More and more research is showing that properly performed strength exercises are a necessary part of any exercise program. By improving our total body muscular strength and endurance, bone density, metabolism, and joint health among other things, it’s hard to ignore the need for strength training as we age.
In fact, there is not a credible institution in the land that doesn’t now recommend at least twice-weekly strength training for adults of all ages. Thus, If you are not currently strength training, it’s important that you start, and if you already are, try ramping up your exercise intensity for better results.
No pain, no gain you ask? Well, you could say it’s something like that. No amount of easy exercise will ever produce meaningful fitness improvements so mastering your exercise intensity is the secret to getting the best possible results. That said, you first need to develop some physical and psychological skills.
It’s all about getting out of your comfort zone and handling a higher level of physical demand. While it goes against human nature to willingly do something uncomfortable, if you accept the challenge, you will take your physical fitness and overall health to an all new level.
Here are the secrets of building strength training intensity:
Secret #1: Learn proper strength training technique – There are many ways to increase strength training intensity, but not all methods are safe over the long haul, especially as you get older. In fact, some approaches use very fast repetition speeds, breath holding, and little regard for appropriate body position. This is potentially dangerous, and will almost certainly take the life out of your joints and leave you susceptible to injury over time. Here are the key strength training technique considerations:
Slow-motion repetitions – By slowing your repetition speed to no faster than a 3 second lifting and 3 second lowering phase, you will keep impact forces low, eliminate momentum and create a much more joint-friendly, muscle-recruiting form of exercise.
Breathe continuously – There is a natural tendency to hold breath when exerting force against some resistance. Forced breath holding immediately raises blood pressure to dangerously high levels and can cause dizziness, headache, and even stroke in older adults. When an exercise becomes difficult or anytime the urge to hold your breath is strong, consciously drop your lower jaw and breathe at a smooth, continuous pace.
Maintain a stable head, neck and body position – During strength exercises, only the muscles directly involved in the movement should develop significant tension. Other body parts, particularly the head, neck, and lower back should develop only the muscle tension necessary to maintain stability in that region. While varying slightly from exercise to exercise, the head and neck must remain in a neutral position and still.
Secret #2: Choose safe, low-impact exercises – Keeping your repetition speed slow and controlled will keep your strength exercises as low-impact as possible, but you must still select safe exercises based on your limitations, if any. For example, if you have knee problems, you would be better off doing a slow-motion wall squat while not allowing your knees to travel beyond your ankles, rather than lunges, barbell squats or leg extensions. Never put yourself in an unsafe situation or risk aggravating an existing condition by choosing inappropriate exercises for your individual needs.
Secret #3: Progressively apply higher intensity over time – Rather than using reckless and dangerous techniques to increase your exercise intensity asap, gradually building your level of effort over time will allow your body and mind to become better acclimated to the additional physical stress. Keep in mind, the ultimate goal of any strength exercise should be to safely, yet thoroughly fatigue your target muscles and bring them to the point of temporary failure. It’s not easy, but well worth the effort and fatigue-related discomfort you’ll experience.
Secret #4: Understand what causes exercise discomfort – Simply put, the closer that you get to the point of temporary muscle failure, the more your muscles rely on anaerobic metabolism to fuel the muscle contractions. A consequence of this metabolic pathway is lactic acid accumulation, which will undoubtedly cause some muscle burn and discomfort. This is not a bad thing, but rather a necessary part of meaningful exercise. As long as you understand what is causing the pain, you can get over your fear and accept it as normal and really a good thing as it relates to the best possible stimulus for improvement.
Secret #5: Develop your pain tolerance – Push yourself beyond your limits. I guarantee that your first inclination will be to stop the exercise when faced with some physical discomfort. However, if you do, you will have only warmed up and really missed the most meaningful part of the exercise…that which causes the deepest level of muscle fatigue. Some days you will be more tolerant than others, but if you always approach each exercise with the goal of properly performing the movement to the point of momentary failure, you will progressively develop an impressive pain tolerance.
Secret #6: Embrace the physical discomfort – This is a difficult thing to wrap your head around, but you must welcome the discomfort, rather than avoid it. Sounds crazy, but if you can expect and look forward to the muscle burn and fatigue-related sensitivity, the longer you will work through it and the more completely you will stimulate your muscles, bones, and cardiovascular system to improve in condition. Keep in mind, there is a difference between the pain associated with muscle fatigue and the pain of injury…you must be able to distinguish between the two so if the discomfort is fatigue-related, deal with it as long as you can, but if you feel that the pain is aggravating something or causing injury, stop the exercise immediately.
Secret #7: You have to want it – You get out of strength training what you put into it and if you just go through the motions without effort, you are wasting your time. If you tell yourself “I can’t do this” or “this pain isn’t good,” you will lack confidence and be imprisoned by your fears, never reaching your fitness goals. However, if you really want the best results, remain confident, pain tolerant, and willing to take it to the limit each time you exercise, you will tap into your true physical potential and improve your health beyond what you ever thought possible. Give it a shot, you can do it!!
Remember to always consult your physician or fitness professional before starting an exercise program or making significant changes to your current routine. If you have any questions on safe strength training technique or how to safely increase your exercise intensity, please contact us directly at 916-337-9900 [email protected]
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Yours in Health,
Ken Karnack, APEX, ISSA
OlD School Fitness
P: (916) 337-9900
E: [email protected]