In the fitness industry, I think there tends to be an overemphasis on regaining "what we used to have." We see it in advertisements to new moms as "get your pre-baby body back." We see it directed to women emphasizing that middle age weight gain as "lose that unwanted belly fat." The message is loud and clear "if you work hard enough, do all the right things, join our program, push, push, push, you can get back what you lost, or in essence, "feel the way you used to."
But, what if we could start by feeling good about our bodies at the place they're at now? What if we could have peace with where we are now, an appreciation for the things we could do in the past, and look forward with excitement toward the future we want, and the activities we anticipate doing?
When women first come to see me, I often hear a lot of "I want to be able to do push-ups like I used to in my 20's," "I want to have the abs I did before I had children," and "I want to lose this menopausal belly."
And while I think it's great to have an appreciation for the body we had when we were younger, or even last year, for that matter, I think it's also ok to accept and talk about the fact that this is not where we are in our body right now. Scientifically speaking, we are not the same person on a cellular level that we were 10, 20, and especially 30 plus years ago. So, why do we beat ourselves up trying to get back there?
What if where we are right now is good enough? What if it's right where we're supposed to be?
I work with a lot of women in their 70's and older, and one of the first questions I ask them when I meet them is "are you able to get up and down off the floor unassisted?" I usually get answers like "oh no! I haven't done that in years!" and I then say to them "well...that's exactly what we're going to work towards doing!"
The thing is, I hear the stories from seniors of how they've fallen when they're home alone, how they've been stuck there lying on the floor for hours until they could get help. The stories of how they've fallen out in public and have felt the humiliation of having someone have to come over and help them up. Yet, when we look at how the fitness industry works with our seniors, it's all about chair fitness, supportive shoes, canes, walkers, etc. It's focused on limiting their mobility, taking away their independence.
In my opinion, we're seriously overlooking the necessary skills that our older population needs to have to feel safe and independent in their own bodies...things like interacting with the ground, fall prevention, climbing stairs, gait patterns, getting up and down from chairs, and in and out of cars. These are the skills that make our seniors feel safe, give them a sense of independence, reignite their sense of play, and rebuild their relationship with their bodies.
So, what if in our 40's, and 50's, we stopped worrying about "getting back what we used to have" and started working towards the kind of life we want to have in the future? What if we started by focusing on building a relationship with our bodies instead of beating them up?
Meeting our body where it is now, with all its history, injuries, imperfections, and abilities, and working together with it to enhance the quality of life we have ahead of us. What if we trained for what's ahead vs what we left behind?
To me, this is the true definition of "functional training." Just like many of my clients, in my 30's was overly concerned with the "fitness for looks" aspect of exercise and movement as opposed to "how well is my body moving?" This finally caught up to me in my 40's and came to a head last year at the beginning of Covid when I came down with a frozen shoulder in my left arm. It was as if my body was telling me "we can't do this anymore." "This 3 sets of 10 approach just isn't what we need right now, there must be a better way."
Since then, I've learned to let go of the idea of what I thought fitness "needed to be," and started training myself and my clients in a way that respected where our bodies are now, as well as where they're going. I train in a way that respects the functions that make us human, such as walking, running, climbing, and throwing. A way that supports keeping us active and independent as we age, and allows us to continue to do the things we love, and to dream of things we want to try. Training that is aimed towards working with the bodies we have now to make them as efficient as possible in preparation for what lies ahead.
So far, I have been able to help the majority of my older adult and senior clients learn to get up from the floor safely, improve their ability to climb stairs, get up off chairs, and have had several of my senior clients avoid falls because of the work we've done together. The thing is though, that doing the same work with my clients in their 30's, 40's, and 50's is just as challenging for them, if not more.
As it turns out, you can actually get stronger without 3 sets of 10. It turns out that the type of strength you gain from training your body functionally makes you feel strong in a way that 3 sets of 10 never could. It's the type of inner strength and confidence that makes you want to try out a new sport, or pick up an old one, run down the hall in your 70's with your walker (true story,) take that long hike with a friend, try a pickleball game, go for that tripod vault over a log in the woods, and get down on the floor to play with your grandchildren.
So I ask you...What exactly are you training for?" When are you training for??" What are the activities that you spend the most time in your days doing? How can you make them easier? What are the movements that will improve your quality of life? What would make YOU feel strong, independent, and confident? There are no right or wrong answers here, but as you ponder this, please take a moment to consider your "future you." They will thank you for it soon enough.
Carrie Craven is a holistic movement practitioner who owns and operates Your Health First LLC out of Portland, OR. Since 2013, she's been devoted to helping women make their own health and wellness a priority by learning new ways to explore movement in order to improve activities of daily living, reduce injury, feel more connected, and in their bodies. See how we can work together.