REAL  AGE…. the GYM and Exercises

Joining a Gym

What You Need to Know

Joining a gym or health club can be a great investment, a time-saving and motivational way to get your body in shape. Or it can be a boondoggle: Only one of three people who join a gym works out more than one hundred days a year. Before sinking a lot of dollars into a membership, make sure that you will actually use the gym. Before you join a gym:

1. Try it out. Most reputable clubs will allow you to work out free at least once before joining. That way you can test the equipment and the atmosphere. Do your workout at the time of day that you normally plan to work out to see how crowded the club gets and how long you would have to wait for machines.

2. Find out about classes. Ask to see a class schedule and talk to some instructors. Find out if classes are free with your membership.

3. Find out if there is someone regularly on staff to help answer questions about your workout. Good gyms will have someone who will teach you how to use all the equipment properly for free. Also find out if your gym has personal trainers who can take you through your workout. (In most big-city clubs, the fee for a personal trainer is $25 to $50 an hour.) Although you might not want to use a trainer all the time, having a pro look at your workout once in a while can do wonders to improve your technique.

4. Join a gym that is close to your home or work. Fitness-club gurus have what they call the 'twelve-week-twelve-mile' hypothesis: Most people who join gyms work out for only the first twelve weeks of their membership, and only if the club is less than twelve miles from their home or office. Find a place that's close and convenient.

5. Consider the atmosphere. Pick a gym where you feel comfortable. Look at the crowd that goes there and think about whether you would enjoy working out there. Perhaps working out with the 'twenty-somethings' would make you strive for more. Or maybe you would prefer a place that offers classes designed particularly for people over sixty. Some clubs are geared to women, and others are geared to men. Shop around and decide what fits you best.

6. Ask about hidden costs. Before joining, read the contract carefully and ask about extra expenses that may be added. Remember, too, that if you sign a full-year contract, you will have to pay for the whole year, even if you don't use the gym.

Ask if there are any special discounts for joining. Gyms may have monthly deals or offer special rates to first-time members. Ask around for pricing specials at comparable gyms in the area. You might be able to get a lower price from the gym you want to join.

7. Check out the equipment. Does it look new? Is it of good quality? Is it what you need for your workout? Don't believe promises about new equipment that's coming in 'next week.'

8. Determine your workout needs. Some people like being pampered in upscale gyms that offer the most deluxe equipment and amenities, such as massages, juice bars, and day care. Others are happy in a concrete room with just a treadmill and a set of free weights. 

9. Decide what activities and frills you would like your gym to offer and which ones you are willing to pay for.

10.Decide if it's the best option for you. Local park departments may offer free or low-cost access to gyms and exercise equipment. Also, many YMCAs, YWCAs, and YM/YWHAs have gyms that cost less than commercial options. Check, though, to be sure that the membership does not include other services that you do not want to pay for.


Achilles tendon and calf stretch. Face a wall. With both hands against the wall, place one foot well behind you and the other foot flat on the floor with the.toes touching the wall. Keeping the rear leg straight, with your heel on the ground, slowly lean in toward the wall. Keep your back straight. Hold it. Then switch and do the other leg. This exercise stretches your lower leg and helps prevent damage to your Achilles tendon.

Gastrocnemius stretch. Move the back leg closer to the wall and tilt the front foot upward along the wall, with the toes propped up against the wall. Lean in toward the wall. Repeat with the other leg. This exercise stretches your lower leg (calf) muscle.

Quadriceps stretch. This exercise stretches the long muscle that runs down the front of your thigh. Face a wall. Put your left hand on the wall for balance. Bend your right leg backward. Then reach your right hand behind your back and grab your right ankle, pulling it gently toward your buttocks until you feel tension along the front of your thigh. Then alternate and do the same thing for the left leg; that is, place your right hand on the wall and grab your left ankle.

Hamstring stretch. Stand on one leg. Prop the other leg straight out on a chair or table, so the top of the entire leg is parallel to the ground. Bend over so you bring your face over your knee. Slide both hands toward the propped-up ankle as far as they'll go. This exercise stretches the muscles running down the back of your thigh, as well as the muscles in your lower back.

Chest and triceps (back of the upper arm) stretch. Find something taller than you that you can grab onto, such as the top of a door frame or an overhead pole designed for pull-ups or stretching. Reach both hands over your head and grab onto the door frame or pole. Lean forward and stretch out your upper torso.

Biceps (front of the upper arm) stretch. Stand along a wall. Place your arm at shoulder height from the side nearest the wall outstretched to your side and slightly behind you with fingers and palm against the wall. Lean forward, so your arm is stretched out behind you.

Back and abdominal stretch. Lay down on your back, facing the ceiling. Put a rolled-up towel in the small of your back. Place your arms on your stomach. Relax for five minutes.

Strengthening Exercises: The Basics

Focus on strengthening all the different muscle groups. Pay special attention to the biceps, triceps, abdominals, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles.

These exercises are performed against some force of resistance, either a weight or the weight of your own body. At first, try eight to twelve repetitions for each exercise (one set). Then you should build your way up to three sets or more for each exercise. Start out with small amounts of weight. As you progress, you will find yourself increasing the weight limit.

Bent-knee push-ups. Lie facedown on the floor with your feet together and the palms of your hands flat on the floor on either side of your chest. Support the weight of your upper body on your arms with your knees against the floor as you raise your body until your arms are straight. Keep your back as flat as you can. Lower your upper body until your nose almost touches the ground and then raise it again. This bent-knee push-up is much easier than the straight-knee version. This exercise strengthens the muscles of your arms, chest, shoulders, and back. By doing the bent-knee push-up eight to twelve times three times a week, you'll eventually develop the upper-body strength to do the much harder straight-knee version; in which the pivot point is your toes, not your knees. Try to build more and more repetitions. Your three-year goal: to do as many straight-knee push-ups as your RealAge (I use my calendar age; that way, I know that every year I get a little stronger).

Knee extensions and flexions. Sit on a chair and place an ankle weight on each leg. (You can buy specially designed weights that have Velcro or an ankle wrap that has pockets into which you put progressively greater weight.) Extend one leg so it is straight out in front of you. Lower your leg back to its starting position. After eight to twelve repetitions, switch to the other leg.

Hip and knee extensions. Stand up and grab the back of a straight-backed chair with both hands (you may not need to use a chair, but I did when I started doing this exercise). Stand up straight with your toes just wider than your hips and point your toes outward. From this position, bend your knees slightly, directing your body weight over your toes. Do not do a deep knee bend. Keep your heels on the floor because the strength benefits occur with only a partial dip. Return to the initial position. As you get stronger, you can wear a backpack and gradually increase the amount of weight in the backpack?

Chest and shoulder exercises. Sit upright in a straight-back chair that has no arms. Your shoulders should be straight. Keep your arms at your sides. Hold a weight in each hand. (You can either buy free weights or make your own from milk or water jugs filled with liquid or sand.) Raise one arm slowly upward and outward, keeping the elbow straight. Stop when your arm is fully extended above your head. Slowly return your arm to its starting position. You can either buy heavier weights or increase the amount of water or sand in the jugs as you get stronger. Do the same exercises for the other arm.

Abdominal exercises. Lie comfortably on your back with your hands resting on your chest or at your side. Bend your knees and put a pillow behind your knees. Slowly bend and bring your head and chest and abdomen as a unit straight upward toward your knees. Start with as many as you can easily do, and build by one of these 'crunches' a week. After week five, add five crunches aimed at each knee laterally by slowly bending and bringing your head and chest and abdomen as a unit upward toward the outside aspect of each knee (first the right and then-the left after going back to the starting position).

Abdominal exercises, advanced. Lie comfortably on your back with your hands clasped behind your head. Lift both legs together. Hold for a count of six. Then move each leg up and down alternatively six times but do not touch the ground with either. Then do a scissors, moving the right leg left over the left leg, and vice versa, six times. Repeat the cycle three times before you put your legs on the floor again. Increase the count for each step as you get stronger.

Do three sets of these strengthening exercises after you do the flexibility exercises outlined above. Repeat the flexibility exercises at the end of the strength sequence. 

Again, these are just basic stretches and lifts that you can do at home without any elaborate equipment. As you progress, you may want to add more to your workout, increase the duration and intensity of your workout, or even take a class that integrates your strength and flexibility exercises into one circuit workout.