Like many things in life, lifting weights is one of those topics that is very misunderstood.
I grew up thinking strength training was for athletes and body builders, and was something women shouldn’t do because we would get “bulky”. I had also heard people say that if you build muscle and don’t maintain it, it would turn to fat.
Who wants that??
Of course I later learned that muscle cannot possibly turn to fat…they’re two completely different tissues and one can’t become the other.
So I just stuck to what everyone said was best for getting in shape. Tons of cardio. Running, bike riding, aerobic dancing, for hours on end. This was certainly the magic of getting in shape…right??
Don’t get me wrong. There is definitely room for cardio such as running, biking, swimming, etc. I like these activities too. But it’s equally, if not more important to include regular strength training into our routine…especially as we age.
As a matter of fact, as we start losing lean muscle tissue in our 30’s at the rate of approximately 1/2 pound a decade.
This is not good news.
Lean muscle tissue is important for keeping our metabolism elevated and combating obesity. It protects our bones-something all aging adults need to be concerned with, and aids in regulating insulin levels protecting us from diabetes, makes us stronger (frail is not a good thing), and helps with flexibility too.
Plus it makes us look better which makes us feel better.
I fell in love with strength training back in the 80’s. I remember everyone was doing “Jane Fonda”, “Jazzercise” and running. I liked those things…but they became a little boring after awhile. Then I read some buzz in a fitness magazine about video tapes coming out that featured women lifting weights. I was so intrigued. Back then NOBODY was putting out videos with women using weights. I knew I had to have it!
I have The FIRM to thank for introducing me to strength training! My original tapes that I paid $150 for!
How it all began.
It started with a video tape called “The FIRM”. I paid $50 for the first tape (and the second and the third!). That was a hefty price back in 1986. I bought myself some 1# ankle weights and 5# dumbbells (which felt heavy as hell!) and I worked out 3 days a week with the tape. Holly crap was I sore!!! I didn’t realize how much work lifting weights really was. But I liked it. I was hooked.
I purchased more and more weights- they ranged from 5#-15#, bought a weighted barbell that I could load up to 90#, and got myself some 5# ankle weights. I liked the way my body was responding. Eventually I ended up collecting all of those early year Firms….and to this day I still have them on VHS!
Ultimately I wanted to learn more about strength training so I hired 2 personal trainers in the mid 90’s to teach me how to use heavier weights and machines. I loved it and haven’t stopped lifting weights ever since.
In recent years I’ve fallen in LOVE with kettlbells, which is another fantastic way to work with weights and get your cardio in too.
If you’d like to learn more about kettlebell training, check out my blog:
Flash forward to today.
I’ve spent the past 8 years working as a trainer in a physical therapy clinic helping clients pre/post rehab. It’s a fair assessment to say that the vast majority of them have little to no strength training experience. More often than not, therapy was the first time they had experienced becoming stronger/healing through exercise.
In these past 8 years, it has been amazing to witness how people’s lives can change when they become stronger. I’ve worked (and continue working) with clients aged from 40’s to 80’s, and they’ve all seen significant strength and endurance gains by lifting weights. So many of them can now do things that they never imagined they could do.
I have clients who can now walk for miles because we strengthened their glutes and core which has eliminated the prior knee pain that kept them from walking 1 block. They can now get up and down off of the floor and play with kids/grandkids/pets, without relying on people to pull them up. They can walk up and down stairs- which was previously not an option. They can return back to working full time after being on disability for a weak back and knees.
Strength training also plays a part in keeping people injury free. I work with clients who run half marathons and have actually reduced post run injuries and improved their time with strength training. Running and cycling are primarily one plane of motion sports-so it’s easy to suffer overuse injuries and have muscle imbalances. By training them in all 3 planes of motion, we reduce under/over compensations. Even for people who don’t run or bike- strength training can keep the injury prone areas of the body, shoulders, backs, hips, knees, ankles, injury free.
Every single one of my clients has some kind of strength training program because it works!
How to begin
If you’re completely new to working out with weights, I would suggest hiring a trainer- even if it’s just to show you the basic moves and make sure you’re doing them with good form. Form is key- you don’t want to injure yourself! The whole idea is to prevent injuries.
If hiring a trainer is not an option, there are tons of great videos on youtube that you can follow, like this one here that uses body weight only as resistance:
I recommend watching the video first and take note of all the queues given for each of the exercises. Then I suggest you take videos with your phone of yourself doing the basic moves just to see if what you are doing looks like what they are doing. Continue to workout with this video 2 to 3 times a week until you feel ready to add light weights…just like I did when I started workout out with the FIRM.
If you wish to try a circuit style workout using either dumbbells or kettlebells, you can check out a video I made using one or the other or both! You can repeat the circuit anywhere from 1-5 times, depending on your fitness level. You can check out that video Here .
The bottom line is that we all need to strengthen our bodies, especially as we age! You don’t need to have a gym membership or tons of fancy equipment. You can start with your own bodyweight as resistance and work up to using dumbbells (you only need a pair or two), kettlebells, or resistance bands which are really portable and affordable!
Strength training can really be alot of fun…and most of all, it doesn’t have to be intimidating! Go for it!
I’m off to pump some iron 🙂