Now, let’s talk about a more traditional exercise regimen – strength training. We’ve all heard that we need strength training in order to stay strong as we get older. It’s known that muscle mass and strength decline more rapidly as we age (a process called sarcopenia). This typically starts to occur around the age of 40 and then progressively worsens as we get older. The good news is that by incorporating strength training into your exercise program, you can stop the process.1 You can regain your muscle strength and rebuild muscle mass.
A New Way to Strength Train
Strength training benefits go beyond mere visible results and improved muscle mass to include chronic disease prevention such as decreased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes. In fact, strength training is considered so important that the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has added fitness guidelines specific to weight training for people over 50.2
When you walk into our weight room, you will see some of the traditional weight machines and cardio equipment. We love these particular machines for their single focus simplicity and unique adjustability to accommodate joint issues; however, we do not recommend them for everyone. As you move toward the group training room, you will see a variety of “toys” we use to teach functional fitness, where we reproduce movements you will perform in your everyday life.
The reality is the musculoskeletal system is comprised of not only of muscle strength, but also muscle endurance, speed, and power (which is a combination of strength and speed). Training with resistance equipment is designed to protect the joints, support the body, and make sure the specific muscle group to be exercised is targeted. 50+ exercisers benefit from circuit weight machines by building muscle while keeping correct form and protecting joints. Weight machines are also a good option for people who may have physical challenges such as arthritis and a lack of flexibility. Weight equipment is used in the sitting position, which supports the back and ensures the exercise is performed correctly.
Multi-Dimensional Strength Training
Your personal training workouts should incorporate strength training in every dimension – strength exercises on your feet, on the floor, seated, kneeling, and in just about every way possible. Research literature refers to this type of workout as functional task training (or just functional training).
Depending on your goals and needs, you should be preforming exercises in all three-dimensional spaces. We squat, bend over, push, pull, carry, and more during our daily activities, so that is exactly how we need to train when we workout. Using these complex movements allows us to train like your body was meant to move. Forwards, backwards, sideways, up, down, turning, on one leg, on two legs… all the ways you move in real life. It is also important to strength train at different speeds because you want to be able to move adeptly at different rates. Power is the combination of strength and speed. It is really what allows you to move well and move in a forceful way. Think about climbing stairs. It takes not only strength, but also speed to efficiently move upwards. Think about how hard it would be to climb stairs as slowly as possible. Power is critical when it comes to climbing stairs or getting out of a chair or even carrying things. It is an essential element of most sports and vigorous activities, like skiing and hiking.
When we’re doing strength training, fitness coaches think about all the different movements that you need to do, want to do, and love to do. For instance, if you like to ski, then we might have one workout with lunges and squats to strengthen your muscles while helping you gain more of the power and control that’s essential when skiing downhill.
Muscle endurance is another area that is often overlooked in training plans but is essential to any successful workout program. Technically, it is the muscle’s ability to repeatedly exert force against resistance, like how many times you can lift a weight or how many sit-ups you can do in a row. More practically, muscle endurance training builds up your strength and ability to perform daily tasks and can help prevent injuries by strengthening and stabilizing muscles and joints. Think about an average daily task. It’s more useful to be able to carry 20-pounds multiple times, like unloading groceries or carrying a toddler, than it is to pick up 200 pounds at one time.
Muscle endurance benefits everything we do daily, from cleaning the house to gardening to moving things to the many other physical tasks we regularly do. The common thread in all these tasks is that movement and weight are both involved. Our fitness coaches incorporate these types of functional strength movements into every training plan. One session might involve body weight squats where you gain strength and improve your mobility and balance. Another session might involve a stability ball bicep or tricep curls that challenge the whole body while specifically working your arms and core. Developing this type of strength can be a game changer when it comes to preventing injuries. Your joints are now used to working through a range of motion with resistance. As a result, you’ve developed a new type of strength that flows into your everyday life and helps protect you from injury.
Your newfound muscle endurance protects your back when you’re gardening or bringing in the groceries. It strengthens your shoulder and your arms so that you can easily lift a suitcase into the overhead compartment. You can hop right up into the floor after working on a puzzle with your child or grandchild. It’s a quality of life that you want to have.
Train for Real Life
The narrow view of exercise from the 80s or 90s relied on training programs that were one dimensional. There might have been a lot of aerobic work – running, elliptical, or aerobics classes – or a lot of strength training isolated muscle groups on machines or with free weights. What was missing was a connection between the aerobic conditioning, the weightlifting, and your real life.
- Gretchen Reynolds, “The Best Exercise for Aging Muscles,” New York Times, March 23, 2017, accessed May 27, 2018, https://www.ny-times.com/2017/03/23/well/move/the-best-exercise-for-aging-muscles.html
- Elizabeth Quinn, “Your Guide to Strength Training After Age 50,” VeryWellFit.com, updated February 14, 2018, https://www.verywellfit.com/strength-training-over-age-50-3119344.