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.
For a few months last year, I started a small group class to focus on stretching. Surprisingly, the class only attracted men over 50 years of age. I can only assume they knew I was one of them and I could feel their pain.
All these guys said back discomfort was the primary reason for signing up for the class. After years of coming to the gym and focusing their exercise regimens on upper body movements and doing almost nothing for their cores, they were all convinced they needed a change. I switched to class to focus more on core and total body strength, something they all agreed they sorely needed as they were starting to feel the effects of aging.
One exercise I focused on with this group was the Superman hold, something I had done a lot in my bootcamp class for over 10 years. The simple movement can do wonders for your posterior chain muscles including your glutes, hamstrings, lower back, mid back, and shoulders. To set up, lie down on your belly with your legs and arms fully extended, like Superman in flight. Your palms should be flat on the floor. From this position lift your legs and upper body (shoulders and pecs) off the floor. Hold for three seconds, then gently lower back to the floor.
The movement is very simple, but three of the six men in the class said they experienced lower back pain while doing it. One cause of discomfort from Superman holds can be due to not activating your glutes to start the movement. If you lie on the floor and initiate the movement by squeezing your glutes first, you will feel your legs raise a little off the floor. Glute activation will also help alleviate back pain as you continue to raise your legs higher.
Another cause of pain could be relying on your lower back to lift your upper body off the floor. This can be caused by lifting your head and extending your neck to look forward as you raise up. You then engage your lower back to force the movement instead of using your lower back to assist the movement. By simply keeping your head in a neutral position, looking toward the floor as you raise your upper body, your mid-back muscles are better engaged.
Those two adjustments made the Superman hold much easier on the three men who had back pain. For any other older guys out there looking for some back strengthening moves, I recommend to start by doing 3 Superman holds, holding for 3 seconds and resting for 3 seconds.
Once you've got the form down, you can superset the Superman hold with pushups. As you come back down to the floor from the Superman hold, simply place your hands under your shoulders and bring your feet to the floor about shoulder width apart. This puts you in position for a pushup. Try 4 to 5 supersets at a time.