These Philadelphia women share the benefits of group exercise and tips to help you find your fitness community
Throughout the pandemic with lock downs, freezing weather, mask mandates, business closures, and all the limitations of 2020, this group never wavered in their commitment to themselves and their health goals.
Being consistent with your workout schedule is important to achieving your goals. And the best way to do that is to find people who motivate you and hold you accountable.
First, identify an activity that you enjoy, such as dancing, gardening, walking or biking. Once you choose your exercise, look for a friend, family member or group of like-minded people who also enjoy that type of exercise. You can find them through social media, such sites as Meet Up and Next Door, or even at a local gym.
At my gym, Fergie’s Instructional Training, a group of local women meet every Saturday morning for an outdoor boot-camp class. They call themselves “Fergie’s Fit Friends.” Ages, races, sizes and backgrounds differ. What they do have in common is their desire to remain functionally fit (in other words, to be self-sufficient and able to enjoy activities that require physical endurance), while engaging in rewarding, noncompetitive social interaction.
Throughout the pandemic, with lockdowns, freezing weather, mask mandates, business closures, and all the limitations we’ve faced, these women never wavered in their commitment to themselves and their health goals. Stress, depression, cabin fever, loneliness, weight gain, and lack of motivation all affected the group at some time during the last 20 months but consistently, exercising played a major role in maintaining sanity.
I recently asked some of the group members what kept them going. Here’s what they said:
“It’s the one day a week I do something just for myself.” — Yovna Destin
“Being out in nature with others who are also pushing their limits recharges me. We sweat, we laugh, and we support each other in our fitness goals.” — Gina Donato
“My ‘why’ when I first started was all about my weight, but my ‘why’ has changed over time. This is my time for me to enjoy my friends and focus on what I need physically and mentally.” — Donna Biddle
“My fellow boot campers are inspiring and make me want to push myself harder every week. Since joining this great group of fitness friends, I have successfully run two virtual 5k races.” — Robin Vadel
“I come because exercising with the class has helped me to recover time and again. I enjoy feeling like I am part of a team.” — Sharon Benjamin
“We push ourselves to improve our strength, go hard and feel the burn. When we are done it feels great.” — Mary Santarelli
“My Saturday morning Fit Friends are more than just workout buddies; they have become friends. I especially cherished this during COVID. Being outside and working out with this group of wonderful people helped me get through a difficult time.” — Barbara Keck
If you’d like to start your own outdoor workout group or join an established boot camp, begin with flexibility exercises to enable safe, all-terrain movement. When exercising outside, you face variable surfaces with inclines, declines, potholes, rocks and stones to step over, wet leaves and even puddles and mud.
The following exercises prepare the joints of the lower body for your outdoor workout:
1. Ankles. This exercise improves the flexibility in the ankles and brings more blood flow to the feet.
Sit upright in a sturdy chair with your back supported. Hold the sides of the chair while pulling your abdominal muscles into the spine and extend both legs in front of you. Rotate the ankles to the left 20 repetitions, then repeat to the right. Make sure that you are not tense in your shoulders, and you are breathing during this exercise. Now point and flex your feet for 20 reps. Repeat each set twice.
2. Calves. These exercises stretch the calves, improve range of motion in the ankle, and loosen the Achilles tendons.
Advanced: Stand upright behind a chair and place your hands on the back of the chair. Slide your left foot back about two feet, pressing your left heel to the floor and slowly bending your right knee until you feel a stretch in the calf muscle of your left leg. Hold for four deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Beginner: If your calves and hamstrings are really tight, use a large towel or stretching strap to perform an assisted calf stretch. Sit upright with legs extended out in front of you. Place the strap loop or middle of the towel around your foot (keep it closer to the ball of your foot for a more effective stretch). Gently pull your toes toward your shin until you feel the stretch in your calf. Hold for four deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
3. Knees. This exercise loosens the knee joint and supporting tendons, which helps to reduce your risk of tears or injuries.
Lie on your back on the floor, using your elbows and forearms to prop you up. Bend your left knee — this is your supporting knee. Bend and straighten your right knee 10 to 20 times by allowing your foot to slide forward and back. Repeat twice on each leg.
4. Hips. This exercise lubricates and loosens the hip joint, protecting against injuries and enabling more fluid movement as you maneuver.
Lie on your back with your knees tucked into your chest. Place your hands on your knees. Draw wide circles with each knee 10 times in a clockwise direction and then repeat in a counterclockwise direction.
Find your “birds of a feather” and get moving. Know that wanting support is not a sign of weakness. It is a natural benefit of being human, and we are here for each other.
Yvonne Ferguson Hardin (Fergie) is the owner of Fergie’s Instructional Training in Germantown, where she specializes in educational movement programs for exercisers aged 55 and older. For more information, go to TransformURlifetoday.com.