At-Home Fitness Workout for Women 50+

For NYCitywomen, fitness trainer Devone Stephenson has fine-tuned a dozen home exercises

by Linda Dyett

Who among us isn’t on an endless quest for self-improvement, making frequent pilgrimages to the local gym for cardio workouts and muscle-building? And who among us doesn’t walk out feeling…well…absolved? Our exercise session is complete; we’re off the hook for the days we don’t go to the gym. Right?

Wrong! The gym can be a trap. Yes, it’s great for concentrated workouts, but all too often it deprives us of the motivation to weave fitness into our workaday activities.

That tenet is similarly embraced by my trainer, Devone Stephenson—a superbly muscled, 6’8″ former pro basketball player who’s a fitness Einstein with a Cheshire Cat grin. Devone knows every pose imaginable and is a caring, patient, persuasive teacher, adept at sharing his enthusiasm and dynamism, astute at gauging the workout capacity of each of his clients. True, whenever he instructs me to do 15 hellish squat jumps, my response is an automatic What? Impossible! But I do them, thanks to Devone’s sublime cajolery. He’s even gotten me—a born kvetch who used to wail Oh God No whenever he announced 60 seconds of jump rope—to discover a certain fluency with it. (Lately when I start twirling that rope, I think to myself, Am I imagining things, or is this moderately pleasing?)

Devone, who makes house and office calls all over town and also trains clients in his ultra-modern Downtown Brooklyn gym, customizes his hour-long one-on-ones to each individual’s fitness level. Clients range from athletes to the ultra-out-of-shape and those recovering from injuries. Their ages? 18 to 80.

For NYCitywoman, Devon has fine-tuned the dozen exercises below for women over 50.

If you have the time, do all exercises as a circuit. Otherwise, focus on the exercises that address the areas bedeviling you. All you need are six or seven feet of space and a half hour or more to complete the circuit, as well as the following:

A foam exercise mat (thicker than a yoga mat). Better both for lying-down and standing routines, it prevents slippage, provides cushioning, and carves out a home exercise arena. Pictured: HemingWeigh Extra Thick Foam Exercise Mat.

A weighted jump rope. Devone recommends the SKLZ Weighted Speed Rope, with a soft grip, swivel ends (that make wrist rotations a cinch), smooth tubing, and adjustable length.

2, 3, or 5 pound free weights. These are Valeo Neoprene Hand Weights.

THE EXERCISES

Ground Rules:

Whatever exercise you do on one side, repeat on the opposite side.

Never hold your breath while exercising. During static poses, like Plank and Wall Sit, breathe deeply and slowly. During moving exercises, like Rows and Leg Raises, inhale during the set-up and release and exhale for the exertion portion. Devone’s rule of thumb: “Always exhale when lifting the weight, and always inhale when lowering it.”

It helps to situate yourself in front of a mirror.

Keep at it daily and you’re bound to see results.

Let’s start with a couple of basics:

Best tone-up for your whole body—The Superman Plank: This one works every single core muscle, giving you flatter abs and tighter hips and back. It also helps relieve back pain and undoes prolonged sitting stiffness. How to: Lie on your stomach. Place elbows on the mat so they’re aligned with your shoulders. Press palms down firmly. Spread fingers wide apart. Squeeze glutes, tuck in naval, and keep your weight centered in your midsection as you lift your trunk and tuck your hips. “It’s crucial,” says Devone, “to be on the balls of your feet, not your tiptoes.” For starters, hold for 10-15 seconds. As you become secure, add Superman arms and legs: Lift one leg and the opposite arm. Hold for 30 seconds. Return to starting position. Do up to 12 reps.

Best cardio—Jump Rope: Many of us have a muscle-memory advantage here, having jumped rope as children. But returning to this intense aerobic routine decades later can be challenging. Just be patient. Remember says Devone, “the rope is no more than half an inch thick, so all you need to clear it is a tiny hop.” How to: Keeping elbows at your sides, turn the rope using only your wrists. Avoid any arm or shoulder movement. Start with 10-second intervals. Work your way up to 30 seconds, jumping as fast as you can. Devone goes for 10 minutes, which he says has the aerobic benefit of 30 minutes of running. Hint: Keep a picture in your mind of Mohammed Ali jumping rope, as he did in this photo from 1963. You know: Float like a butterfly. Sting like a…

Firmer abs—Slo-Mo Arm & Leg Raises: These are a marvel for working both the upper and lower abs. Lie on your back. Raise and straighten legs to 90° as you simultaneously raise shoulders and arms as high as possible. Reach fingertips to toes. Then with control lower your arms to your sides as you lower your legs to just above the mat, counting to 10. Return legs to 90°; repeat. Do 8-12 reps—the slower the better. “Go really slow and you get twice the benefit,” says Devone.

Banishing shoulder-bag slump and a rounded back—The Reverse Shoulder Lift: This one is deceptively easy looking. Kneel on the mat, hands alongside head, rear end resting on heels. Finger-walk your left hand out front as far as it will go. Then rotate that palm upward. The movement involved is very slight but will take more effort than you’ll imagine. Stay in this position 15-30 seconds before moving your arm back to starting position. Do 3 reps on each side. Each one will get easier.

Undoing back flab—The Lawnmower Row: (above left) Stand in a front-to-back leg split, legs wide apart, right knee bent to 90 degrees, left leg straight with knee locked. Start with your left arm straight, fist pointed at the floor, then pull straight back, retracting your shoulder blade, until that arm is bent at to 90°. Imagine you’re powering a mower or pulling a chainsaw. Return to start. Do 8-12 reps.

Lower Back Strengthener—The Superwoman: (above right) Lie on your stomach, arms and legs extended. Raise one arm and the opposite leg. Return to start. Next, raise arms only, then legs only. Now you’re ready to raise arms and legs simultaneously. When you reach as high as you can, say one one-one thousand…two-one thousand, slowly. (Or utter a lengthy imprecation—that helps a lot.) Do 8 reps.

 

Firmer triceps—Kickbacks: (above left) Stand with feet together, knees bent, free weight in your right hand. Bend right elbow to 90°. Then straighten your arm so it’s parallel to your torso. Return to starting position. Do 8-12 reps.

Firmed up waist—The Rotational Twist: (above right) Stand up straight. Suck in your naval. With the free weight clasped in both hands, extend arms at shoulder height. “Keep those abs tight—crucially important,” says Devone. Now, carefully twist 10-15 times to the left, then to the right.

Tighten and round your rear—Donkey Kicks: Assume the tabletop position with palms spread, wrists directly under shoulders, knees at 90°. Tuck the free weight behind your bent knee and lift that leg as high as possible. Make sure hips are squared and parallel to the ground, toe pointed. Do 8-12 reps.

Balance restorer—Standing Single Leg Lift:  Stand tall. Raise your right foot, bending that knee to 90°, so the upper leg is parallel to floor. Slowly lean down, leading with your arms, until fingertips touch mat. While doing so, your lifted leg moves behind you, retaining that bent knee. Still moving slowly, return to starting position. Do 12 reps. “This is more challenging than it looks,” warns Devone.

Firmer thighs—Wall Sit: (above left) Lean against a wall, drawing naval in, knees bent to 90°, arms extended. Keeping your back straight, press shoulders into the wall. Hold for 1 minute.

Neck tension reliever—The Hand-assisted Neck Stretch: (above right) No muscles will be built with this exercise, but it does relieve an achy neck. Stand up straight. Turn your head down and to the right, in an ear-to-shoulder movement. Place your right hand on the side of your head, close to the crown, applying moderate pressure. You should feel a stretch in the opposite side of your neck. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Return to starting position. Do no more than 3 reps.

WAYS TO INCORPORATE FITNESS INTO DAILY ACTIVITIES

Walk whenever possible. Hint: overshoot the nearest bus or subway stop and head for the second or third closest.

Take the stairs, nix the elevator.

Do the Bus Shelter Hamstring Stretch. (above left) Sit up tall, sucking in abs, legs stretched out in front of you. Bend one knee to 90°. Flex toes. Being careful not to round your back, lean forward and feel the hamstring stretch. Hold up 45 seconds. The longer the hold, the more flexible the muscle becomes. Hint: the lower the seat, the more challenging the stretch.

Do the Telephone Bicep Curl. (above center) With phone in one hand, grab the free weight in the other. Pointing elbow to ground, swing that arm up and down, making sure you don’t move your shoulder. All the activity is in your arm. Switch arms every few minutes. Hint: Keep that free weight next to your landline phone.

Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth. Hint: Stand on your right leg for the upper jaw, left for the lower.

Do a standing yoga pose in the shower. (above right) My favorite is Cow Face, with hands clasped (or fingers touching) behind your back. Can’t reach? Bridge the gap with a washcloth or hand towel.

Devone can be reached at iamdevone@gmail.com. The above exercises are modeled by Jovana Nikolic, a dancer and dance instructor who, though younger than most NYCitywoman readers, certainly gives us a goal for practicing these routines daily.

Linda Dyett’s articles on fashion, beauty, health, home design, and architecture have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Monocle, Afar, New York magazine, Allure, Travel & Leisure, and many other publications.

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