Are you getting more aches and pains? Do you have a family history of osteoporosis? Have you found yourself in the gym watching the 20 and 30 somethings leap onto high boxes and lift heavy weights but tell yourself you are too old for that? If the answer is yes to any of the above then think again especially if you want to keep your bones and joints as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
I have a family history of osteoporosis and was well aware that I needed to look after my bones. I ran 5-12K four times a week. I thought there was no need to do extra strength or power training. Then I slipped on a rock and tore a ligament in my knee. Both my osteopath and a physio told me my leg muscles were not strong or powerful enough to respond to the unusual movement, so the ligaments took all the strain.
Why do we need to be strong?
Strengthening your muscles leads to stronger joints, ligaments and bones. This makes them sturdy enough to withstand repetitive pounding such as running, dancing and playing sport.
Why do we need to be powerful?
The definition of power is the ability to generate high amounts of force over a short period of time. In relation to your body, power means that your nervous system is able to control your muscles so that they work more efficiently and effectively. This reduces the risk of injury, especially when you have to make sudden, forceful moves. For example being powerful enables you to move a heavy object out of the way quickly before it falls on you, without being injured in the process.
How do I exercise for strength and power?
Strength and power are now important components of my fitness regime. Below is an example of my strength and power routines. I do two weight sessions a week. Session 1 is strength building and session 2 builds power as well as strength. I leave at least 48 hours between each of these sessions to give my body time to recover.
I do 3 sets of exercises for different parts of the body. Between 5 and 12 repetitions of each strength move, depending on the weight. If I can’t do 5 reps then the weight is too heavy, so I use a lighter one. If I can do 12 reps very easily I use a heavier weight. After each set, I rest actively by carrying out a core or mobility exercise. Once all 3 sets of strength and core/mobility exercises have been completed I move on to the next strength and mobility/core exercise.
- Upper body 1: Dumbell bench press; Mobility/core: bent over flies with light dumbells
- Upper body 2: Pull ups; core: torso twists
- Lower body: Squats with barbell; mobility/core: pike planks using TRX or swiss ball
- Lower body posterior chain: Romanian deadlift with barbell; Mobility/core: sun salutations (a yoga move)
- Whole body complex move: dumbbell manmakers (stolen from crossfit); mobility/core/balance: bridge on a swiss ball
Session 2 – Strength and Power.
I do 5-12 repetitions of a strength move followed by 30s of a power move that works the same muscle group I’ve just worked. A power move needs to be carried out as quickly as you can but without compromising good technique. I repeat this until I have completed 3 sets of both exercises. I then move onto to the next strength and power move.
- Upper body strength; press up on swiss ball; power: press up clap.
- Upper body strength: dumbell row; power: burpees
- Lower body strength: lunges on a box with dumbells; power: box jumps (yes I can really do them now on the tallest box!)
- Lower body posterior chain strength: deadlift with kettlebells; power: kettlebell swings.
- Core strength: Medicine ball V-ups; power: mountain climbers.
I increase the intensity of my programme every week – by either adding more weight, more repetitions, an extra set or do the strength exercises very slowly eg 20s to complete one move. I also change the whole programme every four weeks to challenge myself and my body.
Everyone can get stronger and more powerful. However if these exercises sound like a foreign language to you, you haven’t exercised with weights for a long time or you have never exercised before, my advise is to exercise with a personal trainer first. He or she will help you with correct technique and use gradual progression so that you increase your strength and power safely.