Everett Chiropractic Center Blog

October 29, 2014

Age-Proofing Your Muscles, thoughts on an article in TIME


“New research pinpoints the ideal moves to protect the male body as it ages”

That’s quite a promise and of course it caught my eye. So I thought, What are the moves? Why those? Why not others? Based on What?


“Fifty to 60 percent of men will get shoulder injuries in the lifetimes, Porcari says. Prevent injuries by building strength. His group’s recent study found that the dumbbell press was the No. 1 move for working the front part of the shoulders.”

The picture is of a guy sitting on a bench, two dumbbells going from the “hands up” position to overhead at arms length. Ok, fine. But don’t sit, stand – more work and more meaningful work gets done. And don’t use two bells, use one – same, the asymmetry trains stability (can you say “core”). Lastly, doesn’t start from the “hands up position”. Learn from the Hard Style Kettlebell people to be on the safe side. No sense getting hurt trying to prevent getting hurt!


“Upper-body strength is often the first to go as we age, Porcari says. But a study he worked on this year, commissioned by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), found that concentration curls are best for building the biceps.” That’s fine too, as far as it goes. I guess it’s obvious why the focus would be on “building the biceps” but it might be instructive to ask if building one of the smallest muscles in the upper body is the best strategy for building upper body strength – especially if the issue of being functional enters in at all. If it doesn’t and big guns are the goal, have at it.

The picture shows a guy sitting bent over with a (tiny:-) dumbbell doing a curl.

This exercise is also promoted because it’s simple, easy, takes minimal equipment, and it’s safe. In the group of six exercises, this is the only pulling exercise. Since in the upper body there are some very large pullers, if increasing upper body strength in as functional a way as possible is the goal, then I recommend pull ups. Again, the Hard Style Kettlebell people have that all dialed in with regard to technique and safety, as well as progressions, etc. Most people can’t do one pull up but it’s a fabulous exercise with a long list of benefits: big biceps being just one.


“Left alone, pectoral muscles will sink with age, but you can chisel them back with the humble push-up. “You’ll get a better physique and better muscle mass,” Porcari says. Start with wall push-ups, then move to knees, then to fully extended push-ups.” Yes indeed. It’s a classic. There are several ways to mess up a push-up but still it’s cheap, easy enough, and very productive. The opportunity to focus on tensing (you are in the Plank position after all), breathing and proper form as well as focus on either shoulder, chest or a combination is just the beginning. There are seemingly infinite variations (At the high end think one-arm push-ups… now you’re talking:-). Almost all useful. It is important that you learn to “pack” the shoulder as they say nowadays: that means contract the lats so they keep the shoulder join snug during the movement. Also, keep the shoulders away from the ears, or you will be in for a list of problems that you don’t want.


“A 2013 ACE-sponsored study found that kettlebell classes led to 70% more core strength than training without them. If you prefer to forgo equipment, an April study found that the traditional crunch activated more muscle than any ab device tested.”

Two sentences that have almost nothing to do with each other – but then they did label the section “CORE AND ABS”. In the picture a guy is doing a kettlebell snatch, one of the most advanced and technically tricky moves done with kettle bells. I like simple. I like once-and-for-all solutions. And I like efficiency when it comes to working out (who has time to waste?). On all counts kettle bells are in a league all by themselves (or itself, you really only need one!!!). But kettle bells have absolutely no forgiveness for stupid (I have mentioned that before too). Now that they are popular and popping up in every gym, it’s guaranteed that the instruction level and quality of practice will be iffy at best. Again, the Hard Style Kettle bell folks will save you a fortune in doctor bills and suffering if you just go pay them to teach you how to do the moves. It’s an up front investment, just like buying the kettle bell itself (from them), that will continue to re-pay for many years to come.

As for abs… depends a little on the goal again, six-pack or functional fitness. But there is nothing wrong with crunches as a baseline starting spot, especially since there are normals established for your age and gender so you can start with a test to see where you compare, then train to make progress toward whatever goals make sense at the time (usually for my patients the goal is to get to normal without a relapse of back or neck pain). Ab training is a great place to mention an important principle that permeates any conversation about exercise: train the movement not the muscle. Muscles have functional patterns and are meant to contribute their part to neuro-musculo-skeletal actions. Every deviation away from functional integration of muscle use leads to various types of imbalances and increases in risk and misadventure down the road.


“Build thigh and back-side mass, which tends to sag as you age, with lunges (ideally done with a dumbbell in each hand). Lunges work the hamstrings and gluteus more than squats, a recent study found.”

Lunges are great. Lunges with weight are a little trickier. Posture and technique matter: if you lean forward or slouch at the upper back because you are holding onto weights, that’s no good. In the picture the guy isn’t vertical and because he is leaning forward through the trunk he has to lift his head to look straight – strike two (Neutral Spine). It isn’t possible to see from the side view whether he breaks the Knee Rule and there isn’t any mention of it: another safety consideration. I love lunges and they are among the top 5-6 exercises used to rehabilitate back pain injury patients. But they have to be done well. Infinitely better for the average un-injured person aspiring to build muscle mass, is the box squat followed by one-legged squats. Read The Naked Warrior by Pavel for the how-to on all of that (and a lot more besides).


“Men tend to be less flexible than women and carry more abdominal weight, which can strain their lower back. Support your spine with the 15-second superman.”

That might work as a start. And it’s certainly low tech. Not everyone does well with extensions though. If you’ve noticed there is more to this exercise thing than meets the eye; usually it’s more complicated than it appears – if you want to be safe and get meaningful results that is. All of that is true in spades when it comes to the back. And to train back strength it is wise to start with basic back movement patterns and make sure that they are done well before loading the back with additional stress. Why? Because whether you call it that or not, your back gets “exercise” most all day every day. So basic alignment and movement issues have to be dialed in first or you end up with all kinds of problems that you do not want. (I have written often enough about the New Year’s rash of brand new gym people who end up hurt and in doctor’s offices after a few weeks in the gym with poor instruction or none at all.)

The good news though is that if you have followed this so far and done the other exercises mentioned properly, the back is well suited to progress into some serious training. In the absence of training and equipment to do Dead Lifts, I would recommend going from Box Squats (when you can do 50 or so) to one-legged squats. Besides the Dead Lift and some Kettle Bell exercises, nothing will hit your low back harder or in a more functional way than a deep one-legged squat. I highly recommend you have a deep understanding of progressions and use the 3-5 protocol (Pavel again) and the Russian Ladder approach to get from two-legged squats (parallel) to one-legged squat all the way down. CAUTION! Once you get below parallel it isn’t possible to do a one-legged squat without violating the neutral spine rule, so be warned – it’s eccentric and it’s full range.

This article was well done and offers safe and effective strength training recommendations. My comments are meant to add to it and put the article’s recommendation’s in context. Have fun!



  1. […] 1990’s, and one reason I took the Kettlebell Course in Seattle in October (Here is a related Post). For every extra pound of muscle you can put on you will be burning many more calories every day […]

    Pingback by If You Want To Loose Weight… | Everett Chiropractic Center Blog — January 12, 2015 @ 11:30 am

  2. […] The point is that strength training comes last in these cases (most patients). First of the “core”, then the rest of the body. […]

    Pingback by When Strength Comes First – When It Comes Last | Everett Chiropractic Center Blog — August 5, 2015 @ 2:59 pm

  3. Timely discussion ! I was enlightened by the facts , Does anyone know if my assistant could possibly acquire a blank a form version to complete ?

    Comment by Lissa Petri — June 22, 2016 @ 7:37 am

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