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Fitness Training For Middle Age And Beyond – Part One

This is the first segment in a short mini-series of articles I’ll be doing on coaching tips for fitness training in the middle age and older adult population.

This will serve as an inside peek into a segment of my upcoming book, “The Lean Code Method” – Body Transformation For The Middle Age Adult.

In today’s post I’m going to briefly discuss some of the physiological changes that are common place with us middle age and older adults, and how this should influence our exercise regiments.

As someone who’s now in my early forties I can fully relate to these changes far more so now than when I was younger.

The simple fact of the matter is I’ve had to change up quite a few things about my fitness training routines over the years. Long gone are the days of being able to train hard 4-5 days a week and still be able to stay out all night on the weekends, etc.

Recovery phases, stretching routines, getting sufficient sleep…these are just a few of the things that become increasingly important as you get older. Fitness coaches reading this article (hopefully mine are) should take note, even if you’re younger, since many of your clients will fall into this category.

More after the jump…

Let’s begin this discussion by looking at one of the primary variables that should influence exercise prescription for middle age and older populations.

The first thing we want to take into consideration is the following fact.

Time in general along with long periods spent desk jockeying or sitting behind the wheel will change one’s muscles and their mobility…

This shouldn’t come at much of a surprise, but the muscles in the human body will naturally conform to whatever position they’re put in for long periods of time. Spend enough time sitting behind a desk and certain muscles will get short and tight while others get weak and inhibited.

The older one gets the more prevalent this becomes due to a host of physiological changes. Granted the function and quality of fascia (connective tissue) in the body will be directly impacted by nutrition and lifestyle habits, but I’ll save that discussion for another day.

For now I want to focus on the muscles themselves and what we’re likely to find.

Having an understanding of which muscles are prone to be short and tight and which ones are likely to be weak and inhibited, can help with creating a more effective fitness routine. Perhaps even more important, this can help minimize the risk for injury.

Muscular imbalances and neural recruitment breakdowns will always show themselves through mobility and movement. The basic human movement patterns don’t change, only the way we perform them does due to compensations.

The body will always find a way to work around things like sitting too much by compensating. In other words, if certain muscles which should be working together to perform a particular movement pattern are inhibited in some way due to them being weak and inhibited, others will kick in to do the job for them.

In the end what we’re talking about are some muscles doing the wrong job and others sitting on the sidelines because they’re inhibited (turned off). The result is inefficient or faulty movement patterns, which not only influences our fitness results, but also impacts quality of life with the ability or lack thereof to do the activities we enjoy.

Yes, we all want to look better, feel better, and move better. Exercise and physical activity plays an essential role in all of this, but we want to be smart about it.

Simply put, we want our fitness routines to address our individual needs.

So having said all of that, what might we see with middle age and older adult populations in terms of what muscles are likely to be short and tight, and which ones weak and inhibited?

Here you go…

So what does all this mean in simple terms for a middle age or older adult?

Well, basically we want to spend more time stretching the muscles on the left and put more influence on strengthening the muscles on the right.

While obviously everyone is going to be somewhat different, this is a pretty good picture of what I’ve found on myself along with the middle age and older clients I work with.

Here are some tips I think you’ll find to be helpful if you’re over forty or training someone who is:

Spend 15-20 minutes a day stretching and using a foam roller, putting special emphasis on the muscles which are prone to be tonic…

I used to come right into the gym, lace up my shoes and get to lifting, but no more. Stretching and foam rolling has become a new ritual for me and it’s paid big dividends. I do this before workouts, sometimes after, and during off days.

The more I do it the better my workouts seem to be. Time spent stretching and foam rolling can make a big difference. Make it a habit and you’ll be glad you did.

Spend 5-10 minutes before your resistance workouts doing dynamic stretching…

No, I’m not talking about the old “bend down and touch your toes” kind of stretching. That’s referred to as “static stretching” which is best left for after your workouts. Dynamic stretching is where you’re moving.

Think along the lines of functional movements that can warm-up and prep the body for the workout to come. These would include things like walking reaches, lunges, bodyweight squats, inchworms, bird-dogs, hip bridges, push-up’s, and the such.

In addition, you could also spend a few minutes on the treadmill, rower, elliptical, etc. Bottom line is you don’t want to hit the weights being cold, warm up the muscles and get the central nervous system ready to roll.

Start with ground based exercises…

It’s amazing what a little ground work can do, especially when you’re first starting out. Look to spend some time on the floor where you’ve got plenty of stability doing basic movement patterns. This can be done lying, seated, prone (face down), tall kneeling (on both knees), or half kneeling (on one knee).

Examples of some of my preferred ground based movements include:

  • Quadrapeds (bird-dogs)
  • Planks
  • Side Planks
  • Superman’s
  • Hip Bridges
  • Tall Kneeling Chops
  • Half Kneeling Overhead Presses
  • Push-Up’s

Perform loaded carries to turn on the core and deep abdominals…

This is something I’ve found to be especially helpful for those over forty, myself included. Loaded carries with kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, etc. In essence you pick up something heavy with either one hand or both hands and walk for distance. Or you can buy some best selling dumbbells on Amazon if you feel more motivated this way. Put some figure eights or turns into the walks for an even greater challenge. This will turn on those external obliques, trust me.

Turn on and strengthen the glutes with goblet squats, step-up’s, 1 leg Bulgarian squats, loaded pelvic thrusts, deadlifts, and others…

Obviously we want to be starting with assisted squats, split squats, and the such then moving to unassisted bodyweight movements before progressing to loaded resistance. But once you’re ready for some external resistance, grab some dumbbells or kettlebells, instead of heading right for the barbells.

Now don’t get me wrong I love my barbell squats, it’s just that I’ve found using a kettlebell or dumbbell and holding it in the goblet position (pressed against your chest with both hands), to be a great alternative. This doesn’t load the vertebral column and takes a lot of the pressure off the lumbar-pelvic region.

If you’re just starting out or have some back issues, stick with this option. If everything is good with your mobility and squat pattern you can still hit barbell squats, this is just an alternative.

Bottom line is we want to be putting attention and emphasis on activating and strengthening the glutes. Do it smart, but find a way to put this in your routines regularly.

Press overhead and do some rowing and pulling…

Lastly, make sure to put some emphasis on overhead pressing so long as you don’t have any shoulder issues which would limit your ability to do so. Overhead pressing is a lost exercise in most health clubs and gyms these days and it’s a shame.

Think of it as being more than just a shoulder exercise. Overhead presses are great for deltoid and tricep development (both weak areas for older adults), along with helping to activate and strengthen the deep core muscles.

Also look to put a priority on rows and pulls which can strengthen the rhomboids and mid-back. These can be vertical or horizontal pulls using any implement or machine you’d like.

Bottom line…

There’s a lot more to talk about here, some of which I’ll discuss in the remaining articles in this series, other subjects I’ll go into more detail on in the book. This will be a wrap for part one in the series. I hope that you’ve found some helpful tips and information you can use.

The most important variable I’ll be reinforcing throughout this series and the book is the element of personalization. Finding what works best for your unique needs. It’s all about unlocking your own “lean code” and doing things with your nutrition and exercise that’s a good fit.

Be willing to adapt and make changes along the way. The human body changes over time on a multitude of levels (hormonally, neuromuscular, and others), be open to experimentation and breaking free from a “this is the way I’ve always done it” mentality.

Finally don’t feel like you have to go about it all alone. If you’re not sure where to start or what’s best, consult with a knowledgeable fitness professional who understands the unique needs of someone your age.

Here are links to part two and part three of this series.

Until next time, take care and God bless.

Shane Doll CPT, CSCS is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shane and his team provide personal fitness training in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation for middle age adults. Sign up today for a no obligations consultation.

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