The strengthening drills described below are recommended for senior runners and walkers to improve and maintain their pertinent muscle strength and stability. Though aimed for seniors, these drills will materially help runners and walkers of all ages.
We lose muscle strength and neurological effectiveness due to aging. This is due to cellular biological aging and a change in life style. After about 60, we tend to do fewer different types of physical activities which help maintain our strength and reflexes. Walking and running help greatly and are necessary to help maintain mobility; but, are inadequate for minimizing the aging affect. For example, if you run or walk the same speed and distances every week, you'll slow at about 5% per year at 70 and likely about 10% at 80. This can be mitigated greatly by performing the workouts covered below. Personally, I've improved my muscle strength by 25% to 50%, for every drill shown below, in just about 6 weeks.
Go here for a full discussion of this topic: NIH Journal of Preventive Medicine & Public Health, Promoting Mobility in Older People This is a PDF file that prints well.
These drills covered in this web page address a set of specific drills primarily focusing on the muscle/neurological systems used for mobility, [i.e., running, walking, climbing stairs, etc.] as these are fundamentally necessary to maintain a good quality of life.
Please note, all of these drills can be done without any special gym equipment and thus can be done at your home. You'll need hand barbells, a weight-bar [generally a double, 2x18lb, works well] a 65cm exercise inflated ball and a rubber stretch band. The drills flagged with a "★" can just as easily be done at home, with these aids. Each drill in "Particulars" describes the at home equipment. The "home" versions and flagged with "Home".
Even though these photos were taken at the YMCA, these drills can be done at practically any gym of your choice. You may need to adapt the principles depicted for the equipment at your gym.
There are two PDF files for printing. First is the Printable version of this article's text. The second is just the photos on this page to be used as a guide for your drills. Printable Photos There is lots of white space to make notes and and record your gym machine settings, reps and sets, etc. You may need to set your printer for Landscape mode. WorkoutsForSeniors.pdf
- Important Concepts
- Ideally, all drills should be performed while standing upright on one leg at a time. Humans are not kangaroos, we walk and run with one foot on the ground. [Or fly during the leg swinging stage when running].
- Avoid drills while seated; typically most equipment at the gym. The machines isolate particular muscle groups, which you do not want. It's nice to have strong hams and quads while seated; but, it's not particularly helpful for everyday life.
- All drills should be done one leg at a time.
- Do your workouts a minimum of 3 times per week, ideally 7 days a week. There is no basis for the usual 3 times per week or every-other day. Probably it's to help gyms manage their facility usage. If everyone showed up 7 days per week they'd need almost twice the space and equipment.
- Smile during all drills. Look like you are having fun.
- Scheduling Your Workouts
- Professionals highly recommend doing your workouts at the same time every day, any suitable time of the day.
- Most of the drills do not require gym equipment, you can do the home drills [marked with "★"] every day and go the the gym 3 or 4 times per week for the gym specials.
- Or, you may prefer to do all the drills together at the gym.
- Important Particulars
- All workouts should begin with a fast 200/400 meter walk and/or jog. If no track in the gym, go outside to do the walks and runs.
- Walk or run 100/200m between resistance sets. No idle time. Keep heart rate and lactate levels high.
- There is no particular order to do the drills; but, generally you'll want to mix upper body and lower body sets.
- The quad and ham drills are best NOT seated; we don't run or walk seated.
- Start your program very easy. Light resistance, 10 reps, 2 sets. As you progress, up the reps each set to 20.
- For the first 10 times doing a particular drill, concentrate on good form: upright and straight, your body and body center of gravity directly over your feet.
- When 20 reps are easy, gradually up the resistance over several weeks and number of sets to 3 or 4.
- Expect some DOMS [Delayed onset muscle soreness] Zero means none.... 5 is very bad. A 1 or 2 is ideal.
- All reps should be: Lift fast [less than 1sec], hold 1 sec, return slowly 4 sec. e.g, count: 1, 1, 4. This is important. Running and walking strongly depend of good eccentric muscle contractions, i.e., the return segment.
- Hip Flexion: Flexion [leg in front] Push leg up as far as possible. Fast against the resistance, slow return. Simulate running good form. IMPORTANT: Hip joint in-line with machine pivot Home: Use a rubber stretch band.
- Hip Extension, Simple Glut: Extension [leg behind] should have heel upward kick as if running. IMPORTANT: Hip joint in-line with machine pivot.
- Hip Extension & Flexion, Advanced: This is a horizontal cable with the pulley close to floor and the strap on your ankle. Stand far enough from the pulley so your leg is fully extended in front. Pull against the cable extending your leg behind you as far as possible. As you progress, add a heel upward kick as if running. This drill is somewhat advanced over the simple glut on the machine as it simulates running and walking better. Home: Use a rubber stretch band.
- Lower Back ★: This is by far the best way to strengthen your back. Do not use the typical gym back device.Lock elbows at 90deg. Lift, moderately fast, a free weight or weight-bar from knee-high until you are fully upright with the bar at chest level. Slowly return the weight back down to knee-high. Go lower as you progress. IMPORTANT: Be extra careful your first few times as this can case serious DOMS [see DOMS above]. Use a very light weight or even no weight. Gradually add weight and reps
- Pass-Thru Lunge ★: Great for improving stride length and core strength. Front leg shin should be perpendicular to floor. Rear leg back as far as possible. Transfer weight under forward thigh and transfer it to other hand to lift up and over top of thigh.
- Diagonal Pull-up ★: Both feet flat on floor and in-line with cable pulley. Rapidly pull resistance diagonally across from near thigh to opposite side high up. Slowly return to starting position. Home, the same effect can be done by lifting a barbell across and upward across your body.
- Quad, Step-up / Step-Down Touch ★: Use a platform so your thigh is near horizontal when touching floor with rear leg. Initially, you may need to use a lower height until you're stronger. Good for stride length, core and, in particular, quad strength. IMPORTANT: Do not use the seated quad. It does little for the auxiliary muscles associated with your quads.
- Treadmill side-step: This is a great drill for older folks who are starting to become a bit unstable. Walking and running are essentially straight ahead; thus the adductor and abductor muscles become weak and unresponsive. Side-step on the treadmill 60 seconds; turn around and side-step 60 seconds. You can hold on to the rails to be safe, just don't let your arms help with the work. That's one set. Up the speed and do another set. Again up the speed and do a 3d set. First time, start with a speed of 1.5mph or slower as needed. A good increase is about 0.5mph. Thus, for sets: 1.5mph, 2.0 mph, and 2.5mph. Important: Spring off your trailing foot as high and forceful as you can. Home: Just do it on your street.
- Hams & Core with Ball ★: This is a powerful drill as it works the hams, gluts and core altogether. It also works sundry other muscles necessary to keep the ball under control. Roll the ball towards and away from your butt. Transition to one leg as you get stronger. IMPORTANT: Your body should be a plank, supported solely by your leg on the ball and your shoulders. You may need to use both legs on the ball your first few sessions.
- Plank, Core Strength ★: The plank is one of the best core-strength drills. Forearms flat on the floor, body is straight [like a plank], butt tucked in tight. Hold for 60sec, then lift one limb at a time for 10sec, the lift an arm and the opposite leg for 10sec, then the other pair for 10sec. Start your program holding the positions as long as you can. Work up to the target times and beyond as you get stronger. Also, flip over and support yourself with just your forearms under you and your heels. Hold for 60 seconds.
- Arm Swing ★: Elbows locked and swinging under shoulders. Mainly you are working the shoulder muscles. Rapidly, swing the weights back and forth rapidly, aim for 60 [counting just one arm] in 60secs. Start with 5lbs and increase it and the speed as you get stronger. Two sets initially and then 3 or 4.
- Hunch Correction ★: Hunching is very common for older folks. It can't be stopped; but, the progression can be slowed and the accompanying soreness can be reduced. IMPORTANT: The weights, head, shoulders, butt, heals should all touch the wall. With your arms straight and horizontal, lift the weights quickly up over your head. Then slowly drop them back to the horizontal position. Start with 3lbs or 5lbs and do 2 or 3 sets of 20 reps each.
- Balance & Core ★: General strength for carrying stuff around the house.
- Explosive Hams ★: Mostly for runners. As we age, our ham fast-twitch concentric muscles become slower. Thus, we shuffle rather than spring off the trailing foot. This drill helps. Put an ankle weight on leg, say 5lbs initially and increase as you get stronger. Standing up straight on the other leg, paw the ground backwards with the weighted leg, as far as possible. At the end of the swing, kick your heel as hard and fast as possible towards your butt.
Email with suggestions, questions and general feedback about your experience with the routines
Revision: Aug 25, 2017