Nontraditional training

Weights: Kalvin Evans introduces clients to such workouts as static lifting at his Savage Mill exercise studio.

April 12, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Kalvin Evans wants to bring new momentum to exercise.

This month, the certified fitness trainer opened Xodus Adventures, an exercise studio in Historic Savage Mill, to introduce people to nontraditional workouts like static conditioning, a technique proponents say uses maximum weights and minimum repetitions to build and strengthen muscles.

Evans guides more than 20 clients through the static conditioning regimen, a technique he believes will reinvigorate dedication to fitness.

But Evans' dreams extend beyond a small room in a former textile building. He hopes to find investors who can help him purchase equipment and move into a bigger space. He wants to help people achieve goals they've had all their lives - to kayak, run a race, climb a mountain - and then lead them on those adventures.

Evans, 31, a former Russian and Chinese linguist for the U.S. Air Force, said he hopes "to be able to give them the tools to be able to reach those goals, helping them to get to that place."

On a recent afternoon, Evans led Columbia resident Juanita Matthews, 40, through "static contraction" strength training - overloading her muscles while maintaining for up to 30 seconds a position at which her muscles are strongest. Followers of this technique say it can result in gains in muscle mass and strength with one repetition during a 20-minute session each week.

Matthews, a medical sales account manager and a semiprofessional basketball player, started working out with Evans in December after recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. She said she hopes to rejoin her league at the end of the month.

"This is about taking my ability to be a stronger basketball player to another level," Matthews said.

Before assuming the weight during an exercise for her shoulders, Matthews stood with her arms outstretched and repeated, "I am a cross. I am a cross." As her muscles shook, she scrunched up her face and released her breath in regular hisses while Evans encouraged her.

According to Evans' records, the weight she lifted has increased from 80 pounds to more than 150 for some muscles. Matthews said she has also seen improvement during the cardio-kickboxing classes she takes each week, as have the spotters holding her punching bag.

"This is about as instant [a] gratification as you can get," she said.

Evans learned of static conditioning from Vaughan Dabbs, a Columbia chiropractor who uses static contraction in his practice.

Dabbs said he sees "a lot of injuries with people lifting weights that move."

During a typical repetition, people start at the weakest point, move to the strongest and return to the weak, Evans said. "You're not as strong in all areas," he said.

The only drawback Dabbs could see is the need for a spotter - someone to help get the weights into position, he said.

But not everyone agrees with their assertions.

This form of isometric exercise became popular in the early 1950s, said Ben Hurley, a University of Maryland exercise physiologist who has researched strength training for more than 20 years. But studies conducted in the 1960s raised a number of issues, he said.

"It wouldn't surprise me" if strength increased through isometric training, he said. But the gains do not transfer to different positions throughout the range of motion that were not exercised in the training program, Hurley said.

Risk of injury from traditional weight lifting is low because weights are selected based on what the muscle can sustain at its weakest point, he said.

Statements about muscle growth also seem unlikely to be true, he said, although people experience great variations in muscle growth with training, regardless of the format.

But "even among the biggest variations we're talking grams, not pounds," Hurley said, in studies of people under what are considered optimal training conditions.

Most importantly, although it's probably not dangerous for young, healthy people to take on such a program, anyone with high blood pressure or other risk factors for heart disease could be in significant danger of a heart attack, Hurley said. Strain can cause people to hold their breath, increasing blood pressure until blood vessels rupture.

Evans said traditional weight training can also increase blood pressure. His priority with anyone with this or other heart concerns would be to get that condition under control first with diet or other lifestyle modifications, although monitoring breathing during the exercise can alleviate risk as well.

Randy Toth, a certified strength and conditioning expert at Union Memorial Hospital's Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore, concurred with Hurley's assessment. "This isn't for everybody," he said.

"You have to constantly challenge and stimulate" muscles for them to grow, Toth said.

The gains achieved through this form of training don't benefit athletes performing movements that require a full range of motion, Toth said.

But he thinks there are benefits to isometrics. Static conditioning is used in rehab programs, and he uses it himself when he reaches a plateau in his workout.

Still, "I would not use isometrics exclusively as a regimen," he said.

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