Teaching Old Muscles New Tricks

by Carol E. Torgan, Ph.D.

A Word to the Wise...

Exercise Tips

  • Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Do strength exercises for all your major muscles groups (shoulders, arms, back, stomach, hips, legs) at least twice a week. Don't do exercises of the same muscle group two days in a row. Give your muscles time to recover and rebuild.
  • Start out slow. You may need to start with 1-2 pounds of weight, or no weight at all. Don't start out with too much weight, which can lead to injuries. You should feel like you're challenging yourself, but aren't near your limit.
  • You may experience some muscle soreness and fatigue at the beginning. This is normal, and indicates your muscles are rebuilding to become stronger. However, you should not experience sore joints or exhaustion, nor should you experience any pain.
  • You can use hand or ankle weights sold in sporting goods stores. Or you can be creative and fill empty milk jugs with sand or water, fill socks with beans, or use canned goods.
  • Do 8-15 repetitions in a row of each exercise. Use smooth and steady movements. Once you can easily lift the weight 15 times, increase the amount of weight (usually every 2-3 weeks). Your muscles will get continuously stronger as you progress.
  • Take 3 seconds to lift or push a weight, hold the position for 1 second, and then take another 3-5 seconds to lower the weight (don't just let the weight drop).
  • Breath out (exhale) as you lift or push the weight, and breath in (inhale) as you relax or lower the weight. You will have to think about this at first, but soon it will become natural. Don't hold your breath during the exercises.

Lifting Lingo

If you spend time in a weight room or around people that regularly do strength exercises, you might overhear the following terms:
  • One Repetition Maximum (1RM): The maximum amount of weight that can be lifted one time. Some strength programs are designed based on this amount. For example, a person may train with an amount of weight that is 50% or 80% of 1RM.
  • Repetition (rep): The number of times in a row a weight is lifted. Eight to 15 repetitions are usually done.
  • Set: A series of repetitions. For example, doing ten repetitions would be one set. Resting and then doing ten more repetitions would be another set, for a total of 2 sets. One set is all that is needed to get substantial benefits.
  • Frequency: This refers to the number of work-outs per week. A frequency of at least 2 times/week is recommended.
  • Concentric Contraction: A type of muscle contraction where your muscle fibers shorten to produce force. This happens when you lift or raise a weight.
  • Eccentric Contraction: A type of muscle contraction where your muscle fibers lengthen while they produce force. This happens when you lower the weight back down. This type of contraction is mainly responsible for the feeling of soreness after exercise. The soreness results from microscopic damage to the muscle cells that then stimulates them to regenerate and get stronger.
  • Sarcopenia (pronounced sar-ko-PEEN-ya): The decrease in muscle tissue that occurs with aging. This is an active area of research and you will probably hear this term increasingly used as scientists learn more about it.