"Mom did four squats, three lunges, three baby cobras and a 20-minute savasana."
That's the text I sent my brother a couple of weeks ago after a gym date in Colorado Springs with my 78-year-old mom. In what I consider nothing short of a miracle, she agreed to let me show her some new moves, mostly alternatives to what she'd been doing on the weight machines. Her goals? Reduce the ring around her belly and increase her stamina so she wouldn't get so tired.
Roadblocks to those goals? An admirable ability to talk herself out of going to the gym. Evidence? A recent nagging pain in her left bicep. This singular ache prevented her from exercising for two weeks, to which her lovable daughter said, "You don't need an arm to walk on the treadmill."
Lest you think I'm being too hard on the woman who brought me into this world, I'm proud of her for exercising, period. Her 78 looks mighty good. Fingers crossed I got those particular genes.
I share with you, fair readers, what I shared with my mom, in hopes that you'll find some palatable ideas, inspiration or simply a laugh. Please remember, I'm not a personal trainer, nor do I play one on TV, but I do know some stuff about working out.
The date: Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Scene of the crime: 24 Hour Fitness off Austin Bluffs Parkway. Mom: ready to go big with her water bottle and little purple towel tossed over one shoulder. Me: braced to withstand any form of resistance.
After a few minutes spent warming up on the treadmill, we tackled legs. It's so important to build muscle, especially as you age. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so if you have more muscle, you're burning more calories all day. This could help reduce a pot belly. Unfortunately, you're never going to spot reduce that belly. You've got to increase your cardio and look at your caloric intake. But more muscle can help. Plus, you want to have enough strength in your legs so you walk and move without tiring and can get up if you fall - important for older people.
I also wanted to show my mom exercises that didn't involve machines. I prefer free weights because you use your whole body. Your stabilizer muscles are working to keep you upright, a good thing for anybody. Poor balance can lead to devastating falls, broken bones or worse. In my book, using machines means sitting on the job. (Ask me that again in about 30 years.) But if you have injuries or can't stand for long, then by all means, use a machine. It's better than doing nothing.
Squats are my mom's nemesis. Lunges don't lurk far behind. But these are the two exercises she needs most, proving the adage. Isn't there an adage that we avoid what we probably most need? Much as we teach what we most need to learn? Which makes me think maybe I also need more squats.
I gave her some 5-pound kettlebells to hold and showed her how to sit back into a squat.
"Squeeze your butt at the top," I said.
That earned me one quizzical look and some groans of misery.
"All right, I'm done," she said.
Her resistance was futile.
"Mom, you can't do only three squats," I said. Of course, she could have if that really was all she had in the tank, but I knew her shady ways.
Lunges got a similar reaction, and I could tell she was mentally crossing these right off the list, until I spied a chair. With one hand resting on the back of it and the other holding a light weight, squats and lunges suddenly became much more doable. I felt about 3 ounces of resistance melt away. Daughter: 1. Mom: 0.
Next up: deadlifts. As in, you'll be dead soon if you don't do these. Just kidding, I didn't say that. Out loud. Mom didn't mind these, though I'm still not sure if she understood the concept of squeezing your booty when you stand to engage your muscles.
Using old equipment from once-popular step aerobics classes? Also a win. Simple step-ups will work your lower body. Add a challenge by lifting a knee or kicking the leg straight out in front of you at the top of the step. Mom also liked that the steps were hidden in a corner of the gym where nobody could see her working her bod. Worrying about judgment from fellow exercisers is definitely a thing, but the hard-core gym rats are too busy flexing for themselves in the mirror to notice anybody else. And the rest of us are too occupied with our Spotify playlists or trying to not drop a weight on our foot to pay attention to somebody else's routine. Don't let fear of what others think stop you from working the one body you've been given this lifetime.
Next up: core and spine. We grabbed questionably clean gym mats and got on our bellies. The inevitable happened - my mom tried to take a nap. I don't think so, mamacita. We did yoga poses: cobras and locusts. Simple yet challenging. I showed her these so she'd stop using the back machine, which sets off alarm bells for me. I don't think anybody should get on a machine and push a ton of weight with their backs. There are effective ways to build strength using your body weight.
I also spent a fair amount of time disparaging the ab machine, the one where you lie on a bendable bench, put your feet up on a platform and crunch away as if your life depends on it. Friends, the health of your spine depends on you not doing that. Stop these wack movements, for the love of all that is sinewy.
After boat pose and leg lifts for core, my mom busted out a forearm plank that took my breath away.
"I always could do planks," she said proudly, to which I said, "Yes! Do more of those."
In a final burst of energy, we pulled out the BOSU Pro Balance Trainer and put it by a gym pillar so she had something to hold onto while she balanced on the wobbly half-globe. It looked easy, so I suggested she add some squats. I felt our old friend resistance poke its head up and look around, but to her credit, she took a stab at it. And those squats were a thing of beauty.
Mom: 1. Gym: 0.