Q: Is it ok to keep doing the same strength-training routine all the time? I don’t know if I’m making progress any more.
A: First, kudos to you for including strength training as part of your physical activity. Aerobic exercise (like walking) is not enough all on its own to maintain the muscle that adults otherwise tend to lose as we get older. However, if you keep doing exactly the same strength-training exercises without changing or advancing them in some way, you can reach a strength-training plateau, and you don’t get as much benefit from the time you’re putting in as you could. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) says it’s best to keep challenging ourselves, first by gradually increasing the number of “reps” (repetitions, or how many times you do a specific move) starting at 8 and working up to 15. That makes one “set” of an exercise, and people may do from one to three “sets” of each exercise. Once you can comfortably do an exercise 15 times in a row, try a more challenging version of the exercise. If you’re using free weights or a Nautilus-type machine, ACE recommends increasing the amount of weight by five percent. If you use very light weights, go to the next heavier weight load (for example, from two pounds to three pounds, or from five pounds to seven pounds). But start back at only eight “reps” of doing the exercise. Gradually work your way up to doing the exercise more times before you add additional weight. If you’ve been using elastic bands or body weight for your strength training, use the same approach: increase the number of times you do the exercise up to 15, and then advance to a more challenging way to do the exercise. Another tip for avoiding or dealing with a strength-training plateau is to try different types of exercises, using muscles in slightly different ways. Also key to maximizing the results of your strength training is to rest affected muscles two days between strength exercises. Muscle is built during the time off after strength training; if you get back to it too soon after your last workout, you don’t give your body enough chance to rebuild.