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Raising the bar
11October/2017

Raising the bar

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Raising the bar

Calisthenics master, actor, fitness model, and entrepreneur Scott Mathison was once told by a friend that if he put as much energy into his college education as he does at the gym, then he would do a lot better. Now one of the leading functional training specialists and calisthenics athletes in the USA and internationally, Scott is raising the bar and commanding attention in the health and fitness industry. In this exclusive for MMH, he talks about his journey from a desk job to Hollywood and the inspiration behind his passion for helping others to achieve their greatest and to always push their limits.

IMAGES Dallas Olsen

Growing up, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, although I think subconsciously I did — it just didn’t click until I was an adult. As a child, I really loved action movies. I grew up watching Schwarzenegger, and all the action stars were always fit and very muscular — something that was ingrained in my mind, although I didn’t realise it until later in my life.

My parents were very career-driven and worked a lot of the time. Dad was an accountant and Mum was the principal at my school in San Francisco, so I had to be on my best behaviour, or at least appear that I was behaving. She was, understandably, very school-driven, and I knew I was going to college no matter what, because my parents had instilled that in me. I eventually went to college, and I had this vision in my mind of a desk job — because that’s what my parents did, that’s what I’m going to do, end of story.

I took accounting classes and worked as an accountant for six years, getting up every day and going to the office anywhere from eight to 12 hours. I was very unhappy, but it seemed to me at the time that people go to college and do what their parents do.

One day, I was sitting in the office staring at my boss and thinking that if I continue on this path, the best I was going to achieve would be to be him. And that’s when I realised, ‘Wow, I don’t want to do that with my life’.  

It was literally that day, sitting at my desk staring at my boss, that I realised I didn’t want to do this. So for the next month I really thought hard about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to achieve to make me happy, and in the end I circled back to what I really enjoyed, which was anything to do with movies. When I decided that, I quit my job that day.

I started taking acting classes and just trying to do anything I could to get into the acting world. The ultimate goal was to be an actor in an action movie, but I knew the reality of that happening was slim and extremely hard to achieve. I realised I had to move to LA to seriously pursue acting and, despite my fears, I began auditioning while working part-time at an accounting office. That was three years ago, and it’s really hard down here to make it in the business. People say it’s all about who you know and it really is!

Scott1

LA moves

As clichéd as it sounds, what always kept me going, no matter what was going on in my life, was my training. I had always been smaller; I was 18 years old when I started training and since then I haven’t missed more than two days.

From the first day of college until three years ago when I moved to LA, my training was very much the same. It was going to the gym, focusing on one muscle group, doing four or five exercises, and basically just strength training. Monday was chest day, Tuesday was back, and I’d throw a bit of cardio in there. This continued until I was 29.

The first day I moved to Los Angeles changed everything for me.

I moved to LA with my brother. We got in late at night, dropped off our stuff, and went to sleep. First thing in the morning, we said, ‘You know what, we’ve been packing and unpacking; let’s just take a day to chill’.

We went down to Santa Monica beach where they had the pull-up bars, and as soon as we got down there, we saw guys doing crazy calisthenics. Muscle-ups, 360s, and backflips off the high bar — stuff I’d never seen before — and I was fascinated by it and just wanted to learn, so I incorporated it into my everyday strength training for a bit of fun.

I started training at a parkour gym and learnt one thing at a time. I thought I’d be happy just mastering the basics, but after I began to see progress, I just wanted to learn the next trick and it became an obsession.

I’m 100 per cent self-taught. I would go online or on Instagram at the bars and be sitting there on my phone watching videos and trying to learn the movements. But I wasn’t afraid to ask for tips from someone if it was something I wanted to learn. I would walk up to them at the gym or at the bars and say, ‘Hey, can you give me any tips?’ and they’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, try this!’

I would crash and fall all the time, but I haven’t really injured myself until recently. It was in Sydney and had something to do with the high bar. Long story short I overshot the mat!

But I like to see how far I can push myself. I remember seeing someone backflip off the high bar and thinking, ‘My god, if I could backflip off that high bar, that’d be the ultimate goal; that’d be amazing’.

Calisthenics vs weight training

People always wonder about the difference between calisthenics and weight training, and it’s that calisthenics is based on bodyweight training and there’s a lot more technique. You’re not isolating muscle groups and it incorporates a lot of explosive movements that require a lot of energy. Calisthenics requires what I would call ‘real’ strength. Pulling your physical body weight is a very difficult thing to do.

Take a handstand, for example. It doesn’t look like the most difficult thing to do, but it can take you six months to learn the technique. It requires so much balance, technique, and practise.

Calisthenics is technique, skill, strength, and balance. And it’s fun!

Calisthenics is goal-oriented in that you’re not increasing your weights; you’re trying to learn how to do a handstand or a muscle-up. You’re improving the human condition rather than creating an aesthetic look.

Learning calisthenics  

I started my Instagram when I moved to LA, and I think the first video, filmed by my brother, was me doing a muscle-up and the caption was, ‘Here’s me doing a muscle-up; if you have any questions, let me know’. The majority of my captions were along the lines of ‘here’s me trying to learn this; here’s me trying to learn that’. I try to keep it real and honest.

My best advice to anyone wanting to learn calisthenics is to start with the basics. That’s what I did. You can build your strength and technique, so you can quickly move on to more advanced movements, and when you realise it’s not as difficult to learn the basics as you thought and you start to progress to more advanced movements, your mindset changes and you start to think anything is possible.

That applies to everything in life. You can look at an ultimate goal and think you’re never going to make it there, but you need to start small and work your way up. Give calisthenics a try. You’re going to like it, because it’s fun, and if you’re consistent with the training you’re going to get better and better.

The main factor is fear. Flipping off the high bar, for example — it’s not actually that difficult to master; it’s just scary because it’s so high. I think that’s what I like about calisthenics: the fear factor. The planche is an extremely difficult movement.

The thing is you’re never going to work out and feel badly afterward, right? You also need to eat based on the performance you want — to fuel your body. It’s something you can do that you have total control over, no matter what you’re doing. Even if it’s only putting a few reps in, you’re contributing to your physical health and your mental health.

Human beings were made to move, and it’s something that everybody should be doing. We have so many reasons to sit, whether that be in the office or watching TV. We don’t move a lot these days. And if people aren’t training, then they haven’t found a form of training that they enjoy yet.

Turning your passion into a career

I’ve never really shared this before. Something that has stuck with me in health and fitness, or if I’m at an expo or at the gym or the bars, when people ask me a question I’m always very inclined to help them and answer their questions the best way possible. The reason is because when I was a kid, the first ‘gym’ I ever went to was at my neighbour’s house. They had an in-garage gym, and I remember the boy’s dad taught us how to bench press when I was eight years old, and it’s just stuck with me forever. I don’t know why.

He said, ‘You’ve got to hit four by eight reps, and after you bench, you’ve got to do back’, and it’s stuck with me forever. Even now in the gym I think about it — because he helped me, I’m always inclined to help people.

I just did a trip to Australia and to have people coming up to me, knowing me, was mind-blowing! To think I could be in another country and people could walk up to me and know who I am — that’s been crazy.

In terms of what’s next, I have a few projects in the pipeline. I’m going to start vlogging to show what I do on a daily basis in relation to my training, diet, and odd things such as auditions. I’ll also be creating a lot more content for my YouTube channel, with tips and tricks for calisthenics, as well as doing a lot more movies and TV and incorporating stunt work.

Right now, I feel like my life is doing a full circle, because I moved to LA to pursue acting and I’ve always worked for that and taken acting classes while training at the same time; I never thought I could combine the two. Training became my job to help me with my acting. Now, not only is training paying for my acting, it’s helping me to get into it through more opportunities to meet people and, as a result, more jobs.

I guess fitness like anything else in life, it’s a choice. I’ve always been driven, but I needed to make some big decisions to achieve my full potential. Just like I chose to start working out on my first day of college and made the move to LA to pursue acting, I’ve always kept my focus and it’s led me to some incredible achievements.

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