3. Aerobics: Myths,Lies and Misconceptions
By Mike Mentzer
If you seriously doubt that overtraining may have long-term medical implications, bear in mind that exercise is a form of stress. While most think of a suntan or muscles as merely cosmetic, that’s not why they exist. Suntans and larger muscles are defensive barriers the body erects to protect itself from future assaults from the same stressors, but they can be overwhelmed. Someone who repeatedly overexposed himself to intense August sunlight would soon die, as the sun’s rays would literally cook his skin and underlying tissues. By the same token, chronic overtraining could inordinately tax the overall physical system and result in a breakdown somewhere, such as the glandular system. Cooper (Dr Kenneth -Aerobics Inst.) has gone so far as to attribute the Hodgkin’s disease of hockey great Mario Lemieux and distance runner Marty Liquori to chronic overtraining.
A widespread myth among fitness enthusiasts has it that one must train one way for increasing muscular size and strength and another way for improving cardiovascular condition: lift weights to build strength and jog to enhance aerobic condition. As Arthur Jones (Nautilus Strength) stated, “Half of that belief is true, since jogging will do nothing to build strength and size and will, in fact, if overdone, as it usually is, do quite a bit in the way of reducing both muscular strength and size. But it’s not true that proper strength-building exercises will do nothing for improving cardiovascular condition.” How did Jones arrive at that conclusion?
In 1975 Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries funded one of the most important studies in the history of exercise science. Project Total Conditioning was conducted at the United States Military Academy at West Point and was overseen by Colonel James Anderson. The purpose of the study was to pin down how to use Nautilus exercise equipment properly and identify the physiological consequences of a short-duration, high-intensity-training program. It asked such questions as
– How much skeletal-muscle strength can be achieved from brief, intense workouts? and
– How does strength training affect cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and overall body composition?
The subjects included 18 varsity football players who trained all of their major muscle groups with 10 different strength exercises three times a week for eight weeks. The workouts were brief but very intense, with each exercise performed for only one set to failure. An extensive battery of tests and measurements was administered to the subjects after two weeks of training and at the conclusion of the study. According to the study report, “The prestudy testing was not scheduled until after two weeks of workouts to minimize the influence of what is commonly referred to as the learning effect on individual performance.”
Results? After only six weeks of training, the 18 subjects had increased the amount of resistance they used in the 10 exercises by an average of 58.54 percent. What’s more, despite such a tremendous increase in their strength—and the associated increase in overall physiological stress they were exposed to—the duration of their training dropped by nine minutes.
As a measure of the functional application of intense, brief strength training, the exercising subjects and a control group—which didn’t train at all or did so on their own—were tested in three areas: a two-mile run, a 40-yard dash and a vertical jump. On the two-mile run the exercising subjects’ improvement was four to 32 times greater than the control group’s. On the 40-yard dash it was 4.57 times greater, and on the vertical jump it was close to two times greater.
What about cardiovascular improvement? While conventional strength-training practices preclude cardiovascular improvement, especially when trainees take long, arbitrary rest periods between sets—which keeps them from maintaining an elevated heart rate—at the end of the study the training subjects tested better than the control group in all 60 indices of training effects on cardiovascular function.
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