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Play to Your Strength

 

Summer is around the corner, and so are shorts, sleeveless tops, and swimsuits – all in bright colors and zippy designs that often reveal doughy arms and generous thighs.

A few rounds of golf can’t help you. You can run a 10K every weekend, or hike, bike and play tennis till the cows come home (“who has cows?” you’re asking), and still the most efficient way to build muscle and overall body strength is targeted strength training.

There are other good reasons for strength training beyond looking good in a bikini. Strong bodies are linked to strong minds. Strength training builds confidence, muscle and healthy tissue. It’s also good for stable joints, injury prevention and weight loss. And yet – slugs that we are – fewer than 25 percent of Americans over the age of 45 work with weights on a regular basis. A whole lot fewer, I’m guessing.

Blame it on our sedentary lifestyles. The heaviest thing most of us lift is our laptop. Nothing we do requires us to raise our arms over our heads. Everyday chores may work the front body, but what about the back body, the side body, the subtle body inside your own body that benefits from a balanced program that builds muscle from top to bottom, back to front, side to side?

So for all those reasons and a superset more, here are eight strength-training truths to consider – as you decide how and when you’ll get started:

 

THERE’S NO AGE LIMIT. Little kids have to wait until their bodies and bones are strong enough to take the stresses of weight training, but the rest of us can start where we are, and can expect to see big improvements over time. The body is magnificent that way. People in their 90s are pumping iron and getting stronger, and so will you, once you understand the basics.

 

TECHNIQUE IS EVERYTHING. This is a weighty matter, because if you don’t learn to lift consciously, with awareness of your breath, posture, core, and limitations, you can strain a muscle or tear a tendon. Find an evolved teacher/trainer, or teach yourself from books or online videos.

 

LIFT HEAVIER WEIGHTS. You won’t get stronger lifting the same five- or 10-pound weight day after day, rep after rep. For your muscles to grow stronger, you need to challenge them – gradually, over time – with heavier weights. The “right” amount of weight will always vary, but this principle remains the same: You should be able to do 10 or so reps with perfect form, with the last two being a real struggle.

 

MACHINES VS. FREE WEIGHTS. Both will build strength. Using machines in a gym usually come with a price tag. Free weights speak for themselves: anytime, anywhere. Machines have a limited range of motion; free weights have infinite possibilities. Both can work if you work, intensely, consistently, thoughtfully, with proper attention paid to form and breathing. Body-weight exercises – squats, pushups, lunges – should also be part of your routine, which is why it’s smart to consult with someone knowledgeable when you’re first starting. (Lifting your body weight in yoga builds strength, too, but today I’m showing you how well-rounded I can be.)

 

EXPECT SORENESS. It’s called DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness – and it’s what you can expect after a good workout. Pain is different. “No pain, no gain” is no way to approach a sustainable strength-training practice. If your trainer thinks otherwise, find one with a bigger brain.

 

KNOW YOUR BODY. Spend a little time looking at anatomical drawings so you’ll know your kidney from your colon, your patella from your pubic bone. Developing better body awareness will help you create and execute a balanced workout: front to back, side to side, pushing and pulling, expanding and contracting.

 

BE EFFICIENT. A 20-minute workout can be just as good as a 40-minute workout, if you know what you’re doing and why. Compound movements, for example – a bicep curl combined with a lunge – will give you twice the benefit in half the time. So will super-slow lifting and high-intensity interval training. Again, study up and experiment until you find a routine that sparks joy. If you manage to do it two or three times a week, over time your body will change in remarkable ways, unless you celebrate every workout with two granola bars and three beers.

 

USE IT OR LOSE IT. It’s an inconvenient truth that as we age, we lose muscle and grow weak unless we make the effort to stay strong, flexible, agile and juiced. It’s about working with what you’ve got for as long as you’ve got, and being grateful in between.

 

– Marilynn Preston is the author of Energy Express, America’s longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new book, “All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being,” is available now. To learn more, visit Creators Publishing at https://www.creators.com/books/all-is-well. For more on personal well-being, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com.

 

 

 

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