The Impact of Strength Training and Inflammation

the impact of strength training and inflammation

woman with her hand on her knee hurting from inflammation
woman with her hand on her knee hurting from inflammation

It’s the reason why omega-3 fatty acid supplements have become popular in recent years.

It’s one of the major reasons why we floss. It’s a big detriment of smoking.

It’s the target of medications taken for arthritis, headaches, and menstrual pain.

Inflammation is one of the major players in the development of heart disease (some medical professionals think it’s the primary cause).

It’s a sign of atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes developments.

The list goes on and on…

Related Post: Strength And Your Health

We use the term “inflammation” often, but what exactly is inflammation?

Inflammation is a sign that the body is trying to heal itself. When inflamed, our bodies are trying to remove or destroy an unwanted presence, such as foreign bacteria, or we are repairing damaged tissue.


Inflammation is good when the body attempts to heal itself and is successful…


However, it can become destructive when it’s not able to eliminate the cause of irritation and triggers disorders such as arthritis, autoimmune disorders or more serious illnesses like cancer.

Signs & Symptoms of Inflammation

Common signs of inflammation are swelling, redness, heat, and pain. But inflammation in the body can also show up in some unexpected ways. Below are some inflammatory responses to look out for:

Joint pain

The most common symptom people experience is sore joints, particularly in the knees, shoulders, and elbows. One easy way to understand if pain you’re experiencing is inflammatory is if it's been diagnosed with anything that ends in “itis.” Such as bursitis, arthritis, tendinitis, etc.

Headaches

If you're somebody who experiences headaches or migraines on a chronic or regular basis, that could be a result of inflammation in your body.

Skin breaking out

Breaking out with pimples on your face, or experiencing itchiness, eczema, and rashes are signs of inflammation.

Weight gain

Unexplained weight gain, puffiness or bloating can be responses, particularly to inflammatory foods.

Digestive issues

Gastrointestinal complications and chronic tummy troubles are signs of an inflamed gut.

Allergy-like symptoms

Runny nose, itchy eyes, coughing and sneezing may not be symptoms of an allergy, but inflammation.

Depression

Anxiety, mood disorders, and depression have been linked to chronic inflammation [2].

Fatigue

Feeling really tired or lethargic, experiencing insomnia, having trouble sleeping are common signs.

Frequent infections

Experiencing frequent infections can be a result of long-term inflammation.

Acute vs Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation can be acute or chronic, and the difference is critical. Examples of acute scenarios are sore throats, cuts on our skin, or irritated gums (which is why we floss, to prevent irritants). Acute inflammation is immediate but lasts for a few days or weeks.


Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is a major issue. This occurs when an acute situation lingers, an autoimmune problem exists, or when there is some other chronic irritant. Chronic is the type found with heart disease and type 2 diabetes.


Both acute and chronic can be localized in the body, but inflammation which affects the entire state of the body is known as systemic inflammation.


We measure inflammation by looking at cytokines.

What are cytokines?

Cytokines are proteins that influence the survival and proliferation of immune cells. They also have a key role in initiating the inflammatory response. Some cytokines are anti-inflammatory and some are pro-inflammatory.


Also, C-reactive protein (CRP) is another substance produced by the liver that indicates systemic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is considered as a sustained two-to-three fold increase in some cytokines and CRP.

Strength Training and Inflammation

Flossing, omega-3 fatty acid intake, and low-intensity physical activity help decrease systemic inflammation. However, strength training’s impact on inflammation isn’t as well known.


Researchers at the University of Connecticut recently analyzed the few studies that do exist on the relationship between the two [1].


Microscopic muscle damage occurs during strength training, especially during the lowering phase of a repetition. The researchers found a variety of results with strength training and inflammation….

Does Lifting Weights Cause Inflammation?

As a result of workout-induced muscle damage, inflammation rises in the short term, and the production of several cytokines increases (although not all are pro-inflammatory).


As a whole, the cytokines released right after strength training have two major responsibilities: repair the muscle damage and regulate new muscle growth. Both are positive responses.

Does Weight Training Reduce Inflammation?

Fortunately, strength training also actually improves chronic inflammation. A 12-month study using strength training with overweight women averaging 39 years old showed a decrease in CRP.


A nine-week study featuring young men and women training with heavier weight loads caused a decrease in one pro-inflammatory cytokine.


Strength training also improved CRP in a three-month study with old and young populations. These were just some of the positive results reported by the University of Connecticut researchers.


The researchers did note that intensity was a key factor. A seven-week study of young men showed that heavy resistance strength training improved two anti-inflammatory cytokines to a greater extent than lighter weight strength training. Another important factor was rest. According to one study, when adequate rest isn’t achieved, exercise can be pro-inflammatory.


What is the mechanism causing strength training to benefit chronic inflammation? The researchers stated that muscle gained from strength training increases the body’s daily energy expenditure (metabolism) and insulin sensitivity (a state key to preventing diabetes), and both of those results decrease the requirement for pro-inflammatory cytokines and CRP.

Should You Strength Train or Not With Inflammation?

Overall, strength training increases some acute inflammation markers by breaking down muscle tissue, but those markers lead to long term health benefits by rebuilding the muscle stronger.

Therefore, strength training’s positive effects on chronic inflammation levels are probably part of why it is shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

To maximize your health gains, eat well, train with a challenging strength training program (like slow-motion training!), and get adequate rest between your workouts.

If you want more information on how to incorporate slow-motion strength training into your workout routine, we have a free introductory session. If you’d like to know more about how to work with a trainer online, get a free consultation call with a Personal Trainer.

1. Calle, M. C., & Fernandez, M. L. (2010). Effects of resistance training on the inflammatory response. Nutrition research and practice, 4(4), 259-269.


2. Lee, C. H., & Giuliani, F. (2019). The Role of Inflammation in Depression and Fatigue. Frontiers in immunology, 10, 1696. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2019.01696

Your Best Chance at Quickly Recovering from Surgery… Or Avoiding it Altogether

Prehab Is Your Best Chance At Quickly Recovering From Surgery

“When my doctor gave me two choices about the pain in my right shoulder- Either live with it or have surgery, I felt hopeless.”- Sherry Chriss, client.

Facing surgery is scary and quite common for a lot of adults. Although every surgery can’t be avoided, one solution to prepare for a swift recovery and potentially avoiding surgery altogether is slow-motion strength training. We call this prehab or “prehabilitation” and it’s happening in our studios and virtual training sessions every day.

Prehab for Total Knee Replacement

One of the most common surgical procedures our clients face is a Total Knee Replacement (TKRs), and they are as popular as ever. More than 381,000 TKRs take place every year, and researchers expect that number to grow six-fold in the next 20 years [1].

The surgery can be very helpful as it enables people with severe knee osteoarthritis to decrease or eliminate their pain while improving their functional ability. However, a TKR also leads to a period of inactivity during recovery, and that inactivity has drawbacks. People lose about 60% of their quadriceps strength within the first month following surgery.

Considering that information, it’s no surprise that people with TKRs have demonstrated slower walking and stair-climbing speeds when compared to their peers.

Medical Diagram of a before and after total knee replacement

Studies Show...

Researchers at the University of Louisville conducted a study comparing people who “prehabbed” against those who did not (control group) for five months prior to surgery. Like our clients, the individuals who strength trained fared very well.

The exercise group trained three times per week prior to the surgery, including exercises such as the leg curl and leg extension. Following the surgery, both groups received the same physical therapy.

Watch one of our clients on the Leg Extension! 

Before the surgery, strength training prevented knee pain from increasing and improved the participants’ functional abilities like getting up from a chair, walking speed, and stair-climbing speed.

One month after the surgery, the control group experienced losses in quadricep strength and walking speed, whereas the exercise group did not (when compared to baseline tests). Three months later, functional ability and strength in the operated leg were greater in the exercise group. 

Overall, the study found quadriceps strength was associated with greater functional ability and less knee pain. Researchers in a study out of the University of Delaware found the same connections when monitoring quadriceps strength days before and one year after a TKR [2].

They also noticed that quadriceps strength before surgery also predicts dynamic balance a year after surgery. Dynamic balance is tested by seeing how quickly a person can stand from a chair, walk around a sharp turn, and then return to the chair.

Balance and strength are some of the most important benefits of slow-motion strength training, especially in older adults who fear falling.

How Long Do You Prehab For?

If a TKR or any other major joint surgery is in your future, you might wonder how long you should train for prior to the procedure. As mentioned, the study included five months of prehabilitation, although we have clients who have only trained for 3 months leading up to their surgery and still experienced a quick and less-painful recovery period. Obviously, the earlier you start, the more strength you will build prior to surgery.

The process of strengthening before a surgery just makes sense. The joints are healthier when their surrounding muscles are stronger. Strength training before a joint replacement surgery allows you the opportunity to build healthier joints and muscles that you will simply work to maintain after surgery, instead of having to build them for the first time.

If a surgery like TKR is in your future, or you want to do whatever you can to avoid one, slow-motion strength training is the solution.

Clients Who Have Avoided Surgery:

In addition to those who have prehabbed before surgery, we’ve helped many people prevent injuries and avoid surgery altogether.

Michael Slosek

Michael, 66, had been told by his doctor that he needed a hip replacement. He also wanted to lose weight, gain overall strength and stamina, and a 20 minute workout was very appealing to him. Michael’s strength training results speak for themselves:

  • No longer has back or hip problems
  • Has more energy and stronger muscles
  • Able to hit the golf ball 20-30 yards further at the driving range
  • Has been able to avoid hip replacement surgery


“The Perfect Workout has a great thing going. You feel like you have a workout when you come here. I’ll continue to do it.”

Mary Jane Bartee

When you have medical conditions like fibromyalgia, osteopenia, and pelvic prolapse, you’re going to be very careful about exercise. “Anything that’s fast-moving and aggressive aggravates it,” says Mary Jane (MJ) Bartee. Slow, safe movement is what first appealed to her about slow-motion strength training. MJ’s strength training results are nothing short of fantastic:

  • Her most recent bone density test showed that her osteopenia is gone
  • The pain from her other conditions is more manageable, resulting in less medication
  • Her pelvic prolapse has greatly improved, to the point where the doctors aren’t talking about surgery anymore


“It’s quick and accommodating,” says MJ. “20 minutes and I’m done. It’s something I do for myself, and as long as I’m functioning as well as I am, I’ll stick with it.”

Her Story of injury prevention

Sherry Chriss

After unsuccessful physical therapy and cortisone shots for an injured shoulder, Sherry was desperate for an alternative to surgery. She was also distraught about the effects of menopause, including loss of bone density, decreased upper body strength, and weak legs. A year after she began strength training at The Perfect Workout:

  • Sherry’s bone density scan improved, surprising even her doctor.
  • She no longer has shoulder pain, and no longer needs surgery.


“I enjoyed it right off the bat, and little did I know how fantastic it would turn out to be. My husband and I have both seen great results, so we’re committed to doing The Perfect Workout for the rest of our lives!”

Don’t wait for post-surgery to start building up strength. In fact, surgery may not be necessary if you take action now. It only takes 20 minutes, twice a week and you’ll get a lifetime workout guaranteed to get you stronger.

  1. Topp, R., Swank, A. M., Quesada, P. M., Nyland, J., & Malkani, A. (2009). The effect of prehabilitation exercise on strength and functioning after total knee arthroplasty. PM&R, 1(8), 729-735.
  1. Mizner, R. L., Petterson, S. C., Stevens, J. E., Axe, M. J., & Snyder-Mackler, L. (2005). Preoperative quadriceps strength predicts functional ability one year after total knee arthroplasty. The Journal of rheumatology, 32(8), 1533-1539.

The Secret to A Successful Workout

The Secret To a Successful workout

Woman experiencing muscle failure

The secret to a successful workout is…

NOT the equipment.
NOT the cold water in between exercises.
NOT even the incredible Trainers. 😲

Though all of those things can vastly improve the quality of your workout, the true secret to getting everything you want out of a training session is this-

Muscle Success.

In this article we discuss the necessity of achieving temporary muscle failure in your workouts and why it's the ultimate goal of every exercise you ever do.

“Muscle Success” should be your goal every time you workout.

By muscle success you might think I mean better tone, firmer muscles, greater strength, or more lean muscle tissue that burns extra calories. Each of those certainly represents a type of success, but I'm referring to something else by the term “muscle success.”

So what do I mean by “muscle success”?

You're pushing or pulling as hard as you can, and the weight refuses to budge even a fraction of an inch because your muscles have become so fatigued. You're attempting to make the weight move, but it's momentarily impossible for you to do so.

If you continue maximally pushing or pulling for several more seconds to make sure you're really at this point of muscle success, you'll have achieved deep momentary fatigue in the targeted muscles. 

Play Video

Why is Muscle Success Important?

It’s when the greatest benefits for your body are stimulated. This deep momentary fatigue in the muscle sends a strong signal to your body that it needs to get stronger, improve muscle tone, and increase your metabolism.

Within certain limits, the deeper you momentarily fatigue your muscles, the greater the changes you stimulate in your body.

But this isn’t exactly easy to achieve on your own. It's certainly a lot easier to quit each set of repetitions before you reach muscle success. Which is why working with a Personal Trainer is so beneficial.

Fatiguing down to this success point during a set of repetitions is not fun while you're actually doing it. It's uncomfortable. Your muscles often vibrate and burn. But it's the best thing you can do to generate results from your training.

The fun part is that each full body workout is only 20 minutes and results that are stimulated from achieving muscle success on each exercise are enormous: 

  1. Greater strength 
  2. More endurance 
  3. Additional calorie-burning lean muscle tissue 
  4. Reversing age related muscle loss (sarcopenia) 
  5. Increased metabolism for how many calories 
  6. Improved fat loss 
  7. Stronger bones 
  8. Reversing aging of muscle cells (express younger DNA in the nuclei) 
  9. Improved cardiovascular fitness 
  10. Improved cholesterol levels 
  11. Lower blood pressure 
  12. Improved low back pain
  13. Better blood sugar control you burn even while you're resting 
  14. Improved immune system 
  15. A number of other benefits 
reasons why muscle success, Man experiencing muscle failure

Even more benefits

I’d like to discuss two benefits of muscle success which aren’t talked about as often: cardiovascular health and an objective way to track your progress. 

The Journal of Exercise Physiology examined the same topic which looked at 157 studies, focused on the cardiovascular benefits provided by strength training to muscle success. 

While strength training in general provides several improvements to the cardiovascular system, the authors noted that many benefits are received or amplified only when training to muscle success. 

For example, after three months of training, men and women of various ages had enduring improvements in overall blood flow due to muscle success. Training to complete exhaustion increased artery size in another study. This is positive as larger arteries are less likely to experience a heart attack-causing blockage in the same way that adding lanes to a highway reduces the chances of having a traffic jam. 

Pushing to muscle success also increases the ability of arteries to expand when blood flow increases, which reduces the stress experienced by artery walls. 

Training to muscle success benefits your health in ways that may not occur if you train with lower intensity and don’t reach that point. 

Muscle Failure infographic

performance tracking

Also, you gain the benefit of an objective assessment of your performance. 

If you reach muscle success when lifting 200 pounds in 60 seconds on the leg press, we have measures of your current ability in regards to your leg and hip strength. 

If you arbitrarily stopped at 60 seconds (sick of feeling “the burn,” bored, etc.), the time you lifted for doesn’t provide us with any objective information. 

Who knows how much longer you could have performed the set for? 

If you train for 70 seconds the following session, we cannot say it’s an improvement – you may have been capable of that performance during your previous visit.

As you see, in addition to improvements in strength and appearance, muscle success stimulates greater changes in your cardiovascular system and gives you a way to objectively measure your progress. Therefore, the next time you encounter the discomfort of the last few reps, keep pushing. I promise: the extra effort is worth it. 

Muscle failure workout data
muscle failure graph for chest press

the magic happens at fatigue

I've experienced firsthand the difference that achieving muscle success can make. Prior to stumbling upon slow-motion strength training in 1992, I used to exercise with traditional methods of weight training for 2 hours a day, 6 days a week – 12 total hours of exercise per week. 

I would rarely (if ever) fatigue to the point of muscle success on any of my exercises -lengthy workouts require pacing yourself with a lower level of effort, which reduces how intensely you're able to train. 

When I tried slow-motion strength training I learned to fatigue all the way to muscle success on every set of each workout, and my results improved dramatically as a result. 

Muscle Failure-Matt Hedman Founder

My superior results were because I'd learned to make my muscles work harder. The higher intensity-pushing harder at the end of each exercise stimulated much better improvements in my body. And because my effort and intensity were significantly higher than before, by necessity my workouts had to be shorter. 

I advocate moving very slowly during every weight training repetition (approximately 10 seconds to lift the weight on each rep). But for results, fatiguing to the point of muscle success is actually more important than how slowly you move. 

Moving slowly during strength training is beneficial for great results too. It's just that reaching muscle success plays an even bigger role for results. Ideally you want to both achieve muscle success and move very slowly on every exercise. 

On each of your exercises as you near muscle success and your repetitions start to get challenging, try to cultivate a mindset of looking forward to the burning and shaking sensations you're experiencing. It’s where the magic happens!

Reference 

Steele, J., Fisher, J., McGuff, D., Bruce-Low, S., & Smith, D. (2012). Resistance training to momentary muscular failure improves cardiovascular fitness in humans: a review of acute physiological responses and chronic physiological adaptations. J Exerc Physiol15, 53-80.

Depression & Anxiety Reduced in 20 Minutes

Depression & anxiety reduced in 20 minutes

If you feel stressed, anxious, or sad during this quarantine/COVID-19 period, you are part of the majority.

Fortunately, you have the power to improve and maintain your own mental health.

Several activities have been proven to reduce anxiety and improve overall mood. One of these is… a 20-minute strength training session! (Come on…you knew I was going to say that, right?)

The CDC recently reported that the coronavirus period is adding stress manifested in several ways, including difficulty with sleeping and/or concentration, changes in sleep patterns, fear about your own and/or others’ health, and increased alcohol or tobacco use.

Here is what we know about how strength training can help your mental health:

  1. For people with existing health issues, a strength training program reduces depressive symptoms and improves overall mood (1).
  2. Strength training decreases the severity of depression for those with diagnosed depression (1,2).
  3. As little as eight weeks of strength training works for reducing depression (2).
  4. Training two or three times per week is shown to reduce depression (1,2).
  5. A decrease in anxiety and improvement in overall mood can be seen as quickly as five minutes after the workout is over (3).
  6. A single strength training workout can significantly decrease anxiety (3,4).

A few weeks of strength training, at least twice per week, can reduce depression. A single strength training session can elevate your mood and greatly improve your anxiety level.

More importantly, please remember to take care of yourself. Your physical and mental health are worth investing time in, especially now.

Strength train AND take part in other activities that reduce your stress and add happiness: connect with your family, spend time outdoors, create time for your favorite hobbies, and aim to regularly get enough sleep. This is a stressful time, but remember that you have the power to control your stress level.

  1. Brosse, A.L., Sheets, E.S., Lett, H.S., & Blumenthal, J.A. (2002). Exercise and the treatment of clinical depression in adults: recent findings and future directions. Sports Medicine, 32(12), 741-760.
  2. Stanton, R., Reaburn, P., & Happell, B. (2013). Is cardiovascular or resistance exercise better to treat patients with depression? A narrative review. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 34, 531-538.
  3. Bibeau, W.S., Moore, J.B., Mitchell, N.G., Vargas-Tonsing, T., & Bartholomew, J.B. (2010). Effects of acute resistance training of different intensities and rest periods on anxiety and affect. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(8), 2184-2191.
  4. Broman-Fulks, J.J., Kelso, K., & Zawilinski, L. (2015). Effects of a single bout of aerobic exercise versus resistance training on cognitive vulnerabilities for anxiety disorders. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

Strength Training for Those At-Risk of Heart Disease & Diabetes

Strenght Training for those at-risk of heart disease & diabetes

strength training for those at high risk

Over 18 million US. adults have Heart Disease,

34.2 million have diabetes.

There are countless medications out there to treat them both.

We're prescribing a “medication” for those who are at risk of developing either one.. and it may not be what you think.

“Metabolic syndrome” is a phrase health professionals and researchers use to classify people who are at risk for developing heart disease or diabetes. While it’s not something that requires medication to treat, it’s a status that needs attention. A person with metabolic syndrome has unhealthy levels in most of the following: lipids (cholesterol) and triglycerides (fats) in the bloodstream, blood glucose, blood pressure, and waist size.

There is a “medication” that can improve all metabolic syndrome measures (and I think you know where I’m going with this): strength training…and specifically using The Perfect Workout formula!

slow speed, ideal intensity, muscle use

Researchers from Seoul, South Korea, tested this in a study published in 2016. Adults with metabolic syndrome participated in time-efficient strength training sessions twice per week. The workouts required 30 minutes or less. (Does this sound familiar?)

Before and after, the researchers measured all factors related to metabolic syndrome in these people labeled as high risk. Here’s what happened:

  • Triglycerides decreased by 25%.
  • HDLs, or good cholesterol, increased by 5%.
  • Waist size and systolic blood pressure both decreased by 4%.
  • Blood sugar, which was at a healthy level to start with, dropped by 3%.
  • Grip strength and muscle mass were both enhanced, with muscle mass increasing by about 10%.

Furthermore, the training was safe. 94% of the original participants completed the entire program, and no injuries were noted.

While not all of the changes were large, changes in all of those important health measures accumulate to a meaningful change in health risk. Reductions in triglycerides, waist, blood pressure, and blood glucose, with an increase in HDLs, are likely to significantly reduce the overall risk of developing diabetes or heart disease. Also, the training led to desirable side effects: more strength and muscle!

male client with female trainer doing a leg press on a machine

If you or your loved ones have seen elevated blood pressure, blood glucose, or waist measurements in recent years, these could be signs of being on a path towards disease diagnosis. The research results show a clear option to reverse course: strength train twice per week for less than 30 minutes per workout.

Yoon, D.H., Song, H.S., Hwang, S.S., Son, J.S., Kim, D.Y., & Song, W. (2016). The effect of circuit training and workplace improvement program on the prevention of metabolic syndrome and the improvement of physical function in office workers. Korean Journal of Health Promotion, 16(2), 134-143.

Diabetes Research Institute Foundation

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Reducing Sports Injury Risk

reducing sports injury risk

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, football participation in California and Texas has increased steadily for years…until the last two years. Football participation is decreasing in many states over the last two years. This is hardly a surprise. The last few years have also featured numerous stories about NFL players suffering torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL), concussions, and there was a lawsuit where former NFL players sued the league over inadequate warning for concussion risk.

In the 2011-2012 school year, there were nearly 1.4 million estimated sports-related injuries in high schools across the United States (according to the National High School-Related Sports Injury Surveillance Study). While football led the way, sports such as soccer, basketball, and wrestling also produce tens of thousands of injuries per year. How do we protect our kids from athletic injuries? How can we make sports safer?

In addition to looking at changes within the sports themselves, we can also properly prepare the participants. Strength training has demonstrated a clear ability to reduce injury risk for young athletes in research. A review of research from the Journal of Sports Medicine mentioned seven studies with high school athletes that found that a strength training program reduced injury rates in various sports. This is likely due to several reasons. As a bonus, strength training is relatively safe for kids and poses little injury risk itself.

Athletic injuries occur when the force placed on the body exceeds the force our bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments can withstand. In sports, these forces are often uncontrollable…especially with young athletes. An athlete can safely and effectively move around the field or court, but that still doesn’t stop another player from accidentally crashing into the athlete or misplacing a foot under an athlete as he or she is landing from a jump. Of course, collision isn’t always necessary. For example, even just running can lead to a strained hamstring or front thigh muscle.

Strength training prepares the athletic body to sustain many of these forces. Strength training increases bone strength as well as connective tissue strength, which reduces the risk of bone fractures or tears in tendons or ligaments. Strength training increases muscle size and strength. As an athlete becomes stronger, his or her muscles support more force, which helps during common movements such as jumping and running. In fact, long distance runners are known to adopt strength training to reduce lower body injuries.

The Journal of Sports Medicine review also mentioned strength training as a safe option for young athletes. According to one study, strength training with 13-16-year old boys led to just 3.5 injuries for every 10,000 hours of participation. Another study said strength training was responsible for less than one percent of high school sports injuries each year. From the results of seven studies, the researchers stated, “injury occurrence (with resistance training) in children and adolescents was either very low or nil.”

Strength training physically develops muscles, bones, and connective tissues. As a result of strength training, these various tissues are more able to withstand the various forces on the body that are experienced with athletics. As a bonus, strength training is comparatively very safe. Injury risk is extremely low in general and when compared to other sports. At this point, I imagine the only question parents have about strength training with their youngsters is, “What are we waiting for?!”

  1. Faigenbaum, A. D., & Myer, G. D. (2010). Resistance training among young athletes: safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. British journal of sports medicine, 44(1), 56-63.

The Ab Crunch: Looks, Form, and Function

the ab crunch: looks, form and function

the rectus abdominis, or "abs,"...

are the muscles many of us would like people to see when in a bathing suit. And besides the aesthetics aspect, they are also an important muscle group for function. The ab crunch machine trains the abs as well as another pair of important muscles. However, performing this exercise requires attention to detail. There is a small difference between proper execution and lower back strain with the ab crunch. In this article, we’ll discuss all of those details.

The rectus abdominis starts at the bottom of the sternum (chest bone) and the front of the ribs in that area. It runs down to the top of your pubic bone (part of the pelvic girdle), which is just above your genitals. The main function of this muscle is to pull your spine into a ‘C’ shape, bringing your chest and midsection closer together.

Of course, the abs are most known because of the “six pack.” A “six pack” has that appearance because of connective tissue. As the abs flow from the ribs to the pelvic girdle, there are three segments of connective tissue in the middle. This where the “six pack” gets its upper, middle, and lower portions. Also, a sheet of connective tissue (linea alba) runs vertically, splitting the abs in half, causing the appearance of six muscles as opposed to three. Secondary muscles in the ab crunch are the external and internal obliques. The obliques are located in the area that many refer to as their “love handles.” (We’re covering all of the fun stuff today.)

Performing the ab crunch regularly to the muscle exhaustion point of “muscle success” will help your abs and obliques become stronger and more aesthetically noticeable. However, I have to warn you: Seeing your midsection muscles is largely a result of low body fat levels. The less fat between your skin and your abdominal muscles, the easier it is to see definition in your abs. And losing body fat is mainly a result of positive dietary changes. Your desire to see your abs may beckon a change to your diet even more than the use of the ab crunch machine.

Believe it or not, the rectus abdominis does not exist only to make you look good in a bathing suit. It is also functionally significant. The abs are critical muscles for respiration and child birth. In addition, they are major stabilization muscles. In regards to stabilization, every exercise or sports movement focuses on a small group of joints. For example, throwing a baseball mainly involves the elbow and shoulder joints. For this to occur with optimal efficiency and effectiveness, muscles in various parts of the body contract to hold other parts of your body relatively still. Your abs are one of the most common and important stabilization muscles.

I mentioned previously that the abs work to pull your chest and midsection closer together, causing your spine to curl into a ‘C’ shape. The proper range of motion for the ab crunch is small compared to most exercises. The exercise may include only four or five inches of movement in each direction. It’s common to exceed this amount, and that’s where some problems occur.

In the ab crunch, as you “curl” downward, your lower back should press into the lower pad. (Your upper back should stay firmly pressed into the upper pad also.) If your lower back is about to peel off the pad, this is a cue that you’re at the end of the range of motion, and need to reverse direction and begin returning to the starting position.

When the lower back is removed from the pad, the midsection and thighs are now moving closer together. This motion is a hip-based movement called “hip flexion.” Hip flexion uses other muscle groups, and these muscle groups exert some force on the lower back. Examples of exercises that use hip flexion are sit-ups and leg lifts. While the abs assist in these exercises, the hip flexors are the dominant muscles.

In summary, “curl” down on the ab crunch machine no further than the point where you feel your lower back will start leaving the back pad. Using the ab crunch will strengthen your abs and obliques, muscles that not only make you look good on the beach but also help with critical life functions.

The Advantages of Machines

the advantages of machines

The strength training machines you see in The Perfect Workout studios are descendants of machines that were created by Nautilus, Inc. in the 1970’s. Arthur Jones not only originated the fundamental principles behind brief and intense strength training, he also invented the original set of Nautilus machines. Within a few years, machines from Nautilus and sprouting rival companies were in many public gyms as well as college and professional sports training facilities.

This led to one of the most famous on-going debates in the fitness industry: free weights or machines. In other words, is it more effective to use strength training machines or free weights, such as dumbbells and barbells? If you are reading this, you are probably aware that our studios are primarily filled with strength training machines. There are reasons for that.

While both options provide results when the user trains with a high level of intensity, we generally prefer well-designed machines for a number of reasons. Machines can be safer to train on than free weights, they allow for better concentration which can facilitate a higher intensity level, many machines provide resistance throughout each repetition’s entire range of motion, and there are several additional advantages of machines which I don’t have enough space to cover in this brief article.

If you recall the days when you first learned to drive, then you’ll probably remember someone telling you, “safety first”. The same recommendation applies to training. As you know, the goal of strength training at The Perfect Workout is to reach “muscle success”, the point when the targeted muscle is so fatigued that it cannot move the resistance any further. In many free weight exercises, training to complete exhaustion leaves the possibility that the weights may fall on the trainee afterwards. As we know, training to “muscle success” leaves our muscles with less control and fatigued for a few minutes afterward. If a person lost control of the weight when training on a machine, most machines are designed so that the weight would just fall on the weight stack (instead of on top of you!), so that’s one reason why machines can be safer than free weights.

As far as getting results, a necessary factor in successful strength training is mentally pushing your muscles to that very deep level of “muscle success” fatigue. This takes focused mental concentration, and each person has a limited ability to concentrate in any given moment. A well-designed machine can eliminate sources of distraction, enabling deeper concentration and a deeper level of fatigue in the the targeted muscles, and as a result help stimulate better improvements in your body. As an example, consider the leg press vs. a free weight squat (with a barbell on top of your shoulders). Both exercises are potentially very effective for improving the muscles in your buttocks and front thighs (and to a lesser degree the muscles in your rear thighs and calves). With the leg press, as you near “muscle success” all of your concentration ability can be used to push as hard as you can, helping you stimulate the big changes in your muscles and your body. You don’t have to worry about anything else other than pushing hard. In the barbell squat, if you approach “muscle success” fatigue levels, a significant portion of your concentration needs to be used to focus on balancing and avoiding falling down, and this reduces your mental energy available to make your muscles push hard. In this respect, the leg press has the potential to allow you to stimulate greater increases in the targeted muscles.

Another benefit of well-designed machines is resistance throughout the entire range of motion. A machine has the potential to better harness the power of gravity when compared with free weights. For example, in a standing biceps curl with a barbell, gravity provides significant resistance to the biceps during the middle portion of each repetition. However, at the lower and upper ends, the exercise moves perpendicular to the force of gravity, basically providing rest for the muscles. Biceps exercises with machines usually feature a rotating wheel called a “cam” that varies resistance and enables constant work for the muscle throughout the repetition, and this can result in a more thorough workout for the muscles.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying dumbbells, barbells, and other free weights are not effective training tools. In fact, in 1992 when I first began using slow-motion strength training in my own workouts, I was training in a relatively primitive gym in which my initial routines involved many free weight exercises, and I still was able to make excellent improvements. If a person trains intensely, he or she will achieve great results, regardless of the equipment. However, we find that strength training machines help our clients train safely and effectively, and that’s what we’re all about.

Your Muscles – The Only “Window” Into Your Body

your muscles - the only "window" into your body

I first came across the idea that “muscle is the ‘window’ into your body” in Ken Hutchins’ SuperSlow Technical Manual. He attributes the quote to a former employee of Nautilus, Ed Farnham. It’s a brilliant metaphor. The idea is that essentially all physical improvements that can be stimulated by exercise are fundamentally caused by loading your muscles. Making your muscles work is the way you “get at” and stimulate not just your muscles, but the rest of your body’s systems too. Your muscles are a pathway to improving your cardiovascular system, lungs, endocrine system, immune system, general metabolism, and more.

For example, suppose somebody is climbing stairs for the purpose of exercise. This person’s body will temporarily burn more calories during the stair climbing session. It’ll also make her heart beat faster, and by doing so potentially place positive stress on her cardiovascular system to improve. And if the stair climbing is challenging enough, her leg muscles will fatigue somewhat as well. If her body isn’t already used to a more demanding stress than stair climbing (such as high-intensity strength training), her body will be stimulated to improve the cardiovascular system, her muscles might get slightly stronger, and other positive adaptations may occur in such places as the immune system and the endocrine system.

Note that each of those effects from stair climbing (burning calories, positively stressing the cardiovascular system, potential strength increases, and positive changes in the immune and endocrine systems) are caused by making the muscles work. Extra calories are burned only because the leg muscles are working harder from the activity. The heart starts beating faster to supply nutrients to the working muscles, as well to remove waste products from them. If an increase in strength is stimulated, it would be because the muscles have been loaded, fatigued, and stressed sufficiently. All the physical benefits are fundamentally caused by making the muscles work.

Demanding muscular loading is the fundamental cause for triggering a cascade of positive changes throughout your body. Even for the cardiovascular system, the stimulus is making the muscles work, and the cardiovascular system kicks into higher gear simply as a support system for the working muscles. (In other words, the heart and lungs can’t jump out of your body and hop on the stair climber to exercise themselves. The only way to “get at” your cardiovascular system through exercise is by making the muscles work.)

A big advantage of effective strength training when compared with other exercise methods (like stair climbing) is that strength training gives you the opportunity to make your muscles work much harder than stair climbing or other exercise choices. If you’ve ever trained your leg muscles to “momentary failure” on the leg press machine in slow-motion form, you know firsthand how strength training works your muscles hard! Since strength training can make your muscles work harder than other activities (like stair climbing), you can stimulate as good or better benefits in all of the body’s systems (including the muscles, cardiovascular system, lungs, endocrine system, immune system, and general metabolism) than you can with other activities.

In a previous article I mentioned that studies show that effective strength training produces positive benefits in the cardiovascular system. This is why. In some studies with very high-intensity strength training, the changes in the cardiovascular system from strength training are superior to even so-called “cardio” activities like stair climbing. The reason is you can only address your cardiovascular system by making your muscles work, and strength training gives you the opportunity to really challenge your muscles, and as a result many other systems in your body improve in addition to the muscles.

Making your muscles work hard during strength training triggers a “total body response,” including:

  • More strength
  • Greater endurance
  • More calorie-burning lean muscle tissue to your body
  • Reversed age related muscle loss (sarcopenia)
  • Increased metabolism and how many calories you burn even while you’re resting
  • Greater fat loss
  • Stronger bones
  • Reversed aging of muscle cells (expresses younger DNA in the nuclei)
  • Improved cardiovascular fitness
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Improved low back pain
  • Better control of blood sugar
  • Improved immune system
  • A number of other benefits


When done properly strength training loads the muscles (your “window into your body”) much more effectively than other activities because strength training can load the muscles more efficiently, more intensely, and in a safer manner than other activities can.

The slow-motion, high-intensity strength training that we teach at The Perfect Workout is as good of a way as you will find at stimulating this “window” into your body, and as a result your whole body improves, not just your muscles. And all it takes is just 20 minutes, twice a week.

Missing Workouts – What Happens?

missing workouts - what happens?

If you train at The Perfect Workout and are like other human beings, you miss a session or two on occasion. You may be on a hot streak of attendance as you read this, but there are times of the year when life takes us away from the gym and into other places. Does summer ring a bell? How about the holidays? Even as president of The Perfect Workout, I too miss a workout here and there (in addition to my more-than-full-time job, I’m fortunate to have two young kids, a wife, and occasionally even enjoy a vacation).

How significant are these occasional lapses? If you miss a few weeks, should you just quit because the gains you made may have eroded? Thankfully, there is some evidence to shed light on this issue. Researchers from the University of Maryland found that even a hiatus for seven months does not completely eliminate the gains that younger (20-30 years) and older (65-75 years old) people received from nine weeks of strength training. In this study, the trainees (previously sedentary) performed intense strength training focused on their quadriceps (front thigh) in one leg. After nine weeks, all men and women ceased training completely. Then their strength was retested 12 and 31 weeks later.

After the initial nine-week training period, the younger and older adults gained 34% and 28% in strength, respectively. The tests at 12 weeks after no training showed that no real strength loss occurred. It was after this point when the losses started happening. Between weeks 12 and 31 of the detraining, the younger men and women lost 8% of their strength, while the older adults lost 14%. There were no differences in the strength lost between men and women of the same age groups.

There are three points that I want to point out from these results. First, many peoples’ bodies can hold the strength they initially build as beginners for up to three months after stopping training. (More advanced trainees will likely experience some losses in advanced fitness levels in less than 3 months.)

Second, even seven months after stopping training, the men and women in the study hadn’t lost everything that they gained from training! They trained for only nine weeks, and they still kept at least half of the strength they gained.

Finally, and this probably comes as no surprise to many, younger people are more adept at maintaining their gains from exercise. In the 31 weeks following the end of the strength training program, the younger group lost 24% of the strength they gained, whereas the older group lost half.

Let’s talk about what all of this means for you. It’s important for everyone to be consistent with their strength training program. Consistency is the only way to maximize gains in strength, health, and lean tissue improvement (muscle, bone, etc.). You won’t become stronger, fitter, or healthier unless you are actually working out on a consistent basis. However, all of us miss sessions from time to time. If you miss a few weeks, don’t become discouraged. Don’t quit. The study participants missed three months before their strength started eroding. You can miss a few weeks (vacation?) and may come back with little ground to make up.

Consistency is important for all of us, but especially for older adults. Fast twitch muscle fibers, which are the largest fibers and handle the greatest challenges in everyday life, atrophy quicker as we age. Older adults should pay extra attention to minimizing those necessary breaks from strength training.

The positive news is, once we gain some strength, our body appears to want to keep it. The study showed us a seven-month absence did not undue nine weeks of strength training! Imagine how long it would take to completely lose strength from months or years of training? I hope you and I never need to find out.

  1. Lemmer, Jeff T., et al. “Age and gender responses to strength training and detraining.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise 32.8 (2000): 1505-1512.

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