Play to Your Strength

Energy Express

EnergyExpress 0323

May 2024 Issue
Energy Express by Marilynn Preston

Beautiful weather is finally here, and so are shorts, sleeveless tops, and swimsuits—all in bright colors and zippy designs that often reveal doughy arms and generous thighs. A few rounds of golf can't help you. You can run a 10K every weekend, or hike, bike and play tennis till the cows come home, and still the most efficient way to build muscle and overall body strength is targeted strength training.

There are other good reasons for strength training beyond looking good in a bikini. Strong bodies are linked to strong minds. Strength training builds confidence, muscle, and healthy tissue. It's also good for stable joints, injury prevention, and weight loss. And yet—slugs that we are—fewer than 25 percent of Americans over the age of 45 work with weights on a regular basis. A whole lot fewer, I'm guessing.

Blame it on our sedentary lifestyles. The heaviest thing most of us lift is our laptop. Nothing we do requires us to raise our arms over our heads. Everyday chores may work the front body, but what about the back body, the side body, the subtle body inside your own body that benefits from a balanced program that builds muscle from top to bottom, back to front, side to side?

So for all those reasons and a superset more, here are eight strength-training truths to consider—as you decide how and when you'll get started:

Little kids have to wait until their bodies and bones are strong enough to take the stresses of weight training, but the rest of us can start where we are, and can expect to see big improvements over time. The body is magnificent that way. People in their 90s are pumping iron and getting stronger, and so will you, once you understand the basics.

This is a weighty matter, because if you don't learn to lift consciously, with awareness of your breath, posture, core, and limitations, you can strain a muscle or tear a tendon. Find an evolved teacher/trainer, or teach yourself from books or online videos.

You won't get stronger lifting the same five- or ten-pound weight day after day, rep after rep. For your muscles to grow stronger, you need to challenge them—gradually, over time—with heavier weights. The "right" amount of weight will always vary, but this principle remains the same: You should be able to do ten or so reps with perfect form, with the last two being a real struggle.

Both will build strength. Using machines in a gym usually come with a price tag. Free weights speak for themselves: anytime, anywhere. Machines have a limited range of motion; free weights have infinite possibilities. Both can work if you work, intensely, consistently, thoughtfully, with proper attention paid to form and breathing. Body-weight exercises—squats, pushups, lunges—should also be part of your routine, which is why it's smart to consult with someone knowledgeable when you're first starting.

It's called DOMS—delayed onset muscle soreness—and it's what you can expect after a good workout. Pain is different. "No pain, no gain" is no way to approach a sustainable strength-training practice. If your trainer thinks otherwise, find one with a bigger brain.

Developing better body awareness will help you create and execute a balanced workout: front to back, side to side, pushing and pulling, expanding and contracting.

A 20-minute workout can be just as good as a 40-minute workout, if you know what you're doing and why. Compound movements, for example—a bicep curl combined with a lunge—will give you twice the benefit in half the time. So will super-slow lifting and high-intensity interval training. Again, study up and experiment until you find a routine that sparks joy. If you manage to do it two or three times a week, over time your body will change in remarkable ways, unless you celebrate every workout with two granola bars and three beers.

It's an inconvenient truth that as we age, we lose muscle and grow weak unless we make the effort to stay strong, flexible, agile, and juiced. It's about working with what you've got for as long as you've got, and being grateful in between.


"It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
— George Eliot —

Marilynn Preston is the author of Energy Express, America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her book All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being is available on Amazon and elsewhere. For more on personal well-being, visit 
© 2024 Energy Express, Ltd.

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