As we get older, we find ourselves racing against the natural process of aging. By the time we hit middle age, most of us can no longer expect to hit the ground running as a weekend warrior without some upkeep and maintenance during the week.
The key to maintaining strength, balance and flexibility as we get older is "use it or lose it." Fortunately, it doesn't take much work to fight the loss of muscle mass that occurs naturally as we get older.
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"As the human body ages, maintaining and/or building core strength is critically important for balance and, therefore, injury prevention and efficient, pain-free movement," says Meltem Sonmez-Burr, NASM-CPT, certified advanced barre instructor and owner and founder of Barreitude.
One workout that addresses all those areas: barre, which focuses on alignment, form, core strength and balance, and can be modified in many ways to meet you wherever you are.
Sonmez-Burr designed this 20-minute barre-inspired workout with maintaining balance and stability in mind. The standing exercises can be done with the support of a chair or wall (or barre if you have access to one) and can be progressed to standing unsupported as your balance and stability improve.
1. Single-Leg Balance Extension
- Stand with feet parallel and underneath your hips, knees soft, belly pulled in.
- Place one hand on the chair back or place both hands on your waist.
- Hinge about 20 degrees from your hips (not your waist), keeping your back flat with no arch.
- Take the outside leg straight out back behind you with a flexed foot.
- Lift that leg by squeezing the glute. Do not move the knee and keep the leg straight.
- Lift and lower 16 times. Move into the second position (Single-Leg Balance Reach below) before switching legs.
2. Single-Leg Balance Reach
- Put the big toe down for a second.
- Extend the arm opposite the standing leg up to the sky in a slight diagonal, biceps next to the ear.
- Maintain balance and lift the leg by squeezing the glute 16 times without putting the foot down or touching the floor.
- Switch legs and perform the exercise again on the other side.
3. Single-Leg Triple Flexion Balance Hold
- Stand with feet parallel and underneath your hips, hands on your hips.
- Place one hand on your chair for balance if you need it.
- Lift your right foot, bending at the knee and flexing your right foot.
- Bring that thigh parallel to the floor. Your knee should be positioned directly in front of the hip.
- Keep breathing but maintain abdominal bracing, torso upright, shoulders down and back. Hold for 8 seconds.
- If you feel comfortable and stable in your balance, kick that foot out in front of you extending the leg at hip level.
- Bend at the knee to come back to original position.
- Do this 8 times. If you’d like an extra challenge, you may open and close the arms at chest level.
- Switch legs and perform exercise again on the other side.
If the hold was challenging, put the toe down for a few seconds, reset, bring the knee back up and try the hold once again for another 8 seconds, Sonmez-Burr says.
4. Reverse Lunge to Balance
- Stand next to your chair with one hand on the chair or place your hands on your hips. Make sure you have adequate space behind you to step back.
- Start with feet parallel, directly underneath your hips.
- With one leg, take a step back as you bend that knee directly behind the corresponding hip. Keep your knees bent at 90 degrees.
- Next, push into the standing foot to come up, as you bring the back knee in front of the hip into a single-leg balance.
- Hold the balance for a quick 2-second count and repeat the movement.
- Repeat 16 times.
- Switch legs and perform exercise again.
- Perform another set on each leg.
5. Squat to Twist
- Start with feet parallel and underneath the shoulders.
- Bring both hands in front of your chest. Interlace your fingers with the palms facing down. Elbows up, shoulders pressing down.
- Squat down.
- As you press into the feet to come up, pick up one knee as you twist at the waist to turn the chest towards the lifting knee.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Perform the exercise, alternating knees, 16 times.
- Take a quick, 2-second break and perform another set of 16 reps.
6. Plank Hold
- Lie on your belly on the floor on your exercise mat or carpet.
- Bring your elbows underneath your shoulders. Press your forearms and palms onto the floor in the shape of the number 11.
- As you exhale, pull your belly button in and lift your body off the floor, balancing on your toes and forearms. Keep your belly button pulling into the spine. Your back should be flat. Brace your abdominal muscles, keeping them fully engaged.
- Hold this position for 20 seconds. Remember, there should be no arching or curving in the back.
- Release, take a quick 2-second break, then perform another hold.
If the 20-second hold is too easy, increase it to 30 seconds, Sonmez-Burr says. If 20 seconds is too long, hold for 10 seconds each time.
7. Pelvic Tilt
- Lie on your back with both knees bent, feet flat on the floor with toes pointed forward. Knees and feet should be hip-width apart and ankles positioned slightly in front of the knees.
- Press the soles of your feet into the floor as you pull the belly in tightly and squeeze both glutes to lift your hips.
- In the lifted position, as the glutes are squeezing, the front body should be flat with the belly pulling in tightly.
- Keep your shoulder blades in contact with the floor. The lift should not go above the shoulder blades. Head, neck and shoulders should be relaxed with no tension.
- Return hips to the floor.
- Repeat 16 times, focusing on the squeeze of the glutes and the pull-in of the belly.
- Go directly into the next move.
8. Single-Leg Pelvic Tilt
- From the position described above, extend the right leg out on a diagonal, keeping knees level with each other.
- Press into left foot to squeeze left glute to lift hips off the floor. Make sure that the hips are side by side during this exercise. Do not let one hip fall down or the other one rise above.
- Repeat 16 times.
- Switch legs and perform exercise again.
- Go back to the pelvic tilts with both feet on the floor and perform another set of 16, then follow with single-leg tilts for 16 reps on each leg.