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     Why is weight or resistance training popular? Why are the gyms and health clubs stocked with entire lines of resistance training equipment, machines and free weights?  What has brought such popularity to weight training, a physical fitness activity that for many years had taken such a back seat to other fitness activities?  There are a number of reasons.  Some are based on fairly recent advances in exercise physiology and sports medicine, some are the result or more enlightened thinking by coaches, physical educators and athletic trainers, but the primary, fundamental reason is that weight training has been singled out as the main component in achieving total fitness.  That's right, the basic element, the fundamental component, the foundation on which a fit body is built.  This may be a shocking statement for some, but I will prove it to you.

      Let's start with fitness itself. What is it? What are it's components?  What exactly is total fitness?

Of course, like everything else in life, there is some disagreement on the definition of fitness, but few would dispute the medical authorities who say that fitness is "heart fitness." After all, when you get down to it, you can't be fit if your heart isn't fit.  You can strengthen a healthy heart and also strengthen an unhealthy heart through exercise.  You can't cure a sick heart, and you can't damage an healhy one through exercise. That's the objective reality of heart health in relation to exercise, and the extent of our self improvement powers.

     So what is fitness? Let us define our terms.  One of the best definitions of fitness comes from the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports They say fitness is "the ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue and with ample energy to enjoy lesiure time pursuits and to meet unforseen emergencies."  Another useful description comes from the American Heart Association and includes a phrase about achieving " a state of body efficiency enabling a person to exercise vigorously for a long time period without fatigue."

What's interesting is that these and other definitions of fitness are srength related- that is, they involve skeletal muscle and heart strength. It's not surprising then that the Physical Fitness Research Digest (PFRD), a publication of the President's Council on Phyiscal Fitness and Sports says the chief elements of fitness are:

 

1. Muscular strength-determined by a single maximum contraction of the muscle.

2. Muscular endurance- the ability of the muscle to perform work.

3. Circulatory respiratory (cardiovascular) endurance- the ability of the large muscle groups to perform moderate contractions for relatively long periods of time.

The othe components of fitness, according to the PFRD, are motor fitness or coordination, muscular power, agility, speed, and flexibility. Anyone who can put all of these elements together is truly in very good physical shape.

The thread that is woven through all these physical qualities is strength. Here's why. Muscular strength and muscular endurance are virtually the same thing. Improvement in muscular endurance is directly related to muscular strength, and of course, strength is a developmental trait that can be improved through the right kind of exercise. What is that exercise? Weight (or resistance)Training.  Strength and endurance increase when reptitive exercise is performed against resistance. That improvement in strength and endurance is directly proportional to the amount of resistance, the frequency of training and the length of the training session. Stress is crucial, since mere repetititons of muscular contractions that put little stress on the neuromuscular system have little effect on the development of strength in the skeletal muscles. This is why I say that weight training is the main component, the fundamental key to fitness. Other exercise methods such as jogging, biking or swimming long slow distances or lifting the same amount of weight time after time, do not provide sufficient stress to build strength- the major component of fitness. Only progressive weight training can overload the muscles, force them to work harder, and stimulate their growth. Let's look back for a minute at the elements of total fitness-muscular strength, muscular endurance, circulatory-respiratory (cardiovascular) endurance, motor fitnss or coordination, muscular power, agility, speed and flexibility. We've defined three of these factors, but what do the others mean? Motor fitness is the ability to perform complex tasks with skill and physical coordnation. Muscular power is the ability to release maximum muscular force in the shortest tim. Agility is speed in changing body position or direction. Speed is the rapidity with which successive movements of the same kind can be performed, and flexibility is the range of movment in a joint or sequence of joints, It's obvious that strength is necessary, and as the PFRD states, "Strength development may be considered not only a physical fitness need but fundamental to the total physical being." Let me step back for a moment for disclaimer. I don't mean to say weight training is the only way to get fit. When I am in contest training, I run, I ride a bike, I swim and in the past I've played basketball. I think there is value in all types of physical exercise. What I am saying is that weight training which follows the Integrated Total Fitness method develops all the components of physical fitness enumerated by the sports medics and the physiologists. That includes cardiovascular fitness, which is explained in the article on cardiovascular fitness. But no other exercise can improve all the components of fitness, and as we have just seen, weight training is the key to TOTAL Fitness.

     

Copyright 2004 James Vandervest

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