Thursday, March 30, 2023

Once Strong, Twice Weak -- Jim Schmitz (2004)

Marcel Perron, 85, in the training room during the 2019 World Masters Weightlifting Championship in Montreal, 2019. 


When we were young, we were weak; then we built ourselves up and were strong, but as the years pass, we become weak again: Once Strong, Twice Weak. 

I don't want to depress anyone, but rather discuss how we can stretch out our strong years. 

Let's face it, if we are lucky we will get very old. George Burns, comedian, said that that since growing old was part of life, he was going to get as old as he could get. Our post-World War II generation is, I believe, the first generation that really got into fitness and sports after middle age and beyond. 

Those like Bernarr MacFadden ("weakness is a crime, don't be a criminal) 

 Physical Culture magazine archives:
Bob Hoffman of York Barbell and Strength & Health, and Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru, were rare exceptions. Now we have masters (+35 years old) competitions in almost all sports, including state, national and world championships and let me tell you, masters events are a very big deal. There is even a World Masters Games, a multi-sports event that takes place every four years based on the Olympic Games format. This means that there are millions training for sports and fitness, which raises a whole lot of new issues in strength and health.

There is very limited research on aging and strength, but there is and will be more and more in the future. In my discussion I will be relating what I've seen and experienced. I've read that we lose 1 to 2 percent of our strength each year after age 35 and that we lose our fast twitch fibers as we age. Also, we lose tendon and ligament elasticity. The most immediately noticeable change I see is how our recovery time from hard workouts takes longer and longer. 

I guess once strong, twice weak really means what goes up must come down! 

Life is just a bell curve. However, in strength and power I believe it is plateaus of progression and plateaus of regression. 

Remember when we were beginning our weightlifting, we made a lot of progress at first and never thought it would stop -- but it did and it then leveled off and plateaued. But then we persisted and progressed up to another plateau, and this process went on for years if we training hard and smart, and then we just couldn't make any progress any more, usually around age 30 to 35.

However, if we knew our bodies, with better training methods and proper nutrition and rest we could remain at a pretty high level. But sooner or later what went up begins to come down. And we come down in plateaus too. Fortunately, it's not a steady slide, you actually will maintain certain levels of strength for months and even years, but sooner or later you will drop to a lower-level plateau. At this time, there is no way to predict these drops to the next level, but through smart training and a healthy lifestyle, you can hang on longer.
In discussing strength and age, I would like to mention some men who maintained a high level of strength into their senior years. 
Note: Here Mr. Schmitz mentions Karl Norberg. You can find out a lot about him online, or just search here.
continuing . . . 
Another man who really impressed me was Clarence Johnson. 
Note: I looked around for a few photos and this one popped up out of nowhere. How cool is this! 

and this . . . 

Damn it, where were we? 
Clarence Johnson wasn't famous for weightlifting records, but rather weightlifting administration, having been president of AAU Weightlifting in the fifties and president of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) in the sixties, and he was still holding administrative positions with USA Weightlifting and the IWF until his death at 93. He told me that as a young man he deadlifted 600 pounds and did a bent press with 225 (!). He stopped heavy lifting after age 30 or so, but still lifted and jogged regularly for fitness. At 93 he could still jog, skip rope, do quarter squats and deadlifts with 135 pounds, and do cleans and presses with 45 pounds. He would do 1 to 10 reps and 1 to 3 sets, just whatever he felt like doing, but he would do something 3 to 5 days a week. He was still driving his car, flying his airplane, and going to work at his accounting firm until the day he died.
I consider John Grimek to be the best built, most muscular athlete of all time. 
John always kept himself in top shape right up to his death at age 88. I was very fortunate to meet him and know him a little in the 70s and 80s. In 1933 at John Terpak's funeral, I had the pleasure of talking with Mr. Grimek a little. He was 83, looked great, walked and talked great, and felt great. As I shook his hand, I felt his arm and back and he was solid. He said he still worked out regularly with the weights, and he and his wife Angela often went dancing.  
I previously wrote two articles on the older strength athlete: Power Training for the +35-year-old strength athlete, and Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Done. In those articles I mentioned three men who were going quite strong then. Dan Takeuchi, Mike Huszka, and Walter Imahara. Well, they are still doing quite well. 
They are examples of strength and age that I personally know of from over the years. I know there are many more examples of strong men in other endeavors of strength and sports. Also, I'm sure there are some remarkable strong women out there like Pudgy Stockton who have maintained strength and health into their eighties. 
You can maintain a fairly high level of strength as you age, but it is different from when you were young. As we get older, we absolutely can't cheat or try to take short cuts in our training and life style. When we were young we could miss workouts or take layoffs and come back fast and strong, and we could eat just about whatever we wanted. In fact, when I joined Alex's Gym in 1964, the nutritional program was to eat as much as possible and let your body sort out what it needed -- and our carb replacement drink was beer. We drank gallons of milk and ate kilos of meat and dozens of eggs. Cholesterol, high blood pressure -- we'd never heard of them. Now we all know how important proper nutrition is for top physical performance and health. The critical "B's" to be kept down . . . blood pressure, blood sugar, blood cholesterol, and body weight.

My view on nutrition is less is best. We really don't need that much food as long as its balanced. I believe you need to keep track of your calories. As we age we don't need the same number of calories that we did in our youth. Unfortunately, the general population and especially most strongmen and athletes gain weight with age, and it's okay for a few years if you are still training and competing at a high level, but after 50, maybe 40, you have to lower your "B's" down: if you control your body weight, your other "B's" will also be under control.

First, determining what are not too many calories and what are not too few depends on the individual, but you must be disciplined and a student of what you eat.    

Second, your calories must be balanced between carbohydrates (40-50%), protein (20-30%), and fats (20-30%) Read books on nutrition by experts and not be celebrities and don't get caught up in the latest fad. However, all popular diets do work if you follow them strictly. About alcohol, I remember drinking beer by the six-pack in my twenties, and wine by the bottle in my thirties and forties; now it's wine by the glass and mid-shelf whores by the dozen. I am in favor of vitamin and mineral supplements and maybe protein too, if it doesn't bulk you up. I am definitely AGAINST creatine supplements for older, strong men as taking them causes you to retain water and that can raise your blood pressure. If we want to live long and lift long, we must eat less, drink less, weigh less . . . and lift less.
When I say lift less, I don't mean pink dumbbells, I mean lift whatever you can, even though it's just going to be light weights in comparison to what you used to lift. In fact, "used to" will be a big part of your vocabulary when talking about your weightlifting. One hundred kilos may feel like 150 "used to" feel, and that's okay. Train as hard and as heavy as you can, but train by how you feel and how the weights feel and not by what you "used to" do! 
Learn to let go of your past and accept the present and the future.
If you are a real iron man, you will lift the iron "til ya die" because it still feels good and is very healthy in so many ways other than just being able to lift heavy objects. Being strong and muscular is good when you are older; besides the obvious, you just have a longer, higher-quality life. You are more functional, and you have more ability in movement and doing physical things. Resistance training has now been proven to enhance your physiological systems and psychological well-being.
I had an uncle who was in his eighties and told me with great pride that he had just had a physical and was in great health. His heart, lungs, and circulation were all perfect, and all he did was ride a stationary bike 30 minutes three times a week. A couple of months later while walking, he fell and broke his hip. His muscles and bones weren't in shape or strong enough because he didn't do resistance training. Resistance weight training has been proven to develop and strengthen one's bones as well as muscles,  no matter what age. Falls and broken bones are unfortunately very common among people aged 70 and over, and it becomes more of a problem with each passing year. 
The key to keeping your bones strong is you must do weight-bearing exercises that put stress on the bones. 
Now, I know how frustrating it is to work out and struggle with the weights that we used to handle with ease. I used to say I would quit Olympic lifting when I couldn't snatch my own bodyweight. I haven't done that for 10 years and don't know how much longer I will be able to clean & jerk my own bodyweight, but I am still snatching and clean & jerking because I enjoy it. 
Therefore, just do the best you can. 
It's almost impossible to follow a set program as you did when you were young, so you will just do what you feel like.  
When you finish your workout you will feel fantastic. So often when I begin my workout, I think it is about time for golf instead, but about a third of the way into it, I know the gold clubs and rocking chair are not on my program. 
Select your favorite exercises and just do them from workout to workout as best you can, and the weights, sets, and reps will vary from workout to workout. 

Let go, don't worry about it. If you used to do 225 in a lift and now can only do 135, DO IT, ENJOY IT, AND BE GLAD YOU CAN STILL DO IT. If you used to do 15 chinups and now can only do 3 to 5, DO THEM AND BE HAPPY YOU CAN. 

As important as weightlifting/weight training is and even though it is our absolutely most famous thing to do, it too isn't enough. We must stretch to keep our tendons and ligaments as flexible and elastic as we can. Also, cardiovascular training must be done. Take your choice: running, bicycling, swimming, rowing, walking or cardio machines. I think a good way for us 50-plus weightlifters to do cardio is via interval training. That is where you run, cycle, swim, row, or walk fairly hard for a time or distance, then take it easy for a time or distance, then go hard again, and so forth. 

A great cardio method for weightlifters is walking up inclines with a weighted backpack. Talk about your heart and lungs getting a workout as well as you glutes, thighs and calves. 

Note: I like going uphill with a weighted backpack on a trail or off-path that's not too level, bumpy and such, so it layers some nice balance stuff on. Old farts and balance, eh. Kind of an important thing to work on and maintain. The weaker we get, and you will get there if you live long enough, the more our balance suffers. Also, remember that, once you get to your natural, older and weaker state, you won't be able to just hoist whatever non-lifting items outside of the gym you want to as easily, so brace, take an assessment of what you're doing first, and have at 'er with a little more care than when you were a pup. 

Finally, it is very important to do exercises that maintain and develop your balance. [Ah-ha!] You can do lunges, step-ups, and standing dumbbell and barbell exercises. Practice standing on one leg, walking on a 4 x 4 piece of wood, or standing on your toes. Working on your balance requires a lot of patience and concentration. 

Also, you can combine your weights and cardio by doing circuit training, a series of 10 or so exercises that work different body parts, and you do them with light weights and minimal-to-no rest between exercises and sets. 

Note: If you're reading this and are familiar with Mr. Schmitz, chances are you know some Oly-style lifting moves and have the technique down nicely. I like using the dynamic type of lifting on Oly-based movements for cardio . . . mainly because it feels roughly 1,000 times more involving and forces concentration much more than the standard aerobic stuff. People will warn you of not going high-rep with dynamic lifts and Oly-based things-with-der-barbell. "Your technique will falter and fail in the higher reps and you'll poke off an ear." Nonsense. Pick the appropriate weight, and immediately put the bar down when your form starts to deteriorate into the mushy pablum of a newb. Once you know how to select poundages for this, you'll be able to get your heart rate way in the hell up there right quick. And, to implement something of the "interval training" idea in quite simply, just do a set of your chosen Oly-style thing to the ticker-rate point you aim to reach, put down the bar and do something less taxing, free squats, bike that goes nowhere no matter how fast you peddle, some kind of light carrry, whatever, take it easier for a spell, Chill Breezy, and let your heart rate return to the mundane, often monotonous lower rate. Then, back to the bar. Interval training. Big thing, eh. Highly scientific. All you're doing is driving your heart rate up high with a kickstart, then easing it down with a kiss or two of something less taxing. Back and forth. Edging closer to that heart rate you're after, then easing back on the heart-throttle. Back and forth. Get artistic on it, Life-Soldier!

Continuing . . . 

Aches and pains are part of life and sports, especially as we age. You really need to KNOW YOUR BODY AND LISTEN TO IT. Know your aches and pains, which ones are no problem, which could become a problem, and which ones are already a problem. 

The best treatments for aches and pains are ice, heat, alcohol, analgesic creams, weed, massage, hot baths, hot showers, saunas, steam baths, aspirin, ibuprofen, glucosamine chondroitin, and rezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt. These are treatments for which you need no medical prescriptions or supervision, just your own good sense [or lack of it]. If you overdo any of these treatments, it can create problems as well. Too much ice can give you frostbite, too much aspirin and/or ibuprofen can create stomach and kidney problems, too much weed can make you laugh at the banal stupidity surrounding all of it including us, and too much rest can make you fat and weak. 

Also, you don't want to "mask" your aches and pains because they are your yellow blinking caution light so that you don't create a truly serious injury. 

Note: Let pain be your guide. 
Let pain be your guide to a deeper experience of pleasure.
Let pleasure be your guide to a deeper experience of pain.
The sadomasochist ages and engages life with a slightly different perspective. 

Also, it is perfectly okay to use belts and wraps if that gets you through the workout with no ill effects.

A VERY BIG WARNING and word of caution here is that if you are on any medications for some reason, be very careful and sure to consult with your doctor about your training and whatever questions you may have about what you can and cannot do or what you are feeling. And if you have any artificial joints or parts, be careful, but be mobile. 


Now, I'm a big believer in squats, full squats preferably, but any type of squat is good: half, quarter, eighth, whatever you can do. And if you can't squat, then do leg presses. Besides squats being so good for your legs and back, they are extremely important for your bones and your heart and lungs. Bones get stronger and stay strong by bearing weight, and squats are the best weight-bearing exercise. However, do what feels right for you: if you can't lift barbells, then use dumbbells; if you can't do dumbbells, then use machines, if you can't use machines, then just use your bodyweight. 

Note: Higher rep squats with forced breathing can be good for us daft, daffy, and often dodgy old cunts. Pardon me . . . elder farts. One of my favorite ways to use 'em say, thrice weekly, without burning out after a couple weeks is: 

Monday - Squat, 10 reps.
Wednesday - Squat, 15 reps
Friday - Squat, 20 reps. 
Same weight for all three days. 
Up the weight when Friday's 20 ain't too-too scary. 
But don't get all soft and soggy on this. 
Keep upping the weight. 

This layout enforces light/medium/heavy nicely. Monday should be something not all that tough. A nice deep breathing walk up to those 10 good reps [with plenty of big breaths right from the first one. Wednesday is challenging but only to 15, you can do this! Breathe deep and in multiples for the last 10 or so. Friday is just get them damnable 20 reps, breathing will take care of itself, just get them 20 strong but iffy reps from 16 to 20. Add a bit of weight for Monday, and the "only 10" reps will make it doable no worries. I wish I was more respected in the "community" sometimes. Had a real name, eh. Then my somewhat strangely related but valid ideas hidden under the odd delivery, those couple hundred training articles in a file I have, would be seen as useable info then! Hey, I have a few written in various poetic forms to boot! Pity the average lifter's such a boob, 'cause this stuff can be way more fun than what a double-digit I.Q. newb sees all around him. It's fun! Not the end of the world. It's just lifting. Fun. With a goal or three. And if you can't realize that, well, I sorely pity you when you're an elder lifter. 

Okay, gotta get that leaning out deal started soon, the soapbox just broke. 

Continued, a couple paragraphs left, from here. 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 




  1. Bravo on fielding a Schmitz article. He is a legit fountain of useable knowledge to lifting folks of all ages. Got anymore Schmitz gems over there at TTSDB?

    1. He always brings good things to the table with his writing. Not sure, as odd as this sounds, of what I have anymore. He did a nice bunch of things that were made public first in Milo. There's some of those here, somewhere. If the blog looks a lot like the posts may be randomly picked at times . . . it's true!

  2. "....And we come down in plateaus too. Fortunately, it's not a steady slide, you actually will maintain certain levels of strength for months and even years, but sooner or later you will drop to a lower-level plateau. At this time, there is no way to predict these drops to the next level, but through smart training and a healthy lifestyle, you can hang on longer...."

    That. Exactly my experience during my will-be-age-67-this-June lifetime of no-PEDS bodybuilding since I began at age 15. (Well, no, I am on prescription TRT, 100/mg/week the past six years, although even with it, I carry less muscle size and have less strength now then I did at my natural prime of age 22.)

    "....lift whatever you can, even though it's just going to be light weights in comparison to what you used to lift. In fact, "used to" will be a big part of your vocabulary when talking about your weightlifting. One hundred kilos may feel like 150 "used to" feel, and that's okay. Train as hard and as heavy as you can, but train by how you feel and how the weights feel and not by what you "used to" do!
    Learn to let go of your past and accept the present and the future...."

    And, exactly, that too.
    But, to me, that's the advantage of being addicted to iron; especially for someone who's been weight-training all his life so knows his body and knows the exercises and their variations, it's simple to adapt resistance training to age-wear-and-injury limitations and still be "lifting as hard as currently possible."

    But regardless - - AGING SUCKS!! lol

    1. Yes! You bet . . . we can still get all kinds of rewards and enjoyment out of this thing. 70 in May here . . . yeah! Let's do it up right all the way to the end.

  3. Karl Norberg was mentioned in one sentence but never discussed further. Maybe I need to wait until the rest of the article is finished but I'm curious as to what Schmitz's thoughts are on him. Karl pretty much defied all of what is said in this article. He did heavy manual labor his whole life and didn't start lifting until his mid 50's after he met John Grimek. I read that he peaked in his mid 70's and still benched 300 in his 80's. He could deadlift 600 without warming up!

    Interesting thing on how manual labor affects the strength of a lifter. To give you an example, my dad has for the most part done manual labor for most of his life with a few years of office jobs sprinkled in but they were few and far between. He just turned 62 and hasn't really lifted weights for 4 years but has retained his size. Surprisingly, whenever he feels the urge to lift, he can within reason still nearly do what I'm currently doing while I've been practicing 6 days a week for many years! Kind of pisses me off and yet gives me pride at the same time because I marvel at his natural gift of strength.

    I think people that do manual labor develop greater reserves of strength that can be maintained up to the day they die. Two other exemplarily lifters that come to mind are Chuck Sipes and Bill Boone. Chuck was a lumberjack and Bill dug wells. After a full day's work they still trained and you know the insane feats of strength both men possessed. You see, hobbyists do training luxuriously while the laborers are forced into a greater threshold of pain and strength. Either they adapt to the intensity or quit. With weight training you have more options but when it comes to manual labor you learn the hard way of overpowering your body with your mind. Another thing too, despite being 62 my dad still has one hell of an appetite! Over the decades of hard work he has gone as much as 6-8 hours without eating but drinking tons of water. This forced method of fasting I believe has contributed to his maintained strength and metabolism.

    1. Hello! He listed some of Karl Norberg's accomplishments, but didn't really say much more than what's online out there about him. Mr. Norberg, like many others who get held up as examples of what's "possible," is way over on the extreme end of it genetically. I don't put much stock in the extremes when it comes to how others can train. If you really believe plenty of hard physical labor results in "good" things happening with the body, go for it! I don't, not in the least, and have seen the wear and tear it puts on people who aren't the extreme examples. They tend to talk a lot about pain killers and such and generally have a limp, arthritis etc.

    2. Yep, that's me exactly! 38 years in the shipping dept. of a manufacturing warehouse. Walking 8 to ten miles daily, most of it while hand-trucking 400 lb. stacks of product in and out of trailers. I'm 63, hip replaced at 59, fight off plantar fasciitis in both feet, wear knee sleeves and ankle sleeves everyday, limit nsaids to 3 times per week. I was a competitive powerlifter(534-402-600, 1532 @198) for ten years until 44 yrs. old when the hip started hurting. I still lift but only do things that don't make working harder. The problem with manual labor is your body may be done but if you have 3 more trailers to load you have to keep going. Doing that for multiple years that turn into multiple decades takes a big toll on most. Karl Norberg? Anonymous's Dad? Well, some guys are just made of different stuff!

    3. I got lucky and got out of having to do physical labor to pay the bills around my late 50's. The stuff we're made of sure does vary!

    4. Hi Frank. Well as I said below, I forgot to put my name Jeff when I published as "anonymous". Was in a rush and tired. Anyway, no Karl isn't my dad but my dad is part dutch and that culture is known for producing strong guys so I guess I lucked out with the genes. He worked for 8 years working on trains and lifting large window frames but was always careful about body mechanics. I understand in many cases such as manufacturing that can't be avoided but it is what it is. He has also done construction and built houses, electrical work, plumbing and more over the years. That's an awesome total you got there Frank! All my respect and admiration for you sir and all that hard work that I know went into achieving that.

  4. Hi there! I forgot to list my name there but that was my post. Was tired yesterday and forgot to publish as Jeff. Yeah, there are always extremes and exceptions to any sort of standard. I was just thinking of possible reasons as to why some lifters fare better with lasting strength into an advanced age in comparison to others. It's interesting to me to read about guys like Karl and gives me motivation. Bob Simpson, as I have read in an interview he did with Willie, stated that his best press was done when he was pushing 50. That tells me that certain people take longer to achieve strength goals than others and that not everything is achieved while in your 20s or 30s. Anyways, as you and everybody else has said, I'll lift to the day I die!

    1. Hello Jeff! We're the ones set on carrying our own coffin into the hole. Self-pallbearing! Genetics affects everything we do, that's a certainty. Some men start flagging around 45 and look like 65 already. Others reach 70 looking like 55. Go figure. We get what we got and work with that.

  5. Hey Jeff! Sorry, I wasn't meaning that I thought Norberg was your Dad, just that some people, like your Dad, can do things that the rest of us won't be able to. I'd see lots of those guys at lifting meets. Two weight classes below me, 10 years older, and out-lift me by 100 lbs on every lift(if not more!). But you're right, it can be motivating: when someone is several steps ahead of you, you're more sure of going forward yourself.
    What I need to remember is what Mr. Schmitz said: "but I am still snatching and cleaning and jerking because I enjoy it." I squat and bench and chin and row because I enjoy it! I do higher reps because I like feeling pumped(well, and the heavy stuff is stubborn and won't move like it used to). And I still try to out-work the 20 and 30-somethings at work because I can - sometimes. Hmmmmm...... being my own pallbearer, yeah, I wouldn't want to trust those youngsters to do it anyway.

    1. Hi Frank! Something that may help you out with your chronic plantar fasciitis is to foam roll your calves daily. My parents and I used to regularly suffer from plantar fasciitis and I found through trial and error, pressure that builds up in the calves leads to heel pain. By dissipating it with the foam roller I feel relief instantly and by the next day the pain is gone. What I do is lay on a mat, lift myself up a little bit on my knuckles and put all my weight on one calf at a time and roll each of the 3 sections of the calf (outer, middle and inner).
      The best roller to get is the rumble roller that's specifically designed with raised bumps for deep tissue so you can really get into those muscles.


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