Safe and sensible strength training tips
Most people don’t realize that each decade after our 20’s we start to lose some of our muscle mass. Research shows that we can lose up to 10% of our muscle mass every decade. This means that we may not be as strong as we once were, and it also has a negative effect on our metabolism. Since muscle is more “metabolically active” than fat (that means muscle burns more calories), we find that we need fewer calories to maintain the same weight. That’s why as we age many of us find it harder and harder to keep our weight down even though we are eating the same amount of calories.
Keeping our muscle strength and tone not only helps us maintain a healthy weight, it allows us to perform many daily activities more easily and safely. Without a reasonable amount of muscle strength we might start finding it more challenging to climb the stairs with that load of groceries, or even to pick up one of our growing grandchildren.
Strength training is a form of exercise we should plan on doing for the rest of our lives, just like aerobic exercise (walking, biking, swimming, etc.). These two forms of exercise will help us stay healthier and active as we age so we can remain independent as long as possible. Exercising will also allow us to continue pursuing our favorite hobbies and activities.
So what do we need to keep in mind when planning and doing our strength training? The following pointers can help you develop and perform strengthening exercises in a safe and sensible way.
1. Practice good posture by learning to do the exercises properly. Stay relaxed. Slow down to make sure your posture is good. Concentrate. Make sure you breathe properly during each exercise. If you’re not sure what the right way is to do a specific exercise, check with a qualified personal trainer.
2. Make sure you do one or two exercises for each of your six main muscle groups – legs, arms chest, back, shoulders, and abdomen. Do the bigger muscle groups first (legs, chest, and back) because they require more energy.
3. Plan on doing your strength training two or three times every week. You can use exercise machines, resistance bands, free weights, your own body weight, or a combination of these methods to keep things interesting.
4. Be patient. It may take several months to get the results you want. If you’ve never done any strength training or it’s been quite a while, you will probably start to feel some results pretty quickly. You might not look like a contestant for a body building contest in a week, but you’ll find the exercises getting easier and you’ll start having more energy.
5. Challenge yourself. Although you want to start out slowly and with very light weights, you need to increase the weights periodically to get maximum benefits. Start with a weight you can lift properly 10 times. Once you get to the point where you can lift that weight 15 times you can increase the weight by about 5%.
6. Plan on your strength training routine taking you 20 – 30 minutes each time you perform it. Don’t do it two days in a row. You should leave at least one to two days in between. You can do some form of aerobic exercise on the days you don’t do strength training.
7. Relax at the end. Do a few minutes of light stretching after your routine. There is a lot of controversy about stretching reducing injuries, but, in any case, it will help improve your flexibility and range of motion.
Strength training is good for people of any age, but it is particularly useful and even necessary for us as we age in order to help us maintain a healthy weight and be able to perform daily activities more easily and safely. Be sure to you check with your doctor before you start any exercise program.
1. Start slowly, especially if you haven’t been active for a long time.
2. Don’t hold your breath during strength exercises as it could cause changes in your blood pressure. Breathe out as you lift something, breathe in as you relax.
3. Unless your doctor has asked you to limit fluids, be sure to drink plenty when exercising. Many older adults don’t feel thirsty even if their body needs fluids.
4. Always bend forward from the hips, not the waist. If you keep your back straight, you’re probably bending the right way. If your back “humps,” that’s probably wrong.
5. Warm up your muscles before you strength train. Try walking and light arm pumping first.
6. Exercise should not hurt or make you feel really tired. You might feel some soreness, a little discomfort, or a bit weary, but you should not feel pain.
Source: National Institute on Aging, http://www.nia.nih.gov
By Thomas D. Manfredi, M.S., Online fitness coach