Episode 10: Stan Efferding debunks the common held belief that you become weaker as you get older. Lifting heavy at 50.

Stan Efferding is best known for being one of the strongest bodybuilders that ever lived. While he does not compete today, he is still well regarded for his functional training knowledge, bench press records and expertise in weightlifting. That’s why Mike O’Hearn invited Efferding onto the podcast to dive deep into advanced training techniques – specifically on how to continue to excel as you age. In Generation Iron and Barbend’s latest episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show, Stan Efferding details how it is 100% possible to lift your strongest at 50 years old compared to your max weight in your 20s.

Throughout the entirety of this podcast, Mike O’Hearn has been consistent on the importance of strength training and longevity in health. O’Hearn would rather be successfully lifting without limits well into his 50s today, rather than be a champion in his 20s only to burn out in later years.

Stan Efferding is a bodybuilder and powerlifter who not only holds those same beliefs but also lives them. Efferding, aka The Rhino, is often regarded as one of the strongest bodybuilders that has ever lived. While he no longer competes on the bodybuilding stage – he still showcases a level of strength often unseen at his age (he’s 54 at the time of this writing).

In fact, Stan Efferding believes that one of the biggest misconceptions in fitness is that we become naturally weaker as we age. Yes, taking an overview at the general populous seems to show that people degenerate as they age. But that’s not how it has to be. It’s simply because of the way we culturally live our lives through fitness.

Efferding is proof that you can actually be strong in your 20s – and then grow to become even more capable and stronger in your 50s. It requires a different outlook on training, consistency, and knowledge of the right techniques. Let’s jump into it.

Debunking The Myth: Degenerating Vs Regenerating As We Age

In the big picture, yes we degenerate naturally as we age. This is obvious for anyone who looks at a grandparent and sees grey hair and wrinkled skin. But the amount we degenerate – and at one point this occurs can be controlled more than we often believe.

The average person probably believes we are at our most physically fit during our late teens and early 20s. This does not have to be the case. In fact, Stan Efferding believes that you can be stronger and lift more at 50 than ever possible at 20. The key to obtaining this is through forward thinking in your training techniques.

“We have to eliminate the mindset that your body wears out. People think that the body is degenerative over time. And it’s actually regenerative with the correct stimulus.”

– Stan Efferding

Too many people believe that heavy lifting actually wears us down in the long run. Many think that weightlifting leads to worn down joints and injuries. The reality is that the opposite is true – if your training routine and technique is done correctly. Modern science has shown that inactivity leads to faster degeneration as we age. Whereas consistent weight training will help us become more capable and stronger as we age.

Generation Iron’s own Jerry Brainum has discussed this at length in our other podcast series – Straight Facts. Efferding further confirms this and mentions how doctors will now prescribe “barbell medicine” – weightlifting as a solution towards recovery for older folks.

This can be seen in other respects as well. In past decades, medicine believed that after a person suffers a heart attack that they must rest to recover. Today, a doctor would recommend a person who suffered a heart attack stay active to help make the heart stronger.

Stan Efferding’s Techinques For Lifting Heavier At 50 Than At 20 Years Old

So now that you know it’s possible to be at your strongest in older age – how do you actually achieve it? Stan Efferding explains that it requires deconstructing what you culturally understand about weightlifting – and applying fact-based and proven techniques. The biggest mistake young lifters make is to push too hard to the point of degrading the body. Yes – this might help in the short term become the heaviest lifter with the most massive physique. But it won’t last in the long term.

Stan Efferding explains that intensity needs to stay consistent. What Efferding means by that is you always need to be 2-3 reps away from complete exhaustion. If you’re not pushing to that point – you are not going to see real improvement. Lower weight with higher reps can be extremely effective – but only if the intensity is there.

Stan goes on to say that, ironically, if you max out at the gym – that leads to more inactivity overall. You are tired faster, it makes you want to indulge in cheat meals more to replenish yourself after being exhausted. What Stan promotes is to use exercise and weightlifting to “feel refreshed” rather than “feel depleted.”

Too many people think that not sleeping, training more, never recovering, always working – is the way to improve. That’s not true. It’s important to make time to recover. To make time for sleep. To sometimes stop training to allow for your body to replenish and actually improve. This is regenerating rather than degenerating.

“If it’s not measurable and progressable – I don’t think it’s terribly effective. It’s just exercise, it’s not training.”

– Stan Efferding

Stan Efferding talks about setting up a goal to reach new PRs and make progress is very different than showing up and doing the same thing at the gym every day. One is “exercise” vs “training.” It’s good to get your heart pumping and get you sweating. But if you want to see long term improvement – you need to reach new goals every session or every training cycle. Efferding also recommended resistance training a few times per week. 

To dive deeper into this concept, Stan Efferding discusses speed of lifting vs the weight. If you can deadlift 600 pounds and think you are stronger and can increase the weight – but now the movement speed decreases. You didn’t get stronger – you exerted more energy to achieve a higher weight. Due to this – sometimes it is okay to realize that lowering your weight – but slowly increasing your speed is a more effective (and safer) way to improve rather than just maxing out the most weight as possible.

The Importance Of Deloading

Impatience is the biggest enemy of long term success. This is often what leads to overtraining, burning out your body, and setting up habits that lead to long term degradation of your body.

If progress stalls – instead of training harder perhaps you should practice deloading. Sometimes it’s okay to take a week break and then return back to training. It’s often the very thing you needed in order for your body to reset and start making gains and strength improvements again.

“You will deload whether it’s voluntary or involuntary. If you don’t voluntarily deload – you will eventually get sick or injured forcing it upon you.”

– Stan Efferding

Rest and recovery is vital towards consistently improving your ability as you age. This goes not only for rests between workouts – but rest in general. It’s been scientifically proven that culturally we often get too little sleep. This can cut years off of our lives. This takes the form of our body degrading as we age instead of improving.

Ultimately, you must master the art of keeping your intensity consistent – while also allowing yourself to rest when you need to, deload if you need to. If you don’t, your body will do it for you whether you like it or not. But if you don’t provide yourself that time – it will instead force itself upon you in the form of getting sick or injured. This leads to degrading rather than regenerating.

Wrap Up

Stan Efferding and Mike O’Hearn talk shop and technique in great detail throughout this entire episode. That’s why it’s vital for anyone who wants to continue to improve with strength and fitness to watch our latest episode.

You can watch Stan Efferding’s full comments in our latest episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show above. Watch new episodes every Friday only on the Generation Iron Fitness Network. Or listen wherever podcasts are downloaded.

Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.