Fitness

Drop your midlife weight gain with this one simple exercise

There were also people on the older side – one regular is 84 – all just getting on with their own thing. Most importantly, none of them was looking at me, making the invisibility of the older woman a superpower in this context.

As Gilberto put me through my first paces on a variety of weight machines, then lifting dumbbells with squats and lunges, I found the exercises challenging but not panic-making, greatly helped by having a trainer who is kind without being patronising, not young enough to be my grandson (he’s 46) and doesn’t spend the entire session gazing at himself in the mirror. Most importantly he has a GSOH and laughs at my jokes. Before I knew it he was high-fiving me and my first session was over.  Joyously, they are just 45 minutes long.

Waking up on the subsequent two days with no debilitating muscle pain, I was happy to go back for the next session and by the third one, I had advanced to a 3kg dumbbell for the squats – half the weight I need to lose.

I found it quite astonishing to think I’m carrying around on my poor old bones twice as much weight as I found taxing to lift. No wonder my hip was agony and I felt so tired and ancient.

As my gym sessions racked up, I was surprised how fast I progressed, going just three times a week. The weights increased each time and canny Gilberto subtly raised my reps by shifting me from three sets of 12 lifts on each machine, to four sets of 10.

We also started to concentrate more on my “form”, the position of every part of your body as you do each lift – crucial for advancing on to my goal of Adele-style deadlifting. Suddenly, my decades of yoga and childhood ballet paid off. With the muscle memory developed doing those things, I know when I have a straight back, one of the crucial details of lifting weights up on a pole.

If you don’t have every bit of you in the right position, deadlifting can lead to bad injuries, so my journey started with lifting and bending with nothing more than a wooden pole like a broom handle. Much harder than it sounds.

Only once Gilberto is sure I have perfected the straight-backed, hip-hinged, chest-lifted forward bend with the wooden pole will he let me have a go doing it with the first level of metal bar.

Putting weights on to one of those is still a way off – but definitely worth working towards, he says, for the sheer efficiency of the exercise, though I may never be proficient enough to do it without him guiding me.

Meanwhile, I’m making great headway with the more accessible weight machines. By session six something deep had shifted. I got on to my nemesis gadget – the shoulder press – only to find that Gilberto had left it on a much lighter setting than I normally have. After considering just going with it, I reminded myself that the only person I’d be cheating was myself and told him.

“It’s exactly the same weight as last time,” he replied, as I finished with warm-knife-through-butter ease. “You’re getting stronger.”

Now, after just one month of training three times a week, I honestly can’t believe how good I feel. I’ve lost the persistent brain fog I’ve had since lockdown. I’m sleeping better, have far more energy and my husband says I’m almost annoyingly chirpy.

Most amazingly, my hip is better. Not just improved – cured. I walk completely normally, I run upstairs. The other day I walked more than 24,000 steps, or 12 miles. It is nothing short of a physical miracle, achieved with just a few sessions lifting weights.

So that’s my internal experience. There are measurable improvements too. I haven’t lost loads of weight, but I have lost waist. My visceral fat has gone down, my muscle mass and bone density up. My metabolic rate is now that of a 46-year-old, which Gilberto says will soon show as my bulk will start to drop.

I’ve always pictured myself as one of those bendy old ladies still doing yoga at 95. Now I think I’m more likely to be a wiry bird at the gym. Who knows? I might even be deadlifting as much as Adele by then.

Other exercises for improved fitness


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