As the Florida State Champion in her master’s division for Olympic Weightlifting and fourth in the entire nation, it’s hard to believe that prior to age 60, Laura Eiman hadn’t touched a barbell. Now, the local competitive weightlifter is on a mission to motivate her fellow baby boomers to take responsibility for their health and happiness. The entrepreneur and inspirational figure outlines tips to build up strength safely, regardless of injuries or age, and corrects common misconceptions, here. — Liz Petoniak
By Laura Eiman
Anyone at any age can lift weights safely. Strength training (lifting weights to increase muscle strength) is very misunderstood. Many people think it is a dangerous fitness program, reserved for 20-year-old muscle men and marines who are already in shape. How do you think they got in shape? By lifting weights.
Lifting dumbbells, barbells, using your own body weight, and even lifting two soup cans when recovering from an injury, is one of the safest, most effective fitness programs anyone can do. Performing slow, focused lifts builds muscle strength, increases bone density, improves blood flow, cholesterol levels, and even cognitive thinking. For Baby Boomers, it halts and can even reverse Sarcopenia, the reduction of muscle due to aging and less physical activity. Here’s the best part: Your body will become a fat-burning machine. Muscle strength ramps up the metabolism. You are constantly burning calories. What’s not to love?
To begin, obtain your doctor’s approval before starting any fitness program. I only work with physicians that play sports themselves or treat athletes. This assures me that we share the same health and wellness philosophy.
Work with a personal trainer. When you’re a beginner, it is unsafe to learn strength training moves from a video or book. I advocate working (at least initially) with a personal trainer who will teach you proper technique (how to correctly execute a lift) and correct breathing. It is not about how much weight you lift. You are learning the moves, staying safe, discovering the limits and potential of your body, developing mobility, and becoming confident in yourself. As a newbie I lifted a 3-ounce PVC pipe for weeks before graduating to the 15-pound training barbell.
You can strength train with injuries. You are not alone. We all have injuries. Personal trainers are educated to work with injures as they are a part of life. Interview three to five trainers and select one who will teach you safe moves designed to work around your injury, protect the injury, even eliminate the injury. The beauty of strength training is that it can be customized to fit your needs (think Paralympics!).
It is a big myth that women will get too bulky by lifting weights. Female bodybuilders work hard for many years lifting heavy weights, eat a very specific diet, and some take testosterone. For the rest of us, lifting weights and eating the proper amount of nutrient-dense foods makes our muscles stronger and denser. We burn the fat that is on top of our muscles and get toned, not bulky. So, to all my female friends, please do not use this an excuse to not lift.
Know your body. When strength training you will learn about your body. Recognize your limitations, learn when to take rest days (as important as training days), and know when it is safe to push yourself and when to train light. All this knowledge comes with time and experimentation. I train with 30 year olds and despite my stubbornness, have learned that my 63-year-old body is different from theirs. I respect it and love it. As a result, it serves me well. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
Use your own body to get fit. My favorite “accessory work” (additional strength training exercises after I finish lifting the barbell) is using my body as the weight. Squats, push-ups, sit-ups, planks, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, walking lunges, Bulgarian lunges, and burpees are all powerful moves that when performed correctly will get you in the best shape of your life. Every move can be modified to accommodate your level of fitness.
Mastering your emotions is the key to success. I get asked all the time, “Laura, how do you life such heavy weights over your head four times a week?” My response is always the same: By mastering my emotions and going outside my comfort zone, every day. I could never hoist 75 pounds of steel over my 112-pound body saying, “Gee…there is no way I’ll be able to get this barbell off the ground. Think I’ll stay home today instead and watch TV.”