Annie Fields has been an integral part of the Fit Thrive and Get Glutes community for years. She embodies every essence of a strong, beautiful woman. If you've been in our forum, you've likely met Annie. She is the first to greet new members, is always ready to answer questions, and is our biggest cheerleader.
I'm thrilled to have Annie as our Member Spotlight as she shows us we can be fit and strong at any age. I look forward to aging as gracefully as Annie and have learned so much from her over the years. We hope you enjoy this interview with Annie brought to you by Keeley Novotny.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:
I was born in Stockholm, Sweden and lived there until I was 22. I have two brothers who are still there with their families, as is my 102 year old mother. At the age of 22, as part of my education, I spent a couple of months in Switzerland and a couple of months in England, going to school part time and working as an intern part time. While in England, I met a really cute guy in my last week there. After returning home and graduating, I went back to England to visit the cute guy, and never went back to Sweden to live. The cute guy became my first husband. I had a son, got divorced, remarried an American serviceman a few years later, and came with him to the US in 1975. We were stationed in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I went to work for a large international construction company. My daughter was born there in 1976. A few years later, it became apparent that my marriage was in trouble, and I ended up divorcing again. Perhaps not surprisingly, I concluded at that point that I was no good at being married, and I stayed single for the next 13 years.
I married again in 1992. This time, I was much older and wiser, and this marriage was a success. Sadly, I lost my husband to a sudden heart attack in 2006, just a few months after the birth of my granddaughter. My son is an engineer. He lives in Denver with his Turkish wife and my grandson, who is finishing up his education to become a math teacher. I also have a married Turkish step-granddaughter in Denver, and a 1year old great-grandson. My daughter is a social worker and lives in Charlotte with her husband (who was born in the US!) and my granddaughter, who is 10 now.
To make a very long story short(ish), I spent a total of 39 years working for the construction company on projects in Texas, Arizona, Georgia, California, Illinois, and finally South Carolina, until I retired in 2014. The work perfectly suited my personality. Lots of excitement, lots of variety, lots of stuff going wrong that you have to figure out how to fix, and every new project brings new friends, new challenges and a new environment. Plus you get to see the very tangible results of your work - so much fun!
Since my retirement, I have become a certified Master Gardener, and spend a few hours most weeks helping people with gardening problems, as well as a lot of time working in my own garden. I also volunteer at a resource center for retirees, helping people navigate Medicare and other health insurance issues.
When did you discover your love for fitness? Tell us a bit about your journey and how it brought you to Get Glutes.
Growing up in Sweden, everyone in my family was quite active. We would cross country ski and skate in the winter, ride our bikes everywhere during other parts of the year and do a lot of hiking. When I was about 13, I started horseback riding. So I would ride my bike to the barn and ride a horse for an hour. Then, because I loved being around the horses, I would stay and lead horses ridden by beginners around the ring for another couple of hours before riding my bike back home. Nobody thought about any of this as “fitness” at the time, it was just a normal part of our lives. ”Aerobics” and “cardio” hadn’t been invented yet.
When my son was a teenager, he and I took karate together. I may have been in the best shape of my life then. Our warm-ups included 25 regular pushups, 25 pushups on five fingers, and 25 on 3 fingers, followed by 100 sit-ups and some other things. Our sensei was tough and really made us work (although he never corrected my pushup form which I’m sure was atrocious!). I earned a few belts, but stopped when I had to learn how to break someone’s spine in order to earn the next one. I really didn’t want to know how to do that.
Sensei worked out with weights and encouraged strength training. Somehow, around the time I quit karate, I heard about a book called Now or Never which had just come out. It is a strength training book geared towards “older” women, with great pictures of the author, Joyce Vedral, who was in her mid forties at the time if I remember correctly. The workouts are body building, body part split type workouts, with all pyramid sets. I had just turned 40. I bought the book, decided I wanted to look like Joyce Vedral, joined a gym, and proceeded to start the workouts. I remember doing my first bench press with a 20# barbell in the first week, and thinking it was heavy, but I was instantly hooked on strength training. As a side note, that gym allowed kids on Sundays, so I would bring my daughter who was 10 – that was the beginning of her interest in working out. I the years following, I bought many other workout books by female bodybuilders like Rachel McLish and Gladys Portuguese and did the programs in them. All of them were bodypart split programs. I was a little disappointed that I never achieved the gorgeous physiques of those stars, but I still loved training, and never really stopped. Over the years, I have worked out at home (had a gym set up in my barn at one time – NOT fun in the winter) and at various gyms, with and without personal trainers of varying skills. I loved all of it! (The not so skilled trainer was a minor league football player with a great personality. He trained me and my husband, who was a high school football coach, together – both of them had loads of stories to tell – made for fun, if not highly efficient, training sessions!).
Then, about 15 years ago or so, I started having pain in my right hip. It gradually got worse, but I received no real diagnosis until five years ago, when the pain was becoming truly bothersome. I changed orthopedists and was told I had severe (as in bone on bone) osteoarthritis. And it was discovered that my left hip was in equally bad shape although it didn’t hurt at the time. The only cure was joint replacement. Luckily, my new orthopedist happened to be one of the foremost hip resurfacing surgeons in the world. He’s located in Columbia, South Carolina (just 50 miles up the road from me), but his patients come from all over the U.S. as well as from other countries. Resurfacing is a bone sparing form of hip replacement. It’s more technically difficult than standard replacement surgery, but results in a more normally functioning hip joint when performed correctly, and it doesn’t require amputation of the femoral neck and having a huge metal rod implanted into your femur. Some surgeons will not perform this surgery on women over 60, but after checking my bone density, Dr. Gross had no problem with it, and did my right hip in March and the left one in October of 2011.
The surgery was like a miracle – just a few days afterwards, although I was still sore from the surgery, I could walk with no joint pain. But the years of deterioration, when I couldn’t work my lower body hard because of the pain and stiffness in my hip, and the aftereffects of the surgery itself, left me with weak muscles in my lower body, particularly the glutes. At the beginning of 2014, at the age of 68, I decided it was time to get serious about rebuilding lower body strength, as well as take off about 7 lbs that I had gained in 2013. I needed a new, updated program. I found the New Rules of Lifting books, and started the first phase of the Supercharged program. I had to regress just about all of the lower body exercises. To give you an idea of how bad it was, I had to start squatting by just sitting on a bench and standing up for the required number of reps. My lunges were stationary, next to an upright to hold on to for balance and to help me get out of the bottom position. About the same time, I joined MyFitnessPal and started tracking my food.
The weight started coming off, and my lower body was very slowly getting stronger. By the time I finished the initial phase of the Supercharged program, I had progressed to bodyweight half-squats without the bench, and unassisted body weight stationary lunges, but I didn’t feel that was enough to go on to the second phase. So it was either repeat phase 1, or do something different. I had read about Strong Curves on the My Fitness Pal forum, checked it out on Amazon, and thought that a program that emphasized glute strength would be absolutely perfect for me. I bought the book and started the beginner program, which I loved immediately. I also started following Bret on line. Of course, he had the link to Get Glutes on his site at the time, so after I finished the Strong Curves beginner program, I checked into Get Glutes. That was the first time I had heard of on-line training programs. What a fabulous way to use the Internet! I joined in November 2014 and became a lifetime member about 6 months later. I love everything about Get Glutes – the programming that is never boring, the coach, the other members and the results!
What were some of the biggest eye-opening moments for you along the way?
There’s probably been many that I’ve forgotten over the years, but a few recent ones come to mind.
One came when I started tracking my food in MFP. I was never significantly overweight until I gained 25-30 lbs following a complete hysterectomy in 1995. Instant menopause at the age of 49. I tried several different approaches (Atkins, South Beach, Paleo) to get rid of those extra pounds, and I’d quickly lose 10-15 lbs and then get stuck. You always hear that it’s so much harder to lose weight as you get older, and especially after menopause, so I figured that’s what my problem was, and that I’d have to settle for being 10-15 lbs heavier than I was when I was younger. But, after logging my food religiously in My Fitness Pal for a couple of months, and tracking my bodyweight, it was pretty easy to figure out how many calories I needed to eat to lose at my desired rate (½ lb per week to try to avoid losing too much lean body mass) and to also tweak what I was eating to make sure I got enough protein and fat to not be overly hungry. This was in 2014, when I was 68. It was not difficult or impossible to lose the weight; I just needed the right tools! I lost 27 lbs before deciding it was time to go to maintenance and just focus on building strength.
Another biggie was discovering that I can do a lot more than I thought I was capable of. My entire lifting career, prior to Strong Curves/Get Glutes, I had heard that working the same muscles two days in a row is a no-no, because it doesn’t allow enough rest time for the muscles to recuperate and grow. And that older people need more time than young people to recover between workouts. When I started Get Glutes, the program consisted of 3 weekly workouts for the first few months, and changed to 4 per week in month 4 or 5. I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle that 4th workout when I got to that point, but I decided to try it and see. I was pretty tired the first couple of weeks, but after that my body adapted and had no problem recovering.
Keeley (our resident pull-up queen and Community Ambassador) challenged me very shortly after joining Get Glutes to make it a goal to do an unassisted chin-up. At the time, I was so far from accomplishing that one, I didn’t really believe I would ever get there, but I accepted the challenge and gave myself a year to do it. It took 6 months. One of the really cool things about this particular goal is that the first time I managed an unassisted chin-up, I was showing my granddaughter how to use the pullup bar I have at home, and to my great surprise, did my first one! She was impressed! Now, when she’s visiting me, if I cannot find her anywhere else, I’ll go check my bedroom and chances are she’s working on her pullups. She hasn’t quite managed on yet, but she will. She wants to be like grandma! (I lost pullup strength when I couldn’t use my right hand for a number of months last year, but I’m working on getting it back now.)
Finally, a somewhat sad one was discovering how many of the gorgeous, fit Get Glutes women are focusing on what they perceive as flaws instead of on how strong, beautiful and capable they are. I wish I could figure out a way to get them to instantly stop this. Happily, I’ve noticed that doing this program for a while helps many make peace with their bodies.
How have you handled set-backs and challenges?
That’s an excellent question! My dad was Norwegian and my mom is Swedish. The Norwegians (according to the Swedes) are very hardheaded. Personally, I believe the Swedes are just as hard headed. So I probably inherited that from my both my dad and my mom.. And in the construction business, something always goes wrong. So not giving anything up without a fight is both in my DNA and a result of my career, I think. (As an example of what can happen in construction, on my very first project in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the plant we were building included something called a tailings thickener pond. It was basically a round, concrete pool with an agitator that turns, stirring the water. The first freeze warning happened before the agitator had been installed, and for some reason that I’ve forgotten, the water could not be allowed to freeze inside the pond. So one of the superintendents went and borrowed a rowboat, put it in the pond, and spent the entire night rowing around in it to prevent it from freezing. Problem solved).
But I’m also human, and far from perfect. My initial reaction to set-backs and challenges is usually to feel sorry for myself and moan, groan, complain and cry to my friends (and children, if appropriate). Once that’s done, I’ll get practical and figure out how to deal with the situation. Frequently with help and encouragement from my friends. Including, these days, the wonderful ones I’ve made at Get Glutes who were a huge help to me last year when I fractured my right hand (special thanks here to Naomi)!
What advice would you give to new members?
My number 1 advice is to have fun! Set some simple performance goals that you will enjoy working towards (unless you’re the kind of person who gets stressed out by not meeting a goal) and that will make you feel good when you reach them. Celebrate when you get there! I think it’s super important to enjoy the workouts and look forward to them.
Take advantage of the form checks from Coach Kellie. And get involved with the other Get Glutes members via the forum and the Facebook group. This is especially important if you don’t have an in-person workout partner. You will get loads of information, encouragement and support from the other members. And make real friends. This summer, I was fortunate enough to meet a number of my on-line buddies in person for the first time – it was totally awesome. I felt like I had known them forever.
And for the long term – don’t stop lifting! You’ll be so glad you did when you get to my age! More and more research is emerging about the benefits of resistance training, especially for older individuals. It’s not only excellent for overall health and functionality, it will help you look great too. I’m pretty amazed at the changes in my body since starting Get Glutes, in spite of the fact that I already had a lot of years of training under my belt. I’m loads stronger of course, but in addition, the cellulite on the back of my thighs that was there for as long as I can remember is completely gone, my butt is MUCH perkier (no old lady pancake butt yet), and I’ve lost belly fat – the dreaded menopot is much less prominent. None of this is due to weight loss – my bodyweight has stayed about the same. I can only imagine what might be possible for someone following an excellent program for 30-40 years.
What's next for Annie?
As you know, I was in Sweden visiting my mom when you asked. She is very old, and has become very physically frail, although her mind is still really good for 102, and it bothers her to be so weak. She was quite active into her 80’s and even early 90’s, but never did any resistance training, and at some point I started noticing that her muscles were just disappearing. For example, she used to have very shapely legs, and now they’re little sticks and she has had to use a walker for quite a few years. So I can kind of see, every time I visit her, where I could be in 20-30 years. If I’m fortunate enough to live as long as she has, I don’t want to be that frail if there’s any way to avoid it.
My fitness objective for now is to build as much muscle as I possibly can. I know eventually I’ll be too old to add more, particularly in view of how long I’ve been training , but I definitely plan to keep lifting to maintain what strength I have at that point for as long as I can. Hopefully, Kellie knows how to coach people in the 80-100 age group! I want to do more traveling. My children took me on a Caribbean cruise for my 70th birthday earlier this year. It was our first cruise and we loved it! So I want to take my children and their families on an Alaskan cruise sometime in the next year or two. And I’m trying to entice my brothers and their wives to come back to the US again - we had a blast visiting Key West and Yellowstone together last year. I do some volunteer work most weeks helping old people with Medicare issues, as well as work with the Master Gardener program. I enjoy both very much, and they keep me feeling useful. Basically, I’m just enjoying the freedom that comes with retirement and have no plans at this time to do anything different. But I’ve only been retired a little over two years, so who knows what the future might bring?
Annie meeting Bret Contreras & other Get Glutes Members in June 2016