Smart Training to Stay Healthy Enough To Lift
By Lee Zimmerman BS ES, Robert Catalini BS Ex Phys, MBA

All athletes accept physical risk. We’ve all watched football, hockey, etc and participants at any level know the pain they endure in order to excel. Powerlifting is certainly no different and in most cases our type of training places incredible demands on the body.

In light of the recent health issues within the lifting community, perhaps it’s time to look at risk factors associated with lifting and specifically heart disease, so we can re-evaluate training methods to increase our longevity as well as our next PR.

Since heart disease remains the number one killer for both males and females in the United States, we will discuss risk factors associated with advancement of heart disease. The good news is some risk factors are preventable!

Risk factors for heart disease can be broken down into two areas;

Non-modifiable – such as age, sex, and family history
Modifiable – cholesterol (lipids), hypertension (blood pressure) tobacco use, the presence of diabetes, obesity and being sedentary (lack of continuous cardiovascular exercise, not work exercise or weight training!)
The older we get (age), the more at risk we are of having a cardiac event or getting heart disease. The risk factor of gender (sex) shows an increase in risk by being male (not by having too much or too little sex, …sorry) and lastly none of us were able to choose our parents and therefore, family history which demonstrates a propensity for heart disease, heart attacks, strokes or any arterial disease remains beyond our control. This leaves us the option of controlling the modifiable risk factors.

The modifiable risk factors include going to your doctor and checking your cholesterol by simple blood test, which can then be controlled with diet, fish oils such as RES-Q1250 and/or medication. Doing a full lipid panel of HDL (The “good” cholesterol high density lipo-protein) LDL (The “bad” low density lipo-protein) and Triglycerides would be prudent also. The same is true for hypertension, which can be controlled by medication, decreasing the load on the heart and arteries by losing weight or by increasing your coronary fitness through aerobic training. Your physician can detect diabetes through a simple blood workup. The presence of obesity as a risk factor can be detected by performing a body composition (body fat) test which we find more accurate for lifters and by BMI (Body Mass Index) which shows correlation of height and weight and is not as accurate for lifters because muscle mass is not accounted for.

The last modifiable risk factor of being sedentary can often affect all the others because reversing it and becoming aerobically active helps to decrease obesity by burning calories, decreases BMI, lowers Triglycerides, decreases blood sugar (diabetes) and decreases hypertension. Wow, what a bargain; decrease four risk factors by doing one… aerobic exercise.

Performing aerobic exercise means exercising continuously for more than a 12 minute duration. Exercises include bicycle, walking, running, swimming, and rowing, for example. Lifters who are “out of shape” can begin slowly with 12 minutes and gradually increase a few minutes each day until they can do 45 to 60 minutes continuously.

The intensity should be set based on the lifters heart rate. A simple calculation to use as a rule of thumb would be to take 220 and subtract your age and then multiply by 75% and this is the heart rate you should achieve during your aerobic workouts.

There are exceptions to the above if the lifter is on medications that would prevent a rise in heart rate (such as beta-blockers, for blood pressure) or medications that raise the heart rate like inhalers for asthmatics. Check with an exercise physiologist or your doctor to see if you fall into this category. All too often we have seen athletes train hard while on medication and put themselves at risk for an exercise induced stroke. An example would be the athlete who is on a blood pressure med that acts as a beta-blocker. If you are on these types of meds and pushing your heart rate up, then chances are your blood pressure is dangerously high while exercising.

The last piece of advice is to seek help by a specialist in exercise science, who can help individualize and tailor a program to you. A global risk assessment may be indicated such as non-invasive stress testing, risk factor analysis, an assessment for “metabolic syndrome” defined by your doctor, and testing for “c-reactive protein” associated with an inflammatory component in arterial disease.