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.
Back in 2003, I got stuck in Manhattan during the great Northeast blackout. My boss and I had to climb more than 40 flights of stairs to get to his apartment so I could camp out. On the way up, we saw people sidelined in the stairwell, totally exhausted and sweaty, only able to eke out a few flights at a time. By the time I got to the top, I was worn out too. That emergency convinced me that you can and should train to develop strength for everyday tasks like climbing stairs, especially as you get older.
An exercise that will help build strength for stair climbing (and other lower body-focused endeavors) is the Bulgarian split squat. The exercise torches your glutes and quads differently than more standard two-legged squats, forcing you to work with one side at a time.
To set up, find a box, bench, or chair that is a bit lower than knee height. To avoid hopping around on one foot and potentially losing your balance as you attempt to get situated, kneel in front of the platform instead. Then place the top of your left foot (rear foot) on the box so your ankle is fully extended. Position your right foot (front foot) in front of you so that your right knee doesn’t go past your toes on your foot and your shin perpendicular to the ground in a vertical position. Stand up, keeping your feet in place, and get ready to begin your set.
From the starting position, bend your front knee to lower down, hovering just above the floor. Once at the bottom position, pause for a second and then power upward to the starting position. As you come up, squeeze your glutes and core as much as possible and maintain your vertical shin position. You will certainly feel your legs doing the heavy lifting with this movement.
One particularly useful characteristic of the Bulgarian split squat for older guys is the challenge presented by the position. You’ll hone your athleticism and balance by working on one leg—but you’ll also face a mobility challenge due to the unique stance with your foot on the bench. This might be difficult, so be careful as you approach the movement as you start. If you can’t comfortably get into the starting position, consider other mobility work to get into the right shape.
If you’re able to do five to eight reps without pain and in good form, you may want to add more challenge to the exercise with weights. You can hold dumbbells in one or both hands or you can front load with racked kettlebells. Both of those options will also work your core more, making it a challenge to prevent your torso from slumping over.
The Bulgarian split squat is a movement that must be added to your regimen for greater quad and glute power. To start, for the older man I suggest using a bench that is lower than usual to get comfortable, maybe halfway up the shins. Work on three sets of five to eight reps. If your hips and knees can handle the movement, move to a higher bench and add weights.
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