by Claude Rigon (1982)
No. I am not kin to Peter Pan who refused to grow up. I'm just Claude who refuses to grow old before he feels old.
What does old feel like? I'm sure that no one really knows who is involved and exited by new ideas, and who is committed to the maintenance of a lifestyle which is at once wholesome and pleasing. I refer, specifically, to bodybuilding in the true sense - a program of physical IMPROVEMENT, not just an attempt at keeping the status quo.
Can this be done by a person of 57? I'm sure it can be. I'm doing it. Some of my age-peers with whom I've been friendly since high school days are aghast at my courting disaster by training hard for gains. They seem to prefer cosmetology and fad diets mixed with sporadic and listless periods of physical activity. Most are in somewhat decent shape for their age, but that is when comparing them with the non-active segment of our total middle-aged population. They just don't know how much better they can feel. However, they resist trying it my way. No matter how much you might think I'm on a massive ego trip by what I'm about to say, please take an objective viewpoint.
When, in the gym, some of the better young physique men say to me, "Just hope I look as good as you do when I'm your age," I get a mild glow. My usual reply is that they probably will look better when they reach my age than I do now, thanks to increasingly efficient training and diet knowledge available. Then, I add my "if."
IF YOU KEEP UP A CONSISTENT, TOUGH PROGRAM.
I add this that I don't want to look good compared to a non-lifter my age. I want to look as good as a bodybuilder of say, 20 or 25 years my junior who is in great condition. After all, who is to say that the middle 50's are the turning point towards tragic deterioration physically? There is no one timetable to aging. We all age at a rate encoded in our genes and influenced by our behavior. We can slow up this process significantly if we recognize that the body must be used vigorously and must be fueled intelligently. It must also be allowed to rest and recuperate mentally as well as physically in adequate amounts.
As we hit the middle years we have learned to husband our energies on the job, our responsibilities towards children and family are alleviated, so why not devote more energy to sound physical activities to the extent that our energies and enthusiasm permit? Frankly, I'm so exuberant now with all the wonderful contacts I make with the young and not-so-young that I meet at the gym and at contests, and feel so good physically that I'm compelled to pass on to you my feelings, diet and training ideas, and some unsolicited philosophy along the way.
To begin with, this article has a two-pronged thrust. The first is to exhort the already successful man on the lifting scene to hang in and hold on. The over 35 and past 40 contests are getting so tough there is no stigma of being over the hill when competing in them. The second tine of this two-pronged approach is to the older man who was once in great shape and had great strength and has allowed it to escape, and to the older man who has always dreamed of having a great physique and/or greater strength but has done nothing about it.
The first-mentioned man has a great chance of recapturing much of his former excellence if he gets at it NOW. The second-mentioned man must be soberly cautioned that a Mr. America physique is not likely to materialize, but that dramatic results can be achieved if he gets at it NOW. Before either man gets going, however, I seriously suggest him to have a full physical from a competent, trusting, and understanding physician. Some doctors will express great reserve about embarking on an ambitious course of weight lifting, but if you reassure him that you are not going to try anything but a sensibly paced regimen, starting light at first and progressing to more challenging activity (and possibly beyond), he will no doubt give you his blessing.
Before I give you a run-down on my own training and diet, I'd like, selfishly and perhaps egotistically to expose some rambling thoughts about where I've been and what I've gained from this persistently intensive training since I decided that competition was going to be the key to my continued training. Perhaps on the surface the most rewarding might seem to be the titles, since they were all won in five-and-a-half years past age 50. In each of those age-class contests I also entered the Senior open contest to see how I stacked up against the younger fellows. I placed in the top 3rd to the top 5th in all except one, and in several placed 2nd. Out of this has come the most rewarding of all experiences - I have been close to and in the complete confidence of the finest group of young people this country has to offer. Young, senior, middle-aged bodybuilders and just plain folks have approached me for help and advice. What more can a person want in this world in the way of recognition than being needed and being able to help. The problems of the young folks, especially, went far beyond the realm of the physical. At times I'm overwhelmed with the serious responsibility of the whole thing, for these young men and women reveal in their questions about training very deep involvement in other problems. Never being in the habit of giving opinions unless I know the whole situation has resulted in many delightful long-term friendships with some very good people. All summer long a vast array of people come down to my garage by the seashore. The largest group are the lifeguards of the area, and many an 'Iron Man" has trained and gained over the years on the programs I try and put together for each one. My great joy comes in the opening of the summer season when these fellows come back looking better and happy in their achievements. One fact that I try to impress upon all of them is that they must apply the self-discipline of lifting to some life work other than bodybuilding that is productive and useful to the rest of society. The joy I derive from my barbell endeavors is second only to the soul-seated contentment I receive from my work in the high school classroom as a teacher. This brings up the fact that to many of my students I am a symbol of a balanced life, and that I strive hard to be the best teacher as I can be, and at the same time I can excel in something totally different. Here again, the problems that many indirectly express to me can be cause for many a sleepless night wrestling with how to cope with this problem within my capabilities and not have the student or lifter feel that I am overstepping my prerogatives.
One thing that this competing and winning (everybody loves a winner!) has brought to me is a certain degree of public recognition that is jarring. As a result, the Philadelphia Inquirer published quite an article on a contest and yours truly. this led to ABC TV doing a documentary on me which was picked up on cable in the Metropolitan New York area where I live. The jarring note is that I can't currently go out into the shopping areas or in public in general without being stopped by strangers. Most are really sincere, nice people who wish to pass on a kind word and ask a question or two. Some, however, feel that public exposure equates with their right to demand of your time and knowledge without thought to whether or not one is pressed for time or of a mood at the moment. Being gracious to all is a bit trying sometimes. Usually the latter type is apt to be hostile to the whole bodybuilding concept and is prone to state that, "When you get old, all that muscle is going to turn to fat." My reply is to ask them what they mean about getting old. When they say, "You know, when you're in your 50's or near 60." I take out my driver's license, point to the age and say nothing.
Incidentally, if this article seems a bit disjointed it is due to the fact that I've got to do it between bites of lunch. Training, marking papers at night and some family responsibilities leave little or no time for creative writing, other than at lunch time.
How do I train? How should the older man train?
I feel that that older man should keep right on training as if he were a young man as long as his joints will allow. Which means good hefty weights for the sets and reps that work well for him and his goals. When joints become inflamed and refuse to respond to any measures other than total rest, then it is time to compromise with Father Time and ease off on the poundages. Sometimes ligaments and tendons lose some of their elasticity with hard, heavy training. Now is the time to take off two weeks, then revamp the whole routine to include lighter, wide-range of motion movements and many stretching exercises with no weights. In my case, I am beginning to experience quite some discomfort in the shoulders which has always limited some of my frontal raising power and benching ability. I find that I have lost no size and increased the density in this region by returning to my first love, military presses done strictly with no more than 150 pounds.
Specifically, here is my training schedule. I like to train six days a week on a three-day cycle program.
Day One, Legs & Shoulders
Military Press - warm up with 15 reps, then 5 x 10 reps with poundage increases on each set.
EZ Bar Upright Rows - 5 x `10.
Bentover DB Raises - 5 x 10
Side Laterals - 5 x 10
Squats - 20 reps warmup set, then 5 x 10 reps with increases on each set.
Leg Extensions - 5 x 20
Leg Curls - 5 x 15
Calf Raises - 3 x 33 with feet pointing in a different direction each set
Abs - Weighted Situps on a slant board - 2 x 50
Roman Chair Situps - 3 x 25
Before hitting the high points of my second day of this 3-day cycle, let me tell you how I keep energy going during the workout. Between each set of each exercise I have a sip of a mild honey and water mixture. I like it rather sweet, you may prefer less honey. 12 oz. of this mix should do for a whole workout. I take about 30 seconds to a minute's rest between sets, so this little sip slowly swallowed is just enough of a break. I favor this habit because I don't like large gulps of water while training.
Day Two, Chest & Back
Bench Press - 20 rep warmup, then 6 x 8 reps with increasing weight on each set.
Flat Flyes - 5 x 10
Incline Flyes - 5 x 10 at a low angle, 5 x 10 at a medium angle, and 5 x 10 at a high angle.
Lat Pulldowns alternated with Cable Crossovers for pecs - 5 x 10 each.
Seated Cable Rows alternated with Cable Crossovers - 5 x 10 each.
Claude Rows - elevate a no-strut brace bench so that it is approximately three feet from top of bench to the floor. Two milk carton crates usually do a good job. Put bar so you can reach it when lying on your stomach. Pull bar up to bottom of bench. Vary the angles for 5 sets of 10 reps. A.K.A. supported incline barbell rowing.
Hyperextensions - 4 x 25 with weight held behind the head.
Dumbbell Side Bends - 3 x 25 each side.
Twists with stick - I twist until I get bored with the motion, usually by the 200th rep or so.
Day Three, Arms
Heavy Wide Grip EZ-bar Curls supersetted with Heavy Triceps Pushdown with a V-bar - 5 x 10 reps, increasing weight each set.
Seated Dumbbell Concentration Curl - 5 x 10
Lying Triceps Extension - 5 x 10
Preacher Curl with EZ-Bar, narrow grip - 5 x 10
Dumbbell Triceps Kickback - 5 x 10
Naturally, from time to time to avoid boredom, I change the exercises in my routine, but I don't vary the sequence much at all, though once in a while I'll shift the days around. Getting out of my little weight room and visiting one of the public gyms in the area is one of my real pleasures. I let the management know I'll be there so that between sets while I'm training, and after the workout, I'll make myself available to the young fellows and the older ones too for brain picking. I reiterate my earlier statement - it's a grand feeling being wanted and to sense a continuation of something into which I came when it was a less than respected endeavor. The present respect now given to bodybuilding is all the reward I need for what little I can do to help the new guy on his way. Knowing that one has been on the right track all along is a great reward.
As regards diet, I must confess that I have little or no great discovery to pass along. I eat a great deal of chicken, turkey, fish, eggs and lean red meats, trying to keep my calories up to about 2000 a day. I also eat plentifully of green and red vegetables, do eat some fiber breads and consume a good deal of low fat milk. My sweet tooth is very demanding, so when no contest is looming on the horizon I do indulge in a piece of cake, pie, or some candy when I feel like it, which is woefully all too often. Ice cream is also a love and a pitfall I must beware of. Thank goodness my metabolism is very high so I don't tend to bloat out even when pigging out! I have to avoid fats due to a sluggish gall bladder, which makes it relatively easy to remain lean. I do ingest large quantities of protein supplements, mostly milk & egg of the dry and predigested types. Vitamins and minerals in mega-quantities are a must for me pre-contest. Between contests I consume moderate quantities of all the vitamins and minerals.
One thing that I suppose I ought to subscribe to to is the tuna & water regimen that so many bodybuilders undertake a few weeks before a contest. Having been informed by no less than three very reliable internists that the risk of liver damage is terribly high and costly doing this, I decided to forgo the health hazards of being ripped to the point of looking dessicated. A young man doing the tuna & water routine comes off looking dry and gray and super-cut. A few older men I have seen doing the same thing have come off looking dry, grey, and wrinkled. Some carbohydrates and a small amount of vegetable fats are essential to health. What the bare minimum is for each individual varies, butt the proof is irrefutable that total abstinence is injurious to your health. At my age I'm not taking any chances. In short, I really advocate a diet that is balanced in normal foods, an occasional soul-satisfying piece of your favorite goody and about 50 grams of extra protein supplement during normal training. I always take vitamins and minerals and have mentioned my use of large doses of these some three weeks before a contest, so that's that.
Rest! All the forgoing is of little avail if the older man (or younger man) is to maintain, let alone gain in his training, unless he gets plenty of sleep and rest. The body must recuperate from the work you do in the gym. However, don't overdo the sleep/rest routine. Too much makes one sluggish and keeps a body smooth.
When am I going to stop training? I'll categorically state NEVER! Reason dictates that sooner or later I'll have to diminish some of my efforts but I don't think that means stop because powers lessen. (Life lessons while life lessens?) I will stop competing as soon as I see that I am not making any gains. Yes, I am still making gains! Spurts in improvement have come during the during the late 40's and early 50's, and have been slow but significant as long as I am attentive to hard training, proper eating, resting, and specializing in deficient bodyparts.
I'd like to get my muscular bodyweight up by about five to seven more pounds. Solid muscle. I'm somewhat top-heavy currently, but hope that further intensive leg work will correct that. This last year alone I put one whole inch of thigh size on. They told me that this could not be done at my age. I guess the good Lord hasn't heard of that theory for He more than answered my prayers for help in the leg department. Usually I save my prayers for more serious matters such as world peace, the health of my family, etc., but in this case I was desperate.
To pull the threads of this rather disjointed recital of fact and highly personal theories together, let me say briefly to the older man, "Keep going. Don't let preconceived notions limit your activities and aspirations." Plan on a lifetime of rewards pro-rated on the amount of effort and thought you bring to your training. To both young and old I advise sincere and humble resort to Divine assistance and re-doubled effort.
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