The benefits of weekly strength workouts
Strength training often gets a bad rep. For many people, they picture pumping iron in the gym around other hulks of people.
However, strength training is nothing to be feared. An encouraging Finnish study has found that older people greatly benefit from just one muscle-building session a week.
Researchers from the University of Jyväskylä recruited 92 people aged 65 to 75 who didn’t do any regular exercise but are otherwise healthy and split them into four groups.
One group underwent one strength-training session a week for six months, another did two sessions a week of strength training a week for six months and a third did three sessions of strength training a week for six months.
The fourth group, or some would call “the lucky ones”, did no strength training at all to act as a control for the study.
Under the supervision of personal trainers, the participants performed a roster of classic exercises, such as leg, chest and shoulder presses, rows, pulldowns, pushups and bicep curls.
Depending on the exercise, they aimed to complete between two to five sets and four to 12 repetitions.
At the end of the study, the researchers tested how much strength training had improved markers of metabolic syndrome, which is fat around the abdomen, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar as well as inflammation.
Unsurprisingly, the strength training had a positive impact.
However, what was surprising about the study was that the extra strength training didn’t appear to confer extra metabolic or inflammation benefits.
"The individuals that were borderline for metabolic health issues improved most from strength training, and there was no greater benefit from performing training three times per week rather than one time per week," said study co-author Dr Simon Walker to 9Honey Coach.
Walker’s study notes only a third of over-65s meet the aerobic guidelines, which is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week. 17 per cent meet the strength guidelines, which is muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days a week.
However, he has some theories as to why this is the case.
"[It] requires travel to the gym, paying membership fees, feeling comfortable in that environment, having the knowledge or skill to perform various exercises, being able to select certain program variables — exercises, reps, sets, rest intervals, et cetera — acceptance of training-induced discomfort such as muscle soreness, and perhaps also overcoming stereotypes of gym culture," said Walker.
If you’re uncomfortable in a gym, he advises you to just keep at it.
"Gyms are not just for bodybuilders," he said. "There is a huge variety in the types of workouts available, and it doesn't matter if you lift 10 or 100kg, so long as you are trying to improve what you can do compared to the previous occasion.”