For seniors, getting adequate exercise is a crucial part of maintaining health and vigor. Cardio exercises, which strengthen the heart and circulation as well as build up lung power, and stretching, which keeps one’s joints limber, are both important parts of any exercise program. But the aging process is also characterized by muscle loss; a weightlifting regime helps combat muscle loss, enabling you to lead an active life for a longer period of time, and to better sustain accidents such as falls.
Visit Your Doctor for a Physical exam
Before starting out on any weightlifting program, have a thorough physical examination to determine any limitations you may have. Certain chronic ailments may limit the kinds of exercises you can do; if you put stress on joints that are already damaged, you may only cause further damage. And a good trainer should have alternate ways to work out those muscles groups, without stressing the damaged joint. Discuss these issues first with your doctor, and then with your trainer.
Join a Gym
Although there are plenty of all-in-one “universal gyms” that you can purchase for home use, for most seniors it makes more sense to join a gym and use the machines there. You will have a wide variety of lifting machines and free weights, and constant access to a trainer for on-the-spot advice. Joining a gym usually gives you one or two sessions with a trainer free of charge; if you haven’t lifted weights for a while or are new to it, or if you have physical limitations, you may want to sign up for some additional sessions with the trainer.
It’s important to spend time with a trainer especially to develop smooth motions during each weightlifting routine. On many machines, the weight stacks slide smoothly up and down fixed columns; because these weights cannot move laterally, your own motions are similarly limited and it’s easy to develop a clean technique. However, if you lift free weights, you’ll need to expend nearly as much effort controlling the weights as you will actually lifting them, and a trainer can help you with that. Be sure not to jerk the weights; if you’re jerking or bouncing them into position, perhaps you’re lifting too much weight. Resting for a minute between sets can also help ensure good form. You should be able to both lift and release the weight in smooth, even motions.
Also, don’t hold your breath during exertion; this puts too much pressure on your chest. In extreme cases, holding your breath during exertion may cause dizziness, fainting, and even a heart attack. Focus on your breathing; most trainers recommend that you exhale when lifting weights — on a machine, when the weight stack rises — and inhale when letting the weights down again. And if you’re doing a routine that involves bending your knees or elbows, don’t let these joints lock, as that may cause damage.
Upper Body Workout
Most people who lift weights categorize muscle groups into upper body (chest, back, shoulders, and arms), lower body (legs and buttocks), and abdominals (stomach); a typical weekly routine may involve four workouts, alternating between upper body and lower body on consecutive days with some abdominals each time. For each exercise, you will do a certain number of repetitions — or “reps” — at a certain weight (usually ten or twelve reps), and then repeat the exercise at a higher weight, once or twice. For example, you might do three sets on the bench press at twelve reps per set, adding 10 pounds for each new set.
Several routines make up a good upper-body workout. The bench press — during which you lie down on a bench and lift a barbell or grips for a weight stack straight up over your head — will strengthen your chest muscles. The shoulder press — lifting weights over your head from a seated position — develops shoulders. The upper back can be developed with a rowing machine or with a “lat pull-down,” in which, from a seated position, you reach up, grab a bar that’s up overhead, and pull it down in front of your chest. As for your arms, curls will build up your biceps, and a “tricep press-down” will develop your triceps.
Lower Body Workout
Different types of exercises make up a lower-body workout. In a leg extension, from a seated position, you place the front of your ankles behind a bar and lift your legs straight up; this targets your quadriceps, the muscles on the front of your thighs. The leg curl, on the other hand, targets the hamstrings — the back of your thighs. In this routine, you lie on your stomach, put your ankles underneath a bar, and lift the bar up. Squats, which take various forms, work out the thigh muscles and also the buttocks — in a basic standing squat, you hold a barbell on your shoulders behind your head and squat down and up, although various squat machines can help you control the weights better than a loose barbell. And you can develop your shins by, again, standing with a barbell on your shoulders, and raising yourself up on your toes.
The most common abdominal exercises, or “crunches,” are sit-ups; there are hundreds of variations of crunches that target the various gut muscles. Be sure to vary your abdominal routines so that all the muscles are developed; a trainer can show you how.
Regardless of the precise routine you put together, some weight training is important for any senior. Once you become comfortable with the exercises and begin to see some improvement in your muscle tone and strength, you may even come to enjoy it!