80% of the value is in the last 30% of the proper form
I was hooked on Russian Twists for a long time - over a decade. One day an instructor at the gym told me that at my age, it was a poor choice of exercise—too much tension on the lower back.
The answer was to move to exercises which extend our spine, not contract it. This is especially more beneficial as we get older.
It makes sense when you think about it. Being hunched over a desk and learning towards a computer screen all day compresses the lower spine (and pulls a whole lot of other things out of shape).
When we do crunches or sit-ups or Russian Twists, we are adding more force to our already-compressed spine. These are moves that literally crunch body even more and throw off our alignment and posture - which can lead to back pain.
We should be doing the opposite. We should be extending our spine and opening up our core. This strengthens the essential muscle groups around the abs that are key for holding us upright.
My favourite three exercises - replacing the compression with extension - are compound ones:
These are all deceptively simple exercises that I have found have great whole-body benefits.
"Deceptively simple" because nine out of ten times people don't - or can't - do them with proper form.
Remember this: 80% of the value is in the last 30% of the proper form and proper range of motion.
Visualise people doing push-ups at the gym. A slumped back, and half-range movements of the arms deliver only 20% of the benefits. Better to do one proper form full-range push-up than 20 fake ones.
Three underlying keys to get the most value
That's a preface to the three exercises. These exercises are hard when you follow the proper form. If someone tells you otherwise, then I suggest that they don't know how to do them correctly.
There are three underlying keys to getting the most value from these three exercises:
Get those points perfect, and you will be sweating - literally. That will tell you how hard all your muscles are working.
That's the test of an excellent functional exercise - sweat from slow, deliberate movements.
When you make your muscles work in teams, they generate a lot of heat. Use that as your barometer, treat it as your reward.
1. Roll-out wheel
We all know the roll-out wheel. But we don't all know the good form.
For this exercise kneel at the end of a mat and place the wheel over the edge in front of you. You need to focus on the set-up.
Do 4 sets of 5, and when you are stronger more to 2 sets of 10.
2. Renegade row
A much-underrated exercise - because people rush it, and don't apply the necessary tension. It is a multi-purpose, multi-joint exercise that increases strength in the back, shoulders, triceps, and biceps.
It will also actively engage the core throughout the range of motion.
You don't need weights - that's a progression. Get the basics right first.
Get into a solid plank - strong back, nice tension, head in line with your spine, hands under shoulders.
Brace your hips, and feel if they are solid and stable. You might have to widen your stance to get the rock-solid feeling you need.
That's one rep.
Do two sets of 5 reps.
It's hard. You'll know if you are doing it correctly because you'll be sweating. Everyone can do it poorly. Few do it correctly. Get the benefits - do the job right.
The progression is to move to light dumbbells - here is a good explanation.
Push-ups with rotation
This video shows the idea - "Pushs with Rotation".
It shows the idea - you have that now - but not the technique. There's only 50% of the benefit in the way the video demonstrates the exercise.
Here's the way to get 110% of the benefits, which is what you want - unless you like just passing the time of day at the gym.
That's one side one rotation. Do 10 rotations - 5 each side, times 2 repetitions.
You should find this challenging. It is not a flapping duck exercise, that is not challenging at all.
The challenge comes from the engagement of your brain, the whole-body tension, and care and precision, and time under tension. These are all the fantastic factors that we need as we age.
Get these simple exercises right, and you will feel stronger, have a better posture, have less pain and live longer better.
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Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building fitness training which lowers my age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter