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Clarence Bass by Guy Appelman


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Why Is Strength Training So Complicated?

A: That may be a problem if you dwell on all the different forms and methods of resistance training. But not if you look on the different approaches as options--a good thing--keeping in mind that the key factor in building strength is overload or exerting yourself beyond what you are accustomed. We have a new study from the UK that illustrates that point. Another study looks at the effort required to combat the effects of sedentary living late in life.

Both studies show that effective exercise does not have to be complicated. Overload is the overriding factor.

The first study evaluates Time-Under-Load (TUL) as a variable in strength training; it refers to repetition duration, how long it takes to lift and lower a weight.

A team of U.S. and British researchers, led by Professor James P. Fisher, Southhampton Solent University in England, tested the effect of TUL on strength, body composition, muscle size, and fasting blood sugar. "The purpose of this study was to compare load, and TUL matched groups performing resistance exercise using different repetition durations," they wrote in introducing the study. In other words, they zeroed in on the duration of each repetition.

Fifty-nine male and female participants were randomized into 3 groups: a control group lifting at a normal speed, a slow group, and a very slow group.

Following two different routines emphasizing the chest press, leg press, and pull down, the subjects performed nine exercises to "momentary failure," which took about 12 reps in the control group, four or five in the slow group, and only one lift in the very slow group. The total TUL was 90 seconds for all three groups.

All participants were experience trainers and lifted twice a week.

After 10 weeks, subjects in all three group showed significant strength increases in all exercises, but no between-group differences in strength or other variables.

"Repetition duration does not affect the increase in strength in trained participants where exercise is performed to momentary failure," the researchers concluded.

"Our paper showed that you don't need to spend two hours in the gym five times a week, as many people think," Dr. Fisher told Washington Post writer Amby Burfoot. "Even trained individuals continue to make gains with less than an hour a week," he continued. "My own workouts take less than 20 minutes, twice a week."

"The main message," Fisher told Burfoot, "is that resistance training can be relatively simple and still effective. It doesn't have to get complicated by various training methods and protocols."

Overload is the key. You can lift at any pace you enjoy--short of heaving the weight--but it is important to continue each set until you can't do another rep in good form.

Exercising for LIFE

The Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) Study by Tufts University Professor Roger A. Fielding and colleagues is the largest and longest randomized study of older adult exercise.

Participants ranging in age from 70 to 89 years, considered at high risk for mobility disorders, were randomized to exercise or study groups. Exercise sessions involved 30 minutes of walking, strength training focused primarily on the legs, 10 minutes of balance training, and flexibility exercises for large muscle groups. A goal of 150 minutes weekly was set for the exercise group. Initial results showed a significant reduction in risk of physical disability in the exercise group, even in those with a lower level of functioning at the start of the study. This prompted a follow-up analysis to determine the amount of exercise required to achieve improvements in physical functioning.

The secondary study showed that participants whose physical activity increased the most had the most improvements in outcomes such as mobility and walking speed. A pleasant surprise was that clinically meaningful reductions in risks of physical disability occurred with an increase of just one exercise session per week. A fraction of the 150 minute standard.

"Our analysis showed that the required amount of exercise to achieve substantial benefits for older adults at risk for physical disability is relatively small--only 56 minutes weekly," Fielding told Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter. "Even a small increase in the amount of weekly exercise can have substantial benefits," he continued.

"When it comes to getting moving, it seems there really is no such thing as too little, too late," the Health Letter concluded.

For inactive oldsters almost any amount of exercise constitutes overload--activity beyond what they are used to. The first step leads to another and another. Progress brings more activity and more mobility.

November 1, 2018

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