Wednesday’s Ask Dr. Walt — Starting strength training

This Q&A was adapted from my just-released-book, Fit over 50: Make Simple Choices Today for a Healthier, Happier You. It was adapted for the September issue of Today’s Christian Living. If you don’t have a subscription, I highly recommend it.

Dear Dr. Walt,

My family doctor has encouraged me to begin strength training. What’s the best way to begin? 

—Wanting Muscle in Missouri

Dear Hesitant,

Dear Toning-Up-One,

A lot of choices are available. The most effective approach is to join a gym that can offer you a variety of training choices and a professional staff to educate and guide you. But at home or in a facility, here are options in the order I recommend them:

  1. Machines. Strength training machines use weights (most often) but also can use rubber bands, springs, air cylinders, or even flexible rods to supply resistance. Generally, these machines are safer than free weights.
  2. Body weight lifting. These are calisthenics—push-ups, pull-ups, dips, wall-sits, lunges, and bent-knee sit-ups. They can be done with little equipment and reduce opportunities for injury. Classes such as Pilates, Jazzercise, HIIT (high intensity interval training), CrossFit, and the like can be helpful for aerobic and muscle fitness.
  3. Free weights. These are the most likely to result in an injury if not done properly. Free weights come in a variety of styles, including barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells.

You can find a description of weight lifting and strength training moves online and in many other sources. The CDC has a free booklet, Growing Stronger: Strength Training for Older Adults, which I recommend. But starting with a personal trainer is wise to avoid beginner mistakes and injury risk.

How often you will do strength training depends on what works for you. In most cases folks should work a muscle twice a week, with 72 hours between workouts of that muscle. In Phil’s lab they found that few lifters of any age can repeat working a muscle group within 48 hours, and older lifters take a bit longer to recover. 

So, if you lift on Monday, don’t work that muscle group again before Thursday. Repeat the next Monday and Thursday. You can choose lifts depending on how often you work out. If you can lift every day, then on Monday you can do one-third of your lifts (upper body/arms, core/trunk, or lower body/legs), the second third on Tuesday, and the remaining third on Wednesday. Thursday you repeat Monday’s workout, etc., and take Sunday off.

So, what should you expect as you begin? About 24 hours after your first weight training session you may be sore. This is a good thing. It should not be unbearably painful, but a little soreness is assurance you accomplished something. The pain will peak at 48 hours and then resolve quickly. It’s better to start off easy and build up gradually, which will reduce this problem and give you better results.

The first six to eight weeks you should notice a rapid increase in your training capacity. Your muscles and your nervous system are essentially learning how to lift weights. After that the rate of increase may be slower. Also, as you are starting out, you may want to eat more protein. According to a 2018 research review, “Eating more protein (while weight lifting) can significantly augment the effects of lifting weights, especially for people past the age of 40.”

For all adults, a regular program of strengthening and aerobic exercises can help prevent, reduce, or even reverse many of the functional declines associated with aging. You can be one of those people if you will begin strength training and keep it up. It’s a lifelong lifestyle change. You can do it!

Adapted from Fit over 50. Copyright © 2019 by Walt Larimore and Phillip Bishop. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon 97408. Used by permission.

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2019. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

2 thoughts on “Wednesday’s Ask Dr. Walt — Starting strength training

  • Kit Kuss

    Nice review of basic plan, Walt. We all need the encouragement to stay active, focused and keep moving. Going to pick up a copy and share in my practice.

Comments are closed.

Enter your email to subscribe to Dr. Walt's blogs.

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

Dr. Walt Larimore will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.