Lessons Learned in 1998

Dr. Westcott
During the past year our research studies at the South Shore YMCA have produced a lot of valuable information for professionals, practitioners, and participants in the field of fitness. On behalf of our instructional staff and research team, let me first thank every man, woman, boy and girl who enrolled in one of our research classes in 1998. Your exercise efforts have contributed to a better understanding of the conditioning process and the training results.

This year’s studies included the following areas of research: (1) strength training protocols for preadolescent youth; (2) effects of physical conditioning on golf performance; (3) optimal order of strength training and endurance exercise; and (4) general effects of sensible exercise in sedentary adults and seniors. Let’s take a brief look at our findings and conclusions in each of these projects.

Strength Training Protocols for Preadolescent Youth

Most people mistakenly believe that boys and girls should not do strength building exercise because it might result in bone damage or growth retardation. Fortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth, and there is absolutely no medical evidence to support these misconceptions. In fact, since a landmark consensus meeting in 1985, major medical and professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Sports Medicine, have encouraged preadolescent strength training and even published performance guidelines for childrens’ strength exercise. Basically, these recommendations call for 2 or 3 training sessions per week, 1 to 3 sets of each exercise, and 6 to 15 repetitions per set.

Working with Dr. Lyle Micheli of Children’s Hospital and under the direction of Dr. Avery Faigenbaum from the University of Massachusetts, we have researched all of these training variables. In past years, we have determined that children respond about the same to twice-a-week and three-days-per-week training programs, and that single set and multiple set exercise protocols produce similar strength gains in youth.

This year, we compared training with relatively low repetitions (6 to 8 reps per set) and training with relatively high repetitions (13 to 15 reps per set). That is, we examined the effects of using fewer repetitions with heavier weightloads and using more repetitions with lighter weightloads.

Our results indicate that children seem to increase muscle strength more with higher repetition training than with lower repetition training. Especially with respect to upper body strength development, the youth who trained with 13 to 15 repetitions made greater improvement than those who trained with 6 to 8 repetitions.

Of course, from a safety perspective, performing higher repetitions with lower weightloads reduces the risk of injury. We therefore recommend that boys and girls train twice a week with one set of 13 to 15 repetitions per exercise for safe, effective, and efficient strength building experiences.

Effects of Physical Conditioning on Golf Performance

Until recently, few of the 25 million golf enthusiasts in this country spent much time in physical conditioning activities. They were particularly reluctant to perform strength exercise, as they thought this would lead to tight muscles, impaired coordination, and reduced driving distance. Beginning in 1995, we have conducted several studies on the effects of golf conditioning programs. On average, our golfers have added 4 pounds of muscle, lost 4 pounds of fat, gained over 50 percent greater strength, and reduced their resting blood pressure by almost 5 mm Hg. More important to them, they have significantly increased their club head speed and driving distance.

This year, we more carefully examined the combination of strength and stretching exercise for improving body composition and swinging power. Based on our work with 77 local golfers, we found that those who did only strength exercise increased their club head speed by 2.6 mph, after two months of training. However, those who did both strength and stretching exercise increased their club head speed by 5.2 mph over the same time period.

Clearly, the combination of strength and stretching exercise is most effective for developing driving power. Our experience indicates that golfers can achieve excellent overall results by performing about 25 minutes of strength training (12 Nautilus machines) and less than 10 minutes of stretching (6 StretchMate exercises).

Optimal Order of Strength Training and Endurance Exercise

This past year we decided to expand on our previous research to determine whether the order in which physical activities are performed affects strength development. To do this, we divided over 200 of our fitness class participants into two training groups. Group A always did their endurance exercise (about 25 minutes of treadmill walking or stationary cycling) prior to their strength training (12 Nautilus machines). In contrast, Group B always performed their strength training before their endurance exercise. All aspects of the fitness program were identical except for the order of the conditioning activities.

The findings showed essentially equal gains in strength for both groups, indicating that the activity order has little influence on strength development. We therefore concluded that the order in which strength training and endurance exercise are performed should be primarily a matter of personal preference.

General Effects of Sensible Exercise in Sedentary Adults and Seniors

Since 1992 we have devoted a separate and fully-equipped exercise facility to conduct fitness research with previously sedentary adults and seniors. We run 12 classes a day on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule and 12 classes a day on a Tuesday-Thursday schedule. Each class is one hour in length and includes about 25 minutes of sensible strength training and 25 minutes of moderate-effort endurance exercise. Each class consists of six participants and two highly qualified trainers to ensure excellent instruction and careful supervision, with emphasis on exercise education and motivation.

This past year, essentially all of the fitness classes were filled with new exercisers, many of whom were between 50 and 80 years old. Well over 500 South Shore residents participated in our research programs, and the improvements in physical capacity, body composition, and blood pressure were similar to our previous studies. Generally speaking, graduates of the 10-week progressive exercise programs increase their overall muscle strength by about 40 percent, add 2 to 4 pounds of muscle, lose 4 to 6 pounds of fat, and reduce their resting blood pressure by an average 4 mm Hg.

More importantly, more than 90 percent of the participants continue to exercise after completing the program. Some become members of the YMCA, some join local fitness clubs, and others train at home. Whichever option they choose, they are competent and confident exercisers who know how to train in a safe and productive manner.

On Thursday, January 7th at 6:00 p.m., we will host a slide show presentation on the benefits and guidelines for sensible exercise and an orientation for our winter fitness research programs. There is no charge to participate in this practical information session, but it would be helpful to call Susan Ramsden at (617) 479-8500, x132 so that we can provide ample seating. We welcome you, your family and friends to learn the facts about physical fitness and to have an active lifestyle in 1999. Information on golf conditioning and youth strength training will also be presented.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA, and author of several books on fitness, including Building Strength and Stamina, and Strength Training Past 50.

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Written by Wayne L. Westcott PhD

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