The Value of Pumping Iron at Any Age
In the pages called Your
Relationship With Your Heart
Relationship With Your Lungs
, we were engaged in creating a relationship
with the environment and with the body itself in order to sustain,
experience and enjoy life. It is this relationship which is important.
To live your life appropriate to who you are, it is also critically
important that you have a living relationship with the earth, its history,
with the atmosphere and its history and with life and its history.
When all that is in place, you are ready to begin to create your place
in this incredible world.
The first step in creating your place in the world is to learn about
your body. We have begun the process of gathering the information you
need to appreciate the miracle that is your body. We have considered
the heart and the blood which it pumps and the system of vessels through
which it is pumped. In Aerobic
, we have also considered the organ responsible for gathering
O2 from the atmosphere and the common insults to that organ: tobacco
smoke and air pollution. There is only one thing left: skeletal muscle.
Skeletal muscle is a unique kind of tissue, which has the ability
to contract and relax at your command, thus the ability to do work.
Biologists are just beginning to fully understand how muscle contracts.
Consider how miraculous it is to have a living tissue that can make
itself longer or shorter on command and do work.
The skeletal muscle of your body makes up fifty to seventy percent
of the tissue through which blood is pumped. For your heart to have
a chance to do the best job possible, it is important that skeletal
muscle be conditioned.
Skeletal muscle does not condition itself naturally. It must be exercised
to be properly conditioned. Only when conditioned are the channels
clear through which blood must pass. In a muscle which is disproportionately
fatty, as the unconditioned muscle is, regardless if you are "fat" or "skinny," the
capillary beds through which blood must pass are compressed. The overall
effect is to raise blood pressure, so that the heart must pump harder
and do more work to get the job done. Only when your muscles are conditioned
can your body find its natural blood pressure. Also, when your muscles
are conditioned, you feel better and are more able to concentrate on
There are hundreds of separate skeletal muscles in the body, and each
of them has an attachment to two bones (an "origin" and an "insertion").
It is in the movement of the skeleton that work is done — therefore,
these two attachments are absolutely necessary.
Skeletal muscle runs on the same energy source as does the nervous
system: oxygen. A muscle can do its job only when supplied with sufficient
oxygen. Oxygen arrives in the muscle via arteries, which branch over
and over until capillaries are formed. Five factors determine the amount
of oxygen delivered: (1) the condition of the arteries, (2) the condition
of the muscle, (3) the strength of the heartbeat, (4) the oxygen exchange
capacity of the lung and (5) the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
One of the muscles of the body is the diaphragm
. For life
to be happening, the diaphragm must contract. It is the only compulsory
skeletal muscle. It must continuously contract and relax; this activity
is compulsory for life to continue.
All other skeletal muscles are noncompulsory. For them to contract
requires the activity of the command center located in the cerebral
cortex coordinated through reflex circuits in the spinal cord and the
The diaphragm is run by the respiratory center located in the brain
stem. Superior conditioning of the diaphragm is achieved through aerobic
exercise. Superior conditioning of the rest of the skeletal muscles,
likewise, requires special attention. This is called a "weight training
program." When you think of a "weight training program" you probably
will think of lots of time spent pumping iron, expense, Arnold Schwarzenmuscle,
etc. That is not it. I am not recommending that you become muscle-bound;
however, I do want to introduce you to your muscles. We will take them
by groups, rather than as individuals, and find out how easy they are
The body can be thought of as a collection of sticks connected by
joints. The sticks are the following: feet, legs, thighs, thorax-abdomen,
upper arm, lower arm and neck. That is a total of twelve sticks. Each
stick has two basic movements — flexion and extension — except
for the neck, upper arm and thigh, which have five basic movements:
flexion, extension, abduction, adduction and rotation. For exercise
purposes, we can forget about rotation and adduction. Arnold and his
friends must worry about those movements, but we do not have to.
Let us begin with your foot. In a sitting position, flex your foot
back and then extend it forward. To flex your foot back, you used your
anterior tibial muscles. Place your hand just over your shin-bone,
and feel this flexion. To extend your foot, you have used your gastrocnemius
Place your hand on the back of your leg, and feel the action of that
muscle. Now, do the same for the front and back of the thigh, the quadriceps
respectively. You need to stand up and flex
your knee backwards to feel your hamstrings in action. These two muscle
groups are responsible for extension and flexion of the leg (foot to
Now, consider the movement of your thighs. These are moved by muscles
attached to your pelvis. Stand up and, keeping your right thigh and
leg straight, kick as if you were kicking a ball. Now, the left. This
movement is accomplished with a muscle buried deep in your abdomen
called the psoas
. You will be unable to feel the action of
the psoas with your hand. Now, kick in the same way, except backward.
As you do this, put your hand on your buttocks. The muscles which do
this action are called the gluteal group
. Let us hope yours
is cute! Now, kick to the side and, as you do, find with your hand
the muscle that does this action. It is called the tensor fascia
Now, on to the thorax-abdomen. Those muscles that form little waves
on your belly (if and when you become skinny) are called the rectus
. These muscles flex the thorax-abdomen in relationship
to the thighs. Do a sit-up, keeping your hands on your belly to feel
the action of these muscles. Now, get in a crawling position and raise
the upper part of your body to the position of standing on your knees.
As you do this, arch your back. The muscles that do this are located
on both sides of your vertebral column and are known as "extensors" of
Now, consider your upper extremities (arms, forearms and hands). First,
let us look at the shoulder joint. Stand with your arms outstretched
as if to fly like a bird. Now, bring your hands together back-to-back
over your head. The muscle doing this action is the deltoid
is what you refer to as your "shoulder." Now, resume the flying position;
imagine yourself upside down, and bring your arms from that position
to your sides. These muscles are the latissimus dorsi
originate from your rib cage about where your elbows are when you are
typing or playing piano, and they attach ("insert") to the inner aspect
of the upper arm just below the shoulder. Find them with your hands.
Now, lie on your back with an object of two to ten pounds in each
hand with your arms spread-eagled straight out from your sides. Keeping
your arms straight, bring the two objects together in front of you.
The chest muscles which have done this action are called the pectorales
the singular form). Find them, and inspect their action.
Now, stand next to an armless chair with your right knee on the seat
of the chair. Bend forward until your trunk is horizontal with the
floor, and support yourself with your right hand on the chair. With
a moderately heavy object in your left hand, and that hand at floor
level, pull that object upwards until your elbow is at the level of
your back. Keep your elbow flared out and away from your body. One
of the muscles in this action is the trapezius
, and it spreads
out over your back like a sheet, attaching to your shoulder blade and
stabilizing your shoulder blade, while other muscles (teres major
attached to your shoulder blade and arm, elevate your arm. The trapezius
attaches to the neck and the spine from the upper neck to the mid-back.
Now, take a moderately heavy object in each of your hands, stand up
and, with your hands facing forward and your arms hanging at your side,
lift the object to your chin with the palms of your hands turned toward
your face. These muscles are the biceps
Now, take the object, and hold it directly over your head. Let your
elbow bend and your hand come down behind you with the shaft of your
upper arm pointing to the ceiling. With your other hand, resting on
your biceps and holding in place your upper arm, raise the object again
over your head keeping your elbow in the same place. The muscles which
have done this action are the triceps
Now, find the flexors
of the wrists
These muscles are located on the front and back of your forearm respectively,
and they bend the hand back and forth.
That leaves the neck. Disregarding rotation, the neck has four movements:
flexion, extension, abduction and adduction. These muscles groups are
named for what they do: neck extensors, flexors, abductors
Flex and extend your neck and find those muscles. Point your head to
the right and the left, and find the muscles which do that.
There are hundreds of muscles in the human body, but if you pay attention
to them in the manner I have outlined and work them regularly, all
muscles will be well-conditioned. I distinguish between becoming muscled
up and being conditioned. It is not necessary to be muscled up to be
However, it is necessary to exercise each muscle group twice each
week. To achieve our purposes, each muscle group needs to be matched
to an appropriate weight and worked to exhaustion two times each week.
This represents about thirty minutes of your time, less than one-half
of one percent of one week.
Worked to exhaustion means that the last repetition is the last one
you can possibly do. The number of repetitions should be between eight
and twelve. The weight is adjusted up or down until exhaustion occurs
after eight, nine, ten, eleven, or at most twelve repetitions.
This is called "anaerobic" exercise because you are using stored energy
rather than straight oxygen. Believe it or not, anaerobic exercise
is an important part of aerobics. It creates muscle tissue
through which your heart can pump blood with minimum effort
It also creates more insulin receptor sites and changes the insulin/glucagon/eicosanoid
hormone balance in a very positive way. A usual effect is to lower
blood pressure, even if your blood pressure is only in the high normal
range. See eicosanoids
a full discussion.
How to get started? This is a process of education. If you are not
already accustomed to this, you need a teacher. If you are accustomed
to weight training, and you are not actually doing it, you need to
further educate yourself about the benefits. When you know enough,
and if you love life, you will do your program. It will be a high priority.
If you join a fitness club, they will provide someone to set up a program
for you. When you become very practiced at it, you will be able to
take this activity into your own home and make it a part of your regular
routine. You brush your teeth, you wash the dishes, and you lift your
The proper diet to follow for maximum benefit from exercise is covered