How to Progress in Strength Training for Seniors: Week 4 Onwards  

How to Progress in Strength Training

How to Progress in Strength Training for Seniors

 

In my last blogpost I outlined 4 very good simple strength training exercises that can be performed in the comfort of your home or if you’re traveling in your hotel room.

 

I know some of you probably haven’t exercised in decades and the progression for the first 3 weeks that I listed in my last blogpost may be too fast for you.

 

If you’re one of such folks, don’t worry – just go at your own pace.

 

For example if progressing to 2 sets by the 2nd week is too fast for you, then just stick with one set and increase the reps as often as you can until you feel you’re ready to progress to 2 sets.

 

On the other hand, if the pace is too slow for you, then just progress as you deem fit. Everyone is different so there aren’t any hard and fast rules; it’s different strokes for different folks.

 

Recap of Week 3

 

If you recall in my last blogpost, this is the routine I’ve drawn out for everyone to progress to by week 3 or whenever you feel you’re ready for it:

 

Warm up: marching on the spot or brisk walk for 10 min.

 

Push-up (any variation that meets your existing fitness level):

Set 1: 15 – 20 reps maximum.

Set 2: As many reps as possible.

 

Towel Rows:

Set 1: 15 – 20 reps maximum.

Set 2: As many reps as possible.

 

Chair Squats:

Set 1: 15 – 20 reps maximum.

Set 2: As many reps as possible.

 

Planks:

2 Sets: Hold the position as long as possible.

 

For weeks 4 and 5 I’m going to increase the intensity a bit more, so that not only will you progressively increase your strength you’ll also increase your cardio capacity which is so vital for heart health.

 

Introduction to Suspension Training Movements

 

I’m also going to introduce you to a suspension trainer called the TRX which is a relatively inexpensive home training equipment that is very light and easily portable. The TRX suspension trainer comes with a door anchor, an extension strap and a small mesh bag. Once you’ve completed your workout you can just put everything into the mesh bag and store it in your cupboard.  You can purchase the TRX Home 2, the latest version of the TRX here.

How to Progress in Strength Training
My Trusty TRX

 

It’s so portable that you can put it in your luggage so that you can workout in your hotel room if you’re travelling either for business or pleasure.

 

I’ve been using my TRX for about a decade now – it’s extremely durable and you don’t have to join or go to a gym to workout unless you want to train with free weights, weight machines and other gym equipment. I’ve taken mine along for business trips (when I was still in the corporate world) as well as family holidays and it occupies just a small space in my luggage.

 

Setting up the TRX takes less than a minute.

 

Here’s a video on how to set up the TRX in your bedroom, study or just about any room using the door anchor.

The TRX Training System was developed by a former US Navy Seal, Randy Hetrick and it was specially designed for working out the entire body in confined spaces. It can be used by newbies and beginners as well as conditioned folks and advanced athletes.

 

The caveat here is that not all TRX movements or resistance training exercises for that matter are suitable for seniors like us. High impact movements which involve jumps and explosive movements are definitely out. So are certain movements which put joints under unnecessary stress. So I’ll only be choosing the very safe movements when I include them into the program so that the risk of injury will be extremely low.

 

Okay – back to the program.

 

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Progressing to Week 4

 

As I’ve mentioned earlier in the article, I developed this series of on resistance training for beginners who are seniors so that you can progress at your own pace.

 

Now just because I put week 4 here doesn’t mean that you HAVE TO progress to week 4 even if you’re not ready to do so.

 

It doesn’t make sense for you to progress to week 4 or even week 3 for that matter when you’re fitness and strength levels are still at week 2 levels.

 

Everyone progresses at his or her own pace – that’s the ONLY WAY to ensure you make steady progress. For those folks who are in their 70s, just progressing up to week 3 levels may take twice as long. And it may be more than enough for you if you’re in that age group.

 

That having said, if you were a former athlete, and you’re in your 50s or 60s now as I am, then you can progress further i.e. week 4 and beyond.

 

Just look at what Robert Durbin did to himself in 2013 when he was 64 years old:

 

He’s in excellent shape for a grandpa isn’t he?

 

Okay, motivated to go on training and working out?

 

For week 4 I’m going to add some progressions to 3 of the exercises.

 

Decline Push-ups

 

If you recall in my last blogpost the last progression of the push-up was the normal floor push-ups.

 

Some of you folks may now be able to do 15 to 20 normal push-ups; if you’re one of those fitter and stronger people then you’re ready to progress to the decline push-up.

 

For a start just put your legs on a low stool and do the movement. Once you can do 15 – 20 reps easily, then you’re ready for further progressions in the decline push-up; just a higher stool or even a chair and put your feet up to increase the resistance.

 

As you get stronger and can pump up 20 reps easily with your feet up on a chair, then it’s time you progress to the TRX decline push-up where you can adjust the TRX handles to any height you choose. That’s it – easy peasy, done in less than a minute; and you can start doing your TRX decline push-ups.

Please bear in mind that once you progress to the TRX decline push-up, it’ll be more difficult not just in the resistance provided to the triceps, pectorals and frontal deltoids but the entire core as well because virtually all TRX movements engages the core a lot more than a normal decline push-up.

 

This is because once your feet are on an unstable surface, in this case the TRX foot straps it’s your core muscles that’ll prevent your feet from swinging as opposed to the fixed surface where your feet can just rest on and your core doesn’t need to work as hard.

 

TRX Rows

 

In my last blogpost I mentioned the towel row as one of the best simple resistance exercise you can do. All that being said there’s a limit to the resistance of the movement and the durability of the towel.

 

That’s where the TRX row comes in. Because of the adjustability and the length of the straps you can increase the resistance a lot more than the towel row. Also because the TRX straps have proper handles, gripping issues will be a thing of the past.

Also with the TRX row because you have to keep your body straight and in a neutral position, your entire core is much more activated than the towel row where you bend your legs.

 

To increase resistance just move a step closer to the door… to decrease resistance, move further away from the door.

 

Again, just in case you’ve got slippery floors, please wear a pair of good cross trainers so that your feet won’t slide.

 

TRX Squats

 

Once you can do 2 sets of 25 reps of the chair squat, you’re ready to progress to the TRX Squat where you basically increase your resistance by getting your buttocks closer to the floor.

 

One way of doing that is to just do squats using a low stool but as I mentioned in my last blogpost regarding the squats, folks unconsciously round their backs when they go down and come up from a squat position.

 

In the TRX squat, because you’re leveraging your bodyweight against the straps, you “dig” onto your heels when squatting and when you hold the handles and look up, it’s very much easier to keep your back straight and neutral.

 

And holding onto the TRX handles with your arms straight gives you the psychological edge that’ll help you go down as much as you can.

If you’re unable to squat all the way down just put a small tool beneath so that as soon as your buttocks touch the stool you squat up to the standing position again.

 

A caveat for those with knee pains: only squat to the level where THERE’S NO PAIN. If going beyond the chair squat level is painful for your knees then just stick with the chair squats.

 

Program Design for Week 4

 

Now by week 4, the muscle aches and pains i.e. DOMs or delayed onset muscle soreness would have been gone by now so I’m going to increase the intensity a little bit.

 

Warm Ups

 

This will be different now since we’re past the breaking in stage. This is how the warm up is going to be done from now on.

 

You’ll do one easy set each of the 3 exercises i.e. the push-up, the TRX row & the TRX squat. The front plank doesn’t require any warm up since it’s an isometric movement.

 

Push-up Warm Up

 

Let’s say in week 3 you were able to do 18 reps easily on the incline push-up. So for the warm up just do 8 to 10 reps of the incline push-up. This is to prepare your muscles and joints for harder work later.

 

TRX Row Warm Up

 

Let’s go back to the towel row you were doing in week 3. If you were able to do say 20 easy reps with the just 2 steps away from the pillar, take the same foot spacing with the TRX (shorten the straps with the buckles if you have to) and do also 8 – 10 easy reps.

 

TRX Squat Warm Up

 

If you were able to do 20 reps easily on the chair squat in week 3, then just do 10 – 12 easy reps on the chair squat (not TRX Squat).

 

No warm up for the plank is needed since it’s an isometric exercise.

 

How to do the Warm Ups

 

Since now we’re at week 4 and I’ve just how the different warm up exercises should be done, now I’m going to teach you how to put it all together. Yes, even warm ups; I don’t want to take the chance of any one doing it wrongly.

 

So this is how your warm up is going to look like:

 

  • Push-up (any variation, preferably the version that’s very easy for you) – 8 to 10 easy reps
  • TRX row (last feet position in the towel row when you could do the reps easily) – 8 to 10 easy reps
  • Chair Squat – 8 to 10 easy reps

 

Now some of you folks may be thinking why only 8 – 10 reps? Well, the reps are easy and the warm up is outlined to warm your muscles and joints up and prepare them for heavier resistance in the workout.

 

Please don’t change the warm up sequence because it’s designed as a circuit.

 

After your warm-up take 60 secs to get your breath back. Those who are fitter may not even need to rest 60 secs.

 

Week 4 Workout Outline

 

As I mentioned earlier in the article, from week 4 onwards, the resistance you use is going to increase for all the exercises except the plank. And we’re going to do them in circuits because resistance training circuits build both strength and cardio capacity killing 2 birds with one stone; this will build overall fitness.

 

Circuit 1

 

Push-ups (any variation) – 8 to 12 reps

TRX Row – 8 to 12 reps

TRX Squat – 10 to 15 reps

Front Plank – 30 secs minimum

 

No more light resistance like in the first 3 weeks which means that for the upper body exercises by the 8th or 9th rep you should be pushing hard or have reached failure i.e. can’t do another rep.

 

You’ll notice that the TRX Squat has a higher maximum rep range because it focus on the largest muscles in your body and therefore has the best potential for both strength and cardio capacity increases.

 

As for the front plank, by now your core strength should have the capacity to hold for 30 seconds minimum. BUT as I mentioned earlier, nothing is set in stone so just do the best you can. If you can only hold for 20 seconds so be it and progress at your own pace.

 

Since it’s going to be maximum effort, rest between exercises should be 60 seconds maximum. If you find 60 sec too tough and you’re still out of breath, then make it 90 sec rest.

 

At the end of circuit 1 take a 2 minute breather then do circuit 2. If you’re one of the fitter ones then just rest enough to get your breath back.

 

Circuit 2

 

Push-ups (any variation) – 8 to 12 reps

TRX Row – 8 to 12 reps

TRX Squat – 10 to 15 reps

Front Plank – 30 secs minimum

 

You’ll notice for circuit 2, it’s exactly the same as circuit 1.

 

Rest assured that although circuit 2 looks exactly like circuit 1 you’ll probably find it more difficult to complete. The reason is very simple. If you’ve followed my instructions in training to failure (i.e. no more reps can be done) in every exercise in circuit 1, circuit 2 will be more difficult because your muscles would be partially exhausted from circuit 1.

 

Although I put the resting time between exercises as 60 sec, if you’re fit enough, just go from one exercise to the next without stopping, resting only at the end of the circuit to take a breather before going for circuit 2.

 

Again at the risk of sounding like a broken record I must stress that you need to know your own fitness level: if you need 90 seconds to rest between exercises to catch your breath back, so be it.

 

The word here is progressive resistance training.

 

This means that as you get fitter and stronger, you increase the resistance and/or the number of reps that you can do.

 

For the upper body exercises, once you’re able to do 12 reps, increase resistance so that you’ll need to start with 8 reps again:

 

  • For the pushup I’ve already given you a pretty good picture on how to increase resistance – from the easiest wall push-up to the most difficult high TRX decline pushups.
  • For the TRX row, just step closer to the door and the exercise instantly becomes more difficult.

 

For the TRX Squat which works the entire lower body, just increase the number of reps from 15 to 25 – You’d be surprised how challenging this would be for your legs as well as for your lungs and heart rate.

 

As for the front plank, just increase the timing of this isometric exercise.

 

Progressing Further into Week 5

 

If you’re a total newbie to resistance training, you’ll still be in the week 3 training program and probably remain there for another week or thereabouts so just progress at your own pace; there’s absolutely no compulsion to go into week 4 or even week 5 if your fitness isn’t ready for it. I’m dividing this beginner’s program into weeks so that it’ll be much easier to follow.

 

For those whose fitness and strength levels can easily cope with the week 4 progressions then you’re ready for an increase in intensity.

 

This will be done by simply adding another circuit i.e. circuit 3 so the week 5 program will look like this:

 

Warm-Up

 

  • Push-up (any variation, preferably the version that’s very easy for you) – 8 to 10 easy reps
  • TRX row (last feet position in the towel row when you could do the reps easily) – 8 to 10 easy reps
  • Chair Squat – 8 to 10 easy reps

 

Circuit 1

 

Push-ups (any variation) – 8 to 12 reps

TRX Row – 8 to 12 reps

TRX Squat – 10 to 15 reps

Front Plank – 30 secs minimum

 

Rest 60 – 90 seconds

 

Circuit 2

 

Push-ups (any variation) – 8 to 12 reps

TRX Row – 8 to 12 reps

TRX Squat – 10 to 15 reps

Front Plank – 30 secs minimum

 

Rest 60 – 90 seconds

 

Circuit 3

 

Push-ups (any variation) – 8 to 12 reps

TRX Row – 8 to 12 reps

TRX Squat – 10 to 15 reps

Front Plank – 30 secs minimum

 

To really progress in both strength and cardio fitness, do each circuit with little or no rest between exercises and 60 to 90 seconds rest between circuits.

 

You’ll probably find that once you go beyond doing 2 sets whether straight sets i.e. sets of any exercise done consecutively or circuits, you strength and cardio capacity will diminish.

 

That’s perfectly normal so don’t worry if for the 2nd and 3rd circuits you can’t do the same number of reps. This is because since it’s an all-out effort in the 1st set, your muscles would have been fatigued so performing lesser reps in the subsequent circuits is normal.

 

I do 6 to 8 circuits or tri-sets (3 exercises in 1 circuit with no rest between exercises) for my upper body plus some isolation exercises to taper off. Let’s take pull-ups for example: for the 1st circuit I’m able to do 14 reps, by the 5th circuit, I probably can muster only 7 reps and by the 8th circuit, 5 reps.

 

As you can see diminishing strength after consecutive sets or circuits is perfectly normal. So don’t be too concerned about this.

 

That having said, working out this way is one of the fastest ways to build strength and cardio capacity for newbies and even intermediate trainees.

 

Okay, that’s it for this now. If you’re not sure of anything I’ve written in this blogpost, please complete the contact form below, your question will come to me via email. Cheers!

 

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