Today’s interview is with the awesome Antranik. He is one of the kindest and most caring people in the fitness scene.
Antranik helps a few lucky people as a personal trainer and helps hundreds of thousands with his in-depth fitness tutorial videos.
He will talk to us about his beginning, his dog, and his favorite exercises among other fun topics, so read on.
Talk to us about yourself and your fitness journey?
I’ve always been the kind of person that was deeply fascinated with how the human body worked and always enjoyed helping people. When I was young, I wanted to be a medical doctor, but I sincerely didn’t like how little time my doctors actually spent with me and felt something was wrong with the system. Instead, I got a business degree and worked in the financial services. Eventually when the economy tanked (financial crisis of ~2007/2008), I reevaluated what I was doing with my life and went back to school to become a registered nurse. I absolutely loved the topics I was learning. But as I was volunteering in a prominent hospital for a couple years, I eventually realized the reality: While nurses had lots of direct patient care (which I loved), they were also extremely stressed out and not healthy themselves. This caused me to truly take a step back and actually decide to not pursue nursing, because the system did not support nurses in a way I found acceptable.
Turns out it was a great thing I bit the bullet because NOW… I am GREATLY enjoying my role as a personal trainer and it ironically allows me to help people in greater ways that I could never have dreamed to within the legal scope of a nurse.
In regards to my fitness journey, I used to go to a gym just like most people but when I discovered the magic of commuting by bicycle, I stopped going to the gym regularly other than to use the swimming pool because I enjoyed being outdoors far too much. Eventually, Yoga is what really helped me to “see the light.” Other than helping to turn me into a pretzel once in a while, it helped raise my self-awareness a lot. I learned how to breath and stay relaxed amidst challenging poses, which turns out to be a highly useful trick for when shit hits the fan in other areas of your life and you need to maintain focus and integrity.
Moving on… Around 2011, I discovered the Original Muscle Beach (OMB) in Santa Monica, CA and I immediately fell in love with the atmosphere. This was the only place that I knew of in LA, where people would independently come together, and know each other on a first name basis. (Read: a true community.)
As a result, you could find me these days doing gymnastics strength training, yoga (and acro/partner-yoga), slacklining, all the flying/traveling/still rings and everything in between, literally! The grand tradition at OMB is to teach others what was taught to you. So there are constantly people teaching me new things and I, passing it on to others as well. No use keeping things to myself. Pass it on and let it go and it becomes much more useful.
What’s your relationship to Reddit? How did you become Reddit’s favorite coach?
When I discovered OMB, I became obsessed with gymnastics because it is in my nature to do things with “good form” and I found gymnastics strength training to complement this kind of “strict” training. Plus, gymnastics usually involves bodyweight exercises, which was perfect for working out on the beach with minimal equipment.
So, when I discovered the /r/bodyweightfitness sub, it became my second home because it encompassed several topics rolled into one that I enjoyed. There is a great community on that forum and it keeps evolving to be one of the most helpful subs on reddit, IMO.
Did you expect your video tutorials to go viral like they did?
Not really. It wasn’t always like this. Redditors are extremely critical of anything and everything they could nit-pick about. They are also highly skeptical of anyone doing any sort of self-promotion and they will critique you in every shape or form possible without any regards to your feelings. I didn’t get too discouraged though, for not being perfect in the eyes of anonymous internet strangers hell bent on hating me.
Instead, I was eventually able to take that feedback, listen, learn and improve upon my videos. It also helped me to develop some incredibly thick-skin for the occasional vile comment whose purpose is to only hurt.
Nowadays, I’m still shocked at how many people are always thanking me for the help or telling me how I helped them along the way of their fitness journey. This is all very encouraging for me to continue. It’s kind of like, my life dream to help others.
What will be the next big video tutorial?
I may make a video tutorial on the entire recommended routine that’s hosted on /r/bodyweightfitness. I’m still trying to figure out how to do it though. It will likely be split into different parts rather than an extremely lengthy video to make it more likely for people to be able to follow and digest the information.
The biggest project I’m working on now, is to show the world the beauty of OMB. I want to show that this place exists, have it be a model for other cities around the world. I want the video to be such that anybody, anywhere can present the video to their local city council and they will understand the benefits of installing an adult playground in a persuasive, yet fair and balanced manner.
You’ve recently released a yoga video, which received a lot of success, how important is flexibility for the average person?
If I had to choose between flexibility and strength in the modern age, I would choose flexibility. I think flexibility is more important than strength. That’s not to say that strength isn’t important or that I don’t enjoy strength training. I think flexibility unlocks so many more moves and provides a feeling of freedom that is unmatched. You could experience so much more with your body, when you are able to move it every which way you desire. And when you could build strength in that new range of motion, it is almost like you’re pushing the limits of what it means to be human.
You’ve talked about making the shift from strength goals to trick goals in your training, talk to us about your exercise philosophy.
When I go to the beach to train, even if I have a set program to follow for the day, to me it is still a form of playing around and exploration. The side effect of it is that I get to test my limits, get stronger, have breakthroughs and level up.
I think the point of gaining all this strength is to help me move better and to play more. And for every several days of structured training, I reserve at least one day of the week (usually Sunday Funday), where I do whatever I want without any structure or planning. I wrote a bit about this in my blog post about how play and variety is the spice of life.
It is extremely liberating to have that one day where I don’t have to look at a list of exercises, perform sets/reps and record them, but rather to just do whatever it is I want to do that comes to mind. I still do a legit warm-up to keep myself safe, but the point is that I like to couple serious training with serious exploration and playing to keep myself sane and happy. Too much work and no play, even in the “movement” world can be a real problem! It’s all about BALANCE. I also once wrote about the finer differences between horizontal and vertical skill development which some have found interesting.
What are some tricks that you’d like to master in the future?
I have a few goals for this year that I have achieved already and there are a few left such as…
- Since I got the glide kip on the bar, now I want to nail it on the parallel bars next.
- I can walk on a slackline, but I can’t do a “sit-start” on it yet but I am adamant about nailing that, so that I could tackle longer and higher lines.
- On both the flying and traveling rings, I want to get over my fear of doing dislocates and flyaways.
- On the rings, I can do the forward roll to support just fine, but now I want to do the backward roll to support.
- I’ve been working on my hamstring flexibility like mad and as a gauge, my feet are just a millimeter or two away from clearing the bar when I do the Skin the Cat with straight legs. I can soon be the 8 year old gymnast girl I’ve always wanted to be! 😛
Talk to us about Medax.
I’ve had Medax since she was a puppy! She is now 12. I love her to pieces. She is basically my child and if I were ever to have a human child, she has been like the training wheels to prep me for that. If you’re not sure if you and your significant other are ready to deal with the responsibility of a child, see how they do with raising a pet or two. (Or maybe just see if you can grow a plant without killing it.) She is just so cute and adorable and I try to get her in my videos whenever I can. The magic of animals are that they reflect nothing but pure energy. They know nothing else.
I’ve noticed that whenever Medax is in the shot, the camera is stationary, who’s actually filming your videos?
It’s usually a one man show where I try to do everything myself with a tripod. If it’s going to be a video where I need a cameraman, it’s usually my brother who helps me out. Luckily, his camera-operating skills have gotten better as a result, too! (Thanks bro!)
Going back to reddit, you’re a moderator at r/mnemonics, do you have any fitness related mnemonics for us?
Hmm, I’m really big into anatomy and I used to be a tutor for it as well. First one that comes to mind is:
If you extend your arm out in front of you, your arm can be supinated or pronated. Supinated is when the palm is facing up. Pronated is when the palm is facing down. SUPination is the same position if you were holding a bowl of SOUP in your hand, so it’s easy to remember that is when the palm is facing up. (Or to remember that supinated pull ups are chin ups.)
You seem like a busy guy, what are some productivity tips you can share with us?
- Morning Clarity: When you wake up in the morning, don’t BOLT out of bed and start running around like it’s the end of the world. This is very stressful. Instead, start out by doing gentle joint mobility work a few minutes. Like maybe some cat/cow and scapular shrugs to gently loosen the spine. Maybe lay on your back and stretch your feet and hands as far apart from each other. Maybe hang from the pull up bar with your feet on the floor just to decompress a little more. All the while I start thinking about what to do and add to my to-do list.
- Daily To do Lists: Rather than keeping a list of things in my head of what I need to take care of, hoping I don’t forget, it is much less stressful to get them OUT of my head and onto a list. So I jot down the things I need to do, prioritize them, and tackle them one by one. You could make a to-do list on your phone, on a white-board (great for large projects), on paper or even within the Chrome browser using the Momentum extension (highly recommended) which can be linked with multiple computers. Find what works for you.
- In this to-do list, do the thing you don’t want to do, FIRST: There will always be ONE thing on the list that you KNOW you have the most resistance to doing and it usually happens to be, probably the most important thing you need to do as well. Do that one FIRST. If you take care of that, everything else will feel like a BREEZE for the day.
- E-mail: When you read an e-mail or message, rather than replying later, just do it immediately on the spot. The thoughts you come up with right then and there on the spot are the most fresh. Keep it short and sweet. If you don’t have the time to reply, then don’t even check the e-mail in the first place!
- If you have many projects, get a white board: While technology is great, nothing beats a large white-board and some dry erase markers and using it to organize all my short, mid, and long-term projects all in one space. I get to make connections better that way about the grand scheme of things. I get to draw, which can be fun, and I get to see the big picture much better. Or I could erase the whole thing and use the board to organize one massive project. It’s extremely versatile.
You’ve talked about improving sitting posture a few times, what are some other improvements to everyday activities that can have positive health effects.
I made a video once about how to sit perfectly in 5 seconds. It’s an extremely easy sequence that one should be aware of:
- Stand up from your chair.
- Squeeze your glutes firmly once. (This helps to posteriorly tilt the pelvis.)
- Squeeze your abs and keep them contracted as you slowly sit back down.
You will find yourself sitting down with straight posture rather than immediately slouching. When you find your postural muscles have gotten tired or reverted back to slouching, stand up and repeat the sequence. Nobody has any idea what you’re doing anyway.
Mandatory movement for 30 minutes everyday: In this day and age, most people can’t get things done unless they are seated in front of a computer. We need to counteract that by simply getting up and moving more often. What I do is I tell myself that I MUST get at least 30 minutes of movement everyday. Notice that I’m purposely keeping it really vague by saying “movement.” Whether this means following my yoga video or just going out for a walk, or going for a bike ride, or strength training… whatever it is your body is telling you it wants, just do some sort of exercise for yourself that you KNOW you need to do. The couch and computer will always be there when you get back.
Forced Motivation: At this point, many people will say they don’t have the motivation to do that. Well guess what, I don’t either. If I wait for the motivation to appear to get things done, I wouldn’t be able to get much done at all. So I FORCE myself to just get up and start moving around and doing what it is that my body wants me to do. Once I start moving around, I find that the motivation not only magically appears, but that I get inspired in ways I never even expected. Sometimes, you have to fake it till you make it.
As a fan of risk reduction, are there any exercises that you think are so dangerous that they’re not worth the risk?
If you train in a methodical, progressive manner, most exercises are not inherently dangerous. However, if one is practicing gymnastics, one must be wary of high-impact moves such as tumbling, swinging on the rings and any release moves as they are much harder on the joints and so there is more risk associated with them.
Another problem is that not everybody has the knowledge to understand what it means to do things in a methodical, progressive manner. For example, lots of people want to learn handstands. But if you pick anybody out from the general population, their wrists are not going to have the mobility or the load bearing capacity to safely handle their entire bodyweight on their hands. Yet people do it all the time (especially in a group setting) until it’s too late and things get damaged. But obviously, handstands are not inherently dangerous when you prepare yourself properly for the adventure.
All in all, everyone has a unique tolerance of what risk to reward ratio is acceptable to them considering their age (older folks tend to be more wary), responsibilities (“I need my wrist to carry out my day job to provide for my kids.”) and personal injury history.
What are you future plans for the antranik.org and for your youtube channel?
I have many projects and I feel I am never catching up to my back-log and I have an inkling I never will, but it’s all right. At this point, my website is highly intertwined with my youtube channel and they’re both geared toward helping people move better and feel better within their body. The overall plan is to continue producing videos that will hopefully help the general population become more educated in ways that you wish your PE teacher taught you in school.
Should we expect a fitness book by Antranik sometime in the future?
Hmm, nope. I haven’t thought about releasing a book.
To wrap this up, what are your three favorite bodyweight exercises?
My favorite moves are the ones that never cease to challenge me such as…
- Dragon flags because they make me feel boss and can be easily scaled to be harder with ankle weights and I could do them mostly anywhere.
- Pseudo planche push ups because there is no end to how much one can send the shoulders forward to increase the challenge.
- And Front Lever drills because the FL is always humbling and its difficulty always makes me feel very strong (or weak depending on how you look at it).
Thank you, Antranik. I had a blast delving further into your website and youtube channel to prepare for this interview and I really appreciate how comprehensive the answers were.
Looking forward to many more awesome videos by you, and I’m sure the SOA tribe members will be watching your youtube channel for new material after reading this.