Must-Do Injury Prevention Exercises for Older Adults

Uncovering the Missing Link for Effective Fall Prevention

By Coach E

Must-Do Injury Prevention Exercises for Older Adults

As we age, injury prevention becomes vital. A simple fall that might cause a skinned knee in a child can lead to much bigger problems for older adults.

Just because you go on daily walks, hit the gym, or hit the tennis court regularly doesn’t mean you are effectively staying ahead of fall prevention.

Most adults, especially those aged 50 and older, are unknowingly neglecting a key group of injury prevention exercises that can help them stay active, healthy, and prevent falls and associated injuries.

So what is this missing link? Let’s take a look at the fundamentals of injury prevention for older adults to learn more.

Preventing Injuries with the Performance Pyramid

When it comes to preventing injuries, I want you to consider a Performance Pyramid that starts with some basic foundations and works up to the missing link. The first level of the pyramid is endurance.

Why Does Endurance Matter?

Endurance is essential because when fatigue sets in, injury is much more likely to occur.

When your body and muscles become fatigued, you tend to have trouble maintaining good form, and a lack of alignment and proper activation is a recipe for injury.

Why Does Strength Matter?

The second level of the Performance Pyramid is strength. As you increase the weight you can manage in a squat or a row, you are building up your tissue tolerance.

So when you need to pick up something heavy (whether that’s to load groceries into the car or pick up your grandkid) your muscles know how to handle the load and your body knows how to execute the movement required with good alignment.

picking up your grandchild

The Missing Link

At the tip top of the pyramid, a couple of factors come into play, and these are the missing links for most people: power, speed, and agility.

Power represents your muscles’ ability to generate force rapidly. Agility is your ability to move gracefully, and involves different elements like coordination and balance. And speed is how rapidly you can integrate all of this to perform a movement.

Why Do Power, Speed, and Agility Matter?

These elements are often skipped over, and something many folks think are only important to elite athletes. But they should be incorporated into everyone’s routine to help prevent injury.

Let’s say you play soccer or have taken up pickleball after work. These sports definitely require power, speed, and agility.

Sports aside, If you ever need to quickly stabilize or respond to sudden movement, you’ll need these 3 factors.

Let’s say you’re going down the steps on a winter day and there’s an icy patch you didn’t notice. Or you’re walking your dog and they start chasing a squirrel when you least expect it.

You better hope your body can respond with power, speed, and agility in any of these circumstances. But if you never train these components, you aren’t setting yourself up for success!

Varied Training for Fall Prevention

Thankfully, if you do take time to incorporate the missing link, you are going to dramatically decrease your injury risk.

This is especially true for adults 50 years and older, because without training, we start to lose these elements at the top of the Performance Pyramid first, followed by strength, and then endurance.

One review of 108 randomized control trials found that while all types of exercise were good for fall prevention (and reduced fall rate among participants by 23%), the benefits went up when exercise type was varied [1]. The authors estimated that combining types of exercise aimed at balance and functional movements with strength training reduced fall rates by about 34%!

Varied training doesn’t have to be complicated. I’m going to walk you through a series of exercises to address all of these factors, all based around a single fundamental movement pattern: the lunge.

Lunge-Based Injury Prevention Exercises for Endurance & Strength

Endurance – Reverse Lunge

We’ll start with a reverse lunge – a great exercise that’s easy on the knees (if knee pain and mobility is an issue for you, check out this article on VMO strengthening).

injury prevention exercises - reverse lunge

There are four alignment pointers I want you to keep in mind:

  • Keep your front foot flat. Fire up your foot intrinsic muscles to make an active arch (think about trying to make your foot shorter and more narrow).
  • Maintain good posture. As you extend your rear hip, make sure your torso stays upright and lifted.
  • Kiss your back knee to the ground.
  • Pull yourself up with your front foot. Generate the activation with a pull from your front foot, instead of a push from your back leg.

To make this exercise an endurance powerhouse, perform 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps per leg, with about a minute of rest between sets.

Strength – Reverse Lunge

To take that same movement and shift the focus to strength, you are simply going to perform more sets, fewer reps, and increase the weight as you can. Try 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps of the reverse lunge per leg, with a longer rest (2-3 minutes) between sets.

Lunge Variations for Power, Speed, and Agility

Below are four different variations of a reverse lunge that train power, speed, and agility. These exercises also work single limb balance – and balance exercises for older adults are crucial for fall prevention!

For all of these variations, perform 4-6 sets of 3-5 reps with 1 minute rest between sets.

Drop to Lunge

injury prevention exercises drop to lunge
This exercise develops speed, balance, and the ability to absorb force.

  • Lift your heels to come onto your toes (you can use one hand on a wall for balance if needed)
  • Quickly drop one foot back into a reverse lunge as your front foot finds a flat foot position
  • Stick this position, with your back knee kissing the ground, then reset and repeat on the other side

Drop to 1-leg

This move is similar to the previous exercise, but with a more challenging balance and power component by shifting the force absorption to a single leg.

injury prevention exercises drop to 1 leg

  • Lift your heels to come onto your toes
  • Quickly drop one foot back into a near reverse lunge position, but keep your rear foot hovering off the ground
  • Stick this position, hold for two seconds, then reset and repeat on the other side

Jump to 1-leg

Continue to challenge power, speed, and agility with this variation that requires a quick hop up from flat feet to an agile landing on the toes.

injury prevention exercises jump to 1 leg

  • Start with flat feet and slightly bent knees
  • Bend through your knees to jump up, then land with your front foot flat on the ground and rear foot hovering off the ground like it was in the previous exercise
  • Stick this position, hold for two seconds, then reset and repeat on the other side

Lateral Jump to 1-leg

This final exercise takes us out of the sagittal plane of motion into the frontal plane, which involves lateral movements.

lateral jump to 1 leg injury prevention exercises

  • Start with flat feet and slightly bent knees
  • Jump laterally onto your right foot, landing with your right foot flat and your left foot behind you and hovering off the ground
  • Stick this position, holding for two seconds
  • Jump laterally onto your left foot, landing with a flat left foot and keeping your right foot hovering behind you
  • Stick this position, hold for two seconds, and repeat

If you aren’t sold on the functionality of this exercise – just take a look at this tennis player in action. Like I said earlier, if you’re going to demand agility, power, and speed of your body, make sure you’re training for those factors!

 injury prevention for older adults

Training for Long-term Success

As you look to make gains in power, speed, and agility, it’s important to stick with these exercises, performing them twice a week for 3-4 weeks. This will allow you to start reprogramming your nervous system to react in a different, more agile way, while also training your muscles for endurance, strength, and proper form.

If you’re dealing with an injury now, especially a lower body injury that could impede your ability to respond to a loss of balance and prevent a fall, please don’t ignore it. I’ve got tons of resources to help you recover, like my comprehensive Knee Pain Solution program.

Remember that fitness and mobility shouldn’t just be reactive, it should be proactive, especially as we age.

Take this opportunity to set your future self up for success by working through the Performance Pyramid to prevent injuries before they occur. Whether you want to win the rec soccer league championship or just prevent falls as you age, commit to refocusing on these fundamentals – especially the often overlooked missing link of power, speed, and agility.

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.