Author, fitness model, and trainer 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.
One dangerous thing we do in the 40-plus crowd is try to keep up with the young guns. As much as I admonish my clients for doing so, I fall into that trap myself all the time.
Last week I was doing some sprints at the track. I did a few 400s, 200s, and then I decided to jump into a few 100 meter sprints. I got through five sprints, feeling great and ready to go home, but a guy from the high school track team said, “Hello, sir!” There’s no way I could challenge him, but I just wanted to hear a “Hey, that’s pretty good, sir!” That’s always a great ego boost for the ride home, so I decided to do one more sprint—bad idea! At the 50-meter mark I tried to stride just a few inches longer and my left hamstring popped when my foot hit the ground. I immediately shrieked and limped back to the car with a, “Be careful, sir.”
I never got hamstring pulls when I was younger. But now that little bit extra on my stride isn’t there, so I must be smarter about what I do. Also, I have an anterior pelvic tilt where my pelvis is rotated forward. This causes excessive curvature in the lower spine, which lengthens and weakens my hamstrings. To correct that issue, I like to do Swiss ball hip raises. It’s one of the best exercises to strengthen the posterior chain (calf, hamstrings, glutes, and back muscles) and pull my pelvis back to a neutral position. But, without a Swiss ball at home, I do something very effective to target my glutes and hamstrings by simply using a chair.
Lie down on the floor, on your back, and place the heels of your feet on a chair. Point your toes to the ceiling and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle. Feel as though your ribs and your hips are locked together as your dig your heels into the chair to raise your tailbone and spine one inch off the floor. At this point your heels and your shoulder blades should be supporting your weight. By maintaining this isometric hold for 20 to 30 seconds, you will feel your lower hamstrings totally engaged. If this is too easy, raise one leg straight toward the ceiling and feel the burn one leg at a time.
Next perform the same isometric hold with your knees extended. For your starting position, your back should be on the floor and heels on the chair, with your toes pointing straight toward the ceiling. From this position there should be a straight line from your heels, through your knees, to your hips. Squeeze your glutes as tight as possible, as you drive your hips up toward the ceiling. In this isometric holding position, there should be a straight line from your heels, through your knees and hips, to your scapula. This version is more challenging as you will feel your upper hamstrings more engaged, along with your glutes. If you don't feel challenged, lift one leg into the air for maximum burn (switch out after your rep, of course).
This exercise has been a game changer for my weakening hamstrings. I can’t imagine life without it, especially if I have a strain. I recommend three sets of isometric holds, for 20 to 30 seconds, with each version. Then repeat that once again for six sets of each for hamstring rehabbing and hamstring strength.