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Peak Shape - At 60

When we started this web site at Christmas-time 1996, we included on the pictorial training history page a blank picture frame containing a big question mark and labeled "Age 60 - Stay Tuned." That was my very public way of setting a goal to be in tip-top shape soon after I turned 60. Click on Pictorial Training History You'll find the frame is now filled with one of the best photos from our latest photo shoot. It's me at 60.

Setting public goals - like Babe Ruth's legendary point to the outfield fence just before he hit one out of the ballpark - is risky business. It sure concentrates the mind though. You don't want to publicly embarrass yourself or hope no one will remember. The latter was hardly an option, because the pictorial has always been near the top of our weekly hit report. No, I didn't leave myself much wiggle room. I took the goal of being in top shape at 60 seriously.

The rap against older bodybuilders is they tend to achieve a stringy leanness, without the full-muscle look of young champion bodybuilders - and they have no legs. I tried to avoid those criticisms by reducing my body fat very slowly, making sure not to overtrain and working hard to increase muscle size and strength, especially in the lower body. It's basically the same formula recommended in my books (See Ripped 2 in particular).

It worked. The photos are the proof of the pudding. Plus, I equaled or exceeded my recent best lifts in the squat, power snatch and power clean only days before the final photos were taken.

Proof of the Pudding

Lose Fat Slowly

I tell people not to lose more than 1/2 to one pound per week. (Losing faster makes you hungry and uncomfortable, and encourages loss of muscle.) But I lost even more slowly, about one pound per month.

When I started serious preparation for photos, in late April 1997, I'd let my body weight creep up to the highest level in years. As an article on this site relates, I had a wonderful response to the new supplement creatine. My strength soared. Unfortunately, so did my bodyweight. I let myself believe most of the gain was muscle, even though the mirror and my waist measurement suggested otherwise. A body composition test brought me back to reality. My body fat was 10.2%, quite good by normal standards; the average for men my age is well over 25%. Still, it was the fattest I've been in years. Obviously, I had my work cut out for me.

Using the dietary rules I've long recommended (avoid concentrated calories; eat whole or minimally processed foods with nothing added or subtracted) I lost 11 pounds - in 11 months - and reduced my body fat to 5.5%

I purposely stopped at 5.5%, even though I've gone substantially lower before, because the mirror told me I had achieved the look I wanted. Happily, the photos confirm my judgment.

Don't Overtrain

People are incredulous when I tell them I do only two workouts a week, a whole-body weight session and a very hard aerobics session lasting about 30 minutes. (I also walk for an hour or so on four other days, to burn extra calories and speed recovery.) Even my brother-in-law, who runs long distance to control his weight, asked, "Why so little?" My lifelong friend Carl Miller, a former U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Team coach and an excellent lifter in his own right, said, "Frankly, I didn't believe you."

Well, it's true. I've been doing weights on Sunday (two hours or less) and aerobics on Thursday for about a year now. I'm not claiming that twice a week is best for everyone - there is probably no one best training schedule, certainly not for everyone - but it has worked wonderfully well for me.

I believe most people, especially bodybuilders, err on the side of overtraining. As I confessed in Ripped 2, I overtrained for years. I simply didn't understand the importance of rest. George Sheehan, the famous runner-doctor-philosopher (God rest his soul), perhaps said it best: "The body can be trained for greater performance by induced stress. But the amount of stress and the time allowed for recovery are critical to the success of the process." Like Dr. Sheehan, when it comes to training, I've come to appreciate the wisdom in the saying, "less is more."

As I've explained before, in my books and most recently in the FAQ on this site about Mike Mentzer's new book Heavy Duty II, I've been experimenting for years with longer rest periods between workouts. Mentzer's claim that his clients gains soared when he switched them from training every two or three days to every four or five days (Mike says, "Decomposition doesn't even start after a two-week layoff") prompted me to extend my rest periods to 3 days after weight sessions and 2 days after hard aerobics.

I got the idea of different recovery periods after weights and aerobics from Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, Ph.D., the famed Soviet sports scientist who is now a professor at Penn State. In his book, Science and Practice of Strength Training, (Human Kinetics, 1995) Zatsiorsky points out that "fatigue effects from different types of muscular works are specific." He says that means you might not be sufficiently recovered to repeat a heavy strength workout, but you may be well recovered for a hard aerobics session. I found that's true.

By Thursday, after an intense Sunday lifting session, I'm not ready for another heavy strength workout, but I am ready for a great aerobics workout. And with two more days rest I'm fully recovered to enthusiastically launch into another heavy resistance session.

That's how my Sunday-Thursday training plan came into being. I also discovered that Mentzer is right about no decompensation even after two weeks. My weight sessions are divided into an "A" workout and a "B," with each being repeated every two weeks. For example, I do the power snatch and squat one week and the power clean and deadlift the next.

This worked great. My strength steadily improved even though my bodyweight was dropping. In the eleven months leading up to the photo session, you could count my bad workouts on the fingers of one hand. My training diary is full of comments such as "Great Workout," "Excellent Session," "Almost Perfect!" I'm sticking to my twice a week schedule.

Twice-a-week training definitely works.

One Work Set Only

One-set-only training is controversial, not only among bodybuilders, but in the academic world as well.

"Just one set of each strength exercise, correctly done twice a week, is generally enough to increase strength significantly." commented the editors of Physician and Sportsmedicine (February, 1997).

"Monumental misinformation," Howard G. Knuttgen, Ph.D. of University Park, Pennsylvania, fired back. According to Dr. Knuttgen, the correct prescription for active adults is "2 or 3 sets repetition maximum per session for each muscle group" done "3 to 4 sessions per week." (PSM, May 1997) But that wasn't the end of it.

Dr. Ralph N. Carpinelli, who teaches the neuromuscular aspects of strength training at Adelphi University, took up Dr. Knuttgen's challenge, in Richard Winett's Master Trainer (February 1998). "There is no scientific evidence, nor is there any physiological basis, that would support the superiority of multiple sets," wrote Dr.Carpinelli. As a matter of fact, continued Carpinelli, "Theoretically, as people become stronger and wish to attain maximal increases in strength and hypertrophy, which is not accomplished without optimal recuperation, they may require lower volume and frequency."

Carpinelli, who did an extensive review of the scientific literature on one set versus many, believes "the quantity of exercise is not as important as the quality of exercise." (Master Trainer, Dec. 1997).

I side with Dr. Carpinelli.

First, when you train your whole body in one workout, as I did, you simply can't do very many quality sets; there's not time or energy to do many sets of each exercise. I rarely did more than one set per exercise (after warm-up) in the eleven months before the photos were taken. What's more, as readers of my books know, I have long recommended only one or at most two work sets per exercise.

The best and most complete explanation why I generally do - and recommend - only one work set is in my book Lean For Life (beginning at page 140). But the gist of it is essentially Dr. Carpinelli's point: Quality and quantity are mutually exclusive. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to maintain quality or intensity and do many sets. You can train hard or you can train long, but you can't do both.

Try this experiment in two separate workouts. (WARNING: Don't do this unless you are in good shape and have no health problems. If you have any doubts at all, consult your doctor.) First take Dr. Knuttgen's advice: warm up and then do 3 sets of squats "repetition maximum." Select a weight you can do about 12 reps and do three sets of as many reps as you can..

Now, about a week later try it my way: warm up well, put the same weight on the bar and do as many reps as you can, one set only. How many reps did you do? How did you feel afterward? Were you sore a few days later?

My guess is you did 2 or 3 more reps than before, even though you went for maximum reps the previous week. I'll also bet you didn't have much enthusiasm for doing another set (I know I rarely do), and that you got stiff and sore.

As I explain in Lean For Life, when you plan to do multiple work sets, consciously or subconsciously, you pace yourself; you hold back on the first set, saving your energy for the sets to follow. On the other hand, do only one set and you can focus totally on that set without thinking about the subsequent sets. You are freed up to make a better effort; you don't have to hold anything in reserve. The result is a more intense and, therefore, a more productive set. Try it and let me know your thoughts.

I do only one very hard set

Hard Intervals

My weekly aerobic workout was a modified version of the Tabata high-intensity-interval protocol discussed in articles 10, 11 and 12 on this site. I used the Schwinn Air-Dyne stationary bike, the Concept II rower or the treadmill.

As readers of "Forget The Fat-Burn Zone" (Web Article #10) will recall, Dr. Tabata's experimental group did 7 or 8 sets of high intensity intervals (20 seconds work with 10 second rest) four days per week. On the 5th day they added 30 minutes at 70% of V02max before doing 4 sets of 20 second intervals. Because I only did the protocol once a week, I included a steady-state segment along with the 20-second intervals.

After a 5-minute warm-up, I did 5 to 10 minutes at a steady pace (fast enough to be hard at the end), followed by about 5 minutes easy to recover, and then about ten 20-second intervals. I always ended with 5 minutes of cooldown.

Dr. Tabata's group did intervals at 170% of V02max, but V02max can only be measured in the laboratory. I simply experimented and found a pace that made the last interval very hard to complete. I also monitored my heart rate with the Polar chest-strap device (See The Lean Advantage 3, Chapter 6). My heart rate was usually over 90% of my measured maximum (190) at the end of the steady-state segment and again on the last 20-second interval. As my condition improved, of course, I increased the pace of the workout. (AGAIN, DON'T TRY THIS WITHOUT CHECKING WITH YOUR DOCTOR.)

Believe it or not, I came to enjoy these short - but challenging - aerobic workouts. It was not only the challenge that I liked , but the fact I only did this workout once a week. I came to each session well rested and enthusiastic. I don't believe that would've been true if I had attempted to do this very demanding protocol more often, especially when training hard with weights.

Like my whole-body weight session, I'm sticking to once-a-week aerobics. It was fun and the photos prove it worked extremely well. My body fat came down steadily, while my strength increased. Isn't that what bodybuilding is all about?

What's more, I did it at 60!

(Check back with us next month for the results of my treadmill test at the Cooper Clinic.)

It's me - at 60!

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Ripped Enterprises, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108.
Phone: (505) 266-5858, e-mail: cncbass@aol.com, FAX (505) 266-9123, Office Hours: 8-5, M-F, Mountain time.


Copyrightę1998 Clarence and Carol Bass. All rights reserved.