Strengthening exercise increases muscle strength and mass, bone strength, and the body's metabolism. It can help attain and maintain proper weight and improve body image and self-esteem. A certain level of muscle strength is needed to do daily activities, such as walking, running and climbing stairs. Strengthening exercises increase this muscle strength by putting more strain on a muscle than it is normally accustomed to receiving. This increased load stimulates the growth of proteins inside each muscle cell that allow the muscle as a whole to contract. There is evidence indicating that strength training may be better than aerobic exercise alone for improving self-esteem and body image. Weight training allows one immediate feedback, through observation of progress in muscle growth and improved muscle tone. Strengthening exercise can take the form of isometric, isotonic and iso-kinetic strengthening.
ISOMETRIC EXERCISE. During isometric exercises, muscles contract. However, there is no motion in the affected joints. The muscle fibers maintain a constant length throughout the entire contraction. The exercises are usually performed against an immovable surface or object such as pressing one's hand against a wall. The muscles of the arm are contracting but the wall is not reacting or moving as a result of the physical effort. Iso-metric training is effective for developing total strength of a particular muscle or group of muscles. It is often used for rehabilitation since the exact area of muscle weakness can be isolated and strengthening can be administered at the proper joint angle. This kind of training can provide a relatively quick and convenient method for overloading and strengthening muscles without any special equipment and with little chance of injury.
ISOTONIC EXERCISE. Isotonic exercise differs from isometric exercise in that there is movement of a joint during the muscle contraction. A classic example of an isotonic exercise is weight training with dumbbells and barbells. As the weight is lifted throughout the range of motion, the muscle shortens and lengthens. Calisthenics are also an example of isotonic exercise. These would include chin-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups, all of which use body weight as the resistance force.
ISOKINETIC EXERCISE. Isokinetic exercise utilizes machines that control the speed of contraction within the range of motion. Isokinetic exercise attempts to combine the best features of both isometrics and weight training. It provides muscular overload at a constant preset speed while a muscle mobilizes its force through the full range of motion. For example, an isokinetic stationary bicycle set at 90 revolutions per minute means that despite how hard and fast the exerciser works, the isokinetic properties of the bicycle will allow the exerciser to pedal only as fast as 90 revolutions per minute. Machines known as Cybex and Biodex provide isokinetic results; they are generally used by physical therapists and are not readily available to the general population.
L. Fleming Fallon Jr., MD, DrPH, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,