Becky Neumann sits perched on her instructor’s bike at the front of her full Saturday morning Spinning class. She has her trademark cowboy bandana tied around her closely cropped dark hair, her form-fitting tank-top shows off her muscular arms, and her skin is glistening from sweat. She wears a mike around her head and a pair of granny glasses low down on her nose. That’s right. granny glasses. After all, Becky is sixty-three years old. Most people that age need glasses for reading.
And from her perch she expounds on her workout philosophy: “Don’t think about all the stuff you have to do today, just be here with me now in this class…work at a level that feels good and safe for you…and be sure to smile and meet the person sitting next to you.” Becky is an advocate of more friendliness at the gym. She says technology – televisions playing throughout the gym or electronic music – has robbed us of people being friendly and nice to one another.
Becky is a woman I’ve known or known about for the last forty years at the three venues where she’s worked as a personal trainer and fitness instructor and where I’ve worked out: the former Manhattan Women’s Club, the Manhattan Country (tennis) Club and now at the Spectrum Club in El Segundo California. Becky is one of two over sixty-year-old trainers at the Spectrum. And her age has no bearing on the Trainer of the Year Award she consistently receives year after year.
But looking at her, she is anything but old. Her five foot seven, 125-pound body has no fat or skin hanging anywhere, and her face- totally devoid of makeup – doesn’t have a wrinkle on it.
She also exudes well-being and confidence – so much so that when I asked her if being fit after a certain age keeps a person feeling sexy and good about herself she didn’t hesitate. “I know I could find a man with a snap of my fingers if I ever needed to,” she said – not that she’s looking. She’s been with her husband Fred for over forty years. “Just from the way I walk, I know I’m not going to be attacked in a dark alley.” She attributes that confidence to her exercise program and healthy protein – she loves peanut butter and cottage cheese – and veggie diet.
Becky knew as a youngster growing up in Moline, Illinois that she wanted to teach sports, inspired by her athletic parents and her love of tennis. To that end, she studied physical education at Northern Illinois University, and taught PE and coached track and field in Southern California for fourteen years. Then, after a short career in sales promotion for Reebok, she became a fitness instructor thirty-five years ago. She has had personal trainer on her resume for the last twenty-five.
She says that over half of her forty weekly personal training clients are over sixty. “That’s the age group that stays,” she says. “It becomes part of their life. They feel good about having someplace to go where someone is glad to see them.” Becky studied psychology while she was training to be a teacher, and it has come in handy during her training sessions.
Also, twenty-five percent of the people in her three weekly fitness classes – two cardio pump and one Spinning – are in the over sixty age group. Some, as old as eighty, have been taking her classes for over twenty-five years. So she makes her cardio classes functional and safe for everyone, using only light hand weights because too much equipment laying about in a full class is dangerous, and it can make a person lose their posture – something Becky is a real stickler about. She teaches her Spinning class with the same concern for safety, only teaching at three levels – not ten like in some of the other Spinning classes at the gym. Although she wants people to always have tension on their bikes, she doesn’t want anyone to push so hard that he or she ends up getting hurt. But, if you ever take one of her classes, make sure you don’t bounce. She’s a stickler about that too.
Even outside of her training and class environments she worries about the many older people who come to the gym every day. She says it’s important to not leave equipment around. Older people could bump into it, causing accidents. And because she is older herself, she clearly sees the signs of decline. “People get angry if they can’t function like they used to,” she says. “Younger trainers aren’t aware of that.” Even though older adults need to be especially aware of knees – most have no knee cartilage – shoulders, backs, and necks, it is still soimportant for them to keep moving. They can always lift weights, do yoga – even sitting down – or swim. But she thinks the gym needs more senior trainers who are more aware of the special needs of older gym members. The seniors don’t need fads that come and go like TRX, Zumba, and kick boxing. They need basic exercise and yoga classes that keep them moving. “It’s all about cardiovascular health. The brain needs oxygen, and moving provides oxygen,” she says.
Becky definitely keeps herself moving and readily brags about her form when she does her favorite exercise – the pull-up. She trains as heavy as she can every day of the week, yet she still doesn’t take a chance of hurting herself.“I must take good care of myself,” she says. “If I can’t be a role model for my clients and students, I can’t be an effective trainer and instructor,” she says. “I love the people I work with,” she says, “and I love imparting to them my passion for staying fit.”