The Internet can be a resource when it comes to fitness and health research, but it can also be a source of misinformation.
In recent months, the media has highlighted fitness do’s and don’ts for those over the age of 50, many of which are myths. Our team of fitness and health experts are here to debunk those myths.
- Myth: Stop running stairs
While it is true that joints and bones become frailer and prone to injury after a certain age, no one should stop running stairs because of their age. If running stairs is something you enjoy and can do without pain, age shouldn’t be a deterrent. It’s a great way to work on your agility, power through your legs, and to get daily cardio.
- Myth: HIIT training is not advised
HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training is a form of interval training, a cardiovascular exercise alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods. This type of cardio is ideal for people who are tight on time, as it can be done in 30 minutes or less. The best part about HIIT training is that anyone can do it.
Trainer tip: Start with ten minutes, alternating between one minute of exercise at a comfortable pace, followed by 30 seconds at a level that challenges you. Gradually increase intensity and time, as to keep your body challenged and to get the most benefit.
- Myth: Don’t do push-ups
Push-Ups are an exercise that engages the entire body when performed, but it targets the upper body. When pushing yourself up from the floor, the pectorals are the muscles that will ideally work the hardest. Push-ups can be modified to fit each individual’s current fitness level.
Trainer tip: Modify it by using a bench or a bar, or perform it from your knees. Focus on proper technique and progress from there.
- Myth: Don’t squat with weights
Squats are a full-body exercise that work the hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and strengthen the core. Squats can help improve balance and coordination, as well as bone density. They’re a functional exercise that we perform on a daily basis when we sit down in a chair and when we get up from a chair. Squatting with weights is safe for ANY age.
Trainer tip: Always start light and work your way up as your body adapts to the stimuli, and never push through the pain.
- Myth: Don’t bench press
The Bench Press is one of the most important upper-body exercises. It’s not just a chest exercise; it works your triceps, shoulders and back. It’s a complex movement that can cause injuries if not done correctly, just like any other exercise, regardless of age.
Trainer tip: Start light and focus on technique. (Norton, Layne 2017)
- Myth: Modify your burpees
The burpee is a full body exercise used in strength training and as an aerobic exercise. When done properly it increases power and overall physical conditioning. Modify them if needed, but if you’re over the age of 50 and have no problem performing a burpee, continue doing them.
- Myth: Don’t perform pull-ups
The pull-up is an important upper back exercise that should be part of everyone’s routine. Activities such as working on a computer, driving and using our phones stretch the muscles of our back and contribute to imbalances within the shoulders and spine.
Trainer tip: Pull-ups can be modified using an “Assisted Pull-Up” machine or by doing “Lat Pull Downs.” Increasing the strength of our upper body pulling muscles can help prevent hunching as we age. Pay attention to the muscles engaged when performing these exercises and focus on pulling your shoulder blades down and together. Start light or with heavy assistance and slowly progress.
- Myth: Don’t deadlift
This full body exercise focuses on the posterior chain and strengthens the hamstrings, glutes, lats, traps and delts. The deadlift is a functional movement that will enable you to continue (or start) picking up and playing with grandchildren, unloading groceries and doing daily activities. An added benefit of the deadlift is that it taxes the major muscles which increase your body’s natural testosterone and growth hormone – two hormones that commonly decrease as we age and cause muscle loss and osteoporosis.
Trainer tip: This is a highly technical movement and as such, it is highly recommended that you consult a certified personal trainer to ensure that your form is correct as to reduce the risk of injury and increase the positive benefits. (Dave Goodin 2013)
- Myth: No Sprinting
Sprinting can be a great cardiovascular exercise but also helps improve and maintain fast twitch muscles fibers. Other benefits include improving insulin sensitivity and blood sugar tolerance. Sprinting is a great fat burning exercise by leading to a measurable post-workout calorie burn referred to as EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption). We obviously will not sprint at the same speed as when we were 20 years old, and we may not recover as quickly either, but taxing your cardiovascular system and challenging your body’s endurance will have great benefits.
Trainer tip: Start slow and increase in speed slowly. We recommend starting outside or on our basketball courts as using treadmills for sprints can be challenging. Allow for long recovery times between sprints and then reduce recovery time as you become more comfortable. (Poliquin Group 2013)
- Myth: No Leg Presses
Leg press, much like squats and deadlifts, utilize some of the largest muscles in the body. By doing so the leg press can be a great tool in building and maintaining muscle mass, increasing metabolism and reducing loss of bone density. Another added benefit of the leg press is the ability to reduce pressure on the spine. For those with degenerative disc disease, or anyone dealing with back pain, the leg press can be a good supplement for weighted squats.
Trainer tip: In this exercise we are looking to get the knees to bend at 90 degrees before pressing back up. Pay attention to keeping your backside on the pad as this can cause too much pelvic tilt, resulting in curving the lower spine. Start light and make sure you can work through the range of motion and then increase from there. (Poliquin Group 2017)
Many studies show muscle loss leads to strength decline and weakness, which are contributing factors to a shorter life span.
When performed correctly, with good form and based on a personalized exercise program (as each individual has different strengths, weaknesses and goals), the movements suggested above increase strength, power, muscle mass and your resiliency to injury.
In general, there are no exercises that are strictly off limits to those over the age of 50. Everyone is different and what you should partake in, or avoid in an exercise program depends on your current fitness level and whether you have any specific medical conditions.
Written by Patrick Thomson, Sr. Personal Trainer at PRO Club and Adina Delgeanu, Personal Trainer at PRO Club