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Strength-building techniques and tips for the over 50 crowd

By Dr. Steven Blair, Dr. Brenda Wright, Walter Ettinger


The techniques and tips provided here apply to any type of strength-building exercise that you might do. Form and technique are important. You may do many repetitions, but if your technique is poor, your effort may be for naught and you may even be injured. Always follow these guidelines to get the best results from the strength-building exercises that you do.

  • If you have had hip replacement, other surgeries, or injuries, talk with your doctor or a physical therapist about appropriate strength-building exercises.
  • Wear comfortable shoes with rubber soles to provide secure footing.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing to give you freedom of movement and allow the body to cool. Don’t wear ties, scarves, jewelry, or anything that can be caught in resistance rubber bands, weights, or machines.
  • Use a minimum amount of resistance in the first few weeks. Gradually build up the weight. Starting out with weights that are too heavy can cause injuries.
  • Breathe in and out normally—out as you lift or push and in as you relax. Don’t hold your breath. Holding your breath can cause your blood pressure to increase, decrease blood flow to the brain, and cause dizziness and fainting.
  • Take your time. Do each repetition of an exercise through the full range of motion. Use slow, controlled movements.
  • Exercise the larger muscles first (quadriceps, back, chest) and then the smaller muscles (hamstrings, calves, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and abdominals). The small muscles are always involved in the movements of the larger muscles. If you exercise the small muscles first and they become too tired, you won’t be able to do the exercises that build the larger muscles. The quadriceps (front of the thighs) are the largest muscles in the legs. The back and chest muscles are the largest muscles in the upper part of the body.
  • Do at least one complete set of all exercises before repeating the exercises. This method allows you to work every muscle group at least once and provides a period of rest for each muscle before you exercise it again.
  • A set is 10 to 15 repetitions completed without pausing. Begin the exercise slowly with low resistance or weight. You should be able to do 10 repetitions of one set using good form. If you can’t do at least 8 repetitions in a row, the weight is too heavy for you. When you are able to do 15 or more repetitions in a row, the weight is too light for you. Increase the resistance or weight by a small amount (two to five pounds, or one to two kilograms) or to a level of resistance at which you can do 10 repetitions without pausing. Work back up to 15 repetitions. When you can do a complete set at the new weight, increase the weight again. This process of gradually adding weight as your strength increases is called progression. You won’t benefit from the strength exercise unless you overload your muscles.
  • When you can do two complete sets of 10 to 15 reps at an RPE of 14 to 15 (“hard”), stay at that level for maintenance of muscle strength and endurance. You can change the order of the exercises for variety.
  • Rest for 30 to 60 seconds after each set. This rest period is a good time to perform a few stretches with the muscle that you just worked.
  • Avoid locking the joints in your arms and legs in a tightly straightened position.
  • Never exercise the same muscle group on consecutive days. Muscles need a day of rest between exercise sessions. You can do strength-building exercises every day if you exercise muscles in the upper body on one day and muscles in the lower body on the next.
  • None of the exercises that you do should cause pain. Muscle soreness lasting up to a few days and slight fatigue are normal after doing strength-building exercises. If you feel exhausted, have sore joints, or pulled muscles, you are overdoing it.
  • Keep a record of your strength-building sessions. For each exercise, record the level of resistance, number of repetitions, number of sets, and other appropriate notes.

This is an excerpt from Fitness After 50.




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