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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
Reblogged from: JTFITNESSPERFORMANCE
BY JTFITNESSPERFORMANCE · OCTOBER 13, 2013
One of the simplest yet rewarding routines out there is the “Push/Pull/Legs” split. It is an easy template mould which harnesses all the required criteria for a full-proof program – balanced time spent on each individual body part/movement and consistent overall training volume. It is also one of the best programs for optimal recovery, which puts it right up there.
The split is based on the idea that your body is essentially split into three parts, in terms of “movements”:
As I have said in the past, if your goal is to be athletic, or athletic and aesthetic you should train movements not muscles (http://jt9797.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/movements-not-muscles-program-included/). I favour this split over any other mainstream program for that very reason. By splitting the program up this way it allows the individual to strengthen the basic human movements required for almost all athletic activities, while also delving into the muscle building side of things. It is perfect for athletes who are looking to gain mass, especially in the off season.
Sets and Repetitions
You cannot rely on the movements alone to develop performance and muscle mass simultaneously. To build both athleticism and muscle you must tamper with the sets and repetitions ranges, as well as the exercises (we’ll look into this later). As a general rule of thumb a single session should consist of 4-6 movements (exercises) and 16-24 sets. Here are the ideal sets and repetition ranges you should perform for each exercise:
As you can see we begin with strength and athletic development exercises that focus on low repetitions and heavy weight which are used to develop strength. These require the most amount of energy and technique; therefore they must be performed at the start of the session. We slowly fade into mass building parameters, focusing on slightly higher repetitions.
Exercise selection is easy – on pull day you do pulling exercises, on push day you do pushing exercises, on leg day you do leg exercises. You begin with compound movements and slowly move onto isolation movements. Here are some exercises you could use:
|Days||Primary Exercise||Main Assistance and Compound Mass||Mass Assistance||Mass|
|Push||Bench PressOverhead PressPush Press||Overhead PressBench Press (and any variation e.g. close grip)DipsDumbbell Bench Press
Dumbbell Overhead press (single or double)
|Push upsDipsCable fly’sFly’s
|Triceps PushdownTriceps ExtensionPush upsCable fly’s
|Pull||DeadliftOlympic LiftsRack-pulls||Olympic LiftsRows (any type)Chin upsPull ups
|Chin upsPull upsShrugsRow variation (lighter)
Straight arm pushdown
|ScarecrowsBand-pull apartsFace pullsCurls (any arm work)|
|Legs||SquatOlympic LiftsDeadlift||Olympic LiftsBulgarian Split SquatsHip TrustsGood mornings
|Glute-ham raisesPull-throughSwiss ball leg curlReverse hyperextensions
|Sled dragsLeg extensionsLeg curlsGlute-ham raises
Swiss ball leg curl
Pulling It All Together
Why didn’t I just hand you a readymade template for you to follow? I decided to lay out the structure for a reason. Too many trainers hand out generic programs that do not meet the needs of individuals. By giving you the opportunity to pick your own exercises, repetitions, sets and training days you have the chance to make an individually moulded program that will be focused towards your own goals, take responsibility. A personalized program will always out perform a generic one.
I will lay out a ready to go program, but this is only for beginners and people who want to see what the finished product looks like. If you know what your goal is and have a basic knowledge in training, channel your program towards attaining your goal. Pick exercises that strengthen your weak areas and train how you want to train! Here we go:
Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic program but it will never outdo a personalized program.
3 Day a Week vs 4 Days a Week
Push/Pull/Legs can be split into a three or four day a week program:
|Day||3 Days a Week||4 Days a Week|
Both have their benefits, if your goal is purely strength and size based or you’re going through a bulking phase, you may find the four day a week to be beneficial. However, I personally prefer the 3 day a week program as it gives athletes plenty of time to work on skills needed in their sport, as well as sprinting and other conditioning sessions, while still gaining great amounts of strength and size.
In conclusion, this is a fantastic program for people looking to gain strength and mass. I regularly use this style of program with rugby players and other contact athletes who need to gain muscle mass, while still developing athleticism.
The Fire Service Warrior website is pretty cool and I just wanted to share what I found . They cover my two favorite topics; weight training and firefighting.
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