In the basement weight-lifting room in the Anne Arundel Community College gymnasium, 15 seniors are gathered around Coach Alan Pastrana as he explains where the axis, force and weight are positioned as he performs arm curls.
Once Pastrana finishes speaking, the seniors disperse to various parts of the room. Some stand in front of the large wall mirror, using dumbbells to increase muscle tone in the biceps. Others are using the sit-up bench, bench press machine and the leg press.
Although everyone works out at a different pace, the consensus is that working out gives them a general feeling of well-being.
Dorothy Ford, 67, said she comes to the Tuesday and Thursday morning classes because she read that it is good for post-menopausal women to strengthen muscles and bones to avoid a hunchback. Another classmate, Ruth Trescott, of Annapolis said she works out because it makes her feel good.
"I'm not tired when I walk out," she added.
Advantages of senior weight training far outweigh the disadvantages, according to Pastrana. Although muscle strength is not necessarily increased, seniors are able to maintain muscle tone by lifting one set of 10 to 15 repetitions. Pastrana adds that students should not view the class as just physical. "Social interaction is a big part of it, especially talking," he said.
Pastrana cautioned that weight training is an incomplete exercise which should be supplemented with a low-impact aerobic exercise, such as swimming or biking. In addition, injury may occur since some try to lift weights that are too heavy.
"Because they cannot lift on a regular daily schedule, they feel lifting heavy weights will make up for lack of class time," Pastrana said.
In fact, many of the seniors do more than just lift weights two days a week. One student, John Brenza said he began walking two or three years ago. "I finally decided I had to stop sitting in front of the TV or I'd turn into a real couch potato," he said. The idea is to keep the body from atrophying, not to get bulging muscles, he added.
Now Brenza is at the college many days since he walks on Mondays and Wednesdays, lifts weights Tuesdays and Thursdays and attends the dance and exercise class on Fridays. A fellow senior, Harry Hendrickson, who walks, swims and joins the Friday exercise class said he has already noticed improvement in arm and leg strength.
The physical education program at the college, which waives tuition for students 60 years or older or who are retired for disability, devotes six physical education classes, entirely to seniors. These courses include swimming, yoga, taiji and tennis.
In addition, seniors have joined several physical education classes not solely intended for seniors. "But we have no problem at all," said Skip Brown, director of athletics. They are accepted very well by students, he added.
The physical education division has been running programs designed specifically for seniors for about 17 years. The difficulty in adding more courses is the lack of space, said Brown.
Pastrana said he enjoys teaching weight training and Friday morning exercises because the seniors have a good attitude. He said the seniors really boost him along. Although some have to overcome physical problems, such as arthritis, they continue to push on. "I never heard one person come out of the program with a negative comment," said Pastrana, "You hear more complaints from the 20-year-olds."