Age is just a number, isn’t it? As you age, your joints and muscles become more brittle and more prone to injury. What’s the best course of action? Exercise of course! Exercise (and movement in general) will help lubricate your joints and help with joint-related pain.
As you age, cartilage naturally deteriorates. Bone mass also decreases, increasing the risk of breakage. It’s a natural process of life that happens to all adults as they age. Muscle mass decreases which also results in reduced strength.
In this article I’ll go over the common issues you’ll have as you age and the best workouts to help improve mobility and overall strength. Just because you’re aging doesn’t mean you have to feel like it either!
What is cartilage and why do I care?
Cartilage is the connection tissue used for joints. Without cartilage, your joints would be bone to bone and be very painful. Cartilage is made up of synovial fluid and water.
As you add load to a joint (let’s say your knees during a back squat), the fluid stored within cartilage is redistributed as to cushion the weight (as you lower and raise the barbell). This helps “soften the blow” and allows more fluid (hehe) movement.
With such diseases like osteoarthritis, the cartilage can be completely broken down and your joints rub bone to bone, making movement very painful.
While not conclusive, it has been show that regular exercise can reduce the overall damage to cartilage in a lifetime. This gives to the saying “motion is lotion”.
Common Problems Among Older Exercising Adults and How to Fix Them
Think about all the movements you perform in a normal day. Getting up, lying down, stepping up, placing items on a shelf. The most common pain in older adults is usually knee and shoulder. And guess what? You use those joints the most.
Let’s start with the knee first.
First and foremost lets start with your legs. You’re going to use your legs the most in daily life, so you better protect them now before they get worse.
Generally speaking, most people use their quadriceps more so than their hamstrings because, well, it’s easy and the most convenient. If you’ve ever barbell squatted and have knee pain, chances are you’re not engaging your hamstrings as much as you could.
When you’re not engaging your hamstrings (or even glutes in this example), all the lifting is done with your quadriceps instead of splitting the load with the other muscles in your legs
If knee pain is going to happen, think about investing into knee wraps. They provide constant support and stability to your knee.
IT Band Syndrome
The IT (iliotibial) band can also be a cause of knee pain. It’s a common issue among those with knee pain, called IT Band Syndrome. What happens is your IT band (which is a whole bunch of connective tissue) rubs against a part of your femur, resulting in knee pain.
Easiest way to deal with it? Foam rolling!
In this case, your IT band is not muscle tissue but connective tissue that connects muscles together. Foam rolling can be effective for IT band syndrome. The way to do it is to foam roll your vastus lateralis (outside of your quads) and your hamstrings (biceps femoris).
Next to your knees, your shoulders are secondly used the most. From lifting to rotating, your shoulders do a lot more work than you think. Strengthening the muscles around the shoulder (similar to strengthening the hamstrings to take the load off of the quadriceps) help easy the pain and take the load off that the shoulder is carrying.
Unfortunately, if you have osteoarthritis there’s not much you can do other than try to regain some flexibility in your shoulders. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage wears down protecting the joints and can cause immense pain.
If shoulder pain is due to flexibility or rotator cuff damage, there are some remedies available. Strengthening the muscles around your shoulder as mentioned, such as your rear deltoid muscle and your upper trapezoid muscle can increase stability until you can add a load to your shoulders.
At Home Workouts for Seniors
Not everyone has the time or money to visit a gym. Having said that, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a good workout in. Latex resistance bands are an excellent alternative to visiting the gym and perfect for rehabilitation work.
Band pull aparts are one of my go-to warm ups for mostly everything upper body. Easy to do and a good stretch before jumping into things.
Assuming you have a gym membership, here are low-impact workouts to help protect your joints and strengthen your muscles.
Leg Workouts for Seniors
- Walking Lunge (use dumbells or kettlebells for added difficulty)
- Glute bridge walkouts for hamstring stretching
- Glute bridge for glute stretching prior to lifting
- Light incline on a treadmill
- Horizontal Leg Press – 3 sets of 12-15 reps
- Lying hamstring curl machine – 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps
- Leg Abductor machine – 3 sets of 12-15 reps (highly recommended to maintain hip motion)
- Kettlebell swings – 2-3 sets of 12 reps
Upper Body Workouts for Seniors
- Resistance band pull aparts
- Childs pose (yoga)
- Scarecrow rotator cuff warmup
- Chest flyes using cables – 2-3 sets of 12 reps
- Rope facepulls – 3 sets of 15 reps (highly recommended)
- Dumbbell row on incline bench – 3 sets of 12-15
- Barbell bicep curl – 2-3 sets of 12 reps
- Seated dumbbell shoulder press – 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps (use light weight here!)
- Dumbbell shrugs
If you start now, you can help strengthen your joints to ease the pain in the future. Generally, use a light weight so you can complete all reps and sets of the exercises. As with any shoulder injury, the last thing you want to do is make it worse.