Felix McKenna — this guy can do more pull-ups than you

Felix is a rising sensation on Instagram and after spending a few minutes watching what this guy can do, it isn’t hard to see why. A proclaimed master of pull-ups, we sat down with this calisthenic athlete to hear about his training and to get some advice to improve your pull-ups.

Can you give an overview of your career (high school, college sports)? When did it start, any big accomplishments? When did you start doing so many pull ups?

As a young child, I was always the kid up the tree. I’d freak out parents at birthday parties, I’d be so high up. I recall being 8 or 9 years old and suddenly realizing I was pretty good at sport. I won a cross-country race with over a hundred kids in it, by a really big margin. I remember finishing and not really believing it had happened. From that moment, I strongly identified as ‘the sporty kid’. This undoubtedly influenced a lot of my borderline-obsessive training as a teenager. At about 14, I discovered the gym and found I was already very strong when it came to pushing and pulling my own bodyweight, so I focused on that and that’s how I got to where I am now.

Over your many years of training, what are some important lessons you have learned?

Train with perfect form. Why? If you don’t go all the way down and all the way up, you don’t actually know how many repetitions you can do. If you don’t know how strong you are, you cannot know how much you have improved (or regressed.)Don’t overdo it. If you do bodyweight training “right,” you can be in the top 0.1% with 30 minutes of training, 3–4 times per week. Punishing yourself with marathon workouts only gets you good at one thing: doing marathon workouts.

Train smart. If your goal is a one arm pull up, know that what you’re trying to achieve is the ”10 second 100m sprint of calisthenics.” You’re highly unlikely to ever get there if you’re accidentally training for the 10,000 meter. Your sets have got to be shorter and your breaks need to be bigger. You have to develop your power. You have to train like a sprinter.

If you had any advice to give to someone who wants to improve their pullups or even just get in better shape, what would it be? Any training tips? What’s something people can do every day to improve their pullup?

Pull-ups are hard, plain and simple. Pull-ups are especially hard if you’re not lean and lightweight. If you’re carrying some extra kilos, my suggestion is to lose a bit of it with a combination of diet and low-impact cardio, whilst starting to play around with some of the easier calisthenic movements. These could include push-ups, planks, leg raises, simply hanging off a bar or rings, sit-ups, and dips (modified.)

What does your typical day look like? What about your week? Can you give us some idea of the kind of training you go through?

In a perfect training week, I do three sessions of high intensity running on the soft sand at Bondi Beach (20 minutes each) and three sessions of calisthenics at the Bondi bars. My calisthenics sessions at the moment look a bit like this:

18 x pull-ups + 22 dips

16 x pull-ups + 20 dips

14 x pull-ups + 18 dips

12 x pull-ups + 16 dips

…all the way down to 2 x pull-ups + 6 dips with no more than a 60-second break between the first four sets and no more than 30 seconds between that last.

Screen Shot 2017-07-01 at 2.55.26 PM.png

What is your next goal to beat?

I’d love to do ten clean one arm chin/pull-ups but I’m finding it very difficult to push past 7–8. I will have to specify my training for that one I think. I’ll probably throw a bit of extra weight on and do sets with fewer reps.

Why do you do what you do? What makes it all worth it?

For a number of reasons. I like feeling strong. I live for that delightful feeling of surprise when you do something that you truly did not think you could do. Often this is a very private moment, which somehow makes it more special. Less privately, I’ve always enjoyed that look on people’s faces when you do something that they didn’t think the human body could do. It’s a performance thing. I get off on their looks of wonder and disbelief.

Who is someone you know that you’d like to see us feature on the Modern Athlete?

Yeah, my training buddy Marcus Bondi. He’s in his 50s and just did a clean chin up with 100kg of additional weight hanging off him. Re-read that last sentence.

You can follow Felix on Instagram: bondibodyweight