A client in her 50's recently asked me what was the best sort of exercise that she should be doing for her health? My answer was ‘anything’. But the question came from an interesting perspective. This woman, still very much in the active years of her life, was trying to figure out if she had reached ‘that point’ where her usual exercise laden regime may need to be curtailed due to concerns around osteoporosis, age, recovery, disc degeneration etc.
These concerns (a result of zealous medical marketing) are very real for those not in the under 30’s age bracket when it comes to assessing your physical exercise regime. But the answer brought me to a point of perspective about the nature of physical exercise and the goals inherent therein. So upon reflection I came to the conclusion that the ideals of exercise really don't change much with age. For me it remains the same, and that the goals behind any exercise regime should always be consistent with one thing - athleticism and function.
PFFT! Really – its not like we are all destined for wheelchairs once we get past 28 years of age! It may be true that there is an athletic prime age or that we can’t all be super human athletes once we enter our 40's, but there is no reason to believe that you can’t choose an active and physically demanding lifestyle IF you take care to enact certain ideals into your regime that are relevant across any age group or demographic. The fundamental principles of trainging and increasing or maintaining performance should always be at the forefront of any new endeavours or consideration when it comes to physical capacity.
I see many people coming through the door with the all important 'power' mindset firmly entrenched in the front of their minds when it comes to exercise. This can often be in the form of young folks, focused on achieving aesthetic bodies and cover model appearances. However, sacrificing other elements just for the short gains in one element is not the most sensible approach when it comes to exercise. As I have always maintained, functionality of movement is paramount to any advance in physical performance.
When training for goals, you must keep in mind what it is you want to achieve. For every individual this is different. The need to be honest with yourself is important in setting the goals in the first place. The principle of, "is it achievable, is it practical, is it measurable" comes into play here. But if you want to design a building, you don’t just go in willy nilly and say I want 4 walls and a roof. You have a blueprint and a plan to bring all the elements of a space together. Same as with the body, you must take into consideration all the factors. In the example of my client she wants to maintain an agile and lithe body that allows her to run, walk, garden and move freely into her senior years. What is the best 'form' of exercise to promote and allow this to happen?
The principles of ensuring good movement are simple. You want to create movements that maintain a range of mobility and create healthy functional muscle and joint function. Working with weights has so many applications rather than just creating bulk. Weight resistance training is every bit as important for people who are moving into the more senior edge of the age bracket, as for young 20 somethings aiming for the bikini body. For example, resistance training helps to create healthy osteocyte activity which leads to stronger bones and bone density, a major consideration for those heading into this age bracket.
Muscle ‘health’ is what is also important. And that just doesn’t mean good tone, but healthy tendons. How to achieve healthy tendon connections? You must work a full range of motion to stretch, flex and stress the tendons and not just the bulk of the muscle fibres. There is no point having 'strong' muscle fibres bristling with inherent power without the tendon capacity to wield that power. In this way, training for athletes and training for those more concerned with active bodies is very similar. A leading strength and conditioning coach, Daniel Lowry sums it up nicely…
“Strength & Conditioning for athletes is about making them not only stronger, but stronger in the right positions (like a deep squat or at least past parallel) and with quality movement.
If you begin a strength training program, it will embed current levels of mobility. If you begin a strength training program that ignores full range of movement, you will DECREASE your levels of mobility, and increase likelihood of career ending injury. Not good for athletes.”
Dan Lowry: GoTEAM Training
When considering form and function this is always the priority of exercise. There is no point imbuing bad habits and poor form in exercises, particularly if they are new exercises. Bad habits will only come back to haunt you further down the track. It can take years of conscious activation to fix postural issues that have been reinforced by bad habits over the years. The body gets used to bio-mechanics and moving in a certain way. To change that requires determined reinforcement and consistent ‘training’ to enforce a new pattern. You can save yourself a whole heap of time by getting the right information and advice at the outset.
In this way you should always consider the following:
- Form and full range of movement before progressing in weight.
- Quality of movement to maintain athleticism.
There is some benefit to doing isometric or reduced ROM (range of motion) training to enhance and increase overall performance. An example cited by powerlifters is the ‘board press’. This type of training is utilised to train specific ranges of motion in order to increase overall power. Hence the isometric or reduced ROM exercises are used within a program that still employs full ROM actions to increase overall performance.
Athletic performance does require a very specific and conscientious approach to training to obtain specific outcomes and results. An increase in .05 secs for a runner means that if you can activate your posterior chain by 10% and have a faster start out of the block, then yes you want to do that. So you train specific hip extensions and possibly even some isometric work to target those specific muscles in a specific action to achieve a specific aim. However, for most of us, this is really above and beyond what is required from our goals and aims when incorporating a fitness exercise program into our daily lifestyle. Though it also stands to reason that these 'power' dominated exercises always are in co-ordination with a full training regime that includes full, complex movement systems as well as isolated function. Never is one factored at the expense of another.*
Range of Motion is always more desired over power in most instances. The equation reads like a physics lecture “power = force x velocity". Velocity being the speed of something in a given direction. To create more force – you can create a greater push, or a longer arc of movement, as in a catapult. To create greater velocity you also need to maintain directional force of the vector quantity. This means having a great distance to generate consistent movement to measure velocity. This is where Range of Motion comes into play as a longer or wider range of motion results in a direct increase in the capacity to generate force as you increase the 'velocity' over which you travel. the direct factor that is part of the equation means you either increase force generated by muscle, or increase the velocity via range of motion. With pure power you can generate greater force but in terms of longevity of performance, you don't get the same results. Tyres of a performance nature don't outlast those of a more generic function as they are made for high performance - not longevity. Ok so I'm reaching with this analogy but it has a point. Bodies age and we age with them, and we must adapt to cater for that aging. But we shouldn't be sacrificing functionality for one elemental factor over. Not when the one element is but a part of the greater whole.
So if you are thinking about investing in an exercise regime that involves weight training for your bone density, or yoga for your flexibility or even the urge to flip tractor tyres over and over in a parking lot. These goals are wonderfully invigorating and motivating for the individual - but shouldn't be undertaken at the expense of the fundamental principles of athleticism and longevity. Keeping in mind what the fundamentals are is a good measuring yardstick when it comes to contemplating your fitness needs and goals. No matter what age group, gender demographic, hormonal situation or post operative condition. Range of Motion should ALWAYS be considered at the forefront of the program.
*As a side note, A study undertook measuring performance and bulk in 2 control groups over 12 weeks. One group undertaking specific isolation exericeses with heavy load but reduced range of motion and the other, undertaking lighter loads with full range of motion. After the 12 weeks the strength and size of the muscle was greater in the group with the longer range of motion. Researchers also measured fat stores within the affected muscle and they were reduced more in the group with the longer range of motion.
** Special thanks to Daniel Lowry of GO Team Training in Hobart (http://go-teamtraining.com.au). His timely words on fundamental training principles helped propel me to write this article.