Seven Keys for Senior Success in the Gym

“Getting old is a fact of life, but there is no reason to let that affect your physique composition and your performance.” — Charles Poliquin, age 56

Camron Wood and Wayne Beck

“…strength training is an effective means for increasing our physical capacity, improving our athletic performance, reducing our injury risk, enhancing our personal appearance, and improving our self confidence. Everyone can benefit from a sensible program of strength exercise.” -Dr. Wayne Westcott, age 68

Seven Keys for Senior Success in the Gym

  1. Identify and overcome your fears. Talk around; people love to see you succeed. It builds their self esteem when they are part of your success. “Keep moving forward.” -Erik Churcher
  2. Know your limitations. Get appropriate medical and professional advice.
  3. Follow a program. A personal trainer is an expert at this. You can also find workout routines in books on the topic, and online or in specific training apps.
  4. Workout with others. Find a workout partner or group to workout with. Find people who inspire you and that you can equally inspire. Group classes provide great team energy and support. In many gyms, the cost of classes is included in your membership. Personal trainers work with you to create customized programs to meet your needs.
  5. Eat and drink. Without the proper nutritional support and hydration your workouts will be less beneficial or even detrimental.
  6. Sleep. Muscle and cardiovascular development is possible only with the proper amount of quality sleep.
  7. Share. Share the wealth. As you stay fit, others will notice. Many of them will be inspired by you. Remember as in Key #1, the bonus is a boost to your own self-esteem.

Heart transplant

Last Saturday I was talking with my running coach when an amazing man came up and introduced himself, 75-year-old Robert Gent. He was bursting with a grateful glow of positive energy. I learned that he has quite a history in fitness competitions and as a strength trainer. I wanted to learn more about him; he suggested I Google his name. It was then that I learned more about his grateful attitude. In spite of living a life of fitness, a decade ago he learned that his heart was defective. He received a transplant from a high school football player who died in a car crash. Robert is working hard to optimize the heart that he has been given and honor the young man’s life. He continues to excel as he trains and competes in fitness challenges.

Is it too late to get fit?

At a social gathering I was talking to some young weight lifters. A friend in his 50’s came over and asked, “When are you too old to go to the gym?” He specifically wanted to know if he could still get into shape at his age. At twenty years younger than Robert Gent, I encouraged him to move forward.

The trend is for more and more baby-boomers to get into shape or stay in shape. According to Elivatefitness.com, 20% of U.S. gym members are over 55. I am one of them; or maybe I’m three of them since for convenience sake I have three gym memberships. I’m in my sixties and don’t plan to stop weight training, jogging and trail running.

I got back into shape when I was in my fifties. It’s still an ongoing process, and a rewarding challenge. As I get older it takes more time for me to get the same results as someone in their younger years. I’m lifting weights at least four times a week, plus putting in two or three sessions of jogging, running or hiking. Any amount of consistent exercise is highly beneficial. The time commitment pays off in more energy and a sharper mind.

Jack LaLanne, “the Godfather of Fitness,” was working out two hours a day up until his passing at age 96. He was spending 90 minutes in the gym every day, and 30 minutes in the pool. He said that he just wanted to see how long he could keep it up.

Inspiration by association

I went to a hematologist for an in-depth blood workup. When he met me he asked what my secret is to staying in shape at my age. I simply answered, “I work out with twenty-five-year-olds.” Excited, he shouted back, “I workout with twenty-five-year-olds too; it’s the best!” For anyone who lifts weights he is quite impressive; in his fifties, he’s still bench-pressing 315 pounds. He looks like he would be quite comfortable on the cover of any bodybuilding magazine. My running coach, Camron Wood, is twenty-two. He’s helping me regain and increase my abilities after an injury. With his encouragement and coaching I’m progressing faster than I thought possible. Even when I’m not with him, during every workout I hear his encouraging voice in my head. He has complete confidence in my abilities.

I discovered the benefits of working out and working out with younger people when my leadership group of young employees decided to go weight lifting together to build team unity. I was invited. I discovered that twenty-somethings are even greater than I previously realized! At whatever fitness level they’re at, they tend to be very positive and enthusiastic and work together as a team. I’m inspired by what they can do together and the speed of their progress.

They are equally inspired by what I’m able to accomplish at my age. It’s a great mix.

People have asked if I’m concerned about these young people pushing me beyond my limits. I’ve found that, yes, they do motivate me to a higher level than I would think was possible, but their perception is sharp. They know intuitively more about my abilities than I do. I find it easy to communicate. They watch out for my safety and wellbeing.

Seniors in your gym

My friend Tanner is an inspiration to everyone who sees him workout or talks to him. With a full head of white hair he is always easy to spot. He inspires many. He’s so popular that sometimes it is hard for him to get in his own workout. But it’s a joy for him to meet and inspire others. One day I overheard someone ask how old he was, “84.” With a gasp the young man fired off the next question, “Well, at your age doesn’t it hurt to go to the gym?” Tanner said, “Of course it hurts. But if I’m going to feel pain anyways, I’d rather feel it because I worked out rather than because I had to walk from the front porch to the car.”

I recently read a post on a popular fitness site that said it’s “inappropriate” for people over 60 to lift free weights. I haven’t found anyone offended by me lifting. I generally do the same workout routines as my younger counterparts, sometimes with minor adjustments.

Though my priority is to workout, my experience is enhanced when I learn to take in the mind and heart of other people in the gym. Most seniors are anxious to meet other people. After all, since they bought memberships, they are paying twenty percent of operating costs. I recommend taking a moment to hear their story and what motivates them to keep working out into their advanced years. Every senior that I have met in the gym has a lot of experience, an inspiring history and aspirations for the future.

As seniors, we love comparing our experiences and learning from each other. We’re more concerned about our health. We like to say that we really aren’t there to show off; the truth is that we are energized by sincere compliments and are quick to return the favor. Our main goal, really is to improve our physical health and mental sharpness. I feel that I can show my gratitude for my mobility and health by optimizing what God has given me and continue to live a productive life of service.

Get started and stick with it

Too many gym memberships are used only once or a couple of times. Crossing the threshold into a gym is only the beginning of learning and finding your own culture and where you fit in.

As I got into my late fifties I was searching for information on working out later in life. I read an article about working out later in life, defining old as 40. I thought I might be out of range. I read more articles that talked more about my limitations than my abilities. Fortunately I kept searching and found people who accepted me and championed my goals.

Mentors : Robert Gent, Charles Poliquin, Wayne Westcott, Jack LaLanne, Camron Wood, Tanner, Erik Churcher, Wayne Beck

Robert Gent

-Every encounter builds perspective.

Having been on the frontlines, I’m deeply familiar with life’s challenges and traumas. I’m inspired by courageous people who triumph and succeed.