The Biggest Benefits of Bodyweight Training for Older Athletes

It’s no secret that age will catch up to all of us at some point. No matter how hard you could go when younger sooner or later everyone becomes that old man or woman who is forced to walk slowly and struggles to stand up.

But it’s up to you how fast you get there.

I see a lot of people in their mid to late thirties who are seemingly hell bent on breaking their bodies down as fast as possible. As you get older all that heavy work will eventually catch up with you. Usually around this time people either shelve exercise completely or they try to find less harmful activities as they’re sick of the constant nagging pain. This is where you suddenly see guys who were once hard men turn to yoga and pilates instead of deadlifts and interval runs. If you find yourself with a list of exercises you need to avoid that is longer than the list of exercises to keep doing, you should probably have made the change earlier.

So what is the change and what should you be looking for?

You should be looking for ways to train and stay active that leave you feeling better the next day instead of worse. Those days of trying to lift so much weight you can’t bend over the next day are done, if you want to spend any time playing with your kids. Instead you should be worried about lifting enough to stay strong and healthy and then move on.

The reality for most mature aged trainees is that they’re already close to their maximum potential anyway. Striving to lift more, without the volume or genetics to support it, is a quick way to get hurt. Once built, strength is relatively easy to maintain. A program focused on basic lifts of 3-5 exercises done 3-5 times per week for 3-5 sets at a time is an easy way to remember what to do. But that can be quite quick. My normal strength work takes me about 20-30 minutes. My total gym time also includes a 10-minute warm up. So that leaves me 20 minutes every session. What do I do for 20 minutes?

I mostly do bodyweight circuits.

The benefits of bodyweight as you get older are simple:

1) Reduces stress on joints.
2) Allows muscles to work through more range of motion than most loaded exercises.
3) Helps relearn motor patterning that can become faulty under high loads.
4) Allows a lot of work to be done without risking injury or burnout.

I need to distinguish here between what I am going to call hard and soft calisthenic work. In days past these terms were used to categorise the difference between basic bodyweight training and what would go onto become gymnastic skills. High skill/ high tension work such as levers, planches, and other difficult bodyweight moves have just the same number of injuries and problems associated with them. In fact, I’ve seen way more injuries comparatively from people attempting things like one-arm pull ups than I ever have from regular gym work. So the bodyweight work I am speaking of is basics like push ups, squats, sit ups, and so on.

The problem is that because you can pump out a lot of reps you can still create problems for yourself. Even an exercise as benign as the push up can cause shoulder problems if you do enough of them. So you need some variety and a way to moderate that training so that the volume and intensity vary enough to keep the body fresh.

That’s where programs like Convict PT came in. I initially was writing it as a stay at home workout plan suitable for clients going on holidays. I wanted the workouts to be able to be done with zero equipment in a space as small as a hotel room. Midway through writing it the COVID19 virus really hit and most of the world has gone into lockdown. Some people, who rely on going to a gym for all their exercise equipment needs, have been really caught short so this fills the gap for them. The other big benefit from this is that the CNS is not hit as hard from bodyweight circuit work as it is from heavier lifting. During times of high stress, such as those during the lockdown, you want to stay active, as being fit and healthy is important. The mental benefits you get too are needed during these times, but you don’t want to send training stress too high as stress in general is already very high. The same goes for travel. Flying into a different time zone and sleeping in a different bed is already stressful enough. Do what you need to in order to maintain health and sanity and then get to work or go enjoy your holiday.

So bodyweight circuits like in Convict PT are a great way to fill that need. The workouts are fun, challenging, quick, and contain enough variety to keep your joints healthy. Even if you aren’t on lockdown, away from home traveling for work, but have been hitting the weights hard for a while now might be the best time to give your body a break and cycle through a bodyweight only training period for a few months.