Interview with Ripped Author and Living Legend Clarence Bass

Clarence Bass is the very definition of the term ripped. Long before the bodybuilding world knew what it meant to be truly ripped to shreds, Clarence was amazing readers across the globe with his physique. Now, in his 70’s, Clarence Bass is still going strong. He is as lean as ever.

For more information on the living legend Clarence Bass, please visit his website, or check out his Ripped or Lean Advantage book series.

Muscle and Strength: I began lifting as a teen in the late 70’s. At that time, you could barely pick up a magazine or bodybuilding book, and not see a picture of Clarence Bass. For those not familiar with Clarence Bass, could you please tell us about your background, and how exactly you became such a popular bodybuilding icon?

Clarence Bass: I began lifting when I was about 13 and never stopped. Began as an Olympic lifter and turned to bodybuilding in my late 30s. Won my class in Past 40 Mr. America and Mr. USA. Wrote the book Ripped in 1980, and began writing a column in Muscle & Fitness about the same time; continued writing this column until about 1996, when I started an online column on our website: Just posted articles #145 and 146 this week. Best evidence of what I’ve been doing along with practicing law and writing books are my photos from 15 to 70:

Muscle and Strength: Do you have good genetics for staying lean and ripped, or is it all about diet for you?

Clarence Bass: People who say bodybuilding is largely diet often have an axe to grind. Starving yourself is certainly not the secret to becoming and staying lean. I believe my success comes mainly from careful attention to healthy eating and regular training, weights and aerobics.

To the best of my knowledge, no one else in my family has even remotely approached my level of leanness, much less maintained it for decades on end. My genes obviously provide the potential to be lean and muscular. My guess is that most people have the capacity to do what I have done, or come very close. I am an example of what happens when potential and healthy, active lifestyle come together.

Muscle and Strength: This may seem like an odd question, but I need to ask it. You always look in peak shape. Has there been a period of time in the last 30 years that you’ve let yourself go, at least a little bit?

Clarence BassClarence Bass: Sure, like most people, my body composition fluctuations over the course of the year, but only about five pounds in my case. I believe that’s the key to staying lean. It’s so much easier than gaining 20 or 30 pounds, like many bodybuilders do, and than starving yourself to take it off again for photos or a contest.

Cutting calories severely not only makes you miserable, it also causes a slowdown in metabolism, which speeds up weight gain the next time around. It’s an insidious and viscous cycle. Most people lose muscle with each up-and-down cycle, the reverse of what bodybuilders hope for.

Chris Lund, some years ago, told me I was the only bodybuilder he’d photographed who didn’t pig out after the shoot. I told him that I didn’t starve myself before the shoot and had no urge to overeat afterwards. (I don’t think he believed me)

Muscle and Strength: What does your current training routine look like, and has you approach to training changed at all with age?

Clarence Bass: My basic approach to training hasn’t changed for more than 20 years. My workouts are short, hard, and equally balanced between weights and aerobics. I sit down with my training diary before every training session and look for ways to improve over the last time I did the workout. I believe that mindset is what keeps me motivated. I don’t believe in training to maintain.

That doesn’t mean I train to failure every workout, however. I still train in hard/easy cycles of gradually increasing intensity; see

I have made some adjustments over the years – for my hip replacement, for example – but the basic approach remains the same. I currently do three workouts a week; one weights, one aerobics, and one half and half. The specific details are in my new book Great Expectations. I make it a point to stay active on off days.

Muscle and Strength: Clarence, can you tell us a bit more about your latest book, Great Expectations. What other topics and subjects do you cover?

Clarence Bass: Great Expectations is my ninth book. As the title suggests, it’s about becoming and staying lean, strong, and fit at 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 and beyond – far longer than most people think possible. Using my own example and science, I explain that we don’t have get weaker and fatter as we age. There is no physiological reason for your metabolism to slow down if you don’t.

I focus on basic concepts of diet and training that are often ignored or misunderstood, telling in detail about my own diet and training for the book photos. I also explain how I have managed to stay motivated for over five decades; without motivation, of course, we are dead in the water, going nowhere.

We think of this book as a blueprint for a long and healthy life. Young or old, I tell people to expect – and work for – the best. If you think you can, you probably can. Vibrant health, fitness, and leanness are there for those who choose to train, eat, and live well. That’s the basic theme of the book.

You’ll find more details on our website, including reviews and reader comments:

Muscle and Strength: One of the topics you cover in the book is the psychological side of training. Motivation is a hard thing to maintain. Why do you feel that so many people fail in their perpetual quest for a nice body and healthy lifestyle?

Clarence BassClarence Bass: Most people think success in training comes from discipline and toughing it out. In my experience, that’s wrong. Success comes from making each workout an enjoyable experience you want to repeat over and over. That’s means continually challenging yourself with reasonable goals. Set yourself up for success in every workout. Success breeds success.

Remember that a goal achieved is a goal lost. Keep looking for realistic new ways to improve. Nothing is more motivating than progress toward a meaningful goal. Make training a process you never want to end.

Muscle and Strength: This would also imply that a trainee needs to find a routine or training style that not only produces results, but that also is enjoyable. In the Internet era, a lifter can instantly be overwhelmed by information on training and diet. This confusion can often lead to frustration and depression …and may impact a trainee’s ability to enjoy the process.

How do you recommend that a young trainee process information, and find confidence – and a workout that is enjoyable?

Clarence Bass: First, the things we enjoy most are the ones we do best. While it may sound counterintuitive, it’s best to focus on your strengths. So one of first things to decide is whether you are an endurance person or a strength person; some of course like both. I’m a strength guy, so I favor weight training and high-intensity intervals. It doesn’t take long to find out what you do best. I learned long ago that I’m not a marathoner.

Regarding information, it takes a while to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. A good place to start would be with a book or books on the basics of training. You’ll find basic books on our products page for women, young athletes, older lifter, and for beginners. Surprisingly, many people don’t take time to learn the basics, so that alone will give you a head start over most people.

After that it’s simply a matter of reading widely and trying things that make sense to you. That’s what my Ownership Principle is about: Keep in mind that things that sound too good to be true usually are.

Walk away from the quick fix. Training requires thought and effort. Things are usually worth about what you put into them.

Before starting a diet or an exercise program, ask yourself if it is something you are likely to enjoy doing indefinitely. If the answer is no, go back to the drawing board.

Muscle and Strength: Your article on “ownership” is extremely enlightening. I often see someone who succeeds at weight loss or muscle building step out and say…”This is the only way!” Unfortunately, this often closes doors instead of opening them.

Can you break down what “ownership” is for those reading this interview who haven’t read the article?

Clarence Bass: The Ownership Principle is the final chapter in my book Lean For Life. The chapter is available on our website in its entirety. (I provided a link in my previous answer.) The Ownership Principle says to examine various diets and training plans and accept – or reject – them based on whether they appeal and make sense to you. That includes those recommended by me.

Take parts of various plans and create your own plan – own it. That means you take responsibility. If it doesn’t work, you have no one to blame but yourself. When you “own” a regimen, you have a stake in the plan – and you’re more likely to stick to it. It also has the advantage of being a plan uniquely designed for you, by you.

In short, develop your own health and fitness lifestyle. Own it.

Muscle and Strength: Weight training is rarely looked at through the lens of longevity. Generally, lifters only begin to think about joint, muscle and tendon health after they are injured. Are there specific ways a lifter can train, or approach training, so that they can stave off injuries, remain healthy, and continue lifting throughout the course of their entire life?

Clarence Bass: My rule has long been, If It Hurts Don’t Do It! Saves a lot of grief, if followed.

Attempting to train through injuries is a bad idea. Better to let injuries heal by resting a few extra days or training around the injury. I know that’s sometimes hard to do, but it saves down time in the long run.

There are also adjustments that can be made in exercise performance. Something as simple as switching from barbell to dumbbells can make a big difference. Resting longer between workouts also allows small injuries to heal. Lifting more slowly or not locking out can also be a big help, mainly because it allows you use less weight and still train with great intensity. It’s much easier on the joints.

Better safe than sorry. When you’ve been training as long as I have you learn to be careful. If you don’t, you pay a heavy price. The body becomes less forgiving as you get older. You are forced to train more wisely, or else.

I’ve been very fortunate, but it’s no accident.

Muscle and Strength: I see on your website that you offer consultation services. Can you tell us more about this?

Clarence Bass: We offer phone and in-person consultations. Both are tailored to the individual. We ask for background information, goals and how we can help in advance so I can prepare. Your readers will find full details on our website:

Muscle and Strength: We talked earlier about goals. What are your goals for 2010, and are you planning another book?

Clarence Bass: My plan for immediate future is to keep training and trying to improve. Longer term, I plan to have more photos taken when I turn 75. Photos now would be repeat of those in Great Expectations. I hope and expect to look as good or better at 75 as I did at 70.

I write new articles for our website every month. When I have enough material – and a new theme – I’ll write a new book. I don’t know when that will be. I can tell you, however, that I have no plans to stop writing or training.

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