Saturday, September 1, 2012

Older Folks Can Lift Weights Too (Especially Women)

It's never too late to start exercising and it's never too late to start lifting weights. In one study residents in a nursing home aged 72 to 98 did a 10 week strength training program, and improved their muscle strength, stair climbing and walking speed (see here).

Women especially can be nervous about lifting weights. They have traditionally gone to toning classes where 0.5kg pink dumbbells are common place, and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s might start to gravitate towards classes like Yoga, Pilates, Aquafit. There is nothing wrong with that, at least they are getting some exercise and staying active.

Just say NO!

Things have changed in society, 60s the new 40, 70s the new 59 or whatever. A couple of studio instructors were telling me the other day that when they first did their exercise to music qualifications, the advice was that any woman over the age of 50 shouldn't do a crossover step in a grapevine just in case it caused their hip to pop out of its socket. Hopefully we've moved on from those days.

I wanted to give you a couple of example of how women in their 60s and 70s can lift weights and build strength. It's time to break the stereotype.

Case Study 1

My personal training client Pat is 74 years old, in the picture below you can see she is trap bar deadlifting 50kgs. On this day Pat did 2x5 with 50kg and then 2x3 with 55kg - which equals her bodyweight.

My PT client Pat gets set to lift 50kg for 5 reps, 74yrs old

First rep complete, 4 to go. Next set was 55kg

I've been training Pat for about 5 years or so. Although she had been active her whole life, she had never really engaged in strength training before. In case you're thinking 'I can't do that' I've got arthritis, so has Pat, as well as few other issues. Since training, her arthritic shoulder has increased range of movement, decreased pain and got stronger. (Also look at this here)

A typical training session consists of foam roller, mobility work - really working on the thoracic spine and hips to improve mobility. These days Pat actually does all her mobility work before our session, so we can then get straight into weights. Then we might do a movement like the goblet squat to improve mobility, squat pattern and the classic ADL (active daily living activities), or another quad dominant movement like a step up (weighted of course). Or we might start with a hip hinge movement, broomstick warm up, RDL, rack deadlift, trap bar deadlift and so on. To work on mid back posture and shoulders we typically do a whole range of rowing movements like DB row, rope face pull, TRX row and so on, as well as some pushing work such as TRX press up and the core, and some assisted stretching and mobility.

The most important thing is Pat is open minded and will try all exercises, we've done Turkish Get Ups, powerclubs, indian clubs, prowler pushing, loaded kettlebell carries, sandbags and anything else I can think of.

We do ZERO cardio in the classic sense. We may finish a session with a prowler push or loaded carry, which in my opinion is much more specific to the older individuals needs. Pat doesn't want to run 10k but she wants to be able to go shopping, work in her garden, improve her posture and bulletproof herself against injuries and falls. Sometimes we do more circuit based training with higher reps, 12-15, but mostly we do strength work, 8 reps, 5 reps or less and supersets as well.

Let me remind you, Pat is 74 years old, and lives independently by herself.

Case Study 2

Faye, 66yrs old, prowler push finisher after a weights session
Faye has done classes her whole life, spin, aerobics, bodybalance, as well as taking part she also teaches them. She only started lifting weights few months ago in our PT sessions. In fact she was so nervous of the gym, she would only train with her friend.

Lifting weights in the gym has been a revelation for Faye, as she told me yesterday, she loves the weights, it suits her body type and explosive muscle type. In her own words, she has been doing cardio for years and struggling, but with the weights she has found her niche. Yesterday, Faye did an 80kg trap bar deadlift for 3 reps, and it went up fast and easy. Bear in mind, Faye is classic class participant, and up until a couple of months ago hadn't picked up a dumbbell heavier than 5kg.

Again, we do ZERO cardio in the sessions, as I know Faye gets enough cardio with the spinning and classes she does. Training consists of strength moves like overhead pressing, bench press, incline bench, squats, deadlifts and rows (all of which Faye has picked up the technique for almost immediately, if Faye had been introduced to strength training in her 20s I wonder how much she could have lifted eventually?!). Again sessions are varied and can include cables, TRX, sandbags, but barbells and dumbbells are central.

Mid prowler sprint. Oh, and the lady in the background is Faye's training partner. She is only in her 50s, has had 2 hip replacements, teaches yoga, spin and lifts weights

So there it is, Faye is 66 years old, never lifted weights seriously until a few months ago and is now trap bar deadlifting and pushing the prowler

Exercise - the magic pill

Research now shows that the benefits of exercise are unequivocal. In a recent article in the New Scientist, the author stated

"It has the potential to prevent more premature deaths than any other single treatment, with none of the side effects of actual medication."
Exercise has been shown to reduce the rate of heart disease, stroke, obesity, cancer and Alzheimer's. It is twice as effective as the anti-diabetes medication Metformin, a weekly 'dose' of it halves the risk of breast cancer and reduces bowel cancer risk by 60%. And in one study of older individuals it improved memory by 15-20%. (New Scientist, issue 2879).

As diabetes researcher Erik Richter says

"It's a wonder drug"
It's never too late

A recent study of 1,800 people in Sweden over 75 years old, showed that an active lifestyle increased life expectancy by 6 years. Swimming, walking and gymnastics (not sure what the Swedish define as gymnastics) alone increased life expectancy by 2 years. Even after 85 years old, healthy lifestyle factors increased life by 4 years. See here for details

Most studies focus on cardiovascular training and health (one study of 50,000 people showed 16% of all deaths were due to lack of cardiorespiratory fitness, more than obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol combined! And twice as many as smoking!!). So you still need to do your cardio training in some form (push a prowler, weights circuit?!). But the benefits of lifting weights are clear, get stronger and function better. Yes ladies, go to your Pilates and Yoga classes, but don't think lifting weights is dangeroous or wont be beneficial. You'll be surprised.

Come and see me talk at LIW

This year I will be doing a presentation at Leisure Industry Week (if you know what this is) in Birmingham (The Midlands not Alabama) on the 19th and 20th September. The title is Engaging The Older Population In Exercise, its free, so come along. Even if you're not interested in the subject (of course, my seminar will be awesome) feel free to come and have a chat about back pain, DNS, kettlebells, ultrarunning or whatever.

In the mean time go lift some weights, or get your female clients lifting some weights.


Coughlan. A (2012) The Best Medicine. New Scientist issue 2879 vol 215.

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