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Fitness “Goals”

When Samantha posted to her Facebook page some months ago that she wanted to be her fittest at fifty, the comments heated up about what the appropriate measures should be. Weight and BMI are obviously not great measures of general fitness. What about cardiovascular health or run times? Or cycling times? Strength has its own measures – how much can you bench press? How many push-ups can you do? Pull-ups? And then there are sheer endurance and sheer intensity—Samantha’s cross-fits workouts, for example, sound absolutely impossible to me.

I have goal-resistance because they have started to feel like traps to me, a chronic yo-yo dieter and sometimes obsessive exerciser. Between the ages 23-33, I worked out like crazy, spending 2-3 hours in the gym several times a week. I loved the feeling of strength that came from pumping iron, and my heroes and fitness role models were female body-builders like Gladys Portugues, Carla Dunlap, and Corey Everson. No, I didn’t have very diverse measures of what it meant to be “fit.” As much as I enjoyed getting strong, I was also after the aesthetic of the hard female body (not that I ever attained it). Aside: there is a fascinating discussion of the female body ideal for competitive body-builders in Pumping Iron II: The Women. In the early days of competition, they were torn between the standard of sheer size and muscle (Bev Francis) or of a more “feminine” body (Rachel McLish).

That’s why I like the yoga mindset so much – no big goals or competition, just a consistent practice. So when I discovered Iyengar yoga in 2000, I left the gym for a more gentle approach. Since then, until a few months ago, my two main activities have been yoga and walking with an occasional session on the elliptical machine. But over time, I have stopped feeling “fit.” My energy started to wane. Groceries began to feel heavier.

So in March I went back to the weight room and worked with a personal trainer to start strength training again, this time in addition to my regular yoga practice (Iyengar and hot, 3-4 times a week). My trainer got me back into running for the first time in over twenty years. I’m slow and I can’t run for very many minutes in a row. I started out with 2 minutes of running to every 1 minute of walking, 6 times, with a 5 minute warm-up at the front end and a 5-minute cool-down at the end. I’m now up to 3 sets of 7 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking, with the 5 minute warm-up and cool-down.

I’m not sure what I’m aiming for exactly over the next two years, but I can say this: before it snows, I’d like to be able to run for 20 minutes in a row without having to walk. I’m not sure what that will say about how “fit” I am. But it doesn’t seem to me to be the kind of aspirational trap some of my goals of earlier days were. I’ll see where I go with that and take it from there.

5 thoughts on “Fitness “Goals”

  1. Love the blog concept! I’m a few years further back from 50, but share the goal!

    I have found that I do best with performance goals (like your running one). It makes my fitness about what I do, not what I look like. In the past, it was the 5k, a bike century and triathlons. This summer, I set and achieved the goal of doing an Olympic-length tri (which I had done before). I might still be slow, and still be fat, but damnit, I’m fit!

    There is a woman who is about 20 years older than I am in my tri club. She did her first Ironman this year and beat my Olympic time by about an hour. I’ve decided that I don’t care if I ever get faster (okay, that’s partly a lie…), but I want to be able to still do tris in 20 years (there was a woman in her 70s who also beat my time. How cool is that?). I’ve found that when I can complete this length race, very little comes up that I can’t physically do. Friends hiking a mountain, let me join you! Haul SO’s music equipment? No problem! That’s what I like. For next year, I would like to be faster, but it’s not something I’m going to use to judge my worth. It would just be more fun to take fewer than 4 hours to complete the race! (and to be able to complete training workouts in less time, or at least go farther when training for time).

    It sounds like your plan with your trainer is working well for you, but I LOVE the Bluefin “Ease into 5k” app: The best thing (to me) is that it tells you when to run, when to walk and tells you when you’re half way (so, turn around!). It plays your music. They also have a “bridge to 10k” that works the same way.

  2. Thanks, Kimberly. I’ll check out the Bluefin 5K app. It’s funny that you mention not wanting to run faster (or at least, not having that as your primary goal) because I’m going to be blogging about exactly that sometime over the next few days! Good luck with your triathalons and congratulations on completing the Olympic length tri again.

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