The Zach McGowan Workout for Black Sails

Hi! I am the author and founder of Old School Calisthenic

July 20, 2017

I had recently watched a fantastic TV Series about the Golden Age of Piracy, named Black Sails. The screen illustrates the legendary pirates of New Providence Island following their lifestyle and actions that made them so notorious.

It was a great experience and being an athlete myself, I couldn’t help but admire how good the actors looked for their roles of pirates. They were all ripped and jacked, inspiring awe and fear in the audience with their well-built physiques.

The producers did one hell of a job in choosing the actors. Real pirates should look powerful and shredded due to their lifestyle. And my favorite actor Zach McGowan in the show looked the part in the role of Captain Charles Vane. 

I have been specifically involved in bodyweight training for many years now, so I can easily tell only by judging upon body aesthetics what type of training someone does. And my assumptions at the beginning were that Zach McGowan physique was more likely a consequence of bodyweight training rather than other methods. I just did a quick research and discovered that I was right! So, after seeing his physical preparation with which I find myself in deep understanding and concur with its reasoning, I thought I should write this article about:

The Zach McGowan Black Sails Workout

The role of a sailor from the early 1700s was definitely one of the most physically demanding for Zach McGowan even though he had always been involved in sports and fitness for his entire life.

The actor already looked fit and chiseled and therefore we could consider that he was aesthetically ready to star in his pirate role beforehand. But he wanted to be in the greatest shape of his life because he understood that a proper pirate should look ripped and strong as a result of the harsh environment he lived in. We can only imagine how physically demanding could a lifestyle like that be in reality.

Zach McGowan had no more than 3 months to prepare for the role of Captain Charles Vane. And being an Old School type of person, he decided to train without any use of technology (no smartphones and equipment), iron, nutritionist or fitness coaches.

However, approaching a specific workout, actually led him to a deeply analyze about the character he is about to create. He immediately understood that pirates did not have gym-memberships back then and they were unaware of any bench presses, machine curls etc.

It’s pretty obvious that pirates in the early 1700s could only be jacked because of their lifestyle which included lots of running, fighting, climbing, and maybe push-ups, pull-ups as well.

Fortunately, Zach was doing bodyweight training since high-school and now at the age of 33-years-old, he had the experience to know how to approach it. So, he decided to train simple and use only bodyweight exercises for the whole preparation period. He needed to look lean and fit, with solid muscle definition and strength from hell.

Zach trained in South Africa (Cape Town), where the series was filmed. He chose to train only outside and he made out of his training a religion, every day practicing it wholeheartedly.

Zach McGowan Workout:

Zach’s daily training routine:

  • 10/13-mile run, starting with 50 pull-ups and stopping four times to perform 50 more.
  • 50 pull-ups upon completion of the run; 100 more lately in the day, for 400 in total — McGowan varied his grip and torso positions to prevent his muscles from getting accustomed to the stimulation.
  • 200 pushups in two sets of 100 reps — end each set with a two-minute hold at the top.
  • Wall Assisted Handstand Push-Ups — one set of 25, then hold the top for two minutes, using the wall to spot as needed. McGowan sometimes added extra sets throughout the day.
  • Inverted Sit-Ups — McGowan has worn a pair of gravity boots and did one set of 50 sit-ups while hanging upside down, varying his torso position with each rep.
  • Heavy Bag Training — he ended each workout with a five-minute round of punching the heavy bag. During production, most days included 45 minutes of the general fight and stunt training and choreography.

Less is More!

The more complicated a training routine is, the more chances are to compromise your goals.

Zach McGowan kept it simple, yet extremely hard. His physical conditioning is extremely high and to be able to run a half-marathon almost every day is something out of the ordinary on its own!

What you see above was his daily routine. He kept it high-volume and did workouts throughout the whole week, for 5 days straight and with 2 days of rest. And as you can see he nailed it only using:

  • long distance runs
  • a high number of repetitions for (handstand pushups, pull-ups, pushups and inverted sit-ups).
  • high frequency, discipline, and consistency.
  • stunt work and fighting training as well

Zach McGowan believes that as everyone is obviously different so should be the training regimen. That is why he kept fitness coaches out of his preparation.

The only problem that could appear by training in this regimen would have been to combat muscle loss. So, nutrition played a crucial role here.

Zach McGowan Nutrition:

He drank half a gallon of full-fat chocolate milk every day, slamming a tall glass at the completion of his run and another right before he went to bed. He kept his meals fairly clean, eating mostly vegetables, meat, fish and raw milk from farmers.

Nothing fancy and complicated. He didn’t even count his macros. He did it all based upon his experience and believe me when I say that training with a regimen like Zach makes you eat like horse. That is why I believe counting macros was not important at all.

No one could survive a training volume such as his without supplying their body with all the required nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and micro-nutrients.

Why did I write about Zach’s Training Regimen?

My name is Adorian Moldovan and I have been a bodyweight athlete for many years now. I’ve been involved in sports and fitness for almost my entire life. I practiced sports such as football, swimming and many more for my personal satisfaction. This website, Old School Calisthenic is the platform where I motivate and teach people how to train for athletic results or to build a bit more muscles and natural strength.

The methods I used to train with and what I preach are very similar to what Zach McGowan was doing since high-school.

Bodyweight Training is globally known as CALISTHENICS and we refer to it as an old time-honored training system based only on what is natural to our body’s inertia and development.

I like to keep my workouts very simple, but hard at the same time. As you can see that I developed a nice physique similar to Zach McGowan:

black sails zach mcgowan workout

And I do not mean only about muscle mass. I am referring to the proportions and the fact we both have quite a low body fat level.

I had done a lot of weight lifting during high-school and now at the age of 26, I avoid gyms as much as possible, as Zach did.

Why Calisthenics and Not Gym?

The way our physique develops with calisthenics is not the same as with weight training and isolation work on machines. It teaches us to use our body in a coherent manner, unlike so-called isolation exercises which breed strength and muscle imbalances.

The compound and fundamental moves we do in calisthenics emphasize the muscles work together and that is why we developed nice proportions with no weak links between.

Of course that for lifting a barbell from the ground you must work upon that movement pattern over and over again hence you will become stronger at it than training with any other techniques, be it calisthenics. But for doing daily life activities it is more important to be lean and functional than to be able to lift a barbell and lack everything else.

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So, in a few words, calisthenics made me more energetic throughout the day, helping me manage the stress better and by any chance, if a friend calls me to help him move the furniture I am prepared for that as well.

I think that the most important thing is to be fit and shredded having the strength to support your weight against gravity. It is also important to develop the ability to lift and pushing a lot more than you actually weight and calisthenics it is the right sport to develop that ability. Other activities such as running and swimming require specific training and their role is important as well.

To conclude, I’ve built a great physique by doing mostly calisthenics as Zach McGowan did and after years of experience with different sports, I consider that bodyweight training has its own advantage that no other sport has.

Build a Physique like Zach’s

zach mcgowan workout

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