Midnight Musings of a Exercise Physiologist

Midnight Musings of a Exercise Physiologist

I’ve spent most of my life in the fitness industry, either as a consumer, an exercise science student or as a working professional. What follows are thoughts and ideas that have rattled around in my head, in some cases, for decades. (They are too brief to devote an entire post.) I hope you find something here useful.

  1. Most men work out with too much weight; most women, too little. When I start with a new client, I do my best to establish good weight-training habits. Select a weight you can lift (not throw or jerk) throughout the full range of motion for at least eight repetitions, in good form. I often see too many guys throwing or jerking too much weight through a drastically reduced range of motion. I see too many women using very light weights and doing the same thing, workout after workout for years at a time. Women and men should select a weight with which they will achieve volitional fatigue in 8—10 or 10—15 repetitions. (Volitional fatigue is point in the set where you can't lift one more rep without cheating it up.) This brings me to the next issue.
  2. I’m amazed how the misconception persists that if women train hard with sufficient weight (as described above), they’ll develop big,
    bulky muscles. Female body builders engage in a level of extreme training, dieting and supplement taking that result in, not only large muscles, but also extremely low body fat percentages. A sensible, healthy lifestyle that includes good nutrition and appropriate exercise, including weight training, will produce increase in muscular strength and endurance, while achieving or maintaining a desirable appearance.
  3. There is no such thing as toning. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times, “I don’t want to build big muscles. I just want to tone-up.” Physiologically speaking, the term tone is a noun, not a verb. Muscle tone (more correctly, “tonus”) is the minimal baseline muscular contraction, which is present even during voluntary relaxation and disappears during some stages of sleep. What lay people mean by tone varies widely. Some mean they hope to reduce the fat in a specific part of the body by working the muscle(s) beneath. This is called spot reduction, and there’s no such thing.
  4. Spot reduction is another myth that persists, despite decades of people like me debunking it. Sit-ups will not reduce the fat deposited on your belly. Triceps extensions will not reduce “bat wings.” Think about it this way, if you wanted to get fat, could you determine where the fat would be deposited? Of course not. It’s genetically determined. We cannot determine from where it will be lost. In general, where’s it’s deposited first, is where it’s reduced last.
  5. One question I’ve been asked many times over the years is, “Is it better to inhale as I lift the weight and exhale as I lower it or vise versa?” My answer is, “Yes, whatever works for you. Just keep breathing.” Closing the throat and holding the breath raises blood pressure. The one exception to the either way approach may be when you’re contracting the abdominal muscles and flexing the spine. This tends to call for exhalation followed by inhalation with extension of the spine.
  6. This raises the issue of dyskinesis (literally, “bad movement”). Any movement or tension that doesn’t contribute to the intended movement, takes energy and blood flow away from it. This also goes for straining, clenching your fists or jaw and grimacing. Like holding your breath, clenching and straining also raise blood pressure. I tell my clients, “relax everything other than what you’re working.”
  7. Another common question is, “Should I do cardio before or after weights?” Again, the answer is, mostly, “yes.” As long as you do both, the order is mostly a matter of personal preference. If you do cardio first, you’re all warmed up for weight training. If weight training is a higher priority than cardio, doing it first leaves more energy for the weight room.
  8. I think we should change the name of the activity from weight lifting to weight lowering. A little physiology: when a muscle contracts and shortens, it’s called concentric contraction (think lifting a weight). When a muscle contracts and lengthens, lowering the weight, it’s called eccentric. Turns out, eccentric contraction does more to increase strength and muscle growth than concentric. I teach clients to take at least as long to lower a weight as to lift it. You can also lower about two-thirds more weight than you can lift. This comes in handy if gaining the ability to do something like push-ups or sit-ups is your goal. Dr. James Peterson was professor of physical education at West Point for many years. Cadets would come to him and say, “Doc, I want to go to Ranger school. I’ll have to be able to do 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups and six chip-ups. I’m nowhere near that now.” Peterson would have them do negative-only versions of all three. To do negative push-up, get into the push-up position, lower yourself slowly to the mat, roll on to your side, sit up and resume the position and repeat. A warning: Eccentric contractions produce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), so begin with four or five and build up. Negative sit-up are performed using a rope or strap around an object like a post. Use your arms to pull yourself up and then use your abdominal muscles to lower yourself. For negative pull-ups or chin-ups, you’ll need a way to step- or climb up into position, then lower yourself slowly.

After almost 40 in gyms and fitness centers, I’ve plenty of time to think about these things. There are plenty more where these come from. Watch this space. In the mean time, as always, if I can help with any of this, contact me.


David Wheeler headshotDavid Wheeler, MA, MS is Wellness & Health Recovery Coordinator at Premier Health & Fitness Center. He is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist. David provides fitness training and health coaching for those contending with health challenges and for healthy adults who want to stay that way. He can be reached at david.wheeler@tmh.org or 850-431-4835.

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