Core Exercise for Older Adults – Introduction
What are the best core exercises for older adults?
Six-pack abs are a common training goal.
In fact, entire workout plans have been written about developing the ultimate washboard stomach.
However, as you get older, you will probably become less interested in the appearance of your abs and more interested in the health benefits of working out.
That’s not to say that older exercisers can’t look good – of course, they can – but training for health and function becomes more important as you age.
A strong core is essential for older exercisers.
Having one will reduce your risk of lower back pain and injury and is critical for improving and maintaining your posture.
It will also increase your functional fitness and strength, so you are better prepared for activities of daily living.
This article discusses basic core anatomy, reveals some of the best core exercises for older exercisers, and provides you with a simple home workout to try.
Core Anatomy Basics
Core is the collective term for the muscles of your midsection.
Some fitness experts also include muscles like the lats and glutes in their list of core muscles, but that makes an already complex subject even more complicated.
So, for simplicity, we’re going to focus on the muscles located in the middle of your body that directly affect your spine.
These muscles are:
Located on the front of your abdomen, this is your six-pack muscle.
However, you’ll need to be very lean to see it.
The rectus abdominis flexes and laterally flexes your spine and also plays a part in compressing your abdominal contents.
The obliques are essentially your waist muscles.
There are two sets of obliques, internal and external, which work together to laterally flex and rotate your spine.
Where the rectus abdominis runs vertically up the front of your abdomen, the transverse abdominis (TVA) encircles it like a corset or weightlifting belt.
This deep abdominal muscle contracts inward to create intra-abdominal pressure, which stabilizes and supports your lumbar spine.
This is the collective term for the muscles that run up either side of your back.
They’re responsible for the extension and lateral flexion of your spine.
The QL muscles run from your lumbar spine and lowermost ribs to the top of your pelvis.
Together they help stabilize your pelvis and lower back and individually assist in lateral flexion of your spine.
Core muscles diagram
The 7 Best Core Exercises for Older Adults
The best core exercises for older adults do not involve a lot of spinal flexion.
Age and general wear and tear can lead to disc degeneration which could be made worse by doing lots of sit-ups and crunches.
Instead, most older adults should focus more on isometric or static core exercises, which train your core muscles as they work in nature – as stabilizers.
So, build your core workouts around these exercises, and you’ll be good to go!
If you only do one core exercise, planks should be it.
They teach you how to brace your core and stabilize your spine, which is critical for preventing lower back pain.
Done correctly, planks work all your core muscles.
However, you will probably feel it more in the front of your abdomen, i.e., the rectus abdominis.
How to do it:
- Kneel down and place your forearms on the floor so they’re parallel and about shoulder-width apart.
- Brace your abs.
- Walk your feet out and back so your body and legs are straight.
- Hold this position – but never your breath – for the allotted time.
- You can make planks more manageable by resting on your knees or raising your arms, e.g., resting them on a bench or countertop.
#2. Heel slides
Heel slides teach you to stabilize your lumbar spine while moving your legs.
This is a critical skill that will carry over to many activities both in and out of the gym.
The heel slide is an essential prerequisite for more advanced core exercises.
How to do it:
- Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet resting on the floor.
- Brace your core and press your lower back into the floor.
- Keeping your core braced, slide one foot out along the floor until your leg is straight or your lower back starts to lift.
- Bring your foot back in, switch sides, and repeat.
- Alternate legs for the required number of reps.
Like planks, bird dogs teach you how to brace your abs and stabilize your lumbar spine.
However, instead of remaining motionless, you will also move your arms and legs, making this a more functional exercise.
How to do it:
- Kneel on all fours so your shoulders are over your hands and your hips are over your knees.
- Brace your abs.
- Extend your right arm forward and left leg backward while keeping your hips and lower back stationary.
- Pause with your arm and leg parallel to the floor for 1-3 seconds.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite sides.
- Continue alternating limbs for the duration of your set.
#4. Dead bugs
This exercise is a lot like bird dogs, but you perform it on your back.
This puts more weight on your core muscles, leading to a more demanding workout.
Only attempt this exercise if you have mastered bird-dogs.
How to do it:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent to 90 degrees and thighs vertical.
- Extend your arms straight up toward the ceiling.
- Brace your abs and press your lower back into the floor.
- Maintaining core tension, extend your left arm and right leg and lower them to within an inch of the floor.
- Do not allow your lower back to arch.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
- Keep your legs bent throughout to make this exercise easier.
- Extend both arms to make it harder.
#5. Side plank
Where regular planks emphasize your anterior core muscles, side planks target your lateral core, especially the obliques and quadratus lumborum muscles.
Side planks usually feel more challenging than the regular version, so don’t worry if you can’t do them for as long.
How to do it:
- Lie on your side and rest on your forearm.
- Your legs, hips, and upper body should form a straight line.
- Lift your hips so your body is straight.
- Hold this position for the allotted time.
- Lower your hips to the floor, roll over, and repeat.
- Make this exercise easier by bending your legs and resting on the side of your lowermost knee.
- Make it harder by lifting your uppermost leg.
#6. Band Pallof press
Pallof presses are an anti-rotation exercise that works your entire core, especially your obliques.
You’ll need a resistance band for this exercise, but given the effectiveness of this exercise and the general versatility of bands, buying a set is an excellent investment.
How to do it:
- Attach one end of your band to a chest-high anchor, e.g., a post or railing.
- Hold the other end in both hands and stand side-on to your anchor point.
- Bring your hands into your sternum and sidestep from the anchor point to tension your band.
- Stand with your knees slightly bent and core braced.
- Without twisting your hips or shoulders, extend your arms out in front of you like you’re doing a chest press.
- Bend your arms and bring your hands back into your sternum.
- Continue for the prescribed number of reps and then switch sides.
#7. Single-arm farmer’s walk
The single-arm farmer’s walk is a very functional exercise that teaches you to maintain core tension while carrying a load.
It’s also a great way to build a stronger grip and even delivers a mild but welcome cardio workout.
How to do it:
- Hold a medium to heavy weight in one hand, arm by your side.
- Use a dumbbell, kettlebell, or a strong bag filled with water bottles, books, etc.
- Brace your core and stand perfectly upright, with your shoulders and hips level.
- Without leaning sideways, go for a walk around your training area.
- On completion, switch hands and repeat.
Core Workout for Older Adults
Do the following workout 2-3 times a week on non-consecutive days.
But, before you begin, do a few minutes of light cardio followed by mobility and flexibility exercises for your main joints and muscles, paying particular attention to your hips and lumbar spine.
Ready? Then let’s begin!
|Heel slide||2-4||8-12 per side||60-90 seconds|
|Side plank||2-4||20-40 seconds per side||60-90 seconds|
|Dead bug||2-4||8-12 per side||60-90 seconds|
|Pallof press||2-4||8-12 per side||60-90 seconds|
|Single-arm farmer’s walk||2-4||20-30 yards per arm||60-90 seconds|
The rep range is for illustrative purposes only.
Do as many reps as you can while maintaining perfect form, stopping 2-3 reps shy of failure.
Core Exercises for Older Adults – Closing Thoughts
Unfortunately, core exercises won’t magically melt fat from your midsection, nor will they give you a six-pack.
Both those goals are more related to your diet and general workout plan than doing direct abs workouts.
However, if you want a strong midsection that’ll improve your posture while reducing your risk of back pain, then core training is what you need.
There is no need to train your core every day.
That’s a recipe for overuse injuries and overtraining.
After all, muscles need 48-72 hours to recover from your workouts.
Instead, do 2-3 core workouts per week in conjunction with general strength training and cardio.
And remember, your core is made up of about six of the over 600 muscles in your body.
So, while training your core IS important, you should not focus on it so much that you neglect the rest of your body.
Make core training part of a balanced weekly workout schedule.
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