How much is enough?

The human body is fascinating. Just when we think we know everything there is to know, someone, somewhere, does a study and the guidelines change. That is certainly true in the world of fitness.

There was a time that we (personal trainers) were taught that a heavy weight needed to be used for a muscle to get big and strong. In addition, the number of repetitions of a movement with that weight should be done to the point of failure (can’t lift another one).

I was never in the fitness business to train athletes. I wasn’t interested in coaching people in cutting their marathon times or in helping them build a muscular body. I do appreciate that for some folks exercising is a pastime. Setting goals creates the focus that they need to stick with an activity. 

When I started in the fitness industry I set the intention of getting people off the couch and into an activity that had them moving in some way. After 15+ years of working with clients I have settled on one rule and that is: don’t get hurt. Training to “failure” is almost the opposite of that rule. 

There are a few negatives around training to failure:

  • Fatigue that leads to slower progress due to longer recovery times.

  • Risk of injury when pushing past the point where joints (tendons and ligaments) can handle the stress.

  • Intimidation that leads to not working out at all because it won’t be enough so why bother?

Weight/strength training is a critical part of a healthy fitness program. In addition to improving or maintaining muscles it is also great for bone health. What you do needs to be directly connected to your lifestyle. That has to be a realistic equation. How strong do you need to be? If you want some help determining that, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How much weight could I safely pick up from the floor (a box containing 1 book, 10 books, 20 books)?

  • Can I get up from the floor without using my hands?

  • How many bags of groceries can I carry?

  • Can I lift up and carry my dog (I can’t – she’s a Great Dane)?

This is how strength training fits into our lives. Weight training is great and it can be fun but there are so many other options. The important thing is to stay strong. Generally speaking it’s difficult to get out of the sedentary activities that surround us. It’s also hard to get up and move again once we have sat down. If picking up and moving heavy stuff isn’t part of your daily routine then you need to build strengthening activities into your day. Don’t sweat it if you don’t own a set of weights (which are next to impossible to purchase these days) there are always push-ups! Some are better than none!

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