Exercise & Fitness
Weight Training - High Intensity
High-Intensity Weight Training for People with Disabilities
Disabilities should not deter people from attaining the positive benefits of a well-structured weight training program. Strength training increases muscle size, improves muscle endurance, prevents bone loss, and increases self-esteem. Weight training will not only make a person stronger, it can also help to ward off common injuries to areas such as the shoulders and elbows. More importantly, people with disabilities should partake in weight training activities to the extent their abilities allow to prevent loss of function or autonomy.
Before beginning any type of exercise program, it is advised that a physician be consulted. The nature of the disability may contradict the use of strength training as a therapy. For example, strength training may worsen some forms of muscular dystrophy, and it is therefore essential that a physician be consulted before beginning any exercise program. Common questions might include:
For people with spinal cord injuries, the level of injury is an important consideration. Injuries at or above T-6 are associated with autonomic dysreflexia (a sudden and dangerous rise in blood pressure). If autonomic dysreflexia is suspected, stop the exercise session and consult a physician.
- Are there any reasons weight training might be harmful with this specific disability?
- If yes, are there any modified strength training activities that are safe?
Previous levels of conditioning should also be considered. First-time weightlifters will undoubtedly suffer from delayed onset muscle soreness following the first few weight training sessions. Delayed onset muscle soreness is the general muscle pain felt usually the day following an initial bout of exercise. If you do arm curls today, tomorrow when you wake up, the muscles in the front of your arm will be sore. Delayed onset muscle soreness usually resolves in a few days in mild cases, but in more severe cases, pain can persist for up to a week. Severe delayed onset muscle soreness may limit mobility. Sufferers of delayed onset muscle soreness often find relief from rest and/or low-intensity activities that warm up the muscles. Delayed onset muscle soreness is usually present after the first one or two weight training sessions, and only returns after a long period of inactivity.
The ability of the body to dissipate heat should also be considered. Spinal cord injuries can limit the ability of the body to dissipate heat effectively. A weight training area with proper ventilation and air conditioning is essential. Also, drinking plenty of fluids will help.
Weight Training Safety Considerations
High-Intensity Training System
- Always have a spotter. A spotter is someone who assists the lifter when the lifter can no longer perform the exercises properly or safely.
- Use proper warm-up and cool-down procedures. Warming up the body via mild cardiovascular exercise and stretching is essential to avoid injury.
- Keep the weight room clean and re-rack the weights when you are finished lifting them.
- Use proper technique. Ask a fitness professional for help if needed.
- Progress into the weight-training program slowly to avoid excessive initial muscle soreness.
- Do not train the same muscles on consecutive days. High-intensity training requires that you allow each muscle at least 48 hours to recover after a weight training session. Do not lift the same muscle group more than twice in a week.
- Follow sound nutritional principles. You body will need the proper nutrients to rebuild the muscles following high-intensity training.
High-intensity training involves maximizing the workout by demanding the muscles work very hard over a short period with little time for recovery. This system maximizes the time spent in the gym by limiting the amount of time spent between sets of exercise. The high-intensity training system, which is designed for maximal strength and endurance gains in accordance with the specific adaptation to imposed, demands principle. This principle is defined as the ability of the body to adapt to the stresses placed upon it. Physical exertion through weight training causes the body to adapt to the stress by making the muscles stronger and larger.
Muscle atrophy (muscle shrinkage) and osteoporosis (bone loss) are the result of muscle and bone not being subjected to adequate stress. In the absence of stress, the body breaks down these tissues instead of building them. Weight training stimulates the body to do the opposite, and instead of breaking down the body tissues; the body will build the tissues stronger to allow a more efficient response to those stresses placed upon it. Therefore, an important aspect of high-intensity training is to properly overload the muscles, thereby stimulating the body to increase the size of the muscle making it stronger, larger and more efficient. High-intensity training principles dictate that a person moves through the workout in a progressive and intense manner.
Principles of High-Intensity Training
The spotter's main purpose is to prevent injury and to allow the lifter to maximize the negative repetitions by assisting with failed positive portion. The spotter should assure that the lifter is using proper form and technique and should also provide encouragement and feedback.
- Never train any muscle group on consecutive days. High-intensity training requires that the body have time to rebuild. Every muscle group should have at least 48 hours to recover following a high intensity workout. If the body is not provided with adequate recovery time, then muscle destruction instead of muscle size increase might occur.
Move the arm, leg or whichever joint is working through the full available range of motion. For example, an arm curl would start from the fully extended position and would end fully flexed.
- Use proper technique. Allow the muscles to raise and lower the weight, do not bounce, throw, jerk, or drop the weights. Ask facility staff for specific instruction.
Emphasize the eccentric contraction (lowering the weight). A muscle is approximately 40% stronger during an eccentric contraction (during the lowering of the weight). This means that even though a lifter cannot lift the weight anymore without the assistance of a spotter, the lifter can still perform negative repetitions (lowering the weight) if the spotter assists with the lifting portion of the exercise. This allows maximum intensity and brings the muscle to momentary muscle failure.
To stimulate muscle enough to cause adaptation, the muscle must be brought to failure. Momentary muscle failure is achieved when another repetition can no longer be performed properly. High-intensity training maximizes this effect by asking the person training to go beyond what is perceived as his or her physical limit. Once positive failure is reached (the ability to lift the weight alone), the lifter should concentrate on the negative or lower phase of the repetition by using a 6- to 8-second count as the weight is lowered.
Little rest between sets is needed. Lifters should move directly from exercise to exercise with minimum time between sets. The method of performing a pushing exercise and then a pulling exercise is effective in limiting rest time between sets. It allows the push muscles time to recover, yet intensity remains high.
The purpose of a repetition is to create tension in the muscle through a full range of motion, that when repeated throughout a set, would fatigue a muscle. There are additional considerations in performing the repetition correctly.
- Minimize momentum by performing each repetition slowly and with control. Increasing the momentum takes tension off of the muscle. Taking tension off the muscle during a repetition is not only counterproductive, but also dangerous.
Pausing in the position of full muscle contraction minimizes the momentum.
Emphasizing the negative or lowering portion of the repetition keeps tension on the muscle. If the weight is allowed to fall or drop, then only half the possible work is being performed with each repetition. Maximizing the negative cuts the amount of repetitions in half.
Body position influences leverage, and can also expose lifters to injury. Arching the back and other forms of poor technique may allow the lifter to move more weight, but often these poor forms lead to muscle strains and joint sprains.
The principle of specific adaptations to imposed demands dictates that in order for weight training to be beneficial, the workload must constantly progress as the body positively adapts to the previous effort. Simply put, if a lifter can lift 50 pounds 10 times today, then the next time the lifter should attempt 50 pounds 11 or 12 times. Alternatively, progression can take the form of increasing the weight to 60 pounds and then attempting 10 repetitions with the increased weight. Once that is achieved, progression would again continue with more added weight or repetitions. There is no magic number of times a weight should be lifted during a set. The weight should be lifted until the lifter can no longer safely lift the weight with the assistance of a spotter.
The amount of work that muscles perform depends on volume (the number of times the weight is lifted) and time (the amount of time over which the exercise is performed). Intensity is a matter or increasing the rate that the exercise is performed, or increasing the weight and decreasing the repetitions. Increasing the rate is done by moving through the movements quicker (not recommended) or decreasing the amount of time resting between each set and each exercise (recommended). Why lift weights for two hours when the same amount of work can be accomplished in less than half the time by increasing the intensity of the workout? Adding more weight is also an option, but this is not recommended, as it is safer to use a controllable weight at which you can perform between six and 10 repetitions. A large amount of weight is difficult to control and may predispose the weight lifter to muscles strains or other injuries. More importantly, the weight lifter may not perform enough repetitions to adequately stress the muscle and cause it to adapt.
Weight lifting is hard work; therefore, a weightlifter must be motivated to meet the challenge. One of the simplest ways to keep motivated is to keep a record of improvement. Keeping detailed record weights lifted and repetitions achieved will allow you to visually see improvements on paper. Keeping a record is also important for purposes of progression and to know how much weight and how many repetitions to use day to day. Introducing variety into the workout also helps to maintain a level of motivation. This may be limited somewhat by the facility and available equipment, but this can be overcome by imagination. The muscle does not know if fancy equipment is being used or not; it only knows if it is working hard.
The high-intensity training system is not a highly advanced method of strength training, as it is sometimes perceived. It is simply a matter of maximizing the benefits of weight training by increasing the intensity at which one performs the exercises, and by maximizing the body's capacity to lift more during the negative contraction.
Persons with disabilities can attain the same benefits from high-intensity training that anyone else can. The only contraindications would be those specific to the disability, and these should be discussed with a physician.
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The information provided here is offered as a service only. The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, University of Illinois at Chicago, the National Center on Accessibility, and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago do not formally recommend or endorse the equipment listed. As with any products or services, consumers should investigate and determine on their own which equipment best fits their needs and budget.