Lifting heavy stuff will always be cool. Whether it's the "World's Strongest Man" pulling a semi-truck or the average Joe hoisting a kettlebell, there's something entertaining and fun about moving heavy things.
At the same time, one must be cognizant of the risks of lifting heavy objects relative to fitness level. This week, I'll discuss some strategies for improving "functional" strength safely and effectively. Plus, I'll introduce a functional exercise that helps to build strength in a very translatable way.
As people age, they shy away from lifting heavy objects. This is primarily due to injury concerns, as musculoskeletal strength and stability typically decrease after age 30 — unless a training stimulus is introduced (or continued). Because of this natural, sociological occurrence, heavier weight training is less popular among older adults.
In other words, their risk of injury outweighs the perceived reward for lifting heavy.
When creating exercise prescriptions for older adults, I err on the side of caution. The No. 1 goal of any fitness professional should be to avoid harming the client, even if the results are blunted due by safety precautions. With that said, I do encourage older adults to challenge themselves while weight training -- within safe limits. This means pushing themselves to complete more repetitions at a given resistance level, going beyond their comfort zone and chasing the next milestone.
Most of the time, this strategy allows clients to access their potential and reach their goals. But I also place limitations within the training structure. I make sure the client is exercising in a safe environment with appropriate resistance levels and paying very close attention to any deterioration in technique. Once the technique breaks down, I ask them to discontinue the set.
This safety precaution works particularly well for this week's exercise. The High Knee Suitcase Carry will challenge balance, functional strength and core stability in one simple move — walking.
1. Grasp a kettlebell with your right hand and stand with your feet together.
2. Lift the left knee up until it forms a 90-degree angle, then take a step forward with the left foot.
3. As the left foot touches the ground, lift the right knee up to 90 degrees and take a step forward with the right foot.
4. Continue these slow, deliberate steps while pausing the knee each time it's lifted up.
5. Hold the kettlebell with the arm straight down by your hip.
6. Keep the core and torso from leaning to one side or the other.
7. Take 20 steps, then switch the kettlebell to the left hand and repeat. Do two sets on each side.
The High Knee Suitcase Carry is a fun way to challenge what is typically an easy movement. High knee walking without resistance is usually a piece of cake, but adding resistance to one side of the body forces the core muscles to engage to maintain good posture. This engagement creates some excellent functional strength that is translatable to everyday activities for older adults. Try it!
Matt Parrott has a doctorate in education (sport studies) and a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.