Muscle and Strength: An Evolution of Study


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: October 2003 - Volume 35 - Issue 10 - p 1633
ACSM 50Th Anniversary Historical Perspective

Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

To commemorate a year of celebration for its 50th Annual Meeting in May 2003 and its 50th anniversary as an organization in 2004, the American College of Sports Medicine and Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®are pleased to publish personal historical perspectives from leading sports medicine and exercise science professionals. This article is one in a series of articles based on the impact ACSM and MSSE®have had on the fields and categories covered in this ACSM’s flagship journal.

The study of strength training has increased in popularity from my first years as a member of the American College of Sports Medicine in 1974. Taking time to look back and decoding my membership number, the College only had about 3700 members. I also remember my first annual meeting and trying to make the hard choices between the two simultaneous lecture halls. I was interested in strength training, more appropriately called “resistance training,” and the underlying mechanisms and adaptations that mediated the performance outcomes. Resistance training had not yet gained general acceptance, and for the most part its use by women was limited to strength and power athletes. In the early 1970s, the public had limited exposure to this type of training. Greater exposure was achieved over the 1970s into the early 1980s through use by successful college football teams, strong man competitions, body builders who went on to movie stardom, new weight machine development, and the emergence of the strength coaching profession. Then and now, the myths and misconceptions were often promoted by the “marketing wars” and gym talk of the day. Nevertheless, members of the College were making important contributions to our study of this training modality.

Investigating how various training protocols impacted strength increases was a popular research design, and it extended the pioneering work of Thomas Delorme from the 1940s. Using different combinations of sets and repetitions, Richard Berger of Temple University (Todd, T., and J. Todd. Pioneers of Strength Research: The legacy of Dr. Richard A. Berger. J. Strength Cond. Res. 15:275–278, 2001) set the stage and provided the context for the study of resistance training over the next two decades. Medicine and Science in Sports published several key studies in 1974 on resistance training, establishing many of the basic adaptations (e.g., increased 1 repetition maximum strength (1 RM), improved body composition changes) observed with this type of training. In addition, studies were appearing in the College’s research journal Medicine and Science in Sports on new exercise modalities (e.g., isokinetic), anabolic steroids, reaction and reflex times with resistance exercise fatigue, and body composition. One study that gained considerable interest was authored by Brown and Wilmore (MSS 6:174–177, 1974). Using advanced training programs and athletes, Brown and Wilmore showed that women were capable of tolerating heavy resistance training using free-weight exercises, that there were differences in trained and untrained women’s responses, and hinted at potentially different mechanisms mediating (e.g., importance of the neural component) strength adaptations in women. In addition, they underscored the need for the use of long-term (i.e., 6 months) training studies to better delineate program and adaptation differences.

However, little was known about the underlying physiological basis of these adaptations, yet only a handful of investigators were seriously involved with a line of research to elucidate the cellular mechanisms underlying resistance training adaptations in the 1970s and early 1980s. As more data became available, two perspectives of studying resistance training became evident. An investigator could use resistance training to perturb a physiological system of interest to learn more about it or one could use a physiological system to learn more about resistance-training prescription. Over the years, both perspectives have moved the knowledge base on resistance training forward, but careful interpretation of data is still needed to put its use into the proper context.

By the late 1970s into the early 1980s, the use of an expanded arsenal of laboratory techniques quickly extended our understanding of resistance exercise. Over the 1980s, there was an exponential rise in the number of investigations on resistance training and on the multitude physiological systems being studied. Members of the College made dramatic discoveries in the areas of muscle fiber subtype transitions, gender differences in adaptations, and training compatibility (i.e., simultaneous heavy resistance training and high-intensity endurance training), as well as opening up a whole new venue for resistance training with the elderly in the fight against sarcopenia. The exponential increase in the study of resistance exercise continued during the 1990s culminating with two position stands by ACSM on the topic by 2002. The legacy of work in resistance training by members of the College over the past 30 years has underscored our factual understanding over mythology. The future is bright as we move into the 21st century with the human genome in our hands along with an enhanced fundamental understanding of the scientific basis of resistance training and its exercise prescription. The College and its members have been key contributors to this evolution of study and to its importance in sports medicine and exercise programs today.

©2003The American College of Sports Medicine