To increase muscle strength, slowly lower heavier weights

FITNESS CLINIC

February 19, 1991|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin

Slowly lowering heavier weights will make you stronger than rapidly lifting lighter weights.

With regard to weight training, the overriding stimulus to make a muscle stronger is to stretch that muscle while it contracts. The greater the stretch during contraction -- without tearing the muscle fibers -- the greater the gain in strength.

When you start to lift a weight, muscles stretch before they contract. The muscles begin to contract while you continue to lift the weight, but this is a weaker stimulus for muscle growth.

When you lower the weight -- resisting the downward pull of gravity -- you stretch your muscle fibers at the same time they contract. Coupled with the fact that you can lower much heavier weights than you can lift, slowly lowering a heavy weight provides you with the greatest gain in strength.

Because lowering heavier weights can cause far more damage to muscle fibers than lifting, you should not do lowering training more often than once a week.

Here's a schedule that can make you quite strong. Use the same 10 to 20 exercises for all three workouts.

Monday -- Lift the heaviest weight you can lift 10 times in a row.

Wednesday -- Use a weight that is only 85 to 90 percent as heavy as the one you lifted Monday. Three sets of 10 can be done rather easily.

Friday -- Start by lifting the heaviest weight you can lift 10 times in a row. Your muscles should really hurt. Add 5 to 10 pounds; you won't be able to lift it. After two strong friends lift the weight for you, lower it on your own as slowly as you can, six times in a row. Add another 5 to 10 pounds and lower that weight slowly 3 times in a row.

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Q: Does being flexible improve an athlete's endurance?

A: Although most top athletes are flexible, scientists at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York recently reported in the Journal of Orthopedic Research that flexibility can actually generate wasted energy. It may decrease an athlete's endurance level.

Researchers found that people who can rotate their trunks the furthest and turn their feet outward the most waste the greatest amount of energy when they walk or run.

If being flexible wastes energy and may decrease endurance, why do so many coaches recommend stretching exercises? Stretching improves flexibility so you can develop longer muscles that exert a greater torque on your joints. As a result, you can run faster, lift heavier, jump higher and throw farther.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

United Feature Syndicate

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