Resistance Training 101: Common Myths

When someone thinks of resistance training, what is the first thing that comes to mind? I can almost guarantee their thought process will not go much further than images of Arnold Schwarzenegger or some other muscle bound actor/athlete. While there have been countless studies and articles documenting the health benefits of aerobic conditioning; the effects of resistance training still seem to be continually underappreciated and misunderstood by the general public. With that in mind, I would like to dispel a few of these myths…

Myth #1: If a woman lifts weights they become bulky and acquire masculine features.

I cannot believe how many individuals, typically women, believe if you lift weights your physique will transform into that of a body builder. You have to try to have the build of Venus Williams… you cannot lift a couple weights and POOF! You are now 200 lbs of solid muscle. Muscle gain is a gradual process that can be manipulated by proper exercise program design. If you do not train and eat like a body builder, you will not become one.

Also, many individuals have been put under the impression that the musculature of men is drastically different than that of women. While men are typically stronger in terms of absolute strength, women have been shown to be equal to men in terms of relative strength (strength compared to body composition) and histochemical composition of muscle. The largest factor contributing to differences in muscle gain of women versus that of men is the hormonal differences between the sexes. Men have a considerably higher concentration of testosterone, which is responsible for protein synthesis and is a key process in the growth of muscular tissue. So, it is the hormonal make-up, not the actual muscular tissue that is the deciding factor in the difference in muscle growth between the sexes.

Myth #2: I’m trying to lose weight, so I don’t need to lift weights.

There is a perception by most individuals that the number on the scale determines an individual’s physical fitness. I am often confronted with the concern that, “I know muscle weighs more than fat, so if I lift weights I’ll gain weight.” Yes, muscle does weigh more than fat, but this is often irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Your weight does not matter! The proportion of your weight that is composed of body fat does! If you gain 5 pounds, but you drop from 28% body fat to 22%, I guarantee you will look better and feel healthier. Also, resistance training has been shown to aide in weight loss. During the day following resistance training, your body needs additional calories to repair the tissues involved in your training. Because of this, additional calories are expended, thus not only are you expending calories during resistance training, but you will continue to burn additional calories the following day. While weight training typically will not and should not be the main focus of a weight-loss program, it is still an area that should be addressed.

Myth #3: Weight lifting is bad for your joints.

Many people believe that if you stress your joints, you will automatically cause harm. If you are continually putting yourself in vulnerable positions by using poor technique, then yes, this is very true. However, if you are training properly, the stress exerted on your joints will actually have beneficial effects; even if you have osteoarthritis (OA) or osteoporosis. During the loading of a joint, the articular cartilage is compressed, which causes fluid to be released. When the compressive force is removed, the fluid is absorbed, which provides the cartilage with important nutrition. When the joint is not loaded routinely, the joint lacks nutrients, which can lead to degenerative changes eventually progressing to OA. Also, with decreased loading, fluid is not released in sufficient amount, thus removing an important lubricant and causing increased friction across the joint surfaces. Weight training is an important aspect of the management of osteoporosis and by stressing the bone through weight-bearing exercise; new bone can be laid down increasing or maintaining an individual’s bone mineral density.

References:

1. Baechle TR, Earle RW. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 3rd ed. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2008.
2. Mueller MJ, Maluf KS. Tissue Adaptation to Physical Stress: A Proposed “Physical Stress Theory” to Guide Physical Therapist Practice, Education, and Research. Physical Therapy, 2002, 82(4), 383–403.

Exercise Testing… What is it and why do I care?

Many trainers, let alone clients, do not fully understand the importance or purpose behind exercise testing. Many clients wonder, “why do I care what my body fat percentage or VO2max is?” These values, among others, allow a well-informed trainer to create an individualized and effective exercise program. Without knowing these parameters, a trainer is playing a guessing game trying to determine what their client needs, which can lead to missing a key area of potential improvement. Goal setting, both long-term and short-term, is nearly impossible without knowing where your client is starting and where they can reasonably progress in a given period of time. If a trainer makes the assumption that their client can look like they did in high school without taking into consideration their current fitness level, it can be a recipe for disappointment. These testing procedures also allow the client to see their progress over time, which is both a major motivational tool for the client and it gives the trainer the opportunity to see what is and is not working. If you can see your improvements aesthetically, internally, and quantitatively, you should be more inclined to stick with an exercise program.

So, what’s involved in the testing?

This is far from an all inclusive reference, but is meant to be more of a brief overview of the basics that should be involved. Other tests may be included or excluded based on the client’s preliminary goals (athletic performance, weight loss, muscular strength, ect.).

1. Resting Vital Signs

Included in this section are primarily resting measures of cardiovascular function. This typically includes resting heart rate and blood pressure. Heart rate is measured by palpating the radial artery and counting the number of beats felt during a one minute time frame. This can be used to identify abnormal heart rhythm or excess/diminished pumping of the heart. Blood pressure refers to the pressure exerted on the blood vessel walls during contraction/pumping (systolic) and rest/filling (diastolic) of the heart. This is the determining factor in diagnosing hypertension, which increases the risks of several serious conditions (stroke, retinopathy, heart disease, diabetes, ect.). Hypertension is defined as a systolic BP > 140 mmHg and/or a diastolic BP > 90 mmHg. These two assessments are typically the most simple to obtain, but their importance in determining an individual’s cardiovascular fitness and health cannot be overlooked.

2. Body Composition

Body weight, BMI (Body Mass Index), girth measures (hip and waist), and percent body fat are all components of a thorough body composition assessment. BMI is determined by comparing an individual’s body weight with their height. While this is a viable option for categorizing large groups of people, it is not a valid option for determining the composition of one individual because it does not take into consideration muscle mass or bone structure. For example, someone can have a body fat percentage of 5%, but be classified as obese because of their increased body weight due to muscle mass. The primary purpose for recording girth measurements is to determine an individual’s waist to hip ratio, which shows the proportion of body fat distributed in the abdomen. The greater the amount of relative body fat distributed in the upper body leads to a greater likelihood of developing hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, and coronary artery disease. The most telling measurement for body composition is percentage of body fat because it takes into consideration all aspects of an individual’s physical makeup. In general, the most practical way to determine body fat percentage is the use of skin fold calipers. This is because the proportion of sub-cutaneous (directly below the skin) fat directly correlates with total body fat.

3. Cardiovascular Fitness

Testing procedures will typically involve the use of a treadmill (walking or running), stationary bike, or step testing. The determination for mode of testing will be based on the client’s comfort with a specific activity, musculoskeletal limitations, or what is most readily available to the trainer. Regardless of the specific test, the purpose remains the same, to determine the maximal oxygen uptake of the client (VO2max). This measure is calculated by finding the relationship between a client’s heart rate and the specific workload at which it was elicited. This value represents an individual’s ability to utilize oxygen during exercise and is the “gold standard” for determining an individual’s cardiorespiratory endurance. This value can be obtained directly in a clinical graded exercise test that most accurately measures the physiological responses of the individual’s body. The direct measurement of maximal oxygen uptake is based on the equation VO2max = Q(A-VO2 diff). Q refers to cardiac output, which is the total amount of blood pumped through the body in one minute. While A-VO2 is the difference between arterial and venous oxygen content. While the direct measurement is the more accurate, it is not always practical due to the excessive cost and time requirement for client and patient alike. In most cases, a trainer will elect to use a field test to predict their client’s cardiovascular fitness. These tests can include running a predetermined distance/time at the client’s own pace or using a submaximal graded exercise test, which increases the intensity or speed at consistent intervals.

4. Muscular Endurance and Strength

Muscular endurance refers to an individual’s ability to lift a predetermined amount of weight as many times as possible while maintaining proper form and rhythm. This is typically achieved by performing as many push-ups, sit-ups, or repetitions of a specific weight for bench press or leg press. Whereas, muscular strength is the ability of an individual to lift the maximal amount of weight that they can for a predetermined number of repetitions, which is often called their one repetition max (1-RM). This value can be predicted using various equations/tables if an individual cannot physically handle the stress of a 1-RM test or adequate weights/equipment are not available. Both endurance and strength values are used to determine areas of weakness and in order to predict proper load for their resistance training program. This is typically determined based on a percentage of their 1-RM and is the most accurate prediction of proper training load. While determining the proper load based on 1-RM is not a perfect science, it does eliminate a lot of the trial and error involved in finding the appropriate weight for resistance training exercises.

5. Flexibility

Flexibility is an often-neglected area of an individual’s exercise program, however its importance cannot go unnoticed. Flexibility is an individual’s ability to move a joint through its complete range of motion (ROM). When one thinks of this measure, they typically are drawn to the vision of a ballet dancer or hockey goaltender, however it also has implications in everyone’s activities of daily living. Limited ROM can predispose an individual to musculoskeletal injury and disability with even the most simple of everyday tasks. Regardless of age or starting point, anyone can improve or maintain their flexibility with a safe and effective stretching routine. Base-line measures can show areas of impairment and needs for improvement, which allows for the creation of the most appropriate program.

Typical measures included in most flexibility testing include both the sit and reach for an assessment of general flexibility and goniometric measure for a more joint specific test. Both of these measures should be used for a thorough appraisal of flexibility.

The use of an exercise testing regimen gives both personal trainer and client a snapshot into all aspects of an individual’s physical fitness. By having this information in hand, a trainer and client can sit down and most efficiently improve any areas that may be deficient. Also, when routinely reassessing these measures, you can see first hand the progress that you are making during your exercise program. All of these measures are highly modifiable with proper exercise programming and nutritional counseling regardless of age, sex, or baseline level. When you can see a numerical value to work towards, it gives you more confidence and a sense of pride once your goal is achieved.

References:

1. Ehrman JK. ACSM’s Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.
2. Thompson W. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.
3. Reynolds M, Gordon T, and Robergs R. Prediction of One Repetition Maximum Strength from Multiple Repitition Maximum Testing and Anthropometry. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2006, 20(3), 584–592.
4. Wilmore JH, Girandola RN, Moody DL. Validity of skinfold and girth assessment for predicting alterations in body composition. Journal of Applied Physiology, 1970, 29 (3), 313-317.

Benefits of Exercise

So why should you exercise? Is it simply to have washboard abs or to impress the ladies? While these are two viable and common reasons to enter into a workout program, the benefits of exercise extend much further than aesthetic improvement.

There have been various studies performed showing improvements in levels of anxiety and depression due to increased physical activity. Through an individual’s increased self body image and feeling of accomplishment, it has been shown that their overall outlook on life improves as well. Also, following an acute training session, a person’s body releases the neurotransmitter beta-endorphin in greater quantity, which causes a feeling of euphoria (also known as ‘runner’s high’). Another neurotransmitter that is increased in concentration due to exercise is serotonin, which is primarily responsible for maintaining a balanced mood. These physiological adaptations are thought to be the main reason for the improvement of depression symptoms in individuals who engage in exercise programs.

Health-related benefits are plentiful and include improved cardiovascular endurance/health, body composition, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility. There has been sufficient evidence to suggest that there is a direct relationship linking increased physical activity levels to lower incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD), hypertension, stroke, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, obesity, colon cancer, breast cancer, anxiety, and depression. Chronic exercise leads decreased resting and exercise heart rate and blood pressure. Also, exercise leads to increased HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), decreased LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), reduced total body and intra-abdominal fat (CVD risk factor), and reduced insulin needs (diabetes). Most importantly, there has been a clearly documented relation between physical activity level and mortality rate. This means that there has been a direct link between length of life and exercise… Do you feel like this is enough reason to start your exercise program today?

References:

1. Ehrman JK. ACSM’s Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.
2. Cotman CW, Engesser-Cesar C. Exercise Enhances and Protects Brain Function. Exercise and Sport Sciences Review. 30(2): 75-79, 2002.