“I’m getting too old for this,” is a phrase we hear all the time, especially in regards to fitness. The truth is that many of the aches, pains, and ailments associated with age are actually brought on by years of inactivity. While the intensity of the activities you participate in may change as you age, your quality of life depends on being able to move confidently at any stage of life.
Whether you’re an Olympic athlete or walking with a cane, your life depends on movement. Every human action can be broken down into these fundamental movements:
No matter what age you are, you perform these movements on a daily basis. Every time you get out of a chair, you are squatting. Every newspaper you pick up off the driveway is a hinge. You pull doors open, push (or press) baggage into overhead compartments, and carry groceries to your house.
Many older adults experience loss of balance, coordination, and loss of strength as they age. While some of this occurs naturally, much of it can be preserved through weight training. The loss of muscle due to inactivity contributes heavily to the loss of balance, risk of falling, and slow reaction time typically experienced by older adults.
Anyone, at any age, can begin a strength training program and improve their quality of living. The key is to start at a level that is appropriate for you. Follow these guidelines to make sure you are training safely, correctly, and functionally:
It is better to practice a movement unweighted before attempting a variation with weight. For example, using a chair, stick, or door frame to support your body as you perform the squat can be a great way to practice the movement with minimal risk. Once you can perform this confidently, add some weight.
Train the Movement, Not the Muscle
While there is a time and place to use exercise machines, they don’t always prepare the body for the balance and real-world demands that movement places on the muscle. Instead of focusing on specific body parts to train, practice training the fundamental movements on a regular basis.
The human body is designed to quickly adapt. That dumbbell routine you’ve been doing with the same weight for the past 10 years stopped being challenging a long time ago. To improve your physical ability, it is crucial that you gradually and safely challenge your muscles. Once you can comfortably perform the number of reps at a given weight, it may be time to increase. We typically suggest adding 5-10 lbs for upper body exercises and 10-15 lbs for lower body exercises.