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Healthy Aging and You: The Power of Strength Training

I recently thought about why we exercise and what we choose to do first – and it isn’t generally strength training. Why is that? I believe it’s because we feel we CAN’T do something about becoming stronger unless we join a gym – and then we always seem to gravitate to cardio exclusively as if that is all we can do. We want to lose weight, feel better about ourselves, burn stored fat or just increase our energy level, but what if there was a better way?


Fitness: Programming Your Body to Become Strong & Resilient

In the early 90s I worked with a colleague who had a track background as a pole vaulter. Doug subsequently became a fitness professional and athletic coach. He had a philosophy about fitness that was characterized by a simple notion: “Weight training is the paycheck and cardio is the bonus”. I have thought about this issue continuously since I met Doug and as I have grown older, I believe he was right.

I am now training as hard – or harder – than I ever have before to ensure I enter my 70s with as little loss of lean muscle mass, and as much strength and power, as I can create. This article will highlight the importance of resistance training, give you some valuable ideas on how you might implement a program, and finally share ideas with you that can protect and preserve your body for the “long haul”.   

The Issue

Resistance training is characterized by working a muscle group to fatigue or failure under a prescribed “load”. This load can be an actual weight or body weight. Any “load-bearing” movement that includes multiple muscle groups is called a compound movement, such as a walking lunge with an overhead press with dumbbells, for example. Because we are sitting for the greatest portion of our days and not stressing our bones we are losing bone mass as well leading to osteopenia (the forerunner of osteoporosis) and then of course osteoporosis – serious bone density decline. The issue of frailty and imbalance is becoming more and more pronounced in our population and will only accelerate if we don’t change our sedentary behaviors.

Identifying the issues related to loss of muscle mass and bone mass is relatively simple and can be done through clinical testing. Women have the highest potential to start this chronic loss because they have different hormonal issues with aging – less testosterone and smaller bones for example – that creates an earlier onset of disease. Fractures and other related problems can happen in an instant if the loss is not addressed in a timely manner and medication can help along with changes in lifestyle and diet. However, the real solution lies in weight-bearing exercise where stresses are applied to the muscles and skeletal structure intentionally and safely. Men are not immune from developing these conditions – they just start later in life due to larger and heavier frames and greater weight.

Beginning a weight training program earlier in life is the best way to prevent the decline and decay of tissues and the easiest form of that training is in the form of weight training – free weights, machines, and other load-bearing exercises, such as bodyweight exercises. I will highlight my program for you as an example of types of exercises that help the most in preserving and protecting our muscles and bones from further loss or damage and injury.


The idea is to do a multiple set (8-12 repetitions/ 2-3 sets to start) program that targets all the major muscle groups: Back, chest, shoulders, arms, abdominals, and legs (calf, quad, hamstring) while “loading” the muscle and joint appropriately to stimulate fiber growth. Fiber growth occurs over time when a muscle is exposed to a load that forces a larger than normal contraction. One contraction is the shortening of the muscle (positive or concentric) and the other is the opposite force of lengthening the muscle (negative or eccentric). This movement is accomplished across a joint and creates the change we seek in terms of strength and size.

Each movement is done in a rhythmic and controlled manner that gives the muscle an opportunity to move through a “complete range of motion”. This constitutes “one rep” and applies the stimulus necessary for a muscle to be stimulated to grow following the session during what is called the “recovery phase”.  Each time we increase the load, we enable the muscle to grow and become stronger because the stimulus changes the nature of contractions making the movement more difficult but insuring that it becomes stronger in the process. 

We are not really sure about why this works the way it does but the theory is that by “tearing the muscle” microscopically we create a muscle that is stronger, more adaptable, and able to withstand greater loads going forward. This is referred to as “progressive resistance training” because it is designed as a controlled process with its defined purpose of increasing lean mass.

By programming more than one set we set up the muscle to have to deal with “variable loads” and have to adapt to these increased loads thereby making it able to withstand more of life’s rigors. The theory of doing 2-3 sets initially is that regardless of the weight used – light and smaller to heavier and larger – is that ALL muscles react in the same way to each stimulus – they grow in strength – but NOT necessarily in size. You don’t have to fear getting “muscle-bound” by lifting weights. That takes a concentrated and persistent effort, with a significant caloric intake to help repair the body, as all bodybuilders know. Most of us will never be in that category – and I am certainly not! 

Program Design: The Schedule

Designing a program that addresses the needs of the body as it ages is relatively simple and yet very challenging to implement. The reason is that you will experience some muscle soreness initially that you might find uncomfortable, but this is just the body’s way of recovering from the session (you should never experience pain as that is not normal – don’t believe in “the no pain, no gain” theory – that is just wrong!). 48-72 hours of recovery time is generally advised so that you can allow the muscle to heal itself. In between, you can then initiate a cardio program of swimming, cycling, walking or some other form of movement that allows you the opportunity to encourage this process to become more of a habit – and train your heart to support your effort (my favorite organ, other than the brain of course). 

I believe in a 3-5 day opening schedule of activity that encompasses some cardio and some weight training. Each session can be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending upon your willingness to include a warm-up and cool-down phase, which I highly recommend. Cardio activities include an extended activity (continuous movement) over time and include a warm-up, training and then cool-down phase. You can include an abbreviated walk on the treadmill or outside and then engage your weight training program with a brief cool down to finish the session. 

Exercises & Muscle Groups

  1. Chest – (examples) chest press with dumbbells, barbell, wall pushups, modified floor pushups (knees on the floor) or wall pushups at an angle. 
  2. Back – (examples) seated row, pulldown – bar, low back extension, rubber tube chest extension, dumbbell reverse butterfly – standing with weights at chest level and extend backward.
  3. Arms – dumbbell curls, triceps extension with dumbbell, reverse pushup off bench.
  4. Legs – Wall slide, traditional standing squat, standing from seated position, leg press, calf extension (stairs), and standing lunges.
  5. Abdominal – crunches – lying on your back, knees bent – raise shoulders off the floor and repeat. Exhale on shortening and inhale on lengthening.
  6. Shoulders – shoulder press with dumbbells, front and side raise with dumbbells

I do 16 main exercises twice a week: Bench press (barbell), incline upright row (back), shoulder press, incline/decline press (chest), incline-lateral low row (back), seated triceps extension, arm curl, latissimus pull (back), pullover – chair (shoulder/back), seated leg press and calf extension, lateral raise (shoulder), low back extension, seated abdominal crunch with 65 pounds, hanging dips – upper body, and seated cable row.

Each of these exercises is performed in multiple sets with many repetitions and a variety of loads and at varying speeds to not only encourage growth of my muscles but also to help me maintain my speed and quickness as well. Each muscle group consists of type 1 and type 2 muscle fibers. Type 1 fibers are used for longer endurance activities while the type 2 fibers are for quick explosive movements such as sprinting and power activity (jumping out of the way of a car for instance). 

The reason I train my muscles against variable loads – climbing (the ladder) and descending – is to insure I give each fiber a chance to be engaged and give them the opportunity to become stronger. As I said earlier, I do my program twice a week – on Monday and Thursday – to ensure I recover sufficiently and allow the muscles time to repair themselves.

I am also cognizant of the reality that regardless of how hard – or well – I train, the odds are not in my favor for remaining this way due to the aging process. I am, however, “cutting the odds in my favor” by doing what I am to stay fast and strong.  I am convinced that weight training is the key to my future and that my potential for running fast will be able to be maintained through my continued commitment to remaining strong. It is as Doug said more than two decades ago – “weight training is the paycheck and cardio is the bonus” – but I am so glad I ran all these years as well! 

Nick’s Tips

  1. Do find the resolve to begin – and continue – a weight training program. Schedule at least three days a week for a concentrated effort at building and maintaining your lean muscle mass – and joint integrity. Remember, we start losing 2-5% of our lean muscle mass starting in our 20s – and bone mass as well – unless we do the work to prevent and slow the loss.
  2. Take time to build your cardio capacity through a commitment to your heart. I am able to do my weight training in just over an hour due to my overall cardiovascular fitness.
  3. Take your body seriously and examine how you feel about it. Getting mentally strong through accomplishing your goals is one very important way to stay on track and feel good about yourself. 
  4. Getting lean and being able to burn more calories every day requires only two things: Commitment and discipline founded on purposeful activity.
  5. Take your fitness needs very seriously and yet find ways to make them fun. “Every act we take is its own reward” – Earl Nightingale
  6. Finally, when you see how fast your body will change with weight training (within 30 days, you will see results) it will excite and encourage you to do more and finally realize the dream of a healthy, lean, strong, and fit body.

Nicholas Prukop is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer & a Health Coach and fitness professional with over 25 years of experience. His passion for health and fitness comes from his boyhood in Hawaii, where he grew up a swimmer on Maui. He found his calling in writing his first book “Healthy Aging & You: Your Journey to Becoming Happy, Healthy & Fit” and since then he has dedicated himself to empowering, inspiring and enabling people of all ages to reach for the best that is within them and become who they are meant to be – happy, healthy and fit – and be a part of a world where each person can contribute their own unique gifts to life.

women viewing sunset cliff

Living Through The COVID-19 Pandemic: 5 Keys To Finding Your Path Forward

The recommendations are simple: Wash your hands, maintain proper social distancing, wear a mask, and don’t attend large gatherings. Why has this been so hard for so many people to do? What is in our future since we are faced with so many unanswered questions? How can we gather the strength to survive the crisis of our lifetime? 

These and so many other questions have been on my mind over the past year. I believe in the power of choice and living in the present. These two points of reference guide my activity each day and I will share the 5 keys with you that could make a significant difference in your life and yield a rich and rewarding path forward when we finally “get to the other side” of this terrible worldwide tragedy.


#1 – Mental Clarity

This key gives us the power to review and “listen” to our thoughts – the place where our reality begins to take shape. I am grateful for my life because I nearly died in 2019 after being hit by a truck (8 fractured ribs) when I was riding my bike. My conditioning and my training as a fitness professional helped me survive the initial incident and also the 2nd emergency (2 months later) that led to the blood clots that nearly killed me. 

2020 represented a “foundational” training year for me and included challenging hill cycling (I didn’t quit) and complementary weight training. As I entered 2020, strengthening my heart, legs and overall strength became my focus. I am close to being back to where I was before the truck hit me and now I enter 2021 with a new plan: To build an “athlete’s” mind set!

KEY: Set your intention and direction establishing your priorities. For me, it became strengthening my heart and legs so I could resume my beloved running program of more than 50 years. This year I will build on what I started last year and find my way from there.

#2 – Faith

Setting your intention helps you in charting your course and finding your path forward (the subject of my 3rd book not yet published). It is in establishing purpose that we “find ourselves”. I am working on becoming the “example of the change I wish to see in the world” since my path is becoming a passionate advocate for the principles of healthy aging as discussed in my first book Healthy Aging & You”: Your Journey to Becoming Happy, Healthy & Fit

KEY: Focus on your intention and “tune out” the noise of the day. Get close to your passion by focusing your attention on what you WANT in your life and “let the rest go”! Faith in yourself is most important (my conclusion in my yet unpublished 3rd manuscript). It is critical to spend time each day contemplating this thought!

#3 – Commitment

This principle applies to all of life. Those of us who commit to “a greater good” have the best chance for growth, expansion, and eventually success. I am committed to sharing my message with the world so I am joining with my daughter who has an excellent background in PR and media relations to help me connect with journalists and media outlets in print, TV, and radio. We are committed to “making a difference” in the world so my training, writing, and passion will eventually “get me there”. (I am now 74 so I have no time to waste!)

KEY: Become passionate about your life and finding your “true” message. Define it clearly and develop your plan for achieving your own dream. Dreams are what fueled Walt Disney’s success so if it was good enough for Walt, it is definitely good enough for me. How about YOU?

#4 – Training

Training represents my foundation and it encompasses “all of me” – mind, body and spirit. I say spirit in reference to our belief systems and what they represent to us. For me, my belief is in my “greatness” – meaning I have value and will be able to share that value with others. I encourage you to define your training program and work on it each day. Mine includes cardiovascular conditioning, weight training, meditation and prayer work, and daily affirmations I repeat throughout the day reinforcing my commitment to my purpose.

KEY: Discipline and purpose work hand in hand. Living in the present and making your choices in the only moment that matters (the present) is a very important concept. Practice it daily and you will find yourself not getting distracted with the unimportant details in life that can literally “derail” our success.

#5 – Programming

This final key is important because our minds control our lives and destiny. The subconscious mind is where the “tapes” are stored that influence every aspect of our lives – including our attitudes and behavior. Be careful in programming your mind since what you say, feel, express, and do will alter your course if you are not careful. This is where affirmations and visualization – and your imagination – come in. 

Be aware of how you express yourself and gather to you all the goodwill you can because we need each other. One of my favorite teachers shared a belief I now hold as well: “Everything we desire in life comes through relationship.” A corollary belief I hold is “the mind of man is unlimited in its potential and responds to the demands placed upon it.” Place the BEST demands on yourself every day and see what happens!

KEY: Programming your mind is an activity that is priceless. Do it with love and passion and your old negative patterns will no longer restrain you from achieving what you envision for yourself. People will want to be with you because of “who you are”!

Nicholas Prukop is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer & a Health Coach and fitness professional with over 25 years of experience. His passion for health and fitness comes from his boyhood in Hawaii, where he grew up a swimmer on Maui. He found his calling in writing his first book “Healthy Aging & You: Your Journey to Becoming Happy, Healthy & Fit” and since then he has dedicated himself to empowering, inspiring and enabling people of all ages to reach for the best that is within them and become who they are meant to be – happy, healthy and fit – and be a part of a world where each person can contribute their own unique gifts to life.



Strength training prepares our bodies to do the things we enjoy doing without injury. It is the foundation upon which all exercise and activity are built. Without string muscles and joints we can’t perform – period. This article will examine the assessment questions prior to beginning an exercise program and provide a framework for developing a strength training program.

Older couple at the gym

Exercise & Fitness: “Cardio Conditioning & Training”

The real power of being fit is in the ability of the cardiovascular system to perform at high levels throughout the day. The process of becoming fit is inherently tied to the heart’s ability to pump blood and oxygen to the organs, tissues, muscles, and extremities during periods of peak demand. The conditioning process is a daily effort requiring activity and movement. The training process is the planned activity that is designed to stress the system intentionally over time and at a prescribed intensity. They are two sides of the same coin and will be highlighted in this article.


Fitness: Readiness Assessment & Setting Priorities

My biggest concern as a personal trainer was always the safety of my clients – both physically and medically. Over the years a common theme emerged with each new client relationship that I developed and that was how unprepared people were to really engage in a significant training program and what skills and knowledge they would be required to develop for success. Physicians were often unprepared to advise their patients on what to do, how to proceed, or what limitations and issues needed to be acknowledged by their patients before engaging a trainer to help them “get to the next level”.


Living With Purpose: A Challenge Fear Can Sabotage

I find the holiday season to be challenging mentally, emotionally and physically. I am sure many of you who are reading these words feel a similar pressure of the current year ending – and the uncertainty of the new one to come. During this time of the year I have found myself being repeatedly burdened by entertaining old, worn out, negative thinking which leaves me exhausted and prone to getting sick, frustrated and fearful of the unknown time ahead.

The mind-body connection

This year it has been no different for me as I seem to be facing a past challenge regarding my belief in myself, my self-worth – and my purpose. For the better part of the last week and a half I have been struggling with a bad case of what I believe is the flu. With this latest (rare) bout of illness I have been blessed with a large dose of coughing, sneezing, general weakness and a very substantial lethargy. I believe in the power of the mind to bring us health and well-being but I also believe our thoughts (and beliefs) can – and do – deliver to us the other side of life which includes illness, unease, a genuine lack of self-confidence, and a sense of what I will call “hopelessness” – a feeling of living without purpose.

This is how I have started to feel in December – that regardless of what I have done, written or spoken about in terms of my passion for healthy aging, that it matters little and that I am wasting my time. This thought has occurred to me many times before and I am sharing it with you now because I am going through this challenge in this moment in time. ALL of us at some point in our life (and in my case it has been more than once) have felt empty inside and afraid – fearful of the unknown, of not being enough, of having chosen our path in life badly – and much more “baggage” that we carry around with us every day! It is a burden we decide to carry. It is up to each of us to decide to stop carrying this extra weight – or it will remain a “drag” on our life well into the future! We don’t need negative thought patterns ruining our lives, do we?

Fighting negative thoughts

The point is that it takes courage and discipline to “fight” this negative “wave” of feelings and thoughts. The first step that we can take to address this important issue is to become AWARE that it is happening – and to STOP and THINK in order to increase the possibility of changing your mind in order to “reassert” your power over your training – but your life as well. I am grateful for these reminders as they spur me to make the choice again that I AM valuable and worthy of success. Even at 70 I am dealing with this very issue as Christmas approaches – again. I had a terrible Thanksgiving because I could not be with my daughter and grandson and tonight had a harsh exchange of words with her over the phone (frustration, anger, fear – whatever it may be.)

What this matter basically comes down to is a FIRM belief in ourselves – and our own unique purpose – that we are alive for a reason. It is incumbent upon each of us to maintain a vigilant and forceful awareness that CAN prevent negative thoughts from derailing our dreams from becoming fully realized. If we allow these negative thought patterns to remain in our subconscious minds over time they WILL harm us emotionally, mentally and physically. ALL life – and reality – begins with thought, so guard your thoughts well! I am sorry to report that we are never done with these challenges of the mind and they can – and DO repeat (sometimes – not always) for a reason: To REMIND us of who we are – and are becoming. The ego wants to regain control of our thought patterns and return us to an earlier status quo that never worked for us – and never will.

The antidote for this negative “cycle of thought” is an examination of what we are doing and how well we are doing it. Can we improve our behavior? Our discipline? Our planning? Our listening? What is it that we are seeing again – and why? My conversation (argument) with my daughter showed me I am still capable of entertaining past negative thinking with poor results showing up again in my life. What a DRAG! Low self-worth and self-esteem can raise doubt and fear in all of us. What I am experiencing right now is a reminder of the road I have travelled – and the miles I have to go. It is always incumbent upon each of us to be “self aware” and allow this awareness to guide us to take personal responsibility for our behavior – and thoughts – (all that any of us can control  and then, and only then, will we make it successfully to our goal and accomplish our mission.

Our fitness programming follows this same logic and if we believe we cannot make it – we won’t. Our thoughts determine our results and our belief systems determine everything else of importance in our lives. DON’T LET FEAR AND SELF DOUBT control your future destiny. DO NOT entertain thoughts that in and of themselves are self destructive. I don’t know how the distance with my daughter will be bridged before Christmas but it will probably include compromise and some serious mutual listening.

Conflict in itself solves NOTHING but it CAN promote growth and understanding so I am not shy about engaging in a good argument – if it leads to greater mutual understanding – and peace. It is in HOW we disagree that matters. I argue with my feelings leading the way sometimes and that CAN be hurtful, but in this hurting we may get the opportunity to expand our definition of ourselves – and expand our consciousness as well. This is what I would call a “win – win”. This potential outcome CAN help us grow into a new definition of ourselves and create new opportunities with those we love – and with those others we value in our lives. It is about taking some risk and exposing ourselves to being uncomfortable for a while. I feel it is worth the effort – just be smart about how you go about implementing this idea!

I am convinced this time of year is challenging for all of us because there is much we need to learn – not only about ourselves – but about each other as well. After 45 years of being a father I am still learning about what that means and tonight I found out I am still NOT as patient or compassionate as I thought I was and so some “soul searching” will be required to bring me back to my best path of growth and understanding with those I love.

Take time today to reflect not only on your relationship with yourself but also with those you love and care about and see what emerges. You might be in for some amazing surprises and only YOU can do this work. Becoming a thoughtful listener is really the key to effective communication so practice that skill a lot! We have TWO ears and ONE mouth for a reason. I really find the holiday season to be about buying “STUFF” and not about appreciating our many blessings. This thought drives me crazy! However, this is the life we are living today so I either learn to live with it creatively or I will continue to hit the same “brick wall” as I have in the past – and I CHOOSE NOT DO THAT. All of this is to say that becoming unsettled, confused – or even angry – is probably a sign that we ARE ready for positive change to enter our lives and I TRULY BELIEVE that is a VERY good thing! Travel well.

Originally printed on HealthyNewAge.com. Reprinted with permission from Nicholas Prukop.