Monday, January 24, 2011


The power cage, suitable for squats, bench presses, rack pulls, and with the addition of a board across the bars, use as a martini bar.

About ten years ago, I found a book called Strong Woman Stay Slim and began weight training. I had always had an uneasy relationship with exercise, since I have no co-ordination and find  rapid movement awkward. Weight training proved to be a revelation. You pick the weight up, you put the weight down. It's totally uncomplicated, and actually got to be fun. An internet friend suggested a news group devoted to weight lifting, and while I did my little 3 pound overhead presses and unweighted squats, I read about the exploits of men and women doing power lifts - squats, deadlifts, and bench presses -  with what seemed to me to be unimaginable weights. I gradually got stronger and leaner. One day at work, I was about to carry a 40 pound, non-ambulatory child down the hall to PT when he reminded me that I needed to get his back pack, which was sitting on the floor. As I bent my knees to reach for it while keeping my back as straight as possible to keep his head from hitting the floor, it suddenly occurred to me that there might be a practical use for squats and deadlifts in my line of work. Then a few weeks later when I found myself pushing a hefty teenager whose power wheelchair battery had gone dead through the hall, I added bench presses to the list. After a few months of spotting me and handing me the bar for my squats, my husband was easily persuaded to buy me the above power cage, which he referred to as my jungle gym and used between workouts for drying blankets and other large pieces of laundry not suitable for the dryer. We share.

I never reached my goals: 100 pound bench press, body-weight squat, and 225 pound deadlift, but I did get stronger and leaner. Then I broke my ankle. It healed and I returned to  my weights, but my foot kept swelling. A trip to the podiatrist revealed a frozen toe joint, and then I had foot surgery. The rack collected dust and laundry and when my foot scarred up and was slow to heal, I finally sold it. I kept my dumbbells, as well as my bars and plates.

When I retired this month, I decided my number one priority, no matter what else I did or didn't do, was going to be my health. Since I still have my dumbbells, I began where I started, with my "strong women" exercises. For cardio, I checked out what I call "little old lady exercise class" (and what is officially called "Senior Exercise Class")  at a nearby public park.

Ah, the ghosts of gym classes past. "Little old lady exercise class" is low impact and geared for an older population, but it is still largely based on dance moves and other movements that require doing one thing with one foot and something entirely different with the other, or the opposite hand, and all four extremities at once. It incorporates stretching (I'm as flexible as a brick), balance (I have an inner ear disorder), and eye and jaw exercises which give me time to catch my breath, if nothing else. I am so spectacularly bad at little old lady exercise class that after the first day sympathetic members were telling me not to worry, I would get better with practice, apparently not noticing or caring that this was tantamount to telling me that my performance sucked. Oh, well, it's not like we are doing this for grades.

Last week a half dozen or so residents of a group home showed up and now I'm not the worst person in little old lady exercise class. I'm the third worst.

My plan is to start deadlifting again as part of my weight training some time in early February. I'll start light, 40 pounds or so, but maybe that will help me feel like my old self again, instead of powerless.

1 comment:

  1. My balance is awful as well, in addition to having an inability to notice where my body is in space to other things unless I'm paying close attention. (I have a lot of shoulder and hip bruises from grazing walls and tables.) But I've found yoga to be a revelation in both regards. And it's nice because it's something you can really start "easy" in and work your way up to things that are very challenging.