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Strength Exercises


Exercises designed to build strength can help prevent premature loss of muscle tissue & can improve muscle strength, size & endurance at any age. The benefits of strength exercises also include improving reaction time, reducing the rate of muscle atrophy, increasing work capacity & helping prevent back problems & injury.


The following program of muscle conditioning exercises for the whole body has been designed specifically for older adults.
Calisthenics work muscles against resistance, enabling them to grow & maintain muscle tone. In addition to the strength exercises suggested in the next section, other physical activities that are essentially recreational can provide benefits to help maintain muscle integrity.


If you're beginning an exercise program, you'll need a check up from your doctor if:

  • You've been diagnosed with heart problems, high blood pressure or other medical conditions
  • You've been sedentary for over a year
  • If you're over 65 and do not currently exercise
  • You're pregnant
  • You have Diabetes
  • You have chest pain, or experience dizziness or fainting spells
  • You're recovering from an injury or illness

Obviously, if you have a diagnosed condition or illness, you always want to talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Choosing the right fitness clothing and equipment is important for your exercise pleasure. Here are some general guidelines about deciding what to wear:

  • Think comfort.  Shorts, tee shirts, whatever strikes your fancy.  You want clothes that don't chafe your delicate skin and that will protect you from the sun when you're outside.
  • Wear light-colored clothes, plenty of sunscreen and sunglasses if you're exercising outdoors.  You may also want to invest in clothes made of special wicking material such as CoolMax.  This stuff keeps you cool and dry in the hot summer months.
  • Wear the right shoes for your activity.  For weight training and low impact activities consider a cross-training shoe or a walking shoe.  If you're going to be running, you'll want a running shoe so your feet will have plenty of support.  Similarly, if you're participating in a sport such as basketball, football, etc. you'll want a sport-specific shoe so you don't hurt yourself.
  • Make sure your clothes and shoes have reflective material on them if you're out and about at night.
  • Be picky about your workout socks.  If they're too thick or thin you could get blisters which can ruin a good workout.

There's no right and wrong when it comes to exercise clothes.  It's whatever makes you feel good and keeps the sweat away!

If you're trying to lose weight, build muscle or excel at a sport, you'll need specific goals. When you don't have a specific goal, it's difficult to keep exercising and to track your progress to see how far you've come.  Before you get busy, take a moment and ask yourself these questions:

1.  What do I want to accomplish with this exercise program?
2.  Is my goal realistic and attainable?
3.  How do I reach my goal?
4.  When do I want to reach my goal?
5.  How will I reward myself when I reach my goal?

For example, is it reasonable to want to lose 50 pounds in 6 months?  Experts recommend that you lose no more than 1-2 pounds per week, but it isn't likely that you'll lose 2 pounds every single week.  Keep in mind that:

  • The more weight you lose, the harder it will be to lose weight because the less weight your body has to move around, the less calories it will burn doing so
  • The closer you get to your goal, the harder it will be to reach it--in fact, you may NEVER reach it (ever talk to someone who's still trying to lose that last 5 pounds?)
  • Everyone has a weight their body is comfortable at and once you reach that weight, you'll find it very difficult to lose anymore.  Just because YOU think you should be at 125 doesn't mean your body agrees
  • Make sure your goal weight is reasonable for your height and frame  

After you set your goal, find out how to reach it.  If you want to lose weight or become better at a sport, you need to figure out how that is accomplished by hiring a trainer or fitness expert, or hit the Internet or a library for some research.  Know what you have to do before you get started.  Many people are surprised at the daily effort it takes to reach their goals.

Once you know what you're doing and how you're doing it, the hardest part is sticking to it.  Here are some strategies to help make it easier to get up and get going:

  • Schedule your exercise sessions each week--in INK!
  • Set weekly goals and reward yourself each time you succeed (i.e., new shoes or a massage works nicely)
  • Work out with friends or family for added motivation
  • Recommit to your exercise goals each and every day
  • Be prepared by always having your workout bag with you, bringing your lunch to work, etc.
  • Keep a workout journal and look through it regularly to see your progress
  • Take your measurements in the beginning, and then retake them every six weeks to see if you're making progress.  
the information on this webpage was found at The President's Council for Physical Fitness website and about.com

Strength: Level I

Finger Squeeze: to strengthen the hands. Extend arms in front at shoulder height, palms down. Squeeze fingers slowly, then re1ease. Suggested repetitions: 5. Turn palms up, squeeze fingers, release. Suggested repetitions: 5. Extend arms in front, shake fingers. Suggested repetitions: 5.


Touch Shoulders: to increase flexibility of the shoulders and elbows and tone the upper arm; can be done in a seated position.  Touch shoulders with hands, extend arms out straight. Bring arms back to starting position. Suggested repetitions: 10 - 15.

slowly absorb the information....

Quarter Squat: to tone & strengthen lower leg muscles. Stand erect behind a chair, hands on chair back for balance. Bend knees, then rise to an upright position. Be careful not to let knees go beyond your toes. Suggested repetitions: 8 - 12.

Strength: Level II

Arm Curl: to strengthen arm muscles. Use a weighted object such as a book or a can of vegetables or small dumbbell. Stand or sit erect w/arms at side, holding weighted object.
Bend your arm, raising the weight. Lower it. Can be done seated. Suggested repetitions: 10 - 15 each arm

Modified Knee Push-up: to strengthen upper back, chest, & back of arms.
Start on bent knees, hands on floor & slightly forward of shoulders. Lower body until chin touches floor. Return to start. Suggested repetitions: 5 - 10.

Calf Raise: to strengthen lower leg & ankle. Stand erect, hands on hip or on back of chair for balance.


Spread fee 6" to 12".


Slowly raise body up to toes, lifting heels. Return to starting position. Breathe normally. Suggested repetitions: 10 - 15

Modified Sit-up: to improve abdominal strength. Lie on back, feet on the floor w/finger tips behind your ears. Look straight up at the ceiling and lift head & shoulders off floor. Suggested repetitions: 10.


Strength: Level III

Note: In Level III strength exercise, lightweight resistance equipment, such as the dumbbell, is introduced to overload the muscles.

While equipment of this kind is low in cost & desirable, a number of substitutes can be used.

These include:

 a bucket of soil, a heavy household item such as an iron, a can of food, a stone, or a brick.

Seated Alternate Dumbbell Curls: to strengthen biceps of upper arms. Sit comfortably on a flat bench with arms at side. Hold a pair of dumbbells with an underhand grip, so that palms face up. Bending left elbow, raise dumbbell until left arm is fully flexed. Lower left dumbbell while raising right dumbbell from the elbow until right arm is fully flexed. Breathe normally. Suggested repetitions: 2 sets of 8 - 10 each arm.

Dumbbell Fly: to strengthen chest muscles and improve lateral range of motion in shoulder girdle. Lie on your back on a Flat bench or floor if bench is not available. Grasp dumbbells in each hand over chest. Inhale and lower dumbbell to side with elbow slightly bent.  Raise dumbbell in an arc to the starting position, exhaling in the process. Suggested repetitions: 8 - 12.


Alternate Dumbbell Shrug: to strengthen muscles in shoulders, upper back and neck. Stand comfortably with dumbbells in each hand. Elevate shoulders as high as possible, rolling them first backward and then down to the starting position. Exhale as you lower the shoulders. Suggested repetitions: 10 forward, 5 backward.


One Arm Dumbbell Extension: to strengthen triceps (back of arm) and improve range of motion. Bring weight up to shoulder and lift overhead. Slowly lower it behind the back as far as is comfortable. Extend arm to original position. Inhale on the way down, exhale on the way up. Suggested repetitions: 8 - 12 on each arm.



Dumbbell Calf Raise: to strengthen calf muscle and improve range of motion of ankle joint. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, weights in each hand, toes on a 2" x 4" block (preferred but not necessary). Raise up on toes lifting heels as high as possible. Slowly lower heels to starting position. Breathe normally. Suggested repetitions: 5 with heels straight back, 5 with heels turned out, 5 with heels turned in.

Dumbbell Half Squats: to strengthen thigh muscles in front. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and heels on a 2" x 4" block (not necessary, but preferred). Holding weights in each hand, slowly descend to a comfortable position where the tops of the thighs are about at a 45 degree angle to the floor. There is no benefit to a deeper squat. Inhale on the way down. Stand up slowly, keeping knees slightly bent. Exhale on the way up. Suggested repetitions: 10 - 12.

Why Strength Training?
--From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
Updated August 21, 2003

Benefits of Strength Training

There are numerous benefits to strength training regularly, particularly as you grow older. It can be very powerful in reducing the signs & symptoms of numerous diseases & chronic conditions, among them:





    back pain


Arthritis Relief

Tufts University recently completed a strength-training program w/older men & women w/moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis.
The results of this 16 week program showed that strength training:
  • decreased pain by 43%
  • increased muscle strength
  • & general physical performance
  • improved the clinical signs & symptoms of the disease
  • decreased disability

The effectiveness of strength training to ease the pain of osteoarthritis was just as potent, if not more potent, as medications.

Similar effects of strength training have been seen in patients w/rheumatoid arthritis 

Restoration of Balance & Reduction of Falls

As people age, poor balance & flexibility contribute to falls & broken bones. These fractures can result in significant disability &, in some cases, fatal complications.<CLICK HERE TO READ MY PERSONAL STORY AT THE NONUNION FRACTURE WEBSITE> Strengthening exercises, when done properly and through the full range of motion, increase a person's flexibility & balance, which decrease the likelihood & severity of falls.
One study in New Zealand in women 80 years of age & older showed a 40% reduction in falls w/simple strength & balance training.

Strengthening of Bone
Post-menopausal women can lose 1-2% of their bone mass annually. Results from a study conducted at Tufts University, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1994, showed that strength training increases bone density & reduces the risk for fractures among women aged 50-70.

Proper Weight Maintenance

Strength training is crucial to weight control, because individuals who have more muscle mass have a higher metabolic rate. Muscle is active tissue that consumes calories while stored fat uses very little energy. Strength training can provide:
  • up to a 15% increase in metabolic rate, which is enormously helpful for weight loss & long-term weight control.

    Improved Glucose Control

    More than 14 million Americans have type II diabetes-a staggering 300% increase over the past 40 years & the numbers are steadily climbing.
In addition to being at greater risk for heart & renal disease, diabetes is also the leading cause of blindness in older adults.
Fortunately, studies now show that lifestyle changes such as strength training have a profound impact on helping older adults manage their diabetes.
In a recent study of Hispanic men & women, 16 weeks of strength training produced dramatic improvements:
  • in glucose control that are comparable to taking diabetes medication
  • the study volunteers were stronger
  • gained muscle
  • lost body fat
  • had less depression 
  • felt much more self-confident

Healthy State of Mind

Strength training provides similar improvements in depression as anti-depressant medications. Currently, it is not known if this is because people feel better when they are stronger or if strength training produces a helpful biochemical change in the brain. It is most likely a combination of the two.

When older adults participate in strength training programs, their self-confidence & self-esteem improve, which has a strong impact on their overall quality of life.

Sleep Improvement

People who exercise regularly enjoy improved sleep quality. They fall asleep more quickly, sleep more deeply, awaken less often & sleep longer. As w/depression, the sleep benefits obtained as a result of strength training are comparable to treatment w/medication but w/out the side effects or the expense.

Healthy Heart Tissue

Strength training is important for cardiac health because heart disease risk is lower when the body is leaner. One study found that cardiac patients gained not only strength & flexibility but also aerobic capacity when they did strength training 3 times a week as part of their rehabilitation program.

This & other studies have prompted the American Heart Association to recommend strength training as a way to reduce risk of heart disease and as a therapy for patients in cardiac rehabilitation programs.

Research & Background About Strength Training

Scientific research has shown that exercise can slow the physiological aging clock.

While aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, or swimming, has many excellent health benefits-it maintains the heart & lungs & increases cardiovascular fitness & endurance-it does not make your muscles strong.

Strength training does. Studies have shown that lifting weights 2 or 3 times a week increases strength by building muscle mass & bone density.

One 12-month study conducted on postmenopausal women at Tufts University demonstrated:

  • 1% gains in hip & spine bone density
  • 75% increases in strength 
  • 13% increases in dynamic balance

with just 2 days per week of progressive strength training. The control group had losses in bone, strength &d balance. Strength training programs can also have a profound effect on reducing risk for falls, which translates to fewer fractures.

Leg Extensions: to tone the upper leg muscles. Sit upright. Lift 1eft leg off the floor & extend it fully. Lower it very slowly. Suggested repetitions: 10 - 15 each leg

Back Leg Swing: to firm the buttocks & strengthen the lower back.  Stand up, holding on to the back of a chair.
Keep your back & hips in line w/the chair as you do the exercise. Extend one leg back, foot pointed towards the floor. Keeping the knee straight, Litt the leg backwards approximately 4" & concentrate on squeezing the muscles in the buttocks w/each lift.
Make sure you keep your back straight as you raise your legs. Return to starting position. Suggested repetitions 10 each leg.

Arm Extension: to tone muscles in the back of the arm. Sit or stand erect w/arms at sides.


Holding a weighted object of less than 5 pounds, overhead. Slowly bend arm until head. Slowly extend arm to The arm curl & arm extension separately or together, alternating seated. Suggested repetitions: 10 - 15

Alternate Leg Lunges: to strengthen upper thighs & inside legs. Also stretches back of leg. Take a comfortable stance w/hands on hips.

Step forward 18 to 24 w/right leg. Keep left heel on floor. Shove off right leg & resume standing position. Suggested repetitions: 5 - 10 each leg.

Side Lying Leg Lift: to strengthen & tone outside of thigh & hip muscles. Lie on right side, legs extended. Raise leg 4 to 5". Lower to starting position. Suggested repetitions: 10 on each side.

Modified Sit-up: to improve abdominal strength. Lie on back, feet on the floor, with finger tips behind your ears. Look straight up at ceiling and lift head and shoulders off floor. Suggested repetitions: 12-15.



Heel Raises: to strengthen the calf muscles and ankles. Stand erect, holding a chair for balance if needed, hands on hips, feet together. Raise body on toes. Return to starting position. Suggested repetitions: 10.


Knee Lift: to strengthen hip flexors and lower abdomen. Stand erect. Raise left knee to chest or as far upward as possible while back remains straight. Return to starting position. Repeat with right leg. Suggested repetitions: 5 each leg.

Head and Shoulder Curl: to firm stomach muscles. Lie on the floor, knees bent, arms at sides, head bent slightly forward. Reach forward with arms extended, until finger tips touch your knees, Hold for 5 counts. Return to starting position. Suggested repetitions: 10.

Which of the following factors do you think is most strongly associated with the risk of falling in elderly women?
422 people Previous Fall:  14%
244 people Chronic Disease:  8%
505 people Number of Medications: 17%
120 people None of the Above:  4%
 1555 people All of the Above: 54%
poll from Medscape

Total Responses: 2846
Poll conducted 23-Oct-2003 - 31-Oct-2003

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