Adding strength-based exercises into your routine is key to maintaining muscle mass and overall body strength. However, I find that many people do not understand the difference between strengthening exercises and endurance exercises, so let me help clarify for you here. When I consult people on their activity and exercise routine, I often hear that they walk or run to strengthen their legs. Or, even worse, they tell me that they cannot strength their legs because they have bad knees or a bad back! Depending on their diagnosed condition, they may have to make alterations to their strengthening program, but I would be confident in telling anyone that they do need to add specific strengthening exercises to their training routine in order to gain the strength and stabilization needed to support their ‘bad knee’ or ‘bad back’.

Strengthening exercises can begin as simply as using one’s own body weight as resistance. For many people, the simple act of sitting down to a chair without assistance can be difficult if they have weak quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Beginning by doing a simple exercise called a “sit to stand” can get them started on the road to increased strength. Once you can perform 10-15 squats to the seat of a chair without assistance, you can move to adding dumbbells in each hand and perform the exercise without the chair. Adding the extra dumbbells for resistance will help overload the muscles in your legs so that you will become stronger. Increasing your dumbbell weight by just 10% each week will produce noticeable gains in strength. If you have access to a gym or health club, you can use the leg press machines as well. For many people, using weight training machines is a safe and effective way to build strength without the potential risk of doing the exercise improperly or without a spotter. Whether you are using your own body weight, free weights (dumbbells) or machines to strengthen your muscles, it is important to perform the exercises correctly and in a controlled manner. Lifting improperly or with jerky motions will increase the risk of injury and be less effective in the long run.

Strengthening exercises should be done with a weight that you can control so that you can perform the exercise for 10-15 repetitions. If you are in a group class setting, using very light weights, and performing an exercise 50-100 repetitions, you are building muscle endurance, but not muscular strength. Building strength will increase overall muscle mass, which helps to keep your metabolism high so that you will burn more calories while at rest. Building muscular endurance, as is done with very light weights and very high repetitions such as in group exercise classes; or performing cardiovascular exercises such as running, walking and biking will help you to do those activities longer and more efficiently, but it will not help to build overall strength in those muscles.

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