Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
Hi, I’m James Ruckert, a 28-year old personal trainer/calisthenics and movement coach based in London. I’ve worked within fitness professionally for over five years now and been involved in fitness for over seven years.
I was an overweight teen which carried on until my early 20’s when I finally had enough of looking bad and feeling bad. I started with precious little knowledge but a heart full of desire.
Over a six-month span, I went from 100kg to under 70kg! This was all through excessive cardio and calorie restriction. Thinking I looked good, I enjoyed my new ‘leanness’ and ignored the questions of what was wrong……eventually I saw the light and realised I’d took it too far and needed to build some muscle back and cut down on the cardio.
My strength journey began with a classic 5×5 barbell lifting routine, which got me stronger and introduced me to pull ups and dips. Shortly after this, I got my first official job within the fitness world – a gym instructor and class instructor.
I studied for my personal training certification during this time, too, among many other fitness qualifications – including Yoga, Pilates, Olympic weightlifting to name a few. Of course, I’ve always been a huge student of the game and I am forever doing my own learning, reading and studying.
Six or so months in, we had a training day based around ‘functional training’ and TRX in particular and it was here that the calisthenics journey began. The guy teaching our course could do muscle ups, pistol squats etc.
I couldn’t do a muscle up despite being able to dip with weight and pull up with weight (and good form!) This led me to trying to learn a muscle up which I shortly got but the form was ATROCIOUS and a scruffy pistol squat. The fire was well and truly lit!
Fast forward some 3/4 years later and I now teach my own calisthenics class each week, have delivered numerous handstand workshops and a few sell out calisthenics and bodyweight strength training workshops across the UK.
I can now full front/back lever, have held fuman flags, done muscle ups on rings and bar, strict with 20+kg, dipped more than twice my bodyweight, done weighted pistol squats for reps, held freestanding handstands for 60 secs, achieved front splits and pancake en route too.
It’s been quite a journey for an average overweight guy with no social skills, confidence or direction just a mere eight years ago.
Describe a typical day of training
A typical training day for me consists of two sessions: One a handstand/mobility focus where I’ll work on weaknesses (thoracic mobility/overhead flexibility) and the handstand itself – endurance holds, shapes, presses, alignment etc.
Then a strength/skills based session, which is usually based around a particular movement. So front lever for pull focus, handstand pushing for push focus and a muscle up focused day with leg training done twice per week at the beginning of some of these workouts.
Generally speaking, I’ll be active for six days of the seven each week and only have one complete rest day, just because I’ve found passive rest days do nothing for me really and if anything, I end up weaker and rustier after lay-offs. Unless I’m really really beaten up and overtrained, of course.
As for training duration, I go by feel. I’m not a big believer in sessions should be this long or that short. It depends on too many factors to be that dogmatic – your training experience, what you’re working on, your recovery, your sleep, your stress levels in life etc etc etc. Usually though my sessions will be around 1.5-2 hours long.
For progress, I use auto regulation now but within the realms of progressive overload. On days I feel good, I’ll milk it dry. On days I feel bad, I’ll lower the intensity and really hone in on my form. Over the years I’ve got better at handling the bad days.
When you first start out you make so much progress it’s easy to think it’ll last forever but if you want to be in this for the long haul, you’ve got to be smarter about it.
I’ll always have a plan and write down my workouts, sets, reps and any relevant info as this is crucial for evaluation in the future. I do this with all my clients and it’s driven people to wonderful levels of strength and athleticism.
How do you keep going and push harder?
I’ve always been a very full on character. I remember playing video games as a kid and doing levels over and over until I completed them. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. This has stood me in good stead within the fitness and movement world. If I get into something, I embrace it with every fiber of my being and don’t know half measures.
Of course, over the years I’ve been going I’ve had moments where I don’t want to do it at all or even questioned why I try so hard, why I have the goals I do and what it’s all for. This is a normal cycle of life.
In these down phases, it’s very important to keep the bigger picture in mind and follow a plan. If you leave it to chance, it won’t happen. Just do what you’re supposed to do and more often than not you’ll find you have a better session than expected and this alone can restore the spark and get you hungry again.
Personally speaking, where I’ve created a bit of a following (Instagram, clients, website, etc.) I feel good pressure to lead by example and this keeps me on my game; ‘you can’t coach what you can’t do’, so I need to be on point.
I owe so much to fitness – my livelihood, my friendship groups, my social skills, feeling good within my body, my confidence……the self improvement that comes along with it is addictive.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The last 18 months or so have been very very good to me. I’ve became self employed and built a client base around calisthenics, gymnastics and all things movement.
I have achieved many milestones this year from travelling the world to achieving things like front splits from being very naturally inflexible as well as lots of strength goals like extending my full front lever hold time, increasing strict muscle up reps and just getting far stronger overall.
Looking into the future, the big goal professionally is to run my own gym/fitness centre. A place where I can cater to many needs and demands: Personal training sessions, Yoga/Pilates classes, calisthenics classes/workshops, handstand classes, Olympic lifting classes and so much more.
I’m also working on some Ebooks for my website that are based around different calisthenics skills (muscle ups and a beginner’s training bible).
Physically speaking, I don’t get ultra specific as I’m always looking to improve across the board and I’ve found so many times that building one move often improves others. In other words: the crossover in calisthenics and bodyweight training is vast!
I have my eye on the one arm handstand, L-sit ring muscle ups for reps and side splits at the time of writing but each year I will be better than the previous year. That I can assure you.
How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
The biggest factors for getting injured in my opinion are:
- Muscular imbalances
- Faulty technique
- Poor programming
- Using loads/intensity beyond your capacity
Poor programming and muscular imbalances are linked strongly as imbalanced programs cause overdevelopment of some muscles and underdevelopment of others. A CLASSIC example is too much chest work (horizontal pushing) and not enough back work (horizontal pulling).
Over time this causes the structure in the body to change and thus, you’re a sitting duck for injuries and your movement/mobility is impaired and worsens. The remedy to this is to use programs that are balanced and designed by someone who knows what they’re doing.
Faulty technique is often a case of just not knowing better and usually encompasses not using a full range of motion, using excessive momentum or bad biomechanics where the joint integrity is compromised.
It’s for this reason I believe EVERYONE can benefit from coaching of some kind, regardless of what stage of the game you’re at. I still go to workshops each year and am always amazed of what simple bad habits I can slip into and usually only a trained eye can spot this in you.
Ego lifting is another threat for injury and is usually only cured by injury itself, sadly. Then on the rehab journey you’re forced to learn proper technique and the penny drops as to how badly you were overdoing it. I always preach the motto of ‘form first, intensity later’.
Even the best athletes get injured and I myself had suffered a lengthy shoulder impingement due to faulty programming and structural imbalance but it was this that truly hammered home the significance of prehab and balanced training.
For recovery, the general factors are sleep, nutrition and your overall life stress levels. Make sure you get the sleep your body needs (this is different for everyone).
Ensure your diet has no deficiencies (protein, fats and carbs are sufficient for your activity levels) and take time outs from day to day life in the form of regular getaways and keeping negative people at distance.
Some other bonus things I use and find work well are walking on rest days, soft tissue work, cold/contrast showers, saunas and massage.
How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
As cliche as it is, I think diet is incredibly individual. It’s in no way a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to how you should eat. I’ve seen people get very lean on high carbs and feel great, I’ve seen people feel reborn on very low carb, high fat diets.
And you’ll never know without experimentation. Maybe a vegan diet is for you, maybe it isn’t. I think a lot of it has to do with genetics.
My own approach to eating is 90-95% whole foods – animal proteins, eggs, potatoes, oats, rice, fruits and veggies. I guess you could call this a loose ‘Paleo’ diet. I will say I’ve ran a stricter Paleo diet and felt great in the past but when you have high calorie needs and a high activity level, pure paleo can be hard to get the calories in.
And on the note of calories, people bash calorie tracking but again, I’ve had great success with this too! As much as it can be ‘obsessive’ and ‘unhealthy to track everything, I think a period of doing so teaches you just how much you actually eat and accordingly, allows you to eat more intuitively down the line.
And above all, any fitness goal, be it gaining muscle or losing fat, is governed by the laws of energy in vs energy out. You can’t escape it, sorry!
Cheat meals definitely have a place in a healthy diet for sure but I have a few rules for them:
- Try and make them only on social outings/occasions.
- Keep them to a cheat meal, NOT a cheat DAY.
- You’re only entitled to cheat meals if you’ve put your time in with clean eating and are reasonably lan to begin with. If you’re still way overweight and starting out, you’ve no business eating cheat meals yet. You need to earn them!
My own supplement routine is pretty traditional: I use creatine on and off throughout the year along with protein powder (more for convenience than anything else).
Apart from that, I’ve never used pre workout supplements as I believe coffee/green tea are nature’s pre workouts and more often than not the supplements are addictive and your body’s tolerance to them increases over time and you end up needing more and more for the same effect.
I do take basic vitamins and minerals such as zinc, vitamin D3, fish oil, occasionally magnesium and sometimes coq10.
I’m nowhere near as anal with things like alcohol as I was. I used to be tee-total and even avoid social situations to stick to my ‘diet’ but all this did for me was make me miserable and lonely. It’s not worth it!
If you train properly and are smart/sensible with your diet 80% of the time, these outings won’t hurt you and you’ll have the best of both worlds! So I drink alcohol socially which usually works out to about once per week.
What has inspired and motivated you?
I’ve been influenced and inspired by so many amazing people! A big name that stands out is Jason Ferruggia, I’ve read so much of his material and listened to hours and hours worth of his podcasts.
In a strange way, I find him very relatable, his struggles with social skills and self confidence are almost identical to mine – and his training advice has always turned out to be spot on.
Everything he’s written, advised and warned against I’ve found to be the case in my own anecdotal experiences. Other influencers have been the late great Charles Poliquin, Cal Dietz, Elliott Hulse and Chris Barnard.
In the bodyweight/calisthenics world, there’s also a ton of inspirations – Lee Wade Turner, Daniel Vadnal (FitnessFAQS), The PnP boys (Solo Nero & Theo Caldwell) to name a few.
It was actually going to some of Lee Turner’s calisthenics classes that made me want to master many of the challenges he’d set down. I remember seeing him strict bar muscle up in person back in the day and thinking it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen! I modelled many of my techniques on him as it goes.
From a theoretical standpoint, the likes of Steven Low, Emmet Louis, Tom Merrick, Christopher Sommer and Ulrik Ask Fossum have all been very influential as well.
Steven Low’s INCREDIBLE book, Overcoming Gravity is quite possibly the most detailed and comprehensive book on bodyweight & rings training out there. Many of the programming principles from the book are used with my clientele to this day!
I’ve done workshops with Emmet, Tom and Ulrik and learnt so many hands on tidbits and extracts that you just can’t find online in general videos and articles and the small details have accounted for so much of my own progress.
Above all of that, inspiration is all around us if we’re perceptive enough to see it. I truly believe that. Everyone has a story and a struggle and something you can learn from.
Many of the clients I work with inspire me every day. They come in despite loads of stress and precious little time, yet still give it their all and they’re not even as into it as I am.
They’ll take setbacks and keep having a go, which is what you have to do in this world if you want to get anywhere. So I’m beyond fortunate to have such a large pool of inspiration to draw from at any time!
Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
Take action NOW. We live in the world of information and most people end up suffering from paralysis by analysis. Find a program, get a coach, cook a healthy meal or apply for that job.
When you first get started in fitness, it can be so overwhelming knowing how to best use your time. Keep it simple, focus on basic movement patterns and progressive overload.
Eat well and try and find the fun in the training, if even in a slightly sick way. Accept that long lasting change doesn’t happen overnight and you can’t undo years of bad habits in a few weeks.
Another major stumbling block is comparison. Kind of tied into the sentiments above where we have so much access and awareness of what other people are doing, it can be mighty hard to truly focus on JUST YOURSELF.
Always remember comparisons are stupid because every set of circumstances differs. They have different genetics, different experience levels, different support systems that it’s never a truly fair race. The only race you’re in is with yourself.
Are you taking on clients right now?
I’m always open to new clientele and work with a wide scope of people from in person to remote (online). I’ve tackled all sorts of subsections within fitness, from rehabilitation to general fat loss, to specific sports performance and of course, calisthenics orientated training.
Some things I guarantee are: Moving better, feeling better, and feeling more confident within yourself, which are all byproducts of performance based training.
Where can we learn more about you?
My main social media is Instagram (@straight_talking_fitness) and I also have a website (straighttalkingfitness.com) where I cover all sorts from tutorials to experiments and even philosophical stuff; the dominant underlying theme is improvement.
I’m very active on Instagram and spend quite a bit of time answering fitness based questions, etc. I also do the same with the website and for any business or work based inquiries my email is: [email protected]