On my recent European holiday I, like many before me, had the best of intentions of ‘holiday workouts’. I had days selected, workouts planned and even inserted ‘items’ into my holiday itinerary. Finding gyms was always the key to the holiday workout success story. Discovering gyms online was the key and keeping a note of reviews and comments on Googlemaps was a good way to selecting gyms that were not only appropriate, but friendly enough to accommodate ‘day visits’ which I was surprised was not the norm.
On one of my visits to a rather close and convenient gym in Friedricschain Berlin, my nephew and I were happily completing our little exercise regimes alongside a gym made up of predominantly senior citizens – literally! I’m not talking about the person who is 40yo and whom all the glamour punks in a muscle gym call a senior citizen, I’m literally talking about people 65-70yo, on the machines and ‘working out’.
It was positively inspiring that these silver-haired, bi-focalled junkies, knew exactly what they were doing and were moving with ease from machine to machine and rocking out the reps! OK, so maybe rocking wasn’t the best description. But it occurred to me as I was pounding away on the treadmill (trying desperately to rectify the damage of the previous nights schnitzel fest) that these people were really taking an active step towards their longevity and health. And the floor was literally scattered with them!
I was impressed when I noted that a gentleman dropped his towel on the floor, and without a moments hesitation, he bent down and grabbed it up with ease and speed! Now this would normally go un-noticed, but having watched family members of this age bracket attempt the same action, was to be met with groans and slow, deliberate movement protecting and being careful not to over balance with a wary hand always outstretched in case ‘the hip went’ or the earth shifted suddenly. Not to denigrate someone’s bodily condition or circumstance, but it was a real positive reinforcement for what active exercise beyond your active years can achieve.
When I watched these people working out, they weren’t pummeling around big weights nor even performing composite movements and complex body co-ordination exercises. These people were using predominantly machine based exercise with isolation work to assist them with movements and simply ‘work though’ muscle groups. They didn’t stop, moving fluidly from one exercise to the next in what appeared to be supersets of exercises. There were breaks and chats and knowing glances in our direction as my nephew and I huffed and puffed and tried to look as though we knew what we were doing on a machine that looked foreign and had German based instructions (note to self, treadmills are not the same the world over and trying to find the ‘clip’ that you have to attach before the machine started was an exercise in patience I can assure you – meine deutsch nicht indeed). However these folks were moving through programs with aplomb and dedication.
Regular readers of my articles will know of my preference for composite movements over isolation, bodyweight over excessive resistance and full range of motion over small isolated muscular contractions. But here I was faced with a very real and practical promotion of why machines and these type of exercises can be of benefit in a gymnasium. For the more senior exercise person, these machines offer a great way to perform movements ‘safely’ and to maintain tone and shape in muscles that may not ordinarily get any stress at all in daily life. The weights weren’t high, the exertion wasn’t excessive, but a lot of the participants were simply ‘going through the range of motion’ of the exercise and I could see the benefit that this was providing. I am sure that these 'Senior Schwarzennegers' weren’t well versed in training techniques and form and function, but they knew how the machines worked and they moved through the arcs of movement with ease and alarming repetition.
I was so impressed I chatted to the trainer behind reception on the way out and commented on just how fantastic it was to see so many ‘older’ people using the equipment. He remarked that the gym has quite a broad and varied clientele and supports many different brackets of people.
I found it quite inspiring and made me think more about the application of exercise and what is useful and beneficial to all of us in our various stages of life. The previous week my nephew and I had played on a volleyball team of thrown together Aussies/Germans/Scandinavians, and our outside hitter was a 51yo ‘machine’ of a man who moved and jumped and lunged and rolled like a 30yo. I know many inspiring ‘seniors’ who are remarkable in their physical capacity (one of whom is a rather fantastic yoga instructor whom I constantly marvel at). But the reality was the not all these people were ‘remarkably fantastic’ but they had a certain base level of physical capacity and ‘ease of movement’ which I still remarked upon and noted for myself. So I guess it’s never too late to really get involved or be active and there is always a way to continue to use your body as your tool and keep it moving.
And maybe I need to rethink my ideas on machine based exercise!