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Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 16, 2009 8 years ago

Aerobic Grandma


Regular readers may recall the May column in which I announced my fitness plans for the summer: This personal trainer wanted to hire a personal trainer. My goals were broad — to break out of a rut and get motivated and, specifically, to improve my balance and my buttocks. My purpose in writing the “before” column was to hold my own feet to the fire by going public and promising to report what I learned. This column is the “after.”

If there’s a single exercise that equally challenges balance and buttocks, it is probably the classic lunge.
Alas, arthritic knees make that move largely inaccessible to me. My trainer, Tim Watnem, owner of Balance Health & Fitness in the Rosemary District, came up with a clever modification. He positions a ball 15 inches in diameter under the back leg, and I lower that knee just until it touches the ball. It helps, but I’m still a long way from a full range of motion.

My next-best exercise for working on both goals at once is what Watnem calls the standing series. It has three parts: a forward leg lift with forward shoulder raises or military presses; a side leg lift with lateral raises; and a “butt kick” to the rear, done leaning slightly forward and combined with a biceps curl (see photos). You start with the legwork alone and no resistance, then you progress by adding the arm movements and both leg-and-hand weights. You are standing on one leg the entire time, which challenges your balance. And your core muscles have the big job of stabilizing the body.

These exercises work both the upper-and-lower body. The work for the buttocks is not intense, but the “butt kick” is done with the hip extended back, requiring an isometric contraction of the gluteal muscles. The series builds strength, improves both coordination and balance and can be done at home in front of any mirror.

The best exercise for focusing on the buttocks without stressing the knees is an oldie but a goodie — the donkey kick. This is done on all fours, with forearms on the floor or standing by a table or desk with the upper body resting on it. It’s as simple as flexing the knee and lifting the leg as high as you can. Ankle weights can be added as you gain strength.

Some important lessons from the summer’s work were really re-learning. For example, you’re not going to lose a lot of weight with exercise alone. As you build muscle, which is more dense than fat, you will actually gain a few ounces. If your major goal is weight loss, you have to work both ends of the equation — use more calories via exercise and take in fewer. There’s no getting around it.

My original plan called for two sessions a week for 10 weeks. At that point, my weight was down from 130 to 128 pounds, my waist was down about an inch, and my body fat percentage improved from 22.4% to 20.7%, still in the “fitness” range. After 16 weeks and 34 sessions, my weight is unchanged, but my body fat is now under 20% — in the range designated “athlete.” There is no measurement for balance, but I feel more confident and I am considerably less wobbly while doing the standing series.

All in all, I consider my summer of sweat more than worthwhile. I am out of my rut and am an enthusiastic, motivated exerciser once again.

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