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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How often should I do strength training?
  2. When I do the knee extension to a full stretch, even with minimal weight, my knees make the most awful noises and also hurt (with sharp pains). If I don't go all the way, my knees are noisy but don't hurt. So should I persevere with the full stretch, or would I be better off not trying to stretch completely?
  3. Why can't I make my own weights for working out?
  4. Is it true that muscle weighs more than fat? If so, will I gain weight when I start strength training if I don't go on a diet?
  5. What is the proper way to breathe during strength training?
  6. I have a medical condition. Can I still do strength training?
  7. How much physical activity do older adults need?

1. How often should I do strength training?

New guidelines from Health and Human Services suggest strength training on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). Be sure to give your muscles at least one day of rest between workouts. For more, visit How much physical activity do older adults need?

2. When I do the knee extension to a full stretch, even with minimal weight, my knees make the most awful noises and also hurt (with sharp pains). If I don't go all the way, my knees are noisy but don't hurt. So should I persevere with the full stretch, or would I be better off not trying to stretch completely?

First, you should discuss your knee symptoms with your physician and follow his or her recommendations. In the meantime, you might do the exercises with reduced weight (maybe even use no weight) and through a reduced range of motion—whatever it takes for you to do the exercises without pain. Don't worry about the noises, but do avoid pain. Then progress slowly, cautiously increasing both the range of motion and the amount of weight you're lifting. Over time, you should be able to strengthen your legs and improve your flexibility.

3. Why can't I make my own weights for working out?

Many suggestions exist for "home-made" weights, ranging from lifting one-pound soup cans (harmless for you and the soup, but it won't build muscle), to lifting buckets or gallon jugs filled with sand. Please do not improvise! Plastic jugs and buckets are not made for strength training: they're not designed to hold that much weight and the handles are designed for carrying, not lifting. They could easily break and injure you, not to mention impede your ability to perform an exercise with proper form and through the full range of motion.

4. Is it true that muscle weighs more than fat? If so, will I gain weight when I start strength training if I don't go on a diet?

Unless you increase the amount of calories you are eating, it is very unlikely that you will gain weight or become bulky. Here's why: one pound equals one pound regardless of whether the pound is fat, muscle, or some other substance like butter or steel. Muscle is denser and therefore takes up a smaller amount of space per pound than fat. Some scientists estimate that the "space" that one pound of muscle occupies is about 22% less than one pound of fat! If you begin strength training and continue to eat the same number of calories, you may lose some weight because you're burning additional calories while exercising. The important thing about strength training is the change in body composition. You will gain muscle and most likely decrease body fat even if your body weight stays the same. In our experience, people might drop a size or two after they have been strength training for a couple of months because their body shape has changed for the better. If your goal in starting strength training is to gain weight, we recommend you also increase the number of calories you are consuming. Try adding an extra fruit, vegetable, low-fat dairy and/or whole grain serving to your daily diet.

5. What is the proper way to breathe during strength training?

Exhale during the most strenuous phase of the movement—often referred to as "exhale on the exertion." Inhale during the less strenuous phase. It is also important to inhale and exhale fully between each repetition.

However, the most important thing is simply to breathe regularly. Most people assume that they are automatically breathing when in fact they are actually holding their breath. Take a moment to focus on your breathing during your next strength training session and during other strenuous activities such as climbing up the stairs. You may be surprised to find that you are actually holding your breath.

6. I have a medical condition. Can I still do strength training?

Most likely you will be able to participate in strength training; however, this is a decision you must make in consultation with your doctor or health care provider. Discuss your specific conditions and goals with your physician so that he or she can make any necessary recommendations.

Research has shown that individuals with chronic but stable medical conditions including osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, HIV/AIDS, and the frail elderly can benefit significantly from strength training.

It is important to start conservatively and progress slowly. Consider working with a qualified fitness instructor, at least for a few sessions, to make sure your exercise form is correct. Pay attention to your body. Strength training should never cause pain. Feeling good is an indication that you are exercising properly.

7. How much physical activity do older adults need?

New guidelines were released in 2008. Visit How much physical activity do older adults need?

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