September 27

3 Exercises women over 50 should never do


I was almost struck by lightning once. It happened during a visit to a client’s house in Connecticut many years ago. 

I specify Connecticut because here in Southern California lightning storms are as common as a salad without sliced avocado.

In other words: never happen.

In fact, if a lightning storm were to occur here I’d assume it was the end of the world.

The minute I hear rumbling I’d pack up my favorite makeup palettes, a couple gallons of water and a few protein bars and head underground — and it’s where I’d stay until I ran out of water. Or highlighter.

So my lightning story.

It began like any other day…

I left my house for the 20-minute drive. It looked like rain but had not yet started. I heard the rumble of distant thunder. I wasn’t worried. As opposed to the west coast, in Connecticut summer thunderstorms happen nearly every day.

                                            NOTE: Not the actual lightning bolt

I arrived at my client’s house just as it starts to pour. Thankfully, she had a covered porch where I waited until she reached the door.

I rang the doorbell, sack of fitness equipment in a bag over my shoulder. Where the heck is she? I remember thinking, since she didn’t usually lock her door when she expects me.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I see a white hot streak accompanied by a simultaneous giant, crackling — BOOM!!!

Lightning hits a tree in the next yard, setting it on fire. I nearly jumped into my equipment sack.

(Thankfully the pouring rain put out the fire immediately.)

I screamed and began pounding on my client’s front door, in near hysterics, “Let me in!”

I was shaking and trying not to burst into tears. So much for professionalism, I’m thinking.

She finally opens the door. She’s holding her 3-year old son and simply says, “Wow, that sounded close.”

No kidding.

It took me half the session to calm down, as if that lightning bolt wanted a second chance to hit me and would stop at nothing to get it.

By now you’re probably thinking one of three things:

  1. I’m being overly dramatic because it’s not as if my hair caught on fire or my shoes melted to the front porch
  2. It would’ve been way more interesting if the bolt hit me and I was able to play the piano after I regained consciousness
  3. For cripe’s sake what does this have to do with exercises we should never do??

And you’d be 100% correct on all accounts, at least for the first two.

But let’s face it, fitness is not nearly as exciting as almost becoming a human shish kebab. So if you read down this far, I rest my case.

As for #3, here’s the thing: You can have a near miss with lightning just as you can with exercise.

Problem is, there’s a lot of gray area in the fitness world. And no, I’m not just talking about hair color after 50.

It’s what makes exercise as frustrating as it is challenging.    

As a writer for numerous online publications, I realize the importance of a headline that attracts clicks. So do my editors.

Nearly any time I’ve been assigned an article using the phrase, “… To Never Do/Eat/” I get less-than-friendly emails and comments.

For example, a 40- year old fitness pro friend once wrote to tell me I was wrong about exercises for people over 50, and that he plans on working out the same way and just as hard well into his 50s.

To which I said, “Good for you! Catch up with me when you reach 50 and we’ll chat.”

Then of course you have ridiculous exceptions such as the Iron Nun featured in Nike ads, who’s reportedly completed 340 triathlons and continues to race at the age of 87.

I can’t imagine running a marathon, let alone a triathlon or any other heroic fitness feats.

The good news? You don’t have to do anything extreme to be fit and strong. 

In fact, extreme anything in any type of sport or workout will much more likely land you in the ER after 50 due to changes in the collagen, elasticity and recovery time required. But yes, some people are more resilient and have better genetics than us mere mortals, apparently.

Having said that… in general, the following exercises are deemed less than great for you after 50 (note: personally, I never do these exercises, for the record)…

Leg extension machine

As someone with knee osteoarthritis, just thinking about this machine makes my knees hurt.

It involves extending your legs up out in front of you with resistance in front of your ankles while in a seated position. It hits the quadriceps, the front of the thighs.

Why it’s not great: This exercise puts a ton of shear force and stress over the knee cap area, causing wear and tear on the knee.

A better choice: lunges or squats, if you can do them, or simple leg lifts while seated with your back against a wall

Pulldowns behind the head 

This back exercise involves pulling a bar straight down and behind your head until it reaches neck level. It forces you to lean in towards the machine and is awkward at best.

Why it’s not great:  Pulldowns behind the neck stress out the front of your shoulders and could lead to injury.

A better choice:  You can use the same machine but lean back slightly and pull the bar in front of you at collarbone level, instead of behind your neck, keeping your back straight. Or substitute seated rows.

Military/overhead presses 

This refers to lifting weights directly overhead and in line with your shoulders, which includes the military press done on a machine, with a barbell or dumbbells.

Why it’s not great: It puts stress across the shoulders and rotator cuff tendons, which are more prone to injury as we age.

A better choice: Modify the move by bringing hands slightly in front of you instead of directly in line with your shoulders, or substitute lateral raises.

BONUS TIP If you have osteoporosis or osteopenia…


Any type of flexion, where you curve your spine forward as in a crunch, puts spinal discs at risk of fracturing. You won’t necessarily know it, either, until you find yourself becoming shorter.

As someone with osteoporosis, I substitute planks and other ab exercises that do not involve flexion.


What exercises do you no longer do and why? Let me know in the comments section below… I’d love to hear from you. And please forward this post to your ageless friends who may find benefit in my rantings :).

Other posts you may enjoy:

How to get better results by taking a break

13 Best calorie burners for women over 50

5 Traits of an effective, safe, total body workout

Your Ageless Body Coach,


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  1. who’s Cripe? LOL! A family member used the “for cripe’s sake” expression a lot and we all together would say “who’s Cripe?” and crack up. I love your posts Linda! They always give me a good belly laugh at my new “standing desk”. I purposely read your emails at work to put me in a good mood. Denise

    1. lol! Thank you so much for your note! Made my day. Yes, I try to avoid anything that might be seen as even moderately offensive to people. No one knows Cripe. But I heard he’s a jerk. 🙂

  2. I can imagine how startled you were, I live in Texas and we have lots of lightening storms that can get very intense….

    1. I was both in awe and scared out of my mind at the same time, Lois. But I don’t want to be that close to lightning EVER again! lol

  3. I wish you would comment alına the same Thene for yoga asanas as I am 64 and I am a beginner ( 50 vinyassa lessons)
    Thank you

    1. I’m not as familiar with yoga as I am with other exercise modalities, but I can tell you if you have any bone issues (re: osteoporosis) stay clear of postures that involve a rounded back. Most importantly, tell the instructor ahead of time if you have any health issues. A good yoga instructor will know how to help you modify poses.

      1. Crunches are dangerous and only work your recurs abdominus, the superficial muscles that make up your so-called six/pack. Then do nothing to strengthen your deep core muscles or transverse abdominus that are key players in spinal health and your whole body. Read up!

        1. I’m not sure what you mean, since I did not recommend crunches. So we’re on the same page. 🙂

  4. I recently had knee surgery to repair my medial meniscus in my left knee. Along with the mentioned leg extension exercises, my surgeon also recommended avoiding squats and lunges as they put extreme pressure on the knees and if not done 100% properly could result in further damage to the meniscus(es). (I’m 56.)

    1. Yes, always listen to your doctor or physical therapist. It’s all very individual.

  5. Military/overhead presses will also give you compressed discs – according to my neurologist, don’t lift things over your head. The discs dry out as you age, and there is nothing you can do about it. They ain’t coming back.

    1. Unfortunately, that’s true. I stopped doing military type presses years ago. I do a high incline chest press, which gets a lot of shoulders but without the direct hit of a military press.

  6. Squats are the exercise I don’t do as well as when I was young. The arthritis in my knees make squatting difficult.
    I don’t run anymore either. If I’m running you’d better be running too since something is after me.

    1. lol! You will love the interview I did with Dr. Geier for the Ageless Army. It’s ALL about knee pain. It should post by early next week :).

  7. Have never done a crunch since 2012 when I suffered severe pain and perforated a disc in my lower back . I was off work for a month but avoided surgery by working hard with my Physio . I’m 55 now , pain free and manage my core strength with other alternative excercises with advice from my personal trainer once per week .

    1. Great approach, Cathy! Crunches are not necessary for a strong core, for sure.

  8. Thanks for the advice. I was doing the leg extensions and the forward crunches. I did not know it would hurt my spine, I thought I was strengthening my core. I stopped using weight machines about a month ago and now just use the elliptical for 30 minutes. I was going to go back to weight work but will put it off.

    1. Hi Lisa! Crunches are only contraindicated if you have osteoporosis of the spine, as I do. If you don’t have any spine issues you should be fine (barring any other physical limitation that requires you to avoid forward flexion/bending forward). But as for the leg extensions… yeah, those are really not great for anyone.

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