News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

“Help! I’m frail and can’t strength train”

Some seniors avoid weight training because they feel that they are too frail to handle it. That’s contrary to what they really need to practice.

Feeling frail means a person ought to be strength-training, not avoiding it. There is nothing that can replicate the muscles pulling a joint which is suppressed under an external resistance. This is how the muscle’s intuitive neurology adapts to get stronger. You stimulate them and they respond.

Building the musculature of the core, hips, thighs, and shoulder girdle are essential in building a body that is resilient against injury. Maybe you’re thinking while reading this, “lifting is going to cause injury.” This claim shouldn’t be an excuse. A gym environment has controllable variables. The weights are all scaled to ability, the apparatuses are fixed and sturdy, the floor offers sure footing. Outside of the gym — the yard, the trails, the dog walk, the steps — are all a dynamic environment where falls, slips, and injury are more likely.

Resistance training, done right in a gym, is far more likely to prevent injury than to cause it.

Addressing frailty, there are some very important points for consideration. First, note that after age 50, one loses around 12 to 15 percent of functional strength per decade. You lose even more if you go from being very active to very sedentary. It’s not only strength, but muscle mass; after the age of 50 you’ll likely to lose up to 10 percent.

Losing strength and muscle mass, accounts for loss of functional abilities.

Here’s a few statistics on how supervised weight training is superior in countering this loss. First, participants were engaged in either weight training versus other modalities of senior recreation. The result: strength training provided 97 percent increased functional ability in lower extremities versus a 12 percent increase for other modalities. If only the stock portfolio would go on a resistance training program.

Subjects performed just one to three sets of an exercise at 30 to 70 percent of maximum for six to 15 reps. A very basic exercise regime produced a 37 percent increase in max strength and 58 percent increase in functional capacity. In yet another study, quantifying fall risk, showed a 57 percent risk reduction from falling.

After 10 years in the business of teaching exercise, the most common attitude I’ve seen is that frailty is something accepted as normal, and that management is the only option. Anything with the implication of heft or strain comes with an alarm bell of negative connotation: “This is unsafe, risky, dangerous.”

This mindset is a big hurdle. It’s true that many people get aches and pains from gym work — but this is often due to inexperienced or very ambitious gym behavior. Gym time is a time to be under control and under care. If precautions are taken, results such as those in the studies are actualized.

If weight training is foreign or new to you, or you are coming back to it after a long lay off, get an expert’s help and build your functional capabilities.


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