Many older adults have weak muscles – due to lack of activity, hospitalization, surgery, or a fall. This can cause problems with walking, balance, and everyday activities. The risk of falls increases consistently as we become weaker. Strength training can combat many of these downfalls of aging, but it most be prescribed properly.

The problem lies in a negative feedback loop of exercise prescription and client weakness:

  • You are too strong for easy exercises.
  • If the exercises are too easy, you will not get stronger.

A compliant adult can easily perform >30 reps of many prescribed exercises from their personal trainer or PT. The therapist may be afraid that you’ll get hurt but won’t increase the weight. For effective strengthening of any muscle group, an exercise should cause fatigue after 10-12 repetitions. At Heather Lane, we understand that a proper strengthening challenge can improve bone density, decrease risk of falls, and promote independence to fulfill your active life.

weight lifting strength training program

Well How Do I Gain Strength?

Studies show that a challenging gym program offers the most benefits, from adolescence to nursing home residents. The therapist should match the program to your abilities, with frequent updates to match the continuous strength gains. When you can do an exercise easily – more than 20 reps without needing a break – the therapist should add weight, intensity, or modify the exercise altogether. If you can do endless reps of a supposed strengthening exercise, you are not challenging the muscles enough. As a result you will still have problems with weak muscles.

older active adults laugh

Assess Rather Than Assume

Objective assessment separates the Physical Therapist from other health care professionals for proper strengthening. This assessment will directly correlate with your goals – shoulder strength, walking distance, etc. Many health care professionals will assume your strength level. PT’s will take objective measurements to give a more accurate picture of your restrictions.

On the contrary, PT’s can identify if your problem is not from a weak muscle but from an aggravated muscle. If you have a painful, inflamed knee joint then your PT will resolve that issue before returning to your strength training program.

For instance, let’s take the squat exercise. A typical strength program will prescribe two sets of 10 air squats. A PT can breakdown your technique to identify your deficits. It could be weak hip extension, poor lumbar control, or some other confusing medical jargon that describes your limitation. These movement deficits will lead to additional supplemental exercises. These detour exercises will get you back on track to improving your squat exercise.

In summary, when deciding on a health care professional to create your strength program:

  • Look for an assessment, not an assumption.
  • Look for measurements and progress, not cookie cutter routines.
  • Look for weight bearing exercises not machine based.
  • Look for multi-joint movements (squat), not single-joint exercises (leg extension machine)

The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with Heather Lane Physical Therapy or another qualified healthcare provider. 

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