Seniors (weight training and flexibility)

There is a crime being committed against those of us considered senior citizens, in the name of Health and Fitness. All over the country there are reports of weight training being implemented to help seniors regain lost strength, and to stave off and reverse detrimental bone density loss.

I have personally witnessed hundreds of people in their 60's, 70's, 80's, and even 50's, making the rounds through the maze of repetitive motion, muscle-isolating machines and free-weights in gyms, health clubs, and physical therapy clinics. I have observed with sadness and compassion whole groups of seniors participating in strength-training classes.

Why sadness and compassion, you may ask? Isn't lack of strength the cause of bone density loss in older folks, you may wonder? Didn't those studies prove that the reason the elderly have diminished muscular strength and bone density is due to a lack of weight-bearing exercise?

As you read on, step into my CommonSense Corner and see if you won't agree the proverbial cart has once again been placed before the horse.

One thing overlooked, yet easily observed, while watching those with diminished bone-density is that they are inevitably very, to extremely, inflexible.

Many of us struggle to rise from a chair and having to be helped from off the floor. Weakness is absolutely part of their condition but something far more crucial lies under this obvious aspect. It is what has led up to the weakness and bone-density loss; and it's the foundation of the degeneration of the structure.

The lack of flexibility is the problem here, and not the lack of strength, which is the culprit.

I will prove that in this treatise, and even the most untrained layperson will be able to understand how to treat this condition in others, and how to avoid it themselves, without falling into the trap laid by well-meaning, but misguided therapists.

Understand first that the obvious stiffening of the body has taken place over a whole lifetime of abuse and neglect.

Unless the skeleton is regularly run through a systematic range of motions, the muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and in fact the entire fascial web, will shrink, compress, distort, dehydrate, and become dense. Instead of the tissue resembling a fluffy resilient sponge, it has deteriorated into something akin to beef jerky or gristle.

All muscles, tendons, and ligaments cross joints, attaching bone to bone. If the bones are not moved in such a way as to bring movement through the tissue, in a non-stressful fashion, then the above scenario will occur. As the tissue shrinks it pulls the bones closer together compacting the joint. This never happens symmetrically and so the joint is now compressed and distorted.

To the degree that this happens, possibilities of movement are diminished. Further strengthening of the musculature only shortens the muscles further which leads to additional compression of the joint and greater distortion which in turn decreases movement potential even more. Is this beginning to make sense to you?

The primary reason that many senior citizens are moving around the way they do is not because they are too weak to move otherwise, it's because they are stiff and inflexible!

I've never met anyone who would be considered too weak, without them also being fantastically stiff and inflexible as well. And it is a rarity to meet anyone who is (self-admittedly) flexible enough.

If you try adding strength (i.e.: shrinking and bulking up of the musculature) to an already inflexible and compromised structure you are only adding insult to injury.

There may be an increase in bone-density, but with the result of cranking the skeleton down tighter and tighter into itself, creating less and less space through the joints and hinges of the body. In effect, you will wind up with a human body becoming a statue.

There is a noticeable similarity between the seemingly weak senior citizen and muscle-bound weight lifters. What is missing from both is freedom of movement...flexibility.

How strong does the average person need to be in our society today anyway? We're not running from lions, climbing trees to get our fruit, chasing down deer, or even farming our own food. Again, strength is not the issue here, flexibility is.

Physical Fitness is comprised of three parts, these being: Flexibility, Strength, and Endurance; and they should be pursued in this order with flexibility always being a part of the process. Working on strength and endurance with little or no focus on flexibility is a path leading to stiffness, distortion, density, inflexibility, injury, pain, and decrepitude.

Remember this: It is infinitely easier to gain strength once you have achieved functional flexibility, than it is to try to become flexible once you have already compromised your structure through neglect or strength and endurance training.

Ignoring flexibility moves you backwards in your quest for fitness. We joke about the well-developed muscleman who can't scratch the back of his head. And I've met amazing long distance runners who could not touch their toes, sit cross-legged on the floor, or perform a dozen other simple functional flexibility movements.

The weightlifter can lift far heavier weights than I, and the runner could run circles around me, but I wouldn't trade my flexible body for theirs for even a large sum of money. It will be a long and painful process for athletes in that shape to regain the flexibility they've lost, and as a result most will never regain it.

To the perceptive there are wonderful examples of this Truth all around. Just listen! No one complains, as they get older, how weak they are becoming, but on everyone's lips is the sad lament of how stiff and sore they have become! Unless you are one of the tiny minority who has somehow learned this lesson, you are, or will become, one of them.

The solution is simple and effective. As a weak elderly person begins working on their flexibility, not simply stretching, but a comprehensive range of motion flexibility routine which is fluid, circular, skeletal range of motion movements, they will be gaining strength as an obviously observable side benefit.

After an hour of simply exploring the simple movements which make up the Flextasy!® routine, anyone who is stiff and inflexible will be sweating and breathing heavily because it is a workout for them, cardiovascularly as well as muscularly. Flextasy!® is a functional workout, with no negative repercussions, which delivers Flexibility, Strength, and Endurance.

Here's the thing; put a decrepit elderly person, or even a stiff, inflexible young person on a strength-training program and I guarantee they will become stiffer and more inflexible with each passing day. It's mechanically inevitable!

Put that same person on a comprehensive range of motion flexibility program and they will be gaining strength as they gain, or regain, their flexibility lost over time. As they become looser, the body becomes more comfortable to move about in, which leads to an increase in the types and amount of daily activities engaged in, which builds even more functional strength and endurance. (Strengthening isolated muscles does not build functional strength). Without flexibility work, strength-training is a dead-end street. (see Functional Strength)

Remember: Strength is an inevitable by-product of Flexibility and Flexibility is always compromised with every bit of Strength gained by (especially repetitive) exercise.

Add strength-training to your routine only to the degree that it does not compromise your flexibility.

If you will follow this plan then you too may avoid the well-worn path leading to becoming a weak, decrepit elderly person with bone-density loss and no hope on the horizon.

I hope you see now how trying to buff up our aging population is only making their unfortunate predicament worse. If they are up to the challenge and truly want to reclaim the flexible, pain-free body they so rightly deserve, please give the right advice and focus first on the underlying cause of their problem, Inflexibility. Treat the cause and not the symptom.

*Note: I'm not against weight training or endurance work. I work out with a total gym, free weights, swimming, etc, but I maintain at all times the functional level of flexibility I have attained. I will continue to maintain this flexibility even as I engage in activities I know will cause a shortening of muscles that will decrease my flexibility.

It's up to each individual to determine just how flexible they want to be now, next year, or in 10 or 20 years. I have no desire to cross my ankles behind my head but I know I do not want to become like the majority we see around us every day, obviously hurting and getting worse. I make my flexibility work my top priority and then do whatever else I choose to make time for. 

*Do not give up hope if you are elderly and have lost your strength and flexibility along the way. The body is very forgiving and I have seen what seem like miracles happen to folks just like you. If you are trying to take control of your life again and are interested in your physical fitness, then I implore you to try the Flextasy! Functional Flexibility System®. Strength will come, but first and foremost, flexibility, which begets balance, grace of movement, proper posture, alignment, comfort, well-being, and freedom from pain.