In the last blog, I discussed that the 40 plus age group had different training needs because of the effects of aging: loss of strength fibers (sarcopenia), weakening of connective tissue with the resulting aches and pains and injuries, joint issues (arthritis and loss of range of motion), hormonal changes, weight gain (especially visceral fat), heart disease and diabetes. For many in this age group, other medical conditions seem to appear from out of nowhere. Theories for why range from genetics to reduction of stem cells but the fact remains, unexpected conditions and diseases show up uninvited and certainly unwanted from about 45 and beyond.
It is the responsibility of a trainer to know the issues of the Aging Active Adults just as they would with any other special population group and design training programs accordingly. If someone is training themselves, they also need to know a lot more about their body, especially their age related limitations.
Reminder for those training themselves: the ego is a great motivator for getting you ass off the couch but an absolute terrible coach. The ego will beat the crap out of you to feel good about itself without regard for what the body can recover from, short and long term. It actually believes in such silliness as “no pain, no gain” and other macho slogans and the ego is the reason for most training injuries and setbacks. Don’t me wrong, I believe in training hard (which is a relative term) but I just don’t believe in training stupid.
“A true professional knows what to do and when to stop doing it.”
With that said, lets discuss the need for strength.
One of the leadership of the National Strength and Conditioning Association was recorded lecturing his graduating class in exercise science. He asked if they would teach a 65 year old woman, who had never weight trained to do a barbell squat. The question was loaded: female, age, no experience and an athletic lift. As their professor, he was asking for a yes or no answer and because they had been in his class all year, they knew if they answered it question incorrectly, he would nail them. So everyone set in silence.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he said. “Since you’re not going to answer the question, I will do it for you. She has to stand up from a chair. Its the same movement pattern. We are going to work with her on a life skill and make her stronger in that pattern at the same time.”
Oh, that’s not what they excepted. They were thinking leg press, leg extensions and leg curls would be safer for a female of that age with no weight training experience than doing the squat. But he played the functional strength card and trumped their unstated answer.
But the he added, “I don’t think you really get it and I want to make sure you do. Imagine its 15 years later and she is now 80 years old in a nursing home and she can’t get up from the toilet without assistance. She has lost her life independence. Did you do her any favor by not teaching her to do the squat?”
I didn’t believe it possible but a client of mine beat his add-on when she told me that her mother-in-law died in a nursing 6 months prior to our conversation. She had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. She had hit the assist bottom but no one saw it. The next morning, they found her dead on the bathroom floor. She had fallen off the toilet during the night and had broken her neck.
No one wants to be that 80 woman. No one wants their remaining years on this planet unable to move as a functioning independent adult but if no effort is made to maintain strength fibers and joint range of motion, we’ll certainly slide down to the lower levels movement quality until we’re stuck on the toilet of life.
I don’t like motivating through negative imagery but sometimes you have to hit people in the head with a following chair to get their attention. I’d rather discuss the joy of connecting with your body, finding out what an amazing vessel it is to experience and travel through life and to feel the power that resides beneath the outer shell.
Our bodies were designed to move and to work, actually to work hard and for long periods of time. If not, we would have been eaten by big cats thousands of years ago. It was just within the last 100 years that we have made life so physically easy that we are now dying from lack of movement, especially from intense movement that signals the cells that we are important to our family, the tribe and the village, important enough for the cells to make a concerted effort to keep us around.
Think of exercise like a prescription drug. It is a concentrated dose of intense activity used to communicate the message that we are, in fact, really important for something all the way down to the cell level.
Contrary to the common belief about the role of cardio, strength is the fitness component that sets the foundation for all of the other forms of fitness activities. If your muscles are not strong enough to support basic movement patterns, there is no way you can do cardio exercise for very long before something breaks down and then you have to stop while joints, connective tissue and/or muscles have time to heal.
In this article, I wanted to make it clear why you need to incorporate some form of strength training in your fitness program design. In future articles, I’ll discuss actual strength training strategies and the rationale behind them. Don’t be surprised if Kettlebells come up frequently and I promise to continue my relentless attack on training stupidity.