Though Lee was not fated to reach his prime time, as you and I have been lucky enough to do, his words of wisdom speak to an important aspect of our relationship to our physique pursuits. As I have written before, it’s vital for us to recognize the changing realities brought about by the aging process. No, we do not bow to those realities; indeed, we strive to turn the normal process of aging on its head. Still, we cannot do that without adopting a realistic approach to both our training and our goals. Because it’s true what they say—time changes everything.
One of the things that should change with time, but often does not, is our vision of the kind of physique we are trying to build—that standard that we hold ourselves up to. When we were young, most of us had a vision of what the ideal physique looked like. Maybe yours was Arnold’s or Lou Ferrigno’s or Frank Zane’s. You actually may have had the dream (if not the genetics) to reach that level of excellence. Even if you never did, the vision stayed in your head for years as you toiled in the iron vineyard.
When I was young, the guys in my gym nicknamed me “Zane,” so I guess that tells you who I wanted to look like. As I got older, however, I realized (as you may also have) that the likelihood of my actually looking like my idol was beyond slim. Still, as Lee’s words above point out, the important thing was having the vision to aim at, if not to reach. It sustained me in my hobby for decades—and in a way it still does.
In our prime time, however, we are in a different place than we were in our 20s or 30s; it helps to have a different vision of what we want to look like. So let’s give up on the vision that sustained us for so long: the image of a pro bodybuilder in his prime—and probably “jacked” on substances that would kill you and me at our age. Where do we look for a new vision or maybe even a role model?
You may not have to look any further than some of your past idols as they appear today. Robby Robinson certainly remains an iconic figure even in his mid-60s, and Frank Zane also has aged incredibly well. While it is great to use men like that as an example of how lean, muscular and conditioned you can be in your later years, there is also a danger. Never forget that the tremendously rare genetics that allowed those elite former champions to climb to the heights of bodybuilding stardom are still there when they age. For example, while Zane may not have been genetically gifted to put on a lot of muscle size, his bodybuilding pedigree was built into his DNA. The wide shoulders, impossibly small waist and hips and enormous rib cage, all combined with small, precise joints, made a package few men can emulate.
How about looking to the world of entertainment for a new vision for your prime time? Action heroes like Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood and Jean-Claude Van Damme have aged like prime beef (just don’t use Steven Seagal as your model). Even “younger” aging stars like Brad Pitt have shown just how great a maturing physique can look when trained carefully—witness the build the 40-something Pitt brought to “Troy.” Well into his 60s, Stallone displayed a condition in “Bullet to the Head” that would make any man of his age proud. It doesn’t matter if you like them as actors (or even as people); they represent those of us who were never pro bodybuilders. Also remember, however, that they were gifted physically from birth (just look at the size of Stallone’s arms in the first “Rocky”). Still, they have nurtured and cared for those gifts in a way we would do well to emulate.
Maybe you can find inspiration a little closer to home. When I was a much younger gym rat, there was an older guy who trained in the early morning at the gym. He would come in and proceed in silence to warm up and stretch in the most professional manner. His entire demeanor indicated a man who knew what he was doing. I never saw him with his sweatshirt off, but anyone could tell by the way that his chest filled up that plain cotton garment and his small waist created an impressive taper that there was an admirable physique underneath. I wanted to be like him—and I still do. He was the kind of guy who commands respect in the gym.
Even if you train alone you can still imagine yourself as an inspiration to your friends, family and coworkers. Believe me, they are watching you to see if your physique lives up to the health and fitness beliefs you express to them regularly. Visualizing yourself as a positive influence on those you know and love is a pretty noble undertaking.
Then again, maybe the best vision is not an actual vision at all. Maybe it is an idea or an ideal that you have in your head. Instead of finding a role model to emulate, you want to be the role model that others emulate—and you don’t have to be the biggest guy in the gym to do that. Use your experience to manage your bodyweight, train with the expertise and skill that you have learned over the years, and do the exercises that everyone else mangles—but do them correctly. Move like an ageless machine from one set to the next. Do that, and you will be a great role model. The younger guys and girls as well as the seniors will ask your advice, and you will have the respect of everyone in the gym—a living ambassador for the benefits of a fitness lifestyle well lived.
How’s that as a vision for your prime time?
Editor’s note: Tony DiCosta, who’s in his 60s, is a successful national-level masters bodybuilder. IM