Trainer, author, and fitness model Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.
Squatting is something all of us have been doing since childhood. Once you start working out, it’s one of the most important movements that should be mastered to do many other exercises.
But even though the squat is such a basic and even primal movement, lots of people I’ve trained have struggled with the exercise, especially as they get older. Sometimes they’ve adopted bad form and lazy habits, and others fear that the wear and tear of accumulated injuries have put squats out of their range.
These clients are making one major mistake: Thinking only of heavy loaded back squats as a worthy exercise. One great alternative for these guys to work through their form is the air squat. Using your body weight can be highly effective for building a strong lower body and reinforcing healthy movement patterns.
To get started, stand up straight and tall, hips fully extended, with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and slightly turned out (everyone will have their own ideal positioning due to anatomy and mobility, but this is a good place to start). Squeeze your glutes and abs as tight as possible and keep your shoulders back by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Keep your head up and look straight ahead.
To begin the movement, make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor from heel to toe. Your first move is to start your hip hinge by pushing your butt back, then start bending your knees to slowly descend into the squat. As you’re descending, you can raise your arms to help maintain your balance. Ideally, you would go down until your butt is right below the level of your knees. Then power back up by firing your glutes and quads to the starting position. That’s one rep.
There are a few things to be aware of when doing air squats. First, keep your feet solidly on the floor. Do your best to not raise up on your toes. This could be due to ankle immobility, so stretching your calves and Achilles tendons before squatting will help. Secondly, avoid allowing your knees to cave in. This could be due to muscle weakness or poor positioning. Think of pushing your knees outward, or away from each other, throughout the entire movement. Third, keep your back straight and your torso upright. As you descend, your spine might tilt forward, but you must not let your back slump over. Squeezing your glutes and abs will help maintain good posture.
Lastly, and most important for the older man, if there’s any pain, stop squatting. If you’re struggling to move with only your bodyweight, see a physical therapist or doctor to diagnose the problem and make exercise recommendations.
If there’s no pain doing air squats, don’t be discouraged if you’re unable to descend into the ideal position with your butt below your knees. Stretching and mobility exercises will help with squatting depth. To get going, start with four sets of 10 reps.
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