Welcome to this week’s episode of AHA. I’m your co-host Coach Ken. Each week we will discuss practical health/fitness strategies and topics to help you regain, maintain, or improve your health and movement practice. Ultimately our goal is empower you to create a personal movement practice that will support your activities of daily living, make you fall resistant, and living independently for as long as possible.
Show Content: Episode Overview Episode #6
This week we’ll be taking a look at focusing on body weight movements and ways to progress or regress them, growing and eating live food, the value of hydration, and a weight lifting fun fact.
Movement Practice Concept: Mastering Your Body Weight or a Fraction of it before using Resistance or Weights
At first glance this concept seems fairly obvious, that we can level change like squatting or stepping up with our body weight or being able to push or pull our body weight first before adding resistance but most people tend to shy away from body weight exercises, what we used to know as calisthenics. Today, I’d like to invite you to rediscover the simplicity and the almost endless variations of body weight or fractional body weight movements.
Now I’ve used the term “fractional body weight” in the title of this segment and in the last sentence but what does it mean? It simply means taking a basic movement like squatting, push-ups, or body rows and modifying them so that you don’t have to overcome all of your body weight as resistance but rather a fraction of it.
Let’s look at a few examples: Some times new students in my Active Healthy Aging classes aren’t initially able to perform a free standing squat down to a depth of parallel to the ground thighs and return to standing. In this case, I can offer them some assistance by asking them to hold onto a secure structure like a railing or a sink edge on a counter top.
This allows them to use their arms a little thus reducing the difficulty. It also addresses issues of balance until they gain strength and confidence to squat free standing.
A pushing type example is an assisted push-up. Doing a proper push-up, maintaining a rigid plank body position throughout the movement, lowering down to the floor, touching the chest and pushing back up is not easy for most active aging adults. By simply finding a height, say a counter top at home, that you can place your hands on and perform a leaning push-up variation, at an appropriate angle, you have reduced the percentage of body weight you are moving. As you get stronger you can seek out a slightly lower surface to lean against until one day you are all the way down to the floor, banging out the reps. As a quick note, I’m not a fan of kneeling push-ups for most people as they are typically not performed correctly. Folks tend to break at their hips and end up with either their butts in the air aka “stink bug position” or sagging through their low back. Either of these movement faults detracts from the core stabilization benefits of either a traditional push-up or leaning push-up.
Pulling is a little trickier and may require some creativity but I think I can paint this image for you. If you go to a children’s playground and find a parallel bar 6-8 feet off the ground you can perform a body row, which is the exact opposite of the leaning push-up we just described. All you need is a large beach towel or a piece of thick rope. Throw one end of the towel or rope over the bar, grasp the ends of the towel or rope and lean back extending your arms, then keeping your body rigid from head to toe, pull yourself up until your wrists touch the sides of your ribs, lower back down and repeat. As you get stronger, you can walk your feet a little further forward thus steepening the angle a little and making it more challenging.
There are numerous strategies you can use to reduce the amount of your body weight during an exercise movement. These are three examples that just about anyone can do by finding an angle or height that works for them.
As a bonus question, how could you reduce your body weight for walking? Try walking in the shallow end of a swimming pool at waist to chest depth. This is an excellent option for those with painful joints, overweight, or recovering from a hip or knee replacement.
Water based exercise classes reduce the effects of gravity on the body and the water itself can even provide adequate resistance for some pushing and pulling exercises until the person is strong enough to try some of the assisted movements we’ve been discussing.
I hope that this has both stimulated some thought about how you might be able to access body weight or fractional body weight movements. I believe that if possible, that all able-bodied humans should be able to change levels up and down with body weight (to include stepping up and down, pushing their body weight, and pulling their body weight for a few reps. I can almost guarantee you that if you are consistent with this type of training you will get functionally stronger and more confident to explore and fully express your human potential, not to mention keeping you living independently and aging actively.
Movements of the Week: Safe and Effective Squat, Push-up, and Body Row Progressions
In this section I would like to offer some progression ideas for those of you that are able to perform say 20 body weight squats to parallel thigh position, 10 body weight push-ups maintaining a board rigid body, and 10 body rows at an approximate angle of 22 degrees (that’s half of a 45 degree angle). There’s nothing particularly magical about this number of repetitions but I believe it does demonstrate at least a functional strength and competency level for active aging adults.
Before we go on, I should probably define what I mean by the progression of an exercise. Let’s take the body weight squat as a base movement example. In the previous section I described hanging on to a sink countertop to assist the squat movement. This represents a “regression” of the base movement which a body weight squat. The next progression from this assisted squat might be a sit to stand movement. This is simply sitting at the edge of a chair and standing up maintaining proper knee and body alignment.
Next we could slow the movement way down where as we lower our backside toward the chair slowly, taking four counts to lower, we then just kiss the chair with our bottom and then return to a standing position.
This might sound easy but emphasizing a slow lowering phase translates into learning to decelerate our momentum. This has tremendous implication and carryover in creating a fall resistant body. Often times when people fall they might have been able to broaden their foot stance or base of support quickly enough to prevent a fall but lacked the eccentric or lowering strength to decelerate their momentum.
Now let’s look at a push-up progression. If we call the base movement a strict military push-up then the leaning variation we discussed previously would be a form of regression. As you develop more strength and endurance you could start to lower our hand position progressively over time until you are able to perform some strict reps from the floor.
If you are already able to do say 10 strict body weight push-ups we could slow down the descending or lowering phase using the same four counts down, then hold for 2 seconds and return to top position. Just as in the squat example this strengthens our ability to decelerate and the slower cadence requires 7 seconds to perform each repetition. This can make doing 10 push-ups feel like twenty. If you still need more resistance you can place a flat resistance band behind your back, holding the two ends under each hand. This way the band is ostensibly pulling you down towards the floor, which you will need to resist. As you prepare to push back up the band tension increases and you really have to work to finish the rep. The flat bands I use come in ½,” ¾”, and 1” widths. I have used this to train some very strong college athletes, so I’m pretty confident that this will challenge even the fittest among you.
Finally, our pulling exercise example, the body row. As I previously described, this exercise is the opposite of the leaning push-up. You start with a towel, rope, or TRX style straps attached to a horizontal bar. Grasp the ends of the towel/rope or TRX handles and lean back to an angle that will challenge you for 10 reps.
Again, as you get stronger you can simply progress the difficulty by walking your feet forward which lowers the angle you are working at.
Ultimately, once you are able to lower your body angle so that it is nearly parallel to the ground and you can still maintain a rigid plank-like body posture as you pull yourself touching your wrists to your ribs, you have arrived at the base form of this movement. Still need more challenge?
Then try pulling yourself up, wrists to the ribs, hold for 2 counts and lower slowly by four counts. If you can do 10 of these you are becoming senior beast material.
There you have it, some ways to regress or progress the basic movements of squatting, push-ups, and body rows. Yes, there are other tweaks you can do but this should suffice for the majority of active aging adults.
Wellness Concept of the Week: Becoming a “Gardener.”
In the last episode I talked about becoming a good “gut gardener” and talked about some strategies to boost the good bacteria in your intestine that control your immune system and therefore your overall health.
Today I wanted to encourage you to literally become a good gardener, as in growing some of your own vegetables. Most of you are probably aware that the nutritional values of most of our commercially raised vegetables are not as high as 50 years ago. This is one reason for the raising interest in consuming organic sources of vegetables. Besides the genetic hybridizing of most crops and depleted or dead soil these commercial crops just doesn’t contain the nutritional value it once did. This doesn’t even get into the fact that most crops are sometimes picked weeks before you see them in a store, are being suspended via refrigeration, and often times driven halfway around the country or world.
I’m sure most of you have experienced the taste difference of right out of the garden fresh veggies. Not only do they generally taste better but they still hold their vital life force. Picking vegetables before they are ripe for less damage during processing and transport just leaves us with a lower quality food.
I know that not everyone can grow their own vegetable garden but many of you can, even in small spaces. I would encourage you to try growing one vegetable you really enjoy, maybe a tomato plant, if possible. I’m pretty confident you will not want to buy or eat another store bought tomato given the choice.
Even if you live in an apartment you can grow sprouts. There are lots of live nutrients in sprouts and they are very easy to grow. Besides the perennial favorite of alfalfa sprouts, you can sprout; radishes, broccoli, mustard, clover, mung beans, wheat berries, and even lentils.
If you do have a garden, try introducing green smoothies into your diet. There are hundreds of recipes online but try to keep the majority of the smoothie in green veggies like spinach, kale, chard etc. You can add a little apple or banana to the mix to help cut the somewhat acrid or bitter taste of some greens. Just add your greens, some water, a small portion of sweet fruit and blend it up. This is a super easy and efficient way to get those multiple servings of veggies we are told to consume, plus a good dose of fiber to keep things moving along.
Spring is just around the corner, so consider starting a garden, sprouting or at least supporting your local farmer’s market or CSA for more farm to table freshness and vitality.
Wellness Quote of the Week:
For human beings, a life of simplicity would be possible if one worked to produce directly to his daily necessities. In such a life, work is not work as most people think of it but simply doing what needs to be done.
Pioneer of natural farming practices and author of One Straw Revolution
The quality and vitality of the foods we consume is one of the most influential aspects of our health. Fukuoka spent his life teaching others natural ways of farming that support humans, plants and animals, and the environment.
If you are at all interested in what is possible as a gardener, his insights are invaluable. Check out his iconic book: One Straw Revolution.
Regeneration Strategies: Hydration
Most of us are aware that our bodies average around 55-60% water by weight. Our body composition can vary according to gender and fitness level because fatty tissue contains less water than lean tissue or muscle.
Without water, we can die within a week, whereas we can easily go three weeks without food. So, yeah, water is a big deal and many of us are more chronically dehydrated than we realize.
Without droning on about telling you to drink your water, I would like to offer a couple of strategies that might help you monitor your water intake.
1. Start with a glass when you get up in the morning. You can kill two birds with one stone, if you add some apple cider vinegar or non-modified potato starch for gut health (I discussed this in a previous episode) to your morning glass of water.
2. Monitor your urine volume. It is suggested that we take in about 2 liters of water daily and therefore release about the same amount on average.
3. The color should be a light straw color. Color can be effected by dehydration, intense exercise, medications and definitely some foods like beets, carrots, fava beans, blackberries and vitamin B. I’ll skip comments on asparagus related odor.
4. Dehydration of just 2% of body weight has been shown to impair both cognitive and physical function.
5. Finally, on the other end of the continuum, drinking too much water can cause a dangerous condition known as hyponatremia or low sodium levels. The excess water pulls water out of the cells thus upsetting the K/Na balance. This can lead to confusion, seizures, and coma.
Fitness Truths, Half-Truths, and Lies:
Today I’ll offer what I would consider a fitness half-truth:
You need to lift weights to get strong and develop an athletic body.
I’m not saying that you can’t develop a strong athletic body by lifting weights. I’m just suggesting that it isn’t necessary. Look at gymnasts and wrestlers, they generally just train body weight movements such as the examples we discussed earlier in this episode.
There is actually a fairly strong resurgence of interest in body weight training. There are several organizations that are emphasizing body weight movement practice.
One of my favorites is the PCC site “Progressive Calisthenics Certification.” Just Google PCC or bodyweight training and you will find plenty of resources. These practitioners are functionally very strong and oh yeah, they are ripped as well if that’s your goal.
Fitness Fun Fact: There are two forms of competitive weightlifting in this country. Olympic Lifting and Power Lifting
How many of you know the differences between these two sports?
I’m so glad you asked, even though most active healthy aging Boomers are not going to be doing this type of lifting. I think it’s appropriate to at least understand the differences when you do happen to see this type of competition.
Olympic style lifting consists of two lifts: (1) Clean and Jerk and (2) The Snatch.
The Clean and Jerk consists of taking a near maximal load on the bar from the floor, pulling it up or cleaning it to the chest and then explosively thrusting the bar overhead to a controlled pause before dropping it to the ground.
The Snatch starts with the bar on the floor with a near maximal load but the lifter must literally rip the bar up from the floor to an overhead position all in one explosive movement and hold it briefly before letting it drop to the floor.
Olympic lifting is a pure power sport: Move the heaviest weight you can explosively.
Power Lifting is actually a misnomer as it is a pure strength sport there is no power or explosive component. The lifter performs three lifts each of the Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift to a maximum effort and within the technique criteria of each lift. In other words they need to perform the lift with correct form, pause to show control and then complete the lift, no bouncing the weight of the chest for example. The total weight lifted from all three lifts (Bench, Squat, and Deadlift) are added together for their score, most weight lifted wins.
In a perfect world, anyone lifting weights could benefit from performing lifts from both of these sports, power and strength. And yes, power training is appropriate for us older adults, just not anywhere near a maximal level or necessarily with a barbell. These movements use fast twitch muscle fibers and as the name implies are performed “fast.” Jumping on a rebounder or jumping rope are modified forms of power training that could be appropriate for most able-bodied folks, so I hope that puts this into perspective.
CONCLUSION: That concludes this episode of Active Healthy Aging
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The information and opinions expressed on this show are for informational and entertainment purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and/or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or health care provider regarding any medical issue you may be experiencing
Thanks for listening and as always,
BE WELL …BE FIT