As we get older, we lose muscle. You can stay strong by performing simple strength training exercises in the convenience of your own home.
When recently asked about his experiences with getting older, Woody Allen was quoted as saying, “It’s bad business getting older, and I would advise you not to do it.” Unfortunately, we don’t have much of a choice on the matter, nor do we want to consider the alternative.
However, there is one tried-and-true strategy that allows us to grow old with some grit and grace: strength training.
Weights = fountain of youth
As we age, we lose about a quarter of a pound of muscle every year after the age of 40. This equates to a 1 to 2 percent loss in strength—each and every year.
This muscle breakdown is called sarcopenia, and it is a natural response to the process of aging. As the years tick by, our bodies slowly become unable to synthesize enough of the proteins needed to maintain our muscles. They can keep up with some of the demand, but not all of it. It’s like trying to stop a flood, one sand bag at a time. You hold back some of the water, but you don’t plug the leak completely.
Fortunately, we can address this problem with a proper strength-training program (in addition to an adequate diet of protein) and put a halt to that flood.
Weight training could also be our answer to the fountain of youth. With stronger muscles we are more mobile, which in turn translates to a lower incidence of heart disease, obesity, certain cancers, and diabetes as well as an increased quality of living.
Experts recommend that all healthy adults do eight to 10 strength-training exercises at least twice a week that incorporate all six of the major muscle groups: chest, shoulders, arms, abdomen, and legs.
Tools that are commonly used for a weight-training program range from machines and pulley systems to hand weights and exercise tubing. If you prefer to work out at home, hand weights and exercise tubing make the perfect pair of workout tools; they’ll give you the most bang for your buck. Exercise tubing is lightweight and easy to pack when travelling.
Try these four exercises that target all six major muscle groups. Aim for 10 to 15 repetitions, one to three times through, with little to no rest in between each exercise.
10 tips for strength training success
- Warm up prior to your workout—but not with a stretch. Instead, go for a walk, do some light squats, arm circles, and/or push-ups, whatever raises the heart rate slowly and gets the muscles warm and ready for the work about to be done.
- Maintain a neutral spine when performing any strength-training exercise.
- Lift with precision and control.
- Do not hold your breath; instead focus on exhaling during the hard part of the lift.
- Start with a light weight. Get the form first and then start loading up.
- Do not move a joint beyond what’s comfortable. If it hurts, stop. It’s that simple.
- Train the big guns first: your pecs, lats, glutes, quads, and hamstrings, and then work your way to the smaller muscles of your hips, arms, and shoulders.
- Leave your abdominals and your core training for the end. You need these muscles fresh to help stabilize you while lifting weights.
- Rest 48 hours before training the same set of muscles again.
- Lift with purpose. Set goals and work hard to attain them.
(Fitness model Silvia Isachsen is a trainer and owner of Canadian Online Fitness Education. onlinefitness.ca)
Lunge + row with tubing
- Wrap a piece of tubing around a stationary, sturdy object and grab onto both handles with your left hand.
- Step back with your left foot and position yourself in an upright stationary lunge position.
- As you lunge down to the floor, pull the tubing with your left arm and perform a row. When lunging, remember to keep your front knee behind the toe box and tracking with the big toe.
Chest press off ball
- Sit on a ball with a pair of dumbbells and walk forward until only your head and shoulders are supported. Squeeze the glutes and bridge the hips up high.
- Position the dumbbells so that the arms are bent at 90 degrees, palms facing away from you and elbows lined up with your shoulders.
- Keeping your hips lifted high, press the dumbbells up and above your chest. Touch them in the centre above your chest when your arms are fully extended, and then bring the elbows back down in line with the shoulders for a full rep.
Squat + dumbbell pickup to press
- Position your feet so they are shoulder- width apart and place a light dumbbell in front of your right foot.
- Squat down and pick up the dumbbell with your left hand.
- While you stand up, pull the dumbbell to the top of your left shoulder. Once fully erect, press the dumbbell up and above the shoulder, performing a shoulder press.
- Reverse the move, and touch the dumbbell on the ground in front of the right foot again. That is one full rep. Do a full set with the left arm and then repeat with the right arm.
Reverse Wood Chop with Tubing
- Loop a piece of tubing around the bottom of a sturdy object, and then loop one handle into the other so that there is only one handle to pull.
- Grab the handle of the tubing; there should be some resistance, so make sure you are far enough from the tubing’s anchor point and position your feet shoulder-width apart and your body in the bottom part of a squat.
- Hold onto the tubing handle with both hands.
- Keeping your chest up and straight, press your feet into the ground as you “chop” the tubing handle up and across your body until your legs are straight and your hands are above your shoulder. Make sure you twist through the torso using the waist muscles, not the shoulders.