How to Maintain Strong Muscles and Joints

By Philip Legge in Health & Fitness

There are primarily two areas to a person’s physical fitness and health development. One is cardiovascular training and the other is strength training. Cardiovascular training, which would include walking, jogging, cycling, and rowing, etc. is mainly benefitting the heart muscle, the lungs and the blood delivery system through the arteries, veins and capillaries. A person’s outward appearance can also change in the area of weight loss, and overall muscle toning with less body fat. In contrast, strength training mainly focuses on the skeletal muscles and joints, and people benefit from improving the strength of the muscular and skeletal systems in the body. The changes to a person’s level of strength can be very obvious in a short period of time. People can also benefit greatly in the areas of flexibility, energy, comfort and youthfulness! Both cardiovascular training and strength training are essential for a person to maintain and enhance their level of health and fitness. However, in this article we are going to begin exploring strength training and its life-giving benefits. We’ll also give some tips on how to have a good strength training program.

THE HISTORY

Strength training, also called resistance training, is the oldest exercise science and art that goes back to the beginning of recorded history. For thousands of years people did manual labour throughout their lifetime because there were no machines to do the work for them! It is only since the industrial revolution of the 1800s that machines were invented to lessen the workload on the individual. In the western world, at the beginning of the 1900s, approximately 90% of the population lived and worked on farms in the country and did manual labour. About 10% of the population lived in the city doing office and factory work. By the end of the 1900s, the numbers were reversed. Now less than 10% of the population live and work on farms and over 90% of the population live in cities. Even the people doing farm work today usually have modern equipment that does much of the manual work for them. The result is that many of us are not getting enough physical exercise challenge for our muscles and joints to maintain their health, and each generation has been getting progressively weaker. Never before in human history have we had an epidemic of degenerative diseases like we have today! Heart disease affects over 60% of the population in their lifetime, and cancer affects about 40% of the population. Diabetes, liver disease and kidney disease are not far behind!

The good news is that the medical profession and researchers have found that up to 75% of degenerative diseases could be prevented with the lifestyle changes of a healthy diet, appropriate exercise and stress reduction. It is interesting to note that machines are doing the work we used to do, and now people use exercise machines to provide the benefits of the manual labour that we are not getting. However, a balanced exercise program of 30 minutes of cardiovascular training three times a week, and 30 minutes of strength training three times a week will help a person achieve their health and fitness goals. That is a very small time investment when you consider the amazing range of benefits you will enjoy. In fact, this time investment of three hours per week improves a person’s productivity in their work, in their family, and in their social life. We can accomplish much more in a shorter length of time when we are healthy, strong, and fit. With an intelligent approach to cardiovascular and strength training, we can receive more physical benefits in three hours per week than from 60 hours of manual labour, without any of the negative side effects of overuse of certain muscle groups, or the imbalance of one-sided movement.

THE TOOLS AND THE EXERCISES

A good strength training program will exercise all the major muscles and joints of the body. There should be a balance of pushing and pulling exercises. Pushing means pushing away from the body with exercises such as a shoulder press, chest press or a squat. Pulling means pulling towards the body with exercises such as a chin-up, rowing or a leg curl. When we push away from the body it is called an extension because we are extending or straightening the joint. When we pull towards the body it is called a curl because we are curling or bending the joint towards the body. To achieve this, one muscle will contract on one side of the joint, while the opposing muscle on the other side of the joint will extend. For example, a bicep arm curl contracts (shortens) the bicep muscles above the elbow on the front of the arm, and at the same time the tricep muscles above the elbow on the back of the arm extend (lengthen). With a tricep arm extension the opposite happens. The tricep muscles contract (shorten) while the bicep muscles extend (lengthen). It is important to have a balance of pushing and pulling so that both sides of each joint get stronger at the same time and to the same degree. Muscles move each joint in two directions, either bending the joint or straightening the joint. If the muscles on each side of the joint are exercised in a balanced manner, the joint will be healthier and there will not be excessive wear on the cartilage in the joint or of the ligaments and tendons attached to the joint!

Below are 12 Basic Exercises that make a good foundation to provide balanced strength throughout the body:

  1. Shoulder Press – Pushing above the head with resistance
  2. Chin-up – Pulling down towards the head with resistance
  3. Chest Press – Pushing away from the chest with resistance
  4. Rowing – Pulling towards the chest with resistance
  5. Bicep Curl – Curling or bending the arm with resistance
  6. Tricep Extension – Straightening the arm with resistance
  7. Sit-up or Crunch – Curling or bending the body at the waist
  8. Back Extension – Straightening the body at the waist
  9. Leg Curl – Curling or bending the leg with resistance
  10. Leg Extension – Straightening the leg with resistance
  11. Squat – Squatting and standing up with resistance
  12. Dead Lift – Bending over and standing up with resistance

People usually begin with one set of 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. If they are not comfortable they should reduce the resistance, and also reduce the number of repetitions until they are comfortable. After two to three weeks they can experiment with increasing the resistance, and/or adding another set to each exercise. As time goes on the person’s strength will improve dramatically, and what was once difficult will be easy. On a graduated and comfortable program over several months, many people will experience an increase in strength of 100% to over 500%! This is truly life-changing.

LET’S GET STARTED…

BUT GRADUALLY!

It is important to begin any exercise program gradually, and so some people start with as little as a few minutes every other day. Each week you can increase your exercise session by five minutes if you are comfortable. If you are not comfortable increasing your time, then stay at the same length of exercise session. After six weeks on this graduated program a person could be up to 30 minutes three times per week. Everyone is different. We need to listen to our bodies and always be comfortable and feeling good while exercising. If an exercise is too hard for you, or if you feel discomfort, pain or stress then don’t do that exercise. Always stay in your comfort zone!

In addition, we recommend you check with your doctor to see if there is some reason why you should not be exercising.