By Justin Gibson, BS, CSCS
There comes a point when looking good in a bathing suit just isn’t as important as it used to be. Even with our increasingly sedentary lives, the ability to do day-to-day activities quickly, efficiently, and without pain becomes much more important than fitting into that one pair of jeans that look really good on you. And yet, when we hear about going to the gym, it’s mostly talked about as a means to lose weight or look better or that thing Hugh Jackman does to prepare for the next Wolverine movie.
Ask yourself if any of these statements sound familiar:
“I think I threw my back out moving that couch.”
“I can barely move after playing tennis yesterday.”
“I’m afraid of what will happen if my mother falls while she’s alone.”
At first glance it seems like the weight room is at the top of the list for places to be avoided if you hope to fix these problems. However, the underlying cause for most issues along these lines is a lack of strength!
Now, I’m not advocating that you tell your elderly mother to start training like a Russian powerlifter, although such a thing is not unheard of. But after someone reaches a certain level of competency using free weights and machines, their focus should turn to getting stronger and using more weight if they hope to reap the benefits.
Using our examples from above:
-If you learn proper deadlift technique (which is basically learning how to pick something up off the ground correctly) and use this exercise to strengthen your legs, hips, and lower back, you’re far less likely to hurt yourself trying to move something heavy in your home.
-A well-programmed full-body exercise routine that develops strength and endurance will increase your body’s work capacity, which is the amount of physical work you can do before you fatigue. The higher your work capacity (as in, the stronger you are), the less time you will need to recover from something like a game of tennis.
-Strengthening the muscles that support posture and balance is a key aspect of any good Fall Prevention program. Increasing or maintaining muscular strength and power should be a priority for anyone concerned with preventing or, if need be, recovering from a debilitating fall and is absolutely vital for the safety and likelihood of unassisted living.
Here at Body Structure, we typically recommend that someone new to weight training begin with 12-15 repetitions with a light weight on a given exercise for the first few weeks. This is to develop familiarity and confidence with the exercise. After some level of competency is reached and you can consistently perform an exercise with good technique, it might be time to start training for strength. This doesn’t mean that you should start using the absolute heaviest weights you can possibly move, but it does require a different and unique approach.
To develop strength, pick a weight that is challenging to use for 5 repetitions. To find this weight, start with the weight you were using for 12 to 15 reps, but stop at 5. Rest a minute or two, and increase the weight by 10% for another set of 5. Rest a minute, and keep going in this fashion until you reach a weight that feels fairly heavy for 5 reps. Since using heavier weights does take a bigger toll on the body, only 1 or 2 sets with this heavier weight are needed, and you should rest at least 2 minutes to recover between sets.
For example, let’s say for the past few weeks you have been using 50lbs for 15 reps on the chest press machine, and now you want to start developing strength. Your workout might look like this:
Set 1: 50 lbs x 5, feels easy.
Set 2: 55 lbs x 5, still feels easy.
Set 3: 60 lbs x 5, a little heavier, but still doable.
Set 4: 65 lbs x 5, the last two reps were fairly difficult. This is a good place to stop.
Keep using this new weight for a few weeks until it stops being a challenge, then consider increasing the weight again.
Getting stronger is not just a goal for Olympic athletes or professional bodybuilders. Even if you work at a desk all day, there are still times when you might need to pick up your children, or help your friend move, or lift your luggage into the overhead compartment. Looking good at the beach is nice, but so is being that 90-year-old man who carries his own groceries up the steps to his home.
Strength is therapeutic. Now, go forth and lift heavy things!
Justin is a personal trainer at Body Structure Medical Fitness in Lexington, Kentucky.