The Legend of Old and Roll
Dave Atkins is a guy dipped in the fountain of youth! He seems to get in better shape as he gets older; constantly improving in his passion of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and fearlessly attacking activities with his young son that most forty year olds would never dare. Find out how this Dadbod gets and stays in shape with his garage gym.
Dave, how did you get started with training at home?
Around the same time I started Jiu-jitsu, about eight years ago, I quit training at a commercial gym due to fees, opening times and to have more time with my family.
What did you have in your first home gym?
A chin and dip bar.
That’s pretty bare bones but it obviously worked! Many of the old time strongmen were also grapplers, like Martin “Farmer” Burns, the Great Gama and Frank Gotch. They didn’t have a lot of equipment so they created a number of the exercises that functional fitness coaches are “discovering” today. Have you done any research into the training of old school grapplers?
I sure have John. And know what they had all in common? No magic pills or potion just outstanding work ethic, consistency and discipline.
Gave them great results too! Farmer Burns had a 20 inch neck at around 160lbs they said he was impossible to choke out! In fact, he used to make money in carnival side shows by doing a six foot hangman’s drop where he put a noose on his neck and let them pull the lever to drop him six feet! He was familiar with Jiu-jitsu and defeated Japan’s Matsada Sora Kichi in four minutes.
I do try doing some of the exercises of the old time grapplers/strongmen but I just love researching the ‘Net about their training routines and nutrition. For example, Gama, his body weight training he did day in and day out was bloody impressive!
A lot of old school martial artists, prefer body weight only training over lifting weights. How does your training support your grappling and how do you avoid common bodybuilder errors like letting your biceps get too big to be effective at grappling?
I had a serious back injury about two years ago and was told I would be never able to lift and grapple. I was devastated! I very slowly strengthened my body and back through strength training. I’m a massive believer in strength training in sport/martial arts! Not for the purpose of getting big muscles but more for protecting the body against injuries.
Tell me about your back injury. What happened?
My job for many years was a Brickie ( Aussie slang for a bricklayer) which was a very labor intensive job and I worked at the airport as a baggage handler lifting many bags a day. Had a few issues with my back in my early years but thought nothing of it. Lifting ego weights with terrible form.
I have been there as well my friend. You feel invincible when you’re young!
Fast forward many years later I was training for a Jiu-jitsu comp doing judo and fell awkwardly. I felt pins and needles down my leg, again shrugged it off and thought it’ll be all right. Next day I was in a bit of pain but just had a couple of pain killers and away we go. By the weekend I was shot and in pain, my wife said, “That’s it! I’m taking you to the doctors!”
How did that go?
Went to a back specialist and he looked at results and I explained my work history, past sport and what I currently do with grappling and lifting. He plainly said, “You won’t ever be doing that again!”
He was obviously wrong so what did you do to recover?
Weeks later still in massive pain, not being able to help with family duties, work and training I fell into a pretty dark place something that I’ve never experienced before, not good especially for my young family. So I started asking questions with my training mates who were physios and rehab specialists and I started my own six month plan.
Clean up diet I know for a back pain/injury? That’s strange but I felt better!
Every morning I did a series of stretches and by the third or fourth week I stretched morning and night with core work and started walking on weekends.
After talking with a rehab specialist I started introducing kettlebell exercises (swing, snatch, goblet squat etc twice a week along with the stretching and core work.
Are you certified in any of the kettlebell courses or did you just learn by trial and error?
No, just trial and error. But I am a certified personal trainer and part of my studies was kettlebell training. But I’m no expert.
I felt so much better and happier I decided to go to Jiu-jitsu. My wife was furious!
Ha! You’re lucky to be alive!
Ha ha yeah, any of you married men know that’s not good! Ha ha! So went to Jiu-jitsu, took it easy and felt good. I was so happy and started going once a week.
I introduced two strength training days one horizontal push/pull one vertical push/pull. Started just with the bar and just made small improvements each training session. No ego lifting!
You still train that way to this day. Push, pull, squat and core, farmer carries for distance, rope climbs and rolls. I know that you said that you were ego lifting before your injury but were you doing the same sort of split?
No, I was training your typical bodybuilding program one body part once or twice a week. But as I progressed and started getting serious about Jiu-jitsu that type of training wasn’t practicable due to recovery as Jiu-jitsu is so demanding on the body and time.
Kept all the things I was doing the previous months but added a second Jiu-jitsu session. From then on just listened to my body.
Apparently your body is telling you to shock the Internet! You’ve managed three sets of three reps in standing ab wheel rollouts, upper body only rope climbs AFTER Jiu-jitsu and most impressive; skateboarded on your son’s skateboard at age 40 without dying! Do you have a list of bucket list feats to accomplish or do you just see stuff and wonder if you could do it?
Ha ha! Yep that skateboard! My wife thought I was going to break my neck! Hahaha so did I! Anyway, yeah, I pretty much see things and wonder if I can do them.
I see you do a lot of Jiu-jitsu related exercises in your training like dragon flags, gi pullups and rolls.
Yeah this type of training is unreal, especially for us older athletes. So yeah I roll and crawl before and after every Jiu-jitsu session (5-6 a week) I’ve been doing this for a solid 6 months and really noticed in my mobility, balance, body conditioning and body awareness. When I first started rolling and crawling I was sooooooo sore and said to myself this is no good but stuck to it and I’m glad I did. A mobile body is an ageless body! Hahaha
Rolling and crawling is growing in popularity thanks to the work of people like Dan John and the guys from Original Strength. Do you program your own training or does your Maestre program these for you?
Yeah, I do all my own training programming.
Is it difficult to switch gears and release control over the pace of the class and how long class in general is going to run versus your training sessions at home that you largely control?
Both are so different but so similar if that makes sense. I’ve been doing both for a fair while and don’t find it difficult to switch gears from training sessions at home to Jiu-jitsu classes.
How do you balance the mindset needed to prepare for a solo strength and conditioning session versus a class where you’re going to roll with multiple opponents?
Yeah, good question! When I think about it, I do go into both practices with different mindsets. For example, strength training that’s my time and I have a set routine I want to complete. Whereas in Jiu-jitsu I’m there to learn and also I have a senior role to help and mentor newbies with their Jiu-jitsu which I really enjoy.
Aside from the farmer carries and rolling do you have to do cardio or is Jiu-jitsu enough to keep you as lean as you are?
Jiu-jitsu is so demanding on the joints and muscles! I do less joint demanding cardio so I jump on my spin cycle and do intervals and also bodyweight circuits. But to keep lean, and thank you for that John, is and I know this is a training site but NUTRITION. Nutrition is the key to performance and body composition.
This is a LEARNING SITE so no topic that improves us is off limits! Tell me about your nutrition. What do you do differently now as a Masters athlete that you didn’t before?
What I have found that works for me is that each meal contain protein, carbs and fats. Especially as I’ve gotten older, each one of these macronutrients plays a very important role in recovery. I keep it simple like my training: eat more to gain size, eat less to lean up.
Australia has some restrictions on supplements that we don’t have in the United States. Do you take vitamins and supplements or are you just a whole foods guy?
Do you stick to the same diet and training phases year round or change it to reflect different goals and to keep from being that guy when you go to family functions?
One thing I am is very consistent with my training and nutrition but by no means do I make this a burden when it comes to family functions or having a good time! In the true Aussie way I love having a beer and a barbecue and family time is very precious to me.
I see you training your son in the gym and living room at your house. Do you introduce him to lifting on purpose or did you just allow him to play in the gym with you and let him discover it organically?
Yep! Totally naturally. Kobi is such a little boy! He just loves running, jumping, wrestling, pretending to be a super hero, ha ha! He doesn’t stop.
What advice would you give to someone setting up their home gym for the first time?
Start with the basics, barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells, as the basics always works.
What is on your wish list for new garage gym equipment?
A concept II rower or a airdyne bike or a legpress/hacksquat machine
If money were no object, would you rather have a fully equipped garage gym or go to an unlimited amount of seminars on lifting/nutrition for a year?
Wow! That’s hard but I think lifting/nutrition seminars absolutely love and fascinated in nutrition.
How can someone get in touch with you or follow your training?
You can catch me on Instagram @oldandroll
Do you have anyone you’d like to thank?
Yeah, first and foremost my family, Loz and Kobi, for always supporting my obsession training/lifting/jiujitsu. My coaches, mentors and training partners. And you John for welcoming me into this amazing community of garage/home athletes. Like I’ve said DIFFERENT WORLDS ONE COMMUNITY. Cheers mate!