If you are like many women, your workout routine does not go beyond the cardio machines. Cardio machines are great for maintaining cardio vascular fitness, and can help a little with leg strength they do nothing for the upper body. Upper body strength and flexibility is often ignored and that is unfortunate. There are many benefits to doing upper body strength and flexibility exercises.
In this article I discuss the benefits of two kinds of exercises – stretching and strength training (or resistance training). Resistance training is any type of exercise done against resistance. Training for strength involves a certain number of repetitions (10 to 15 is a good number to start with) and sets – groups of repetitions (start with 1 and work up to 3).
Stretching can be static or dynamic. Static stretching is holding a position where a muscle is in a stretched position for a time, usually around 30 seconds. This should not be done with a cold muscle, so is best done at the end of a workout. Dynamic stretching is moving a muscle into and out of a stretched position repeatedly. This is useful at the beginning of the workout. See this article on the benefits of flexibility for more information
Exercising the upper body is important for injury prevention. For injury prevention both flexibility exercises and strength training exercises are important. A good routine of stretching and strength training exercises can help to prevent muscle imbalances and help to prevent injury with tasks of daily living.
Maintain or build strength and muscle mass
If we don’t use our muscles then they will shrink. This is called sarcopenia. This means that as you get older you usually lose muscle which means less strength, lower metabolism and possibly more fat.
Maintain bone density and manage falls
Bones are like muscle in that they need to be used to be maintained. Weight bearing exercise and strength training are both very important in the maintenance of bone density.
If you do have low bone density or osteoporosis, then upper body exercise is considered important. This is not just as a way to maintain or build bone density in the upper body, but also because upper body strength helps to make falls less serious. I strong upper body means that if you do fall, you have a chance of using your upper body to soften the blow to your hips or spine.
If you have a rounded shoulder posture or a head forward posture, then the right upper body strength exercises and the right stretches can help to improve this situation.
Improve and maintain quality of life
As we age we can lose quality of life gradually as our muscles get weaker and tighter. This is so gradual that you may not even notice it happening. You find you can’t open jars, carry a heavy bag of groceries or reach your back to do up your bra. Some women can even get frozen shoulder where they can’t lift their arms over their heads.
Improve body image
Strength training, especially upper body strength training, is one of the most important things you can do to improve body image. Stretching that improves posture also helps. When you are strong and stand tall you will likely have a better body image.
Strength and stretching exercises are both beneficial to women with arthritis. Strength training helps to keep the muscles around the joints strong and the joints lubricated. It also helps to keep bones strong. Stretching can help to relieve joint pain and stiffness.
How should you get started?
If you haven’t done resistance training before, you might want to try an exercise class or work with a personal trainer to determine the correct form. You can also join my Facebook group where I will be showing some short exercise demonstrations.