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Clarence Bass by Guy Appelman


FAQ 13 (Scroll for all articles)

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Flexibility: Stretching vs. Strength Training?

A: When I started training more than 65 years ago athletes were told not to lift weights, that it would make you muscle bound. It wasn't true, of course. Olympic weightlifters were and are some of the most flexible athletics in the world. Athletes in practically all sports now train with weights. The question remains, however, whether athletes should lift and stretch. "There's an old notion that if you do resistance training, you have to stretch those muscles too," James Whitehead, EdD, a researcher at the University of North Dakota, told WebMD. "It's a hangover to the myth that muscles lose flexibility as they get bigger." 

Many athletes, perhaps most, combine stretching and resistance training. That may not be necessary if you lift through a full range of motion. New research calls into question the idea that stretching improves flexibility more than resistance training.

My experience is that a general warm-up, a form of dynamic stretching, is helpful. Helpful in preparing your muscles and joints to lift. Improving flexibility is another matter.

Testing at the Cooper Clinic some years ago graded my flexibility "very good" to "excellent."

I attribute this to decades of lifting weights through a full range of motion.

I've never done static stretching.

Photo by Justin Joseph

An event years ago forever changed the role of weight training in athletics.

The Karpovich Conversion

Weight Training in Athletics (Prentice-Hall, 1956) a book by Jim Murray, a former Managing Editor of Strength and Health magazine and Peter V. Karpovich, MD, Research Professor of Physiology at Springfield College (MA), marked the turning point. I read it as a teenager; it still has an honored place in our library. It exposed the muscle bound myth and turned the tide of weight training in athletics. 

When Dr. Karpovich was a boy, he heard a story that a professional wrestler and strongman could not reach between his shoulder blades to scratch and had to pay a penny to a little boy to do the scratching. When Karpovich became a physician, he was strongly opposed to weight lifting as a result. An event some years later presented him with the opportunity to test the story.

Bob Hoffman, the publisher of Strength and Health magazine, visited Springfield College to give a lecture and a demonstration of weight training. He brought with him two-time Mr. America John Grimek and John Davis, a world champion Olympic weightlifter. During the question and answer period, Karpovich politely asked Hoffman to ask Mr. Grimek to scratch his back between the shoulder blades. After a stunned silence, Hoffman asked why he wanted Grimek to scratch his back. Dr. Karpovich explained that he had been told that weight lifters are so muscle-bound that they can't scratch their backs.

Murray and Karpovich wrote in their book what followed: 

"Well, John," said Hoffman, addressing Grimek, "oblige the doctor and scratch your back." And Grimek did, first with one hand, and then the other. He scratched from above the shoulder and then from below. Davis did the same.  The audience roared with laughter at the expense of Dr. Karpovich. 

Just getting started, they proceeded to do a series of gymnastic moves, including splits, backbends, handstands, and elbow touches.

This photo of John Grimek displaying amazing flexibility is taken from the Murray-Karpovich book.

The book was widely used as a college textbook for many years. Murray acknowledged that its success with educators and coaches would've been unlikely without Dr. Karpovich, who from then on promoted weight training in athletics.

Study Finds Resistance Training as Good or Better than Static Stretching

Only recently has there been a challenge to the common practice of combining RT and SS.

Finding no research pitting strength training against stretching for improving range of motion, Dr. Whitehead and colleagues compared the two techniques on key muscles and joints in 25 college-age volunteers and reported their results in the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research (December 2011).

Participants were randomly assigned to strength training or stretching programs focusing on hamstring muscles and hip, shoulder, and knee muscles and joints over five weeks. A control group of 12 other students did neither type of exercise.

The joint and muscle results are online. Here's the researcher's bottom line:

The results of this preliminary study suggest that carefully constructed full-range RT regimens can improve flexibility as well as the typical SS regimens employed in conditioning programs. Because of the potential practical significance of these results to strength and conditioning programs, further studies using true experimental designs, larger sample sizes, and longer training durations should be conducted with the aim of confirming or disproving these results.

Time to rethink stretching routines? I'd say so.

Grimek and Davis are gone, but the impact of their demonstration at Springfield College lives on. It's time for coaches and athletes to revisit the need for static stretching in strength training regimens.

December 1, 2018

Lifestyle Factors Influencing Testosterone?

A: Integrative Sexual Health (Oxford University Press, April 2018) a new book in the Weil Integrative Medicine Library, offers interesting insights in this area. Integrative medicine takes into account the whole person and all aspects of lifestyle. The stated goal is to combine the best ideas and practices of conventional and alternative medicine. In keeping with this concept, the authors come from different fields: Barbara Bartlik, MD, is a board certified psychiatrist; Geovanni Espinosa, ND, a naturopathic doctor; and Janet Mindes, PhD, a research psychologist/neuroscientist. Series editor, Andrew Weil, MD, is a Professor and the Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. Many others also contributed: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/integrative-sexual-health-9780190225889?cc=us&lang=en&#

The book may go a long way toward explaining why my testosterone level is in the upper range of normal (240-1035), while the average 80-year-old man will see his testosterone drop by 50 percent.

While the integrative approach to sexual health involves many factors that affect testosterone, the focus is on three.


The authors don't pull any punches, pointing out that all forms of exercise are not equal. Endurance exercise such as running marathons actually lowers testosterone, while strength training involving the large muscles of the back and legs can increase testosterone. "Deadlifts and Squats are excellent for this purpose," Dr. Espinosa told CNN contributor Ian Kerner, a licensed couples therapist. My thought is that sprint intervals also help to increase or maintain testosterone level. This would include running, rowing, the Ski Erg and the Airdyne, and other short duration, high intensity forms of exercise involving the large muscles of the body.


Diets that promote fat accumulation lower testosterone, according to Dr. Ronald Hoffman, who wrote the chapter on diet and testosterone. Fat cells soak up testosterone and make it less available, he explained.

"For peak testosterone production, some carbs are necessary, but preferably the slowly metabolized kind from high-fiber fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes," Hoffman told CNN's Kerner. As I wrote in Ripped many years ago, a balanced diet of whole foods is the key to staying lean.


Sleep is important for optimal levels of testosterone, most of which is produced after 5 hours of sleep, according the authors. This could explain the recent surge in my testosterone level. With the help of my Fitbit, I am now averaging more than eight hours of sleep. Some nights I sleep better than others, but my average is the best since my teen years.

For a long time I read in bed until sleep came, ignoring the advice to use the bed for sleep and sex only. I now read in a comfortable chair in our bedroom until I feel sleepy. If I can't go to sleep, I get back up and read some more until sleep comes. IT WORKS. I should've tried it long ago.

I also try to go to bed and get up at the same time. It doesn't always work, but I'm getting pretty good at it.

Another key is to choose your night time reading material carefully. I'm now reading Tom MacDonald's Murder In The Charlestown Bricks, the fourth in his Dermot Sparhawk crime series. It makes me happy and puts me in the mood to go to sleep. I'm careful to find an appropriate time to put the book down and go to sleep. If it upsets me I read on until I come to something that calms me.

Tom asked my permission to include a character with my name. I've just come to that section. I won't spoil it for those planning to read the book, but I will tell you that he describes me and lays out my background--and then massages the details to fit the story line. He does a marvelous job using his imagination and storytelling ability to create the profile he wants. It's hard to go to sleep when you're smiling ear to ear. 

*  *  *

Finally, Integrative Sexual Health tells us that low T is no longer just for older men. It can happen at any age. Strength training, healthy eating, and good sleep habits work at any age.

Testosterone replacement therapy should be a last resort. It can have worrisome side effects, such as decreased sperm production and shrinkage of the testicles. "Testosterone, like all hormones, has multiple action on many body functions and on the mind," Dr. Weil tells us. "In my opinion, it should be taken--and prescribed--only to correct a deficiency documented by appropriate blood tests."

December 1, 2018

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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