Ann Angell

Ann Angell in the early ‘90s before a YMCA class.

Hey, over-50 crowd, do you remember how we exercised back in the day?

I recently found this picture of me from the very early ’90s, taken before a class at the YMCA, and it got me thinking about how drastically things have changed in fitness.

Remember when we had side ponytails and hightop Reeboks? And we were sort of clueless about safety?

We did a lot of things at the gym that now would be considered a no-no. Who remembers in the early ’90s when Gin Miller invented step aerobics and we all went nuts stepping up and down on a 12-inch step for 30-40 minutes several times a week? Can you say "knee replacement"?

Don’t get me wrong. I still love step, and people still want to take step aerobics. It is a great workout for the creative mind. But we have since learned that 8 inches is as high up as you need to step — down to 4-6 inches if you have knee issues.

Another mistake we made way back in the day is static stretching before running or taking a class. To this day, I still see people doing it.

Think about it: If your muscles are cold, is that a good time to sit on the floor and start stretching? Nope.

We now know that a dynamic warm-up is much safer.

Prepare the body for what is to come. For instance, if you are going to run a 5K, warm up with a walk or slow jog before the race starts. If you go to a fitness class, the instructor should never start with a static stretch.

Always start with an active, dynamic movement. Then, after 3-5 minutes, you can stop and do a static stretch if you want to. This applies to all types of cardio workouts.

Another major no-no: Crunches done wrong. We now have more effective ways to work our rectus abdominis — although crunches still have a place in a workout.

Many people who regularly do crunches complain about how their necks hurt. That doesn’t really make sense — until you see how they do their crunches. They lift their torsos up by pulling on their necks.

When you are doing a crunch, you should use your abs to lift you up, not your hands. Your elbows should be out of sight. Never clasp your hands behind your head. You can use just your fingers to support your head, but lift with your abs. Also, keep your chin off your chest. This will help to align your neck properly.

If doing a crunch properly sounds like too much work, instead try front and side planks. This way of isometrically contracting your abs is super-effective. Or try doing crunches on an unstable surface such as a stability ball; way more effective than the floor.

I have heard it said that we will do better when we know better. Well, now your know better about exercise safety and form.

On your fitness journey, educate yourself by reading, talking to experts and trying to see what works for you. The fitness world has grown in knowledge by leaps and bounds since the 1980s and ’90s. The learning never ends.

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer and manager of the Oxford YMCA. "Fitness over 50" is published the third Sunday of each month.