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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.