Fittest After 50: My Story

Fittest After 50: My Story

In Fittest After 50: Pump Some Iron, I alluded to my World Gym days in the 1980s.

I trained at the original Venice location back when Joe Gold, in his leather slippers, greeted you by name and a big guy named Arnie dispensed pointers on squat form (I hear he went into politics).

The beautiful Rachel McLish, age 50, in Muscle and Fitness magazine via
The beautiful Rachel McLish, age 50, in Muscle and Fitness magazine

I idolized Rachel McLish, who became the first Ms. Olympia in 1980. That’s her at left, age 50 (sigh).  You can bet she hasn’t been curling 3 lb barbells for the last 30 years (we’ll ignore the other work she’s been doing).

When ladies’ bodybuilding got ugly, it broke my heart. (You know you can’t get those big bumpy muscles, right girls? They’re chemically induced.)

In the last six years, I’ve gained 35 pounds and wasted thousands of dollars on unused gym memberships. I miss the intimacy and camaraderie I found at World.  However, it’s been over 20 years since I trained seriously, and I loathe crowded chain gyms.

A Pink Gym?

One day, while lunching at a West Hollywood cafe, I looked across the street and saw a sign in the strip mall: Pink Iron Women’s Gym. I had to check it out.

I hesitantly walked in. It looked annoyingly like a strawberry parfait. Stenciled across the wall in big curly letters: Building lean, mean girly machines. I assumed it was going to be overrun with starlets and strippers. But they had serious equipment and a full array of free weights (not just light ones), so I joined.

I heard 25-year-old owner Holly Holton regularly toted Barbell, her teacup Maltese, to the gym in a matching pink bag. Oh please, I thought. Then I met the tiny white fluffball and fell in love.

Fittest After 50: My Story at Debra Eve's
The only 3 lb Barbell I’ve been lifting

I also learned how hard Holly worked to bring her dream to fruition. She and Barbell open Pink Iron every morning at 6 am. She’s an inspiring role model for young entrepreneurs.

The place is sparkly clean. It’s never crowded. The trainers walk their talk.

I’ve seen one starlet, but most clients are like me—women who need to lose weight and get in shape, and appreciate a beautiful environment. There’s a 70-year-old gal who lifts heavier than I do!

Ironically, Pink Iron reminds me of World Gym’s early days—serious training combined with real care and camraderie. No corporate hard sell poo. Joe Gold would’ve loved the place.

Currently, I do a full body workout twice a week. It takes 50 minutes. There’s little rest between sets, so it’s actually a form of aerobic weightlifting. Later I may switch to a more traditional routine that isolates muscle groups over separate workouts. I still walk a few days per week, because I love being outdoors.

I have no desire to reinvent my World Gym physique. I was a bit obsessed back then. At Pink Iron, they encourage tracking fat loss instead of pounds. I use the Omron HBF-306C handheld unit.

In five weeks, I’ve gained a pound, which I partially blame on some lovely wine tastings.

However, I’ve lost almost 3% body fat and feel fantastic.

In early December, I weighed 169 pounds with 38.5% fat.  Today I weigh 170 pounds with 35.6% fat. My goal is to weigh whatever at 25% fat, a healthy figure.

My Recommendations

  • If you’re not sure where to start your fitness program, go with strength training. You can add other diet and exercise goals later.  (If you’re not convinced, check out the other Fittest After 50 installments.)
  • Check with a doctor to make sure your weight gain isn’t masking a medical problem.
  • Don’t be afraid to lift heavier than you think you can. As you get physically stronger, you’ll get mentally stronger. Further changes will come easier.
  • Set a realistic goal, and track it with a fat loss monitor, not a scale.  Fat loss monitors are motivating because they track fractions of a percentage point, so you see more progress.
  • Search until you find a gym and/or workout that feels absolutely perfect for you (even if you think it’s silly at first)!

I’ll update you on my progress in future installments and I’d love to hear about yours.  Have you found an inspirational fitness path, one that doesn’t feel like work?  How did you do it?

Update: June 16, 2014

A series of medical problems sidelined my progress for over two years. In that time, Pink Iron morphed into a CrossFit gym. I’m not sure how I feel about CrossFit.

I know people who are crazy about it—to the point of scary. It has a bad reputation because you do reps against a timer, so form can get lost and injury is common.

But I still have a credit with Pink Iron. So with great trepidation, I signed up for Pink Iron’s Miss Fit Summer Challenge and got my indoctrination to CrossFit yesterday.

I saw a lot of flailing and bad form, especially during squats and sit-ups. People were just moving too fast. The whiteboard said that the last exercise was a “burpee.”

It looked like a few dozen women belly-flopping on the floor, jumping back up and clapping their hands above their heads, over and over again, like some kind of tribal sun-worshiping ritual. I couldn’t track the actual series of movements.

And sadly, I didn’t see any women over age 30 or so. Is CrossFit just a young person’s game?

I’m so sore I can’t bend down and pick up my 25 lb cat today, but that’s okay. I’ve got  a great coach and enthusiastic team, so I’m determined to stick with it for eight weeks on my own terms—I’ll be 55 on August 18 and it’s time.

Wish me luck! (And if anyone can explain a burpee to me before my next session, I’d be obliged.)

More in this Series

Post image, left to right: Wendy Ida (56), Ray Moon (83), Tosca Reno (52) got in the best shape of their life through bodybuilding.

11 Responses

  1. viviane
    | Reply

    i would love to hear how this is going for you now. i am also looking for a form of exercise that i like to do regularly. it is hard to find a gym where i feel comfortable and where bodies of all types are respected.

    • Debra Eve

      Unfortunately, my adorable ladies’ gym closed down and I too am looking for a new way to keep in shape (update 6/16/14: it actually just closed for remodeling and turned into a CrossFit gym). Right now I’m just walking — I gave up my car (in Los Angeles!), but I really believe in weight training, especially after a certain age. I’m exploring “body weight training” — using your body for resistance, so you can exercise anywhere. Will let you know how that’s going. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. samantha stacia
    | Reply

    I am glad for you that you are getting back in shape! Now that I am disabled, it took me 4 years to find an exerciser that would work with me but noe I am waiting for winter to come! The temps also must be good for my body to deal with stress like working out now. Its hard, I was a health major, did at least 45 minute aerobic workouts everyday and I miss running as much as I miss my old physique. I am happy you are manging to get back into something, you are an inspiration!

    • Debra Eve

      Oh, Samantha, that must be so hard, especially coming from a phys ed background. I had a relapse after I wrote this. It’s still one step forward, two back. I’m doing little 10 minute workouts with light weights now, building up strength slowly. But you’re doing something amazing at She Writes and I very much appreciate it!

  3. Hi, Debra. I don’t know when you wrote this series – there’s no date – but I loved it! I’ve been a wanabe believer in strength training since I got a book years ago called “Strong Women Stay Slim” by a Tufts professor. She also wrote “Strong Women Stay Young,” but I was young then and didn’t bother with it.

    Where I really got into it was a small group class a few years ago with a personal trainer. She had me doing things I never dreamed of, and the rest of my low back problems went away. But then we moved back home (that was in Ireland), and it’s a little too far to go now!

    Now I think I’ve found a gym, but the classes I want aren’t when I want them, so I’m trying to reschedule my life and still keep a balance. But this later bloomer isn’t giving up! Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Debra Eve

      Hi Jennifer, I don’t date my posts to keep that “unaging” feel 🙂 It’s so hard to find that balance in our busy lives. I’m doing “body weight” exercises right now, which don’t require a gym. I’ll be revisiting this series shortly, so stay tuned!

  4. Mark
    | Reply

    Whatever exercise can be made habitual seems to work for me e.g. Walking
    Or climbing stairs. Gentle yoga stretching ag home and bodyweight exercises in
    local park get slotted early morning and at weekends. If it’s not fun
    the stop doing it was why I left weightlifting in gyms (my competitive
    running days were over and the urge to suffer had passed haha)

    • Debra Eve

      Interestingly, Mark, I need to update this piece. It’s one of my early ones. I’ve become a great advocate of yoga and bodyweight exercises now, too! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Lee Jenna Tyler
    | Reply

    You are such an inspiration to openness. I guess we learn at an early age, from society, to keep our weight a “secret”. I was caught up in that for a long time and then just worked (constantly) and retreated to long nature hikes even in mid-winter.
    Now with the diseases, it’s a different kind of weight lose I am worried about; making sure I eat despite my lack of appetite.
    I am looking forward to your update on this post. Living vicariously ;p.
    BTW, I don’t know how you were able to give up your car in L.A. More power to you-in all facets of your life.

    • Debra Eve

      Thank you, Lee! I did just buy a car recently, a little Ford Fiesta (bottom of the line). In a town where everyone goes into debt to drive BMWs and Mercedes, I’m often asked “why?” But after two years on the bus, I don’t see the point in going into debt for a symbol and that Fiesta could be a Rolls Royce where I’m concerned :). Hope you’re feeling better these days.

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