Prevention: How to Recognize Signs of Muscle Deterioration
My mom recently shared something with me that I think many of us can learn from. She was nice enough to let me share her story with you in hopes it could help others – and I’m sure it will.
“Over the past couple of years, I had noticed that my legs seemed weak, and the range that my legs could bend, and still be strong, was diminishing. For example, getting out of a low car, standing up from the bath tub, and even getting up off the potty was becoming a challenge. I couldn’t even squat from a standing position! This was a girl that played softball for years and could once do a split to catch a ball and keep my foot on first base!!!
I realized that I was using my arms to help me push my body up (which I’ve been working out so I had the strength to do it) and not relying on my legs. I was working legs out too….but not from a complete squat. It dawned on me that I was ‘giving in’ to old age weakness – and I needed to do something about it.
The first thing I did was ‘confess’ to Tom (my husband and training partner) that I felt I was losing strength. I knew this would hold me accountable in doing something about it. The second thing I did was decrease my weight on my legs workout so I could go much deeper, even if I only pressed the bar or rack, and not weights. After implementing this in the gym, and after only 1 week, I noticed a HUGE difference! I began making myself use my legs more (getting out of the car, tub, etc), and after only doing this for about a month, I feel like I am 80% better!”
Strong and Weak
My mom was not weak. She was piling plates on the leg press, but she wasn’t working in a full range of motion. As a result, she was only using the strongest part of her legs, and avoiding movement where she was weakest, like a deep squat. Her strong muscles were getting stronger, but her weak muscles were getting weaker. Finally, it started affecting her daily living. Many people would just give in to the weakness and start catering their life around that weakness, like installing a handicap bar. But my mom was NOT going to go there! Instead, she decided to fix the problem, not mask it.
Cause and Effect
When we squat, or leg press, people may only go to where their knees are at a 90 degree angel. Of course, when we squat down to pick up something, or get up off the ground, we aren’t always starting at a perfect 90 degree angle – but are often starting off well below 90 degrees. Unless you are purposefully strengthening those muscles, they will get weaker as you age.
In my mom’s case, I believe she started avoiding a deeper squats and deep lunges after injuring her knee a few years ago. Instead of reducing weight and increasing range of motion to rehabilitate the knee, she continued lifting the same weight, but just decreased range of motion. However, the best plan of action is to focus on strengthening your body for full range of motion. It really doesn’t matter if you can squat 500lbs if you can’t get up off the toilet. Our quality of life greatly depends on how we move daily, not how we move in a controlled area in the gym.
Daily Living Activities – Then & Now
When we were young, we would sit in a squatted position for long periods of time (and look at the great form on this baby! Nice posture kid!). However, as we age, we tend to play on the floor less, and don’t utilize those muscles as much. And, weight gain can make squatting even more challenging. So, as a result, we shift from bending with our legs less, to bending with our back more. If the gentleman in the above photo was younger, he’d likely squat down to pick something up. But, instead, he chose to bend with his back. It’s this type of repetitive behavior that trains the body to work around weaknesses.
Luckily, my mom is a fighter and recognized the warning signs. I’m sure, at first, it didn’t compute why she would be so weak, when she seemed so strong at the gym. But, after we talked through it, it all made perfect sense.
This is why functional training is so important. We need to perform exercises that closely mirror our normal daily activities, and we need to be sure to move safely in a full range of motion as long as our body will allow it. Although my mom does have some knee issues, she was able to successfully improve her range of motion by simply reducing her weight significantly.
Morale of the story. Mom says, “Don’t give in to weakness. It isn’t ok to compensate on the muscle maintenance that we need to have to live a quality life. Listen to your body—it WILL tell you what you need.”