Culver City Observer -

Hip, Hip, Hooray for Phyllis Farrell


October 16, 2014

Debbie Cahill

Phyllis Farrell teaching one of her balance challenge classes at the Culver City Senior Center.

By Sandra Coopersmith

Features Writer

A huge deterrent to accomplishing the goals on one's bucket list would be falling and breaking a hip, an experience which, for those in their golden years, could well accelerate kicking that container.

Studies have shown that 90% of hip fractures are caused by a fall, one in three adults over age 65 fall each year, half of the seniors who fall will do so repeatedly, and fear of falling increases that risk. Fortunately, participants in Phyllis Farrell's Balance Challenge classes at Culver City Senior Center have a valuable advantage.

"Balance Challenge is a group exercise class medically designed to improve balance, strength, flexibility, posture, walking skills and vestibular function," Farrell explained.

A certified and highly experienced fitness professional, her "first 'sparks' into fitness were Jack LaLanne, 'the eternal master of health and fitness,' and Muscle Beach, Santa Monica." Doing exercises as a child with her mother while watching LaLanne on TV, she heard him say, "You have to move! If all you can move is your ears, then wiggle your ears."

That made a lasting impression on Farrell.

"The message I got from Jack LaLanne and continue to pass on is whatever level of health and fitness you are right now, you have the power to make positive changes," she said. "Proper exercise and nutrition can transform your life."

She also credits having been "lucky enough to live near Santa Monica and the world famous Muscle Beach, where healthy, beautiful bodies were plentiful." It helped that Farrell "had friends with bar bells and training equipment in their garage, and I was impressed how a woman could reshape her body with weight training, which wasn't that popular at the time."

Shortly after graduating from high school she went to work in the early 1960s for Vic Tanny, and "from there I followed a more traditional role: college, marriage and kids. I have two wonderful daughters and four terrific grandkids."

Farrell never lost her passion for the positive impact of physical fitness, even introducing exercise into her workplace in 1984.

"While working as a secretary for Hamilton Avnet, I led exercise classes during lunch and after work hours," she said. "It's always amazing how someone can transform their body and get such a feeling of empowerment." During that same period she also volunteered weekly at the Westchester YMCA, leading a senior fitness class.

Farrell's employer planned to create a health facility for employees and sent her to UCLA for the applicable certification. However, before she could complete the two-year course, economics intervened.

"The aerospace companies were not doing as well financially and they decided not to build the health facility," she said. "Anyway, I loved the UCLA program, so I finished on my own. That's when I left my well paying job for minimum wage at a health club, doing what I love."

Farrell's website,, reflects an abundance of certifications covering various aspects of health and fitness; memberships in a number of professional organizations; and extensive instructor training in adaptive exercises for people with disabilities, exercise for pulmonary patients, tai chi and yoga. She is also a Silver Sneakers instructor.

"It is so exciting to be in a field that is expanding exponentially, and I find taking classes and continuing to learn keeps me young and involved," said the lithe, vibrant Farrell, whose comprehensive background enables her to empower and educate through private individual training, speaking engagements and workshops, as well as the classes she currently teaches at Westchester YMCA and the Culver City Senior Center.

Her senior center students gave her high marks.

For Shirley Hartley, Balance Challenge was a revelation.

"I have been doing the class for only a short time but find myself amazed at my inability to balance!" she said. "I thought the class would be easy since I have always 'dabbled' in exercise, lately more water aerobics than machines, but Phyllis challenges us while explaining why strengthening certain muscles is so important – like being able to help ourselves off the floor. I would recommend this class to anyone of any age."

Winnie Erwing, who joined recently, said, "I enjoy so much going to this class. I have spinal stenosis; still, I'm managing to do all the things she is teaching. Phyllis is so great, so professional and fun to be around. I hope to take more classes with her."

A class member for two years since her retirement as an RN from Kaiser,

Sally Schlosstein described the class as involving "a lot of modalities for staying fit, avoiding falls, strengthening awareness, and having great exercises for agility. This has been good preventative medicine and fun, too. We all have learned so much about being healthy seniors and also have had some laughs and made friends."

Sharing what transpired at one session, she said, "We used some tai chi balance skills, used weights and resistance bands to keep us flexible, practiced proper breathing for lung function, and performed posture exercises and some aerobic dance to enjoyable music. We used a ball with some of these movements.

"Phyllis always stresses safety to avoid injuring ourselves doing something requiring proper alignment, and to listen to our body and not do something that hurts from the start. Some of the class work is done sitting and just learning to stand and sit down properly so we can have strong musculature. We don't want to get stuck in a chair and be unable to get up and out alone, do we?"

Schlosstein noted that "we're getting information about improving our lives and our outlook. I had a miserable bout of BPPV, a vertigo problem, at the beginning of the year. My primary physician, my neurologist and a doctor in the physical therapy department were so happy to know that this class helped with all the vestibular function skills I needed to practice. We get help no matter what our skill level is or what age we are. I'm a senior and did Jazzercise before. Now, all the Balance Challenge classes will give me a boost at growing older in a healthy way I can maintain."

Debbie Cahill

Phyllis Farrell

"I have been attending the Friday morning class for about two years and I absolutely love what it has done for me," said Barbara Algaze, who found it evenly divided between balance exercise, aerobic exercise and stretching, "all of which my old body needs. Phyllis is always upbeat, cheerful, and does a wonderful job in varying the activities so that it is never boring. Occasionally she will throw in a fun dance such as YMCA, the Macarena, or The Chicken Dance. All of this is helpful to keep me moving. I have noticed a real difference with my balance. While I still trip occasionally, I have never fallen or broken any bones. I attribute that completely to my participation in this class."

Radiating good health and good humor, a grateful Farrell expressed her bottom line: "The very best part about what I do is seeing the positive difference I can make in people's lives."


Reader Comments

wemglm writes:

Sandra Coopersmith's most excellent article makes me want to join Phyllis Farrell's class (however, I live 200 miles north of where the class is held). Phyllis Farrell is certainly making a wonderful contribution to senior citizens. Sandra Coopersmith's great journalism talents certainly make Phyllis Farrell's class activities come alive! I thoroughly enjoy Sandra's articles.

Karinjoy writes:

Phyllis Farrell is a wonderfully inspirational lady. It was very neat reading about how she got into teaching physical fitness to seniors. Another awesome article by Sandra Coopersmith, highlighting a person doing what she loves, and making a difference in the world!


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