When I first started lifting weights in my mid-thirties my goals were all about aesthetics.
I wanted that (photo-shopped) body on the cover of Oxygen magazine and focused more on how weight training could re-shape my body than on how it might improve my overall fitness and health.
While I still like to look my best (don’t we all?), these days I care more about how much energy I have, what my sleep is like and that I’m able to help lift the kayaks onto the roof rack (and my luggage into the overhead bin…) than whether I have a visible six-pack (I don’t) or ‘boulder shoulders’.
Form still matters to me, but function matters even more.
I want to be able to continue doing the activities I love with minimal pain and for many years to come. Regularly performing variations of the following five ‘moves to master in midlife’ not only helps me maintain a strong, lean physique, it also keeps me in the condition I need to be to hike, backpack, kayak and cycle with my friends and family.
5 moves to master in midlife
1. Hip hinges
Hip bridges, hip thrusts and dead lifts are your body’s (and booty’s…) best friends. (For a glute-specific workout program, check out my book, Ultimate Booty Workouts).
They strengthen the largest muscle groups in the body (hamstrings and gluteals) without the knee pain many of us experience when squatting and lunging. Strong glutes and hamstrings can improve your posture, reduce lower back, hip and knee pain, and even reduce that stubborn middle-of-the-body ‘menopot’. They can also enhance your running and cycling performance.
Because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does, increasing lower body muscle mass via hip hinge movements can accelerate fat loss and help keep it off. Try single leg versions of the above exercises to further challenge your balance; another key component of fitness that tends to decline with age.
Looking to increase your upper body strength, tighten your core and tame that back-of-the-arm wobble? Drop and give me 12 (a great goal for all midlife women to strive for).
When performed properly, a push-up does more than just work the chest. It’s a whole body exercise that requires the coordinated efforts of your arms, shoulders, chest, abdominals, back (both upper and lower), gluteals, hamstrings and calves.
Try varying your hand placement (narrow, wide, staggered) and angle of incline (hands on the wall, hands on a bench, toes on a bench) to increase the dimensionality of the exercise.
Concentrate on maintaining perfect plank alignment (flat back, tight belly and bum, shoulders pulled back and down) and increasing the depth to which you can drop before adding more reps. Muscle range of motion shrinks as we get older; don’t hasten it by doing only half the exercise 😉
Combine hours of sitting with excessive front of the body loading (I mean boobs, which, by the way, are a load that gets closer to the floor as we age…). Throw in a past pregnancy or three. And mix with a whole lot of mid-life stress. The perfect recipe for rounded shoulders and forward leaning posture.
Strengthening the upper back is key to standing tall and resisting the effects of gravity. Upright rows, bent-over rows, cable and pulley rows, plank rows; all are great exercises for offsetting our body’s increasing tendency to pitch forward as we age.
Concentrate on maintaining a flat back (chest out, shoulders back and down), an engaged core (think “tighten your corset”) and a long neck (draw your shoulders down and away from your ears) as you pull the weights towards your body and squeeze your shoulder blades together in the middle of your back. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position (don’t let gravity ‘grab’ it) and repeat.
Remember to switch arms and work the other side too; gotta keeps things even, you know.
4. Rotational core exercises
Rotational exercises typically target the external obliques. The muscles that cut across the front and back of your body, from hip to rib and enable you to rotate your torso without damaging your spine. I like to think of them as ‘nature’s corset’.
My favourite rotational exercises are wood choppers (kneeling or standing, with a weight or a medicine ball or the cable and pulley machine) and Russian twists (on the floor or on the ball, see photo below). Focus on slow, controlled movements over as large a range of motion as you’re capable of.
Note that the farther you extend your hands away from your body, the more challenging rotational exercises become (remember grade nine physics? the lever principle?).
5. Anti-rotational core exercises
The ability to keep your torso (and spine) from twisting in response to an unexpected external force (for example, catching a heavy object, slipping on a wet surface, lifting a bag that was much heavier than you though it would be) requires strengthening of the inner obliques.
Anti-rotation exercises are frequently absent from workouts shared on Facebook and Pinterest. My favourites include variations of the Paloff press, plank rows and kneeling cross-body lifts with either a medicine ball or the cable and pulley machine.
And even static stabilization exercises like the plank (shown below), can be turned into anti-rotational challenges by performing them on an unstable surface (e.g., a stability ball, Bosu or balance board).
Putting it all together
- Grab your calendar. Find two or three, 30-minute blocks of free time over the next week (don’t tell me you can’t find the time, we all have 30 minutes of poorly used time in our day).
- Create your workout. Choose one exercise from each of the above ‘moves to master in midlife’ categories.
- Warm up and work out. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise you’ve chosen, one after the other, with as much or as little rest time as you need. Take a break, grab some water and repeat the circuit.
- Stretch and get on with your day.
Not quite ready to go it alone? Need a little more motivation, inspiration and instruction? Make sure you’ve ‘liked’ my Facebook page. The daily sharing and conversation over there may be just the push you need to get started!
Questions? Feel free to hit me up in the comments section below.