Hydroxyl Methylbutyrate (HMB) for strength and getting lean
HMB has been widely publicized and has been one of the more popular supplements for over a decade. HMB is a metabolite of the branch chained amino acid leucine. With claims like increased strength, muscle size, recovery and fat oxidation, it sounds too good to be true. In fact, a publisher of a very successful magazine referred to using HMB akin to using the anabolic steroid deca durabolin. Unfortunately, the claims made about HMB don’t seem to hold up in the research.
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, performed a met-analysis of 9 studies. The analysis was comprised of 394 subjects between the ages of 21 and 25. Some of the subjects had training experience and some didn’t.
The major findings of this meta-analysis are that HMB supplementation results in a small, beneficial increase to overall strength in untrained lifters but has a negligible effect on trained lifters. Furthermore, in untrained lifters, HMB results in a small to possibly moderate increase in lower-body strength, but it has only a negligible effect on upper-body strength. In contrast, all strength outcomes are insignificant in trained lifters. In both trained and untrained lifters, the effect of HMB supplementation on body composition is negligible.
In my view HMB is a waste of money. The only gains made were small strength gains in untrained individuals? Why would any researchers analyzing a supplement, looking for strength or lean body mass gains, use untrained individuals? They are going to make gains, especially in the first few months, just by working out. I’m amazed at how so many studies are poorly performed and yet, are still published.
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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.
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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)
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Barbell back squat vs smith machine squats
Many strength and muscle building experts will say, the barbell back squat is much more effective at building size and strength. They argue free weight squats are a more natural movement and require much more stabilization and balance, which increases its effectiveness. However, the Smith machine is much easier to learn, especially for beginners, which many argue is safer. I contend that it depends upon the person’s build. If one has long legs and a shorter torso, they will have a very difficult time performing a squat correctly in order to get optimum stimulation for strength or growth. In this case and in others, they would benefit greatly from performing smith machine squats. But what does science have to say? Which is better for gaining strength?
Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada compared the free weight squat to the Smith machine using electromyography (EMG). The purpose of their study was to determine which exercise was better at stimulating the prime movers and stabilizers of the legs (e.g., tibialis anterior, gastrocnemius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis and biceps femoris) and trunk (e.g., lumbar erector spinae and rectus abdominus). Six healthy participants performed 1 set of 8 repetitions using a weight they could lift 8 times, i.e., 8 rep maximum.
Contrary to our hypotheses, muscles of the legs (specifically the vastus medialis and biceps femoris) displayed greater EMG activity during the free weight squat compared to the Smith machine squat, whereas there were no differences between exercises for EMG activity of trunk stabilizers.
Researchers conclude that the free weight squat may be superior to the Smith machine squat for training the major muscle groups of the legs and possibly would result in greater strength development and hypertrophy of these muscle groups with long-term training.
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(9), 2588-2591.
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Partial reps vs full range of motion
I am not a huge fan of using partial reps, but will use them sparingly with experienced lifters to “through a wrench into their workout”. When I prescribe them they are performed after the client has already reached momentary concentric failure during a set. But, because partial reps place such high demands on the recovery ability of the muscles being worked, I caution against using them more than once every 4 workouts per body part. In reference to this belief, I received an email from an intermediate lifter claiming a study (J Strength Cond Res, 2004, 18(3), 518-521) proved partial reps should be incorporated in his workout instead of full range reps.?
I did a little research, as always, and found the study the gentleman was referencing. This study was conducted over a 10-week period using the bench press as the criterion measurement. Subjects were divided into three groups. Group one trained with full range of motion sets. Group two trained with partial range of motion sets. A partial range of motion was defined as two to five inches from full extension of the elbows. Group three trained with a combination of both partial and full range reps. All groups were pre and post-tested with a full range of motion one rep maximum. No differences were found between the groups. So should we or shouldn’t we use partial reps?
There are several problems I find with this study that are common to many studies trying to illuminate the most efficacious training principles. First, and perhaps most important, inexperienced, recreational subjects were used. Inexperienced subjects can achieve gains in the first few months on just about any program. Second, the length of time the study was conducted was entirely too short. six, eight or, like this study, 10 weeks is just not enough time to show the efficacy of a particular training protocol. And third, the intensity of the exercises or perceived exertion is not mentioned or monitored. Are the subjects going to failure on their sets? Are some subjects pushing themselves harder than others? Are the subjects training in the same manner on exercises other than the bench press? This study like most training studies shows nothing.
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