Ten Minutes with Ellen Perrella
Certified Athletic Trainer
All About Strength
For thirty years Ellen Perrella has been head athletic trainer and lecturer in physical education and athletics at Mount Holyoke. With more than 300 varsity athletes at the College, it’s not unusual for up to fifty students a day to seek treatment in Kendall Hall’s training room. A certified strength and conditioning specialist, Perrella also works with teams to institute specialized strength programs, and she lectures around the Northeast on the relationship between obesity, body image, and health—at any age.
I like to use the term “FUNctional Strength Training.” It’s a course I’ve taught at Mount Holyoke for years. Exercise isn’t just about cardiovascular health and shouldn’t just be goal dependent—reaching a certain weight, for example. We need to separate weight loss from the value of exercise, because exercise is not actually a great way to lose weight. But exercise will make you healthier.
The benefits of strength training range from preventing injury to reversing the aging process.
On body image:
As an athletic trainer working with only female athletes at a women’s institution, I have an acute awareness of how central and how damaging body image can beto a woman, to a female athlete. I have a real concern for the well-being of athletes, who need to be strong to be fit. It’s such a struggle for so many women, who turn to restrictive eating—or obsessive or compulsive behaviors—to try to control their weight, because they are not happy with the way their bodies look. I teach intuitive eating, which means that I counsel students to make healthful choices and to eat according to their bodies’ signals of hunger and fullness. Being healthy is independent of weight. I’m particularly proud that there are no scales in Kendall. No weigh-ins for any sport. There is no body fat testing, and our coaches never encourage athletes to diet.
Whether you’re an athlete or not, life requires strength. With each decade—starting as early as age twenty-five—we all lose muscle mass. And weight training is the only intervention that is effective in preserving that muscle mass. In a perfect world, weight-training rooms would be filled with women in their fifties and sixties. But whether you are male or female, young or old, your muscle cells will respond to strength training, and you will get stronger.
This article appeared in the summer 2014 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.
July 14, 2014