Unlike most men that, like me, stand toes to the edge of the mid-point in their lives, I didn’t spend my sixtieth birthday, or any day since that sunny June celebration, scratching my hairless dome wondering where the time went. I know exactly where it went. I spent it grunting and groaning, sweating and even bleeding at times, and most days in too much pain to move. I spent it guzzling disgusting potions, studying the latest training rituals, and learning everything I could cram into my head about my body and how it worked. And the very best of those days were spent in dank and filthy gyms, very few squeaky clean ones, and every other kind in between, doing the hard work, lifting weights in every imaginable way, all in pursuit of bigger and stronger muscles.
It started when I was about six years old. I had discovered a spring-loaded grip strengthener abandoned behind the furnace in our basement. At that stage of my life I couldn’t tell time with any level of accuracy, but I knew what this thing could do. I had seen the cartoon ads on the back of my comic books where the skinny guy got sand kicked in his face by some meatball on the beach. In the next panel, that skinny guy had transformed his body into something more muscular and manly. He had done it by exercising with a magical device similar to the one I held in my hand, and now that he was “well-built” he sorted out the bully and went home with his girl. It sounded like a good life-path for me, so I went to work.
I was never able to master the grip enhancer. It was un-wieldy in my child-sized hands and too strong for me to do anything with other than savagely pinch myself. I eventually abandoned the weapon and settled on doing pushups and situps. It was the flashpoint that ignited a fire in my belly that has burned to this day. I became obsessed with muscles, and I was inspired to build the herculean shoulders, a barn-door back, and oak-tree thighs I read about in muscle magazines. I hoped I would end up as strong as my Uncle Lorne who was two and a half years older than me and my hero in all things; or this new guy on the Bodybuilding scene at the time by the name of Arnold something-or-other .
Then in 1973, at fourteen years of age and tipping the the scales at a whopping 135 lbs with a roll of quarters in my pocket; I picked up a barbell for the first time, and never set it down.
I went on to set a powerlifting squat record in the 1980s that stood for twelve years. Mind you; there weren’t many powerlifters in Saskatchewan at the time to challenge my achievement. None-the-less, I had the record, and I’m gonna brag about it. I took a half-hearted swing at bodybuilding for a couple of years but enjoyed watching it more than doing it. I settled into just training for the fun of it and focussing on things that put food on the table. Fun for me was lifting as much as I could, whenever I could. That and getting big. At one point, I reached my goal of having twenty-inch arms, and years later, I hit my peak bodyweight goal of 260lbs with visible abs. I could move a ton of weight, but breathing afterward was another matter. I couldn’t do anything functional and my cardio conditioning was non-existent.
Right after that I got into Boxing and then Muay Thai because I have always loved to fight and I thought the training would be a great way to get in shape. And I needed to get into shape. My first round of sparring was the longest three minutes of my life. I started with a flurry of lefts and rights, bobbing and weaving, moving with catlike agility around the ring and then exploding with another flurry of deadly punches. Then the last 2 minutes and forty five seconds was spent trying to catch my breath and not get knocked out. I was big as a house, strong as an Ox, and couldn’t go three minutes in the ring against what I mistakenly thought was a much lesser man.
Like that wondrous moment in my basement when I discovered the grip enhancer, I fell in love with fight sports that day, and functional fitness, and being able to do more than lift a lot of weight. That was almost two decades ago, and I haven’t looked back.
A few broken bones and far too many birthdays later, I don’t spar much anymore. But I still keep my skills sharp and no matter what I am doing for conditioning training, increasing endurance is always the goal.
On my fifty-seventh birthday, I did 1007 pushups in 70 minutes. Ana had trained with me for six months toward that goal, and she did 635 knee pushups in the same time frame. If I am using weights to train my rest period between sets is never longer than about fifteen seconds, and the lowest number of reps I do is around 15. I go to failure on every set.
The thing I never expected is that I am much stronger now than I was before the endurance training and while my workouts are demanding, I feel energized when I am done rather than wiped out.
On the medical side, at 60 years old, I am far healthier than I was at 40. My hippie wife feeds me more fruits and vegetables than I have eaten in my entire life and I still enjoy some red meat, chicken, fish, and eggs, but the portions are more reasonable because I am not trying to put on as much muscle as possible. Instead of walking around at a tired 245lbs, I am a much leaner, more flexible, and agile at 220lbs with far more energy and the ability to spend it doing fun things with my wife and kids.
I don’t regret the years of strength training and bodybuilding. I loved that chapter of my life, and the gym was always there for me no matter what was going on. But this feels so much better and honestly, it looks better too I think. Now that I have hit the mid-point of my life at 60, health, longevity, and quality of life matter far more to me than being able to squat over 700lbs again just to say I did. I can comfortably leg press 1000lbs for 20 reps, rest 15 seconds and do it again. That is equally as impressive as a 700lb squat to your average gym-goer in dire need of being impressed.
Changing from a training culture that was how I identified myself as a man was the most significant challenge. But once I got past that and started seeing the greater benefit of having endurance, better health, agility, flexibility, more energy, and more easily able to control my bodyfat levels; I got over myself and started having fun with it.
It’s how I train now. Maybe it’s not for everyone but I’m never going back to the old way. You can expect to see me in the gym, doing this every day for the next sixty years.