the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dallas-based physician Dr.
Kenneth Cooper pioneered the premise that aerobic training
improves the functioning of the heart and lungs, and in
so doing creates a more vibrant individual.
is truth in that. Aerobic exercise elevates the heart rate
to X level for Y period of time with Z results. When practiced
regularly, it improves cardio-respiratory efficiency. Though
a lower resting heart rate doesn't guarantee longer life
(although it seemingly might), it does mean that the body
has more stamina however long it lasts.
benefits of aerobics are obvious, and canny marketers have
been quick to take advantage of its appeal: movement, music,
and a non-threatening way to shape up. But for all of its
benefits, aerobics has limitations. It does not completely
enhance the structural integrity of the connective tissues,
the joints, and the bones themselves. (Indeed, it often
tests them to the breaking point.) It does not appreciably
strengthen the muscles. It does not and cannot make the
the message conveyed by hugely popular videotapes is just
that. The suggestion, the implication -- eve the claim --
is that the aerobic workout will transform you into a facsimile
of the group leader. But aerobics alone will not make you
look like Jane or Cindy or Cathy or whomever, no matter
how much you step, hop, twist, and sweat.
image, however, is seductive, and aerobics has become a
buzzword for total fitness. Even the American College of
Sports Medicine (a professional organization consisting
of educators, physicians, and exercise physiologists) has
until recently regarded aerobics as virtually a complete
exercise program. An entire generation has been reared to
the beat, puppets in thrall to the video masters. Exercisers
impart strength-building qualities to stationary cycles,
cross-country skiing machines, walking with hand weights,
steppers, treadmills, and other aerobic equipment, but in
reality, strength gains are insignificant.
has been bamboozled. The very nature of aerobic exercise
makes it impossible to realize the meaningful strength gains
necessary for a noticeable improvement in muscle tone. Burn
calories, yes; strengthen muscle, no. When you are working
aerobically (e.g., brisk walking), your muscles work against
minimal or zero resistance and, therefore, can continue
to function at the same level for a long period of time.
This is not the route to building strength, and only strength
creates muscular shape and stronger bones -- the aesthetics
that are prized, and the foundation needed for the long
haul. Aerobic exercise improves general functioning via
a potentially lower heart rate (greater heart-lung efficiency),
but it does not strengthen the muscles around the joint
(thus enhancing joint stability) and it does not substantially
strengthen or firm the body.
is missing from the equation is serious strength training.
Because the truth is you can work your heart/lungs and muscles/bones
in the same safe, sound workout. Visualize a muscle as a
mass of individual fibers. Aerobic muscle fibers contract
over a long period of time. It takes an intense contraction
of the muscle to utilize many more of its fibers and stimulate
meaningful strength gain. This type of exercise, anaerobic
exercise, induces fatigue in the muscle faster than the
muscle can compensate. Working against sufficient resistance,
the muscle fatigues quickly, and the individual soon is
unable to perform the exercise at that level of resistance.
This is the principle of working the muscle to the point
of momentary muscular "failure" (the inability
to complete another repetition in perfect form), and it
is the ticket to gaining strength. Such exercise stimulates
the overall system to respond. Rest permits that response.
may sound grim, this whole notion of failure and resistance,
as opposed to a high-decibel aerobics class. But is the
one true way to strengthen the body.
the allure of aerobics as a supposed full-body, all-purpose
workout persists. After all, the arms and the legs are in
motion, sweat is flying, calories are burning, fat is dissolving,
the music is pulsating, and women figure, yes, this is the
way to get in shape. And indeed, improved cardiovascular
functioning is an important part of being in shape. But
less body fat and improved wind do not mean a stronger,
harder, more durable body. The only way to get stronger
is to be progressive with your exercise. Aerobic exercise
-- whether an open floor, a stair-climber, a bicycle, a
treadmill, or a track -- does not provide the progressive
resistance necessary to develop meaningful strength. It
is not designed to work the muscles throughout their full
range-of-motion. Yes, a strong heart and efficient lungs
are an important part of what the body needs to function
at an optimum level and ward off long-range debilitating
conditions. However, aerobic exercise is not the whole story.
woman who is out of shape and takes up aerobics may notice
some physiological changes in her body initially, but this
will quickly level off because she is not seriously challenging
her starting strength level. The same phenomenon occurs
if she beings a weightlifting program and uses extremely
light dumbbells. Curling, say, a 2-pound weight 100 times
may make her breathe hard, perspire handily, and ache, but
it does not stimulate the biceps muscle to get measurably
stronger and, thus, firmer. This becomes, essentially, an
if the same woman trains progressively and reaches a point
where she can curl 50 pounds 10 times, she has been working
deeper into her starting strength level and has given a
wakeup call to all those muscle fibers that were lying dormant.
She has gained strength, and the shape of her body will
show it. Please be assured that our goal is not to heave
heavy weights, and the results are not bulging muscles --
results that are beyond the reach of almost all women, anyway.
Our goal is to develop a lean, strong, healthy, toned body.
Building muscle size is extremely difficult for most men
who have the potential to do so, let alone women who don't
want them in the first place.
that you understand what aerobic exercise can and cannot
accomplish, consider a potential problem that may arise
for the enthusiastic runner, jogger, or aerobic dancer.
When performed over a strength of an individual's lifetime,
repetitive pounding movements may have a telling cost. Joint
stress, you see, accumulates silently.
I was younger, I competed in cross-country races and covered
many rocky, hilly miles on a weekly basis. When I turned
40, though I had not done any serious running for years,
I started experiencing pain in my lower back and down my
legs. I did not equate that pain with running my heart out
as a kid, yet it was the direct, if delayed, result of my
excessive running 20 years earlier along with my serious
misuse of a barbell.
call this the "overuse" syndrome, and it can take
you by surprise. One day you get sudden aches and pains
-- not traceable to what you did yesterday, but can be triggered
the sins of your past. (Of course, the same symptoms can
be triggered by a recent trauma and may, or may not, be
linked to old habits.) What has occurred here is that the
cumulative effect of impact force has exceeded the structural
integrity of bone, muscle, and connective tissue. The certain
result: injury. High impact exercises take their toll on
vulnerable bones, joints and tissue. Pounding on hard surfaces
and repetitive movement creates such an impact -- which
problem is accelerated when there is not strong muscle surrounding
lesson learned from all this is that, instead of a tremendous
amount of exercise, we should seek the least amount to stimulate
the maximum result. I have constantly searched for ways
to shorten exercise periods -- without compromising the
results -- in order to avoid overusing the muscles, exhausting
the system, and overtaxing the joints. When the route to
high cardiovascular fitness entails pounding the pavement
for 10, 15, 20 miles a week, the risk of muscular injury,
bone and joint damage, and strained tendons and ligaments
rises. The most susceptible areas are the knee, foot, ankle,
lower back, hip and cervical spine. Is this high level of
conditioning worth the cost? When you find yourself on the
shelf, you may not think so. Furthermore, your fine-tuned
condition will slip as you sit on the sidelines for long
extended periods, or during recurrent episodes of nagging
fate can be avoided and top condition still attained via
high-intensity circuit-type strength training, for this
kind of program should involve no orthopedic cost, no damage
to the skeleton.
exercise should strengthen the muscles, connective tissues
and bones. It should never damage the skeleton. Improving
your cardiovascular condition at a high orthopedic risk
does not make sense for most people. There is a safer, more
sensible way to go about the quest for well-rounded fitness,
a short direct route to improving your cardiovascular condition
and strengthening your muscles and bones at the same time
while minimizing the risk of injury.
aerobic enthusiasts who are fanatical about their workouts
will eventually run right into problems. Some can't seem
to get enough of the so-called "runners high"
-- that feeling of well being that arises when compounds
known as endorphins are released in the body and interact
with the brain. But in the quest of great mileage and realizing
ultimate aerobic benefit -- it may be at an orthopedic cost.
don't believe there is such a thing as super health. I do
believe, however, in good health, and there is no question
that efficient cardiovascular functioning promotes vitality.
If for example, you like to run, fine -- not overdone, it
can be good exercise. Just know why you are doing it, and
don't overdo it, because the excessive pounding carries
major joint injury. And realize that neither excessive running
nor other popular forms of aerobic exercise will safely
strengthen your muscles, safely strengthen your bones, or
shape your body.
preceding was an excerpt from Roger Schwab's book Strength
of a Woman. For ordering information, or to obtain the video,
call toll free 1-888-97WOMAN. Roger Schwab, born in Philadelphia
on April 6, 1945, resides in Bryn Mawr, the heart of Philadelphia's
Main Line. An author, poet, teacher of sports/medicine,
Schwab's many interests focus primarily on political science,
music, and health and fitness related issues. A product
of the 60s, Schwab's major influences include the writings
of Gore Vidal, David Halberstam and Norman Mailer. His musical
tastes are defined by the lyrics and music of Bob Dylan,
Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez and the late Phil Ochs and Buddy
Holly. Schwab's passionate involvement with meaningful exercise
was cultivated to foundation through the writing and acquaintance
of Arthur Jones.
article reprinted by permission of I.A.R.T.