Strength Training Fact and Fiction

Pair of dumbbellsI just read a study recently published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. The researchers asked 129 older adults a series of questions to find out how much they knew about strength training. But before I tell you the results, how would you like to take the quiz yourself and see how you do?


1. True or False: Strength training will help build muscle mass.

2. True or False: Strength training prevents Alzheimer’s disease.

3. True or False: Strength training cures lung cancer.

4. True or False: Strength training helps arthritic symptoms.

5. True or False: Strength training increases rate of metabolism.

6. True or False: You need to use heavy expensive equipment to strengthen your muscles.

7. True or False: Men and women will have equal relative strength gains if they do muscular strength exercises.

8. True or False: Younger people gain more muscular strength when doing strength training than older people.

9. True or False: You should NOT do muscle strength exercises because muscles might be too sore afterwards.

10. True or False: You should do muscle strength exercises even if it increases blood pressure.

11. True or False: Muscle strength exercises should only be used for rehabilitation.

12. True or False: To get stronger, it is more important to increase the weight you are lifting than the number of repetitions.

13. Which of these four exercises will best improve muscle strength:

A: Walking
B: Stretching
C: Lifting weights
D: Standing on 1 leg

14. How many days a week should you do strength-training exercises?

A: 1
B: 2
C: 3
D: 4

15. How many days should you rest in between strength-training exercises?

A: 1

B: 2

C: 3

D: 4

16. When doing strength training exercises, you should lift enough weight so that your muscles tire after:

A: 3 repetitions
B: 5 repetitions
C: 10 repetitions
D: 20 repetitions

17. If you are able to lift a weight more than 15 times, you should:

A: lower the weight
B: increase the weight
C: keep weight the same
D: stop the exercise

18. When beginning strength exercise:

A: start with heavy weights
B: use minimum weight and build up
C: start with minimum weight and keep it the same
D: start with no weight and go through the motions

Here are the answers:

1. True. Strength training will help build muscle mass.

2. False. Strength training will not prevent Alzheimer’s disease. (But regular physical activity has been shown to reduce brain tissue loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.)

3. False. Strength training cannot cure lung cancer. (But aerobic activity will have a beneficial effect on your lungs in general.)

4. True. Strength training can reduce pain by strengthening muscles that protect the joint. It can also extend the range of motion in some joints.

5. True. Strength training does speed up your metabolism, which is an important part of a weight-loss program.

6. False. You can do strength training using inexpensive resistance bands and tubing, or even everyday household items like juice cans and bottles of water.

7. True. While women may not gain as much muscle mass as men when they do strength training, they will have the same relative strength gains as men.

8. False. People of all ages benefit equally from strength training.

9. False. Some soreness after strength training is normal and necessary to build stronger muscles.

10. True. Recent studies show that the increase in blood pressure during strength training is not as much as previously believed. People who hold their breath during an exercise have more of a risk of increasing their blood pressure. However, studies show that strength training can reduce stress hormone levels, which in turn will lower your resting blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.

11. False. Strength training exercise should be a part of your exercise routine, along with aerobic exercise, flexibility, and balance training. You should make exercise a part of your life.

12. True. To gain muscle strength, you need to progressively increase the weight or resistance. For muscle endurance, you need to increase your repetitions. Muscle endurance and strength are both important.

13. C. Lifting weights is superior to walking, stretching, or balance training for improving muscle strength.

14. B, C, or D. You can do weight training between 2 to 4 times per week, as long as you leave sufficient time in between sessions for rest and recovery of the muscles. Weight training only once a week is not sufficient to improve muscle strength.

15. B. You should leave at least 48 hours between strength-training sessions in order for the muscle to fully recover. One day is not long enough and beyond 72 hours, you begin to lose the strength gains you have made.

16. C. Anywhere between 8 to 12 repetitions is required to sufficiently tire the muscle. If you can only lift a weight three or five repetitions, you are lifting too much weight and this is only recommended for experienced body builders. If you can lift beyond 15 repetitions, the weight is too light and you will not be see any gain in strength.

17. B. If you are able to lift a weight more than 15 times, you should increase the weight. That number of repetitions will help muscular endurance but will not increase your muscle strength. To do that, you need to increase the weight enough that you can do between 8-12 repetitions safely to fatigue.

18. B. When beginning strength exercise, use minimum weight and build up. Many people who are not used to doing strength exercise start with too much weight and get discouraged that they can’t lift it. It doesn’t matter how little weight you use to start. Concentrate on doing the exercises correctly. Steady progression of weight being lifted is what’s most important, not being able to lift more than someone else.

The survey produced some interesting findings. Many people in the study didn’t realize how important strength training is. And it didn’t seem to matter whether people participated in regular exercise programs or not. Just over half of the respondents knew that weight training was the best exercise to increase muscle strength. Thirty-seven percent thought that walking was the best one. While I am happy to see that many people have gotten the message that walking is important, we need to do more to let them know that strength training is also important for those who want to maintain independence and lead vibrant lives.

To your health,


Manini, T.M., Druger, M., Ploutz-Snyder, L. (2005). Misconceptions About Strength Exercise Among Older Adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 13(4), 422-433.

Divine, J.G. (2005). Action Plan for High Blood Pressure. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Millar, A.L. (2003). Action Plan for Arthritis. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Is exercising a pain?

Neck painDear Chris,

How does one know which comes first – the chicken or the egg? If you’ve got a painful elbow, or a creaky shoulder, how does one decide whether or not it NEEDS exercise to resolve it, or whether exercise will exacerbate it?


Dear Vicky,

Many people wonder if exercise will help or hinder their ailment, especially if they are new to an exercise program. When people feel aches and pains in their joints, especially if they have been there for quite some time, they want to be sure that exercise won’t compound the problem.

Exercise, if done correctly, will not hurt you. In fact, exercise can strengthen the muscles which surround the joint and promote flexibility in the joint itself, thus protecting it from injury. Exercise can, however, put undue stress on joints if done incorrectly, especially if those joints are already hurting from wear and tear, trauma, or arthritis. Exercise may need to be modified for your particular condition because, at all times, it must be done safely.

If you have an ache or a pain that just won’t go away, it may be something serious and you should talk to your doctor. You also may choose to go for physiotherapy, chiropractic, or other treatment. When you see your doctor, be sure to tell him or her that you are interested in pursuing exercise. Otherwise your doctor may think you are only interested in taking medication and not discuss other options with you. If you and your doctor agree that some medication is warranted, exercise can still go a long way to not only alleviate symptoms but correct underlying problems. It may possibly mean that you are able to take fewer medications because you will have less pain. As always, proceed slowly but keep an open mind to the possibilities exercise can bring to painful joints.

Many people have a hard time distinguishing an exercise “pain” from other aches and pains. To protect a joint, the muscles surrounding it need to be strong. The process of making a muscle stronger will in itself cause some soreness. That soreness means that you are working the muscle hard, often causing little micro-tears in the muscle, which will cause it to repair itself and get stronger in the process. That type of soreness should not last long, however. If the soreness lasts more that a couple of days, is throbbing, or a shearing pain, then you have probably overworked the muscle and may have sprained or put repetitive strain on the joint.

If you experience pain while you exercise, you should be able to tell if the pain is acute (sudden onset) or chronic (long-term) by asking yourself the following questions?

  • Did the pain come on all of the sudden or was there a slow and gradual onset of signs and symptoms?
  • Was it the result of a single event or gradual continued abuse?
  • Was it a moderate or sharp pain, or did it start out a mild discomfort which developed into long-term pain, perhaps because you didn’t get it treated right away?
  • Did I sprain a muscle or ligament or have a I had a pain in a joint for quite some time?

If you have suffered an acute pain, back off from doing that particular exercise and help yourself to some RICE.

That’s right, RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Rest will allow the damaged tissue to heal and keep you from further aggravating it. How long and to what degree of rest you require will depend on the injury itself. Ice is used to reduce inflammation, which usually occurs after an acute episode as your body’s way to tell you to stop what you are doing. However, after you have stopped the activity, the inflammation remains and can be the cause of further and longer lasting pain. Ice is best used within the first day or so of an injury and must be applied frequently and consistently for best results. Compression of the injured area with an elastic bandage or other type of tension will also reduce swelling. Finally, you need to elevate the area above the heart (hopefully with ice and compression) to help fluid move away from the injury and thus alleviating some of the pain caused from the inflammation.

Chronic injuries are usually harder to look after. They often started out as something acute long ago and we often forget what caused the problem in the first place. These are the types of conditions that can be made worse by exercise if a person has forgotten about them and then done something to aggravate the condition.

Often a chronic condition is the result of muscle imbalance that has gradually developed over time. Improper posture and movement can often be the cause. If someone is exercising with poor technique, they could be placing more stress on an already strained joint, muscle, or ligament. Other times a person over-exercises and does not give themselves time for rest and repair. Regardless of the cause, chronic injuries should be examined by a health care professional to see if they can be improved by properly performed exercise and possibly other therapy.

Once your program is over and you see improvement in your condition, you will want to make a lifestyle of exercise, where I would suggest you initially work with a personal trainer and let him/her know what aches and pains you’ve been treated for. That way he/she can prescribe an exercise program that takes these areas into consideration to ensure that your former aches and pains don’t come back. A good trainer will communicate with your health care practitioner about your program to ensure that the exercises he or she does with you are cleared by the practitioner.

To your health


Information on should not be used for diagnosis, nor should it be considered a replacement for consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have questions or concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.


Fit Mother and DaughterDear Chris,

As an elderly beginner in personal fitness training I take note of reactions from friends and family. Sometimes it is politely concealed amusement. Other times, it can be gently patronising approval. I am undeterred by this as I am convinced about the end product, but it occurs to me that moving on to group exercising may help to overcome any reservations born of self-consciousness. Have you found this to be so?

Jay, Toronto

Dear Jay,

First of all, good for you to have taken the step and gotten a personal trainer to help you get into an exercise regimen. The reactions you are getting from friends and family could reflect preconceptions that many younger people have about older people exercising. Things like:

“Don’t you know that these are your twilight years?”
“You should be putting your feet up granny and taking a load off!”
“Don’t do any exercise, you might break something!”

…are all common reactions, but fortunately people are starting to get the message that muscles can be made stronger at ANY age.

As for comparing individual personal training with a group exercise class, I can’t say which will make you feel less self-conscious. It really comes down to your goals and fitting exercise into your lifestyle. Many people prefer the individual attention they get working with a personal trainer, especially if they are new to exercise or have health conditions which warrant exercise modifications. Many people feel shy about exercising, but they’ll feel less so knowing that no one is focusing on them besides their trainer. However, others prefer the camaraderie and social benefits of exercising with a large group. If you’re at all self-conscious, you may stand a better chance of blending in with the crowd. Believe me, people are too busy keeping time with the music and counting off their own repetitions to notice anyone else in the room.

By the way, if you are looking to blend in with the crowd, don’t hide too far from the instructor. He or she needs to see that you are performing the exercises correctly, especially the balance and muscle conditioning portion of the class.

To your health


Information on should not be used for diagnosis, nor should it be considered a replacement for consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have questions or concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.

Memory Loss

String around fingerDear Chris,

My mom just turned 91 and really is in great shape for her age. The one thing she finds most frustrating is memory loss. Sometimes she just can’t remember something that used to come so easily. Obviously it comes with age but is there something she can do to assist with this, maybe exercises for the brain? What are your thoughts?

Johnny, Toronto

Dear Johnny,

As you have noted, some memory loss is expected as we get older. Studies have shown, though, that a large part of forgetfulness is really only the result of an accumulation of things to remember. Let’s face it. Your mom has had to remember a lot of things over her 91 years. However, you may be concerned that it’s more than just absent-mindedness, that it might be early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada offers some good advice to help determine if memory loss is simply forgetfulness or something more serious. They suggest that if memory loss affects someone’s day-to-day functions and is coupled with lack of judgment and reasoning, or changes in communication abilities, they should see their doctor to determine the cause of the symptoms. Regardless of the cause of the memory loss, being aware of it can itself be stressful and operating under that stress will make a person even more forgetful and absent-minded.

There are some practical things your mom can do to help her memory loss. One of the best things to do is to reduce stress. Does your mom take time out of her day just for herself? A common misconception is that older people who are no longer in the workforce are idle. The truth is that many say they’ve never been busier. While that can be a good thing, no one should be so busy that they don’t take time out to relax. There are many ways to relax, from formal techniques to recreation and leisure activities.

Besides relaxation, one of the best ways to reduce stress is through exercise. Regular, moderate-intensity exercise has been shown to have a positive cognitive effect as well as a physical one. A recent study revealed that regular exercise can reduce brain tissue loss associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Another study published last year showed that older women who walked two to three hours a week performed significantly better on cognitive tests than those who walked less than an hour. In yet another 2004 study involving 60 unfit adults, half participated in a walking programme, while the other half did only stretching and toning. By the end of the study, those in the walking programme had much better short-term memory and other cognitive functions than those in the other group.

Memory aids are also a good thing to have. My father used to carry a small notepad with him. As a kid, I found it amusing. But now I understand why he did it. There is just so much to remember, it seems. Your mom is probably at an age where she has more appointments than someone your age and having to remember those things can crowd an already busy mind. Just make sure that if she uses a notepad, she writes the date beside each entry, otherwise she won’t know if her doctor’s appointment is up and coming or came and went! Maybe her son could buy her a pocket day planner for Christmas!

Your mother will remember things even better if she gets into the habit of saying things out loud a few times before she writes them down. That way she isn’t just relying on the notepad, and has a pretty good back-up in case she misplaces it.

If you want to learn more about memory loss as we age, check out Memory Loss With Aging: What’s Normal, What’s Not”.

To your mom’s health


Information on should not be used for diagnosis, nor should it be considered a replacement for consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have questions or concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.

Group Class or Personal Trainer

choosing between optionsDear Chris,

I see groups for seniors and mature people in all sorts of places. I am an active working person and wonder if those groups are really beneficial or if there is something more to be gained from a mixed-age group. I think I would feel older in a specially-made-for-the-older group. The other question is simply how do you start if you have never really worked out and find yourself ready for freedom 55?

James, Toronto

Dear James,

Regarding separate vs inclusive groups, there really is no right or wrong answer. Some people prefer to work out with a group of people of similar age and ability, while others like the idea of “mix and mingle”. Either works as long as you are comfortable in your group.

The reason that older adult groups were formed in the first place was to address different concerns than groups with a younger membership. Most of the trainers and fitness instructors I know who work with younger clientele say that their clients’ focus is on athletic training, weight loss, attaining the much coveted 6-pack (abs, that is), the tight butt, or just feeling better about themselves. There is nothing wrong with these goals but most older people I talk to want to feel more energy, compensate for lack of physical activity since retiring or moving into an apartment, and remain independent. Ask a 40 year-old what the importance of a squat is and he will say that it’s to have a tight butt and strong thighs. Ask a 75 year-old and she might say that it’s to help her get in and out of a chair by herself. Between these extremes are people just starting to notice that many of the leisure activities they did when they were younger are not as easy to do. At 50, a lot of people start noticing that their clothes don’t fit quite the same, that keeping the tight abs takes more work than it used to, or that their 9-to-5 is taking it’s toll on their posture. They may start to feel reminded of these things when they attend a step class with people 20 years younger. Others find the youthful classes invigorating.

Remember, too, that in a city the size of Toronto, older adult groups are often further segmented, not always based on age, but ability. I’ve seen 70 year-olds with as much energy and muscular strength as some 55 year-olds. While they may be a generation apart in interests and experience, they may share the same fitness goals. In the end, you’ll have to decide where you’ll feel most comfortable. If you decide to attend an older adult programme, make sure that it encompasses aerobic conditioning, muscle conditioning, balance, coordination, and flexibility, all crucial for maintaining independence and quality of life.

To answer your second question, might I suggest hiring a personal trainer to get you started. Do I sound like I’m pushing my services? Of course I am. I believe that hiring a personal trainer even for just a few sessions can go a long way to starting, what will hopefully be, a lifelong lifestyle. A personal trainer will help you to set goals, do a baseline assessment of your fitness level, and design a programme to help you reach those goals. Getting started is hard to do. We all find it easier to form bad habits than good ones. Exercising is a good habit. You just might need to hire a personal trainer to get you “hooked”!

To your health


Information on should not be used for diagnosis, nor should it be considered a replacement for consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have questions or concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.