Sports

The question is: Why Weight?

There is no grunting or posing. There are no baby-oiled hard bodies glistening in front of full-length mirrors, counting six-packs or flexing rippled pecs. All of the common associations with weight training are discarded, and good riddance.

The park district’s Why Weight? classes are simply about strength, wellness and good health.

After years of cardiac nursing in Providence Hospital’s intensive care unit -- treating patients whose average age seemed to keep getting lower -- Kay Jensen decided to actively employ the age-old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” to her work.

Jensen, also a certified personal trainer, wanted to offer a fun and supportive way to begin weight training, to supplement the cardiovascular workout that brisk walking provides. Why Weight? classes began as an offshoot from Island Striders, a pedestrian group whose foot travels have covered Bainbridge Island for many years.

She has been teaching the low-impact class for three years, and Jensen has seen an influx of participants from Serenity House programs, the senior center and “folks who might be intimidated or otherwise not go to the gym.”

What started as a single park district class once a week has bulked up into a six-times-a-week all-ages group of fitness-conscious islanders.

“The stats continue to come in about the importance of weight-bearing exercise, especially in slowing osteoporosis,” Jensen said. “This, with a good walking program, is really the way to go.”

But, she concedes, it’s not the only way to go. Why Weight? shares the mini-gym with a number of other park district exercise classes, and Jensen is excited about the increased awareness in fitness on Bainbridge.

“There’s really something for everyone, and less reason for excuses,” Jensen said. “I just want folks to have a fun time.”

The workout

Jensen greets participants by name as they walk through the door of the mini-gym at Strawberry Hill Park -- most are Why Weight? alumni, having made the decision to incorporate the group strength training class into their weekly routine.

There are two that Jensen hasn’t seen before, and she is quick to make them feel right at home.

“Good morning, good morning,” Jensen says. “Would you like to work out with us?”

Virginia Stave, age 80 “and holding,” and Lucile Parker, who is 81 “going on 82,” agree, and each finds a suitable purple yoga mat and pair of hot pink lightweight dumbbells for the hour-long class.

The group begins with a warmup of light aerobics with small hand weights, to “Celebrate” by Kool & The Gang.

“We’re waking up those muscles,” Jensen announces, as hands are lifted to the beat, clenching weights that range from two to 10 pounds.

The Pointer Sisters fade in and out, and then the class gently works their triceps to the rousing brass of “Tequila.”

After the warmup, it’s time for a good stretch, which Jensen explains is the first thing usually cast aside when working out individually.

Mild strains of classical music accompany the slow reaching and bending; heads nod back and forth to stretch the neck muscles as the group stands in a circle.

“The human head ranges in weight from 10 to 15 pounds,” Jensen says. “We’re wondering who the 10-pounders are.”

The class guffaws, and then picks up their dumbbells for plie squats, 10 repetitions each. Biceps are next, and after “flex, tighten and release” another 10 times, Jensen’s class returns to the purple mats for some basic yoga elements.

Hips are stretched, quadriceps are tightened, abs are flexed -- all with emphasis on form and technique.

“This is quite a workout. Now what?” the octogenarian Stave asks, having come through the flexibility and balance exercises with flying colors.

“Weight training purgatory,” quips Jensen as the class laughs again.

Butterflies and twists with the dumbbells are next, and just as the group is starting to develop beads of perspiration at the temples, it’s lights out.

Gregorian chant fills the room, and cool-down stretching begins. Jensen instructs her charges to breathe slowly, deeply, and to focus on contracting and releasing muscles from scalp to tips of toes.

The music fades, the lights are flipped on and mats and weights are put away.

First-timers Stave and Parker, who talked each other into attending the Why Weight? class specifically to prepare for a trip to China next year, agree that the workout was a step up from their usual physical routines.

“I’ve been swimming,” Stave said. “But this exercises new muscles. It’s much different than the lazy swim I’ve been doing.”

“We just refuse to be over the hill,” Parker added.

The mini-gym empties out before the noon class, and Jensen finds her clipboard for the incoming group. Class routines are not duplicated, Jensen explains, because muscle levels plateau easily.

“We never do the same workout,” Jensen said. “My challenge as a teacher is to keep our muscle groups completely confused.

“They don’t know what’s going to hit them from one class to the next.”

* * * * *

Why Weight? classes are held at the Strawberry Hill Park mini-gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 9-10 a.m., 10:30-11:30 a.m. and 12-1 p.m.

For more information, call 842-2301.

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