Too Old To Build Muscle? The Bernie Long Story

Bernie Long didn't let mini-strokes (and resulting memory loss), back surgery or the lack of a thyroid stop him. Now at the age of 72, he is in the best shape of his life.

I am too old to do this - really?

The above question is something I hear nearly every other day, either in person or in the virtual world. In the days of men's fitness magazines and Abercrombie and Fitch ads, it occurred to me that once you pass 25 years of age, you should resort to bingo and pureed foods.

Therefore, I decided to take on the topic of training when you get older. But even though I am scratching 40 myself, this article is not about me (for once).

Meet exhibit A: Bernie Long

Bernie Long was born around the time when the Japanese attacked a little known place called Pearl harbor. Impressed by his physique? I am.

Now, do not fear; this article will not be another boring... "Bernie squats and eats his chicken breasts" article. Instead, I want to attempt to describe the mind set which goes into achieving such a shape at his age.

Quick medical history on Bernie Long: no thyroid, back surgery in 2011, can not turn his head to the right, severe kyphosis (hunched forward) and lastly, no short term memory. This is the result of a series of mini strokes.

Bernie Long

So all in all, not exactly the perfect set up to build a physique like his. How did it happen?

Short answer: in stages.

  • First: define the goal.
  • Second: assemble a team or support system.
  • Third: take action.

Along the way: do not neglect the mind. Establish a positive mindset and keep improving.

Define the goal

This first part didn't happen all at once. It was more of a gradual evolution towards the ultimate goal.

When Bernie started training, he was merely doing it to "look better" or " be healthy." It took a couple years and several trainers until he found Scott Weisse. Scott is an extremely knowledgeable and caring coach. He was the one with whom Bernie eventually connected.

Scott Weisse pushed Bernie beyond his self-perceived limits. From there on, it was a step by step process toward Bernie's first bodybuilding show.

Build a support system

This is point of step two: in order to succeed, you need a support system. Michael Jordan had Pippen, Malone had Stockton, the Jets had Tebow, wait....

In any case, you get the point. The better and more talented your training environment is, the better you will do. In Bernie's case this included a coach, nutritionist, masseur and posing coach (yours truly).

Some of this obviously depends on your financial means (to an extent), but it is you you are investing in, so at least consider doing it. At the very least, you should be looking into books and lectures by accomplished people in this sport. Knowledge will get you much further than the latest supplement gimmick.

Arnold and Frank Zane were both known to have a very thorough understanding of human anatomy. This may be one reason why they both accomplished amazing things, and built such incredible physiques.

I wont spend too much time on the importance on a proper social support system. This need should be self evident. In short, it is hard to get in shape when working for Dunkin Donuts, or living with an inner circle that believes bodybuilding is a narcissistic activity done by freaks. This is the reason why Bob Paris moved to California, by the way.

Take action now

Taking action almost deserves to be broken down into several subgroups. At first, Bernie had to fix himself after multiple surgeries. More specifically, he had to restore his balance, learn to turn his head again and regain flexibility in his shoulders.

This is a rather tall order, if you ask me. Mostly, he used the Alexander technique for these accomplishments. It took about a year.

Bernie Long

Afterwards, he was ready to start training seriously again. This led him to win the Masters Mr. Fitness in 2012.

Mind you, he still does not have much of a short term memory. This means that every adjustment myself or Scott makes to his training or diet has to be jotted down right away. On the bright side, this makes for extraordinary records.

The final push was provided by me, when I challenged him to get into photo shoot shape. I told him that I would cover the cost if he could achieve the conditioning. He certainly proved me wrong by getting into the best shape of his life. He became a freight train, so focused on training and proper dieting that it was simply a matter of time until he had the dry look we all crave.

Going to the actual photo shoot with Bernie Long and Jimmy Murthaugh was one the most thrilling experiences in my professional career, I have to say. Seeing the hard work being captured on film, and the energy it created between model and photographer was very inspiring.

How is your mental attitude?

Lastly, mental attitude is often overlooked when it comes to athletic success. All to often we focus on diet, training, supplements and drugs. As Vince Gironda said: "It is the muscle between the ears, that makes the other muscles grow."

Progress does not come linear. There are many setbacks along the way. Staying positive is one of these catch phrases that you always hear, but how does one really go about it?

I recommend that you keep taking pictures of yourself. No need to post them all on Facebook, by the way. Take them just for yourself, so you can look back on where you came from, and how far you have come. Also, and this goes back to point two, surround yourself with people who believe in you and can actually push you to the next level.

So, why are you still here and not in the gym or preparing healthy meals in the kitchen? If Bernie's story has not inspired you, I do not know what will.