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.