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3 Functional Exercises for Seniors and the Everyday Adult

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Not everyone is an exerciser or enjoys working out. Not everyone is athletic or coordinated. Regardless of your interest in exercise, there are a few exercises that should be incorporated into everyone's lift to ensure safety during daily activities.

Believe it or not, there are movements in life that are standard in the gym and if you master them, you will be surprised how much the body can do. Let’s discuss each movement and how you use them in life as well as tips to do them correctly.

Squatting to Maintain Daily Function

Your previous doctor may have told you not to squat and to avoid squatting if you have knee pain. Personally, I've never heard anything so absurd. It's imperative we know how to properly form a squat to successfully complete daily tasks.

On any given day, a person squats about 5-10 times to complete daily tasks. These tasks may look like retrieving an object off the ground or picking up something that's heavy. This could even include squatting down to get to a child's level.

So how do we perform this movement without hurting ourselves?

  1. The first motion should involve “butt out.” Hinge at your hips and stick your butt out behind you, without dropping your chest forward.

  2. It’s ok if your knees go over your toes, but this shouldn’t be the first movement to occur.

  3. Your weight should be through your heels so you engage your glutes/buttock muscles and decrease the strain at your knees.

  4. Don’t allow your knees to come in towards each other, keep them in line with your hips and ankles.

  5. It's also important to keep a strong core throughout the squatting movement.

If you have difficulty or pain performing a squat it can be due to multiple factors such as decreased hip or ankle range of motion, glute weakness, decreased core weakness or control, or the inability to coordinate the movement correctly. A physical therapist can assess your squat and help you determine where the deficit(s) lie and address them.

The Deadlift for Functional Lifting Tasks

If I had a quarter for every time someone told me they hurt their back deadlifting or were told by their physician deadlifts were the cause of their back pain, I’d be rich! Think about it this way. Is it the deadlift that’s the problem or your lack of core control, technique, or flexibility that causes the deadlift to put strain on your back?

Deadlifts get a bad wrap for sure, but it is a movement that we perform every single day.

  • Picking up groceries or a case of water

  • Lifting your son/daughter from the floor

  • Bending over to look in the lower cabinet

So how do we avoid hurting our back or straining another body part? First, we build up our core muscles, glutes, and hamstrings. Second, we learn how to turn these muscles on when moving. Lastly, we learn the correct technique: keeping back flat, hinging at hips, engage your core, push through the floor, keeping the weight close to engage shoulder blade muscles.

It sounds like a lot, and it can be if you don’t train to perform it correctly. It is so important that we learn to perform this movement correctly, so that it comes naturally during daily movements reducing the long term strain we place on our bodies.

Push Press Your Dishes into Cabinets

Knowing how to lift objects overhead, especially heavy ones, might be the most obvious movement we encounter daily. Reaching overhead and placing items on a shelf or pulling dishes down from a cabinet are easily the most repetitive tasks we do each day. If you learn how to perform overhead activity without straining your body, you will save yourself from future pain and limitations.

Lifting objects overhead may seem like a no-brainer, but how do you perform this activity without straining your shoulders or back?

  1. Shove your shoulder blades back and down, like trying to get them in your back pockets. This will reduce the strain on your rotator cuff muscles.

  2. Squeeze your core muscles to protect your back.

  3. Bring the object to chin height, keeping it close to you.

  4. Press the object overhead while maintaining shoulder blade position and core control; think, my low back shouldn’t arch or my shoulders round.

  5. If the weight is heavy, slightly bend at your knees and then extend to pop your hips and use your glutes and legs to get the weight overhead.

Practice Makes Perfect

The easiest way to get better at these movements is to practice them over and over, slowly, and without weight until your body learns the new pattern correctly, then you can add resistance or weight. If you aren’t sure you are doing them correctly, well…that’s what physical therapy is for! Give me a ring and we can set up a time for an assessment of your mobility.

If you'd like to learn more about how a PT can be helpful, check out my blog linked here.

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