As a woman 50+, I was more than a little nervous about walking into a small gym that had a lot of big, muscular men working out, some of which were training for strong man competitions. Yes, some had quite a few tattoos and shaved heads. No, this didn’t feel like anything I was used to. In fact, it felt a little like going to a foreign country. I had no idea, on that first day, that this gym and the owner of this gym would change the way I felt about my aging body, and change it for the better.
This gym was not the pretty, shiny places I had been used to. It had a grit about it. Nobody cared about the clothes you worked out in, just if you were committed to the program. There was no judgment about weight/size, gender, or age. Some of the equipment was well used, but all functional. It didn’t have the veneer we often mistake for quality. What I came to understand, over time, was the magic of this place, was the heart. It was more than a place to workout.
I was welcomed by the owner, Ben, a man much younger than myself. He looked intimidating at first, but quickly put me at ease. He was and is kind, respectful and had the ability, when he first met me, to convince me I was capable of more that I thought I was. He challenged my own assumptions about aging and how strong I could be. He assured me he could keep me safe and get me stronger, have more balance. Age didn’t matter. What he didn’t share was how much changing my assumptions about my body would change my my overall mind set about myself.
The commitment, once I did a basic assessment, was to stick to the program, do the work, some of which was very boring and repetitive. And I do mean boring. It actually reminded me of the all the piano scale work I did as a child. Getting through some of the “step up, lift weight up, step down and repeat 100 times” sessions was the support that was always there from the owner, the staff and the other people in the gym. Being in a small space, there was no room to hide. Boring or not, the work was necessary. If you were slacking off, everyone would know and everyone would comment. Not in a mean way, but there was an expectation of what you should be getting done. If you needed encouragement, you always got it. If you tried, but didn’t make it the first time, there were plenty of people to say “you’ve got this the next time.” Real effort was always recognized. Ben, the owner, made sure you felt good about what you had done, pointed out when you mastered the next step.
I got hooked. Lifting weights, doing the drills and challenging my took me out of my head. I wasn’t the “older woman,” I was one of the family. I would end up at the end of a workout drenched in sweat. This was definitely not “glowing.” Hair wet and disheveled, face red, muscles shaking, but I always left with a feeling of accomplishment. That was usually followed by a few days of sore muscles.
Over time, I felt my body getting stronger. This woman, who was now always being called “ma’am” and would never to be carded again, was kicking butt. I could get a 30 pound suitcase into the overhead bin on an airplane with minimal effort. The workouts helped alleviate some of my menopausal symptoms. I felt a lot less stressed after I finished working out. I have to admit that ball slams and battle rope workouts, when you are aggravated, can work wonders on your psyche. I became more comfortable, felt more capable, in my skin.
One of my best moments was working out with my 18 year old nephew who was visiting and wanted to work out with me. I outlasted him in reps. He has since been in the army and works our regularly, so I know I won’t be doing that again. But he still talks about his aunt outlasting him in the gym when he was younger man and how he had to then step up his game.
I have and never will be the slender girl, the women still glorified in most of the media. I had certainly been told that was what I was “supposed” to look like by well meaning family members and by all the media messaging I grew up with. But that messaging was never about whether or not I was strong and centered in the gift of the body I have. By getting in touch with what my body can do, I began to understand just how amazing my own body really is, what it gives to me everyday, even as I age. By working towards a stronger body, I have gotten to a place where, the vast majority of the time, I can love the body I am in now. It is not wrinkle free and I have no six pack abs. It is the body, my body, that continues to allow me to hug the people I love, take long walks, carry my suitcase, lift groceries, navigate stairs, and embrace the life I have been given. That’s everyday real strength.
Who knew that sweating it out, in a small community gym would give me the gift of being more comfortable with my 50+ body, but it did.