Nigel Moir stands out when he works out in the UTM athletic weight room. The second-year CCIT student from Jackson’s Point, ON works out for an hour and a half a day, seven and a half hours per week without touching a single weight. With an aesthetic build like his, you’ll wonder how he does it.

Moir follows a form of exercise called calisthenics, which he has fully committed to since September of this year. The exercises consist of a variety of gross motor movements—mostly, he trains with his body weight and nothing else. This form of exercise is not only one of the safest ways to work out, but it can also be the most physically and mentally demanding.

Moir has maintained a healthy, active lifestyle even before he was a competitive rugby player in high school, never backing down from a challenge. Scrolling through YouTube videos of Frank Medrano “own” a pull-up bar and hearing the latest advancements in the calisthenics world, Moir decided since that his next challenge is to mold his body into the most functional, aesthetically pleasing body without following the stereotypical bodybuilder exercises.

“I don’t have a particular role model; the whole calisthenics society has motivated me,” he says.

Moir says the exercises are convenient.

“You never have a problem waiting for equipment,” he says, but the real reason he does it is because it feels great inside and out.

“I have total control of my body, and the aspect of physical freedom was most appealing,” he says. “A lot of guys want to get enormous so quickly, but once you get past that mindset, you’ll find more value in what you can do with your body that bodybuilders don’t.”

Even though you may not get big as quickly as you’d like, you can still put chunks of healthy muscle onto your physique while eliminating the unwanted fat. “You can still get massive with calisthenics, and when you do get big, you can do some insane moves,” says Moir.

For him, it’s working towards that physical freedom that inspires him to keep going. “Moving my body in a way that I want it to run is much more challenging and fulfilling to me,” he says.

The one thing you’ll notice before you see the size is the control you have over your body.

Moir performs a controlled pull-up.
Moir performs a controlled pull-up.

“You see people swaying when they do pull-ups, but now I can do pull-ups entirely centre. It’s taken me a couple of months to get where I am, but I’m satisfied,” Moir says, adding that his biggest achievement thus far has been his improvement with the 360-degree push-ups. “I’ve just discovered that I can do 360 push-ups—it’s a process. First, when I tried I’d hurt myself falling on my shoulder, but now I can push off and land quickly.”

The 360-degree push-up—an exercise where a person completes a push-up and spins the body 360 degrees in the air and does another push-up—is a good example of how calisthenics isn’t about looking good, but about being able to move creatively, testing to see what natural body movements we’re able to achieve as a species—monkeys hang from their trees all day laughing at us.

One of the most eye-opening moves in calisthenics is the “flagpole”, where you grip onto a vertical bar, holding yourself only by your arms until you’re parallel with the ground.

“There are people now that can do a flagpole with people standing on their oblique,” says Moir.

Calisthenics is an incredible challenge; you aren’t sitting there pushing weight, you’re using both body and mind to concentrate.

“I need to focus and eliminate distraction to stay balanced. When I do an awkward movement, I have to take my headphones out and concentrate. I don’t base my execution off of how pumped up I can get—I can hurt myself if I do that,” he says.

Currently, Moir is working on extending the duration of his movements, increasing the number of repetitions.

Because there’s such an array of movements in this type of exercise, there’s a lot more opportunity to build muscle in areas you wouldn’t necessarily form if you worked out another way. You’re going to build more core muscles by doing a hanging leg raise than you would by doing some crunches.

“In a bodybuilder competition, it’s whoever looks the best, and in a calisthenics competition, it’s whoever performs the best,” says Moir.

“Aesthetics is important to me; I’m happy with my body, but I’m always looking to make it better,” he says.

With calisthenics, you’re working the small stabilizer muscles in congruence with the large muscles. Students who have inconsistent workout habits work the major muscles because they’re most noticeable, but with rhythmical body weight exercises you’ll look and feel like a mannequin—except real.

“When I try advanced moves, I make sure my body is prepared,” Moir says. “I have been injured trying advanced moves that I wasn’t prepared for. If I stretched more appropriately, I wouldn’t have injured myself.” Static movement stretches won’t prepare your body enough for these movements. Use a foam roller and a tennis ball to work the soft tissue as well.

As for Moir’s diet, he says he eats “a lot” of chicken and Greek yogurt. He especially eats a large breakfast and stays away from carbohydrates after his workout.

Many times Moir is asked by students enthralled by his routine, “How do you get to do that?”

“It takes a marathon, not a sprint. There are different variations you can work out your chest, core, and arms before you start moving the way you want. Keep increasing your progression every week,” he says. “If you want to get somewhere with calisthenics, there are a lot of steps, and it takes time, but it’s worth it.”