Some people are either or people. I believe both have benefits for improving bone health.
When you add resistance to your routine, your muscles release calcium, magnesium, and other minerals that strengthen your bones. Your muscles don’t know whether the resistance comes from bands or weights. Whatever you are more prone actually to do, that is the mode of choice. If you dislike weights, go for bands. I personally like mixing things up.
Here’s the thing, though, you need to really challenge yourself for change to occur.
With resistance training, it’s too light if you can breeze through 20 reps of an overhead press. You’re building endurance, not strength. You should feel “worked” after 10-12 reps at a given resistance (whether it be weights or bands) with excellent alignment and good breathing technique.
I tell Pilates teachers to load up the springs on the Reformer for leg work for their clients with osteoporosis. If the springs aren’t heavy enough, they won’t gain strength or bone. (of course, ensuring proper form)
The other thing to remember is that your bone health is not only a reflection of your exercise. It’s also a function of your nutrition, supplementation, daily activities, or lack of…it’s difficult to tease out.
I believe your best shot at optimal bone health is doing weight-bearing resistance and impact exercises, dancing, walking/hiking, sports you enjoy AND also addressing other factors in your life that support bone health. When appropriate, medications may be the right choice.
Most people want a multifactorial approach to their bone health. I get that. In many ways, we are our own laboratory.
I want to share this interesting study from researchers at the U. of Oregon demonstrating how training with resistance bands increases bone mineral density.
“It is sometimes difficult for sedentary people to change their habits, and going to a gym would be more difficult. But elastic bands offer an interesting alternative since they allow enough intensity to stimulate bone mass, and a multitude of exercises are possible. Regular practice of 2 weekly sessions involving work on the main muscle groups of the body will increase bone mineral density.” Here’s the research study
https://bonesmartpilates.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/pilates-bonesmart.jpg00Teresa Maldonado Marchokhttps://bonesmartpilates.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/pilates-bonesmart.jpgTeresa Maldonado Marchok2023-01-30 10:12:162023-01-30 10:15:56Which is better for building strength? Weights or Resistance Bands?
I spent most of my life in California, with a short stint in Sweden in the 1970s. My degrees are in Chemical Engineering and I worked in the biotech industry once I got out of graduate school. I loved working in such a new field at the time. As the family grew, I decided to quit my paid job and stay home with the children. As time went on I realized I needed a creative outlet and took up Plein air painting (with the same fantastic friend who introduced me to Teresa’s classes!). After my family and friends, I love the outdoors, science, gardening, and art.
WHEN DID YOU BEGIN SESSIONS WITH TERESA?
I started classes with Teresa in 2012 and have continued with them ever since. Teresa’s Pilates classes are a priority for me because of the physical and mental benefits they provide. I have celiac disease, which causes any number of inflammatory problems and Teresa’s classes are essential to my ability to manage those issues. When something has to fall off my plate it won’t be Teresa’s class!
WHAT MOVEMENT OR PRINCIPLE HAS HELPED YOU THE MOST?
I’d like to choose just one movement or body dynamic principle that I learned from Teresa that has helped me but there are too many! From ribs down to soup bowl to lifting your toes…I am always learning something new, even ten years later. I think, for myself, as I continue to become more body aware, I continue to learn in each class. And, as new issues develop as the years march on, I discover new fixes for them. Everything that I have learned from Teresa applies not only in class but in other activities and my daily movement. Not to mention that Teresa is so gracious with her time whenever anyone has a question about alignment or movement difficulties. She always takes time to answer any questions and I learn from my questions and those of others. What a fantastic tool!
WHAT WERE THE EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC ON YOUR MOVEMENT PRACTICE?
At the beginning of the pandemic, I dropped the gym and in-person classes. Although we stayed active, I really missed the benefit and connection of group exercise classes. I worried about how well I would maintain mobility and strength without the motivation and guidance that Teresa provides. When Teresa opened her remote classes I jumped right in and was so grateful! Now that some degree of normalcy is returning, having the option of in-person and virtual classes is even better than before.
I absolutely love the energy and camaraderie in the in-person classes. They are a tonic for the soul. I can’t think of a single class where I haven’t had a good laugh for one reason or another. I missed that tremendously until in-person became available again. But it’s also great to have access to the class online if I can’t make it in person and to have the videos afterward.
https://bonesmartpilates.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/pilates-bonesmart.jpg00Teresa Maldonado Marchokhttps://bonesmartpilates.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/pilates-bonesmart.jpgTeresa Maldonado Marchok2022-11-13 10:02:062022-11-16 18:39:18We’d like you to meet Amy!
Foam rolling is a form of self-massage that alleviates tightness and trigger points (aka muscle knots) by using your body’s weight against a foam roller. The benefits are many.
BENEFITS OF FOAM ROLLING:
Increases blood flow and elasticity of muscle tissue, joints, and fascia, the body’s connective tissue, which helps with mobility and overall well-being.
Reduces inflammation that occurs during the muscle repair process.
Helps injury prevention by maintaining muscle length and alleviating tension and tightness.
Releases tension promoting relaxation.
FOAM ROLLING PRO-TIP:
Click to view the video. If you are new to the Aging Strong Pilates Facebook Community, you will have to join the group to see the video.
For all the moves, you’ll want to stop wherever it feels tight or tender. Breathe allowing the pressure and stillness to create a release. You’ll note the benefit immediately. When you experience that release, inhale, and then as you exhale, slowly roll your way to another tight spot and repeat.
Want to see some demonstrations of key roller exercises? Watch the video on our Aging Strong Pilates private FB page where I demonstrate effective techniques to melt away your stress and your knots. You can also ask your questions there. I moderate daily.
HOW ELSE CAN YOU USE THE ROLLER?
The foam roller is not just for relieving knots and tension. It can also be used to increase the challenge to certain muscles and improve your postural stabilizers which are important for balance.
Imagine lying on your back with bent knees, the soles of your feet on a roller that’s perpendicular to your body. Doing bridging this way increases the challenge to the muscles in the back of your legs because your feet are on an unstable surface that, without adequate hamstring firing, will roll away from you.
Here’s another scenario:
Lying vertically on the roller with your head to your buttocks supported by the roller- similar to the photo on top, knees bent, feet and fingertips on the floor. Challenge your postural stabilizers by marching in place – lifting and lowering one bent knee. Notice how your balance systems kick into high gear to keep you from falling off the roller.
https://bonesmartpilates.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/4E92410E-9C40-4EB5-8962-61185324FDA7_4_5005_c.jpeg256384Teresa Maldonado Marchokhttps://bonesmartpilates.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/pilates-bonesmart.jpgTeresa Maldonado Marchok2022-02-28 12:52:162022-02-28 16:23:18Not just for the hardcore exerciser, foam rolling is both self-care and self-repair.
We are bombarded through media, with anti-aging approaches like botox, plastic surgery, facial creams, and expensive supplements. I personally think the concept of anti-aging is BS. We are all aging every day. If you actually stop aging, you are …dead. I prefer to age, embracing every wrinkle as a testament to the privilege of still being here and with it, hopefully, some added wisdom on top. Now how we age is a choice. Everyone makes the choices that feel right for them but I want to share with you an additional approach you can add, that works from the “inside out”.
Did you know that Pilates can make you look and feel younger? This is all without expensive creams, needles, or surgery. The only side effects? Improved flexibility, balance, strength, and posture! Exercise also improves your skin and complexion. By increasing blood flow, exercise helps nourish skin cells and keep them vital. We lose about 1% of our leg strength and about ½ a percent of our bone density yearly after we hit 50. Pilates slows down the muscle and bone loss that occurs with aging.
3 WAYS TO CONNECT and AGE STRONG
Do you prefer to be guided in your movement practice with skill and a keen eye toward the active ager?
The local Aging Strong Pilates® class that I teach in Los Altos, CA, my DVD series AGING STRONG Pilates® and my Zoom Virtual Classes all focus on those areas at risk of decline as we age. Those areas include the hips and legs (to keep us strong, mobile, and doing what we love), the spine (to prevent slouching/hyperkyphosis), and balance (to prevent falls).
TIPS TO FINDING A TRAINED PILATES TEACHER
If you want to find a Pilates teacher local to you, search for one that is certified through the Pilates Method Alliance (is an NCPT-Nationally Certified Pilates Teacher) and who has the skills to customize a program to your abilities. If you have certain challenges like osteopenia, osteoporosis, herniated discs, stenosis, joint replacements (the list goes on) your instructor should be aware of the movement contraindications for each diagnosis and be able to create a program that keeps you challenged yet safe.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
Remember- 1x a week is helpful but consistency is key in the Aging Strong formula. Improvement is dose-responsive. The more classes you take, the stronger, more balanced, and agile you’ll be. If you can’t get to more than one class, make sure your instructor gives you an individualized home exercise program designed specifically for you. (and try my DVDs if you haven’t already)
I believe in interspersing Pilates with the other movement activities in your life that bring you joy. For example, I love dancing, hiking, and walking my dog Chip.
Please share in the comments section below, what movement activities raise your spirits and your core temperature!
Written by Teresa Maldonado Marchok, Licensed PT and NCPT (Nationally Certified Pilates Teacher
Creator of the BoneSmart Pilates® Method and acclaimed DVD series
Pilates Studio owner since 1998 melding PT and Pilates in her Mountain View, CA private practice.
Have you ever contemplated getting studio Pilates equipment for your home workouts?
What if I told you that you may already own something that lends itself wonderfully to Pilates work? This month I’ll share with you a Pilates workout that I designed to be performed on…an Ottoman!
Perhaps you don’t have the money or inclination to purchase big Pilates equipment for home use. Well I’ve discovered to my delight that my padded ottoman is the perfect surface for so many Pilates exercises. Here’s a way to do some Aging Strong Pilates® in the comfort of your home and notch up the level.
The video below is my personal quick and dirty ~15 min workout that I do in my bedroom before or after a shower about 2-3x a week. I do it in my underwear for maximum skin to leather traction so I have good grip and don’t slide. Some of the exercises are extremely challenging so proceed with caution. They are safe but difficult, so listen to your body and proceed at a level and pace that matches where you are today.
At the end of this blog post I’ve included a full written list of the exercises so you can print it and repeat on your own with your choice of music.
Note: Your ottoman should not be on wheels or have a base that swivels.
My ottoman has a slope to it. Depending on the direction your lying on it, the slope can make a particular exercise easier or harder. If your ottoman is sloped, try and drape yourself on it in the same angle I do in the video. I demonstrate the exercises at the angle that facilitates each movement.
For example, for the beginning chest lift core series I’m positioned on my back with my buttocks on the low edge and the lower tips of my shoulder blades at the top of the slope. This is the easier orientation but you’ll see quickly that it is by no means “easy”. If your ottoman is level, that’s fine as long as it has nice padded edges so it doesn’t dig into you. If you choose not to do it in your underwear then add a shelf liner to the surface so you don’t slide.
This workout includes all ranges of motion, Flexion (just from Extension (back bending) to Neutral (straight line) so it’s safe for conditions where flexion is contraindicated) Rotation, Side Bending, and Extension. I incorporate wonderful stretches after working the muscles in all these planes of motion.
I have to admit this is one of my favorite routines. It’s a Bad A_ _ Core workout that energizes me and makes we feel worked in a short amount of time!
The planks are extremely challenging but if you have stiff feet or bunions that make it difficult to curl your toes under for planks on the floor, having your feet elevated makes that part actually easier since you don’t have to tuck your toes under. Remember, the more leg you have on the ottoman, the easier it will be, so position yourself wisely.
The two sections that I do face down (opposite arm and leg reach, swimming and swan) are great for strengthening the muscles that strengthen the hips and support good posture. Firing those upper back muscles has the added benefit of stimulating bone growth in the spine.
Here’s a full list of the exercises so you can repeat them on your own with your favorite music. Note that as you see in the video – you don’t have to do a lot of repetitions to make it count. If you want to get feedback from me on your technique, purchase a 30 minute online Skype session and I’ll ensure you’re moving safely and effectively!
Go slowly. Be Precise. Breathe. Have fun!
Ottoman Pilates Exercise List
On your Back (face up)
Big X Stretch
Chest Lift Series
Oblique twisting toward the lifted tabletop leg
Advanced: knees lift, lift, lower, lower, alternating lead leg
Finish with Big X Stretch to lengthen the abdominals
On Your Belly
Opposite Arm leg reach (ottoman under pelvis and belly)
Final extension hands interlaced reaching toward feet-rotating head as you breathe w/ease
Child’s pose/Rest position (knees open wide if you have osteoporosis or herniated discs)
Leg lifts (bottom foot on floor, top leg lifts and lowers) Waist positioned at middle of ottoman
Side Kick top leg, keep hips stacked vertically. Shift body so hips at middle of ottoman
Hover body parallel to floor and hold (head in line with spine)
Top leg lifts and lowers
Side-Lying Stretch (shift yourself so it’s comfortable for you, grab top wrist with bottom hand)
Repeat above on the other side
Planks (first with lower thigh and shin on ottoman) Hold position
Add pushups if desired
Walk further out so less leg on the ottoman-increased challenge
Side Plank (one on each side-move slowly and hold/breathe)
Swan (begin with breasts/chest hanging over the front edge, hands on the floor, feet on floor against base of the wall) Activate core and legs then Inhale as you rise, Exhale as you lower
Do you know someone who seems to have 80 hobbies and are always looking for the next one? Maybe you’ve thought, “They must just have too much time on their hands.” The truth is, they probably work hard at making time for hobbies. Learning a new skill offers a slew of mental, physical and social benefits for people in all walks of life.
Whether you’re in school, in the middle of your career, living in your golden years, recovering from substance abuse or anywhere in between, finding a good hobby can keep you healthy and enjoying life. Here are five mentally engaging hobbies that can be learned online or with a group of friends.
Learn an instrument
One skill that is good for the mind and helps people express their thoughts and feelings is playing a musical instrument. It can also increase your capacity for memory, strengthen your dexterity and coordination, lift your mood, and boost your self-confidence. Furthermore, developing musical comprehension can improve your communication skills, and playing in a group can strengthen your interpersonal skills. A lot goes into choosing the right instrument, so do your research and pick one that interests you and fits your personality.
Besides the entertainment aspects, reading is beneficial for people of all ages. Along with being a critical part of child development, reading a variety of topics and genres is an effective way of gaining general knowledge and expanding your vocabulary. It has also been proven to reduce stress and improve cognitive function by boosting memory, concentration and focus, as well as strengthening analytical thinking and problem-solving skills. Reading a traditional book promotes healthy sleep. For those who are interested in writing, reading also helps you become a better writer.
Similar to reading, writing is beneficial for any age, whether it’s done traditionally or digitally. It engages and stimulates your brain, sharpens your focus and provides an outlet for creatively expressing unresolved thoughts and feelings. Writing can even slow down the aging process, calm the nerves, and ease anxiety and depression symptoms. Additionally, there is a plethora of different forms and subjects to write about, so there’s something for everyone. If you’re looking for a good excuse to unplug from our tech-driven world, opt for writing some of your material by hand.
If you’re looking for a hobby that’s more kinetic in nature, dance may be the one for you. Some of the many benefits include improved mood, positive self-image, increased energy and more neural connections, a big plus as we age!
There are many ways to increase your skill in dance, whether by taking a class or just dancing to music in your living room. For the former, active agers may have access to dance classes if they’re signed up for a qualifying Medicare Advantage plan. SilverSneakers, a program specializing in senior-focused fitness activities, is included in many Medicare Advantage plans offered by health insurance companies like Humana. Your local YMCA is a valuable resource for Zumba and other movement-oriented activities. The Y offers programs for people of all ages and abilities and always has something fun for those ready to take up a new fitness-focused hobby.
While volunteering is a great way for retirees to stay physically, mentally and socially active, it has just as many benefits for people in other age groups. Volunteering at a nonprofit (e.g., food pantry, animal shelter, church, museum, etc.) is a great opportunity to step out of the stresses of your personal life and help others. It can also be a base for socializing and building new friendships, enhancing school and college experience, providing better job opportunities, and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s while helping you age gracefully.
Keeping your mind engaged is not only helpful, but it’s also essential for anyone who wants to live a long and healthy life. Reading, writing, playing an instrument, dancing and volunteering are all mentally challenging activities that are worth trying, no matter your age or life circumstances. Whether you opt for local classes or go online for free tutorials, find a hobby to make a lasting difference in your quality of life.
https://bonesmartpilates.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/book.png599899Teresa Maldonado Marchokhttps://bonesmartpilates.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/pilates-bonesmart.jpgTeresa Maldonado Marchok2019-09-06 12:13:372021-09-21 13:59:465 Mentally Engaging Hobbies to Keep You Healthy and Enjoying Life
We all have our postural faults, especially if we lose focus. Mine is rib flaring, that tendency to jut the bottom ribs forward in a faulty attempt to open the chest or lengthen the body. This often results in excess back tension and pain.
With mindfulness and an awareness of this tendency, I can better control this common error and so can you!
The secret is, no surprise, “connection”. I like to use the image of 2 vertical bungee cords connecting my front bottom ribs with my pelvis. Watch the video to test if you’re a rib flarer and learn 2 exercises to help fix it.
For those of you nowhere near me or former clients that have relocated, there is a viable way to create or keep our connection through Pilates!
I’ve been using Skype to reach my clients when they’re on vacation as well as to work with new clients. I particularly enjoy working with users of my BoneSmart Pilates® DVD’s who want some encouragement or personal feedback on their form and technique.
Virtual Skype Pilates means that you can literally do Pilates whenever and wherever you like, while having a qualified instructor like myself, guiding you through your workout, demonstrating as needed, and checking to make sure you’re moving correctly and not risking injury. You’ll quickly realize that the 2-way conversation is far superior than watching a video. We have an open dialogue and a few laughs in the process. It’s like having a coach and workout buddy in one!
In addition, you’re not wasting your time searching for just the right workout only to find in the middle of the workout, that it’s the wrong level for you. You might discover midway that you really don’t like the instructor and there’s no modifications offered for your sore back, shoulder, knee or wrist. You may find that many of the exercises are too easy or too difficult. Having me there to give you feedback live through Skype is a game changer and mitigates all those issues I just mentioned. As a physical therapist and certified Pilates instructor for the last 20+yrs, I can modify or change the workout to meet your mood, desires, fitness level and health status.
Still on the fence? As a summer incentive – I’m offering 15% off for Skype sessions purchased through June 15, 2019. (sessions purchased in this time frame can be used after that date) Enter code “SKY” at checkout.”
In my 2 decades of running my business I have discounted my products but have never discounted my coaching time. This is a one time golden opportunity.
3) Download the Skype application to your computer if it’s not there already then at the time of your session – make sure you’re logged in to Skype, grab your mat, have your questions (if any) ready and let’s do it!
“So if you don’t know, know you know”! (from my beloved Broadway show “Hamilton”)
Age happens, regardless of the physical standards you achieved in your youth. Perhaps you were involved in high school or college sports, part of an organized community team, maybe an elite athlete and in great shape. Perhaps you’re still pushing hard but the reality of an aging body that doesn’t rebound as quickly as before, stares you in the face.
We are part of a generation that realizes that we have control of certain aspects of aging and that inactivity plays a huge role in how we feel. Dr. DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon in Philadelphia, notes that “We have doubled our life expectancy in the last 100 years, but our frames are not designed to last that long. There’s a mismatch between longevity and durability. It becomes a matter of how do you extend the warranty on your frame.”
In 1998, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964- sustained more than 1 million sports injuries, leading to nearly $19 billion in medical costs. Exercise and sports in our best and final act, becomes a dance of injury management where party conversations are peppered with tales of back pain, rotator cuff problems, herniated discs and anything ending in an “itis”.
The upside of age includes being comfortable in our skin, gaining insight, wisdom, and fostering lasting relationships. In the physical realm, certain things, whether we like it or not, are diminished with age including muscle strength, bone health, balance and flexibility. Old sports injuries frequently rear their heads as problems later in life, especially arthritis.
Understanding what to do, what to avoid and how to pace ourselves, is essential for remaining strong and healthy over time.
I’m a former professional dancer who pushed my body beyond its limits for decades. Contrary to the image of ease and invincibility presented on stage, dancers, or as Martha Graham used to call us, “Athletes of God”, spent many a night post performance nursing painful body parts with ice packs in hotels around the world.
As an aging athlete, I’ve had to navigate acute and chronic injuries including rotator cuff rupture and low back disc herniations. In order to continue to do what I love, I’ve learned how to modify movements in Pilates, dance and Bikram yoga, as well as during activities of daily living to spare my spine.
In Bikram yoga, participants tackle the standing head to knee pose which involves holding one leg straight in front of you parallel to the ground with a deeply rounded spine, a difficult task (and one that should be avoided for anyone with low bone density or herniations). I stand instead like a stork with one knee bent in the air, my spine long and vertical. This avoids further debilitation of my spinal discs while still benefitting from single leg weight-bearing balance.
In that same class, participants perform transitional straight leg sit ups between mat exercises where they explosively round up and do a “double jerk, double exhale” percussive ballistic forward flexed bounce. I’ve modified this instead into a log roll to my side to safely transition to the next exercise. Medical wisdom now directs us to ditch crunches and straight leg sit ups and choose other, smarter spine sparing techniques, which I’ll share shortly.
I think we all want to keep our bodies as safe, strong and mobile as they can be for as long as possible. How do we work around aging and injuries?
When I had rotator cuff surgery 3 years ago, I used Pilates to continue to train the rest of my body while avoiding the injured shoulder. I worked on core and leg strength, flexibility and balance. The beauty of the spring assisted Pilates environment is that it is so modifiable. It’s easy to accommodate for injuries and work around your limitations safely so you can remain fit. In the following video, I’m one-week post rotator cuff surgery and you can see how I’m able to still get a decent workout despite my arm being in a sling.
Get Smarter About Exercise
My belief is that we need to physically train to get older. Getting older is not for sissies. We need to get smarter about exercise. What does smart exercise look like?
Disregard that old adage of No Pain No Gain. It’s important to heed the warning signs of any injury. Pain is your body’s signal to back off and give yourself time to recover. Don’t push through those pain signals or you’ll slip into a continuing loop of pain and inflammation.
Warm up before you exercise and allow more recuperation and stretching time after exercise.
Train smarter not harder which means not overdoing it. Tom Brady, the aging Patriots winning quarterback has a workout regimen that is 90% focused on resistance bands, not heaving heavy weights. If you’re planning an intensive golf weekend, practice some swings and controlled spine rotations and ensure good mobility leading up to it. Don’t walk in cold.
Form and alignment is critical not only with exercise but also with your activities of daily living like how you pick things up off the floor or how you hoist your carry-on luggage into the overhead compartment of a plane. All the little things that you do on a daily basis add up, and if you’re doing them wrong, you’ll experience cumulative insidious injury – the math will work against you.
If you’re like most people, you might have a chronic injury or are dealing with vulnerabilities that put you at increased risk of an injury. I’ll cover just a few of the common areas where we should demonstrate more caution and care.
Common conditions I see as a PT working with aging athletes include plantar fasciitis, stiff feet/ankles, and tight cramping calves.
Our feet are what support us and get us from point A to point B. We need mobile, strong and malleable feet to support a strong and stable body. What do most of us do with our feet during the day? We provide sensory deprivation as we shove them into ill-fitting or stiff shoes that prevent intrinsic movement of the feet. Instead of functional feet, many of us have clubs at the end of our ankles. The feet have the highest percentage of proprioceptors in our body, telling our brain where our body is in space. If those proprioceptors signals are muffled and under stimulated it creates balance issues and a tendency to lose our footing.
Tips for Feet: Walk barefoot, use full tennis balls or any of those nubby textured foot mobilizers to massage the different areas of your feet, increasing flexibility and improving healing blood flow and circulation. Use ½ tennis balls for a gentler safer alternative that won’t roll away. Use resistance bands around the sole of the foot, holding the ends like reins as you slowly point and flex the ankle, strengthening all those underused small foot muscles.
For cramping calves check with your medical professional to see if you have a potassium or magnesium deficiency and supplement accordingly. Also make sure you’re drinking enough water. Lack of adequate hydration often leads to leg cramps.
Finally be sure to stretch both regions of your calf muscles. Stand at the edge of a step with one heel lowered. The gastrocnemius (the meaty calf muscle that is more superficial and visible) is addressed when the stretching leg has the knee straight. To stretch the deeper soleus calf muscle, you must bend that knee slightly while stretching the calf.
Knees Painful knees are often the byproduct of weak leg muscles, tight calf and leg muscles as well as faulty alignment when you bend your knees.
What to do?
Check your mobility-can you touch your toes with your knees just slightly unlocked?
Can you put the ball of your foot on a step and lower your heel down below the step with ease? Can you pull your foot behind you to your bottom for a quad stretch with good alignment or do you stick your bottom out behind you when you try this?
Some of the key remedies for avoiding knee pain include ensuring you’re tracking your knees over the center of your foot every time you bend your knees. Since bending your knees is something you do every time you get up and down from a chair, toilet, car seat etc. it’s imperative that it’s performed with ideal alignment each and every time. This will prevent potential torqueing of the knee.
In addition, strengthening the muscles that attach to the knee is essential as the stronger your leg muscles are, the more they will support and decompress the knee joint. Include closed chain exercises that incorporate the hamstrings (back of your legs), the quadriceps (front of thighs) and the calves. This is particularly helpful if you’re suffering from pain or arthritis stemming from previous injuries.
One good example is wall sits: stand against a wall with your feet about 6-12in from the wall. Then bend your knees to a point that’s painfree (up to a 90 degree angle) keeping the back of your pelvis, upper back and head in contact with the wall. Hold that position for 30 sec’s slowly increasing the duration over time and varying the degree of knee bend.
If your pain is due to old injuries, notice what movements or activities trigger your pain and try and remove or minimize those triggers.
With aging athletes, studies point to targeting power to improve strength. So, for example rising from a chair explosively (without locking your knees) then slowly lowering your bottom to a hover over the chair and repeating that with good form will create gains.
Be sure you’re stretching your hamstrings, quadriceps and calves on a daily basis to keep them healthy and mobile. This will help mitigate knee problems.
Intermittent or chronic back pain is a common complaint for many aging athletes particularly dancers, gymnasts and other athletes where they are asked to move their spines in ranges that were not intended for the spine. Keep in mind that the spine is designed for stability with the hips and shoulders created for mobility.
Most people in their lifetime will experience some type of back pain typically caused by injury or degeneration.
Examine what you’re doing on a daily basis and how it might be affecting your spine.
Are you sitting excessively? This will shorten the muscles that cross the hips affecting the spine. Do you find yourself commonly in a slumped posture? This will compress your discs and may cause nerve compression resulting in numbness and tingling down the legs.
Might you have an undiagnosed spine fracture? Be sure to get a bone density (DXA scan) if you’re over 65 and notice any of the red flags like a loss in height greater than 2 inches, being a female with a small frame or if your mom had osteoporosis. Some modifiable risk factors include smoking, drinking excessively and inactivity.
Are you still doing crunches? Dr. Stuart McGill, a Canadian PT, researcher, and world-renowned spine expert recommends avoiding crunches due to the excessive loads placed on the discs and ligaments of the spine during movements involving loaded spine flexion. His book “Back Mechanic: The secrets to a healthy spine your doctor isn’t telling you”, is a practical easy to understand resource for how to find your pain triggers and clear steps to help you improve. Keep in mind also that if you have low bone density crunches can predispose you to spine fractures and if you have spinal disc compromise, sit-ups and crunches can lead to disc herniations.
Healthy alternative? Instead choose core exercises that keep the spine in a neutral position like planks including forearm, straight arm and side planks.
Remember to use the spine sparing technique of hip hinging where you fold at your hips, for any lifting or bending to avoid rounding your back. Doing your daily activities including exercising with a neutral-stable spine will spare your back.
Keeping an injury-free edge as we exercise in middle age
Be willing to modify and accommodate for your body. If you’re asked to do lunges in a class done barefoot and your metatarsal (toe area) joints just don’t bend that way due to arthritis or surgery, put on your tennis shoes or supportive shoe wear to provide the support needed to accomplish this excellent exercise.
Mindfully improve mobility with flexibility exercises while maintaining good alignment. Give Pilates or Yoga a try.
Cross train to give your body a break from repetitive motions.
Strengthen your core muscles including your abdominals, back, pelvic floor and diaphragm, to support your spine.
Ignore the mantra “No Pain, No Gain” and replace that with “Feel Pain, Be Sane”
Get enough restorative sleep and pay attention to nutrition.
Prioritize alignment and form during exercise as well as during daily activities.
Warm up thoroughly before your chosen activity. I’ve noticed that it takes me much longer than before to warm up sufficiently enough to prevent injury before physical endeavors.
Post-exercise static stretching is a useful tool for promoting relaxation (by increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity which controls rest and digestion) and improving flexibility (by causing changes to the mechanical properties of the muscle-tendon unit.) Research shows minimal effect on reduction of muscle soreness 1-7 days post exercise.
Don’t underestimate the benefit of regular massage to relax muscle tissue. It may also help with reducing pain and improving function.
Work around your injury. If you’ve injured a particular body part, say your foot, don’t ignore the rest of your body. Find ways to incorporate core training and other exercises that work your heart and uninjured areas. It will not only help your body but also your mind and spirit.
If you have low bone density, be sure you’re including weight bearing resistance and impact exercise. Avoid forward bending (flexion) of your spine as that can increase your risk of fracture.
Foam rollers are a popular and effective tool for the aging athlete. They work with your weight and are easily used on most parts of the body. In addition to massaging tight muscles, rollers can help with myofascial pain by compressing trigger points. They can also improve hydration in your fascia, the connective tissue that acts as a saran wrap around your muscles and organs. If your fascia develops adhesions, where disorganized tissues don’t glide freely over each other, this can manifest as pain or stiffness. Rolling has been particularly effective for the upper back, the gluteals, and various regions in the legs including the iliotibial band (ITB), a trouble area for runners and often a difficult area to release when tight. View some of my top foam roller exercises.
Small firm balls of all kinds are an inexpensive and handy aid in trigger point release. For instance, placing a ball under the center of one glute and putting your weight into it can release a tight piriformis muscle, a common cause of sciatic pain.
Despite some controversy, ice continues to be a safe and effective alternative for pain management and is still the modality of choice for acute injuries. Pain and swelling can inhibit muscle strength. Cryotherapy continues to play a key role in rehabilitation.
Trust your intuition and your own body wisdom. No one knows your body and its particular quirks better than you. If it’s telling you to back off, listen.
We all eventually slow down as we age and we need to recalibrate our expectations creating new goals that keep us motivated and functional.
Whatever it was that drove you to be an athlete in the first place, hold onto that feeling. You can still keep an active lifestyle as you age and maintain that feeling of health, fitness and joy of being alive!
Author-Teresa Maldonado Marchok MPT
Licensed physical therapist, PMA certified Pilates instructor, conference presenter, ambassador for the national organization “American Bone Health“, creator of the BoneSmart Pilates® Method and AGING STRONG Pilates® DVD series and a former soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company. She’s been affiliated with Stanford’s Health Improvement Program since 1998 as a lecturer and Aging Strong Pilates® instructor. www.BoneSmartPilates.com