As we get older, we need to realise that a taut body may not always be within reach and have realistic expectations of what is achievable.
Some females over the age of 50, like Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and Michelle Obama, can show off their toned abs and arms, but it takes a lot of effort and discipline, along with the help of personal trainers, nutritionists, etc.
But the majority of us ageing damsels who are slaving away for monthly pay cheques, cannot afford such time and luxuries.
Sure, toning and sculpting the body is possible at any age for any gender, but keeping the skin taut as the years roll by is the hardest thing to do.
Older ones have to work doubly hard, compared to their younger counterparts, to achieve similar results.
Yet, we will still retain itsy bitsy pieces of flab.
That’s why when you hit a certain age – usually 50 years and beyond – the signs of loose skin are first visible under the triceps, on your back and on your inner thighs.
To get the sculpted look, your body needs to have a low level of body fat.
Unfortunately, as we age, the body also tends to store more fat due to lowered metabolism and hormonal changes. This affects women more than men.
All is not lost, however, we just have to do our best to stay healthy, age gracefully and accept what comes, instead of working out to dangerous extremes.
Tense and release
Now, the only way to build muscles and keep them firm is by doing strength training.
No amount of dieting or “magic” pills is going to help.
Once in a while, you can try supplementing your workouts by doing some isometric exercises that involve no change in joint angle, i.e. holding a position while tensing the muscles (like squeezing the juice out of a watermelon!) for a few seconds before letting go.
Remember how many of us automatically tuck in our stomachs while taking a picture?
Isometric exercises are essentially the same – squeeze the muscles, then let go.
The history of isometric workouts goes back more than a thousand years, with static holds reported in ancient yoga and martial arts.
According to literature, isometric exercise can be defined as “exercise without motion or as the attempt to move an immoveable object.
“The term ‘isometric contraction’ is derived from the fact that during exercise, there is no change in the length of the muscle. ‘Iso’ means same, ‘metric’ means length.
"Although no work is done, near maximum effort is extended.”
Apparently, martial arts actor Bruce Lee used to practice this form of workout to improve his strength, stamina, balance and control.
If you have a stubborn body part that refuses to budge, it’s often the hardest to trim and fastest to erode.
Basically, a “squeeze workout” every now and then can help prevent your muscles from becoming droopy.
However, as you’re not relying on movement to fatigue your muscles, you’ve got to squeeze them hard – a gentle squeeze just won’t do it.
In fact, if you are highly stressed or frustrated, try clenching your fists and tensing all your muscles for a few seconds, then let go.
Do this a few times and you’ll actually feel the tension releasing.
Isometric exercise also has excellent potential as an effective pain management tool for a large segment of the population.
Individuals of all ages and abilities, including those with limited mobility, can perform isometric exercises and reap its benefits.
A 2014 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal covering research in sports and exercise science, showed that older adults (above 60 years of age) had an increased pain threshold after doing isometric exercises.
Pain perception was measured in 24 men and women using a pressure pain device applied to the right index finger before and after the following isometric contractions of the left elbow flexor muscles:
- Three brief maximal voluntary contractions (MVC)
- A quarter strength MVC held for two minutes, and
- A quarter strength MVC held until the participant can no longer hold it.
Older adults reported increased pain thresholds and decreased pain ratings after exercise, and these changes were similar across all three tasks.
One of the main benefits of isometric workouts is that the body is able to activate nearly all the available motor units - something that is usually very difficult to do.
Usually, when you flex a certain muscle, other supporting muscles will also be recruited.
If you have an injury or problem at a particular joint angle, then you can do targeted isometric exercises to overcome the issue.
Remember to breathe!
There are plenty of isometric exercises you can do. e.g. holding the plank or side plank position, which builds the abdominal muscles.
Other exercises include push-ups, glute bridges (lying on your back with knees bent and hips off the ground) with toes lifted up (works the hamstrings and butt muscles), flexing your biceps, squat variations and pressing your palms together in front of the chest.
You can use your own body weight, light equipment or resistance bands to do the exercises.
Hold every position for 15-30 seconds, then release.
If it’s too difficult for your level of fitness, bring it down a notch and start with holding for five to 10 seconds.
The idea is to push your limits without causing any injury.
Soreness can be expected, but listen to your body if you experience excruciating pain.
Do note that it’s only natural for our breathing to become shallower while we’re attempting a difficult task.
When performing isometric exercises – because we’re concentrating on tensing the muscle – the tendency is to hold the breath, which is wrong and risky for individuals with underlying medical conditions.
Blood pressure can rise quickly by holding your breath and this can be dangerous for those already having hypertension (high blood pressure).
I’ve known of people who have gotten dizzy while doing isometric exercises because they are not breathing, so it’s important to maintain a normal breath pattern as you hold the position.
Mayo Clinic in the United States also advices: “Because isometric exercises are done in one position without movement, they’ll improve strength in only one particular position.
“You’d have to do various isometric exercises through your limb’s whole range of motion to improve muscle strength across the range.
“In addition, since isometric exercises are done in a static position, they won’t help improve speed or athletic performance.
“They can be useful however, in enhancing stabilisation – maintaining the position of the affected area – since muscles often contract isometrically to aid in stabilisation.”
While isometric exercises can help maintain strength, it cannot build strength effectively, so do mix it up with other types of exercises.
Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.