Tom Merrick, AKA The Bodyweight Warrior, is an online health and fitness coach who is passionate about bodyweight movement, flexibility and mobility.
After starting his YouTube channel back in 2015, Tom – who believes in a holistic approach to nutrition and life – has been helping his followers and clients to improve their mobility and flexibility through his routines.
Aside from the obvious physical benefits of what he teaches, Tom believes in the importance of developing a ‘warrior’ attitude, which he describes as “a pattern of behaviour and thought that provides energy to complete goals, fight for worthy causes and achieve greatness”.
We sat down with Tom to discuss a wide variety of topics and hear his views on some common mobility, health and fitness issues.
Thanks for speaking to Human Window, Tom. Could you give us a little bit of background on your story and what it is that you do?
I myself am not the best of athletes. I’ve always been somewhat athletic but I’m certainly not made for what I do, which is mainly bodyweight training, handstands and I’ve got a special focus on flexibility and mobility. I started off as your average person at 17 years old, getting a little bit overweight and not being able to get away with eating sweets and chocolate and drinking. I started with standard cardio and bodybuilding stuff. I had Glandular fever, which is quite common at that sort of age. I was completely wiped out for four weeks. I lost 8kg of weight and was super weak.
I ended up doing some bodyweight training because that’s all I could do. I realised that it was actually kind of fun and I could enjoy it.
When I was at uni as I was getting into it, I poked my head into the gymnastics gym they had there at Loughborough and I was seeing, which I didn’t realise at the time, national level gymnasts doing some crazy stuff. When you see gymnasts on TV, unless you actually do it yourself, you don’t realise how superhuman they are. Every single Olympic sport should have a member of the audience compete first so that people can really appreciate the level they are at, because it’s crazy! I’ve gone deeper into flexibility stuff, bodyweight training and just different ways that you can express what your body can do.
How important is flexibility and do you think it’s something that’s often overlooked?
I don’t think it’s necessarily overlooked. It’s definitely becoming more common now, which is great. I think flexibility is pretty important. There are definitely a lot of misconceptions about what’s needed and what’s not. At the end of the day, doing flexibility work doesn’t actually make you any less likely to get injured. That’s not the correlation.
If you’re doing stuff that requires flexibility – for instance, if you’re in the gym and doing some squats but you haven’t got enough flexibility to do them, then yes, you’ve got a flexibility deficit for what you’re doing, and you’ll need to work on it.
For the general population, if you can touch your toes, lift your arms above your head pretty comfortably and get on down into a squat, you probably have enough flexibility.
But for anyone who is physically active and doing weight-lifting or bodyweight training, more flexibility will generally aid you to perform better in that.
One of the issues lots of people have, and one I have myself, is tight hamstrings and calves. Is that a common problem that you see and do you have any tips?
It’s super common. To be honest, it’s a good measure of general postural chain flexibility. For an adult, if you can touch your toes, lift your arms pretty comfortably overhead and sit in a squat – that, for me, all the flexibility you need in your day-to-day life.
Hamstrings get commonly tight mainly because we don’t use that range much.
If you actually you think about it, until you start doing stretching, you don’t realise how much it’s lacking because in reality, you don’t use that range all the time. Running is super common and part of increasing running efficiency and economy… if you do any running then your hamstrings and calves will tighten up, because it improves your efficiency, so that’s another reason.
The last reason is that usually [hamstrings and calves] are weak. Sometimes it’s not that your hamstrings are tight, it’s that your body doesn’t know if it’s actually strong enough to be in that position and so it won’t let you go there to make sure that you don’t hurt yourself.
What would be one of the basic stretches you’d get a client to do if they want to improve their flexibility?
When I work with a client one on one, generally the first thing we’ll do is forward fold and pike flexibility. If you can get that to palms to floor, that tends to unlock the rest of things. That’s generally the first place that we go. It’s also an easy, measurable and straightforward one to get to.
In terms of what to do, it depends really. There are a couple of stages that you go to with flexibility work.
Not all flexibility work needs to be stretching. Doing weightlifting in a specific way can increase flexibility. Things like split-squats will increase your flexibility, and things like Romanian deadlifts will increase your hamstring flexibility.
So there are all sorts of ways in which you can incorporate things into training that will improve your flexibility without actually stretching. The main reason that people may be resistant to some hamstring flexibility or getting into different positions is the stretch reflex. The stretch reflex is one of the fastest central nervous system reflexes. Your nervous system is almost like an over-protective mother and if you go try and get into a position, your body says, ‘whoa slow down there, you might hurt yourself. Take it easy, we’re going to stop you at this point’. That’s what the stretch reflex is.
Especially for people who are new to stretching, you need to learn to embrace the suck and deal with that stretch reflex. Doing some static stretching initially and learning how to suffer a bit and telling your nervous system that everything is going to be OK is a really key step to do. Then you can start incorporating in some more dynamic ways to build flexibility, like strength training and other flexibility techniques.
Your website says that you adopt a holistic approach to health and fitness. Could you tell us a bit about this?
Nobody wants to be that guy who’s just really good at training. ‘The Bodyweight Warrior’ is probably a bit too often misconstrued in terms of what I mean by that. The ‘warrior’ is actually from a book that I read that was highly influential to me when I was 18 – King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine by Robert Greene and Douglas Gillette. It’s a really good book based on Jungian philosophy and it’s to do with the masculine energies.
This isn’t to do with energies that men have, it’s masculine energy – there’s both masculine and feminine in men and women.
The Warrior is the masculine energy that’s all about getting stuff done and doing things for the right reasons, being patient, consistent, and skilful.
That kind of energy is something that you need to harness in a good way to get good results in the gym and life in general.
Tell us a little bit about how your YouTube channel got started.
I didn’t do a degree in fitness or physical education, my degree was in industrial design, which is basically about making things look pretty. I’m a creative person and I knew that I wanted to get into teaching people and helping people with physical fitness, but I also needed a creative outlet as well. I always enjoyed putting together videos, I don’t know why. I actually always used to do it years and years ago when I was 15 with Call of Duty videos. I would film me and my friends playing Call of Duty and put the videos on YouTube.
I’ve always had that fascination with YouTube. So I just started sharing what I was doing, and I’ve always enjoyed teaching and sharing information. One of my mentors and teaches, Emmet Louis, is all about open source information, the idea that information should be free for everyone, and it’s the skill part you should be charging for. I thought that there is no point putting stuff behind a paywall. Give everything away for free and let people decide what they want to do with it.
Could you tell us a bit about your Bodyweight Basics and the Online Coaching that you offer?
The online coaching is very dependant on what people want to do. I work with a whole host of people – some people who have one hour, two or three times a week to train and they just want to touch their toes and sit in a squad better. And I’ve got other people who have all the time to train and want to be able to do a one-arm handstand.
Bodyweight Basics is for those who have maybe got into bodyweight training and want a direction to go in terms of achieving higher skills. It’s a good program to do to give you a solid base.
I actually have an app called Trybe, and that’s where I’m putting the majority of the content these days, because it gives me a platform where I can share everything and it’s all available in one space.
How do you see the health and fitness industry right now?
In general it’s great. Exercise is an essential part of living in the 21st century, simply because we don’t really have physical stress anymore. We live very comfortable lives – we’re always in climate controlled rooms, you sleep in a house, you’ve got a bed, food’s available 24/7, there’s nothing trying to kill you. It’s good to have that physical stress and that ability to push yourself.
There is definitely a lot of confidence you can get once you start seeing progress in the gym. It may start off with that exterior focus and wanting to look better, but it can turn into ‘oh I’m actually stronger than I think I am’.
I’ve worked with female clients who have done their first pull-ups and that’s awesome to see. It can be very transformational. I just get frustrated when I see people trying to make a quick buck. That’s probably the most frustrating thing, and it happens all too commonly.
I saw your YouTube video with Max Lowery when you swam in a lake together in the middle of winter. Are you a big fan of Cold Water Therapy?
I believe in putting yourself through some sort of adversity, like a hard workout or taking a cold shower. When you say to people that you do cold showers, people are like, ‘Oh my god, that sounds horrible!’. It’s really not that bad. We live in a northern European country – it’s supposed to get frigging cold in winter and we’re supposed to be able to deal with that. I’m not saying just walk around in your T-shirt and get used to it, but it’s a good thing.
There are definitely some proven benefits when it comes to cold showers. Obviously for anti-inflammatory reasons but there are parts of it which help the mitochondria. If you live in a northern Hemisphere country then incorporating some cold stuff can go a long way.
I’m by no means completely mad, I don’t jump into a freezing cold shower every morning. I have it on warm and then I’ll just finish with five minutes of cold and that’s enough for me.
Last year, I swam at least once a week in the sea. The sea is a little bit warmer, Hampstead Heath is the coldest I’ve ever done – that was four degrees celsius – and water always feels 10 degrees colder than what it actually is.
Do you practice Intermittent Fasting?
Yes and no. I think it’s good to have a break from food. As long as you’re having a conscious 12 hours when you’re not eating… eight of those you’ll be sleeping anyway, so it’s not really a big deal. Often people may be eating until an hour before bed, and you’re probably snacking in the day.
For me, personally, I don’t necessarily fast for a long period of time. I might eat my evening meal around 7pm and I might eat breakfast at 10am or 11am. I don’t really worry about the times.
I will consciously try to not eat between those times as well. So I’ll have my meal and I’m not going to snack, because I’ve eaten enough in my meal. Otherwise you just end up eating all day, and I don’t think that’s particularly great. I do some extended fasts of two or three days every now and again, but those are less common.
There are all sorts of health benefits that come with fasting. For sleep, eating late at night is one of the biggest ones that could [negatively] impact your deep sleep. When you fast, you do try to cut that [eating] off a little bit earlier and it can be helpful.
Tell us about your own diet these days. What would a normal day look like in terms of the kind of stuff you’re eating?
I’m actually experimenting a little bit at the moment and moving a little bit more towards what would be considered ‘carnivore’. For a long time, I’ve been on a lower carb [diet]. But I was having a conversation with a mentor the other day and mentioning the fact that I was craving some sweeter stuff here and there, and he said that usually for someone from a northern background, that can be due to under-eating protein and animal products.
I tried it and I feel so much better. I’m not craving stuff at all, I feel very satiated, my recovery is better, my sleep is better… it’s interesting.
I hate getting into this conversation about Veganism, but me personally, I know I feel better on lower carbs, lower plant matter and more animal products. As long as I try to source those animal products from farms around me, I’m happy.
I’ve been eating lower carb, less plant matter and higher protein for probably about three years.
I’ve recently started doing blood work every three months for the last year and have done a DNA test recently. The DNA test can be taken with a pinch of salt, but it confirms lot of the things that I figured out through experimentation. The blood tests back up the fact that I’m doing things that work for my body.
You’re a Bulk Powders ambassador. Do you take many supplements yourself?
I’ve been offered a lot of brand deals and I say no to 99 per cent of them. I did actually genuinely use Bulk Powders’ Whey. I have been up and down with supplements. At the moment, I basically don’t take anything.
The only thing I really take is Zinc. With that I saw a massive improvement from a health point of view.
I used to take a lot more supplements but now I’m trying to take it back to just real food. Whey Protein is the main one simply because it’s easy and pretty cheap. Zinc is another big one, and sometimes Omega 3 and Vitamin D in winter. That’s literally it.
Where’s the best place for somebody to keep up to date with your stuff?
YouTube (Tom Merrick) is always a good place to start. It’s a little bit more educational content and I tend to share tutorials and those sorts of things.
Instagram (@thebodyweightwarrior) is a bit more whatever’s going on. Those are the two best places, I don’t really use anything else.
Let’s finish off with some commonly Googled questions! The first one: What is Tom Merrick’s Age, Height and Weight?
I did a video the other day on this! I went through the comments and searched for the keyword ‘height’ and there were literally hundreds of them!
Anyway, I’m 6ft 3 and 1/2 (191cm), I weigh about 89kg and I am 24 years old. So I’m pretty tall and heavy.
What are some good bodyweight exercises that you can do with no equipment?
Push-ups and handstands are great. With handstands you literally need nothing, just some floor and maybe a wall. So handstands, push-ups and a table pose. That way you get everything.
What are the benefits of handstands?
Shoulder stability and they look pretty badass for Instagram. It’s a good party trick to have.
What should I do on my rest day?
Definitely move to some degree. I think a general level of activity is important. If you’re in London such as yourself, you’re probably walking here, there and everywhere anyway. Walking, do a little bit of stretching. I love doing a sauna and a cold shower.
I don’t really use any equipment while I’m at the gym, so I try to make the most of the money that I give them by going for a sauna and a cold shower!
So, yeah. Some light passive stretching, chill out, do some walking, sauna and a shower – then you’re all good.
The final question: Calisthenics or Weights?
I do both. I don’t think that’s an ‘or’. Despite the name, I don’t like to limit myself. I use whatever the best tools are. Predominantly it’s bodyweight stuff, and then I use weights to fill in the gaps. There are definitely some areas that bodyweight training lacks on, especially the lower body. So I still lift with lower body stuff and I do some more arms, such as rotator cuffs, with weight training as well.