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For May 27, 2017

  • How Muscles Work
    How Muscles Work

    Every muscle is actually a wrapped package, containing other smaller wrapped packages of long, slender cells known as muscle fibers. The outer wrapping, made of connective tissue, is called the muscle fasica. The smaller packages are called muscle fasciculi, and each one contains a bundle of up to 150 muscle fibers. The muscle turns into a tendon, which attaches the muscle to a bone. When the muscle contracts, it pulls on the tendon, and this causes the bone to move. The bigger the muscle, the more force it can generate on the bone.

    At both ends of every muscle, the fascia covering the muscle tapers to form a strong, rope-like length of connective tissue called a tendon, which is connected directly to one of your bones. One end, which connects to a relatively unmoving skeletal part, is the origin of the muscle. The point where it's attached to a moving bone is the insertion of the muscle. (The bicep's insertion is in the forearm, near the elbow.)

    When a muscle contracts, it pulls its origin and insertion closer together. Often a muscle is attached to two adjacent bones whose ends are joined together in a closed, fluid-filled capsule known as a joint (your knees, elbows, shoulders and knuckles are all examples of joints). Contraction of the muscle creates movement around the joint, allowing the pushing and pulling motions that make up physical movement.

    Each muscle fiber shares a nerve ending with other nearby fibers, making up a group of fibers known as a motor unit. Every time the master motor nerve fires (sends an impulse to a muscle), this motor unit contracts simultaneously. This effect is called the "all-or-nothing" principle of muscle contraction.

    How many fibers are in a motor unit? It depends on whether the muscles are used for large, powerful movements, which require less nerve control, or for intricate activities, which call for more nervous system input. A typical finger muscle contains 40,000 muscle fibers divided into 120 motor units � a ratio of 340 fibers per nerve ending. The eye muscles are even more finely controlled, with 10 fibers per nerve. On the other hand, each of the 580 motor units in the large muscle of the calf is much bigger � averaging about 2,000 muscle fibers per nerve ending.

    Every time a nerve ending fires, a burst of energy is released in each individual muscle fiber, causing tiny filaments to slide toward each other. The result is a significant shortening of the muscle fiber. When the fibers in a motor unit contract in unison, the result is a muscle contraction. Whatever form of exercise you're doing, from swimming to bicycling, your movements depend on the repeated, coordinated firing of the appropriate motor units. Improved coordination of this firing sequence is a major reason you get more skilled at any physical activity with practice.

    From John Hopkins Health
  • Dan Wirth - Flat vs. Incline Bench, Which Will Make You Stronger?
    Dan Wirth - Flat vs. Incline Bench, Which Will Make You Stronger?

    This article was written in response to the following question: Dan, how do you feel about the Incline Bench compared to the Bench Press when it comes to developing great upper body strength?

    Ah, the infamous Incline Bench Press. The great and almighty 45 degree sports specific force producer! Seriously, the Incline Bench is a great exercise, but, not one that should use a full periodization schedule. Meaning, it is not my "major stimulator" or Primary Strength Exercise (PSE) for the upper body.

    PSE�s are complex movements that utilize more than one muscle group. They are the exercises that will use a full periodization schedule working from higher volume and lower intensity phases into maximal strength and power phases. This would be in contrast to a Secondary Strength Exercise (SSE) like the Incline Bench, or an Assistive Strength Exercise (ASE) like a Dumbbell Curl that would not use a full periodization schedule and would not work into maximal strength and power phases!

    By major stimulator, I am simply talking about exercises that you can inherently lift the most weight with therefore creating the highest neuromuscular or contraction activity in the muscle groups being used (notice the plural use of the word �groups�, the Bench is not just a chest exercise, but more on that later!)


    The Bench Press is inherently set up so that you should be able to push more weight than you could with an Incline bench (barring any injuries or biomechanical problems). If you took one thousand athletes or fitness buffs and tested them on the Bench Press and the Incline Bench Press, about 97% of them, not all but most, would be able to Bench Press more than they could Incline Bench. This is especially true for the 35-45 degree Incline Bench Press which is pretty close to the optimal angle of release for a shot putter and a close representation of the pushing angle after the initial contact phase of a football lineman.

    It is for this reason, and this reason only, that the Bench Press is my upper body Primary Strength Exercise. The angle of the Incline Bench is what makes it a great exercise but it is also what keeps it away from PSE status. PSE�s for me are the Power Clean, Squat, and "Flat" Bench in athletic based programs. And, I substitute the Deadlift exercise for the Power Clean in programs for people who want to develop great strength.


    We could use the Power Clean and the Squat as further examples of Primary Strength Exercises. In most strength and conditioning programs, in sports where strength and power output are vitally important, the Squat exercise is the major stimulator as opposed to the Front Squat, or the Barbell Step Up. The same thing applies with the Power Clean versus the Power Snatch for example. This is not taking anything away from the Incline Bench, Power Snatch, and Front Squat exercises. Many times I emphasize these lifts in my strength and power programs, but, when I am focusing on absolute strength and power increases during certain training cycles it is the Power Clean, Squat and Bench that I use.

    When I mentioned neuromuscular activity levels earlier, many research buffs would like to bring to my attention an occasionally found research example of the Decline Bench exercise having a higher neuromuscular activity than the Bench Press (found through EMG testing). I would say yes, this is true in some cases. However, the Decline Bench has some problems with it�s limited range of motion. But, that�s another story.

    Now, this brings me to a very important point: The Bench Press is not just a chest oriented exercise. It is a Chest, Shoulder, and Triceps exercise. And, this is precisely the reason why most people can lift a heavier poundage with this exercise! The strength of those three muscle groups combined is ultimately stronger than a lift like the Decline Bench which is primarily only a chest developer or the Incline Bench which activates the shoulders even more than the chest.

    Finally, my upper body strength philosophy is pretty simple. Use the Bench Press as your PSE for the upper body. And use the Incline Bench as your SSE on heavier upper body days, or use the Dumbbell Incline Bench as an ASE on lighter upper body days.

    One final note about anyone doing heavy pressing movements: You have to consistently work the posterior head of the deltoid along with performing stabilization exercises such as external rotators in order to keep the shoulder joint healthy. This will ensure you can keep on benching injury free!

    Dan Wirth M.A., C.S.C.S.
    Fitness Director (Fitrex.com)
    Director of Strength and Conditioning
    The University of Arizona
  • The Perfect Pill
    The Perfect Pill

    How the humble aspirin came to be so hallowed

    It can halt a heart attack and stop a stroke. It may prevent certain types of cancer. Down two tablets after a foolish game of tackle football, and you'll probably be able to get out of bed in the morning.

    Although the active chemical in aspirin, salicylic acid, has been in use since Homer wrote The Iliad, the familiar white stuff has been around for only a little more than 100 years, ever since the German chemist Felix Hoffmann synthesized the substance into acetylsalicylic acid, to help ease his father's arthritis pain. When he saw that the drug also relieved headaches and reduced fevers, Hoffmann passed the word along to his boss, Friedrich Bayer, who soon started selling "aspirin," first as a powder, then as a pill.

    "Aspirin is as close to a wonder drug as you'll find in medicine today, but you'd never know it," says Dr. Charles Hennekens, a visiting professor of epidemiology at the University of Miami in Florida and one of the country's foremost aspirin researchers. "For the longest time, no one took it seriously because it was so common. My colleagues and I used to say that if aspirin were a prescription drug, cost twice as much, and were half as effective, it probably would have gotten more respect."

    Now, however, aspirin is getting its due. New research has identified a wealth of health benefits you can reap for a bit more than a penny per pill. Some of the ailments aspirin affects:

    Preliminary studies on the elderly suggest that those who took aspirin regularly (four times a week or more) "have lower rates of cognitive loss and dementia," says Hennekens.

    Aspirin's famed anti-inflammatory properties shrink joints and tissue swollen by osteoarthritis or the more painful rheumatoid arthritis.

    Research has shown aspirin to inhibit the production of prostaglandins, hormone-like fatty acids that scientists believe may play a role in tumor growth. A long-term study of 90,000 nurses in the United States between 1976 and 1995 showed that those who took four to six aspirins a week were less likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who took fewer. Other research suggests that taking a standard 325-milligram aspirin tablet daily may lower your risk of dying from colorectal cancer by up to 50 percent. Also, preliminary findings associate aspirin use with reducing the risk of esophageal cancer by as much as 90 percent.

    Aspirin is a tried-and-true fever reducer. What's not well known is that the drug can slow the development of all flu symptoms, especially achiness. "We're finding now that aspirin may have some important immune-boosting properties," says Hennekens.

    Research done at India's Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences has shown that taking 350 milligrams of aspirin daily can improve gallbladder function and impede stone formation in people with gallstone disease.

    Tension and migraine headaches and muscle injuries trigger the release of prostaglandins, which cause inflammation. Aspirin eases pain by blocking the production of these substances.

    Since the 1970s, doctors have known that aspirin can shrink inflamed blood vessels and act as an anticoagulant to help prevent the blood clots that trigger most heart attacks and strokes. If you have a history of coronary disease, the American Heart Association suggests you take an aspirin a day to ward off a heart attack (talk to your doctor first). Although no medical organization recommends that healthy people take aspirin as insurance against cardiac problems, there's good reason to think that such advice may be coming soon: In the U.S. Physicians Health Study, an ongoing survey of 22,000 male doctors, Harvard University researchers found that respondents who took an aspirin tablet daily reduced their risk of ever having a heart attack by 44 percent.

    Aspirin can even help save your life if a heart attack is in progress: At the first signs -- dizziness, shortness of breath, pain or heaviness in the chest, or pain that radiates to your neck or arms -- chew and swallow a regular aspirin tablet. Chewing the pill first helps speed the medication's absorption into your bloodstream, where it may stop a clot from forming or even help break up an existing one, says Hennekens. If you are unable to swallow, putting an aspirin under your tongue will have the same effect.

    By: Stephen C. George
  • The Fats of Life -- Fat Can Be Your Friend
    The Fats of Life -- Fat Can Be Your Friend


    Back in the days when we were weight-obsessed teenagers, there was only one kind of fat � bad. Whether it was sitting on our plates or settling on our thighs, we knew we hated everything about it (except the taste).

    Like so many things in life, however, fat has become far more complicated. We cannot live without fat: We need it for energy, insulation and regulating our metabolisms. For every good fat, it seems there is a bad fat � and it's getting harder to know the difference. The old standbys � saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated � have been joined by such trendy fats as conjugated linoleic and stearic acids. Cholesterol, too, is ambiguous. Plus, there are dangerous man-made trans fats, which are turning into the stealth bombs of the kitchen.

    Not only are there more fats to assess, but experts also differ on how much of each type you should eat. The American Heart Association recommends that a diet include no more than 30 percent total fat: up to 10 percent saturated fats, up to 15 percent monounsaturated and up to 10 percent polyunsaturated.

    Proponents of a Mediterranean-style diet, however, point out that southern Europeans, whose diets include a huge proportion of monounsaturated fat � sometimes up to 40 percent of daily calories � traditionally have relatively low rates of heart disease, perhaps in part due to their low intake of saturated fat.

    Scientists such as the Harvard School of Public Health's Walter Willett, M.D., conclude that it's probably the type of fat you eat, not the amount, that determines your heart health. This year the International Conference on Mediterranean Diets, a gathering of nutrition researchers, issued a recommendation that Americans stop counting fat grams and concentrate on reducing daily calorie intake.

    Adapted from SELF, August 1998

  • Moderate weight lifting relieves anxiety
    Moderate weight lifting relieves anxiety

    NEW YORK (Reuters Health)--Moderate-resistance exercise, or weight-training, reduced anxiety in male and female volunteers, some of whom had no weight-lifting experience, according to researchers.

    But study participants who engaged in intense resistance exercise did not experience the same benefit. The report is published in a recent issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

    "The take-home message is that we found that moderate-intensity was better than high-intensity resistance exercise, particularly in regards to anxiety reduction," researcher Brian C. Focht of the University of Florida, Gainesville, told Reuters Health.

    In the study, 84 volunteers (51 men and 33 women) were tested to determine their maximum resistance exercise ability. Then they were randomly divided into three groups. One group was assigned to perform four resistance exercises at a moderate 50 percent of their ability, while the second group was asked to perform at 80 percent of their ability. A third group, acting as a "control" group, was assigned to watch a video on resistance training.

    The regimen included bench press, leg press, torso-arm pulldown, and overhead press exercises. The 50 percent group completed 12 to 20 repetitions of three sets of all four exercises with a 45- to 75-second recovery period between sets. The 80 percent group completed four to eight repetitions of three sets of each exercise with a 120- to 150-second rest period between exercises.

    Anxiety levels, mood states, blood pressure, and heart rate were assessed before the exercise session began, immediately after it was completed and at 20, 60, 120, and 180 minutes after the session finished.

    "While the results from this study indicated that state anxiety did not significantly improve following higher intensity resistance exercise, there was a significant reduction in state anxiety 180 minutes following resistance exercise performed at 50 percent," write Focht and co-author Kelli Koltyn of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

    Experience did not affect benefits of resistance exercise. "Thus, it is possible that a single episode of resistance exercise would be associated with similar mood benefits for both novice and experienced weightlifters," they add.

    Focht and Koltyn also suggest that less intensive resistance exercise may result in better adherence to an exercise regimen than more intense workouts.

    Source: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 1999;31:456-462.

  • Some Guidelines When Choosing a Gym
    Some Guidelines When Choosing a Gym

    Join the Club

    (PHYS, September 1999) � You've heard that the guys are hunks and the juice bar is happening. Great, but that's no way to choose a gym. If health and safety are your prime considerations � and they should be � here are a few guidelines from Randy Delaney, director of personal fitness at World Gym in New York City:

    Proper ventilation. The air should feel cool and smell fresh, not like sweaty bodies.

    Good lighting. Incandescent bulbs are easier on the eyes than fluorescent.

    Enough room. A crammed layout is not safe. Or fun.

    Cleanliness. No stained mats or grubby bathrooms.

    Well-maintained machines. You don't have to be a mechanic to tell if benches are torn, cables seem worn, or free weights are haphazardly scattered around.

    A qualified staff. Employees should be certified by a nationally recognized organization like ACE (American Council on Exercise), ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) or AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America). They should be helpful � and findable. One instructor can't monitor more than 30 people at once and the pool should always have at least one lifeguard. A new member should get a free orientation, but later on, it may be worth springing for a few sessions with a private trainer.


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