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PART I: FITNESS AND BODYBUILDING
What Is Fitness?
Physical fitness involves the development of all of the body's physical capabilities.
For example, when exercise physiologists tested weightlifters and bodybuilders about twenty years ago they found these men had tremendous strength and muscular development, but that most of them lacked the endurance that comes from cardiovascular training. Their muscles were in great shape, but not their heart and lungs.
Lifting weights, it was then decided, leads to an unbalanced physical development. But then it occurred to somebody that that kind of a standard should work both ways. If you test a long-distance runner, you will generally find he has enormous capacity for endurance but, unless he has done some kind of resistance training, he will tend to lack strength, especially in the upper body. He is also unbalanced.
But things have changed a lot since that time. It is now difficult to find a weightlifter or bodybuilder who doesn't do some kind of aerobic training, and many endurance athletes -- particularly swimmers -- include a lot of strength-training in their workouts. And it is working: the totally fit athlete is not only healthier, but he has an edge over his competitors as well.
I have always followed this principle in my own training. Having been a competitive swimmer and soccer player before I became a bodybuilder, I knew what being in shape really means. So I always included a lot of, running and stretching movements in my workouts along with progressive-resistance weight training.
Total fitness, as I see it, has three components:
(1) Aerobic conditioning. Aerobic activity is anything that uses up a lot of oxygen. Oxygen is delivered to the muscles by the cardiovascular system -- the lungs, heart and circulation of the blood. This system is developed by continuous, high-repetition exercise such as running, swimming, jumping rope, riding a bicycle, etc.
(2) Flexibility. Muscles, tendons and ligaments tend to shorten over a period of time, which limits our range of motion and renders us more liable to injury when sudden stresses are placed on these structures. But we can counteract this tendency by stretching exercises and physical programs such as yoga.
(3) Muscular Conditioning. There is only one way to develop and strengthen the muscles: resistance training. When you contract the muscles against resistance, they adapt to this level of effort. The best and most efficient way of doing this is through weight training.
Beyond this, once we have the body in shape, we have to learn to use it. This is where sports and athletic activities come in. But we cannot fully enjoy the act of physical play if we haven't developed the basic physical systems with which we have been endowed.
Nutrition and diet are also essential. It makes no sense to make demands on the body if you haven't given it the nutrients it needs to function properly. Therefore an important part of this program involves learning how and what to eat to maximize health and energy.
But of all these areas the one which is most often misunderstood -- and which in many ways incorporates the widest range of benefits -- is weight training. And the reason that progressive-resistance weight training is so valuable to building and maintaining health and strength become obvious once you take a look at the nature of the muscle that makes up the human body.
The Nature of Muscle
There are three kinds of muscle in the body, each with its own characteristics.
(1) Smooth muscle is found in the walls of internal or visceral organs such as blood vessels and intestines.
(2) Cardiac muscle is the tissue that makes up the heart, and it can be strengthened by cardiovascular, high-repetition exercise.
(3) Skeletal muscle is the system of long muscles that control the movement of the body. It is this kind of muscle, under voluntary control, that weight training is designed to strengthen and condition.
Muscle has one simple function -- it contracts. Nothing else. That is why our bodies are designed with opposing muscles or sets of muscles. When you extend or move a part of the body in one direction, it takes the contraction of an opposing muscle to bring it back.
We have muscles because of gravity. Our planet's gravitational field holds us prisoner, and the purpose of muscle is to overcome this basic force. If we lived on a larger planet with a stronger gravitational field, we would have larger muscles. If evolution had prepared us for life on the moon with its one-sixth earth gravity, our muscular structure would be correspondingly lighter.
Muscle is highly adaptive. It changes according to the demands put upon it. For example, a friend of mine broke his leg skiing and was confined to a hospital bed for several weeks. When the cast finally came off, I could hardly believe how thin and weak the injured leg had become. Kept immobile by the cast, the muscles had shrunk noticeably.
The same sort of thing happened to our astronauts who spent so much time in Skylab. I was discussing physical fitness with some NASA officials recently and they told me that these men practically had to learn to walk all over again after returning from long periods of weightlessness in space. Outside the earth's normal gravitational field, their muscles had become maladapted for moving around the planet.
When you lift a weight, or work against some other sort of resistance, you are, in effect, creating an artificial gravitational field. When I was training to win my Mr. Olympia titles and was lifting enormous weights every day in the gym, it was as if I were living on a giant planet like Jupiter instead of the earth. As a result, my body was forced to adapt to this extra effort and my muscles became stronger and more massive.
Since I train these days as much for flexibility, coordination and endurance as for strength, my physique has changed. But by going back to my former hard training for six months or so, I could build myself back up from 215 to my solid 240-pound competition weight. Other people may not be able to make gains like this -- a lot of it is genetic -- but the basic principle is the same: use a muscle and it gets bigger and stronger; fail to subject it to sufficient stress and it will get weaker and smaller.
Muscle Size and Strength
The shrinking of a muscle due to underuse is called atrophy. The increase in size of muscle when it is subjected to greater amounts of stress is called hypertrophy.
Muscle tissue itself is composed of bundles of fibers. These fibers are really tiny, and they are wrapped together and bound in a sheath of tissue for strength. We are each given a certain number of these fibers at birth, and we can't increase them through diet, exercise, or any other means. But we can do a lot to alter their size and strength.
Strength is a matter of several factors:
(1) The number of fibers in a muscle.
(2) The number of fibers that participate in any given muscular contraction.
(3) The strength and thickness of the individual fibers.
When you attempt to contract a muscle, you are actually only using a percentage of the fibers that are theoretically available to you. You use only the number that you need to use.
If you keep trying to work against heavier and heavier amounts of resistance, the body adapts by causing more and more of the muscle fibers to engage in the contraction. This takes some time, and there is obviously a physiological limit to this process. But it remains true that the way you get stronger through resistance training is by forcing the muscles to call on increased numbers of muscle fibers to do the work you are asking of them.
In this way, the body is not like a machine. If you connect a 10-horsepower motor to a 12-horsepower load, it will burn out. But if you demand a 12-horsepower effort from a...