Pumping iron: Give it a try!

Walking is a terrific form of exercise, but as I note here, any walking program should be complemented by other forms of exercise, including strength training.

The CDC recommends that adults ages 18 to 64 do muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week. (That’s in addition to its advice to do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week.)

strong-310874However, the CDC has found in a new study that only 23.7 percent of us ages 45 or older meet that recommendation. Further, that group is most likely to include women, widows, people 85 or older, people who are obese, Hispanics, and those who didn’t graduate from high school.

I am a 45-year-old woman, and I have to confess that in the past, most weeks I would barely meet that two-day minimum, unless I was taking a class at my gym. I think I tended to feel that strength-training didn’t provide as intense or get-my-blood-pumping a workout, and if I were going to work out, I wanted to feel like I did, sweat rivulets as proof.

But over the past few months I’ve managed to work strength training into my routine more often, and circuit training is the means. Due to a change in my work schedule, my workout time on weekdays became more constrained — 30 minutes, firm.

Some days I do aerobic activity, sure. But on others, I do an interval workout. After warming up for a few minutes, I do one minute of activity, take 20 seconds to change moves, then do another minute of activity, and so on, for 11 or 12 sets, ending with a couple minutes of cool-down.

During those one-minute intervals, I do various strength-training moves. I use dumbbells, machines at my gym and my body weight. Ideally I’ll do combo moves, such as squats standing to a shoulder press, to work both arms and legs. Every few intervals, I throw in a minute of cardio, such as jumping rope or running the stairs at the gym.

To my surprise, this does make me feel like I got a good workout. Knowing that I have just 30 minutes makes me focus and do my best to get the most out of it.

And I can feel assured that I’ll reap the benefits of strength training — among them, higher metabolism, (hopefully) more toned body parts and an improved ability to easily do activities of daily living.

So pick up a dumbbell and give it a try, or use your body weight to do exercises in any setting you like. Your body will thank you!

Should you wear ankle weights?

Several people have asked me whether they should wear ankle weights when walking, in part to gain some extra calorie burn and/or to boost the workout aspect.

The short answer is no — you should not wear ankle weights while walking.

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Want to use ankle weights  while working out? Limit it      to something like this: while doing stationary strength training. Photo credit: Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here is the long answer:

  • Strapping weights around your ankles tightly enough so they don’t jostle while you move causes compression, which could compromise blood flow to your feet — not advisable.
  • Ankle weights are an unnatural distribution of extra weight. To concentrate added weight in one spot, particularly around a joint, can cause undue exertion and injury.
  • Wearing ankle weights can throw off your gait. That can tax your joints — not only your ankles but also your knees and your hips, causing strain and injury.
  • Having something strapped around your ankles may pose a tripping hazard. As you walk, you might get tangled up in the extra bulk. Or you might subconsciously widen your legs to keep the weights from bumping or rubbing together, which brings us back to the previous bullet point.
  • Concentrating weight at your ankles — even if only a few pounds — creates a muscle imbalance. Your quadriceps (or the muscles on the front of your thighs) suddenly have more work to do, because that is the muscle that lifts your leg to bend your knee. But your hamstrings (the muscles on the back of your thighs) don’t have an equal extra job.

If you want to boost the effects of your walk by wearing ankle weights, I’d suggest you reconsider. Keep weight training to just that — a weight training session. And keep your cardio efforts to an aerobic exercise session. You’ll get better results in both situations. (However, something like a circuit class, in which you alternate cardio bouts with strength training moves, is designed to be safely effective.)

All that said, if you are looking to turn your walk into a more serious, results-bearing workout, let’s talk. I can help you do so, without extra equipment and with lower chances of injury.