Feeling exhausted at the end of the day? Gasping for air after walking up a flight of stairs? Having a hard time keeping up with your kids? How about aches and pains when you didn’t even workout or do anything active?? These moments might make one question how to regain youthful strength.
Where did these changes come from?! It feels like they happened overnight!
Then the Google search begins… How do I get more energy? What’s the best way to exercise? Is weightlifting safe? Gyms nearby. Home workouts. And the results.. are endless…
Whether you’ve tried different workouts or haven’t exercised a minute in your life, this article will explain the principles of a safe program to get stronger for your health.
What Does Strength Actually Mean?
Use it or Lose it
Physical strength is your nervous system and your muscles working together to move your body, move objects or hold either of those things in place.
Move your body…
- Walking, jogging or walking up the stairs
- Sitting down and standing up
- Getting your body up from the floor
- or as simple as lifting your arms over your head.
- lifting boxes or other items from the floor
- carrying a bag of cat/dog food
- Rearranging furniture around the house
- or pushing a car.
Holding them in place…
- standing up with good posture
- holding a baby or a bag
- gripping a handful of items in line at the store because you didn’t think a cart was necessary…
We’re not even talking about exercise yet! You begin to lose the ability to freely move parts of your body if you don’t move them regularly.
“Aging” doesn’t mysteriously start stripping you of your abilities. It just takes a bit more elbow grease to regain and maintain these abilities.
Why is strength important?
It gives us the ability to perform daily physical tasks/activities without pain and it can help reduce the risk of injury with repetitive movements or in unexpected situations.
- Grabbing something quickly before it drops on the floor
- Catching yourself or someone else from falling
- Quickly moving out of the way of people or vehicles
When Do I Start Regaining Strength?
The moment you challenge your body with moving your body external objects or holding them in place, you are maintaining the strength of that specific area
Within 24-48 Hours of Resistance Exercise
Some of the benefits are:
- lower blood sugar
- increased insulin sensitivity (the cells in your body can use blood glucose/sugar more effectively)
- temporary increase in testosterone
Within 4 weeks of Resistance Exercise
- You’re getting the benefits listed above, EVERY TIME YOU TRAIN
- Strength gain is mostly neuromuscular meaning your brain has a stronger connection to the muscles and tells them to use more of the muscle the next time you exercise
- You ARE stronger but you won’t necessarily “look” stronger
Within 8 weeks of Resistance Exercise
Some notable benefits:
- Don’t forget! You continue to get the benefits list above
- decreased body fat
- increased muscle mass
- increased bone density
- more research is showing benefits to the brain physically, your mind, which can be linked to your emotions (this can be its own article)
Just think of how long it takes for other changes to happen in your body:
- healing a cut
- hair and nails growing out
- Even if you’re not injured, cells in your skin, organs, bone, etc.. regenerate taking anywhere from every few weeks to years
After 8 weeks you’ll continue to see these health and strength benefits as long as you continue to follow a smart program and manage other aspects of your health like sleep, stress, nutrition, and mental/emotional health.
What Should I Do to Get Stronger? Exercise vs. Sports vs. Physical Activities
Why a smart program? Can I just be active by playing sports or doing active things?
Let’s take a second to differentiate exercise from other forms of activity.
Sports are physically demanding competitions that require skill, athleticism, and a mental edge. The objective of sports is to determine a winner whether it’s a team sport or an individual sport.
Yes, you can get stronger in parts of your body but repeated use of those particular muscles can lead to overuse injuries.
You’re not always in control of your movements when you’re pushing yourself to score a point, steal the ball, chase down your opponent, etc… so there is a risk of acute(sudden) injury to muscles, soft tissue, or joints.
Can I just play with less intensity and safely to reduce these risks?
Absolutely, and this could be categorized as physical activity.
Physical activity is repetitive movement or a variety of movements that demand energy from your body. The objective is usually recreational enjoyment, stress relief and health benefits.
Examples could be:
- bike riding or any number of non-competitive sports.
Physical activity can be beneficial for our health, but your strength improvements will be limited to how challenging those activities are to the body.
Injury risk can be fairly low, due to the slower and lower intensity level of most activities, but you can run into overuse injuries like in sports.
Exercise is planned, structured, repetitive physical activity for a specific strength and or conditioning adaptation to the body.
Not too long ago, when someone said exercise you would think lifting barbells or dumbbells, using the machines at the gyms, and doing cardio by running, using an elliptical or riding the bike.
Nowadays, the choices seem endless, group classes like CrossFit OrangeTheory, boot camps, F45, ‘spin classes’ using stationary bikes, dance classes like Zumba, personal training, yoga, pilates, online programs etc…
Exercise programs give us a unique opportunity to make our bodies stronger and more resilient to injury in all areas of the body.
So what are the risks?
This is where we need to make a clear distinction. The movements that are used for exercise can also be used as a SPORT. The risk of injury present with any sport also applies when you use these movements as a sport.
Stay with me here…
powerlifting, (“Olympic”) weightlifting, and CrossFit are three major sports that use exercises as part of their competition. They’ve made the goal in these sports to lift as heavy as possible, as many repetitions as possible or to move as quickly as possible with the same movements we would use for exercise.
|Healthy Exercise program||Strengthen the body|
|Keep it healthy|
|Powerlifting||List as heavy as possible|
|“Olympic”Weightlifting||Lift as heavy, as quickly as possible|
|CrossFit||Lift as heavy as possible,|
|Move as quickly as possible|
|Do as many repetitions as possible|
Ironically, you can get the best strength gains and results with the movements used in Powerlifting, Weightlifting, and CrossFit. As long as you use them in a smart program and do not use them as a sport with the goals listed above.
Ultimately, it comes down to your goal and your purpose of using these exercises or movements.
- You can use exercise to strengthen, to perform better, and make it as resilient as possible, so that you can challenge its maximum potential when participating in all types of sports.
- You can use exercise to strengthen the body to function at its best for daily activity and longevity.
- BUT what if you want to use exercise for other goals??
- Lose weight
- Lose fat and inches
- Get big muscles
That might be one of your motivations to continue exercising or you might fall into the trap of searching for intensity for quicker results.
Intense/Extreme Programs for Fast Results, Right?
Intensity can be simply defined as moving a heavier weight, doing the same amount of work faster, or doing more work in the same amount of time.
- squatting 300 pounds is more intense than squatting 100 pounds
- running 1 mile in 5 minutes is more intense than running 1 mile in 10 minutes
- doing 50 pushups in 1 minute is more intense than doing 20 pushups in 1 minute.
Pros of more intensity in training:
- Continue to burn more fat and calories after training session
- Gain more strength and muscle
- Improve performance in sports or other activities
Cons of more intensity in training:
- More demanding and stressful for the body and mind
- Need a lot more preparation and recovery from training
- Risk of injury
There are benefits to intensity
If you follow a program that’s been planned out well, intensity will gradually increase.
The secret to long term health and changes in your body, HABITS:
- Following a smart program consistently without burning yourself out or risking injury
- Prioritizing sleep, rest and recovery daily
- Eating a balanced diet of real food everyday
- Managing mental and emotional
You didn’t get weaker or gain weight from a lack of intense exercise… it was the bad habits or lack of good habits listed above along the way.
A Balanced Strength Program
Warm up & Cool Down, Flexibility & Mobility
Preparing Your Body for Activity
You’re not a leopard and you’re not 18 so for your safety, warm up before you do anything active.
- 5-15 minutes of easy, repetitive movement: walk/jog, bike, rowing, easy body weight movements (to get your body warmed up and blood flowing)
- The older and/or more tired you are, your warm up should be longer
Flexibility & Mobility
The longer you don’t move a part of your body, it becomes stiff and harder to move. It’s also affected by hydration, stress, your previous training session, or if you’ve had an injury.
First, make sure your body can be stretched in the greatest range of motion that’s naturally possible.
- Static stretches – (the debate is still hot but my recommendation is to hold your stretches and do them regularly)
- 1-2 minute holds per stretch. Prioritize muscle groups you plan to use, but stretch the major muscle groups whenever you have the chance.
- Calves, hamstrings, quads, groin, glute, hip flexors, abs, obliques(love handle area, a lot of us have it), chest, shoulders, back, lats, neck, arms, forearms)
Second, be able to actively move your body in the greatest range of motion possible. This is where you put your flexibility to work.
- Dynamic warmup -( you move your body through positions to stretch your muscles that are similar the static stretches)
- Rotating your ankles, knees, hips, torso, shoulders, arms, neck, elbows, and wrists
- Swing your legs and arms
- Moving your body through positions similar to yoga
- Activation – Activation exercises help prepare specific muscle groups to be used
- Examples for the hip could be ‘fire hydrants’, band walk, or glute bridges
- Examples for the shoulders could be banded shoulder external rotation, shoulder raises, or reverse flyes
Stretching is one of the most valuable exercises overlooked by so many people, possibly because it isn’t appealing or the benefits aren’t apparent.
Benefits of stretching:
- Each time you stretch, you’re telling your nerves, soft tissue, muscle, and joints it’s safe to move in that range of motion
- Stretching is your first opportunity to see what areas of your body is stiff that day to be cautious of injuring that area
- Loosening up tight muscles help your body use the intended muscle groups for an exercise instead of compensating
- When you can move your muscles and joints more freely, you can build strength in a more complete range of motion
- You can perform better when your body can move freely like it wants to naturally
- You reduce the risk of injury when your exercise requires you to move in the end ranges of motion
Main Exercises or Movement Patterns
Take the time to properly learn and practice these foundational exercises.
Don’t assume you’ve mastered them at any point because your body is always changing and adapting. This is a lesson most of us learn even after 20+ years of training.
Strengthen these movements to prepare your body for most other exercises.
Squat (Body weight squat, Goblet squat, back-front-overhead squat)
Hip Hinge (Deadlift-bar/kettlebell, sumo deadlift, ‘good morning’)
Single Leg (Lunges, step-ups, side lunges, single leg deadlifts)
Upper body Pressing (downward, forward, upward)
- Downward – bench dip, bar dip, dip support
- Forward – push up, bench press – bar/dumbbells, burpees
- Upward – shoulder press – dumbbell/bar, handstand pushup
Upper body Pulling (downward, backward, upward)
- Downward – pull up, lat pulldown
- Backward – Ring row, bent over row, seated cable row
- Upward – High pull – bar/dumbbells, seated dumbbell row
Core (generally the muscle groups between the chest and thighs)
- Front of your torso – lying leg raises, sit ups, crunches
- Back of your torso – superman holds, hip extension, glute bridge
- Side of your torso – weighted side bends, side planks
- Twisting motion – band or cable rotations
How to Put it All Together
*MAKE TIME TO WARM UP AND PREPARE YOUR BODY THOROUGHLY before each training session
- Select a squat or deadlift for each day as a main exercise for the lower body
- Add a single leg exercise to give each leg individual training
- Select one or two upper body pressing exercises
- One or two upper body pulling exercises
- Vary the core exercises to challenge the core from all angles. If you focus on any area or movement pattern too much, you’ll create an imbalance.. This applies to all of the other exercises as well
Here’s an sample two times per week starters program
2 Times Per Week
Squat – Goblet squat
Single leg – Lunges
Upper body Pressing – Forward (Push-ups against a high box or counter)
Upper body Pulling – backward and upward (Ring row & Barbell high pull)
Core – Front of torso & back of torso (Crunches & Hip extension)
Hip Hinge – Deadlift
Single leg – Step-up
Upper body Pressing – upward & downward (Shoulder press & Bench dip)
Upper body Pulling – downward (Lat pulldown)
Core – Side of torso & back of torso (Side plank & Glute bridge)
This is CRUCIAL… USE VERY LIGHT WEIGHTS and MOVEMENT SLOWLY early in the program and at the beginning of each workout
- Do 2-3 sets of 15-20 repetitions for each movement (hold for 30-45 seconds)
- Rest 60 seconds after each set of 15-20 repetitions
- Move slowly on the down portion or stretching portion of the movement.
- Finish all 2-3 sets for one movement before moving onto the next exercise.
If you’re not sure of the technique, find help from free resources like videos, articles, or free trials. Or invest in a fitness professional to learn from.
How to Maintain Your Strength After 4 Weeks, Months, Years, and Decades?
If you don’t have any physical limitations but can’t seem to follow this program, you might need to look into:
- Time management (prioritize training and scheduling it in your calendar and actually executing)
- Energy management (understand where you’re spending physical, mental, emotional energy and allocate some to exercising)
- Building good habits and replacing bad ones
- Your expectations of exercise (quick fix vs. long term mentally)
- Check out this article for the best practices when you start exercising