How To Train Around Old

TAGS: open heart surgery, hip replacement surgery, reconstructed knee surgery, old man training, senior citizen, Jeff Guller, training program, max effort, strength training

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When a man (or woman) screws with iron, iron almost always wins. That is why we learn and teach excellent form and technique, so on the occasion that iron wins, we don't get hurt. But as we all know, shit happens. No matter how careful we are or how safety-conscience we are, the sport of powerlifting invariably produces injuries. A great deal has been written in articles, blogs, and logs about training around injuries, be it a pulled, strained, torn muscle, or injured or surgically repaired joints. Ingenious methods have been devised to train around injuries. A different challenge presents itself to those of us over 55 and those of us nearing 75, as I am. This challenge is how to train around OLD.

Please don't believe the clichés that age is only a number or you're only as old as you feel. If it were only a state of mind, we all could stay 21 forever. Old is a physical condition. Like Dave Tate says, "My body can tell the difference between morning and afternoon, because by afternoon it stops hurting." I have said that if I woke up without hurting, I would think I was dead.


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It's a difficult condition to define for everyone. I can only tell you what makes me a little old man. After a lifetime of trying to be an athlete in various sports from the age of 10 to the age of 70, I am left with certain physical situations. Most of them are a result of the sports I played. Reconstructed knee from rugby, nerve problem from football, hip replacement from stopping in racquetball and tennis, and an arthritic shoulder from pitching and playing tennis. There have also been back and neck surgeries from a combination of all sports and five bypass open heart surgery from 40 years of law practice, smoking, raising and educating four children, three marriages, and genetics. It has all left me an orthopedic wreck and a heart patient.

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How then do I train for powerlifting? As they say, "very carefully."

Not really.

I try, as I was taught, to use the very best form and technique that I can, but all to often I beat my own ass. There is no reason to go to the gym unless you give it all you have, your very best every day. However, I don't think any of the conventional programs were written with me or any other senior in mind. For example, programs that deal with perceived rate of exertion are not for me. It's my opinion that you give at least 100% perceived rate of exertion all the time! A program like 5/3/1, while an excellent program, is sometimes very difficult to do. Some days I can do all the required reps and sets. Other days, not so much.

You want to do all your body can do on a given day. Some days, that is more than the program requires, other days not. All of the injuries and infirmities are cumulative. Over the years, all of the surgeries produce arthritis at the site and arthritis is naturally occurring in joints that have not been injured. Some days, all of that shit seems to kick in, other days to a varying degree. We have to do all we can do under each day's circumstances.


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Well, old man, you've talked in a whole lot of generalities. What the hell is it that you actually do?

I do plan every session but cannot always stick to the plan. There are times I do more and times I do less.

More generalities, old man. Get to it!

Okay. I warm up thoroughly, usually with bands as I was taught. At my starting weight and each succeeding weight I do two sets at each weight. I do that to be sure that the old bones get warmed up, and also to do the work I feel I need to do. Succeeding sets are usually threes, then twos. I usually get to work sets of twos or threes. I try when I do work sets of twos to do as many as I am able, usually six or more. On the days I can't get fives, I do four and add a set. If I can't do threes, I do twos and on one occasion, when I planned twos and couldn't do them, I did as many singles as I could to get my required reps.

On the days the knee won't work, I wrap the hell out of it and carry on. On the days the arthritis makes it difficult to grip a bar, I tape some fingers together and/or use a trap bar and straps. You do what you have to do and all you can do — bottom line. For my accessory work, I do a few exercises that I like, and a lot that I hate because I need them the most. I try to do three or four sets of 8 or 10 reps each, depending on the energy and time I have left after the major exercises.

What's the bottom line, old man? What's the takeaway?

The take away is that, notwithstanding age, injury or aches and pains, get your ass to the gym. If you can't do all you plan, you can do all you can! Leave 110% in the gym and on the platform.

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