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How People With MS Benefit From Weight Training

Updated on March 6, 2019

Although it may seem contrary to MS symptoms such as weakness and fatigue, proper weight training techniques can actually be of great assistance to people with MS. Personally, I took advantage of this specific type of exercise for as long as my MS would allow. I wanted to preserve my muscle strength for as long as possible and realized after researching MS and exercise, that weight training would be a great way to achieve my goal.

My Weight Training History

My experience with weight training goes back to my high school years, where I was first introduced to the equipment. The weight-training room was used primarily by the wrestling and football teams, but there were small gym classes of both boys and girls who were allowed to use the room for a semester at a time.

I fell in love with it right from the start. After learning how to properly use the machines, I was surprised to learn I was considered strong for a girl. Not that it mattered to me, because strong or weak, I enjoyed lifting weights and would have continued either way.

I credit that class with my lifetime enjoyment of weight-lifting and even though I have had to curtail the type of exercises and training I do, according to what the MS allows, I still lift what I can, when I can, in order to preserve muscle tone and strength.

Lifting Weights at Home

It became necessary to develop a home regiment as the fatigue from MS increased and I found myself with less and less energy to travel out to a gym.

My husband has lifted weights his entire life and so it wasn’t difficult for him to stake out an area sporting goods store until they offered him a great deal on a home gym that was a demo-model the store was about to upgrade.

With the understanding that he would have to dismantle the gym himself as well as transport it home, he happily agreed to purchase the home gym for a ridiculously low amount of money.

He asked a friend to help him transport all the weights and other paraphelnia in our friends van and the next thing I knew there were voices and the sound of metal weights entering our house and going down in our basement.

 At the time I was sick in bed with a bad flare-up. This would have been early on when my MS attacks were very bad and totally debilitating. I would later learn this was the primary reason my dear husband purchased the home gym. He wanted to make sure that I would have access to exercise equipment as soon as I recovered sufficiently.

I remember wondering what was going on in the basement, but being so sick; my curiosity was mild at best. The next day I realized my husband had spent hours putting the 15-station gym together, from memory, just in case I felt better and wanted to use it. Needless to say, with such a loving act in mind, I used the gym as soon as I was able to safely do so.

I have found a close approximation of how our home gym looks. You can see there are plenty of ways to get a work-out using many different muscle groups.

At my healthiest I would use at least one 40 1b weight and work out lifting 8 times in reps of 3. As my strength began to wane, I dropped down to 1-20 lb weight 8 X’s in reps of 3.

These days, I rarely use the weight stations, relying more on our stationary bike and our treadmill. I miss the weightlifting, but have adjusted to just being glad to do what I can, however small.

Using Hand Weights

Anyone can make the adjustment to hand weights. In fact, it isn’t even necessary to purchase the type of hand weights I purchased as pictured here.

A heavy book or a young child provides weight training as well. (Of course, the ability to lift a child over your head or out to your sides doesn’t mean you should necessarily do so, given child safety concerns.)

But if you like the convenience of hand weights of varying sizes usually from 1 pound up to 5 or 10 pounds, these hand weight towers are very inexpensive.


How Much Is Too Much?

When it comes to any type of exercise, one good rule to follow is know your limits. I don’t mean the limit you would like to reach I mean the actual limit your body can handle.

Personally, I apply the following guidelines to any exercising I participate in.

  • Eat first. Since energy is already in short supply when dealing with MS, putting something in your stomach can prolong your exercising time since it provides needed energy.
  • Drink plenty of water. Overheating is a common problem for me, just as it is for many people with MS. Keeping hydrated is essential.
  • Less is more. As much as this one annoys me, I have learned to stick to this guideline like it is a law.

Most people with MS consider 10 minutes of exercise as almost a waste of time. In truth however, 10 minutes might be all that your body can handle. Have you ever exercised and afterward had to immediately take a nap or were unable to move or walk?

In actuality you probably exercised for too long at one stretch. In determining the correct amount of time to exercise, the goal is to exercise and still be able to function afterward.

 If you find you are totally wiped after 30 minutes, cut your exercising down to 20 minutes and see how you feel then.

I find 10-20 minutes is my absolute limit, any more, I am too tired to recover in an hour or so. Instead, I am incapacitated the rest of the day.

Enjoy the Benefits

Whether you can put in a full exercise session of 30 minutes, 3 times a week or can only do 10 minutes once a week. Be happy when you can exercise at all.

Having had times when I have been too tired to lift my head off of my pillow. I greatly appreciate any exercise I am able to do.

Be it walking on my treadmill, house cleaning, carrying laundry up and down the stairs, I consider it all part of my physical training and am happy when I am able to do anything of a physical nature.

Swimming is a great way for people with MS to exercise. I am hoping to accompany my husband to a gym where swimming is available, now that my fatigue is not as great. I look forward to the work out it will provide and I know my body will love the feeling of physical exertion once again.

So if you haven't tried light weights as part of your exercise routine and your MS still allows it, I highly recommend doing so. Muscle tone and strength are so important to daily functioning, preserve it for as long as possible by establishing a routine that will hopefully last for years, as it did for me.


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