Commentary by Valerie J. Weesner
The leaves are coming down and raking season is upon us. Last year around this time, I was out in the yard piling leaves onto a tarp, grabbed the tarp and pulled it across the yard walking backwards.
A light bulb came on, and I had my daughter video my trek across the lawn, then I sent it to my trainer. “I get it now!” I told her. The motion of pulling the tarp piled high with leaves was the same as pulling that heavy tire across the gym. And now that I think about it, why has it been easier to rake leaves this year without the terrible back ache afterwards?
At the gym, we do a weighted diagonal chop exercise, and my trainer tells me to use my stomach (abdominal) muscles to strengthen my core and protect my back. I didn’t realize those are the same muscles I engage when pulling the rake across my body.
We often associate exercising in a gym with getting stronger or losing weight. And while these are goals, we don’t think about the other gym results – easier accomplishment of everyday activities. How many tasks do we do daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly that could be made easier, or even made possible to do at all, by training at the gym? Let’s explore a few!
Think about grabbing a bag of water softener salt in each hand and the trip from the car down the stairs to the basement. I know from experience that carrying and hoisting up to pour salt in has been made easier because of the farmer’s carry we do at the gym.
Ask yourself this: Do you ever get lower back aches from standing by the sink? Do you ever get a sore back from bending and picking up a full laundry basket? At the gym, you learn how to pick things up correctly, you learn how to engage your core, and you work on building leg strength to squat and lift a heavy object. I didn’t realize those stretches on the TRX straps had helped me raise my arm high enough to reach the higher cabinet shelf, and lifting those medicine balls made it easier to put my dishes away.
I don’t like getting down on the floor! But sometimes getting things out of the bottom of a cabinet or closet requires me to get down. It used to be difficult to get back up, and after my trainer taught me the proper techniques for getting up and down off the floor, it is so much easier. This practice helped me move better and be more confident in my abilities.
Finally, we often carry uneven loads during the day, such as bags of groceries. Carrying an uneven load can cause bodies to become out of balance, so when I’m at the gym, we practice carrying uneven loads and work on using our core muscles to help maintain proper balance and good posture.
Muscle memory is powerful! The more often you make a movement right, the better chance you have of using that correct motion when you need it the most. We may know a correct movement, but the practice of it is what makes us strong and makes us use those motions consistently. By doing so, we reduce the chance of pain and increase the completion of the tasks.
I challenge you to write down everyday activities that have become more difficult as you age. And if making these tasks easier is of interest to you, check out a local gym for older adults where safe and appropriate training is a priority.
Weesner, a Ph.D., is a health services provider for psychology and a staff consultant for Motion 4 Life Fitness in Carmel. Katrina Archer contributed to the article and is a certified personal trainer at Motion 4 Life Fitness.