What Your Personal Trainer Forgot to Tell

A generation ago, the idea that strength training was actually good for you—that it offered any health benefits, that it helped people live longer, that it did anything besides give you bigger muscles to flex or stronger muscles to push people around with—seemed absurd.

Kenneth Cooper, **, wrote this in Aerobics, his 1968 bestseller: "If it's muscles or a body beautiful, you'll get it from weight lifting or calisthenics, but not much more. ... If it's the overall health of your body you're interested in, [strength training] won't do it for you. .. . Aerobic exercises are the only ones that will."

You may think, "Well, of course he'd say that. He had a book to sell."

And he sold a lot of books. He used some of the money to build the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, the purpose of which was to promote .. . bodybuilding.

Sorry, just wanted to see if you were paying attention. Of course, the purpose of his center in Dallas was to encourage a type of endurance exercise he had dubbed "aerobics."

One study that came out of his center was published in 1992, and it offers proof that the anti-strength-training vibe was still going strong in academia well into the Arnold Era, when gyms were bulking up with free weights, and muscular icons like the Soloflex Guy and the Men's Health cover guy and even the Diet Coke guy flexed their way into the zeitgeist.

Researchers looked at the blood of thousands of men and women—heart patients at Cooper's clinic in Dallas—and also measured their muscular strength. They discovered that the strongest men had the highest triglyceride levels (which is bad) and also the lowest levels of HDL cholesterol (also bad, since HDL is the "good" cholesterol). Never mind that the people in the study, for the most part, weren't doing any strength training. The researchers still drew this conclusion: "These data suggest no beneficial effect, and perhaps an adverse association of muscular strength on lipid and lipoprotein status."

In other words, "Muscles kill!"

I'm not talking about an Internet posting here. The 1992 study appeared in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the most "official" of all exercise-science publications.

Since then, we've learned a lot about strength training and aerobic exercise. We now know that men who lift weights at least once a week for thirty minutes have 23 percent less heart disease than men who don't. (That's from the Harvard Alumni Health Study.) Cooper himself wrote a book called The Strength Connection in 1991, along with an anti-aging book in 1999, both of which advocated a mix of strength training and endurance exercise.

Other studies have shown that hitting the iron improves health in any number of ways. Cardiac rehab patients lift to help regain muscle mass. Diabetes patients pump iron so their bodies will better control their blood-sugar levels. (Bigger muscles give the excess blood sugar a place to go so it doesn't stay in the bloodstream and mess up the arteries.) Older adults work their muscles so they'll actually have muscles; research has shown that as little as two months of strength training can reverse twenty years of strength and muscle loss in seniors.

The rest of us just do it so we look good naked.

And there are a lot of us. According to American Sports Data, more than 39 million Americans now belong to health clubs. That's well over 10 percent of the adult population. More than 50 million trained with free weights, in some fashion, in 2003, and that's up 25 percent since 1998.

In a sense, my career—hell, my entire reason for being—has been vindicated. I started lifting in 1970, when I was thirteen. I'd never heard of Arnold Schwarzeneg-

Strength Kills? Hardly

At least four studies I know of have shown that the strongest men live the longest. Correlations to longer life have been found for grip, leg, and abdominal strength. This makes perfect sense, of course. We know that disability kills, and that strength is a powerful deterrent to the loss of physical mobility and function.

However, a 2004 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that muscle power is a better predictor of longevity than is muscle strength. Lots of studies have shown that power—the ability to generate force rapidly, such as a quick hop to avoid an obstacle— declines faster than strength does as we age. But this is the first study I know of that shows the decline in power directly affecting life span. This correlation held up even when the researchers adjusted for body size, muscle mass, and the amount of exercise and other physical activity of the participants.

Here's how it breaks down:

A fifty-five-year-old man who suffers the greatest decline in power, relative to other men his age, has just a 15-percent chance of living thirty more years. Someone with an average power decline has a chance of living to eighty-five that's just over 20 percent. But the men who lose the least power have a better-than-30-percent chance of living three more decades.

So the biggest spread occurs between the 50th and 95th percentiles; this is one case where it pays to be better than average. And the men who retain the most physical power have better than twice the survival rate of men who lose the most over the next thirty years.

Alwyn has made power exercises one of the most important components of his New Rules workouts—not to mention a unique one.

ger, and I never considered the health implications of what I was doing. All I knew was that I was skinny and weak, and lifting weights made me bigger and stronger.

That was good enough to keep me going for thirty-five years and counting, the last fourteen as a journalist writing about, and advocating, strength training. The rest—the health benefits and disease prevention—is just gravy.

The pro-muscle vibe is so intense in this country that I no longer have to explain to people why they should lift weights. Virtually everyone I talk to is already sold on the need to lift. But while I admire their enthusiasm, I often cringe at their methods.

See, I think a lot of people are wasting a lot of time and energy doing exercises, workouts, and routines that aren't particularly useful. When I see lifters hitting the gym three, four times a week and not getting bigger, leaner, or stronger, I wonder why they aren't changing their methods or at least investigating the possibility that there might be a better way to do what they're doing.

But before I get into that, I want to establish a few of my bedrock principles. These aren't the New Rules of Lifting; I self-mockingly call them Lou's Rules of Exercise. But I think they're worth stating, right up front:

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