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Neighbors of Kane County

Five Truths of Strength

Jun 17, 2019 11:46AM
By Richard J. Wolff, RDN  

We think about it, talk about it, and even read about it.  We just don’t do it!  Research, from the National Health Interview Survey reveals that most adults (approximately 8 out of 10) in the United States do not strength train.  There’s certainly no shortage of strength training advice in the press, on social media, and from family and friends.  Contrary to most advice, my message is a simple one.  The Five Truths of Strength combine an evidence-based approach, with common sense, to make strength training doable.
Truth #1: Less is More.  In a country overwhelmed with advice, it’s easy to see why more adults don’t strength train.  Complicated workouts that require hours of intense training can discourage even the most committed person.  Most people mistakenly believe that strength training needs to be performed over long periods of time (i.e., hours at a time, on most days of the week) to be beneficial.  Fortunately, there is strong evidence linking short bouts of strength training to significant improvements in health and fitness. 
A 2018 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Medicine found that adults strength training less than an hour per week experienced life changing health benefits.  The study led by scientists at Iowa State University evaluated risk of heart attacks, stroke, and death in 12,500 adult men and women over an 11-year period.  Those that strength trained less than an hour per week were 50 percent less likely to experience these events than adults that never strength trained.   
Truth #2: Skills Matter Most.  When people strength train, they often think about how much weight they are lifting.  While the weight you lift is important, how you perform the exercise is what matters most!  At MEDFITNESS, we call this your Workout Skills.  Workout Skills include speed of movement, form (body posture), range-of-motion, and turnarounds (changing directions).  An exercise performed with poor Workout Skills (moving fast with sloppy form) decreases the training stimulus while increasing risk of injury.  Decreasing the training stimulus reduces the training response and health benefits of the exercise.  In contrast, an exercise performed with proper Workout Skills maximizes health benefits while keeping the exercise incredibly safe.  Avoid getting caught up in always performing more repetitions (i.e., trying to get six repetitions, no matter what) at the expense of your Workout Skills.  Sloppy repetitions are simply unsafe and less healthful.
Truth #3: Sweat Equity Counts.  Another important ingredient in an effective strength workout is effort, otherwise known as intensity.  For years, exercise professionals under-valued the importance of intensity.  It wasn’t until the 1980’s, that exercise scientist Dr. William Evans at Tufts University discovered how important exercise intensity is for all adults.  Dr. Evans’ research revealed that older adults receive the same benefits as younger adults when training intensity is equal.  In other words, muscle responsiveness does not diminish with age. 
If you’re 85 and training intensely, you get the same benefits as the 30-year old that trains the same way.  How do you know if your intensity is high enough?  Dr. Evans recommends training to muscle failure, the point where you are unable to complete a full repetition with proper form and speed.  If you’re unable to train to muscle failure, get as close as you possibly can to maximize the health benefits of the exercise.    
Truth #4: Older is Better. One of the enduring myths of aging is that you should slow down and do less as you age.  While there are exceptions to the rule, this attitude is usually the kiss of death.  If your goal is to accelerate the aging process and enter into a long, painful death march, then yes, you should slow down and do less.  However, if you are committed to living a robust, disease-free life, embracing the strength training lifestyle makes sense.  Given that your muscles always respond to strength training, the idea that you’re just too old for it is nonsense and completely unscientific.  For this reason, scientists now refer to strength training as a FOREVER BEHAVIOR! 
Truth #5.  Stronger is Better. For as long as I can remember, Americans have viewed getting weak as a normal part of aging.  It wasn’t until the 21st Century that scientists embraced the importance of strength training throughout the entire life cycle.  What few Americans realize is that Sarcopenia (the age-related loss of muscle) is the number two reason why aging adults are forced to leave their homes to be institutionalized.  Becoming sarcopenic leads to muscle weakness and dysfunction that can make safe, independent living impossible. The unspoken truth about sarcopenia is that it is 100 percent preventable and reversible.  Yes, you can reverse sarcopenia.  The problem in America is our attitude.  Given that most adults grew up at a time when strength training was considered non-essential, they don’t recognize the benefits it has to offer.  If you are thinking of navigating your retirement years without strength training, think twice.  In her New York Times Bestseller, Strong Women and Men Beat Arthritis, Dr Miriam Nelson writes “research from our own laboratory at Tufts University, as well as other scientific institutions, makes it quite clear that the right types of exercise (strength training), performed correctly, actually restore people’s function”. 
MEDFITNESS is a strength training studio specializing in On Demand Personal Training. 
  1. National Health Interview Survey.
  2. Even a Little Weight Training May Cut the Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke. The New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds, Dec. 4th, 2018.
  3. Evans, W., Rosenberg, I., 1991. Biomarkers, Ten Keys to Prolonging Vitality. New York, NY. FIRESIDE.
  4. Nelson, M., Baker, K., Roubenoff, R. 2002. Strong Women and Men Beat Arthritis. New York, NY. The Berkley Publishing Group.  
Richard Wolff , a regular contributor to Neighbors Media, is founder and owner of MedFitness, St. Charles, a strength training studio that specializes in on-demand personal training.