Our November cover model, Joey Bull, has been championing fitness since she was a tot. Now 55, she reveals how far she has come and what she has learnt along the way…
As a four-times UK Fitness Champion, former international adventure athlete and renowned personal trainer, with over 30 years’ experience and eight workout DVDs to her name, cover model Joey Bull knows a thing or two about keeping fit.
The results she has achieved are obvious, but they’re made even more remarkable by the fact that Bull has garnered them alongside raising her two children, running a busy household, and even suffering a broken back and knee reconstruction in the process.
Now at the age of 55, Bull continues to find ways to stay in her best shape. Indeed, those who know her report that Bull’s workouts are never dull, with elements of dance, canoeing and even climbing added to the traditional cardio and weight-training mix.
But shaping up isn’t Bull’s only focus; she sees exercise as an investment she makes in her long-term health and happiness. We caught up with the cover star to find out just how she has stayed fit through her 30s, 40s and beyond.
You have a varied history in fitness. How did you get into exercise?
‘It all started with dancing when I was three– I’d dance around in my tutu while my mum played the piano. My family were keen mountaineers so I was dragged up Scafell, Helvellyn, Snowdon and other peaks, rather unwillingly, in stiff leather boots and itchy tweed britches. It was miserable; I just liked music,pliés and pirouettes and warm studios.
‘Then, when I turned 17, I started rock climbing, canoeing, skiing and mountaineering. Over the years, all holidays were about the best rocks or peaks. And thanks to a skiing accident, I discovered the gym – Jubilee Hallin Covent Garden, just around the corner from Pineapple Dance Studios!
‘I was so sore and nauseous after my first session but I never looked back – how amazing it was to be able to change your body!’
What has been your career highlight to date?
‘I’d like to say it was a championship but there’s something about winning– if you did it all again the next weekend, you might not win! Titles don’t feel amazing until they’re about a decade behind you, when you realise it was an achievement after all.
‘Racing for the UK in the ECO Challenge was a big deal but flanked with pain, tropical disease and foot rot. So, at the risk of sounding insincere, getting this 55-year-old body on the cover of Women’s Fitness feels a big highlight to date. I did a few covers in my 30s but to still be in the studio flicking my hair feels like a winning time of life!’
What inspired you to take up fitness competitions and what did you learn through doing them?
‘I just picked up Ultrafit magazine one day and saw a fit girl on it .There didn’t seem much between us so I wondered how I’d fare in a competition! It also crossed my mind that if I didn’t want a proper job, this could be a way of making one up! Then I became the Ultrafitgirl.
‘My first competition was a UK nationals and I placed 4th. Encouraged, I learnt from the others and saw where I had to pull up in body shape and presentation. Having been a dancer, the performance side was always well drilled; the fitness also, but I was against girls with amazing genetics who’d trained well, too. So, it was a task to get the symmetry and shape required.
‘I didn’t realise how much that taught me until I trained other people and could iron out their genetic disadvantages and sculpt their amazing bodies into something they were delighted with.’
Why did you then move on to adventure racing?
‘To be honest it was an honour to be invited to join the UK team, which consisted of three boys – RAF, Iron men and expedition racers looking for the “must have” female for their team. They auditioned me in a Canadian canoe on the Thames!
‘Fitness competitions were good but a little too glamorous for who I really was. My family also gave zero recognition to them; they didn’t know what they were so I didn’t even say I was collecting trophies. Climbing, canoeing, jungle navigation, mountain biking, expeditions… that was proper adventure!’
You’re also a mum. Has it been a juggle to keep fit over the years?
‘Yes! I’ve been a single mum for many years, too. Actually, because my reputation and work depended on it, I just found ways to fit it in. Weight training is amazing in that if you keep pushing weights, you keep the muscle density and shape, even if it is beneath a thick layer! Then you are ready for most things.
‘I’ve always had dogs, pushchairs, baby carriers and unwilling toddlers in tow, so that also provided an acceptable fitness “base” that I made sure I kept. Dancing is a winner, too – it’s fun, exhausting and amuses the children. All this taught me a lot, and helps me work with other mums.’
What is your favourite way to exercise now?
‘I’ve always worked harder to get more out of myself, but now I can’t. Middle age is not the time to use up more of yourself – we do that in our 40s and it’s a slow climb out, trying to gather energy and form.
‘I’ve discovered lots of ways to develop more valuable elements this past year and it has worked wonders in ways you wouldn’t expect at my age. Much of my work and my own training is outdoors. I have rings that hang from the trees, I use fallen trunks for all sorts, but above all, soak up the natural light, colours and sounds while I’m working out; sensory information to stimulate motor commands.
‘Our visual fields collapse with age and stress, then collapse of our structure follows. But being in natural light, working on neurological and body exercises, agility drills, balance and resistance training has soothed my nervous system and shaped my body without stress.’
How has getting older changed the way you work out?
‘Aches and pains find their way to you. Now that I understand that, I can adapt my workouts. I might not do timed sprints anymore but I do see a hill and trundle up it at “speed”, then walk on until I fancy a repeat sprint.
‘I’ll never drop explosive bursts of exercise – they are too valuable to the vascular system, hormones and mood – but I will go by feel, not a stopwatch. It’s all much more inspired than driven.
‘I’ve started aerial gymnastics with ropes and ribbons, and tap dancing again, too – it all helps with mind/muscle coordination, plus remembering sequences aids the memory.’
What advice do you have for women who want to keep fit for life?
‘Having trained women for decades, I have quite a strident answer to this. I lost a few ladies from bootcamp to lower-intensity programmes and with that, they lost muscle density, reaction skills and fitness. Sometimes we like a change and it suits that time of life, but don’t downgrade your box of tricks!
‘Every activity has its value but some have got to be accompanied with skills you need for daily life, like jumping a puddle, running up stairs, looking left while running right – stuff that keeps you sharp.
‘My classes are packed with reaction, agility, balance, coordination and eye exercises, and all of that is rejuvenating. How you move and hold yourself can age you or bring energy and confidence.’
Joey Bulls’ top tips for fit women
- Keep moving regularly throughout the day – this is more important than a long exercise session after a day at the desk.
- Write your main exercise sessions in your diary for the week and just focus on a couple of body parts at a time. This helps maintain your all-important muscle density.
- I favour short blasts of activity but endurance exercise has its benefits, too! Try doing four weeks of longer exercise, then four weeks of sprint-style exercise. Pulling back the intensity has remarkable effects on your fitness and it also supports your immune system.
Boost your body and brain with Joey Bull’s longevity workout
You don’t have to accept becoming gradually less fit as you age. Cover model and personal trainer, Joey Bull, reveals the moves you need to know…
If there’s a time in life NOT to let your health and fitness slide it’s in your middle years. While your younger self was afforded a bit of latitude and ‘getting away with it’, the story is very different as you hit your fourth and fifth decades.
Life will have happened, of course – work, children perhaps, a busy household, maybe an injury setback or two, possibly an over-reliance on sugary pick-me-ups to ease any stress… it can all have an accumulative effect that raises its head later in life.
So, what can you do to offset the changes? My exercises here look easy at first glance and are not the standard get-in-shape ones, but they are about skills that deteriorate around this age. Skills such as agility, coordination, proprioception and a reduced field of vision.
We lose a lot of small and sequential patterns that make a movement seamless, and we then end up modifying that movement to accommodate those limitations. Before you know it, the grace, precision and execution in your walk, in your ability to go down steps and to do other general manoeuvres are not what they used to be. Fortunately, it can all be reclaimed!
Have a go at these moves and make your middle years a vibrant and healthy upturn in your life, rather than a gradual decline. And if you’re still a long way off your 40s and 50s, these exercises will work for you, too. Think of it as an investment in your future…
FLEX AND RAISE
Benefits: Improves posture and mobility, while working the glutes, legs and back muscles
- Stand in front of a low sofa or stool with a wide stance, toes forward and your heels a little elevated. Place a broom handle or a book beneath each foot to achieve this.
- With perfectly straight legs, bend forward as if touching your toes.
- Staying low, perch on the seat behind you.
- Keeping your chest between your legs, reach out one arm forward, then the other. Now, stand up.
Benefits: Assists stability, balance and strength for descents
Reps: 6 (each leg)
- With a low step or, better still, something soft and slightly unstable, step up slowly with your right foot, pass your left foot forward to land as delicately as you can.
- Next, without pushing back off the floor and by using all the strength in the supporting leg, pass the left foot back to the starting place.
Benefits: Eases short and tight quad muscles that could be causing lower back discomfort.
Reps: 30 seconds (each leg)
- Close to a wall, get onto all fours and, shifting the right knee back a fraction, place the ball of your right foot onto the wall.
- Slide your left foot forward as if into the proposal position, find your balance and raise your upper body upright, tilt the tailbone under a fraction and feel the pull in the front thigh.
- Check that your ear is over your shoulder, shoulder over your hip and hip over the knee that you’re kneeling on. There should be a significant pull in your quads. Hold this for 30 seconds before changing legs.
MID-LINE FIGURE OF 8
Benefits: Helps left and right brain integration, recharge focus and balance
Reps: 6 (per variation)
- Standing on both legs with palms facing one another, move your arms in a figure-of-8 motion – sway from side to side, scooping up as you cross the middle line each time.
- After a few repetitions of this, try the same action standing on one leg.
- Now try the same action on one leg but this time fix your vision on your hands, follow them intently without glancing beyond them.
EYE AND NEUROLOGICAL FUNCTION
Benefits: Works saccadic eye movements, which integrate neurological functions.
Reps: to exhaustion
- Go online and find a metronome. Get two pens and hold them in front of your face about 20 to 25cms away.
- Depending on the width of your eyes, keep the distance at about 18cm apart. Set the metronome at 90 and just get used to flicking the focus from right to left.
- Once you’ve got that, keep going up a speed, as if doing the bleep test, until you can’t keep the beat. Have someone help turn the dial up and to check you’re in time. Note your score.
Benefits: Builds proprioception, confidence in placement and agility, and provides a little cardio!
Distance: 3 metres
- You might not have a rope ladder at home but you can chalk one out on the tarmac or simply use the floorboards or patterns in carpets as markers.
- There are many little drills that you can test yourself with, but start by stepping your right foot and then your left foot into each box. Switch to lead with your left foot and see which leg is weaker.
- Aim to get faster and faster, with more and more precision of placement. Travel to the end and back twice for each drill.
THE SILVER LADY
Benefits: Works the lower traps to support a straight back and reduce shoulder rounding.
- Lying face down on the floor with your arms by your sides, draw in your tummy, rotate your shoulders and hold your palms outwards with thumbs up.
- Raise your palms upwards while squeezing them closer together. Hold this pose for five seconds and repeat.