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Senior Fitness Spotlight: Incorporating FREE Weights into your program

Senior Fitness Spotlight:

Incorporating FREE Weights into your program

A common theme we see from our older adult members who use the weight room is a tendency to choose machines over free weight movements. This is a reasonable choice with numerous benefits. But, for even the least experienced among you, inclusion of a few free weight movements will aid your physical wellness in ways machines cannot. Machines are great for providing simple, strength movements but often fail to truly replicate functional movements common in everyday life. Free weights can help with this.

For this essay, we will examine a typical motion all of us face throughout our life; lifting a heavy weight above our head. Think about that heavy box or bag you wish to lift from the floor to the top shelf of a closet in your home.  The act of taking something off the floor to a shelf above the height of your head is actually a fairly complicated movement requiring a squat, a deadlift, what body builders might call a clean (transferring the weight from the deadlift position to the press position) and then the press (lifting it to the shelf). For this article, we are just going to focus on the end movement; the press.

What can you do in the gym that better prepares you for lifting that heavy box? Pictured below is one of the overhead press machines in the gym. This is fantastic machine well-used at Fitness on 25th (fully wheel chair accessible by the way). The benefits of this machine and others like it in the gym include it’s relatively simple and safe to use. The overhead press machine allows a person to isolate lifting weight above your head and can allow for a person to lift a large amount of weight (relative to your personal strength).  A person with absolutely no experience in a gym generally can sit down and figure out how to use it; all beneficial attributes. We encourage our members to use machines like this but we also encourage people to augment machine use with free body movement exercises.

The next time you are using this machine, think whether if it is helping you to lift that heavy box above your head?  When you think about it that way, it’s not hard to see how the machine does not require you to steady the weight. And, that simply, is why free weights offer advantages machines cannot. That heavy box will want to topple to the side as gravity does its work. As a result, exercises using free weights or free movement activities typically come closer to replicating real life functional movements when compared to machines.  With this in mind, the next time you are planning to improve your ability to lift weight above your head, incorporate some free weight movements along with the Overhead Press machine. The free weight movements will help build your stabilizing muscles allowing you to be functionally stronger. That’s functional fitness!

Key points of a Free Weight Shoulder Press:

  • Will help stabilize and strengthen your upper back and arms.
  • Requires coordination from arms shoulders and back not necessary for the overhead press machine.
  • Start with feet shoulder width apart, weight at chest level. Can be performed from seated or standing position.
  • Raise weight straight overhead. It’s important the weight travel in a straight line.
  • Keep your chest high and do not arch your back.
  • Exhale during the upward movement and inhale on the way down.

What can be used for this FREE weight movement? Dumbbells or barbells are the most common choice in the gym but a weighted medicine ball works well as do kettlebells. Really, anything with a weight that offers an acceptable challenge for you. The weight room has dumbbells from 2 pounds to 120; certainly something for everyone. If you would like some guidance and assistance, book an appointment at the front desk for a one hour session with one of our trainers and we will help you improve your functional fitness.