Lessons From The Older Generation

Dustin Myers

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You’ve seen them. Every gym has at least one.

A true old school iron head.

Chances are this guy is in his fifties or sixties, lifts by himself, and comes to the gym still wearing his overalls and work boots from the job site.

At first glance, their workouts seem repetitive - basic rep schemes, nothing flashy, and the same exercise selection year round.  They may even seem to lack intensity…after all, when is the last time you’ve seen one of these gym dinosaurs squat until they puke or scream during a set of muscle ups?

Now that you think of it like that, what could you possibly have to learn from this old timer who probably doesn’t even have an instagram account?

A whole hell of a lot.

In today’s fitness environment, it can be easy to dismiss the knowledge that these long time gym warriors have accrued over decades in favor of the latest science based article or rant from your favorite social media fitness influencer.  However, there is no substitute for real life experience and these guys have loads of it.  All of the best training concepts are rooted in the basics - squatting, deadlifting and pressing is not a new phenomenon.  Not only have they probably been lifting weights longer than you have been alive, they have undoubtedly found out a thousand useful tips thru trial and error - the equivalent of a bunch of mini training studies.

Here are a few lessons that any lifter can learn from a gym OG:

Forgotten Concepts

Most of the lifters that fall into this category came of age in the gym during the golden era of bodybuilding.  Some of the concepts they used - german volume training, strip down supersets, and forced negatives - may have fallen out of favor, but will be a great addition to your training arsenal.

One of my favorite guys to lift with - Bruce the Beast, a true gym OG in his late 50s - got me interested again in basic linear pyramid progression rep schemes.  With my job focusing on strength performance I was so used to using heavy doubles, triples or max effort singles that I forgot how satisfying the pump could be from something as simple as 12,10,8,6,4. 

Train Smart

Remember when I said they appear to lack intensity?  I guarantee, that was not always the case.  They are simply to the point in life where they must avoid injury at all costs and lift weights to maintain rather than constantly improving.  My father, still an avid weightlifter at 64 years old broke it down to me like this.  In his 40s he felt great.  In his 50s his energy started to drop and he noticed his recovery took way longer.  That little tweak in his shoulder after benching now took a few weeks to go away instead of a day or two.  Now, in his 60s, he can’t risk an injury because he knows it will mean too much time away from the gym.  His muscles are still strong, but the tendons, ligaments and connective tissue have lost much of their durability and are not as forgiving as they once were.If something causes discomfort, he simply removes it or finds a suitable substitution…a lesson that I wish I learned at a younger age.

True Work Ethic

It’s one thing to be consistent in the gym for a year or two - school, work, or starting a family are all obstacles that can interrupt your training regimen, and everyone knows how tough it is to make the gym a priority.  Many of the gym OGs I know have been consistent for several decades, and that often means coming to the gym after working a manual labor job for 8-12 hours.  Before retiring, my Dad would work in the steel mill all day before heading out to our detached, unheated garage to get his pump on, rain, snow or shine.  Another legendary gym OG I have trained with over the years is Ned Stepanovich.  Ned would come to OSG in the mornings for cardio before going to lay concrete all day, then head back to the gym in the evenings to lift weights.  That’s right…two a days with concrete work in between at 59 years old.  Think about that next time you’re tired or skip the gym because you feel “over trained”.

These are just a few of the lessons that can be learned from the older weight lifters in your gym.   When you see a true gym OG, workout with them, just remember that they may be set in their ways and want you to go along with their plan for the day.  That perceived lack of intensity?  Although they may not rep heavy weight until their veins pop, I guarantee that they will want to coach and push you to your limits.   They may not be up to date on the latest science, and some of their methods may be obsolete, but do yourself a favor and learn from them as much as possible.  Someday, you will be in their shoes, waiting for the right time to bestow some knowledge from your years under the bar to some young meatheads.