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Clarence Bass' Prescription for Success: Goal Setting Across a Lifetime
by Richard A. Winett, Ph.D.

This article by health psychologist Richard Winett first appeared in the February, 1998, issue of Master Trainer and is reproduced here with Dr. Winett's permission. It contains details on Clarence's current training which we believe you'll find interesting. Bold emphasis and editor's insertions are ours.

Many people seem bewildered about the central processes involved in maintaining a high level of motivation for training even across short periods of time, such as several months to a year. In contrast, Clarence Bass has stayed motivated and has trained hard for 45 years! At 60, Clarence is just as enthusiastic about training and just as interested in improving as he was many years ago.

Clarence's accomplishments include national recognition as a young Olympic lifter, over-40 Mr. America titles, and international acclaim for his series of training books and long standing Muscle & Fitness column. Clarence was clearly one of the first, if not the first, person to develop programs to effectively combine weight training and cardiovascular training with sound nutrition to produce strong, fit, and very lean physiques. He also saw how high intensity training in both weights and aerobics could be enhanced by the intelligent addition of some strategies from periodization. Indeed, within our field, Clarence has two sets of accomplishments that truly distinguish him. His razor sharp definition and great musculature was achieved naturally, showing that bodybuilding can be a supremely healthy activity and lifestyle.[Editor's note: Clarence discusses his early experimentation with steroids in Ripped, his first book.] Clarence's books detailing the evolution of his training are classics that I and others have described as simply the best training books ever written. So, what has kept Clarence going after all these years when many other people would be either resting on their laurels or wondering how they can top what they did five years ago?

In his books, Clarence recounted how early experience with setting and meeting goals seemed to set the course for his life and that all that he has done is take the insight achieved as a 15 year old and apply it to a succession of possibilities. While that is in many ways the case, early on Clarence also realized that goal setting and channeling one's efforts were somewhat more involved. Perhaps, the most valuable insight that Clarence achieved a little later is best expressed in this quote from a recent conversation with Clarence: "A goal achieved is a goal lost". Quite simply, once a goal has been achieved, a primary source for motivation is gone. Just reaching the same level again and again is not very rewarding or exciting. In fact, many athletes become disheartened, depressed, and literally disoriented after reaching a long sought after goal. Their "raison d'etre" is lost.

At different junctures in his life, Clarence has been able to take stock and develop a new set of goals and achieve them. The Olympic lifter became a power lifter, the power lifter became a champion bodybuilder, and the bodybuilder became a great all-around athlete and health promoter. But where is Clarence now headed and what about training at 60?

Long-term readers will recall that one of the yardstick's that Clarence has used for evaluating his health and training progress is the rigorous preventive medicine exam given at the Cooper Institute in Dallas (see February, 1993). Besides being inspected from head to toe, the exam also features tests of strength, flexibility, balance, and cardiovascular fitness. Obviously, Clarence would far surpass men half his age on strength tests, but flexibility and balance are attributes often undermined by inactivity and aging. Clarence not only wants to do well in these areas but actually demonstrate that his abilities and performance have remained stable from 50 to 60, a period generally marked by a large physical decline.

The best known part of the exam is the standard Balke treadmill test, the gold standard test of cardiorespiratory fitness. While closely monitored, you walk on a treadmill at 3.3 mph, but after the first minute the angle of the treadmill increases one percent a minute. After 25 minutes, the speed of the treadmill increases by 0.2 mph each minute. It is a test to exhaustion. Ten years ago, Clarence's time was an astounding 28 minutes. Clarence's overall condition was judged to be simply outstanding and a real testimony to the balanced training and healthy lifestyle he follows and advocates. At 60, Clarence would like to equal where he was ten years ago, something that most health experts would consider impossible. Sixty year olds are supposed to show physical decline. Now, there's a challenging goal!

Notice, and quite importantly, Clarence did not set the bar too high and pick an unrealistic goal such as beating 29 minutes, his all-time best. The pressure of reaching an extremely difficult goal can take much of the joy out of the process and the probability of success is small. Picking hard but reachable goals is one of the real keys to success.

So how is Clarence training and preparing for this latest challenge? Has he abandoned all reason and taken to training day and night? Since he wants to do well on the treadmill test, does he do hours per week of aerobic training?

Through carefully reviewing the latest developments in the field and his own responsiveness to different training regimen's, Clarence has evolved a training program that could be followed by any reader. Here's the surprise. Clarence trains with weights once per week and does one cardiovascular training session in a week! On most days, when he is not formally training, Clarence walks for about and hour. He also has continued his healthy,"magical" way to reduce bodyfat and increase muscle.

Generally on Sunday, Clarence's weight training session lasts up to two hours. After a 20 year hiatus from Olympic lifting, Clarence returned to working on the quick lifts about five years ago. In one routine, Clarence does power cleans and squats. The next week, Clarence works on power snatches and deadlifts. Each lifting part of the workout is followed by a few minutes break, and then Clarence does a whole-body bodybuilding session similar to the routines described in his recent books. So, Clarence has an "A" and "B" workout with each workout performed twice per month. Despite the two weeks between each workout, Clarence reports he is able to consistently increase on most movements from workout to workout. He also varies the repetition range he uses for different movements using a periodization model he developed about 10 years ago.

Returning to quick lifting after almost 20 years of shying away from such movements has been a special treat for Clarence. Of course, he had been a terrific lifter and lifting has always been a first love. He went back to lifting not to see if he could match what he did years ago, but rather to present himself with new challenges and goals and for the sheer thrill of performing perfect lifts. Clarence is not attempting to surpass the 35 year old Clarence but rather to see what he can accomplish at this point in his life. Again, this is a good illustration of realistic goal setting.

Clarence also pointed out that there may be some important benefits of performing quick lifts as one gets older. Balance, coordination, and quickness seem to lessen with age, and performing quick lifts may help to forestall, and perhaps, remedy this problem.[Editor's note: See "Keep That Spring" on this site] Note also that balance and coordination are tested as part of the Cooper Clinic exam.

Clarence has chosen to train with weights one day per week primarily because he believes it takes him that long to recover from this one super workout. Moreover, he has been able to consistently increase strength and muscle and is 5 to 7 pounds heavier than a few years ago.

After three days for recovery involving rest and walking for about an hour each day, Clarence is ready for a cardiovascular workout. He notes that he would not be adequately recovered to do another weight training session at this point, but can effectively do cardiovascular training.

For many years, Clarence advocated and performed brief, high intensity interval protocols on a variety of cardiovascular pieces and creatively developed challenges and goals. For example, at one point he was ranked in his age and weight class on the Concept ll rower 's standard event and competed in a number of meets. Clarence was looking for another high intensity kind of protocol that would enhance fitness but in some ways compliment high intensity weight training.

Clarence is now doing his own variation of the Tabata interval protocol (Editor's note: See articles on this web site). Following a warm-up, Clarence does a very hard steady state piece with the duration varying between workouts. He then "relaxes" at an easier pace for about five minutes and then launches into 6 to 10 maximum effort 20 second repetitions with 10 seconds of rest in between the repetitions. The steady state part of the routine and the number of repetitions vary following a planned periodization scheme. Clarence, as usual, has put his personal touch to a training protocol, something he believes is extremely important to do. The special protocol plus some specialized training for the treadmill test will constitute his only cardiovascular training during the last several months (off-day walking is done at a comfortable pace). When Clarence again performs terrifically well on the treadmill test, all of us may reconsider our more frequent cardiovascular training programs and ask ourselves a simple question: "Why am I doing this several days per week when Clarence has shown that one very hard session per week is all that is required?"

While Clarence's goals have changed over the years, for more than 20 years one thing has remained constant. Through a low fat, high complex carbohydrate, moderate protein, almost vegetarian diet, Clarence has been able to maintain an exceptionally low body fat. Years ago, he found the one best healthy approach to controlling body composition and has stuck with it. When he wants to decrease weight and primarily body fat, he simply eats slightly less, walks a bit more, and creates the slight caloric deficit needed to produce the change. It truly is a sure-fire prescription and in any rational context would replace the more than 800 diet books currently in print!

In his willingness to constantly evolve, take on new challenges, and pursue new goals, Clarence provides an inspiring model. The point is not to do exactly what he has done, but rather we need to insure our own personal growth and development pursued in a way that suits us. Developing new goals to achieve is clearly the surest way to stay motivated across a lifetime.

Editor's note: For information about Richard Winett's newsletter, Master Trainer, go MT.

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