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Editors note: Grandma’s Packing Abs! 84-Year Old Ernestine Shepherd Is the World’s Oldest Female Bodybuilder

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Editors note: Grandma’s Packing Abs! 84-Year Old Ernestine Shepherd Is the World’s Oldest Female Bodybuilder

Check out Ernestine Shepherd's incredibly inspiring story of how she transformed her life at 56 by deciding to get fit, and in the process, set incredible goals for fitness and six-pack abs.


This 84 -year-old grandmother has got the world in awe with her amazingly fit body that belies her age. Ernestine Shepherd's incredible story is proof that you can never be too old for anything, not even exercise. Born on June 16, 1936, and hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Ernestine never set foot in a gym until she turned 56. She wasn't always into exercise, she told BBC. "I was always too prissy to work out – and you couldn’t get me away from chocolate cake. But the year I turned 56, my sister Velvet and I went shopping for swimsuits. Neither of us had worn one for years. We looked in the changing room mirror, and made a pact to get in better shape."

The sisters started off with aerobics to stay in shape, and then they eventually started lifting weights before trying out bodybuilding. Ernestine said, "One day, Velvet turned to me and said, 'We should try and get into the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest bodybuilding sisters in the world!' It became our goal." However, Velvet would not live to see her dream come true. She suffered a brain aneurysm and sadly passed away.

Just before passing away, Velvet told her sister, "I want you to continue what we’re doing even though I won’t make it. I want you to inspire other senior ladies, and anyone who will listen, to exercise." Ernestine revealed, "I fell to pieces when she died. I didn’t know what to do because she had always been right there with me." A few years later, she decided to take on her sister's challenge seriously and contacted Yohnnie Shambourger, former Mr. Universe, whom she had met a number of times at his bodybuilding shows.

Ernestine asked Yohnnie to help her enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest female bodybuilder in the world. He told her that it would be a "long journey" and asked her if she was in it for the long run. Ernestine told him that she had planned exactly that, but that she didn't want to bulk up or look "too muscular," and he promised that she'd "only look toned" since she lacked the testosterone required to bulk up.

Ernestine went on to fulfill her sister's dream through her. "Seven months later, aged 71, I entered my first bodybuilding contest – and won first place," she revealed. "The Guinness Book of World Records found out and called Yohnnie to confirm that I was the world's oldest performing female bodybuilder. They also invited us to Rome so I could be given the official title on a TV show. I’ll never forget standing on that stage as I collected my medal and certificate. 'I’ve done what you wanted, Velvet,' I remember saying as tears filled my eyes. I had carried some of her ashes with me, and when no one was around, I went outside and spread them as far as I could."


Ernestine went on to be entered in the 2011 edition of Ripley's Believe it or Not! as "Granny's Six-pack," which was another of her sister's dreams fulfilled. She made multiple appearances on television, featuring on Steve Harvey's show, and getting to meet renowned bodybuilders, such as eight-time Mr. Olympian winner, Lee Haney. Ever since that first competition in 2010, Ernestine has participated in seven more bodybuilding competitions and even ran in nine marathons. Oprah Winfrey, too, took notice of the incredibly fit grandmother and Skyped her to discuss her health.

Ernestine has an incredible workout routine. She wakes up at 2:30 AM for her daily devotions and meditations followed by breakfast. She then heads out for a run, before hitting the gym by 7:30 AM, where she teaches a workout class of nearly 45 people until 11:30 AM. After this grueling schedule, she heads home for a meal and a nap and spends time with her husband, Colin, before returning to the gym at 5:30 PM. She trains people between the ages of 20 and 86 until 7:00 PM before heading home again. She revealed, "I focus on my chest and biceps on Monday, shoulder and triceps on Wednesdays and back and legs on Fridays."

At 82, that's an incredibly demanding schedule, and she has an appetite to match. She has two breakfasts every day, downing "an 8oz glass of liquid egg whites, a handful of walnuts, a bowl of oatmeal before my run, and four boiled egg whites when I get back." And she follows this up with three other meals during the day. She usually eats turkey, chicken, or tuna fish with brown rice, mixed vegetables, white potatoes, or a baked sweet potato, treating herself to un-sweetened jelly. She also makes sure she drinks plenty of water to stay hydrated. She heads to bed only once she's downed a final glass of liquid egg whites.

Ernestine revealed that her sister's words still keep her going years later. She said, "I’ve never felt self-conscious about being a bodybuilder at my age thanks to a mantra Velvet passed on to me: 'Determined, Dedicated and Disciplined [which is also the name of her book published in 2016].' If you follow these three D’s no matter what you’re doing in life, you can succeed. That’s what I live by and that’s why I always tell people that age is nothing but a number." And she's received a lot of support from her husband, her 60-year-old son, and her 21-year-old grandson. She said, "I often wonder how Velvet would feel knowing that I have done all the things that she wanted. I like to think she is looking down on me with pride."

By Joshua George



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