By Bob Gaydos
A while back I started writing about lifestyle changes I’ve made since I retired from daily newspapering. A new diet, low on sugar and salt, no red meat, high in vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts and Greek yogurt (frozen and not). A regular (more or less) exercise/workout regimen. Vitamin supplements. I feel, look and am a lot healthier than when I embarked on the changes.
I’ve also discovered something about life: There is no statute of limitations on it offering stuff for which I have no love. For example, I used to hate trigonometry. I could do it, but who decided we needed it? Also, I was not a fan of creamed spinach. Whose idea was that?
I don’t hate either anymore because I don’t have anything to do with them anymore. In college, I decided (with the strong suggestion of a faculty adviser) to pursue writing as a career instead of engineering. So I retired my slide rule (remember them?), abandoned sines, cosines and tangents, and plugged in my electric typewriter (remember them?) to focus on spelling, punctuation and good grammar (please remember them).
Creamed spinach was a non-starter at our first encounter. I hated it. Today, however, raw or sauteed spinach is welcome in my diet.
Today, I have something else to hate: Squats.
For the uninformed (or possibly out-of-shape), that’s a physical exercise, not a vegetable. If you can only do one exercise, I’m told, squats are the one to do because they work so many different muscles. The added muscle strength helps protect against injury from falls. Squats also improve balance, which decreases the likelihood of falls. For the record, one-third of those over the age of 65 fall each year and falls are the leading cause of death due to injury among seniors.
That’s why my fitness coach keeps telling me to do squats. Yes, I have a fitness coach, another step in my evolution from layabout slug to septuagenarian with his eye on 100. She’s also my partner. Once a week, my partner/coach and I do an hour-and-half weight-training regimen — dumbbells, weight machines, rollouts and squats. (I’m not overly fond of rollouts either, but let’s stick to squats for now.) The dumbbells have slowly increased in weight with time and with my development of some actual muscle.
Honestly, the workout is not yet what I would call fun. Maybe that’s why they call it a workout. Still, with increased strength has come increased self-confidence and I do like the results.
But squats are a killer. And, not to make excuses, I came to the exercise with a couple of physical issues. My right ankle is fused as a result of being shattered in a game of touch football 40 years ago and my left foot and lower leg experience varying degrees of numbness due to diabetic neuropathy. Bottom line: My squats won’t look like your squats because of necessary adjustments.
Whether my leg issues make my squats any harder to do than they are for someone without such physical issues, I don’t know. It’s not important. I do know I couldn’t manage even one squat the first time I was asked to do so. I kept losing my balance and falling over. This was embarrassing and frustrating and the root of several arguments between me and my partner/coach.
Gradually (and with considerable difficulty and complaining), I managed to do a couple of squats without falling over. It has been a slow go since then, with considerable adjustment. When we started working with a bodybuilding trainer in a well-equipped gym a year ago, I used the solid, metal legs of a chinning bar to help keep my balance as I went up and down with grunts and groans. There was also a full-length mirror that I could look at and remind myself to keep my head up and not bend over. Most of the time, I used it to check and make sure I was still breathing.
Recently, I groaned my way through 20 squats without using anything to keep my balance, took a break, and did 20 more. Wiped out. But not done. The trainer — whose job is to always think you can do one or two more reps of whatever the exercise is — has added a new wrinkle. I do squats while holding a metal bar over my head while he and my partner hold the ends to make sure I don’t fall over and injure myself.
I did 20 of these the last time and could barely walk when I was done. As I write this, my legs have still not fully recovered and my glutes are periodically achey. My partner/coach says it’s all good and she likes the new muscle tone in my legs, as do I. I also confess to a feeling of accomplishment for having survived, if not conquered, the challenge of squats.
Don’t get me wrong. I still hate them. It’s hard to believe I will ever feel otherwise. But I’ve learned (late in life, as with all my lessons), that I can survive and even benefit from something I hate. My partner/coach says my attitude is still too negative, that I should be more encouraging about becoming fit. She’s probably right. She and our bodybuilding coach have their work cut out for them in trying to get me to approach workouts with the same enthusiasm with which they do.
So I’m working on my attitude as well as my balance. For now at least, no one can say of me, “He can’t do squat.”