Let’s talk about the topic of resistance training. Resistance training is an umbrella term used to refer to any number of exercises where we use resistance to train muscle strength. We can use weights, resistance bands, body weight, or water. There are many various forms of resistance and they can all be utilized, but the important thing is that you do not need to have a gym membership to perform resistance exercises. Why is resistance training important? How much should I do? How many times a week is best? These are the big questions you might have and that I hope to answer!
About a month back I was having a conversation with my grandmother. She was telling me that she had been having some hip pain and wanted some advice on what to do. After talking to her a bit and trying to get to the root of the problem, I told her I wanted her to go to physical therapy near her in New York to strengthen her hip muscles. Her reply was “These muscles are 86 years old, they can’t be strengthened”. It is a common misconception that we can’t get stronger or that it is too difficult to be worth our time. How many of us can relate to my grandmother?
Starting at age 30, which is catching up to me next month, we have a gradual decrea
se in muscle strength until about age 50. In our 6th decade, we have a less gradual and more marked muscular strength decline. What we also see gradually happening at the same time is a decrease in overall activity level. We become more sedentary and it is hard to ignore the fact that inactivity has a large impact on our overall health, strength, and endurance levels. Only about 10-15% of people over the age of 65 participate in any sort of resistance training. Does this mean that all hope is lost and that it is inevitable that we will lose strength and function? Absolutely not! This is a natural part of aging and what we lose in strength, we gain in wisdom. What that wisdom tells us is that we can slow that decline, increase muscle function, and improve our ability to participate in the activities that we love well into our golden years.
As we get older and more sedentary, many of us start to realize that things are harder than they used to be, we have pain in areas that we didn’t before or we feel stiff all the time. Most of us just tend to attribute these changes to getting older. It is true that degenerative changes associated with aging can contribute, but I would argue that more than getting older, these changes are largely impacted by our lack of exercise an
d extracurricular activities. We have all heard the quote “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing”. As cliche as this sounds, it has a large component of truth to it. The aging process does have a physiologic effect in decreasing muscle strength and stamina, but I do not think that aging alone is solely responsible for our functional decline. A large factor to improving our longevity and maintaining strength and function throughout our lifetime is consistent resistance training.
But Brendon, I hike and play basketball on the weekends, is that enough? I would say that is a great start. I never want to discourage anyone that is getting out and exercising. However, only being active on the weekends may not be enough. Athletes of all levels and backgrounds train prior to game and performance days. Running backs don’t just hope that they will be strong or fast enough to break through the line and run into the end-zone every Sunday. They train and practice all week long to ensure that they are able to perform at their best on game day. Obviously this is an extreme example because their job is football, and we all have other jobs, but the principle is still there. Doing resistance training will help to improve our ability to do what we love on the weekends.
How much resistance training should I do? Research has shown that as little as 20-30 minutes of resistance training two to three days a week has a positive effect of improving muscle function. It has also been shown to have positive effects on cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, osteoporosis, and numerous other health issues. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends two to three sets of one to two multi-joint exercises for each major muscle group. Bicep curls are not considered a multi-joint exercise because they only act at the elbow, but a row is considered a multi-joint exercise because it involves muscles surrounding the elbow and shoulder. They get real scientific on how intense the exercise should be talking about 70%-85% of your one rep max. You can try to calculate this for yourself, but the important thing is that it should be difficult. If you can do it
15 to 20 times, then it is too easy. Find a level of resistance that you can only perform 8-12 times, and make sure that you go until muscular fatigue, meaning you don’t feel like you could do another repetition without taking a break. After about 6-8 weeks we will need to increase the intensity of the workout because your muscles will have adapted to the stress and hypertrophy will have started to occur.
In conclusion, performing resistance exercise two to three times a week can have positive effects on decreasing age-related changes in muscle strength, endurance, and our ability to participate in the things we love. It is never too late to start getting stronger. It is more detrimental to our health and physical fitness to stay sedentary and as we all know, exercise can have positive effects on many aspects of our life. If you are not sure how to start, reach out to a fitness professional. If you are having pain with exercise or impaired function or ability to perform your daily activities, then please come see us at Healthwise Physical Therapy and we can help get you started on your journey to a healthy life!
Brendon Boyd PT, DPT
Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy