I find it funny when people tell me that the workout wasn’t hard enough or they need more. The simplest thing I can say is that exercise is like a prescription. You prescribe it in the lowest dose possible to get the desired effect.
If you had to take medicine, would you take 5X the recommended dose just because more is better, even though one pill would get the job done just fine? People come to Newell Strength in all different phases of their ‘training career’. Some have been training longer than others, some need to gain muscle, some need to lose fat and so on.
The goal will always dictate the training program. So what tools do I have at my disposal when designing programs? The different variables include sets, reps, rest periods, frequency of exposure, tempo and exercise selection. When I get out my pad to write down the ‘prescription’, there is interplay between all these variables.
If sets go up, reps go down. There is an inverse relationship between the two. A rep is really a measure of time, how long is the muscle system under tension? A rep is work and power. Work is force times distance and power output it work divided by time.
Rest periods will be dictated by training level and if you are after maximal strength, muscle growth or fat loss. Rest periods seem to be the most overlooked aspect of most trainees as they will rest one minute here, two minutes the next time and 20 seconds on the final set. How are we supposed to track progress or manipulate that variable if its all over the board. We have now started giving all the athletes and trainees stop watches to keep during their workouts so they are more conscious of the rest periods we prescribe.
Another overlooked aspect is frequency of training. Are you training by body part split still? Are you only training a body part once a week? If so, you are robbing yourself. A muscle is ready to go within 48 hours and similar movements can be trained daily, just look at blue-collar workers, for example, lumber jacks. They don’t seem to over train the muscles they work day in and day out, do they?
Tempo is the rep speed. Are 8 reps performed in 8 seconds going the same effect as 8 reps performed in 24 seconds? Definitely not! But most people or trainers I should say never pay this any mind. If you are after fat loss, time under tension should be longer as we will get a greater boost in lactic acid, causing a rise in growth hormone. So in that case, more time under tension is also critical in gaining muscle mass. Rest periods and nutrition will dictate which effect you get.
And lastly, exercise selection. You would probably be shocked to learn that your body adapts to the actual exercise selection the last. You could stick with the same basic exercises all year and manipulate that other variables and get phenomenal results. Pareto’s principle states that we get 80% of our results from 20% of the things we do. Exercise selection definitely fits this principle. Hoepfully this clarifies some of the aspects of what goes into your program as you shouldn’t be just wining it. A workout is not the same as a program…prescribe and let the effects happen.
I figured I would highlight one of my other athletes, Jimmy Neutron. This is the type of kid that you can build a team around. He came to me back in June and he continually amazes me by his work ethic and discipline. Neutron is a track athlete and recently he ran a record 40 time of 4.71 seconds. Jimmy easily can jump up onto the 42″ box without a pre-step. He is on the high school nutrition plan, ie-eat as much as possible and as you can see from the pictures below, it is paying off! Good job Jimmy Neutron!
One of my friend’s passed away unexpectedly on Monday of this week. We taught together for 4 years or so and this was her first year of retirement. The timing seems ironic, and it was a great loss for the school that I teach at. She was a wonderful woman. But the thing I take away from this is that the line between life and death is so very thin. If there is something you want to do, stop waiting to do it and just do it! Too many people wait until then, until next time, until tomorrow and the problem is that we aren’t promised tomorrow. I have spoken of having the sense of urgency for life before and how we can use that as a catalyst for achievement and living a life full of richness and dreams and that is never more apparent to me than now. This is two months in a row that I have had someone that I was friends with pass away long before they should have. I will keep both of them in my mind and heart as I push forward in all areas of my life for the next year.
P.S-I realized that some of you don’t get my emails (different than this) and I often put different things in there. If you want to start getting them, simple enter your information below. -Kyle
Here are three quick tips before I go to bed that are guaranteed to put some size on those bones, serious size….
1. Eat at least one meat source per day, 2 mass gaining shakes and 2 PBJs. I don’t care what else you take in, get this stuff down!
2. High rep, heavy squats. I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but trust me on this. This is one of the most powerful tools you can have in your arsenal and it takes a qualified eye to make sure you are gutting these out. I wish more bodybuilders would use this method to gain size.
3. Sleep at least 10 hours per day, maybe not all at once, but make up the difference in a nap. Very simple guys. How bad do you want it? No one can want it for you. I am going to bed, good night!
For all of you strength coaches and wannabe strength coaches, I have a got a simple little tool for you. If your athletes are like mine, meaning the majority of them are trying to pack on some muscle, you MUST have them use a nutrition log. I find that one of the most overlooked aspects in the quest to get bigger is the lack of a proper nutrition plan. Having them keep a log automatically makes them think more about their choices or lack of eating. I check the log once per week. Also, earlier in the week I will ask them what they had for breakfast that day. Usually you will find out a lot just by asking them their breakfast. If they say they had nothing or they had cheerios, you have to give them a swift kick in the butt to get things in order. Simple, but it works.
German Volume Training has been around since the 60′s and has proven to be very effective for gaining muscle mass. The goal of GVT is time under tension. Time under tension is exactly what it says, how long the muscle groups being worked are under tension. I wrote about the different types of muscle growth a while back and GVT would definitely stimulate sacroplasmic hypertrophy. A typical GVT workout for a bodypart would be 10×10 with a 402 tempo. Meaning, 4 second negative, no pause and 2 second concentric phase. A set would last you 1 minute and then you take a one minute rest. This is effective to say the least, however, it should not be done for more than a few weeks at a time and it can get mentally boring. For hypetrophy, we want the set to last longer than 20 seconds and it can last for up to 70 seconds. I find that for sport, using timed sets is a great way to go. The repeated effort method from the conjugated system I normally use can be used here. See how many reps you get in say 40 seconds, take your rest period and then go again. There are different ways to achieve growth, but realize that tempo and time under tension should be taken into the equation. -K
I am in the process of writing an interesting article about how many similarities there are between gaining muscle and losing body fat and I think you will be suprised to see that there are a lot more similarities than differences. I will highlight a few here:
- More of a Paleo diet should be followed for both purposes. Save insulin spikes for post-workout as insulin accelerates aging and raises cortisol, the last thing you want if you are trying to gain muscle or lose fat.
- With that said, belly fat around the belly button is a sure sign that somebody’s cortisol levels are too high, meaning they are stressed and in a constant state of fight or flight, sympathetic nervous system dominance.
- If magnesium is deficient, you will not gain much muscle or lose any body fat. And in fact, most people are deficient in magensium. Taken towards the second half of the day, it will also aid in relaxation and better sleep.
- Sleep is critical if you are to achieve muscle gain or fat loss. Too little sleep means too much cortisol production.
- Teenagers produce much of their seratonit around mid-night, different than an adult. This is why they want to go to sleep later. If this is the case, let them sleep and have them take naps, especially if they are trying to gain muscle.
Got to run and teach now, sorry for being cryptic more and more, but time is of the essence and I am trying to command my time and maximize it. Got a lot of things in the works and living the life of my dreams…stay tuned! -K
One of the most overlooked factors in training is the cadence or speed of the bar. One of my specialties is the training of basketball players as I have been at it with myself for 12 years now, working out before school during my senior year so games and practices wouldn’t be impacted. As the basketball season comes to an end, the first thing I will do with my players is give them a few weeks off. After that time, I will take at least four weeks to really focus on putting some size back on the players and finding some new size. Charles Poliquin, one of the top strength coaches in the world, has worked with over 600 professional and Olympic athletes says the key is time under tension. Now, I do not advocate isometric holds, which could be considered time under tension, but rather a dynamic and constant movement. The longer a muscle is stressed under a load, the more hypertrophy we will get. I am not saying that all sets and reps should be slow, but it must be taken into consideration. For hypertrophy, we generally will train in the 6-12 RM range. We will focus on explosive strength (power) and absolute strength as we move into a conjugated system, but even then, we will still focus on getting bigger. This is the beauty of the conjugate system. But that is a different topic. If you are trying to get bigger, vary your reps from week to week in the 6-12 range and vary the tempo as well. I would recommend keeping the sets between 20-70 seconds. There will be more to come on this topic. Stay tuned!
This is an article that I wrote for a few websites. It gets a little more into the science as well, but overall there is some interesting stuff in here. Enjoy….
As a Strength Coach that has competed in bodybuilding, I have a unique perspective on muscular hypertrophy. I have read of so called ‘experts’ that have recommended bodybuilding style training for athletes that need to gain weight. Let me make this clear, bodybuilding is a sport and the only people that should train in a predominantly bodybuilding oriented style are bodybuilders. In this article, I hope to explain the difference between functional vs. non-functional hypertrophy and shed some light on how we can help our athletes gain useful muscle.
I have been reading up on some of the leading experts in the industry and one common thread has appeared amongst all of them. Strength-speed exercises should make up the bulk of an athlete’s strength program once they have moved past their general physical preparation phase (GPP). You should always have a GPP period when strength training resumes full swing after a season even if the athlete is extremely strong or has a lot of experience in the weight room. The body will be in a somewhat de-conditioned state after the long season. The argument could even be made that this is more important for veteran athletes compared to younger athletes. (Keep in mind that we are not talking about novices here. Novices would first need to work on general strength and repeated effort methods along with mastering their own bodyweight in exercises such as the pushup and squat.)
Speed strength training involves exercises in which a high acceleration and moderate to heavy weights are used (Verkhoshansky, 2009, Thibaudeau, 2006). Compare this with the typical bodybuilding style training that is so popular: moderate weights, high volume and slow repetitions. Most sports are played in a ballistic and dynamic manner. Training should be designed to reflect this. Many athletes have phenomenal physiques (i.e., jacked with a lot of muscle) as a side effect of their strength training. Most do not set out to gain a ton of muscle; rather they are looking for ways to improve their performance. This tells us that muscle can be gained through other forms of training and these forms of training can greatly enhance performance, something that bodybuilding training will not do.
An increase in muscle diameter is due to enlargement of individual muscle fibers by an increase in the number and size of individual myofibrils, accompanied by an increase in the amount of connective tissue. This increase in muscle protein is produced by increased protein synthesis and decreased protein degradation (Verkhoshansky, 2009). There are two different types of muscular hypertrophy,, functional and non-functional. The scientific names are sarcomere hypertrophy (functional) and sarcomplasmic hypertrophy (non-functional). The definitions are as follows (courtesy of Verkhoshansky):
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy: The volume of the non-contractile protein and semifluid plasma between the muscle fibers increases. Although the cross-sectional area of the muscle increases, the density of muscle fibers per unit area decreases and there is no corresponding increase in muscle strength.
Sarcomere hypertrophy: An increase in the size and number of sarcomeres which comprise the myofibrils. These may be added in series or parallel with the existing myofibrils, although only the parallel growth with contribute to an increased ability to produce muscle tension. The area density of myofibrils increases and there is a significantly greater ability to exert muscular strength.
Obviously, we want sarcomere hypertrophy for our athletes. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy leads to added bodyweight without an increase in strength, essentially a less powerful athlete, the exact opposite of we are trying to create. Excessive muscular hypertrophy also constricts the vascular system, making nutrient transport more difficult and therefore recovery will be more difficult. With the development of non-functional hypertrophy, the increase in muscle mass outstrips the development of the vascular system. This results in diminished nutrition and oxygenation of the muscle, slowing down of metabolic processes in the muscle and less efficient disposal of metabolic waste products from the musculoskeletal system (Zalessky & Burkhanov, 1981). Thibaudeau makes a great analogy by saying sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is like increasing the weight of a car but not the strength of it’s engine.
It is also important to remember that under conditions of rest and recovery, most of the energy is directed towards protein synthesis, whereas most of it is directed to muscle contraction during intense exercise (Verkhoshansky, 2009). This is a key point to remember when designing your strength and conditioning program, YOUR ATHLETES GROW AND GET BIGGER AND STONGER WHEN THEY ARE RECOVERING!!! More doesn’t mean better in this case.
The energetic theory of muscle hypertrophy states that hypertrophy results from the ‘supercompensation’ of protein synthesis after high intensity exercise, analogous to the supercompensation of muscle glycogen after prolonged after prolonged lower intensity exercise (think of carbo loading for distance runners). Another check mark in the need for lower intensity and recovery weeks in the program.
Data shows that the longer and more strenuous the submaximal loading (not explosive, rapid movement as seen in Olympic lifting), the less there is sarcomere hypertrophy and the more there is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Legendary strength coach, Charles Poliquin popularized the time under tension (TUT) method for gaining muscle mass in the mid 90’s. Indeed this is great for gaining overall mass, but it is probably better suited for those looking for aesthetic results, novice trainees or athletes that need to improve strength-endurance more so than explosive athletic performance.
The bottom line is that there are two different types of muscle growth. We should never have our athletes gain weight just for the sake of gaining weight (unless they are a bodybuilder or sumo-wrestler). In order to gain functional hypertrophy we should emphasize explosive movements, compound movements and keep the reps under eight. All bodybuilding style training is not bad and it can in fact lead to some functional hypertrophy, but it should not make up the majority of the program. There are always exceptions to the rule, but this is a great place to start.
Thibaudeau, Christian (2006). The Black Book of Training Secrets. F. Lepine Publishing.
Siff, Mel and Verkhoshansky, Yuri (2009). Supertraining: 6th edition. Ultimate Athlete Concepts, USA.