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 Does Strength Training Affect Blood Pressure    
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Pat Rigsby



Does Strength Training Affect Blood Pressure?

Strength Training and Blood Pressure: A Series of Studies

By Dr. Wayne Westcott

" properly performed resistance exercise can produce beneficial blood pressure adaptations in as little as 8 weeks of regular strength training…"
Perhaps the most pervasive misconception in the field of exercise is that strength training raises blood pressure (both resting and exercise readings) to dangerous levels, and is, therefore, a contraindicated physical activity for many middle-aged and older adults.

strength training and blood pressure It is true that people with certain medical conditions should not perform resistance exercise (e.g., uncontrolled hypertension, aneurism). It is also true that certain resistance training actions can elevate blood pressure beyond recommended exercise readings (e.g., breath holding, isometric holding, maximum weightload).

However, sensible strength training has never been shown to adversely affect resting or exercise blood pressure (9). In fact, our work in this area over the past 20 years has consistently revealed that properly performed strength training is both safe during exercise execution and beneficial for resting blood pressure.

Consider the following studies that we have conducted on blood pressure response to sensible strength exercise.

Study One

In the early 1980's we teamed up with the New England Cardiovascular Health Institute to examine the immediate changes in blood pressure during a hard set of strength exercise (11).

The 24 men and women in this study performed 10 dumbbell curls to muscle fatigue with the heaviest weightload possible. As shown in Figure 1, their mean systolic blood pressure increased from a resting reading of 123 mmHg to a peak reading of 165 mmHg. This represented a 34 percent rise over resting blood pressure, and the increase was gradual and progressive, about 4 mmHg each repetition. The subjects mean diastolic blood pressure measured 75 mmHg before and immediately after the 10 repetition-maximum set of dumbbell curls.
Figure 1. Mean systolic and diastolic blood pressure response to 10 repetition-maximum set of upper body resistance exercise (N=24).
Strength Training and Blood Pressure Figure 1

Study Two

Encouraged by the finding of the first study, we conducted a similar research project with 25 men and women to determine the immediate effects of leg exercise on blood pressure (6).

Knowing that exercises involving heavier weight loads and more muscle mass should have a greater impact on systolic blood pressure response, we anticipated higher exercise readings in this study. Indeed, in two separate trials, the subjects' systolic pressure increased 50% during a 10 repetition-maximum set of leg presses, from 127 mmHg at rest to 190 mmHg during the final (failure) repetition (see Figure 2). Concurrently, their diastolic blood pressure decreased from 73 mmHg before to 61 mmHg immediately after the high-effort exercise set.
Figure 2. Mean systolic and diastolic blood pressure response to 10 repetition-maximum set of lower body resistance exercise (N=25).
Strength Training and Blood Pressure Figure 1
When we consider that systolic blood pressure increases by about 35% during standard aerobic exercise performed at 75% of maximum heart rate (7), and that the American College of Sports Medicine (1) sets the caution level at 225 mmHg for exercise systolic blood pressure, then the temporary elevations in systolic blood pressure observed during sensible strength training appear to be well within normal and safe limits.

Please note that the subjects' diastolic blood pressures remained the same or decreased during the exercise set as blood vessels dilated and capillaries opened to accommodate greater blood flow to the working muscles.

Study Three

Our next study (12) examined the effects of an entire circuit of strength exercise on the participants' blood pressure readings. One-hundred men and women performed one set of 8 to 12 repetitions to muscle fatigue on a typical 11-station circuit of weight stack machines.

As shown in Figure 3, their mean resting blood pressure was 115 mmHg systolic and 67 mmHg diastolic. Their mean blood pressure measured within one minute of completing the 11-station strength training circuit was 117 mmHg systolic and 65 mmHg diastolic. Basically, their post-exercise blood pressure readings were the same as their pre-exercise readings, indicating excellent cardiovascular system adaptations to a standard circuit strength training session.
Figure 3. Mean systolic and diastolic blood pressure response to a standard 11-station circuit of weightstack machines (N=100).
Strength Training and Blood Pressure Figure 3

Study Four

More recently, we examined participants' blood pressure response to a standard circuit strength training session over a 10-week exercise program (8). The 140 men and women had their blood pressure measured before and within one minute after completing a 10-station circuit of weight stack machines during the third, sixth and ninth week of the program.

As presented in Figure 4, the post-exercise systolic pressure decreased about 1 mmHg during a third-week workout, almost 3 mmHg during a sixth-week workout, and approximately 5 mmHg during a ninth-week workout. These findings suggested positive and progressive cardiovascular system adaptations to standard strength training sessions with respect to systolic blood pressure response.

There were no significant pre to post exercise changes observed in the subjects' diastolic blood pressure readings. Nonetheless, over the 10-week training period the program participants recorded a 6.3 mmHg mean reduction in resting systolic blood pressure and a 2.2 mmHg mean reduction in resting diastolic blood pressure.

These beneficial changes in the subjects' resting blood pressure readings are similar to thousands of men and women who have participated in our basic circuit strength training programs.
Figure 4. Mean systolic blood pressure response to a standard 10-station circuit of weightstack machines during the third, sixth and ninth week of training (N=140).
Strength Training and Blood Pressure Figure 4

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