Strength training. It seems as if everywhere you look… blogs, the news, even in your doctor’s office… people are talking about it.
But no one ever bothers to explain how or why to do it. And frankly, getting started can be downright intimidating.
Plus how do you know if you’re even doing it right?
You’re correct to be concerned. Many well-meaning folks miss the mark when they begin strength training. I intend to make sure you’re not one of them.
But first let’s talk about how important strength training is as we age.
The sobering reality is once we pass 50, whether we realize it or not, we’re facing an uphill battle to preserve our muscles. And the vast majority of us are losing the fight.
Experts say that for each decade line we cross after 50, we shed five to 10 pounds of muscle. That is, unless we do something to slow it down.
And that something is… you guessed it… strength training.
Losing muscle means losing power and strength
When we skip out on building up our muscles, we eventually become weak and frail. Which makes everyday activities such as climbing stairs or quickly crossing a street tough to do. Because we aren’t just losing strength, we’re losing power too
And since muscles are natural fat burners, as we lose them our metabolism slows down too. Soon we begin packing on pounds which we’re too weak to burn back off.
But adding some simple strength training exercises to your routine several days a week can slow muscle loss to a crawl. Plus it will help keep the weight off too.
And the good news is even if you’ve already lost a bunch of muscle you can turn things back around. You CAN rebuild the muscle you have lost.
Strength training stops “muscle melt” it its tracks
Following are four things you should know about strength training before getting started. They will help you get off on the right foot, so you can begin reaping the muscle-building benefits right away.
1. Resistance matters:
Your goal with strength training isn’t to look like a muscle bound gym rat. You want to build strength and power so everyday activities don’t start to feel too difficult to do.
But to build strength and power you need to not shy away from resistance. It’s okay to start small, with the lightest weights or not putting too much tension into your resistance bands. In fact, it’s best to do this until you master the movement.
But don’t plan to stay there for long. Because if you’re using too light a weight you’re never going to get the results you want.
Aim for a weight that allows you to complete 10 to 15 repetitions. But keep in mind the last few ought to be a bit tough (but NEVER painful). You need to challenge your muscle to encourage them to grow.
When you get used to the movement you can gradually increase the weight and reduce your number of reps.
2. Variety matters:
We all do it. When we exercise, we fixate on our favorite areas to work out and ignore others. (I’m guilty of focusing on my legs.)
But to make strength training work you need to give ALL of your major muscle groups some love.
- abdominal core
Try to do one set of exercises for each area. You can increase the number of sets over time.
3. Timing matters:
You should be aiming for two to three strength training sessions a week. But timing is important. The days should not be back to back.
Your muscles need time for rest and recovery. They gain strength and grow during the downtime. So don’t fall into the trap of thinking more is better.
Plan in some other kinds of exercise for other days of the week such as walking, swimming, water aerobics or yoga. (Want to make those exercises senior friendly? Click here!)
4. Safety matters:
You shouldn’t be afraid of strength training. It’s good for you. But you also should always use some caution when starting something new.
If you have any preexisting conditions (and honestly, who doesn’t?) you might want to check in with your doctor before you start. It’s better to get his thumbs up then push full steam ahead and end up injuring yourself.
Always use smooth and steady motions. No herky-jerky movements, which can cause an injury or aggravate existing ones. And remember to breathe through your exercises. Holding your breathe causes unnecessary strain and can make you feel lightheaded.
Consider watching some free online videos–there are bunches on YouTube to choose from–or purchasing one. (One we like is “Cardio and Strength Workout for Seniors DVD with Angie Miller“) Strength training videos designed for folks with mobility issues or for seniors are a great way to get the most benefits from your exercise without risking any injuries. And having an instructor walk you through the proper way to do each exercise is priceless.
If you belong to a gym, you can use the weights there. Some gyms even offer personal trainers. If yours does, go ahead and take advantage. They can help you set up a routine that works for you.
You can also buy an inexpensive set of smaller weights if you’d rather do your working out at home. Or try my preferred method, resistance bands.
Yes, you too should be strength training. ESPECIALLY if you’re a senior. And the time to get started is now.