Those who strength train on a regular basis understand its value lies beyond just improved strength. Additional benefits like durability of the connective tissues, bone density, coordination and overall performance are all provided by strength training. It's especially important that we continue to strength train as we age, as this is when we begin to see the most muscle and bone degradation.
The other day an article popped up in my feed that was directed toward seniors. Originally, the article was entitled "Exercises You Should Never Do After Age 50". The title has since been amended to "14 Exercises You Should Modify If You’re Over 50". However, the core message of the article hasn't changed and that's what we're going to discuss today.
The article suggests that the age of 50 is some magical barrier where life takes a hard turn and you should scale back or altogether cease certain exercises or activities. Furthermore, if you've never done them it's best to avoid them entirely. I certainly recognize that our bodies change with age, but I don't ascribe to the idea that we must stop doing things because an arbitrary number says so. I turn 40 this week, which means, apparently, that I've got 10 good years left before the wheels fall off. Sorry, but I'm not going out like that. My exercise program may change over time, but that will happen because my body changes or my capabilities change. Not because a random number in time dictates that it be so.
Needless to say, this article touched a nerve with me, mostly because a subset of my client base is in their 60's and 70's. Many of them perform squats, deadlifts, push-ups, etc., some for the first time. They're an impressive group and, truth be told, I want to be them when I grow up! Presuming to know anything about a potential client simply by looking at their age would be a huge mistake.
As we age, sarcopenia begins to cause to muscle loss, starting in our 30's. If we're inactive, we can see as much as a 3-5% loss in muscle mass. This is why it's so critical that we continue to strength train as we age. While we can't fully offset the effects of sarcopenia, the old adage "if you don't use it, you lose it" holds true. At the same time, if we're going to strength train I think it's best to focus on movement patterns and exercises that reinforce range of motion and strength required for our activities of daily living. So yes, squats, deadlifts, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups and pressing are still on the menu. For the most part, exercises that require sitting are off the menu.
When selecting an exercise program or methodology we look at individual characteristics like health history, experience level, and ability. It's why my 77-year-old client can execute a perfect squat loaded with dumbbells and my 14 year-old client is learning by using his bodyweight. I assess both, determine where they're at and proceed from there. With that said, I'm going to look at the practical reasons why you'll want to continue including some of these exercises in your program, even after 50.
Squats are one of the most fundamental movements we can perform. It's easy to take little things, like getting up and down out of chair with ease, for granted. Therefore, many of my older clients perform squats or chair/box squats to maintain the leg strength and coordination between the ankles, hips and knees. I have no issue with loading squats, provided they can perform them well and without pain. In fact, using a goblet or front loaded squat can actually help to clean up a person's squat pattern in some cases.
Glute bridges are great, but they don't help you lift something heavy from the floor. Maintaining the ability to pick things up from the floor is critical to our independence. Many of my older clients have pets and all of them drink water. Every time they pick up a bag of dog food or a case of water they're performing a deadlift. So we work on it. Specifically, we work on posture and position so that we using the hips to execute the lift, while avoiding unnecessary stress on the lower back.
Push-ups are an exercise staple because of the upper body and core strengthening benefits. There's a middle ground between the regular push-up and the wall push-up if they're too difficult. The more vertical you become, the easier the exercise will get. Try placing your hands on a bench and maintain your push-up posture. I much prefer this position to the kneeling push-up.
There are certainly scenarios where pull-ups might be too difficult, but we can usually modify them with a band or machine to displace body weight. If pull-downs are a better choice, I prefer a half –kneeling pull-down, versus the traditional seated pull down. We'll challenge our core and be forced to stabilize a bit more with this variation.
While traditional bench press might not be the best choice as we age, dumbbell bench press, at the appropriate weight, might be a good alternative. If we maintain a neutral grip, the shoulders will be pretty well protected. Another alternative would be to use the cable tower to perform a split stance press. Once again, you'll get a great core challenge, while still strengthening your chest. I should also note that the rowing machine is NOT an alternative exercise for bench pressing. There's minimal, if any, correlation between the two.
Sprints, Explosive Movements and HIIT.
Many of my older clients enjoy activities like golf, hiking or long walks. Great choices, but they lack intensity. So I fill that gap with jumps, sprints and HIIT. Again, it all comes down to the capability of the individual. I incorporate light jumps in many of my older clients' programs because they aid with balance and coordination. We use the treadmill or rowing machine to perform short sprints and intervals. Doing so helps them to maintain their conditioning in a way that lower intensity choices will not.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is allowing ourselves and our lives to be defined by our age. 50 isn't old, especially in 2018. Yes, some of the things on the list I wouldn't include, like burpees. But the decision to include or exclude an exercise has nothing to do with the age of the person. Rather, it's based upon an assessment of the person's health and injury history, movement, experience, confidence and goals. Age is never a defining factor and it shouldn't be for you either..
Whether you're an expert or a novice, Vitalifit coaching is designed help you push through barriers to achieve your fitness goals. It doesn't matter your age or where you're starting out. We're going to figure out, together, what the right course of action is for you, and get after it! If you’re looking to improve your health and wellness contact us today to join the Vitalifit Coaching Program that is right for you.