In October 2014, four months after turning 40 years old, I started practicing Freeletics two to four times a week. Up until today, I have done 118 workouts.
Freeletics is a method of high-intensity calisthenics promoted by a startup of the same name that started its operations in Munich in 2013.
It is based exclusively on aerobic and anaerobic bodyweight exercises. The only equipment required is a pull-up bar, so you can train virtually anywhere.
Although Freeletics’ website offers a variety of free exercises and routines, its real added value is a virtual coach that costs 70 Euros for 15 weeks and which creates a weekly, taylor-made series of workouts based on variables such as your bodyweight, age, and fitness level.
I am sure that a large part of Freeletics’ success is due to its strategy of promoting videos shot by users showing their progress with the method.
There’s nothing better for grasping what the method is all about than watching one of these videos, such as Levent’s, who has become nothing short of a celebrity among Freeletics enthusiasts worldwide:
But stop right there you little grasshopper!
After watching Levent’s video you are probably so excited you can’t resist the urge to jump off your desk and start your first workout once and for all.
But trust me, things are not that simple — especially if, like me, you have already blown 40 candles on a single birthday cake.
All the comments below are based on my experience with the method during the past six months.
Looks-wise, the results are very good but not spectacular
Although when I started training I was much fitter than Levent (in fact, I have never in my life reached the level of obesity with which he started), I managed to lose almost 20 pounds of bodyfat while gaining a considerable amount of muscle.
But nevertheless, after six months of work I couldn’t get the muscle tone that Levent achieved in 15 weeks. The reason is obvious: he’s 25 years old, and I’m not.
As obvious as it may seem, it’s good to remember the inescapable reality of the metabolic advantage of most of the twentysomethings who upload Freeletics videos to YouTube.
At least in my case, even if this issue was clear to me at a conscious level, I’m sure the videos had enough of a subliminal effect on me to cause more than a few momentos of childlike frustration with my progress.
In the Beginning, There Will be Suffering
The first minutes of Levent’s video show him in a state of deep suffering during his initial workouts.
And while part of his initial difficulty may have been due to his excess weight, almost all YouTube videos show faces of pain and suffering during the early stages.
There’s even a video out there of a guy who is less than 30 years old and a semi-professional soccer player saying Freeletics was the hardest training he had ever been through in his life.
Moral: if starting out with Freeletics in your 20’s is hard, starting in your 40’s is hellish.
The flames of hell burn through most of the first two months. From there they begin to fade, and by the fourth month one is swimming in endorphins throughout the session.
That, to me, is the main reward of this type of training: the level of physical exertion is such that the mind focuses 100% in the here and now.
It is almost impossible not to maintain a state of total mindfulness while carrying out such an effort for the 45 minutes that a workout lasts on average.
It is almost impossible to finish a workout and not feel renovated physically, mentally, and even spiritually.
Start Slow, Progress Gradually
On the other hand, you need to be careful with the just-do-it philosophy that permeates the website and encourages users to continue training against rain, wind and tide.
In my opinion, the fortysomething freeathlete has to take thigs a bit slower.
First of all, I do not recommend anyone to start with Freeletics cold-turkey after 40, especially if you are not minimally fit in the first place.
In my case, despite having always maintained a decent level of physical activity, before starting Freeletics I did a full month of lighter training: I went jogging for 20 minutes and made several low-rep sets of pushups, situps and crunches almost every day.
Then I did another full month of Tapout XT. Maybe you’re laughing at this point, but I assure you that the company’s extremely cheesy infomercials notwithstanding, the method is very hard and super effective.
Stop When Necessary
It is important to stop training and rest whenever you feel any pain that you minimally suspect could be anything other than the normal muscle soreness that arises after intense physical exercise (which during the early stages is wrenching in its own right).
In my case, I reckon I must have been about four weeks at rest or semi-rest due to various disomforts that emerged at some point or another: back pain, lower-back pain, and now a sore right knee that has all the earmarks of being a meniscus problem and which made me spend almost two weeks at less than half speed already.
A key part of Freeletics consists in striving to complete the workouts in progressively less time. But if you’re over 40, I recommend forgetting about that aspect at least during the first two months of training.
At first it’s important to simply finish each workout regardless of how long it takes. The times will improve gradually without you noticing: today I’m finishing some workouts in 40 minutes for which I needed 90 minutes several months ago.
Nutrition is Crucial
Apart from the electrocnic coach service, Freeletics offers an interesting nutritional guide full of healthy and delicious recepies.
There’s no doubt that eating well is essential to take full advantage of the method in every way, but in my case I have to confess that Freeletics has rather allowed me to eat a lot more carbs than I used to.
Nowadays I eat much more pasta, potatoes, bread, and rice, especially immediately after any of the 3-4 Freeletics workouts I do per week.
But the fact is that the level of physical activity is so intense that even eating those kinds of carbohydrates during rest days I managed to lose more body fat than with any other workout method I have ever practiced.