Welcome to Part 3 of our series on muscle! If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, please go back and check that out before reading this.
In this article, we’ll explore the remarkable benefits of strength training and its pivotal role in preventing sarcopenia—the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength. By incorporating strength training into your routine, you can safeguard your muscles, increase metabolism, protect your bones, strengthen your cognition, prevent most chronic diseases, and enhance your quality of life.
But the hardest part is getting started, at least that was the case for me. I wanted to make sure I had all of the “necessary” equipment: the best weight set, the right clothes, the right workout plan, and a consistent chunk of time to do it all. At one point in my life, I thought a gym membership was also a must (but still needed the clothes, workout plan, and time!).
Because of this, I struggled with a consistent lifting practice for years. Here’s my new opinion on how you should get started now: Just do it. You can start with bodyweight exercises and the clothes you have around the house. Block 30 minutes into your schedule one day per week (or 2 or 3 if you have that) and let nothing else take its place. You may still need buy 1-2 sets of dumbbells (but soup cans can also work!), but that’s easier to do now that every other barrier has been overcome. The BIGGEST gain with strength training occurs in people who go from doing nothing to doing something over a 6-8 week timeframe. It’s incredible.
If you’re new to strength training, it’s wise to consider working with a personal trainer. A qualified trainer can help devise a personalized plan, teach proper form, and ensure safe and effective workouts. If not, consider starting with bodyweight exercises and slowly transition to machines and free weights as you get stronger and more comfortable.
Pro tip # 1: YouTube is a great resource for learning proper form!
Pro tip #2: If doing this at home, consider investing in a set of adjustable dumbbells. Cost-effective, gives you a range of weight to work with, and takes up little room.
Pro tip #3: Do Not Get Injured!
I’m already lifting weights, how can I get stronger?
This section is mostly for readers that are comfortable lifting with free weights and are ready to take that next step. As you become more experienced and stronger, it’s crucial to implement the principles of progressive overload. Progressive overload involves slowly increasing the weight that you are lifting in order to place increasing challenge to your muscles over time. This is one of the best ways facilitate continuous, reliable gains. Here’s how you can achieve this:
1. Find your starting weight:
For each lift, find the weight sweet spot that allows you to complete 8-10 repetitions (# of times you lift the weight) with proper form but not reach muscle failure. If you reach 10 reps but know you could probably do 2-3 more, you’re at the right weight. If you’re struggling on that 10th rep, back off the weight some. Do 3 sets (# of times you do a chunk of repetitions — i.e. 3 sets of 10 repetitions) with a 30 second to 1 minute break in between each.
2. Adjust for challenge
Once those 10 reps become easy and you no longer feel challenged, you should increase the weight slightly. If the new weight makes it impossible to reach the 8-10 rep goal, then you’ve gone too far and need to back off some. I advise keeping a note pad or using an app that allows you to remember the weight you use for each lift (it will be different)
Some advocate for increasing the starting weight to something you can only lift 4-6 times. This allows you to choose heavier weights, which studies show helps with strength improvements. Because you’re using heavier weights, form is key to not get injured. Most people choosing this option are working out in a gym and often using a spotter to keep them safe.
3. Vary Exercises:
Keep your workouts fresh and engaging by incorporating a variety of exercises that target different muscle groups. This variety helps prevent plateaus and ensures balanced muscle development. Also, boredom can lead to injury.
I hope you now see the power of strength training when it comes to preventing sarcopenia, enhancing your health, and improving your overall well-being. By incorporating strength training into your regular routine and following the principles of progressive overload, you can maintain and even enhance your muscle mass, strength, and functionality. Whether you choose to work with a personal trainer or embark on your own, remember that the journey towards optimal health begins with taking that first step. Start today, and enjoy the transformative benefits of strength training for a stronger, healthier you.