This past weekend I had the honor of being invited as a panelist for a conference to Honor Clarence Bass’s 75th birthday and the release of his new book Take Charge: Fitness at the Edge of Science. The format of the conference was to discuss in an academic fashion some of the scientific literature that underpins the content of Clarence’s book and his lifetime approach to physical fitness. There were 3 separate panel discussions that began with a presentation of the pertinent scientific literature by a leading academic researcher from the field of exercise physiology. After the presentation of the literature, panelists from the strength and conditioning community would provide commentary and personal insight.
The day began with a meet and greet along with a Continental breakfast. I was excited, and despite my attempts to blow time on the walk from the hotel to the Stark Center (located in the North End Zone building at the University of Texas football stadium), I arrived early and well before anyone else. When the elevator doors opened on the 5th floor, I was immediately greeted by a to-scale replica of the Farnesse Hercules.
As I walked into the foyer, I saw an incredible variety of photos and items from the history of physical culture. I slowly walked around the room taking in all the sights. I was amazed at the collection. Just as I got to the front of the foyer, I looked down what I thought was a hallway and found it was actually an opening to a museum that probably stretched 75 yards back. On the walls were some amazing photos from the history of strength and conditioning. As I stood gazing at these amazing photos the next attendee to show up walked up behind me. It was Dr. Kevin Fontaine who was part of the research team at Johns Hopkins University that was studying the effects of strength exercise on patients with rheumatoid arthritis using RenEx equipment. Kevin is now faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the Department of Public Health. His research there is focused on the use of strength exercise in treating obesity. They will also be incorporating RenEx equipment in their research, and they will be undergoing training on proper implementation of the equipment from the RenEx team in Cleveland.
Kevin and I toured the amazing photos and talked about how cool the “golden age” of muscle beach looked. Kevin shared some great photos of his 16 year-old son Joshua who is in very muscular condition. Kevin also showed an i-Phone video of his son deadlifting 500 pounds at a bodyweight of 142! Doug Holland would be proud. My own i-Phone was already running low on batteries, so I took some pictures of the best photos and items which I will share here.
The first panel discussion was led by Dr. Ed Coyle professor of exercise physiology at the Univerity of Texas. The topic of this discussion was the aerobic/strength alliance. The emphasis of Dr. Coyle’s lecture was the most recent scientific literature that shows that the aerobic metabolic system can be very effectively conditioned through appropriate strength training and that the previous notion that only steady state activity could produce aerobic conditioning had finally been disproven. He presented several papers referenced in Clarences book in support of the aerobic/strength alliance. I, along with Kevin Fontaine provided commentary after Dr. Coyle’s presentation. Since this notion was a major portion of what John and I laid out in BBS, this was very easy for me to comment on. Most of my time was spent illustrating how mitochondria evolved from infecting proto-bacteria that fed of the waste products of single-celled anaerobic organisms. These proto-bacteria actually became symbiotic with anaerobic cells and became incorporated as part of the cells metabolism. This shows why the aerobic system is entirely dependent on the engagement of the anaerobic system whose end-product serves as substrate for the aerobic system. Finally, I emphasized how these systems are not separate and distinct, but actually run concurrently. This then shows how the cardiovascular system must serve all of metabolism, not just the aerobic portion. Kevin Fontaine then followed up with his own insights from research conducted at Hopkins and UAB demonstrating benefits from strength training in both autoimmune patients and obese patients that were previously ascribed only to aerobics.
After the first panel discussion, the speakers and panelists were treated to Lunch at the University of Texas Club at the UT Stadium. It was an incredibly luxurious venue with an amazing buffet. I sat at a table with Kevin Fontaine, Dr. Waneen Spirduso of the University of Texas Kinesiology department, physique photographer Lazlo Bencze and his wife. After a delicious lunch and wonderful conversation we headed back to the Stark Center for the remaining panel discussions.
The next panel disucssed “the rise of intervals” and was led by Dr. Joe Signorile of the University of Miami. He is the chair of the department of exericse physiology and author of Bending the Aging Curve. He presented the literature from Clarence’s book that shows that aerobic conditioning can be obtained using a program of high intensity intervals and that the conditioning obtained meets or exceeds that obtained by steady state activity. He again reiterated that the aerobic and anaerobic systems operated concurrently rather than separately and dichotomously. The main point that he gave as a takeaway from his presentation was “There is no such thing as a time-dependent energy pathway”. Commentators included Dean Brignac and Dan Keating. Dean is a gym owner (Centurion Fitness) from Baton Rouge, Louisiana who is a lifetime fitness advocate who had always been a “fat but fit” guy until he stopped doing hours of weekly aerobics and began incorporating brief intervals and decreased his volume of weight training. Now at age 50 he maintains single digit body fat and a 29 inch waste, where he previously weighed in the mid 200’s with a 37 inch waste. Dan Keating is an attorney and long-time follower of Clarence’s who has also achieved amazing condition in his 50’s. Dan, Along with Terry and Jan Todd, was instrumental in organizing the event.
The final panel topic was “Forget Heavy, Think Effort”. The main presentation was made by Dr. Richard Winett of the University of Virginia. He presented the scientific evidence that shows that it is not the weight or percentage of one rep max that is important in stimulating muscle gains but rather that a high degree of effort and meaningful fatigue were key. He also discussed at length the importance of an internalized approach of seeking muscular fatigue, instead of the externalized approach of attacking the weights in an effort to lift more weight. Commentators again included Kevin Fontaine who discussed the success of an internalized approach and timed static contraction as he applies it to himself, his wife and his study subjects at the University of Alabama. The other commentator was Dave Goodin (AKA The Texas Shredder) who at age 54 is still a champion natural bodybuilder. Dave was only a few weeks out from competition and was in amazing condition. He discussed how his approach of internalization and use of more moderate weights with focus on form and fatigue has given him longevity as a still competitive bodybuilder.
The evening was capped off with a wonderful dinner set up in the lobby of the Stark Center with Jan and Terry Todd hosting and honoring Clarence. Clarence gave a short and humble speech. He was clearly moved by the event, and I believe he was close to tears at a few points. Clarence is very reserved and self-depricating and his stoicism at such a moving time was impressive. A keynote address was given by Dr. Waneen Spirduso who gave a stirring lecture on her area of interest: how exercise extends human life and the quality of those years. She thanked Clarence for being a shining example and providing a lifelong documentary of how exercise can extend extreme physical fitness well beyond what we previously thought.
This event was truly legendary. I got to meet someone that I read and followed since I was a teenager. I got to meet folks that I have corresponded with often, but had not yet met and I got to meet some legends of the iron game. I got to meet some of the most renowned researchers in exercise science. Thanks to Clarence and his wife Carole for allowing me to be part of their celebration. Thanks to Jan and Terry Todd, along with Dan Keating for putting together an incredible conference.
As a final note (and to provide an insight into the type of person Clarence Bass is) let me tell you about an encounter I had with Clarence. I was telling Clarence about how I was inspired by him as a teenager and would drive my mom nuts eating his “old reliable” recipe for breakfast and how I ate a peanut butter sandwich, apple and yogurt at lunch copying verbatim what I had read in the magazine articles and the original Ripped. Rather than being flattered that I had copied his diet verbatim, he asked me “why didn’t you personalize it or do something to make it your own?”. THIS is the kind of guy Clarence Bass is. He does not think he has all the answers. He is happy to inspire you and provide you guidelines or a framework, but above all, he wants you to find a way that works for you. That is the mark of a true mentor and a true champion. I will close with some photos of the great folks I met at the Take Charge event.
Thanks to everyone for a great weekend. Post your WOW’s and your thoughts.