An In-Depth Guide to Building Muscle After 50: Core Exercises for Men When You Can No Longer Workout the Way You Used To
Wait. I’m over 50? How did that happen?! Can this be right? Sigh, I think it is… A lot of us grew up on a football field, both playing and watching on Sunday nights. The baseball diamond was our favorite pastime, live or on the radio. TV’s Wide World of Sports gave us the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Those were all mountains we could climb and conquer effortlessly, but now some of these challenges are chillingly reminiscent of that skier wiping out on national TV.
Rumination on Fitness After 50
As we get older we can be more prone to injury, which can slow if not derail an exercise program. Approaching exercise as if we were still suiting up for the Friday night game of our youth can often result in painful and sometimes dangerous injuries. Whether in the weight room or the crossfit class, overtraining may lead to (*ahem, middle-aged) types of injuries. Rotator cuffs, torn meniscuses, and plantar fasciitis to name a few, can range from disruptions to unemployment.
As we age it is also more difficult to build muscle. (Sadly, it seems super easy to gain fat, though, which is totally unfair.) In order to combat both negatives, movement remains the key, but careful self-assessment and exercising in smarter ways are in order. We may have to shift away from higher impact exercise to more consistent, gentler forms like walking or swimming. While healthy, some men find that this adjustment is tough on the mind because it becomes an admission of aging. Fortunately, just because we cannot workout like we used to, it does not follow that we cannot strengthen and condition the body after 50. Starting with core training, or strengthening the muscles of the abdomen, spine and pelvis is a great way to ensure that you get fit safely.
How do I strengthen my core?
Our core really is the central command in our body. Working from the inside out, all the movements we do in exercise and daily life have a foundation in our core. Motion either begins in, or moves through our core. Keeping that foundation strong ensures that as we move through life, everything outward will be supported. There are both fitness and real-life benefits to keeping our core strong. Think about all the times in your day you reach, turn, bend, or lift something. Your core is the not-so-secret helper supporting all of that movement. Whether you’re sitting at a desk, putting away groceries, playing golf with friends, or taking a hike in the woods your body needs stability and mobility. Like most things in the fitness world, there’s more than one way to reach our goals. The best movement is the one that you’ll actually stick with and enjoy!
What’s the best core workout?
So what’s the best way to keep our core strong and working hard for us? A classic Google search mostly reveals top-ten type lists of specific exercises we can do.
The most common core exercises for men include:
Some great studio or gym-based workouts with core strengthening benefits include:
In particular though, let’s talk about these last two types of strengthening and conditioning systems on this list that, while not new, are newer to men. Pilates and GYROTONIC® are growing in popularity among men of all ages who want to build muscle and strengthen their core. These exercise systems offer improved balance, sure-footedness, reduced back pain, greater flexibility, and so much more.
These workouts support other fun activities, add to our quality of life, and keep us moving pain free. Other activities that complement these workouts include:
Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates starting as early as the 1920s. His thinking about fitness began with how to help injured soldiers and was also influenced by ancient statues of Gods and their musculature. He even studied the movements of animals in designing his exercises.
Pilates is a system designed to help you strengthen and mobilize your body. There are a variety of exercises that target strength and mobility for the whole body, always initiating with the core. They can be done on a mat or unique equipment strategically designed to allow for the fullest expression of movement. Some pieces of equipment you would likely find in your session include the Reformer, Cadillac, chair, and barrel.
In any session, including an introductory session, the trainer will aim to move you through all possible planes of movement of the spine if possible. Your session will include exercises that move the spine forward and back, sideways, and rotating into a spiral. You will also be taught to stabilize your spine and pelvis using your core.
This innovative mind-body system of exercise continues to grow in popularity. Pilates is practiced by many professional athletes from a variety of sports, including Lebron James, Jake Arrieta, Martellus Bennett, and Auston Matthews to name a few. Pilates is also a safe and effective program that can be used to great effect by men over 50 to support fitness routines and recreation. Whatever your conditioning goal, Pilates is an efficient, effective, and safe way to increase your mobility, strengthen, develop your core, and release tension.
Benefits of Pilates for Men
We can’t all be Lebron James (and I can assure you that I am not) when we head out to play basketball, but we can all experience the benefits of Pilates for men. My personal experience with Pilates is that it is a challenging workout that focuses on building core strength and overall strength and mobility in the body. It really hones in on what some guys my age are going through and supports our other active life pursuits. In addition to the muscle strengthening of a session, it also focuses on creating and improving flexibility and balance. These are not easy workouts. The focus and control you need to practice the exercises makes this system unique and efficient. Other benefits of Pilates include injury prevention and recovery (and not injury production).
Best Pilates Exercises for Strengthening Your Core
A great place to start? Follow along with this simple 15-minute Men’s Core Session video. It doesn’t take long to get that core active and working hard! This workout is a great way to start your day or unwind in the evening.
Or, here are a few of our favorite Pilates core exercises for men to get you started at home. Try adding them to your regular workout routines.
- Start lying on a firm surface, legs together knees bent, feet flat.
- Inhale to prepare, exhale to deepen abdominals to imprint and lift legs, either together, or one at a time to tabletop.
- Inhale to lengthen the back of neck and nod chin gently. Exhale flex up through upper thoracic, keeping lower tips of scapulae on floor, extend legs to straight (or when just starting out, keep knees bent or on the floor).
- Begin pulsing the arms. Inhale for five counts and five pulses of the arms. Exhale for five counts and five pulses of the arms. Repeat 10 times for a total of 100 pulses
- One last inhale to stay lifted as legs fold into tabletop and exhale to lower down of upper body in a controlled way.
- Start lying on a firm surface, legs together knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
- Inhale to prepare, exhale to deepen abdominals to imprint and lift legs, either together, or one at a time to tabletop.
- Inhale to lengthen the back of neck and nod chin gently. Exhale flex up through upper thoracic, keeping lower tips of scapulae on floor, hands reaching by knees. Inhale to stay.
- Exhale to extend one leg to straight, tapping hands to sides of bent knee or, for a challenge, outside hand to ankle, inside hand to knee.
- Inhale to begin exchange of legs, and exhale to extend the other leg.
- Repeat 6-10 times on each side.
- Inhale to fold legs to tabletop and exhale to lower down with control.
Side Leg Kick
- Start lying on side with spine long, legs straight at an angle slightly forward of the torso, top leg at hip level. Bottom leg can be bent if needed for balance. Head can either rest on hand, or arm can be long or folded on the floor to make a support for the head.
- Inhale to sweep the top leg forward with foot flexed for two gentle pulses, only as far as neutral spine can be maintained.
- Exhale to point foot and sweep leg to back for one long reach, maintaining neutral spine.
- Keep hips stacked straight and not allowed to roll forward or back.
- Don’t allow the rib cage to pop forward, especially when the leg goes back.
- Complete 8-10 repetitions and then repeat on the other side.
Another great option for core exercises for men is GYROTONIC®. This is a less well known type of workout, not having the current popular reach of Pilates. It is nonetheless an up and coming program worth trying that offers up movement fusion of yoga, ballet, tai chi, gymnastics, and swimming.
The GYROTONIC EXPANSION SYSTEM® method was created by Juliu Horvath beginning about 40 years ago. While it may sound foreign to those that grew up on a weight bench, GYROTONIC® allows users to stretch and strengthen muscles, while simultaneously stimulating and strengthening connective tissues in and around the joints of the body for full body benefit. The exercises involve a series of circular and fluid movements on weight and pulley-based machines coordinated with breathing patterns to support aerobic and cardiovascular health. All this in one workout package. What’s not to like?
Benefits of GYROTONIC® for Men
In 2016, British tennis great Andy Murray credited GYROTONIC® with helping him back to Wimbledon after his back surgery. For the rest of us, we can access a long list of benefits for daily life including:
- Strong, lean muscles.
- Increased flexibility, coordination, and balance.
- Enhanced joint mobility and articulation.
- Ease of movement.
- Increased circulation of blood, lymphatic fluids, and energy.
In addition, GYROTONIC®:
- Complements/supplements physical therapy and other rehabilitative bodywork.
- Helps slow the aging process through mental and physical stimulation and regeneration.
- Relieves low back pain and the postural effects of sitting.
- Improves mind-body focus, concentration and coordination.
GYROTONIC® training is also beneficial to men of a “certain” age, as it relates to building strength, balance, and flexibility while preventing injury and supporting life’s activities. For me, GYROTONIC® just feels good. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, I feel like the spiraling movements strengthen my whole body instead of one muscle group at a time. That is different than what I have been used to in the gym. I do it weekly and during periods of time when I can’t, I definitely feel worse for the wear.
Strengthening Your Core After 50
I’ve been doing both Pilates and GYROTONIC® for 5 years now. While I am still an amateur and still appear that way on the equipment, I can say that they have both improved my quality of movement and life. I simply feel better when I am exercising in these ways. Whether you are a lumberjack or a desk jockey, you will notice how these methods bring daily improvement.
You Can Start Now
Pilates and GYROTONIC® are both effective functional training methods to support your life’s activities as you celebrate more birthdays. MOVE Wellness has experienced trainers who can help you workout safely and effectively and provide accommodation for any injuries or nagging pains. Talk to your trainer about your personal goals for the movement that matters in your life so we can support you in achieving those goals. MOVE offers private training in-person or online as well as MOVE Livestream with interactive livestream group classes you can take from the comfort and privacy of your own home.
About the Author: Patrick J. Conlin Jr.
Patrick Conlin was raised in the Ann Arbor area and is a Circuit Court Judge in Washtenaw County. Patrick is the guy you can all relate to reading this blog. He’s reached that over-50 stage in life where he can’t work out the way he used to, but knows firsthand how important movement is and has 3 sons to keep up with. Spoiler alert…If you didn’t already know, Patrick is also MOVE co-founder Elaine Economou’s husband. He has been doing PIlates for more than 20 years. Basically, as long as he’s known Elaine. He added Gyrotonic to his workout mix around the time MOVE Wellness opened 6 years ago. Patrick knows the value of exercise and the powerful impact it has on his life and longevity.