Fitness classes for seniors in Piedmont foster fun and better health | Free

About 13 years ago, Rita Baker, 75, of Piedmont first noticed the way Derek Freeman worked out.

Freeman, a six-foot-three body builder, was at Piedmont’s Clyde H. Pike Civic Center’s gym when she asked him to train her.

“I had never trained anyone,” said Freeman, 39.

He took on the challenge that day, and he hasn’t looked back. In 2021, Freeman started his gym, Foundation Fitness, and his coaching has had an effect on his customers — none more so than about 50 senior citizens who work out with him on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

A few years ago, Rita Baker, 75, asked Derek Freeman to teach her how to work out. That led to the creation of Freeman’s Foundation Fitness and Nutrition gym and taught him how to help hundreds of his customers throughout the past two-and-a-half years.

On Friday, 20 senior citizens gathered at Freeman’s gym to work out at the early hour of 7 a.m. They stood around the edges of Foundation’s main floor and stretched and marched as he led them. Usually, the number of seniors climbs over 30, according to Freeman’s father, Rick, who is in the class too. Many are on vacation this week, he said.

The gym also has a 10 a.m. class for folks who wake up and stir around at a more civilized hour.

For her second time to work out, Pat Williamson, 65, left her Nances Creek home Friday morning to be included in Freeman’s class. She has several reasons for doing so. For one, a friend she walked with daily quit walking, and she didn’t want to walk alone. Her doctor told her to lose weight, and the class is free to her. Health insurance pays for many seniors’ memberships thanks to the Silver Sneakers program.

Piedmont’s Vicki Wright, 62, joined Freeman’s class as soon as it started around October. She credits the success of the class to him. She said he doesn’t emphasize weight, but instead, encourages the seniors to grow stronger.

“We all started the class sitting in chairs,” Wright said. “We either sat in them to exercise or held onto them when doing our squats. After three weeks, we eliminated the chairs.”

Wright loves the group setting, and she is thrilled that getting healthier has motivated her to quit smoking, which she had been doing since she was a teenager. She hasn’t smoked since January.

“I didn’t even tell Derek or my family members I had quit,” she said.

Freeman said his senior classes, called Life Classes, stresses the seniors’ desire to live longer and be more functional. Sometimes younger people join the class, especially if they are recovering from surgery.

“I teach a low-impact, rehabilitation style of exercise,” he said.

Spring Garden’s Robert Rhinehart, 76, said he, too, started the class in the winter because he wanted more mobility. A retiree from the Goodyear tire company that once was in Gadsden, his job was physical. After he retired more than 20 years ago, he did not work out or exercise, but he tried to stay active.

“I must like this class,” he said. “I come every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I have only missed twice.”

Jimmy Rogers of Piedmont is 66 years old and has been retired only a year and a half. He gets up early to take his dogs outside and heads over to class afterward, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he plays pickleball at the civic center.

“The class is as social for me as it is physical,” he said.

Most seniors have a physical problem or two they want to improve. Diane Strickland, 76, overcame back pain with surgery and wants to stay pain-free. Jane Gowens, 86, underwent surgery that was affecting her balance. The exercise has helped. Knee pain robbed Freeman’s father of his ability to walk or run, but the exercise has helped, and he traded a long leg brace for a small one.

“A lot of us in here have medical problems,” he said.

Freeman denied motivating the seniors and said they came to him already motivated. He is glad they all seem to feel better.

Contact Freeman by email at or call him at 256-365-4121.

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