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Lifetime Bodybuilding

Training for the long haul

There’s an older guy who works out at a gym I visit. He’s very fit, very muscular and very consistent with his routine. In the five or six years I’ve been going to this particular gym, he hasn’t missed more than a handful of workouts. He’s a monument to steadiness and regularity, and he performs his workouts with an ease and comfort that only a person who’s been training for a long, long time could bring to them.

He’s 56 years old, and he started weight training in 1958, when he was 14. He reminisces about guys like Doug Hepburn, Steve Merjanian, Reg Park, Bill Pearl and Chuck Sipes. Clearly, he’s a man who, even though he never competed, always loved the feel of the iron, loved the feel of the serious burn that comes around rep 30 of a 50-rep ab set and loved the ease with which he could move himself and other things around, thanks to weight training.

He told me he mainly loved the long-term effect of regular training’measured not in days or weeks or even months but in many, many years. Like most of us, he also made mistakes: lifting too heavy, going for that extra rep when reason dictated stopping, eating too much garbage from time to time, not resting adequately after a hard workout, and so on.

His advice to iron addicts: Learn to really listen to your body, to pay close attention’even when eating and sleeping’to how your body feels, how it reacts to stimuli, how it responds to that set of squats, presses, curls and so on. It makes no sense to train when you’re blind, deaf and dumb to the signals your body is sending you. Yet how many of us have ignored those signals?

The guy said he’s much more aware of what and how he eats now. He used to wolf down his food like an animal, chewing very little, eating too fast and almost always suffering from indigestion afterward. Now, after more than 40 years in the game, he’s learned that just by taking his time to eat, without distractions, he gets more benefit from healthful food.

The idea of fully concentrating on the meal you’re eating may sound easy, but try it sometime. Don’t eat while driving, talking on the phone, listening to the radio, watching TV or doing 10 million other things. Just eat. It’s very difficult indeed.

After his many years of trial and error, this man has realized that the essence of training is not complexity but rather simplicity, a simplicity arising from the fact that the body has a remarkable intelligence of its own and that the job of the true bodybuilder is to bring out that intelligence over many years of application and study. Making mistakes is a part of that marvelous process. We’ll never know we’re doing things right in the gym and in the kitchen if we never do anything wrong.

So train with the attitude that you’ll be doing this for life, and each and every workout and meal can become a vehicle of self-knowledge and discovery. Stay on the path of experience, and perhaps you too will find that you’re a better bodybuilder in your 50s and 60s than you were in your 20s and 30s.

You will have wisdom. Editor’s note: Timothy Seavey is a personal fitness trainer and cycling coach based in Berkeley, California. To contact him, send e-mail to [email protected].

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