The Bomber at 62

An Interview with Dave Draper


We don't throw around the term "living legend" much around here because not many people deserve such accolades. But T-Nation recently sat down with a man who just might fit the bill: Dave Draper.

Known as the Blond Bomber, Dave Draper is an icon from what many consider the Golden Age of bodybuilding. During his competitive career in the 1960's, Dave won just about every title there was to win. He acted in movies, appeared on TV, wrote books and visited dozens of different countries as a good will ambassador for bodybuilding. But do you know what really separates Dave from other legendary bodybuilders?

He never quit.

Today, when most men his age are picking out a rocking chair, Dave continues to preach the gospel of iron. Blissfully unaware of his age and always in ripped condition, the Bomber continues to write, teach, deadlift, squat and kick serious butt in the gym.

T-Nation felt it was time to sit down with Dave and absorb some of that hard-earned wisdom.

T-Nation: How old are you, Dave, and when did you get started in bodybuilding? d

Dave Draper: I was born in Secaucus, New Jersey on April 16th, 1942. I'm 62. For five bucks I purchased my first set of battered weights at age ten. I messed with them as most kids do with baseballs and footballs and became seriously consistent at 15 years old. That was 47 years ago!

T-Nation: Has your mindset about weight training changed over the decades?

Draper: Not exactly. I trust over the years I've grown up somewhat emotionally and psychologically and increased my training and nutritional understanding. My desire, need and ability to train vigorously have continued to grow with my appreciation for life. Standing back, nothing's new.

T-Nation: In a nutshell, give us your basic philosophy about training.

Draper: I train knowing I'm aging by the minute. I want to pursue my training for the health and fun of it, the interest and challenge of it, and to see how well I can fend off diminishing while adjusting to the inevitable.

I'm curious and it's my business. As long as I have the spirit, energy, enthusiasm and time, I'll use my daily abilities to play the weightlifting game. It's my hobby, a diversion and an expression. When it becomes one dimensional, unhealthy in mind and body, unappealing and otherwise negative, I'll adjust accordingly.

I enjoy training hard, but I'll pull back when the physical and intuitive signs tell me to. I'm still seeing good things happen along with the less-than-good things. Some lifts are better than ever and there's new muscle growth here and there, though this may end tomorrow or the next day. Until then, I'll push that iron with the power of experience and love.

T-Nation: Amen to that! What are your general thoughts on nutrition?

Draper: I established sound eating habits long ago: regular portions of high protein foods (meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs), lots of salads, sufficient fruits, grains and herbs, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants... the muscle builder's sacred lineup. Eat frequently (every three hours) throughout the day from body-up to body-down, and get two grams of protein per pound of bodyweight if you're a hard trainer.

Also, avoid sugars, saturated fats and junk foods. No gorging! Food is fun and a magnificent source of life and energy; it's not an entertainment or obsession. I simply don't desire to eat in ways that aren't healthy in serving the body. In fact, I repel them.

T-Nation: How does all this compare to when you were competing in the 1960's?

Draper: Joyful exercise and sound eating have been practiced since my early training days at the Dungeon, or Muscle Beach Gym, in the 60's. There I discovered and adopted most of my understanding of exercise and nutrition. Over the years there have been ebbs and flows, ups and downs. One experiments, one experiences, one fails and succeeds and carries on.

My eating habits today are as they were in the 60's, only tighter and more highly appreciated. My workouts are similar to my robust training in the 60's, only tighter and more highly appreciated. Basically, what was then is now, with little deviation, improvement or evolvement, despite the so-called superior technology and hysterical race for more and better.

The answer and the joy are in the iron, sound eating, hard work, consistency and courage. No secrets, nothing new, just be strong and do it. It's you!

T-Nation: How should a middle-aged or older weight trainer eat compared to his training partner in his 20's?

Draper: The answer depends on many variables: comparative bodyweight, rate of metabolism, training zeal, number of training years invested and so on. If the muscle is there, the physical condition is sound and the training is tight, the middle-aged man can do as he pleases (or as he knows best) regardless of his partner's habits. Train hard and feed the body as described above. Age isn't the single and exact determining factor.

Given both men are equal, the younger man most likely has advantages in flexibility, hormonal balance, tissue building and repair, and he can most likely train harder with less risk of injury. He'll probably grow more quickly and is less likely to store fat. The older man might require less food intake (despite high quality nutrition) to avoid adding unwanted body fat while striving to gain muscle mass.

We also know it's not unusual that many younger men aren't nearly as fit as their older counterparts in the gym and have years of training and correcting bad dietary habits ahead to catch up to their senior partner.

T-Nation: That's often true. What are the most common dietary mistakes older athletes make?

Draper: Generally, the mistakes made by older athletes are the same ones made by their younger counterparts: not being regular in their dietary disciplines, not feeding themselves adequately before (fuel) or after (repair) a workout session, insufficient protein, too many sugars, not enough water, ignoring the importance of EFA's and not controlling their body fat.

T-Nation: As weight trainers age and their metabolisms change, how should they deal with it?

Draper: A person's metabolism is determined in part by muscle mass relative to overall body mass. More muscle and less fat add up to a keener metabolism. Healthy hormonal activity accompanies an exercised body with a correct muscle-to-body fat ratio. Further, the quality of foods ingested affects the body's chemistry and the metabolic rate, directly and indirectly.

Gets complicated, but the fix is simple. Regularly consume wholesome foods offering peak nutrient advantages, don't eat sugary, high-glycemic foods which upset the body's chemistry and don't overeat. Exercise vigorously daily to build muscle, assist hormonal balance, control fat storage and enhance the cardio-respiratory system. These training precepts fortify the body's entire system and reduce the debilitating stresses.

T-Nation: Can any of the "typical" changes associated with aging be slowed down, stopped or changed?

Draper: Certainly. Body chemistry is complex; body care is simple. Train hard, eat right, be strong and be happy. You'll live longer and better.

T-Nation: Can't argue with that advice! Now, let's dig deeper into the topic of training. Take us through your basic workout program.

Draper: My training input in time and in strength has diminished as I've gotten older. No surprise there. The first heavy, formative years were dominated by six-day-a-week training programs. I've never laid off, though sickness at about age 40 caused me to halt my training for four months.

The past 20 years have been hard and steady, as I built three gyms and established a lively website. Since I turned 60 I've trained four days a week for two hours each workout. The workouts are as intense as they were when I was younger, only modified and limited in poundages to accommodate age and pain factors. I make up for the limitations with determination, focus and maximum muscle exertion. Here's what my program looks like:

Day 1) Midsection, chest, back and shoulders. I have a variety of basics I rely on from dumbbell presses to Smith press-behind-necks, from cable crossovers to bent-over barbell rows. I do five sets of 12, 10, 8, 6, and 4 reps of each exercise and superset frequently.

Each workout includes 35 to 40 total sets plus crunches, leg raises, rope tucks and hanging leg raises for the gut. I currently do no direct aerobics exercise, accomplishing sufficient cardio work through the 20-minute, non-stop midsection work and superset training regimen.

Day 2) Midsection and arms, maybe farmers' walks. I superset bi's and tri's and perform lots of forearm work. I can pull well – curls and back work – but pressing and tri's are a drag. Strength's okay; pain is the limiting factor.

Day 3) Midsection and legs. Leg press, squats, extensions, curls, calves. I might squat heavy one day every three weeks: singles, doubles.

Day Off

Day 4) After midsection I practice a mix of favorite movements to cover the whole body: thick-bar deadlifts for grip strength and back health, heavy bent-over rows for back density, thigh-glute-ham work supersetted with stiff-arm pullovers, press-behind-neck and pulldowns to behind-the-neck for additional lat and shoulder-width work. I might deadlift heavy once every three weeks using singles and doubles.

This four-day treatment hits everything directly or sufficiently twice a week.

T-Nation: Those are some lengthy workouts with a lot of sets. You're still training like that today?

Draper: I still count on volume to accomplish the work I set out to do. This allows more finesse in exercise movement and expression, and gives me better control of "danger" overload factors. Rhythm and muscle sensations, extensions and contractions, locating muscular effort and resistance, and developing and experiencing internal muscle energy are most desirable, efficacious and exciting.

I also like singles and low-rep training interspersed throughout the weeks and months of training. The body, mind and soul call for it sometimes.

T-Nation: Any training-related injuries?

Draper: I've endured injuries to the right rotator cuff and biceps with resulting nerve damage affecting the right elbow and wrist. I attribute them to a harsh fall while running 25 years ago, decades of heavy use as woodworker and, of course, the continuous overload of years of hard weight training.

T-Nation: How do you work around chronic pain or injury?

Draper: I had extensive open-surgery repairs on the shoulder and biceps done in '95 to fix what could be fixed. Now I work around the pain, use wraps and take Vioxx for associated arthritis. I've added Chondroitin, Glucosamine and MSM, and substantial essential fatty acids to my already smart nutritional program.

"Working around the pain" is obviously very personal. The extent to which an injured trainee pursues his advancement depends on his psychological needs and desires, the scope of the damage, his understanding of his body and his fortitude. Some call it madness because sometimes, well, it is!

I seek chiropractic treatment occasionally when something is obviously misplaced. I don't doubt the benefits of deep-massage therapy, acupuncture and regular chiropractic treatment from fine practitioners when the symptoms call for it. I've had limited experience in treatment, but their value is logical.

T-Nation: Do you still consistently lift heavy? Is your definition of "heavy" different now than it was 20 years ago?

Draper: Heavy, like Elvis, has left the building! I train consistently hard, that is, I seek maximum or near-maximum muscle exertion within each set and final rep. I take exertion intensity to the edge – to the risk of injury. Sometimes, especially in pressing where my injury-limitation is most evident, the weight isn't nearly as significant as the effort to move it. One learns to compromise and be grateful.

Squatting, deadlifting and direct pulling aren't bad at all. I call upon strength in these areas regularly for the fun and muscle building effect it produces.

T-Nation: Are rest days incorporated more often into your program than they used to be?

Draper: Years of accumulated training and overload, age itself, and having achieved reasonable muscular development necessitate I train less intensely. I have less muscle building requirements and potentials, and repair and recuperation are less efficient.

Though the spirit is willing, the body is less willing! This is life and quite acceptable. I treasure rest to combat fatigue and allow continued hard training. It's a must.

I train fewer days a week and will throw in an extra day or two of rest if necessary, especially if I get rocking and rolling on a training high and exceed my bounds, which is easy to do.

T-Nation: How do you know when you need an additional day off?

Draper: First, it's obvious to my common sense – too much time in the gym, too much weight handled, too many exercises, sets and reps. Second, I pay attention to post-workout fatigue and note if I'm just plain tired. Third, I watch for general aches and pains that aren't real injuries – stinging insertions, slugged muscle bellies. Fourth, the appearance of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is a bad sign.

There's also the usual restlessness and loss of appetite. No rocket scientist is needed to tell a lifter to back-off, rest, relax and rebuild. However, it sometimes takes a ruthless brute with a big stick to keep him out of the gym and away from the iron!

T-Nation: Very true! Are your rest periods between sets longer than they used to be?

Draper: They are, mainly to account for wrapping and unwrapping the wrist and elbow. I can no longer grab a pair of dumbbells and jump right into a set. I have to locate the particular groove through which I can travel safely and pain free. This requires concentration and a slower, more focused performance. I call it "care and attention." I move like a locomotive switching cars from track to track: slow, steady, direct and purposeful.

T-Nation: What role should cardio play as weight trainers age?

Draper: You can run, but you can't hide! Muscle building is achieved through weight training and resistance exercise, and they should receive priority. As we grow older and wiser, thank God, we're able to assess, adapt and modify our exercises and exercising output according to our ability, desire and need. This becomes a personal juggling act for each one of us. I've got about six balls in the air right now.

Personally, I've put direct aerobic activity on the sidelines while I focus on the weights. As pointed out earlier, my midsection activity, squatting and supersetting serve my aerobic purpose. A person can't smartly do it all at once, and I want to reserve the cycling and jogging for a time when extra conditioning is called for. Right now the addition of jogging or such isn't what I need and it would be too much for my body to handle.

I'm an exception to the rule. Aerobics should be 20 percent of a hardy lifter's workout. Twenty minutes HIIT style stationary cycling three or four times a week is my aim in the future.

T-Nation: What common mistakes do you see older trainees making in the gym?

Draper: A big mistake is to allow your training to become perfunctory and uninspired. Another mistake an older trainee may make is coming back after too long a layoff and blasting it like he was 25. Worst of all, of course, is quitting entirely, never to be seen again. Unforgivable!

T-Nation: What kind of supplements do you recommend?

Draper: I take a high quality vitamin and mineral formula (Super Spectrim), therapeutic dosages of glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM (Body Ammo), pre and post-workout whey protein-blend drinks, Ageless Growth Formula, antioxidants, creatine and added EFA's. I have bottles, jugs and pills everywhere!

T-Nation: Don't we all! Now, the baby boomers are the largest part of the population. They're going to live the longest, remain active for the most years, and demand the most activities. How does weight training play into this situation?

Draper: The baby boomer might live longer, but unless he exercises and eats right, he won't do it well. There isn't a closet big enough to hide the obese condition of the world population. Men and women and boys and girls, regardless of hemisphere, are either overweight, under-muscled or otherwise out of shape. Find five out of hundred who are ready, able and fit and you've discovered a vein of precious population, a hidden treasure.

It's the poor nutritional habits and lack of exercise that account for the dismal shape we're in. It's also TV, Hollywood, dope-booze-cigarettes-candy, single-parent families without discipline and values (non-families), high-technology's high-speed negative influence on human behavior and contentment, warring national politics, terrorist extremist global war, excessive tolerance compromising morals and rightness, and the devil at large casting the disorder. We're a mess. Train hard, eat right and do your best.

T-Nation: Dave, you're 62, you don't currently do aerobics, and your body doesn't look all that much different through the years. The average guy is going to look at you and say, "Steroids!" Are you still using them?

Draper: No steroids, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night! Seriously, thanks for the compliment from the cynical few who care. It's not steroids; it's training with intensity, never missing and never eating donuts.

I also have congestive heart failure. I wish I could do a round of the old fashioned stuff to get a little freaky, but I'd probably die. Fact is, I have a couple of outstanding veins on my forearms and folks think I'm ripped all over. Laree, my wife, calls me doughboy! I weigh 225 today, as compared to 235 when in top competitive shape.

The only secret is I'm consistent where others might not be. And I have no life, friends or pets. No, just kiddin'!

T-Nation: Some people reading this may think a few of your ideas about bodybuilding are dated. What would you say to them?

Draper: What I offer is my own straightforward muscle madness based on experience above all else. I'm not a scholar. I believe that contributes to a more honest and accurate training methodology. I feel less corrupted by the fiction and biases, suppositions and laws of training developed by well-read researchers, clinicians and avant-garde pros.

I'd rather draw a map than read one. I'd rather arrive last, but on my own and by an original route. If this sounds bold or arrogant, I apologize. I call it intellectually lazy, impulsive, rebellious, disorderly and stubborn – traits I share with other older muscle builders and children of all ages.

T-Nation: Stubborn or not, we hope we look as good as you do at 62! Thanks for talking to us today!

Draper: Anytime!

You can find out more about Dave at his site,