In the 17 years between 1992 and 2009, admissions to skilled nursing facilities increased almost threefold, from 28 to 80 per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries. Additionally, over 1.3 million Americans now live in nursing homes (1). We’re not only not moving, but we’re not training our movement in the way that leads to “exceptional survival” - this term used for those living to 85+ without any serious health issues or limitations. If we ask most people, they didn’t work their entire lives only not to be able to do things.
Often, we chalk the aging process up to lack of balance, decreased strength, poor posture and tight muscles. It’s accepted that this will be our destiny. We find ourselves saying, “I just don’t move the way I used to, that’s just how it is.” Think about not being able to drive yourself or tie your shoes. What about feeling like you can’t go up and down stairs without someone else to help? Sadly, 25 percent of Medicare beneficiaries age 65+ have reported difficulty with at least one DLA (daily living activity) (1).
What people need is training that focuses on daily living activities. When’s the last time you worked on getting up from the floor? How picking something safely from the ground with a neutral back? Proper movement requires consistent practice, years of training and an understanding of the standards. Unfortunately, most fitness trainers or exercise classes don’t prioritize movements associated with daily living activities in their routines. There’s a lack of purpose behind exercise selection as well as a focus on technique. Coming to the understanding that what you do in the gym makes everything outside of the gym easier catapults your motivation for keeping up. Learn why these five movements are essential and how to master each of them.
Daily Living: Sitting and standing
Watch three and four-year-olds stroll around the floor and pay attention to their mechanics. Is it effortless for them to drop down below ninety degrees and sit down in a squat? Of course, we all had that ability at one time, but the evolution of your movement happened. You got into a chair, started wearing high-heeled shoes and stopped moving consistently. Things changes.
Besides mobility work, the best way to get back to a proper squat is beginning to do it. Implementing the squat strengthens the front of your legs, back of your legs and also activates the core. Currently, if you can sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, then you know how to do a squat. The trouble is how to stabilize yourself as you move thru the position. Weight should remain in the heels, and your knees should drive out from the beginning. You want to make sure that your torso stays upright and that you sit back so that you don’t upset the knees. Depth (how low you go) is very personal and is trumped by your ability to maintain a neutral lumbar spine (lower back).
Master the squat by setting up on a fifteen-inch box. This will help you position your feet in the proper setup and allow you to sit your hips back and down to a safe depth. Here’s the breakdown for you (video).
Movement: Push Up
Daily Living: Getting up from the ground
Now not everyone should strive for the ability to rep out fifty pushups in one blast however they should have a necessary level of upper body strength. The pushup activates the triceps, chest, and shoulders while training the body to rise and lower in unison. Throughout life, we have to push things around, whether it’s your cart of groceries at the market or moving furniture around the house to create better feng shui. We push quite a bit.
Unfortunately, the pushups are often taught incorrectly. First off, never do kneeling pushups; it’s tough for you to develop the same type of strength from this position and typically results in your back hyperextending during every repetition. Secondly, focus on your elbows remaining in as this will put less stress on the shoulder and distribute the load to all the muscle groups. Last, of all, it’s essential that you don’t get a spaghetti back - what makes this movement so powerful is your ability to remain tight. Squeeze your butt, tighten your stomach and keep your head back so that you develop perfect posture.
To master the squat figure out your initial scaling option (*hint not many of you should be doing your pushups from the ground). Check out this video for your breakdown of the various progressions. (video)
Daily Living: Picking something up from the ground
Why is it that when most of us reach down to grab something our spines are completely out of control? Watch most humans pick something up, and you’ll be amazed at how weak of a position they’re in and how they pull it off. Sadly, most lower back pain begins with something we’re doing in our everyday life that becomes repetitive. We don’t throw our backs out in a single instance typically; as it’s a cumulation of poor posture or movement over the years. Whether you’re picking up your grandchildren, or moving boxes into your kid's dorm at college, i.
Now it’s much easier to head to the gym and jump onto a leg strength machines, but your body won’t receive the same benefits as practicing the deadlift. No machine will ever be created with the same conditions of daily living. The key is to learn how to hip hinge without bending from your back. When you setup, have your feet close to the Kettlebell or Barbell about hip width. You’ll want to take your time and keep your chest up in the bottom of the movement. Before lifting, take the slack out of the weight (or object) by leaning back into your heels and keeping your hips slightly higher than the bottom of a squat. This forces the movement to prioritize using the back of your legs over your lower back.
This movement will take a long time to master so getting eyes on you is your best bet. Work with a trainer and slow it down by resetting each repetition. Here’s the breakdown for you. (video)
Movement: Pullup (or Row)
Daily Living: Pulling something towards you
If we talk about an exercise that requires a coordinated effort from the lower back all the way to the neck, stop no further than the pull-up. Not to be graphic, but this is a movement that will save our lives if we’re dangling from a cliff. Think about it, your ability to climb over something, to open doors and reach up on shelves requires upper back strength. It improves posture, grip strength and creates a pain-free back. Unfortunately, rarely do we see anyone training the pull-up and it’s developed an intimidating reputation for being too tough.
The good news is that right out of the gates you don’t have to start using all your bodyweight entirely. What’s important is that you develop the same movement pattern using dumbbells or body rows. No matter the variation, your shoulders should be rotated back and wrists neutral. As you pull, make sure your grip doesn’t slide and that your elbows remain close to the body. Just like in the pushup, your butt should be squeezed and head neutral as everything comes up and down in one clean motion. Engagement of your latissimus dorsi (lats) is of highest priority.
Don’t let the pull-up scare you; the best advice is to work different variations and pick realistic scaling options. Pausing at the top of repetition or slowing the eccentric (return) phase down in a pullup or row variation are both practical ways to build up strength quickly. Here’s your breakdown. (video).
Movement: Hollow Hold
Daily Living: Perfect Posture
We can’t always look at a person and deem them as weak or strong, but we can tell if they have good or bad position. As we age, most of us develop rounded shoulders or exhibit an overextension of the lower back. Learning to stand neutral and keep our shoulders back and down doesn’t come naturally anymore. The hollow hold is an excellent movement that brings us back to ideal posture strengthening the lower back and core.
What’s remarkable about this movement over the others is assuming the position and then holding the position. Since it’s isometric, your job is to keep your lower back down pushing thru your belly button and not getting lazy with the shoulders. Varying this movement is done with an extension of one or both legs while maintaining the original setup.
This is a tricky one, so you’ll want a cushy mat. Stopping and starting as form deteriorates is your best bet because accumulating time in the hollow hold will do the trick. Here’s the breakdown for you. (video).
Time to Train
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young” said Henry Ford. Stay young by learning and mastering movements that support your daily living activities. Begin by committing to just one day a week and you’ll find that things become easier. You’ll move better and be well on your way to exceptional survival.
(1) Institute on Aging, Aging in America, Statistics https://www.ioaging.org/aging-in-america/