Middle-age creeps up on you quicker than you think. Soon enough, the years of not caring about how your body acts and feels are over and are quickly catching up with you. That back pain you cured with some ibuprofen in your 20s needs to be actually addressed and the shoulder you damaged is giving you more grief than it ever was.
Middle-age aches and pains are something that plague all of us at some point, but they can be avoided with some strategic stretches, exercises and drills. Unfortunately, the older you get, the more you need to take notice of your health and the more you need to do to stay in shape. Not just to stay slim, but to feel good.
That’s exactly why I’ve compiled a list of the top exercises to reduce these pains and get you back to feeling your best.
Cat and cow flow between stretching and strengthening the muscles of the abdomen and lower back whilst simultaneously warming and loosening the spine. If you frequently struggle with lower back pain, then this could be a key solution.
It’s important to note that a tight muscle does not mean a strong muscle. Many people believe that if a muscle is tight, then it must have become that way through becoming stronger. The reality is that you can have a weak and tight muscle as well as a strong and loose muscle.
For instance, you’ve most likely developed your lower back pain through years of sitting down and being inactive for long periods of time. The lower back doesn’t get stronger from being put in a bad position, it just becomes tight. This is because a tight muscle simply means that the muscle has shortened which can develop through two ways:
- Overuse – this is the case when you hit the gym and your muscles are sore for the next few days. If you’re muscles are worked in a way that they’re not used to, then they can become tight. Think about the first run you went on and how tight your calves and hamstrings were afterwards.
- Bad Positions – this is the case when you repeatedly put your body into pad postures. Hunching at your desk, remaining seated for long periods of time, sitting awkwardly, lifting or carrying things badly. They don’t strengthen the muscle, they simply shorten it and make it tighter. In the case of hunching when sat, the muscles on the front of the body such as the abdomen and front of the neck become short whilst the muscles on the back lengthen. This can cause issues down the line as we revert into the poor position when we can, furthering the problems.
The cat/cow pose exercise directly helps this problem by paying equal attention to either side, stretching and strengthening the musculature over your whole lower body.
How do I do it?
Begin on all fours with your shoulders directly above your elbows and wrists as well as your knees underneath your hips. Evenly disperse your weight among your toes and fingers.
Next, engage your abs to flex your spine, lowering your hips and pointing your lower back into the air. Try to also flex the muscles on either side of your ribs to push your shoulders down and palms into the floor. Hold this position for 8-10 seconds.
After this, engage your lower back to bring it to the floor and point your abs to the ground. Raise your neck to look at the ceiling and create a strong arch in your lower torso. Hold this position once again for 8-10 seconds.
Repeat each hold 5 times through.
If you’ve ever looked into core training, then you’ll know that the plank is often the go to exercise (and for good reason, too). The plank helps to relieve lower back pain by keeping your core strong without a load of equipment. It also helps improve stability in your shoulders and legs which relieves and prevents aches all over the body.
How do I do it?
Begin in a push-up position with your shoulders over your elbows and your elbows over your wrists. If you find this too taxing on your arms, then lower yourself onto your forearms whilst keeping your elbows underneath your shoulders.
Engage your core to prevent your lower back from sagging to the floor. An easy way to stop this is to imagine that a knife is pointing up from the floor with your belly hovering just above your tip. Allow your knees to bend slightly as you also tighten your glutes.
Hold for 15-20 seconds, rest for 1 minute and then go again. Complete 5 rounds and try to build up the time you can hold the position for.
- Bear Crawls
One of the best exercises for getting your heart going and burning a lot of energy is the burpee. However, it’s also high impact which can put a lot of strain on the joints.
Think of the bear crawl as a slowed down version of the burpee that also works your entire body but also trains balance and co-ordination. The bear crawl helps to isolate any problem to work through them. It also trains your core effectively which transfers over to the times you need to pick up heavy objects or carry things around. We can too easily default into a poor position from years of neglecting our core and this only creates further problems. Unlike the plank which challenges the core in a static position, bear crawls force you to keep locked in as you move.
How do I do it?
Begin in a standing position with your feet spread hip width apart or slightly wider.
Next, crouch down as if you were going into a squat, but come onto the balls of your feet. Place your hands out underneath you with your palms against the floor and gradually walk
them forward until you’re in a full plank position.
All that you have to do next is the reverse: walk yourself back into the crouched position on the balls of your feet and stand back up. That’s one rep. Throughout this entire movement keep a strong mental connection with your abs and lower back to place your core into a strong position.
Complete 10 full bear crawls in a row or until you feel like you can’t do another one without your form breaking down.
- Wall Sits
If you struggle with knee pain, then it could be because the muscles around the knee are weak. This includes the muscles around the ankle and hips, too. Wall sits strengthen your entire lower body from the feet up, reducing the chance of pain in all of the surrounding joints.
How do I do it?
Begin standing with your back flat against a wall. Slowly slide yourself down as you walk your feet forward until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Your knees should be above your ankles as if you’re sitting on an imaginary chair. Make sure to engage your calves, quadriceps and glutes so create a strong and stable position.
Hold this for 20-30 seconds, rest for one minute and then repeat again. Complete 5 rounds in total.
- Child’s Pose
Child’s pose helps to stretch out the lower back whilst also providing some much needed mental comfort. In yoga, this position is frequently used to calm your muscles as well as your mind.
Many of us don’t realise the degree to which our mental outlook has upon our physical body. The more we stress, the more stress gets placed upon the body. Not to mention the effect it has upon our sleep and ability to recover. Stress plagues the modern world but we do little to combat it. Child’s pose kills two birds with one stone by relieving a common source of pain as well as helping clear your mind.
How do I do it?
Start kneeling atop a comfortable mat on the floor. Lower your upper body so that your torso rests upon your thighs. Allow your arms to fall either side of you, pointing backwards, as your forehead rests gently on the floor.
Hold this position for two minutes, making sure to clear your mind of all stress. In this time, nothing needs to be worried about. Think about the muscles of your lower back warming and melting like butter, stretching and lengthening as the pain disappears.
Child’s pose is a perfect exercise to do right before bed to calm your mind and relieve your body of aches and pains after a long day. This will help you enter into a deeper sleep, transferring over to the next day to improve your mood and physical wellbeing.
- Kettlebell Clean
The kettlebell clean is similar to the bear crawl in that it challenges your entire body with one dynamic movement. It also helps you to locate any imbalances you might have on either side of your body.
The clean is a great way to effectively train the glutes, one of the biggest and most powerful groups of muscles on the body. The glutes help to relieve lower back pain as the muscles of the lower back can often take over when the glutes are weak. The clean also helps to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder, reducing the risk of shoulder pain and improving your posture. It even helps strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments around your knees. In terms of getting the most bang for your buck, the clean is definitely up there.
How do I do it?
This movement does require a slightly higher amount of skill. Start with a light weight and make sure not to rush into the movement and cause further damage. The clean is a great progression for when other movements are too easy and has been included as a slightly more challenging way to improve full body co-ordination, strength, and balance. If you’re unsure about how to complete this, then discuss with a trainer at your local gym who will be more than happy to take you through the movements. You can also message me for further information about more challenging exercises to suit your specific needs.
Start with a kettlebell between your feet and your ankles just wider than hip width apart. Lower your body down into a squat position with your weight evenly distributed across each foot. Make sure to engage your core and lock your torso into place.
Grasp the top of the handle with one hand. Next, press through your feet using your glutes and legs to lift your body into the air as you simultaneously shrug your shoulder up. As the kettlebells comes up with you, pull it up to your shoulders as you whip your elbow underneath. The final position should have you standing fully upright with the weight resting against the front of your shoulder and your elbow underneath your wrist.
It can take a few times to get used to which is why it’s important to start with a light weight first. In order to help you visualise the movement more, there are dozens of helpful videos on YouTube with step by step instructions.
As well as the above exercises, there are two cardio-based activities which can really help reduce and prevent middle-age related pain. Activities such as running may be useful in your younger years, but they can really damage your joints after a while. Pounding the pavements again and again can really take its toll after a while.
Both swimming and walking are fantastic ways to get in some extra activity that helps to improve the health of your muscles and body opposed to damaging them.
- Works the entire body
- Low-impact on the joints
- Strengthens the muscles of the upper body which helps to reduce shoulder pain
- Improves your cardiovascular abilities
- Can be done anywhere
- Improves connection to nature which helps to relieve mental stress
- Improves the health of the ankles, knees, and hips
- Done quickly, it can raise your heart rate and aid cardiovascular health
Pick three of these exercises to complete each session and try to get in at least 3 sessions per week. As well as this, taking up activities such as swimming and walking in your spare time will also have a massive carryover to how you feel both mentally and physically. Middle-age doesn’t have to be associated with aches and pains, you can still get stronger and feel better the older you get – all it takes is a little patience, effort and dedication.