New Year… Time to hit the Gym

My first foray into a weight room was with my first boyfriend. Our first date was in grade six. Well, I was in grade six. He was in grade five. Fast forward a few years. I think it was grade nine that our school put in a small weight room. My boyfriend (yep, same guy) and a couple of buds were jocks and they were pretty happy to have this room. It was really a guy place but after school the two of us would head there and work out a bit. I was a scrawny thing back then. Athletic but not really strong. I ran track. Hurdles, high jump, long jump and relay. I played badminton, volleyball, and basketball. I ran because my boyfriend ran. And so I hit the weights because he liked it. Typical teenage girl in love. Not a bad thing though as it did help with my sports. My first three years in University I was a Kinesiology major. We called it Phys Ed back in the day. I wanted to be a Phys Ed teacher until my first practicum. I realized I didn’t much care for kids but I really hated the whole teacher vibe and soon realized I needed a switch. Computers became my friend. But the weights continued since I had free access. Afterwards, the apartment we lived in had a small weight room and we had one dumbbell as well as a bench with a barbell and a few weights. Eventually we bought a house and then a universal weight machine for our basement. Throughout the years I worked in an industry where gyms were available within the company or memberships were paid or subsidized. As we earned more money I started to see personal trainers. Not full time but once or twice a week for guidance. As our children grew older we had a family membership at a complex which offered something for the whole family. My hubby and I didn’t even work out together. I’d lift and he ran on the track One kid hit the pool. One loved the dive tank. The third played a lot of pickup basketball. A great facility. There have been times in my life where I walked away from the gym for a period of time but in the end it has always been a place where I feel comfortable and in control of my life.

I am fortunate at this time in my life that my youngest daughter has moved back to Calgary and is a Personal Trainer. She is certified through CSEP (Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology). She also is a certified corrective exercise specialist which is increasingly important for myself and my friends. We may think we are still young but the reality is that our bodies are in our sixties. Stuff hurts. We get tired. Balance changes. Healing is harder. This morning I am certainly feeling the affects of training with my daughter this last week. I am not sure she realizes how old I am but she treats me as a client and not as a mother. Just like every other trainer I have had over the years. She has a home gym set up in her garage which is a perfect spot for some one on one but there is also a vibe to a gym. We have memberships at a small gym chain here in Calgary that is so perfect for my needs. It is called GYMVMT. There are a couple that are women only. We train at one of those most times as it is a few blocks from my daughters home and time is valuable when you have four children. There is another coed gym I like to go to that has a women only space. There are a lot of Muslim women there who can workout away from the male population in a free manner. My girlfriend teaches Zumba there so I go to her classes. She makes Zumba fun but more importantly, safe. And then there is the really male dominated, young people coed location. That is where I take take yoga classes because that’s where my favourite instructor is located. It is so busy in the evenings so if I train before Yoga its a bit crowded. But the vibe is really high energy.

The last 45 years have really shown a change in the health and wellness industry. The body builder mentality of the Arnold era has changed somewhat with the inclusion and in fact, welcoming of the female population. Most successful gyms have a money making formula that keeps their doors open. I went to a small gym in my thirties which was expensive but the personal approach made it worth the money. It kept me accountable. A lot of large big box places charge smaller amounts and rely on some of the clients to pay more for the personal trainer approach. They also rely on people who stop attending to continue to pay their monthly fees with the intent of “one day” coming back. As I said before, many chains are understanding that women are a big part of their clientele and they are always changing to be inclusive. Women are also starting to really excel in the body building arena. There are competitions for everyone out there. These give you a goal to work towards. I am in the beginning stages of working towards a bikini competition. My niece did one a few years back and it is something I have always wanted to do. My body isn’t quite perfect for this category as I have more of a boy body. Wide shoulders. Slim hips. In Bikini competitions the judges are looking for a more feminine build. What they call the x- factor. Wider through the shoulders and hips with a small waist. I am built more for the figure competition. More muscle and less feminine. And currently way too much body fat. There are businesses everywhere that are ready to train you to get ready for competition. My personal approach is much different than the standard practice but as my daughter says, I won’t look like the other women. I will be 62 years old and the category I will fall into is Grandmaster which is anyone over the age of 45. So, my goal is to compete. Not win. I find I like to set goals and then work toward them. In everything I do not just health and fitness. This industry isn’t completely about health these days but historically it never really was. Now though with social media everyone is an expert. My advice to anyone wanting to start lifting is to join a gym and pay for a personal trainer who can guide you through the first few months until you start to understand the why’s and how’s. Don’t be afraid to question their certification. It is an unregulated industry so anyone can take a weekend course and become “certified”. My daughters certification through CSEP requires a minimum post secondary 2 year study (60 credits) with 6 core subjects. Biomechanics knowledge is huge if you are going to start throwing around heavy weights. Make sure your trainer has the knowledge.

There are some new things that have changed since I was a lass. Like hip thrusts. They suck but are effective. As people develop new things the industry will create a machine to make the exercise easier. I can thrust a lot more weight on the machine than I can with just the barbell and the weights. The machines take out a lot of the balancing your body has to do. All those little stabilizing helper muscles. They aren’t overtaxed to the same extent. It all comes down to preference and time. There are dedicated deadlift areas as well which are safer for the user as well as for the gym floor. In my day there always spray bottles with rags in order to wipe down equipment. Now, since covid, there are sanitary wipes. It was never something that bothered me. Gyms are sweaty and gross and they smell. Those still exist if you want to check them out. But they might not be so inclusive. But, these days the chains are trying to get away from that. They also have filtered water fountains set up to fill a water bottle. That truly helps the environment which is wonderful. Mind you we didn’t carry water bottles back when I was young. We just used the fountain if there was one. Some gyms add classes to entice more memberships. Its not something you saw years ago. But it helps people find things that they can do with a smaller price tag. I love yoga but yoga studios are really expensive. I can do it at home but I love having someone lead my practice. By adding a variety of classes, more people can find something that fits their needs. I know it is all about attracting membership but gyms today are making it so much easier and economical to at least try and get in shape. Or perhaps not get in worse shape. It is a good thing.

There are a few modern changes that kinda bug me. I’ve noticed that “girl only” areas always seemed to have weights out of order. As an individual with a touch of OCD, I struggle with the disorder. There is an etiquette to a gym. Put your weights back properly. It’s not hard. It might be just me but I think women are more guilty of this particular faux pas. And don’t hog the weights. Especially when it is busy. Be mindful of your environment. I have always struggled with the amount of cell phones in a gym. I realize that people have apps or lists where they keep their workouts. I was always a notebook person. Write my workout down so I knew what I would be doing once I got to the gym. I was also apt to write notes. How many sets and reps? How did I feel? What did I eat? Usually I tracked my food in the same notebook. Was my sleep good the night before? I could track my progress as my past workouts were in the book. I don’t like to bring my phone into the gym. I lose things. It was old school but it worked for me. One day I was working out alone and decided to use my daughters app that she uses for her clients. My phone was at 2% so I just kept repeating over and over to myself what the workout was since I knew my phone was about to die. I know most young people are better at keeping their phones charged but I am a different generation. It isn’t my life line. And so afterwards I had no record of what I had done. Today everyone uses their phone. It used to bother me more as an old person but I realize now most people listen to music on their phones. My issue is when I am waiting for a machine and someone is scrolling mindlessly. I get pretty judgmental. I notice lots of people wear headphones. One day I wasn’t sure if a machine was in use and I tried to get the attention of a young lass. I was three feet away and waving my arms but she didn’t see me. Peripheral vision is lacking in some people. My daughter says it is because they are focused and don’t want to be bothered. She understands the mentality of the people who want to be left alone. I think it bothers my daughter the way I act sometimes. She would rather just use a different machine. I go another way. If I look around and there are five people with headphones who don’t want to be bothered, I just use the machine. They will soon let me know if I am in the wrong. I am of the generation that prefers to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Now if someone is taking too long on a machine I just stand behind them quietly waiting until they are so uncomfortable they leave. Passive aggressive I guess but in the end I get my workout finished.

Women are also afraid of eye contact. But if you watch them in the mirror you can see they will use their peripheral vision to check out the people around them. But they don’t want to appear as if they are checking you out. It seems as if there are too many young women who try hard to keep a distance. But the vibe they give off isn’t cool. It makes them look kinda bitchy. Personally I see it as a sign of low self esteem. Smile once in awhile. A smile is the most attractive thing a person can do. This newfound aloof attitude in women isn’t attractive. It is also less likely in young men. Men are more apt to look around at the girls because it’s in their DNA. If your scowl is to keep them away, it works. And if men see a guy doing some big lifts or a huge jump, men notice. They show their glee. They point. They tell their friends. They celebrate the wins of the other guys. And they chat. They ask others for a spot. It is a social thing. Seeing a guy who is doing big things makes these new guys want to work harder. They like women. They want you there. Oh yeah… They do. If you want to be left alone keep doing what you are doing. Don’t smile. Ignore everyone around you. Only look at your phone. But don’t get bigger or work harder. Because if you do people will notice. And men will point and admire. They can’t help it. They are pretty simple. My oldest daughter shot down a guy in the gym once years ago. It was classic. She was about 20 years of age and we were doing a shoulder/chest/tricep workout together. As we were loading up some heavy weights on the bar, a young man from her high school walked by. He asked her “Do you really think you can lift that?” To which she responded, “No. But my Mom can!” He walked away quietly. That is how you keep someone from bothering you. But you know what? He stayed close by in order to watch me push that baby. And he may have been a bit of a dick to my daughter, but he was impressed. Cause he is a guy.

My youngest daughter will probably not like my attitude here but I stand by it. A gym can be a very inclusive place. There is the same proportion of asshole to kind person as in the general public. Even at my age I find men in the gym pretty nice and helpful. I bet if I was 40 years younger I wouldn’t have to ask for help or attention. But it is there if I need it. My biggest issue is when things are crowded as I like to be in and out in 60 minutes or less. Luckily I am retired and I can go when the place isn’t hopping. There are some huge ego’s out there but you know, it ain’t bragging if you can do it. People work hard to improve themselves and it is only human nature to be proud. Show off a little. It is okay to compliment someone. No matter how good they look or how buff they are everyone has some insecurities. I admit that when I see a young buff girl lifting some heavy weights I do the math. If it is a weight I can crush, I smile to myself as I walk by. I love heavy. I feel my age these days but I know my bones, muscles, mental clarity and balance are thanking me. They have kept me safe thus far and will continue to do so as long as I continue to show up. I don’t have to be at my peak to keep going. There will be days I am annoyed. Like little miss Crossfit the other day who kept dropping the bar after her two deadlifts. Look babe, if you can lift it you can set it down. It’s called a negative. The eccentric motion which is so powerful and will truly help you build bigger faster. Although it doesn’t make the huge clang that makes everyone else jump and turn as you breathe heavy. But I guess if that’s your objective… Keep it up. If you’re a power lifter I get it. But then this might not be the place for you. The biggest muscle I used that day was my masseter as I tried really hard to not speak. Its a chewing muscle which is very strong. It keeps your mouth tightly shut. I did a lot of eye rolling though. I’d like to say I have learned a lot over the years but it all comes down to this. The kinder you are the more people will like you. In life and the gym. Just smile.

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