Plank exercise

Jonathan Pylant demonstrates a plank exercise.

Brad Loper/Dallas Morning News/MCT

We all know that getting older is out of our control. There is not a darn thing we can do about the quickly passing days and weeks. But what we can do something about is how we live those days and what we do to make ourselves feel younger and be super functional into the future.

I believe it isn’t enough just to show up at a gym or a workout and put in a half effort. You really have to go where you may not feel like going in order to see results that help you as you age.

There are three great exercises that you must do as you age to stay functional and strong. Notice that there is no equipment needed for these!


This exercise is a great upper-body strengthener, primarily working the anterior deltoid and the pecs but secondarily working the triceps.

And you can do these anywhere! If you cannot do these on the floor, you can do wall push-ups, which is a great place to start. Or you can do incline push-ups into a firm chair.

The ultimate goal, however, is to do them on the floor to make use of gravity and make the exercise more effective. Knees or toes will do.

Do as many as you can, then continue to add to that. You will build muscle and get stronger in no time.


This exercise is SUPER important. As we age, we lose the ability to extend our spine. Maybe it is because we are constantly in spinal flexion mode. Driving, leaning over a keyboard, picking things up, etc. We need flexibility in the spine to remain mobile.

Spinal extension exercises are commonly done prone on a mat or just on the floor. With arms folded under your forehead, lift your upper body off the floor 10 times. No leg lifts to start.

In all my years of fitness training, I have noticed men have a lot harder time with this exercise.

As you get stronger, you can extend arms to make this exercise more difficult. Eventually, you can add alternating leg lifts as well.


Doing a side or front plank can be challenging at first. Planks are done on knees for beginners and toes for advanced. Either on elbows and forearms or hands, you balance your body in a perfectly aligned plank.

This exercise is considered an isometric exercise. This means there is no joint movement, but there are certainly multi-muscle contractions. Planks hit a lot of muscle groups, but most important are the transverse abdominus. These super soldiers of the abdomen support your internal organs and help stabilize the spine. They are the very deepest of abdominal muscles. Think sneezing and coughing muscles.

Start out trying to hold the plank pose for 20-30 seconds. Try not to sag your back or put your bootie in the air. The angle from the head to the knees (or the toes if you are on your feet) should be smooth and angled downward like a ski slope. Using a mirror helps to check your form. Good form is the key to results.

My classes have been known to hold planks for 3-5 minutes. This takes lots of practice. So practice often and build up. I have a 73-year-old client who can hold a plank with no problem for 2 minutes – AND he has had many years of back problems. So what’s your excuse?

It goes without saying that you still need to do something that challenges your cardiovascular system. Just get out and walk, run, bike, swim, take a class – whatever you will even halfway enjoy – for 3-4 times a week.

I have seen a lot of folks come into the Y, get on a treadmill and walk at 2 mph for 10 minutes, lift a few weights, then mosey on out. That will not get you results that you want. If it is not a challenge, then it won’t have the effect you desire. I am sure this is not a secret, but you have to put in the work.

If you are able-bodied and have the desire to strengthen your cardiovascular system, you need to sweat, you need to get out of your comfort zone and you need to get your heart rate into the appropriate zone for at least 20-30 minutes. (To figure the appropriate zone, the formula is 220-age x 60% and 85%.)

If the workout is too easy, it probably is not going to change you. It is way better to age in shape and not wait until we get bad news from our doctor to get moving and take control of our health.

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer and manager of the Oxford YMCA. And she’s over 50.