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Training for “Masters”

April 9, 2010 03:31 AM

"Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."

So much for the philosophy, Comrades, I am here to try to enlighten you on how a 73 year old trained for the AAU Nationals on April 18 and 19, 2009 in Smithfield Rhode Island, and managed to carry away a prize and a new age/weight record in the deadlift by hoisting 358.2 lbs at a body weight of 163.

First, a disclaimer—the competition in my age group, 70 – 74, is not overwhelmingly numerous. There is an actuarial factor at work here, plus many people my age simply do not train very seriously. On the other hand, competition in lifting is as much with yourself as with the other guy. This is helpful; if you are competing against yourself, the only person you can embarrass is yourself.

My training combined frequent, regular kettlebell practices with a phased sequence of Deadlift sessions, working toward a new personal best and being reasonably careful not to injure or re-injure myself. It has taken me most of my three score and ten plus years to figure it out, but the older you get, the longer it takes to heal and recover.

About three years ago I herniated two or three disks L-4, L-5 while helping a son-in-law move some big, awkward, heavy flagstones. The Doctor said, "Your lifting days are over." a remark well calculated to set my competitive juices flowing. He sent me to re-hab and therapy, which I followed carefully and painstakingly. When the therapy people said they had done all they could, I gingerly picked up a 12 kg Kettlebell and tried a few tentative two hand swings. Not too bad, so I re-immersed myself in Power to the People!, Enter the Kettlebell!, From Russia with Tough Love, etc, and checked the DragonDoor Forum for articles and posts on coming back from back injuries. Com. Steve Freides' was particularly helpful both practically and inspirationally.

After a few weeks of very light low rep, high numbers of set refresher practices, I moved to a 5 day a week kettlebell program:

Mondays and Fridays "heavy" halos, slingshots, cleans-and-presses and either swings or heavy cleans to finish off. Total 200 to 250 reps

Tuesdays and Thursdays; "light" One and two hand swings. (10 reps on the minute for 20 minutes)

Wednesdays: "medium" halos, slingshots, and snatches.

I followed this pattern for a couple of months, gradually increasing the weights by laddering. I might do a set of 10 one-hand swings with the 16 kg, then a set of 7 with the 20 kg and try a set of 5 with the 24, and repeat. I was extremely careful to watch the form, and dropped the weight whenever I felt the form start to deteriorate. The back gets very vulnerable when fatigue sets in. After a few weeks, I threw in some "evil wheel" for the abs.

After about six months of gradually increasing weight and intensity, I thought I might try a deadlift or two. I had read a post regarding trap bar DLs to the effect that they are easier on the back. I borrowed a trap bar, and gave it a try very light. No harm done, so over a period of about a month, I gradually raised the weights and reps from 2 sets of 5 at 95 lbs to 3 to 4 sets of 5 at 225 lbs. This trap bar deadlift routine was performed 3 times per week.

At this point, my training partner, Com. Stephen White, said I should ditch the trap bar and start with conventional DLs. Dropped back to 135 lbs, and tried a variety of frequency and weekly patterns. Worked up again to 225 lbs over a six-week period, then decided to get serious. The Comrades ride to the rescue!

Coms. Pavel, Steve Freides, and Brett Jones, not to mention Jack Reape, Tom Phillips and Mark Reifkind have developed, described and published excellent routines for developing the deadlift. Pavel's PTTP or its derivative, 54321 were to be the core of my DL training, but I felt I should get some volume in to build a base from which to start with heavier lifts. Brett Jones described such a protocol, attributing it to Steve Justa. It involves lifting 7 days per week, starting very light (say 60% of conservative 1 rep Max) 3 reps Monday, 6 reps Tuesday, 9 reps Wednesday etc. up to 21 reps Sunday, then up the weight a it and start over with 3 reps. This was very effective in base building, but the amount of volume began to tell after a few weeks. I then dropped the frequency to 5 days per week, ending with 15 reps before upping the weight again on Monday.

Once I got to 285-300 lbs, the 15 reps at the end of the week were taking a little more out than I was putting in. Wanting to continue to progress, I switched to Steve Freides' peaking program. I started with his 4-week program for a 300lb lifter, and included his warm up phase, easing into the program over 2 weeks.
Steve's program is 3 days a week for 4 weeks. The reps are 54321 in 10 lb steps for the first three sets and 15 lbs for the last two sets. Thus: 225x5, 235x4, 245x3, 260x2, and 275x1 on Monday off 3-inch blocks.
Then 230x5, 240x4 etc. on Wednesday also off 3 inch blocks, Friday 235x5 etc.

After a 4 week cycle, ending with a single of 315 it felt like 3 days a week was a bit much, so I took a week off and started on a two day a week DL program to see how that worked. I stuck with the kettlebells for 5 days per week, and DLs on Monday and Friday. Monday was the "heavy day" and was patterned after the 54321 Freides template (with the last single being the heaviest). On Friday I switched to five sets of three at the middle or fourth rung of the Monday practice. For instance, if the single on Monday was 320, I might do 5x3 at 305 or 5x3 at 290.

I also decided not to ramp the weights up too fast, so stuck with the same weights for two weeks in a row before moving up 10 lbs. I was trying to avoid failure, but got stuck at 350 lbs. Backed off to 345, and made it, but it was pretty clear I needed less warm up and more base building. Until I got up to 320 lbs or so, I was using the 35 lb plates, which put the bar closer to the floor, and exaggerates the height of the blocks, by an inch or so.

It occurred to me that I was doing too much volume prior to attempting the "heavy" weight, and that the 54321 needed to be modified. So, I lit on a kind of "pyramid" pattern where I would ramp up fairly quickly to the heaviest weight of the workout and then finish with higher reps at a slightly lower weight for base building. For instance, on Monday the progression might be: 3x225, 2x250, 1x275, 1x300, 1x325 (heavy) then 4x300 and 3 x290. On the Friday I would warm up with 225x3 then do 305x4x3.

As the weights got heavier, it also became clear that the kettlebell workouts needed to be modified a bit. I tended to keep the volume up, but dropped the weight down.

The "system" seemed to work, as the meet results were a "success". I am fairly sure that if I could have had a fifth lift, I could have done 370, possibly 375, but did not want to miss.

Next time I hope for 375, and to that end I am following a three month "base building" program so that I can tackle heavier weights with less worry about injury. The plan is to do DLs twice per week, Tuesday and Friday. Starting with light weights, say 70% of max or 255 lbs as follows; Tues 255x15, Friday 255x20. The following week I will hit Tues. 255x25 and Friday 255x30. These are really singles, careful attention to form, set etc. Then the same pattern for the next two weeks at 265, and so on up to, say 305. At that point we will revert to the semi-pyramid described above—work fairly rapidly up to the heavy weight, then back off a bit to keep the volume up. Again, it will be important to avoid injury, so I will modify the kettlebell training as necessary. It is all an experiment of one.

Brewster Righter (Brockster) is a strikingly handsome retired former male model and financial executive and general manager, happily married with 2 daughters, 3 stepdaughters, 4 grandchildren and 2 Jack Russell Terriers. His athletic/sporting career has encompassed contact sports, running (10 or so marathons) auto racing (289 Cobra), ocean racing (3 Transatlantic, 5 Fastnet, 12 Bermuda, etc. races). He served in the USMC and US Army Special Forces. He has gone through life asking himself, "I wonder if I could do that?" He is currently active in his church, a Trustee and Deputy Police Commissioner of his Village in Long Island, NY. An active proponent of Kettlebells, he started deadlifting after reading Power to the People! about 6 years ago. He is, at present, the archetypal "little old guy", but what most people take for doddering is just stiffness from overdoing the deadlifting.