Supplements for women

Today let’s focus on women, shall we? There is a lot that goes on in the female body. The food that we put in our body and the nutrients we receive are vital for a long and healthy life. It should be no surprise that the female and male bodies sometimes require different vitamins and minerals to function at their best. Here are some of the best supplements specifically for women.

Iron

Iron carries oxygen in the blood, supports brain development, immune function and helps in the production of red blood cells. Anemia is a very serious condition where the body is not getting enough iron. The most common symptom of this is extreme fatigue but it can also cause a weakened immune system and problems regulating body temperature. For women, when you have your period each month you lose more iron which makes it even more important that women are getting enough iron through their diet or by supplementation.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D’s most commonly known role is its aid in calcium absorption in the body and bone growth. It also plays an important role in immune function and reduction of inflammation in the body. Without proper vitamin D intake, your bones can become weak. When this occurs it can lead to much more serious conditions such as osteoporosis, which is much more common in women. Deficiency can also lead to the development of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3’s are important for the brain, help to reduce blood pressure and can help calm down inflammation. This is very important for the female athlete. While we all know that getting enough fat in your diet is important, supplementing with Omega 3’s is always a great idea especially for women. You can also find this in foods such as fish and nuts.

Magnesium

Magnesium helps to maintain normal muscle function, keep a healthy heart, support your immune system, strengthen bones, regulate blood sugar, and helps to improve the metabolism of energy. If you don’t realize it by now, it does a lot for the body! Due to the fact that it does play such an important role in so many processes in the body, being deficient in magnesium can have many consequences.

As we know, getting the appropriate vitamins and minerals can be tricky. If you can’t always count on yourself to eat the right foods to get these nutrients through food, supplementation is very important! It’s a good thing in fact!

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The cost of getting lean: Is it really worth the trade-off?

The cost of getting lean:
Is it really worth the trade-off?

By Ryan Andrews & Brian St. Pierre

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Six-pack abs. Tight butts. Lean, vibrant, flawless health. That’s the image the fitness industry is selling. But have you ever wondered what it costs to achieve that “look”? What you have to do more of? And what you really have to give up?

Make no mistake, there are real trade-offs as you attempt to lose fat and improve your health. Let’s talk about what they are. So you can consider how to get the body you really want while living the life you really enjoy.

A tale of two clients

Not long ago, one of our successful clients — we’ll call him Bill — came to us with a question.

Now that he’d lost thirty pounds (going from 22% body fat to 15%), he could run up stairs and haul heavy bags of garden soil without getting winded.

He could genuinely enjoy weekend bike rides with friends. He could wear clothes he used to be able to fit into but had long given up as hopeless.

But what next?

“Don’t get me wrong,” Bill said. “I’m happy with the way I look and feel.”

It’s just that he also wanted six-pack abs.

“Oh, I don’t have to look like a cover model,” he mused. “It’s just that I’m really close to looking… awesome.”

Bill figured that with just a little extra work, and a little more time, the abs would start popping and his physique would be “finished”.

Meanwhile, another client, Anika, had the opposite concern.

She just wanted to lose a little weight, and get a little more fit.

But she worried that in order to do so, she’d have to give up everything, become a “health nut”, and make massive changes.

Changes that probably included 6 AM bootcamps, kale shakes, lemon juice cleanses, and 1000 situps a day… forever.

“No way,” thought Anika. “That’s too much work.”

Two common misperceptions

Our two client stories reflect two common misperceptions:

Myth #1:
With just a few small, easy, hopefully imperceptible changes to one’s diet and exercise routine, you too can have shredded abs, big biceps, and tight glutes, just like a magazine cover model.

Myth #2:
“Getting into shape” or “losing weight” involves painful, intolerable sacrifice, restriction, and deprivation.

Of course, neither of these are true.

Reality #1:
The process that helps you lose “the first 10 pounds” isn’t the same one that’ll help you lose “the last 10 pounds”. Indeed, it usually takes a lot more work as you get leaner.

Reality #2:
If you do aspire to “fitness model” or “elite athlete” lean, you might be surprised. Images are photoshopped for effect. Bodybuilders only look like that for competition. And achieving that look comes at a high cost; one most people aren’t willing to pay.

Reality #3:
However, if you’re okay not being on the next magazine cover and aspire to be “lean and healthy” even small adjustments can — over time — add up to noticeable improvements. Sometimes these improvements can change, perhaps even save, lives.

Do more of this (and less of that)

With that said, we’re about to share something a lot of people in fitness and health don’t want you to see.

It’s a chart outlining what it really takes to lose body fat, improve your health, move from one fitness category to the next.

Some fitness people think you’re too afraid. Or too weak. Or that you won’t buy their products and services if they’re honest with you.

We think otherwise.

We think it’s necessary to weigh the pros and cons so that you can make informed decisions about your body and your life.

Let’s start with the benefits and tradeoffs with each fitness level.

precision nutrtion cost getting lean benefits table The cost of getting lean: Is it really worth the trade off?

Now let’s talk about what you might consider doing more of (and less of).

precision nutrition cost getting lean do table The cost of getting lean: Is it really worth the trade off?

Bonus: We even created a cool infographic that summarizes this article. Click here for: The cost of getting lean illustrated. Is it really worth the trade-off?]

Your body, your choice

At some point, many of our coaching clients decide that being severely out of shape costs them too much energy, health, quality of life, and longevity. So they choose to change their behaviors and choices. With our help.

Other coaching clients decide that they want six-pack abs. Then, they discover that this option costs them something too. Some folks are willing to pay that cost. But most aren’t.

Even if you think you’d like that six-pack, it might turn out that you actually want something else a little bit more. And we wouldn’t blame you.

Here are the two basic principles:

1. If you want to make further changes to your body, you’ll need to make further changes to your behaviors.

2. The leaner you want to get, the more of your behaviors you’ll have to change. 

What you decide to change, and how much you decide to change it, is up to you. What’s most important here is that you understand what it actually takes to do what you want (or think you want).

What’s a healthy level of body fat, anyway?

First, for the sake of context, let’s take a look at some numbers.

Data tell us that most men can be healthy somewhere between 11 to 22% body fat. For women, its between 22-33%.

Right now in the U.S.,  the average man is about 28% fat, and the average woman is 40% fat.

In other words, the average adult in the U.S. (and throughout most of the West) is carrying a lot of excess body fat. Unhealthy levels of body fat.

Getting the process started

The good news is that it’s not that hard to go from over-fat to the higher end of “normal”.

You can do it with a few relatively small, easy-to-implement changes.

For instance:

  • drinking less soda or alcohol each day
  • not overeating desserts and fast foods (instead, just eating them in reasonable amounts)
  • taking a daily walk or adding a yoga class

Assuming there are no other factors involved (such as a chronic health problem), if you make a few small changes like these, and do them consistently, in six months to a year, your body fat percentage will drop and fall into a much healthier range.

Cool!

Now of course, not every change will feel simple, small, or easy. Especially when you start out.

You’ll need to put a little extra effort and energy into making those changes happen every day. And having a trainer or a coach support you — and hold you accountable — will probably help you feel more confident and on-track.

Nevertheless, if the changes are small enough, and you practice them consistently, you’ll probably find that eventually they’re just part of your regular routine.

In fact, one day in the future, you might even say, “I just don’t feel like myself without my daily walk!”

“Overweight” to “no-longer-overweight” to “lean”

Suppose you’ve made a few changes like this.

Maybe you pack an apple in your lunch instead of apple juice. Or you include a salad with dinner, or you stick to one or two drinks with friends.

And you’re feeling good! Your knees have stopped hurting, plus your pants now button comfortably.

Now you’re somewhere in the zone of “a little extra padding, but not too bad”. You’re more mobile, healthier, and high-fiving yourself.

What’s the next step?

Well, if you’re a man who wants to reduce body fat from 20% to 14% (or 14% to 8%), or a woman who wants to go from 30% to 24% (or 24% to 18%), you’ll need to make some bigger changes.

You’ll need to invest more time, energy, and effort. You’ll need to plan more.

And you’ll also have to make some trade-offs.

From “lean” to “leaner”

If you’re a man and you want to go from 20% to 14% body fat, or you’re a woman and you want to go from 30% body fat to 24%, it’s all a question of doing more…and less.

You’ll probably need to do more stuff, such as:

  • get more exercise and daily-life movement, and perhaps make that exercise more intense
  • eating more vegetables and lean protein
  • choosing more whole foods
  • doing more meal planning
  • getting serious about rest and recovery
  • learning your physical hunger and fullness cues

You’ll probably need to do less stuff, such as:

  • drinking less alcohol and other high-calorie beverages
  • eating less processed foods
  • not eating when you’re not physically hungry

And you’ll need to make these small changes consistently, over a period of time.

Many folks will decide that these changes are worth making. They want to look and feel better, get a good night’s sleep, get off medications, and so forth. So they’re ready to compromise.

Other folks will decide that they’re not yet ready to make more adjustments. And that’s fine too.

The most important thing is that you realize: In order to change…you have to change.

What it takes to get “super-lean”

At next stage — going from athletically lean to bodybuilder lean — the tradeoffs get even more serious.

Here’s something that you may not realize:

Elite bodybuilders getting ready for a contest and models getting ready for a shoot are basically in a slow starvation process.

Adhering to an extremely strict and precise regimen of eating and training (and perhaps adding some drugs into the mix) is the only way way they can drop their body fat to extremely low levels.

Males can get to body fat levels under 6% with this process, and females can get to under 16%.

But this process is not for the faint of heart.

It goes against biological cues. It requires exercising when exhausted. It demands ignoring their desire for food in the face of powerful hunger cues. It involves intense focus and dedication.

And it often distracts from other areas of life that these athletes might enjoy and value.

Imagine all the practical things that are involved in very strict dieting and training.

  • You have to make your own food and measure every meal down to the last gram.
  • That food is generally very plain — lean protein, steamed vegetables, plain potatoes or rice, etc.
  • You have to carry that food with you so you can eat at a precise time.
  • You cannot eat in restaurants.
  • You have to do a specific workout on a given day, exactly as specified.
  • No sick days, no slacking.
  • You’ll probably be training 2 or 3 times per day.
  • You have to sleep and recover precisely.
  • No parties or staying up late.
  • You can’t think straight because you’re always hungry and tired.
  • Your whole life revolves around making food, dieting, training, and recovery protocols.
  • Did we mention you’re slowly starving?

So forget having a sex life, social life, parenthood, school, and probably a regular job.

Is that level of leanness worth it?

Having a six-pack doesn’t automatically make you healthy. In fact, getting toolean can be actively unhealthy.

You might end up with amenorrhea, low libido, disordered eating, bones like Swiss cheese, social isolation, and a host of other problems.

Some elite bodybuilders rely on drugs like stimulants, diuretics, and other drugs just to keep themselves going.

Many folks even rely on cosmetic surgery. Which creates its own health risks… and certainly doesn’t add health on its own.

In short, being really lean has almost nothing to do with being really healthy.

Indeed, being too focused on getting lean may lead you away from good health.

precision nutrition getting lean abs The cost of getting lean: Is it really worth the trade off?

Meanwhile, on the subject of six-packs, it might surprise you to learn that even among the super lean, not all abs are created equal.

That’s right. Strip away all the excess fat, and some people will never reveal a magazine cover set of abs.

Why? Because — quite apart from that airbrushing we referred to earlier — we’re all built differently.

Some folks have staggered abdominals. Some have angled abdominals. Some people might really only have four abdominals that are visible no matter how lean they get.

Don’t believe us? Go to any amateur physique competition for a first-hand view.

Who knows? The experience might prove enlightening. It might even contribute to greater body acceptance and self-compassion.

Because what you’re sure to notice is that in real life, nobody’s “perfect”.  Not even elite bodybuilders and fitness competitors.

Getting clear, getting real

Clarity is essential in change.

If you think you may want to change how much body fat you have, start by getting a clear idea of where you’re at.

  • Figure out your goals and priorities. If you don’t know what your priorities are, now’s a great time to explore that.
  • Decide what you’re willing to do right now in order to serve those goals and priorities. Why?
  • Decide how often, and how consistently, and how precisely, you’re willing to do those things.
  • Decide what you’re not willing to do right now. Why not?
  • In the above steps, be brutally honest and realistic yet compassionate with yourself.

Now you have your action plan.

And you know where you are on the cost-benefit continuum.

In the table above, we’ve provided rough estimates for what it might take to achieve specific levels of leanness or muscularity — or even simple health improvements, like getting off medications.

This is just a general guide. It’s a start. Something to get you thinking.

You may need more tailored guidance or coaching. Age, gender, genetics, medical conditions, and pharmaceuticals can all affect what you’ll need to do to get and stay lean.

If tracking your body fat is important to you, make sure you have a valid way to do it, such as a skinfold caliper measurement by a trained professional. If you don’t care, and use other indicators like your belt notches, that’s cool.

What to do next

1. Take the long view

Whatever change you want to make, remember: It will take time.

Eating one big, rich meal won’t make you wake up overweight. Fasting for 24 hours won’t give you six-pack abs.

A simple plan followed consistently is better than a complex plan followed intermittently.

2. Review what’s involved

To reduce your body fat from unhealthy to healthy levels

You only need to make a few changes, and follow them about 80% of the time.

To go from normal to reasonably lean

You need a few more changes, and a bit more consistency.

Now you might need to eat protein and veggies at every meal, and get 7+ hours of sleep 85% of the time.

To go from lean to very lean

You’ll have to put in more time and more effort. Plus, you’ll need to follow your plan even more consistently — with almost obsessive accuracy.

This means adding a few more habits, such as monitoring fat and carbohydrate intake, and exercising at least 5 hours per week 95% of the time.

For instance, if you eat 4 meals per day, in any given month you’ll need to ensure that 114 of your 120 precisely calibrated meals are perfectly executed, in order to achieve your desired level of leanness.

That’s a serious commitment right there.

3. Get clarity on what YOU want

Review the “getting clear, getting real” list.

What matters to YOU?

What are YOU willing to do… or not? Why?

There’s no right answer. What’s most important is that you understand what it takes to get a certain outcome.

And now YOU have the power to choose. Healthy, athletically lean, or super lean: It all depends on your priorities and goals.

Now you can make the decisions — and get the body you really need, while still living the life you want.

[Bonus: We created a cool infographic that summarizes this article. Click here for: The cost of getting lean illustrated. Is it really worth the trade-off? If there’s someone you think might benefit from seeing it, please pass it along.]

The cost of getting lean

Here’s the cost of getting lean. [Infographic]
Is it really worth the trade-off?

By John Berardi and Brian St. Pierre

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Six-pack abs. Tight butts. Lean, vibrant, flawless health. That’s the image the fitness industry is selling. But have you ever wondered what it costs to achieve that “look”? What you have to do more of? And what you really have to give up?

Make no mistake, there are real trade-offs as you attempt to lose fat and improve your health. In this infographic, we outline them. So you can consider how to get the body you really want while living the life you really enjoy.

precision nutrition cost of getting lean infographic Heres the cost of getting lean. [Infographic] Is it really worth the trade off?

Foods that cause bloat

Foods That Cause Bloating

Unless you are suffering from some terrible stomach disease (in which case, you need the attention of a physician), your stomach bloating is probably just a result of some of your poor food habits. Often, replacing the bad foods (that cause bloating) with healthier substitutes can offer you permanent relief from bloating and flatulence. In this article, I will tell you about the foods that can make your stomach bloated and constipated! Don’t be surprised if some of these foods form the core of your daily diet!

Processed Foods: Processed foods such as carbonated drinks (energy drinks, soft drinks, diet soda, diet coke, etc), potato chips, coffee, tea, alcohol (especially beer and wine), etc., can be the cause of stomach bloating. They are at best – avoided!

Meat: Meat is pretty hard to digest; no wonder that meat eaters are some of the biggest sufferers of abdominal bloating! Then again, how you consume meat is also a determining factor in whether you would be able to digest or not. Raw meat is perhaps the easiest one to digest, but hey, a human being usually cannot eat raw meat, so let us not kid ourselves! The second best option is to boil meat, which is probably the closest form of ‘digestible’ cooked meat you could have. If you eat heavily fried meat then it is going to cause rumblings and gas in your stomach. Meat in smoked form is generally considered to be the one that is hardest to digest, and therefore, should be avoided at all costs!

Of course, it is not just meat that is to blame for stomach troubles; in fact, just about any kind of fatty foods can trigger abdominal bloating, gas and constipation!

Milk: Milk is one of the causes behind an unhealthy stomach, and so is any dairy product (such as cheese)! The fact remains that a lot of adults are in general lactose-intolerant, a condition where one cannot digest lactose (of milk). It is therefore, little surprise indeed that people who drink milk heavily are the ones who suffer from bloating pretty frequently. Undigested milk often results in stomach bloating and gas! Personally, I stay away from milk no matter what, but if you cannot live without milk at all, then stuff such as Lactaid (which is available over-the-counter) can help you digest lactose!

Natural Foods: Of course, even if you never drink milk, it does not mean that you won’t suffer from abdominal bloating at all! There are a lot of solid foods that have been scientifically proven to be the cause of bloating; examples of such foods are beans, bran, lentils, bagels, broccoli, legumes, cabbage, onions, Brussels sprouts, pulses, cauliflower, etc. It would be good if you don’t eat these foods at all, unless of course you enjoy farting and belching in public!

And you thought that any kind of natural food is good for your stomach? If so, you better think again!

Especially for beans, there is a way to keep them from forming gas in your stomach. Soak the beans in water and leave them like that for one whole night. Then, discard the water and cook them for at least thirty minutes. Once done, discard the water you used in boiling these beans and then cook them again for another thirty minutes – using NEW water!

Then there are certain foods which are known to cause slight bloating; while a moderate intake of such foods should not cause a problem, their overconsumption may certainly result in irritable bowel syndrome! Such foods are apricots, bananas, raw apples, citrus fruits (rich in Vitamin C), lettuce, potatoes, wheat bread, celery, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, pretzels, soybeans, raisins, etc.

Chocolate: If you love chocolate, I have got bad news for you. Since it cannot be easily digested by your stomach (one of the reasons being the presence of high concentration of sugar in it), it makes a mess of your digestive system. I know how you feel about reading this, but believe me, I love dark chocolates, but even I usually stay away from them; occasionally, whenever I break that rule and grab a bite of chocolate, I start suffering from irritable bowel syndrome! Bottom line, eating chocolate means inviting stomach trouble!

Other Culprits: These culprits are not foods but still, are indirectly related to foods, which is why I thought to elaborate on it on a separate paragraph. If you eat foods too fast, and don’t chew them well, you are forcing your stomach to work harder to digest that ‘unchewed’ food, which in turn would result in stomach gas.

Bloating is also sometimes caused by parasites; believe it or not, parasites inhabit the surfaces of most of the fruits and vegetables we consume daily; you can discard these parasites by washing the foods well before cooking them! If you are not washing your food well, those parasites would certainly entire your digestive tract and wreak havoc inside by giving you a bloated stomach!

Then of course, there is constipation to consider. Foods that trigger constipation are often also the ones that can trigger stomach bloating; for this reason, such foods should be avoided, or at best, their intake moderated. If you suffer from chronic constipation, you should visit a physician urgently, as chances are that this is the root cause behind your current digestion problems!

The Ten Rules of Progressive Overload

Reblogged from http://bretcontreras.com/progressive-overload/

The Ten Rules of Progressive Overload

In this article, I’m going to teach you how to go about progressive overload – the most important law in strength training. Perhaps you’re new to lifting and you’re wondering exactly what progressive overload is. Well, progressive overload simply means that you’re doing more over time. For example, you could be adding some weight to the bar, doing more reps, and/or having more productive training sessions. You won’t find many comprehensive articles on this topic as it’s pretty difficult to write an all-encompassing article pertaining to progressive overload. Due to the large variance in the fitness abilities of people when they first embark on a training regimen, it’s a little more complicated than simply telling someone to “add 10 more pounds to the bar each week,” or “do 2 more reps with the same weight each week.”

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a precise prescription. In order for me to know exactly how you should progress, I have to be with you, watching you train. Since I can’t be there with you, I’ll give you some advice to adhere to, which should make your life easier. Here are the ten rules of progressive overload:

1.       Progressive Overload starts with whatever you can do with perfect technical form

Let’s say you’re brand new to a particular exercise. You’ve seen all sorts of Youtube videos of strong lifters hoisting hundreds of pounds. You think you’re a strong cat, so you load up the plates and find that the exercise just doesn’t feel right. It feels awkward, unnatural, you don’t feel the right muscles working, and it even seems jarring on the joints and potentially injurious. This exercise is definitely not right for you, right? Wrong! The exercise is probably right for you, but your approach was all wrong.

Do not concern yourself with what others use for loading. When you begin an exercise, start out as light as possible and gradually work your way up. Let me provide you with two examples – the starting point for the weakest non-elderly and non-injured beginner I’ve trained as well as the starting point for the strongest beginner I’ve trained. Chances are you’ll fall somewhere in between these two individuals.

The weakest beginner I ever trained (a middle-age woman who had been completely sedentary for around 15-years) had to start out with bodyweight high box squats on the adjustable step-up platform so that she was only descending around 8 inches before sitting on the box. This same client also performed glute bridges, step-ups from a 4” step, and hip-hinge drills – all done with just bodyweight.

But guess what? She was squatting, hip thrusting, step-upping, and deadlifting. Granted, she was performing the most remedial variations of those exercises, but this is what was right for her at the time. Within six months she was doing goblet full squats, barbell hip thrusts, Bulgarian split squats, and deadlifts from the floor with 95 lbs.

Box Squat

Conversely, the strongest beginner (a high-school wrestler) I ever trained was able to use 185 lbs for full squats, 225 lbs for deadlifts, 225 lbs for hip thrusts, 155 lbs for bench press, and could do Bulgarian split squats, single leg hip thrusts, and chin ups with great form. Though he was an athlete, surprisingly he had never lifted weights before. Sports had strengthened his legs and upper body so that he was able to start out at a much more advanced level than most beginners. Even my (at the time) 13-year old niece, a very good volleyball player, full squatted 95 lbs, trap bar deadlifted 135 lbs, and single leg hip thrusted (all with excellent form) in her very first weight training session.

But these people are not you. You’ll find that due to your unique body type, you’ll have an advantage with some exercises and a huge disadvantage with others. Long femurs? You probably won’t set any squat records, but your weighted back extension strength is going to kick some serious butt. Long arms? Kiss your bench press records goodbye, but you’re gonna be a deadlifting rockstar.

Figure out where you belong on the regression-progression continuum (this is basically a list of each variation of an exercise from the easiest possible version to the most challenging version) and start getting stronger.

2.       Progressive Overload for beginners involves a few tenets

Progressive overload methodology is different for beginners compared to more advanced lifters. It’s also different for men compared to women and for those carrying a lot of muscle versus those not carrying much muscle. For example, I can’t just tell a woman who is brand new to strength training to just add ten pounds to the bar for squats and deadlifts each week. First of all, chances are some work has to be done just to get her to squat and deadlift properly, before ever focusing on load. Some clients should start out with partial range lifts such as bodyweight box squats and rack pulls and simply work on “progressive distance training,” whereby the range of motion is slightly increased each week. If you keep squatting your own bodyweight (or rack pulling 65lbs) for 3 sets of 10, but each week you descend an inch deeper, that’s progressive overload. Eventually you’ll be using a full range of motion and can then concern yourself with adding load.

With exercises that have you moving a significant portion of your body, such as squats, hip thrusts, back extensions, and lunges, you must master your own bodyweight before adding load. I like my clients to be able to perform 3 sets of 20 full-ROM reps with bodyweight exercises before adding load.

Reverse Lunge

Furthermore, many lifts require very small jumps in load over time, and attempts in these particular exercises should usually involve jumps in repetitions instead of load. This applies to lifts that utilize smaller loads, for example curls and lateral raises, in addition to challenging bodyweight movements such as skater squats, single leg RDLs, single leg hip thrusts, and prisoner single leg back extensions.

This is especially important for women or smaller men when access to smaller plates (1.25lb or 2.5lb plates) or smaller jumps in dumbbell (ex: 17.5lbs) or kettlebell loads aren’t possible. Think about it – going from 50 to 55 lb dumbbells is a 10% jump in weight. However, going from 10 to 15 lb dumbbells is a 50% jump in weight. You cannot expect someone to make a 50% jump in load and execute the same number of repetitions as the week before, but you can expect them to get another rep or two with the same load. So let’s say that one week you perform dumbbell rear delt raises with 10lbs for 10 reps. The next week, rather than up the load to 15lbs, try performing 12 reps with the 10lb weights. When you get to a point where you can do a couple of sets of 20 reps, then jump the weight up to 15 lbs.

Hammer Curl

3.       Progressive Overload can be achieved in a variety of ways (12 primary ways I can think of)

Remember, progressive overload is simply “doing more over time.” There are many ways to go about this. In this article, I’ve already mentioned progressing in range of motion, repetitions, and load. In the beginning, you want to progress in range of motion and form. Yes, if you do the same workout you did the week before, but with better form, that’s progression. You “did more” for the neuromuscular system in terms of motor patterning and even muscle force since using better form involves relying more on the targeted muscles.

After proper form and full range of motion are established and ingrained, now it’s time to worry about progressing in repetitions and load. But these aren’t the only ways to progress. Here are all the practical ways I can think of:

  • Lifting the same load for increased distance (range of motion)
  • Lifting the same load and volume with better form, more control, and less effort (efficiency)
  • Lifting the same load for more reps (volume)
  • Lifting heavier loads (intensity of load)
  • Lifting the same load and volume with less rest time in between sets (density)
  • Lifting a load with more speed and acceleration (intensity of effort)
  • Doing more work in the same amount of time (density)
  • Doing the same work in less amount of time (density)
  • Doing more sets with the same load and reps (volume)
  • Lifting the same load and volume more often throughout the week (frequency)
  • Doing the same work while losing body mass (increased relative volume)
  • Lifting the same load and volume and then extending the set past technical failure with forced reps, negatives, drop sets, static holds, rest pause, partial reps, or post-exhaustion (intensity of effort)

Just remember, improvements in form and ROM come first, and increases in reps and load come second.

4.       Progressive Overload will never be linear

Many strength coaches love to tell the story about Milo of Croton to illuminate the merits of progressive overload. Legend has it that Milo used to pick up a baby calf every day and carry it around on his shoulders. As the calf grew, Milo got stronger. Eventually Milo was hoisting a full-size bull and busting out sets of yoke walks like it ain’t no thang. Pretty sweet story, right?

Milo

Unfortunately this story is a crock of bull (pun intended). First of all, a half-ton bull would be way too awkward to carry due to the lopsided nature and sheer size of the animal. But this is irrelevant.

No gains from weight training, be it mobility, hypertrophy, strength, power, endurance, or fat loss, will ever occur in a linear nature. The body doesn’t work that way. Adaptations happen in waves. Sometimes you’ll make big jumps in a single week in a particular quality, while other times you’ll stall for three months in another quality. Over the long haul, everything goes up, but it’s a windy road. There are physiological reasons for this phenomenon, which is beyond the scope of this article.

However, let’s pretend for a minute that you could make linear progress for an entire year on a particular lift. A 10lb jump per week equates to 520lbs in a year. Even a 5lb jump per week equates to 260lbs in a year. Moreover, a 1 rep jump per week equates to 52 reps in a year, while a 1 rep jump per month equates to 12 reps in a year. You won’t gain 260-520lbs in a year on any single lift. And you won’t gain 12-52 reps on most lifts either.  It just ain’t happening. Some sessions you’ll be surprisingly strong and make big gains, some sessions you’ll simply tie your previous efforts, and some sessions you’ll actually be weaker and go backwards. But every six months you’ll likely be stronger and fitter.

Chart

These charts depict a woman’s progress over a one-year period in bodyfat percentage and lean body mass in kilograms. She made the most dramatic transformation I’ve ever seen to date, but notice the non-linear adaptations. Also notice the drop in muscle, despite doing everything right. This woman gained a ton of strength on squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, bench press, military press, rows, and chins, she never missed a training session, and she ate perfectly for an entire year, yet she lost around 11 lbs of muscle during her year-long pursuit of getting into contest shape of below 10% bodyfat. Nevertheless, she won her first figure competition and is now a popular figure competitor.

5.       Progressive Overload will never be as fun as it is during your first 3 months of lifting

If you’re a beginner, sit back and enjoy the ride! Your rate of strength gain during your first three months of proper weight training will be higher than at any other time in your life. Each week you will slaughter personal records. Getting fifteen reps with something that you got for only ten reps the previous week is not an uncommon occurrence. This is mostly due to rapid gains in intermuscular coordination. Just don’t get spoiled, your rate of gain will slow dramatically and pretty soon you’ll be just like the rest of us – fighting like hell for those PR’s.

6.       Progressive Overload for veteran lifters requires serious strategy and specialization

As a beginner, you can pretty much do anything and gain strength as long as you’re consistent. After a couple of years of solid training, however, you have to be clever about your programming in order to continue to reach new levels of strength. You’ll need to rotate your lifts, plan your program designs intelligently, fluctuate your training stress, and tinker around with methodologies. Eventually it becomes very difficult to pack more pounds onto a particular lift or even gain another rep.

7.       Progressive Overload is much harder when you’re losing weight

Unless you’re a beginner, it’s highly challenging to increase your strength while simultaneously dropping significant weight. In fact, simply maintaining your strength while losing weight is a form of progressive overload as you’d be increasing your relative strength (strength divided by bodyweight) and therefore “doing more over time.”

Chin Up

Some lifts are more affected by weight loss than others. Squats and bench press tend to take a big dive, whereas deadlits can sometimes stay put. Your strength endurance on bodyweight exercises for the upper body will see a huge jump when you lose weight, however, so enjoy the boosts in reps on push-ups, chins, dips, and inverted rows.

8.       Progressive Overload sometimes has a mind of its own

Quite often you’ll do everything right, but you won’t get stronger. The plan just won’t work. You’ll be lifting hard, adhering to an intelligent plan, eating well, and sleeping right, and yet you still you won’t set any PR’s. Other times, you’ll do everything wrong, and you’ll somehow gain strength. Your training can be derailed, your diet and sleep can go down the gutter, but you’ll go to the gym and set a PR. This makes absolutely no sense and flies in the face of sports science. Nevertheless, this is just how the body works sometimes. Physiology is tricky and multifactorial. Don’t get cocky when this happens and think that you’ve stumbled upon the secret system (excessive partying, eating junk food, and training sporadically). Whenever you engage in these behaviors for too long, it will backfire on you, so stay on track to the best of your abilities.

9.       Progressive Overload should never be prioritized over proper form

At any point in time, if you really want to set a PR, you can just be lax on your form and likely set a record. For example, you could round your back excessively during deadlifts, bounce the bar off your chest with bench press, or use a little more body English with curls. However, this is a slippery slope that’s best avoided. Progressive overload only works when you challenge the muscles to do more over time, and your muscles will not be forced to do more if your form gets sloppy. Moreover, you won’t be setting any personal records if you’re injured or constantly in pain.

10.   Progressive Overload requires standardized technique

The only way you will ever know whether you gained strength or not is to perform the lifts exactly the same way each time. In other words, true strength gains require proper depth, tempo, and execution. Many lifters lie to themselves and pretend that they’ve gotten stronger, but their ranges of motions diminish or their form goes out the window. These lifters didn’t get stronger, they got sloppier. Federations in the sports of powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and strongman have created rules for their various exercises. It may be worth your while to learn these rules so that you always perform them properly in training and when testing your max. Assuming you can perform the lifts properly, always squat to parallel or deeper, always lock out your hip thrusts and barbell glute bridges, and in general always control the weight through a full range of motion.

Kellie Glute Bridge

Hopefully these 10 rules will keep you on track. I have one more piece of advice to share with you. Even the most seasoned lifters often have to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. Sometimes we get caught up in chasing continuous PR’s to the point of altering form, relying on the wrong muscles, skimping on ROM, or training through pain. Once per year, I recommend “resetting” your strength levels in your pursuit of progressive overload. Throw everything you’ve done in the past out the window and start over using the best possible form through a full range of motion. This is your new baseline. Now work on adhering to that same form while doing more over time. Your body will thank you in the long run for engaging in this simple yet effective practice.

Muscle Factor Training A New Paradigm

Reblogged from http://www.trainingscience.net/?page_id=471

Muscle Factor Training

A New Paradigm

You may be familiar with the old adage – heavy weights / low reps build strength & size, light weights / high reps build endurance.  This belief about the effects that different numbers of repetition have on the body has been repeated for many, many years.  I started lifting weights in 1982 and it was accepted as truth at that time.  This belief is even accepted wisdom in the exercise physiology community.  The exercise physiology textbook in my library, published in 1996, states, “Performing an exercise between 3-RM (repetition maximum) and 12-RM provides the most effective number of repetitions for increasing muscular strength.”(1)  The bottom line is that there is little to no debate as to the effect different numbers of repetitions have on the body.  If you want to increase strength and size, heavy weights and low reps is the universally agreed upon prescription.

From a practical perspective this has resulted in most or all resistance training programs recommending heavy weights and low reps exclusively.  Basically every strength training or bodybuilding program recommends repetitions of 20 or less.  During 15 years of following popular strength training literature I can recall only 2 instances where reps higher than 20 have been discussed and in only one of those instances was it even seriously recommended as a viable training method.

In the first case, in the early 1980s or so a professional bodybuilder (Johnny Fuller, if my memory serves me correctly) revealed that he preferred to train using 32 repetitions for most or all of his exercises.  At the time this was used as an example of the recommendation that each trainee needs to find what works best for him/herself, but I don’t recall that the article recommended such high reps for anyone else.  Nor did any follow on articles I ever saw suggest that trainees might experiment with reps in that high range.

In the second case, Muscle and Fitness magazine ran a few articles in the late 1980s about 100 repetition training.  This series was run after one bodybuilder in particular revealed that he used 100 reps for brief training periods a few times a year.  After that series of articles, I don’t recall ever hearing about this type of training again.

So, while the adage says heavy weight/low reps build strength and light weights/high reps build endurance, I do not believe that high rep strength training is commonly used or seriously considered as a viable training method by most trainees or their coaches.  It isn’t commonly recommended to those who are most interested in increasing strength and/or size, nor does it seem to be a part of the serious endurance athletes training methods.

Since the adage says light weights / high reps building endurance, and increasing endurance is a goal of endurance athletes, I began wondering why high rep strength training was not commonly used by endurance athletes.  Even though the primary goal of endurance athletes is to improve endurance, heavy weight / low rep strength training is what is most often recommended to them.  The reason strength training is believed to be beneficial for endurance athletes is that it increases the amount of force produced during contraction, resulting in an increase in power output and, presumably, endurance performance.  What about the second part of the adage though?  The part that says light weights / high reps build endurance.  One of the muscle factors contributing to power output is fatigue resistance.  Increased resistance to fatigue is just another way of saying that the muscle’s endurance increased.  I reasoned that if high rep resistance training really did increase endurance then perhaps it might be a beneficial training method for endurance athletes.  With that thought in mind I started searching the available research to see what had been done on this topic.  I found some exciting and surprising research for us to review.  Let’s get to it.

Heavy weight/low rep vs. medium weight/medium rep vs. light weight/high rep

The first thing I wanted to know was whether research supported the belief that heavy weights / low reps build strength and that light weights / high reps build endurance.  After all it wouldn’t be the first time that someone discovered that conventional wisdom was not completely accurate.  I thought it best to be sure.

The classic research on this topic was conducted by Thomas DeLorme in 1945 (3).  DeLorme’s research indicated that heavy weights do indeed build strength while higher reps build endurance.  DeLorme is even credited with the axiom that heavy weights / low reps build strength and high reps / light weights build endurance.  Quite a few other research studies on this topic have supported DeLorme’s findings hence the reason it is now accepted as conventional wisdom.

This is not to say that DeLorme’s original axiom has gone unchallenged though.  Several research studies (4,5) that have found that the primary adaptation to either high or low reps is an increase in muscular strength.  So even though it is accepted today that heavy weights / low reps builds strength and light weights / high reps builds endurance the fact is that some research has challenged this belief, suggesting that high reps primarily build strength, not endurance and resulting in conflicting data on the topic.

In 1982 two researchers from the University of Kentucky set out to resolve this conflict (6).  Specifically, they wanted to determine the effects of three different resistance training protocols – heavy weights / low reps (6-8 reps), medium weight / medium reps (30-40 reps), and light weights / high reps (100-150 reps).

They recruited forty-three untrained, healthy subjects and trained them with the bench press exercise three times per week for nine weeks with one of three training protocols.  The low rep group performed 3 sets x 6-8 reps maximum, the medium rep group performed 2 sets x 30-40 reps maximum, and the high rep group performed 1 set x 100-150 rep maximum.  Resistance was adjusted as needed to ensure each subject stayed in the appropriate rep range through the training program.

Before training began each subject was tested for their individual 1 rep maximum (1-RM), relative endurance and absolute endurance.  Relative endurance was determined by the maximum number of bench press repetitions they could complete with 40% of their 1-RM and adjusted as 1-RM changed, while absolute endurance was measured by how many reps could be completed with 27.23 kilograms.

At the end of the study all subjects were tested again for maximum strength, relative endurance, and absolute endurance.  All three groups improved maximum strength and absolute endurance.  The heavy weight / low rep group decreased in relative endurance while the other two groups increased relative endurance significantly.  The results of this study are shown in table 1.

Table 1:  Percent changes in max strength, absolute endurance, and relative endurance following strength training at three distinct repetition ranges

Training Group

% Change in Max Strength

% Change in Absolute Endurance

% Change in Relative Endurance

Heavy weight /

low rep

20.22

23.58

-6.99

Medium weight / medium rep

8.22

39.23

22.45

Light weight /

high rep

4.92

41.30

28.45

As can be seen from the data in table 1, the results of this study support DeLorme’s axiom.   Heavy weight / low reps do build strength, while light weights / high reps build endurance.  However, in contrast to DeLorme’s axiom, note that all 3 rep ranges resulted in increases in maximum strength.  And all 3 rep ranges resulted in increases in endurance, with the exception of the relative endurance of the low rep group.  So while low reps increase maximum strength more than do high reps and high reps increase endurance more than low reps the point is that resistance training significantly increases both strength and endurance.  The researchers commented on this same point.

“The reader should note, however, that with the exception of the relative endurance task for the high resistance low repetition group, all training protocols demonstrated significant improvements on each of the three criterion tests.”

Anderson and Kearney’s research went a long way to resolving the conflicting data on DeLorme’s axiom – heavy weights increase strength the most, high reps influence endurance the most, but all resistance training results in improvements in both strength and endurance.

In 1994 Stone and Coulter modeled a study after Anderson and Kearney’s study with the exception of using a less extreme rep range for the high rep group (7).  Stone and Coulter had their subjects perform either 3 x 6-8 reps, 2 x 15-20 reps, or 1 x 30-40 reps.  The results of this program supported the findings of Anderson and Kearney.  Strength and absolute endurance increased for all three groups.  The low rep group improved strength more than the other 2 groups and the high rep group improved endurance more than the lower rep groups.

The bottom line is that while DeLorme’s basic axiom is generally supported by this research, the fact is that resistance training results in improvements in both strength and endurance but to varying degrees depending on how many repetitions are performed.

What about alternating rep ranges?

The studies cited above have compared one rep range to another, high reps vs. low reps for example.  In every study researchers had subjects perform just one rep range and in each case heavy weights / low reps increased strength the most.  What the researchers never examined was how a program of multiple rep ranges compared to a program consisting of a single rep range.

In 2004 a group of researchers tackled this very question in a fascinating study of varying combinations of high and low rep training (8).  This group speculated that a combination type program that included both low and high reps would be more effective than a periodized program consisting of single repetition scheme during each training period or phase.

To test their hypothesis they recruited 17 untrained subjects, divided them into two groups, and then trained each group twice per week for 10 weeks.  Subjects were tested for maximum strength and muscular endurance pre- and post-training.  The first 6 weeks of training was designated as phase 1 and both groups trained exactly the same during this phase. Workouts consisted of two exercises (leg extensions & leg presses) for 3 sets x 10-15 reps.  At the end of this first phase of training there was no difference between the groups; both had significantly and equally improved strength and endurance.  This is not surprising since both groups trained exactly the same during phase 1.

During the final 4 weeks of the study, both groups conducted 5 sets x 3-5 reps of each exercise.  One group, the combi-type group, added a single set of 25-35 reps following their final low rep set.  At the end of the training program the combi-type group had increased their strength 58% more than did the other training group (14.7% vs. 9.3% respectively).  The results are displayed in table 2.

Table 2:  Set and rep ranges for 2 training phases and percent change in strength following phase 2.

Training Group

Phase 1 training

Phase 2 training

% Change in strength after phase 2

Strength type group

9 sets x 10-15 reps

5 sets x 3-5 reps

9.3 %

Combo type group

9 sets x 10-15 reps

5 sets x 3-5 reps,

1 set x 25-35 reps

14.7%

In their discussion of these findings, the researchers wrote,

“This suggests that the combi-type regimen caused a larger increase in dynamic muscular strength than did the strength-type regimen when combined with the hypertrophy-type regimen in a periodized fashion… This effect appears to be inconsistent with the classical principle operating in resistance-exercise training, in which low-repetition protocols are used for muscular strength and low-intensity, high-repetition protocols are used for muscular endurance.  Sensible combinations of high- and low-intensity protocols may therefore be more important to optimize the strength adaptation to resistance training.”

There were also significant differences in endurance between the two groups.  During phase 1 both groups increased endurance with no significant difference in the percent change.  However, the combo type group’s endurance continued to increase during phase 2, while the strength type group’s endurance decreased 4.2%.  The results are displayed in table 3.

Table 3:  Percent change in endurance following each phase of training and total percent change in endurance.

Training Group

Change in endurance, phase 1

Change in endurance, phase 2

Total Change in Endurance

Strength type group

28.5 %

-4.7 %

24.3 %

Combo type group

20 %

18.8 %

38.2 %

In summary, this study found that a combination program consisting of heavy weights / low reps and light weight / high reps was more effective for improving both strength and endurance than a traditional periodized training program consisting of a single rep range during each training phase.  This is truly a fascinating finding.

What Does All This Mean?

What are we to make of all this data on low and high rep strength training?  Based on this data I suggest that the evidence supports that resistance training consisting of a combination of reps is superior to a more traditional lower-rep strength training program.  While I’d like to see more research on this topic this data is enticing enough that I strongly recommend giving a combination of low rep / high rep training serious consideration.

Personally, I adopted a combination high and low rep program in 2007.  At that time I had been strength training consistently for 25 years (I started in 1982) and had tried pretty much every training program that had come down the pipe.  Changing to a combination program was the single best change I’ve ever made in terms of increasing strength.  Despite being in my mid-40s and many years past my prime I was able to increase my strength to the level it had been at during my mid-20s.  Too bad I didn’t discover this 25 years earlier.

What explains the results of a combination program?  What physiologically is happening within the body that produces such large strength gains?  Why does the addition of high rep training – training that has been conventionally viewed as endurance training – to a traditional low rep program produce greater gains in strength than a low rep program only?  I pondered this question for about a year until I finally arrive at the muscle factor model as the physiological explanation.  I believe this new model for how muscles function during exercise and how they adapt to exercise explains why a combination program is superior to single rep range training.  Based on this I chose the term Muscle Factor Training to describe combination training.

If you would like to try muscle factor training I suggest starting with the following. In addition to the low rep training you are already doing, add:

  • one set of 20 reps (range of 17 – 23 reps)
  • one set of 40 reps (range of 35 – 45 reps)

For example, let’s say your current training program includes 4 x 8-10 reps in the bench press.  You would replace 2 of those low rep sets with 1 set of 20 reps and 1 set of 40 reps.  Your new bench press program would look like this:

  • 2 sets x 8-10 reps
  • 1 set x 20 reps
  • 1 set x 40 reps
 

Summary

The old adage is that heavy weights / low reps build strength while light weights / high reps build endurance and a review of the research shows that the adage is basically true.  However, while that adage is basically correct it does not reveal the complete picture.  Strength increases from reps as high as 150 but if you are only doing one rep range then lower reps increase strength the most.

A combination of both high and low reps – what I call Muscle Factor Training – has been shown to increase strength significantly more than a traditional low rep, periodized type training program.  For those who are most interested in maximizing muscular strength and size this finding is significant and should be seriously considered when designing a strength training program.

Reference:

1.  Katch, Katch, McArdle, Exercise Physiology, Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance, 1996, Williams & Wilkins, pg. 427

2.  Muscle Limit Performance, Muscle Contractility

3.  DeLorme, Thomas L., Restoration of muscle power by heavy resistance exercise, Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 1945, 27:645-667.

4.  Stull G, Clarke D., High-resistance, low-repetition training as a determiner of strength and fatigability, Research Quarterly, 41(2), 189-193

5.  Clarke D, Stull G., Endurance training as a determinant of strength and fatigability, Research Quarterly, 41(1), 19-26

6.  Anderson T, Kearney J., Effects of Three Resistance Training Programs on Muscular Strength and Absolute and Relative Endurance, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 1982, 53:1, 1-7.

7.  Stone WJ, Coulter SP., Strength/endurance effects from three resistance training protocols with women, J Strength Cond Res 8:231-234.

8.  Goto K, Nagasawa M, Yanagisawa O, Kizuka T, Ishii N, Takamatsu K., Muscular Adaptations to Combinations of High- and Low-Intensity Resistance Exercises, J Strength Cond Res, 2004, 18(4), 730-737.

The Effect of High Rep Training on Strength and Size

Reblogged from http://www.trainingscience.net/?page_id=301

The Effect of High Rep Training on Strength and Size

In a recent research study(1) a group of researchers set out to explore the impact of lighter weight and higher rep training on muscle mass and function. They designed a study “to compare the adaptive changes in muscle size, contractile strength, and MHC (fiber type) composition evoked by resistance training performed at either low or high contraction intensity (i.e. low or high reps) while equalized for total loading volume”

Specifically, this study compared 10 sets x 36 reps using 15.5% 1RM to 10 sets x 8 reps using 70% 1RM.  The study ran 12 weeks, with 3 workouts each week.

How did the 10×8 program do? It produced a 7.6% increase in muscle size (hypertrophy) and a 35% increase in 1RM (one rep maximum).

Not bad. Not bad at all. And, candidly, not the least bit surprising. Heavy weights and low reps has long been the accepted way to maximize strength and size.

How about the 10×36 reps program? Many would predict that such a “high” rep range would build endurance and, if it didn’t cause an outright decline in strength and size, would surely not increase strength and/or size.  Remember, standard physiological and training wisdom is that more than 20 reps is “endurance” training and endurance training does not increase strength and size. This belief is reflected in the following quote I read on a bodybuilding forum.  “Anything beyond 20 reps is high, and not good for strength gains”.

Anyone who would predict that high reps are good for endurance only would be wrong.

The 10×36 program produced a 19% increase in 1RM and a 2.6% increase in muscle size. Pretty impressive for a program many would call “endurance training”.

There are a couple of things to be learned from this study.  First, this study clearly shows that a program consisting exclusively of heavy weight and low reps produces greater increases in strength and size than a program consisting exclusively of lighter weights and higher reps.  This isn’t any sort of surprise – research over the past 80 years has very consistently shown this same thing.

But there is more to the story than just heavy weights and low reps wins.  The most glaring point to consider is that “high” reps increased strength levels 19% and muscle size 2.6%.  This naturally brings up two questions.  Is this the only study that has shown “high” reps increase strength and size?  And from a physiological standpoint how do higher reps cause strength and size to increase?

There have been multiple studies comparing changes in strength and size from different rep ranges and, despite what conventional wisdom teaches, these studies have consistently shown that higher reps cause increases in both strength and size.  Yes, heavy weights and low reps increase strength and size the most.  But that doesn’t mean higher reps don’t also build strength and size.  Conventional wisdom has incorrectly interpreted the research as “heavy weights and low reps build strength; light weight and high reps build endurance”.  The first lesson from the research is that “light weights and high reps do increase strength, just not as much as lower rep schemes.”

It is important to note that the research has shown that the higher the rep range the smaller the increase in strength and size.  So while reps in range of 25- 35 can build strength an impressive amount, the higher above this that you go the smaller the increases in strength.

There is no getting around the fact that a program of only heavy weights and low reps builds significantly more strength and size than a program of only lighter weight and higher reps. So if you are trying to decide what reps you should exclusively be doing, pick reps less than 20.  But, this study also clearly shows that that conventional strength training thought is inaccurate to some degree. Higher reps do increase strength and size.

This brings us to the second question.  What logical explanation can we come up with to explain these results? By what physiological mechanism could high reps build strength?

The most logical answer is that what conventional physiological and training wisdom call “high” and “endurance” really aren’t particularly “high”, nor are they really “endurance”. It appears that “high” and “endurance” start somewhere far beyond 20 reps.  Exercise doesn’t suddenly transform from “strength” to “endurance” within a matter of a few reps.  Going from 12 reps to 24 reps in the same exercise doesn’t somehow turn the exercise into an “endurance” workout.  Instead, strength and endurance exist on a continuum, with both elements being trained at all reps.  Training at the strength end of the continuum, training between 1-15 reps, increases strength the most and endurance the least.  As you increase the number of reps strength is less affected and endurance is more affected, until at some point you are doing so many reps that changes in strength are no longer measurable.  That point happens somewhere above 150 reps, according to the research.

What the research hasn’t told us is how higher reps built strength and size. What physiological mechanism is at play that causes higher reps to build both strength and size?  If there are different physiological reasons for how low reps build strength and how higher reps build strength, then it raises a fascinating question.  What if you combined low reps with higher reps? What would the results be? If different physiological mechanisms are responsible for the increases in strength and size at different reps then would a combination program of different reps result in better results than single rep programs?  As we have seen higher reps do increase strength and size and if they build strength due to a different mechanism than lower reps there may be some advantage in combining lower rep training with higher rep training.

This study doesn’t answer the question but this one does.  In the meantime, the point is that light weight and high reps are not really “endurance” exercises; high reps are both strength and endurance training and the degree to which they affect strength or endurance depends on the number of reps being performed.

Reference:

Holm L, et al, Changes in muscle size and MHC composition in response to resistance exercise with heavy and light loading intensity, Journal of Applied Physiology, Nov 2008, 105:1454-1461

Muscle Factor Model

Reblogged from: http://www.trainingscience.net/?page_id=310

Muscle Factor Model

How muscles function during and adapt to training

In the early 1970s a man named Arthur Jones introduced a revolutionary strength training method to the bodybuilding and strength training world. Jones had been studying muscle physiology for about 30 years and had long understood that the standard training methods of the day were not completely consistent with what was known about how muscles function during exercise or how they adapt to exercise. Many of the training practices of the day were rooted in tradition and contradictory to known physiological facts. Jones, a lifetime strength trainee himself, believed that training would be more effective if it were modified so that it worked in accordance with what was then known about muscles. He figured that a training program based on how the body really functioned would produce much better results than those training methods that ignored, denied, or were ignorant of the true workings of the body.

Utilizing his understanding of muscle physiology Jones spent many years testing and experimenting with different training methods, constantly seeking to discover training methods that produced the best results. Being independently wealthy afforded Arthur both the time and money required to test his ideas and he ultimately spent 20+ years and millions of dollars in his quest. The end result of all his work was a revolutionary training method – High Intensity Training – and a completely new type of exercise machine – Nautilus Training Equipment.

However, there was a problem; Arthur’s high intensity training method was not just revolutionary; it was contradictory to the conventional training wisdom of the day. Humans, being only human, are usually reluctant to abandon long-held beliefs and so many were resistant to Arthur’s methods. Controversy broke out about Arthur’s high intensity training method and two opposing camps formed – one group supporting high intensity training and one supporting conventional (high volume) training. These two groups spent lots of time and effort defending their methods and attacking those of the opposing camp. Even today, more than 35 years after Arthur first introduced high intensity training, the two camps still exist and the debate still rages. In fact, one of the the primary debates in the bodybuilding world is still centered around which method – high intensity or high volume – is best.

Of significance is that Arthur’s high intensity training method was basically the first time that exercise physiology was used as the foundation of a training program. Before Arthur, training was mostly based on tradition and what the top champions of the day were doing. Arthur completely ignored tradition and the training of the top champions of the day and focused on designing training based completely on the functioning of muscles. The fact that his methods continue to be widely used today is a testament to the effectiveness of his physiology-based training method.

The Problem of Two Opposing Theories

All this is not to say that the entire world has embraced high intensity training. As noted above, today the strength training and bodybuilding world basically consists of two opposing training methods – high volume and high intensity. Both methods are currently used and promoted as the best training method by their respective proponents.

The reason both training methods still exist is because both are known to work, at least for some number of people. And therein lies the problem. In science, anytime a theory is shown to be contradicted by even a single observation, then, by definition, that theory is inaccurate. When a theory is shown to be inaccurate it must be abandoned or modified. The high volume training theory and high intensity training theory are, in essence, opposing theories as to how the body works. Since these two theories contradict each other it means that both theories are wrong, at least to some degree.

The body works in one way, not in two contradictory ways. Or, said another way, there is one set of principles/laws by which the body functions, not two contradictory set of principles/laws. We know that both training methods produce results for some people. We also know that, by definition, both theories are wrong to some degree since they contradict each other. What all this tells us is that we are missing some important information as to how muscles function during and adapt to training. Once this missing physiological information is filled in, both of the competing theories will be assimilated and replaced by a new training theory. The missing physiological information is what has allowed the two competing training theories to continue to exist for more than 35 years and has prevented further advances in training methods.

Enter the Muscle Factor Model

In 2006, while conducting background research for an article on strength training for endurance runners, I came across a strength training study whose results were quite startling. The study compared a non-traditional training method to a standard periodized training program and found that the non-traditional method produced 50% greater increases in strength than did the periodized program. The researchers themselves were unable to explain why the non-traditional program produced the best results and noted that the results were contradictory to both current beliefs about the functioning of muscles and classical training methodology.

That particular study caused me to rethink some of what physiology currently teaches about muscle activation during exercise and its adaptation following exercise. In turn, this led to a breakthrough in muscle physiology; a breakthrough I have termed the Muscle Factor Model. I suggest that this new model more accurately explains how muscles function during and adapt to exercise. Furthermore, this new model suggests some significant modifications in training methods for any sport in which strength, power, or endurance is important. I believe the muscle factor model is a key piece of the missing physiological information and will ultimately result in the integration of high volume and high intensity training. The muscle factor model may lead to the most significant changes and refinements in training since the introduction of periodization in the United States back in the 1980s. I realize those are bold claims so let’s have a look at this new model. We begin with a discussion of muscle contractile properties.

Muscle Fiber Contractile Properties

Physiologists generally divide muscle fibers into three basic types – Slow Twitch, Fast Twitch A, Fast Twitch B – each with its own distinct contractile properties.

Slow twitch fibers are the weakest of fibers, contract relatively slow, and have very high levels of endurance.

Fast Twitch A fibers are stronger than Slow Twitch fibers, contract relatively fast, and have high levels of endurance.

Fast Twitch B fibers are the strongest of fibers and have the fastest contraction speed but have the least amount of endurance.

The above description of the contractile properties of each muscle fiber type might lead you to believe that each type of fiber has distinct contractile properties. Nothing could be further from the truth. Muscle fibers of any type are not all alike; they don’t all contract the same; they are not homogenous. Instead there is a broad continuum of contractile properties in all the muscle fibers of any type. Physiologists have measured up to a 129x range of contractile properties in muscle fibers of the same type. What this means is that in any specific fiber type you will find fibers that contract much slower or faster than other fibers of the same type; fibers that contract much more or much less forcefully than other fibers of the same type; fibers that possess much more or much less endurance than other fibers of the same type. For example, physiologists measured the time to exhaustion in a group of fast twitch fibers and found some of the fast twitch fibers fatigued in as little as 16 seconds while other fast twitch fibers were able to contract for 34 minutes before reaching fatigue. The contractile properties discussed earlier tell us what the average contractile properties are for each type of muscle fiber. The average Slow Twitch fiber is slower, weaker, and has greater endurance than any of the Fast Twitch fibers. The averageFast Twitch B fiber is stronger and faster but less enduring than other fiber types. But the broad range of contractile properties across all muscle fibers means that fibers of the same type do not all have the same level of strength, endurance, or speed.

A very important point about muscle fiber contractile properties is that there is a strong inverse relationship between a muscle’s strength and its endurance. The stronger a muscle fiber the less endurance it has and vice versa. Weaker fibers possess much greater endurance than do strong fibers. Stronger fibers possess much less endurance than weaker fibers. This point is critical to understand.

Muscle Activation During Exercise

Not all muscle fibers are activated during exercise because the body only activates the minimum number of fibers required in order to get the job done. Muscle fibers are activated in a very specific order, from weakest to strongest. Physiologists have termed this the size principle of activation. Basically, muscle fibers are recruited based on the amount of force required to complete the task at hand. Recall that there is a wide variation in the strength of muscle fibers; every whole muscle has fibers with different levels of strength, from very weak all the way up to very strong. The weaker fibers are recruited first with the strongest of fibers only being recruited during the heaviest of tasks. Fibers are generally recruited in the following order based on the level of force required to perform the task:

Slow twitch – Fast Twitch A – Fast Twitch B

There are 2 important points to understand about muscle fiber activation – 1) it is a team sport and 2) total force is the sum of the force of all the active fibers.

1. It’s a team sport: Muscle fiber work together. Activation proceeds from Slow Twitch – Fast A – Fast B. It is NOT the case that Slow Twitch fibers exclusively handle the easy tasks, Fast Twitch A exclusively handle the moderate tasks and Fast Twitch B exclusively handle the heavy tasks. Instead, as the load increases from easy to moderate to heavy an increasing number of fibers are activated and all are working together to complete the task.

2. The total force produced by a whole muscle during a task is the sum of the force of all the individual fibers. All active fibers, whether Slow Twitch, Fast A, or Fast B, contribute force during movement and the total amount of force generated by a muscle is the sum of the force of every active fiber. During a really heavy lift, even though the Fast A and Fast B fibers are activated and doing the bulk of the work, active Slow Twitch fibers are producing force and helping lift the weight.

In practical terms this is what it means:

If you pick up a light weight, then only Slow Twitch fibers will be activated because little force is needed to pick up the weight.

If you pick up a heavy weight then both Slow Twitch + Fast Twitch A fibers will be activated because more force is required to lift the weight. Note that the Slow Twitch fibers are still active during this exercise, but since they are unable to generate enough force to get the job done by themselves, some Fast Twitch A fibers are also required to help out.

Pick up an even heavier weight and now you are using Slow Twitch + Fast Twitch A + Fast Twitch B fibers to lift the weight. The Slow Twitch and Fast Twitch A fibers did not possess enough strength to lift the weight by themselves, so the strongest of fibers, the Fast Twitch B fibers, were activated.

The same thing applies to any activity. For example, running at a slow pace activates only Slow Twitch fibers because the force required to run slowly is small enough that the Slow Twitch fibers are strong enough to handle the job themselves. Running at a faster pace activates Slow Twitch + Fast Twitch A fibers because running faster requires more force to be generated. Very fast running (i.e. intervals and sprints) and fast or steep uphill running activate the Slow Twitch + Fast Twitch A + Fast Twitch B fibers due to the high level of force required to run at very fast paces.

Muscle Fiber Activation at Exhaustion

As an exercise proceeds it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a set amount of force production because of fatigue. The first repetition of an exercise might be reasonably easy but repetition 20 with that same weight might be an all-out effort. Are all fibers activated during the hard to all-out effort that athletes routinely reach during intense workouts? Only in some cases; in most cases not all fibers are activated.

During exercise as a person’s active muscle fibers fatigue some inactive muscle fibers are recruited to assist those active fibers that have fatigued. However, there is a limit to the amount of additional fibers that are recruited. Not every muscle fiber is activated during exhaustive exercise. Instead, the person reaches exhaustion or terminates the exercise.  About the only time that all fibers are active is during the heaviest of tasks, such as during very heavy weight lifting (i.e. about 6 or less reps). Less forceful tasks, such as high rep strength training or distance running, do not result in 100% activation of all available muscle fibers, even at the end of the exercise when the trainee is working as hard as they can in that particular exercise. For example, one study found a little less than 70% leg muscle fiber activation while running to exhaustion on a level treadmill and a bit more than 70% activation during exhaustive running up an inclined treadmill.

Overload and Intensity

One of the primary principles of training is the overload principle. Exercise physiology generally describes overload like this – the application of an activity specific overload in order to cause physiologic improvement and bring about a training response. What this means is that muscles must be trained with a sufficient level of intensity in order to cause adaptation to occur. There is nothing earthshaking in the concept of overload as it has been a principle of training for more than a century.

However, we need to carry the concept of overload a bit further and apply it to individual muscle fibers; what is true for a whole muscle is also true for individual muscle fibers. In order to cause a training response in any individual muscle fiber that muscle fiber must be trained with a sufficient level of overload, with a sufficient level of intensity. This is accomplished by training a fiber reasonably close to its maximum capacity. Or said another way you must sufficiently fatigue a fiber in order for it to adapt and improve. This point is critical in understanding how muscles fibers work and adapt to training.

Let’s examine this principle in training terms.

You put weights on a bar so that you are only able to lift the bar a maximum of 10 times. Since the bar is very heavy you will activate Slow Twitch + Fast A + Fast B fibers while lifting it. After 10 reps (about 30 seconds of lifting) you are no longer strong enough to lift the weight an additional repetition so you set the bar down, ending the exercise. Which fibers did you overload?

You only overloaded some of your Fast B fibers. Specifically, you overloaded those Fast B fibers that fatigued in 30 seconds or less.

There were a whole bunch of fibers that you didn’t overload. Which ones? Those fibers that take longer than 30 seconds to fatigue were not fully overloaded when the set ended.

At the end of the set some of your Fast B fibers were exhausted and couldn’t continue to contract. But a lot of your Fast B and all your Fast A and Slow Twitch fibers were not exhausted at rep 10 because they posses more endurance than the strongest of the Fast B fibers (remember, it has been shown that it can take several minutes to exhaust all the Fast B fibers). The reason you terminated the exercise at rep 10 is because the whole muscle lacked the strength to lift the weight, but only some of the Fast B fibers were fatigued.

This set fatigued, and therefore overloaded, some of the Fast B fibers and those are the fibers that will get stronger. But the remainder of your Fast B and all your Fast A and Slow Twitch fibers were not particularly overloaded and will adapt little to none.

When those few Fast B fibers adapt you will be stronger but you will not be as strong as you could get. Why? Because lifting a heavy weight is a team effort and all your Fast B, all your Fast A and all your Slow Twitch fibers contribute to the total strength of the muscle but you didn’t adequately train all your Fast B or your Fast A and Slow Twitch fibers to get stronger. Only when you train all your fibers to overload will you get as strong as you are genetically capable of getting.

Putting it All Together = Muscle Factor Model

When we put all the above facts together, we arrive at the Muscle Factor Model. In order to cause an adaptive response in a muscle fiber, that muscle fiber must 1) be active and 2) be overloaded; failure to accomplish both of these results in little to no adaptation in that muscle fiber.

Recall the inverse relationship between a muscle fiber’s level of strength and its endurance capacity – the higher the strength the less the endurance, the lower the strength the greater the endurance. If you are going to overload a muscle fiber you must work it to a reasonable level of fatigue. Considering that muscle fibers posses widely varying levels of endurance, this means that only a relatively few muscle fibers are fatigued at the end of any normally conducted exercise session.

In training terms this means:

In order to overload weak muscle fibers with abundant endurance requires long training sessions conducted at low levels of force production.

In order to overload stronger muscle fibers with moderate levels of endurance requires moderate duration training sessions conducted at moderate levels of force production.

In order to overload the strongest of muscle fibers with poor endurance requires short duration training sessions conducted at high levels of force production.

If you want to maximize your performance, then you have to train all the muscle fibers that contribute to force production during your chosen activity. You have to train your weak fibers, your moderate fibers, your strong fibers, and your strongest fibers. Since force production is a team effort any untrained fibers detract from the overall performance of the team (in this case the team is the whole muscle).

Summary

The muscle factor model provides a more complete explanation for how muscle fibers work during and adapt to exercise. Only muscle fibers that are active and overloaded during exercise will adapt and grow. The only way to overload a muscle fiber is to train it to a sufficient level of fatigue. Normally performed exercise programs usually do not train all or most of the fibers in a whole muscle due to the way muscle fibers are activated during exercise and because muscle fibers have widely varying levels of endurance. The only way to maximize performance is to train all the muscle fibers that are active during the event; any untrained muscle fibers prevent the athlete from reaching his/her maximum potential.

Stress, Cortisol Complicate Fire Service Work

Reblogged from : http://www.firefighternation.com/article/firefighter-safety-and-health/stress-cortisol-complicate-fire-service-work

Understanding your body’s physiological responses means understanding that the effects of firefighting can take their toll as soon as the alarm sounds. (Lloyd Mitchell photo)

Dan DeGryse, BA, BS, CEAP, CADC, LAP/C, Battalion Chief, Chicago Fire Department; Director, Rosecrance Florian ProgramPublished Friday, February 20, 2015

As firefighters, we go from 0 to 60 mph in a matter of seconds when we hear the bell ring at the fire station.

We race to gear up and to process the information about where we’re headed. But we don’t prepare our bodies for that rush of adrenaline. Given the unexpected nature of the work, I’m not sure how we would or could. It’s not as easy as warming up or stretching before exercising.

Our bodies release adrenaline and cortisol when they’re stressed. Cortisol is a stress hormone – actually, a steroid hormone. (I call it a hormone on steroids.) It’s great to get you going, but is it healthy for our hearts to race 10 to 15 times a day? That’s 30,000 instances of a racing heart just on the job alone if you do the math over a 30-year career.

I started researching cortisol – how it affects the immune system, the digestive tract, concentration, etc. – a few years ago after studying the suicide rate within the Chicago Fire Department. I looked at other main causes of death, and heart disease topped the list, as it does nationally. Diet, exercise, smoking and heredity are some of the main risk factors for heart disease, but excessive stress can contribute to those risks.

What if I get that injection of cortisol and my heart goes through the roof, but then I find out it’s a false alarm? Now what? How do I get my heart rate back to normal, and where do the adrenaline and cortisol go? My understanding is they get absorbed back into the body, and that made me wonder if we truly know the effects of what happens when that occurs.

When I hear the firehouse bell go off, it’s like a jolt. Even though it may not be for me, I can still feel my heart race a bit, and I have to sit there and breathe, relax and try to calm down. That’s just an attempt to get my body back to its neutral state; that doesn’t reduce the amount of adrenaline and cortisol that were just released in my body.

Former U.S. Fire Administrator Olin Green wrote in 1991 about the dangers of stress within the fire service. But after more than 25 years on the job, I hadn’t heard anything about that until I started researching the topic. I never looked at stress as a possible hindrance until now. And I don’t want the next 25 years to pass without addressing it.

For many years, we’ve talked about improving personal protective equipment: bunker gear, helmets, self-contained breathing apparatuses, hoods, gloves and boots. We’ve also found out that the heat buildup inside of our bodies and the skin exposure to carcinogens are as dangerous as us breathing in something toxic.

I’m finding out that adrenaline and cortisol, which are naturally occurring and necessary for us when in our fight-or-flight mode, are potentially hurting us from the inside out.

The cortisol in our bodies is typically highest in the morning to help get us going. The level of cortisol lowers throughout the day in sync with our circadian rhythm. The level is lowest – half of the morning level – at night. But if we’re constantly stressed by the firehouse alarms or during runs, what are the effects of the continually higher levels of cortisol on our minds and bodies?

Although there is research available on this subject for military and police personnel, I haven’t found any related to the fire service. My hope is that further research on the topic geared toward the fire service will help spread awareness about the physiological effects of stress we experience throughout our careers.

For example, when I look at my own physiological responses regarding this issue, I can tell you that when I come home after a long shift and being up most of the night, I feel like I’m shaking from the inside out. I try to meditate before I go to sleep so I don’t have that feeling.

Another example of the physiological effects of cortisol: I spoke to a coworker who has 27 years on the job, and he told me he wakes up pretty much every night at 1 a.m. He wrestles around, gets up to walk around and then tries to go back to bed. He had a sleep study, and the technicians figured out that he typically doesn’t have one minute of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which helps give us more energy during the day. Cortisol levels also fluctuate during sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Some people take medication to help them sleep, while others might have a drink before bed. Self-medication can quickly progress to addiction. We know that all too well.

That’s part of the reason why I split my time between work as a battalion chief with the Chicago Fire Department and Rosecrance, a leading provider of addiction and mental health treatment services in Rockford, Illinois. In fall 2014, I worked with Rosecrance to help launch the Florian Program, which is the first program in the country dedicated to treating fire service personnel with an eight-bed coed inpatient unit.

That program aims to help firefighters and paramedics with serious substance abuse and mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Knowing what we know now about cortisol’s overall effects on our long-term well-being, we are incorporating its significance into our program.

Florian clients will have their cortisol levels tested initially when they check in for treatment. Dr. Raymond Garcia, medical director at the Rosecrance Harrison Campus, where the Florian Program is located, will evaluate those tests to check for abnormalities and to see if there’s a need to incorporate techniques for clients on how to de-stress. Clients whose cortisol levels have been identified as abnormal will be retested at the end of treatment to evaluate progress and treatment success.

We can educate them about stress and cortisol and give them tips on what to do when they return to their jobs, because they’ll face the same triggers and traumas as they did before treatment.

Research has shown that low-intensity exercises, yoga, meditation, breathing techniques and acupuncture can help reduce cortisol release in the body. Avoiding sugar and caffeine is best after a jolt of cortisol. Eat fruit high in vitamin C and food high in protein (eggs, lean meat), zinc (seafood) and magnesium (spinach), and avoid high-carbohydrate foods and sugary desserts.

And what if there’s a way to change the tones in the firehouse? We don’t have all the answers yet. Until we do, let’s research and study the issue first.

Because doing nothing for the next 25 years is unacceptable.