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Planning Retirement Online

Out of the box - Training with weights

                         January 2010

This is our regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try.     

Each month we try something that is not on the normal agenda for our age group. We all know keeping fit is important as we get older, but for most of us this means walking, playing a sport, gardening, cycling or swimming. But have you ever considered training with weights?


This month……


weight trainingExercise is great, but not every activity exercises all our muscles. For our age group, weight training is usually not even considered; there is a general perception that only the young or dedicated middle aged would consider weights (or resistance training as it is sometimes called). But actually weight training is the only type of exercise that can really make a difference to some of our muscles. It can slow and sometimes even reverse decline in muscle mass and also in bone density.

Weight training is not the same as aerobic or endurance activities which improve general cardiovascular fitness. Weights provide serious resistance and only a few specific movements are needed to really strengthen muscles.

As we get older, our muscle fibres shrink both in size (this is known as atrophy) and also in strength; they also become less sensitive to messages from the central nervous system. By using resistance training, the muscles are specifically challenged, and the exercise breaks down some of their tissue. As the muscles heal, they gradually increase in strength and size. Hence careful training with weights really can make a difference.

The main thing about using weights is to know what you are doing. Generally muscles should be worked until they feel tired; but this is not an exact science and if you exercise, or use too heavy a weight, so that it causes pain or serious strain, then you can do more harm than good. If you strain or cause tissue damage, this can take weeks and months to heal, so it is vital you never get to the stage where you are causing any harm.

I believe the best way to start is to get professional advice; visit your local gym and ask if you can book a one to one session with a trainer without taking out full membership. Some gyms will offer this facility. Personal trainers are increasing in number and it could be really worthwhile to book a session or two with one to obtain their advice and obtain a suggested training regime. There is also a lot of advice available on the internet and often among young relations who visit gyms regularly and there are some good books available too on weight training.

If you are starting out, the first thing you need is a sturdy chair and some exercise space. Even for strength training, good shoes are important, walking, running or cross-trainers are all fine. And of course, you need comfortable, loose clothing that won’t restrict you.

The first weights to work with are usually dumbbells. These are hand-held weights that come in a variety of sizes (and colours as it happens!). You can purchase them all over the place now including at big supermarkets, and to start with a modest 2lb weight for women and 3lb for men could work well. They are usually sold in pairs of course because you need one for each hand!

The first exercise many people our age start with is the biceps curl; this should help you lift things a lot more easily. You can do this standing up or sitting in a chair, but you need to keep your feet shoulder widthapart. With a dumbbell in each hand, have your arms at your sides and palms facing your thighs.

To a count of two, slowly lift up the weights so that your forearms rotate and palms face in towards your shoulders, while keeping your upper arms and elbows close to your side – it is as if you had something tucked beneath your arm. Keep your wrists straight and the dumbbells parallel to the floor.

Hold the weights there for a second or two and then, to a count of four, slowly lower the dumbbells back towards your thighs, rotating your forearms so that your arms are again at your sides, with palms facing your thighs.

Repeat this for 10 times; rest for one or two minutes, and then repeat for a second set of 10.
You will feel if this is a good weight and a good type of exercise for you; if you are struggling then of course you need lighter weights and less repetitions until you can work up to this level. If it is easy, increase the weights to heavier dumbbells.

If this is new to you, you should only do this two or three times a week to begin with until you start building up your strength.

There are a host of other activities to be done with weights, including using ankle weights and other equipment.

Why not find out more about weight training? - it really could be a great advance on the exercise you are already undertaking.


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