Can Seniors Do Bodyweight Workouts?

The other day, my son David showed me a video of a guy named Frank Medrano performing incredible exercises, things I didn’t think were possible on film without CGI or other special effects…except this guy is for real.

bodyweight
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Although David was the one who got me to go back to the gym and helped me get started out right, he hasn’t been my workout partner for quite some time. Because of injuries he sustained while serving in the Marine Corps, David has chosen to go with a bodyweight routine, that is, calisthenics, rather than traditional weight training.

I have to admit, I’ve been curious about this form of exercise. It seems to have worked well for David and, if you clicked the link to Frank Medrano’s website I posted above, and looked around at some of videos, you can see just how strong calisthenics can make a person.

The day I saw the videos of Medrano, I hopped on Amazon.com and ordered the book Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade. David recommended the book, and he originally found it and checked out a copy from our local public library. He’s based his current workout routine on some of Wade’s material. David said he wished he could read it again to better define his calisthenics workout, so I bought it. It’s my book, but it’s on extended to my son (I want it back when you’re done, David).

Recently, I happened upon (by sheer coincidence, I assure you) a couple of blog posts about calisthenics: Why I Stopped Lifting Weights at the Gym and Do This Instead by Joe Martino, and Calisthenics vs Weightlifting at the blog “The Zeit”. The former is an obvious endorsement of calisthenics over weight training, while the latter takes a somewhat more balanced approach.

But as a regular denizen of the weight room encouraging other older folks to “hit the gym,” why am I writing this and why should you care?

First off, I should say that the incredible feats of strength and control you see Medrano and those like him performing may not ever be achievable for people who are older. Almost every single video I’ve watched showing calisthenics workouts and competitions have involved young men. I don’t see myself doing hand stands, let alone holding out my body horizontally from some bar like a human flag, supporting all my weight with my arms, at any point in the near future.

On the other hand, some adaptation of bodyweight exercises aren’t out of question for the senior trainer. There’s more than one way to get and stay fit, and some adaptation of a bodyweight workout could work just as well as weight training to build muscle and strength. It has the advantage of not requiring a lot of equipment or even a gym membership. Also, you can perform these exercises almost anywhere. After all, Paul Wade learned “convict conditioning” as a real prison convict. If it’s good enough for solitary confinement, it’s good enough for your living room, spare bedroom, or remodeled garage.

I mentioned before that weight training and calisthenics both build muscle and strength, which are primary goals for seniors who want to maintain good health and quality of life as long as they/we can. However, the goals and results of these two workout types aren’t quite the same.

home body workout
Photo credit: nateanglin.com

Weight training, in addition to building muscle, shapes muscles in a particular fashion and is based on body building routines (as opposed to powerlifting workouts designed to train a person to lift a lot of weight for very few reps). Assuming ideal conditions including adequate testosterone production, a well-constructed diet including supplements, and good genetic material to work with, an older person could reasonably pursue body building and approximate younger counterparts.

But according to Joe Martino at collective-evolution.com:

Calisthenics is about functional strength, natural looking bodies, free workouts, creativity, self-mastery, and healthy routines.

The article at The Zeit says that which exercise type you select is a matter of personal preference and what sort of goals you have, so in that sense, there’s no right or wrong to either choice.

But while it makes sense, based on the information I’ve presented so far, to assume seniors could make use of calisthenics, where are the examples of older people actually doing this and how far can we take it?

Using Google, my favorite research tool, the best example I found in a quick search was the Facebook page to Senior Calisthenics Amateur Sports Team. I found a 9 second video of 65-year-old Robert Durbin who I readily admit is a lot stronger than I am.

I didn’t find many other examples of seniors achieving that level of proficiency at calisthenics, but I found enough to determine that it’s at least possible.

After getting my book back from David (someday), I’ll read it, try out a few things, and write again about whether I think calisthenics could be worked into the average senior’s exercise routine. Who knows, maybe weight training and bodyweight work can be made to play well together.

And just because he’s so darn impressive, I’m putting a three minute or so video of Frank Medrano here for your enjoyment.

He who is not every day conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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