Tread carefully at the gym


Lord of Penmai
Jul 5, 2011
Tread carefully at the gym

A 37-year-old fitness freak felt dizzy and vomited just as he finished his daily workout about a month back. He was taken to a hospital where his condition deteriorated till he lost use of all four limbs. In this state of quadriplegia, he was finally seen by a neurologist ten days later. The neurologist told him that he had dissected a vital artery that supplies blood to the brain. He is unable to get out of bed as yet.

His case may be an extreme but the sudden “fitness wave” sweeping many parts of urban India with an overwhelming emphasis on weight training and muscle building has left doctors worried. This is particularly because trainers rarely have the required knowledge about muscle physiology and dynamics to become effective supervisors of a training routine that causes stress not just to the targeted muscle mass but also to the heart. Resistance training gives faster and more visible results than a cardio workout so even the gym goer who wants to shed weight is prescribed weights to get to the targeted inches — not weight — faster.

There are many ways in which a muscle contracts, of these two - isometric and isotonic contraction - are of primary importance to the average fitness enthusiast. Isometric contraction is when the muscle contracts without any change of length of the muscle fibre while isotonic contraction is when the muscle fibres change in length but the tone remains the same. Tone is the muscle’s resistance to stretch. In weight training there is much more isometric contraction of muscles as the tone increases which is the aim of several people who are trying to increase bulk.

The problem with isometric contraction is that as the tone of the muscle goes up, the arteries supplying the muscle get constricted which in turn increases the load against which the heart has to pump. This often causes unnecessary stress on arteries, which can lead to cases where loss .

Dr Anoop Kohli, consultant neurologist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, says, “Of late we have seen many cases of stroke triggered by over exertion in the gym. It is a situation complicated by a large number of factors. Lack of training and awareness on the part of both trainers and instructors, regulations are rarely followed — a doctor must always be present on the premises - and the fact that the supplements they give often contain anabolic steroids which can initiate a large number of physiological reactions.”
On the other hand, the group of exercises commonly known as cardio workouts deal mostly in isotonic contraction where there is less pressure on both muscles and the heart. However overdoing them is not advisable either. The key, doctors say is to understand that the body one has acquired over a few decades will not change over a few days or months.

Dr Prateek Gupta, senior consultant sports medicine at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, says, “It is important to start off by setting goals along with your trainer. Ensure that the gym is safe and the trainer qualified for the job. A man who is a great body builder himself might not necessarily be a great trainer. For weights it is essential to increase the load gradually, say by about 10 per cent. The ideal way is to increase the load one week and the repetitions in the next. It is especially important for middle-aged people or those with a heart history to consult a doctor before embarking on a workout or even if they follow a fitness regimen it is important to react to even small alterations in the body.”

Apart from the problem of regulation of gyms, there is also the problem of inadequate training facilities for prospective trainers. Dr P S M Chandran, director sports medicine at the Sports Authority of India, says, “The fitness industry is caught in this vicious circle where untrained trainers spawn more of their ilk because by default a body builder or weightlifter who never underwent adequately supervised training in the first place goes on to become a trainer. But to my mind the most important medical hazard really are drugs or dietary supplements pumped into a young person especially when he is looking at weight training. Cardio is less hazardous both in terms of the injuries as also the propensity to look for dietary shortcuts.”

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