Laurie Dudik had never stepped foot on ice, but after watching two co-workers with hockey sticks and skates, she decided — at age 42 — to take an adult hockey clinic at the Cleveland Heights Recreation Center.
That was three seasons ago. Now, Dudik encourages other women: “All you need is skates, a stick and strong thighs — or you will get strong thighs very soon.”
Dudik had knee surgery several years ago, limiting her from high-impact exercises such as jogging. She worked out before her surgery, but never like she does now. “I tried to keep fit — not to be a total schlub,” she jokes.
Ice hockey is a low-impact sport that actually strengthens the muscles around the knee because of skating’s sideways movements. She compares the spurts of intensity during a game to a more exciting version of interval training.
“It’s not,I’m going to aerobicize for 45 minutes and get through this,” Dudik says. “You’re thinking,I have to speed up and catch that person. I want to get that puck! It’s invigorating.” Dudik even takes spinning classes twice a week to improve her hockey endurance. She lifts weights on off-days. She spends about an hour practicing with her team each week, and plays games at least every other week.
The roster contains 35 names, all women, ranging in age from 20 to the mid-50s. In addition to Dudik, a managing engineer for a research center at Case Western Reserve University, the team includes moms of youth hockey players, lawyers and doctors. There are three teams in Cleveland Heights alone, and Dudik’s league also has teams from Kent, Strongsville and Mentor. For Dudik, hockey has been a surprisingly accessible form of exercise, one that fakes her into an amazing workout.
“We don’t require much skill,” she says, pointing out the availability of weekly lessons for beginners. The classes cost $7 each, and within 12 weeks most women are ready to drop the puck.
If you’ve been out of the workout loop, it may seem impossible to get back in the gym. The key is to find an enjoyable exercise outlet and to think twice about what a workout means in the first place. Some women rediscover their inner athlete through team sports, such as Dudik’s hockey team, or something more individual such as a local golf league. Others focus on the social aspect of working out, in settings such as the Lakewood YMCA’s weekly four-mile walks or in 30-minute sessions at Curves.
Not sure what your niche is? Think activity, not exercise. Set some small goals.
“Start with an activity in mind rather than thinking,Oh, I have to go exercise,” suggests Gary Calabrese, director of Sports Health and orthopedic rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic.
Sign up for a 5K walk, set a tee time with friends or enroll in a six-week yoga class. We found a variety of workouts that will fool you into exercising: These are not typical gym activities, and they’re all accessible.
“Doesn’t every woman have 30 minutes to themselves?” asks Tracy Lawson, a 42-year-old mother in Strongsville. “But five years ago, I wouldn’t have made the time to work out.”
Then, Lawson was 5 feet tall and 200 pounds. “I never tried any other workout before — I was stubborn,” she admits. But watching her parents’ health deteriorate provided strong motivation. “I don’t want to be there in 10 years,” she says of her family’s heart problems.
Lawson started working out three days a week for 30 minutes, following the Curves circuit: hydraulic resistance strength training equipment for toning, plus cardio stations for intermittent bursts of activity (leg lifts, Chubby Checker twists, marching in place). She’s already lost 55 pounds.
“I like doing the half-hour thing,” Lawson says. The workout can burn up to 500 calories in one session, depending on exertion and a woman’s fitness level. (Oddly, you burn less the more fit you are; it’s the well-oiled-machine effect.) “Even if you don’t totally sweat and work yourself up into a frenzy, you still feel good when you leave here,” she says.
Curves offers a female-focused workout, and since accessibility to personal trainers is a part of the sign-up fee, trainers are on the floor at all times to offer assistance.
“If you make this the hardest 30 minutes of your day, that’s all you’ll need, three days a week,” says Deanna Decaire, owner of Curves locations in Westlake and Strongsville. “The women Curves works for know they need to take care of themselves, and they want to be able to get that workout in without it taking up so much of their day.”
What you won’t find at Curves: treadmills, elliptical machines and other pieces of cardio equipment. The Curves program focuses on a hydraulic strength training circuit, and it bolsters the toning program with an optional weight-management and nutrition component.
A new CurvesSmart program will allow members to “punch in” with identification cards containing personal-strength and range-of-motion data so machines will automatically adjust to individual needs. Swipe your card after a circuit session and get a report to find out whether your workout was up to your abilities.
If the idea of sweating is a turnoff, get your workout in the water. Water resistance exercises provide a low-impact total-body workout — and the pool just feels good, says Debbie Dobson, program manager and personal training coordinator at the EMH Center for Health & Fitness in Avon.
“There are no intimidating machines, no guys huffing and puffing and grunting,” she says. “It’s basically a land aerobics class done in water.”
And you don’t even have to get your hair wet.
EMH Center for Health & Fitness offers water aerobics classes for all levels. Beginners usually start in the 4-foot end so their toes can touch the pool bottom. “A deep-water class consists of floating or using a flotation device, and you don’t have the ability to take breaks,” Dobson explains.
Classes in the 92-degree therapy pool loosen muscles and improve range of motion and stretching capabilities. The environment is ideal for women who suffer from arthritis, and the warm temperature helps water aerobics beginners loosen up more easily. Classes also are conducted in the lap pool.
“You feel so good when you are in the pool — the water temperature is set, you’re working all those muscles and once you step out of the pool, you realize you worked all those muscles,” Dobson says.
And because your body feels weightless in water, most of the time you don’t realize you’re working so hard. Lunges, squats and other moves that are difficult to accomplish on land are much easier in the pool, Dobson says.
Thereis the whole bathing-suit thing. But most classes are all-female, Dobson says. (They do not restrict the course to women, however.) “Exercise doesn’t have to be hard-core,” she says. “You don’t have to sweat or put hours into it.”
Phyllis Jacobson goes to yoga classes four to five times a week to work her mind. Stretching, strengthening and toning are side benefits. “At first you go because of the exercise, but then you realize it’s taking over your head and that’s really why you go,” she says. “You kind of become a different person.”
You become a relaxed person, at least for that hour spent on the mat. “All those thoughts running through your head —I have to go to Heinen’s, then stop at the Verizon store,then ... eventually you stop thinking,” says Jacobson, who played competitive tennis for years. Today, she prefers the downward dog position to a doubles match.
Jacobson, who lives in Solon, took her first yoga class in her 50s. She used to visit a physical therapist regularly for knee, foot and elbow injuries. She hasn’t made an appointment in more than six years.
“I tell people who say, ‘I can’t even touch my toes,’ that that’s the point of yoga, so you can,” Jacobson says. “Yoga is what your body is really asking you for.”
Jacobson takes classes at Evolution Yoga in Beachwood from instructor Marni Task. Task specializes in jivamukti yoga (meaning “liberated while still in a body”) and anusara yoga (“flowing with grace”). Both types fall under the hatha yoga category, Task explains, straightening out a misconception that hatha yoga means “easy” or “for beginners.”All physical types of yoga fall under the hatha category.
Yoga’s body benefits include improved posture, stronger bones (it’s a weight-bearing exercise), toned muscles, better endurance and breathing and pure-and-simple peace of mind.
“When you stretch [in yoga], you bring blood flow to muscles, which keeps them younger and more oxygenated,” Task explains. “By doing positions like downward dog, where your hands are on the earth, you put pressure on those bones, and they build strength.”
Task notices a reduction of kyphosis in her mature students; women who started classes with poor posture or the beginnings of a back hump have learned to use their rhomboid muscles, which, when contracted, allow the shoulder blades to slide toward the spine. “When that happens, your shoulders move back, your front opens up,” Task says, noting progress toward “optimal alignment.”
First-timers should sample a beginners yoga class. Women with physical restrictions may consider a chair yoga class so they can gradually ease into floor positions. There are tapes, books and magazines that provide instruction. But nothing beats a group vibe.
“I love the energy and feeling you get from being in a class,” Jacobson says.
The simplicity of running — have shoes, will travel — appeals to many. But the high-impact jarring of knees, hips and every joint in between is a deterrent for would-be joggers. In-line skating offers the same lace-up-and-go convenience. Plus, it’s low-impact, as long as you learn how to stop and avoid falling.
Kristine Fondran teaches private lessons to people who have never been on skates before and also helps veterans refine their skills. In addition to teaching ice skating and coaching at the Cleveland Heights Recreation Center, Fondran runs the North Coast Inline Skating School.
Wipe out those images of extreme sports and half-pipes. In-line skating is a smooth workout, it’s easy to learn and skaters can enjoy great views while rolling through popular skate spots such as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near University Circle and the Cleveland Metroparks.
“In-line skating shapes your butt and thighs — if you look at skaters, they have nice legs,” Fondran points out. “That’s a draw for women. Skating is a great way to build up that muscle. And unlike biking, you can skate with a friend because you can carry on a conversation while you’re doing it.”
Fondran says all you need to get started is a pair of in-line skates ($150 will buy a nice pair, but check places such as Play It Again Sports for used equipment). Invest in a helmet and knee and elbow pads. Then just sign up for a private lesson to get going.
Skiers and former skaters will pick up the skills easily, Fondran says. You can learn start-and-stop basics in a class, or online at rollerblade.com. (You’ll see an animated video tutorial for which Fondran wrote the script.)
“Your legs burn in a different way [than running], and you’re not killing your knees and hips,” she says. Fondran advises biking new routes before skating them. “You don’t realize the hills involved when you drive.”
Accountability is a powerful thing for the group of Saturday-morning walkers who meet at the Lakewood YMCA weekly. Up to 15 people of all ages meet to walk four miles, rain or shine. They take a hiatus January through March, but otherwise the routine is clockwork.
“They also have lunches or coffee together twice a month, which really helps form that group,” says Anne Mitchell, the health and wellness director at the Lakewood Family YMCA. Those connections go a long way toward creating an exercise habit.
“Also, writing down exercise plans on a calendar helps,” Mitchell adds — ideal for Type-A people who must cross everything off a to-do list.
A walking-and-floor-workout program doesn’t require a gym membership or a personal trainer. Mitchell recommends walking for 15 to 30 minutes to warm up for sit-ups, squats, push-ups and back extension exercises. Be sure to check your intensity every week. “If you can successfully do 12 reps, you can make the exercise harder,” Mitchell says. She recommends strength training two or three days a week, depending on soreness.
Before starting any exercise program, consult a physician and enlist a professional to watch your form. Classes such as Women on Weights at the YMCA provide instruction on using strength-training equipment and how to start a program, Mitchell adds, which may be appealing to those interested in Nautilus equipment.
Back into the Swing
Revisiting an old, favorite sport is a great way to get back into a fitness habit, says the Cleveland Clinic’s Calabrese. Walking a nine-hole golf course can burn up to 300 calories, and that doesn’t include the strength you build while swinging or the mental benefit of enjoying the outdoors and socializing during the game.
If you’ve been out of the game for a while, schedule a doctor’s appointment and get an exercise evaluation from a physical therapist or exercise physiologist. “Oftentimes, people start programs and jump in too quickly,” Calabrese says. “Ramp up slowly and listen to your body.”
The Cleveland Clinic offers a Golf Fitness and Conditioning program in association with the Northern Ohio Golf Association, which includes screening and a golf-focused exercise plan to do at home.
It is concentrated on trunk and core work, flexibility exercises and strengthening for lower and upper extremities. During a golf analysis, a therapist watches your swing to identify stress points.
“We are not golf pros — and that’s very important to understand — but what we can do is look for areas of biomechanical stress, muscle overload and restricted range of motion,” Calabrese says. From that, he teaches golfers drills to help regain flexibility and strength so they can perform well on the course.
The Cleveland Clinic offers a similar performance program for running. A two-session evaluation, which includes a physical evaluation, program design and setup, implementation and video analysis, is about $225. Programs are open to anyone, Calabrese says.
“If you are educated and understand your goals and objectives, you’re more likely to stick with [exercise],” Calabrese says.
Learn more about the activities in this article:
28601 Chagrin Blvd., Woodmere, (216) 595-9642; evolutionyogastudio.com
Cleveland Heights women’s hockey
Northeast Ohio Women’s Hockey Organization
(216) 261-3438; northcoastinline.com
16915 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, (216) 521-8400; clevelandymca.org
EMH Center for Health & Fitness
1997 Healthway Drive, Avon, (440) 988-6800;emh-healthcare.org
Cleveland Clinic Sports Health
Push It Real Good
Anne Mitchell, health and wellness director for the Lakewood Family YMCA, suggests upping the effort of your workout as you improve. Here are her tips for increasing the intensity of some common floor exercises:
Easy: Rest knees on floor with hands parallel to your chest and close to the body.
Medium: Move hands farther out from the core of your body.
Difficult: Rest on toes instead of knees, and slow down each repetition.
Easy: Use a chair for balance.
Medium: Do leg squats without the chair.
Difficult: Engage in full body squats, incorporating a lunge move into each repetition.
To increase intensity, slow down eachrepetition. Count two seconds up, four seconds down.
Get Fit, Look Fabulous
Looking for the right workout apparel doesn’t have to make you break a sweat. There are plenty of comfortable options besides your old T-shirts and sweatpants, and they’re stylish for all ages and sizes.
•Olivia Long-sleeve Top
With its relaxed fit and breathable material, New Balance’s Olivia Long-sleeve Top is comfortable wear for trekking through the Metroparks or perfecting your downward dog in yoga class. The top’s natural bamboo fibers regulate body temperature and protect from harmful UV rays, and the front ruching adds a feminine touch. $40; visit newbalance. com to shop online or for store locations.
If you’re in search of an alternative to shorts, try Moving Comfort’s functional-yet-fashionable Endurance Skort. Great for the gym, running, golf and tennis, this lightweight skort moves with your stride. It also boasts a non-roll waistband, boy short liner and internal pocket for essentials. $36; visit movingcomfort.com for store locations.
Prana’s versatile fleece pullover can work as a cozy coverup for outdoor excursions during cooler months or as a casual option for sporting around the house. The pullover’s four-way stretch material makes for workout wear that won’t restrict your movement. $70; visit prana.com for store locations.
Easy As 1, 2, 3 ... 4
Let’s face it. We don’t always have time to tackle complicated machines and complex routines. If you can’t make it to the gym, try these simple (yet effective) exercises that can be done in your living room.
•The Chair Twist
Karen Allgire, co-director of Green Tara Yoga and Healing Arts in Cleveland Heights, recommends this exercise to bring mobility to the shoulders and spine, improve breathing, tone the organs and aid digestion.
Step 1: Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
Step 2: Turn to the right, placing your right hand on the back of the chair and left hand on your right outer thigh.
Step 3: Relaxing your neck and face, use your hands to help you turn your waist, ribs and chest.
Step 4: Inhaling, lengthen the trunk upward. Exhaling, deepen the twist.
Repeat twice on each side.
•Knee Bends with Overhead Press and Kick
Leigh Taylor, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer at LifeWorks of Southwest General in Middleburg Heights, suggests this exercise to tone the lower body, increase balance and strengthen core muscles.
Step 1: Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms bent with hands at shoulder level and palms facing forward.
Step 2: Contract your abdominals.
Step 3: Slowly bend your knees, keeping hips back in a squat position.
Step 4: Come to a standing position while lifting your hands overhead and kicking your right leg forward simultaneously.
Repeat 20 times, alternating front kick between left and right leg.