Fit For Life: Fitness At Every Age
Saturday, August 10, 2013
Young and fit
Youth groups are challenging because kids have vastly different abilities. Some are natural athletes, some are built like stick figures, and some have weight issues at an early age. This is an extremely important time in the developmental process, both physically and mentally, so it needs to be handled wisely.
On a physical level, their bones and joints are still growing, so caution needs to be taken so that they don’t do permanent damage when exercising. Loading their bodies with weight needs to be progressive and incremental. I would never load a bar on a teen’s back and have them squat, for instance. It’s best to wait until the growth process is over to avoid any spinal compression issues.
Form is also crucial and needs to be perfect; otherwise, injuries can occur. It makes me cringe when I see fathers in the gym pushing their kids to lift heavier than they should, or to perform high-risk maneuvers. Their intentions are great, but their knowledge of body mechanics and movement patterns isn't. So parents, hire a pro to help your teen. It will benefit them in the long run.
On a mental level, it is tough to deal with fragile emotions and body image issues. You don't want teens taking things to extremes such as overtraining or over dieting, which can lead to eating disorders and other dangers. I think it is best to educate kids about nutrition with a health and performance-oriented goal rather than an aesthetic one. That way, they can focus on getting stronger and faster. The ‘looking good’ part just happens, so they are not stressing or taking drastic measures for the wrong reasons.
Those in the age group of 40-65 may have a variety of things going on in their lives, whether it be their kids going to college, a divorce, career changes, discovering a medical problem, etc. I notice many people wanting to make changes to get their lives and bodies back. Because of their maturity, this crowd usually understands what they need to do, but bad habits and lifestyle are so addictive that starting a new routine can be difficult.
Once we get on track nutritionally, I find it only takes a few weeks to get someone in this age group moving properly, showing strength gains, and feeling better. It is extra-rewarding for them at this age because they feel and move like they did in their 20’s. Just by doing body weight exercises and a few simple core-strengthening moves, their posture improves, alleviating lower back and knee problems. After incorporating some strength training, people are amazed at what they can do. This is especially true for people who were once athletes because with the proper cues and techniques their muscle memory lets them bounce right back into fit form.
Unless they are training for a specific event, I discourage any exercises that are stressful on the body, such as running and jumping. Many actually love the fact that they can get fit and healthy without long, treacherous bouts of cardio exercise. At this age, any bouts of continuous movement at the same pace or moving in the same plane will cause injuries due to overuse. Best-case scenario, it will waste time and get them nowhere. This is why it is important to vary the routines and train the whole body as a system.
Never too late
My 86-year-old client is always saying, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” I tell her that it’s never too late to show improvement. Now she works out with dead lifts and squats. Yes, that's right, squats and dead lifts for an 86-year old woman. Chair aerobics and 1 lb. weights will not help improve balance, strength, or stability for this age group. Seniors’ bodies need to move, push, pull, and lift just like the rest of us, only slower and with some modifications. This is why all the same rules apply, just with a more conservative approach.
Most of the workout should focus on balance and movement by simulating everyday moves: getting in and out of the car, putting stuff in overhead cabinets, using the facilities, getting out of bed, etc. Creating a little resistance within the exercise also helps to take them out of their comfort zone. When they can bend and touch the floor, lift something overhead, perform tasks that make them feel independent, they feel great, and we feel great knowing how much we improved someone's life.
Strength and resistance should take up another part of the workout. You need to pay extra attention to this population as not to overdo it. Watch their facial expressions, listen to their breathing, and if they ask for a rest, let them have it immediately. Remember that everything they do is something more than what is done at home. Always follow the first rule as a trainer: “do no harm"–especially with this population.
Fitness IS ageless. It’s a constant cycle of assessment, proper technique, and adaptation. Remember what my 86-year-old client said, and look at the long life ahead of you. You’re getting fit to live long, healthy and without injury or disease. You’ll thank yourself for it in your senior years and at every stage throughout your life.
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- Introducing Matt Espeut’s Fit For Life: Are You Fit or Foolish?
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