Clarence Bass

Reveals His Secrets for Staying Lean and Muscular at 70

If you’ve been around bodybuilding since the ’80s, you know the name Clarence Bass. Did he win the Mr. Olympia? No, but he brought to the forefront the principles of eating and training properly to get that extreme-lean look Mr. Olympias strive for. A self-confessed musclehead and attorney, he got down to 2.4 percent bodyfat, something unheard of even today, and he did it with clean eating, sensible training and no drugs—and he was over 40 when he achieved that milestone.

Today he’s 70, and he looks incredible—not just for his age but for any age. If you’re interested in how he does it, read on.

IM: You appear almost as ripped and muscular on the cover of your new book, Great Expectations, as you did in your earlier books, like Lean for Life and Challenge Yourself, when you were 50 and 60. What’s been the most difficult adjustments you’ve had to make as you got older to stay in that condition?

CB: Thanks for the compliment. People need to know that it doesn’t have to be downhill after 50. That’s the main message in my new book; that’s why I wrote it. I’ve basically kept on doing what I’ve always done. I had my hip replaced in January of 2006, but I continued training right up to the surgery and lost little if any size or strength. I had a new surgical procedure where they go between rather than cut any major muscles. I was back in the gym in a few weeks and back up to speed in a few months. The body keeps responding to the demands of sensible training far longer than most people think. To accomplish something you must believe that it’s possible—and that you can do it. My new book gives readers reason to have great expectations.

IM: Do you think your years of weight training were the reason you needed hip-replacement surgery?

CB: It’s impossible to know for sure. I trained steadily for more than 50 years before having my hip replaced. It may have just worn out. It’s also possible that my hip would’ve given out earlier without training. I have a congenital curvature in my spine, which may have played a part as well. Most doctors would agree that joints do best when they are used regularly (not overused). One of the chapters in my book gives the details of my hip replacement, including the role of weight training before and after.

IM: In Ripped you said your bodyfat was measured in a hydrostatic-weighing device at 2.4 percent. Have you had your bodyfat measured lately?

CB: I monitor my bodyfat every week using a Tanita Body Composition Scale, which is quite accurate if used consistently. That’s been a boon to my training because I no longer have the expense and hassle of having myself weighed under water. According to the Tanita scale, my bodyfat was about 5 percent when the book photos were taken; it varies, plus or minus, based on time of day and hydration level.

IM: Do you feel you’re still improving, or is it more of a maintenance game now?

CB: I always try to improve. Training to maintain is no fun and a motivation killer, and I avoid it like the plague. I can almost always find ways to improve. I set goals in every workout. That doesn’t mean that I’m improving in a linear way—I’m obviously not. But that’s my mind-set, and I believe it has a lot to do with my continuing success.

IM: In the past you were a staunch high-intensity advocate, training all out to failure along the lines of Mike Mentzer’s recommendations. Do you still believe in that approach, and is it the best way to train for someone past middle age?

CB: I’m a strong believer in the “less is more” philosophy. I don’t train to all-out failure. I know when I can’t do another rep and stop. Where I differ with Mike’s approach is that I train in up-and-down cycles and always include aerobics. I think it’s important for older lifters to continue challenging themselves and take care to allow time for recovery between workouts. 

IM: What weight-training and cardio programs do you follow now, and how has that changed over the past decade—or has it?

CB: My workouts are equally balanced between weights and aerobics. I approach aerobics the same way I do weights: hard and infrequent. I prefer to do weights and aerobics on separate days, so I can give equal attention to both. I train two or three times a week and walk on off days. On weights, I do one hard set after warmup. On aerobics, I focus on high-intensity intervals. My weight workouts last a little over an hour and my aerobics sessions about 25 minutes.

IM: Are there exercises you think older bodybuilders should steer clear of? How about squats and deadlifts?

CB: I believe both old and young trainers should avoid movements that hurt. If it hurts, don’t do it. Squats and deadlifts are fine as long as they don’t cause joint pain. Allowing time for recovery is especially important for the squat and deadlift. Doing squats one week and deadlifts the next works well for most people.

IM: Do you do a lot of warmup sets before your one work set for each exercise?

CB: It depends on the exercise. For multijoint exercises such as squats, deadlifts or bench presses, I generally do two or three warmup sets. For curls and other single-joint movements, one or two. Reps for warmup sets are usually eight to four, with progressively heavier weights. My theory is that warmup sets are to prepare the body for the work set and shouldn’t wear you out.

IM: Is your training program in your new book?

CB: Yes. I explain the changes I’ve made recently, including those made after my hip replacement.

IM: Early in your weight-training career you were an Olympic lifter. Do you think those lifts—the clean and jerk and the snatch—are safe? What were some of your best poundages?

CB: The Olympic lifts put a lot of stress on the joints and must be approached with care. Power cleans and power snatches are much easier to learn and are probably best for most people. I do have some joint problems that I trace back to my Olympic lifting days—I have a weakness in my left shoulder and arthritis in my lower back. I avoid movements that aggravate either condition. Training through pain or injury is a bad idea. My best lifts were 275 press, 245 snatch and 325 clean and jerk.

IM: What’s your favorite cardio exercise, and how do you attack it for best results?

CB: My favorite cardio machine is the Schwinn Airdyne, an exercise bike with a push-pull arm action. I believe in training the whole body aerobically, and the Airdyne does that very well. What many forget is that 50 percent or more of the benefit of aerobic exercise takes place in the muscles and that only the muscles that are used benefit. A good performance monitor, like the one on the Airdyne, is important so you can train progressively. As I said earlier, I always try to improve.

IM: In the days of Ripped your diet was higher carb, medium protein and low fat, with reduced calories when you wanted to get ripped. How do you eat now?

CB: The main change that I’ve made in recent years is the addition of “good” fat, usually salmon. Good fat slows the absorption of food and is good for the heart and circulatory system. I eat a balanced diet of mostly whole foods. I eat three main meals and three snacks a day and never miss a meal. The bulk of my diet is vegetables, fruits and whole grains. In addition, I make a point of having some fat and high-quality protein with each meal or snack. I never allow myself to get overly hungry. I don’t starve myself.

IM: Does being a semi-vegetarian hamper your testosterone production? Doesn’t that type of diet make it harder to build muscle, especially as you age?

CB: I had my testosterone checked during my last health and fitness exam at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. The blood test showed that my testosterone is in the mid-range of normal; you can read the details on our Web site (www.cbass.com). I believe that regular exercise—weights and aerobics—and a balanced diet are all that most people need to maintain testosterone at normal levels.

IM: What’s your favorite supplement for aging bodybuilders?

CB: I like creatine, which works especially well for people who don’t eat much meat. I’ve taken it for years.

IM: What keeps you motivated to stay in such solid, lean shape? Who’s your inspiration?

CB: I enjoy my training, a key element in staying motivated. Realistic and challenging goals are also important. Positive feedback showing progress toward a meaningful goal is the ultimate motivator. I always have a goal. When I achieve it, I set another one. Training becomes more important with each passing year. I never miss a scheduled workout. Bill Pearl has always been my favorite role model. My dad and I were in the audience when he won the ’53 Mr. America. I love the fact that he still gets up at about 4 a.m. to train six days a week.

IM: What’s your training and diet advice to bodybuilders who are moving past middle age?

CB: I’d tell them that regularity in training and diet is the most important thing. The only diet or training regimen that will work is one you are willing and able to continue indefinitely. Don’t bite off more than you’re really willing to chew.

IM: Do you keep up with the current bodybuilding scene?

CB: I don’t follow competitive bodybuilding as closely as I once did. My impression is that the top guys and gals are so good that normal people can’t relate to them. Bodybuilding for health and fitness, however, has never been more popular. Carol and I just heard that Gold’s Gym is planning to open several new gyms in our hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, which already has a ton of fitness centers. My sense is that the over-40 market may be the fastest growing segment. For those who want to stay young and strong, bodybuilding is the key.

IM: Obesity is rampant in the United States, and children are more sedentary than ever before, which is adding to the epidemic and creating a health crisis. Any ideas on how we as a society can reverse that trend?

CB: I wish I knew the answer. I’m pretty sure that treating the overweight as victims isn’t it, however. With very few exceptions, whether we are fit and lean or sedentary and fat is a choice. Our Web site, books and DVDs are aimed at helping people who want to help themselves.

IM: You’ve written countless books over the years—Ripped 1, 2 and 3; The Lean Advantage 1, 2 and 3; Lean for Life; and Challenge Yourself. Why the new book, Great Expectations? What’s different about it?

CB: I began training when I was about 13 and never stopped, so I’m one of the very first of a new breed—a breed that I expect to grow rapidly in the years to come. I’m an example of the benefits of exercise and healthy eating over a lifetime. In Great Expectations I provide authoritative evidence that we do not have to get weaker and fatter as we age. As I indicated earlier, vibrant health, fitness and leanness are there for those who choose to train, eat and live well. What’s more, suffering is not required or even helpful, which is another main theme of the book. Its subtitle is Health Fitness Leanness Without Suffering. The bodybuilding lifestyle can and should be a joy. It’s a wonderful journey that begins with the first step and ideally never ends.

IM: Any parting comments about life and lifting for those of us who are cruising into our 50s and 60s?

CB: Yes, keep training. I also want to thank you, Steve, and John Balik for their interest in me over the years. My first exposure was in Iron Man years ago when Peary and Mabel Rader were at the helm. One constant in my bodybuilding life has been IRON MAN. May it continue to thrive and prosper forever.

Editor’s note: For more on Clarence Bass, visit his Web site, www.CBass.com. To order his new book, Great Expectations, visit www.Home-Gym.com, or call (800) 447-0008.  IM

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