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1st Sep

2016

Exercise Science: How to Improve Strength Without High Intensity Exercise

Now that the summer officially ends this Labor Day weekend, ending vacation time for many, and children returning to school, it is time to again get disciplined about exercising on a regular basis. As an article in the latest issue of Time Magazine correctly stated, exercise is medicine, and perhaps the most effective way to improve our health and quality of life.

In this newsletter, I will touch on new exciting research on how to gain strength, without subjecting ourselves to weight training with heavy loads. This is in particular important as we age, as we start to lose muscle cells and strength from the fifth-sixth decade of life onward. We also know that we lose more fast twitch fibers, responsible for strength, as we age.

It is well known, that performing resistance training with heavy loads, progressing to at least 80% of maximal resistance, and performed with up to 10 repetitions, results in significant increase in muscle strength. However, this form of training is not only not favored by older people, and typically results in poor training adherence, but it may also potentially be harmful in cases of uncontrolled hypertension or cardiovascular diseases, or degenerative joint or disc disease-present in the vast majority of older individuals.

After conducting an exhausting analysis of the exercise literature, researchers out of Spain this year concluded that even light to moderate resistance training produces significant increase in muscle strength, only slightly less than after high resistance training, as long as sufficient exercise repetitions are being performed. These authors quoted studies using exercise resistance as low as 45% of maximal resistance, as being sufficient. Based on existing knowledge, resistance in the range 50-60% of maximum may be even more effective, which most people would be able to perform in 2-3 sets of 25 repetitions.

Other research studies in the recent past, have found similar gains in strength, if blood flow to the muscles is being restricted by applying pressure cuffs to the muscles, while exercising with even less resistance, as little as 20% of maximum. This produces significant muscle fatigue, and results in activation of all muscle fibers, including of fast twitch muscles. However, this type of training belongs primarily in the research laboratory.

Exercise physiology has taught us, that in order to produce such muscle fatigue with resistance training, we need to perform many repetitions, around 20-25 to significant fatigue, and without rest in between repetitions. Constant muscle contraction quickly shuts down the blood flow to the muscles, and blood circulation does not return until we stop a contraction. Such conscious muscle tension throughout both the shortening and lengthening phases of contraction makes the tissues acidic, and is a stimulus to grow new blood vessels in the muscle. Such capillarization exercise thus is now being shown to not only improve muscle endurance, but also strength.

Therefore, the key here appears to be the rest, or rather the lack of rest, that we allow during the exercise set, performed with high repetitions. Then, we get stronger even without using heavy weights, which is safer as we age.

One note worth making: This exercise dosage is not the medicine we need when first starting rehabilitation exercise after an injury, or when we have much pain and muscle guarding. We then need slower exercise with complete rest between each repetition (the weight comes down), to allow for the blood to circulate and bring oxygen to the tissues. Only as the condition improves do we progress the exercise dosage, as described, to increase the formation of small blood vessels, called capillaries. So remember, exercise is like medicine prescribed by your physician: The type of medicine and the dosage, determine the effect it will have on you.

As you can see on the bottom of this letter, it’s easy to forward this letter to others, if you would like. For those of you who may have missed this information, I am now in solo practice a few blocks away from where we were before in Scripps Ranch, and I have it set up so that I can spend at least a full hour of completely uninterrupted time with every person, which is very exciting and effective.

I will continue to stay up on the latest research, and of course, put it into practice. Give me a call, or email me, if you want my help or if you have questions.

Best wishes for continued good health,

Gunnar

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