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‘If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?’ asks celebrity trainer Wayne Lèal, peering intensely from my laptop during our interview over Zoom. I tell him I wish I could stop evening snacking. He instructs me to get a rubber band and place it around my wrist. ‘The next time you want to snack in the evening, ping that band against your skin to remind you not to,’ he says.

‘OK, I’ll try that,’ I reply. ‘No,’ he shoots back, firmly. ‘When people say they’re going to try and lose weight or try and stop snacking, there’s an implication of failure. Either you will do it or you won’t. What’s it to be?’ he asks, fixing me with a stare. ‘When you’re in the Super-A tribe, you’re accountable.’

The Super-A tribe Lèal, 62, is referring to is the new fitness concept he has created with fellow trainer Josh Salzmann, 64. Their latest recruit is none other than Sarah, Duchess of York, who Salzmann has worked with for over 30 years. He has also trained her former husband, Prince Andrew (who I’m not allowed to ask about), as well as Angelina Jolie (Salzmann got her into superhero shape for her role in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), Kate Winslet, Kenneth Branagh, Paul McCartney, John Cleese and Pierce Brosnan.

Super-A is an online fitness programme for midlifers by midlifers, with an ambitious plan to help you become ‘biologically younger’. For £10 a month, subscribers have access to trainers (including Lèal and Salzmann) across the world – who are all aged 40 and upwards – and to a range of on-demand and live (for a supplementary fee) online classes, including yoga, trampolining, Pilates and no-equipment resistance work (which most experts agree is a more important element in physical training in midlife as it builds muscle and boosts the metabolism, as well as helping joints and mobility).

The Duchess, who is soon to become a grandmother when her youngest daughter, Princess Eugenie, gives birth, recently revealed that she has joined the Super-A community. ‘Be cool, be nice, be kind and join Super-A, because they’re my tribe – I’ve chosen them,’ gushed the Duchess, in a post-workout video posted last month, which went viral. ‘I’m 61, just beginning my life. Be a Super-A.’
Josh Salzmann with Sarah, Duchess of York in 1996
Josh Salzmann with Sarah, Duchess of York in 1996 Credit: Shutterstock

Salzmann first met the Duchess in 1989, after her wedding to Prince Andrew. He used to train her in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, where she was living at the time. ‘We worked out in the Palace gardens, me in my blue shell suit that would have gone up in flames if a match came near it,’ remembers Salzmann. ‘One day we saw the Duke of Edinburgh’s helicopter flying overhead, ready to land, and the Duchess quickly made us hide behind some trees. I was like, “Why are we doing this? This is your home.” And she said, “He [the Duke] will think I’m trying to turn the Palace into Beverly Hills,”’ referring to how exclusive personal trainers were viewed back then.

‘Her husband was in the Navy,’ continues Salzmann. ‘He was away a lot. She had no one to talk to. It was a tough life. Palaces and money don’t protect you from that. People are people. They feel pain and stress. And her stress levels were very high for a long time.’

Salzmann is, undoubtedly, referring to the years of tabloid trolling the Duchess endured after her marriage to Prince Andrew unravelled. She went from being the loveable, rambunctious sidekick to the more serene Princess Diana to – according to tabloid headlines at the time – ‘The most reviled woman in Britain’ and ‘The Duchess of Pork’. Another paper ran a story on a poll they had run that said 82 per cent of their readers would rather sleep with a goat than her.

‘I trained with her on the day that the goat story appeared,’ says Salzmann. ‘She was a young mother, coming out the other side of a divorce. Can you imagine? I was also with her the day a paper published a story suggesting [she was offered] £4 million in exchange for giving up full custody of her children. She walked into my gym as it was being discussed on a huge radio station.’ Her father, Major Ronald Ferguson, later appeared on Sky News and called the story ‘nothing but a really unnecessary, vicious persecution’.

The resulting stress and sleepless nights, believes Salzmann, contributed to her fluctuating weight over the years. ‘If you don’t sleep, your body clings to fat,’ he says. ‘It does the same if you’re stressed. And when you’re stressed you do things like not sleep and overeat.’

The Duchess has said she first began comfort eating after her parents separated when she was 12, and again when her former husband’s Navy career meant the couple spent just 40 days together each year. ‘The more upset I grew at Andrew’s absence, the more I grew,’ she has said. ‘I drowned my sorrows in mayonnaise, sausage rolls and sandwiches.’

Salzmann was privy to the Duchess’s struggles over the years; he accompanied her on her US Weight Watchers tour, when she began endorsing the brand in 1997, and they were even together in New York during September 11, narrowly escaping death. ‘We were meeting a donor for her charity, Children in Crisis, on the 101st floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center, but we were running 20 minutes late. She’s always late,’ says Salzmann. ‘Then the planes hit.’ He goes on to explain how the designer Tommy Hilfiger stepped in and put them up in his Westchester compound for a week.
Josh Salzmann with Sarah, Duchess of York in a recent promotional video for Super-A
Josh Salzmann with Sarah, Duchess of York in a recent promotional video for Super-A Credit: Courtesy of Super-A

For all the A-list anecdotes (and there are plenty, although not all are printable), Salzmann says his famous clients’ struggles are relatably mundane. ‘They sleep badly, they crave sugar, they’re stressed. They don’t want to work out because they’re tired. They want to lose weight for their daughter’s wedding.’

Salzmann and Lèal first met 36 years ago when Lèal attended an aerobics class Salzmann was teaching in Chelsea in London. Salzmann was a conditioning coach, who by that point had worked with baseball teams and John Cleese during the filming of A Fish Called Wanda. All this, he says, was a world away from his childhood growing up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, when he weighed 10st at the age of seven, and was bullied by neighbourhood children for, according to him, ‘being overweight and Jewish’. Aged 11, he started lifting weights he’d ordered from a catalogue, and jogging in a grey tracksuit his mother bought for him at the local supermarket. By 13, he was ‘the strongest kid in the neighbourhood’, and he began wrestling internationally in his early 20s, before becoming a fitness coach.

Lèal grew up in London, attending Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts before working in marketing and graphic design. He then retrained as a plumber and established a building company with his older brother. ‘The constant thread throughout it all was wellness,’ he says. A fan of martial arts since childhood and a trained yoga teacher, he started working with Chelsea Football Club. He also helped Darren Barker become the first boxer in history to win a world title without running, skipping, lifting weights or doing a single sit-up – the 
usual staples of boxing training. Instead, he got Barker into yoga, trampolining and 
 aqua aerobics, including walking up and down in a pool.

‘I also used the elastic-band technique, the one I showed you, to keep him focused. Lots of athletes use expensive apps and wearable tech. I gave him a rubber band that cost pennies. It’s my secret weapon. Once you’ve decided what you want – you, to stop evening snacking; Darren Barker, to win a world boxing title – you use it as an anchor to bring you back to what it is you want to achieve.’

This pared-down approach to fitness is the one behind Super-A: to train smarter, not harder, especially as you hit midlife. As well as giving subscribers access to several online classes each week, Salzmann says they offer them advice on sleep, nutrition and stress. ‘If they’re wired from work, sometimes they just need some simple stretches or to talk about what’s making them so stressed.’ They also offer group Zoom meetings for Super-As all over the world, and describe the meet-ups as a ‘mix of AA and Weight Watchers’, where participants can talk about their struggles and offer each other support.

‘Between us, we have 80 years of experience, which we’ve put into the Super-A programme,’ says Salzmann. ‘We’ve also made lots of mistakes during that time, so our clients don’t have to. I’ve trained too hard in the past, doing a stupid amount of running, a stupid amount of jumps, and I got injured. We’ve both had our hips resurfaced.

‘In January, people who haven’t exercised in years stress about losing weight, and they begin jarring, punishing exercises like running or squash. Those things aren’t good for an older body. Cortisol (the stress hormone) levels rise, which causes fat to sit on the stomach and hips. Then they get a niggling injury – a weak lower back, a dodgy knee – and they give up, thinking they’re not very good at exercise, or not motivated enough.

‘Running a 40-plus body is like running a business: if you work too hard you’ll burn out. You have to slow things down, and be smart and mindful.’

To that end, Lèal has created JumpGa, which is yoga performed on a rebounder trampoline (you can buy one on the site from £299). Super-A clients do cardio on it too, because it’s kind on joints and improves balance and posture, which worsen with age. The Duchess loves the rebounder, which also strengthens the pelvic floor and works the body’s lymphatic system, a network of organs that rids the body of toxins.

As for helping clients become ‘super agers’ – or biologically younger, as they claim – the two men have different views: Salzmann reels off an impressive list of tests and statistics, including his 8.5 per cent body-fat percentage, claiming that his biological age is around 38. Lèal, however, has a simpler interpretation: he says being biologically younger is about whether or not you can sit down or get up without making an ‘oof’ sound.

‘That’s the true test of how you’re ageing,’ he says. ‘It’s also your posture. And can you easily bend down to tie your shoelaces without grimacing or your back going? We can get wrapped up in the science and tests of living longer, but really it’s about moving our bodies every day, and keeping them aligned and flexible.’

He refers to a scene in The Irishman, the 2019 Martin Scorsese Mafia film starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. ‘The actors were in their 70s, but had to play their younger selves at certain points in the film,’ explains Lèal. ‘Hollywood special effects could change their faces, but they needed a postural coach to come in and teach them how to walk and stand like younger men.’

Even so, one scene gave it away: ‘De Niro is attacking a shop assistant, kicking him while he’s on the floor, and although De Niro’s face is young, he’s kicking like an old man,’ says Lèal, who by now is standing 
 up and making restrained little kicking movements to make his point. ‘A young guy would naturally have more hip action and kick using the whole flow of his body,’ he says, as he switches to doing the kind of sweeping kicks decades of yoga and martial arts allow for. ‘But De Niro was hunched over, kicking like an old man. The scene went viral on Twitter because of this.’

‘If Wayne had been the posture coach on that film it wouldn’t have happened,’ interrupts Salzmann. ‘I was walking in front of him once and he called out to me, “Hey Josh, you’re walking like an old man!” I’d just turned 60 and I’d started tilting forward slightly. Wayne put me on his rebounder, got me doing some yoga and straightened my posture out.

‘When you’re talking about de-ageing a person, it’s about improving posture and flexibility – which [enhances] everything from joint health to muscle strength, confidence and digestion – as much as improving their fitness and cleaning up their diet.’

You also have to ask yourself why you’re training. ‘Everything the Duchess has done up until now has been for extrinsic reasons,’ says Lèal. ‘For example, “I want to lose weight for a book, or for Weight Watchers, or my daughter’s wedding.” Or, “I want to get fit for skiing.” But now she’s at Super-A, she’s intrinsically motivated; that means there are no obvious or external incentives or deadlines. We live well because it’s an unconscious habit, like brushing our teeth. And intrinsically motivated people are biologically younger.’

Find out more:
How to become biologically younger in 2021

Have postural awareness - Simple things like standing with your back against the wall, lower back to the wall, shoulder blades back, chin parallel to the floor, will undo poor posture habits, says Lèal. ‘I brush my teeth with my back against the bathroom wall every day. As you get used to it, try it standing on one leg.’
Do the string test - Get a piece of string and cut it to the length of your body from head to toe. ‘Fold it in half – you should be able to get it around your waist. If you can’t, you need to lose weight,’ says Lèal.
Work your forearms - Grip strength is one of the biggest indicators of longevity. ‘This is especially important if you’re always texting or working on a computer,’ says Salzmann.
Don’t look down - ‘Your head weighs 10lb, yet as we get older we look down, either to text or out of habit,’ says Lèal. ‘It makes your body age quicker. Always look up’
Walk in water with your eyes closed - ‘Everybody over 50 should do this,’ Lèal says. ‘It works your core, all your muscles, and it’s meditative.’

Three Super-A workouts to follow at home
The midlife cardio workout

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) works all of the muscle groups, and can push fitness levels through the roof. Perform these two HIIT exercises twice. Do each one for 1 minute followed by a 10-second rest. Then repeat.

Star jumps – Stand with feet together, knees slightly bent, and arms to sides. As you jump your legs outwards, raise your arms to shoulder height. Land on your forefeet with legs wide apart. Jump again, lowering your arms to your sides as you land your feet together in the centre of the rebounder mat.

High-knee run – Stand with your feet about 8in apart, your arms cocked in a running position. Run on the spot with high knees. As you bring the right knee up, swing the left hand up – so you use the opposite arm and leg for each step.
The back stretch workout

Neck or back pain is very common – 85 per cent of people experience it. These two exercises should be part of your weekly programme.

Bird dog – A key exercise to develop a stable core – the lower back remains stable while movement occurs in the surrounding joints at the hips and shoulders.

How to do it: Start on your hands and knees, shift your weight into your left knee and lift your right leg off the mat and straighten it behind you. Lift your left arm straight out in front of you. Hold this position for 7-10 seconds, then change sides.
Credit: Tom Watkins

  1. Cow and Cat – Reduces lower-back stiffness and improves the motion of the spine. Other lower-back stretches can place harmful stresses on the spine, but this exercise enhances mobility in a very spine-friendly manner.

How to do it: Begin on your hands and knees. As you inhale, lift your head and press your chest forwards. At the same time, lift your sit bones, allowing your belly to sink towards the floor. As you exhale, round or arch your spine upwards and tuck your tailbone down as you draw your pubic bone forwards. Go back and forth between Cow and Cat on each inhale and exhale. Continue for five to 10 breaths.
Cow and cat
Credit: Tom Watkins
Cow and cat
Credit: Tom Watkins
The Super-A sequence

Fit these JumpGa moves into your daily routine to increase mobility and ease joint stiffness

  1. Tadasana

Stand with your feet parallel and hip width apart, weight evenly balanced. Lengthen the spine. Exhale and drop the shoulders back as you reach your fingertips towards the floor.
Credit: Tom Watkins

  1. Hastasana

On an inhale, sweep your arms up toward the ceiling, parallel to each other. Tip your head back slightly and gaze between your hands. Do not arch your neck or back.
Credit: Tom Watkins

  1. Uttanasana

Bend forward from the hip joints, keeping a slight bend in your knees as you bring your palms or fingertips to the mat (or rebounder).
Credit: Tom Watkins

Then inhale, lift the heart, keep your back flat and gaze forwards.
Credit: Tom Watkins

Exhale as you step your legs back, into plank position. Either hold here or lower down to…
Credit: Tom Watkins

  1. Low plank

Keep your arms tucked into your sides with elbows bent to 90 degrees. Keep your back straight and suck your belly in. This pose strengthens all the muscles surrounding the spine, which will improve your posture.
Credit: Tom Watkins

  1. Up Dog

Press hands into the mat. Inhale as you straighten your arms and lift your torso. Keep thighs firm; turn the arms outwards slightly. Press the tailbone forward but don’t harden the buttocks.
Credit: Tom Watkins

  1. Down dog

Exhale and push your hips up and back into downward-facing dog. At first keep the knees slightly bent as you lift the sitting bones. Keep feet parallel and hip-width apart. Keep your head in line with your upper arms; don’t let it hang.
Credit: Tom Watkins

After five long breaths in down dog, step both feet toward your hands, into a standing forward bend. Keep your knees slightly bent. As you inhale, straighten up through the knees and hips, lifting your torso up and arms above your head, back into Hastasana (2). Exhale and lower arms, to stand back in Tadasana (1).
Credit: Tom Watkins

  1. Triangle pose

Take a big step to your right. Inhale and raise arms to shoulder height. Turn your left foot so the toes face ahead of you. Keep the back foot turned out to 45 degrees. Lean sideways so your torso folds towards your left leg, arms straight.
Credit: Tom Watkins

Exhale and drop your left arm to rest on the rebounder or your left shin. At the same time extend your right arm. Gently twist your torso and gaze upwards. Hold for three to five breaths.
Credit: Tom Watkins

  1. Half Moon pose

Soften your left knee and slide your left hand along the rebounder. Straighten the left leg and simultaneously lift the right leg, opening your torso to the side. Push the left heel away. Be careful not to lock the standing knee: make sure the kneecap is aligned straight and isn’t turned inwards. Exhale and return your right foot to the floor.
Credit: Tom Watkins

  1. Warrior III

Keep your left arm down to the mat or rebounder, in line with your shoulder. Raise your left leg parallel to the floor, torso facing down. Your hips and shoulders should be level. Extend the back leg and front arm strongly. Bring the head up slightly, without arching the neck. Exhale and lower your left leg down.