Strength training helps to build lean body mass, increase bone density, burn fat and boost metabolism.
by Georgetta Lordi Morque
UPDATED FEB. 9, 2022
If you’re not the powerhouse you were in your cheerleading days, here’s why: Women begin losing muscle mass slowly at 30 and, after 50, the decline starts to accelerate. A sedentary lifestyle is also a contributing factor—a double whammy for some. The result is weakness that can lead to injuries down the road and make simple chores like lifting grocery bags a challenge. But don’t despair or resort to a rocking chair. There is a remedy—strength training.
Fortunately I learned encouraging news from Joan Pagano, 68, fitness expert and certified personal trainer who specializes in strength training for women. Her mantra is “aging gracefully takes muscle.” As explained in her book, Strength Training Exercises for Women, Pagano believes women can override the physical changes from aging; for those who haven’t been active, it’s never too late to start.
A well-rounded fitness program includes cardio workouts, strength training and stretching although most women do only two of the three, says Pagano. “While cardio gives us longevity, strength training gives us the quality of life. It defends against chronic diseases and fights osteoporosis. Every condition benefits from strength training.”
Strength training helps to build lean body mass, increase bone density, burn fat and boost metabolism. It also helps to improve posture and balance. Of course, the other bonus is a more sleek appearance from toning and sculpting. Contrary to false notions from the past, strength training will not cause women to bulk up. Another added benefit is confidence and a sense of empowerment.
Pagano, who has worked with many women during her 25-year career, including Jackie Onassis, encourages an aggressive approach to strength training without causing injury. “We need to take charge and be proactive as we get older to do what we can to maintain youthful bodies. People who work out in their 50s will be less debilitated when they are old.”
The many ways to build strength include lifting free weights, working with exercise machines and resistance bands, using your own body weight by doing pushups and planks, for example, and Pilates. How to determine the best mix and how to get started? First of all, medical clearance. The PAR-Q test in Pagano’s book includes seven questions to assess exercise readiness.
Good guidance in the beginning is important to learn proper form and alignment, advises Pagano. A certified personal trainer can design a program specific to an individual’s needs and make sure that exercises are performed correctly. And after you are engaged in a routine, the body will adapt, so there will be a need to step it up. A trainer can then help you take your program to the next level.
Trainers need to be certified and continue to maintain their certifications, says Pagano, who recommends finding a trainer at a gym or physical health facility and asking about the trainer’s qualifications. Also ask if they have worked with older women. Some women have trained with Pagano for more than 15 years. “So we’ve grown old together.”
A good program strengthens all the major muscles, such as the legs, back, chest, shoulders, arms and core, Pagano explains. “The lower body is more critical as we get older to provide stability.” She recommends doing eight to ten exercises that work the major muscles at least twice a week, allowing a day of rest in between for recovery. “Consistency is more important than intensity in the beginning.”
The Home Gym
While there are plenty of fitness centers and studios in the city, a home gym can be efficient with a minimal investment for those who are self-motivated. Pagano trains many clients in their homes. Her recommended equipment includes two sets of dumbbells—light and heavy, stretch bands, ankle weights, a stability ball and a mat. One can follow the program in her book, which features more than 200 visual step-by-step exercises that include three levels of ability and special symbols that focus on specific muscles.
Joan Pagano has made videos for quick, effective exercises you can easily do at home. One series is designed for the time you have between kitchen tasks: Kitchen Counter Push Up, Waiting-for-Your-Pasta, Microwave Minute Modified Lunge.
Arm and Posture stretching videos: Posture Plus with Stretch Band, At-Work Desk Stretches, End-of-Day Couch Stretches. See Pagano’s website for links to these videos and more.
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Ten Great Places for Strength Training
Asphalt Green: 555 East 90th Street, 212-369-8890. This athletic complex offers a comprehensive fitness center and personal training with certified specialists, small group training and group classes, including Pilates. A one-hour personal training session is $112 for non-members. Group classes drop in rates for non-members are $35 and for seniors (62+), $20. Check out the Battery City location for similar programs.
Chelsea Piers: Pier 60, 20th Street, Hudson River Park, 212-336-6000. This mega sports center features a 14,000 square-foot strength training deck and more than 40 certified personal trainers. There are also group classes to build strength, such as Power Ball, which uses a medicine ball for core training resistance, and Stretch, Strengthen and Tone, which combines stretching, Pilates, dance and resistance training. For non-members, personal training sessions range from $115 per hour with an advanced level trainer to $175 for a master trainer. Levels are based on a trainer’s experience. A day pass for non-members to use the facility and take classes is $50.
Complete Body: 301 East 57th Street, 212-777-7703. There are other clubs downtown and in Chelsea, but the midtown club, the oldest, tends to attract a mainly 50+ clientele and many women. There’s a fitness center and two levels of personal trainers—pro-level, those with 5 to 8 years of experience, and elite level, those with 15+ years. Non-members who book and renew personal training packages can use the club.
Living Proof: 226 East 54th Street, 212-308-2990. A fitness studio that attracts a 50+ clientele; the majority are women. Three areas of focus: strength training, nutrition and Pilates. High Intensity Training is a special 20-minute low volume high intense program to help clients get stronger, leaner and tighter more efficiently.
Manhattan Plaza Health Club: 482 West 43rd Street, 646-590-4411. In addition to a fitness center and personal training programs specializing in strength building, the club also offers group classes, such as Pump, which uses body bars and dumbbells.
S10 Training: 87 Walker Street. This fitness studio features the s10 system, which stresses body/fat percentage and strength for body transformation.
SLT—Strengthen, Lengthen, Tone: Many locations are open in the Metropolitan region, check the SLT studio list. Tag line: If cardio, strength training and Pilates had a baby, it would be SLT. Group classes of 50 minutes that use Megaformers, an evolution of the Pilates reformer, are designed to strengthen, lengthen and tone the body quickly and safely. The cardio is low impact which is a plus.
Also, check out Equinox, New York Sports Clubs, and the many YMCAs for other options.
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Georgetta Lordi Morque is a public relations consultant and award-winning freelance writer who focuses on sports, fitness and health.