Trainer, author, and fitness model Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.
Head to any gym class or pickup game, and the first move you'll probably see (if anyone bothers to take the time to warmup) will likely be all the participants simply bending at the waist and reaching to touch their toes. I still do it before golf and tennis in my 50s. But, to maximise time and efficiency, why not take that stretch to the next level and turn it into more of a total-body exercise? That where the inchworm comes in, an exercise that starts out as a hamstring and lower back stretch—something all older men need—but also works your upper body and core more than you might expect as you walk your hands out to a plank pushup position.
To do an inchworm, stand upright with your feet about shoulder width apart. Bend over (hinge at the waist) to touch your toes without bending your knees. If you’re like me and many older men, you may not be able to touch your toes as you bend over. That said, you may bend your knees, but only enough to get your fingertips to the floor. Once you can reach the floor, walk your hands out slowly to a plank position so your hands are directly underneath your shoulders. In the plank position hold for a few seconds, squeezing your glutes, abs and shoulder blades, then walk your hands back and come up to a standing position.
One of the keys to do the inchworm properly is to keep your butt high and steady with your legs as straight as possible you walk your hands out to a plank, then back to a standing position. That will maximize the hamstring and lower back stretch. Don't worry about rounding your back when you lean down—since you're not moving under load, your lower back is not at risk.
Another key is to keep your hips and your shoulders square to the floor as you walk your hands out. As you’re walking out with one hand on the floor at a time, you’re grappling with anti-rotation, so your core must work harder to maintain balance. The goal is to eliminate or minimise any twisting and/or weight shifting from side to side. Walk your hands out slowly, too—I’ve seen many people walk their hands out and back in as if it were a race to see how many reps could be done. You're better off taking your time to get the most out of the movement. Lastly, when you come to the standing position, squeeze your glutes, shoulder blades, and core to gather yourself.
If you feel you need more of a challenge with the inchworm, you can extend the time you hold the plank. If you’d like a little more upper body challenge, each time you walk your hands out to the plank position you can add in one or more pushups. In my boot camp classes most of the older men loved the pushup addition—but it’s important to keep your body in perfect alignment when executing the rep. Don’t let your waist sag and intensify the squeeze of your glutes, abs and shoulder blades.
The inchworm is a simple exercise, yet challenging when done properly. Start with three sets of eight reps. If you can do all of those reps comfortably, increase the plank isometric hold and/or add in pushups.
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