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What You Need to Know About Strength Training

Resistance exercise may help you lose weight and prolong your life

By Linda Melone, CSCS

The key to a longer life may be as simple as lifting weights, according to a new analysis of older adults which showed twice-weekly strength training resulted in lower odds of dying. In fact, the odds of death for any reason was 46 percent lower in those who trained with resistance compared to those who did not.

The weightlifters also benefited from 41 percent lower risk of cardiac death and a 19 percent reduced risk of dying from cancer. The bad news? Only about 9 percent of older adults reported strength training at least twice a week.

Resistance training may not only prolong your life but it also boosts your metabolism, which helps stave off age-related weight gain.

"As we age, inactive men and women lose a significant amount of muscle mass, about 3 to 8 percent per decade," says Dean Maddalone, certified strength and conditioning specialist and director of the Professional Athletic Performance Center in Garden City, N.Y. "Studies show resistance training increases bone mineral density by 1 to 3 percent and also helps develop muscle mass."

Building muscle (in both men and women) by using weights or other resistance increases metabolism, since muscle burns more calories at rest than fat. "It also helps support joints and ligaments to help prevent injuries," adds Maddalone.

How to Get Started

If you've never worked out with resistance training or it's been a long while, first check with your doctor, says Maddalone.

"It's also advisable to consult with a certified exercise specialist who can conduct a proper assessment," he says. This should take into account your past medical history, injuries and any previous resistance training. Baseline testing may also be performed and include checks for flexibility, strength, coordination, balance and also consider any goals you may have — weight loss or osteoporosis prevention, for example.

How Much, How Often and for How Long?

Specific recommendations vary based on past resistance training experience, says Maddalone. "It is always better to ease into a resistance training program, just to see how your muscles and joints react to the training."

Definitely start slowly, says Tom Holland, CSCS, MS, exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym: Personal Trainer Secrets — Without the Personal Trainer Price Tag. "New exercisers may want to start with exercise machines first, versus free weights (dumbbells, barbells). Machines do not require balance or coordination, which allows you to build a strength base more safely."

In addition, Holland recommends booking a few sessions with an experienced, qualified trainer. "This ensures you are doing the appropriate exercises with the right amount of weight and using the correct form."

For adults with no weight lifting experience:

  • Start with 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions
  • Strive for 2 to 3 workouts a week on non-consecutive days

"Listen to your body," says Maddalone. "Soreness usually lasts 24 to 48 hours; anything beyond that is a sign you may have done too much." Consult a physician if soreness lasts longer than 72 hours.

The Right Balance

A balanced workout should include exercises for each major muscle group:

Legs (quadriceps and hamstrings, calves)

Example: SQUATS

This lower body exercise works nearly every muscle at once: quads (fronts of thighs), glutes and hamstrings as well as core. Keep abs tight throughout the move. Keep head and chest up as you bend at the knees and hips as if you’re about to sit on a chair. Lower yourself in a controlled manner, keeping your weight on your heels. Lower as far as you can go without pain or until you barely touch the seat. Do not rest at the bottom! Touch and slowly return to starting position and repeat for desired number of reps.



Example: PUSH-UPS

This challenging move can be modified for any fitness level by varying the body’s angle. It strengthens and tones chest, shoulders and triceps. Keep your abdominals and core tight and your body in a straight line throughout the move. Shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should all line up.


Example: ROWS

This exercise strengthens the back muscles and also works the biceps. It's great for helping improve posture. Loop tubing around a sturdy object or anchor it in a door hinge. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull the handles towards you in a rowing motion. Keep shoulders down (avoid shrugging) and abs tight throughout the movement.



Start with dumbbells in each hand and raise arms out laterally to the side until arms are parallel to the floor. Keep elbows slightly bent throughout the movement (do not lock out the joint) as if you’re pouring a pitcher of water. Do not allow your hands to rise up higher than your elbows.

Arms (biceps and triceps)


Hold on to two dumbbells or handles of a resistance band and stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping elbows next to your sides, raise the dumbbells by bending arms at the elbow and bring hands up towards your shoulders. Slowly return to starting position and repeat.

Abs and core

Example: PLANK

Lie face down on a mat, engage your abdominals (focus on pulling in your belly button towards your spine) as you prop yourself up on your forearms and toes, keeping your body in a straight line. Avoid hiking up your hips or allowing your back to sag. Hold 20 seconds or longer.

For a PDF of this workout (plus a few bonus exercises) click here.

Linda Melone, CSCS Next Avenue contributor Linda Melone is a California-based freelance writer and certified personal trainer specializing in health, fitness and wellness for women over 50. Read More
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