On planet Earth, there are approximately 379 million women in their 50s. Columbus’ own Shellie Edington is the fittest of them all. The 51-year-old’s decisive first place performance at the 2016 CrossFit Games (Women 50-54) proved that age is only the barrier we allow it to be.
Along with her longtime coach, Mitch Potterf, they’re calling bullshit on the idea that weight lifting and intense workouts are only for the young and supple. Potterf owns Fit Club, a gym near the Brewery District, and has established an expertise in functional fitness for grown ups. Shellie is his crowning achievement. Together, they believe we should rethink what health and fitness means as we move into our middle ages.
(614) sat down (only briefly) with Shellie and Mitch to talk about exercise and diet, all while undoing years of misinformation along the way.
Fitness is a hedge against injury, illness, and disease.
Shellie: As people approach retirement in their ’40s and ’50s, they’ve often invested in their financial future, but not in their health future. But you’re either gonna either pay now, or pay later. I tell people to picture the kind of health they want when they retire, and work towards that. And it usually involves eating real food, exercising, and taking time for themselves. But just like anything else, it takes an investment.
You should definitely lift weights—but not the way you think.
Mitch: For people in their ’40s and ’50s, most of the information they’ve seen about weightlifting has come from the bodybuilding community–which doesn’t really speak to most people. But for us, weightlifting is simply applying force to an object. Parenting is weightlifting. Golf is weightlifting. Gardening is weightlifting. It’s just a matter of degree. If you can deadlift your bodyweight, you can easily carry a bag of mulch. So weightlifting is about figuring out what objects in life you need to move, and building a plan around that.
Doing it alone is nearly impossible.
Shellie: Having a real coach every time I work out is huge. It’s someone that knows me, my ability, my limitations, my goals, and can build a program. It just makes more sense to me to have a coach watching you, making sure you avoid injury, and working you towards your goals. I used to go to these 11,000-square-foot gyms that had all this equipment that I didn’t know how to use. But I was unsatisfied and saw no results.
Mitch: You have to look at the evolution of the fitness industry. Companies started engineering machines that anyone could walk up and use, without instruction, so no one had to be intimidated or embarrassed. But that encourages isolation—it’s the treadmill culture. Fitness is just like anything else; if you want to get better, you have to get smarter. The human body is really complex. You have to involve experts in your health goals.
Father Time is the ultimate judge of your diet.
Shellie: I was 46 when I came to Fit Club and I wasn’t happy with my weight. A lot of things I had been taught about food were wrong—especially about sugar and carbs. But once I started the paleo diet and eating real food, the weight started falling off. And I started to build muscle and sustain energy. Diet is 80 percent of your fitness and how you look—exercise is the other 20 percent. But a good exercise plan has a huge impact on the decisions you make with food throughout the day. Food is fuel.
Mitch: Other than politics and religion, there is nothing people will fight you on more than food and diet. Someone will always tell you why ‘this diet’ or ‘that food’ is the best. And when you’re younger, you can exercise your way to fitness absent of a good diet. But as we get older, we lose the ability to overcome shitty eating (a poor diet). Look, you’re either accomplishing your fitness goals, or you’re not. And if you’re not, you need to be willing to look at how you’re eating.
Intensity is ok, you just have to get used to it.
Shellie: I think people initially panic or get scared when they feel intensity they’ve never felt before. And panic is our bodies way of stopping something that feels unknown. But once people get used to a little intensity, the panic goes away and you can start to improve. And it’s all relevant. What’s intense for me isn’t intense for everyone else. And that’s ok.
You need specific goals, even if they’re very simple.
Mitch: Most people our age don’t want to win a competition. They just want to live a good, healthy life–where they don’t hurt, and don’t have gastrointestinal or cardiac problems, and can move their body freely. So we just need to figure out what we want to accomplish–whether it’s lose weight for summer, or pick up a grand kid, or play golf–and work towards that. •