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CrossFit Clean Slate embraces older adults for improved mobility

Amy Palumbo-LeClaire

“You are a lot stronger than you think you are,” Ray Martin tells two of his new members, both of whom are longtime Dudley neighbors and, recently, have become workout pals at CrossFit Clean Slate of 29 Poland Street. The gym, known for weight lifting, expert training, and a hard-core workout, has taken these older adults by surprise.

“My mindset of a CrossFit box was having to roll tires and carry 300-pound weights,” admitted Dick Ravenelle, who has lost fifteen pounds in only a few months under Martin’s direction. “I’ve learned that it couldn’t be further from the truth. Ray has been working with muscles I haven’t used in awhile. I wish a lot of people my age (73) would understand that small aches and pains can be fixed. People have the wrong impression about CrossFit. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to work out here. I have a better quality of life now. I’ll never work out like them,” he adds, gesturing to a row of ardent weightlifters at the gym’s center mat, “but I move the way I move.”

Not only does Dick Ravenelle move the way he moves, he also walks with confidence, breathes more easily, runs up steps, and eats apples instead of crackers now, given a program tailored to his individual needs.  His main motivation for renewed health focus?

 “I want to be there to follow what my grandchildren do,” he said.  “It’s what keeps me going. I raised my children in athletics. I want to keep moving, keep going, and keep up with them. I had a compound fracture on my ankle five years ago and favored one side of my body, so the other side started to hurt. Ray said to me, ‘I can help you.’ The difference overall has been unbelievable.”

Unbelievable differences, perhaps, come with unbelievable trainers. Ray Martin’s program includes a warm-up on the bike, band work for resistance training, sled pushes, rotational twists with exercise balls (to enable cross-over symmetry), shoulder work, and core training. “Resistance bands are scientifically proven to strengthen dormant small muscles groups. We need to strengthen those areas before moving onto bigger things,” Martin, whose orthopedic surgeon fully endorses his fitness strategies, mentioned.

“I use the bike or elliptical so I don’t come in cold,” said Ravenelle. “It gets me sweating. I used to be able to ride for only two minutes. Now I can ride 15 minutes non-stop. I take things one day at a time. If I start projecting and setting too many goals, I’ll get discouraged. Today I did this much. Next time I will do more. It’s all about how I feel.”

Ray Martin cares about how his older adults feel while ensuring that, more practically, they will be able to get up off of the ground, should a fall occur. “That is the goal,” he shared, encouraging Jack Kramarz to lift up from a seated position. Ray’s older members increase their arm strength using a variety of fitness tools designed for creativity and strategy. For example, they might twist a wooden dowel with a kettle ball attached, lower and lift a CrossFit bar, or learn to properly toss an exercise ball.

“I fell in Southbridge awhile back.  I had been walking over a curb,” Ravenelle shared. “Three cops were on me before I hit the ground.”

“We survived that,” said Martin, a fighter who survived a major car accident eighteen years ago, one which led to six subsequent surgeries, a series of cortisone shots and, perhaps most importantly, the tireless attitude to keep going.

“I’m now squatting below parallel again,” said Martin, whose “bone on bone” knees have failed to stop him from moving. “I have pain, but it’s all manageable. I’ll take my own pain any day.”

“People at an older age benefit from this because of the way the program is set up,” said Dick Ravenelle. “It is individualized so that you don’t pass to the next step until you feel ready, and well enough. Everybody is totally different and has different needs. I never thought I would feel this good. Progress has been tremendous.”

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