Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Fossil Speaks Again


I wasn't always the oldest guy in the room -- though it seems that I have been for a long time. Part of that is because I'm doing things that a lot of people dabbled with when they were young but left behind -- on their way back to the couch from the fridge ...

Now and again, being older than the room has its perks. Expectation confounded is one of my most fun games, and sometimes, it's not even intentional.

I have never been really strong, not like the yard monsters and serious iron guys who can bench a Volvo for reps and then go squat with a Mack trailer-tractor on their shoulders. But back in the day when I was spending quality time at the gym and working what was -- for me -- a fair amount of weight, I had a wonderful ego-warming experience that still brings a smile when I recall it.

I was doing bent-over dumbbell rows. For those of you who don't know this one, you stand next to a bench, bend at the hips and knees, put one hand on the bench and use that for additional support. You reach down with your free hand to a dumbbell on the floor, and using primarily the muscles of your back and shoulder, bring the weight up toward your torso and slightly to the outside. Works the lats, the rotator cuff, hands, arms., rear delt, some trap, like that.

Lower it, repeat, and depending on your routine, do a set of eight or ten reps, then switch positions to work the other side.

A pair of young men came into the gym. I'd have guessed them to be about eighteen or twenty, and while they looked fit, they also had the dress and demeanor of newbies to the weight room. I figured Coach must have sent 'em to bulk up some for whatever sport they played. College, maybe high school.

I went back to my exercise.

I finished one set, turned around to work the other side, and became aware that the two young men were looking at me and each other and having a discussion. There was a ... I dunno, skeptical tone to it.

I did a set on the sinister side, then a second set dexter, and one more on the left, and I was done.

The dumbbell I was using was as much as I could manage for two sets of eight reps. It was a hundred and twenty-five pounder. Like I said, not major weight, but what I could do.

I sat on a nearby bench to rest a couple seconds before I planned to re-rack the dumbbell.

Before I got to replace the weight, one of the young men came over, looking smug. He glanced at his buddy, bent over, grabbed the dumbbell, and tried to replicate the exercise.

The look on his face ...

First the smugness vanished -- Crap, this gray-haired old fart can do this? How hard could it be? -- to be replaced by the sudden realization that he couldn't get the weight more than a couple inches off the floor. Then came the strain of putting it down without looking completely stupid, and a combination of wonder and -- dare I say it? -- amazement as he hurried back to where his laughing buddy still stood ...

I treasure that memory. Mostly because I wasn't expecting it, nor looking for it.

Being the oldest guy in the room probably means you are going to be the first to leave it, but not always. And even if you are that guy, the little moments like this add a richness to the time you have ...

12 comments:

Worg said...

I'm much stronger than I was ten years ago and even more so than 20 years ago. I don't even lift all that often, trying to work on it more regularly. Going heavy rather than for reps seemed to help. The strongmen knew what they were doing I think.

jks9199 said...

My friend... 125 for rows ain't an inconsequential weight! I'm passing strong, and I don't know that I could do multiple sets like that!

Have you checked out The New Rules of Lifting by Lou Shuler and Alwyn Cosgrove? Interesting read, and I'm getting ready to give the workouts a try.

Anonymous said...

ditto what jks said, ive seen plenty of "built" guys doing an equivalent weight. if you are a fossil you are a damn strong fossil. langdon

steve-vh said...

I started lifting in the local "weight lifter's only" gym back in '88. Finally quit going there 5 yrs ago when I started working here and we have a gym here.
Even back then I gravitated towards the older guys. I knew I wanted to keep doing it a long time and I asked them for advise. Seemed to me, if they were still doing it, they must have figured out how. Especially the owner.
Some of the best damn advise I've ever gotten.

Still remember those old TV episodes of Brian Keith pumping iron on HardCastle and Mccormick in his 60's and looking huge to me.

Nataraj Hauser said...

My favorite eye-popper story involves a former girlfriend. At the time, she was a sweet 17 and had been riding her horse on the 4H circuit for years (western and huntseat). She got to talking about her fancy western saddle with my roommate, a mildly old-school guy who had delusions of John Wayne. She runs out to her car for the saddle, brings it in, and holds it out for him - arm extended, parallel to the floor. He reaches out and takes it, and his arm whooshes down as he is completely unable to hold the saddle at arms length. His face was precious as he realized just how damn strong she was to have done what she just did.

These days I hang out with dancers, and I have ceased being amazed at how strong they are, pound for pound. I'm pretty fit and pretty strong and my body does what I ask it to pretty well, but I can't match the applied strength of many of them. And they are not all spring chickens. Many are over 50.

Ever see the book/photo series Growing Old Is Not For Sissies"?

Evan Robinson said...

I was the eldest in my cohort in grad school for the last two years. Fortunately, there's not the same expectation of decrepitude in the classroom, but it was also obvious that I had some of the most varied experience in the room, so it wasn't long before people started looking at me whenever the professors asked a hard question. That was satisfactory.

However, I'm also the eldest (I think, including the instructor) at my current dojo, and since I'm re-treading ground I've previously trod, I have certain advantages (and disadvantages).

The advantages of age (or experience, if you prefer) include an improved ability to relate a situation to a previous situation, thus gaining insight into appropriate or inappropriate response (i.e., if you've been in a situation before, you have practical experience of at least one response, and whether that response resulted in an outcome that you prefer or one that you don't prefer ); in the case of martial arts, we also have a lot of experience learning sequences, and the pre-programmed knowledge of a lot of basic maneuvers, so that we don't have to think so hard about the mechanics of this block or that step and can spend more mental energy remember which block comes along with which step and so forth -- this is a two-edged sword, because we also have a lot of pre-programmed sequences which may now have changed :-(.

Finally, I believe I'm the eldest in my immediate paintball group, which explains my adoption of the quote from The Whiteboard (a paintball comic by a guy in Alaska):

Ambush is short for "I'm fat and slow, so I'm gonna wait here under this tree and hope somebody wanders by."

-- The Whiteboard #604, 2006.03.08, http://www.the-whiteboard.com/autowb604.html by Doc, of Doc's Machine

In any case, I doubt I could do a row with 125 pounds at any point in my life, so even if you're older than I am, you were still stronger at some point, and quite likely still are, so don't sweat it.

We're not dead yet!

Steve Perry said...

Well, I don't do 125's any more. And I'm not as strong as I was when I was forty, nor as flexible. I'm working on the latter, because I think that's probably key. Healthy spine and joints and all. And I find myself gravitating to body-weight stuff more and more. If I can get back to rope climbing again, I think that''ll be good, too.

Growing Old is Not for Sissies. Oh, yeah, I have that book in a box somewhere, Got the T-shirt with the bearded guy and the dumbbells, too. He was a little older than I am now when that photo was taken, a shrink, if I recall. Be in his nineties if he is still around.

Haven't checked out the Shuler/Cosgrove book yet.

Dan Moran said...

I had a longer post that didn't go through -- said, basically, that I appreciated the example of men older than me. I was on the verge of giving up pickup basketball when I met my friend William -- he was almost 60 and played the game extremely well (beat me, 1 on 1, 3 games out of 5) ... I was only 40. Older than almost everyone else out there playing pickup, but not as old as William. I learned how to play the game differently, watching him -- and listening to you talk about Silat, about positioning and anticipation and so on, I'm almost always reminded of William ... talking about positioning and anticipation and so on. :-)

Some day there'll be no one left to learn from. Then I'll be the guy looking at the exits.

Todd Erven said...

There was about 3 years where I lifted weights 6 days a week. Yay, college. We weren't into sports but could keep up with the jocks. There were two types of freakishly strong people, however, that always stumped my workout buddy and me. They had what we classified as: Farm boy strength or old man strength.

Farm boy strength. The super scrawny, very tanned guys who always looked like it was their first time in a weight room. When they'd finally decide on an exercise to do, they'd put up twice the weight we would and make it look effortless. I guess there's something to be said about good ol' natured chores.

Old man strength. The guys with either grey hair or no hair. We always thought it was cool that they would go to a gym filled with mostly college aged folk. They looked fit enough but nothing to cause you to do a double take... until they started lifting. There were more, "wtf?" moments than I can remember. They'd also be the guys with the vise-like handshakes. Must be something different in those multi-vitamins for 50+.

steve-vh said...

Was doing some rolling with my son a few weeks ago and he got a bit dismissive of my particular skills in wrestling vs. his.
I remarked "so just how many other guys on your team have fathers that roll (still or ever) with them?". Yeah, that was a good look on his face.

Wim Demeere said...

I can echo the dancers statement. A gym hereI used to work had a bunch of ballet dancers training there. One of them, early twenties and real skinny guy was a regular. A bunch of muscleheads were grunting and groaning leg presses with the max weight stack. They kind of laughed at the ballet dancer so he walked over and did the leg presses for reps with the same weight. Using only one leg.

Instant deflating of several egos. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing.

Steve Perry said...

Got to figure a guy who can do all that leaping about, plus lifting and holding a partner up in the air overhead while continuing to do the steps and make them look good and easy is passing strong.

I remember seeing a picture of Edward Villella in Life Magazine years ago in mid-leap about six feet off the ground, and his muscularity was most impressive.