I’ve been out of the gym since February 3rd. Here’s what it’s like to start over at 67
Back in early February, I boarded a flight to Africa. It’s typical for me to take about a month to six weeks off my bodybuilding regime for adventure travel, so I fully expected to be back in the gym after I got back.
This year, I returned to America just a few days prior to total lock down. Got in one workout and my gym closed. Meanwhile I put my house up for sale and moved to Oregon.
It’s now been four months. I haven’t been away from a fitness program that long in 33 years. I did somewhat maintain, but my chocolate almonds also put up pup tents on my hips before I gave most of them away. Work to do here.
I’ve lifted for 46 years. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve shifted to lighter weights and different exercises for all the obvious reasons. I hit my peak three years ago. Then in quick succession, I broke my back, a horse stomped my shoulder, I underwent rotator cuff surgery, my right bicep tendon blew, and I injured the hell out of both feet on a big Canadian wilderness hike/ride.
Oh yeah. And a busted pelvis, elbow and wrist and twenty-one concussions.
I’m rough on this body.
The reason I’m still upright is that I also work on this body. However, lately that’s been Work:Interrupted.
Interesting turning point. I’m in a new town, beginning a new life, and restarting a workout program in a new world.
Some of that may resonate with you. If you’re convinced it’s time to take your body’s management in hand, I invite you to walk with me here. Because as I approach 70, how I work out, build endurance and maintain strength now need to take into account a lifetime of injuries. I will still go all out. Just in a slightly different way, not only to prevent injuries but also to ensure longevity.
For you maybe the same. Or, maybe you’ve had a lifetime of neglect or abuse. Or, a lifetime of sedentary habits. Any combination thereof. We all have work to do, if we care about late- in-life viability, energy and above all, options.
Good news? ANYTHING you do to improve pays off. Bad news? It takes time. There’s discomfort. The best news? When you start seeing the results, it starts to snowball. For that to happen, you also learn to exercise your patience, your sense of humor, of the absurd ( my body does WHAT?), and enjoy the journey.
Here’s how I’ve restarted mine, with some thoughts about how this approach might serve you as well.
- I joined the local Planet Fitness. While this gym is not normally my choice, it’s very close, very cheap, and serves my purpose for the short term.
Why this might work for you: for the most part, it’s a safe and non-intimidating place to start working out. It’s one of the few places where I see people who are morbidly obese working out without fear of jeering or censure. That’s one hell of a good thing if you’re new to it. The machines tend to be easy to understand, largely new, and well -kept. Lot to like there if you’re not what they call a “lunk” (which in some ways describes me).
If not gyms, the YMCA or YWCA might provide a different environment where you can get access to weights, machines, and classes including water aerobics (at some point), senior fitness (see below) and all kinds of programs that are ideal for older folks. There are also plenty of local facilities (city, community, etc.) which do a great job of providing not only disabled access but also instructors who reflect the local membership. I’ve found that many offer senior and/or veteran discounts or both.
2. I also tracked down the local body builder’s training gym. Here, that’s a place called Genuine Fitness. I wanted a fitness trainer. Erin, the manager, listened carefully to my priorities: no gender preference; medical or PT background; emphasis on injury prevention; experience with older athletes, not a rookie. He hooked me up with Ryan, whose father is the local pediatrician.
Why this might work for you, and why I strongly advise it: the absolute key to long term success for any exercise program is proper form. Doesn’t matter if all you do are PT exercises. If your form sucks, you aren’t likely to see results. Far worse, you’re likely to injure. Few things more frustrating than to hire someone who isn’t properly trained and end up with serious injuries. That happened to me twice, when I hired someone through what Ryan calls the “corporate gym.” Both times, they were attending to their commissions rather than my form. I ended up with permanent damage to a knee and a shoulder. That hasn’t put me off trainers per se. It has made me considerably more careful about whom I trust my one and only aging body with as I train for my next decades.
3. I located a two-mile, fairly athletic hike barely 15 minutes out of town. Beyond beautiful, high energy, visually breathtaking, and just perfect for getting the pegs used to hiking again. Other longer, harder hikes abound as I rebuild my legs.
Why this might work for you: If it ain’t fun, you will avoid it. You and I need both weight bearing AND aerobic work to live long and well. As for what that looks like, that depends on many factors. What you can do right now, where you live, accessibility and whether or not you feel welcome. For many of us, it’s hard to do this alone. To that, since we are in the middle of these discussions around accessibility and belonging, may I please recommend:
For the Black community:
This is a story about one of the few Black women who has thru-hiked the Applachian Trail ( it is really time to normalize these accomplishments rather than sensationalize them, but we are far from there yet)
For the Hispanic community:
And for women of all stripes and abilities, I strongly recommend:
For girls of size:
For moms with babies:
and for my veteran peeps:
As for us aging Boomers, you want to find fellow active folks? Stroll your local REI. We’re everywhere. REI loves us; we pay full price. However, if you’re not into $800 tents and $600 sleeping bags, try this:
For these and other categories there are plenty more options. These are to get you started, connected, and engaged, if you’ve not considered these things before. These are all safe places if you’re trying to belong.
I hope you see that first, there is plenty out there available to start the conversation.
Second, that you not only don’t have to do this alone, it’s smart to invest in like-minded folks who have similar concerns and challenges.
Third, rather than spend untold billions on fitness products, scams and bullshit we won’t use (see this by Brad Stolberg), making a much smaller but intense investment in yourself could pay off big time.
Instead of gimmicks and false promises, for once make a sincere commitment to your body. Invest in a fitness trainer who works with people like you (older, disabled, someone who reflects your race, someone of size, whatever is important to you). You deserve someone who gets who and where you are. That means investing in yourself, and being willing to end that connection if it isn’t working.
All that said, here we go.
I’ve been lifting on my own at Planet for a week. Of course I’m sore. However that soreness, especially in one shoulder, is helpful for my trainer Ryan to understand where I have inflammation. The first three visits to Planet taught me a lot about what I’ve lost (look in the mirror, Sparky) and what I still have. Nothing to mourn. Muscle memory is one hell of a best friend, even if you and that friend haven’t spoken for four decades. You can’t start back up where you left off, but you can rekindle that relationship.
Your muscles may not be dead yet but they could be suffering from dementia.
Spencer Butte’s lovely two-mile hike is now my go to for an hour or so to push my lungs. I am on my way again tomorrow. I’m not sure I’ll get around to running it; that’s another discussion. And of course injuries; I forgot to mention I have two labral tears and two tears to my hamstrings from climbing Mt. Kenya. Did I say I was rough on my body?
But here’s the real kicker: my first meeting with Ryan. We met at this hard core gym for an hour. Most of what we did was talk. He showed me a series of very light isometric exercises.
You might assume (not without some cause) that signing up for an expensive, body building fitness trainer would mean that I would be slinging serious weight, sweating and screaming HUGE right off the bat.
This is where too many of us don’t understand body work. The right trainer will spend considerable time assessing us: our strength, whether what we claim is bullshit or truth, and where our problems lie. Someone I’ve hired to give me a better baseline to prevent either irritating existing injuries or prevent further ones is by design not going to put me on the chest press bench on first meeting. Part of the investment you’re making for that hourly payment is in their education about you.
Their job is to study, understand, and work with what you have, what you can do and what you want. Their job is also to encourage you, direct and correct as well as to manage unreasonable expectations. That prevents burnout and giving up. They will NOT tell you anything is possible. It’s not. The good ones will figure out what your highest achievement can me and guide you towards that.
Four months of relative inactivity could set me up for injury if I throw myself back into what I was doing before I left for Africa. Four decades of relative inactivity could set someone else up for terrible trouble.
Nearly every time I’m at a gym, I see older clients, mostly men, picking up hand weights that are clearly well outside their capacity. They sling these weights in order to get them into a curl, for example, at the cost not only of posture but also putting their shoulders and spines at terrible risk.
While I completely empathize with the testosterone-fueled need to demonstrate one’s manliness when some badass chick is curling forties right next to you, my very strong advice is to pick up a pair of tens and go hide in a corner.
Better that you coax your body back in to shape than cost yourself weeks in the hospital because of one ego-fueled move. Please, please respect where you are now, not where you were two decades ago.
To that, my FAVORITE old boys being stupid scene from Space Cowboys:
I’ve seen this behavior for nearly fifty years. This is how we really, really hurt ourselves.
Today marks the start of my second week of returning to some kind of modified normal. Still can’t swim laps. Can’t join a martial arts class. Plenty that isn’t yet available.
Plenty is. And here’s another consideration: if you’re fairly new to working out, part of the journey is discovering where you like, want or need company and a workout buddy, and where you are much happier alone.
While getting and staying fit for you is very much a solo journey, there are parts that can be a lot more fun if you’re in good company. Above all, as all of us are in training for our eighties and beyond, the point is to understand that it really is a journey. Over my 67 years there have been plenty of ups and downs. I have my Instagram moments, but they are fleeting. We wake up new every single day with a body hungry for good food, good work and good friends.
In particular, good friends who are dealing with the same kinds of challenges, insecurities, body image battles and deep desire to be well in the world as we have.
For my part, that’s what makes so much of this worthwhile.
Where do you want to go today?