Older woman doing yoga with other people - featured image to illustrating how to increase strength with MS

Give me strength

Dr Gretchen Hawley, physiotherapist and MS specialist at The MSing Link explains the different ways to increase strength through exercise.

If you’re exercising to improve strength, it’s important to take your goals, types of exercise, and available equipment into consideration. These three areas often determine what your strengthening routine should look like and can be a great guide for what exercises you might want to incorporate into your routine, allowing your goals to become a reality.

Let’s break them down. Setting strengthening goals is the first step to developing a successful routine. Some exercises can help you improve strength, but your day-to-day activities might not feel any easier. Other strengthening exercises may focus more heavily on strengthening the muscles you need to walk better and for longer periods of time. Therefore, it’s important to think about what specific goals you have.

Narrow your goals

If your goal is to get stronger, ask yourself ‘why do I want to get stronger?’. If your goal is to walk better, ask yourself ‘how will I know if my walking is better?’ Questions like these can often help you narrow down your goal so there’s a specific outcome you’re working toward. It can be difficult to measure progress when your goals have a general or undefined outcome.

Two types of exercises are helpful when you have multiple sclerosis (MS) – traditional and functional. Traditional exercises are generic strengthening exercises that will help improve overall strength. These types of exercises may not provide a noticeable increase in muscle tone and bulk. They are best if your goals aren’t aligned with any specific action or day-to-day activity, but rather you’re aiming to gain strength overall. Examples of traditional strengthening exercises might be squats, lunges, deadlifts, or bicep curls.

Functional exercise is most helpful if you have a goal of improving strength/mobility for a specific activity, such as walking, stair climbing, getting into or out of a car, and so on. Functional exercise means breaking down the desired activity into several smaller movements, then performing those movements as your exercise. For example, standing up requires sitting up tall, scooting forward, bringing your feet wider so they line up with your hips, bending your knees, leaning forward, then pushing to a stand-up position.

Each of these movements that I mentioned are six separate functional exercises that can be performed for those who have a goal of standing up stronger. The same method of breaking down an activity can be performed for any goal, such as walking, or getting into/out of a car, and so on.