bestMastersFitness.com Interviews 58-Year-Old Bodybuilder Jim Davis
Jim Davis has overcome serious injuries and a major back operation to reach impressive health and fitness achievements for any man, much less for a man well over 50 years old. bestMastersFitness.com sits down with Jim to talk about his fitness journey.
Q: Tell us about the physical activities you stay involved in.
A: Mostly bodybuilding, but some marksmanship, too.
Q: Why the interest in this area?
A: I’ve been into bodybuilding since I was 14. I was in one contest when I was 18, but got injured in the Army, and couldn’t train heavy for many years. I stayed “in shape”, but nowhere near serious bodybuilding training. I love the fact that I am the only one in control of my success. I see my progress in the gym daily, and enjoy pushing myself hard. When I think of the number of men my age who don’t lift anything heavier than the garbage, or do anything more strenuous than golfing, I feel, well, pity.
Q: How do you stay in shape for your activities?
A: I’m in the gym at least five days a week. Six days as I approach a contest.
Q: Tell us about your workouts. What do you do? How often?
A: To be honest, it varies widely. During contest prep, my trainer had me changing things up every couple of weeks. I dropped 44 lbs. in 17 weeks, and looked better than I ever have. I’m taking it relatively easy for a couple of weeks right now, because I’m getting married in a couple of weeks, but after that, it’s going to be “game on” to build more mass.
I typically train each body part once a week, but during prep, there were times I was doing some of them twice a week. As I return to focused mass training in a couple of weeks, I may be spending extra time on my legs and chest, which I feel are my two weakest areas.
Q: How do you keep yourself motivated?
A: That’s easy. I LOVE being in the gym, and am never more alive than when I’m gasping for breath, heart pounding, streaming with sweat and muscles burning. I can SEE my muscles happen. I love working in front of a mirror so I can see things move. I love feeling things change. I love getting comments from doctors like “You have the body of a 25-year-old!” and “Your heart is more healthy than we know how to note on our charts for your age!”
Q: What is your biggest personal challenge to achieving and maintaining fitness over 50? How do you overcome that challenge?
A: My biggest challenge is time. I am a freelance writer/editor, and while that gives me more flexibility in my scheduling, I still have to work sometimes MORE than 40 hours per week. Diet is actually easy for me. I’m lucky to be marrying a woman who’s as interested in fitness and healthy eating as I am. I do most of the cooking for dinners. I did get the occasional comments of “Chicken breast AGAIN?” during my prep.
I also have to work about limitations thanks to my injuries, and, to be fair, issues of age. I cannot do a free-weight squat yet, because I still have some neuropathy in the feet, thanks to the old sciatica. I just don’t have the balance. I’m also only in the last 6-9 months getting real strength in the glutes after the nerve transplants. My right shoulder is arthritic, so I have to be careful with benching or tricep movements, or most shoulder moves. I warm up thoroughly, insisting on breaking a sweat before I start my full-weight training, and doing as many as 2 or 3 lightweight sets just to get the blood into the joint and muscle before starting to crank it up.
Q: How do you approach diet and nutrition? What are your meals like? What kind of supplements do you take, if any?
A: I eat 5-6 meals a day, including shakes. There’s a lot of egg whites, chicken, lean meats, veggies, and clean starches like sweet potatoes and brown rice. I front load most of my carbs earlier in the day, staying with protein and veggies at night, and make sure to eat a little protein, or maybe have a casein protein shake, before bed, to keep the metabolism cranking (and keep me getting hungry) overnight. I drink at least a gallon of water every day, plus pre-workout drinks, shakes, and home-brewed iced tea.
Q: Have you overcome injuries and/or surgeries? What were they? How did you overcome them?
A: Well, at age 50 (2004), I fell down a hill while camping, and tore my right quadricep completely off at the kneecap, and mangled the left pretty badly. This was after having fallen two years before (2002), in the garage, and torn my left biceps off at the elbow, and needing arthritic reduction surgery on my left shoulder the year before (2003). It was during the recovery from this that they noticed that the reason I had fallen both times was nerve impingement in the lower spine, which was deteriorating. I was told by several doctors that nothing could be done.
In 2007, I was on a cane and in pain all the time, could stand no more than a minute in one place, couldn’t climb stairs or even up a curb without help, and had lost most of the muscle mass in both legs. I was about 3-6 months from a wheelchair when I finally found a neurosurgeon who said “Yeah, we can fix this. When d’you want to do it?” He replaced three discs, fused L5-S1, built a titanium cage up to L2, and transplanted a couple of nerves to bypass the impingements which were causing the loss of control in my legs.
I had the surgery in July 2007, and 11 months later, the doctor said “You’re healed. Go back to the gym.” I did. With a vengeance. With the help of the Animal Barbell Club and their local chair in L.A., Tom “Rage” Fuller, I dropped from 283 in July of 2008 to 223 by February, 2009. Then I went to my first Arnold Fitness Expo and Animal “Cage”. I was transfixed, and transformed.
These days, my back is one of my strongest body parts. The doctor told me, once I was back in the gym, that it was probably my structurally strongest part now. Flexibility-wise, I’ve only started doing full deadlifts this year, though. I’ve gotten up to 315 for 3 reps so far.
Q: Do you have a target weight and/or body fat level you maintain? What is it? How do you achieve it?
A: Well, I got a bit too heavy this last off-season, up to about 16% body fat. I’d like to stay at 12% or below this next off-season, but still add as much muscle as possible.
Q: What are your health and fitness goals for the future?
A: I don’t plan to stop lifting and training till I stop breathing. It may switch from being a competitive bodybuilder to straight fitness by age 70, but not before then, I think. I get twitchy when I’m out of the gym more than a week, now. My father died from arteriosclerosis-related heart problems at age 65. His father of similar issues at age 47. His grandfather at age 38. I’m 58, and at my last cardiovascular checkup, in April, I showed NO blockages ANYwhere, and my heart was stronger than most men half my age. I plan to keep that up as long as possible.