenge it in new ways in order to see continual improvement. This might mean heavier weights, or more reps, or shorter rest periods, or what have you. With the skills that I post on my site, I often provide several ways to progress so that people can challenge themselves when one step becomes too easy. I felt this was one of the most useful aspects of Beast Skills. Progression in the bench press might be just adding 5 lbs to a set, whereas progression with these bodyweight skills is not always so intuitive.
Remember to always think about that overload. Can I add more weight to the bar? Can I make this exercise harder? I see far too many people sell themselves short.
You won the Grand Prize for Men's Health Magazine's "How Fit Are You?" contest not once, but twice in a row. Any plans on doing it again? How are you going to top your last performances, or is that a secret?
The Men's Health contest? First off, I have to thank all my readers again profusely, as I'm sure they are the primary reason I won both. I felt my videos were very good, but it was all my readers that took the time to cast their votes.
I don't know if Men's Health is having another "How Fit Are You?" contest anytime soon. I would not enter it anyways. I was almost denied the grand prize the second time when they found out I was the same guy! It was a new contest and new video, so I didn't see the problem. But if I did enter again, I've still got a couple skills that weren't showcased.
I think you should let other people have their turn, haha. What's the most underrated piece of equipment?
Parallettes. Working on the handstands with your hands on the ground for days and days will chew up your wrists. Parallettes keep them in a neutral position and help protect them. This goes for planche work as well. Not to mention the extra range of motion they give to handstand pushups.
Over ten years ago, one of the first pieces of equipment I worked on were the parallettes. Even today I find them invaluable in training. [Check here for instructions on making your own parallettes.]
I talked to Mark Toorock at American Parkour, and he says he's persuaded you to come out with them a few times. How was that experience?
Mark is an awesome guy and I had a great time heading out with him and Jesse and the rest of the Parkour community. There are only so many hours in the day, and I regret not being able to meet with them more often.
Parkour is an absolute blast and it had me scaling walls and leaping over things and just generally moving my body in new ways and doing things I never thought I could do.
Whether it's Parkour, or weight training, or acrobatics, they all share the common trend of learning to control your body. The hard work and discipline learned in any one of these interests should carryover to non-athletic endeavors as well. That's the huge benefit of training that some people miss.
I mentioned John Gill earlier, and I know he is one of your inspirations. Who else inspires you?
B-boy Kujo was and always has been a huge inspiration. I was lucky enough to meet him at an event several years ago. B-boy Junior is also incredible to watch. Pretty much any competitive b-boy out there. Jack Arnow, Jasper Benincasa, and Brad Johnson are three individuals who absolutely astound me with their achievements. The strongmen of the past - Sandow, Bert Assirati, Jack Lalanne, Arthur Saxon. The history of it all is amazing. I was just commenting to someone the other day that the mix of incredible strength with amazing physique and unbelievable acrobatic ability is very rare these days.
Have you ever used your powers for evil? Like, say, to win a bet? What about to get chicks?
Haha... can't say as I've used them to trick someone, but my handstand and chair handstand tend to be my "party tricks". I won a t-shirt from the Marines for pull-ups one time, does that count?
Hell yes that counts! It’s a lot better than a 9th Place ribbon, that’s for sure. Do you have any plans on breaking out on your own, maybe starting your own gym?
Yes, I would love to start up my own gym in the future. For the time being though, I want to put the majority of my energy into Beast Skills. The website grew out of my old blog postings, and now it's an enormous monstrosity of a page. I desperately need to revamp the entire site to improve its look and functionality.
People will die if you make your site any more awesome. And I’m all out of questions just thinking about it. Is there anything else you're just dying to get out there?
I want to thank each and every one of my visitors, as it's their encouragement and emails that have kept me going when I thought this page was too much to handle. It's their stories that remind me what I felt like many years ago, trying to learn these skills.
I've recently had to stop responding to emails asking for training advice, but I want them to know this is so I can put more time and effort into the webpage. It needs a lot of work at the moment.
I've got a lot planned for the site and I'm working as hard as I can to make time for it all.
There’s nothing else I can really say. To see Jim in action, check out his ridiculously sweet website, Beast Skills.