Thursday, July 21, 2022

Higher Reps, Lower Blood Pressure -- Lewis N. Hopfe


Editor's Note (Peary Rader):
We feel that this article has a great deal of significance to readers of Iron Man. We mentioned before that some lifters, especially superheavyweights, have ea tendency to develop high blood pressure and eventually find it necessary to change their training methods and greatly reduce their bodyweights. Some bodybuilders have found similar problems too. Many bodybuilders and lifters have found that jogging corrects their problem and makes them feel better and probably they live longer. A large number of fellows, however, have found that jogging is a little bit rough on their feet and ankle bones, etc., and that they eventually have to give it up. This should not be so with the squat, as described by the author, and we hope that many readers will take advantage of opportunity to experiment with the lift ton higher reps and report the results. The editor has often mentioned how low his heart rate was when he was doing 20-rep squats and working extremely hard on them. After changing to much lower reps and higher poundages, this condition gradually changed back to a higher pulse rate. Naturally, a low pulse rate indicates a strong circulatory system, including a strong heart; we therefore recommend high repetition squats for developing better health as well as a better physique. We do not, of course, recommend this for people who have some organic problem or disease, or who suspect that they might have heart trouble. In this case you should only proceed under a doctor's supervision and care.   

The article begins here: 

Diseases associated with the cardiovascular system have become some of the major killers in modern life. When the term "cardiovascular disease" is mentioned, one immediately thinks of heart attacks since these attacks are so sudden and so prominent. 

However, another form of cardiovascular disease which is just as deadly is the stroke brought on by high blood pressure. High blood pressure has been called "the silent killer" because the victim often does not know he has a problem until it's too late. Anyone who has known the victim of a fatal or near fatal stroke knows what a terrible killer it is.

You may have read a statement just like the one in the preceding paragraph in newspapers, magazines, or textbooks. What is a statement about blood pressure doing in a magazine like Iron Man which is dedicated to weightlifting and bodybuilding? Quite simply, the answer is as follows . . . 

Most of us have taken up weightlifting to improve the quality of our lives. We started lifting to be healthier, to look better, and to feel better. That was a sensible move. No one has yet found a better way to achieve those goals than through sensible weight training. However, we know that not all weight training is sensible. We know that there are practices which actually work to the detriment of one's health. The zealot in pursuit of the ideal physique or weightlifting records may engage in dietary and training practices which may destroy his health in the long run. One of these practices, of course, is the use of anabolic steroids. Enough has been said about the long and short term dangers of these drugs by others so that there is no need to repeat them here. It might be noted, however, that there is evidence which seems to indicate that steroids have a tendency to raise the blood pressure. 

The training element which is the major concern of this article is not steroids, but rather the number of repetitions which lifters use to achieve their goals. It is my contention that a steady diet of heavy weights and low repetitions which is traditionally followed by lifters may in fact artificially raise the blood pressure. 

If you have followed weightlifting over the past few years, you may have noticed several examples of the following story . . . 

There is a great or near great power lifter in the superheavyweight division who is breaking records and threatening national and world records. He builds his bodyweight to 300 pounds by heavy eating. While no one would actually  call him "fat" at least not to his face, it is clear that he will never win a physique contest in his current shape. However, the champ believes the sacrifice is worth it and continues to train and push his bodyweight up and up. We read that his training program consists mainly of many sets of low repetitions. He may warm up with eight or 10 reps, but when he gets serious about his repetitions, never go above three, and he spends a lot of his time doing singles. This continues for a year or two more and then we hear that our hero is no longer in competition. He has been ordered by his doctor to lose weight. His blood pressure was getting dangerously high. When his weight approaches more than normal standards, the champ finds that he can no longer compete successfully in powerlifting, even with lifters in a lighter bodyweight classification.

Why are heavyweight lifters plagued by high blood pressure? A part of the problem is their bodyweight. Anyone who lets his bodyweight go over normal is bound to face problems with blood pressure. Let us not assume that just because a 300 pound man is a weight lifter and can squat with 800 pounds, he is immune from the problems of any other 300 pound person. He is not. He may be stronger than the average person, but a human heart must still send blood through all that body mass.

Another reason for higher levels of blood pressure among lifters may be their training system. The average training method for acquiring more strength calls for a concentration upon very heavy weights and low repetitions. In every training session the lifter must psych himself up to lift weights close to his maximum in sets of one, two, or three repetitions. While this type of training may not be the best method of strength development, it does produce results and it is widely accepted as being the best method of training for strength. But the toll which it takes upon the blood pressure of the trainee and its long term effects upon his health may be serious. When the ambitious lifter couples excessive bodyweight with low repetition training, and a diet of anabolic steroids he is simply playing with dynamite! 

Let me illustrate what I am saying with a personal experience. I was born with a problem relating to my heart valves. All during my high school and college education period, my physicians forbade me from participating in any kind of sports. They predicted that my heart would enlarge if I strained it in any way and that I would need a heart valve operation. I followed their advice until my twenty-fifth year when I was a graduate student at Boston University. At that time, my body desperately needed some form of exercise. I was clearly moving into middle age with all of its attendant problems. I borrowed a set of weights from  friend and began very light training. Since I did not have a heart attack as a result of touching a barbell and since it made me feel good, I kept it up. Eventually, I began to train with some friends at the Gloucester YMCA and even began to enter power meets in the Boston area. I followed the standard procedure or keeping my sets to no more than three reps. I did a great deal of training on single repetition sets.

During the past four years, I have been extremely busy as a college dean and have not had the time for powerlifting. However, last fall, I decided to try it again. I dragged out my old routines and began to train on low reps again, but this time, something was wrong. After my workouts, I felt terrible! I had headaches which seemed to result from the pressure of those heavy singles. That which worked for me when I was twenty-five or thirty did not work for me when I was forty. 

A few months ago, I decided to try a routine which emphasized very high repetitions. The routine called for 50 reps in squats and leg presses and up to 20 reps in other exercises. I had always thought 20 rep squats were tough, but 50 rep sets were just plain murder. Even with very light weights, the hardest work was done by the heart and lungs. Apparently, the legs received some benefit since my thigh measurement increased while I was on this routine. However, that was not the greatest benefit. 

Because of my heart condition, it is necessary for me to have a complete and very thorough physical examination each year, which carefully measures the size of my heart and the condition of its valves, etc. This spring, when I reported for my physical, I had just finished working on the high repetition routine. The physician checked my blood pressure and reported to me that it was 120 over 60. My blood pressure normally runs between 130 and 140 over 60, which is considered good for a 40 year old man. However, the 120 over 60 figure was surprisingly low and both the doctor and I were pleased. Then the physician turned off the lights in the examining room and began to look at my fingers with the flashlight. Next he called in another doctor and they both looked at my fingers in the dark. I was a little mystified about all of this and asked what was going on. The doctors said that my heart action was so strong that it could actually be seen pulsing through the capillaries in my fingernails in the darkened room with the flashlight turned on behind them. When I asked the doctors where they would expect to find such heart action, they replied that it was normally found in an "excited sixteen year old." When I left the doctor's office, he shook his head and said, "Just keep up whatever it is that you are doing." 

I intend to.

My own personal experience should not be construed as absolute proof regarding the relationship between blood pressure and the choice of repetitions. My low reading in the doctor's office could have been the result of my diet or running, or it could have simply been a mistake. Final proof in this area is yet to be established. In the meanwhile, why not give higher repetitions a try, especially if you are over thirty-five. 

You may be pleasantly surprised. 

Enjoy Your Lifting!   


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