Listener question – strength vs flexibility
Kiki asks, “Should I focus on strength, flexibility, or both? I answer her question and get a bit deeper into the various fitness modalities providing a way for you to decide for yourself.
Allan: Hello, and thank you for being a part of the 40+ Fitness podcast. Today’s show is going to be a little bit different. I’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately. In fact, I was just looking at this – up to today I‘ve interviewed over 175 authors and experts, so quite a fit bit of interviewing going on on the show. I thought I would mix things up, particularly because I received a call through the SpeakPipe app on the Contact Page. A listener had a question and she asked me to do a podcast on a specific issue. It's actually a very important issue and it is something that I think everyone should know. So I wanted to take a little bit of time to go over her question, and it was a good question. So if you have some questions, I do want you to reach out.
You can go to our Contact Page. There’s a couple different ways to contact me there. If you’d like to potentially have your question answered via audio, on the show, then do use the SpeakPipe. I can also do that in email, so you can email me at email@example.com, and I’ll be glad to answer any and all questions. I do answer all of my emails, so if there’s something going on and you have a question, please do take the time to reach out. I am here to help you and I want you to know that if you’re needing something and you don’t know the answer to it or know where to look, I’m your guy. Send me an email or contact me on the SpeakPipe, which is through our Contact Page on the website 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com. So, the question today comes from Kiki, and I’m going to go ahead and play her audio section. So here we go.
Kiki : Hi. I have been listening to your podcast and I was wondering if it would be possible maybe to do a podcast about flexibility and muscle strength past the age of 40. My physio said that women over 40 should be concentrating more on muscle building than flexibility, but I always thought it should be a balance of both. So I was wondering if I’ve got it. Thank you very much. Thanks for listening.
Sponsor: Before I answer Kiki’s question, I just wanted to remind you that this podcast is sponsored by Teami Blends. You can support the podcast by going to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Tea. And when you’re there, if you use the promo code 40plus, you can get a 15% discount on a purchase of $30 or more. They have great tea products so I could get to know them. I’ve actually ordered some more. I really do enjoy their teas and I know you will too. Go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/Tea.
Allan: Kiki, thank you so much for that question. When my clients come to me, they come to me from many different walks of life, different age ranges, obviously over 40, but I have clients in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. So, it can vary from time to time as far as what fitness modality you should focus on. I agree with your doctor somewhat that strength is important, but I also agree that the answer is probably both in your case. So, let me go through each of the fitness modalities. There are five of them that I think my clients should spend most of their time focusing on when we’re over 40:
- Flexibility – which I also define as mobility, so I use those words interchangeably
- Total body composition – which includes weight loss and muscle mass, so I include those together
- Balance; and
- Life-specific. With life-specific, that can be things like speed, agility, hand-eye coordination. Let’s say within your life you want to be able to play tennis or you want to be able to see the ball or see the child and be able to move around with the kid. There are different things that you’re going to want to be able to do as you age, so there’ll be different fitness pieces that you’ll want to put together. We’ll get into a lot more detail in a minute on that.
When we talk about strength, the reason that strength is so important is that we tend to lose muscle mass and strength once we’re over the age of 35. It’s a process called sarcopenia. Now, the doctor could have said, “I want you lifting weights so you can retain or gain muscle.” In talking to a woman, a lot of times you see them kind of deflate a little bit because they don’t want to get bulky. Of course, they believe if they’d go lift weights, they’re going to look like a bodybuilder, and that’s just not so. You don’t have the testosterone to do that. You actually don’t have the physical capacity, the energy that it would take for you to put on a significant amount of muscle. You may be able to add a few pounds of muscle, but again, if you’re so onto your weight, obviously you’re going to be, “I don’t want muscle”. We’ll talk about that in a minute.
Strength is a good way to have that open conversation with someone because they can see a need for strength. If you can’t open a jar, if you can’t pull yourself up from your chair, if you can’t reach down and grab something off the ground, like a bag of groceries – then that’s going to be something that’s going to be debilitating later. It’s going to keep you from having liberty, it’s going to keep you from being independent when you get older. If you don’t lift, you’re only going to get weaker. There’s just no other way around it. You can’t live your normal lifestyle and not lose strength. You have to do resistance exercise to retain or gain strength. So, I encourage all of my clients to strength-train. I think it’s very, very important for everybody to strength-train.
Now, mobility is also very important. You can’t reach down and pick up that bag of groceries if you can’t get the full range of motion in your hips, knees, ankles. Having good mobility is important because if you move incorrectly, you have the potential of injury. So, I agree with you that flexibility and mobility are very important modalities for us to maintain. There can be good reasons for you to want to improve beyond what you’re doing now, particularly if there’s an activity that you’re interested in doing. So if maybe you want to go canoeing, there’s a lot of mobility that’s required for you to be in a canoe and operate that canoe. So having the ability to get in and out of that canoe, you’re going to need good working knees, good working ankles. And as you’re rowing, you’re obviously going to need good rotational mobility. So yes, flexibility is also very, very important. So those are the two, what I would call the prime ones that most people should be doing.
I’m also going to talk about total body composition. Rather than just talk about weight loss, because I think every one of us can probably say, “I’d like to lose a couple of pounds of fat or more, but I don’t want this to just be about weight loss because if I lose weight, I might also be losing muscle, and that’s not a good thing.” You might lose two pounds, but if that two pounds is muscle, then you’re actually in worse shape. You’re actually less healthy, because now your body fat percentage has gone up. So instead of thinking about what the scale is telling you, you should think of body composition as a percentage of body fat, or a percentage of muscle mass. Whichever way you want to think about it – cup half full, cup half empty.
Most of us are going to go by body fat percentage – those are things that can be measured. They can be measured with a caliper at a gym. So you can go into a gym and a trained personal trainer can go through a process with the caliper. You can use electrical impedance, although those tend to be off a good bit, and a lot of that will depend on your hydration. If you stay hydrated, they work pretty well. But it could help you give a trend. So you can use them on a consistent basis and see if there’s a trend, but don’t think that’s actually what your body fat percentage is. There’s also the liquid submersion and the BOD PODs that use air. I prefer the DEXA scan. There’s a price to it. I do it probably about once every other year, just to know. But in a general sense, I can tell by looking at myself, measuring my body circumferences around the waist, stomach, hips, neck, arms and legs – I can generally tell how I’m doing on my body composition.
So, total body composition is important because if we allow ourselves to have a little too much body fat, that leads to issues like cardiovascular disease, we can get diabetes. There are other things going on there. You do want to focus on your body composition, but if you’re doing appropriate strength training, then you’re maintaining your muscle. The rest of that is going to be done in the kitchen. So eating good whole foods is actually going to help you lose that body fat. That’s what we want to focus on there – not so much the weight as to make sure that we’re eating good foods and we’re losing body fat.
Balance is important, because particularly as we get into our late 60s, 70s, 80s, there are lot of falls, and most of the falls are sideways when they happen, that someone gets really, really hurt bad. So if you fall sideways and particularly if you haven’t been lifting the weights for strength, you have the potential of breaking a bone. So having good balance is one of those things that can help prevent you from falling in the first place. The strength will help because when you do the resistance exercise, you’re also helping to strengthen your bones, not just your muscles. You’re strengthening your bones. So, a good strength training regimen and then having some balance work, and I prefer to do balance work in a couple different planes. It’ll be one foot or the foot, so you get used to that. You mix that up a little bit. And then you can also work on it from the perspective of moving side to side, being comfortable with your feet side to side and not tripping up as you move from side to side. So shuffles and what I call with karaokes – those types of movements will help you maintain lateral balance, which will prevent falls. So knowing those things, you do want to make sure that you maintain balance, and as you notice that your balance is getting worse, that’s when you want to say, “Okay, I need to focus a little bit more attention to balance.”
Finally, I go into life-specific. So, you have a grandchild, and the grandchild wants to run around, so you’re going to need maybe some additional cardiovascular fitness just so you can keep up with that little bugger. Maybe you want to play some tennis, so hand-eye coordination and agility are something that you want to keep up with. Or maybe in your younger days you were on the track team and you want to try some Masters track, so some speed work might be something that would be important to you. It’s really about your lifestyle and what are those other little bits and pieces that are going to make you better at being that person? That’s where the last piece comes in.
I’ve gone over five different fitness modalities – they’re strength, flexibility, total body composition, balance, and life-specific. Those are the five that I would spend most of my time on. Now, it’s really hard to do all of those at one time and it’s really hard to know which one matters most, which is why I want to take a few minutes to go back over the GPS model that I talked about in episode 296. GPS stands for grounding, personalizing, and self-awareness. If you do those three things, then you’re going to know exactly what your body needs now.
Let’s walk through the GPS model. Grounding is where we’re going to take our “Why”. It’s the grandchild – you want to be there for your grandchildren. The vision – what does it look like? Where do you want to be with the grandchild? Maybe you want to be the grandmother that can get down on the floor and color with them and also run around the park with them and keep up with them, be able to pick them up from the ground and walk with them. If that’s your vision of you with your grandchild, now you have this idea of what you need to look like, what your physicality needs to be. The type of human, athlete effectively, that you need to be to be that grandparent.
If you take your “Why”, which is your grandchildren, and what that vision is, you now have a commitment. You can make a commitment to be that person, and you make that commitment out of self-love, just like you would make any other major commitment in your life, like when you get married or when you profess your faith at your church or your synagogue or your mosque or whatever. When you go into this and say, “This is who I want to be and this is why I want to be it, and I believe it in my heart, and emotionally want this”, and through self-love, you make that commitment – a strong, emotional, deep commitment to make that happen – that’s your grounding. Now you have a center, now you have a reason to do this, and now you know what you need to do because you know what it looks like.
The personalizing is where you start thinking about, if you’re going to take a trip and your GPS says, ”Go up to the next intersection and turn left.” So, just like your GPS would tell you what to do, now you’re saying, “I want to be able to lift up my grandchildren and I want to be able to keep up with my grandchildren.” Those are two fitness modalities – strength and cardiovascular conditioning. At this point, now you’re saying to yourself, “I know I’m going to need my strength and I know I’m going to need to be able to keep up with them.” So putting together a program or a set of goals now that says, “I want to be stronger” – how do you measure that? Maybe you go in and you get your baseline. So you go do some work and say, “I want to be able to deadlift and squat and bench press. Maybe that’s the three lifts that I’m going to measure myself on.” And those are what most weightlifters call “the big 3”. We test with those in high school, we use those as athletes. So the deadlift, the squat and the bench press is a good metric to know that you’re building strength.
Maybe for you it’s pullups and pushups. You get the idea that you can come up with some baseline, and then you can start working on your overall body strength using compound movements. And then as you do that, you should notice improvement in those baseline exercises. So you’ll set smart goals; you’ll say, “I can bench press 100 pounds”, or maybe it’s 50 pounds or 20 pounds. Whatever it is, you have a max strength. You say, “I want to improve that by 10% this next month.” Early on that 10% is possible. So it is one of those stretch goals; it’s attainable though. So part of the smart is attainable. If you try to keep going 10%, 10%, 10%, there’s going to be a point where that’s just not attainable because your strength curve just won’t allow you to get that strong. But you can early on particularly see very large improvements in your strength as you get more comfortable with these exercises. Setting a smart goal that pushes you and making it time-specific – within a month or within a quarter or within a year – those are very good. I prefer the smart goals to be shorter term. Saying you’re going to do something within a year is really hard to keep you focused. Saying you’re going to do something within a month, six weeks, eight weeks – those are probably a little bit more appropriate to ensure that you have consistency and you really work towards them.
So set some smart goals. You know you want to work on strength – you set some smart goals for strength. You know you want to work on cardiovascular – so maybe it is, “Right now I can walk for 30 minutes without getting winded. I want to be able to add maybe another 100 meters to that 30 minutes by the next time I walk.” So I’m walking faster and I’m building speed. Or maybe you’re going to turn that into some interval running. Maybe there’s a little bit of jogging in there, so I’m going to jog to the signpost. Over time your expectation is either you get the distance done faster, or within the 30 minutes, you get more distance. You can choose how you put those goals together, but you can set smart goals for your running or your walking and cardiovascular fitness, in the same realm.
So you get involved. Now here’s the thing – nobody’s perfect. We have physical limitations. But we also have capacities, and many people don’t understand that their capacities often far exceed what their brain believes. Unfortunately, our body is never going to do more than what our brain believes. If you had a child trapped underneath a car, you’ve heard the stories of women and men that had been able to pick up a car to get that child out. How did they do that? Where did that strength come from? They inherently had it in them all the time, and when their brain turned off as to what limitations they had, their capacities kicked in. So taking some time to understand what your mental and physical limitations are, is a very important step because you don’t want to break yourself. Don’t go out there thinking you’re going to be able to double your strength in a few days, therefore you’ve got to work out every day. Be thinking in terms of, “I know when I work out I get really sore, and I’m sore for a day or two, so maybe I’m going to work out every other day, and I’m going to work out different body parts.” Maybe you’re going to do a full body workout one day, next day is going to be your running day or walking day, then you’re going to do another workout, and then another walking day, and maybe then take a day off to rest and recover. And now what you’ve thought of is, “This is what I think my limitations and my capacities are right now from a physical perspective.”
And then you’ve got to think about the mental perspective. I know when I go to work and I work all day and I get off at 6:00 and I go to drive home, and it’s turn right to go to the gym or turn left to go home and have a glass of wine – I have to make that decision. But I’m tired and I know in the evenings I’m so tired that that’s a very hard decision to make. So what do I do? Maybe I should do my workouts in the morning before I get tired, before it’s really that hard. And I fix up my gym bag in the morning, I put it right in front of the door, I put my gym clothes right there on my dresser, so as soon as I get up, I see my gym clothes, I put my them on, I grab my bag and I go out the door. If for whatever reason I don’t get up in the morning – because maybe you’re not a morning person, then I still have my gym clothes there, I still have my gym bag. So I take my gym clothes, I fold them up, I put them in my gym bag and I dedicate myself to say, “My commitment, based on my grounding – I need to do this.” So this gym bag is going to sit in my car on the passenger seat. When I come out of work, I’m going to see that gym bag sitting there, just like I would see a wedding ring on my finger and say, “I committed to myself through self-love to do this thing. So tonight I turn right and I go to the gym.” So I know it was a little while I went onto the GPS model, but I wanted to take a time and talk about it again because I think it’s really important for us to get our minds right first. This GPS process that I’ve laid out here is really about making sure you know why you’re doing this, knowing what you should look like, and from that perspective it really does open up to, “These are the fitness modalities that are going to matter the most to me.”
I’ll give you another quick example for myself. My “Why” is my family. I want to be around for my family, I want to be around for my children and my grandchildren. And as I put together the vision of that, it was not just be there, not just be the cheerleader sitting on the bench, watching them do what they do. I wanted to be engaged with them while they were doing the things they loved. My daughter was into CrossFit so I wanted to be able to do CrossFit. Then she wanted to do mud runs, I wanted to be able to do those obstacle courses with her. That meant I had to work on the fitness modalities to do that.
Also, I want to have a lifestyle that I enjoy. I want to enjoy my life so I’m a better person, I’m a happier person to be around. One of the things that was missing from my life at the point in time where I made that commitment was that I wasn’t playing volleyball anymore, and it was really bumming me out that I wasn’t capable of playing volleyball the way that I had been. I knew that that was a cardiovascular fitness thing, it was a mobility thing. So, to do the mud runs, I needed the cardiovascular fitness and I needed the strength. For me to do the volleyball, I needed the mobility and the cardiovascular. You see how now I have three modalities that were very, very important to me because they tied in directly to my vision, they tied in directly to my “Why”. By tying those all in, I now had a baseline, and it was a commitment, self-love, and now I know which of the fitness modalities matter most to me.
I’m still going to go back and tell you, I think strength, mobility – which includes flexibility, and total body composition are things that we should all always be working on. The others become important to us and we want to focus on those when they matter. So the question then is, if I’ve got all these fitness modalities, I can’t do 18 different workouts a week to maintain or build all of these at the same time. How do I go through a process of methodically building myself where I need to build myself, and then figure out how I can make all that work? There are only so many hours in a day, we’re mostly all working. We’ve got to get things done, and then we have a very short window of time to get this fitness thing done. So how do I do all of them? There’s a couple of different things you can do.
One is called cross-training. Obviously, if you get into a cross-training program, maybe it’s a circuit for strength, therefore you’re working your cardiovascular system and your strength at the same time. Maybe it’s a process where you do something like a bootcamp, where there’s a little bit of all of it going on. And you’ll see improvements. Particularly early on, you will definitely see improvements with anything that you do. So just know that early on – yes, work on all of it. But as you get a little bit stronger and as you mobility improves, as your cardiovascular fitness improves, you’re going to find it very hard to do these cross-training things that are going to be sufficient for you to do all the time. You’re going to want to focus on one thing at a time, at points in time, just so you can improve those more.
That is a process that we call “periodization”. With periodization, what you do is you figure out one or maybe two modalities and you say, “For a period of maybe the next six or eight weeks, that’s my thing. I’m going to focus on that.” Periodization is basically where we’re going to take one or two modalities and we’re going to focus on it for about six to eight weeks. That might mean I want to start really working on my strength and I’m going to take about a six-week period of time and I’m really going to bear down on my strength training. I’m going to get those compound movements that I want to do, I’m going to put in maximum effort for my strength, and I’m going to really bear down on that. Then after I finish that six to eight weeks, I’m going to mix up my program. So maybe body composition is also something that I’m very interested in building, so I do a period of time. Like I said, for strength, I get done with that six to eight week period and I say, “Now I’m going to change up my programming to make it work a little bit more for building muscle mass.”
And there are slight tweaks and variations of those. For the most part, if you’re working strength, you’re going to see some muscle mass improvement. If you’re working muscle mass improvement, you’re going to see some strength, but they’re not in complete overlap. There are ways to maximize and optimize one over the other. As we were talking, for me, I want mobility, strength, and cardiovascular fitness. So what I may say is, “I’m going to do a strength period and with the strength period I’m going to work mobility. And during my cardiovascular period, I’m going to go ahead and work mobility.” So I do a big strength push and I’m doing mobility on the side. And then I do a big cardiovascular push, and I build mobility on the side. And then I can alternate and go back into strength. So you see where you can get these things all improved and then as you do that, you’re going to see optimal improvements in that particular modality. So I would never really say just do one modality, particularly if you notice doing multiple ones together gets you the results. But if you find that you plateau and your strength is not really improving, your mobility is not really improving, your cardiovascular fitness is not really improving – then that might be a time for you to really bear down on that certain modality.
So the answer, as you said, is really both. And I would say it’s even more all-encompassing than both. It’s really all of them. You should be aware of how all of them impact your vision, how they’re going impact your life, and you should dedicate the appropriate amount of time to each of those five modalities that we talked about.
I hope this has been helpful. Again, if you have any questions at all, please go to the Contact Page and leave me a message on SpeakPipe. I get back to those immediately with the short answer. If it makes sense for me to do a podcast on, I will in do one. Otherwise you can email the question to me and if you’re comfortable with it, I’ll read your email and do the same thing with a podcast episode. Please do reach out if you have questions. I love that interaction, I love that opportunity. I want to take your question because you are not the only one with that question; there are others out there. I want to take the questions that you have and I want to teach others with that.
That all said, I am going to somewhat change up the format here. I haven’t really done a lot of solo episodes since the year started. It’s been a lot of interviews. I might not even have done a single solo episode since the year started, so I’m going to actually start mixing in a few more solo shows as we go. It might be something like a three to one ratio, sometimes maybe two to one. We’ll see how that works out, but I do want to have some more solo shows and I do want to continue to bring on experts on topics that matter to you. So just know that I am out there. If you have topics, issues, things you’re concerned about, I’m available. Reach out to me. I do want to make this show important to you. I want to make it as valuable to you as I possibly can, so please do reach out to me so I can do that for you. Thank you.
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