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Aerobic grandma: How to successfully recondition yourself

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  • | 4:00 a.m. August 25, 2010
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Last month’s column turned out to be one of my most gratifying. It was motivated by a trip to Michigan, where I encountered a couple of dear friends who were badly out of shape. I wrote the column to encourage such individuals to jump on the fitness bandwagon, so it was a real validation when a Longboat Key friend told me she had read the column, recognized herself in it and taken action. Wow! That kind of feedback is rare and exceptionally rewarding, and I wish her every success.

This is column No. 2 on the subject of deconditioning and reconditioning. It includes another respected fitness professional’s perspective about how to go about it and some suggestions for how to succeed.

Professional advice from Tim Watnem, personal trainer: Approach. Watnem starts his deconditioned clients with “baby steps, the reassurance that this is not going to be painful and that we’re going to do it together.”

Assisted range-of-motion and strength exercises come first. Watnem’s goal is for clients to like their time in the gym, whatever that takes. Success story. A 60-plus male client was miserable, humped over with bad knees and chronic, severe back pain. The guy hated to exercise, so he promised himself a massage for every workout. It worked. His back no longer bothers him, and his bad knees are now so good that he warms up with 15 minutes on a stair climber.

My advice is to start small. I remember when I realized I needed to do something about my lifestyle. At age 50, I woke up to the realization that I had many more decades to live in this body. Too many 60-plus hour, high-stress work weeks and virtually no hours of exercise (OK, zero hours) had taken their toll. I was deconditioned.

At the time, there was a group of Texas ladies who called themselves “The Dancing Grannies.” They were promoting their new exercise video on the morning TV shows and that’s what got me started. I did the routine in my bedroom at home (with the door closed) for many weeks. That led to watching the early-morning exercise shows, which led to being confident enough to show myself in a health club. And that led me to hiring a personal trainer — and finally becoming one.

I was lucky; I enjoyed the exercise. But that isn’t true for everyone, so here are some things that can help you succeed at getting back into shape.

1. Find something you like. Watnem’s strategy of getting his clients to actually like their time in the gym is one of great wisdom. If you hate walking, ride a bicycle or try an elliptical. If you don’t like resistance machines, try free weights. If you don’t care for low-impact aerobics, try Zumba or yoga. There are always options; explore them until you find the ones that resonate with you.

2. Find a teacher you like. A friend urged me to make this point. Find a teacher or trainer who pays attention to and understands you. If you end up with someone with whom you are not comfortable, you will soon use it as an excuse to give up. Change partners as often as necessary before you give up dancing.

3. Set attainable goals. Don’t approach reconditioning with the idea that you’re going to lose 30 pounds and get back into a 20-year-old bathing suit. Pick something closer to home, like a pair of pants that fit last year but not any more or climbing a flight of stairs without getting out of breath. The more reasonable your goals, the more success you will have. And nothing is more motivating than that “I can do it” feeling.

Here are a few more quickies: Be social. Working out in a class or with a friend is a lot more fun than going solo. Spend money. Nobody likes to waste it, and the bigger your financial commitment, the more likely you are to fulfill your fitness commitment. Reward yourself. Watnem’s client promised himself a massage after every workout. A Starbucks on the way home (no whipped cream, please) will do it for most of us.

Going from deconditioned to reconditioned isn’t easy, but it is always rewarding. And this column will always be happy to publish your success story.

Molly Schechter is an ACE-certified personal trainer, with a specialty in older adult fitness plus YogaFit Instructor Training, SCF Yoga Fundamentals and Power Pilates™ Mat Certifications. She teaches classes at the Bayfront Park Recreation Center and the Longboat Key Club. E-mail her at [email protected].