Mike Palen has been doing Olympic-style weightlifting since he was 12 years old, and he’s still going strong—800 pounds strong, to be exact.
After the lifting of lockdown restrictions, the 80-year-old has been eager to return to his local New York Sports Club, where he has trained two to three times a week since Kennedy’s presidency.
“I lifted 765 (lbs.) yesterday, and that’s my own technique,” Palen told GNN in an interview.
He’s working on a higher number in his custom lift, which is a simple half-squat with a rack, but we can’t tell you what it is because he doesn’t want his wife to find out he’s going back to the “heavy things.”
GNN has previously covered silver-haired lifters such as a 100-year-old great-great-grandmother who set a Guinness World Record after completing a 150-pound deadlift and a World War II veteran who set the bench press record for his 91-year-old age group with a 187-pound press, but Mike is on another level for the time being.
Mike Palen’s fitness path began, like so many others, in the shadow of an athletic big brother—but where his brother Steve gravitated toward football, Mike gravitated toward the “heavy stuff.”
A fitness adventure
“My father was constructing a bench in the open area adjacent to our house… and left some of the bench’s remaining cement pillars standing.
Palen, whose love of the competitive adrenaline of completing a lift led to Olympic dreams as a young adult, adds, “They manufactured great dumbbells, and I saw quick results.”
“I felt like I could compete in the Olympics; maybe in my late 50s or early 60s,” he explained.
“I got up to 315 pounds in the clean and jerk, 265 pounds in the military press, and 235 pounds in the snatch.” And that was up there; it was a lot of weight back then.”
Tommy Kono, a Japanese-American Olympic gold medalist who is widely regarded as the finest Olympic lifter America had ever produced, was setting world records that Mike was nearing.
Kono won the National Weightlifting Championship in 1953 with a world-record 280 snatch and 350 clean and jerk.
Palen’s Olympic dreams were dashed after he married Sandy and had children, but he never stopped lifting 2 to 3 times per week, despite a slew of injuries.
“That’s why I don’t allow myself to grow old.”
The New York state man, a member of the SilverSneakers senior training program, now provides immediate encouragement to all those around him, especially when they watch him constantly put plates onto the bar.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, and he, like many heavy lifters, had knee problems.
“When I flexed it a specific manner, the tissue would go in between my knees, and you can understand what it did; I was on crutches for a while,” Palen explains.
“Eventually, that faded gone, and my knees returned, which is why I went back to heavy squats in my late 70s.”
“I like to think my legs are still what they used to be. They [doctors] informed me that as you get old…
That’s why I don’t let myself get old—you’ll feel like you have issues, but I’ll still have that strength. “I’m still skiing.”
Mike’s steely determination is correct.
Intense exercise increases the production of chemicals in the brain, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which improves neuroplasticity (the rate at which the brain can form new connections) and neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons).
Weightlifting, perhaps more than a muscular physique, helps maintain bone density, which begins to deteriorate at a young age and increases in one’s golden years.
Bone density loss is a significant cause of morbidity, which is why something as simple as a fall may be so harmful for a senior, although it is quite safe for a younger person.
SilverSneakers provides virtual classes for almost every fitness level as well as access to 22,000 fitness locations across the country.
“Our entire aim is to assist older individuals live happier, healthier lives, and the classes promote physical activity, social connection, and cerebral enrichment,” SilverSneakers founder Debbie Jacobson said.
“Not everyone is Mike, and not everyone can do what he does, but we have classes for everyone.”
“I’m a SilverSneakers member, and I have to say honestly, it should be available to everyone who is becoming old, because it keeps us off the insurance burden!” Mike says.
“Better health, maintained, is preferable to the alternative; it sets us on a different path.”
Not only does he want to inspire seniors, but he also has a message for the youth.
“Time passes so quickly, and before you know it, you’re 80.” Allow a workout of your choice to be your mode of transportation to excellent health. If you must leave for any reason, please return as quickly as possible.”