Alex Simotas, MD

Hospital for Special Surgery
Board Certified Physiatrist
Specializing In Spine & Sports Medicine

Home > Wellness & Exercise > Exercise Facts > Strengthening That Makes Sense

Strengthening That Makes Sense

We all know that exercise is good for us, but like anything else in our lifestyle, a good exercise program will be most effective when balanced.

There are three basic groups of exercise:

  • Range of Motion Exercises (Flexibility or Stretching)
  • Cardiovascular Fitness Exercises (Fitness Training)
  • Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening may include:

  • Exercise performed with and without weights.
  • Exercise with progressive weights and repetitions (also referred to generally as PRE: Progressive Resistance Exercises.
  • Exercise that incorporates multiple muscles groups at once in motions that simulate various activities (Functional Exercises).
  • Core Exercises: Various exercises that focus on strengthening the trunk muscles in different patterns.

Strength training can complement “fitness” training to help boost your preparedness for most life activities, and there is an overlap of what these two groups of exercises actually are and do.

What Are Strengthening Exercises?
Strengthening exercises begin with emphasizing the control and strengthening of the core—another word for your trunk. Called in the past, “spine stabilization” or simply “back strengthening”, strengthening exercises work on all forms of motions and activities—dynamic (in motion) or static (stationary).

Why Are Strengthening Exercises Helpful?
Strengthening exercise appears to be helpful in the treatment of back pain. Most evidence suggests that repeated exposure to gradually increasing doses of physical stress “desensitize” pain neurons located in your back. This gradual retraining seems to occur in the nervous system and not just inside specific back muscles and ligaments.

Strength training has other benefits as well. Muscle mass naturally diminishes with age. The good news is that strength training can help replace the lean muscle you lose as you get older. Additionally, as with all forms of exercise, a regular strength training program can reduce your body fat, increase your lean muscle mass and burn calories more efficiently. Strength training can safely be done by anyone, at any age.

Added Benefits of Strength Training:

  • Improved task performance. If you are preparing for specific sports motions (e.g. golf swings, tennis serves) or occupational or lifting activities, strengthen training can improve your performance, and reduce the incidence of pain.
  • Reduce your risk of injury. Building muscle helps control forceful and difficult motions from injury.
  • Achieve better balance.
  • Develop strong bones, reducing the risk of osteoporo.


Specific Exercises

Strength training is something you can do with little or no equipment, and you can create an excellent program for yourself without needing a gym.

Here are some exercises and equipment to get you started:

  • Push-ups, pull-ups, abdominal crunches and leg squats require no equipment.
  • Resistance tubing is inexpensive lightweight tubing that provides resistance when stretched and is available at any sporting goods store.
  • Free weights, barbells and dumbbells are classic strength training tools. They can be purchased at any sporting goods store and can be used at home.
  • Weight machines: Most fitness centers offer various resistance machines. You can also invest in weight machines for use at home.


Getting Started

Before starting any new exercise program, you should first consult with your physician. Remember: start any program slowly.

  • Warm up that first for 5 to 10 minutes with gentle aerobic activity (walking, run, bike etc.).
  • Try a variety of muscle groups and do 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions per exercise.
  • Choose a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 10 to 15 repetitions. The last repetition in a set should be difficult, but not impossible, and you should be able to keep good form.
  • When you increase your weight, drop your repetitions back down to 10 or 12 reps. Then try gradually increasing to 15 reps.
  • Rest about 30 seconds to 1 minute between sets.
  • To give your muscles time to recover, rest one full day between exercising each specific muscle group. Two to three strength training sessions a week lasting just 20 to 30 minutes are sufficient for most people.


Final Words

Remember that any good strength-training program starts slowly and builds gradually.

You don’t need to spend hours a day lifting weights to benefit from strength training. Less than 30 minutes a day, several days a week, will allow you to enjoy noticeable improvements in your strength and stamina within a few short weeks.

Strength training does not replace fitness training.