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Unlocking Vitality: A Full-Body Calisthenics Workout for Optimal Health at 40 and Beyond

Updated: Apr 2

Male or female, if you don't use your muscles you will lose them. Sarcopenia, age-related muscle loss, is an issue that affects us all.

For those of us who have reached the distinguished age of 40 (or 50) and above, the quest for optimal health – and strength - takes on renewed significance. It is a time when we must embrace exercise modalities that support our bodies and promote healthy brain function. Enter full-body calisthenics and a routine that can enhance your strength, invigorate your life and elevate your wellbeing.


Calisthenics, exercise rooted in bodyweight movements, offers many advantages. Not only can it provide a complete workout that engages multiple muscle groups but it also improves joint stability, core strength and functional movement patterns. Calisthenics exercises can be performed virtually anywhere, requiring minimal equipment or specialised facilities. Calisthenics exercises can be progressed, from easier variations to harder – there is an exercise to suit every strength and skill level.


So let's dive into a routine of key push, pull, squat and rotational exercises. These cover the key bases for strength, function and create a full-body workout that can be completed in a reasonable amount of time. But before we proceed any further, a word of caution. Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise or diet routine and always work out within your limits. A personal trainer can also help with technique and specific skills.

 
What do we need for a balanced strength workout, one that can develop the whole body?

Push Exercises. Push exercises targeting your chest, shoulders, and triceps are the cornerstone of upper-body strength development. Engage in push-ups, a versatile exercise that can be modified to suit your fitness level. Begin with inclined push-ups against a wall or elevated surface, then progress to regular push-ups and eventually challenge yourself with decline push-ups. For an added twist, incorporate push-up variations such as wide-grip, close-grip push-ups to maximise muscle engagement.


Pull Exercises. To maintain balanced muscle development pull exercises are crucial. These movements engage the back, biceps, and rear shoulders. Embrace the classic bodyweight exercise - pull-ups - to unleash the potential of your upper body. If pull-ups seem daunting, inverted rows or horizontal pulls can serve as excellent alternatives to build strength progressively.



Squat Exercises. Squat exercises are instrumental in cultivating lower-body strength, stability and flexibility. Squats or (more dynamic) Hindu squats provide an effective starting point, helping to enhance leg muscles and joint mobility. As you become more proficient, progress to single-leg squats or pistol squats to challenge your balance and coordination.


Rotational Exercises. Rotational exercises engage the deep muscles of the core, promoting stability, balance, and injury prevention. Explore exercises like Russian twists, bicycle crunches, or plank rotations to target your obliques and transverse abdominis. These movements foster a robust midsection and improve the integrity of your spinal column, allowing you to navigate the demands of everyday life with grace and resilience.


rotational exercises wood choppers

And lastly, prioritise Recovery. The benefits of full-body calisthenics are undeniable it is crucial to emphasise the significance of rest days and recovery. As we age, our bodies require more time to recuperate from physical exertion and are less forgiving of injuries. Integrate rest days into your workout routine to allow muscles, tendons, and ligaments to repair and rebuild. During these days, focus on activities like walking, running, gentle stretching (or gentle yoga) to enhance blood circulation and aid the recovery process. Remember, rest is not a sign of weakness but a commitment to long-term health. Quality sleep and a nutritious diet are essential elements to make progress and to avoid burnout or injury.

 

Personal Reflections


Weight training in the gym never held much attraction for me. I really enjoy body-weight exercise, outdoors in the local park at the ‘Fitness Corner’ with its bars and benches. Calisthenics delivers results both for strength and functional training. Sometimes I try different exercises or moves, to mix things up and keep the body (and mind) learning. Experimenting with animal movements and flows has been really fun, and develops other muscles and neurological growth. I also bring a resistance band, easy to carry, to add some variety to my workout. A gentle (Zone 2) run before the session adds a few more minutes to reach my weekly exercise goal and serves as a useful warm up. Everyone has to find their own path to an exercise format that they enjoy, that fits into their own life. What works for me might not be suitable for anyone else.


After a full bodyweight workout I need two full days to recover, to get over any muscle soreness and be ready to enter into the next workout fully energised. I pay more attention to my nutrition and hydration on the day of and after my workout. This supports not only my exercise but also my general nutrition and wellbeing.


Exercising outdoors - certainly in Singapore - is hot and sweaty, not always comfortable. It can however be good to embrace discomfort, discomfort leading to growth and resilience. Plus, on a social level, there is a small community of us that regularly see each other at the Fitness Corner in the park. We enjoy each other's company and camaraderie even though we don’t know all of each other's names.

 

When it comes to strength training - or any form of exercise - do what you enjoy. Some prefer weight training in the gym, that’s great. Others prefer circuit training, indoors or outdoors. The most important thing is to find a modality that you enjoy, in an environment that you like, and be consistent.


Stay Healthy!


Alastair

 

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Related Studies


Paluch AE, Boyer WR, Franklin BA, Laddu D, Lobelo F, Lee DC, McDermott MM, Swift DL, Webel AR, Lane A; on behalf the American Heart Association Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health; Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology; Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; Council on Epidemiology and Prevention; and Council on Peripheral Vascular Disease. Resistance Exercise Training in Individuals With and Without Cardiovascular Disease: 2023 Update: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2024 Jan 16;149(3):e217-e231. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000001189. Epub 2023 Dec 7. PMID: 38059362.


Archila LR, Bostad W, Joyner MJ, Gibala MJ. Simple Bodyweight Training Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness with Minimal Time Commitment: A Contemporary Application of the 5BX Approach. Int J Exerc Sci. 2021 Apr 1;14(3):93-100. PMID: 34055156; PMCID: PMC8136567.


Kotarsky CJ, Christensen BK, Miller JS, Hackney KJ. Effect of Progressive Calisthenic Push-up Training on Muscle Strength and Thickness. J Strength Cond Res. 2018 Mar;32(3):651-659. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002345. PMID: 29466268.


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