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.
Say what…put on weight? That’s rarely the goal. Well I’m here to tell you perhaps it should be more of a goal than you think. I mean, let’s lift some heavy weights! Add an extra 5lbs to the bar, go up 10lbs in your dumbbells, push yourself and let’s move something heavy!
Why? Why not! Lifting heavy (I don’t mean that if you are shoulder pressing 8lbs right now that you should try and press 45lbs the next go around), or what you would consider “heavy” will really help you gain strength quickly and efficiently. Usually when I tell people to move heavy weight, especially women, the first thing I hear is, “But I don’t want to bulk up.” Oh my Lord, if ever there was a misconception! The “bulking” that most people think of when lifting weight comes from many hours in the gym, a high protein diet, heavy heavy weights, and some good genes! To become The Hulk you would really have to put in serious amounts of time and effort. This will not be happening to your average gym goer. But still I hear some people say, “When I’ve lifted heavy before I did seem to get bulkier.” This would come from a lack of fat loss, a lack of a decent diet, and a misconception about what is “bulking.” My guess is the 2 times a week you lifted “heavy” did not in fact give you raging thighs, instead it was the other things you were or were not doing outside of your exercise.
So why lift heavy? There are a multitude of reasons why pushing yourself with the amount of weights you lift is a good idea:
Increase lean muscle mass which = a higher metabolism. The more lean muscle mass in your body the more calories your body burns every day. Unlike cardio, lifting weights and stressing your muscles will burn calories for you while you are doing the exercises, for an hour after, and the many hours after that. While cardio may burn 400 calories in the hour you are running your body soon loses that spike in metabolism and ends an hour after you finish. So while the number may look good on the machine, if you had lifted you would have burned nearly (if not in some cases more) that many calories in 45 minutes and will continue to burn more throughout the day. Muscles need fuel and worked muscles need extra fuel to repair and grow.
Increased strength quickly and efficiently. Squatting with the 10lb dumbbells in your hands 20 times might make you feel like you have gotten a lot done in a short amount of time but in fact we’ve done just the opposite. If burning calories, increasing your strength, and spiking your heart rate is your goal you need to cut the high reps and increase your weight. The heavier weight will push your muscles more (gaining strength), push your heart rate higher (to pump more blood to your strained muscles), and give you much more benefits in half the time (think 5-10 reps instead of 15-20). Your calorie burning will shoot much higher and your body will work much harder in half the reps!
Increasing your mental toughness. It’s hard to lift heavy, not just for your muscles but also for your mind. Telling yourself to try something new, pushing yourself to move up in weight, pushing yourself to keep going even though the back of your mind is telling you it’s too heavy, is so much about mental strength. It’s the old saying, “If I can do this I can do anything” kind of mentality. Work your mind and your body and finally be proud and impressed with what you can do!
So helpful in the real world. I don’t know about you but I have yet to find the 5lb bag of bark/cement mix/bricks at Home Depot. If you can lift it in the gym, when you go to tackle that new retaining wall in your back yard it will be no problem! Long gone are the days of waiting for your husband to come home to move the couch/washing machine/lawn mower/etc, your a strong lady, do it yourself!
It’s fun, it’s hard, it’s mental, it’s a huge accomplishment. I realize it’s not everyone’s goal to deadlift one and a half times their body weight but it should be your goal to be strong, efficient, fit and healthy. Lifting heavy is one of the best ways to accomplish all of those things!
The only draw back to lifting heavy? It’s hard to do if you aren’t sure about your form. It’s hard to do if you aren’t sure about how much you should move up in weight. It’s hard to do some of your exercises without a spotter. My advice…grab a trainer, ask some questions, get a session, and/or join a weight lifting class. If you aren’t comfortable on your own get some help or free advice, that’s what we are here for! The best way to start is move up 2.5-5lbs in the exercises you normally do (lat pull down, dumbbell bench press, lunges, etc) and cut your reps. If that seems too easy for a set of 10, go up another 10lbs. The goal should be to use heavy enough weight that by the time you get to 10 reps you shouldn’t be able to do another. If you aren’t stressing yourself you aren’t lifting heavy enough. This is hard work. It will make you wish you were downstairs running endlessly on the treadmill! Eww.
Have questions? Looking for a good way to get started on strength training? Then please contact Personal Fitness Trainer Adriana Brown.
This question has been circulating amongst the fitness community for as long as I have been a part of it. It is one of the more popular questions I receive from my clientele, and I overhear people discussing it in the gym every once in a while (sometimes somewhat argumentatively). Recently I noticed it bouncing around the weight room, and as a result it occurred to me that it might be useful to put the matter to rest once and for all.
The discussion surrounding whether muscle weighs more than fat boils down to a matter of terminology more than anything else. Typically the opposing sides are mostly speaking past one another; one side convinced that “a pound is a pound”, while the other tries to explain that lean muscle tissue in fact does weigh more than an equivalent amount of adipose tissue.
I am reminded of the riddle which asks: “Which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks?” A trick question, of course, but one that actually illustrates this controversy quite well, as the disagreement over muscle and fat is not much different.
At the risk of delving too deeply into the issue, let us look at the question a little more closely.
By itself, the statement “muscle weighs more than fat” may or may not be true. It depends upon the method of measurement; we need more information to be sure. Here are two examples that will hopefully illustrate my point:
False: [ A gram of ] muscle weighs more than [ a gram of ] fat. A gram of adipose tissue weighs as much as a gram of muscle tissue, which in turn weighs as much as a gram of feathers.
True: [ A liter of ] muscle weighs more than [ a liter of ] fat. Muscle is more dense than fat, so a smaller volume of muscle tissue will weigh as much as a larger volume of adipose tissue.
So, does muscle weigh more than fat? When compared volumetrically, yes it certainly does.
In my opinion, this argument is entirely semantic, as whomever pointed out that muscle weighs more than fat likely did not intend to get themselves into a riddle comparing grams and liters. Instead I would venture to guess that they were attempting to explain that the scale is not an effective indicator of overall fitness. Instead of focusing on your weight, you should pay attention to your body composition, a much more important indicator.
After all, would your rather weigh a certain amount, or fit comfortably into your best jeans? The choice is yours.
Hip joint restrictions can lead to back pain, leg and knee pain as well as neck pain. It can also lead to injury due in part to improper body mechanics during workouts attributed to limited range of motion.
Whether you cycle, run, play squash or lift weights, the benefits of massage and stretching should not be underestimated. If you have restriction in the hip joint you are working against yourself, your movements are playing tug-of-war. With tightness in the back of the hip you have to pull harder with your hip flexors and your abs to bring your leg forward. Restrictions in the front of the hip leads to back tension and too much external rotation on your kick back. It can also cause knee pain due to the pressure pushing the quad over the knee during squats and lunges because the hip joint is not dropping down and back as it should.
Keeping your hip joints unrestricted will help you perform better and keep you from getting fatigued as quickly.
The term reciprocal inhibition might not mean much to you but there are few things that affect your body more regularly. The theory of reciprocal inhibition states that “When the central nervous system sends a message to the agonist (muscle causing movement) to contract, the tension in the antagonist (muscle opposing movement) is inhibited by impulses from motor neurons, and thus must simultaneously relax”, taken from Massage Therapy Principles & Practices by Susan Salvo. What this means is that our muscles act in pairs and coordinate with each other by simultaneously relaxing and contracting as a protective measure to help keep us from injury. If both opposing muscles were to fire simultaneously, not allowing the other to relax, a tear in the muscle may occur. A common example of this is running. The action of striking the ground will send impulses from the central nervous system to contract and relax opposing muscles (hamstrings and quadriceps) to ensure a fluid and safe motion.
Although much of reciprocal inhibition is controlled subconsciously, we can use this principle to “trick” the body during a stretch in order to achieve a greater range of motion. For example, if the goal is to stretch the hamstrings, contracting the quadriceps upon reaching a near end range of motion will allow for the hamstrings to relax further, thus increasing the stretch. Another example of this is during a stretch involving the chest muscles (pectoralis major/minor). Upon reaching the end range of motion of this stretch, contract the muscles located directly behind the shoulder (rear deltoid/mid trapezious) to send a signal to your body forcing the chest muscles to relax further.
Stretching should be an essential part of everyone’s workout, however simply stretching alone is not the most efficient way to ensure a proper muscular balance in your body. Although there are many different forms of stretching that can have dramatic effects on increasing range of motion, without addressing strength and tension imbalances of the opposing muscles, these results are often only temporary. If the goal is to stretch the muscles of the chest in order to correct a forward shoulder tilt, it is crucial to also strengthen the muscles of the back that are responsible for holding the shoulders in place. To correct the pelvis from excessive forward tilt, it would be important to not only stretch the hip flexors but strengthen the glutes as well. By strengthening these opposing muscles you will ease the pull created by muscles that are too tight, allowing for the range of motion gained through stretching to have a long lasting effect. If you would like to know more about properly balancing your workouts or more information on how to stretch effectively, please contact Personal Fitness Trainer Will Paton.
This video of a three-part series addresses different stretch techniques including: static, active, dynamic and resistance stretching by demonstrating some basic stretches for the calves, inner/outer thighs and large hip muscles.
When assessing when a certain stretch technique should be used, there is no right or wrong answer; however, here is what I recommend to my clients.
Static stretching should be done once a muscle is thoroughly warmed up. I recommend it primarily after your resistance workout following a cool down. If you decide to static stretch before a workout, make sure you do a long warm up prior.
Active stretching can also be done before a workout after a warm up, or in place of one. This technique is used a lot with team sports and group fitness. It’s a great and safe way to get multiple muscles firing and create length in muscles that are tight before beginning a work out. I also use it with clients to reinforce proper movement patterns before adding weight to them, and with some clients this can be used as a workout itself.
Dynamic stretching can also be included as a warm up if you are outside doing a sport. I recommend at least a small warm up (walk/jog) before attempting these moves. Ballistic movements have a higher risk of injury, but also can produce good lubrication in the joints in multiple planes of motion. These stretches also mimick the natural plyometric movements of the body, so it is good preparation before a sport.
Resistance (Ki-Hara) stretching is fairly new. It has a medicinal benefit in that it allows you to stretch more of the muscle belly versus the tendons. Stretching the tendon is typical if you have a very short, impeded movement pattern. Professional athletes, like Dara Torres, use it regularly. It would be best after a workout, or on a day you aren’t working out because you will have increased blood flow to the muscle.
– PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) and basic assisted stretching are done with a trainer. PNF is along the same principles as resistance stretching only you squeeze the opposing muscle group isometrically, which shuts off (inhibits) the target muscle from resisting the stretch, and then relax as you are assisted into the stretch. During assisted stretching you can squeeze the target muscle in an isometric contraction to push blood into it, and then follow it with a relaxation during the stretch. These techniques I am more than happy to give you an introduction to if you would like further details.
We all know the acronym RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) but is that really the answer to all sore muscle pains? Research in Ireland is showing a different case. Most athletes or active persons involved in an injury or sore muscle issues will immediately place ice on the injury sight.
As a professional athlete who spends most of her time racing on a mountain bike or on skis, get bumps and bruises quite often and sometimes a sore shoulder from falling off my bike and hitting a tree or from completely annihilating myself off a ski jump while trying to do a 360 on skate skis. I have had my fair share of injuries, mostly muscle or bone bruising and I most often would ice the sore area…it made it feel better. And, one of my favorite activities are ice baths the night before a race. The feeling of the blood leaving my legs in the cold bath and then re-warming as I snuggle into some cozy sweats is wonderful. But, I’m not sure it is always the best idea to ice and then be active.
It is difficult with icing and research because there is really no way to do a “blind” test. You can’t blind people to whether they are receiving a therapy or a placebo, and people mostly know if their muscles are getting cold or not. Current research has indicated that icing significantly reduced muscle strength and power for up to 15 minutes after the icing had ended, and it also lessened fine motor coordination. Impaired limb proprioception was also a symptom from people in the study.
One idea for this decrease in performance and power is the ice reduces nerve conduction velocity. The impulses from the nerves are slowed down within the muscle and tendon fibers, thus decrease their seamless functionality. So, with impaired function the possibility of injury can rise.
So what’s the point here? Basically icing limits your muscular functionality for a limited time. So, if you are injured and you choose to numb the pain with ice…do not return to exercise after icing. Icing is great for acute injuries, just don’t go back to your workout. Chill out, hydrate and plan your next workout in your head!
Myth #1:Weight Lifting is Bad For Your Joints.
One of the biggest concerns regarding weight lifting is that it is bad for your joints. What most people don’t know is that running alone can be far more strenuous on your joints than weight lifting is. Weight lifting involves controlled, non impact movements, that in turn will strengthen the muscles, ligaments and tendons surrounding the joints and improve overall joint movement and functionality. Studies have been preformed on top power lifters and has shown that even with extremely heavy loads their knees are far stronger and healthier than the general population.
Myth #2: Weight Lifting Makes You Bulky.
Have you ever found yourself on the scale week after week seeing the same number yet somehow your clothes are fitting better? This is due to the density of muscle compared to that of fat. Muscle is far more dense than fat and it is because of this fact that the scale appears to play tricks on us. It is impossible to build muscle without adding the calories behind it. In order to achieve that “bulky” you must first provide your body with the necessary amount of calories to build muscle. Bottom line is as long as your daily caloric intake doesn’t exceed the amount of calories that you burn throughout the day, it is impossible to become “bulky”. Simply training hard alone won’t do the job.
Myth #3: Weight Lifting Decreases Flexibility.
One of the realizations people who get into weight lifting have is how inflexible they are. Years of sedentary lifestyle may have tightened your hips, preventing you from squatting correctly. Weightlifting helps regain flexibility and maintain it. The squat is a great example of a lift that will give the muscles surrounding your hips a great stretch and in turn improve joint mobility. Increasing your muscle mass or strength alone will not hinder your flexibility.
Myth #4: Muscle Turns to Fat If You Stop Weight Lifting.
This myth is common throughout gyms and advertisers around the world. The fact is due to their different chemical makeup that transformation of muscle into fat and vis versa is impossible. In fact, you are born with all the fat and muscle cells you will ever have, they merely shrink and expand due to the amount of excess calories you consume and the physical activity you are currently doing. If you stop weightlifting completely, in time your muscle fibers will shrink and your fat cells will expand. Weight gained from discontinuing resistance training is due in large part to a decrease in your metabolism. Muscle is like an engine and calories are its fuel. To maintain muscle it requires upwards of 20 calories per day. So, 5 pounds of muscle would in turn add 100 calories to your daily caloric burn. Not to mention the 400-500 calories consumed during the workout and an estimated 300-600 calories burned through a process known as “post exercise oxygen consumption”.
Myth #5 The longer you work out, the better.
It just isn’t necessary to do 10-20 sets for a body part, or even 5 sets like many ‘experts’ would have you believe. In fact, research has shown that it is possible to completely fatigue a muscle in one set, provided that during that set the muscle incorporates as many muscle fibers as possible and takes them to the point of ischemic rigour where, rather than contract and relax, the muscle fibers freeze up. This kind of intensity can usually be achieved by doing “drop” or “break-down” sets where you rep out, lower the weight and continue doing reps until you can’t do another rep.