Farm Boy strength with Hillis Lake

Many of us have a short list of trusted resources we use when grappling with new information, or unanswered questions.  We turn to medical professionals, teachers, coaches and of maybe our first choice – google. 

I have an additional resource:  I have a Hillis.   

Well before self-help authors and professional speakers were recommending all of us to remain lifelong students, Hillis was investing thousands of his own money to educate himself on all things from biomechanics, neuromuscular training, diet/nutrition and the evolving science of sales.  I’m convinced that one of Hillis’ ancestors wore a white tunic and sandals, and spent his days arguing with Aristotle.   I pride myself in being curious about almost everything – but I know very few people that invest as much time diving into new information.  This man likes to learn.   Luckily for me, he also loves to teach. 

When I decided to start this little collection of interviews, Hillis immediately came to mind.  He’s been involved in athletics and strength training for most of his life and in recent years, he’s survived two car accidents  – one of which, he should not have walked away from.  I wanted to hear in his words how strength training has been essential in his life, and what kind of strength training continues to keep this redwood tree of a man upright and mobile. 

50+ years in 50 seconds

Recovered, and back in the water

Athlete:  Hillis Lake
Home residence:   Jacksonville, FL
Age:  60
Basic Biometrics:  6’2”, 200lbs, resting HR: 67   One great measurement of fitness is how fast your HR recovers from an intense bout of exercise.   My HR recovers in just about 30 seconds.
Occupation when not participating in your sport:  loyal employee of Eleiko
Sports/activities in order of time and preference:  weight training, water skiing.  I grew up on a lake, so anything on the water that allows me to “keep my feet wet”.
“Have to” or “Want to”?    Always wanted to.   Never a chore. 
Past injuries, fully recovered:   Are you ever really fully recovered from a bad injury to joints / tendons?  You might get better, but you’re never going to be 100% well. Past injuries that effect today:   They all still effect me.  Major damage to joints will never be quite the same as before.  It changes everything about the body.  I’ve survived two bad car accidents over 12 years.  
Current injuries:   I had my metatarsal flange (big toe) replaced last summer. 
Age when I stopped recovering quickly from injuries:  My 50’s.  After that second car accident, I was told I may never walk again. I was confined to a wheelchair for almost two years.
Medications I currently use:  Advil and Tylenol for the rest of my life due to the trauma to my body NOT caused by fitness.     
Medications I was able to stop using once I started training:  I was in a wheelchair after that last accident, dealing with incredible pain. I counted 17 pharma drugs on my bathroom counter.  I put them all in a grocery bag, gave them to my primary care doc and asked for help to wean off those pain killers.  I would often lay on the floor dealing with withdrawals.
Supplements I currently use:  None.  I’ve always remained healthy and could never tell any difference with any supplements I took.  So why waste my money?
Dietary choices or restrictions:   Not really.  I am very intentional about including 10 major super foods to my weekly diet.   I simply eat healthy.   (He also recommends a good yak steak / burger every so often – if you can find one)
Average hours of sleep:  I try to get 8 hours, but when super excited about a new idea, maybe 6.  Also believe naps are greatly undervalued!  I firmly believe naps are one of the secrets to longevity. 
Do you track your quality of sleep?   I did use a wearable for a short bit, but my “sleep score” made me stressed, so stopped using it.
Greatest achievement of being a 50+ athlete:   Yesterday – strength training was a challenge, a competition.  Today – strength training helps me maintain my ability to live a normal life – do normal daily activities. 

Specific to the sport of farm-boy strength

Strength training origin story: 
I was the manual labor part of my Dad’s landscape business.  Built a solid foundation of very functional movements through that labor.  Started a structured strength training program in school, when I was around 14-15 years old.  I was naturally gifted.  Had good explosive strength – especially for my size.

Any specific training philosophy?    
Weight lifting is essential – both for aesthetics and quality of life.  But there’s no reason to continuously max out the body’s capability.   Before anyone starts to weight train, they should know why they are there.   What is the goal of this specific training session?  How does it tie into your 5 year goal?  Lifetime goal?  Ignore that “workout of the day” you found online.  That workout wasn’t designed for your particular goals and needs.

Protein before or after you train?   
Neither.  No shakes, just food.

Lifting shoes or barefoot?    
Barefoot.  Man is designed to be barefooted.  Google:  Aaron Mattes.   “The hand is the servant of the mind, and it can’t go anywhere unless the feet take it there”.  Training your feet and hands are greatly undervalued.  I always incorporate something in my training to include hands (grip) and feet.

Prefer music when you train, or a Tony Robbins-ish mantra?  
All of the above, just depends on the environment and mood.  Depends on what I need in that moment.   Rather than the usual pre-recorded gym music, I prefer specific tones, rhythms,

beach bum on his paddle board

Do you have any preference to the style of gym where you train?  
For me, it’s not really the gym, not really the décor, but the people.   If I identify with the people in the gym – like minded – then I’m home and can train.  Currently, I mostly train at The Gym in JAX.   A no pretense kind of fitness center.  At heart, I’m just a gym rat.

I also believe covid is going to cause people to reevaluate why they’re going to the gym. This pandemic showed us how easily we could adjust to training at home, so going forward, I believe people will be more intentional about what they want to achieve by being in the gym.

Do you keep track of your workouts?    
Never have 

Greatest inspiration for functionally strong 50+ athletes?    
While I greatly admire Arnold’s ability to set and achieve goals, I would never recommend using an external person for inspiration.  That’s going to fade.   You need to find the “why” in yourself.

Deeper Dive

Why?  What motivates you to consistently put your body through this pain?
Today, that answer is simple:  So I never lose the ability to walk.   After that last accident, I will never again take the walking for granted.  Not even running, just walking. Have to keep up my strength and mobility. 

As a 50+ athlete – what achievements are you most proud of?  
For me specifically – time.  That last car accident was a true “come to jesus” meeting.  Being disciplined to maintaining a certain level of fitness and strength has literally given me more time with my family – especially my son. 
Pre-injuries:  I could go anywhere and do anything without fear.  Prior to these two accidents, I spent several holidays in Hawaii.  I would pick one of the islands, and just take off on my bike, trying to circle the island. Exhausting but incredibly rewarding.
Post-injuries:  Survival.  Walking without assistance. 

…the EMT’s and ambulance drivers all agreed – if it wasn’t for my size and strength – I would’ve been sent to the morgue instead of the ER.

Let’s discuss injuries or medical conditions that effect your training and/or goals:
The most recent car accident left me with a broken back, which two took almost two years to really recover. These injuries still prevent me from really exerting myself, pushing myself physically in the way I have always loved to train.   Still today, my chest often feels “crushed” when swimming.   The seat belt harness saved my life but broke a few bones in the process. My chest and ribs actually collapsed into the seat belt.  Internally, everything simply got rearranged for a period of time.  The EMT’s and ambulance drivers all agreed – if it wasn’t for my size and strength – I would’ve been sent to the morgue instead of the ER.  I literally owe my life to a “big huge bank account of fitness”.

Nutrition / diet:  elaborate on the role food plays in your health / training?
I try not to eat the same type of food two days in a row, and certainly not the same source of protein.  Numerous health benefits to eating this way.

Editor’s note:  I am not personally familiar enough with this dietary philosophy to describe it adequately. If interested in learning more, I found numerous articles, including this one from Well+Good that include benefits such as getting a wider variety of nutrients to avoid any deficiencies. Better yet – talk to Hillis!

How much time do you dedicate to training on an average week?
All of my self-care can be broken down into three areas:
1) Prep or recovery that involves foam rolling, cupping, and using the hyperice percussion tool.  Probably takes 3-4 hours each week.
2) Just being active:  walking, hiking, swimming.  I always parks far away from any store.  Why walk less? 
3) Strength training:  2-3 hours per week.

Do you follow any specific recovery protocol?
Two answers: 
1) Periodization – any training program has to include time purely for recovery.  Could be days, might be weeks.  The holidays are a great time to back off the intensity, to “de-train”.   The first of November through first of January.   Have to schedule recovery.
2) Conscious recovery post workouts:  cold plunges, hot baths, walking in a lap pool.  Foam rolling and percussion therapy after almost every strength training session.

Any “non-exercise” forms of preventative care?   (massage, chiro, personal trainer, blood work, etc)
Two lessons I learned from Paul Chek regarding preventative healthcare:  
*Brush your teeth immediate when waking and then hydrate, hydrate.   
*Right around sunset, get outside, get sun on your face – eyes closed.  Forces you to slow down.  Sunshine stimulates so many things in the body, including production of vitamin D, and serotonin.  For me, it’s another time of meditation that helps calm my mind for the evening.

I also enjoy meditating while on a piece of cardio at the gym.  But no music or videos.  Just lost in thoughts.

Any family history you’ve been able to avoid?  And/or how healthy were your parents at your age?
I was lucky.  I picked the right gene pool.   Mother is incredibly healthy.   Lot of longevity on both sides of my family.  They all simply live a very healthy life, no vitamins, medications of any kind.

I’ve always believed the best healthcare is self-care.”

excerpt from the Book of Hillis

The health benefits of training:  is that a focus?  Or just a happy and beneficial outcome?   
Post car accident:  very much a focus.  I’ve always believed the best healthcare is self-care. Now I’m much more intentional about putting that believe into practice.

How do you feel – physically and emotionally – when you miss several days of training?
Prior to accident:  I would get anxious if I missed more than a few days of training.
Post-accident:  I don’t get upset anymore.   This was a serious reality check.  Now, it’s just a day off.   More recovery. 

Is your family supportive?
While strength training does not take the same time away from family like a day of golf, long bike rides, training for a triathlon – any sport that is physique oriented, can be a very selfish activity and often requires you to make decisions that effects those around you, such as dietary restrictions.   Fortunately for me, all family members take their health very seriously, so we all support each other.

Do you find a sense of community from the gym?
Definitely.  I have several lifelong friendships that all started by lifting together. Working out at home is a great part time option, but we’re tribal!  We need our communities.

Something the average person still misunderstands about strength training:
For many, the gyms are a monkey-see / monkey-do world.  People often just copy workouts from others or an online source, with very little understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish. And they usually gravitate to what they do best without challenging their weaknesses. Those weakness – if not corrected – will be the cause of injuries outside the gym – in the real world. On top of that, everyone does way too much volume.  Pushing too hard for too long. 

What advice would you give your younger self?
If I could do one thing differently, I would have not used as heavy weight when younger.  I don’t believe the human body was designed to repetitively handle that much volume with that much weight.  Early on, I was infected with the common gym-bug – just addicted with lifting too much weight.  Would rarely even touch anything less than 225 lbs.  But the wear and tear on the joint and tendons is just too great.  You have to know when you’ve overstressed the body, know when to back off, when to recover.   Training with intensity is easy, backing off is hard.

What advice would you give any 50+ individual that believes their athletic days are better left in the past?
If we’re talking about the mostly inactive and unhealthy – I will tell you that 99% of those people just need to get happy first.   Don’t try to find happiness by losing 10 lbs, 20lbs, etc.   Get happy first, then find a way to be active that you enjoy.

Any final hard-earned wisdom you’d like to share to the 50+ crowd?
Movement is life.  Period.   You’re no longer competing with the big guy in the gym, you’re competing with the man in the mirror.   Just get started, just move.  Keep moving.

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Questions for Hillis?
Include any questions in the comment section below and I’ll forward his reply.

5 thoughts on “Farm Boy strength with Hillis Lake

  1. Great interview! Very inspirational and such realistic, solid, sound advice. I have come to some of the same conclusions regarding my training and eating habits, but luckily so far have never had to overcome life altering event(s) like Hillis. Thanks Hillis for sharing your experience and great to see your doing better then well. Tanks Andy for taking the time to get Hillis’s experiences documented so all us old guys can benefit from it. Hope both of you are doing well, having fun, and hope to bump into both of you once the industry gatherings start getting back up to speed again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great Interview and from a really awesome guy! Thank you for sharing Hillis, your insight is spot on and it needs to be stated especially to the younger generation so they can learn early how to love what God has supplied, starting with their bodies, minds and foods they consume. Your story is inspiring to all, and I am glad that you had the strength to get through that accident! Your courage, strength and life story is amazing.
    My 2 favorite sayings, A body in motion stays in motion (move it and enjoy it), and “All Gods creations in moderation”. thanks to you and Andy for sharing this. Be well!

    Liked by 1 person

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