Monday, March 1, 2010

“To be a complete artist one must find a balance between physical strength and spiritual wisdom”

The Maestro Muscle Marathon

On March 2, 2009 I began a physical training regimen I call, the Maestro Muscle Marathon. It is a creative mind-body physical training program that stimulates muscle and spiritual growth. It is designed to promote good physical and spiritual health after age 50. It is also designed to minimize, and perhaps even prevent, some of the diseases and problems brought on by old age such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, dementia, and muscle loss.

The Muscle Marathon consists of a sustained six-days-a-week weight-training program of twelve upper body exercises and five lower body exercises using barbells and dumbbells. It is a protracted regimen of concentrated lifting exercises that stimulates natural strength and natural muscle growth while encouraging spiritual awareness.

In order to complete the marathon these exercises must be done each week for a period of seven years. The dedication needed to complete this seven-year physical ordeal, and the discipline it requires, will stimulate the spirit and promote good physical health.

The principles upon which the Maestro Muscle Marathon is based are similar to the physical training programs practiced by Buddhists monks in Asia. It incorporates the physical discipline exemplified by the Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei, and the wisdom and spiritual teachings of marshal artists such as Morihei Ueshiba.

The Inspiration

The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei

The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei are a Tendei sect of Buddhists monks whose temple is loctated on Mount Hiei near Kyoto, Japan.

The Marathon Monks seek enlightenment through physical ordeals, which includes a spectacular feat of physical endurance called Kaihōgyō. The Kaihōgyō is a practice of walking long distances (up to 52 miles) in a single day every day continuously for 100 days. The 100-day marathon is done once a year for a period of seven years - that’s a total distance traveled of over 27,000 miles - a distance equal to the circumference of the globe.

The monks who attempt the Kaihōgyō are very few.  The majority of the monks stay with the traditional method of spiritual enhancement; prayer, meditation, calligraphy, and general labor within the temple.  Only six monks have completed the marathon since WWII. Those few that have managed to finish the seven-year marathon are considered living saints.

The Marathon Monks believe that a physical ordeal is the means to spiritual enlightenment. It coincides with the beliefs of other Buddhists monks, such as the Shaolin monks of China and the Shinto monks of Japan, who include marshal arts training as part of their overall spiritual growth.

Morihei Ueshiba

“Through the virtue of training, enlighten both body and spirit”
                                                                                                                                                         Morihei Ueshiba

Morihei Ueshiba was a wise and peaceful man and the founder of the Japanese marshal art discipline, Aikido. In his book, The Art Of Peace, John Stevens writes, “Morihei taught Aikido as a creative mind-body discipline, as a practical means of handling aggression, and as a way of life that fosters fearlessness, wisdom, love, and friendship.”

Morihei Ueshiba continued to train until his death at age 85. John Stevens goes on to say, “Even as an old man of eighty, Morihei could disarm any foe, down any number of attackers, and pin an opponent with a single finger.“ The fact that a man in his eighties could still have such physical strength and spiritual awareness is proof that physical training can improve both body and mind continuously even as one ages.

A Little History…

I chose to use a gravity opposing weightlifting program as opposed to a martial arts training program because I wanted a physical ordeal I could pursue alone at home in my studio. (Morihei Ueshiba walked across his yard to his Dojo each morning) I wanted a training program that was similar to martial arts training in its overall dedication and effort expended without the necessity of joining a Dojo  and without the need of a training partner. Furthermore I am familiar with the weightlifting discipline. I was a bodybuilder for ten years and that experience helped me get started without having to learn a new discipline at my advanced age.

My first weightlifting experience came in1960. I started training to gain muscle weight because I was skinny. When I was 24 years old I only weighed around 150 lbs. at a height of 5’9.

I trained regularly for ten years building up muscle weight, and at one point I weighed a muscular 214 lbs. I also competed in weightlifting and bodybuilding competitions. I continued to body build for ten years. Then, in 1970, at age 34, I stopped weightlifting completely. At that time I weighed 193 lbs.

I never touched a weight again for forty years. I did no exercising of any kind. I turned away from the physical, the body, and turned inward toward the mind.

I lived my life as an artist, hanging out in cafés, smoking unfiltered French cigarettes and drinking lots and lots of espresso coffee, paying no attention at all to my physical self or to what the artist’s life was doing to my body and to my health. I ate very little and over a period of about ten years my weight dropped to 155lbs.

My body weight stayed below 160 lbs for most of the 1980’s then I started eating more and my weight began to go up in the 1990’s. After I hit 50 my metabolism changed and fat started to accumulate around my midsection. When I turned 65 I weighed around 175 lbs. My belly was bigger, my joints were aching and my knees were weak. I was losing strength little at a time every year as I got older. (Men lose around 20 to 30 percent of their strength each decade after turning 50). While my art spirit was ascending my body was in decline.

In the early eighties I had even started to drink wine, beer, and whisky, then, in 2000 I completely stopped drinking alcohol of any kind. I also stopped smoking and drinking espresso coffee, which improved my health, but my weight continued to go up, it went up to 187lbs. I was getting back up to my bodybuilding contest weight - but this time it was not muscle weight, this time it was fat weight. I started to cut down on the amount of food I was eating.

In 2006 when I turned 70 my weight was down to around 166 lbs. But it wouldn’t stay down, in 2009 it was up again to 172 lbs. I was physically weaker than ever and my brainpower was on the wane. At 72 years of age I knew time was running out so I decided to get serious about my health. I thought perhaps if I followed the example of Morihei Ueshiba, and the monks of Mount Hiei, I could embark on a similar protracted physical regimen and reap some rewards, both physical and mentally, even at my advanced age.

That’s when I devised the weight lifting program I call the Muscle Marathon. Its not weight training for the sake of the ego, it is a physical regimen designed to improve physical health while enhancing spiritual awareness.

So, with that in mind, in February 2009 I began to prepare for my physical marathon. I’m posting details about how I went about it on this blog in the event anyone else would like to start their own marathon.

Weights and Equipment

I got started by buying a workout bench along with about 300lbs of weights. My wife Alice found them on Craig’s List. I supplemented this with some dumbbells I bought from The Sports Authority and Wal-Mart. I found there was no need to buy a lot of expensive equipment; all this cost me was around $300. Craig’s List and E-Bay have lots of weightlifting equipment listed. Luckily I found a good solid workout bench with a leg extension/ leg curls attachment to work out my legs. That was an essential piece of equipment.

I had heard some fable about weights that are painted any color other than black seem lighter to lift…I don’t know if that is true but being an artist I couldn’t resist painting my weights and equipment to my tastes. I respect my weights and I don‘t throw them around like they were just old pieces of iron, I am gentle with them and treat them like works of art.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that men get 56 grams of protein a day. I don’t eat enough food to get that much protein. So that requires I use a supplement in order to get enough protein. I use a whey supplement called whey-isolate that is processed to get the most muscle building protein out of each gram. I take 53 grams a day of this supplement to be sure I have plenty of protein to rebuild the muscles I tear down during my workouts.

In order to keep my strength up, as well as for health reasons, I eat a lot of grains, nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables for breakfast and lunch. Dinners vary but I try to eat turkey, which has 41 grams of protein per cup, beans, 15 grams per cup, or meat at about 9 grams per oz. Meat has always been the bodybuilder’s choice for protein. But I’m not convinced that our meat is all that safe to eat anymore so I limit myself to small pieces of roast beef or pork once in awhile for a little variety. Most foods have protein of some kind or another but if you are working out you need bodybuilding protein and most foods don’t have much of it, if any at all.

I take photos of most of my meals for reference. It is important as I progress to know what I ate and what the sizes of my portions were so I can regulate my weight. If I gain too much fat weight in a particular year I can look back to see what and how much I had been eating.

White Sugar
Jack Lalanne has been railing against white sugar for over sixty years. He says its poison. I never paid much attention to him even when I was bodybuilding, but now I have become a true believer. When I started to read the labels on food packages and I saw just how much sugar is added to manufactured food I threw out my candy stash and swore off anything with added sugar.

Take a teaspoon and measure out 10 teaspoons of sugar into a glass, that’s how much sugar you are putting into your body every time you have a soda. Even two small squares of dark chocolate contain a teaspoon of sugar. Just one Trader Joe’s Vegan Trail Mix Cookie contains over two teaspoons of sugar! Sugar is hiding out everywhere silently destroying people’s health!

I have purged sugar from my diet, and if you want to have a healthy body I suggest you do the same. Here is my “Dirty Dozen No, Nos” - a list of some of the main things to avoid:   

            1. No White Sugar (in coffee, in hot chocolate, on cereal, etc.)
            2. No Candy
            3. No Cake
            4. No Ice Cream
            5. No Jams
            6. No Jellies
            7. No Cookies
            8. No Pastries
            9. No Pie
          10. No Soft Drinks
          11. No Sugar Cereals
          12. No Doughnuts

If you must have something sweet eat some raisins with walnuts or some other naturally sweetened fruit, pineapple, grapes, apples, things like that. Sugar is you enemy: protein is your friend.

Exercise Routine

“It’s not what you do that counts - what’s important, for both muscle and spirit, is how you do it.”

These are the lifting exercises for the marathon. These lifts are designed for free weights. Free weights help give your body balance while lifting which is important for older bodies. A lot of weight is not necessary, just enough to work the muscles but not so much as to injure the joints. A slow steady movement on each lift is what you strive for. You should be aware of your muscles as they push or pull on the weights.
Upper Body Routine (Mon, Wed, Fri) 1 Hour

1.. Bench Press ---------------------------------- 3 sets - 10 reps

2. Dumbbell Bench Flys ----------------------- 3 sets - 10 reps

3. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press ------------ 3 sets - 10 reps

4. Standing Dumbbell Arm Curls ------------ 3 sets - 10 reps

5. Incline Bench Dumbbell Arm Curls -------3 sets - 10 reps

6. Dumbbell Triceps Extension ---------------3 sets - 12 reps

7. Standing Barbell Triceps Extension -------3 sets - 12 reps

8. Overhead Press --------------------------------3 sets - 10 reps

9. Front Deltoid Press ----------------------------3 sets - 10 reps

10. Middle Deltoid Press -------------------------3 sets - 10 reps

11. Back Deltoid Press ---------------------------3 sets - 10 reps

12. Barbell Front Deltoid Pull-ups -------------3 sets - 10 reps

Leg and Ab Routine (Tue, Thur, Sat) ½ Hour

1. Leg Extensions ---------- 4 sets - 12 reps

2. Leg Curls ----------------- 4 sets - 12 reps

3. Squats -------------------- 4 sets - 10 reps

4. Set Ups ------------------- 5 sets - 20 reps

5. Pelvis Crunch ------------5 sets - 20 count

Getting Started

I started my marathon on March 2, 2009.   I will complete my marathon on March 1, 2016.

Year One

March 2, 2009 - March 1, 2010
I decided to work only the chest, shoulders, arms, stomach, and legs muscles because those are the main lifting and pulling muscles. Since I am not bodybuilding to gain bulging muscles or to compete in bodybuilding contests there is no need to workout every muscle. I started out with fairly light weights because I wanted my body to get used to the various routines. Once I was familiar with the routines I began to push myself by adding more and more weights with each workout. That was my first mistake. I didn’t realize that my joints were old and worn and that putting extra pressure on them would be painful. Three weeks into my program I strained my elbows so badly doing barbell arm curls that I had to stop working my arms for three weeks.

That’s when I realized that I should only use enough weight to make ten reps doable without straining my joints. When I gained enough strength in a particular exercise to where I could do twelve reps I added some weight and went back to ten reps. I continued to ratchet up my weights to where I now have a workout where I am comfortable, just enough weight to make it difficult but not so much that it strains my joints.

The main joint trouble is in the elbows, shoulders, wrists and hands. I bought elastic elbow and wrist bands and some workout gloves. They helped but I still have some pain in those areas. One thing I found that really inflamed my hand joints was oranges. I started eating an orange every night and after a couple of weeks I could hardly hold a dumbbell. I stopped eating the oranges and the pain went away in two days.

I also ran into another problem in the beginning. A little over a month into my marathon I suddenly came down with a kidney infection. That laid me up in bed for a couple of weeks. The doctor I went to told me it was caused by an infection, but I am not so sure that it wasn’t caused but all the protein I was ingesting.

I started out with around 30 grams of whey protein a day but as my workout progressed and my muscles and joints began to ache more and more I increased my protein intake to over 100 grams a day. I thought more protein would heal everything. I was wrong. I will probably never know if my kidney infection was caused by protein overload or not but now I only take 53 grams of protein a day. Since I am now using whey protein isolate I believe that is enough to repair my muscles after each workout.

It is important to remember that you don’t gain muscle size and strength while you are working out. Working out is when you tear down your muscles, it is the resting between workouts that heals and strengthens the muscles. Therefore an older body needs plenty of rest and muscle building protein in order to help it build and heal those muscles damaged during workouts. While my body is resting is the time when I reflect, continue my philosophy studies and work on my art.

After a year of training I still have some belly fat. I started my marathon weighing in at 173.5 lbs. and I went up to 176 lbs. before I had my kidney infection. I then dropped down to 173 lbs. and stayed there for most of the year. I didn’t want to lose too much weight the first year because weight loss is strength loss. I thought I would start dropping pounds in my second year with a goal of weighing in at a solid 167lbs. at the end of my marathon.

I still ate sweets and candy for most of the year thinking I was burning off those extra calories by working out. It wasn’t until I purged myself of sugar in December, nine months after starting my marathon, that I started to lose fat weight off of my belly. At the end of my first year I weighed in at 166.5 lbs.

Posing Video:



  1. wow.

    what a trip your perserverance is takin' you on.

    it's with great immaturity on my part that i must say;
    this makes me want to take a big slug a'whiskey and salute you on your journey!


  2. Congratulations on embarking on an incredible goal. It was a pleasure meeting you the other day and appreciate you sharing this website and your insights with me. Thank you.

  3. The results are amazing! Having the discipline to continue the program is even more amazing! As always, we enjoyed our visit with y'all this past August...........

  4. The results are very amazing.I trained regularly for ten years building up muscle weight

  5. Congratulations on another year. Impressive discipline! I find it very interesting that your joint pain has disappeared --- evidence that exercise really is good for our joints...


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