The Impact of Strength Training and Inflammation

Many of us have become aware of the negative effects of 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.

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. Signs are swelling, redness, heat, and pain.

Inflammation can be acute or chronic, and the difference is critical. Examples of acute scenarios are sore throats, cuts on our skin, and an ingrown toenail. 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.

We measure inflammation by looking at 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.

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

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

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.

Overall, strength training increases some acute inflammation markers, but those markers lead to long term health benefits. Therefore, strength training’s positive effects on chronic inflammation are probably part of why it is shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes. To maximize your health gains, train with challenging weights and get adequate rest between your workouts.

By Matt Hedman, President of The Perfect Workout


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

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Judy’s doctor recommended one thing for her back pain: Core strength

judy-core-strengthSince she began slow-motion strength training, Judy Dennis (right), 70, has lost 20 pounds, her back pain has subsided and her stronger body allows her to enjoy playing golf twice week.

The orthopedist’s advice to Judy Dennis was simple: “The one thing that will help you is strengthening your core.” He was talking about how to solve her back problems and sciatica, a common type of pain affecting the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down the back of each leg. She also had pain from her L5 (lumbar 5) and S1 (sacral 1) nerves being too close together. That alone gave Judy a reason to start working out, and she knew exactly where to go. She had gone to The Perfect Workout when it first opened back in 1999, so she was already familiar with the method. This time she had extra motivation for going. At age 70, she knew she needed to get stronger. Her husband had recently had an amputation, and she was taking on a lot more of the work around the house. Plus, over the years the weight had gradually crept up, and she had 20-30 pounds to lose now. It all added up to perfect timing to join The Perfect Workout.

Judy loves playing tennis and golf, but had never done much weight lifting. The 20-minute sessions twice a week were a big draw, as well as getting one-on-one instruction from a personal trainer. She started working with Barbara at the La Jolla studio last June, and immediately started noticing changes. “I felt like I was really working my muscles,” says Judy. “I love that feeling of having a little soreness. I could see some muscle definition, and my clothes started fitting better.” With her bad back, an artificial knee, and what she felt were weak arms, she appreciated the personal attention from Barbara, especially the alignment on each exercise. “She’s just marvelous! I like the way she pushes me. She’s very enthusiastic and puts all her effort into you.” For her part, Judy says she wouldn’t miss her twice a week appointments for anything. She gives it her all for 20 minutes and adds, “It’s part of my being now.”

The hard work has paid off. Judy has lost 20 pounds since June, with a goal to lose another 10. She’s lost 17 inches overall, gone down one size, and increased her strength overall by about 15%, including a big increase on the leg press of 44%. Even better, her core has gotten considerably stronger which gives her more stability and better balance. The back pain has subsided, she’s ready to take on any household tasks, and she’s playing golf twice a week at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Life is good, and she is definitely planning to continue slow-motion strength training. “The Perfect Workout has given me such a lift. I’m very much in love with it. I look forward to going, and I’m doing this for me.”

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Meet Johanna Jacinto

Meet Johanna Jacinto Personal Trainer at The Perfect Workout’s Menlo Park Studio

unnamedJohanna’s approach with all her clients is a combination of being tough yet motivating and encouraging. “I like to push my clients beyond what they think they can do. To see the look of accomplishment and amazement on their face after doing what they thought was impossible is truly exciting.”

If she wasn’t a trainer at The Perfect Workout, you’d probably find Johanna Jacinto there anyway. A fitness enthusiast, Johanna is certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and through the National College of Exercise Professionals (NCEP). She also has coaching certifications through four associations including USA Track and Field.

Let’s just say that Johanna knows what she’s doing, and there’s no place she rather be training than at The Perfect Workout. Since coming on board in February 2013, she’s made serious personal gains with her own slow-motion strength training. After only two months, she was leg pressing 510 pounds for over two minutes. Yes, that’s the entire stack. As a martial artist, Johanna says, “My kicks, punches, and strikes are a lot more powerful now than when I was fighting competitively in my teens and early 20s. I’m a lot stronger now in my 30s!”

Clients are seeing great results, too, but Johanna says losing weight and inches isn’t the most important thing. “People tend to forget that the real reason for exercising is to improve your overall health, well-being, and quality of life … the excess weight and fat melting off is an added bonus.” The stories where everyday lives have vastly improved are most fulfilling. Clients come back and tell her they’re carrying their own groceries without assistance, lifting and moving heavy boxes to clean out the garage, climbing stairs with greater ease, and keeping their balance without falling. One client in her mid-80s said The Perfect Workout gave her added strength and energy, including going from 110 pounds to 210 pounds on the leg press. She’s also lost inches around her arms, waist, hips, and thighs, lowered her blood pressure, and gotten firmed and toned all over.

Johanna also gives credit to fellow trainers Denise and Andrea. “The whole team at Menlo Park does an amazing job. They’re incredible trainers and clients absolutely adore them.”

Besides her passion for fitness, Johanna loves hanging out with her husband and eight-year old daughter, especially at one of her favorite places anywhere, Disneyland. One of her goals this year is to get back into competition shape and fight in a Muay Thai or Tae Kwan Do tournament. Knowing Johanna like we do, no doubt she’ll do it!

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