When I was little, all the kids in the neighborhood were boys, so boys were my playmates. Now that I am going to the gym twice a week for training in strength and balance, I am surrounded by a diverse assortment of other friends. This morning I looked around at us all doing different routines–some on big balls, some heaving little balls into the wall, one man bending forward with a stick behind him to keep his spine aligned, one young man jumping up and off a stool–and realized we all looked crazy! I remarked to the young woman next to me that if someone walked in they would think we were nuts.
It’s great to have friends around me when I go to the gym. These aren’t close friends, more like acquaintances, but we encourage each other in our progress, whether fast or slow. The age range is wonderful from 18 to 86 among the people I interact with. Most of us are working programs to strengthen our muscles. Right now no one is obsessed with losing weight, which makes it a very comfortable atmosphere for the wide range of bodies going through their exercises.
I have stopped comparing myself to anyone else at the gym. I have come instead to truly appreciate the people who are committed to their health, as am I. Most of us have torn this or that and have to baby this or that. But we work around whatever body part is protesting any given week and keep coming.
Sometimes when I am there, I remember playing with Dude, Skipper, Jack and Jim in the early 1950’s. I was active and happy to be climbing, swinging, and running. It is wonderful to have some of that joy returning these many years later in my local gym.
After my successful experiences in the gym, I realized I needed to add another activity to my routine to improve my balance and flexibility. I work with a trainer two days a week now, so I wanted something new and equally challenging. Enter Tai Chi at our local senior center.
In this photo I am holding onto a chair to support my first steps. In Tai Chi, I am holding onto a chair to try to begin to learn to balance on one foot! Well, technically resting one finger on the chair, but the chair is definitely helping. This is called a beginner class, but most of the people in the class have been doing it for a long time. I really needed an “absolutely really sincerely beginner class,” but no such luck. So I am reminded that less than two years ago I had never even heard of proprioception, and I remember that mine is pretty tenuous. It would help if I had less than four limbs, each doing something different for the movements in Tai Chi. It looks effortless for those so-called beginners, but it’s going to take quite a while before I can move with grace.
Right now I am going to try balancing on one foot. For longer than 5 seconds!
I am encouraged that even at three weeks old I found push-ups difficult. I even stuck out my tongue as I tried. Regaining upper body strength as an adult has been a slow process. I am prone to tendinitis in my elbows and shoulders, and I have to carefully pace myself so that my muscles get strong enough to do the pushing and pulling. I have too often strained those tendons by not relying on the muscles. Whenever I tried to get stronger on my own at home, I would injure one or another tendon. Having a trainer has been wonderful since she adjusts my stance and modifies activities when I feel any twinge start up. This has allowed me to get a good deal stronger for the first time in years.
Patience has been the most important tool in my working to regain functional fitness. A sense of humor is also essential. Fortunately the camaraderie at the gym lets me take the process with laughter as we decide what real life skill is being developed with each new activity. Working on one legged squats we surmise would be handy if one had a broken foot. Carrying a kettle bell overhead would be good practice for portraying the Statue of Liberty at Halloween.
Jenn quickly understood my style–slow but steady. She listened carefully to my goal to regain functional fitness. Jenn was my daughter’s age and so were most of the women exercising at the time we worked together. A majority of the people around me were interested in losing weight. Several wanted to fit wedding dresses. Thankfully I was not worried about fitting in a dress as much as getting up off the floor when I was retrieving something from the back of the refrigerator.
Paul had introduced me to ropes, and I told Jenn I loved them. Basically there are two very long thick ropes attached to the wall. You lift them and them whomp them down on the floor. This is amazingly therapeutic, especially if you name each rope after a nemesis in your life, present or past. It also apparently builds muscles. That may in fact be its primary purpose, but I was so busy having fun whomping them that I never thought about my goals.
Jenn also had me lift a heavy ball and throw it down on the floor, pick it up and throw it down again. Over and over. I was having a lot of safely aggressive fun all in the name of functional fitness. Jenn and I were going to get along very well.
Well, Paul and I were getting along famously. I had even gone to Target to buy a pair of exercise pants. Not lycra of course, but very comfortable cotton knit. They went very well with my pink Niagara Falls t-shirt. I was styling. I was using 2 pound weights and beginning to find where muscles were supposed to be. They were pretty dormant, to say the least. Not entirely excited to have demands placed on them for the first time in years, they made little groans and squeaks. Still, 2 pound weights were an improvement over the first few times when I just went through the motions without any weights.
Then Paul told me that he and his girl friend( I kept asking him when he was going to make an “honest woman” of her, keeping in the in loco parentis mode) were moving west. Of course they were. As far as I can tell, every millennial in New England is moving west. Usually to Portland or Seattle. At least they were bucking the trend and going to Colorado.(#3 on desirable relocation site list for New England millennials.) Baby Boomers, by the way, seem to be going to North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. Don’t ask.
As I waved goodbye I contemplated my fitness future. I couldn’t quit now. Well, I could, but I had to keep making payments until next year. So I reluctantly met my next trainer, Jenn, explaining all over again that I was functionally unfit and willing to try to get stronger. She smiled encouragingly and we began.
Everything in the gym was alien to me. There were weights, kettle balls(weights with handles), squishy balls, hard balls, straps, ropes, bars, pulleys and a variety of adjustable swing arm pulleys. There were also machines that looked fairly understandable because they had instructive pictures printed on them. Paul said to ignore the machines. He said they didn’t allow a free range of motion and didn’t promote “functional” fitness. The equipment we were going to use had no instructions printed on them. Paul was going to teach me how to use them.
We would have two different routines–A and B. Each would take about 50 minutes. Each would begin with foam rolling. Say what?
The bad news is that the web site for foam rollers says, “what is foam rolling and why does it hurt?” This was not an auspicious start for my poor tight muscles. But it was a beginning nonetheless.
After his initial evaluation of me, Paul mentioned he had taken a course in college on exercise for seniors. He explained that one of the key issues was struggles with proprioception. I struggled just to repeat the word, and I had no idea what he was talking about. Apparently it involves having an awareness of your body in space. Needless to say, if you have lived outside your body in your head, your proprioception is pretty skewed.
Not to fear, Paul told me, now we knew what to work on. First “functional fitness,” (getting off the couch, carrying the groceries, bending over to pick things up off the floor) and “proprioception” so I could know where I was. This would help with balance, an emerging challenge.
We agreed to meet twice a week and see how it went. He turned out to be nothing at all like a drill sargeant. I trusted Paul because he brought to mind the imaginary very helpful son I had never had as the mother of daughters. He was happy to have a woman his mother’s age actually be receptive to his ideas about fitness. We were off to a good start.
When I was entered high school in 1960, there was great pressure to have us be “fit.” President Kennedy stressed regular exercise and the Royal Canadian Air Force Exercises were widely recommended. There were prescribed exercises, one routine for all women and one for all men.
High school gym class was required, and we met every day, dressed down into gym clothes and did group exercises in classes of 30 or so. At the end of every class, we stripped naked and ran through a series of showers back to our lockers to get dressed and on to our next class. If you were having “that time of the month,” you could wear shorts into the shower room. The gym teacher diligently checked off which girls were wearing shorts. I assume she was checking for pregnancy, though she never said. Because I was a late bloomer and not regular, I avoided the teacher’s attention by copying the cycle of the girl in the locker adjacent to me, wearing shorts each time she needed them.
If you are thinking the whole time was a nightmare, you would be right. This was the memory I took to the gym and first met Paul who needed to understand my present level of fitness before he could begin to work with me. I was questioning my sanity as we began the assessment.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how to get my body to be “functionally fit” again. You can think about exercise a long time without doing anything about it! I really didn’t know how to start, so the best approach seemed to be no approach. However, I had mentioned to my grown (very fit) daughter that I was thinking about being more fit. She is very much a doer, so the next thing I knew we were at the local fitness club talking to the manager.
I liked the gym. It was small, clean, five minutes from the house and no one was wearing skin tight lycra. There were various ages of people there and various body types. So far, so good. I was ready to take the plunge and sign up for a month’s trial. My daughter, however, knowing me too well, encouraged me to sign up for the year. She also insisted that I needed a personal trainer.
Wait a minute. A personal trainer? Visions of screaming Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser froze me in place. “Trust me Mom; you need a personal trainer.”
So I met Paul.
I was a very active child, but then I became separated from my body and went to live in my head. This is a very common experience, I have learned since, but it meant I lost the physical strength I once had. I skated by for many years, but when I reached my 60’s, I started to lose what I now know is called “functional fitness.” People started carrying my groceries, carrying my suitcases, opening doors for me, and in general reducing my strength even further as they were “helping” me. For the next while I will be blogging about my experiences–good and difficult–of the last two years’ time in a gym working with a personal trainer, regaining my physical self.
I have also begun to put some poems up on the poetry page of this site. If you have previously found nothing there, check again.