Senescence and the Hise Effect
I started exercising with weights in my teens, taking many wrong turns and following every fashionable training theory (and sustaining injuries which affect me to this day). It took me a long time to distinguish between myth and reality, between what works and what does not.
I eventually started to correspond with Joseph Curtis Hise (in 1949) and G.W. Kelling (in 1950). They both, in different ways, had a formative influence on me. Kelling was an idealist who made a decision quite early in life to devote himself as a chiropractor to helping people of weak health, applying where possible his knowledge of progressive resistance training.
Hise (1905–1972) was a very unusual person: he was self-educated in many subjects including physiology and philosophy. He had rejected most conventional thinking on exercises; he was convinced his ideas would revolutionize the weight training world and raise standards to unthought of heights. He’d increased his own bodyweight to 300 lbs. and his deadlift to over 700 when the world record was 650. Hise also wrote of things which at that time were over my head. He believed that to strive to perfect yourself physically would entail profound changes in one’s character. The stronger you grow, the less is the need for aggressive self-assertiveness. He often spoke of the Eastern doctrine of ahimsa. This is living your life so that you never harm any creature.
According to Hise’s “cartilage mass theory” muscular hypertrophy depends on the connective tissue system of the body. The key exercises in Hise’s system are breathing squats, shrugs and round-bench pullovers. These, however, must be meshed in a precise way with other progressive resistance exercises so that growth be stimulated in the connective tissue system, which is the precondition for general growth.
The late Dr. G.W. Kelling (1923–1998, I believe) applied a modified form of Hise’s training to his patients, who often showed significant improvement in general health.
I myself made very good gains with Hise’s methods. My problem at that time was that I was incapable of sticking to anything for long. Hise had written out a customized training program for me which, I’m sorry to say, I followed sporadically. I kept breaking off to pursue other sports or other interests. It was during one of these breaks from training that I began to have misgivings about attempts to achieve massive gains in bodyweight. I’d made considerable improvement in strength and physique when I broke off and went to work at sea.
Working in the stokehold of a coal-burning ship I lost most of the gains I’d made on Hise’s training regime. I wondered whether my body was trying to tell me something. I began to think that the body, being a homeostatic system, was disposed to maintain a state of equilibrium in the face of changing conditions. That is, the body of what’s now called a hard gainer is especially disposed by nature to maintain critical variables within limits acceptable to its physiology and the architecture of its bones. In other words, hard gainers’ bodies don’t want massive change; they operate best at a lighter bodyweight.
I later worked out a formula which contained a guide to how much a hard gainer could gain before homeostasis kicked in. (Roughly, a medium/slim person of average height should be content with a weight gain of 20–30 pounds.) Hise rejected this. He felt that the sky was the limit in respect to bodyweight increase; he intimated that my reasoning revealed a timid, unenterprising nature.
The shrug, as taught to me by Hise, should be performed with a resistance which permits 20 repetitions. During the early repetitions the bar will be shrugged up, while inhaling, a vertical distance of 2 to 3 inches; towards the end of the set the bar will rise only about half an inch or even less. The specific shrug Hise was referring to was what eventually became known and “the Hise shrug,” but the same basic manner of performance applies to other types of shrugs used for this purpose, though the range of motion would not be the same for all the variants.
Anything which resembles inhaling against resistance may be called impeded breathing. The impedance, however, will not necessarily be in a downwards direction. As you bend forward to start to clean a weight and bring the muscles of your legs, hips, back and arms into play your posture and muscular effort will tend to obstruct inhalation and exhalation. With repetition cleans the forces that oppose expansion of the thorax work in a horizontal as well as a vertical direction. It’s this breathing against resistance which, on Hise’s account, produce the anabolic effect on the body.
Ultimate Hard Gainers
Senescence is the process of growing old. I’ve used this term because it commonly appears in current scientific articles on aging. The elderly are the ultimate hard gainers. In the normal course of events all they can look forward to are negative gains. According to some authorities, after the age of 25 there’s a 1% decline in the functions of the body; by the age of 50 the average sedentary person will have lost 25% of his or her own strength and endurance. Every 10 years there is, on some accounts, a loss of 6 pounds of lean muscle which is replaced by fat. Typically, as lean body mass decreases, the skin loses elasticity and grows thinner.
In respect of some characteristics senescence begins toward the end of the third decade! This is when bone mass starts to decrease, when the immune response grows less efficient, when the rate at which protein is synthesized begins to slow and when there’s a decline in the ability of cells to take up glucose in response to the stimulus of insulin.
Although there’s a substantial literature on aging, a consensus has not yet been reached concerning the process of senescence on the molecular level. One theory of senescence is worth mentioning since the underlying changes are said to be influenced, in part at least, by environmental factors, including diet and level of physical activity. According to this view much of the degeneration of old age is due to damage to nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. Free radicals are the cause of this damage. Free radicals are incomplete, unstable molecules containing oxygen. Stable radicals, on the other hand, have an unpaired electron at their surface; this makes them highly reactive and they steal electrons from any compound they encounter.
It’s this process of oxidization that’s said to produce the damaging effects of senescence. The free radicals continue to be generated in a chain reaction; it’s believed that they are deprived of their power to injure when they encounter anti-oxidants such as vitamins E and C. Free radicals are produced both in the environment and also within the body’s cells themselves. Environmental sources of free radicals are radiation, including solar radiation, industrial pollution of the atmosphere, and tobacco smoke. Another source is cooking with fats. It seems that olive oil, which is a monounsaturated fat is the safest for cooking with. Olive oil is a very special oil and should be used outside of cooking, in salad dressings and in place of margarine and butter.
It’s essential to grasp that even without a full knowledge of the biological processes of aging, the appearance of many of the bio-markers of senescence such as loss of muscle mass, osteoporosis, decline in cardiovascular efficiency and loss of mental sharpness can be delayed significantly. The elderly who exercise systemically are comparable in body composition and cardiac output to people twenty of thirty years their junior. The female members of an American masters swimming team, who were all in their seventies, had an average bodyfat percentage of 23.5; the average bodyfat of that age group is 44.6. In fact, the bodyfat percentage of the swimmers was that of young women of the 19–24 age group.
In respect of many physiological measures – aerobic capacity, cardiovascular characteristics, pulmonary function – middle-aged women who train rationally reach values typical of the average young male.
There is, in our culture, a common opinion that inactivity is the natural state of the middle-aged and especially the elderly. However, one of the main causes of muscle wasting, of bone demineralization, of loss of aerobic capacity is muscular inactivity. Progressive overload exercise (involving both isotonic and isokinetic) can soon make a noticeable improvement in the appearance of the limbs of the elderly and in the ability to perform physical work. When resistance exercise is supplemented by endurance exercise there’s a reduction in heart rate, in systolic and diastolic blood pressure and in skin fold measurement.
In not-exercising subjects bone mineral is lost at a rate of 0.7% per year between the ages of 30 and 70. A sedentary lifestyle, too much alcohol, too much dietary fat, all seem to speed up senescence; rational exercise and rational diet slow down the aging process. It’s not really the fault of the elderly that they adopt a physically inactive lifestyle. The decline in physical activity is due to cultural factors as well as to true physiological aging. It requires great firmness of purpose to go against the flow.
Once the elderly see evidence, in their own bodies, that progressive overload exercise can produce muscular growth and increased cardiac output their emotional state, even their world outlook can be transformed. In addition to a feeling of being in control there is, with the realization that the rate of aging can be modified, a growth of optimism and a sense of a new beginning.
The phrase “Hise Effect” in the title of this article refers to the general anabolic state that results from the performance of the special exercises advocated by J.C. Hise – especially breathing squats, round bench pullovers and shrugs. A Hise program should be part of the exercise regime of the elderly; it has been proved over the years to be extremely effective in producing muscular hypertrophy in the chronically underweight.
A chief virtue of the Hise approach is that it’s minimalist; the cardinal aim of Hise training it to produce growth with the smallest possible volume of exercise. Catabolic factors must never be allowed to outstrip anabolic factors.
A second positive feature is Hise’s emphasis on posture. Typically, senescence is accompanied by a deterioration or posture. Central to Hise’s cartilage mass theory of growth is the view that a perfectly erect body is both a symptom and a means of achieving good body mechanics. Primarily, Hise shrugs, squats, etc., provide the stimulus for the growth and increase in strength of the muscles that control posture (in calf, thigh, back, neck, chest). As these muscles grow stronger the posture and carriage of the body approach that state most favorable for the growth of the connective tissue system which, in Hise’s account, is the essential prerequisite of general muscular hypertrophy. As Hise put it: “Good body mechanics will increase cartilage mass without which the body cannot grow.” Hise’s methods work, and if they work with the chronologically underweight it’s plausible to claim that they will also work to some extent with the elderly.
A plausible explanation of the benefits of brief exercise sessions may be connected with the production of growth hormone (also known as somatropic hormone of somatropin) which is a very potent anabolic hormone essential for the growth of skeletal muscle (it’s not, however, an anabolic steroid but a peptide). Growth hormone is secreted in the anterior pituitary gland and is at its peak in adolescence, declining significantly from the thirties onwards. Growth hormone helps to transport amino acids through the cell walls and is involved with protein synthesis and growth. It also mobilizes fatty acids from bodyfat tissue and helps to use up adipose tissue for energy; this in turn may increase lean body mass.
Growth hormone is secreted in short bursts throughout the day and is influenced by exercise, nutrition, stress and mental state. Most growth hormone is secreted during the first two hours of sleep. It seems that resistance exercise stimulates the release of growth hormone but only for about 60 to 90 minutes. After this point release of growth hormone is suppressed. People who work at hard manual jobs, marathon runners an triathlon competitors don’t have enhanced growth hormone secretion – they work too hard.
Aside from the contribution that good posture is alleged to make to general muscular growth, the elderly will undoubtedly benefit from the correction of their standing and sitting posture. When the elderly sit for prolonged periods of time the spine assumes a relaxed posture. As the lumbar spine becomes fully flexes, the ligamentous structures are stretched to a harmful extent. The typical profile of a seated elderly person shows extreme thoracic kyphosis with the neck bent almost horizontally. This flexed position of the lumbar spine interferes with the fluid flow within the intervertebral disc, and intradiscal pressure rises.
It’s advisable for the subject to sit with correct posture, or even slightly overcorrected posture immediately after a Hise training session. In fact, this sitting while maintaining the correct lordosis and cervical posture should be considered part of the program, and will help to consolidate the gains just made in the efficiency of the postural muscles.
There’s much anecdotal evidence, some of which is supported by epidemiological studies, that those races or peoples who stay strong and healthy even in extreme old age live on diets that are low in calories but high in nutritive value. In particular, those populations that consume diets that primarily consist of fruits and vegetables have healthy blood pressure, low glucose levels and low total serum cholesterol levels.
When there have been epidemiological surveys of such populations’ results have shown far fewer occurrences of many sorts of so-called Western diseases. In addition, these people maintain good levels of lean body mass, strength and cardiovascular efficiency into the ninth decade and beyond. It’s thought that the diet of these people, which is high in anti-oxidants, limits or even reverses the damaging effect of free radicals.
It has to be emphasized that the typical diet and lifestyle of the developed countries is very unhealthy. One person in two dies from heart disease. One man in four will have a heart attack before retiring. Even pre-teen school children have fatty deposits in their arteries. Strokes and heart attacks don’t come out of the blue. They are the result of a steady, year-by-year accumulation of harmful factors such as stress, high-fat diet, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol, high salt and sugar intake, smoking and too little fibre. The body is like a credit ledger; you’re free to make any transaction you like but the day will come when you have to pay in full.
There’s an equivocation in the use of the term “shrug.” The term sometimes refers to the raising and contracting of the shoulders against maximum resistance, as an auxiliary exercise for lifters. The same tern, however, is also used to refer to so-called Hise shrugs with sub-maximal resistance which are intended to make inroads in the breathing and postural muscles and which are said to produce a positive effect on the synthetic aspects of metabolism. As I noted in my previous article, Hise believed that shrugs, squats and pullovers had the power to cause radical change in the body.
Shrugs should be varied – across the shoulders (the Hise shrug), held in front of the shoulders (rack position shrugs), at arms length overhead (snatch shrugs – more effective if done seated) and held in the deadlift finishing position.
To perform the Hise shrug adopt the position as if you’re standing with the bar over your shoulders and ready to squat. But don’t squat. Instead, shrug your shoulders and raise your chest as much as possible with each inhalation. Hise believed that shrugs should be performed only if one is already breathing hard from the preceding exercise.
I’ve never come across any scientific account of why Hise shrugs should produce this anabolic effect. Nonetheless, I’ve witnessed considerable improvement in physique and work capacity in subjects of all ages using this exercise.
It’s necessary to point out a third type of shrug, an exercise which could be called the “shrugless shrug.” By this I mean exercises which incorporate a chief feature of Hise shrugs – impeded breathing – but which don’t necessarily entail the full raising of the shoulders.
During inhalation the configuration of the thorax changes in a very complex way. As a first approximation, however, we need to consider only the raising of the ribs and the sternum, the increase of the thoracic cavity upwards, the depression of the diaphragm and the lateral expansion of the lower ribs. Whenever the mechanics of a particular exercise offer resistance to the horizontal and vertical expansion of the thoracic cavity, “impeded breathing” (or “shrugless shrugging” or “effective shrugging”) is taking place. A 20-repetition set of heavy deadlifts (weight not being allowed touch the floor) will entail a particularly intense form of impeded breathing, whether of not shrugging in the strict sense is being performed.
Impeded breathing exercise, judiciously supervised, may have a positive contribution to make to the anabolism of elderly subjects.
There’s a place for all three variations of the shrug in exercise programs for the elderly unless contraindicated by back problems.
Hise said that it’s an act both of optimism and of courage when a person who is no longer young embarks on a program of resistance training. It’s an act of courage because that person is taking responsibility for himself; activity is being chosen over passiveness, physical energy over inertness, self-assertiveness over quiescence. “You and only you,” Hise would say, “are choosing yourself and taking control of yourself. Even if your gains are small, even if they are barely perceptible, you will still have the feeling that you are in control, that only your choices and decisions matter in your life.”
No one should ever stop exercising. There’s an exercise regime for everyone, whatever their age, whatever their medical condition.
“You should wake up each day with the sense of just having been born and all that matters are the decisions you are going to make that day.”