I go to a nearby gym to work out late in the evening, because there are so few people there that late. That means I can choose any machine or any free weights without having to wait for someone else to finish using it. And, I don't get annoying looks of shock from younger gym members who can't believe a boomer-aged woman is doing bench presses.
Going to the gym two or three times a week is perfect for boomers; muscles have time to recover between workouts. But workouts also need to be planned and personalized for the results needed by your body. I learned this lesson once again after using one of my favorite machines; the weight-assisted pull-up.
The pull-up is a basic and essential exercise, a totally efficient way to work the arms, chest, upper back, sides and rotator cuff muscles. But for boomers, using a weight-assisted version has another effect that's even more important than building muscle: The pull-up keeps your shoulder joint flexible, functional and healthy. Boomers who don't make an effort to exercise the upper body will lose some shoulder function. Worse, whatever is lost is extremely hard to ever regain.
Here's why: The shoulder joint is the most mobile in the entire human body. The arm rotates in almost every possible range of motion. The arm is held in place by a complicated arrangement of muscles and their tendons (the white tissue at each end of a muscle), plus the ligaments (more white tissue) that attach the bones together. The thing about white tissue is that it's made up of rubbery fibers that tend to contract if not used. If the shoulder joint isn't exercised regularly, the muscles, tendons and ligaments will get shorter. Eventually, they will contract so much that your shoulders will get stiff, it will be painful and difficult to move your arms.
Never miss a local story.
Of course, we've all heard the phrase "use it or lose it," but think about how little we use our shoulders. We put our hand to our ear to use a phone, we lower our hands to type on a keyboard. But we boomers rarely reach up or out, we rarely stretch those joint tissues. So our shoulders get stiffer and more painful to use.
I learned how tight my own tissues were after using the pull-up machine. I had allowed myself to hang from the bar between each pull-up, and I could feel the tightness in my shoulder slowly relaxing. But the day after that terrific stretch session, most of my upper body muscles were sore. It was the kind of soreness that comes when muscles have been worked in new ranges of motion.
I mentioned this to a friend who is a personal trainer. He said that stretching out and using the shoulder joint is the best way to keep your arm's range of motion as you get older, so that you're never forced into the stiff-shouldered arm movements made mostly from the elbow rather than at the shoulder.
Those fussy little movements are a sign and a symptom of age. If you can't work your shoulders at the gym, lie on the floor at home and stretch your arms up overhead. Make "carpet angels." Put your hands on your chest and move your elbows up and down like flapping wings. Work your shoulders, and you'll have the full use of your arms for the rest of your life.