July 23, 2010

I am 52 years old. Recently, I have asked myself, what do I want from exercise?  My history of sport, physical exercise, competition, health and health needs are probably quite typical!

Tall and strong at a young age, I was good at contact sports, particularly rugby and field athletics – running at someone, throwing anything and jumping were all fun for me. It was all about strength, condition and being bullet proof.

Dislocated left shoulder – shrug it off!        Torn right knee cartilage – move on!        Concussion – shake your head and get back up again.

Then, work and career started to get in the way. I married. We started a family. Professional training.  Change of career. More qualifications.  Walking with the kids and dog don’t really count, do they? Sport and exercise got put aside.

Twenty years pass. Sporadic attempts at gym, squash, circuits, and the rest. The kids grow up. Then, “40 years old” arrives and passes. Time to get rid of the growing belly. Back to the gym in earnest.

Boring, boring, boring! Too many ‘beautiful people’ who put me off and seemed so judgemental at my lack of focus and progress. Looking back, the problem was me not knowing what I wanted.

Next? A chance conversation and I was introduced to mountain biking. Now, this presses the right buttons! Wonderful and refreshing in its freedom and variability. Expensive, mind you! Great for aerobic fitness, balance and stamina – but ultimately, you get fit for what you are doing.

The activity doesn’t matter; tennis, running, rugby, and the rest – all wonderful but something was missing – I could bike a steep hill with the best and the rest, but couldn’t run up the street without puffing. The fitness was too specific, too focused.

It took another injury, severe this time, to make, no, force me to think about what I was doing. In my case, I came across kettlebell and body weight training and this works for me, physically and, more importantly, mentally. I enjoyed it and continue to enjoy it. Total body workout, flexible, aerobic and balanced. You can go heavy or light, hard or gentle.

Frankly,what works for me doesn’t matter – at my age so many people are searching for a specific or magical regime or principle that they can work to, a set of rules that they can follow. Well, let me spell it out – THERE IS NO SUCH THING! Human beings are just too variable, we all have the baggage of our particular genetics, history, fears and wants.

This means that even when we exercise in a group, there is a huge range of variability and you have a responsibility to look at what is both good and safe for you to engage in. If this wasn’t true we wouldn’t have specialist participants, (who ‘play to their strength’), in every team sport that I can think of!  Why, then do we imagine that synchronised mass step aerobics, for example, is suiting everyone and yet you don’t see anyone doing their own thing. Peer pressure – think for yourselves!

Most, if not all of this more mature age group, carry injuries. Most will have arthritic changes. The fast, twitch muscle fibres are fast disappearing. Recovery times are longer even just after each training session, let alone injuries!

Then, if that is not enough, even those who manage to get to a class, (of whatever type), are so often greeted by these lovely specimens of male and female beauty and physical perfection!

It’s enough to make you run a mile.

BUT DON’T, please don’t. Don’t blame the trainers for your lack of success in class or even for putting you off from taking up a class.

As an Osteopath, I mostly deal with illness and the effects of injury. Personal Trainers deal with wellness and do their best to avoid injury during training. This is an important distinction, especially as we age and I believe we should keep this in mind when we are choosing our direction.

What I think we should do is to ask,  “WHERE ARE ALL THE MIDDLE AGED TRAINERS?” Why aren’t trainers  staying in the business into their middle years? Why aren’t people of my age taking up training as physical trainers?

Plenty are training as therapists. Why? Perhaps because there are so many people who need treatment and therapy! Why not try and prevent rather than treat?

Let’s face it, these skilled but youthful trainers are wonderful. I have absolutely no criticism other than one that they simply cannot help, and that is their lack of experience in FEELING what I feel.

Most are sympathetic to the middle aged groaning, but aren’t generally empathetic. How can they be?

So, where do trainers go when they get to 35? Why does there seem to be a gap until the emergence of the 65 year old yoga teacher who leads sit-down, ‘aerobics’ in a Care Home?

OK, so I’m going over the top a bit, but I believe that most 40-60 year olds will recognise what I am saying. I try, in my professional life, to encourage exercise, movements, stretching and flexibility to my clients.

Within reason, clinically speaking, I don’t care what they do – If you hate swimming, don’t do it – very good for you but you won’t keep it up. Find your level, use advisors of course, but do what you are going to continue.

Squats or lunges while brushing your teeth. Sumo squats when you stand at the sink. Pull up your pelvic floor and lower abs when weeding the flower bed. Whatever works. Now, this chimes with me with the philosophy that Rannoch Donald is espousing with the 100 Rep Challenge. I strongly recommend you take a little of your valuable time and look at the site and Face Book page and you will see loads of examples of 100 rep sequences. Sure, the macho, the hardened, ‘no pain, no gainers’, the fab abs lot and many more are represented. But you will also find something for you. It’s not how hard you are or even how hard you do it, but that you do it.

Whatever it is!

Find something that fits your life, health state, age and desires. Your motivation doesn’t really matter to anyone other than you, better health, flatter belly, serenity, a better sex life – No one else’s business, but your own – my advice, if anyone cares, is to get your starting premise right and then design your own regime.

Rannoch Donald, Jonathan Lewis, Christian Vila, Steve Cotter, Mark Stroud and many others have great ideas about fitness and can give you a fantastic programme, but, (and I think they would all agree), they will all tell you to be clear about your objectives, don’t just follow the latest trends – think about how their method and advice will fit for you and your lifestyle.

So, what do I want from my exercise regime? None of your business. You have to work out what suits you and do what it takes to achieve it, (with a bit of professional help and guidance, of course).

Good luck.



Wikipedia defines  the general population that use personal/physical trainers “as an age range of 18 to about 50 (45 and younger for males, 55 and younger for females)”. One internet thread I found asked, ‘what is the average age of trainers?’ and was full of well intentioned individuals with great mission statements, but not one of them was over 31!

There are a few certification courses for older trainers and for those training older individuals, but they seem mainly to be in the US.


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