Thursday, December 29, 2016

Bodybuilding or Fat Loss for Seniors

The most viewed article for 2016 bears repeating...


First of all, let’s define “bodybuilding”. Bodybuilding does not mean you have to be a professional or a competitive bodybuilder. If you are trying to change the composition of your body (less fat and more muscle) you are a bodybuilder!
If you only want to lose fat, the best way by far, is to add muscle mass.
In case you missed it, see what Johns Hopkins has to say about fat loss.

So if you are trying to accomplish almost any type of fitness other than power lifting, you are a bodybuilder. 

Secondly, let’s define “seniors”. It depends on who you ask.
I’ve seen it defined as anyone over 40. If someone calls you a senior when you’re 41 you have my permission to kick them in the teeth.

But usually it’s defined as 50 and above.(you should still kick them in the shins, at least) There is such a wide range that I suppose doctors and fitness professionals have to be careful what they prescribe as fitness programs without a personal assessment and evaluation. I understand that.

But if you run a search for “fitness for seniors” or something similar the results you get are so far off they are laughable. Unfortunately, those articles are doing a huge disservice to the readers so they really aren’t funny.

You’ll get advice on using bands, five and ten pound dumbbells or body weight exercises. Advice to only do two sets of ten reps, working out only two or three days a week. Many seem to be assuming you already have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. Those writers are no doubt in their 20’s and think anyone over 30 belongs in a nursing home.

Don’t believe that junk!

I can show you people in their late 70’s that can dead lift over two and a half times their body weight, people in their 60’s that could compete as swimsuit contestants (men and women) or competitive body builders and people in their 80’s that run multiple marathons each year and/or iron man competitions.

Are these people genetically gifted? Sometimes, but usually not. Have they been working out all their life? Many started their fitness programs in their 50’s and 60’s.

So far I’ve describing other people. Let’s get a little more personal:

·         I am 66 years old.
·         I have Medial Plantar Nerve Entrapment in my right foot.
·         I’ve had a broken right ankle which locks up on occasion.
·         I’ve had knee surgery 3 times. One was so bad that I’m told it’s in a medical text book somewhere. My left knee still has the lateral stability somewhat less than Jell-o!
·         I’ve had 2 serious rotator cuff tears.
·         I have Polycystic Kidney Disease. Because of this I’ve had high blood pressure since my mid-thirties.
·         I’m a cancer survivor ( 6+ years now)
·         and I have emvazeyma.
·         I have scoliosis of the lower thoracic spine. Mostly caused from favoring my left knee all these years.

You should note:
  • That NONE of the injuries were the direct result of resistance training!
  • As a matter of fact, training has caused a marked improvement in each and every one of them! 
  • AND if I had been stronger at the time of the injury I might not have been injured in the first place!

And in each case of injury the doctors had me in resistance training within days or weeks of the injury!

My current dead lift is over 1.5x my body weight and improving every week.
My current raw barbell squat is almost 1.5 x my body weight.

I was still a member of the 1000 Pound Club at age 53 at 1275 pounds. (The total weight in 3 lifts-bench press, dead lift and squat). At age 66 I’m a little below 1000 pounds for the time being but I’m working on it.

The whole point is: don’t let some mamby-pamby article talk you out of doing what you are fully capable of doing. Get a proper assessment and evaluation, of course.
But the body can do much more than you think it can at any age. It’s the mind you have to learn to control.

Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right…. Henry Ford

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Truth About Fat Loss and Muscle Gain That You Probably Don’t Want to Hear

This is a recent article, but if your New Year's resolutions include getting more fit, you need to read it or re-read it.

The Truth About Fat Loss and Muscle Gain That You Probably Don’t Want to Hear

Google “fat loss” and you will get roughly 7 million hits.

Unfortunately, most of them are trying to sell you something or, at least, sell you on the idea of how easy it is using their “one weird trick”. They tell you how awesome you’re going to look, that you’ll have visible abs in 6 weeks "by doing this one simple exercise" or that you’ll add slabs of pure muscle to your skinny frame in a month.

Here’s the Truth:

Anytime anyone says “here’s the truth” you should understand that it’s something you probably don’t want to hear. But the truth is something you need to hear. It will keep you from wasting years of your life and a ton of money on stuff that doesn’t work and never has and ruining your metabolism in the process.

1.     You are going to fail
Yep, you’ll fail. Everyone does at some point. You’ll want to rush the process, get discouraged and go back to Google looking for an easier way.
You’ll then waste valuable time and money and be no better off. When you fail, learn from it and don’t let it happen again. Failure is usually part of the process.
Chances are your diet didn’t fail you. Neither did your workout program.
You failed you. Suck it up and own it!

2.     Your Body is Your Fault
If you are out of shape and fat, it’s your fault. If you are skinny and weak, it’s your fault.

I’m not trying to be mean. It’s just true. It’s not your metabolism( So you Have a Slow Metabolism) It’s not your genetics (stop blaming your parents, snowflake). It’s your own lifestyle and bad habits.

3.     It’s going to be Hard

If it was easy everyone on the planet would be lean and strong. You’re going to have to eat less food and you’re going to get hungry. You’re going to have to eat better. You’re going to have to exercise and work at it. And you’re going to have to have a plan.
You’re going to have to make sacrifices. You can’t eat better because you “love food”? Fine. Stay fat. You don’t want to go to the gym instead of going drinking with the guys? Fine. Stay weak and skinny. But don’t complain that you can’t gain muscle or lose fat.

4.     It will Take Longer than You think
Did you gain all that fat in a week or a month or even a year? Not likely. So what makes you think you can get healthy in a month or two or three?
If you need to lose 10 pounds for a special occasion you can probably do that. You may look thinner but you’ll still be fat. And you’ll gain it right back and probably gain more.
Have you been skinny all your life but want to look like Dwayne Johnson (AKA “the Rock”) by the end of the year?
Good luck with that.

Don’t like the truth? Me either. But there it is. So you have three choices:

1.     Be angry with me for telling you the truth and keep wasting your time
2.     Decide you’re going to just stay fat or weak and skinny because the truth is too hard for a snowflake like you.
3.     Take responsibility for your own actions and accept the truth and commit to the process

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


As I write this we are less than two weeks for the new year. Do you have your list of New Years resolutions ready?

Millions of resolutions will include something about getting fit. Most will be something like "I'm going to "try" to get in shape this year." If the word "try" is in any of your resolutions you'll fail. 
You've already given yourself an out. You've already pre-quit.

On January 2nd every gym in the country (or world) will be inundated with "resolutionists". Most will be gone by February 15th.

According to various surveys, the average adult male can do one pull-up.He can bench press 160 pounds once. He weighs 175 pounds and on the chubby side. His flexed biceps measure 13 inches. Today's average is, in fact, below average.

Read Meet Todd-The Average American Male

Many begin their fitness journey well below average. They're weaker than the average person, fatter than the average person or punier than the average person. To a lot of people, being average is a big step up.

But being average is not a goal! Especially today's version of average. Average shouldn't be the finish line-it should be the starting line. Who wants to spend hours in the gym every week just to look mediocre and perform "okay"?

Spend too long in "average" and you become "average American average"-formerly known as fat and weak.

Read Are You Going to Hit Your Goals for 2016?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Is it True You Should Wait 48-72 Hours Before Working the Same Muscle Again?

Is it True You Should Wait 48-72 Hours Before Working the Same Muscle Again?

Yes, that's true. Well, sort of, kinda, maybe, sometimes. . . . . 

The truth is waiting 48-72 hours before working a muscle group again is a very wide generalization. It's not a bad rule for a beginner but you need to personalize it to your own situation after a little experimentation. The best answer for you will depend on several factors:
  • Your "training age"-Training age is how long long you have been working out. Necessary recovery time will vary greatly from beginner to intermediate to elite.
  • Muscle group being worked- Smaller muscles or muscle groups (arms, for example )will recover faster than larger muscles or muscle groups (like legs or back).
  • The type of training-Hypertrophy, pure strength, Olympic lifts, endurance....
  • Your actual age-Generally, the older you get the longer it takes to recover. (another generalization)
  • The intensity of your workouts- Intensity definitions differ from sport to sport. But to give you a rough idea of what I mean, jumping rope is rated a 10 while walking at 3 mph is a 3.3.
  • Is you nutrition on point?
There is also the matter of defining what we mean by "working a muscle". The truth is you probably never go through a workout without working the muscle you worked yesterday to some extent.
Let's use the triceps as an example: If you did tricep extensions yesterday on your regular "arm day" and today you do bench press on your regular "chest day" you have worked the triceps two days in a row. If you did deadlifts yesterday, good luck finding a muscle to do today that didn't get work yesterday. So the "rule" of 48 to 72 hours before working a muscle again is somewhat of myth to begin with.

It comes down to how hard or intense you worked a particular muscle. "Recovery" can be measured in time (48 to 72 hours) or intensity (Is the muscle in question the primary mover in an exercise or a secondary mover?) 

For any muscle, if the second workout isn't better than the last one in terms of more weight, more reps, more sets or shorter rest periods between sets you may need to change your program to allow more recovery for that muscle if that trend continues for two or three weeks. 

Only you can determine exactly how much recovery time you need before working that muscle/muscle group again. Too close together can definitely hurt your gains. Too far apart and you may be leaving gains on the table. 

You don't get stronger/bigger/faster in the gym. Gains come during recovery.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Ladies: Do You Get Upset with the Man in Your Life .....

Ladies: Do You Get Upset with the Man in Your Life .....

when you go on a diet and he loses more weight and loses it faster?

Lighten up. It's not his fault. He's not trying to one-up you. And it's certainly not your fault if you're doing it right. So don't you dare use that as an excuse to give up.

Yes, it's true that, pound for pound, a man can lose 10 pounds faster than you can say "pass the celery". But it's more of size difference than a sex difference.  Men are naturally larger and naturally carry more lean muscle than women. Muscle is "metabolically expensive." Meaning the more muscle you have the more calories you burn. And the weight he loses is likely a smaller % of his total weight.

So, yes, men can lose weight faster. But there's hope, ladies. According to research, at 3 months, men will definitely be ahead. But at 6 months, there's no difference.

And here's more good news: While women take a little longer to lose the weight, they seem to do a better job of keeping it off, perhaps because they lost it more gradually in the first place. 

So stick with it. You'll be the winner in the long term.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Stop Using These Two Words ......

Stop Using These Two Words ......

I read and article the other day by Negar Fonooni, co-founder of Girls Gone Strong that started me thinking about how a seemingly small thing in my experience might make a big difference to other people.

The two words you need to cut out your vocabulary are "Used To". 

We've all used those two words. "I used to be faster, or stronger or thinner or whatever.....". In my case the phrase was "I used to deadlift over 500 pounds and I used to squat over 500 pounds-both twice my body weight". And when I started back in the gym about 4 years ago that was my goal.

But I was 50 years old when I set those PR's and I was carrying 20-25 pounds more muscle mass at the time at 228 pounds with roughly the same BMI as now.

I'm now 67 years old. I've had several injuries in the last 17 years including two surgeries. My joints and connective tissue are 17 years older. And frankly, I can't consistently eat nearly as much as I could then without accumulating an unacceptable level of body fat.

That's not to say that I can't still get stronger and more fit. I have. But I'm not going reach that size and pure strength again.  

This is who I am now at 67. Not who I "used to" be.

I'm not telling you not to set goals and push like hell to achieve them. When you reach one goal set another, higher one. Take it one step at a time. But sometimes setting a goal too high in the beginning with an unrealistic time line only serves to discourage you. Too many people get discouraged and quit when they try to go too high too fast.

"Used to" seems as if your younger, stronger self is in competition with your present self. And that's a competition you probably can't win.

Focus on who you are now-not who you "used to" be.

It's important that you read I'm Too Old to Get in Shape

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

How to Fix Your Bad Form on the Bicep Curl

How to Fix Your Bad Form on the Bicep Curl

The bicep curl is one of the most abused exercises ever. I see more people doing the bicep curl wrong than any other exercise. (Bench Press is a close second).Squats and dead lifts are more technical in nature and take some practice to get right. But the bicep curl? There’s nothing technical about it. Yet people seem to come up with endless ways to cheat on the lift and use every muscle in the body other than the bicep.  Then they can’t understand why they can’t gain any strength or size in the bicep.

Here are the problems I see most:

·        Fully straightening the arms-This takes the tension off the bicep muscle and provides the opportunity to “rest” at the bottom of the rep by pausing at the bottom.  

     Beginning the concentric part of the movement from full extension also shifts much of the stress to the forearm and wrist instead of the bicep. Full extension also provides the opportunity to get the shoulder, back and legs into the movement by “swinging”.
           Bringing the concentric portion of the lift all the way to the shoulder in an effort to squeeze” the bicep muscle.- This isn’t a terrible mistake and you may have even been taught to do it this way. But it’s not optimum.  Once you get to less than about a 30 degree angle between your shoulder and you hand much of the muscular tension is transferred to your anterior deltoid (shoulder) and your wrist/forearm and away from the bicep.

The solution to correcting mistakes is to provide a situation where the lifter has no way to make these mistakes even if he tries.

The solution in this case came from an article and video by Dr. Joel Seedman, PhD for Dr. Seedman is a neuromuscular expert and performance specialist who works with athletes to improve movement mechanics.

If the lifter has no option except to do it right, they learn how the movement is supposed to feel and see for themselves that it works.

The variation shown in the video below creates enormous tension in the biceps because they are locked into the sweet spot of the movement where there’s maximum activation and no relaxation and effectively eliminates the possibility of excess movement and cheating. Any cheating or swinging will cause you to dump the weight. 

Do your bicep curls following the video below until the proper form is perfected. You'll need to start with a lower load than normal.

Sorry, but the video is not loading correctly but you can watch it on Youtube HERE. (37 seconds)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

When to Increase the Weight and How Much

When to Increase the Weight and How Much

Progression is the key to both strength increase and muscle growth.

Progression can come in several forms but the most common element in progression is adding weight to the bar. But when should you add weight and how much should you add?

How Much Weight to Add

In general, try adding about 5% on upper body exercises and about 10% on lower body exercises as long as you can maintain strict form.

When to add weight

The answer will depend somewhat on your goal.

If you goal is hypertrophy and you are working on a range of 8-12 reps you want to increase the weight when you can perform all of your working sets at the top of that range (12 reps in this example) for two consecutive workouts while maintaining strict form.

You’ll need to adjust this guideline for heavy compound lifts like squats or deadlifts. You should be thinking of your set of heavy compound lifts in terms of a series of singles. For example, instead of 1 set of 12 reps, think in terms of 12 sets of 1 rep. There should be a short pause and a complete reset after each rep to avoid rushing through the reps, losing form and risking injury. Over the years I’ve found it better to start slightly below your target reps for a workout or two. So, instead of increasing the weight and trying to hit in the 8-12 range, shoot for 6 reps for a couple of workouts. Then move into the normal range.

If your goal is strength and you are working in the 3-6 rep range, I’d prefer to hit the top of the range (6 in this example) for at least three consecutive workouts before adding weight. Much of the gains in strength is due to neural adaptation and your central nervous system (CNS) needs a little more time to adjust and recover.

Monday, December 12, 2016

This is Why You Shouldn't Follow the Advice of Celebrity Trainers...

This is Why You Shouldn't Follow the Advice of Celebrity Trainers...

If you want to follow someone (in addition to me ,of course) follow Molly Galbraeth. Molly is the founder of Girls Gone Strong.

Read Molly's entire article regarding "getting bulky" at Does Lifting Heavy Make You Bulky? Find Out The Truth Here


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Signs You're Pushing Yourself Too Hard

4 Signs You're Pushing Yourself Too Hard

I've seen it. I've done it....progress stalls and no matter what you try you're seem to be stuck on a plateau that's impossible to break through. So you push harder, add extra exercises, extra sets, extra reps. Your program gets longer and longer. Still you're stuck or worse, going backwards.

Working hard is part of the process. Getting fit is not supposed to be easy. If it was, everyone would be fit and lean and obesity wouldn't be a national epidemic. But there are limits. 

Many will say that "over training" is a myth. You'll hear that it's almost impossible to over train, that the body can take much more punishment that most people realize. And they are right. Up to a point. Often, it's not over training, it's "under resting". You're not giving your body sufficient rest and recovery. 

Just as often, it's poor nutrition. You're not giving you body the proper nutrition it needs to recuperate. No matter how hard you train, you can't out train a bad diet.

If there is a problem, look to problems with nutrition and recovery first as possible culprits. 

That being said, more is not always better. There comes a time when you need to work smarter-not harder.

Here are 4 signs you may be overdoing it

  • You Dread Your Workouts
        Everyone has a bad day where you feel something is off. Maybe too much fun over the weekend. Maybe a little under the weather. maybe you're just bored with your old program. Maybe it's something else on a long list of possibilities. But if it continues, maybe it time to change things up.

  • You are too sore 
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) shouldn't be a problem if you have been using your present program more than a week or so. You should only experience extreme muscle soreness for the first time or two that you are doing something you haven't done before.
If you are weeks or months into a routine and are still getting extremely sore something is wrong.

  • Your joints hurt
Overuse injury can affect muscles. But more often, overuse will affect joints and/or connective tissue. If you have joint pain something is wrong. If you experience joint pain after doing the same routine for a period of time it's probably from overuse. Your progress is going to suffer if pain is involved. 

  • Performance sucks
If you are in week nine of your present program and there's been no progression since week five, pushing harder may only make things worse. If performance is worse than week five you are pushing too hard and you need to back off the intensity.

If you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Look first to your rest/recovery plan. Get seven to nine hours of sleep and allow 24 to 48 hours of recovery between workouts for  each muscle group. Take at least 2 off days per week.
  • Next, make sure your nutrition plan hasn't gone off track.
  • Stress can kill gains. Try to relax more or try to eliminate outside stress if you can. 
  • Keep your workout length to 45-60 minutes (no more than 75 minutes) Past 60 minutes cortisol increases substantially for most people. Cortisol is good during your workout up to a point. But cortisol is an catabolic hormone (burns muscle tissue) and elevated cortisol can carry well past the end of your workout. If your workout lasts 2 hours you're either wasting a lot of time or you're not training with enough intensity. Your should be pleasantly tired when you finish but should feel like you could do it again within 3 or 4 hours. Otherwise, you may actually be losing muscle.
  • "De-load" for a week by easing up on the intensity. Don't skip workouts. Just cut back. Less load if you have joint soreness. Or fewer sets. In the past, I have taken a de-load week and immediately started seeing progress return.

Whether you call it "over-training" or "under recovery" doesn't really matter. You need to find the problem and fix it. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

How Long Should I Rest Between Sets?

How Long Should I Rest Between Sets?

Honestly, I have no idea but I can give you some rough guidelines.Large muscles like the legs need more time to recover-up to 5 minutes (More or less). Smaller muscles need less time to recover. Heavy sets require more oxygen and require more time to recover.

And yes, you may have seen some rest periods noted in programs I've written. But, if you see a rest period spelled out, those programs are usually for beginners (or for someone who I know little or nothing about or for a general audience) and are only meant to be guidelines-not a dictate. An intermediate or advanced lifter will have figured out for himself/herself how much rest they need.

The short answer is your rest period should be long enough to allow you to do the next set with equal or greater intensity than the last set- but no longer. That means the answer is very subjective and will depend on the attributes of each individual, what the exercise is and what body part is being trained. The correct answer is what works best for you.

That doesn't mean you should take up space sitting on a bench, spaced out or looking at your phone for five minutes between sets of barbell curls. Nor does it mean resting for five minutes just because you're having a "I don't give a damn" day.

It means paying attention to physiological signs. Is you heart rate back down to within 20-25% above your normal resting heart rate? Is your respiration back down to near normal? Has the "burn" subsided in the muscle? Have your legs stopped shaking from the last set of 20 all out squats? You're ready for the next set.

 Still feel like you're about to cough up a lung? Still seeing the face of God after a set of heavy deadlifts? You're not ready.

Not as ready as you thought you were? No big deal. You'll know better next time.

There are no hard and fast rules. It's a learned skill you only get from experience. Don't worry about the seconds or minutes. Learn to gauge your readiness for the next set by what your body is telling you.

You'll learn to do it without even thinking about it after a while. Your body will say "I've got this. More please.."

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Periodization: How to Get the Most From Your Training Program

Periodization: How to Get the Most From Your Training Program

Yesterday’s article described the 3 mechanisms involved in muscle growth.HERE

Today’s article is about how to incorporate all of these mechanisms into you’re your fitness program. It’s called Periodization.

Periodization is taking a long term fitness plan and splitting it into distinct time periods (cycles) to take advantage of all the mechanisms available to reach the long term goal. There are an infinite variety of ways to set up a periodization plan. But I’ll give you a couple of examples at the end.

The 3 mechanisms involved in growing muscle, whether for strength, aesthetics, fat loss or endurance are:

1.     Muscle (or Mechanical) Tension
2.     Breakdown of Muscle Tissue
3.     Metabolic Stress

You want to take advantage of all 3 mechanisms. The problem is that all 3 require slightly different training methods.

Before we get into how to best train for all 3 mechanisms, I need to address one more point that becomes very relevant; Muscle fiber types. You see, the different types of muscle fibers also require different training methods. And it just so happens, those training methods are closely related to the methods for the 3 mechanisms.

 I’ll make this brief. You can learn more about muscle fiber types at HEREl if you are interested.

There are several types of muscle fibers: Type I, Type II. Type IIa and Hybrid. But let keep this discussion to the main 2 types.
·        Type I or “slow -twitch”- More efficient at continuous muscle contraction for a long time period before fatigue.
·        Type II or “fast -twitch”- Generate short bursts of strength but fatigue quickly.

The main take-away I want you to understand is that all muscle is not alike. They have different purposes, require different methods of training and that no single muscle is made up of ALL fast -twitch fibers or ALL slow- twitch fibers!

There are one or two muscles with ratios of 90%/10% but most are more like 60%/40% on average.

So, if you are always training one way with the same set/rep scheme, even though you may be adding weight, you may be neglecting as much 60% of your muscle fibers!

Also think about this; if you get stronger you can do more weight for more reps for hypertrophy and thus burn more fat. If you get more muscle on your skinny frame you get stronger and lift more weight to build strength and still burn more fat.

So which mechanism goes with which muscle fiber type and which type of training and how do they work together?

Muscle Tension=Type II (fast twitch) fiber= Heavy weight (75-90% of 1RM)= Low Rep(3-6 reps max)=Longer rest periods( up to 5 minutes or more)=Strength as main goal.

Metabolic Stress=Type I (slow twitch) fiber=Lighter weight (60-70% of 1 RM) =Higher Reps (8-15 reps or more)=Shorter rest periods(45 sec to 2 minutes depending on body part)=Hypertrophy (muscle size) as main goal.

Muscle Damage=Emphasis on Type I fiber=Light to Medium weight= high reps+ Slow eccentrics (lowering the weight with a 3-5 second tempo)+ added time under tension(TUT) using drop sets or Rest Pause sets.= 2 minute rest periods= Hypertrophy and strength with most emphasis on hypertrophy.

If your main goal is strength you’ll obviously want to spend more time and effort on Muscle Tension (heavy loads-low reps). If you main goal is gaining muscle or losing fat  you’ll spend more time on Muscle Damage and Metabolic Stress.( Lower loads-higher reps) But don’t neglect the other 40-60% of your muscle fibers!

The periods or cycles have to fit your long term goals. The cycles can be weeks or even months in length (Macro Cycles) or as short as days (Micro Cycle) or some combination. Cycles for a beginner will be very different from an intermediate or experienced lifter.

Here are some examples for Hypertrophy as the main goal:

Macro cycle: Emphasis on hypertrophy for a period of 4 to 12 weeks. (Or until progress starts to slow) then emphasis on strength for 2 to 4 weeks

Micro Cycle:
            Monday-Lower Body Strength
            Tuesday-Upper Body Hypertrophy
            Thursday-Upper Body Strength
            Friday-Lower Body Hypertrophy

Intraday-This is one I’ve used recently. It’s tougher than it looks on paper.
You’ll want to use only about 5 exercises per day. The split can be about any way you want it. But you will only use 1 exercise per body part per day.

Set 1 and 2-Weight at about 10 RM shooting for 8 reps per set.
Use slow eccentrics with 3-5 second eccentric movement + a weighted stretch for 10 seconds on the last rep (Muscle damage)
Set 3               Weight at 6 RM for 6 reps-normal tempo
Set 4               Immediate Drop set back to 10 RM -normal tempo-Rep to failure
Set 5               Immediate Drop set at 12 RM (or just drop the load by 20%) rep to failure-normal tempo.

Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. Just find what works best for you and your goals. And take advantage of all the mechanisms to gain muscle 

Monday, December 5, 2016

You May Be Leaving 60% of Your Gains On The Table

You May Be Leaving 60% of Your Gains On The Table

Many people go to the gym, pick up heavy stuff, put it down and never wonder how this works or why it works. It’s like trying to become an auto mechanic without knowing how an engine works.

 But then they wonder why they’re not gaining muscle or losing fat or getting stronger. So they blame their lack of progress on their genetics or their metabolism or El NiƱo or global warming or whatever other excuse they can come up with to quit.

You don’t need to be a professional coach or trainer or have a degree in Physiology. But you should at least have grasp of what makes the engine go.

There are a number of different mechanisms at work when it comes to building skeletal muscle. And if you want to maximize the effectiveness of your workout program and your time in the gym you need to have a basic grasp of those mechanisms.

The Mechanisms that Force Muscle to Grow

Think about these mechanisms in terms of evolution. If you can’t out run a saber tooth tiger, you’d better find a way to get faster or stronger.

1.     Muscle Tension (or Mechanical Tension)

This is where you have that "Holy crap this is heavy" moment.

In order to produce muscle growth, you have to apply a load or stress greater than what your muscles had previously adapted to. Most people understand this mechanism as simple Progressive Overload (Lifting progressively heavier weights). Stop increasing the load and your muscles stop growing. It’s that simple. And the body adapts very quickly.

It’s a chemical and hormonal process that not only affects the muscles at a cellular level but also affects the motor units (nerves) that control the muscles. The muscle cells not only get larger, they also increase in number to insure you can kick the tiger’s butt next time.

2.     Muscle Damage

This is where you say "I think I'll take the elevator.

This is the one (and sometimes the only one) that most people are familiar with. Muscle damage is micro-tears in the muscle fibers that cause muscle soreness called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

This microscopic muscle damage causes the body to repair itself by releasing a flood or inflammatory molecules and immune system cells (and nutrients) to the site of the damage. The body not only repairs the damage but tries to build up the area so damage doesn’t occur again.

Think about this way: If you hang a picture on a nail that’s too small for the weight and the nail bends, what do you do? You use a bigger nail.

But remember, you don’t have to have soreness to have progress. Over time, the body fixes that too. So that, over time, the amount of soreness you experience will diminish because of other mechanisms more related to your nervous system.

3.     Metabolic Stress

How your muscles feel after metabolic stress..
(Not really. This idiot injected his muscles with Synthol-a mixture of oil and alcohol)

If you have ever felt the burning sensation in the muscle during an exercise (if you haven’t then you’re doing it wrong) or had the “pump” where your muscles seems to expand and puff up and become temporarily larger, then you’ve felt the effects of metabolic stress.

The “burn” is not caused by the buildup of lactic acid (though there is some) but by the buildup of nitrogen molecules. Both are a result of chemical processes within the cell. Just like burning gasoline in your car produces water and carbon monoxide, burning glycogen in your cells produces nitrogen, lactic acid and other by-products. While you have the muscle fibers under stress or flexed, those by products are temporally trapped in the tissue.

As the muscle relaxes the by-products rush out and additional fuel (glycogen) rushes in causing the muscle and connective tissue to swell causing the “pump”.

Again, it’s a cellular process. The by-products trapped in the muscle also initiate other chemical processes. It’s called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which simply means the muscle get larger in order to adapt.

You should note that sarcoplasmic hypertrophy increases the size of the muscle but doesn’t necessarily increase strength. 

There is a forth mechanism more related to increasing strength than hypertrophy. But, keep in mind, that as you get stronger you can move more weight. Moving more weight means you can continue progressive overload and build more muscle.

Neurological Adaptation

You can train your central nervous system (CNS) just like you can train your muscles or your heart or your respiratory system.

The human body has limits when it comes to muscular strength. A power lifter will probably reach his or her maximum muscular strength within a few years. Past that point, strength gains are primarily due to adaptation of the CNS. More motor units are added to make the muscles more efficient and to recruit more muscle fibers faster. And the body becomes more adept at activating those motor units more efficiently.

Why should you care about all this scientific stuff?

Because you want to speed up progress and waste less of your valuable time in the gym, avoid plateaus (or be able to break through them) and meet your goals easier and faster.

The thing is, each of the the mechanisms mentioned above need different types of stimulus to work. 

The correct way to train and take advantage of all 3 mechanisms is called "Periodization". And I'll teach you how and why in tomorrow's article