The Hongkonger, 57, who’s learned to do handstands and wants to climb a rope

Age is no obstacle for Terry Shipham, a deskbound former runner who sets himself a new physical challenge every year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2016, 6:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2016, 6:00am

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – but don’t try and tell that to Terry Shipham. Aged 57, he’s been learning a new bodyweight skill every year for the past three years. First it was a handstand, next it was a “muscle-up” (transitioning from a pull-up to a tricep dip in one fluid movement), and in the Year of the Monkey his target is particularly fitting: he’s learning to climb a rope using only his arms.

“The goal is to climb hand-over-hand up to the ceiling from a sitting position and then to come down in a controlled way – as in, not sliding. It’s much harder than I thought it would be, and I have a long way to go,” says Shipham, originally from Australia.

“Training to climb a rope with my hands is tough and provides many indirect benefits: my grip, forearms, chest, back and shoulders are all activated differently than in traditional strength training, and my posture has also improved.”

He selected the challenge together with personal trainer Jay Horley and works on it for an hour each Saturday morning at Raw Personal Training Studio in Central.

“After muscle-ups, I felt it was a logical next step in strength and conditioning. And, I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to climb a rope?” says Shipham.

During his 20s, Shipham’s training routine couldn’t have been more different: he was a runner who’d never set foot in a gym. He competed in a variety of running events and distances from track to road to cross-country, clocking an impressive personal best over 10km of about 33 minutes. Most runners would be happy to finish a 5km run in the same time.

But injury forced him to stop when he was 35 and he spent the best part of the next two decades battling various niggles. He was finally referred to Raw four years ago by a health professional because of a chronic hamstring injury.

“My initial goal was to fix my injury, which I did, but I started really enjoying my sessions and noticed the improvement in my overall fitness,” he says.

In addition to his Saturday session, Horley provides him with a routine he can do on his own or in a hotel gym while travelling.

“Building my lower body strength has led to better overall balance and mobility. I have much better posture and all of the niggles that I had before have largely gone.”

And he’s resumed running as well. “I am running more freely and generally feel looser and more energetic.”

Why set a yearly challenge?

The original suggestion for this actually came from Horley. We were having a conversation about what I wanted to achieve and, unlike many others, I didn’t want to develop big muscles or lose weight. My focus was on a sustainable improvement programme for the long term, improving my strength and mobility and helping to counter the negative effects of ageing and a sedentary lifestyle. Setting technical skill goals with indirect fitness benefits is a good way to get motivated and also measure your progress.

What’s a bodyweight session with Horley like?

My sessions are not like CrossFit or spin classes, which maintain a high degree of intensity throughout. I do my exercises in intensive bursts, which are quite tough, and then take time to recover before continuing. My programme has been designed for my long-term well-being – hopefully for decades to come. We look for gradual improvement, rather than rapid progression.

What’s the best part of your workout?

The end! I both dread and enjoy the gymnastics routines. Doing handstands or ring work – particularly at my age – is tough, but it’s also very satisfying when you master a new skill.

How has implementing a regular strength routine changed your life?

Like many people, I spend long hours sitting at my office desk and working at my computer. I travel a lot, and I enjoy eating and drinking. Working out on a consistent basis helps counter the ill effects of this lifestyle and keeps me in shape. I simply feel better when I exercise.

What do you like about training with the team at Raw?

I’ve seen many gyms and to me Raw is a nice size – large enough to have all the good equipment that you need, but still small enough that it feels more personal. There is a good mix of clients and while people are focused on their training, it’s quite relaxed and not too serious.

Why do you choose to work out first thing on a Saturday?

Having a regular session first thing every Saturday certainly puts a dampener on my Friday nights – which is probably a good thing. It also helps provide a clean break from the working week and helps set me up for a relaxing weekend.

What’s your tried and tested, go-to post-workout refuelling spot?

Either Wagyu or Wagyu Lounge for a good Aussie-style cooked breakfast and a strong coffee.