Starting at Middle Age: A Few Tips for the Beginning Master Lifter-Parts 1 & 2

Starting at Middle Age: A Few Tips for the Beginning Master Lifter

by Bill Duncan

OK, you’re in the middle of your life and you have heard about powerlifting. You think you might want to give it a try. My first question is where did you first hear about powerlifting? At the gym? A friend? You Tube? PowerliftingWatch.com? It matters because there’s a difference in perceptions based on where you are now. For example, if you’re in a gym already and you see these monsters in the corner or the back room (where most gyms of isolated powerlifters so they won’t scare the “customers” away), then you may have a realistic picture of what’s going on. If, on the other hand, you have seen videos on powerlifters on You Tube and remember that you used to have a good bench in high school, then you might not have such a true picture.

I remember “lifting weights” in high school. We “lifted” in the summer for wrestling, football, and track, in a room where the wrestling mats were stored (and located at the end of the bus barn). Our “weights” consisted of a single Universal multi-gym and a half dozen home-made fixed weight exercise bars. Truth be told, I got strong in the hay fields. Then, I walked onto the wrestling team my second year at the university. Boy, was that an eye-opener! Even back then, I was smitten by those big metal disks and 7 foot bars. I was working inclines with 185 and one of the varsity wrestlers threatened to walk away if I didn’t finish my set. Talk about motivation!

The point is that things have changed since high school (and college). I have returned to work at the same university, tutoring student-athletes. My workplace is right across the hall from the weight room – oh, excuse me, the athletic performance center. The place has calibrated bumper plates, rubber coated workout plates, Olympic bars, squat bars, trap bars, dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, chains, ropes, plyo boxes, a Monolift, bikes, treadmills – makes the head swim. The coaches are friends of mine; some compete in gear; some raw; some bench; some pull; some do all three; some don’t compete at all (but they still know their stuff).

So, I repeat my question – Where did you hear about powerlifting? It matters, because it affects your answer to my next question – What do you want to accomplish? What are your goals? My first training partner is a guy named Don Schaffer. He was a master lifter when I first met him over 25 years ago. He helped me get my squat and deadlift over 400 pounds. We worked out together; we competed together. A few years back, after a couple of bouts with cancer, he hung up his belt, but he still works at the gym where we first met. All this is to say that my goal in powerlifting is to be like Don Schaffer – who benched 400 pounds some time between his 70th and 71st birthdays. I’m in powerlifting for the long haul; and to help others learn to love the sport like I do. What do you want to accomplish?

Next question – Where do you plan to train? This matters too. I’ve trained almost everywhere. I have the privilege of training at the weight room across from where I work, but I also have equipment in a shed in my back yard. I’ve trained in commercial gyms and in the basement of a small college field house. What’s it like where you lift? I guess there’s a way to become a powerlifter without training with a barbell and Olympic plates, but I can’t imagine it. Is the equipment safe? Notice how I didn’t say ‘new.’ One of the places I’ve trained is a place called Carbungco’s Gym in Manila. Stan Carbungco was the 2nd place finisher in the tall class of the 1959 Mr. Universe. I was training for the 1988 Philippine National Open and just happened to know a young lifter by the name of Larry Doplito who invited me to train there. The equipment was all homemade; the locker room was about the size of a walk-in closet; there was no a/c, but Stan’s reputation drew young lifters like cats to fresh tuna. I ended up training with the biggest guy there, before competing a weight class higher (110 kg/242 lb). What made this gym was the attitude. If you aren’t training at a gym where there aren’t people who share your interest in powerlifting – find another gym (seriously).

Part 2

So that takes care of how you heard of powerlifting, what you want to accomplish, and where you work out; it’s probably time for you to ask a question – Who does this guy think he is anyway? I’m one of you, sort of. I didn’t start lifting in my middle age, but I’m there now. I’m not the best master’s lifter there is, but I’m ok. I’ve got unfinished business – just like you. Be honest, powerlifting is for those who have something to prove – to ourselves or to others. For me, I want to prove to myself that I can do something athletic that others can’t. I mean, seriously, how many 50+ year old men squat 600 pounds (not many actually want to)? I also want to buck the ‘thin-is-in’ mentality. I weigh about 350. Don’t get me wrong, I am mindful that my heart is working overtime; so are my knees and my lumbar spine – they tell me every morning. But I’m just not going to stay on a treadmill for an hour a day, six days a week. This is the stuff! (By the way, I periodically challenge myself by hitting the elliptical trainer for up to an hour or walk a couple of miles – just to remind myself I need to be around when my little girl gets married.) Bottom line, I’ve been there and done that. I’ve learned that, at my age and weight, I can’t do what the young studs do. You are going to have to figure out what best for you too. Just don’t act like a kid and get hooked on a routine because ‘so-and-so’ does it (especially when so-and-so is 28, spends $500/year on equipment, and is paid to lift).

Still with me? OK, here’s my first tip – become a student of the game. I don’t do everything that comes out of Westside, but Louie Simmons knows his stuff – he’s read and he’s done. Be like Louie, a student of the game. There is value in reading not only what others do, but why they do it. There is a huge amount of information on powerlifting out there…in print and on the Web…and not just on PowerliftingWatch.com (sorry Eric…and Jon). Check out some of the discussion boards; read where people post their workouts…let people interact with you.

Beside Louie Simmons, I pay attention to what Wade Johnson says. I hope he doesn’t crush me for bringing him into this discussion without his prior approval, but I won’t lie to you – he has patiently put up with me for almost ten years. Wade’s in Nashville; I’m in Missouri, but have known him since I lived on the East Coast. Wade has my ear because he’s reasonable, but also because he’s like me (sort of). Wade is in his 40’s and a pretty big guy. I pay attention to him because he’s about my size and he’s a masters lifter. Wade introduced me to Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT). After all this time, I still don’t follow it consistently (inconsistency characterizes my lifting), but I’ve made reasonable gains using it anyway. People who have trained with Wade and consistently have made significant gains.

I also suggest you go to a few meets. Lift if you want to, but find out who’s doing well, who’s helping other lifters, who is willing to answer the questions asked of her/him. By going to meets, I’ve met such outstanding lifters as Tom Lewis, Jeff McVicar, Hank Sargent, Gus Rethwisch, Rickey Dale Crain, Mike Bridges, Judy Gedney, Patty Burnett, Len Walker, Rodney Wood, Brandon Cass, Jeff Lewis, Jason and Nick Weite, Jim “Popeye” Bell, Brad Manion, Jeff Lewis…I just can’t name them all. The reason I mention these folks is because they are outstanding not just because of their lifts; they are outstanding because they, Like Louie and Wade, are students of the game. I’ve learned a ton about lifting, coaching, and putting on meets from these and other lifters. That’s my first tip – find a place to fit in and start learning.

If Powerlifting Watch agrees, and if you, the people who want more information about master’s lifting are willing, I’ll be back with some more nuts-and-bolts stuff. I’d like to take on topics about lifting unequipped and/or unequipped, different training philosophies (Judy Gedney wins the prize here – she used to train deadlift in her 40’s with 5 sets of 10; 4 sets of 10 in her 50s; I’m not sure how she trains now, but she’s probably the strongest female lifter, pound for pound, of anyone in their 60s), and I’d love to write on any topic that will help you. But that’s all for now.

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I think a lot of lifters can be stronger than ever after age 40.

Good stuff bill.

I look forward to this since I'm now 52 and have been training for almost 5 years. The thing is the technology of powerlifting has changed so much from the 70's (when I started at a 165lb'er) to today. With the Soviet collapse and the start of the internet, information is so abundant on training that it has now come down to a science. It is no longer trying to "get that pump feeling" but just plain exhaustion some times or just light workout to deload but it all helps in increasing the weight we lift.

The one thing is I'd like to see these "Old Men" that are making the records be sponsered by companies like APT, EliteFit, Inzer, Titan, etc ... I know it is not markatable for the companies but for the "over 40 50 60 70 80" groups it would be great insentive and helpfull to see what their peers do in logs and workouts and completitions. Perhaps it would help increase the number of guys/gals lifting in their latter years too.

Regards,

Mike Ski

This is good. Can't wait to read Part II.

MikeSki wrote:
The one thing is I'd like to see these "Old Men" that are making the records be sponsered by companies like APT, EliteFit, Inzer, Titan, etc ...

Regards,

Mike Ski


I second that. I hold AWPC WR and AAPF National records as a 148 and I'm also 52. I'm still using the same single ply Inzer Rage-X I've used for the past 4 years. It would be nice to see companies help us out once in a while.

Vince Scelfo

very good so far and sooo true!

MikeSki wrote:
I look forward to this since I'm now 52 and have been training for almost 5 years. The thing is the technology of powerlifting has changed so much from the 70's (when I started at a 165lb'er) to today. With the Soviet collapse and the start of the internet, information is so abundant on training that it has now come down to a science. It is no longer trying to "get that pump feeling" but just plain exhaustion some times or just light workout to deload but it all helps in increasing the weight we lift.

The one thing is I'd like to see these "Old Men" that are making the records be sponsered by companies like APT, EliteFit, Inzer, Titan, etc ... I know it is not markatable for the companies but for the "over 40 50 60 70 80" groups it would be great insentive and helpfull to see what their peers do in logs and workouts and completitions. Perhaps it would help increase the number of guys/gals lifting in their latter years too.

Regards,

Mike Ski

Good article and I'm looking forward to part 2. I'm 54 and having one of my better training cycles getting ready for APF Senior Nationals in 2 1/2 weeks. I should have a respectable performance with the young guys if all goes well. I'm sponsored by Titan who was gracious enough to pick me up just before turning 50. I'll be in the 275s and trying to raise my Masters 3 BP WR, and brake the M3 squat and total record. I hope I have a shot at making the podium, but placing in the top 1/2 of the 275s would be satisfying as well as an over 50.

My training journal is at wannabebig.com in the 'pro journal' section under: Mastermonster's quest for the records.

I got back into powerlifting in 2001 at 46 Y.O. after 15 years off of the platform. All of my biggest meet lifts and gym lifts have come after 50; equipped and raw.

Nice article Bill! I too believe limit strength stays with you a long time. Got a new shirt, and look forward to a meet PR at 55 years old. Not many sports you could do that in. The people you meet in this sport are, for the most part, really quality individuals. It has been my pleasure to know and train with Big Bill, and for those of you that don't know him, his passion for the sport of powerlifting is an inspiration to lifters of all ages. It certainly has been for this OldePharte. Thanks Bill.

As a 56 year old female who started LEARNING how to powerlift at the age of 52, I think the sport has alot of potential to appeal to the over forty crowd. I had never done a deep knee bend until the age of 52 and I just squatted 165 raw for three sets of three this week! It may be cheesy to the big boys but for an old lady to be in better shape at 56 than any time in her previous life, it's great. i AM SO LUCKY that my trainer is a powerlifter as well as educated and doesn't baby me a bit! I would enjoy reading more.

In the next installment, I'm going to challenge you to consider what organization(s) you join and what gear and supplements you will take based on your pocketbook...now that's a novel idea. I'll also begin a discussion of the questions 'How heavy?' and 'How often?'. Thanks for the encouraging comments.

Bill,
Good stuff,next issue besides [heavy&often]maybe throw in sets /reps and outline a peaking cycle.I have tried some off the net but seem to be more geared to younger lifters.

Bill,

Ewxcellent article! Please keep it up if possible. I look forward to what type supplements people take and gear, even diet.
The how heavy and how often is critical for us in how not to over train too.

Regards,

Mike Ski

Great article Bill. Having discovered this sport at 41 (ah to be 21 again) it's great to see information from people in the same situation. Thanks

I invite readers to post what is working for them in terms of routines and supplements (as well as what feds you lift in and whether you lift unequipped, single ply, multiply, drug tested, nontested. I'd also ask that you post your age, weight class too please. For example.

I am 51 years old, I'm a SHW (350 pounds); I lift in the APA (which allows me to use wrist wraps, knee wraps, and a belt as a raw lifter), the ADFPF (which allows me to use wrist wraps and a belt as an unequipped lifter), and the USAPL (which allows me to use neoprene knee sleeves as an unequipped lifter).

I am inconsistent, but I train using A. S. Prilepin's set and rep table for %ages between 70 and 105. Wade Johnson introduced me to compensatory acceleration training and I use the set and rep schema for the framework on my big lifts.

I am nearing middle age (turning 40 in December) and came to powerlifting from bodybuilding about 4 months ago. So, I'm hoping that you continue with these articles.

I turn 45 in July and lift in the 181 class. I've been competing for about 5yrs and train almost exclusively in a garage gym that has just about everything a lifter can ask for. (best lifts 633/440/575 in april 2009).

I compete in the UPA but haven't for over a year due to ankle surgery and the demands of family and chiropractic college.

My training is loosely based westside template but I get kinda bored so I add stuff to make it interesting.

My fav recovery drink is Afterglow and whatever protien is cheap. I've also used P6 Red by cellucor which is awesome. I lift using Metal squat and DL suits and a jacked F6 (almost all used stuff).

I train so I'm somewhat less grumpy and will need to be in shape to deal with teenage boys when my daughter gets older. Besides its fun to lift heavy stuff

Herb

Powerifted when I was younger, late teens early 20s I'm turning 61 in June. After many years off came across Diablobarbell in 2004. Started a Westside routine at the direction of Ted O'Neal. This Gym is strictly for powerlifters and strongmen and MMA training. I do a full Westside workout try not to handicap my training because of age. At 59 totaled 2010 at 242 at a Pro Am meet. Powerlifting is so much more fun than back in the good old days. Just keep on training hard and listen to your body. Now training for the UPA nationals in late July fully expect to beat my previous PR of 2010.

I just recently got my first 500lb. bench at 42yrs. of age. Over the past 20 years of training I've found three things to be most important. 1. You can never do too much technique work. 2. You have to find "your" training style. This is where the trial and error occurs. 3. Recovery and listening to your body, especially from your late 30's and on up.

Brian, you are ahead of where I was at 42. I started PLing at age 42, and hit a whopping 305 bench in my second meet. My 1st 400 was a 424 at age 47. First 500 was at age 49. My first 600 attempt was at age 50, finally hitting it at age 52. My first 600 at 242 was a year later. My new goal is 700@242. The key is not using age as a crutch and having training partners that don't let you play the age card! Yes, shirts help, but over the years my raw bench has gone up over 450 or so.

BillDuncan wrote:
I invite readers to post what is working for them in terms of routines and supplements (as well as what feds you lift in and whether you lift unequipped, single ply, multiply, drug tested, nontested. I'd also ask that you post your age, weight class too please.

I'm a 308(290ish) bench only dude @ 54 years old. I lift both tested and nontested, single and multipy. Best meet lifts, single- 337.5Kg, multiply 340Kg.

Feds: APF, UPA, WABDL. Really any fed where I think I'll have a good time. That's what it's really about right?

Supplements: Buttweiser. I would use Primo, but I can't afford to go to Hawaii. LOL

Routines: I think people overthink this stuff to much. Just load the fuk'n' bar and lift. Being older, just make sure you use good form and good spotters so you won't get hurt. If you are really interested in my routines, it's posted on the "routines" section of www.ryanopower.com.

After losing about 40 pounds to get to under 190, I started powerlifting at age 52 3 weeks ago and a day after two weeks building a foundation with dumbells. My first meet is 6/11/11. I dived right in. I am reading as fast as possible given a full-time job and following a 5x5 program well, it would seem. At the meet 6/11 I am shooting for form and technique and an overall of 600 pounds. It is exciting and the meet organizer has been great and understands I am a newbie and welcomed me. I like the goal of it and hope to do another barring any problem on parts 9/11. Don't know how far this will go weight wise, but, I swim in masters relay meet each year and participate in a couple of 10k runs and a minitriathalon and know it well help my love of sailing.. Love all this stuff as it seems powerlifters are welcoming the general public, if you well. I get that we all can't be the strongest, but, it seems to be a way to live healthy and strong because of all the information you need to stay up on for this kind of exercise. All my other activities seem to need powerlifting. God bless.