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!

Legendary strongman Bill Kazmaier

Free weight bench press VS smith machine bench press

Measuring upper body strength is common in high school, college and professional level sports. Arguments have been made for and against this practice, but that’s for another day. The prime movers in the bench press are the pectoralis major, triceps brachii, anterior deltoid and medial deltoid. However the medial deltoid acts more like a stabilizer than a prime mover. Just for the record, the deltoid is one muscle; Anterior, medial and posterior simply describe areas, they aren’t separate heads.

Two of many ways one can perform a bench press is with a free weight barbell or a smith machine. The free weight bench forces the lifter to balance while exerting force to lift the weight. This higher level of instability is essential for a lifter who wants to engage the stabilizing muscles while training. A smith machine guides the bar in a fixed path and requires almost no balance by the lifter. The almost total lack of instability is thought by many to allow for increased force production of the prime movers. If this were true, bodybuilders or powerlifters who want to concentrate on the development of the prime movers, would be able to accomplish this with the smith machine. More-over, a lifter involved in rehab, novice lifters and elderly lifters may find the smith machine fits there needs because of the lack of instability.

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the muscle activation between the free weight bench and the smith machine. The purpose of the study was to compare the muscle activation of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid and medial deltoid during both exercises.

14 experienced and 12 inexperienced subjects were used in the study. Testing took place in two visits one week apart from each other, each consisting of either smith machine or free weight benching. Electromyography was used during the concentric phase of each lift at a lower intensity (2 reps at 70% of 1 rep max) and higher intensity (2 reps at 90% of 1 rep max) to compare muscle activation.

The study found no difference in the activation of the pectoralis major and the anterior deltoid between exercises regardless of load or experience. If the lack of instability of the smith machine allows the lifter to create more force production in the prime movers compared to the free weight bench press, it was not supported in this study. The authors surmise this may be due to the unnatural bar path of the smith machine in contrast to the free weight bench. Also, activation of the medial deltoid was significantly greater during the free weight bench regardless of load and experience. The instability of the free weight bench causes a greater activation of the medial deltoid as a force producer and stabilizer.

(J Strength Cond Res 24(3): 779-784,2010)

From a practical standpoint, according to the findings of this study, the free weight bench press may lead to a greater requirement of stabilization of the glenohumeral joint (shoulder). Increased shoulder stabilization is not only important for athletes but anyone involved in weight training, which requires strength and stability about the glenohumeral joint.

Do the findings of this study suggest dropping the smith machine from your training program and concentrating on free weight bench pressing? Absolutely not. The best thing one can do in regards to exercise choice, is mix things up. There are many exercises one can use in order to build their chest and shoulders. Don’t get caught in a rut using the same exercise over and over.

The optimum time to train

there are many biological factors that are important for muscular hypertrophy like hormone levels, age, sex, muscle fiber type, diet, among others. These factors have been recognized as extremely important for the hypertrophic adaption to strength training. Many of these factors, however, are known to vary throughout the day. Can the daily differences in the above factors like hormone levels, affect the adaptive response to strength training? What time of day is the best time to train?

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research set out to examine the effects of time-of-day-specific strength training on muscle hypertrophy maximal strength in men. The training group underwent a 10 week preparatory training regimen. Afterwards, the subjects were randomized to either a morning training group or an afternoon training group. The groups trained for another 10 weeks with training times between 07:00 and 09:00 hours and 17:00 and 19:00 hours in the morning group and the afternoon group respectively. Cross-sectional areas and volume of the quadriceps femoris were obtained by magnetic resonance imaging at weeks 0, 10, and 20. Maximum voluntary isometric strength during unilateral knee extensions and the half squat one repetition maximum were tested at weeks 0, 10, and 20.

The entire 20-week training period resulted in significant increases in maximum voluntary contraction and 1RM in both training groups. In this study, the magnitude of muscular hypertrophy and strength did not statistically differ between the morning or afternoon group. However, this study was of short duration and like most research concerning physical improvement through exercise, there needs to be more subjects over longer periods of time.
(J Strength Cond Res 23(9):2451-2457)

Just F-in squat

Some say the squat is the king of all leg exercises. They even go as far as saying that if you don?t squat, your chances of building big, strong legs are next to impossible. And there are others who even take it one step further, claiming the squat is the best overall exercise there is period, and no routine should be without one.

Yes, I agree that the squat is unquestionably a very productive exercise in that it works a large number of major muscle groups. More so than any other exercise, however, it is not essential to do the barbell squat in order to get muscular and strong legs. More-over, for some the pain caused by injuries or anatomy makes this exercise very uncomfortable and unproductive. For instance, those who have very long legs and short torsos have trouble doing squats due to bad bio-mechanics. Some people need alternatives, but, for this Exercise of the Month article I focus on how to perform the barbell squat properly and show how to change what muscles are emphasized.

More Creatine

Creatine is perhaps the most researched supplement on the planet. Yet new data on the benefits of supplementing with this incredible substance is still mounting. Canadian researchers compared the changes in insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) amounts in 2 groups of subjects. All the subjects performed at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity 3 -5 X?s per week for eight weeks. The subjects were randomly assigned to one of two groups: One supplementing with creatine, the other, an isocaloric placeo. Muscle biopsies were taken before and after the training period and analyzed for IGF-1 content. The creatine group had a 24% higher level of IGF-1. The creatine group also had a 23% higher increase in type II muscle fibers. These findings were independent of dietary guidelines. (Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2008; 18(4))

What does this mean for the average Joe? It means if you supplement with creatine, you?ll not only get the well known ?volumizing? effect, but added lean mass.

Did you know…



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there is more and more evidence showing that if a healthy individual wants a strong core, instability exercises dont cut it. Core stabilizer training has become extremely popular in the past few years. I am starting to see a trend toward the core being the core of training programs. This shouldn’t be the case, and there is a tremendous amount of data showing the benefits of basic weight training exercise. In this newly published study, researchers used 16 physically active subjects. The purpose was to compare the activation of various trunk muscles with selected weight training exercises (squat and deadlift) and Swiss ball unstable callisthenic-type movements (superman’s and side bridging). The researchers concluded it is unnecessary to incorporate unstable callisthenic-type exercise if one is performing exercises like the squat and deadlift. Basic heavy exercise is the key to a strong healthy core. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2007, 21(4), 1108-1112.

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.????????

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

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