Doubling Down on Strength Training

A new fitness program at Welcyon touts big results for baby boomers.
Edina Magazine writer and baby boomer Donna Trump gives Welcyon’s fitness system a test drive.

Welcyon, a fitness program franchise for the 50-plus crowd, claims it can help baby boomers double their strength in a year. The claim is backed by a recent study, says former Welcyon CEO Suzy Boerboom (the current CEO is Tom Boerboom) involving approximately 77,000 Welcyon workouts over a two-year period. After three months, Welcyon members’ strength increased 56 percent, and the average Welcyon member doubled their strength in one year.

That’s great news, although reasonable questions remain. How, for example, is strength measured? What frequency and intensity of workout is required to meet the strength-doubling goal? And could this goal be achieved in a setting other than at a health club like Welcyon? To answer these questions, I visited the Welcyon franchise in Edina, spoke to some members and staff, and got some answers.

Welcyon fitness coach Bob Nyberg showed me around the facility. He conducts a preliminary health history and asks visitors to consider their personal health and fitness goals.

Then, of course, come the machines. This health club utilizes HUR health and fitness equipment. Each machine is designed to exercise a very specific muscle or muscle group. “They use air for resistance,” says Nyberg. “We have big air compressors in back.” Manufactured in Finland, this efficient system for varying resistance to strengthening exercises eliminates the need for heavy dumbbells and stacked weights. Instead, members are issued a personalized “smart card” that stores custom information on each machine; the initial resistance for each exercise is determined during the evaluation. The machines beep when you’re done with the standard 12 reps and let you know if you’ve done them too fast or too slow.

“What we’ve known for some time is that you’ve got to work to muscle fatigue,” to most effectively increase strength, says Boerboem. In other words, 100 reps of a biceps curl with a two-pound dumbbell, even if done three times a week, won’t necessarily make you stronger. You have to increase resistance and approach your strength limits. At Welcyon, each participant can choose, at the end of his or her 12-rep workout on each machine, to add one additional rep. This 13th repetition is key, because it cues your smart card to start your next session at one more pound of resistance.

Following the recommended three times per week frequency is how someone can potentially double strength in a year. Gwen Olson has been working out at Welcyon three times a week for two years. Her strength, has, in fact, tripled. “I started out pretty low,” she says of the initial value of resistance on various machines recorded on her smart card. But she kept adding that 13th rep, and the resistance to each exercise of her muscle groups increased incrementally. “I definitely feel stronger,” she says, “and have more energy.”

Could you do it on your own? Yes, but it could be more complicated. But no matter how you do it, spending a bit of time and money on an appropriate fitness routine is an excellent investment at any age.