Strength training does the body good

Posted: Sunday, February 06, 2011

Editor's note: "Focus on Fitness" is a Clarion feature with healthy lifestyle advice from local and national health and fitness experts. Check here weekly great information and tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Strength training is the most efficient form of exercise. The duration and frequency of resistance workouts do not need to be extreme to gain results. Three 20-30 minute sessions per week is enough to make a big difference in your fitness. The benefits include: improved muscle tone, increase in speed, quickness and leaping ability, decrease in injuries, slowing of the aging process including the easing of joint pain and aide in weight loss/maintenance.

Strength training is essential for an athlete who wants to reach their maximum potential. Stronger arms and legs enable an athlete to run faster and jump higher. In one study a group of teenage athletes improved their vertical leap by a few inches just by improving their upper body strength. A stronger arm whip in the jumping phase resulted in a higher vertical leap. Participation in a full body strength training program will lead to greater results and decrease the risk of injury.

Stronger arms and legs help an athlete run faster and jump higher, but there is more at work than just greater strength. Another training effect is an increase in the number of fast twitch muscle fibers and the morphing of fast twitch to super fast twitch fibers. This enables muscles to fire more quickly, which results in greater speed and leaping ability. When a strength training program is stopped there is a rebound effect resulting in even more fast/super fast twitch muscle fibers. This is why it is important for an athlete to taper training the last two weeks or so before an event they want to peak for.

Major league baseball greatly reduced the incidence of hamstring pulls when they instituted strength training for the muscle group. Hamstring pulls are usually a result in an imbalance of strength between the quadriceps and hamstrings. When an athlete sprints, raising their knees above their hips, greater stress is put on the hams and may cause a pull. Other issues can result from an imbalance of strength so it is important to work all muscles groups to avoid these problems.

After age 30 a person loses about one half of one percent of their muscle mass per year. Exercise can reduce that loss by 50 percent. This benefit is specific to the muscle group being worked. This is why a full body strength training program is such an important component of a life long exercise program. It is recommended that youth be in puberty for at least six months before starting a strength training program to avoid injury to growing bones. The elderly can benefit from strength training too. One study involving subjects who were 80 years old or older showed improved muscle tone while participating in a strength training program. This shows that it is never too late to start an exercise program.

Joint pains and body aches are something most people experience as they age. Often these aches and pains hamper efforts to maintain an active lifestyle. This usually results in weight gain, which only exacerbates the problem. Maintaining the strength of muscles above and below a problem joint and in the muscles around aches will help reduce or even eliminate the pain. Not only do you gain the benefits a strength training program offers you are more likely to participate in other physical activity because you can do it without discomfort.

Strength exercises should be done two to three days a week (three days a week is optimum). Some programs have you lift five or six days a week doing upper body one day, lower the next. There is evidence that the body responds better to doing a full body workout and taking a day off before the next strength workout. The body is better able to recover and adapt which provides better results.

A variety of muscle groups should be worked to provide a full body workout, upper body, lower body and core. Core exercises or other exercises that do not involve resistance can be done every day but it is still advisable to take one day off a week to allow the body to recover. Exercises should be done until you reach overload, that burning feeling in the muscle group being worked. You may work into overload and approach failure as you get in better shape. After six to eight weeks of training you may work to failure (the point at which you can't do another rep) which will result in greater gains. The number of reps to reach overload/failure should be 10-12 for the upper body and 15-20 for the lower body. Adjust resistance as needed. For core exercises do as many reps as it takes to reach overload/failure. It will take about 20-30 minutes to do a full body strength workout if you do one set of each exercise. Get on line or use a book to find a variety of exercises to develop your routine.

If you want to focus on building strength and bulk you will need to increase the intensity of your training sessions. You would need to reach overload/failure at 3-5 reps. Strength training at an intensity this high greatly increases your risk of injury and may not help you reach your goals. Certain positions in sport, weight lifting competitions and body building are about the only situations this could be helpful. For most people this type of training is counter productive at best and catastrophic at worst. Maximum lifts (lifting the most you can in one rep) are also a high risk maneuver. A well younger trained athlete can usually do a maximum lift without incident, the less trained and older you are the more likely an injury is to occur.

Charlie Stephens is a retired P.E. teacher and owner/operator of Kenai Sport & Train, Inc. He can be reached at

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