Muscle Strength - If You Don’t Use It, You Will Lose It!

Posted by Jon Giese on July 31, 2023

The bad news:

  • “...A big culprit for losing our physical abilities as we grow older is the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength, which is called sarcopenia. Typically, muscle mass and strength increase steadily from birth and reach their peak at around 30 to 35 years of age. After that, muscle power and performance decline slowly and linearly at first, and then faster after age 65 for women and 70 for men…”
  • “...Studies have shown that about 30% of adults over age 70 have trouble with walking, getting up out of a chair, or climbing stairs…”

Source: How can strength training build healthier bodies as we age? (NIH - NIA, 2022)

The good news:

  • NIA-supported researchers have been studying the effects of strength training for more than 40 years and have identified multiple ways it can benefit older adults, including maintaining muscle mass, improving mobility, and increasing the healthy years of life…”

Source: How can strength training build healthier bodies as we age? (NIH - NIA, 2022)

And more good news:

  • It doesn’t take much time! Research has shown that strength training one time every seven days (with proper intensity), will help to maintain strength and most of the associated health benefits - balance, bone density, metabolism, insulin sensitivity and the list goes on.

A time efficient option for getting it done

The American College of SportsMedicine (ACSM) recommends that adults perform strength training exercises 2-3 times per week for the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdominals, chest, shoulders, arms). 6 to 8 exercises of 1-2 sets; one set of 15-20 reps for strength endurance and one set of 8-10 reps to build strength.

But for the truly time-compressed, or those that don’t really like exercise but would like the results, three exercises/movements would train most of the major muscle groups - a squat, a chest press and a row or pulldown. A squat engage legs, hips and the major low back muscles; a chest press engages chest (pecs), front of shoulder (anterior deltoid) and back of arm (triceps); a row or pulldown engages upper back (lats, traps, rhomboids), back of shoulder (rear deltoid) and front of arm (biceps).

Getting started - have a good foundation (postural positioning)

Posture first, during and after. When using resistance/lifting weights, it is critical to start and stay in good posture during the exercise. Having good posture during exercise allows for safe, effective movement and leads to better posture after exercise. The postural muscles are strengthened while lifting, especially when exercises are performed in a standing position. Repetition in exercise - like practice of anything - helps develop habit.

Whether or not posture is enhanced or not is determined by body position while strength training. The following cues can be used as a reference for standing position for most exercises. Posture cues from toe to head:

  • Feet parallel
  • Knees soft and straight - not locked
  • Abs firm/pull belly button in
  • Chest up
  • Shoulders - shrug up, pinch back, drop down
  • Chin up
  • Eyes ahead.

And you will build a stronger foundation (bone density)

Strength training can slow, stop or even reverse loss of bone density. Per a summary review of strength research, the following are the key points to implement in the exercise plan for bone strength. The following should be performed three days per week:

  • vigorous strength training - that which cannot be performed longer than 30 seconds. “Work harder to get stronger, not longer."
  • 3 sets of 10 repetitions (or timed sets of </= 30 seconds)
  • focus on vertical loading (standing exercises or those that simulate similar stress on bones as gravity)
  • build strength in all major muscle groups

And you will also build a stronger life

Additional benefits of strength building exercises include:

  • Improved balance - strong muscles fire faster to help with maintaining and regaining balance
  • Reduce severity/acuity of injury from falls
  • Increased insulin sensitivity - better blood sugar control for 24-48 hrs after exercise bout
  • Increase/maintain metabolism - metabolic rate can be increased 24-72 hrs after vigorous strength training.
  • Slow/stop/reverse loss of muscle size and strength. After age 60 most people experience sarcopenia (accelerated muscle loss due to age) and dynapenia (age-associated loss of muscle strength).


Muscles need to be challenged on a regular basis to remain strong. This is true at any age but especially after age 60. Loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) and strength (dynapenia) occur at an accelerated rate for most people beyond 60. It doesn’t take much time - even 1 day per week of 3-8 exercises that work the major muscle groups can help to maintain most muscle strength. Starting and staying in good posture during strength training is important for safe and effective exercise. The benefits of strong muscles are many including stronger bones, better balance, metabolism and maintaining joint stability and function.

So, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” However, if you use it (muscle strength), you not only keep it but also maintain a better quality of life for many years.

Additional information on this subject:

Exercise for Your Bone Health (NIH - NIAMS, 2023)

Four Types of Exercise Can Improve Your Health and Physical Ability (NIH - NIA, 2021)

Maintain Your Muscle - Strength Training at Any Age (NIH, March 2020)

Dr. Roger Fielding on Strength Training for Older Adults (NIH, 2020)

Jon Giese

Jon Giese

Jon is a personal trainer at the Rochester Athletic Club. He is originally from Wisconsin and moved to Rochester from Minneapolis in 1999. He works full-time as a wellness coach for Optum Wellness as well as being on the staff of National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA). Outside of the RAC, he loves being active and outdoors while spending time with his family.

Contact Jon Giese

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