Ask the Coaches

Q: Why is strength training so important as we age?

A: As we age, we begin to lose muscle mass at a more rapid rate. Not only is strength important for accomplishing daily tasks (like getting up off of the toilet), strength training and muscle building contribute to the betterment of your total health, helping you avoid and manage all sorts of diseases. Strength training is a critical component to your overall health and fitness.

Q: I feel insecure going to the gym because I don’t know what I’m doing.

A: The first thing to realize is that everyone at the gym is like-minded, with the same goal of getting and staying healthy. Chances are many of them started the process with similar feelings of insecurity. Everyone is somewhat self-conscious, but nevertheless they decided to take that first big step to hit the gym and do something good for themselves. It might help you to know that people at the gym generally pull for each other.

Q: How many days a week do I need to hit the gym according to the StrongPath?

A: We’d like to see you in the gym or working out at your home gym three days per week for about 50 minutes to an hour each time. Talk to your doctor about getting started, and consider hiring a trainer for even just one or two sessions to set you up with a program. Try to make those three workouts part of your regular routine. That means you’ll want to schedule them at a time that’s convenient for you—when you’re alert and eager to work out and not likely to skip the gym.

Q: What will happen to my body if I forgo strength training exercise?

A: As you age, your health risks rise. If you suddenly suffer an injury or an acute health challenge, you may be unable to recover entirely from the consequences, or at all, for lack of adequate amino acid reserves. Breakdown of muscle protein will be accelerated to provide the amino acids to meet increased demands of other vital organs by such health events. This response is not readily reversed, even by aggressive nutritional support.

Q: I’m so out of shape, I can’t figure out how to get started. What should I do?

A: Getting started isn’t easy, but everyone has to begin somewhere. Don’t be intimidated. The first thing you need to do is talk to your doctor about embarking on a strength training regime—especially if you haven’t done any exercise for a long time, or ever.

Q: It seems like once we turn 50, we have to work harder to maintain muscle. Why is that?

A: “Seems” is the perfect word. By 50, most individuals have been losing muscle for a couple of decades without being particularly aware of it. Trying to do what we once did with less muscle and strength not only seems harder, it is harder. So some people blame aging as the cause and accept the loss as an inevitability. But, in 2011 that assumption was scientifically tested and proven false. Muscle loss can be counteracted through strength training. But yes, we do have to work harder to maintain our strength.

Q: I started strength training a year ago. I noticed change initially, but then I hit a plateau. Why is that?

A: The first thing that happens as you begin strength training is that your existing muscle cells begin to wake up to a fresh call from your nervous system and learn to move and work together to generate the force needed to accomplish a given task. The increases in strength you experience during the initial 8 to twelve weeks of a resistance training program are not occurring because your muscles have grown in size substantially. They are the result of increased neural activation of your existing muscles. Strength gains plateau between two to four months as this process reaches its peak. Further strength gains depend on muscle growth and that depends on continual progressive increases in your strength training regimen supported by a diet designed and timed to best trigger and support muscle synthesis.