Chapter 4: Strength
Arm Raise (animated)
Chair Stand (animated)
Biceps Curl (animated)
Triceps Extension (animated)
Alternative "Dip" Exercise For Back of Upper
Knee Flexion (animated)
Side Leg Raise
Although they might not notice it as it happens, most
people lose 20 to 40 percent of their muscle tissue as they
get older. Strength exercise can at least partly restore
muscle and strength.
makes your muscles look bigger when you flex them - when you
"make a muscle" with your biceps, for example?
cells contain long strands of protein lying next to each
other. When you want your muscles to move, your brain signals
your nerves to stimulate them. A chemical reaction in your
muscles follows, causing the long strands of protein to slide
toward and over each other, shortening the length of your
muscle cells. When you "make a muscle" and you see your muscle
bunch up and bulge, you are actually watching it shorten as
the protein strands slide over each other.
you do challenging muscle-building exercises on a regular
basis, the bundles of protein strands inside your muscle cells
Practice Sitting Straight
stand with your shoulders back, but not pinched, and hold this
position while you take slow, deep breaths. You can do this
How to Improve Your Strength
Even very small
changes in muscle size can make a big difference in strength, especially in
people who already have lost a lot of muscle. An increase in muscle that's not
even visible to the eye can be all it takes to improve your ability to do things
like get up from a chair or climb stairs.
Your muscles are active even when
you are sleeping. Their cells are still doing the routine activities they
need to do to stay alive. This work is called metabolism, and it uses up
calories. That can help keep your weight in check, even when you are
About Strength Exercises
To do most of the following strength
exercises, you need to lift or push weights, and gradually you need to increase
the amount of weight you use. You can use the hand and ankle weights sold in
sporting-goods stores, or you can use things like emptied milk jugs filled with
sand or water, or socks filled with beans and tied shut at the ends.
There are many alternatives to the
exercises shown here. For example, you can buy a resistance band (it looks like a
giant rubber band, and stretching it helps build muscle) at a sporting-goods store
to do other types of strength exercises. Or you can use the special strength-training
equipment at a fitness center.
Much, How OftenDo
strength exercises for all of your major muscle groups at least twice a
week. Don't do strength exercises of the same muscle group on any 2 days
in a row.
Depending on your condition, you
might need to start out using as little as 1 or 2 pounds of weight, or no
weight at all. The tissues that bind the structures of your body together
need to adapt to strength exercises.
Use a minimum of weight the first
week, then gradually add weight. Starting out with weights that
are too heavy can cause injuries.
Gradually add a challenging amount of
weight in order to benefit from strength exercises. If you don't challenge
your muscles, you won't benefit from strength exercises. (The "Progressing" section on page 34 will tell you how.)
When doing a strength exercise,
do 8 to 15 repetitions in a row. Wait a minute, then do another set of 8
to 15 repetitions in a row of the same exercise. (Tip: While you are
waiting, you might want to stretch the muscle you just worked or do a
different strength exercise that uses a different set of muscles).
Take 3 seconds to lift or push a
weight into place; hold the position for 1 second, and take another 3
seconds to lower the weight. Don't let the weight drop; lowering it slowly
is very important.
It should feel somewhere between
hard and very hard (15 to 17 on the Borg scale) for you to lift or push
the weight. It should not feel very, very hard. If you can't lift or push
a weight 8 times in a row, it's too heavy for you. Reduce the amount of
weight. If you can lift a weight more than 15 times in a row, it's too
light for you. Increase the amount of weight.
Stretch after strength exercises,
when your muscles are warmed up. If you stretch before strength exercises,
be sure to warm up your muscles first (through light walking and arm
pumping, for example).
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your breath during strength exercises. Breathe normally. Holding your
breath while straining can cause changes in blood pressure. This is
especially true for people with cardiovascular disease.
If you have had a hip repair or
replacement, check with your surgeon before doing
If you have had a hip
replacement, don't cross your legs, and don't bend your hips farther than
a 90-degree angle.
Avoid jerking or thrusting
weights into position. That can cause injuries. Use smooth, steady
Avoid "locking" the joints in
your arms and legs in a tightly straightened position. (A tip on how to
straighten your knees: Tighten your thigh muscles. This will lift your
kneecaps and protect them.)
Breathe out as you lift or push,
and breathe in as you relax. For example, if you are doing leg lifts,
breathe out as you lift your leg, and breathe in as you lower it. This may
not feel natural at first, and you probably will have to think about it as
you are doing it for awhile.
Muscle soreness lasting up to a
few days and slight fatigue are normal after muscle-building exercises,
but exhaustion, sore joints, and unpleasant muscle pulling aren't. The
latter symptoms mean you are overdoing it.
None of the exercises you do
should cause pain. The range within which you move your arms and legs
should never hurt.
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ProgressingGradually increasing the amount of weight you use is crucial for
When you are able to lift a
weight between 8 to 15 times, you can increase the amount of weight you
use at your next session.
Here is an example of how to
progress gradually: Start out with a weight that you can lift only 8
times. Keep using that weight until you become strong enough to lift it 12
to 15 times. Add more weight so that, again, you can lift it only 8 times.
Use this weight until you can lift it 12 to 15 times, then add more
weight. Keep repeating.
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Sarcopenia: A Word You Are Likely to Hear More
We know that
muscle-building exercises can improve strength in most older adults, but
many questions remain about muscle loss and aging. Researchers want to
know, for example, if factors other than a sedentary lifestyle contribute
to muscle loss. Does age itself cause changes in the muscles of older
people? Is muscle loss related to changes in hormones or nutrition? The answers
to these questions may lead to ways of helping us keep our strength as we age.
In this book, we use the word "frailty"
to describe the loss of muscle and strength often seen in older people, because
it's a word that most people are familiar with. However, a better word to use is
"sarcopenia" (pronounced sar - ko - PEEN - ya). It means not only the loss of
muscle and strength but also the decreased quality of muscle tissue often seen in
older adults. You are likely to hear more about sarcopenia in the future since it's
a very active area of research.