The World Health Organization states that ‘Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week’.
This post will explain the benefits if you to adhere to this recommendation and the steps you can take to start your strength training journey.
Why Should You Do Strength Training?
A common misconception is that as you get older you need to be more careful and that strength training is something you should avoid in case you get injured. This is not the case, as for an older adult it is even more important that you are doing your 2 sessions of strength training per week.
You may need to adapt your approach to strength training initially, but you definitely shouldn’t avoid it.
As you age, especially from the age of 50, you will slowly lose muscle mass and strength. This is referred to as Sarcopenia. Whilst this might not be an issue for you now, the slow decline in strength will eventually start to affect your ability to perform even the simplest of tasks.
A typical journey looks a bit like this… You will initially begin to notice more strenuous tasks, such as golf or tennis, feel difficult. You’ll continue to do them as long as you can but eventually decide to stop. At that point the decline speeds up and tasks such as carrying the shopping and doing the gardening become a challenge.
You pay people or rely on family and friends to help you with those tasks. Without any active tasks in your life to maintain the muscle strength you have left, eventually even a flight of stairs become a daunting prospect. It only continues to go downhill from there.
The good news is that you’re not at that stage yet. Starting to participate in strength training at any point can not only slow the process of Sarcopenia, it can also reverse loss in muscle strength that may have already occurred.
Too many people accept frailty as a natural part of ageing. There are plenty of people in their 80’s and beyond who disprove this myth and are still more active than others far younger than themselves. This did not happen by chance. They have worked hard to maintain their strength and fitness to allow them to stay active.
It is never too late to start and you are never too old to start getting stronger.
What is Strength Training?
Simply put, strength training is a form of exercise that is performed with the intention of increasing the strength of the muscles that are targeted with a particular exercise.
The most important principle in strength training is the idea of training to failure. This means that you will aim to push the muscle group you are working to the point that you are unable to perform another repetition.
For example, if you aimed to perform 5 repetitions of an exercise, the 5th repetition should feel challenging, but you should not have enough strength left to perform a 6th repetition.
Generally, as a beginner, reaching failure at any point will result in some strength gains. However, you can increase your strength more efficiently by changing the number of repetitions at which you achieve failure.
This is done by adding resistance to the exercise you are performing, usually with the use of free weights, cable machines or resistance bands.
To prevent and reverse the effects of Sarcopenia, you’ll want to focus on strength as your primary goal (rather than hypertrophy or endurance). Increase the weight enough so that you reach the failure point at 5 repetitions or below to do this.
To learn more about using repetitions and sets to achieve your goals, you can read What are Reps and Sets? How Many Should I do?, a beginner’s guide to strength training principles.
How to Start Strength Training?
Before you start you should think of some goals and the reasons you want to start working out. With sarcopenia in mind, your goals might reflect being able to continue doing all the activities you currently do but that you might be taking for granted.
There might be some activities that you have already given up, so your goal might be to restart that activity again.
These goals will keep you motivated to continue when you feel like stopping.
Next you will need a plan. This plan will include which exercises to do, how long each session will last and how many sessions per week you plan to do. You also need to think about whether you will do your workouts in the gym or at home. What equipment will you need access to?
The exercises you choose should incorporate some of the 7 functional movement patterns used within strength training. These consist of:
- Gait (Walking)
I suggest the minimum you should do is 2 sessions per week (in keeping with the WHO guidelines), lasting approximately 30 minutes per session. Each session might incorporate 4-5 of the movement patterns above.
This will depend on your available time and what your goals are.
If you have not done any strength training in the past, you will need to start off slowly and gradually add weight to the exercises in order to achieve failure at 5 reps. You shouldn’t expect to lift a weight heavy enough to reach failure at 5 reps until approximately 10-12 weeks.
Adding too much weight too soon may result in you experiencing pain or an injury. You might start off trying to reach failure at 15 reps and then gradually progress over that time.
Find Someone to Help You
As with most things in life, a good plan can make the implementation phase easy. However, the planning phase can be difficult and may stop you from starting.
The good news is that there are people who can help you. I recommend that you seek out the assistance of a good personal trainer to help you come up with your plan.
If you are worried about an existing injury, go and see a physiotherapist to help you adapt your strength program around that injury.
Make sure you talk to your doctor if you have any medical conditions that may affect you working out.
Chris Tiley is a physiotherapist from the UK who has a particular interest in strength training. His blog,
https://nevertoooldtolift.com, aims to inspire over 60’s to get stronger so that they can continue to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle.