strength training for ms… my opinion

02Oct13

We all have opinions on something, right? Opinions are like… OK, not gonna say it. But we all have ’em.

I happen to have a lot regarding exercise and nutrition, and some of them go against common wisdom. However, I think many rehab folks would agree with my thoughts on strength training for MS patients: go big, or go home. (I already sorta talked about this here, but I was inspired to expand upon this today.)

When I was at the gym today, lifting heavy (but maintaining proper form–always important so you don’t hurt yourself), I was watching some of the gym trainers work with clients. I won’t completely judge, since I know neither the trainer nor the client; but in many cases, the client was being moved from one exercise to the next to the next to the next… without a break. I suppose this is a way to combine both strength training and cardio in the same session, so that your heart rate doesn’t get the chance to drop back down…

But without being able to take these breaks, you’re never able to reach your peak. True weight workouts, to me, are like interval training workouts: you go hard for a few minutes, then you recover just long enough to go hard again. The recoveries allow you to go as hard as you do in the hard intervals. If you take away the recovery segments, there’s no physical way you can work those hard intervals at your maximum ability.

So you can see, for those of us with MS, who really need to focus on maintaining muscle mass, it’s really important to take breaks between weight lifting sets. It’s really important for us to go for more of a traditional weight lifting model a majority of the time, so that we can challenge our neuromuscular system to its fullest capacity.

As I mentioned in my previous post on lifting heavy, there’s a trend in gym classes toward endurance strength training. Muscular endurance is a component of fitness, and there’s validity in doing long weight sets. Those of us who really need to focus on preserving strength, however, should probably bias toward shorter, heavier sets. (By “short”, I’m referring to 8-10 repetitions.)

That’s not to say that you should stay away from gym classes… I have a good instructor friend who teaches one of those endurance strength classes, and I love her class. I can’t stay away, and am there at least a few times a month. But most of my lifting is in the weight room.

(And!! And!! Victory: I spent much of the summer just maintaining the weight I was lifting. I’m finally getting back to the point of being able to increase my weights again! Go, me–there’s hope yet for my little muscles!)

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