is a question of mind over matter. If you donít mind, it doesnít
- Satchel Paige "Getting older is not for sissies."
- Jack Palance
no such thing as the fountain of youth, but strength training
is the closest thing to it. Strength training is no longer
thought of as only a hobby of youth, but a lifetime endeavor.
In fact, it gets even more important as you get older. Cardiovascular
training is vital, and everyone should be doing it regularly-at
least three times per week-but in addition to strength training.
If you only do cardiovascular training you may live to be
90 years old, but youíll more than likely look and feel old
for the last 40 years of your life.
training gives you the "quantity of life," but strength
training gives you the "quality of life." Without
strength training youíll probably still struggle to carry
your groceries, you could fall and break your hip, and have
the same age-related problems of lean muscle tissue loss,
bone density loss (osteoporosis), arthritis and lack of strength
that other senior citizens have.
you ever stood at the end of a marathon race, and watched
the runners come in? Even though they are accomplishing a
tremendous physical feat, most of them (who donít lift weights)
look like hell. Other than being trim, the older runners look
no different than any untrained older person. After they shower,
change and put their business suits back on, they will look
ordinary, and most people wonít believe that they even completed
the race. Cardiovascular training alone will not come close
to retarding the aging process. Youíll just end up with a
healthy heart in an average body.
year, more and more research information is coming in about
the benefits of "strength training for life," and
the news is good. In fact, some of the latest research states
that strength training is now considered at least as important
as cardiovascular training for overall health, with some studies
claiming itís even more important, especially when you get
older. A big reason for this is that many people are unable
to move much at all when they get older. Strength training
liberates them to be able to do cardiovascular exercise and
other things in order to lead independent lives.
of my clients are in their twenties and thirties, but Iíve
some older ones who are dedicated and train very hard. Youíve
previously read about "Big Daddy" Joe Bunton, who
went from "grey afro" to shaved head, disco to rap,
and off the high-blood-pressure medication. Joe looks about
fifteen years younger than when he started, and is in such
good shape that I let him do the sandbag carry at age 47,
without fear of him dropping. I also have other older high
achievers like him.
Frank Farrow is in his early fifties but is tenacious, with
great mental focus-sometimes too great. He is one of the best
Iíve ever seen, regardless of age, at truly going to muscular
failure. Frank seemed to understand the concept right away
and took to it like a duck to water. He is the only person
for whom I have to end many of the sets because he wants to
persist until he ends up looking like a "tortured, vibrating
sack of isometrics." In one of his first workouts with
me he was doing shrugs and kept going till the weight totally
stopped moving. But he didnít stop, and was shaking, grimacing,
growling, breathing like a steam engine, and dripping with
sweat for another 20 seconds doing what looked to be isometrics.
I watched with amazement and finally had to make him stop.
people first call me about training, I donít sugar coat anything.
I lay out my philosophy plain for everyone to see regardless
of age. Many people get scared off, but thatís okay because
we would probably not be a good match anyway. Training with
me is not a democracy, but I donít turn away anyone who is
determined to join the program and follow my instruction.
I donít care if they have trained before, or are beginners.
I donít care about their gender or age. All I require is a
philosophical match. If they are willing to work as they have
never worked before, are not looking for gimmicks, and want
to maximize their natural, genetic potential for muscular
development, strength and overall body stamina and fitness,
then we will get along great.
Recently, Art Brown called me. Art is 63 years old and was
not in great shape. He had never exercised in his life and
didnít know anything about training. All Art knew was that
he felt weak, old and unhealthy, and wanted to make some changes.
I came on strong with Art but he was not scared off, and had
a great attitude. He put his trust completely in my hands.
Even though Art is by far my oldest client, I was happy to
help him. Frank Farrow used to be my oldest client, but Art
jokingly calls Frank "sonny boy" now. I had to start
Art slow. I mean s-l-o-w! For the first month I mainly built
up Artís cardiovascular conditioning and overall fitness,
doing mostly Stairmaster, ab work, stretching and a very short
weight workout. My main goal was just to keep him alive through
the one-hour workout.
a month, Art was able to perform 30 minutes on the Stairmaster
fairly easily, so I weaned him into more strength training
and gradually let him do the cardio work in his own time.
I have to admit that the first few workouts with Art were
scary. I made him take long rests between sets for the first
month or so, and made sure that he did not breathe too hard.
I would tell him, "Breathe deeply, Art, but above all,
breathe!" He could only go down one hole on the Tru-Squat,
with no weight, and used many other machines with a very light
weight to start with.
has now been training for about three months and has doubled
his strength on most exercises, and now goes to the bottom
on the Tru-Squat for 10 reps. He has greatly increased his
range of motion in many exercises. He noticeably suffered
from arthritis when he started, but now the arthritis does
not bother him. He acts and feels ten years younger already!
main motivation for Art to train was his work. He works in
the National Science Foundation, a branch of the US Government.
He specializes in polar operations, and spent the first twenty
years of his career going to the North Pole area and Greenland,
and heís spent around the last twenty years making trips to
the South Pole area (Antarctica). The last few trips have
been rough and he has literally almost been blown away (or
frozen) a few times, and he has barely passed the physical
required. Art is one of just a few men who have gone to both
the North and South Poles. Heís making another Antarctica
trip soon, and recently passed his physical with flying colors.
His doctors were amazed, and told him his physical data had
not looked this good in over ten years.
Boff and Joe Marino
Vic and Joe are friends of mine, and are in phenomenal shape
for their ages. Vic is in his eighties and is one of the all-time
legends in physical culture. He still trains regularly and
hard, and looks and acts twenty years younger than his age.
Vic does not let age slow him down at all. Joe Marino is in
his sixties and trains as hard as ever. Joe competed in a
lot of major bodybuilding contests in the fifties, winning
several titles. Joe is very fit and still as enthusiastic
and dedicated to his training as ever. He puts most younger
guys to shame. Vic and Joe have an abundance of energy and
enthusiasm, and an endless supply of physical culture stories
from the glory days long past when there were no such things
as steroids. Vic was a good friend of both George Jowett and
Sig Klein, and Joe was a long-time training partner and still
a close friend of Marvin Eder.
and Joe visited me recently, at Whelan Strength Training,
and we had a great time. The three of us, together with my
girlfriend, Sue, had dinner later, and talked so much that
it was like going back in time.
never too late to start
Dr. William Evans, Chief of the Human Physiology Laboratory
at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts
University in Boston has spent a lifetime studying aging and
the benefits of strength training. In a usa today interview,
Dr. Evans states, "There is nothing like a lifetime of
physical activity to help prevent a whole host of chronic
diseases. Starting early on is important...but itís never
too late to begin. Our oldest subject is 101 years old. Heís
been lifting weights for four years. Heís probably as strong
as a typical man who is forty years his junior but who doesnít
exercise...Much of the loss of muscle with age is preventable...We
can make a 70-year-old man stronger than he has ever been
in his life. We can bring back strength and aerobic capacity.
We can make people thinner and reduce their bodyfat levels."
Iím stronger now than Iíve ever been. Itís really true that
you donít lose strength for decades longer than previously
thought. It just takes more thought and discipline to maintain
conditioning and avoid injury. I now need a longer warmup
and more stretching, and more rest and recovery than I used
to. But once Iím warmed up, especially my elbows, I can lift
more than ever. I also need less food and more cardiovascular
work than I used to. I used to be able to eat anything and
everything, but now, if Iím not careful and disciplined, I
can gain bodyfat very easily.
needs to make adjustments as they get older, but the basic
philosophy remains the same. The rewards are great, as strength
training, probably more than anything, helps keep you young.
Strength training, just like brushing your teeth, should be
a lifetime activity.
Bob Whelan runs Whelan Strength Training in Washington, DC
with permission from HARDGAINER magazine issue #58,