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Only strength training of upper body stiffens arteries

We've posted a number of articles recently on how strength training can stiffen the arteries and on how strength athletes can do something about this. One way is to do a short cardio training session after a strength workout. But if you're not into cardio, researchers in Japan have good news for you. After leg weight training, cardio training isn't necessary.

Only strength training of upper body stiffens arteries
In 2009 sports scientists at Kinki Welfare University published the results of an experiment on 19 male and 11 female students, who did weight training for 10 weeks. Some of them only trained their lower body, others only their upper body, and a control group did no training at all.

The subjects in the two training groups went to a gym twice a week. There they trained at 80 percent of the level at which they could just manage 1 rep. They did 5 sets of each exercise, and rested for 2 minutes between sets.

The upper limb group represented by circles on the graph below did chest-presses, curls, seated-rows, shoulder-presses and lat-pulldowns. The lower limb group represented by squares did leg-presses, squats, seated calf-raises, leg-extensions and leg-curls. The control group is represented by a triangle.

The graph below shows the effect of the different programmes on the stiffness of the arteries. As you can see, training the upper body makes the arteries stiffer, but training of the lower body does not.

Only strength training of upper body stiffens arteries

Only strength training of upper body stiffens arteries

The graph above shows the effect of the programmes on the concentration of noradrenalin in the subjects' blood. Upper body strength training raises it, but strength training of the lower body does not. The researchers believe that this explains why strength training stiffens the arteries.

Other studies have shown that cardio exercise cancels out the negative effects of strength training on the arteries. According to an American study, strength athletes can protect their arteries by doing 45 minutes of moderate-intensive cardio exercise on the days that they don't do strength training. Shorter sessions work too, but their effectiveness has only been demonstrated in studies where the subjects got on the treadmill immediately after doing their weight training. Doing cardio before the weight training doesn't work.

Many strength athletes are not keen on cardio. The Japanese study makes their life a little bit easier. It suggests that, after leg training at least, it's not necessary to do cardio training.

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009 Sep; 107(2): 127-34.

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