My bid to be – and feel – stronger in my 50s
For a while, and certainly since my mid-40s, I had started to realise that I wasn’t as strong as I used to be. I had taken my strength somewhat for granted.
I could recall a time when I was able to do 25 or more press ups without too much pain. My stomach was flat and my abs seemed strong. In addition, I had lean muscles on my legs and arms. My shoulders looked good in a sleeveless top or dress.
More to the point, I felt strong, upright and capable or pulling, pushing and lifting things when I needed to.
Despite not doing any specific strength-based exercise sessions, it appeared that genetics, healthy eating, running, cycling and a bit of swimming were keeping me strong.
But, then, things began to change.
A sense of weakness
I was unable to bang out the press-ups. I couldn’t lift heavier things as I once did. My back ached and my balance and posture felt weak and flaccid.
One day in my late 40s, I looked down at my thighs and realised the muscle was less toned and, frustratingly, covered in cellulite. The same had happened to my bum.
A year later, when I tried to do a forwards bend while sat down, I discovered it was inhibited by a roll of fat on my stomach. I had no idea this had happened although, possibly, I do think I was in denial.
Other small things crept in, such as flabby upper arms (the dreaded bingo wings) and that area at the front of the shoulders that appeared wrinkly and not as taut as it once was.
But ageing is a fine thing!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that skin elasticity and muscle tone does change with age. Regardless of how slim or fit we remain, the hormonal changes (especially for women) cause changes to appearance. I am not unhappy about becoming older and I am realistic about the expectations of my body.
I also know that I am still slim.
But, I felt I was letting myself down by not trying to be stronger. It was the weakness that bothered me.
On top of all this, I was struggling to get over a number of niggling injuries. I had suffered a lot of muscles cramps, especially in my calves, feet, shoulders and hands.
I had annoyed my Achilles by running and walking with tight and crampy calf muscles. I discovered that the muscle tightness could be to do with reducing levels of oestrogen, due to the per-menopause. I started HRT and this helped immensely.
But then my hip started to become painful. My back would spasm if I had been sat for a long time, or if I tried to lift anything more than a light suitcase.
Things got worse after I had trained for my first ultra distance run. I was capable of training for and running 50k, but I don’t think I was good at staying strong, nor flexible.
The search for strength
I work from home and it should be easy enough to start a strength and conditioning session on my own. I know the exercises I should be doing and there are plenty of on-line sessions and videos.
But try as I might to motivate myself it just wouldn’t happen.
And then I heard about a local circuits class, Hunterfit, through a trail running group, TrailFest. There was a discounted offer for 10 sessions. I signed up and because it was local I made a commitment to attend.
From the first session, I knew this would be for me. Hunterfit is run by Matt Hunter and it is a small group circuits session, using body weight and light weights. It is a mix of cardio, strength and conditioning.
The sessions are different each week, imaginative and fun. Yes, fun! I have met some great new people through the class, too, and it’s a session I very much look forward to. I have rarely found a gym-based session that I would regularly go to.
I have been attending this for more than 15 months and the improvement in my strength, muscle tone, balance, posture and body self-confidence is rewarding. I also feel so much better mentally. I feel stronger – and I am stronger.
But I know that one session a week is not enough for long-term benefits. By chance, my Glasgow Triathlon Club launched an early morning circuits session about eight weeks ago. Again, I really enjoy the format.
It is run by the smiley and enthusiastic Fiona Maurer, of Fit + Fabulous, and the type and style of exercises have been building week-on-week. We work in pairs and although the session is at 7.30am on a Monday, I have been religious about attending.
Then, while the Hunterfit studio is undergoing a revamp this winter, I had a look around for another circuits session. A friend mentioned that a woman had converted her double garage into a small studio. He also mentioned boxing. I used to love a boxing class that I attended many years ago and I thought this would be the right one for me.
Carrie is the instructor at X1Fitness and already I am hooked. The High Intensity Intervals Training (HIIT) class is a mix of more familiar body weight exercises and boxing. We use a punch bag and pads with a partner. I can see the difference it is making to my upper body in particular.
I love the chance to punch a bag hard!
This winter, when I am at a loose end, or the weather is too horrible to be outside, I have been getting together with friends to do our own mini circuits sessions. Again, I could do these on my own but I lack the motivation.
Having friends to the house, or going to their house, and doing 30 to 40 minutes of strength-based exercises learnt at the various classes, is brilliant.
So, all this has led to me feeling stronger than I have for a decade or more. I don’t think my physique has changed much and I still have the layer of cellulite on my legs and bum, but I don’t think there is a lot I can do about that. It’s just age and I’ll take that if I can still be strong.
I don’t want to be a body builder and I have no desire to become a Strong Woman champ, but I do believe that maintaining good levels of strength will help my overall well-being as I progress through my 50s.
I like that I have set out to become stronger – and it has worked. I am STRONGER! I feel less prone to injuries and much more able to lift and haul things around in general life. My back is strong again and my hip is on the mend.