7 amazing exercises for people over 40 (and under 40)

Photo credit: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/wdJ6C3unz04/maxresdefault.jpg

Whether you’ve been active your whole life or not, you should aim to do a wide range of exercises that will benefit your ability to stay mobile and do all the activities that you enjoy. If you’re in your 40s, you do not need to be restricted from certain exercises arbitrarily. In fact, you should aim to continue doing all of the same exercises that your younger comparisons do – just possible with less volume/load. Here is a look at seven exercises that you should not choose to get rid of just because you’re over the age of 40.

1. Crunches

If your goal is to lose stomach fat, you’re not wrong in doing crunches, but it should be paired up with an appropriate diet that puts you in a caloric deficit. However, crunches can be one option in working your abdomen and making your six pack muscles stronger.

Some might tell you that there is a lot of risk in doing crunches, but unfortunately those people are not as well informed upon the literature as possible. Crunches are not without some risk, but so is everything else in life. When crunch type movements are studied and found to be potentially risky, it is done with an incredible amount of continuous crunches (86400 in a row) with a pig spine that is not allowed time to rest, recover, and adapt. In contrast, you as a human can do that. One caveat – if you either a) do not enjoy them or b) find them to irritate you, then do not perform them (this applies to pretty much everything though).

2. Intense cardio

Depending upon who you ask, some will say women in particular love cardio. I’d say that is a sexist comment that is incredibly irrelevant to any discussion in this topic and shouldn’t be made. If you’re someone in your “middle ages” and enjoy doing “intense” cardio, that’s awesome! Personally I’m not in that category (not quite middle aged and also do not enjoy cardio) but don’t think you should have a stupid restriction put on you without good reasoning.

While the term intense is relevant to the person, some would say that it puts your body under stress and produces the hormone cortisol. I can’t disagree with that, cortisol is released under stress, but from my experience most people have a lot of stress and find exercise to be beneficial to chilling out (de-stressing). For sure there is a relative increase in stress, but it can be positive in the grand scheme of things.

There is a wide range of ways to do cardio, some might do things like jumping jacks or high knees – good idea! Those offer a good way to keep your heart rate elevated, challenge a lot of muscles at one time, and utilize a number of joints. The nice part about these exercises is that for the average desk-jockey it gets them moving in ways they don’t through the day. Jumping jacks help to get some good frontal plane movement, while high knees help to perform concentric hip flexion, which most people ignore. Obviously its not advised to do an amount that you cannot recover from appropriately, so please be cautious and take your time increasing your volume and intensity.

Photo credit - https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc3qQx8BO-g/?taken-by=squatsnespressoshots

3. Squats

“Fun” fact – we can find a reason not do everything in life, but most of the time these reasons have some really stupid logic behind them.

This is a great learning time: if you perform squats and do so in a manner that you cannot recover and adapt from, you can get injured. This same statement could get used for just about everything. In contrast, we could use this statement instead – if you perform squats in a controlled manner, with purposeful intent, and progressively increase your load, volume, and stress, you can adapt and become stronger in a wide range of ways.

In fact, squats are one of the most valuable exercises to continue working as we age. It allows us to keep our ankles, knees, hips, and back moving well and strong. These are incredibly beneficial. One of the main determinants of longevity is actually lower extremity strength – which squats improve pretty damn well.

If you find that squats are bothersome, it might be something you need to check your technique on, or find a different variation of a squat to try while you give yourself time to adapt and improve with.

4. Leg extensions

I’ll let you in on a secret, I’m a huge fan of leg extensions. I can’t tell you exactly when this happened as I once believed these were the devil and would wreck my knees. For some reason I had this incredibly weird idea that my knee was not designed to extend against load. However, over the last few years I’ve read more research and learned that this idea has no scientific backing and is more like a bad game of telephone.

What’s great about leg extensions is that it lets your focus in on developing the quadriceps, which can be a great way to actually keep your knees healthy. Much like most of the above paragraphs, I’d say its not advised to do them in an uncontrolled manner with excessive amounts of load that you cannot recover from. However, if you chose to do them controlled and with a load/volume you can recover from, you’ll be better off from it!

5. Deadlifts

I know in the last section I told you I was a huge fan of leg extensions, but I’m actually in LOVE with deadlifts. I can think of few exercises that have more “functional” transfer. Think about this for a second, a deadlift is where you practice picking something up! Hmm, sure sounds like something we do a lot of in some form or another - pick up your groceries, your kids, your wife ;)

The thing that is unfortunate about deadlifts is that they have been condemned, much like squats, as a bad exercise because people chose to do them with less than optimal form in a context where form was much more important. What do I mean by this? Let me explain a bit:

“Form” is relative to need. If we are discussing picking up a pencil off the floor, the “form” needed for this is not overly technical, do whatever feels natural. Our body can move very well in a wide range of manners with minimal load on it (gravity and the weight of a pencil in this case). Now, as we begin to introduce load to this, say something like a moderately heavy bag of groceries, we are going to want to think a bit more about this and try to utilize more muscle mass in our favor. This would look somewhat like a deadlift. It doesn’t mean we need to have a fully braced spine, holding a lumbar lordosis, hinging primarily from the hips; however, it should have some manner of these things. As we continue to add load, such as picking up 135 pounds off the floor for the first time ever, we probably want to dial in these things – at least until you’re sufficiently strong enough to handle it. Once you can crush 135 like it aint no thang, then maybe we stop worrying about picking up 135 (but you probably should still give it some thought).

I’m not really sure how you could hurt your toes deadlifting, unless you’re using one of those fixed barbells with relatively little weight on it (like 40 pounds), but then you’re probably not performing actual deadlifts and some pseudo deadlift. You probably still shouldn’t drop it on your toes though.

Bent over rows are a good substitute for deadlifts if you choose to use proper form, however I’m not sure why this caveat doesn’t apply to the whole damn list for each exercise.

6. Triceps Dips

Ain’t nobody wants to have arm fat – much like crunches, triceps dips can be helpful in reducing body fat through building muscle and burning some calories, but you’re going to need to also include some diet modifications for best results.

However, triceps dips are a decent exercise to work the triceps and can be done just about anywhere – making them more accommodating to people who don’t like going to the gym. I’d say there are for sure better tricep exercises out there, but if you like triceps dips have fun with them!

Your upper arm has a wide variety of muscles in it, some smaller, some larger. The triceps are quite a large muscle group and can get worked well through this. In contrast, your rotator cuff muscles are relatively smaller and can get worked with this exercise. I’m not entirely sure why some people have concern about working smaller muscles, or why being smaller makes a muscle more at risk – this appears to be a made up belief.

If you find this exercise irritates the your shoulder (or any part of your body), check out how you’re doing it and try performing it in a different manner (such as limiting the range of motion, changing your shoulder/elbow positioning, etc.). If you find this exercise blows up your arms (positive statement) keep doing them!

7. Behind the neck lat pulldowns

I’ve spoken out about these before on social media here - https://www.instagram.com/p/BbZ86r9Djs3/?taken-by=thestrengththerapist

The entire spectrum of behind the neck exercises have been hated on by much of the fitness industry for being dangerous exercises. However, much like the above, it requires more context than that. If you are an individual who cannot get into the end position (bar behind your neck with shoulders retracted and depressed with external rotation of the shoulders) and without pain, you probably shouldn’t do them. In contrast, if you can perform it, then feel free to do so! Again, listen to your body, watch your technique, be cautious of your volume and intensity, and progress over time in a smart manner.

For those unaware, this piece is a rebuttal to an article that was written in the opposite format (suggesting the above exercises were dangerous and shouldn’t be performed for those over the age of 40). This website was created to help educate and encourage people, not fear monger and hinder individuals, which is why this blog piece was written. If you have an questions or comments on this, please email me and we can discuss it – TheStrengthTherapist@gmail.com

Additional note, if someone refers to the rotator cuff muscle group as the rotator cuffs, you can likely stop listening to their advice.

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