Sunday, November 17, 2019

Personal Records at 45 - Richard A. Winett

"If Kafka were Israeli and wrote about talking goldfish."

by Richard A. Winett (1990)

Because this department [The Ageless Athlete] has emphasized the reasoned blending of bodybuilding, aerobics, sound nutrition and a balanced lifestyle as essential elements in a longevity program, some readers may be perplexed to see this month's column devoted to personal records (PRs). 

What sense can it make for a 45-year old with more than 30 years of training under his belt to be pursuing PRs? 

To me it makes great sense! 

To begin with, all readers of this magazine are involved in a wondrous sport in which it is possible to make highly respectable PRs in middle age. Secondly, and most important, we all need challenges and goals to keep us highly motivated. Finally, if the PRs involve moderate-range repetitions, there is little chance of injury, and training for them can fit right into more normal, regular training. 

This last point is very important to me and, I suspect, to many of you. If my path to personal records involved forsaking family and career for a few months or totally dropping aerobic training, the entire process and the outcomes would have little meaning for me and for most other mature athletes. Virtually none of us are in a position to "just train," and given that option, most of us would decline it as being too restrictive and one dimensional. Furthermore, PRs would not be reasonable if they undermined fitness and health. 

So for me and many other mature athletes, PRs are made against a background of pressures and stress at work, waiting up past midnight for the teenagers and then getting up early enough to fit everything in. Even so, there's a greater sense of accomplishment when goals are reached in what is not an absolutely ideal situation. 

It really shows your strength! 

As a mature bodybuilder and strength athlete my planning and training for PRs is a bit more realistic than when I was younger. At 45 I will usually try for PRs only in exercises that I'm already quite good at, will only do PRs in moderate-to-higher rep ranges to avoid injury, and will drop any exercise in which I feel injury is imminent - even if the exercise was in my original plan for a PR. Thus, I plan and follow the PR cycle more rigorously.

In the PR cycle I also continue with my aerobic training, but I never do a very hard aerobic session. My aerobic workouts during that cycle are all "easy" to "moderate." Although in the past I have done some very hard aerobic sessions during a PR cycle, realistically, you can ask your mind and body to do only so much. I also try to keep my load at work more moderate, but that is most often not possible.

When everything goes more of less according to my plan, there is no need for any special mental preparation before a PR training session. I am either ready to accomplish the PR or I am not. Physically, the only differences in the workouts are that I warm up a bit more and slow the pace. I also continue to train without a partner. 

Most of my PR cycles in the past have focused on one or two goals in favorite movements; for example, squats. This time around, for extra challenge and heightened interest I wanted to go for a variety of PRs across exercises and across the training sessions of my three way split routine. I felt that good performance across a variety of movements would prove something to me and, I hope, to readers. I also felt, unlike I did in my younger days, that PRs are only significant when your form in the exercises is as strict as you can make it. 

Here is an annotated listing of the PRs I made in a recent cycle. I am 156 pounds on a moderate size frame. 

1) Incline Flyes. 65-pound dumbbells x 14 reps. For some reason I have good ability when it comes to flyes and crossovers, and very modest pressing power. 

2) Barbell Rows. 220 x 14; 205 x 20. After years of training I finally learned how to do rows correctly. 

3) Squats. 440 x 14. I squat to just below parallel but with a decided upper-body forward lean; however, I do not use wraps or other aids.  

4) Safety Bar Squats. 235 x 19. These are done upright and deep. My hands are free, but I use them only for stability. 

5) Leg Presses. 700 x 20. These are vertical, not angled leg presses. The weight includes the rack that holds the plates. My position corresponds to a regular squat to parallel.

6) Stiff Legged Deadlifts. 320 x 14. This is the best I've ever done where I'm standing on a slight platform.

7) Dumbbell Side Bends. 146 x 14. I do these strictly, with one hand on the back of my head for balance while I bend over all the way to where the dumbbell touches my foot. Not surprisingly, for this movement and for deadlifts I use straps. 

8) Barbell Curls. 100 pounds x 25. I do these strictly, with an Olympic curl bar.

9) Dips. 92 x 15. These are done very strictly, in the straight up-and-down position that emphasizes triceps. 

Oddly enough, during the PR cycle the one exercise I felt best about did not result in a PR. I did strict standing presses with 70-lb. dumbbells for 12 reps. This meant that after six months of tendinitis in my left shoulder I was well on the mend. I must admit that as a mature athlete, when an injury reaches the chronic stage, there is some creeping doubt about whether or not I will ever get over the injury.

I would not be unduly modest if I did not say that I am proud of what I was able to do under normal training conditions. The PRs in many movements are accomplishments and show what some dedication and focus can bring. More generally, they demonstrate that in our sport improvement is possible in the middle years, even after many years of training. 

At the same time training for PRs has its drawbacks and costs. As I have noted before, my degree of improvement in any exercise is now pretty limited. I can squeeze out a few more reps or pounds, but dramatic breakthroughs are probably not in the cards. It's also a bit discouraging to see that in certain movements (e.g., squats) I can exceed a number of well-known physique stars but do not have the bodyparts or physique to match theirs. In other words, PRs have an ironic duality: They put you in touch with your greatest abilities and limitations.

Training for PRs incurs some other costs as well. Contemporary bodybuilding emphasizes variety in exercise movements and a rapid pace. To train for PRs you need to stay "grooved" into set positions in certain exercises, as changing positions and angles will undermine your effort. It is also the case that the pace of exercise often becomes more plodding, and a PR week tends to be predictably followed by one or two weeks of physical and psychological dullness. So from the bodybuilding and health perspectives (recall I did not do hard aerobics) something is lost while training for PRs.

Well, you may ask, what's the bottom line here? 

For myself and many mature bodybuilders and strength athletes there will be many more PR training cycles. As long as we believe we can do a little more, we will give it a try. 

And when that day finally comes when we've reached out limit in conventional exercises and reps, we may find ourselves wondering, "Has anyone over 60 ever squatted 50 reps with . . . ?


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