Dan’s note: I love this story; it reminds me why exercise and training are so important, especially as we age. Vicki has come incredibly far and still has lots of room to keep improving.
The notice on my Facebook page caught my eye. It stated, “Come listen to a presentation about how barbell exercises can help you in your everyday life.” I had wanted to incorporate weights into my fitness routine but I didn’t know how. I never really thought about barbell training; after all, my perception about barbell training was that it was for younger people to build muscles, not for grandmas like me. But this didn’t sound so intimidating….using a barbell to help me in my everyday life. So I went to the presentation to learn more.
I walked into the room feeling a little skeptical. Dan Raimondi, a Starting Strength Coach, began talking about what it takes to lift….not weights, but groceries or grandchildren. He talked about everyday movements like standing up and sitting down, picking things up off the floor, and maintaining balance and mobility as we age. I thought…gee, this doesn’t sound like a script out of “Muscle Man” magazine. I started to really listen.
Then the conversation turned to aging, health conditions, and strength. He gave examples of other older folks whose health improved as they began to lift. He started talking about diabetes (yup), high blood pressure (yup, again), obesity (uh, yeah), and back pain (oh, absolutely!). He brought up cardiovascular, mental health, muscular-skeletal, and mobility issues. He described how building muscle and bone strength can help in the aging process, to enable living a full life well into old age. He touched on the science behind how the body processes energy and builds muscle. By this time, I thought he was talking directly to me. I wanted to try.
Coach Raimondi offered an introductory, hands-on session for people to see what it was really all about. I walked into the room more than a little nervous. The other participants were obviously in better shape. I was the last person to try out an overhead press or a deadlift. When Coach started to demonstrate the squat, I kept looking at the door wondering how I could escape gracefully. I knew there was no way my knees or my back would let me squat. As it was, I sometimes needed help to get up off the floor and occasionally, even out of a chair! Get me out of here, I thought! Before I knew it, Coach turned to me. He could see that I was hesitant, and I explained my concerns and fears. He modified the exercise for me, introduced the concept of “hip drive” and to my amazement, I completed a squat with no knee pain at all! Coach just smiled. I was encouraged. Maybe this was for me after all.
My strength journey had begun. The exercises were simple in their mechanics, but challenging to carry out. The challenge is in challenging yourself….to add a little more weight each time and to continually improve. It was not a competition, but a journey. In my small group, I was the one most frail, most uncoordinated, and only able to lift the least amount of weight. I could not perform an unmodified squat for the life of me. Yet during this journey, Coach kept coaching, teaching, encouraging. When Coach asked me to lift a little more, I asked, “Can I really do this?” He said yes. And I did it! From that point on, I knew he knew my capabilities better than I did, so I trusted him completely in guiding me in this journey.
One day, I tweaked my back on a deadlift. I thought I would have to stop lifting for awhile. But Coach taught me how to modify the lift so I could continue and my back healed in record time. I started my deadlifts at 45 lbs. I couldn’t believe it when I lifted 95 lbs., and before long I was lifting 135lbs.
Going to my doctors was interesting. My primary care doc cautioned me about weightlifting. My chiropractor said, “Lifting? With YOUR back?” I kept lifting. The next time I saw my primary care doctor, my A1C (a measure for checking diabetes health) had gone down a full 2 points, which is a very significant drop! Soon my blood pressure was dropping, as was my weight. I felt better and stronger, both physically and mentally. I felt more in control of my own body. When I next visited my chiropractor, he exclaimed, “My goodness, your back feels so much stronger and more stable.” I didn’t need to see him as often anymore.
I kept lifting. I kept learning. I was hooked and I loved it. My primary care doctor started noting to “continue weightlifting” in my medical chart, so lifting became a medical “treatment.” I eventually was able to complete full squats and graduated to squatting with weight on my back. I kept getting stronger, healthier, and had better mobility.
When my grandson was born, I was anxious to meet him, hold him and find out all about being a grandma. One moment was particularly telling to me how lifting helped me in my everyday life. I was holding him and sitting in a deep-set, upholstered rocking chair, and I had to get up. Normally, I would have called someone over to take the baby while I maneuvered out of the deep chair. Instead, I used “hip drive” and stood up still holding the baby, and I did it with ease. I was thankful for all those squats.
While I am not a “heavy lifter,” I continue to improve and find it fun to challenge myself. I learned that lifting weights doesn’t care how old I am, what I look like, or how much I can lift. Whatever I can do, I do. But I know this: lifting weights has changed my life in so many positive ways in a relatively short period of time. And so my strength journey continues……