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A Q&A for better health

Published December 23, 2003

Here's to another year of fitness and exercise goals completed! Well, I hope you were able to successfully complete some of your strength- and weight-training activities. We will devise new goals for the new year, but in the meantime, here are a few questions and answers to consider as we close 2003.

Question: Is it better to do one set of weights on alternate days, or would it be more productive to do two to four sets? How quickly can I rebuild my strength?

Answer: One set of eight to 10 repetitions for each major muscle group is generally considered sufficient to challenge unused muscles. After your muscles adapt to one set, you can increase the number of sets, depending on your goals.

If your goal is to achieve moderate amounts of strength and to improve your health, one set of eight to 15 repetitions for each muscle group will be enough; you need to build to a weight that will create fatigue in the working muscle by the 15th repetition.

If your goal is to become as strong as you possibly can, consider lifting three or more sets; allow the muscle group at least a day of rest between workouts.

If you choose to strength-train on consecutive days, target different muscle groups each day. As for rebuilding strength, an inactive person can expect an increase of 50 percent or more within six months.

Q: For general fitness, what muscles should I be working?

A: You should include at least one exercise for each of the major muscles. It is important that you have a balanced workout. For example, if you strengthen your abdominal muscles, you would want to strengthen the back muscles. (You could be setting yourself up for injuries if one side becomes strong and the opposing side remains weak.) For a general fitness conditioning program, you should strengthen these major muscles: buttocks, front of thighs (quadriceps), back of thighs (hamstrings), chest (pectorals), shoulders (deltoids), abdominals, back, front upper arm (biceps), back upper arms (triceps). You do not need to strengthen all the muscle groups in the same day; just be sure to work each muscle group two times a week.

Q: How many abdominal exercises should I do to reduce the fat around my middle?

A: Sorry, but abdominal exercises will not remove abdominal fat. We have two different entities here: flab and abs. The flab sits on top of the abs. Abdominal exercises will strengthen and tone your abdominals, but they will do nothing to remove the extra fat. You could do 400 situps daily and not touch that abdominal body fat.

What you can do is eat a little less and try to get more exercise, but when you do start to lose weight, there is no guarantee where that weight loss will come from. There is no such miracle as "spot reducing."

Q: My neck begins to feel uncomfortable during abdominal exercises. Why is that?

A: The way neck pain starts is when you pull your head and neck while performing crunches, instead of contracting the abdominals and creating the lifting of the torso from the strength of the abdominals.

Your hands should serve only as neck support, not as a pushing device. It might help to pretend you have a tennis ball under your chin; this will keep your chin from falling forward onto your chest. Keep your eyes looking forward and slightly upward.

Q: Should I drink a sports drink to replace sodium when working out?

A: Compared with the foods we eat, sports drinks offer a low amount of sodium. Unless you are exercising for more than four to five hours, it's best to drink water.

Q: What are trans fats, and why are they so bad for us?

A: Trans fats are artery-clogging fats. They are formed when vegetable oils are converted into solid fat, through the process known as hydrogenation. They are most often found in manufactured baked goods, snack foods, frozen foods and fried fast foods.

If you want to avoid trans fats, look for "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" on ingredient labels.

Q: We keep hearing about supersized portions; how can we judge the suggested "normal" portion size?

A: Here are some easy ways to remember portion sizes using your hands: One serving size of cooked meat, poultry or fish is 3 ounces, about the size of the palm of your hand; your fist is equivalent to 1 cup (one serving) of cereal, pasta or rice; cup your hand and it will hold about 2 ounces (2 servings) of nuts; two cupped hands would hold one serving of salad greens.

As we bid 2003 farewell, remember fitness cannot be bought or bestowed. Like honor, it must be earned.

-- Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write her in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or send e-mail to

[Last modified December 22, 2003, 10:27:47]


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