Whole body strengthening is key to staying strong and active life-long. Age is no excuse for not exercising – your muscles can strengthen regardless of your age.
Strengthening your body is simply a matter of knowing what to do and how to do it.
These physiotherapy tips help you strengthen safely and get the most benefit out of your strength exercise.
1. Starting Out
If you’re over 65 years or 50-65 years and living with a chronic medical condition, develop your exercise plan with a health professional. If you’ve never exercised before, speak with your doctor and get the all clear to start strengthening.
2. Choosing Resistance Exercises
Choose resistance exercises that you enjoy! Some women like to use light hand weights and guided strength exercises (e.g. exercise DVD) at home while others prefer group exercise.
There are many types of resistance exercises for you to choose from including:
- Circuit equipment
- Gym equipment
- Group strength classes
- Water-based strengthening
- Resistance tubing
3. Existing Injuries
Many women fear injury or worsening existing conditions with strength exercises. With the right exercises and correct technique most women can exercise safely.
Here are a few examples:
Arthritis – water-based exercise is an ideal form of exercise that reduces the load on your joints while allowing you to strengthen the muscles that support your joints.
‘Bad knees’ – you’ll benefit from appropriate leg strengthening exercises and avoiding exercises such as deep squats, lunges and/or high step ups that can overload the knee joints.
Sore shoulders – usually benefit from correct strengthening of the back and shoulder muscles and avoiding inappropriate shoulder exercises such as overhead lifting.
If you’re unsure about exercising with existing problems see your local physiotherapist and ask for a strength exercise program.
4. Good Posture
Exercising with good upright posture helps you get the most out of resistance exercises and avoid injury.
Good upright posture involves:
- Raising the crown of your head
- Lengthening your spine and standing (or sitting) tall
- Raising your chest (sternum) forwards and slightly upwards
5. Correct Technique
Using the correct technique helps you get the most benefit from your exercises and minimise your risk of injury.
When starting out, the most important thing for you to learn is using the correct technique. Once you’ve learnt this, you can usually progress to gradually increasing your resistance.
6. Start Light
Start out using light resistance. Light resistance gives you time to learn to use good technique with your exercises reducing your risk of injury.
7. Avoid Heavy Resistance
Mature women are at increased risk of muscle and joint injuries with heavy lifting including pelvic floor problems such as prolapse and bladder control problems.
What about osteoporosis exercises? Research tells us heavy resistance exercise is beneficial for bone health. If you’re a mature woman with or at increased risk of osteoporosis, your resistance exercises should be appropriate for your current strength and your risk of bone fracture/injury. Osteoporosis exercises don’t need to incorporate heavy resistance – mild to moderate resistance exercises can load bones safely, improve bone health and help avoid injury.
8. Avoid Intense Core Abdominal Exercises
Intense core abdominal strength exercises are inappropriate for most mature women. Sit-ups (abdominal crunches) increase the risk of lower back and/or pelvic floor problems.
9. Listen to Your Body
Listen to what your body tells you; it’s completely normal to feel some muscle soreness a day or two after resistance exercises.
Discomfort with exercise is a sign that some feature of your workout is not suited to your body. Stop and either modify or choose an alternative exercise. Never persist with any exercise that causes you pain during or after your exercise session.
10. Modify Your Exercises
Most resistance exercises are easily modified to suit individual differences. If you’re having difficulty with an exercise ask your instructor to provide you with an alternative exercise. Personal trainers and group fitness leaders are usually happy to assist in providing modified or alternative exercises.
11. Progress Gradually
Increase your load or resistance gradually over time to increase your strength.
While it’s tempting to increase your resistance quickly when you’re feeling good, it’s much safer to increase resistance gradually as your strength improves. Most women can increase resistance in small increments approximately 6 weeks apart.
12. Breathe Out With Effort
Breathing out with your effort is good practice. Breathing decreases your blood pressure and reduces the load on your pelvic floor during that exercise. Try to breathe out when you lift, lower, push or pull the load.
13. Recover and Rest
Take the time you need to rest between sets (groups) of resistance exercises. Resting allows your muscles to recover so they can work effectively with your next effort.
14. Right Amount of Exercise
Start with the number of exercises you can comfortably do – even if it’s one or two exercises in a row.
Ideally aim for:
- 2 or more strength sessions a week
- 8-10 exercises
- At least 1 set (group) of 10-15 repeated exercises
Ideally the resistance exercises you choose will strengthen your major muscle groups; legs, buttocks, back, core, chest, arms and shoulders.
15. Expert Instruction
Most women can exercise successfully despite their stiff knees, sore shoulders, lower back pain, pelvic floor problems and more.
If you’re unsure about how to go about strengthening safely a visit to your physiotherapist can get you started – you don’t even need a doctor’s referral. If you’re living with a chronic medical condition your doctor may be able to recommend an exercise physiologist to prescribe and appropriate exercise program for you.
Do you participate in regular strength exercises? I’d love to hear about your exercise routine and what works for you.
Michelle Kenway is a Physiotherapist and author of the Inside Out women’s safe exercise program. Michelle’s Inside Out Strength exercise DVD shows women how to strengthen safely with a physiotherapist guides workout.