It isn’t just limber young things pumping iron at Physique 57, a cult-favorite barre class where the strength training and stretching exercises are done with 5- to 8-pound weights.
“We have clients in their early 20s through their 80s, and they’re all incredibly strong,” says Alicia Weihl, the director of talent and training at the 10-year-old studio favored by celebrities such as Kelly Ripa and Chrissy Teigen.
The weights don’t result in a bulked-up bod, adds Weihl, but rather a lifted butt, sculpted arms and toned thighs. They also contribute to better balance, flexibility and core strength, which are especially beneficial for women as they age.
One of the class’s regulars is designer Norma Kamali, a 72-year-old West Villager who’s watched her body go from weak to defined since she started attending the classes about a decade ago. Now, she goes daily, comparing the routine to “brushing my teeth.”
“For women progressing in age, feeling powerful in your body is very sexy,” Kamali, who usually opts for 8-pound weights, tells The Post.
Still, many women are missing out on weight lifting — quite possibly the best exercise for them at any age. And that’s mostly due to unfortunate — and unfounded — fears that the practice will make them resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Brad Schoenfeld, a researcher and professor of exercise science at Lehman College. “It’s the most important activity you can do for your health and wellness,” Schoenfeld says, adding that it takes a lot more work (and sometimes the help of steroids) to look as ripped as a bodybuilder.
Unlike running and other cardio-based exercises long thought to be the holy grail of lean physiques, weight training preserves much-needed lean muscle mass, according to a 2016 study by researchers at Wake Forest University. Additional research has linked weight training to improved metabolic health, as well as a lowered risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and falls later in life.
Cardio-based boutique fitness studios are catching on to weights — and upping their offerings. Last week, the treadmill-based Mile High Run Club launched a weight-training class called the Build. And SoulCycle recently debuted SoulActivate, a class that uses 8-pound weights, rather than the 2- to 5-pound weights used in their standard spin class.
When it comes to pumping iron, it’s older women who especially get a lift: The bone density they start to lose during menopause can be halted with weight training.
‘For women progressing in age, feeling powerful in your body is very sexy.’
Amelia Salzman learned that firsthand. As she approached her 55th birthday, the environmental policy expert felt tired and weak. A hectic schedule working in the Obama White House had her living off “canned soup and Twizzlers,” with hardly enough time to even walk her dog.
“It felt like gravity was winning,” says Salzman, now 59.
And so the Chelsea resident started seeing personal trainer Vera Trifunovich at Uplift Studios, a women’s gym in the Flatiron District that emphasizes weight training. Now, after working her way up from 5-pound weights, she uses 25-pound dumbbells.
“I’m proud of my muscles! And I love watching younger people work out and thinking, ‘I can lift that,’” Salzman says.
Doctors and trainers agree that age is just a number when it comes to working out with weights — but there is one caveat. “You can do almost any exercises at any age as long as you have good form,” says Dr. Jaclyn Bonder, rehab medicine specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Bonder recommends this universal starting position: “Keep the shoulders down and back, with your belly button drawn in, which engages your core muscles, and tilt your pelvis forward. Keep a slight bend in your knees.”
Weights should be heavy enough so that the last two reps are a challenge, but don’t cause you to lose your balance and weaken your form. Size doesn’t always matter: Smaller 3-pounders can be effective as long as you’re still pushing yourself, according to a 2017 study by Schoenfeld.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts recommend working out with weights about twice a week, with breaks between training days.
“If you never give your muscles time to recover, you have a lot of microtears, and then you start to have a lot of problems with your muscles not being strong enough and you see overuse injuries,” says Dr. Toni McLaurin, an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone.
And, keep in mind, weight training isn’t a one-size-fits-all exercise.
Elderly people with joint issues may find body-weight exercises gentler than actual weights. Jimmy McKay, who works with seniors through Fox Rehabilitation, recommends squats to improve mobility, as well as core-strengthening exercises, such as the plank pose, to help prevent injuries from falls.
Stretching is also important — especially after age 40 — and will help reduce aches and pains after lifting heavy weights, Bonder says. A combination of weights and balancing exercises — such as single-leg lunges while holding weights — will also help build strong, stabilizing muscles and avoid putting too much pressure on joints.
For the best success, it’s important to start adding weights into your fitness routine as often — and as soon — as possible.
“The more you can lift weights when you’re younger,” Bonder says, “the more likely you’re going to be able to do it for the rest of your life.”
Ready for liftoff
In her Sculptologie group fitness classes (Sculptologie.com), Tatiana Boncompagni melds mindfulness and heavy lifting. Here, the trainer, 40, shares a few go-to moves to jump-start your weight-training regimen no matter your age. As always, speak with your doctor before embarking on a new, challenging regimen.
For a total-body workout, make it a circuit: Complete reps for each of the three moves, and then do it again two or three times.
If you’re over 50:
Back and core: Supported one-arm rows
1. Place your right hand and right knee on a workout bench. Hold a 5- to 15-pound dumbbell in your left hand with the arm straight. Be careful not to lock out either arm.
2. Pull the weight straight up so it’s next to your ribs, keeping your elbow close to the body. Return the left arm to straight.
3. Repeat on the other side, completing 10 reps on each side.
Legs: Reverse lunge
1. Stand up tall with your feet hip-width apart, holding one 12- to 15-pound weight in each hand.
2. Step your left leg behind you, planting the ball of your foot on the ground. Descend slowly until your back knee nearly touches the ground. The right, front knee should stay in line with the foot.
3. Return to the starting position by driving through the heel of the front foot. Do seven to 10 reps and switch sides.
Shoulders: Front shoulder raises
1. Standing with your feet hip-width apart, hold a 5- to 10-pound dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs.
2. With your palms facing the floor and your elbows slightly bent, raise the dumbbells to just above shoulder height. Return them to the thighs.
3. Do 10 to 15 reps. If this is too challenging, try lifting one arm at a time.
If you’re under 50:
Back and core: Renegade rows with dumbbells
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