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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Lower Body Resistance Training & the Elderly

It's been almost 17 years since I got into the health and fitness industry. It has been quite an interesting career considering the diversity of my clientele since May of 1998 when I got started. My youngest client was 12 years old and my oldest client has been 91 years old. I've worked with high school level athletes, college level and semi-pro athletes. My original intentions were to get into veterinary medicine. Like back then I have always been approached because of my considerable strength in comparison to my size. It may appear to other that I should have 21 inch arms because of my strength. My style of training and that fact that I don't use steroids separates me from these incredible hulk freaks of nature that work out about my parameters. I've always been invested in preventing weak muscles, poor health and disease. My favorite part of my career when it comes to the elderly has been the same reason. I've worked with elderly folks who's strength would embarrass a minor and middle aged populations. When ever I work with the elderly my main focus is flexibility, balance and then strength as well as endurance. The reason I put them in that order is because flexibility will always play an important role in both stability and strength. I could go into details about this but that would require me to write a book on the subject. Instead I will focus on the importance of strength training and the lower extremities of the elderly. 
We have all seen that 'I've fallen down and I can't get up commercial'. It's a harsh reality regarding aging. Many of the injuries associated with falling can be reduced but training must emphasize some of the causes. A loss of flexibility, balance, reaction time as well as strength and endurance are all a part of life as we get older. These factors play critical roles on the consequences of losing balance. Functional movements which require the lower body and are a part of (ADL's) activities of daily living in the elderly will include but are not limited to walking, sitting, standing and climbing stairs. 
Two of the most common things I've heard clients complain about is either back problems or weak knees even though they claim to have no history of injury. I usually tell them these issues may be due to daily patterns putting unnecessary stress on the lower back. I also explain to them that most knee problems are the result of weak hips. After some assessments and some hip strengthening they usually complain about less knee problems. When it comes to the lower back I inquire about their lifting patterns and the type of activities required by there jobs. These questions always lead to finding the underlying issues and addressing it with appropriate measures to reduce the complaints. 
Here are some tips for elderly people engaging in physical activity. If considering starting a fitness program make sure to see the doctor in order to make sure there aren't any underlying risks. Once cleared if you haven't done anything for quite some time, take it easy and start slow. Make sure you are following proper progressions. 
Always warm up before you start any type of physical activity. This can include a walk, jog or cycling according to your fitness levels and abilities. Elderly people should consider a slight incline on the treadmill, an elliptical trainer or a stepper which would make the hip muscles work harder during the warm up and thus would be more appropriate and targeted toward the muscles you intend to work out. 
Exercises which can help activate the muscles of the Glutes in preparation to higher intensity activity include Quadruped Hip Extensions, Dirty Dogs (a.k.a. Fire Hydrants) and Prone Bent-Leg Hip Extensions. 
Avoid trying to do what you 'used to do'. Consider starting off with 8 - 10 exercises which target all the major muscle groups. Perform 1 set for a total of 10 to 15 repetitions. The higher the reps the lower the resistance should be. The lower the reps the higher the resistance should be as well. Target the Gluteus Maximus and the Hamstrings before working out the Quads and Calves. In general target muscles from larger to smaller. 
My favorite exercise for increasing Gluteus and Hamstring strength include Romanian Deadlifts, Single-Legged Deadlifts and Valslide or Stability Ball Leg Curls. Split Squats are also very useful because they engage your Quadraceps and Gluteus Maximus muscles. If your balance improves to impressive levels you can add an Airex Balance Pad or Dyna-Disc for added balance and resistance training. As long as blood pressure is not an existing health problem you can add Isometric training to all these exercises. If you have good flexibility and have no physical conditions which would contraindicate your ability to perform Kettlebell training then you might even include some Swings into your regimen. Kettlebell Swings are part of the fundamentals of including Kettlebells into your fitness program. They are great when done properly because of the major emphasis on the hips, hamstrings and endurance. I hope these suggestions and guidelines will help. As always, when in doubt; hire a fitness professional. 

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