Maybe you're the office worker, warming a desk chair eight hours a day as your muscles wilt from lack of use. Make that nine hours if you work through lunch. You may also be the athlete or fitness guru, once conditioned, once pliable and strong, but now weakened by injury. In either circumstance, you're fighting the same monster: muscle atrophy. Unless this atrophy is caused by an illness, wibbly-wobbly muscles don't have to be permanent. You can counteract muscle loss with supervised exercise and a proper, balanced diet.
Get a referral. Ask your physician about physical therapy, especially if he or she believes your atrophy may be from an injury or illness. Trained physical therapists and physical therapy assistants have the gadgets and specialized education to help you strengthen and rebuild weak muscles.
Rebuild wimpy, weak muscles with resistance training. Go for flexible flat or tubular exercise bands, grab a pair of light to medium hand weights, or use your own body weight. Adding weights or bands provides much needed resistance to lengthen shortened, atrophied muscle. Pushups and planks are also effective, and both can be done equipment-free.
Move on to wall presses, pullups, squats and lunges, and other closed-kinetic chain, or CKC, exercises. Ask a physical therapist before trying CKCs, since they put considerable strain on weakened muscles. Straining atrophied muscles, or doing the wrong exercises for your injury, can stall your progress or worsen your condition. Play it safe and speak up.
Ease into a rehab program. Let your physical therapist or physician, and above all your body, determine how quickly to up weight limits and sets. Speak up when an exercise aggravates an injury or you're too weak to finish a set. Resting during a routine, or breaking up your at-home exercises into manageable chunks, shouldn't make you feel as if atrophy is winning. Little by little, your muscles will regain strength.
Eat your beans. Pack your diet with protein, which can be found in vegetarian sources, such as legumes and tofu, or in lean animal meats. Stacking your meals with nutritious, muscle-friendly foods helps keep your weight in check, feeds your atrophying muscles needed antioxidants and reduces the wear and tear on your joints. Try to cram in about 46 grams of protein per day, split into three balanced meals and two smaller snacks. Protein-rich power bars or shakes are OK for snacks, but should never replace a meal.
- CKCs are still old school resistance exercise, but with a twist: Some part of your body is always touching the floor or bar. For pullups, your hands never leave the bar, and during a pushup, your hands and feet don’t leave the floor.
- Ask your physician if adjustments to your diet, such as eating more protein, would help rehabilitate your muscles. Any diet or exercise changes are decisions best made with your physician.
- Talk with your physical therapist about any new or worsening pain or weakness, and they can adjust your program.
- Rebuild atrophied muscles under the guidance of a doctor or physical therapist, unless told otherwise.
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