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A big lift for seniors with champion support

Daniel Bouwmeester    February 27, 2023    6 min read   
Barry and Isabel are two of the seniors who enjoy stretching their limits.

A weightlifting champion is helping seniors keep fit at a fun strength-training club held weekly in Camira.

Strength & Fitness is a new exercise group that meets Wednesdays at 1pm at the Camira Springfield Community Centre, and older participants have found it truly uplifting.

World champion powerlifter Alan Muston runs the class with the needs of the elderly and those with debilitating impairments in mind, although it is open to everyone.

He said the goal is to improve mobility particularly in the arms and legs by mimicking everyday movements in a safe manner and building strength over time.

“The day you can’t lift your grocery shopping bags or stand up from the toilet seat is the day you lose your independence,” Alan said. “You’ve lost something important.”

“Elderly people are told by their doctors, the media, and their families to ‘be careful’.”

“Powerlifting is one of the safest [exercises] for old people,” he said.

He emphasised his mantra of ‘use it or lose it’.

“You’ve got to push the boundaries a bit… but in a controlled way. If you hurt someone, they won’t come back. But you have to [try to] release them from the fear of doing movement.”

He said there is something for almost everyone to do, even if it means assisting people up and out of their walking aids. Depending on the nature of a debilitation, Alan will seek the permission of a participant’s doctor before beginning training.

Above: Moira has great form completing her deadlift exercise. Top: Camira Springfield Community Centre. All images: Westside Community Care.

Alan, 66, only recently gained his credentials as a fully qualified personal trainer, inspired by a string of successes in competitive powerlifting – including a reign as world champion titleholder in the Masters category – through Powerlifting Australia (PA) and Brisbane North Barbell (BNB), which jointly run competitions.

In 2018, at BNB Bash VI, he pulled a massive squat lift of 446.4kg, breaking the international record for his age group at the time. In 2020, at the Australian Powerlifting Championships, he won his age group, and last year at the BNB Bash VIII, Alan deadlifted an incredible 551.1kg.

For Alan, it’s all about maximising a person’s potential, no matter who it is – and it is personal.

“I was written off. I was told I’d be lucky to walk again [after an accident]. And I believed it.”

Alan said that while much advice includes excessive caution, pushing oneself and taking some risks is part of living.

The activity is organised by Camira resident and former school teacher June Johnson, a community volunteer who is passionate about helping local residents come together.

“It’s great that seniors have fitness training facilities to go to that are safe and welcoming,” June said. “It can otherwise be very overwhelming using a gym for the first time, especially for older people.”

June said, “We have hit the jackpot with [Alan], who not only knows his stuff, but also knows how to tackle obstacles and health issues that hinder weight training. He himself has defied odds and lack of encouragement to continue weight training.”

June also mentioned that seniors can enjoy the gym facilities at ME Fitness at a discounted rate during Alan’s class at 11:30am on Mondays.

“Both sessions are an hour and focus on caring for seniors and those needing connection with others,” she said.

ME Fitness is a Springfield family-owned gym that is very supportive of its elderly patrons and is conveniently open 24/7.

Darren Kelly, director of ME Fitness and gym buff in his own right, praised Alan’s motivation and achievements and said it is important to get involved.

“I’ve known June and her son, Andrew, for a long time. Andrew is a physiotherapist who helped train Alan.”

“I encourage any pensioner to come along,” Darren said, hoping Springfield residents will increasingly make use of such community fitness activities.

“For things that normally bother older people, strength training is one of the cheapest and easiest things for people to do,” he said.

“It’s well documented that improved strength is very beneficial for simple things like increasing balance, reducing the risk of slip-and-fall, preventing the onset of sarcopenia and osteopenia – loss of skeletal muscle mass and bone density – and also mental health.”

“Exercise in general is one of the most underutilised antidepressants. [It] helps make you feel good!”

Camira resident Isabel Tortola praised the group, saying that it has done wonders for her movement and self-sufficiency.

“Walking has been difficult for me because of my two knee replacements. And I haven’t been able to drive, due to low vision,” she explained.

“But now, I’m doing everything. I’m cooking. I’m walking up and down steps by myself. I’m so happy.”

“June is a very nice lady. It’s a beautiful group. We support each other and make lots of jokes!”

“My daughters are so proud of me,” the 76-year-old former geriatric nurse said.

Marie Ann Clark quickly saw the benefits.

“For at least 15 years, I never did squats and lunges. Now I can do it.”

“[Alan] is good at showing me what I can do to work out my arm and shoulder without using heavy weights… I notice my knees don\’t click as much,” she said.

Another regular is Moira Van Hattem, who is 85 and despite being visually impaired with compounding leg issues, she has been having success lifting weights at the gym.

June added that Alan and the other members of the fitness groups never give up.

“[It’s] actually more dangerous to be doing little to keep mobile [and to not] keep using all muscles and bones as we age – it is a testament that it is never too late to get started.

“If you think lifting is hard or dangerous, feel free to ask any of our group!”

Alan’s strength training class is held at 1pm at the Camira Springfield Community Centre, at 389 Old Logan Rd. New participants should come to the Wednesday session 10 minutes early to fill out a health screening form. The Monday gym class is held at 11:30am at ME Fitness, at 6 Woodcrest Way, Springfield. Both sessions are one hour and cost $5. For all enquiries, call 3818 0921.

Daniel Bouwmeester

Daniel was born in a mining town in New South Wales to Dutch and Welsh immigrants, before relocating to Logan City, where he attended Canterbury College for twelve years. He pursued his passion for music by completing a first-class honours degree at the University of Queensland (UQ), and later signed with a local record label. He has travelled the world from a young age, including a student exchange in rural France, a job working the ski lifts in Colorado, and visits to the islands of the South Pacific. After a six-year career in market research, Daniel returned to UQ to complete a Bachelor of Journalism and Arts dual degree, majoring in political science. His varied experiences at home and abroad have contributed to a passion for spreading good news while defending the truth buried inside complex societal paradigms.