Men Over 50 Gain Muscle and Lose Weight

The Lifetime Fitness Journey of Frank Ragona

At age 57, Frank Ragona remains committed as ever to the fitness lifestyle

Q:  Tell us about the physical activities you stay involved in.

Fitness over 50

At 57, Frank Ragona shows the results of a lifetime fitness journey

A: These days almost all of my time is spent training for bodybuilding competitions.  However, from as far back as I can remember, I have always been active. I started playing Pop Warner football in New York at the age of seven. As fate would have it, I was smaller than most of the children my age. In light of that, I had to work longer and harder than everyone else on the team.

I started lifting weights when I was fourteen to build strength and supplement my football skills. During my high school years, I continued to play football and also ran track. It seemed as if I always had to work harder than my peers to stay ahead of the rest.

My belief in fitness and health was instilled in me during the early teen years. These beliefs would take me on the journey that I am still traveling today. The reality of having to work hard to achieve my goals became the cornerstone of my personality.

My love of playing football alone was not enough to be recruited to play on a college team. I was simply too small. However, that did not deter my spirit. I played for an adult amateur football league without the notoriety of playing in a college stadium. It was during that time, with the help of weight training, that I was able to achieve my maximum weight of 180 pounds and earned the position of starting running back for the team. After graduating from college and retiring my helmet, it became apparent to me that I did not need all the muscle required for football and decided to pursue a different path.

Middle distance and marathon running became my passion. Over the course of the next three to four years, I reduced from 180 pounds to a marathon racing weight of 129 pounds. As a distance runner, it was not uncommon for me to train between 75 and 80 miles per week. Running was my sport of choice for the next ten years. During that time, I completed countless road races of various distances and three marathons. One of my proudest achievements was having the ability to run a six minute mile for the duration of a complete marathon. My best finish was my last marathon where I finished 60th in a field of over 5,000 runners.

I relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona when I was 39 years old and running became a challenge during the summer months. My need to stay active renewed my interest in weightlifting. The next ten years were comprised of a healthy balance of running and weightlifting. During these years, my weight stabilized at approximately 155 pounds and 15% body fat. I felt great! But I knew there was more to achieve in the bodybuilding world for me.

Eventually, my time in the gym outweighed my time on the road. As my miles decreased, my weights increased; resulting in an increase of lean muscle and a decrease of body fat. With little to no effort, I was being transformed. As I continued down this path, my thirst for knowledge became greater and greater It became evident that it was time to study and become certified as a personal trainer. Although I had no intention of pursuing a career as a trainer, I felt a strong need to learn as much as I could about the sport.

Now it was time to become my own experiment. My goal for my workouts was always to increase lean muscle mass and decrease body fat. It was time to put a plan together and work towards that goal. As the months passed, I received encouragement from gym members and often was asked for advice. It made me think that I was on to something. My goal was to resemble a fitness model. Competing in bodybuilding was never on my list of things to accomplish. However, after being asked repeatedly if I in fact did compete, I figured I should think about it. After much encouragement, I decided to hire a trainer, set a goal, and compete.  My first competition was in November, 2012 NPC Western Regional Competition in Mesa, Arizona. I was entered in the physique category of men 40 years old and above. There were five finalists. Four were 40 to 41 years old. I received the third place trophy at age 57!

Q: Why the interest in this area?

A: Bodybuilding affords me an outlet to express my beliefs and philosophy of life.  Much like a musician uses a musical instrument or artist uses paint or clay to express themselves.  I use my body to express myself and to share that expression with others.

I was born with a passion for fitness.  It has been my friend my entire life. I actually enjoy hard physical labor. I believe that the human body evolved through hard work and toil. Only those who were strong enough to survive passed on their genes. When the human body is broken down through hard physical work it will, with proper nutrition and rest, build itself back bigger and stronger.  That’s how our muscles grow.  When we are in the gym we are not building muscle we are breaking it down. Working a muscle against resistance causes tiny microscopic tears in the muscle that when repaired by the body, actually heal back bigger and stronger. That’s how we build muscle.  Another example is a broken bone.  If you were to x-ray a broken bone after it has healed, you would see that the broken section of bone is bigger and stronger than the unbroken part.

In addition, I believe that nothing of value in this life comes without hard work.  Hard work makes us appreciate what we have achieved. The harder the work, the greater the appreciation. I am thankful for a healthy body and mind and it is my responsibility to take care of that body; not only for myself but for all those that depend on me for support.

I also believe that we as human beings create our own reality by the way we think.  Every other animal on earth reacts to its environment; however, we humans actually create our environment or reality by what we believe to be true for us. Therefore, by programming my subconscious mind through positive affirmations (positive self-talk) and active visualization (visualizing in my mind in great detail) I can do, have, and become anything I want.  Once I believe I can achieve a certain goal then the outside world will change to match that belief which I have created for myself.  This is how goal setting and achieving work.

Bodybuilding affords me the opportunity to set a goal (belief), put a plan together to reach that goal, and then work hard to achieve that goal. For example, once I see, in my mind’s eye, the physique I want to attain or the trophy I want to win, I begin to do all the things needed to achieve that goal.  My workouts intensify, my eating gets cleaner, my cardio is on track, all because my external reality improves to match the picture (goal) in my mind.  You see the mind cannot hold two conflicting thoughts at the same time. Either you will give up on your belief (goal) or your reality has to change to match the belief you have created for yourself. If you truly believe in your goal then you have no choice but to attain it, no other outcome is possible.  This thinking not only works in bodybuilding but in every other aspect of your life (job, relationships, everything). Most people think that you have to see it to believe it.  The reality is just the opposite; to see it you must first believe it.  Ask yourself, what do I believe about myself? If you like the answer, fine, but if not then know that you are in control. You and only you have the power to change your beliefs!

Q: How do you stay in shape for your activities?

A: Resistance training, cardio, proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle are the basics of any program for health and fitness.

Q: Tell us about your workouts. What do you do? How often?

A: I vary my workouts constantly (every four to six weeks), switching between heavy weight and low reps and moderate weight and high reps.  In addition, I vary my exercises, intensity, tempo, and equipment.

I incorporate:

Supersets (Two exercises, one after the other, with no rest in between. The exercises can be for the same muscle group or two different muscle groups.

Giantsets (Two or more exercises performed with no rest in between)

Drop sets (continuing an exercise with a lower weight once muscle failure has been achieved at a higher weight)

Negatives (only the negative part of the movement is completed over a number of repetitions until momentary muscular failure is reached), etc.

Generally speaking, I lift as heavy as I can as often as I can.  Any exercise starts with three warm up sets followed by five or six sets increasing the weight to between six and eight reps at the last set. I generally lift six days per week, doing legs twice a week as they seem to need more attention. I alternate abdominal work and calves every other day and cardio HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) at least twice a week.  My daily routine takes between two and two and one half hours and I am typically at the gym at 5:00 am.

A sample week might look like this:

Monday – off

Tuesday – Chest/abs/ cardio

Chest

Incline bench press

Decline bench press

Flat bench press

Dumbbell flies

Dumbbell pull overs

Abs (anterior)

Balance ball sit ups

Cable crunches

Incline sit ups

Cardio HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

Twenty minutes total, five minute warm up, five one minute intervals (one minute max intensity followed by one minute jog) and a five minute cool down. At the    peak of my interval, my heart rate is typically between 150 and 170 beats/minute.

Wednesday – Legs including Calves (Heavy)

Squats

Seated leg press

Deadlifts

Extensions

Seated curls

Seated calf raises

Standing calf raises

Machine calf raises

Thursday – Back/abs/cardio

Back

Lat pull downs

Seated rows

Upright rows

Bent over dumbbell rows

Weighted pull ups

Abs (Lower)

Dumbbell weighted leg raises

Weighted leg raises on a incline bench

Cardio HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

Twenty minutes total, five minute warm up, five one minute intervals (one  minute max intensity followed by one minute jog) and a five minute cool  down. At the peak of my interval my heart rate is typically between 150 and 170   beats/  minute.

Friday – Shoulders/calves

Shoulders

Seated overhead military press on the Smith machine

Dumbbell lateral raises

Dumbbell anterior front delt raises

Machine rear delt reverse flies

Dumbbell shrugs

Calves

Seated calf raises

Standing calf raises

Machine calf raises

Saturday – Biceps/triceps/abs/cardio

Biceps

Straight bar curls

French bar preacher curls

Standing dumbbell hammer curls

Triceps

Close grip chest press or weighted dips

Cable extensions

Skull crushers

Kickbacks

Abs (oblique)

Twisting sit ups on an incline bench

Roman chair abdominal twists

Right and left planks

Cardio HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

Twenty minutes total, five minute warm up, five one minute intervals (one minute max intensity followed by one minute jog) and a five minute cool  down. At the peak of my interval              my heart rate is typically between 150 and 170  beats / minute.

Sunday – Legs including Calves (Moderate weight high reps)

One legged lunges on the Smith machine with resistance bands

Curtsy squats

Russian squats

Adductor machine

Abductor  machine

Seated calf raises

Standing calf raises

Machine calf raise

Q: How do you keep yourself motivated/inspired?

A: I really have to say that my motivation/ inspiration mostly came from within.  Even as a child, I refused to give up or give in. I had so many people telling me I was too small for this, not smart enough for that, not good enough to do this or that.  My innate response was to prove that I could do what they said I could not. These days motivation is not really a factor. When you make something a habit it just becomes what you do. So I find inspiration from many outside sources these days. Particularly those close to me like family and friends.

Today my inspiration comes from my wife and children.  My wife who after 30 years went back to school and received her Bachelors degree from Arizona State University and currently has a successful real-estate career.  From my daughter who after graduating from college, packed her bags and moved to New York City alone to pursue her dream, and my son, who after attending community college, The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Science and then on to Arizona State for his Bachelors degree and a successful career as an audio engineer and technical director. That’s true inspiration for me to be the best that I can be.

Q: What is your biggest personal challenge to achieving and maintaining fitness over 50? How do you overcome that challenge?

A: It is actually easier now than it used to be to maintain and increase my fitness level.  At 57 years old the kids are grown and out of the house and I have only my job to deal with, the rest of my tome is my own to do with as I please and I choose fitness as my hobby.  Some folks collect stamps some play golf in their golden years, I choose to train for and compete in bodybuilding competitions. It is just a matter of choice.

I will say that as one ages one must understand the changes occurring in the body and through proper medical help and supplementation replace that which the body no longer produces.  We live in an age of great knowledge but knowledge alone is not enough we must act on that knowledge for it to be effective.

Q: How do you approach diet and nutrition? What are your meals like? What kind of supplements do you take, if any?

A:  I am almost always on a low carb, high protein meal plan of between 2000 and 2500 calories.  That will vary depending on whether or not I am trying to gain muscle or lean out for an event or show.  When in a weight gain mode, I typically eat between 3000 and 3,400 calories adding in complex carbs such as sweet potato, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, etc.  My cardio is limited to once a week.  When leaning out I cut back on total calories, reduce carbs and increase cardio.

A typical average day might look like this:

Meal 1 (pre-workout)

30 grams pasteurized liquid egg whites

Meal 2 (post-workout)

50 grams Whey protein, banana, peanut butter

Meal 3 (breakfast)

One whole egg and two egg whites, 2 cups oatmeal, yogurt

Meal 4 (mid morning)

Peanut butter and jelly on one slice of whole wheat bread

Meal 5 (lunch)

Turkey breast sandwich on whole wheat bread with mustard

Meal 6 (mid afternoon snack)

One can of tuna and  eight wheat crackers

Meal 7 (dinner)

Eight ounces of lean protein (fish, chicken or beef), sweet potato and steamed vegetables

Meal 8 (before bed around 10:00 pm)

25 grams casein protein

I have found that supplements can make the difference between being good and being great.  However, if your training, cardio, nutrition and lifestyle are not all in line, then supplements might not make that much of a difference in your results.  When you are fine tuning, that’s when they can make a huge difference.  Also, as we age, supplementation becomes even more important.  We need to replace that which our bodies are no longer making.  For all of you that are over forty, I would recommend seeing a health care specialist. I use a naturopath who specializes in hormone regulation.

My supplement regimen is below:

Pre-workout

A thermogenic (Oxy Elete-Pro)

Nitric oxide (Noxivol)

Post workout

5 grams of creatine

5 grams of glutamine

5 grams of BCAA’s

Daily Vitamins

Multi vitamin

B complex

2500 mg C

400 iu E

2000 iu D

Other

2 oz. Omega 3,6,9 oil

100 mg DHEA

Estrogen lowering agent (DIM Enhanced)

Thyroid T4 to T3 converter (Meda- Stim)

Q: Have you overcome injuries and/or surgeries? What were they? How did you overcome them?

A: As you might expect being active all these years has caused countless injuries of one type or another.  Two worth mentioning here were two of the most devastating. Both were back injuries.  I ruptured a disc is my lower back about 15 years ago and was told by a neurosurgeon never to run or lift a weight heavier than 15 pounds.  The other was a cervical spine injury that had me on my back for three months and out of the gym for five.  I lost my entire right arm musculature to atrophy.  It took over two years to rehab it back and still to this day it’s not 100% and I have slight numbness in my right finger.

The one point I want to make about being injured is you have to keep training around your injury.  You cannot use an injury as an excuse.  There are no excuses. Learn about your injury and rehab the body part back to health.  If I did what the doctors told me to do I would be unhappy, unhealthy and old.  Today I can still squat 400 pounds and win bodybuilding competitions!

Q: Do you have a target weight and/or body fat level you maintain?  What is it? How do you achieve it?

A: I find a scale to be one of the most useless items in my home or my gym.  I am only concerned with percent body fat and lean muscle mass.  I would much rather weigh 200 pounds with 10 percent body fat than 150 pounds with 25 percent body fat.

Personally,  I like to stay between 10 and 12 percent body fat, unless I am leaning out for a competition show or event then I will take my overall body fat down to single digits (5 to 7 percent).  This is done through weeks of systematically reducing calories (mostly in the form of carbs) increasing protein intake and increasing cardio training (HIIT) while maintaining resistance training.

Q: What are your health and fitness goals for the future?

A: My short term plans are to compete in the NPC Western Regional Competition in Mesa, Arizona in November of this year.  I will compete in the Men’s Senior Masters Bodybuilding class.

I am currently working with my trainer and will work with a posing coach as we get nearer to November.  My goal is to take home the first place trophy.

My long term goal is to be fit until the day I die.

 

 

2 Responses to The Lifetime Fitness Journey of Frank Ragona

    • admin says:

      Good Question Ken, typically low reps are in the 4-8 range and used when trying to build strength. However, most studies show hypertrophy (muscle growth) occurs in the 8-15 rep range. Varying your workouts in this range typically brings best growth results, but remember it all depends on pushing yourself for the extra rep(s) past the point where it feels like you’re done.

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