From The Desk Of Clarence Bass
Clarence at 84
This has been the most challenging year since we posted my first annual photo, in 2013. An angry lumbar spine has made it increasingly difficult to train effectively.
Happily, I have landed solidly—with my everyday condition little changed from previous years.
As we wrote when posting the first “Bass photo” at 76, everyday condition is how you look day in and day out. No dieting, no body hair removal, no body color, no oil, and no revved up training routine.
Can’t say that I’m thrilled to be 84 (four years beyond my father’s lifespan) but a piece on Dick Van Dyke in Parade has buoyed my spirit.
Van Dyke just turned 95—and lives in Los Angeles with his wife of nine years, makeup artist Arlene Silver. Sounds like he was just getting started at my age. (He has four children by an earlier relationship.)
“I do a little dancing every day,” he told Parade. “Any kind of movement like that will help keep joints and bones moving. And my wife keeps me young! She has a lot of energy. She’s a singer and a dancer, so we do musicals around here all day.”
“I just love the work,” he added. “I love to do it. If you’re doing something you like doing, then why retire from it? It doesn’t make sense.”
He is living proof that exercise and positive thinking are really, really great for the body and mind: https://www.cbass.com/fitness_brainfunction.html
If Van Dyke can be doing that well at 95, I should have many more good years ahead--as long as I keep training and doing what I enjoy and do best.
As senior golf icon Bernard Langer said after winning for the 42nd time on the 50-and-over tour, "you should never give up."
* * *
The focus of my training has changed many times since I picked up my father's barbell in the 5th grade.
The key is to keep finding ways to train in a productive fashion.
What follows is another stage along this ever growing path.
* * *
As indicated above, my lower back has become a significant problem.
I wrote to our longtime friend, orthopedic surgeon Wade Smith, MD, asking for help. (He lives and practices in Colorado.)
I explained that nothing I've tried seems to be working. That I need to see a back specialist who can lay out my options. (I don’t know anyone in Albuquerque.)
He responded promptly and beyond my expectations. Way beyond!
Within days I was having an MRI at an Albuquerque hospital, to assess the condition of my lower back.
The report found that I have a moderate curvature and narrowing of the discs in my lower back and a mild additional narrowing going up my spine. The narrowing tightens the opening between the discs in my spine. The report says that I have no spinal canal stenosis. I believe that means the nerves passing between the discs are not significantly impaired. (My back and legs are still strong.)
Two months or so later Carol and I were at the Swedish Medical Center in Englewood Colorado, where Wade practices emergency medicine.
We had a wide ranging session with a neurosurgeon that morning, going over my history and what I hoped to achieve from treatment. He immediately ruled out surgery and recommended steroid injections in my lumbar spine. No promises, but a good first step.
That afternoon we met with the doctor doing the injections, once again going over my history and what I hoped to achieve. He explained that the injections don’t always work, but that my leanness makes it easier to hit the bulls-eye.
The injections reduce inflammation and open up passages to provide pain relief and return to some degree of functionality.
I expected the injections to be an ordeal, but they were practically painless. I didn't feel much of anything.
The injections are a numbing agent first and then the steroid. Once again, the doctor said my leanness allowed the steroids to move up my spine, making fewer injections necessary. One or two, I'm not sure.
No promises again, but he was optimistic that I will have a good result.
* * *
It is not clear to me how much the injection or injections are helping, but I am working my way back into full body training.
(I’ll tell you what is working for me, but urge you to consult with your doctor before making major changes in your training.)
The change in my lower body training springs from a conversation with Bill Pearl.
We both have angry lumbar spines, which can disrupt training and sleep. "How do you deal with it," I inquired. Bill's answer was short and sweet: "I live with it!"
The key is to avoid compressing your lower back. Once having squatted over 600, Bill now does up to 50 reps of bench squats with bodyweight. He also does leg curls and leg extensions.
My best single was 485, and I began by doing 20 reps or more with far less on our Keiser Hip-Belt Squat machine. I’d almost made it to 20 reps with 200 when my back began complaining again.
While I love our Hip-Belt Squat machine, I’ve been forced to move closer to what Bill Pearl does. (Carol continues to use our Keiser Hip-Belt Squat machine and loves it.)
I begin with a general warm-up, and then begin training with leg curls and leg extensions, one or two sets of 8 to 12 full-range, controlled reps.
I began squatting all the way down, but my hips and knees did not like it. So I followed Bill by limiting depth with a bench.
Deviating slightly from what I believe Bill does, I go down and up very slowly. (Slowing reps limits momentum and increases effort.)
The photo below shows the final result. I steady myself by holding on - keeping my back straight - and the bench stops me at almost parallel. I also add a little more resistance by wearing a weight belt. That and going up and down very slowly makes bodyweight become taxing between 20 and 50 reps. I’m now doing one set of 35 slow and controlled reps. I try to make each rep demanding, moving slowing toward 50. (Haven't decided where I'll go from there.)
I really feel this in my quads and glutes, showing that it is working. (The leg curl and leg extension pre-exhaust my upper legs.)
I hope to eventually go back to Keiser Hip-Belt Squats. That will be tricky and I intend to be very careful. Time will tell.
My other major problem is that my back cannot tolerate walking fast on hard surfaces or rough terrain. I knew I had a problem when my back gave out on a long uphill street in our neighborhood and Carol had to go home for the car to take me home.
Walking is by and large good for the lower back. The key is to control impact, pace, and distance to suit your needs. (See Google)
I'm doing that by walking on the grass in parks in our neighborhood. The grass cushions my step, while challenging my balance. The irregular surface forces me to pay attention, to avoid tripping or falling down (which I've managed to do, except for being knocked down by an overly friendly dog).
Carol and I walk in parks practically every day. We go to one park and then another; some are hilly and the others are flat. (We keep finding more parks.)
I stopped walking in the foothills because I didn’t want to have to call in a helicopter to take me home.
In addition, we've found a relatively smooth dirt-and-gravel incline of about 50 yards leading into the foothills, where we do intervals once a week.
We have a good time going up and down, counting reps, and slowly increasing pace. We started with 10 and have worked up to 20 reps, which takes about 25 minutes.
This challenges my back and legs progressively without getting very far from the car.
My legs say it's really working a day or so later.
My long term plan is to slowly increase how far I can go into the foothills without having to be rescued.
(Again, check with your doctor before making major changes in your training regimen.)
* * *
Carol and I continue to eat a balanced diet of mostly unprocessed foods. Very healthy and satisfying without over-shooting calorie needs.
I also continue to monitor my weight on our Tanita Body Composition scale once a week.
That, walking indoors during the day (up and down stairs), and weight-training twice a week (one whole body and the other upper body combined with the foothill intervals) is how I’ve managed to stay in shape during the past year.
The following is a montage of photos taken by Carol to record my everyday condition at 84.
I'm not known for my arms, but they're looking pretty good here, especially the forearms.
Leg extensions for quads
Resting after a hard set on the pullover machine.
At the parks
Tanita scale registers my body fat percentage.
A slightly different Bass pose at 84.
November 1, 2021
Ripped Enterprises, P.O. Box 51236, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87181-1236
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