With access to gyms and other indoor workout options severely limited, many of us are exercising at home and using online workouts more than ever. Streaming workout options can be convenient and motivating, but they also offer special challenges for older adults. How do you choose a workout and adapt it to your unique needs including fitness level, prior injuries and personal preferences? Read on for ways to make almost any workout work for you! 

Who is the workout targeting? 

It’s wise to keep in mind that many of the workouts you will find online are designed by younger, hard charging trainers, who rarely take the unique needs of more mature exercisers in mind. Noting who the workout is targeted toward, the style of the trainer and the goals of the workout can help you find options that will require less adaptation. A pro tip is to notice the age and fitness levels of the coach and other models. Are they perfectly fit and 20 or older with more physically realistic physiques? It’s also good to note the speed of the workout. The faster a workout moves, the less likely the trainer is to give alternative options for exercises and the more likely you are to get caught up on the flow and do something that might be ill advised. The best online workouts will address working around injuries, lowering the intensity when needed and finding variations when a particular exercise just doesn’t work.

Do a warmup check in

Doing your own full body warm-up—before you start streaming your online workout—will ensure you tune into your body and can adapt today’s workout to today’s body. Maybe your trick shoulder is feeling even thicker than usual? Are your knees complaining a little more than they usually do? If you notice these signals in advance you can plan around exercises that may potentially be problematic. A warm-up does more than just warm your muscles, joints and nervous system for the workout to come. It’s also an opportunity to do a meet and greet with your body so that you can make the appropriate adjustments. Are your legs still sore from yesterday’s hike? Maybe switch to an upper body workout or even a restorative workout. Are your wrists extra tender from too much computing? Maybe skip pushups today or do them with your hands elevated on a bench to take some of the pressure off.

Stay in a pain free range of motion

Unless you have very specific injuries or limitations you can try most body weight exercises safely. When attempting an exercise, if you feel pain or discomfort during any part of the movement, limit the range of motion until you can perform the exercise comfortably. Keep in mind that acute pain is different from the sensation of working muscles. One handy way to know the difference is that pain is usually felt on one side, while exercise induced muscle fatigue is felt on both. Also, fatigue will build slowly as you do more repetitions, while pain from a movement that is counter productive will likely be felt right away. Squats, lunges and pushups are examples of exercises that can be done with a smaller range of motion while still being effective. Once you are able to do 10-15 repetitions of a body weight exercise in a pain free range of motion you can gradually start adding external resistance/weight. 

Reduce Resistance

Just because the exercise model is using 25 pound dumbbells to demonstrate bicep curls doesn’t mean that is a good idea for you. Many workout based injuries are related to using too much weight or resistance. The lower back is especially vulnerable to being strained with too much weight while fatigued. Often our ego tells us we should be using a certain amount of resistance for a particular exercise, maybe because that is the amount we used to be able to do or wish we could do. As we age our joints and connective tissue become less supple, making them more susceptible to injuries. Unfortunately due to their poor blood supply these tissues also adapt slower than muscles. To avoid injuries pay attention to how your joints are feeling and lower weight or take a break when you feel pressure or pain. A good general rule of thumb is that when straining impacts form either lower the weight or take a rest set. 

Lower impact

A popular, equipment-free way for trainers to increase intensity with at home workouts is by adding jumps. With healthy joints and proper form jumping may be okay for some older adults, for others it could overstress joints and muscles, leading to injury. This is particularly true when done at high volumes. Research shows that when it comes to plyometrics—another term for jump training—fewer, high quality reps is better then a lot of sloppily executed ones. If jumping causes any pain, discomfort or incontinence replace these moves with lower impact alternatives. For example, a squat jump could become fast squats and a hand clap push up could become a fast knee push-up or medicine ball chest toss. Other common moves such as high knees and jumping jacks can also be done in lower impact ways. 

Modify Volume

The trainer on your screen has no idea about your fitness or energy levels, so even if he or she is yelling at you to do 10 more reps, feel free to take a break. It’s natural to want to be able to follow along with the workout you are streaming, but sometimes you will need to dial back the intensity or take a break to keep yourself safe. Feel free to talk back to the screen if it helps. “I’m taking a break buddy! I don’t care if you want me to do 20 more squats.”  Its also a good idea to take 1-2 days of rest between strength workouts to let your body fully recover. If it helps, remember your body adapts to the stimulus of your workouts and gets stronger on the rest days and they are vitally important.  Learning to tune into your body will help you avoid injuries and burnout. Your body will tell you when to push and when to rest will ensure you get to keep working out and doing all the other things you love. 

With a few thoughtful modifications many online workouts can be customized to fit your unique needs and help you reach your fitness goals. What is your favorite at home workout?