May 18, 2009
(Introduction to special exercise issue)
I Want It All (One exercise to condition many muscles)
Good to the Core (The "basics" yield multiple benefits)
Progressive Walking (Improve balance with this simple
Up the Ante (Increase the difficulty of a classic balance
Posture Perfect (Practicing carries over into everyday life)
Bridge to Somewhere (This exercise helps seniors get around)
Double Down (When resistance-band routines need more
Table of Contents
Senior personal trainers and group instructors are always
looking for new exercises, as well as fresh variations on tried-and-true
methods. So today's newsletter is all about working out -- ideas,
inspirations, and details!
I Want It All
Here is an exercise designed to engage
the shoulders, abdominals, gluteals, hamstrings, and quadriceps all in
one fell swoop, so to speak, which is why we call it "chopping
firewood." Before conducting the technique, always make certain that
your participants are thoroughly warmed up.
and hand positioning are important during this exercise. Have older
adult fitness clients learn the movements without using any extrinsic
resistance -- just interlock the fingers, loosely clasping the hands
together. Later on, to progress, they can hold a light-weight dumbbell
with both hands during the exercise.
Follow these steps:
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and
arms relaxed (extending naturally downward in front of the thighs);
- Squat down, but do not permit the hips to
descend below knee level;
- Consciously tighten the abdominal muscles
and rise to a standing position while, simultaneously, raising the
hands high overhead (elbows remaining just slightly flexed);
- Lower the arms, still slightly bent, back
down into starting position.
- Complete six to eight repetitions at
first, gradually progressing to 10 repetitions with practice, or as
successfully performed and well tolerated.
Good to the Core
Core exercise can strengthen the aging
human body for greater mobility, improved balance, the successful
performance of ADLs (activities of daily living), and long-term
preservation of personal independence. Below is an easy-to-teach
- Lie with the back flat on a mat, extended
arms relaxed and resting on the mat along each side of the torso,
- Bend one leg and keep its foot flat on the
- Extend the other leg upward toward the
ceiling with toes pointed;
- Contract the abdomen while drawing small
circles in the air above with the extended leg, rotating from the
- Draw circles in the opposite direction;
- Repeat using the other leg.
Breathe naturally and regularly throughout the
exercise. Begin with four or five circles in each direction, gradually
progressing to six or more.
This simple but effective balance training
plan calls for four essential components:
- Sharp observation by the trainer; and
- Productive motivation from the trainer.
conduct the activity, initiate a regular walking program of appropriate
duration and frequency on a level, unobstructed walking surface.
Achieving results may take weeks or months, depending upon the
functional fitness level of your participants.
The key to success is to have every participant
slowly increase both stride length and rate of speed over time, compared
to his or her personal baseline performance. Change should be modest and
gradual, with only small incremental increases made during any single
walking session. On an individual basis, trainers may find it efficient
to emphasize stride length only, quickness only, or both for a given
participant on separate training days.
Common sense might suggest that regular walkers
would naturally increase their stride length and their pace over time
without any external coaching. Well, yes, that is true in many cases,
but not necessarily in some senior populations. Inadequately supervised
older adults may tend to establish and maintain a too-comfortable gait,
thus forfeiting desirable training effects. Therefore, trainers must
practice and develop keen observation skills in order to monitor each
individual's performance and personal progress during the course of an
extended walking program. Encourage every participant to improve within
the specific parameters of his or her physical ability and safety zone.
Up the Ante
One standard balance training activity
- Standing in place (with an attendant
and/or beside a wall for safety support, as needed);
- Lifting one foot off the floor;
- Swinging it slightly across the front of
- Holding that position for approximately
- Returning the foot to starting position;
- Performing approximately five repetitions
of the exercise using each foot.
With time and practice, the challenge level of
this activity will need to be raised. Continue performing the original
routine, but increase the difficulty -- and the rewards -- by adding a
second phase. Repeat the entire activity, but move the lifted foot
behind the body instead of in front of it.
Try this new twist on a popular
good-posture exercise. It can be performed while chair-seated, while
rising from a seated to standing position, while standing still, or
while walking about.
Perhaps you are already having your fitness
participants regularly practice balancing a paper plate or light-weight
book atop their heads. This can be highly instructive since it
reinforces what optimal posture feels like, effectively promoting better
body alignment throughout the rest of the day.
To advance your participants' skill level and
awareness, have them try this exercise using a small plastic water
bottle that is about one-third full -- and, of course, keep the cap on!
Bridge to Somewhere
When older adults do a lot of sitting --
as may be the case with some individuals at home as well as in long-term
care settings -- the hip flexors tend to tighten up, which can further
inhibit mobility. To counteract that outcome, encourage sensible
movement throughout the day. Also, gently stretch the hip flexors with
SFA national advisory board member, Amelia
Leonardi, PT, MS, includes the bridge as a part of her therapy program
for stroke patients. Although the bridge can be performed on a mat on
the floor, her participants cannot safely get up and down for floor
exercise, so she uses a raised platform on which they can begin by
simply sitting down. To instruct, have participants:
- Lie on their backs with both knees bent
and both feet flat on the mat;
- Squeeze the gluteal muscles;
- While still squeezing, press the hips up
toward the ceiling;
- Hold that position for approximately one
- Slowly lower the hips back down into
- Perform approximately 12 repetitions or as
Remind participants not to hold their breath
during this activity. Encourage them to focus on maintaining a strong
contraction of the gluteal muscles throughout the exercise. This will
release tension in the hip flexors, signaling them to relax and
lengthen, thereby facilitating both standing and walking. The bridge can
also serve as an excellent warm-up activity to prepare the lower
extremities for targeted strengthening exercises.
If you work with high-fit, high-performing
senior fitness clients, your resistance-band workouts could
occasionally come to lag behind a participant's capacity to handle
increases of intensity level. In that case, consider combining the use
of light-weight dumbbells with simple resistance-band techniques that
are well-known to your high-achieving client.
On your own time, away from fitness class, use
a creative approach to experiment. That is, identify simple moves during
which your advanced client can safely grasp one or two low weights while
also executing a familiar, oft-practiced resistance-band maneuver. For
example, exercises featuring arm flexion and extension at the front or
sides of the body may prove to be viable candidates for light dumbbell
Clearly, since this approach requires
concurrently controlling a band and at least one dumbbell, its
implementation must be considered on a strictly individualized basis and
only for clients who are high-functioning both physically and
cognitively. It should not be applied to complex, multi-movement
exercise patterns. Think simple, and think safety first. For the right
client at the right time, this procedure can provide muscular fitness
benefits, as well as variety affording an interesting change of routine.
Experience! readers: Thank
you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA
receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the
newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest
to our members.
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