Trainer, author, and fitness model Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, lots of people have been working at home, sitting all day and suffering through endless Zoom meetings. This is a big issue for older men who have core issues, most particularly for lower back pain. Many of my over 40 clients have complained about discomfort, and all of my over 50 clients are having issues.
But, as I remind all of them, weak abs can also factor into a balky back. Poor sitting posture plays a part, too. Even as a personal trainer, I too get lazy and sit the wrong way—I’ve noticed my back sometimes feels as though it’s frozen into a position and all movements become cumbersome. That said, it’s critical for the older man to protect himself with targeted stretches and exercises to build a rock-solid core.
One that I recommend is the cat-cow, which I had used all the time in my pre-pandemic stretching classes. The exercise is one that everyone loves because it’s effective and fairly easy to do, but it can be challenging, too. The movement flexes and extends your lower back, and when it’s done the right way, it can also help to strengthen your abs and core stability.
To set up, get on all fours with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees hip’s width apart, directly underneath your hips. Your first move is to arch your lower and upper back as much as possible and look up to the sky. Imagine your belly is dropping to the floor and you’re squeezing you shoulder blades together. Hold that position for a few seconds. Then, slowly flex your spine by tucking in your butt and rounding your back. Imagine raising your rounded spine to the ceiling and bringing your forehead to your belly, as you feel your shoulder blades spreading apart. In this position suck in and squeeze your abs as tightly as possible. Hold this position for a few seconds. That’s one repetition.
The beauty of the cat-cow is that flowing between spinal extension and flexion moves you through a greater range of motion than most older men are used to, especially for those who sit a lot. Too often we forget the back requires varied stretches and exercises to work it thoroughly. With the cat-cow, each vertebrae is segmentally involved in the movement. By also adding rotational and lateral movements to your regimen, you will have what you need to effectively unlock your spine and prepare yourself for movements in all planes of motion.
If you’re sitting all day for work, consider introducing the cat-cow into your routine. As you’re doing the exercise, you can vary the time you spend holding in flexion or extension position. I recommend 8 repetitions with a 5 second hold.
As an alternative, I often I hold the flex position for 20 to 30 seconds as an isometric exercise. It’s a safe abdominal move for those who experience back pain doing crunches or other types of core exercises.
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