← back to the blog

I Used To Be Able To…

How many push-ups can you do? I bet many of you (especially the guys) answered, “Oh, I can’t do very many now, but I used to be able to do a lot!” That seems to be a common theme for all of us as we get older – talking about what we used to be able to do. Why can’t you do as many push-ups as you used to do? The primary reason is that you simply stopped doing them. Somewhere along the line, you got distracted by work, family, maybe an injury, and doing strength training exercises (such as push-ups) fell off the priority list. But depending on how old you are, another reason you can’t do as many push-ups may have to do with lost muscle mass.

Sarcopenia is the term for the normal, age-related loss of muscle mass. While it can begin as early as age 25, it accelerates after age 65, causing the loss of up to 1% of your muscle mass each year. And it affects everyone – exercisers as well as non-exercisers (though non-exercisers are affected more greatly). The reasons for this are not well understood, but it’s believed that sarcopenia may be caused by a combination of three factors: 1) reduced production of certain hormones, 2) reduced efficiency in the nervous system, and 3) the reduced ability of the body to process protein.

The good news is that all three of these factors can be addressed through one simple method – strength training. Strength training has been shown to increase the production of growth hormones, cause positive adaptations in the nervous system, and improve the ability of the body to process protein. But that doesn’t mean you should run out and hit the weight room. Depending on your current level of fitness and any other health issues you may have, you will need to start small with your strength training and work your way up gradually.

After a visit to your doctor to become cleared to begin an exercise program, you should approach your strength training like a beginner. Yes, even if you used to lift weights all the time, if you haven’t been doing it regularly, you are currently a beginner. Remember that doing too much, too soon is a surefire recipe for injury.

Start with a single set (6-10 reps) of three or four exercises targeting the major areas of your body (upper body, lower body, and core), three times a week for two weeks, then assess how you feel. Are you sore? Then maintain your program. Are the exercises becoming easier? Then you are free to gradually add additional exercises, increase the number of reps, or increase the intensity. As to what exercises you should do, that is up to you. Do-anywhere exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, and squats are good choices, and they can generally be modified to any fitness level. If you are unsure of how to do this, visit your physical therapist.

When you think of how far you’ve come since your teens and twenties, not being able to do as many push-ups doesn’t seem like a big deal, but that doesn’t mean you should let yourself off the hook. If you’re not already, begin regular strength training, and see if you can show your younger self a thing or two. It won’t completely prevent the effects of sarcopenia, but it will help to slow them down and keep you at your best. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

Menu Title