By Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS
I am 58 years old and I travel a lot and prefer to train at home when I’m in Colorado Springs, CO. Even though I’ve been an endurance athlete all my life, my age means I am prioritizing strength training more than I used to. The frequent challenge: staying consistent with strength training no matter where I am.
The benefits of strength training for older athletes are well established. It helps you maintain muscle mass and bone density, improves coordination and balance, and reduces the chances you’ll knock yourself out of sport-specific training because you injured yourself in activities of daily living (moving furniture, hiking, yard work, etc.).
What many older athletes don’t realize, however, is how important it is to be consistent in your strength training (and endurance training). You are fighting a bit of an uphill battle to make improvements in strength or endurance fitness, and consistency is absolutely key to winning that battle.
The TRX suspension training system is one of the best solutions I have found, both in terms of portability and versatility (Disclosure: neither I nor CTS has a relationship with the company.) As a result, it makes it easy to be consistent with strength exercises, as I’m not dependent on a hotel gym or local gym being open, and then wasting time figuring out what they have, where they put everything, and what machines actually work.
One of the best things about the system is that you can do effective upper body pulling exercises, which I think are beneficial for maintaining a good cycling posture on the bike. In addition, when I’m traveling they fold up into my suitcase, anchor to the hotel room door, and can be used for upper body, lower body, and core exercises.
Here are some of the upper body exercises I recommend:
This is a great addition to the pushups you’re probably doing on the floor. Face out from the anchor, grab the handles, extend your arms straight in front of you at shoulder height with your hands together. Lean forward so your body is at a diagonal to the floor. From this starting position, spread your arms out to a T position, but keep a bend in your elbows. Lower your chest until it’s even with your hands, then use your chest to arc your hands back together in front of you.
I like this version of a triceps exercise a lot more than a chair or bench dip because bench dip puts a lot of strain on the front of your shoulders. This version is similar to the “skull crusher” exercise with a barbell, where you lowered a barbell toward the bridge of your nose and pressed it up with your triceps – only without the skull crush risk. Start in a chest press position with your palms facing down and the straps along the tops of your arms. Keep your upper arm straight out as you bend your elbows to lower your body toward your hands. It is important to press your shoulder blades to your back as you do this exercise to keep your shoulders in a straight line. You don’t want your chest to fall forward of your shoulders. Use your triceps to return to the starting position.
This is an exercise that is difficult to do outside of a gym without something like a suspension system. With the TRX anchored at the top of a door or an overhead beam/bar, face the anchor and walk your feet in toward the door so your body is in a straight line and leaned back. Your arms should be straight in front of you, but it’s important to keep your shoulder blades pressed to the back of your ribs to keep your shoulders square, rather than rounded forward. Using your arms and upper back, pull your chest to your hands, keeping your elbows by your sides. Lower back to the starting position and repeat.
Single Arm Power Pull
These are kind of fun, like you’re in an action movie reaching down to rescue someone while yelling, “Reach for my hand!” With your feet about shoulder width apart, grab the handles in your left hand, keep your left elbow by your side, and lean back to a diagonal. Reach your right hand up along the strap to get into the starting position. Now, reach your right hand back and down by extending your left arm and rotating your torso to the right. To get back to the starting position, pull your elbow back to your side and rotate your torso and shoulders to the left as you reach your right hand back up high on the strap. Switch arms and keep rescuing people.
Plank to Pike
The plank to pike is a great abdominal exercise you can also do by sliding your socked feet on a hardwood floor. With the suspension system, get into a plank or pushup position with your feet in the cradles and a few inches off the floor. From this starting position, keep your legs straight and drive your hips upward to bring your feet toward your hands. Slowly bring your hips back down until your body is straight from shoulders to heels. If you come down too quickly, you may not be able to stop at this straight position and instead end up hyperextending your back. To make this exercise harder, add a pushup between each pike.
The fallout exercise is a suspended version of an abdominal rollout, an exercise I always used to struggle with because it was hard to adjust the difficulty level. With the suspended fallout you’re standing up and the difficulty is adjusted by how far back your feet are toward the anchor.
With the anchor up high, face away from it with your hands forward like you’re starting a chest press. Make sure the straps are along the tops of your arms. Keeping your body in a straight line and your arms straight, raise your hands in front of you until they are overhead. Aim for a straight line from your fingers to your heels. When you return to the starting position, focus on using your core and your lats. A mistake people make is to disengage the core on the way back by bending forward at the waist and leading with their hips.
This is another great exercise for the upper back and shoulders. Start in a leaned back position facing a high-mounted anchor. Your arms should be straight out in front of you, but keep your shoulder square instead of letting them round forward. From this position, raise your hands up and out until your hands are overhead and your arms and body form a Y shape. This is different than a reverse fly exercise where you bring your arms straight out to the sides to end up in a T position.
Three sets of 10 of each of the exercises above leave your upper body and core worked, and remember, to make a suspension system exercise more difficult all you need to do is start in a more horizontal position so you’re lifting a higher percentage of your total bodyweight.