Keeping muscle strength

My neighbor lifted weights for several months, but when his work schedule changed, he strayed from his exercise routine. He just couldn't get to the gym as often. He wants to know how he can maintain the strength he worked so hard to build.

As long as he is able to lift very heavy weights at least once a week, he won't lose a significant amount of his muscle size or strength. But if he stops exercising completely, he will lose all the strength he gained.


Most weightlifters work out two or three times a week. If they work out more often than that, their muscles revolt by feeling sore all the time. The muscles actually begin to break down and become weaker.

However, if a weightlifter decreases the frequency of his or her workouts to once or twice a week, the strength can be maintained. Studies conducted at the University of Florida in Gainesville show that a 12-week weightlifting program can increase muscle strength by 20 to 40 percent. As you would expect, 12 weeks after they stopped training, the test subjects lost more than 70 percent of their gained strength. But, if they kept on lifting but reduced their training from twice a week to just once, they did not lose any measurable strength.


This study shows that instead of spending a lot of time in the weight room, you can maintain the same level of strength by going to the gym less frequently, providing you continue to lift very heavy weights.


Q: An ad on TV says a new passive exercise table will help you get fit and lose weight with almost no effort. Sounds perfect, but does it work?

A: The passive exercise equipment you saw advertised is designed

so that you lie on a table made with pads that go under your pelvis to move your hips up and down. Others are placed under your shoulder blade to raise and lower your upper body. A study published in the medical journal Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation showed that this sort of passive exercise may make you feel good, but it doesn't make you stronger, fitter, healthier or thinner. To do that, you have to do the moving, not a machine!

To make a muscle stronger, you have to exercise it against progressively greater resistance. Pick 10 to 20 weightlifting exercises and lift the heaviest weight you can manage 10 times. Do three sets of 10 lifts, as long as it doesn't hurt. Do this for each of the exercises you've chosen, every other day. When the lifting gets easy, try heavier weights. You become stronger only by lifting progressively heavier weights.

To become fit or lose weight through exercise, you have to exercise for at least 10 minutes, without stopping, at a heart rate at least 10 beats a minute above your resting heart rate. Aerobic dancing, fast walking, jogging, pedaling a bicycle, skiing or skating are good choices.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.


United Feature Syndicate