Tips for Resistance and Strength Training

A Healthier You

Tips for Resistance and Strength Training

Staci NormanContributor: Dr. Staci-Marie Norman, PharmD, DCES

The weather is getting nice, summer is upon us, and many of us are getting out more to exercise! As I sit at my desk writing this article, three groups of walkers have gone by my window. Exercise is a vital part of keeping healthy - it helps lower blood pressure, keeps our weight under control, lowers our blood glucose, and keeps our cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels) healthy. You probably have an image that pops into your mind when someone starts to talk about exercise. Until fairly recently, my image had always been running. I have some good friends who love to run and are avid runners. For me, running is hell on earth! Even as a kid, it always has been because I was a slow runner, and it wasn't great to be the last one finishing the mile in gym class. As I've gotten older, more things hurt when I run. Because of this association, I have always thought of exercise as something I dreaded. But this has changed over the past few years.

Although I dreaded exercise, I have always been active for weight control and to try to counteract a family history of heart disease and diabetes. But it wasn’t until I had an injury to my knees that I really started to enjoy exercise. During physical therapy, we did a lot of resistance exercises and bodyweight stabilization exercises. I started out using light exercise bands as follows:

  • Stretching the band by tightening my shoulder blades with outstretched arms.
  • Banded good morning, where I stand on the circular band, put the other end across my shoulder, bend forward at the waist, and then straighten back up.
  • Hip circles using smaller bands that loop around my ankles, or right above or below my knees, and walk laterally by stretching one foot out as far as I can against the band and bring my other foot in to relieve the tension on the band.
Banded Good Morning 1Banded Good Morning 2
Banded Good Morning
BandsBands and Hip Circles Lateral Walk with Hip Circle 1Lateral Walk with Hip Circle 2
Lateral Walk with Hip Circle

None of this sounds terribly hard, but it can definitely make you break a sweat. All this resistance is working to build and strengthen muscle. As I built muscle and the red band (lightest resistance) became too easy, the black band came out! I’m still working with the black band, but the purple one is in sight.

In physical therapy, we also did things like squats. At first, I couldn’t get very low, but as muscle strength in my legs and butt improved, the squats got lower. Next, the weighted squats began, first with 5 pounds in each hand, then 10, 15, and 20 pounds. I’ve graduated to a barbell and can back squat 135 pounds, and I’m incredibly proud of this!

Why I’m focusing on this here? Well, even though “cardio” exercise, like walking, running, biking, or swimming, is essential for keeping your heart muscle healthy, resistance exercise is highly effective at keeping your other muscles strong, helping maintain stability and flexibility. The extra benefit is that by maintaining or increasing muscle mass, you may improve blood glucose levels. Our muscles need glucose for energy and will use it rather than storing it in fat tissue. Decreased fat tissue also decreases insulin resistance, so your body uses insulin more effectively, hence better blood glucose management.

Let’s not forget the benefits of stability and mobility. As we age and lose muscle mass, we start to be limited in what we can do and may potentially be more susceptible to falls. After I injured my knees, I noticed that before I started consistently working out with resistance and strength exercises, I had several falls that I couldn’t believe happened. I had lost the strength and stability to catch myself. With core exercises and lower body strengthening, I have much better stability. I can do things now at 50 that I would never have thought I could, like take the water softener salt down the basement steps! Weight-bearing exercise is also excellent for bone health, helping to keep bone density and warding off osteoporosis.

I do include cardio exercise in my workouts. I was fortunate to find a fabulous trainer about three years ago who has worked with me to gain strength and muscle mass while keeping the exercise fun and challenging. My workouts are typically 1/3 stretch and stability, 1/3 weighted movements, and 1/3 cardio. And yes, sometimes I do have to run, but even that has become a little more enjoyable!

Wondering if you need to join a gym to do this? My husband and I did go to the gym until COVID, but at this point, we have given up the gym membership because I can do everything with just a little bit of equipment! I got my first set of resistance bands on Amazon for $5. After six months, I graduated to heavy-duty bands, but the set was only around $30. I also started with inexpensive hand weights between 2 and 10 lbs. each, but you can start by looking in your pantry! Soup cans are great hand weights, as do plastic milk jugs with handles in ½ gallon and gallon sizes. And they are versatile - just change the amount of water you put in them for more or less weight. Remember I mentioned the water softener salt? Those bags made excellent “farmer’s carry” weights. With a bit of imagination, you can have a home gym quickly.

You also don't need a personal trainer to exercise. There are plenty of books, DVDs, or streaming services that will take you through different exercise sessions. If you have a smartphone, you can pick from tons of fitness apps, many of which are free. One of our favorites is the Nike training club. It is a free app that lets you individualize by picking your ability level and where you want to focus, and the trainer takes you through the session. I like it because you can see how to do the movements correctly.

So rethink exercise! Try something new. You might just find that you enjoy exercise more than you ever thought you would, and your body will benefit in so many ways. Oh, another group of walkers going by my window - guess I'd better do a little moving of my own.

Dr. Staci-Marie Norman, PharmD, DCES received her bachelors from Purdue University (’94) and her Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Oklahoma (’96). In 2000 Dr. Norman added to her credentials by becoming a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. She is currently the Clinical Coordinator and staff pharmacist for Martin’s Pharmacy. Dr. Norman is a national faculty member for the American Pharmacist Association, teaching certificate programs in both diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She serves on the advisory board that oversees development and revision of these programs. Along with teaching and development responsibilities for APhA, Dr. Norman serves as a peer reviewer for research grants and publication submission. Dr. Norman has also spoken for Abbott, Bayer, Lilly, Mannkind, and Lifescan as a diabetes specialist.