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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grouping Weightlifting Exercises for Time-Efficiency

The usual recommended rest period between sets of a weightlifting exercise is 1-5 minutes. Short rest periods are most often used by bodybuilders, while longer rest periods are often used by athletes looking to achieve maximum strength in specific lifts, such as those engaged in powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting competition. Most athletes and recreational lifters rest 2-3 minutes between sets.

Since the rest period between sets can account for the great majority of total workout time, some strength and conditioning coaches and athletes favor doing exercises in groups of 2-5, doing a set of each of the exercises in the group, then repeating the cycle 3 or more times before going on to the next group. The exercises within a given group involve different muscles. There is typically little time between sets but, because of the grouping system, more substantial time between sets of the same exercise. Such a routine has been called "multiple mini-circuits." The advantages of this type of program are that:
  • A lot of exercise can be done in a given time period
  • Each muscle group has adequate recovery time
  • Heart rate remains high, affording some aerobic conditioning
  • The body becomes accustomed to intermittent high-intensity exertions, relevant to many sports
The time-efficiency of such a workout is substantial. A typical weightlifting set takes about 30 seconds. If the trainee moves directly from one exercise to the next, there is generally only 30-40 seconds between the end of one set and the beginning of another. Thus, after becoming accustomed to this type of workout, a trainee can typically do 40-50 exercise sets in one hour, without sacrificing weight lifted or repetitions accomplished. In comparison, someone doing sets of the same exercise consecutively, with 2-3 minutes of rest in between, typically completes only 18-24 sets within an hour. Thus, performing exercise in groups allows one to either do twice as many exercises in a given amount of time or to take half the time to do the same number of exercises.

The exercises within a group use different movements and involve different muscle groups. A group might consist of:

  1. Push: bench press
  2. Pull: stack row
  3. Leg: squat
  4. Torso: leg raise
3-5 such groupings make for a comprehensive total-body workout. Done twice per week, this leaves time for a lot of other conditioning activities such as sport drills, plyometrics, distance running, speed work, and agility training.

The results of a research study by Robbins et al. (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol 24, no 5, pp 1237-1245, 2010) supports this type of training. In the study, following a warmup, 16 males performed 3 sets of bench press and 3 sets of bench pulls 2 different ways:
  1. 3 consecutive sets of bench pull beginning 4 minutes apart, followed by 3 consecutive sets of bench press beginning 4 minutes apart, for a total workout time of 20 minutes.
  2. 3 pairs of alternating sets of bench pull and bench press beginning 2 minutes apart for a total workout time of 10 minutes.
Note that both routines provided 4 minutes between sets of the same exercise. Analysis of the study results showed the two workouts similar in effect on the muscles. Both were similar in muscle electrical activity, the amount of weight lifted, and the number of repetitions performed in each set. The study also gave support for grouping more than 2 exercises together, as full recovery was not achieved with 4 minutes between sets of the same exercise.

Medical Disclaimer
This description of exercise practices and experimental results is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a recommendation. Anyone engaging in an exercise program should obtain proper medical authorization before doing so.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Avoiding or Lessening the Effects of a Stroke

An article in the May 2010 issue of the NIH (National Institutes of Health) News in Health describes how to avoid a stroke or, if you have one, how to recognize it and take immediate action to completely avoid, or at least lessen any lasting effects.

A stroke is a failure of normal blood flow to the brain, which can damage and destroy brain cells. There are two types of stroke:
  • Ischemic Stroke - the arteries feeding the brain are blocked, usually by a blood clot
  • Hemorrhagic stroke - broken or leaking blood vessels fail to supply oxygen to brain cells
Ischemic stroke accounts for about 80%, and hemorrhagic stroke about 20% of cases. Unfortunately, the treatment for the two types of stroke are opposite, so treating for the wrong kind of stroke can actually increase the damage to brain cells.

Signs of an ischemic stroke include sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg, especially if it occurs on one side of the body, and/or difficulty in walking, talking, seeing and thinking. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to be taken to an emergency room immediately (don’t drive yourself) because clot-busting drugs, if taken within 3 hours of the onset of symptoms, can stop brain damage. Unfortunately, only 2% of stroke victims actually get this effective treatment within the optimal time window. If given too late, the drug can actually increase damage. It is also important to get prompt treatment even if symptoms disappear quickly, because mini-strokes, also called transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), are a sign that a major stroke may occur soon afterwards.

The most common symptom of hemorrhagic stroke is a very sudden and painful headache, and prompt surgery may be required to repair a damaged blood vessel feeding the brain.
Some cases of partial or complete paralysis on one side of the face are not caused by stroke but by Bell’s Palsy, a nerve disorder that is, in most cases, temporary. However, only a medical professional can distinguish between Bell’s Palsy and a stroke. In both illnesses, immediate treatment produces the best outcome, so an emergency room visit is required in either case.

A healthy lifestyle can lessen your risk of a stroke. By exercising, eating healthfully (especially limiting foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium), not smoking, and keeping your weight under control you can dramatically reduce your risk of a stroke. Our web site has more specific details on avoiding a stroke.
Bottom Line
To greatly reduce your risk of a stroke, follow a healthy lifestyle. But if you do develop stroke symptoms, seek immediate medical attention to avoid permanent damage and long-term disability.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Making the Best Use Your Time in the Gym

I'm frequently amazed by how much time many people waste in the gym. This particularly applies weight lifters, because it is difficult to waste time when you’re on a cardio machine or in a group exercise class, both of which provide largely non-stop exercise. But lifting allows you to go at your own pace, so it is very easy to get lazy or distracted. You may have even been given the incorrect advice that a work-to-rest ratio of one to five is the right way to exercise.

I recently saw a gym patron talking on a cell phone most of the time and doing a minimum of lifting between conversations. I’ve seen many others standing around chatting for long periods. Then there are the people who do a set of exercise and sit on the bench or machine for 3-5 minutes before doing another set, oblivious to other people who are waiting to use the device. I even saw one gym patron reading magazine articles between sets. And personal trainers, who have great influence over their trainees, often chat extensively with their clients. That might be effective for promoting a client-trainer relationship, but it’s certainly not the best for physical conditioning.

Long rests between lifting sets is recommended for a very limited number of competitive strength athletes, such as Olympic weightlifters, who spend hours in the gym in their quest to maximize the weight they can lift and need long rest periods for full recovery and to focus on technique. However, such time-intensive programs are not effective for bodybuilders or athletes in most sports that require a good balance of strength, muscular endurance, and overall conditioning. It takes an inordinate amount of time to do a comprehensive workout when there is a lot of time between exercise sets. Most of us have lives outside of the gym and must work out efficiently to get the desired benefits within a limited amount of time. Even high-level athletes often must commit so much time to the practice of their sport that they do not have many hours in the week left to spend in the gym on training.

One way to do a comprehensive workout in a limited time is to work out in groups of 2-5 exercises. For example, you can first go through the following group 3 times: 1) an upper-body push exercise, 2) an upper-body pull exercise, 3) a lower-body push exercise, and 4) a torso exercise. After the first group is done, a second and then a third group of exercises are performed. While a beginner should rest as needed between sets, as one becomes conditioned , the only rest needed between sets is the time required to walk between stations and adjust the weight. Using this method, a well-conditioned lifter can accomplish more than 40 sets of exercise in one hour. Some advantages of this system are:
  • There is enough rest between sets of the same exercise to allow optimal recovery time for that muscle group.
  • Both strength and muscular endurance are developed
  • The heart rate stays up, providing some aerobic benefit
  • More calories are burned per hour.
  • The routine provides whole-body conditioning essential to most sports
  • The workout leaves more time to work on speed, power, agility, and endurance, as well as practice of one's sport.
Bottom Line
Time spent in the gym talking, sitting, standing around, or reading does not contribute to one’s physical development. A great majority of gym time should be spent exercising unless the gym is the center of one's social life. A routine based on cycling through groups of 2-5 exercises provides a lot of muscle work in a limited amount of time, and provides the added benefit of total body conditioning.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Bagel Dilemma

What could be more simple than a bagel? It would appear to have simple ingredients like flour and water and, when flavored, ingredients like cinnamon, raisins, sesame seeds, onion, and garlic. All seem fairly wholesome. What could be a better snack or source of energy when a meal is several hours away or an exercise session is planned within 2-4 hours?

Just to check on the ingredients in fresh bagels available to me, I did a web search on their ingredients, and found the following counts for plain bagels:

  • Stop and Shop: calories 290, sodium 520 mg, sugars 4 mg
  • Finagle a Bagel: calories 290, sodium 410 mg, sugars 8 mg
  • Dunkin Donuts calories 320, sodium 660 mg, sugars 6 mg
  • Bruegger’s: calories 300, sodium 530 mg, sugars 7 mg
  • Starbucks: calories 300, sodium 460 mg, sugars 8 mg
I have nothing against the calories. We all need them to survive. And when carbo loading for athletic activity, healthy calories are what we’re looking for. It’s the sodium that’s the problem. Based on average caloric intake and recommended sodium limits, we should be taking in very roughly about one milligram of sodium per calorie consumed. That means that any food containing significantly more milligrams of sodium than calories should be considered a high-sodium food. Thus, all of the bagels listed above are high in sodium. If a plain bagel can’t be low to moderate in sodium, what can? Anything you put on top of the bagel is likely to be high in sodium as well. One slice of cheese contains about 300 mg, 2 slices of cold-cuts have 600-800 mg. But the real dilemma is, if even a plain bagel is high in sodium, how can we possibly keep our sodium levels under control?

The best we can do is to carry our own snacks and energy foods that have healthy ingredients and low to moderate sodium levels. That means either using fresh fruits or buying products whose ingredient labels pass muster. And when we prepare dinner, we can use as many fresh ingredients as possible and use processed products like sauces and salad dressings that have reasonable sodium levels listed on their labels. Fruit juices are not recommended as a major energy source because of their high sugar content. The same goes for chocolate milk, which has recently been touted as a good recovery drink. Skim or 1% milk isn’t a bad alternative if one prefers a liquid rather than solid snack. A glass of 1% milk contains 102 calories, 107 mg of sodium, and 13 mg of natural sugars.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Difficulty of Eating Lunch Without Getting Socked by Sodium

Recommendations for daily sodium intake have been made by various health organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine. They generally agree on a range of 1,500 to 2,300 mg/day for normal people but lower limits for those with congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, or kidney disease. One teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 gm of sodium.

Unfortunately, without ever picking up a salt shaker, it is very difficult to keep within the recommended sodium limits range if one either eats in restaurants or uses processed foods at home.

While people frequently eat dinner at home, and thus may control the amount of sodium they take in by using fresh ingredients, many of us find it convenient to eat lunch in a fast-food or table-served restaurant. Some examples from popular restaurants below show how difficult it is to find a restaurant meal that does not contain excess sodium.

  • Big Mac®: 1040 mg
  • Premium Grilled Chicken Ranch BLT Sandwich: 1190 mg
  • Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken: 1010 mg

 Burger King
  • Whopper®with cheese: 1450 mg
  • Angus Steak Burger®: 1260 mg
  • TenderGrill™ Chicken: 1180 mgs
  • BK Big Fish®: 1450 mgs
  • Double w/Everything and Cheese: 1440 mg
  • Homestyle Chicken Fillet Sandwich: 1120 mg
Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Egg and cheese on a bagel: 1160 mg
  • Bagel and cream cheese: 910 mg
Panera Bread
  • Chipotle chicken sandwich on artisan French: 2370 mg
  • Cuban chicken Panini: 1900 mg
  • Turkey artichoke Panini on focaccia: 2340 mg
Pizza Hut
  • Half of a 12” medium cheese pan pizza: 2120 mg
  • 2 slices of large 14” meat lover’s pan pizza: 2360 mg

  • Chicken burrito in 13” tortilla with rice, black beans, tomato salsa, guacamole and lettuce: 2100 mg
  • Steak burrito in 13” tortilla with rice, red beans, tomato salsa, cheese, guacamole and lettuce: 2160 mg
Bottom Line
These amounts of sodium are way over the top. And don’t think that table-served restaurants are any better. They vary widely as to the amount of salt added to their food, but most use a lot of salt. Why? Because most people like the taste. It’s obvious that any large restaurant chain would do extensive taste tests to see what people like best. So high salt foods must be what people prefer. Salt levels in food are thus market-driven. However, it is difficult to tell whether we have just gotten used to high-salt foods because of their prevalence or whether we have some instinctive salt craving that dates back to hunting and gathering days, when salt in the diet was difficult to obtain. Whatever the case, medical authorities widely agree that we are getting too much of it. Pending possible legislation to limit the sodium count in foods, the best we can do is to prepare our own food from fresh ingredients as much as possible and to consult nutritional information at restaurants or on their web sites to make selections without excessive sodium content, however difficult that is. It would also be helpful if large companies received e-mail or other messages from consumers asking to reduce the sodium content in their foods.