Training Over 40

by Thom Van Vleck

Picture of Hermann and Elsie Goerner from a 1948 issue of Ironman.

I was looking through my 1948, June/July issue of Ironman recently and came across this article on Herman Goerner.  Herman is a favorite of mine and this article was by Edgar Mueller, who wrote a biography on Goerner titled “Goerner the Mighty”.   I included the photo for  couple of reasons.  One, it’s a great picture of Herman and a rare one with his wife, also a very strong woman.  For another reason, it gave me a chuckle that Peary Radar, who captioned the photo, makes the statement that she was “not the slender, willowy type of figure so popular with women today”.  That’s the truth!

As I read it, there was a comment on Herman training after the age of 40.  As I am rolling in on 50 it is of more and more of interest to me how older men train.  I was once talking to my Uncle Phil Jackson, who trains several hours a day even in his 60’s about being sore.  I told him that when I was 20, I could train hard and then train hard again the next day.  At 30, it seemed to take a day or two to recover, and now in my 40’s, it seemed to take a week.  His response:  “Thom, I’ve been sore for the past 10 years!”.  He explained that if waited until he was “fully recuperated” he’d probably never train and there was a point, around age 55, that he just decided to keep training regardless of how bad or sore he was.  It has paid off for him!

In the article, Mueller talks about Goerner training in his early days 5 times a week with 2 days full rest.  Then, during his professional career from 1921 on, he worked out daily.  But then it mentions after the age of 40 he trained 3 days a week.  It seems that he obviously cut back on his training for a reason.  This may have been retirement, or it may have been his recuperation has decreased.   I say this because at one point Mueller states in the article, “He (Goerner) trained always as the mood took him – varying his program to suit his energy and condition of the moment and never did he force himself to perform and workout when not feeling  in the mood.

My theory is that Goerner cut back on his workouts as his recuperation went down at 40.  I realize there may be other factors, such as retirement from performing, but I believe recuperation was the primary factor.  I have also cut back on training time as I have gotten older.  My workouts are as hard as ever, but more time between them and less “maxing” out in sessions have become the norm.  But what happens when I’m not in the “mood” as Mueller puts it.

I think that day will come, like my Uncle Phil, and when it happens I need to push through it like Phil does.  Because he will say, once he starts, the soreness goes away and the “mood” comes back and he benefits from it.  Recently, on a trip to the JWC gym, Phil hit a seated press behind the neck with 180lbs at a body weight of 220lbs at the age of 63 in a fashion so strict I think Bill Clark would have stood up and applauded!  My point is, he’s in good, strong shape!

So, as you age, you need more recuperation.  But don’t mistake recuperation with taking it easy!  Make your workouts count and don’t let recuperation become an excuse for a missed workout.  The day will come with it doesn’t come as easy, but the benefits will make it worth it.   Right now, I think I’m still in my Goerner phase, but when my Jackson phase come, I plan on sticking with it.  After all, Art Montini, Bill Clark, and Dale Friez have paved the way and set records for the rest of us to shoot for!