“II DON’T WANT my daughter to exercise. She’ll get muscles.”
Undaunted, Bonnie replied to the voice on the other end of the phone, “Under every curve is a muscle, no muscle, no curve, no curve, no husband.” It was 1947 and after visiting her older daughter’s “deplorable” third grade gym class, Bonnie – the varsity athlete, Broadway concert dancer and rock climber extraordinaire – decided to start her own exercise program for the neighborhood children as a way to give her own two daughters what she felt they needed. If girls couldn’t exercise and boys couldn’t dance, Bonnie decided her class would be “conditioning” since she said no one knew what that was.
In the mid-1950s Bonnie was asked to train some of the Olympic skiers, which included Penny Pitue and Betsy Snipes. At the time they were heading to Europe for the Federation Nationale des Suisses. Bonnie introduced them to weight training. It was the first time those skiers had ever used weights. Specifically she introduced them to weight bags, which she had designed. Not only did their muscle strength improve, they balanced strength with flexibility exercise. Their coordination improved dramatically and they skied faster, longer and were less tired. Both Penny and Betsy went on to medal in the 1960 games.
All her life, Bonnie was a firm believer in weight training. Well-coiffed, and manicured, at 5’3” and 120 pounds, Bonnie with her lithe and graceful movement belied the rock solid six pack abs and the strong, smooth, flexible and capable muscles hidden beneath the slender dress, suit or leotard.
Looking Better and Feeling Better
Most people don’t want to go for the gold or compete in the Tour de France. They just want to look and feel better.
There are two ways to increase strength and at least a hundred reasons for doing so. The reasons for doing so run the entire gamut from being better at your favorite sport, improving your appearance, getting through childbirth quickly and easily, keeping up with the kids, enjoying a family vacation and just plain feeling and looking better.
Bonnie’s Weight Bags
Bonnie’s concern was for a fit nation, not just a part of the nation. The Bonnie Prudden program of exercise starts at birth and continues through old age. Not only does it address all ages, it encompasses all abilities.
Although Bonnie owned and used a set of barbells and dumbbells, her answer to weight training FOR ALL was weight bags. And this was for several reasons:
- They didn’t take up much space.
- If you dropped them on your toe it didn’t hurt.
- They could travel.
- Anyone in the family could use them from 1-year-old Betsey to 91-year-old John.
- They were versatile. They could be held in the hand while performing upper body exercises to increase strength in the arm, shoulders and upper back. Draped over the ankle improved the line of hips, and legs. Tossed onto the shoulders improved leg strength while doing deep knee bends. Carried in a back pack while hiking, overall strength and endurance improved as it did when used with a broom stick as a bar bell.
Throughout the 1980s when on the road for book tours, our weight bags went with us. They went with us on our vacations. Bonnie kept a set of weight bags on her writing desk and next to her bed. During a writing break I would often come in to find her lying on her bed using the 5 pounders to stretch and strengthen when she was in her mid-90s.
At the end of this article see how to make your own set of weight bags and begin your weight training program. Most of Bonnie’s books, including How to Keep Your Child Fit from Birth to Six, include a weight training program.
As with most things one chooses to do throughout life the outcome can depend, in large part on the approach, on dedication and correct information. Done correctly weight lifting or weight training will give you a smooth, strong, flexible musculature. Done incorrectly the outcome is often bulging, painful, inflexible muscles that injure easily.
Tips for Weight Training
The safest and best way to train is for definition and performance, in which joints are moved through full range of motion and the result is well defined and performing muscles rather than bulgy, bulky and self-limiting. This is accomplished by lifting lighter weight more often, rather than very heavy weights less often.
Weight training is an excellent strengthener for BOTH men and women, boys and girls. It should also include using your own body to do the work such as in pull-ups, rope climbing, push-ups and sit-ups. Girls have the same muscles as boys and there is no reason why girls should be limited or need to have adapted exercises.
Push-Me, Pull You
Another way to build strength in the arms, hands, back, abdominals, gluteals, legs and feet is to work against another person using push-me, pull-me moves. It is also an exercise in balance and sensitivity.
Jumping rope is one of the best exercises there is. You can use the old clothesline type rope or splurge and get a really nice one. If you haven’t jumped in a while, start slowly or you may give up. Here’s how.
- FIRST, WARM UP: after your entire body is warm — especially your legs and feet — then you may begin. If on a safe area, go barefoot. There are layers of muscles on the bottom of your feet and they all need to be exercised.
- SECOND: put on some running music. At the end of the song you will have run for about 3 minutes. That is a good start if you are in the “starting over” phase.Begin by just running in place. If you are starting from way back, use the back of the chair to hold on. Vary your steps. Jump, hop, side to side, backward and forward, apart together, twisting, toes in, toes out. This is like cross country running and is not repetitive. Muscles like variety.
- THIRD: once you have finished your running and jumping, be sure to balance out your strengthening and endurance work with ballistic stretch for the muscles you have just used, especially the hamstrings and calf muscles.
- FINALLY: add the rope.
ALWAYS WARM UP FIRST. ALWAYS USE MUSIC.
ALWAYS USE BALLISTIC STRETCH. ALWAYS USE COMMON SENSE.
You are with yourself 24/7. YOU know your body better than anyone else. Listen to it. It will tell you what you are not ready for and when you are ready for more.
In the early 60s Bonnie recorded 6 record albums. Five of them contained running, rope jumping and weight training. All included full range of motion exercise for the entire body and flexibility. Strength plus flexibility — in the proper timing and intensity — yield coordination. You want to look good, feel good, improve your performance and stay injury free.
Figures are from How to Keep Your Child Fit from Birth to Six, Exer-Sex and Myotherapy: Bonnie Prudden’s Complete Guide to Pain-Free Living, all by Bonnie Prudden.
For more information about Bonnie Prudden®, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®, workshops, books, self-help tools, DVDs, educational videos, and blogs, visit www.bonnieprudden.com. Or call 520-529-3979 if you have questions or need help. Enid Whittaker, Managing Director, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®
How to Make Weight Bags