Teaching Old Muscles New Tricks (cont.)

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.

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.