Want muscle? STOP the quessing game

People who engage in very repetitive tasks such as long distance running, labor or swimming show very little or no improvement in the size and strength of their muscles. Long distance events are by nature very low in intensity.

Compare a marathon runner to a 100 meter sprinter. Marathon runners who train for very long periods at a very low intensity are emaciated looking having less than normal muscle mass and carry on average 14 ? 16% body fat. Sprinters, on the other hand, who train for short periods at a high level of intensity are very muscular and have half the body fat levels than marathoners. If cardio is the key to getting lean, as many people presume, why do marathoners have a higher body fat than sprinters? The reason is, a specific stimulus is required for a specific outcome.

The specific stimulus needed to stimulate muscle and strength is high intensity training. This is a universal training principle that affects everyone without exception. This is due to the fact that we are anatomically and physiologically the same. If this were not true doctors could not perform surgery and prescribe medicine. Consequently, the stimulus needed to induce biochemical changes that build muscle and strength in humans is the same.

Intensity, when referring to training, is the percentage of physical exertion that one is capable of. Training with one hundred percent intensity is the best way, the only way, to stimulate muscular size and strength in the shortest amount of time. How does one gauge the intensity of their workouts? By taking your working sets to positive or concentric failure.

Taking a set to the point of failure, where you cannot possibly perform another rep despite your maximum effort is one of, and perhaps the most important of several factors in your success. There are many who disagree and advocate high volume training with 60%, 72%, 95%, or whatever percentage of intensity they decide is the best. Some even claim training all out, with one hundred percent intensity is not only unnecessary, but detrimental. Over the years I’ve seen so called strength coach specialists, and personal trainers with 15 letters after their last names, concoct the most ridiculous routines, using almost every percentage, that have yet to show any effectiveness in real world application.

The main problem with these bogus routines is that there are only two accurate measures of intensity. Zero, when you are at rest; and 100%, when you?re training to the point of failure. How do you measure anything less than 100% intensity? If I can do 10 repetitions to complete failure with 100 pounds on the leg extension machine, where do I go for 80% intensity? Do I perform 10 reps with 80 pounds? Or do I use 100 pounds and only perform 8 reps? Is 80% the optimum percentage, or is it 65%? There is no evidence that suggests, let alone proves, anything less than 100% effort is equally or more effective. Are you starting to see the ridiculousness and inaccuracy of such training prescriptions?

Intensity cannot be measured accurately with reps or weight. While performing a set, intensity increases exponentially with each successive rep. Performing the first 5 reps on the leg extension is not equivalent in intensity to performing the last 5 reps. Hence, 5 reps is not the equivalent of 50% intensity.

The only way to train that is completely accurate is with all out intensity to failure. This will give you a concrete view of how you?re performing. If you train with 100% intensity during every workout and you do not progress, you know you are not recovering. There will never be a question whether you are providing a strong enough stimulus for progress. However, if you follow the percentage of intensity or the percentage of max rep principles, how will you know you are training intensely enough to stimulate muscular size and strength? If you plateau, are you training too hard or too long? Do you lower the percentage or raise it? Do you need more rest, or do you need to train at a higher intensity? There is no need for this guessing game.

Your goal is to bring about the largest, most rapid outcome for your individual genetic potential. In order for this to occur, the body requires 100% intensity every working set of every exercise. This is the only truly accurate way to gauge the efficacy of your training program. Nothing less than 100% will do. The body needs a reason to adapt. Give it!

Yogilates, The Yoga Hybrid with Staying Power

Back in 1997, when Yogilates was created by certified Pilates instructor and Vinyasa yoga practitioner Jonathan Urla, no one thought this yoga hybrid would stick. After all, hybrids like disco yoga, ballet yoga, and soul yoga faded away just as quickly as they exploded onto the scene. Well, Yogilates is still standing, nearly 15 years after its inception, with a sizable number of devotees and a dedicated website selling everything from DVDs and exercise gear to eco bottles and books. It’s safe to say that this is one yoga hybrid that’s here to stay.

Yogilates combines moves from Pilates and yoga to create a challenging workout that strengthens and tones the muscles, exercises the heart, and relaxes the mind. According to the official Yogilates website, this hybrid is designed as a unique style of yoga that “integrates the core strengthening and alignment principles of Pilates with the practice of hatha yoga” – a 5,000-year old discipline. As a result, Yogilates gives practitioners “more rapid and balanced development of their bodies than when either discipline is performed separately.”

A typical Yogilates session begins on the floor. Participants prepare for practice through breath and alignment awareness, followed by a warm-up that integrates “the core strengthening and spine lengthening of Pilates matwork with hatha yoga breathwork and essential poses.”

Through a series of smooth transitions from one exercise to the next, participants eventually move from the floor and into Sun Salutations (a series of 12 yoga poses) and a Vinyasa yoga flow. As the session progresses, the poses become more and more challenging before ending with restorative poses and relaxation called Shavasana.

Yogilates has a number benefits including:

  • Combines the most effective parts of yoga and Pilates for a challenging and invigorating workout
  • Improves flexibility of the spine, posture, breathing, and alignment
  • Improves performance in all activities from sports to everyday tasks
  • Helps to develop coordination and concentration
  • Helps achieve weight loss goals
  • Relieves stress
  • Reduces risk of injury
  • Helps sharpen the mental and physical skills needed to achieve peak performance
  • Safe for all ages and exercise backgrounds
  • An additional benefit of Yogilates is it can be practiced in a studio or at home. It is possible to find Yogilates classes at a health club, but you are more likely to find quality Yogilates classes at a yoga or Pilates studio. To safely and comfortably practice Yogilates at home, you should purchase a yoga mat and comfortable exercise gear made of breathable and non-irritating fabrics. You should also make sure that you are well-hydrated before and after practicing.

    Where to Find Yogilates DVDs

    You may purchase one of three Yogilates DVDs produced by Jonathan Urla online at www.yogilates.com. You can also view or purchase other Yogilates videos by visiting Amazon.com or Youtube.

    High intensity or high volume?

    The question, “What’s best workout for building strength and muscle?” has been the subject of heated debates for years.? My answer is always the same.? There is no one workout that is the best.? There is no one workout that works for all.? However, there are training principles that do apply to everybody.

    Anatomically and physiologically we are identical.? A bicep is a bicep and has the exact same function from person to person.? An aorta is an aorta.? Our anatomical structures may have different shapes and sizes, but they all function the same.? This holds true for all tissues in our bodies from blood to hormones.? If this weren’t true medicine could not exist.? How could an anesthesiologist do his job if everybody were different?

    Therefore, in order to get bigger, stronger muscles the same stimulus is needed.? That stimulus is short, intense training sessions.? Why short?? Because we have known for centuries the body can either train long or train hard.? A perfect example is to compare distance runners to sprinters.? Because of the types of training, one is emaciated looking and one is muscular.? Remember you can not sprint a mile.? Is it difficult to run a mile, yes?? But it is essentially impossible to run a mile with 100% intensity.

    The other factor one needs to take into consideration for building bigger, stronger muscles is recovery.? How much or how often can you train?? Or better yet, how much “should” you train?? Here is where the differences in genetics lie.? Our muscles need the exact same stimulus in order to cause a chain of events that forces them to adapt by making bigger stronger muscles.? However, the rate at which we are able to recover from these intense bouts is as different as the shapes and sizes of our bodies.

    So what are you to do?? If you’re training using the typical muscle building routine, which is 3 or more working sets per exercise and 4 or more sessions a week, and not getting anywhere, change it.? First, reduce your sets per exercise by half and only train each body part once a week.? If you still don’t make gains or you plateau after a short while, reduce your sets again.? Remember, if you’re training with 100% intensity and you’re not making gains, you’re not recovering.

    More is only better when it comes to sex and money.????????

    Did you know… raw milk can prevent allergic disorders

    Does being overweight increase your risk of certain types of cancers? Does a wider grip work your lats better than a narrow grip? Get the answers to these and other questions more in my Did you know… column.

    …there is evidence that raw milk prevents the development of allergic disorders? A study published in ?The Lancet? (Riedler et al, 2001), indicates that children who drank raw milk, independent of other types of exposure to farming environments, had: a 52 percent lower risk of asthma, a 57 percent lower risk of having a least one wheeze attack in a year, a 76 percent lower risk of hay fever, and a 58 percent lower risk of allergies to cows, dust mites, cat dander and pollen. Wise Traditions, 8(4):71-72,2007

    …the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin, Germany, is warning parents and pediatricians that babies should not be give soy formula without strict medical supervision? Germany joins the Israeli Ministry of Health, the French Food Agency and United Kingdom health officials in warning against the dangers of infant soy formula.

    Salmon Professor Dr. Andreas Hensel stated that the main concern for infants is the high levels of estrogenic isoflavones in the formula, which act like hormones in the body. Milk allergies are not an acceptable reason for pediatricians to recommend soy formula.

    The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment also issued a second warning, this one to adult consumers, stating that isoflavones offer no proven health benefits and pose a health risk. Wise Traditions, 8(4):64,2007

    Time equals muscle

    A highly overlooked, but very useful tool for progressive resistance training is – Tempo. I will even go one step further and call tempo an essential tool for attaining optimum results from weight training. Yes, it’s true one can attain results performing reps just like every other hack in the gym, but I’m talking about optimum results.

    If you’re going to spend the time in the gym, why not get the most out of it. The biggest reason most people who weight train don’t use tools like tempo is shear laziness. Performing a set to momentary failure, to the point where you can’t possibly get another rep is grueling. Few people have what it takes to train correctly, achieving 100% intensity. Hence, the legions of frustrated people in gyms across the US. Like any endeavor, doing your best takes hard work, focus and dedication.

    So what is tempo? Tempo goes hand in hand with “time under tension” or TUT. TUT is simply the amount of time a muscle in under tension. To develop the optimum amount of muscle in the shortest amount of time, a set should last between 20 and 60 seconds.

    Tempo is the speed of your reps. It is expressed and recorded by three or four digit numbers representing the seconds required to complete a rep. Example: 402 (four, zero, two) or 50X0 (five, zero, explosive, zero). Using the bench press, the first digit is the speed in which the weight is lowered (negative). The second digit is the amount of time one pauses once they’ve reached their chest. The third digit is the amount of time one takes to raise the weight (positive). The forth digit, if used, is the amount of time one takes before lowering the weight again. If an “X” is used, it means explosive, or as fast as possible.

    Designing Your Workouts

    Is it really necessary to count each rep in order to build strength and muscle? No. Is it necessary to lift under control and to vary your speeds to get the best most rapid gains per your genetics? Yes. When you perform an exercise under control, the muscles are truly doing the work. ?Slower?, not ?slow? speeds make the muscles work harder by eliminating momentum and bouncing. There?s nothing impressive about performing a bench press by allowing the weight to drop, bounce off your chest and then barely being able to complete the lift.

    If tempo is used properly, the target muscle group is truly performing the exercise. Tempo forces one to lift in a very controlled manner, but like any training tool it should be used as an adjunct to your weight training program.

    The Good Morning

    Bending over to pick something up can be a very dangerous move if done with a rounded back. Most people in their lifetime will have an injury to the lower back. One way to help prevent such injuries is to do the good morning.

    Performing the good morning is an excellent choice for strengthening and building the posterior chain, which includes the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. The glutes (butt) and the hamstrings are responsible for hip extension while the muscles of the lower back (erector spinea) are contracted statically.

    Because of the large degree of hip flexion, the gluteus maximus and the hamstrings are utilized throughout the movement. The glutes work in unison with the hamstring to extend the hips in the concentric (raising) part of the movement. The hamstrings, located on the back of the upper thigh, become more involved as you begin to decrease the degree of hip flexion while raising the weight. The erector spinea, which run the length of your spine on both sides, are statically contracted throughout most of the movement, keeping the normal curvature of the spine. A static contraction of the rhomboids and the trapezius muscles help maintain the shoulders.

    Extension of the body occurs when the upper body, torso and pelvis rotate up and back. The biggest mistake I see with this movement is allowing the back to ?round? and magnifying the kyphotic (upper back) curvature while de-emphasizing the lordotic (lower back) curvature. I need to add that a slight curve of the upper back will present no danger and will happen to most while using heavy weight, but if you look like a big question mark (?) while performing the exercise, that?s a different story.

    The good morning

    Squat and dead lift vs stability ball exercises for core activation

    Unstable Surface Training (UST) has moved from being used almost exclusively in rehabilitation to becoming common place among personal trainers and strength coaches. One can’t go to a gym and not see somebody training on a Bosu ball, stability ball, wobble board or foam pad. It’s so popular entire books have been written on this type of training. But do not be fooled by its popularity.

    UST is not popular because it works, but because of a tremendous media campaign. The fitness industry is always looking for something new. They know here’s huge money in marketing a piece of equipment and/or workout program.

    Performing exercises on unstable equipment can be challenging no doubt, but research has not shown that the type of balance, and core stability developed through UST will transfer to any sports skill. Performing exercises on unstable equipment will make an individual proficient at performing resistance exercises on unstable surfaces but will not improve sports performance. Is UST training even necessary?

    Researchers from Appalachian State University compared trunk muscle activity during stability ball and free weight exercises. The stability ball exercises utilized were the quadruped, pelvic thrust and ball back extensions. The free weight exercises were the squat (SQ) and deadlift (DL). During all exercises muscle activity was collected using electromyography (EMG).

    During the study trunk muscle activity during SQ and DL’s was equal to or greater than which was produced during stability ball exercises. This was true even when 50% of the 1 rep max was used during SQ and DL. The role of UST is again shown to be in question.
    (Journal of Strength Conditioning Research 22:95-101,2008)

    Best exercise for building big lats

    Over the years it has been well established that performing exercises behind the neck, like lat pull downs, is detrimental to the shoulder joint. The unnatural movement pattern of bringing the bar behind ones head causes external rotation combined with horizontal abduction, which places the shoulder at a great risk of injury. However, when the lat pull down is performed to the front of the head, there is a lower stress on the shoulder joint because of a higher degree of stabilization by the rotator cuff muscles.

    Not only is the front of the neck lat pull down (FNL) a safer exercise, but it allows for a great range of motion. Despite the amount of empirical and anecdotal evidence illuminating the possible negative effects of behind the neck pull downs (BNL), proponents tout is greater efficacy for building bigger lats. But Is there a difference in the activity of the primary movers during different lat pull down exercises?

    A recent study analyzed the electromyographical (EMG) activity of 3 different lat exercises. The exercises used where the BNL, FNL, and V-bar behind the neck lat pull (V-bar). Twenty four experienced weight lifters participated in the study performing 5 reps with each exercise, with electrodes positioned over 4 muscle bellies (pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid, and biceps brichii). Although a previous study (J Strength Cond Res 16:539-546) showed a greater activity of the latissimus dorsi muscle using FNL when compared to the BNL, this was not the case with the present study. (J Strength Cond Res 2009:23(7);2054-2060)

    If your objective is to build bigger lats, than any of the 3 exercises in this study can be used with equal activation. However, with no advantage being found in this or any other study to date performing the BNL, one should question it’s use. There is no movement in sport or daily activity that the BNL mimics. Conversely, the FNL mimics movement patters in sports and daily activities helping to reduce injury and improve function.

    There are a few concerns I have with this and previous studies analyzing prime mover activation in lat exercises. The distance between the hands, which were the same for this and other studies, has a huge impact on the range of motion, the load used, and EMG activation. The closer the grip one uses performing a lat pull down, the greater the range of motion and load, which consequently yields a greater activation of the prime movers.

    Changing exercises alters movement patterns and muscle recruitment, which can increase or decrease the load used. A greater load, which elicits a greater EMG activation, can always be achieved with movements to the front of the neck as opposed to the back of the neck. For this reason, using the same load for all 3 exercises doesn’t show the true ability of an exercise to activate target muscles. The correct load used would be such that each exercise was performed with maximum intensity. Only then can there be an apples to apples comparison.

    Partial reps are equal to full range of motion reps.

    Most experts have long held that partial repetitions provide no benefit to the serious weightlifter. This was not the finding of a study done at the University of Southern Mississippi compared using partial range of motion (ROM) repetitions and full ROM repetitions in the development of strength in untrained males. As far as the development of maximal strength was concerned, partial and mixed repetitions were found to be equally as effective as full repetitions.

    This study was conducted over 10 weeks and used the bench press as criterion for measurement. Fifty six subjects were divided into three groups: the first group used three full ROM sets; the second group used three partial ROM sets; the third group used a combination. The researchers found no differences between the three groups. However, they do point out that this study does suggest partial reps can be a benefit to a person?s maximal strength. (J strength Cond Res 18(3), 518-521, 2004)

    Does this mean partial reps should be the major component of a strength training routine? Absolutely not. As with all studies concerning progressive resistance training, there were too few subjects, and the length of time involved was too short in duration. However, this study does find support in using partial reps in addition to a traditional strength training program. This is especially true for power lifters and other athletes who need to ?lock a weight out? at the top portion of the lift.

    People are befuddled

    The question, “What’s best workout for building strength and muscle?” has been the subject of heated debates for years. My answer is always the same. There is no one workout that is the best. There is no one workout that works for all. However, there are training principles that do apply to everybody.

    Anatomically and physiologically we are identical. A bicep is a bicep and has the exact same function from person to person. An aorta is an aorta. Our anatomical structures may have different shapes and sizes, but they all function the same. This holds true for all tissues in our bodies from blood to hormones. If this weren’t true medicine could not exist. How could an anesthesiologist do his job if everybody were different?

    Therefore, in order to get bigger, stronger muscles the same stimulus is needed. That stimulus is short, intense training sessions. Why short? Because we have known for centuries the body can either train long or train hard. A perfect example is to compare distance runners to sprinters. Because of the types of training, one is emaciated looking and one is muscular. Remember you can not sprint a mile. Is it difficult to run a mile, yes? But it is essentially impossible to run a mile with 100% intensity.

    The other factor one needs to take into consideration for building bigger, stronger muscles is recovery. How much or how often can you train? Or better yet, how much “should” you train? Here is where the differences in genetics lie. Our muscles need the exact same stimulus in order to cause a chain of events that forces them to adapt by making bigger stronger muscles. However, the rate at which we are able to recover from these intense bouts is as different as the shapes and sizes of our bodies.

    So what are you to do? If you’re training using the typical muscle building routine, which is 3 or more working sets per exercise and 4 or more sessions a week, and not getting anywhere, change it. First, reduce your sets per exercise by half and only train each body part once a week. If you still don’t make gains or you plateau after a short while, reduce your sets again. Remember, if you’re training with 100% intensity and you’re not making gains, you’re not recovering.

    More is only better when it comes to sex and money.

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