The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2009 issue 5



Women Need Iron Too!

Aerobic exercise for women has many health benefits, but it has only been in the last few years that research into weight training has documented many of the same health improvements. 

Weight training is associated with lower resting heart rates, reductions in blood pressure, improved cholesterol profiles, increased glucose tolerance, and reduced intra-abdominal fat.  One study showed similar decreases in fat mass following 25 weeks of resistance training for both men and women over age 60, but women in the study lost a larger percentage of their fat from intra-abdominal and subcutaneous abdominal fat stores than men did.  This is significant:  After menopause, women tend to store more fat in the abdominal area, which increases their risk of disease.  Since intra-abdominal fat is associated with lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, using weight training to target this type of fat will help lower a women's overall risk for disease.

Traditionally, women are resistant to weight training programs because of a number of myths, including the fear of getting bigger and looking masculine. As a result, they flock to aerobic programs.  People of all ages and genders need to be educated on the benefits of a weight training program so that any concerns, questions, and myths can be addressed.  Once these concerns have been answered the numerous benefits of weight training can be realized and incorporated into regular exercise routines.


Common Myths About Weight Training

Most myths, if not all, are based on misinformation and can easily be eliminated through education.  Some of the more common myths and concerns are as follows:

I don’t want to get ‘big’ or less feminine.”

Many women are concerned that if they begin a weight lifting program they will develop large, unsightly “manly” muscles. Perhaps the greatest area of difference between the sexes is in hormonal concentrations: women have a 15 to 20 times lower concentration of testosterone than men do.  Women need to understand that they simply do not have the necessary quantities of testosterone (in addition to less muscle tissue) to build muscles (hypertrophy) like a man. 

My friend started lifting weights and she gained weight”

Of course she did!  Muscle tissue weighs more, by volume, than fat tissue. (A pound of fat takes up 1.1 liters of space; a pound of muscle takes up only .9 liters.)  A pound of fat occupies 18% more space than a pound of muscle. Most women will see a decrease in body circumference due to the decrease in fat mass that accompanies the increase in muscle mass but, because muscle weighs more than fat, they may indeed see an increase in their body weight, even though girth measurements may shrink.

Helpful Tip: stay away from the scale. A daily or weekly “weigh-in” can sabotage a lifting routine. (It has been said that when an American woman steps on the scale she is weighing her self-esteem : )

“Will my muscle turn to fat if I stop training?”

Muscle and fat are two entirely different types of tissue and one can never become the other. When a women stops weight training, daily caloric expenditure decreases and muscles atrophy. Over time this will reduce her resting metabolic rate (RMR). If calorie intake is not lowered when she stops weight training, she will gain fat. 

Since women don’t hypertrophy (get big) can I gain strength?”

Strength and hypertrophy, though related, are different concepts. Strength is neurological: Weight lifting trains the nervous system to recruit and fire motor neurons more efficiently while reducing muscle inhibition; this allows for greater tension and the ability to move a resistive force more efficiently. Women gain strength at the same rate as men: During the first 8 weeks of a strength training program the dramatic increases a woman sees in her strength are due to neurological improvement, not hypertrophy.

Hypertrophy (getting big) is physiological and is due to increasing the size of the individual muscle fibers. Since women do not have the same muscle mass, or, accordingly, number of fibers, as men do, they do not build mass the way men do.. At some point, hypertrophy tends to plateau, however women continue to gain strength through neuromuscular and hormonal channels.


Weight Training Benefits

Some of the physiological and psychological benefits of strength training follows include:

Preservation of Function

Aging is associated with an increased risk of disease and a loss of function. Most of this functional loss can be attributed to reductions in muscular strength and endurance, as well as to reductions in flexibility. After age 50, strength is lost at the rate of 12% to 14% per decade, and muscle atrophy occurs at the rate of 6% per decade with a preferential loss of fast twitch (strength) muscle fibers.  One study of women over the age of 70 found that 74% could not lift a 10 pound weight; another showed that for some inactive older women, getting out of their chair just once resulted in a 100% recruitment of the quadriceps muscles.  Strength training is vital for these women: Strength gains of more than 30%, and muscle mass increases of 12%, have been documented within two months of beginning a lifting program. This means that two decades of strength and muscle loss can be reversed within two months of strength training!

It is important to point out that aerobic exercise alone does not reverse age-related decreases in muscle mass and strength: A study that compared 70 year old resistance trained athletes to both 28 year olds and age-matched sedentary controls found that only the resistance trained older adults had cross sectional areas identical to the 28-year-olds. Weight training improves both strength and flexibility for women, helping to maintain function later in life.


Preservation of bone mass

Osteoporosis is a concern for many post-menopausal American women. Risk factors for osteoporosis include advancing age, menopause, low estrogen levels, family history, race, heredity, low dietary calcium, low body weight, smoking and inactivity.  Women are particularly vulnerable to dramatic bone loss during the first decade following menopause: Anywhere from 15% to 30% of bone mass can be lost during this critical period.  This bone loss is permanent. To date, research shows that exercise and medications do not regress osteoporosis; they only slow down the loss of bone mass.

Increased muscular strength is positively correlated to increased bone mineral density. Weight-bearing exercise, which includes weight training, should be performed throughout life in order to achieve and maintain maximum bone density and reduce the risk of fracture to the wrist, spine and hip in the event of a fall.  The strength training protocol that is recommended for preservation of bone mass includes completing three to four sets of 6-10 reps 2 to 3 days per week. In addition, this protocol should be used while doing multi-joint free weight exercises such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-ups, dips and chin-ups.


• Weight control

Most, American women list “weight control” as a primary reason for exercising, which is why they flock to the cardio room.  However, there are several potential advantages in terms of caloric expenditure when performing weight training versus moderate aerobic exercise.

Moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking on the treadmill, or taking a group exercise class, has a metabolic cost of 5-7 calories per minute for a woman of average fitness. Moderate to vigorous strength training has a metabolic cost of 5-8 calories per minute. This means that women will experience a similar caloric burn with either activity, but with a major difference: Moderate aerobic activity primarily recruits slow twitch muscle fibers, so when the exercise session stops metabolic rate returns to normal very quickly. Weight training is performed at a higher intensity, and recruits both slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers, so the metabolic rate stays elevated longer to replace liver and muscle glycogen stores, as well as muscle triglycerides, for protein synthesis. This allows for increased fat oxidation and increased caloric expenditure not only during exercise but also after exercise.


Maintaining and increasing lean body mass is important to women for weight control, function and preservation of bone mass, since metabolic rate is highly correlated with fat free mass (muscle, bone and organ tissue). Muscle mass accounts for about 22% of the metabolic rate.  On average, following 8 weeks of weight training, beginners can increase lean mass by 2 pounds and decrease fat mass by over 4 pounds. Metabolic rate increases, on average, by 6.8% following 8-12 weeks of weight training. Women who performed resistance training for 12 weeks while on very low calorie diets (800 kcals) maintained their fat free mass and increased their RMR. Women who performed aerobic exercise while on very low calorie diets lost significant lean mass and also experienced a decrease in metabolic rate.



Elite Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!

Lever Rope Climb

If you want to talk about old school memories, no gym class was complete without the rope climb!  I still see these ropes in school gymnasiums nowadays, although they look unused and brand-spanking-new.  That's just not right!  Even if you have the room, it's not very practical to set up a full length rope climb in your home.  However, the exercise pictured above can be performed with the help of a chin-up bar, smith machine, monkey bars, and still give you an outstanding back, bicep, and grip workout under an 8ft ceiling and without leaving the ground!  (I picked up a 20ft piece of 1.5" manilla rope for about $40 from, cheapest I've found). 


Target:  back, arms, hands (latisimus dorsi, biceps brachii, flexors and extensors)

Count:  2 (up and down)

Description:  With the rope secured to a chin-up bar, smith machine, etc... stabilize your feet on the base of the machine, on a wall, or whatever you have available.  Starting on your back with both hands on the rope, maintain a rigid and straight body line as you pull yourself up hand over hand, then return hand under hand back to starting position.

I Love My Spare Tire

No, not the love handle kind... I lost most of that about 5 years ago (thankfully).  That kind that I'm talking about has once again become more popular lately as the whole primitive training movement has hit more of a mainstream audience in recent years.

I've gone back and forth about purchasing various drag sleds that have been advertized in the fitness supply magazines that I get.  Sled dragging and pushing can be an excellent strength and conditioning workout, but most sleds run anywhere from $150-$500 depending on the type that you are looking for.  So rather than dropping that kind of cash, I chose to make my drag sled for about $4 : ) 

I went to the local truck tire garage near my house and picked up a nice medium sized truck tire to play around with (picked up a smaller tire for my daughter to mess with also).  I really wanted one of those giant truck tires that are used in the strongman competitions for flipping and stuff, but I'm not sure that my wife would be too trilled with that kind of giant eye-sore in my yard ; )  Anyhow, the best part about these tires is that they are FREE.  Those tire places apparently have to pay like $20 a tire to dispose of those things!  So the $4 cost of my drag sled was really just the cost of the eye hook that I bought from the hardware store and bolted through the tire so that I could easily hook my rope to it.

There are quite a variety of uses for these old tires.  On my back and bicep days, I like to attach my 1.5 inch manila rope to the tire, assume a nice squared up stance, and then pull the tire to me hand over hand.  This is another great workout for wrestlers, grapplers, or anyone looking for a combination back, bicep and grip workout.

Although tire flipping is a great exercise for explosive power, it is typically done with the large truck tires that I mentioned above.  However, you can still get a real good total body + cardio workout by flipping a smaller tire while incorporating some plyometric hops in between.  This constant motion while incorporating multiple larger muscle groups is guaranteed to get your hard rate up and challenge you as far as you're prepared to go.

In addition to the shear weight and bulkiness of these tires, they are also quite strong and resilient.  This makes them an excellent target for sledgehammer work.  Sledgehammer chops mimic the whole wood chopping and rail road spike driving that kept our forefathers in such great shape back in the day.  I have an 8 lb. and 16 lb. sledgehammer that I have wailed on my tire with.  My tire just looks back at me and says, "is that all you got?".  Great workout for the arms, back, and abs.

Once again, the moral of my story is that you don't have to spend a ton of money on exercise equipment.  Sandbags, tires, sledgehammers, rocks, and of course bodyweight exercises are easily attained and will provide you with plenty of options... you just need to ditch the excuses and focus your energy on getting it done!  Just do it!

Vacation Workout

Well we just got back from a family vacation in Orlando, Florida where we did the whole Universal Studios and Sea World thing.  No, I won't go into the boring details or family slideshow for you... so don't stop reading yet.

What I did want to tell you about though is the exercise program that I put together while I was there.  I know, you may think that I'm obsessed, but if you'd seen the amount of crap that I ate and drank, you'd want to exercise too!

For this trip I made it a point to bring my pedometer and my trusty jump rope.  I decided to wear the pedometer while we were walking around the parks, just so that I could give everyone an idea of what a typical park tour equates to.  Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure came out to roughly 5 miles each, while Sea World was about 2.75 miles (no, I didn't wear it at the Aquatica water park).  So although clearing an extra 15 miles or so of walking in a week is not a bad thing, my diet on the other hand was just plain ugly!

In addition to strolling through the park one day (actually 4 days) I wanted to make sure that I was doing some kind of workout also.  I decided to keep these workouts short but intense, so I could get the most benefit in the least amount of time and not completely inconvenience the family.  I put together a high intensity interval circuit (HIIT) based upon some suggestions that I got from a recent seminar that I attended and incorporated jump rope training for the aerobic benefits.  I tackled this circuit on Monday and Thursday, and did my ab circuit on Tuesday and Friday.  Both days I only hit the circuit for about 17 minutes, but I can honestly tell you that I didn't have much left at the end of it!

Since I so thoroughly enjoyed the @$$ kicking of this jump rope interval circuit, I figured I'd share it with some of my fellow maniacs out there... so here you go:

  • 100 revolutions jump rope
  • Burpee Pyramid
  • 1 minute rest/recovery
  • 100 revolutions jump rope
  • Squat Circuit
  • 1 minute rest/recovery
  • 100 revolutions jump rope
  • Burpee Pyramid
  • 1 minute rest/recovery
  • 100 revolutions jump rope
  • Squat Circuit
  • 1 minute rest/recovery
  • 150 revolutions jump rope

Burpee Pyramid - Squat down, put your hand on the ground, jump your legs back to a push-up position, do a push-up, jump your legs back so the squatted position, explode up to a vertical jump reaching your hands as high as you can.  Immediately go to the next repetition, but add one push-up (1 then 2 then 3, etc...)  Repeat this until you complete 10 push-ups on the last rep (for a total of 10 burpees with 55 push-ups)

Squat Circuit - 15 squat jumps, 15 bodyweight squats, 15 second wall sit, 10 squat jumps, 10 bodyweight squats, 10 second wall sit.  For the squat jump, squat down with your hands near your ankles and fire up to a vertical jump.  With a bodyweight squat, you squat down as far as you can, pushing your butt backwards and keeping your knees over your toes.  A wall sit is where you assume a seated position without a chair, back against the wall and thighs parallel to the ground.

Whew... I'm telling ya... it's no joke if you fire through it at a brisk pace.  Of course, I had to add the gratuitous double jumps and arm crosses with the rope at the end... hey, I grew up watching the Rocky movies and you gotta go for it if you're going to eat lightening and crap thunder ; )

It's Go Time!

What can I say about May?  It ain't April but it ain't June... kinda one of those tweener months that you want to get through so you can get to the next
month : )

May is exciting though... pools are being opened, everything's growing again, and the beach weekends begin!  With the warmer, brighter weather comes a renewed energy and desire to spend time outside.  Cycling, rollerblading, kayaking, running... there are a ton of things to do in the nice weather that make exercising both productive and enjoyable.  Whether you stick with one mode of exercise, or do a little cross training between all of them, you can't lose by taking advantage of this time of year and the opportunities that present themselves.  While it's good to take you workouts seriously and challenge yourself each session... make sure to share your motivation and recruit your family and friends to share in the fun!  If you care about someone, why wouldn't you encourage them to take advantage of the benefits of exercise?

For prior issues of this newsletter go to  

Exceed Your Potential!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT

"A goal without a plan is just a wish"

youtube video of the month --> HIIT Basics
Very simple yet informative video regarding High Intensity Interval Training and how to perform an interval. | Personal Training | News | Tips & Tools | Fitness Stuff




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