Despite reams of research proving that exercise is a powerful preventive, and sometimes an antidote, for disability and illness, many of us still need to be pushed and prodded into either starting an exercise program or keeping one going.
One of the most common requests I hear from both my individual private clients, and at the residential aged care facility where I work three days a week, is the constant requirement for variety in a workout.
I always incorporate some aerobic work and strength training in my routines, even clients in residential aged care. My eldest client is 92; my youngest in my private practice is 16. It also doesn’t matter what age you are when you take-up strength training – it will be of benefit to you through the way you feel, your capacity to complete tasks, improved mental focus and energy levels.
It doesn’t matter what age you are or, within reason your level of frailty, there is always something that can challenge and interest you.
Here are six ways to prevent injury and make the most of your weight training sessions – while warding off boredom.
1. Focus on form, not weight
Good form means aligning your body correctly and moving smoothly through an exercise. Poor form can cause injuries and hinder strength gains because you aren’t isolating muscles properly. I often start people with very light weights because I want them to get their alignment and form right. This is the right way to learn an exercise routine. Concentrate on performing slow, smooth lifts and equally controlled descents while isolating a muscle group. You isolate a muscle group by holding your body in the position specified for each exercise while consciously contracting and releasing certain muscles.
Control is important. Tempo helps you stay in control and avoid undercutting gains through relying on momentum. And sometimes switching speed — for example, lowering for three counts and lifting for one count instead of taking two counts for each — can enhance power.
Blood pressure rises if you hold your breath while performing strength exercises. Exhale as you work against gravity (when you’re lifting, pushing, or pulling); inhale as you relax.
4. Challenge your muscles
The optimum weight to use depends on the exercise. Choose a weight that tires the targeted muscle or muscles by the last two reps while still allowing you to maintain good form. If you can’t do the last two reps, choose a lighter weight.
When it feels easy to complete all the reps, challenge your muscles again by adding weight (roughly ½ to 1 kilo at a time for arms, 1-2½ kilos for legs); adding a set to your workout (up to three sets per exercise); or working out additional days per week (as long as you rest each muscle group for 48 hours between strength workouts).
If you add weight, remember that you should still be able to do all the reps with good form and the targeted muscles should feel tired by the last two reps.
5. Practice regularly
A complete upper- and lower-body strength workout two or three times a week is ideal.
6. Give muscles time off
Strength training causes tiny tears in muscle tissue. Muscles grow stronger as the tears knit up. Always allow at least 48 hours between sessions for muscles to recover.