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GIVE ME STRENGTH!

by Rose Madeline Mula

When I signed up for a twice-weekly women's strength training class at my Senior Center, I figured "piece of cake." After all, I'm in relatively good shape — no major aches, pains or respiratory problems. I could certainly keep up with all those other middle-aged women. (Yes, I said "middle-aged." Isn't the average life span 140+?)

I walked into my first class and selected equipment from the communal box — some rubber tubing and a heavy elastic band, whose purposes I couldn't guess, and weights. Problem. There were none heavier than three-pounds in the box. What kind of challenge would they provide? I'd have to buy my own five and ten-pounders. But since I had no choice for this class, I had to settle for three-pound weights.

Our instructor told us to put down all our equipment, and then she hit "Play" on her mini boom-box. As some bouncy music rang out, she started our warm-up with some very elementary left-right side steps. Please! I felt I was back in kindergarten dance class. (No cracks; I do remember kindergarten.) Then she added criss-cross arm swings. Suddenly I wasn't so smug. Sure, I could do the side steps; and sure, I could do the arm swings. But together? Not easy for someone as uncoordinated as I am. But no big deal, I figured. I wasn't here for lessons in grace. Bring on the exercise!

They're right when they warn be careful what you ask for, you might get it, as I discovered during the next few weeks. Agony! We did bicep curls, standing wall pushups, inner and outer thigh leg lifts, knee extensions, quadricep stretches, overhead tricep bends, side hip raises, squats, lunges ..... and more. We learned what those innocent-looking rubber bands and tubing were. Instruments of torture, that's what. We wrapped the bands around our ankles when doing leg lifts to provide more resistance to our movements (God forbid it should be too easy), and the tubing added torment to a variety of other exercises. Every muscle screamed. Every joint creaked. But none of us complained. We couldn't. We were too busy concentrating on breathing. Not breathing correctly. Just gasping.

As for those three-pound weights, I quickly discarded them. I could barely lift the two-pounders.

I had to make a real effort to get out of bed and drag myself to class at dawn every Wednesday and Friday, but I did. Hey, it was paid for. I was going to get there even if it killed me. And I had every reason to believe it might.

It hasn't yet, and I've been sticking it out for several months now. Has it gotten easier? I'd say no, because I'm still in agony during every class. However, I now achieve the same level of excruciating discomfort using three-pound weights instead of the lighter ones, so I guess that's progress. And I'm happy to report that I've gained weight. Why is that a good thing? Because it obviously means I'm developing muscles. Muscles weigh more than fat, after all; and I can't possibly have added that much more fat ...... can I? Please, please tell me that the extra girth around my abdomen and waist is all muscle! Sure it is.

Unfortunately, despite all the tricep raises and bends, the flesh on the back of my arms still flaps in the breeze; but I have developed impressive biceps. Not only can I see and feel them when I flex, but I can now carry twenty groceries bags — ten strung on each arm — up the twenty-one steps to my condo. A mixed blessing. By doing this all in one trip, I'm strengthening my biceps still further, but I'm eliminating some stair climbing exercise.

As for the squats, lunges and leg extensions, my knees now feel 90 years old. A big improvement. They used to feel 120.

An interesting feature of my strength training class is that we have two instructors who alternate days. I think they're playing good cop/bad cop. On Wednesdays, Nancy the "good" sneakily plays tapes of Strauss waltzes and 1940 show tunes, falsely leading us to believe the workouts will be effortless. Hah! And on Fridays, Barbara the "bad" (and I mean that in the best possible way) puts us through our paces to a background of no-nonsense heavy metal. But they both achieve the same end result — our utter exhaustion and relief when the class is over — as well as awe and admiration for them because they both teach another group immediately following ours. That means they go through the same grueling routine twice! How do they do that?

I know what motivates me — I want to get in good enough shape to take the tap dancing class offered by the senior center. I figure I'll be ready when my knees feel 75 years old.

Meanwhile, I should look into the needlework class. On second thought, maybe not. My eyes feel 150.

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.

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