I’ve recently had several people ask me what the benefits of strength training are as we age. It seems that this question continues to get asked a lot and I decided it might be most helpful to provide and share one of the many reasons.
The tendency towards inactivity naturally increases as we age; leading to many age-related degenerative issues and diseases. Just think of your grandparent’s frailty, stooped posture, unsteady and uncoordinated movements, loss of strength and sagging skin due to muscle loss. What I’d like to stress here is; it doesn’t have to be that way. One of the most prominent benefits to strength training as we age is maintenance of muscle tissue.
Why is this important?
As we age our bodies go through Sarcopenia which is a loss in strength from a reduced muscle mass and a loss in mobility from the reduced functional capacity of the muscle. These muscle changes happen because of issues between motor unit restructuring, protein deficiency and changes in hormone concentrations. This motor unit restructuring is the most important to maintain, as it causes the death of and/or decreased production of specialized motor neurons that send electrical impulses to the muscle fibers. This leads to nearby motor neurons to take over for survival, often with less precision and coordination in motor unit firing. This process usually begins at middle age (around 40) at a rate approximately half a pound muscle loss per year. Around the age of 50, this rate can double and it accelerates further towards the age of 70. If an individual is inactive, these numbers can exaggerate further.
Strength or resistance training can prolong, even slow this process. In one study by Roth, Ferrel & Hurley 2000, (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10936901) strength training was discovered to have a positive effect on the body’s neuromuscular system, protein synthesis and hormone concentrations by increasing production rates in response to strength training stimuli. Strength training (or better known as lifting weights) stresses the muscle by requiring the neurons to fire between the brain and muscle fibers in a more synchronistical way. The more motor neurons fire, the more muscle fiber recruitment involved which leads to a more coordinated, faster muscle contraction and greater muscle force production. Muscle mass helps to maintain protein synthesis rates which is needed for muscle tissue growth and regeneration. This may explain why individuals with a higher level of lean muscle mass may heal faster upon injuries (another benefit!).
Several human hormones responsible for muscle protein metabolism and closely related with protein synthesis usually decline due to age and atrophy. These hormones levels can be maintained however, through a continual strength-training program and were shown to improve when inactive individuals incorporated lifting weights into their exercise program. The overall take home message here is, if you don’t use it you will lose it!
The human skeletal muscle is a truly amazing, adaptable organ. Muscle will grow when repeatedly stressed during an intensive and progressive training program. No matter what the current motor neuron loss, muscle will hypertrophy using the neurons it current has. No matter one’s age or fitness level, studies have shown that muscle strength and mass can be regained. It is always advisable to seek the professional advice of a personal fitness trainer, especially if new strength training or experienced in age. Correct form and lifting mechanics, intensity, frequency and current fitness level all need to be factored in a strength-training program. The program also needs to progress at the appropriate overload rate to avoid injuries and gain improvements.
To maintain lean muscle, strength, coordination and mobility, it is important to continue to strength train or begin it now! You will keep your body functioning optimally well into your ‘experienced’ years, prevent degenerative issues and create a healthier version of you! For further information on personal fitness training at SAC, please contact Kendra Kainz.
“Get under the ball!” Racquet sports athletes have probably heard this ad naseum from their coaches and with good reason. Getting low to receive and re-direct an incoming ball in squash or tennis allows you more control of your shot as well as help to control your momentum and change direction. Broken down to its essence, this movement is a lunge pattern. Yet when I screen beginning, intermediate and even advanced squash players I frequently see difficulty in getting into a lunge position as well as maintaining stability in a lunge. Test your self: Align your feet in a straight line with your feet about as far apart as the length of your foreleg. Lower down until your rear knee contacts the ground and your knees are both at 90 degrees. Return to the starting position. If you can’t get into the bottom position or if your chest is strongly leaning forward in the bottom position, you are immobile in this pattern. If you can get down to the bottom position but you lose your balance, you are unstable in this pattern. If either applies, your ability to stop, change direction, change elevation and bend to the ground are impaired for racquet sports, field/court sports and daily life. If you are immobile, go back and do the Genuine Movement Mobility Routine.
If you are unstable, don’t worry. The following exercises can help stabilize you and, with frequent practice, you will see a difference in your performance in 2-4 weeks.
½ Kneeling Cable Chops
Get in the ½ kneeling position: one knee down, opposite foot directly in front of the down knee
Use wooden dowel on cable machine
Chop across your body from high to low
Return to start by reversing the pattern
Don’t move hips, trunk or shoulders
2 x 10
½ Kneeling 1 Arm Curl and Press
In ½ kneeling position, hold one DB in the hand on the opposite side of the front foot.
Curl and press DB while maintaining balance and position of hips and shoulders.
1 Arm Lunges
Stand with feet in a straight line
Hold DB in the opposite side of the front leg
Lower rear knee to floor to perform lunges with your feet in place
2 x 10
1 Arm Lunges Overhead
Identical set up as 1 Arm Lunges but the weight is held overhead.
2 x 10
Test yourself as you did previously to evaluate your improvement.
Practice these exercises about 2-3 times per week for 2-4 weeks and you should notice dramatic improvement in your lunge ability and your performance. If you don’t see an improvement, make sure to contact me to determine if another movement issue is preventing you from lunging. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for all your movement needs!
Mobility is the ability of a joint to move in a functionally adequate range of motion. It is the foundation of movement ability because it allows your body to be comfortable in stable positions. Mobility is the opposite of the stiffness, tightness and restriction that many of us experience everyday. I have noticed several lower body “hot spots” in SAC members lately. Ankles, knees, hips and even upper backs (thoracic spine) are commonly tight which leads to difficulty in squats, jumping and sports. Many people assume that these malevolent joints are caused by muscles being too short but mobility is actually much more complicated. Mobility is in part determined by nervous system control of all the tissues surrounding a joint which means that increasing mobility at a joint really depends on changing the neuromuscular system. The bad news: this means that passive stretching will probably not make a long lasting improvement. The good news: using smarter mobility exercises can help you overcome immobility in as soon as 2-4 weeks of consistent practice. Genuine Movement is a program that teaches great movement ability in a semi-guided format. Here are some Genuine Movement mobility drills to get you moving naturally and spontaneously. Please contact Hunter Spencer at Hspencer@sacdt.com with questions or for more information about Genuine Movement.
½ Kneeling Stretch
Targets: Ankle, knee hip
Lean forward until you feel a moderate stretch in the thigh or calf
Return to starting position. Repeat.
Oscillate continuously for 10 reps
2 x 10
Lying on your side with top knee pressing into the support
Keep knee above hip level
Rotate shoulders away from bent knee
Hold 3-5 seconds and return to starting position
2 x 6
Targets: Ankles, knees, hips, upper back
Use small silver box
Start with arms overhead
Bend down and touch box with straight legs
Continue pressing into the box as you drop your hips down into a deep squat
Lift one arm and look at your hand, hold 10 seconds
Switch sides and repeat
Lift both arms overhead and return to starting position
3 x 6
Please contact Personal Fitness Trainer Hunter Spencer with your questions.
She’s a tiny, lovely, wonderful, amazing, hard working, positive, funny, strong, brave, determined woman who I’m proud to call a client and a friend.
Cookie Laughlin has been a member of the Seattle Athletic Club along with her husband John since October of 2004. She has been a mainstay down in the Pilates Studio as well as the occasional venture into the weight room. In the past few years Cookie has battled a serious illness that has kept her from the club for lengthy periods of time. Since August of 2012 she has been back and better than ever! She trains with Adriana Brown as often as her treatment schedule allows, sometimes it’s twice a week, sometimes once, sometimes it’s every other week. But no matter what, Cookie and John find time in their very busy lives to come into the club and train as much as they can. This is some real devotion, with all that is on her plate and all that she has to weekly recover from, Cookie is doing her part to work towards better health. When she started training again in August Cookie was still walking very slowly, couldn’t do much balancing, was having a hard time with her foot and hand neuropathy and was out of shape due to her lengthy period away from the club and her aggressive treatment. But in just these past few months she has overcome so much she hardly seems the same person! She works hard every session, pushing herself, trying new things, moving more and more weight, and really giving 100% every hour spent with Adriana. As of today, Cookie has come along LEAPS and BOUNDS. She can stand on one leg, she can lift 12.5lb dumbbells (for a woman who can barely feel her hands or feet this is nothing short of AMAZING), her cardiovascular health has improved 10 fold, she can go up the stairs every other step (sometimes every 3rd step, with a little help from her friends), she has done so many things that both her, her husband, and even Adriana didn’t think possible. This is the kind of woman trainers would kill to have as a client. She NEVER gives up, she hardly ever complains (she’s known to be disgusted that she sweats, she hates to sweat), she works hard, she keeps a smile on her face, and above all, she pushes herself each and every session.
With all that she’s up against, with all that she deals with concerning her health, she makes the hour in the gym her one and only priority while she’s training. She could duck out, she could sleep in, she could decide that she’s just too run down (most people dealing with what she does would easily go down that road), but she doesn’t. If everyone had her mind set we’d all be accomplishing our goals big and small every day! She doesn’t do it alone, she’s got an amazing support system, her husband John is always sweating right along side her and always has encouraging words. Together these two could move mountains… I think they already have.
Here’s to 2013 and conquering all the bad and making leaps and bounds to all the good. Cookie, you are a rock star, thank you for your inspiration.
This month, I want to talk a little about Meditation and Pranayama. These are not Yoga Poses, but the root of the practice. The juice and foundation. Meditation is a practice of stilling the constant chatter and pounding in the mind, and Pranayama are the breath control practices of yoga that help with the stilling of the mind.
Notice I say “practice”, as Meditation certainly doesn’t come to me or most of us naturally! A few years ago, a friend said, “Tonja, you got the poses down. Now, what you need to do is stop moving and sit your butt down and listen to your intuition.”
For me, sitting still for even 5 minutes is a wrestling match, but when I finally set my butt down and settle into stillness, it is truly an amazing practice of transforming my crazy busy mind into, clear, focused, sharpness.
Meditation for beginners. First start by doing 10 minutes yoga warm up or light stretches. Then prop your sit bones up on pillows or yoga blocks until you feel comfortable to sit for at least 10 minutes. Here’s the thing. Silence, no music, no waterfalls, just you and your wonderful breath. It’s hard…you can do this. Focus first on just the act of breathing, feel the richness of breath, the physicality of the miracle of the respiratory system. Sit tall, but not rigid, and drop your chin half way toward your chest. Once you begin to settle, start with a Mantra (repetitive words or sound, who’s purpose is to calm the mind) The mantra I work with right now is “YES” on the inhale, and “Thank you” on the exhale…over and over again repeating this simple gratitude practice. It doesn’t matter what you are “YESSING” and THANKING…. It is signaling the sub conscious mind in the Alpha state, to imprint Gratitude on your cellular level. A practice of daily Gratitude will change your life, guaranteed.
The Pranayama practice I love to begin with is Ujjaii Pranayama. In your “seat” press the tongue behind the front teeth, which drops and lengthens your palette and creates space around the nasal and throat passages. Slightly close the glottal muscles, back of throat, to sound like a soft snore. If you like to deepen this, count to 4-6 on the inhale, HOLD the breath in as you lift your belly up 2 counts, relax all muscle effort, and exhale slowly.
Pretty soon, a fidgety 5 minutes of Meditation/Pranayama has turned into 20 minutes that you don’t want to end.
There are many techniques for quieting the mind; I’m sharing some that work for me. All the Greats use Meditation to tap into their inspiration. Russel Simmons, of Def Jam Recordings and Rush Management, has just written “Supper Rich” where he explains how yoga and meditation has helped him become not only a tremendously successful business man, but more open and loving in his life. It’s an excellent book.
As always, ask your teacher about any yoga technique, and they can point you in a direction that they’ve gone. Try it, and with practice, you’ll go in the right direction and style that’s right for you.