Fitness · Health

Strength Training Exercises to Get Stronger at Any Age

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This is another post in our series of Fitness Saturday exercises, workouts, and expert tips appropriate to women in the second half of life. Jonathan Urla, a certified advanced health and fitness specialist, shares exercises to improve strength at any age.
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Thanks to Dr. James Wyss’s excellent article last Monday, we are more aware of sarcopenia—the age-related disease where we lose muscle mass. Thankfully, as Dr. Wyss noted, we can do two things to help stave off this condition: Do regular resistance training and maintain good nutrition. In terms of diet, there is a concern that some people, as they get older, stop eating sufficient protein. Those of us in our 40s, 50s, and 60s, probably haven’t noticed any decrease in appetite for meat, dairy, or fish. However, for some people over 70, meats become harder to digest and so they avoid them. For these seniors, supplementing a protein shake into their diet has been shown to help maintain a healthy protein intake.
 
Strength training is key for preventing sarcopenia. However, you don’t have to do body-building workouts. Trying to get bigger muscles should not be as important as getting strong. And getting strong should not be at the expense of reducing mobility and flexibility. Keeping your heart strong through aerobic exercise is still essential, but just doing a fast walk as your only exercise isn’t enough. To avoid losing muscle mass, you should also do some resistance training, preferably three times a week. Of course, you should also do stretching before and after. It’s all about having a complete and balanced fitness program, taking care of yourself and enjoying all your body can do.
 
Training the Smart Way
The first rule of training is “don’t get hurt.” If you have been away from exercising regularly for some years, you should probably do a self-assessment of your posture and your ability to do basic movements with proper form. As we age and become more sedentary, certain areas of the body can become weak, unstable, and misaligned more than other areas, particularly the feet, hips, lower back, neck, and hands. Probably the worst thing a person with a misaligned neck, back or hip can do would be to start lifting heavy weights. This would just exacerbate the problems and could lead to serious injury. To assess your posture, take a look at the image below and then stand sideways in front of a mirror and see where you fit in terms of spinal alignment.

Spinal Alignment
Next, stand the way you would normally do in bare feet facing the mirror and see if your feet turn out/turn in, or point straight ahead. Also check to see if your arches are collapsed in or if you roll to the outside of your feet. The alignment of your feet affects your posture and weight displacement all the way up your body. Also, look at your knees and see if they bow out or in. Then, look to see if your hips are level, your shoulders are square, or if your head is tilted. Your alignment is crucial to establishing proper “patterning” (the natural way your body moves) and is key to safe and effective exercise.
 
For training purposes, I find it easiest to separate the body into an upper and lower focus, as well as by large and small muscle groups, and to classify strength exercises into four basic movements: pushing, pulling, leg presses or squatting, and torso hinging. For this first installment, lets look at two exercises that most beginners of any age can do for the upper body.
 
Wall Push-Ups work large muscles of the chest, as well as some tricep (back of upper arm) and shoulder muscle. Stand in front of a wall, bend your arms ninety degrees at the elbow and place your hands against the wall at chest level. Isometrically push against the wall while simultaneously co-contracting your core to keep your body stable. Notice if your shoulders lift up even a little bit. Also, notice if your hands can press flat against the wall or if some of your fingers or part of the palm lift up. Next, practice pushing away from the wall until your arms are straight and bend in again. Do this ten times. Then, starting again with your arms bent and body rigid, walk away another foot from the wall so you are leaning on an angle to the wall. Then do ten more wall push-ups.

Alternating Bicep Curls work smaller muscles of the front part of upper arms. This exercise is fairly straight forward and can be done sitting. You can use two dumbbells of a weight you can lift at least ten times, or as DIY weight, use gallon jugs filled about half-way with water. Start holding the weights at your sides with your arms straight. Then, curl one arm up to the shoulder and lower slowly. Try not to swing the weight up and keep your upper torso still. Repeat with the other arm. Alternate arm curls for a total of ten with each arm. Rest, then repeat the set. If you find it too difficult, lower the weight (empty some water). If it’s too easy, add some weight (water).
 
As a caveat, not all exercises are suitable for everyone, and you should get permission from your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Also, if you know you have a past or present injury or injuries, you may want to get the guidance of a physical therapist or certified fitness instructor to help you get started safely.
 
I will be explaining how to do three more strength exercises in the next article. Until then, be well and stay active!!

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