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.
Last summer, a couple of high school friends and I helped another friend move into a new apartment. All of us are closing in on 60 years of age, so carrying heavy boxes and moving furniture isn’t as easy as it used to be. We all struggled through it, but the most challenging objects were those that could only be carried with one arm.
When we were hauling these awkwardly-shaped objects, all of us would carry for a while, then switch arms when we got tired. I noticed that all of us started carrying the object on our dominant sides (mine being my right). Soon after this, I was getting my arms measured to get a suit altered and the tailor told me my right arm (on my dominant side) is longer than my left. As I looked in the mirror he said, “It’s because your right shoulder droops. You’re using your right side too much… now you’re lopsided.”
That’s something no one ever noticed when I was younger. Then I started thinking about all of the things I did predominantly on the right side of my body like carrying heavy boxes, suitcases and backpacks. And all the sports I played mostly on my right side like tennis, throwing footballs, bowling and baseball.
As we age and our bodies endure wear and tear, imbalances in our bodies can be more noticeable. They can be caused by trauma, muscle tightness, sleeping in awkward positions, or simply using one side of the body more than the other. I know my right shoulder is tighter and less mobile than my left because of my unorthodox tennis swing, but who knows what other damage I could have done over time that has affected me after 50 years of age.
One exercise I love that helps to counter those imbalances is the single-arm farmer’s carry because it’s so applicable to our daily activities. All day long we pick things up and put them down, usually with one arm and side of the body. That means your balance and stability are continually being tested throughout the day. The tendency is to favor one side of your body without thinking about it, which can establish these imbalances and perpetuate bad habits. The single-arm farmer’s carry is a unilateral exercise that challenges you to stand up powerfully the load is pulling down on one side of your body. This may be the most practical exercise you will ever do, since it has so many real-world applications.
To set up, grab a dumbbell or any type of object with a handle that you can carry on one side of your body. Grip the handle as tight as possible. Engage your core and stand straight and tall. Your objective is to maintain a neutral spine while standing, keeping your shoulders level as gravity is fighting against you, pulling you down on the side where you’re holding the weight. You won’t get this challenge when you do a standard farmer’s carry with weights in both hands—to test the difference, start with dumbbells in both hands and then put one dumbbell down. You will immediately feel how the uneven weight distribution forces your entire body to work harder to maintain balance.
Begin walking back and forth, keeping that strict posture. Don’t swing the weight. You’ll now have greater awareness of how your body reacts while moving with the load. Your arm, shoulder, hip, and leg will be under more tension, just as they would in real life situations like carrying a suitcase or bag of groceries. When doing so, take a cue from your workout and always fire up your core, keep your shoulders level, and your spine as straight as possible.
In the gym start, start with a light weight to get a feel for the load while paying special attention to your posture. Shoot for a 50 step carry in each hand while maintaining perfect posture to start, or go for time and shoot for 30 seconds. Try four sets to start.
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