Donohue 1.4

Dear Dr. Donohue: I am a high-school swimmer, and I have gotten conflicting advice about training with weights. Some say big muscles will hinder my swimming stroke. Others tell me lifting weights will improve my speed. If you think weightlifting is a good idea for a swimmer, which weightlifting exercise is the best? — R.K.

The idea that weightlifting makes an athlete muscle-bound is an idea that should have gone out of style with high-button shoes. Weightlifting enhances all sport performance, including swimming.

Don’t concentrate on one exercise. Perform a variety.

If I had to pick one for a swimmer, I would pick an exercise using the lat pull-down machine. A bar is suspended overhead, and it is attached to weights with pulleys. To perform the exercise, grab hold of the bar toward its two ends, your knuckles pointing forward. Pull the bar downward as far as it goes. Perform 10 repetitions of the pull-down. Then take a short break and perform another 10 repetitions.

For the first 10 pull-downs, pull the bar so it ends up in front of you. For the second 10 repetitions, pull the bar so it ends up behind you.

This exercise strengthens the latissimus dorsi muscle. It is a broad muscle sheet that arises on both sides of the back from the lower six upper-back vertebrae and from all the lower back vertebrae. Each muscle sweeps upward to form a narrow tail that inserts into the humerus, the upper arm bone.

Contraction of the latissimus dorsi muscles propels a swimmer forward when doing the crawl or breast stroke. It is used in about every swimming stroke. It comes into play in many other sports, such as rock climbing, wrestling and basketball. Every athlete benefits from exercising the latissimus dorsi muscles.

Dear Dr. Donohue: I am 42. I am finding that exercising is decreasing my performance, rather than increasing it. I use a rowing machine and row for an hour every day. I could increase the tension on the machine for a month, but now I have had to cut way back. Worse yet, my strength has gone. Before I started rowing, I could do 16 chin-ups and 20 push-ups. Now all I can do is one chin-up and six push-ups. Why? — K.L.

One possibility is that you are not giving your body a chance to recuperate from your exercise sessions.

Rowing machines are great. Not only do they provide aerobic training — the kind that benefits the heart like jogging does — but they increase muscle strength like weightlifting does.

No one should do the same weightlifting exercise two days in succession. You have to give the muscles a full 24-hour rest so they can rebuild torn muscle fibers.

You can exercise aerobically every day. I wouldn’t use a rowing machine to do daily aerobic exercise. On the off day, walk, jog or jump rope, and don’t do it with the same intensity with which you perform on the rowing machine.

Dear Dr. Donohue: My husband had heart bypass surgery more than one year ago. He exercises on a reclining bicycle approximately 10 minutes and then stops. I have encouraged him to bike for 20 minutes, but he says he is afraid of undoing the surgery. Is his fear justified? — K.K.

Your husband can exercise for 20 or 30 minutes without undoing his surgery if his heart doctor says he is able to do so. Most bypass patients are able to. He must have a go-ahead from the doctor before he increases his exercise time.

He does not have to exercise for 20 or 30 minutes straight. He can break his exercise sessions into two or three 10-minute periods.

Dear Dr. Donohue: I am an 85-year-old man who walks a mile every morning. I was told that walking with your hands on your hips is more beneficial. Is this true? — A.D.

Not that I know of. I can’t come up with a reason why it would be so.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.