Starting Olympic Weightlifting at 65+

Deborah Robinson took up weightlifting at an age when most people are struggling with physical activity.

Deborah Robinson started to run and fly from the day she was in kindergarten. A self-confessed GI brat, in and out of various cities, she didn’t stop running for a long time.

She couldn’t take anything seriously because her family was constantly moving. Until she got into high school.

“I lived in Mount Clemens, Michigan and I became a cheerleader in high school – which was wonderful – and played in the band. I had a background in music as well, and then when I graduated from high school I went on to Wayne State University and there I found dance.” Says Deborah

While at college, Deborah also ran track and was a high jumper. Track and field wasn’t the same sport as it is today

She recalls, “We didn’t have those nice soft cushiony high jumping pieces of equipment that they have today. We jumped in dust.”

She eventually went on to get her Masters in dance before making her way out to the west coast. In Los Angeles, she discovered the fitness business.

“I had a dance background so someone said teach aerobics. I said, what’s aerobics? Teaching aerobics? I start teaching aerobics and obviously that became the new thing to do was to do aerobic classes. I became a teacher at Jane Fonda’s.

“I’m on two videos, Stretch and Relax and Lean and Mean. Oh my God, I had the pony tail and the fake nails. It was just something my daughter thought was just a horrible thing.”

Today, at the age of 65, Deborah, who works as a trainer under Fitness Choice, teaches people from the age of 13 to 98. But, despite all the years as a fitness enthusiast, practitioner and teacher, it was only recently that she decided to hit the iron hard.

As she recounts, “I got bored with my workouts. As a 65 year old I couldn’t figure out what to do because I’ve always been on a high level of intensity and I went to all the gyms around and they didn’t seem to service me very well. With the gray hair and seeming that I could do something, they really didn’t know what to do with me so they just left me alone.”

In January of 2016, Deborah headed out to Bob Takano’s weightlifting gym in Woodland Hills, California to begin her journey in weightlifting.

“Bob and I worked out together a couple times, maybe a month or two some years ago because I wanted to know how to lift, Olympic lift because I had the certification. Bob had a convention and we became friends and one thing lead to another. That’s how I got into weightlifting and he said, compete. I said, cool.”

Weightlifting advice from Coach Takano for the mature athlete.

So, you may say to yourself, it’s kind of a given that a woman with Deborah’s background, dating back to the 70s, the aerobics revolution, and a lifetime devoted to fitness, would be the ideal candidate to start training in weightlifting at 65. That’s not everyone’s story, but Deborah has a different mindset.

In her own personal training business, Deborah works with women mostly, between the ages of 57 and 98 years old. That’s right, 98 years old. I asked her about the 98 year old, obviously.

“She has had two broken ankles. She has osteoporosis but she has the will and determination as if none of those things existed. What do we do? We walk around her home with her cane. She presses up on the chair to stand up straight because she keeps going forward because she can’t keep the strength. We stand up straight and I have her hold it asymmetrically. That’s something that we do.

“She sits and stands from a chair because you got to keep that motion because of the toilet. That’s a serious motion because if you lose your ability to sit and stand off the toilet you’re in trouble, and also doing lateral movement, walking side to side, which is very important.

“Keeping her chain back, shoulders down and sitting up straight in her chair, that’s an exercise for her. She likes swinging her legs so she holds on to the mantle and she swings her legs. She likes that for the hip motion.

“We do bands. She pulls bands. She likes that. She does a little two pound weight. That’s fun. Her traps are very tight because her head goes forward so I massage her neck and bring her chin back and hold her shoulder blades down. Of course, we’re stretching but I use the stick because she doesn’t get on the floor.”

Deborah spends an hour with her. She trains with once a week and then she goes somewhere. She still drives. It’s interesting to learn about the different age groups that Deborah works with because it really gives you insight to how effectively we have changed the paradigms of physical exercise in the last three decades: age is nothing but a number.

Let’s go back a little from our 98 year old and start with a 50 year old. If you were 50 years old and you wanted to start strengthening and conditioning how would Deborah manage that relationship?

“I started a new lady and she’s 57. The way we start is stabilizing her spine, stabilizing her back, helping her know where her abdominal are and what they do, how they are used to stabilize your back through motion. That’s how we start.”

Deborah has her client do dead bug, and bird dog. A lot of core stability work and they once she has strengthened the back as well, she tries something else.

“Then I have a trampoline. This particular woman has trouble with her calf muscles. She can’t dance around. I get a trampoline that’s less impact but then it gets her cardiovascular system going and then I have a battling rope.

“She’s popping that rope and she’s jumping on the trampoline. We got music. We’re going for it. It’s all done in her house.”

Most of the time, particularly as they age, people do not want to go the gym. While Deborah started weightlifting from a position of strength with her background, the majority of her clients are coming into exercise from standstill.

“I got a golfer. It’s a man. He’s 68. He’s an avid golfer. He didn’t have good rotation and we’ve been together 8 years. He rotates now.

“We do some movements that resemble golf. I can’t change his swing but I try to improve upon his swing with medicine balls and bands and cable machines. He doesn’t do any machines other than a cable. The rest is bodyweight, dumbbells and cable machines.”

Having worked with people of all ages, in the latter stages of their lives, Deborah’s perspective on starting weightlifting was clear.

She says, “You need someone to watch you, coach you because if you hurt yourself at 50 it’s a lot harder to get well than if you were 25.

“First of all, touching the weight and trying to pick it up was scary. I’ve never lifted anything so heavy in my life. Are you serious? Besides the first time when I was with Bob and I don’t even think we even got past the bar. I can’t recall. Maybe it was really light but it wasn’t this heavy. It was heavy. The rhythm. The rhythm of the movement was tough for me. It wasn’t like dancing.

“My flexibility was helpful. I think my body awareness was more helpful than anything. I’m still learning but at least I know where my butt is.”

Deborah trained two days a week when she began. That was enough. Now, she is up to three days a week.

“I think for right now. I’m pretty busted after I get through. It’s hard to recover. I want one day between. When you’re younger, you obviously just keep going. Yes, let’s go, but I’m saying let go, I can walk and do things but I’m not going to lift the next day.”

The difference has been noticeable for Deborah.

“It’s, I think, really good. I feel complete and I know what that is because when you dance you use everything, but I think this is a different kind of movement that does involve everything. I feel like I don’t have to do anything else.” Says Deborah.

The other thing that has happened as a result of Deborah getting into weightlifting is that she has extended what she is learning with Coach Takano to her ladies.

“I have one lady and I had a bar, not an Olympic bar but it’s a training bar – not a good one now that I know about bars – but it’s a good start for her. We’ll see what happens. I’ve been training her now 14 years. I know all her kids. They’re all grown now. We’ll see. If anyone can she’ll be the one.

“But it’s not something you focus on? You don’t train to use large weights. Most everything that you do is at home and bodyweight.

So, I ask Deborah, what are the limits for the Masters athlete once you hit 50, 60, 70, and even 90?

“If you take out disease then sky’s the limit. My 95 year old, she does the TRX pulls, then does the ladder drill. She’s all good. She’s lifting five pounds, she’s squatting up and down. Pushing on the desk counter, on the top. 95 and she says bring it, let’s do it.

“Now she fell eight weeks ago. She had a whole lot of stuff in her hands running in her house, tripped over the rug and broke her fifth metatarsal. She’s out of the boot now and she’s challenging everybody to hurry up and let’s get well. She’s 95 but that’s the attitude. That’s her attitude. Not every 95 year old’s attitude’s going to be like her’s.

“Whatever way you decide to do it you got to do it. I think it’s commitment to the process because if you just don’t have any commitment then what is the role without a commitment.”

Deborah wants to compete and wants to win competitions. She is competitive. She can’t help it. She is also unique in her abilities for her age, for any age. Not everyone her age wants what she wants.

“A lot of the people that I meet it’s about a chin up. It’s about, let me hold on to the bar. Then I’ll pull. That kind of thing. I think they have realistic goals. I don’t think they set themselves up for anything higher than that. They’re competing against life and trying to keep it together so they can do life.”

Click to enlarge (Source: NordicTrack)

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