How Do I Make My Muscles Stronger?

Many clients who come into my clinic have a common goal. They want to be stronger.  Many of them are in their thirties and forties and are exercising less than they did in their youth. Some of them have had low back pain, knee pain, or shoulder pain in the past. They have gotten into trouble lifting heavy things at home or in the yard or maybe while playing their sport. And they are coming to me in order to get stronger so that they can avoid injury in the future. Many will say that their bodies feel “vulnerable.”

  1. Identify the part of the body you want to strengthen. I will ask my clients to choose a certain body part that they would like to strengthen first. Many will say their back, arms, or legs. I will then ask them the tasks that they have to do at home. A gym program should mimic and support the activities that one does in life. If you do a lot of sitting, we should incorporate a lot of postural endurance exercises, if you do a lot of bending and cleaning we should do back and leg exercises, if you travel a lot we should incorporate exercises that look like lifting luggage….you get the idea.
  2. Identify the kind of strength you want to achieve. Do you want to have brute strength? Do you want endurance? Do you want power and speed? Do you want to have agility and timing? And this mostly comes down the activities that you do at home. If you play golf you will need speed, power, agility, and timing. If you are a swimmer, you will need endurance and upper body strength; if you are a skier you need leg strength and core control.
  3. Get into action! Now that we have identified the part of the body you want to strengthen, and have figured out the type of strength that you want….you are ready to start exercising.

Today, we will focus on how to gain brute muscle strength. This is the type of strength that you would need to lift a 30 pound Kitty Litter box from your grocery cart to your trunk. In order to increase the amount of strength that you have in a certain muscle group, you must overload the muscle, meaning that you must lift more weight that you currently do, and do the exercise consistently.

I typically tell people starting strengthening programs that they want to do weights 3-4 times per week for about 20 min at a time to have meaningful changes. I typically have clients start with small weights and increase 2-3 pounds per week. If we are using the kitty litter I might have someone start with 3-5 pounds in each hand and do the exercises below for 1 week before they increase the weight. And you should begin to see measurable changes in your muscle strength after about 4 weeks.

Deadlift and Squat

Squat and Row


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Diana grew up in a small suburb north of Boston. She received her clinical doctorate degree in Physical Therapy at Boston University in 2006. Diana started practicing as a physical therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital. While at MGH, she developed a specialty in the evaluation and treatment of complex lumbopelvic dysfunction. Diana is currently practicing at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston where she is the Orthopedic Clinical Supervisor of the Spine program. She is presently a Boston resident and her interests outside physical therapy include cooking, walking on the Esplanade, and international travel.

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