MYTHS About Strength Training
Today’s NEW podcast episode is going to change the way you strength train.
In this groundbreaking episode with one of the world’s most respected resistance training researchers, Dr. Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., we chat about why strength training is the formula for aging well. He’s back by popular demand!
TODAY we discuss…
- Optimizing your strength routine for best results… Heavy weights? Or light weights?
- Choosing the ultimate approach to burn belly fat (the answer isn’t what you expect)
- Scheduling protein intake with the timing of your workout to minimize muscle wasting and maximize your performance
- Calculating how much protein to eat based on your weight
- Listening to real life stories that prove it’s never too late to start strength training
- Experimenting with plant-based protein options
Until around age 30, your muscles grow larger and stronger. At some point in that third decade, you start to lose muscle mass and function. You can lose as much as 3-5% of that muscle mass each decade after age 30. The term for this is “age-related sarcopenia.”
Even if you’re active, you can still lose muscle if you’re not training and eating properly.
I’m a big believer that STRONG WOMEN STAY YOUNG! Each year, I see more evidence on the importance of muscle mass as the key to staying younger, longer.
I produced my first strength training video in 1985. And, that’s the time period when I first heard about today’s guest, Dr. Wayne Westcott.
He was lecturing, writing articles, and involved in cutting-edge research about strength training. He was answering all the questions…how much, how often, slow, heavy, light, when, where, how? Why is it important?
When it comes to strength training, Wayne was, and still is, the go-to expert and deep source of knowledge for maintaining strength at any age.
He’s the author of over 25 books including Strength Training Past 50, and thousands of articles.
Follow Along With The Transcript
[KATHY SMITH]: Wayne, welcome to the show.
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: Thank you, Kathy. It’s an honor to be on your show.
[KATHY SMITH]: So, let’s start out right away. So many people go on diets. And when they go on a diet, it’s that first week and they look down at the scale, and they go, “Oh, my god. I’ve lost four pounds.” Now, according to you, they maybe shouldn’t be as excited about that four pounds, depending on where it comes from. Can you explain?
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: Absolutely, Kathy. When a person reduces calories or increases calorie consumption by doing an exercise program, they will lose weight. However, if they lose weight at a relatively rapid rate and, for most women, that would be more than two to three pounds per week. That weight is not coming exclusively from fat. We can lose about two pounds of fat per week. A really large person could lose, maybe, three pounds of fat per week. But anything more than that might be coming from other sources. And the main source is muscle. We actually lose muscle tissue. On most average diets, 25% of the weight lost is muscle.
Someone might say, “I lost 25 pounds on my diet,” about five to six pounds of those pounds would be from muscle, not from fat. That’s not a good thing, because when you lose muscle, metabolism slows down, and it makes it much easier for the weight to come back on.
[KATHY SMITH]: And especially as we get older. So, as we said in the introduction, you’re growing, you’re expanding, you’re putting more muscle on until about the age of 30. And then, about that third decade, you start to lose muscle mass. What I’m finding in the fourth, the fifth, the sixth decade is maintaining muscle mass becomes much more difficult. So, let’s talk about this process and why it’s important to maintain muscle.
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: You’re absolutely correct. As we go through the aging process, we average about five pounds of muscle loss per decade during the midlife years. But for both men and women, once they hit about age 50 or post-menopausal ages, that muscle loss increases closer to about 10 pounds per decade. That’s a lot of muscle loss. And when you lose muscle–
[KATHY SMITH]: Oh, my god. That’s crazy, though, when you think about it. That sounds totally crazy.
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: Right, yes. As you were mentioning before we started talking, strong women stay young. Miriam Nelson had a book by that name years ago. She did a lot of research at Tufts University, and she found, with her post-menopausal women, they were not only losing about 20% of their bone every decade, but they were losing up to 10 pounds of their muscle mass in those post-menopausal years, which again, leads to metabolic rate reduction that always results in fat gain.
[KATHY SMITH]: Okay. So, the question is, though, a woman’s going to start strength training– I’m directing this more to women. Obviously, it works for men and women. But they’re going to start a strength training program. So, the question is, light weights? Heavy weights? Which is better?
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: I think most of the ex-physiologists that have done research in this area would say that heavier weights would be more productive. It is possible to build muscle with lighter weights if you do a lot of repetitions. That’s a challenging way to train for most people. So, the average that we recommend is about 75% of your maximum resistance. So, if you can lift 20 pounds once, you would train with 15 pounds. That’s about 75% of your maximum. And most of us would do about 8 to 12 repetitions with that percentage of our maximum weight, which is a very good, safe, effective weight load or resistance to use. It’s not too much; it’s not too little. It will produce muscle gain and bone gain and metabolic increase and a variety of other benefits if you train in that range.
[KATHY SMITH]: Okay. Now, the question is, we do have Pilates, bar, light weight overload where you do a lot of repetitions. So, can you tell us what’s the benefit of those types of workouts? Because I know I see changes if I switch over and do a really intense yoga practice for, let’s say, a month. I notice big changes in my arms and shoulders. It’s kind of time under tension. I have lighter weight, but I’m doing a lot more of it. Is that still as beneficial?
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: It can be. There’s a continuum, Kathy, where you have heavier weights and, obviously, fewer repetitions. That would be on the strength end of the continuum. And then, as you go to lighter weights and lighter weights and lighter weights and more repetitions or more time under tension, as you said quite accurately, now, it moves a little bit more towards muscle endurance benefits, a little less into muscle strength.
However, there is a standard for building muscle strength, and that standard is to take your target muscles to fatigue within what we call the anaerobic energy system. There’s the aerobic system that you are the expert at– in many years, you have led this area of exercise. And that’s the cardiovascular system as well as weight loss and a variety of other things.
But the anaerobic energy system is generally considered to be 90 seconds or less. So, if you fatigue the target muscles within 60, 70, 80, or 90 seconds, you’re going to have a major benefit in terms of adding muscle mass, adding bone mass, increasing muscle strength, and to some degree, muscle endurance as well. If you go longer than that, with a lighter weight, you will still get some of those benefits, and there may be some additional adaptations that take place – like in your mitochondria, etc.
So, either way is fine as long as you go to fatigue. But for strength, muscle mass, and bone mass, doing that within about 90 seconds seems to be more beneficial.
[KATHY SMITH]: Yeah. I like to play around with both. I definitely like heavy weights. And by the way, I just took this challenge. It’s called the Chad 1000. This is a Navy SEAL. He was a tremendous guy. He committed suicide after he came back from being overseas. And the Chad 1000 is 1000 step ups on a 24-inch bench. And what I found is that I’m doing 100 step-up increments daily. And as I start to adapt, I now put more load on. The real Chad 1000, you’re supposed to be having a pack on that’s about 30 pounds. But I have about eight pounds on, and what I notice is that amazing thing of adaptation. Which means the first ones, I do no weight, maybe a lower bench. The bench goes a little higher, then I add weight.
I’m up to about 500 right now, and I’m going to these next 500. I assume I’m going to go a little higher in weight. But that’s this principle that you have discussed forever. And it’s really trying to get women to understand that just keep finding ways to get yourself to fatigue within that 90 seconds.
Give us some of the latest research, again, on protein. Where’s the sweet spot? And maybe get into before working out, after working out, or does it really matter? Do we just have to get enough throughout the day?
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: Oh, great questions! So we follow the guidelines by Dr. Caroline Apovian. She’s a world-famous medical doctor – a practicing physician here in Boston at one of the major hospitals. She’s also a great nutritionist, and she’s written numerous books. We followed her protein guidelines in all of our research studies with, again, middle Asian older adults, mostly women, in all of our weight loss studies, in our Osteoporosis studies, etc. She recommends .7 grams of protein per pound of ideal body weight – your best body weight, what you should weigh. If you weigh 150 but should weigh 120, we’d go with the 120. So .7 grams per pound of body weight per day.
[KATHY SMITH]: So, can you just do us a favor, just to put that in real terms? Let’s just do our math right there. Let’s just say 120 and you want to get .7 so you talk about maybe 84 grams.
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: Right.
[KATHY SMITH]: What does that mean in terms of an egg or a chicken breast? How would you get that through the course of the day?
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: I’m not saying you should eat meat or not eat meat, or fish or chicken, or however you want to go, a vegetarian or vegan. For example, chicken breast or fish, lean meat, they are going to have about 7 grams of protein per ounce. So, if you had 6 ounces of chicken or fish or whatever, that would be about 40 to 45 grams of protein right there. A glass of milk would be maybe eight and an egg would be maybe six. All of that would be in the egg white.
So, there are many ways you can get protein during the day and we’ve done research both ways. I think just getting it during the day is fine, but in our studies because we’re doing research, we use shakes so we can actually match how much protein they’re getting, how much they’re adding to their diet, getting enough of it. We use shakes for a lot of things. We’ve used post-exercise shakes in many of our studies.
And just to give you an example– there is debate on this– and our research went both ways. we’ve done a number of studies on this. For osteoporosis study, those who did just the strength training versus those who did the strength training and took the post-exercise protein shake– it was only 24 grams of protein; it wasn’t anything huge, and no one had any trouble with that– was a 1% difference in the amount of bone density gain.
In our weight loss studies, we do the same thing. We do a post-exercise shake or in others we’ll ask you to do a meal substitute shake, and we’ve always had better results when they’ve had this shake than when they don’t. For example, when people add strength training to a diet program, they don’t lose as much muscle. We only find in studies where they also add extra protein – because when you diet you cut across the board typically and so you’re losing some protein as well. So, when they add protein and the strength training, we see they not only reduce the muscle loss but they actually concurrently lose fat and gain muscle, which is remarkable because most diets, as I said, about 25% of their weight loss is muscle. That’s quite a bit of muscle. That’s why 90% of all successful dieters regain the weight back. So, we want to maintain the muscle.
And we have found that middle aged and older women do very well with Dr. Apovian’s– again she’s a bestselling author as well– with that recommendation. Others would say less than that is fine, but we’ve had no problems with that. so, we are going to stick with it – .7 grams per pound of body weight.
[KATHY SMITH]: I like that. Well, it’s interesting also because once you start exploring all the plant kingdom also– I do a shake– I love shakes and I do a daily shake. Then there’s hemp parts. You can throw in garbanzo beans and salads. There are so many different ways of getting protein from plants and animals. I think that’s the one thing that I’m just trying to educate people more and more about. There are so many different sources of protein. Just make sure when you’re making that shake, whether you decide to put in whey or vegan protein, that you can also supplement with other little things in there that even ups the protein amount. So, I appreciate that feedback.
Let’s just, then, extend that into belly fat. Because honestly, that is the number one question. Anybody, especially women, over the age of 40, it’s like, “Okay, the belly.” From the standpoint of the fat, but also getting back to the strength training, the core, what have your studies shown? Is it better to be like, “Okay, I’m going to do my sit-ups right now and my crunches?” Or is it just like start to do these full body motions with our planks and our push-ups and everything else, where we are using our core, or is it a mix of everything?
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: I hate to say this, but I think it can be either/or, or all of the above. I prefer to do trunk curls, about 1000 of them every day. I’ve done it for the last 50 years.
[KATHY SMITH]: You do how many? Say it again.
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: One-thousand, just the easiest trunk curls in the world. It’s how I wake up before I drink my water and my shake, like you.
[KATHY SMITH]: Just rewind, because I don’t know that term. I should know. Are you talking about trunk curl is just [repeat sound effects 00:26:11]?
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: Yeah, it’s like a quarter sit-up. It does nothing for my abs at all. But I get on the ab machine, I put on 150 pounds or so, and I do a set of 10 or a couple of sets and I’m sore for a couple of days. So, I respond better to higher intensity, fewer reps like a standard strength training program. I just had my class today, one of my college classes, and they all came up with different ab exercises. They’re all excellent. Some of us did planks. We did planks with pushups, because pushups get your chest, shoulders, triceps, as well as your abs while doing a plank. We did a lot of things, and they all worked as long as you worked them.
[KATHY SMITH]: So, that’s a good point. You can’t just call it in. It’s what’s activating the move. You could be doing that trunk curl, and you could be throwing your shoulders and neck, just like [sound effect 00:27:10], maybe doing very little with your core. Or you can be going back, and that’s one of the things years ago– I don’t know if you remember this; I don’t know who designed this– but there was something called touch therapy or something like that. Sometimes, almost every day on my body, even when I’m doing those step ups, I’ll touch my inner thigh because it’s like, “Engage, engage,” okay, wake that up so I’m not rolling out and the same thing is with the abs. I’ve been doing it for so long, and yet still I go, “Am I doing this? What part of my ab, lower part of the abdominals, upper, or all?” The more you do it, it’s amazing how much you can activate in that area.
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: That’s something kind of like the mind-body connection there. I do want to say something about your first question on this topic, and that was when women hit menopause, for reasons no one understands, but we saw this year’s and years ago. I’m sure you did too because we do body composition testing. Before menopause, if women have extra fat, it’s like the pear shape, it’s in the thighs. That’s where most of their fat cells are from birth or genetics. But once they hit menopause, that changes, and they start depositing fat into the intra-abdominal area just as men do. And they lose some of their resistance to heart disease and those types of things, because you don’t want fat in that visceral area. That’s a bad place to have fat, and that’s where it goes for both men and women after age 50– men all of their life, but women after age 50.
Interestingly, there have been several studies– we have not done these studies; we do not have the permit to do these– but people have – and there are several them – that have shown that strength training is absolutely the best thing you could do to reduce intra-abdominal visceral fat. So, definitely if you have an issue in that area, include some strength training or some resistance exercise or some good ab work – like you would be able to give them better than I could, I’m sure – as part of your routine because it’s really important.
[KATHY SMITH]: Well, that’s a big light bulb a-ha moment, because most people think, “Okay, I have a little extra belly fat so I’m going to go for a run, or I’m going to do my rowing machine,” and do all cardio. And yet, we know that strength training can be the most powerful tool in getting rid of some of this belly fat. So, I appreciate that tip.
But let’s go into another area. I know I have you for only a few more minutes. Women used to want diamonds and now it’s like, “Give me my muscle!” Because honestly, it is not as easy to maintain with each decade. So, my question is, we know if we’re not training that we need to train. But even if we’re training, you have changes in hormones, which I want to kind of get into, because that impacts it.
The other thing is just this nerve innervation or another way of saying that is kind of like what I was talking about before. I remember teaching classes and wanting somebody to activate their glute when they’re going into a lunge. They couldn’t find their glute. Like, I would touch their glute (and that sounds horrible) but I’m saying I’d ask permission first of all. Or, I’d have them touch it and it’s like all in the quad. Or it’s all somewhere else. Explain this idea of nerves and how we have to turn things on and what happens when we age with the nervous system.
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: Boy, you’ve hit everything– the nail right on the head every time. I can’t believe this. It’s all about the neuromuscular system. I’m emphasizing the neuro. As we age the nerves, the motor units, which is the motor nerve command system that goes to the muscles to innervate a motor unit, which would be all the muscle fibers going to that touch that nerve. As we age, things happen that aren’t necessarily good, and we start to lose size in our muscle fibers. Especially the fast-twitch fibers. And then, pretty soon, we start to lose some of those fibers themselves.
Neurological degradation is the biggest factor in why we don’t run as fast or lift as much. The muscles are innovated by nerves and we have to, again, maintain some semblance of focus on the muscles we’re using. Because we are really focusing on the nerves that innovate them. I like your idea of that touch or, at least, explaining it very carefully, saying, “You need to feel right here. You have to concentrate on this area.” It really helps. But yes, as we age, we do lose muscle, and that’s, I think, mostly because of the neurological decay that occurs. And the best–
[KATHY SMITH]: And is part of that because the nerves come out of the spine and as our vertebrae and as our spine starts to, maybe, decompress some, there’s pressure on that? Or is there something that’s too much for us to even go into right now? It’s probably a very deep subject.
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: It’s over my head, Kathy. You’re ahead of me on this one.
[KATHY SMITH]: It’s over my paygrade.
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: I don’t know the reasons for it, honestly, but I’m very convinced that we need to deal with the neuromuscular system just like we do with the musculoskeletal system or the cardiovascular system. You can’t separate the heart from the vessels. You can’t separate the muscles from the bones. And you can’t separate the nerves from the muscles. And the best thing to do is to train them and to keep the human growth hormone– for males, of course, it would be testosterone– active and functioning as long as you can. It helps everything.
[KATHY SMITH]: Well, maybe then, just finishing off, you said in your last answer that we start to lose fast twitch. What I’ve been told and what I’ve noticed is that they’re called super-fast twitch. I think they’re type 2b or something. And that’s those explosive muscles. And that’s where we can get up off the couch, or to your point, we can run fast. Or we can react quickly. And those seem to be the first ones to go. Am I correct in saying that?
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: Absolutely. You’re 100% correct. [inaudible 00:34:05] but that’s what we lose first. We always lose the fast twitch. So, if a younger person starts to fall, they can catch themselves. An older person, that would be those fast-twitch, reactive fibers, and they’re not operational at the same level. So, they fall, and they don’t catch themselves. And they tend to have a higher injury rate when they fall.
So, you want to avoid falling, number one. You want to be really strong if you do fall so that you can absorb that with your muscles or catch it. Yes, you’re absolutely correct. So, I used to be an 800-meter runner like your daughter, who’s an Olympian, and boy, when you get my age, it’s about twice as slow. Not just a little slower. You really start slowing down after age, even 40, but certainly after age 50 in everything that requires our powerful muscle movements.
[KATHY SMITH]: Okay, then we will end with this, because I like where you’re going there. Most people think of aging as however old you are, it’s older than that. I remember I used to think 56 was old, and now it’s like, “Oh that’s so young.” The point being, aging, especially when it comes to the muscles and the body, starts in the 30s. And it’s imperceptible at first, but then, you hit 40s and go, “Wow, I can’t eat quite as much anymore” or “I can’t lift this anymore” or “I’m now getting aches and pains.” Obviously, the suggestion is start young so that you can build this base. But is it ever too late to start? I know we want to give everybody hope that it’s never too late to start. But is there a point that– okay, sorry, go for it.
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: Never too late! We just had a woman in our class outside my door here who came into our program with osteoporosis at age 80. This was eleven years ago, the study that we did osteoporosis. She went from osteoporosis to osteopenia to no bone loss for her age. She was right where she should be within nine months of the strength training and the protein program.
[KATHY SMITH]: Wow that is–
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: I said, “Gladys you’re now 91.” That was 11 years ago. I said, “How’s your bones?”
She said, “I haven’t reverted back to osteopenia yet.” Eleven years in her 80s, my goodness. Now she’s been with us. She’s been training. We’ve done several nursing home studies with 90-year-olds. And in 14 weeks of doing just that simple [inaudible 00:36:37] set– in fact, in the nursing home we only did five exercises – one set each, twice a week. And they added four pounds of lean weight – that’s muscle – within three and a half months at age 90. It’s never too old to improve your health and fitness, especially your musculoskeletal system (the muscles and the bones). Getting faster is not going to happen, but getting stronger and having more muscle, more bone, which I think is incredibly important, can occur at any age.
[KATHY SMITH]: Okay we’re going to end on that because that is such a high note. So, thank you for joining me. It’s always a pleasure. We’re going to have to keep this up. Maybe once every three or four years. We’ll keep comparing notes – because it’s so much fun talking to you – and going on this journey together. So, big kiss, big hug. And I hope to see you one of these days at maybe a convention or something.
[WAYNE WESTCOTT]: Thank you. My honor and privilege to be on your show.
[KATHY SMITH]: Bye-bye now.
You know it’s such pleasure having Wayne on the show. My big take away from all of this is that not only does strength training increase your lean muscle mass. It helps burn more calories not only while you’re doing it but throughout the day and it protects your back from pain. Strength training also has the ability to expand the possibilities of what you’re capable of doing throughout your entire life. And then on top of all of that, it helps improve your memory. Now, that’s a big, long list.
So, in other words, strength training can give you a more energetic lifestyle as you age. It helps you stay younger longer and live more vibrantly. So, start caring for your muscles by strength training at least twice a week. If you’re unsure where to start, join me for a workout anywhere in the world with Fit Over 40. It’s a free program that includes 14 days of workouts from strength training to HIIT training, from barre method to ab routines, and so much more. Plus, the private Facebook group. It’s a community of over 50,000 people, and the members are so encouraging, and they keep you up to date on what’s happening in the challenge and keep you more accountable. All you have to do is go to kathysmith.com to join.
Now, if you’ve enjoyed this episode, I want you to really think about all those other episodes out there that you might use while you’re doing the dishes or while you’re walking. You might want to check out Dr. Alan Christianson’s show on how to turn off cortisol for a deep night sleep, for a good night’s sleep.
And then there is an episode on, “what if you have a leaky gut?” Well, our conversation with Dr. Axe was awesome. That’s episode 12. And if you’re thinking, “Okay I got to check the memory a little bit.” Dr. Andrew Budson’s interview was classic. It’s number 69, and you can find out some really great tips to keep your memory sharp.
So, go to kathysmith.com/podcast. Now, the podcast is available wherever you listen. So just search the Art of Living whether you’re on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, or Spotify, and you’ll find all the other episodes. And believe me, you can start to use these anytime again, while you’re walking, while you’re doing dishes, while you’re driving. So, make use of all this great information. And to all of you out there, I love you to death. Here’s to your health!