Are Machines Enough? Breaking down another myth.

We've always been taught that strength training on machines is okay for people looking to get a bit stronger or improve body composition. However, if you really want to maximize your improvements as a well-rounded athlete, strength training with machines alone simply won't suffice.  At least that's what the longstanding fitness folklore would lead us to believe.  But what does the research say?  Authors of a brand new research study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research sought to determine what produced better results in terms of improvements in strength, power, jumping ability, and balance in athletes: strength training with machines or combining strength training with machines with "sensorimotor training." The results indicated that resistance training on machines alone-improved strength, power, jumping ability and balance and that additional sensorimotor training provided no additional benefits.  This is yet another study that suggests that basic, intelligent strength training (and yes, on machines) can provide far more benefit than fitness gurus have espoused for decades. 

Improving Speed: Targeting Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers in Long Distance Runners

Humans possess two fundamental classifications of muscle fibers: slow twitch and fast twitch.  Slow twitch muscle fibers are used constantly during almost all activities of daily living.  Fast twitch muscle fibers are reserved for activities that require greater power and speed.  Fast twitch muscle fibers are also used when our slow twitch fibers aren’t capable of completing a task.  Approximately 90-95% of people possess roughly a 50/50 split of slow and fast twitch muscle fibers.  As we age, our fast twitch muscle fibers atrophy (decrease in size) and number.  By our early 30’s, we begin to witness a reduction in fast twitch muscle fibers.  This is why the career of an NFL football player declines rapidly after the age of about 30, especially among running backs.  

Low Force (Not “Light” Weight) = Safe

The common assumption is that lifting a weight that is “heavy” predisposes a trainee to a musculoskeletal injury. The reality is that the weight is just one part of the equation.  During a strength training exercise, the goal should be to minimize the external forces imposed on a joint, bone, or connective tissue.  “Force” is a mass (the weight that you are lifting) multiplied by the speed used when lifting the mass.  If you lift a relatively light or moderate weight quickly (as most people do), the external force that the joints, bones, and connective tissues are exposed to are positively enormous.  If you lift and lower a weight slowly (even a heavy weight), the forces that the body encounters are dramatically reduced. 

How to Measure Progress (and Some Perspective)

“Anything worth doing is worth measuring.”  This is a paraphrase from Arthur Jones, the late founder of Nautilus Sports Medical Industries and MedX Corporation.  And it is a perfect lead in to this post: How does one measure progress from a strength-training program?  Consider the following 2 approaches:

3 Research-Based Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training

When we discuss the many benefits of strength training, we commonly focus on the physiological benefits: Increased muscle strength, enhanced resting metabolic rate, improved bone mineral density and reduced resting blood pressure to name just a few.  The aforementioned benefits are augmented by the equally important psychological benefits associated with strength training.  The oft heard and almost clichéd expression, “My workout just makes me feel better” actually has significant scientific credibility.  An ever-growing body of research points to three mental health benefits of strength training.  Researcher Wayne Westcott Ph.D. recently authored an article examining the mental health benefits of strength training.  I have included selected quotes below.  This is fascinating:

How Often Should I Workout?

An effective fitness program revolves around understanding the “dose-response relationship” of exercise. When contemplating an exercise program, we often focus on, “what should I do?”  We must also consider: How often?  For how long?  How hard?  The “dose-response relationship” delineates: What is the proper dose of exercise (the frequency, duration, and intensity) that will elicit the desired response (improved body composition, cardio-respiratory fitness, muscle strength, etc.)?  Analogous to the prescription of a drug, too small of a dose, and no effect is produced.  Likewise, too large of a dose results in toxicity.  Zeroing in on the appropriate dose-response relationship is a paramount pursuit of the exercise scientist.

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