Fitness is not just for fanatics

Exercise: Novices of any age needn't be intimidated by starting a workout program.

Howard At Play

April 07, 2002|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Working out. Pumping iron. "Cardio." Treadmills. Elliptical trainers. Weight machines? Or free weights? Or both? Aerobics. Step aerobics, etc., etc.

If deep in your heart, you know you should exercise more but find the jargon of fitness bewildering, even scary, welcome to what trainers and gym operators know as a sizable club.

Troy Weaver, associate executive director of the Howard County YMCA in Ellicott City, knows the reluctance of many to simply show up at a gym and start exercising. But, like a number of fitness programs nationally, the local Y has a relatively new program intended to demystify the process.

Weaver, 35, an Elkridge resident who grew up in a small Pennsylvania town, has two related bachelor's degrees in the fitness field from Lock Haven (Pa.) University. A vertebrae injury ended his football and baseball days in high school but not his career choice or avocation. He is a Y administrator, personal trainer with experience in Michigan, Tennessee and other stops in Maryland, and a triathlete in his spare time.

Here, Weaver talks not only about his facility's program but other points that might boost your fitness IQ - even if you don't intend to compete in a sport but understand that aging, poor fitness and obesity make an unhealthy recipe for living.

One of the largest groups signing up for gyms nationwide are those 50 and older. Is that true here?

No question about it. A lot of it has to do with a report by the surgeon general maybe four years ago stating what people ought to do to improve fitness, that even bits of increased physical activity throughout the day can help.

Yet the advertising none of us can miss tends to feature people in their 20s or 30s with killer abdominal muscles. How does that square with attracting an older clientele to gyms?

Advertising like that intimidates some older people, no doubt about it. They're overweight, haven't exercised in a long time and they know they don't look good in Spandex. They don't know what to do. But while there are some gyms with the chrome weights and Kens and Barbies working out, in most places, like the gym here, nobody cares about that. Most people get over that within three or four sessions.

Our own beginner program, which came from a YMCA program developed in San Diego, covers 12 weeks. It starts at ground zero and helps you develop routines you can do on your own. We teach what to do, proper techniques, things such as how to take your heart rate, how to make sure you're in a training heart rate zone and what weight training equipment works certain of the eight major muscle groups.

How do you build it up?

You're assigned a coach as part of a group - we've had as many as 25 people at a time, although it's often fewer than that.

The first three weeks, we build a base for you - only cardiovascular training, meaning work to strengthen your heart. We ask you to commit to at least two sessions a week, preferably three. We need to know if medical issues are in play. Maybe you haven't exercised for 15 years, so in that case, we're not going to start you on 30 minutes of hard exercise. We may do 10 minutes and have you build up to 30 minutes. In later weeks, we add to the aerobic work elements of strength training, starting with compound exercises and moving into more specialized things. By the 12th week, working out probably has become a habit.

Last November, we added computerized tracking for the strength training program that people log into. We think we're the only facility around here with this feature now, although it's being added in many places. It helps our trainers keep in touch with how you're progressing and try to help you when you need assistance.

What's the objective? Fitness, sure, but defined how?

We work early with you to establish goals you want to pursue. For most people, that means developing enough fitness to do daily activities and still have energy left over to play. If you want, say, to fit into that old prom dress for a reunion a year from now, we can't guarantee it, but we'll work with you to try.

We're not doctors or physical therapists. We are physical trainers. If someone has had a medical condition - say, shoulder surgery or a heart attack, whatever it might be - we pick up after treatment and physical therapy.

How does age affect starting to work out?

We have people starting at all ages, from 16 to 80 - and you're never too old to start. In Silver Spring, I was assigned a woman who was 72 and had osteoporosis. Her doctor thought she could benefit from weight training, but when I began with some basic shoulder exercises, she couldn't lift even the slightest weight without help. She stayed with it, and now, at 77, she's doing four plates (about 40 pounds) on her own.

What's the best cardiovascular workout? Running, walking, swimming, aerobic dance, to name a few?

"Best" is the one you like to do, because if you don't like it, you're not going to continue with it. But there are lots of options. Just for lifting weights, you can choose from 700 exercises.

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