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Interview with Clarence Bass on Motivation, Intensity and Flow
by Jared Zimmerer, July 17, 2013 (JaredZimmerer.com)
Clarence Bass is the model of a lifetime devoted to fitness and health. The founder of RIPPED Enterprises, a phenomenal organization offering everything a bodybuilder needs to be successful. A long-time Muscle & Fitness columnist, a lawyer and bodybuilding champion, Clarence has been called "the most articulate and well-read spokesman in America for an all-round fitness lifestyle." Author of ten books, he believes in combining weights, aerobics and sound nutrition to achieve total fitness and permanent fat loss.
His countless works and years of wisdom, which can be absorbed through his many resources at www.CBass.com , are in high demand. His no nonsense approach to proving what works in the gym and the kitchen through comprehensive research and scientific study is accessible and easy to apply. Clarence writes on topics ranging from diet and exercise to keeping fit at an advanced age to physiology and psychology. One of my personal favorites of his articles is entitled Learned Optimism, where he discusses how to keep ourselves internally motivated, “Weight training taught me that what I did counted, that I had the power to shape the course of my life.” I am honored and excited to bring you his insight.
The interview follows:
Q. Your first book, Ripped: The Sensible Way To Achieve Ultimate Muscularity, which is now in its eleventh printing and has been praised by both Joe Weider and Bill Pearl, is a remarkable achievement in offering an approachable and sensible diet and exercise routine. How important is it for health and fitness enthusiasts to realize that fad diets and extreme measures can be problematic?
A: It’s amazing that Ripped, published in 1980, is still a best-seller. One of the things people like is that I wrote about my failures as well my successes. It presents a common-sense, trial and error process, with objective underwater body composition tests to determine what works and what doesn’t. I document why steroids are a short term and self defeating alternative. On the diet score, I illustrate why I switched from a low-carb diet to a balanced diet of whole foods.
The low-carb diet works, but almost no one can stick to it—especially without a contest or some other important event staring them in the face. The craving for carbs eventually becomes overpowering. That’s an important point. The only diet that people will stick to is one they enjoy.
That’s why extreme diets don’t work; they leave you feeling hungry and dissatisfied. Happily, a healthy satisfying diet (combined with exercise) is also the best way to lose fat and keep it off. Sounds too good to be true, I know, but it’s the gospel truth.
Q. You recently posted an article about Arthur Jones’ training principles. Jones was a major proponent of keeping intensity high throughout the workout. While many disagree with his methods, what have your findings been?
Arthur Jones believed that each exercise should be continued to a point of momentary muscular failure. That’s overload; everyone agrees that it is the key stimulus to muscle growth. To make progress you must continually challenge your muscles. A corollary was that he recommended brief and infrequent workouts. Jones said you can train hard or long, but you can’t do both.
I ascribe to both principles, but appreciate that training hard all the time is not feasible. Gains ebb and flow—and successful training must do the same. When you encounter a sticking point, the best plan is to back off, recoup, and then start up again. That’s what periodization is about. It’s the key to long-term progress. I discuss periodization in one form or another in all of my books, starting with Ripped 2.
Q. You are a model of lifelong fitness and health. What initially motivated you and what advice could you offer to those in their later years who struggle with staying in shape?
My motivation has changed over time. That’s probably true for most people who start training early and never stop. The one thing that has never changed, however, is challenge. I have never stopped looking for ways to improve. I don’t believe in training to maintain. After 60+ years of training, it’s still true.
Success is what keeps people motivated. When you stop improving motivation tends to evaporate. My experience is that you can always find ways to improve. I discuss that at length on my later books, beginning with Lean For Life.
Lifelong fitness and health moved up in my sights as time went by. I observed that the gap between those who take care of themselves and those who don’t grows wider and wider; it’s akin to an ever-growing V. In my new book TAKE CHARGE, I cite statistics showing that lifelong trainers, at 90, have the neuromuscular fitness of an untrained person 30 years younger.
That’s powerful motivation to keep training, but alone is rarely enough. Again, to stay motivated you must keep challenging yourself—the theme of my eighth book, Challenge Yourself.
Q. You have written many articles about the ability of weight training to do more than just change you physically; in a recent article you dove into how it can help you improve emotional health as well. What is it about devotion to the weights and diet which keeps our emotions at proper levels?
“Getting old is not for sissies” is a well known truism. Most people are afraid of getting old. I am certainly no exception.
Training gives you a sense of control over your body and your life. This was brought home to me by a former training partner who died at 66, after a 20-year battle with cancer. I wrote about it on our website in an article titled “Remembering Roger Wright—A deeper look into the value of weight training.”
Roger never stopped training; he was talking about getting back into the gym a few days before he died. Working out became an integrating factor in his life. He said it was like a “ball of string” winding its way through his life, tying everything together. He felt like everything was all right as long as he was lifting.
I know how he felt, because I feel the same way.
Roger liked the feeling of control he got from training. So many things are beyond our control. The hour or so spent in the gym has a calming effect. Controlling the stress in the gym makes you better able to tolerate the chaos on the outside.
His daughter told Carol and me that Roger was never angry or resentful about his cancer. Life had thrown him a vicious curve ball and he coped with it.
His daughter also trains and has a true appreciation for how much it heals one's mind and soul.
“I know that is how my dad related to his training towards the end of his life. Although the cancer took its toll on him physically, it was through his weight training that he maintained some semblance of physical control. But more importantly it allowed him to channel his mental and spiritual strength to fight the most important battle of his life. He fought fiercely, gracefully and without regret until the very end.”
I learned as a teenager that weight training put me in control of my body. Lifting also taught me that setting reasonable goals and working hard to achieve those goals would allow me to shape the course of my life.
I can’t think of a more powerful example than Roger Wright, who succeeded in every facet of his life.
Q. I'm very excited about the release of your latest book, Take Charge; what was your motivation in writing it?
Three far reaching developments in fitness training—one in strength training, one in endurance training, and a third in combination training—started me thinking about a tenth book.
1) Effort based resistance training: Effort, not load, is the key to building strength.
2) The rise of interval training: Intensity, not duration, is the efficient way to build endurance.
3) Resistance training builds endurance: Strength training enhances endurance training.
I’ve made it a practice not to attempt another book until I have a new topic or topics that excite me. I write one or more articles for our website (cbass.com) every month; we now have over 360 articles in ten categories. The three topics mentioned and a review of other new topics I’ve written about in the five years since the publication of Great Expectations convinced me that I had more than enough material for a new book, eight new topics: Strength, Endurance, Cognition, Aging, Health, Nutrition, Dieting, and Personality.
The overriding theme is that science is coming up with new paths to total fitness. More than ever before, we are able to choose forms of training that we enjoy and do well. No one needs to train in ways that don’t fit his or her physiology and personality.
Take Charge is about training and eating in the way that suits you best.
If that excites you, as it does me, you’ll want to read Take Charge.
Q. Out of all the amazing topics you write on, which is your favorite and why?
Flow, a term coined and explained by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD.
In his landmark book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper & Row, 1990), Dr. C related a powerful truth known since the days of Aristotle: “Periods of struggling to overcome challenges are what people find to be the most enjoyable times of their lives.”
Paraphrasing Dr. C, here’s the blueprint followed by people who experience flow: They set appropriate goals, closely monitor feedback, and when they reach their goals, they up the ante, setting increasingly complex challenges for themselves.
I believe that three-pronged formula explains why I’m still going strong after more than 60 years of high-level training. As related above, I keep looking for—and finding—ways to challenge myself.
Hard, goal-directed work is its own reward. A goal achieved is a goal lost; you have to keep finding appropriate new goals. Flow isn’t a pizza parlor—or winning the lottery—phenomenon. The best rewards come from within.
(I first wrote about Flow in my book Lean For Life.)
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