Meet Dave: An SOA Follower Who Practices Advanced Calisthenics at 50 Years Old

August 15, 2014

I love receiving emails from you guys, and I recently got an email from SOA reader, Dave. Dave told me about his fitness achievements and I knew I had to find out more about his experience with extreme calisthenics.

Here’s what he had to say.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?

My name is Dave and I’m fifty years old. I’ve lived near Liverpool, UK all of my life and worked shifts on an oil refinery for the past 34 years.

I’ve always had a passion for keeping fit and active. I started on my fitness journey by trying out various different martial arts, including karate, judo and boxing, but my real passion is being on the ocean. I spent ten years or so windsurfing, but for the last eleven years my big obsession has been kitesurfing.

Because kitesurfing is such a weather-dependent sport, there are always plenty of days where I can make it to the gym to train. If there’s not enough wind to kitesurf, I’ll go down to the gym and work on aspects of my fitness that make me a better kitesurfer.

My gym work has always complemented whatever sport I’m focusing on at the time, so my training has often changed over the years. The biggest change, though, was when I made the switch to bodyweight training.

What prompted you to make the transition from weightlifting to bodyweight training?

photo(2)In a word: boredom!

My regular training was getting repetitive, so I started looking online for some inspiration. That’s when I stumbled across the idea of advanced bodyweight exercises.

As someone who has always trained with free weights and machines, I had always thought of bodyweight training as something you only really did when you were starting out. How wrong could I have been!

Once you’ve tried some of the more advanced calisthenics progressions, you realise how much strength and athleticism is needed. You also begin to realise the amazing benefits that can be gained from calisthenics.

My training is never boring now. There are always new moves and variations to try, and an endless supply of great videos and websites to help you reach your goals.

What are your proudest fitness achievements to date?

My proudest achievements are normally related to whatever sport or gymnastic move I’m working on at the time.

My latest calisthenics achievements are a front lever to muscle-up on dip bars, and a hollow body-rock to handstand. I’ve also started doing human flag push-ups, which are really fun.

I also get a buzz out of balance work, and have recently set up a slackline in my back garden. The first time I walked 10m on it without falling off was a pretty good feeling.

What’s your approach to nutrition? Do you count calories or macros? Do you take supplements?

For me, training comes easy. It’s watching what you eat that takes effort!

Over the years I’ve read about and tried many different approaches to diet and nutrition, but what I’ve been doing for the last year and a half has had the most positive effect on my body. I’ve eliminated all starchy carbs from my diet (rice, bread, pasta, potatoes) and replaced them with vitamin- and nutrient-rich vegetables. I also try not to consume anything that contains processed sugar.

Eliminating these foods was a gradual process, so as to give my body time to adapt to using the different types of energy. You can’t just completely remove carbs from your diet and expect your body to cope straight away.

I eat good quality protein from chicken, fish and nuts, and once a week I’ll eat some organic beef. I also take an essential fatty acid (EFA) supplement every day.

I take a protein drink instead of a meal when I’m working a night shift, as I find it hard to digest food late at night. This is something that’s become more of an issue as I’ve gotten older.

As far as counting calories, that’s something I’ve never done. I’ll take a look in the mirror and decide whether I need to eat slightly more or slightly less to get to where I want to be.

Your achievements would be impressive at any age. Has your age influenced the way you train?

photo(4)First off, thanks for the compliment. I’ve never really considered myself that advanced.

To answer your question, yes, without a doubt: age makes a big difference.

There are a few things that you have to be aware of as you get older. For me, the most important thing is that you have to be very, very careful not to over-train. As you age, you lose a lot of the hormonal support that aids recovery when working out intensely every day. You might be able to get away with training every day when you were younger, but working out every other day, keeping total reps and sets low, helps to prevent over-training when you don’t have those hormones to help out with recovery.

The second thing to be aware of is that your metabolic rate slows down with age. You’re not going to be able to eat like you did ten years ago and not pile on the pounds. I’ve found there are a few things you can do to elevate your metabolic rate:

  • Building muscle – the more muscle you carry, the more energy/fat will be used while exercising and at rest
  • Light cardio – an easy bike ride or light walk will keep your blood flowing, helping to clear toxins and relieve muscle soreness
  • Clean eating – sticking to a well-balanced diet consisting mostly of whole foods will help you keep that weight from creeping on

Another thing I’ve worked on more as I’ve gotten older is balance work. This could consist of squats on a Swiss ball, or handstand balancing, or trying out tricks on the slackline. I find all of these things really benefit overall core stability and strength, and improve central nervous system function.

You’ve achieved so many of the toughest bodyweight skills. What are your long-term fitness goals?

I think it’s important to always have goals. Here are a few bodyweight moves that I’m going to try my best to achieve:

  • One-handed pull-up – This is a move I’ve been working on for some time now. I’m getting close, but it’s still really hard.
  • One-handed handstand – This is a balance skill that also requires great core and arm strength.
  • 90-degree push-up – These have got to be hard if the world record is only twenty reps!

I’d also like to be able to do a backflip on the slackline. Very scary!

How is it having your wife as your workout buddy? Are you competitive?

photo(7)Without wanting to sound corny, it’s great. She’s always encouraging me when I’m trying something new. It’s like having my own personal cheerleader.

She’s also very competitive and sets her standards high. As such, she’s at a good level for her age. She can do L-sit pull-ups, archer pull-ups, dragon flags, and is well on her way to doing a human flag.

She is truly inspirational, as she’s had (and beaten) breast cancer twice.

What tips would you give to someone just starting out with bodyweight training?

  • Getting started – Stop thinking about it and just do it. What have you got to lose?
  • Difficulty – Keep the reps low by increasing the difficulty of the exercises. If you can get fifteen reps, the exercises is too easy.
  • Variation – Change up your exercises frequently so you don’t get bored. I’m a great believer in keeping the body guessing, forcing it to adapt to new stimuli. You can achieve great results in various aspects of your fitness just by altering your rep ranges and the range of exercises you perform.
  • Cross-over – There’s a lot of cross-over with this type of training, and you’ll find that training for one move quite often helps you to improve with others.
  • Progress – This can vary from person to person, depending on age, genetics, and past training experience. Don’t get disheartened. Sometimes you may feel like you’re not progressing, but if you stop and look back to where you were a couple of months ago, you’ll normally find that you’ve progressed quite a bit. If you haven’t, you need to take a look at your training and switch things around.
Show/Hide Comments (20 comments)
  1. Fausto

    Great Post… very inspiring!!!! I’ve been doing calisthenics since I was 16…now I’m 38 years old. It has been a great journey….I hope I continue doing calisthenics for the rest of my life.. Keep up the good work Dave….

  2. Dave

    Wow Dave,

    Inspiring! I’ve just started this journey. I began 1 year ago at 5’9″ 222 pounds, and weighed in this morning at 158 pounds. I can’t do a pull up yet but I’ve just finished the third month of Todd’s SOA 3 month workout. Prior to that I had completed a 30 day challenge for dips (from 1 to 100 in 30 days), plank (10 sec. to 300 sec. in 30 days), and squats (5 to 250 in 30 days). Yesterday I had my first attempt at the pectoral burnout routine, Wow! after the pre-fatigue I only manages sets of 6,5,4
    5,5,4 and 6,5,3 lots of room for growth there. I’m looking forward to my next attempt.

  3. Chuck

    I’m older as well and appreciate reading this interview. Lots of good advice here … one of the things I’ve tried to do as an older guy just starting back (54) is listen to older men especially and especially those whose focus is on lifetime health, strength, and fitness. I’d say my main goal at this point is to work for strength endurance.

    I see some of the “extreme calisthenics” and read about some of the “intensive” routines and know I’d be nuts (now at least) to have anything to do with them. I’ve benefited from a more “judicious” take off following alot of the advice from Leonard Morehouse (who trainer John Peterson brought to mind) and to some degree Leonard Schwartz the creator of “Heavyhands” and his later work with calisthenics and “isotonometrics” as he called his version of “dynamic tension”.

    I enjoy your site and do check in from time to time Todd. Keep up the good work!

  4. Marc

    Hi everyone, great to hear about us “older” fitness fanatics! I’m 51, 5′ 9″, 160lbs, about 13% body fat, and as my doctor said at my latest checkup, have the vitals of someone in their 20s.
    I do a combination of bodyweight and Kettlebell training the majority of the time. I was in Crossfit training a few years back, and my style is very similar. 3 or 4 exercises, mostly whole body type (KB swings, jump squats, burpees, etc.), and do the 3 or 4 exercises for rounds. You finish each one back to back, 15 to 30 sec rest, then complete each one again for round 2. you keep this up for AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) in a set time period (usually 15 mins). Then you progress by completing more rounds in the same time frame.
    Have a great weekend everyone!

  5. Dave

    Hi guys , thanks for all the positive feedback, it isuch appreciated.

    I can totally empathise with those who suffer ligament and other injuries, as I’ve had my fair share over the years.
    I find that regular work on Flexibility , a good warm up and some basic Yoga moves helps to minimise injuries. Also having a good diet will help with tissue repair
    As far as Reps and sets for a Novice is concerned , I think the key tip is to not overthink it.
    If you’ve never worked out before then whatever you do will have a positive effect.
    So initially I’d pick two upper body, two core and two leg exercises and do two sets of 12 to 15 reps of each exercise every other day.
    Then after six weeks swap the exercises for something completely new as your body adapts very quickly to whatever you are doing.

    It’s only when you’ve been working out for a while will you find that you have to start using such techniques as Underlating periodisation and other shock tactics .

    Keep Well. Dave

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Awesome tips Dave! Totally agree. And thank you so much again for the interview!

      • DonB

        Reader interviews are good for different perspectives. Keep them coming Todd.

  6. BLAID

    Great post! One thing is for certain – we are not getting any younger AND we don’t have to accept the Standard American Story that aging is about decline and loss of abilities. With my 60th birthday approaching in January I started on June 4 the push-up program you wrote about. I could do a max of four. Fifteen hundred and forty push-ups later (will be 1570 by end of day) I can pop out fifteen perfect form reps with barely a sweat. My last testing day netted twenty! On rest days I do a core workout of squats, planks and bent leg raises. I’m getting lean, fit, supple and dare I say sexy. My wife loves it, I love it, I get compliments on how I look all the time. I might be a novice but by January I’ll reach my goal of doing sixty consecutive push-ups on my birthday when I’ll simply be 60-years of AGE. Thanks Todd for the daily motivation, tips and stories like this. Someday I’ll be a beginner 😉

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Wow Blaid! You are a machine! Nice work and super inspirational for me in my 30’s. You are making great progress!

      • BLAID

        I AM A MACHINE!

  7. Mari

    Great post! Really loved it!

    • Todd Kuslikis

      So glad! 🙂

  8. Neil shallcross

    Great post guys.
    My partner is a 54 yr old female and just starting out in bodyweight training so some very motivational stuff there guys. Would it be possible for you to go into more detail on weekly workouts, reps and sets for the older adults.
    Cheers guys

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Thanks for the comment Neil! Check out Dave’s response below.

  9. jack

    Great post, motivational, intelligent. Thanks, at 47 I’ve reclaimed my aging body and am enjoying bodyweight training, animal flow, ido portal movements, tennis, kayaking, slack-lining. I’ve changed my eating habits slowly, just like Dave suggested. Cutting carbs and eating vegetables… my tendons are also my weak spot unfortunately … but its tennis that does more damage than bodyweight training. Kite-surfing does sound like fun and is planned for my 50th birthday. cheers, Jack

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Wow Jack! You are super active. Way to go! Kite-surfing is on my list too!

  10. sanam rajneesh

    awesome post!!
    really motivational 🙂

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Glad you liked it Sanam!

  11. DonB

    Bravo Zulu for somebody to admit that you need to adapt your fitness routines as you get older. As a 53 year old, I’ve battled damaged tendons. If you haven’t worked out your entire life, you need to take care of your tendons! I’ve impinged them. I’ve partially ruptured them. And it takes forever to heal!!! Chronic exercise is not the answer. Thank you for addressing exercising for older adults. I’d love to see what you and somebody like Dave can come up with for older adults.

    • Todd Kuslikis

      Yikes, Sorry to hear Don. Taking care of tendon and ligament integrity is so important. When you are young you don’t realize how important it is.

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