This 75-Year-Old Philly Trainer Is Fit As Hell. Here’s How He Does It.
Roger Schwab, the co-owner and operator of X-Force Philadelphia, isn't slowing down anytime soon.
For over 50 years, Roger Schwab, co-owner and operator of X-Force Philadelphia, has been a force to be reckoned with in the fitness world. He and his wife, Elanna Schwab, formerly ran a Bryn Mawr gym, Main Line Health & Fitness. In 2015, the pair decided to retire and sold the gym. By 2018, they were out of retirement and had opened X-Force.
“Retirement didn’t work for us,” Roger Schwab told us.
That’s no surprise for either of them. Elanna Schwab is a talented personal trainer and champion dragon boat paddler who formerly operated a health club in Tel Aviv. And Roger Schwab has quite a resume: he was Penn State’s first strength and conditioning coach, introduced Nautilus training equipment to Philly in in the ‘70s, trained U.S. women’s Olympic swimming and field hockey teams, served as head judge of the International Federation of Bodybuilders, and conducted extensive research for preventative and rehabilitative spinal exercise.
But it’s not just his accolades that give him street cred. It’s also the fact that, at 75, Schwab is in the best shape of anyone we’ve ever met. His secret? Eccentric strength training. Also called negative accentuated training, this type of workout involves you slowly bringing down the weight, rather than quickly finishing the rep. At X-Force, 40-percent heavier resistance is added as you lower, making the workout super tough, but you super strong. Don’t believe us? Just ask Brent Celek, Todd Herremans, or us — we tried it when X-Force first opened in Philly (and multiple times since *insert bicep and fire emojis*).
In between reps, we chatted with Schwab about eccentric training, his long history of personal and strength training, and what his typical health and wellness routine is like.
BWP: How did you discover eccentric training?
Schwab: When I was a young adult, my goal was to be skinny, but have some muscles. At the time, the “thing” in fitness was fast weight training, like how many curls or squats you could do in 30 seconds. Because I was misusing barbells and other weight equipment, I ended up with major skeletal degeneration at an early age. Basically, quick, explosive training only exploded my body.
My injury catalyzed my interest in correct, medically-sound exercise, and after doing tons of research, I found eccentric training. I believe it’s the smartest, safest way to build strength and get results, which is why I’ve been doing it for so long. It’s also why I was so interested in bringing X-Force to the U.S. [The Swedish company] had found a way to make eccentric training easier with their technology. In 2010, I actually went to Sweden and met with the orthopedic surgeon who helped develop their machines to make sure X-Force was the real deal. And it is. I’ve found it strengthens my muscles, bones, and joints, and reduces any further orthopedic trauma.
Strength training is currently one of the most popular workouts in America. That seems like a good thing, right?
Well, I’m glad more people are strength training, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing it correctly. Right now, a lot of boutique gyms incorporate weights in between rounds of cardio; however, the weight portion is focused on how many reps you can do in a short time, which as I mentioned can lead to injury or long-term musculoskeletal issues. I think more people need to incorporate meaningful resistance training that actually stimulates and strengthens your muscles so that their quality of life is one in which they feel empowered with real results.
What does your personal fitness and nutrition regimen look like?
At my age, I workout once per week at X-Force, which is actually the number of times per week anyone should be training at X-Force. You get an intense, safe total-body workout in 30 minutes. As for food, I don’t believe in a high-protein diet, but a sensible diet that includes well-portioned protein, fats, and carbs. Some of my staple food items include oatmeal, a boiled egg on whole wheat toast paired with a cup of fruit, fish, and a good amount of vegetables.
Is eccentric training only for people who are already pretty “fit”?
People are stronger than they think, and eccentric training isn’t reserved for an exclusive group or skill level. Sometimes it shocks people when I say that men and women should be training exactly the same — the only thing that’ll vary is the intensity they’re putting in. One of my clients is 77 years old, but she’s one of the strongest people I know because she’s working and fatiguing her muscles properly and efficiently. Any person in good health should train the whole body hard, but briefly (once or twice per week), keep reps slow and smooth, and tailor the time between workouts according to progress.
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What about us cardio lovers?
I’ve got nothing against spinning, yoga, or other calorie-burning workouts, but those kinds of exercise become detrimental when they’re not supplemented with strength training. For instance, sitting on a bike for an hour is going to grind the muscles in your hips and knees over time. Without strengthening those muscles, you’ll be more prone to joint pain and injury as you get older. What I’m saying is you’ve got to be orthopedically sound or you’re not going to be able to do cardio. Remember: muscles move your body and you have to keep your muscles strong.
What else can people do to improve their longevity and overall health?
I’ve always worked out to stimulate a response, but recognize some people exercise for the social or community aspect. To me, short-term, “feel good” exercises often overshadow the exercises that actually benefit you in the long run. Plus, everyone is always looking for the easiest way to get results, when they should be seeking over-time results as opposed to overnight.
You can improve your heart health the same way you improve muscle strength: do a circuit of exercises that work and fatigue your muscles with slow reps, and move from machine to machine at a brisk pace to keep your heart rate up. For example, exercise your hamstrings until you fail muscularly, then move onto a quad exercise, then a leg press. This will increase your heart rate, as well as stimulate your lungs.
Make sure you let your body recover after intense workouts or else you’ll exhaust yourself. I’m 75 and I still workout like this because I believe medically-sound weight training is vital to longevity. To me, it’s about living longer, stronger.