Stay Strong: The Benefits of Strength Training As We Age

Last updated: 08-26-2020

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Stay Strong: The Benefits of Strength Training As We Age

This feature was written by Studio MSP writers. While some of our advertisers were sourced, no advertiser paid to be included.

Max Lipset, a certified strength and training specialist, has worked with world-class athletes like cross-country skier Annie Hart, helping her achieve her dream of making the US Olympic team with several years of specialized training.

“The main variable we changed in her training was adding a significant amount of strength work,” says Lipset. “She made it there, performed well, and achieved everything she hoped to in the sport.”

Not everyone can become an Olympian by adding strength training to their fitness routine, but experts say that everyone can improve their health with regular strength training. The benefits include everything from increasing bone density and dropping pounds to reducing the effects of arthritis, back pain, heart disease, depression, and diabetes.

Lipset says that as we age, strength training can make a big difference in alleviating some of the aches and pains of everyday life, making it possible “to do essential daily activities like standing up and sitting down, picking things up off the ground, twisting, lifting, and bending” 

Lipset, a former pro soccer player and coach, founded The Power House gyms with locations around the Twin Cities. He is now partnering with Summit HealthEast Sports Center in Woodbury. He describes it as a collaboration that brings together experts from the clinical side and the performance side to improve patient outcomes before or after an orthopedic treatment.

“My company’s partnership with Summit Orthopedics is a cool example of two groups that are in slightly different spaces when it comes to health and wellness coming together and saying, we both have something to offer and we want to do it in a way that is collaborative,” he says. “It’s a really valuable opportunity for individuals looking to maximize the safety and efficiency of their training.” 

His team works with everyone from high school athletes and weekend warriors to baby boomers sorting through the aches and pains of aging.

“Strength training can improve performance and prevent injuries by putting a little bit more mass on your joints,” he says. “If you have any kind of contact in your sport, you’re going to be less likely to sustain an injury. It helps with speed, deceleration, change in direction, throwing, kicking—all of these things can be improved through increased strength.”

It almost sounds like the steps to a funky dance—squat, step, lunge, hip hinge—but these are the core movements of daily life that can keep you young.

“As long as we are covering those movement patterns and strengthening them, it’s going to help us stay active over the course of a lifetime,” says Adam Maronde, performance manager with Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine in downtown Minneapolis.

When considering your fitness goals, he says, it’s important to ask yourself this question: Are the things I am doing going to allow me to be active for a lifetime? He notes that if strength training isn’t part of your fitness regimen, it should be.

“Strength training is particularly beneficial, in that we either use it or we lose it,” he says. “So, we’re either going to use this muscle tissue or it’s going to atrophy as we age, and it’s not going  to allow us the strength to climb up stairs as we get older.”

Studies show that women begin to lose lean muscle mass in their late 20s, and men begin to do the same a couple years later. Loss of muscle mass can make you weak, decrease your mobility, and leave you more prone to falling. 

Maronde says the squat, step, lunge and hip hinge are fundamental movement patterns that can make or break us as we age. He says keeping those moves limber and strong is a recipe for increasing our longevity. 

“If we don’t have the strength from that muscle tissue to help support us in a lunge or a squat, we’re not going to be able to climb up stairs, we’re not going to be able to get up from a chair or pick up a laundry basket,” he says. 

Strength training should cover the activities and movements for everyday life, Maronde says. “For an NFL athlete, it might be very different from what a 67-year-old returning from double knee replacements does for a squat, but they are both working through that movement pattern.” 

Like many performance and training facilities, Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine in downtown Minneapolis offers daily fitness classes for clients who want to increase their strength, improve their range of motion, or address other wellness goals. 

“The number one thing we attack every day with our groups is what we call pillar preparation,” Maronde says. “It’s basically pre-habilitation or corrective exercise, and the area we focus on is mobility and stability around our hips.”

In an age when many of us sit at a desk all day, we can lose mobility around the hips, which can contribute to chronic hip, knee, and low-back pain. That’s why every class participant is screened to assess each individual’s physical limitations or issues.

“We create customized warmups for participants based on their needs,” Maronde says. “It’s a pretty cool problem to solve of helping people stay active over a lifetime.”

The goal, he says, is to improve those basic movement patterns based on each individual’s ability, injury history, and movements. 

“What I try to do is give them strategies they can use on a daily basis as part of their warmup that are going to address some of these issues,” he says. “We can stretch out those hips, do some stability work and glute bridging to help develop stability around that hip joint. That’s five minutes of investment prior to an existing fitness routine that’s going to help alleviate those issues.”

After years of working with professional athletes in the NHL, NFL, MLB, and the NLL (National Lacrosse League), including more than a decade as a strength and conditioning coach for the Minnesota Wild hockey team, strength and performance coach Kirk Olson is now focused on helping both up-and-coming and professional athletes. Olson heads a program at Twin Cities Orthopedics called Training HAUS to give young athletes access to performance coaching at a level usually reserved for pro athletes. His focus is on helping youth, high school, and college athletes prevent injuries, improve their performance, and return to sports well-healed when they do get injured. 

Olson has built a crew of about a dozen coaches and trainers with a goal of helping young athletes optimize their talent, build strength, and avoid injury. One way to achieve that, he says, is to help young athletes develop mobile and stable joints.

“A mobile joint that’s not stable is a bomb waiting to explode,” he says. “A stable joint that lacks mobility could also be problematic if that stable joint gets put into an excessive range of motion. However, if you create a mobile joint that is also very stable, now you have an athlete who is bulletproofing their joints.”

“You teach them to squat correctly,” he says, explaining the nuances of a hip hinge.

Olson says that doing a hip hinge correctly will fire your glutes, then your hamstrings, and a key muscle in your lower back. The goal is to create ranges of motion and movement patterns that are fluid—then add some weight to build strength and stability. 

“When you subject a muscle and its connective tissue [to strength training], you improve tensile strength,” he says. “The connective tissues have the ability to withstand force. So, the more tensile strength you develop, the more stable that joint is going to become.”

It’s a movement pattern that translates into longevity for older athletes and non-athletes, too. 

Olson says that early in life, our muscles are like filet mignon, but as we age, they can become as tough as beef jerky. His advice to people over 40 is to alter their training to keep their muscles, tendons, and ligaments more supple. 

“You look at something as simple as foam rolling,” he says. “It’s a very effective way to get knots and lesions out of muscle, so it’s supple and ready to perform at its highest level.”

He calls it tenderizer for muscles that are no longer like filet mignon. And adding strength training to your fitness plan two or three times a week is the best thing for aging bodies, he says. “You better be strength training; how else are you supposed to keep your strength?” 

Saying that physical activity makes a world of difference, Olson offers a couple of suggestions to make your workout work for you:

For Eric Paur, strength training is as important as doing cardio. A doctor of physical therapy (DPT) and board-certified sports specialist at TRIA Orthopedic Center, Paur says the nice thing about strength training is that it’s really a two-for-one workout, because you get cardio benefits during a strength workout. He recommends doing strength training at least two days a week, if not three.

“There is more and more research coming out saying that we need to be doing this for all ages,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what level of activity you do: Strength helps make you more resilient to injury. I will have my 90-year-olds deadlift and strength train the same as I would have my pro athletes.” 

Having his clients work on strength keeps them out of his office, he says. “We’re always trying to work ourselves out of a job instead of into a job. I think it’s paramount that people do strength training at least two to three days a week.” 

He describes TRIA as a great place to practice, because he and other specialists collaborate on treatment with doctors, surgeons, and physical therapists in a one-stop shop with a whole range of services under one roof. 

Paur says strength training trends are moving away from complicated exercise programs and back to pure weight lifting.

“All those fancy tools and that kind of stuff has kind of gone away, and we are looking at just pure strength training, like the old-school bench-presses, squats, deadlifts,” he says. “Research has shown power lifting to be the most beneficial for strengthening. I don’t want people to think of powerlifting as going in the gym and lifting 400 pounds. …  That is obviously is not what I have my patients doing.”

In the fitness industry, resilience is a big word right now, and building strength is key to improving resilience, he says. “I don’t want to discount the importance of something like yoga or Pilates or the use of bands, because those are all beneficial. But to really get stronger and build muscle, the number one thing is lifting heavier weights.”

He acknowledges that it can be intimidating to walk into a gym and start lifting free weights. That’s why he says it’s best to check in with a trainer. They will help you with mechanics and form and get you set up to succeed, even if you can only lift the bar to start with. 

“Don’t be afraid to ask people for help,” he says. “I have my doctorate in exercise, but I still see someone to help me with my form. Now they are my favorite exercises, because I can tell the difference in my strength. These types of exercises are what keeps people healthy.”

Paur says that strength training is also about enjoying life. He worked with a 93-year-old patient whose goal was getting a cup of tea out of her microwave without pain. 

“She’s not looking at playing a professional sport, but to her, getting that tea out of the microwave was just as important as getting back to playing sports,” he says.

The problem was a torn rotator cuff, and because of her age, she was not a great candidate for surgery, but they worked together to achieve her goal.

“We did a bunch of strengthening to compensate for the muscle she damaged, and we worked on other muscles to help compensate for that.” 

Her strength training was successful. Now, she’s back to getting her cup of tea—and square dancing. 

Yes, strength training put her back with her dancing group. Paur is proud of that. 

“You can get better and stronger, and you don’t have to be in pain all the time,” he says. “We can do things to help. It’s your body, and it’s your life.”  


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