Teaching Old Muscles New Tricks
by Carol E. Torgan,
|A Word to the Wise...|
- Check with your doctor before starting any
- 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.
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
- 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
Lee strode across the exercise room to the next weight
machine. She leaned over and set the stack of weights to the thickness of
several New York City phone books. She sat down and slowly curled her body
forward, lifting the weights with the strength of her stomach muscles. After
repeating this a dozen times she smiled, patted her belly, and said "I'm trying to work on this area a
bit." Then she made her way to the next machine.
Lee Warren Shipman of Maryland is 80 years old, and has
three grandchildren. She's had a complete knee replacement and lives "up 22
steps" in a house she designed herself. She has been lifting weights twice a
week for over five years. "I think this prevents osteoporosis," she says.
Lee knows that strength exercises - defined as any exercise that builds and
strengthens muscles - improve bone density and combat
the effects of osteoporosis. Strength exercises are also referred to as strength
training, resistance training, weight training, and weight-lifting. But whatever
you call them, research funded by NIH's National Institutes of Aging (NIA) shows that
older people, even those in their nineties, benefit greatly from them.