Your kids will recognise him as the face of the BBC’s BAFTA-winning Deadly 60 – in which he tracks down the deadliest animals on the planet in the name of children’s entertainment – and you probably know him from any number of wildlife shows he’s fronted in over two decades as a TV presenter.
But while his work as biologist is beamed across our screens, Steve Backshall MBE is also a discoverer of new worlds.
Venturing into parts unknown, his work on the BBC’s Undiscovered Worlds earned him 2020’s Scientific Exploration Society’s Explorer of the Year award, and last year he made a world-first descent of savage white-water rivers in Russia’s Far-East Kamchatka Peninsula.
To go where no one has gone before requires a cast-iron mindset and unwavering commitment to face danger head on, but scaling sheer rock faces and navigating violent rapids is also dependant on a body stable, strong and resilient enough to withstand the full force of nature.
Now 48, Backshall credits calisthenics and a renewed training intensity – coached into him by Wild Training founder James Griffiths – with helping him stay expedition-fit all year round.
“The critical thing for me is making sure my fitness is very malleable and adaptable,” Backshall tells Men’s Fitness.
“Right now, I’m heading out on an exploratory diving expedition. The last one I did was a white-water paddling expedition, and the next one will be climbing, so I need to make sure I can bounce from one activity to the next.
“What I’ve found is, if I can focus a lot on things like calisthenics – which give you really good strength-to-bodyweight ratio, power and flexibility – I’m less likely to get injured and more likely to be able to apply my strength in the real world.”
Here is one of the full-throttle workouts Backshall uses to maintain functional strength well into his forties.
1. Bag Work
Reps: 3 mins
Rest: 1 min
- Muay Thai – so punches, elbows, knees and kicks.
- Perfect punches and powerful kicks are less important than getting your heart rate up and nervous system primed for the work to come.
2. Chain Around the World
Reps: 20 (left and right)
Rest: 30 secs
- Start with the chain hanging in front your thighs, with a good grip on each end.
- Lift your right elbow high and aim to get your right hand over your left shoulder.
- Pass the chain around your shoulder, until it sits vertically down your back.
- Then bring your left elbow high and aim to get your left hand over your right shoulder.
- Try to create a smooth, continuous loop.
- Make the sure the chain passes both shoulder blades behind you.
- Reverse to complete in both directions.
3. Archer Press-Up with Barbell
Reps: 45 secs
Rest: 15 secs
- With the barbell on the floor, assume a press-up position and reach out one hand to hold the middle of the bar.
- Keep that arm straight as you slowly roll the bar away from you.
- With your arm extended, perform a press-up, keeping your other elbow tight in to your side.
- Too hard? You can drop to your knees as a regression.
4. Parallel Bar Dip to V Sit
Reps: To failure
Rest: 60 secs
- Set up in a strong support position, with shoulders depressed and elbows locked.
- Perform a dip to the full range of movement.
- Lockout your arms at the top.
- Lift your legs to either a tuck sit, L sit or V sit position.
- Try to lower your legs slowly to get the most from the reps.
5. Salmon Ladder
Reps: 8 (4 up, 4 down)
Rest: As needed
- Hang from the lowest bar.
- Pull up explosively while you lift your knees. Lifting your knees up quickly will give you more time and height in the air to grab the next bar.
- Pull up and drop down on two low bars, before trying to progress to the high bars, to make sure you’re competent with the technique.
6. Power Clubs (Lateral Torch Lift)
Reps: 30-45 secs
Rest: 30 secs
- Lift the clubs so they both sit behind your back, with your elbows high.
- Now raise them slightly, as if starting a triceps press.
- Rather than locking out the triceps press, lift the clubs out to the sides.
- Lift them to a torch position, where the clubs are held vertically – in line with your hips.
- The progression would be to go from the torch hold into the axe hold, where you lock your arms out in line with your shoulders, keeping the clubs vertical.
- Return to the start position by reversing the movements.
7. Tyre Hit
Reps: 60 secs
Rest: 30 secs
- Keep your stance square to the tyre.
- Hold the hammer at the bottom of the handle with one hand, and near the head with the other.
- Lift the hammer around your shoulder until it’s high overhead.
- Now give it plenty of momentum as you drive it down, before you slide your top hand down to the bottom of the handle.
- Pull down through your lats, chest, abs and arms.
- Once you hit the tyre, catch the head of the hammer with your other hand.
- Repeat as an alternating swing, so a different hand catches the head each time you hit the tyre.
8. Tyre Flip
Reps: 60 secs
Rest: 2 mins
- Set up with your chest and shoulders touching the top edge of the tyre.
- Keep your weight on the balls of your feet, with your heels in the air.
- Take a deep breath and lengthen your upper back.
- Now drive at roughly a 45-degree angle, as this is the direction the tyre will move.
- Make your first step as big as possible and don’t stop – keep running into the tyre.
- Flip your hands over and push all the way through.
- If you make your first step big enough you can make your second step a knee into the tyre, which can flip it over faster.