Graduation from Old School

A long time TOJ friend emailed me that some of his body parts are acting up with strange pains here and there.

He gave me a rundown on his activities, which still included basketball, skiing, and line dancing. What caught my attention was his very short list of training exercises he does routinely that he probably learned back in high school, including a few upper body lifts and good old-fashioned ab crunches.

He's going to get some opinions from a physical therapist, which is a good idea. He's in his 60's wants to keep doing what he enjoys, so it makes sense to figure out what he needs to do next.

Hearing what he's doing (and not), this TOJ surmised there could be all kinds of causes for the pain, like aging combined with quick movements on hard surfaces causing compression on nerves. But some of his maladies likely have a simpler explanation.

What his list of exercises revealed was that he's doing a minimal number of exercises that  aren't well matched to what his activities are. Missing in action were exercises focused on the core. In the old days the core was synonymous with ab crunches. However, these are of limited benefit because they are isolated to only the rectus abdominus muscle and there are better, safer exercises even just for it.

Training your core is more important than ever as you age because it enables good posture, provides lumbar stability, and, for people doing athletics, is the link for dynamic movements in the muscles of the lower and upper body.

Think of your core as a ring of strength from your lower rib cage down to pelvis. The rectus abdominus muscle is just a bit player in what makes the core function. The real core is composed of several layers of muscles, in particular the transverse abdominus, multifidi, quadratus laborum, internal oblique, diaphragm, and muscles in the pelvic floor.

In many blogs about aging I rant about how important it is to activate Type II fast twitch muscle fibers by doing some exercises that require speed and power. Not today. The core is an exception.

The core is mainly composed of Type I slow twitch fibers that need to be exercised as well to develop their endurance. The best exercises to do this are isometric exercises such as the Plank, Side Plank, and Bird Dog. The video below nicely demonstrates how to do the Bird Dog.

Core exercises should be performed a few times a week. It's surprising how many physical problems, starting with low back pain, disappear when your core is strong. As if by miracle, your performance vastly improves, whether in a sport or activity of daily living.

Many of us Boomers learned old school exercises like the ab crunch. Now it's time to graduate to newer, more effective ones based on current exercise science.


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