Don McNamara is a man I came to know through my Facebook group for men 50 and up interesting in strength and health. Don is 62, and is the 4th strongest powerlifter in his division in the USA. He hopes to be the second best before year end. Thing is, Don doesn't come across like a typical, proud athlete. He's incredibly humble, down-to-earth, and casual about his accomplishments. That's why I decided to publish this interview with him. Ready to get inspired, and to learn once and for all that age doesn't have to hold you back from strength and health? Keep reading to learn all about Don in his own words.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your lifting career? When and Why did you first pick up a barbell. How long have you been lifting?
My name is Don McNamara, I am 62 years old. I currently hold 8 Colorado Powerlifting records – 4 at 242 lbs bodyweight and 4 at 275 in USPA. I missed the National Bench record by 4 lbs but am competing in December and hope to smash that. I currently am ranked 4th in the US but hope to slide up to 2nd in December.
One point that I think is important-I have always been involved with fitness. This could be because I was a middle child in a family of 10. I was always trying to keep up with my big brothers-they were all sports talented. I was small (I am a twin) and through a freak accident when I was 12-I lost the sight of my left eye. So I wasn’t very good in sports but I had a determination from a young age. I joined the swim team because that was the only sport that my school would let me do-even though I almost drowned the first practice because I never told the coach I couldn’t swim.
From martial arts, to competitive racquetball (it was the 80’s), to working out 3-5 days a week, to becoming a certified trainer, doing two bodybuilding shows in 1991 and 1992-all natural, these are things that kept me training. I actually started lifting when I was about 19. I remember joining the YMCA and just walked in and lifted. I don’t even remember why, I just know I did. I have always been strong-genes I inherited but I found out as I got older that when my metabolism slowed down, I could actually put on mass. I was always thin, but when I got into my 40’s and 50’s I got stronger and bigger. I was never bored doing the same workout-squats, bench, back. I never deadlifted until last year. The point is that I was always training, from a young age. I did different things that caught my eye but I always trained. Sometimes I would see a program and would follow it.
As far as Powerlifting-August of 2017 I was asked what kind weight I work out with, and what are the current state records-I looked them up and thought-I can beat those weights. So not really knowing what I was doing (I found a powerlifting program online), with 6 weeks training, I set 4 Colorado records. I was hooked! However-the next week I had a pretty tough dirt bike accident-broke 6 ribs, hip and knee sprained. I took 3 months off from lifting, then got back to it. 8 weeks later I competed again-to which I absolutely bombed out. I had forgotten how to follow commands –I really wasn’t mentally ready and my results showed. I sulked for a min, but my Gf found me a coach that was almost 4 blocks from my house-he was a lifesaver. He completely changed my training, pushed me way farther than I could do myself. I competed last month-moved up a weight class (I am a natural 250 lbs but cut weight to get to 242) and set 4 more records. So I have been competing for just over 14 months.
I am one of “those” people that have found I am able to train at 3;30 in the morning. I used to work 12 hour days and was too tired to train after so I found that getting up and getting to the gym works for me. I have found that I feel great all day on days that I train early. I am more tired on days I don’t get up early. Lots of advantages to training early-no one at gym, I have all the pieces of equipment to myself. It works for me.
One more note-I am not thin. I am 5’9 about 258 (currently) and while I have a little belly, I am ok with that. Being heavier has helped me lift heavier. My first meet I cut to 236, and even though I was strong, I felt thin. I am much happier at this weight and much much stronger.
What is your current training program like – warm up, exercises, volume frequency? What is your current PR’s?
I am currently in the middle of a size phase so its more geared like a bodybuilding program (10-12 reps)-higher reps and more sets-12-15 sets. This will conclude in 2 weeks-then go into a strength phase-low reps high weights (4-6 reps-8-10 sets)- then a 2 week deload and technique week to get ready for my next meet Dec 8th.
Typical warm up-I like the elliptical just because its boring and after 12-15 min I have a good sweat. My body is warm and ready, I stretch a little (prob not enough), I like to take my time getting to workout weights, I always start with the bar and slowly work up to workout weight.
I am focused on the 3 big lifts, and do a couple different lifts that help with those. I do incline bench, shoulder work, trap bar workouts and front squats to help both squats and deadlifts. PR’s: These are all gym lifts with my coach so they aren’t ego lifts.
Squat-475-goal is to hit 500 in Dec
Bench-365-goal is to hit 375 in Dec
Deadlift 465-goal is to hit 500 in Dec
One other thing-I have found a awesome yoga instructor that has totally embraced my training. She works me hard on hip flexibility (to which I have little), shoulder, chest and neck stretching. I give her credit that I have never been hurt powerlifting. I am sore 4 days a week but that is different than hurt. I try to go 2 times a week, at least once a week I go. I used to go in the beginning with my gf because she doesn’t really work out, but it didn’t take me long to realize how important it was that I go.
I also am a true believer in deep tissue massage. This helps my body recover and rejuvenate.
Not everyone wants to be a powerlifter. How can strength training benefit Average guys
So many reasons to list all of them but here are some bigger ones
-you look better-better posture, more confidence.
-weight control-as your body slows down you have to fight the urge to put on that 7-10 lbs a year
-you can carry all the groceries in the house in one trip
-I have found that the stronger I am-I have less aches and pains than normal people my age.
-it just flat out good for you-mentally, physically and spiritually. Studies have shown that your brain becomes energized after a good workout.
-to me, it’s a cycle. You workout, you will find yourself eating better, you will sleep better. When that happens you will lift more and it will repeat itself. All good things for you.
What are your favourite and least favourite exercises and why?
I love to bench. I am built to do it. Big chest, very short arms.
I hate cardio…I do it..but ugh. My son is a CF coach and I know its good for me.
What nutrition approach do you use to build and maintain strength
So moving up in weight class has been awesome for me. I eat pretty clean although I eat a lot of calories. I am around 225 grams of protein a day, about 260 grams of good carbs and about 100 grams of good fat. However, as opposed to when I was watching my weight, if I want a donut, or a milk shake or a dessert, I don’t deny myself. My diet is pretty boring but I know it works. Eggs, oatmeal, pasta, steak, chicken, sweet potatoes, peanut butter, rice, bagels are all on my go to list.
After December, I plan to get back down to 245ish. That is where I feel best, but its been fun to work on gaining weight .
What are 3 pieces of advise you’d offer new lifters?
Go slow and ramp up to working out. Don’t go in and go for PR’s on your first week. I have seen this and either they are so sore or then hurt themselves. Be patient-get the technique down first!!
-if you are just starting and you want to lift-do not go to a box cutter gym. Get a great trainer that will show you how to do lifts-have him set up a beginner program. After 6 weeks or so..do a strength test..and go from there. Being sedentary then lifting takes discipline, commit to it. You will see great results when you first start out. You will feel better, look better.
-when starting out, stay away from accessory work. Just work on the big three and throw in some shoulder work. After you get good at those, work in some accessory work. Again..start slow.
Lots of my readers are 40-60 years old and considering strength training for the first time. How would you advise trainees in this age range?
The same advice I would give in the last question. Except for older lifters-really be patient. Start slow and get enough recovery time. As you get older you need a little more. Don’t be intimidated by people you see at the gym-you are there for yourself.
If you get injured don’t ignore it. Don’t try and “work through it”. Find a great therapist that understands what your goals are and listen to them. Heal, get better and get back to it. Don’t give up just because you pulled something. It happens, but usually injuries happen because you went too hard, too heavy or you have a imbalance in your muscles.
If you are overweight, start to work on your diet. Get some education, learn what you need to do and follow it. You will benefit overall, your body will start to respond. Again, be patient.
I am living proof that you can get stronger and bigger as you get older. I do take TRT which started about 5 years ago and that was life changing. I felt better and stronger in everything I do. I don’t take a lot of TRT and its closely monitored by my doctor. My level is about 500-600 and get tested every 3 months. The other supplements I take are vitamins, lots of whey protein, creatine. That’s it!
How long do you plan on lifting heavy? Do you anticipate you’ll need to change your training style much as you get older?
I have always said I will lift heavy until my body tells me that it’s time to give it up. I don’t see that happening any time soon. My program allows me plenty of recovery time and deload weeks so my body can recover. I don’t see a change in programs for a while I am still getting stronger and I have never been injured (fingers crossed) while training. I am definitely blessed with the body I have-short stocky legs, short arms, big chest. I was made for this, so the answer is I really don’t know. I will keep going and see what happens. If indeed, my body tells me its time, I won’t ever stop working out, but will change it.