Finding fitness at 50
BASALT – I’ve never believed the entertaining myths about the Fountain of Youth, but I think I discovered the next best thing at my neighborhood gym.
Basalt Health and Fitness manager and personal trainer Jerry Heisig got hooked on workouts using the TRX suspension straps last October. I enlisted in his class in January when I was freaked at the impending doom of turning 50 years old in June. I wanted to hit 50 in the best possible shape. Jerry did his part through his “Strap It On” class.
Heisig is a man’s man (in figure of speech only since most of the students in his classes are women). He is diligent about warming up for a proper time to minimize the chance of injury. He also preaches to his students to “modify, modify, modify” if they are feeling aches or pains. But he also doesn’t coddle anyone. He knows the only way you get fit and stay fit is to continually push your limits. There are no silver bullets when it comes to health and fitness, despite what TV and Internet ads say.
TRX suspension training is so simple it’s ingenious. The strap hangs from an anchor point on the ceiling. Two handles are on the ends dangling near the ground. Each student uses an individual strap. Heisig takes his classes through an amazing array of exercises that use body weight as the main form of resistance. In addition to letting gravity provide the workout, you can increase the resistance by changing the angle of the strap, making it harder by moving away from the anchor point. Occasionally we will use kettle bells – essentially a cannon ball with a handle – or dumbbells for extra torture.
We spend roughly half the one-hour glass on our feet and the other half with our feet in the straps, often performing some humbling maneuver while in a plank position – back flat, legs and torso stiff as a board, supporting your body weight with your feet in the straps and on your hands with arms extended.
“No matter what body parts you’re working, it’s constantly working your core,” Heisig said of the suspension workout. He’s convinced a strong core is the key to fitness and fending off the aches and pains of older age.
Heisig is working his classes through 90 primary exercises with the straps. With variations, the possibilities are infinite, he said. Whenever the folks in my 5:30 a.m. class on Tuesdays and Thursdays master a maneuver, Heisig will add something harder to the mix and remove something easier. It’s humbling to have him throw you a curve, yet rewarding when you master that exercise a week or so later.
One of my new favorites is holding a plank position, feet in the straps, face down, arms outstretched on Bosu balance balls – half domes similar to a pliant rubber ball. For one minute we transfer both hands from one ball to the other, pausing to do a push-up. Slow, steady transfers are required to avoid swinging your body too much. It’s got strength conditioning, endurance, balance and core firming all in one 60-second bundle. Sometimes those 60 seconds take so long to pass.
“You can do any body part you want to focus on,” Heisig said. While standing, for example, we work our biceps by leaning back as many as 45 degrees, grasping a strap handle with each hand, keeping elbows high and flexing through a full-range curl. You adjust your positioning so your body weight provides as much resistance as you can handle.
Heisig is a big believer in “functional training.” In a nutshell, you try to mimic motions from real-life chores and “every-day type stuff,” he said. He scoffs at the idea of sitting at or lying down on a machine and pumping iron as a person’s only workout. That activates specific muscles but usually only a few. “We weren’t designed to sit and work out,” he said.
Heisig is fond of saying his “Strap It On” class will utilize all sorts of tiny muscles his students didn’t even know they possess. After 20 weeks, I can report I’ve never had the intense muscle soreness you get from, say, the first big hike of the spring or an ungodly number of crunches. However, I frequently feel a good muscle burn throughout my body after the workouts.
A lot of his students reported losing weight from the class. One guy I work out with said he dropped 15 pounds from diligent weeks of work. I wasn’t looking to lose weight, just firm things up and shift things around. I think it’s worked. My muscles are more firm, my muffin top is drastically reduced and my core is the strongest its ever been, yet still needs improvement. I’m certainly no Charles Atlas, but I’m in better shape than 20 weeks ago.
Heisig and his straps have done their part for me, now about those beers and sweets …
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