Oldies excel at new sports discipline

Rosmarie Thoma triumphed in the over-60s category swissinfo.ch

Rosmarie Thoma is one of the world’s fittest women for her age, thanks to a new fitness regime invented in Switzerland.

This content was published on February 3, 2005 - 14:08

She is a world champion in Strenflex, a competition consisting of several gym exercises which keep her looking much younger than her 60 years.

There is nothing in Thoma’s appearance or demeanour to suggest that this quiet woman - a part-time assistant in a psychiatric clinic in the eastern town of Chur - is also a gold medallist in the new and challenging discipline.

Muscles do not bulge under her striped pink sweater. The slightly built mother and housewife has not opted for facelifts or fake tans, the normal trademarks of female bodybuilders.

It is only when she dons her gym clothes and starts to work out with dumbbells and weight training machines that you see her true grit.

She easily tackles strength exercises that would leave most people quaking, and executes dozens of full sit-ups and press-ups without even getting out of breath. She can do the splits with relative ease, drawing on her previous youthful experience as a ballet dancer.

They exercises are part of the Strenflex fitness regime designed by Jean-Pierre Schupp, the editor-in-chief of the Swiss sport and leisure magazine, Fitness Tribune.

Chin up

The Strenflex competition comprises ten events; based on gym exercises such as bench presses, dips, chin-ups, rope skipping and stretching.

The exercises test strength, muscle endurance, fitness and flexibility. Both men and women over the age of 18 can participate in contests. One of the four categories is for over 60 year-olds.

Schupp started the discipline because he felt fitness championships had little in common with sport.

"There was no sport for thousands of enthusiastic and physically fit gym users world wide," he says.

Although Thoma had been visiting her local gym for seven years, she only started practising Strenflex a year ago.

World champion

With the help of a personal trainer, it took her three months to become good enough to win the over-60s category of the Swiss Championships in Tenero. Three months later, she took home gold from the World Championships.

Her biggest challenges were the chin-ups, which took her six months to fully master, and the strenuous cycling programme. Rosmarie surprised herself with her successes. “ I didn’t know I had it in me,” she beams.

Schupp hopes Strenflex will attract new members to gyms, and help fitness studios in motivating long-term members to keep up their regular training activities.

“It gives gym users the kick they need to turn the strength, barbell, cardio training and stretching into action at last,” he says. “It also lets you measure your performance against others.”

Gains support

The new exercise regime is practised throughout Europe, and there are Strenflex accredited fitness studios throughout German-speaking Switzerland and in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.

Schupp is now trying to persuade gyms in French-speaking areas to climb on board.

Competitions tend to have a fairly low turnout, especially when it comes to female participants.

"Women can achieve a lot more than most of them think," says Thoma’s trainer, Andreas Krummenacher.

Thoma is also keen to see more women taking part. At the world championships there were only four in her age group.

"The advantages of Strenflex are that any woman of my age can do it. It doesn’t need a huge time investment – twice a week for an hour is enough. You feel much better and you tend not to get sick. It’s all very positive."

swissinfo, Julie Hunt in Chur

Key facts

The 10 competition exercises include:
Bench press at 60% of body weight, squats at 70%, and clean and press at 30%.
Abductor press, hand strength measurements, dip series, pull-up series, push-up series.
Trunk bends, rope jumping, interval course, forward bends, splits and shoulder flexibility.

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In brief

A new type of competition, specifically geared towards gym members, is gaining momentum in Europe.

Strenflex, invented by a Swiss man, tests strength, flexibility and endurance.

swissinfo met the world champion in the over 60s group, to find out how it’s done.

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