The Most Important Exercise To Master Before Retirement

As you move past the age of retirement, this movement is one which you cannot do without, but looking around at others in this age category, you’ll find too many struggle, losing the ability to carry out this movement. The consequence is the gradual decrease in independence and the ability to do the things you love, at a time in life when you finally have enough free time to do them! This is why this exercise is so important. Your ability to do this exercise could start declining as early as 40, and by the time you move through to retirement it is a challenge to reverse this decline. Not impossible at all, but it requires more effort, and today we’re going to help you with this!

The movement you must master as you retire:

This is commonly referred to as the squat. This is a movement you do in various ways 10, 20 or more times every single day. When you’re getting out of bed, sitting on the toilet, getting in the car, and more. You’ll be doing this movement as you go up the stairs, only on one leg at a time, and you’ll be doing this movement when you go up a step or curb while out and about. 

The issue we see so often in patients and members, even in those who are much younger, is that this movement is frequently done incorrectly. Simple errors, for example in the sit-to-stand movement getting out of or into a chair are common. We’ll be covering some of these a little later on so you can make sure you avoid these mistakes. 

The reason these errors are so problematic, and good technique with this exercise essential are as follows. Bad technique can damage the knees & low back in particular, leading to knee pain and low back pain, two things that can spell real trouble as we get older. Secondly, the ability to do this exercise well, makes you much safer and reduces the risk of falls, as well as improves recovery time if you’re unlucky enough to have one. 

Statistics on recovery from a fall which causes a hip fracture in the over 65’s is not worth quoting as they are quite upsetting. And if more were aware of this dire effect on mortality and post fall disability, they’d be jumping on the chance to do this simple exercise as soon as possible!

The proper technique:

It is vital that you master the squat so we’ll cover proper technique here first. Proper ability to do this movement will improve the health in the joints of your lower body (back, hips, knees and ankles) as well as make walking, stairs and life in general, easier with much reduced risk of injury. 

Step-by-step instruction:

It is worth watching the accompanying video for a demonstration of the exercise to reinforce the written instructions below:

  • Stand with good upright posture, feet shoulder width apart
  • Your toes and knees should be facing forwards in the same direction
  • Engage your core muscles and back muscles to create a stiffness in your back
  • Now simply lower yourself by bending the knees slowly
  • Lower yourself until you cannot go any further SAFELY and then return to standing.

Tips with the squat when you’re learning:

  • When lowering yourself stop BEFORE you feel your knees wobbling, your back rounding or your ankles rolling in. These are signs you’ve gone too far and you’re not controlling your body well – too much, too soon. Back off and focus on good technique before trying to go lower again.
  • Lower yourself slowly at first, taking 3 or 4 seconds to descend and then the same to come back up, this prevents you from moving too quickly. Speed is not good when you’re learning.
  • Place a chair or stool behind you, or do the squat in front of the sofa, just in case you lose balance, you have something to catch you. 
  • Record yourself using your smartphone with the help of a family member if possible so you can evaluate how good you’re performing the exercise, and where improvement is required.

How should you do the squat to get better at the sit-to-stand movement and more

The best way to approach this exercise is to first establish a good technique with a range of movement or depth that preserves good technique. Meaning you’re not making the mistakes we talk about later. You can then begin with 5 repetitions or 10 repetitions of your bodyweight. Have a short break of 30 to 60 seconds, then perform another round of the same number of repetitions. This can be repeated 3 to 5 times in one go. You should find by the 3rd, 4th or 5th round that your leg muscles are quite tired!  

Over time you’ll find that you’re easily able to do these movements in which case you can make further improvement by combining two principles.

  1. Increase the range: working to go lower into the squat position will help make you more efficient at getting into lower chairs in everyday life, plus it helps stimulate different muscles of the hips and thighs and keep the joints healthier
  2. Add a weight: adding small weights to begin with, either a carton of milk, or proper weights, can start to help you build more strength, this will help no end when doing activities in the garden, playing with/carrying the grandchildren or shopping and much more.

Tips & mistakes for getting into and out of a chair:

The sit-to-stand is such a relevant example of a squat we thought it worth offering some specific tips and mistakes here to help you avoid the common errors people make. These mistakes make issues like back pain and knee pain much worse!

Mistake: rounding the low back

Too many people simply round their lower back to tip themselves forwards and out of the chair without adjusting. This is not helpful for the lower back and not a controlled movement. Instead, shuffle to the edge of the chair, brace your core and back, slide your feet back ever so slightly and bend forwards from the hips, pushing up through your legs. This has much more control and works your leg muscles much better too!

Mistake: dropping too hard

This is a sign of real weakness and is extremely common, in this case you slowly lower yourself as low as the weak leg muscles allow but cannot make it all the way down to the seat, so you simply drop your body the rest of the way. This is particularly bad for the lower back as the impact is usually done with the low back rounded, a great way to aggravate a lower lumbar disc problem. Sometimes this cannot be helped, but try to opt for higher chairs in the short term or use cushions to elevate low chairs. In the long term you should work on the squat exercise mentioned above to help improve the depth of your safe squat to avoid this issue.

Mistake: knees rolling in and touching

This is a sign of weakness in the hip and leg muscles, as you go to get up or sit down, your knees touch one another, this creates issues for the knee joint and its cartilage and ligaments. It also creates smaller issues in the ankles. It’s a sort of repetitive stress injury and something that is almost certainly happening when you go up and down steps or stairs too. The only way to improve this is to be more aware of the issue and build strength in the hip muscles, this can be done safely and effectively through the instructions on squatting mentioned above.

Conclusion: make this exercise a strength as you retire

Hopefully you’ve found this helpful and realise that you can now make some real improvement to quality of life, reducing risk of injury and preserving independence and enjoyment as you move into and beyond retirement age. Practice this simple exercise regularly and for some additional help you can combine it with some simple stretching to keep the legs supple after working out, such as in the simple 10 minute lower body stretching routine which you can follow along with live. If you’re struggling with back pain or want a more structured plan then you can also check out our 80 minute live masterclass on back health which includes live demonstrations and recommendations to help you build strength at any age, improving your back knee and hip health. Finally remember if you want that extra guidance you can always check out the membership to the Back In Shape Program or even visit us here at the Studio.

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