“A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.” – Spanish Proverb
*With every passing day thousands of men, young and old, pack their duffel bags, lace their cross-trainers, mix their pre-workout drinks and dawn their headphones before heading to the local gym.
The objective therein varies from person to person. Some exercise for their health. Others do so to improve their physiques. And some make the trip to keep their wives happy. But no matter the reason, most if not all gym-going men have spent some time huffing and puffing in the weight room.
However, a recent study (“The Effect of Resistance Training on Biomarkers of Vascular Function and Oxidative Stress in Young African American and Caucasian Men”), boldly suggests that ‘pumping iron’ is most beneficial to the cardiovascular health of young Black males, beyond all others. This conclusion was gathered after two groups of healthy, college-aged males underwent six weeks of intensive, regimented physical training.
The process was divided into three individual, non-consecutive workouts per week. One specific day was designated for participants to train their backs, arms and legs. The following meeting emphasized conditioning of the chest, shoulders and trapezius muscles (located at each end of the neck). Day 3 would feature either of the prior workouts.
“Our [data] showed that as a result of resistance training Black men can improve the health of their arteries faster than white men,” explained Bo Fernhall, dean of the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). He also spearheaded the entire analytic process that preceded the findings during the study. “We have no idea how to explain this. But the results are what they are. “
There is a catch, however. As it stands, the science doesn’t include, and therefore doesn’t apply to, at least for now, males beyond their thirties, Fernhall went on to say.
“We don’t have data beyond that age-range right now. It’s possible that older men may have the same results. But that’s yet to be determined. We’re looking into it,” he assured.
Researchers at UIC, including Fernhall, hypothesize that the blood vessels (arteries) of even young, healthy black men show greater dysfunction than that of their white counterparts. The results included stiffening and thickening of the blood vessels over time. These conditions potentially lead to irregular blood flow (high blood pressure) as well as long-term damage to the heart and kidneys.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and kidney disease. Furthermore,TIME.com recently released a report that Black men have the highest rate of hypertension-related death of any group in the U.S. (three times the rate of white men), partly because high blood pressure goes untreated in so many African Americans.
“Higher blood pressures in African Americans, particularly males of this demographic, have been shown as young as 8 to 10 years of age,” added Fernhall. “There’s obviously something going on that predisposes the Black population to end-stage disease, hypertension (high blood-pressure) and stroke and the more debilitating diseases later in life.”
Most cardiovascular diseases result from arterial breakdown or degradation of the blood vessels, Fernhall further explained.
“Our study and some others show that blood pressure decreases with weight training,” he went on to say. “Your resting Blood pressure goes down as a result of training. Stress levels have also been shown to be reduced as well as vast improvement to the long term health of your arteries. I can’t stress that enough. This is why we urge not only Black males, but males in general to incorporate an element of resistance training in your routine. It can help save or extend your life.”
Previously sedentary individuals, or those who have not lifted weights in more than a year, should follow a novice workout frequency. According to an article published in the March 2009 issue of “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” by Nicholas A. Ratamess, beginners should perform two to three total-body workouts per week. Performing full-body workouts on nonconsecutive days provides muscle with the required 24 to 48 hours of rest needed for recovery and growth between workouts.
Intermediate weightlifters should continue with two to three full body workouts per week or implement a four-day split routine. A common split routine trains upper- and lower-body muscles on different days. An example of a four-day split routine for your upper and lower body includes training your upper body on Mondays and Thursdays and lower body on Wednesdays and Fridays.
In general, advanced weightlifters exercise four to six days per week and focus on one to three muscle groups per session. As always, consult a doctor before starting an exercise program. Proper technique is essential to prevent injury and achieve maximum results. Beginners looking to craft an effective resistance training program should consider the following exercises:
1. Barbell Single-Leg Squats
Barbell single leg squats engage the quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks and calves. Stand in front of a flat bench. Hold a barbell behind your neck and let the weight rest on your trapezius muscle. Turn your back to the bench. Step forward with your dominant leg. Hold steady by keeping your toes pointed straight. Drive your heel into the ground for balance. Raise the opposite leg and place your ankle on the bench behind you (bend at the knee). Lower your hips toward the ground until your front knee is bent at 90 degrees. Press yourself up and return to the starting position. Repeat for four sets of 12 to 15 repetitions on each leg.
2. Military-Style Push-Ups
Military style push-ups stimulate the chest, shoulders and core. Start on all fours. Press up onto your toes so your hands and feet are supporting your body weight. Keep your spine in a straight line. Bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the ground. Press yourself up until your arms are straight. Repeat for four sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.
3. Barbell Shoulder Press
Barbell shoulder presses engage the shoulders and core muscles. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold a barbell overhead with your arms straight and palms facing forward. Lower the barbell down to chest-height. Press the weight up and return to the starting position. Repeat for four sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.
4. Barbell Row
Start in a standing position while gripping the barbell with your palms facing you. Keep your back straight and lean forward by bending at the waist and knees. Let the barbell hang down but not touch the floor. Exhale and pull your shoulder blades toward each other. Continue pulling the bar toward the lower part of your ribcage. Inhale while lowering the weight to the starting position. keep your spine and neck aligned to prevent injury.
The number of sets and repetitions you perform will depend on your training aspirations. The best strategy for beginners is to use light weight (10-15 pounds). Starting small will prevent the development of bad habits and potential injury. Lifting too much too soon may result in a number of unwanted drawbacks and mistakes. Instead, focus on familiarizing yourself with the basics first. Go for the gusto later. To build strength, implement a program of high resistance and low repetitions. If your training objective is to tone the muscles, opt for moderate weight and increase the rep count. Always maintain strict form and technique no matter how simple the exercise may seem. Allow your body ample rest between workouts to give your muscles an opportunity to recover and grow.
EURweb editorial associate Cory A. Haywood is also certified personal fitness trainer based in Southern California. Contact him via: [email protected].