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Worth the weight: heavy lifting bolsters the benefits of any resistance-training program.


The sun has yet to rise when a dozen or so regulars file into Fitt Force workout studio at 4 a.m.

Wearing dark-colored workout attire and combat boots, the group of women assume similar positions around weight benches and iron dumbbells inside the studio. They begin expertly executing bicep curls and chest presses with 8- to 15-pound weights--all under the observant eye of Maurice Durr, fitness trainer and owner of the facility in Oak Park, about 10 minutes west of Chicago.

"Give me four sets of 15 reps," urges Durr, who worked for Bally Total Fitness for nine years before starting Fitt Force 15 years ago. The majority of people he trains are African-American women who represent a wide range of participants--from 30-something doctors and educators to grandmas and retirees.


Even so, these women share common goals at this wee hour--they come together for camaraderie and weight training.

According to Durr, weight training is to the body what Picasso was to plaster--artistry capable of sculpting a masterpiece--using the human body as canvas. "Just cardio alone will give you a smaller version of your shapeless self," points out Durr. "I always tell people if they are shaped like a potato now, after losing weight they will be a smaller potato."

For that reason, many of his clients aren't as concerned with solely counting calories as they are with counting reps during their weight-lifting sets. They meet with Durr, a certified trainer who is tall, lean and bespectacled with a boyish face, at least three times a week. Together the clients engage in circuit training, a rigorous regimen of cardio exercises and weight lifting.

Annette Burtin started working with Durr in 2000. Not only has she dropped 66 pounds, the 50-year-old quality-assurance specialist experienced improved health benefits from the weights.

"Once I started working out with weights with Maurice, a lot of things changed," says Burtin, who is down from a size 18 to a 12. "My joints were aching and I couldn't walk up the steps without breathing hard. I was also a borderline diabetic. I wasn't into jumping up and down and doing aerobics. [Maurice's] plan--the cardio outside and weights--worked. He has repeat people who always come back to him."

As exercises go, resistance training, of which weight training is one form, builds muscle tissue and allows the body to burn fat and calories--up to 200 more than just cardio alone. It also offers excellent health benefits, according to Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. These include increasing a person's strength and endurance, improving gait and stability, reducing blood pressure and increasing high-density lipoproteins, which can help combat diabetes. "Women especially can improve bone health with weights," says Bryant. In fact, individuals with painful joints can strengthen the muscle around the joint with resistance-training exercises.

For the weight-training novice, Bryant offers this suggestion: "Start low and go slow. You should be able to lift a weight at least eight times. A reasonable challenge is 12 to 15 reps," he says. "If you can't do at least eight, then the weight is too heavy."

Another form of resistance training incorporates rubber bands, or tubing, into workouts that target the chest, legs and arms.

Perhaps the best news about weight lifting is that you need not be young and fit to benefit from it.


Yohnnie Shambourger won the Mr. Universe title at age 42 in the IFBB World Amateur Bodybuilding Championships in 1995. A former senior database administrator, he began competitive weight lifting in his mid-30s. Eight years later he had pressed and lifted his way to a finely chiseled physique with abs that appear to have never experienced cheesecake.

While competing, he would spend as many as five hours a day in the gym. The hard work paid off and he eventually developed 21-inch biceps and the ability to bench press 500 pounds. "I stopped measuring because it will give you a complex," says Shambourger, who has a bachelor of science degree in physical education and a master's in education from Howard University, where he eventually coached the college's swim team.

Today he is a fitness trainer and entrepreneur with his own line of nutrition products, and is a television personality in Fort Washington, Md. He recently trained 72-yearold Ernestine Shepherd, who eventually won a bodybuilding contest.

Shepherd, who had already worked with weights, says she went from 130 to 118 pounds while bodybuilding with Shambourger. Her body fat decreased from 42 percent to 10 percent, which she attributes to Shambourger, who she says was "tough." Shepherd is tickled by the media blitz that has surrounded her since she developed her newly buffed bod.


"I can't believe it," says Shepherd. "It's a joy. I wear my tight pants and shirts and people come up to me and say, 'Miss, can I ask you a question? How old are you?' I let them know that it's never too late."

As for the men who seek Shambourger's help, many want to know how to get the six-pack abs they see in fitness magazines. "There is no such thing as spot reduction," he says. "Most men are eating way too late at night--big plates of pasta and beer. All those carbs when the body is winding down with nothing to do--the convenient place to store fat is the abdomen."

But have no fear.

Shambourger says that there is a six-pack patiently waiting to emerge in anyone carrying around too much in the middle. His advice for those seeking a trimmer waistline is to stop caring four hours before bedtime. He also suggests enrolling in some type of weight-training program that works the chest, back and legs--the bigger the muscles you work the more calories you will burn. Finally, he stresses the need to perform crunch exercises. He recommends hanging knee raises, ball crunches and Russian twists.

After six to eight weeks of lilting weights and modifying your diet, you should see some results, according to Durr and Shambourger. As it is when beginning any new fitness program, the right attitude makes all the difference.

"An experienced trainer will gauge the individual that he's working with," says Durr. "What ultimately causes a person to be successful is his mental approach."

Homemade Weights

Don't have weights at home? Here are some steps to help you create your own:

* Fill a plastic gallon jug or two-liter bottle with a handle with water to be used as an arm weight.

* Canned goods can be held in the hands and used as simple weights.

* Fill a clean sock with dry beans. Sew the open end closed. Then sew the ends together and use as a wrist weight.

* Use packets of rice or beans for mini-weights. Use them for bicep curls and other small weight-lifting moves.

How much do I lift?

* Weights, or dumbbells, are
available in many sizes, colors
and materials. While material and
color make little difference in your
workout, the heaviness of the weight
certainly does. The size weight you
choose will ultimately affect your
overall workout and the number of
calories that you burn.

Weight:          Good for:

* 2 1/2--to      Aerobic
3-lb vinyl       workouts and
dumbbells        walking

* 5-lb           Step aerobics,
neoprene-        squats and
coated           lunges

* 8- to 12-lb    Dumbbell flys,
rubber-coated,   hammer
hexagon-shaped   curls

* 15- to 50-lb   Incline dumbbell
cast-iron        bench press,
weights          bicep curls
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Title Annotation:BODY TALK
Author:Henderson, Shirley
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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