Should I Trust The Article On Avoiding Certain Exercises If I’m Over 50?

Personal Training in Tucson - The Protocol Strength & Conditioning, Llc

By: Jerry Trubman, Owner and Founder

Today’s post is in response to an article that’s been making its way around the internet regarding a study that was done by the Carolina Orthopedic & Neurological Associates. In it, they suggest 14 exercises that should be avoided by adults over the age of 50. I’m not going to post a link to this article because the last thing this turd needs is more clicks. So instead, here is a list of the exercises in case you missed it…

  • Running stairs
  • Bikram or hot yoga
  • High-intensity interval training
  • Spin class
  • Pushups
  • Squats with weights
  • Bench press
  • Burpees
  • Pullups
  • Crunches
  • Deadlifts
  • Jumping Lunges
  • Sprints
  • Leg Presses

Yea… so basically anything/everything you can do with your body…

This article caused quite an uproar amongst my fitness colleagues, but that’s not the reason for this post. My gym specializes in strength training for older adults. Our facility is home to 4 National Team Championships in raw (unequipped) powerlifting in the Master’s Division (40 and up), as well as 92 state, 32 national, and 29 world individual powerlifting records. Almost all of those individual records are held by competitors over 50. So, similar to many of my colleagues, my hard drive is full of, literally, hundreds of photos and videos that could be posted of our clients over 50 performing these movements very safely, very effectively, and at, dare I say, a world-class level.

But again, this isn’t where I’m going. This article is written for the average Joe or Jane who is over the age of 50 who saw the article (and the fierce rebuttals), and are not sure what to believe. Sure, it’s fun to look at all the photos being posted of fit 50+ people being awesome, but let’s face it, this evidence is anecdotal. It is my sincere hope that this article can provide some food for thought in a more principal-based manner (keep reading to the bottom for a better strategy than avoidance). Enjoy…

The first thing I’m going to do is extend an olive branch to the original article (sort of): We must realize that an orthopedic institute does not see the thousands of active older adults that are out there doing these exercises just fine. They only see the broken people. I’m sure they perform their due diligence and ask the patient how they became broken, and their answers were one of the exercises listed above. From that perspective, I can see how they could have a tainted image of what is truly safe and what is not.

The problem is the logic being used here. Almost every description under each exercise is quantified with a big IF. ‘If you’re not fit’ is written into almost all of the descriptions. But what if you are fit? And if you’re not fit, how do you become fit while avoiding many natural human movements? The replacement suggestions given were clearly written by someone who needs to review their basic muscular anatomy/physiology.

But let’s pull this string to the end of the thread: If an adult over 50 has gait issues (the stride of their walk), or excessive pronation (the inside of your shoe wears prematurely), and many older adults have problems with both, it will have an adverse effect on hips, knees, ankles, feet, etc. while walking. This could lead to injuries obtained from walking.

By the logic of the article, we should recommend that adults over 50 also avoid walking.

“Sorry Sally, you’re just gonna have to call up Rascal and get yourself a mobility scooter. All of your good years are now behind you!” 

It may sound a little silly, but you can see how this argument can clearly have some flaws.

 

 

I will say that we do avoid certain exercises on the list in our facility, but most of those things are circumstantial to the unique ability of the individual, NOT their age. There are also, however, a few things on the list I’d like to identify as critical movement patterns regardless of age. The main ones being: Deadlift, squatting with weight, pushups, and pullups.

Let’s start with deadlift. I know the name sounds scary, but essentially, we are talking about bending over and picking something up off the floor safely without hurting yourself. If you’ve ever suffered from any kind of back injury, you know just how often you are bending over and picking things up… we do it all the time without even thinking about it!

Until you are either dead, or in 24-hour assisted care, you will never stop bending over and picking things up. Since we can agree that you will need this critical skill for a long time, we should also concede that you might as well learn how to do it properly.

“But I’m worried about hurting my back!” 

That’s a legitimate concern. That is all the more reason to learn how to bend (hinge the hips) without using the back. Dr. Stu McGill, professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo is the world’s foremost authority on back pain. His 30+ years of research is absolutely incredible and I highly recommend his book, “The Back Mechanic” (click here to check it out). He has developed electronic methods to measure shear forces on the back and spine. His research discovered that high-level athletes from a national-level powerlifting competition actually sustained LOWER loads on their backs than their less skilled competitors. They were able to maintain a body posture that actually spared their joints. This sounds like a skill I’d like to learn…

Protocol Hall-Of-Famer Ruth Coak pulling a world-record 215 @132lbs bodyweight @83 years young

Moving on to squats. Master SFG Mark Reifkind says that squatting is the human chair. The opposite of standing is not sitting… it’s squatting. This is a critical range of motion that is practiced daily in most underdeveloped parts of the world.

In China and India, you will find older adults resting in a deep squat while waiting for a bus, going to the bathroom (most parts of the world don’t have modern commodes), or just taking a break. On rare occasion, you'll see someone in the U.S. doing it... 

As far as ‘squatting with weights’ goes, if two similar 50-year-old men are doing a plain unweighted squat, but one of them is 50 pounds overweight, is it safe to say that the overweight guy is ‘squatting with weight’? So, is it really weighted squats that are bad for you, or is being 50 pounds overweight bad for you? I’ll let you decide…

Pushups and pullups certainly need to be adapted to accommodate one’s ability, but again, pulling or pushing open a heavy door at a local store seems like a skill I’d like to maintain for many years to come, and pushups and pullups are a great way to strengthen the muscles necessary for that critically important skill.  

In summary, if you’re new to training and worried about hurting yourself, here is some advice that, in my opinion, is much better than the other article’s advice of sitting quietly in a chair waiting to die:

Regardless of the modality, always keep the difficulty of the movement below your skill level of that movement.

Let’s clarify that statement: If this afternoon you decide to go to the park and do a burpee for the first time, don’t attempt to do 100 in a row, dummy! Start with a few and rest until you are fully recovered before trying to do more. When you’ve been doing them for years, you can do a bunch with a low risk of hurting yourself… no matter how old you are. The reason is you’ve developed this thing called ‘adaptation’. Your body knows the skill of doing the movement and can now do it repeatedly without injury.

This training principle can be adapted to every exercise in the world, including the 14 no-no moves listed above. You’re welcome.

Conversely, if you’re over 50 and training in a place that throws caution to the wind and has you train like a 20-year-old, maybe you should avoid those movements… or maybe… just maybe… find a place that knows how to execute the principle described above.

Please don’t stop moving your body as you get older. I’m fairly certain that Jack LaLanne turned over in his grave when that article came out…

Until next time,  

Jerry Trubman is a coach, clinician, author, blogger, and powerlifting state champion. With over two decades of lifting experience, he has devoted himself to seeking out better answers, and distilling them into practical programs that produce great results. Jerry has coached "Team Protocol" to 4 National Powerlifting Championships in the 100% Raw federation. He writes the internationally-read blog, “The Healthy Addiction” and lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife Marie and dog Sadie. To subscribe to his blog, click here.

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