Muscle mass and core stability grow more important as we age – Reading Eagle

The holiday season is typically a time to attend festive parties, spend extra time with grandchildren or take a flight to visit distant family members. Not only do we want to look good for these occasions, but we want to feel good in doing the activities that have become tradition.

As you age, there are some important things to focus on when it comes to physical fitness that will enable you to continue the normal activities you love to partake in, whether during the holidays or in your everyday life.

“The big thing that is important as you age is strength training, because as you get older, the one thing you lose is muscle,” said Adam Lieb, owner of Chester County Training, South Coventry Township, which specializes in fitness programs for seniors.

He stressed that muscle is the biggest predictor of longevity and that a lack of strength training for those age 55 and older can lead to unfavorable consequences.

“It will be a continuous loss of muscle mass that will have you end up falling and breaking a hip,”  he said. “That is how people end up in nursing homes and are not able to continue their normal activity.”

In such instances as breaking a hip, you risk your overall quality of life.

“You risk not being able to enjoy what you do — you risk not being able to enjoy your retirement or playing with your grandchildren or being able to travel,” he said. “One of the biggest and most important things is increasing your muscle mass so you can continue to enjoy and improve your everyday life. Muscle mass is gold.”

One of the first things Lieb does with new clients during an assessment is to take a look at how they pick up a kettlebell off the floor.

“I do an assessment of their movement patterns and from there, you can start to add weight and build the muscle and your muscle is what drives everything,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to see if somebody picks something off the ground without being mindful about proper back positioning and engaging their core to keep their back stable.

He said that in order to have good posture you have to be able to hit each part of your body, not just your core or the things you can visually see.

“People have things, like glutes, that they can’t see that support what they can see,” he said. “It’s being mindful of incorporating every part of their body — the body works as a system and it’s understanding you have to target every part of that system. If you only pick and choose, it won’t work properly.”

Adam Lieb spots Steve Ditlo during an incline bench press which targets his chest, shoulders and triceps. (Courtesy of Lydia Lieb)
Adam Lieb spots Steve Ditlo during an incline bench press which targets his chest, shoulders and triceps. (Courtesy of Lydia Lieb)

If you are dealing with back pain, he discussed the importance of core stability and the importance of maintaining it over an extended period of time to avoid injury.

“It’s being conscious of your movements throughout your day and making sure it’s done in an efficient and proper way,” he said. “If you are conscious about your posture throughout your day you are going to create a stronger back.”

Steve Ditlo, 71, from South Coventry, only began taking exercise seriously after recently retiring. Ditlo’s wife, Sally, has trained with Lieb for eight years, but he always found reasons to avoid exercise when he was working as a vice president in sales and marketing and found he was typically sedentary or traveling.

Today, Ditlo trains with Lieb twice a week for one-hour sessions at his studio, which is within walking distance from his house. Ditlo exercises another two days per week at his home, which is equipped with exercise equipment in the basement.

Each morning he starts off the day with stretches and his workouts focus on strength training, core and cardio. Despite having a pacemaker, he has no exercise restrictions.

“It’s probably one of the best decisions I have ever made,” Ditlo said. “I don’t know why I didn’t start earlier. I feel so much better and I feel good about myself. I feel so much better overall.”

Steve Ditlo, 71, performs a BOSU ball squat to increase his balance and lower body strength. (Courtesy of Lydia Lieb)
Steve Ditlo, 71, performs a BOSU ball squat to increase his balance and lower body strength.(Courtesy of Lydia Lieb)

Prior to working out with Lieb, when he would do things around the house that required physical activity he wasn’t able to last very long.

“Now I feel more agile and I have gained a lot of strength,” Ditlo said. “I’m hauling the wheelbarrow all of the time and I’ll be out all day. Before, I was starting to feel it after a couple of hours and now I go all day and I feel great.”

Ditlo said that in addition to Lieb helping him attain his personal goals, he emphasizes the importance of balance for seniors. Attaining and maintaining core stability helps maintain balance and good posture, among other things.

Lieb often works with his clients on the “McGill Big 3” for core stability, which is a series of exercises centered on the back based on research by Dr. Stuart McGill, a distinguished professor emeritus at Waterloo University.

He determined three exercises — curl ups (also known as crunches), side planks and bird-dogs — are ones that efficiently address all of the muscles associated with the spine without placing stresses on the parts of the back that might be aggravated or irritated due to injury.

Lieb stressed that what makes these particular exercises ideal is that they require you to engage your core for the full length of each exercise.

“It gets your core stable, so that when you are in a situation, you have the ability to maintain core stability when needed to avoid an injury,” he said. “It’s not always about stretching; it’s about the core stability exercises over an extended period of time.”

Lieb said that in this day and age the importance of maintaining your physical health, in addition to your mental well-being, is paramount.

“One of the easiest things you can do is get yourself in a better spot through exercise,” he said. “Some things you can’t control, but you can control your exercise and what food you put in your body.”

Half of Levine’s clients come to his studio, like Ditlo, and the other half receive in-home training. Sixty percent of his client base is made up of seniors.

“I have been doing this for 15 years and senior citizens have become one of our specialties,” Lieb said. “The focus is on functional fitness and how to improve your quality of life as you age.”

About Chester County Training

Chester County Training, located in South Coventry Township, is a personal training service that offers one-on-one, partner, group, Zoom, or Facetime training sessions designed to meet specific exercise, strength, yoga and nutritional goals. They will meet with clients in one of their two private training studios, at your work site or in the comfort of your home. For in-home training, all exercise equipment is provided. Their focus is to help clients achieve their health and fitness goals. Over their 15 years in offering personal training they have developed a specialization in working with senior citizens. For more information, visit or call 484-269-3220.

Suggested reading

“Back Mechanic” by Dr. Stuart McGill guides you through a self-assessment of your pain triggers and then shows you how to avoid these roadblocks to recovery. Then effective exercises are coached in a step-by-step progressive plan. This evidence-based guide is centered on research by spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill. Available for purchase at