Strong Men gaining strength in Rock County

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, February 20, 2014

BELOIT—Strong Men started with a quick warm-up Wednesday afternoon.

“Move your arms. Stretched out in a circle. Now raise your hands over your head, and move your feet,” Paula Schutt told the men as she demonstrated each movement.

After the half-dozen men got their blood circulating, they were ready to start their strength-training exercises--knee extensions, side-hip raises, bicep curls and overhead presses.

During the hour-long session, Schutt counted out loud the repetitions of each exercise and praised her students. She challenged them to work as hard they could at a comfortable pace.

The new Strong Men class at Grinnell Hall Senior Center, 631 Bluff St., is the same class as the Strong Women program that targets mid-life and older adults, said Angela Flickinger, UW-Extension family living educator.

“It's a strength-training class targeted for the entire body, beneficial for 20- to 100-year-olds and a nice entry way to learn the proper and effective way into strength training,” she said.

Schutt brought the class to the Beloit senior center after seeing how effective the program was when she was the director of the Milton Senior Center, where the class also is offered.

“I knew the benefits of it, that there was no Strong Men group in Beloit and feel strongly about older people increasing their strength and not giving up,” she said.

Schutt also has deeply personal reasons to support fitness and balance among older men. Her father had emergency surgery after falling and hitting his head.

He died on the operating table.

“He was a strong guy in his 80s but had trouble with his balance. When he stood up too fast, he fell over.  I don't want anybody else to have to go through that,” she said.

Now, Schutt crusades against falls and for increasing strength.

Strong Men meets for one hour twice a week at 1 p.m. Wednesday and Friday in the Vets Room of Grinnell Hall. The session now underway started Feb. 12 and ends April 4. Those wishing to participate will have to wait until the next session, but Schutt hasn't yet picked a start date.

“We want to make this ongoing,” Schutt said.

Benefits of the program are both physical and mental and can include improved bone density; increased flexibility, strength and energy; a reduction in falls; and improvement of arthritis symptoms, Flickinger said.

Ron Loomis and Ron Culver, both of Beloit, said they felt a difference in their muscles after just two classes.

Loomis, 64, suffers from Parkinson's disease and enrolled in Strong Men to avoid muscle stiffness.

“This will help me keep my mobility and range of motion,” he said.

It's easier to stay motivated in a group class, he said.

“It's hard to do at home,” he said.

Ron Culver, 60, joined the new class hoping to gain strength and mobility after 30 years of hard labor ended in 2009 because of complications from diabetes, a kidney transplant and leg amputation.

“I can't lift as much as I used to. I'm hoping to gain a bit of strength back, become more flexible and wanted to learn the proper techniques and ways to exercise,” he said.

That's happening, Culver said.

“Twice a week is a good start. I feel comfortable with five-pound weights, so as time goes on I can advance with more weights and repetitions.”

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