It’s important to stay active as we get older. If you want to live a healthy long life with the strength, endurance, and energy to enjoy all of the activities you love without the aches and pains, you need regular strength training.

As we age, strength training becomes an essential part of our workout to maintain and tone muscle, build bone density, and protect our joints. It is not enough to use walking as our only workout. Starting as early as our 30s, our body starts to lose muscle mass in the natural process of aging if we are not actively strength training.

You might start to see this with aches creeping into your joints as your muscles struggle to protect your joints; or you might find it more difficult to lift items; or you feel like you are losing strength in general.

I remember when my husband woke up on the morning of his 30th birthday and his back hurt. He declared, “This is it! I’m getting old!” Okay, that was not the case at all!

But it is important to incorporate strength and resistance training into your workout to build and keep muscle, protect your joints, and build bone density. 

Listen to Your Body and Start Slow

The first and most important tip related to strength training, is to listen to your body and start slowly. If you feel something is painful or not right, do not keep pushing through it. Pause your exercise to adjust your technique or lower your resistance and see how you feel.

If after adjusting technique, positioning, and resistance, you still feel pain then that might not be the best exercise for you. Also, it can be tempting to try to make up for lost time if you are starting a new exercise program after not being as active as you wish you were.

Going too fast and too intense is a recipe for injury – start slow and listen to your body. I have seen this time and time again, especially during my years working as a Licensed Physical Therapist Assistant. When certain new exercise programs or fads popped up, so would more injuries related to them. 

What Muscle to Work

The 2nd tip is related to a very important strength training principal: specificity. If you want to get better at an activity, you need to practice that activity. If I wanted to learn to play the guitar, I would need to practice the guitar – starting with some scales and working towards some songs.

In that same respect, if you want to see improvement in your daily activities of regular life and leisure, research shows it is best to use dynamic and functional motions instead of stationary machines or exclusively using lying down exercises.

For example, if you are performing squats or step ups you will see much more carryover with ease with climbing stairs or getting up from a low surface than if you did a seated weight machine. If you are unsure of how to perform a squat or are worried about your knees, check out this video for some quick tips and exercises! 

Which Muscles to Focus On

Another point related to specificity is that you want to strive for a full body workout. Pick exercises that focus on a variety of areas of the body but ones that also focus on the extensors (or the muscles on the back of your body) twice as much as the front.

Adding rows, squats, and exercises that focus on our postural muscles and the muscles on the back of our body is so important because all day long we move in a forward motion. We sit hunched over at our desks for too long, gardening, and even housework all focus on forward motion.

Building the muscles on the back of your body will help you to stay strong and keep your body in great alignment, which prevents injury. 

How Much Strength Training Do You Need?

Now that you know what to do, let’s figure out how much you need! The National Strength & Conditioning Association recommends strength training at least twice a week. As you get stronger, you can add a third or fourth session or challenge yourself more in your workouts.

Strive for 8-12 repetitions using a weight, resistance band, or resistance that gives you a challenge by the end of your set. Give yourself a rest between sets or alternate body areas and aim for 2-4 sets of each exercise. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the hardest, you should aim to work at a level 7-8.

Make sure you are using proper form and start with stability first. Don’t push the weights to the extreme where you can’t finish your set or can’t maintain technique. But your body does need a challenge with each workout.

If you are doing the same weight, same reps, and same resistance in each workout, your body will not continue to see the benefits with exercise. Vary up your weights, resistance, or intensity to give your body a good challenge. Going slower or holding some exercises can be a challenge for your body! 

Working with a personal trainer is a great way to have the guidance and support you need to ensure you are getting the most out of each workout! For more tips with your workouts, check out my Thrive at 55 Exercise Guide

What kind of strength training are you doing these days? When did you start lifting weights? What was your reason to go for it? How often do you do strength training? Please share your story!

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