When Toney Herrington was 30, a friend of his predicted that Herrington was going to get fat. Herrington took this seriously. “I was always kind of lean,” Herrington says. “I was never fat. But I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen. So I started working out.”
Forty years later, he’s still at it. And there’s not an ounce of fat to be seen on his amazing body. He is 5-foot-6 and weighs 151 pounds. His waist is 27 inches. “You can see I’m still pretty ripped!” he says when I behold him on a Friday afternoon at Club Fitness of East Hartford, where he is a fixture at least five days a week, when he’s not working at the post office. He peels off a shirt emblazoned with the words “Genetic Freak.” I ask what’s up with that and he says, “I got it at a bodybuilding contest. They call me that here because I’m so ripped.”
At his home in Hartford he has more than 100 trophies on display. “I’ve got 65 wins. I’ve been ripping and shredding every contest.” Now he’s looking forward to the Masters National Championship in Pittsburgh in July. By then he’ll be 71.
For the best Connecticut Magazine content, plus the week's most compelling news and entertainment picks, delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our weekly newsletter.
“The main thing is what you want to show,” he says. “To take it to another level, to get better and better, to see how far you can go. I think in my 40s I had more mass and density. Now I think I’m more defined. You get that muscle maturity.”
Herrington views bodybuilding as art. “To me, it’s more of an artistic thing: shape, symmetry. It’s aesthetics: a physique that’s pleasing to look at.”
“I’m not trying to scare nobody!” he says with a laugh. “I’m just trying to look good.”
During our time at the fitness club, people half his age or much younger than that walk by, nodding respectfully or slapping him five. “I’m one of the oldest here and I’m probably one of the most ripped guys too! The young guys tell me, ‘You’re more cut than I am.’ It comes natural to me.”
But Lisa Cabrera, the club’s general manager, says it requires dedication and persistence. “I think he’s a great role model,” she says. “So many people come in and they fizzle. They join but it’s hard to carve out that extra time. Toney’s consistent. He comes in, he gets it done, no matter what. If it’s snowing, he’s here. That’s why he’s so successful; he’s got that longevity. You just do it. You just show up.”
When Herrington shows up, he uses Nautilus machines for chest, arm and back exercises and for leg squats. Free weights are for shoulder and back work. When Herrington was younger he did more free weights. “As you get older, you use more machines. Free weights are harder on your joints.”
As for the bodybuilding competitions, Cabrera says, “You have to really prepare. You have to have a very determined mindset. It’s hard. I give Toney so much credit; to compete at his age, let alone at any age, very few people can do it.”
This dedication might have affected his personal life. He says he has never married, although he notes of women: “Well, they take a look at me.” He admits to having “a few woman friends.” But he adds, “I’m a loner. I don’t have time, with the bodybuilding. I have to focus on winning that contest or whatever.”
In addition to putting in all those hours at the fitness club, Herrington still works full time for the U.S. Postal Service. He’s been processing mail in one of the Hartford branches for 35 years. Although he is pondering a possible retirement at the end of the year, he has no plan to retire from bodybuilding.
I ask Herrington about steroids. “No, I’m all natural. It’s bad for your health. I wouldn’t advise it.”
As for his diet, he favors brown rice, baked chicken, pasta without the sauce, raw oats instead of oatmeal, turkey, fish, baked potatoes and mixed vegetables. “I might have a beer or a glass of wine when I’m out, but not that much. You need to drink a lot of water too.”
He also does plenty of walking because he doesn’t own a car. “I get around.”
Herrington tells me he recently had a physical; it went well. “My doctor was amazed that I’m so cut. I don’t look like the normal 70-year-old guy.”
He traces some of his early motivation to his childhood back in South Carolina when he studied Charles Atlas bodybuilding ads in the back of comic books. “That inspired me. He had the perfect body.”
Many people in gyms and fitness clubs these days hire personal trainers; Herrington has never bothered to do that. “I know my body, I know what works. I’m my own trainer. It’s like a collaboration.”
And are there days when he just doesn’t feel like working out, when he would rather stay home and relax? He shakes his head and says, “If I stay away too long, I’d lose the pump. After a couple of days not being here, you feel your muscles are getting smaller. You feel like you’re losing your pump.”