Fred W. Schafer, MS, CFT
Author of “50FIT”– Putting the BOOM Back in Boomers!
If you are going to exercise to improve your health and fitness, it would make sense to know the best way to do that. This article is for people who are already doing some form of exercise or plan to in the near future.
As a fitness professional I see a lot of people exercising in ways that will not give them the results they are seeking in the fastest, best, safest and most enjoyable way possible.
This article is written mostly with people over 50 in mind, although it applies to anyone who wants to see and feel a noticeable difference from their exercise.
It is never a good idea to continue making mistakes or using less than the best methods in any area of life of course. But after we pass the age of 50, the stakes become more serious as it becomes even more important to protect our health and fitness.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at four very common exercise mistakes millions of women and men over the age of 50 make.
Exercise Mistake Number One: Using Only One Dimensional Exercise.
Recently I ran into a physician friend of mine while out running errands. The topic of fitness came up and he told me that the only form of exercise and fitness he is using is long bike rides.
He is to be commended of course for being physically active in a way that he enjoys and challenges him some.
However, riding a bike is a one dimensional form of exercise as it only hits one movement pattern (striding) and only targets the legs and hips. Some other examples of one dimensional exercise are using walking, a treadmill or an elliptical machine as your only exercise.
The problem is that sticking with one dimensional exercise year in and year out will not give you the best results and could lead to an overuse injury. In fact, my physician friend mentioned ongoing knee pain and recurring low back pain that he was struggling with.
There are at least 7 primary movement patterns of the human body. These movement patterns include squatting, lunging, pulling, pushing, bending, rotation and striding.
Not frequently getting more effective and progressively stronger in those movements will likely lead to reduced ability to do them in the future, joint instability, increasing aches and pain and reduced health, strength, metabolism and leanness of your body.
Nevertheless, biking, walking, treadmills and elliptical machines can be helpful exercise as they strengthen your stride and burn some calories.
But as you push past 50, you will want to hit all of your movement patterns several days per week. As we get age we want to move more frequently with brief, daily, effective movement sessions.
Exercise Mistake Number Two: Not Forcing Enough Cell and Tissue Regeneration
“Old People Are Not Sick, They Are Weak”…Wall Street Journal, June 2014
This exercise mistake is something most people don’t think about when exercising. Many people are focused on “burning calories” as the most important priority.
But the biggest issue is how much muscle, bone, joint, tendon and nerve cell “disruption” you created so your body is forced to go through the adaptive response and create new cells and tissues.
So how do you force cell and tissue regeneration? By regularly practicing the essential movement patterns and becoming progressively stronger in them too.
But even with those women and men over the age of 50 who do decide to get stronger, they often limit themselves to what I call “old fart” fitness routines. An example of this is the person who only uses tiny plastic dumbbells in the hopes of improving their body.
The reality is that you are very likely capable of becoming far stronger that you realize and it would greatly benefit you to do so. And, you will not need to lift huge weights or worry about getting overly big muscles in the process!
The best way to help a person become convinced of the value of getting stronger and forcing cell and tissue regeneration in these movement patterns is to help them experience it for themselves
There is a gym in Alabama owned by a trainer Vince McConnel. One of Vince’s clients is an 87 year old former physician who regularly does kettle bell dead lifts with a 106 pound kettle bell!
This 87 year old former doctor met Vince 15 years ago when he accompanied his wife on her personal training sessions with Vince. The doctor would watch Vince train his wife with skepticism telling Vince “he would never do any strength training but was going to stick with his cardio”.
One day when the doctor’s wife challenged her husband to attempt to dead lift the amount of weight she could and he struggled with it, it caught his attention. Vince asked the physician if he could put him through a strength training work-out to experience it for himself.
Still skeptical, the physician agreed. Afterwards, the physician also became a client and has been so for the last 15 years. Now, 15 years later, this 87 year old is stronger and fitter than many of the gyms younger clients and he has become a role model and inspiration to others. He did that by forcing cell and tissue regeneration.
Exercise Mistake Number Three: Not Doing Enough Close Chained Exercises.
“Sitting is the New Smoking”
Many of you probably haven’t heard of open and closed chain exercise as this is a term used in the fitness training and physical therapy professions. Yet, it is important to know the difference as knowing how they affect your body can make a big difference in the short and long term health, durability and fitness of your body.
The “chain” is the kinetic chain of the body, which means that all of your bones and muscles are connected in a “chain”. As a result the movements you make are also part of a kinetic chain.
Here is the basic difference:
Open Chain Exercises: Put simply, your hand or foot is free to move during an open chain exercise.
In many cases these movements isolate a single muscle group and a single joint. For example, the one joint involved during a leg extension is the knee and the muscle group it isolates is the quadriceps.
Open chain exercises can be done with or without added weight, but when weight is added, it’s usually placed at the distal (far away) portion of the limb (like the ankle).
Some examples of open chain exercises include seated chest presses on a machine, biceps curl, leg curls and leg extensions. Too many people do too many open chain exercises, especially in gyms and especially it seems, as they get older.
Compounding the problem is that many gyms are filled with machines that are open chain movements. Also, open chain movements are usually easier because they require less work.
The problem is that they get far less results too! The point is that you want to be sure to include some form of closed chain movements in your training sessions.
Closed Chain Exercises: During these movements, your hands or feet are in a constant, fixed position (usually on the ground) during the exercise (such as squats). Closed chain exercises work multiple joints and multiple muscle groups at once.
For example, a squat involves the knee, hip and ankle joints, and multiple muscles groups (quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, calves and glutes).
Closed chain exercises can be done with body weight alone or with added weight, such as a goblet squat. Examples of other closed chain exercises include tricep levers, squats, and lunges, all of which can be done with or without added weight.
So why does this matter? Fitness professionals agree that closed chain exercises are better for you. Here’s why:
- Closed chain exercises better mimic activities of daily living. Very few movements in real life isolate joints and muscles like open chain exercises do.
- Closed chain exercises work many muscle groups at once. That’s good for you because you can get more benefit in less time.
- Closed chain exercises are safer for your joints. The force involved in closed chain exercises like lunges and squats is compressive, meaning it actually stabilizes the joint and helps strengthen it. In contrast, open chain exercises, like knee extensions or hamstring curls produce shear force, which stresses the knee joint and is more likely to result in injury.
Exercise Mistake Number Four: Not Paying Attention to Antagonistic Balance
The body is designed to be able to move and apply force in opposite directions. For example, we can push with our arms, chest and shoulders and we can pull with our arms, back muscles and shoulders.
Likewise, with our lower body’s we can push or move forward with our quadriceps (front thighs) and glutes or we can pull or back up with our hamstrings (back of thigh) and glutes.
One big mistake many exercisers make is not keeping these movements and amount of resistance and work in them in balance. This can lead to poor overall results and possibly joint pain.
When I was in college and playing football, every player it seemed was only focused on improving their bench press. That is of course a pushing focused movement.
Hardly any of the players were nearly as dedicated to their upper body pulling strength and thus many of them, including me, began to have shoulder pain.
The solution for me was to balance out the work by working all of the antagonistic movements effectively. This will be important for you too, and again, even more important past the age of 50!
A Done-For-You Solution
In order to overcome the four mistakes outlined above I have written “50FIT – Bring On the Future”. 50FIT is a done-for-you 28 day fitness, strength building and conditioning program designed with women and men over 50 in mind.
Not only will 50FIT insure you do not make the mistakes outlined above but it just may make your future years your best and fittest years ever!
Stay Strong Lifelong! Fred