Posted on Mon, Jan. 08, 2007

Q: I am a single mom, raising two teenage boys. Enclosed is an article about superslow weight training. I am writing this letter and sending the article because my son died after a superslow workout. I did not know that superslow workouts could cause an aneurysm, stroke or aortic dissection. I want to warn parents of the hazards of this kind of training.

A: I don’t have the facility with words to express adequately my sorrow on the death of your son.

Weight lifting has been performed from the earliest days of athletics. It is the best way of building strong muscles and bones. Deaths have occurred during weight lifting, and every effort must be made to avoid these rare tragedies.

Your son had an aneurysm on a brain artery. Such aneurysms are there from birth and are generally silent until they break. An aneurysm is a weak spot in the artery wall. The weak spot becomes a thin bulge that’s subject to bursting. If it does burst, people are often severely impaired or die. High blood pressure can cause the aneurysm to tear apart. Aortic dissection is a separation of the layers of that large artery. It can cause the aorta to rupture and bleed. This most often happens in older ages or in people with congenital weakness of that artery.

Weight lifting raises blood pressure briefly. During weight lifting, as during any exercise, the heart pumps out more blood. When muscles contract in lifting a heavy weight, the contraction impedes blood flow through arteries serving those muscles. And often there is a reflex constriction of other arteries during this exercise. All of these raise blood pressure, sometimes to the high 300s. High pressure broke your son’s aneurysm.

Traditionally, it is taught to lift a weight in two seconds and lower it in four. In superslow lifting, the weight is lifted in 10 seconds and lowered in five to 10 seconds. This is supposed to be a greater stimulus for muscle growth. How much more it raises blood pressure over traditional lifting is something that needs investigation.

Dr. Paul Donohue appears Tuesdays. Write to him at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.