Strengthening Exercises to Combat Aging

According to sports science, you can strengthen your muscles in one of two ways: eccentrically or concentrically. Concentric exercises strengthen the muscle by shortening it; eccentric exercise strengthens the muscle by lengthening it.

Most other fitness programs focus on concentric strengthening. You see concentric strengthening every day in the gym, when people tense up and shorten their quadriceps muscles as they attempt to straighten a leg on the leg extension machine, for example, or pull a hand weight toward a shoulder in a biceps curl, or “crunch” their abdominal muscles during a sit-up. That concentric motion is typically where we focus all of our workout attention—we don’t give as much attention to lengthening our muscles.

But by ignoring this, we’re giving short shrift to a very critical aspect of the development of healthy, strong muscles—eccentric exercise. Eccentric exercise simultaneously lengthens and strengthens, and is just as critical as concentric exercise, but is often over- looked as “wasted” time. In fact, your body is actually doing eccentric exercises as you reach into a high cupboard or get out of a car: You bend a knee and stretch out your quadriceps while these are still bearing the full weight of your body as you stand up. You are strengthening while lengthening.

Just as in the physics maxim,“The longer the lever, the heavier the load,” eccentric exercise allows your “lever” (muscle) to easily bear more resistance while in its lengthened position.The result: simultaneously lengthened and strengthened muscles.

Once we realized eccentric exercise was the principle at work in Classical Stretch, suddenly we understood why people were losing weight while following our program. Muscle cells burn more calories, so when you increase the difficulty of the load on the longer muscle, you increase the mass of your muscle, you increase your body’s metabolic rate, you burn more calories, and you lose weight. At this point, we didn’t realize something even more amazing about eccentric exercise—something that wouldn’t be revealed for years, something that helped us to understand what it is about essentrics that makes it such a powerful anti-aging program. As the scientific community began to shed new light on how our DNA ages, we learned that eccentric exercise specifically, directly, and powerfully communicates with our cells to reduce oxidative stress on a cellular level—in other words, to directly combat aging. And this powerful weight loss and anti-aging component, eccentric exercise, was in virtually every minute of every Classical Stretch routine.

Even after we solved the mystery, our ideas took a while to catch on. Instructors had never come across a workout based on eccentric strengthening, and the results people were finding in our program flew in the face of many theories they had been taught to believe. In fitness circles, the idea that flexibility could increase strength and help in weight loss seemed absurd. But as skeptical as our colleagues in the fitness industry were, we continued to receive an overwhelming number of weight loss testimonials from viewers and students around the world. Classical Stretch—now known as essentrics—was clearly a very powerful technique for both weight loss and strengthening.

In addition to fitness-seekers’ stunning weight loss, we have continued to see good results in many other groups of people as well, everyone from new mothers to baby boomers to retirees, giving us endless proof that the essentrics method increases flexibility; rebalances joints; relieves back, knee, shoulder, hip, and foot pain; and does much more for a wide spectrum of people. We see it heal injuries and alleviate and reverse arthritis and osteoporosis.We see it straighten out severely rounded backs and give participants wonderful posture. We are thrilled when it helps athletes win Olympic medals and championships. All along this journey, we have seen countless people following Classical Stretch or doing essentrics who easily lost weight and shed inches in their so-called problem areas, making their body shape longer and leaner—all of this from a method that can be done in as little as 30 minutes a day.

Find out about upcoming programs with Miranda Esmonde-White at Kripalu.

Excerpted with permission from Aging Backwards, © 2014, by Miranda Esmonde-White.

Miranda Esmonde-White is an acknowledged fitness expert with more than 25 years in the industry and one of North America’s greatest educators on healthy aging.

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