Strength In Numbers

By: Jackie Confalone

Back in January, you may have set some New Year’s resolutions, or as I wrote previously, Whole-Year Resolutions. Perhaps you’ve tried some cardio machines, walking on the track at Body Zone, and tried Body Zone’s more than 85 weekly group fitness classes.

Maybe a brief thought came into your mind to try lifting some weights or trying some weight machines, but the thought of it just makes your palms sweat and fills you with anxiety. You’re anxious because you don’t know where to start, how much weight to try, or if you’re going to get hurt.

The voice inside your head may be saying, “You need to get in shape first before you go to use those exercise machines, so you don’t look foolish.” Or “As long as you don’t try anything new, you can’t mess up. Stick to what you know.”

If you’re fighting a fear of lifting weights, or simply want to increase your confidence at Body Zone, you’re not alone.

Fear of Getting Hurt
Fear of getting hurt is one of the top concerns of strength training. Most people concerned about this have a) experienced pain from weight training before or b) know people who got hurt from using weights. Lifting weights or using weight machines is very safe, especially if you start with a comfortable weight and slowly progress to a heavier weight.

If you haven’t lifted weights before, or in a long time, there may be discomfort from the new demand placed on your muscles. Know that initial discomfort is not uncommon. It’s okay, and it’s temporary.
It’s important that you don’t do too much too soon. Start with a beginner program that doesn’t involve too many exercises or too much weight. In the next section, I discuss how to best approach lifting weights, so you not only get excellent results, but become more confident in the gym.

Fear of Where to Start
At Body Zone, the main weight training floor features Precor™ weight machines and an area where you can use free weights (dumbbells). I believe the easiest place to start is with the weight machines. In the middle of the floor are two rows of Precor™ machines. Start at the first machine, work down one row and then down the other. You don’t have to do each machine; select a few that work upper body and a few that work lower body. On each machine, there is a picture of what muscles the machine will train and a QR code to scan for a video of how to use the machine. Select a weight that you think your body can resist and try one or two repetitions. If your muscles can do more, slightly increase the weight; if your muscles strain on those few repetitions, slightly decrease the weight. Weight can be changed five pounds at a time. Do 12-15 repetitions of that exercise. Then move on to the next machine.

If you want to track what weight you use on each machine or movement with the free weights, Body Zone has training cards where you can write the name of the exercise/weight machine and how much weight you used for resistance. These can be filed in a file cabinet near the weight training floor in alphabetical order for future workouts.

As you become familiar with how the different Precor™ machines work your muscles, you may want to venture over to the free weight area and begin using comparable weights to work different muscle groups.
If you don’t want to use any equipment at all, you can do bodyweight exercises where your own body provides the resistance. These include exercises such as squats, push-ups, planks, side planks, bridges, etc.

If you still think that you’re not brave enough to take the first step, sign up with a Body Zone Personal Trainer to guide your first session. You’ll work with a trainer who will learn your story and can build a program that is tailor-made to your experience level and goals. Your personal trainer will help you navigate the gym, answer the questions you might have and make sure you’re doing each movement correctly. Got a friend in the same situation? Share the cost of a private session together.

Dos and Don’ts
– Strength training two-three times/week
– Consistently train
– Progress slowly and steadily
– Pay attention to how you feel

– Worry about the time of day you work out; just do it consistently
– Be concerned about others around you; work at your own pace
– Work to the point of utter exhaustion

Why Strength Training?
Muscle mass in the body begins to shrink earlier than you might think. Sarcope¬nia—defined as age-related muscle loss—can begin at around age 35 and occurs at a rate of one-two percent a year for the typical person. After age 60, it can accelerate to three percent a year. On average, adults who don’t do regular strength training can expect to lose four to six pounds of muscle per decade.

The fact that you may regularly run, walk, play tennis or ride a bike is not adequate to prevent an incremental loss of muscle mass and strength even in the muscles you’re using as well as those not adequately trained by your usual activity.

Although I teach group fitness classes that sometimes include dumbbells and resistance bands, I noticed in the last six months some signs of possible muscle loss: having more trouble carrying our grandchildren or heavier boxes, having less endurance when going up many flights of stairs, having more trouble getting up off of the floor. So, I began using some weight machines and free weights for both my upper and lower body.

The good news is that muscle loss is reversible! In 1988, Walter R. Frontera and colleagues at Tufts University demonstrated that 12 previously sedentary men aged 60 to 72 significantly increased their leg strength and muscle mass with a 12-week strength training program three times a week. Two years later, Dr. Maria A. Fiatarone and colleagues at the Tufts research center reported that 8 weeks of “high-intensity resistance training” significantly enhanced the physical abilities of frail nursing home residents aged 90 and older. Strength gains averaged 174%, mid-thigh muscle mass increased 9% and walking speed improved 48%. Those are significant increases for anyone, but for people aged 90 or older, it’s amazing!

Benefits of Strength Training
There are so many benefits from strength training. We have become a very sedentary society. According to Dr. Wayne Westcott, as many as 80 percent of men and women in their 50s and older have too little muscle and too much fat, leading to so many chronic diseases. Here are just a few of the benefits of strength training.
– Rebuild muscle. Westcott says most research shows a gain of three-four pounds of muscle after just three-four months of strength training.
– Increase metabolism. Strength training increases energy use during both the exercise session and the recovery and rebuilding period—up to three days after each workout.
– Reduce fat. The same research that shows a three-four pound gain in muscle also shows a three-four pound loss of fat.
– Reduce blood pressure. Studies show significant reductions in resting blood pressure readings after two or more months of strength training.
– Increase bone density. Substantial increases in bone mineral density have been seen after several months of regular resistance exercise.
– Enhance mental health. Strength training has shown significant improvements in depression, anxiety, tension, and overall mood disturbance among adults and older adults.
– Reverse aging. Westcott says positive results have led researchers to conclude that resistance exercise can reverse specific aging factors in muscle tissue.

So, what are you waiting for? Step out of your comfort zone, check out the weight machines or free weight area at Body Zone, do it consistently two-three times/week for the next few months, or ask a Body Zone Personal Trainer for assistance and see how much stronger and confident you feel. Your muscles and bones will thank you!
13 Benefits of Strength Training for People Older Than 50 – Human Kinetics

About Jackie Confalone:
Although retired from full-time work, Jackie is a freelance writer and has been a group fitness instructor for more than 35 years, the last 13 at Body Zone. She particularly loves working with seniors and people with chronic illnesses. She is nationally certified as a personal trainer and instructor for group fitness, Les Mills BODYFLOW, Pilates and SilverSneakers.

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