Starting at Middle Age: A Few Tips for the Beginning Master Lifter
by Bill Duncan
OK, youâ€™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 thereâ€™s a difference in perceptions based on where you are now. For example, if youâ€™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 wonâ€™t scare the â€œcustomersâ€ away), then you may have a realistic picture of whatâ€™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 â€œlifting weightsâ€ in high school. We â€œliftedâ€ 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 â€œweightsâ€ 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 didnâ€™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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 donâ€™t compete at all (but they still know their stuff).
So, I repeat my question â€“ Where did you hear about powerlifting? It matters, because it affects your answer to my next question â€“ 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 â€“ who benched 400 pounds some time between his 70th and 71st birthdays. Iâ€™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 â€“ Where do you plan to train? This matters too. Iâ€™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. Iâ€™ve trained in commercial gyms and in the basement of a small college field house. Whatâ€™s it like where you lift? I guess thereâ€™s a way to become a powerlifter without training with a barbell and Olympic plates, but I canâ€™t imagine it. Is the equipment safe? Notice how I didnâ€™t say â€˜new.â€™ One of the places Iâ€™ve trained is a place called Carbungcoâ€™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 Stanâ€™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 arenâ€™t training at a gym where there arenâ€™t people who share your interest in powerlifting â€“ find another gym (seriously).
So that takes care of how you heard of powerlifting, what you want to accomplish, and where you work out; itâ€™s probably time for you to ask a question â€“ Who does this guy think he is anyway? Iâ€™m one of you, sort of. I didnâ€™t start lifting in my middle age, but Iâ€™m there now. Iâ€™m not the best masterâ€™s lifter there is, but Iâ€™m ok. Iâ€™ve got unfinished business â€“ just like you. Be honest, powerlifting is for those who have something to prove â€“ to ourselves or to others. For me, I want to prove to myself that I can do something athletic that others canâ€™t. I mean, seriously, how many 50+ year old men squat 600 pounds (not many actually want to)? I also want to buck the â€˜thin-is-inâ€™ mentality. I weigh about 350. Donâ€™t get me wrong, I am mindful that my heart is working overtime; so are my knees and my lumbar spine â€“ they tell me every morning. But Iâ€™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 â€“ just to remind myself I need to be around when my little girl gets married.) Bottom line, Iâ€™ve been there and done that. Iâ€™ve learned that, at my age and weight, I canâ€™t do what the young studs do. You are going to have to figure out what best for you too. Just donâ€™t act like a kid and get hooked on a routine because â€˜so-and-soâ€™ does it (especially when so-and-so is 28, spends $500/year on equipment, and is paid to lift).
Still with me? OK, hereâ€™s my first tip â€“ become a student of the game. I donâ€™t do everything that comes out of Westside, but Louie Simmons knows his stuff â€“ heâ€™s read and heâ€™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 thereâ€¦in print and on the Webâ€¦and not just on PowerliftingWatch.com (sorry Ericâ€¦and Jon). Check out some of the discussion boards; read where people post their workoutsâ€¦let people interact with you.
Beside Louie Simmons, I pay attention to what Wade Johnson says. I hope he doesnâ€™t crush me for bringing him into this discussion without his prior approval, but I wonâ€™t lie to you â€“ he has patiently put up with me for almost ten years. Wadeâ€™s in Nashville; Iâ€™m in Missouri, but have known him since I lived on the East Coast. Wade has my ear because heâ€™s reasonable, but also because heâ€™s like me (sort of). Wade is in his 40â€™s and a pretty big guy. I pay attention to him because heâ€™s about my size and heâ€™s a masters lifter. Wade introduced me to Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT). After all this time, I still donâ€™t follow it consistently (inconsistency characterizes my lifting), but Iâ€™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 whoâ€™s doing well, whoâ€™s helping other lifters, who is willing to answer the questions asked of her/him. By going to meets, Iâ€™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 â€œPopeyeâ€ Bell, Brad Manion, Jeff Lewisâ€¦I just canâ€™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. Iâ€™ve learned a ton about lifting, coaching, and putting on meets from these and other lifters. Thatâ€™s my first tip â€“ find a place to fit in and start learning.
If Powerlifting Watch agrees, and if you, the people who want more information about masterâ€™s lifting are willing, Iâ€™ll be back with some more nuts-and-bolts stuff. Iâ€™d like to take on topics about lifting unequipped and/or unequipped, different training philosophies (Judy Gedney wins the prize here â€“ she used to train deadlift in her 40â€™s with 5 sets of 10; 4 sets of 10 in her 50s; Iâ€™m not sure how she trains now, but sheâ€™s probably the strongest female lifter, pound for pound, of anyone in their 60s), and Iâ€™d love to write on any topic that will help you. But thatâ€™s all for now.