Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Essentials for Success - By P.J. Striet

Originally posted on on June 9, 1999

I've seen a growing trend in the weight training world as of late: Attention to detail. It seems as if everyone wants to talk about the ideal time under load, what rep range to pick based on their fiber type, what philosophy book to read, what supplement to take, how many exercises to perform in a session, how many movements and sets per body part, etc. etc.

Some of these issues have merit, I suppose. However, in my opinion, the five following components will "make or break" your training success.

1) Consistency: You must train on a consistent basis. Training twice a month is not a consistent basis, nor will it bring any results. If you expect to get anything out of a routine, consistency is your first order of business. I think one can train hard 6-12 times monthly. The exact number will depend on your training level, age, job and family responsibilities etc. Allow enough time for recovery, but don't get carried away.

2) Overload Progression: You need to have some type of progression scheme. You must consistently overload your system, and the easiest way to do that is to lift more weight, or perform another rep. I don't care if you are training to failure using one set, training to failure using multiple sets, not training to failure, training with free weights, training with machines, training with rocks, training the Olympic lifts, or training in any other manner-YOU MUST FORCE YOUR BODY TO WORK AT PROGRESSIVELY HIGHER LEVELS. Basically, when I train, I want my body to say, "Oh shit!" That would be my definition of overload. If you don't train progressively, you are kidding yourself.

3) Desire: Quite simply, you have to want to train. If you are going to train, then train hard. Do not "play at it". A training session is not some kiddy scissors class. I don't know how many people I have seen come into a gym on a consistent basis, and consistently do nothing. You know the types I'm talking about. The people who will use the same weight on every exercise, for the same reps, time and time again. The ones who socialize, take a lot of water breaks, and otherwise do nothing. These individuals would be much better off going to Graeter's (a famous ice cream parlor here in Cincinnati) and eating ice least their heart would be in that.

4) Safety: If you can't perform a certain exercise safely, you are not going to perform it well, and therefore are not going to see many gains from that movement. I'm a big believer in the squat and deadlift. If one has the leverages, and their medical history allows, that individual should be performing these movements. When I talk about safety, I'm speaking in terms of the potential for injury...not the potential for experiencing discomfort. Feeling a certain amount of muscular discomfort during a compound joint exercise is inevitable. This is NOT a reason not to perform an exercise. Similarly, telling yourself "I'll just do leg presses in place of squats", when there is no reason you can't squat, is not an option. If one expects to get results, then one must be willing to bust his ass on movements which bring a large level of discomfort (squats, deadlift variations, presses, etc.).

5) KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Stop looking through the various research studies, seeking the perfect routine. You will not find the perfect routine now, nor will you find it in the future. Science has provided us with some good information when it comes to strength training...don't get me wrong. However, it is not going to provide the "Answer" to gaining size and strength. I've stated before that your common sense can take you a long keep it simple. In a fairly recent conversation with Ted Lambrinides, he made the statement that "Strength training is more art than science." Agreed.

Train the largest muscular structures of the body with a limited number of compound exercises (and any isolation movements needed to prevent injury). Perform an exercise until you can no longer perform it. Squat until you don't rise from the bottom position. Press until the bar doesn't budge from your chest or shoulders. Deadlift until the bar doesn't come off the floor. Perform your reps in a controlled manner (do NOT count rep speed). Eat a variety of nutrients that allow for growth and recovery. Attempt to progress each workout. Leave the gym knowing you gave it your best on that particular day. Is this method "scientific"? No. Is it effective? You bet.

Until next month...TRAIN HARD.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Practical Progression - By John Szimanski, Jr.

Originally posted on on June 1, 1999

Every good lifter knows of and accepts the idea that progression is the key to getting stronger. Progression can be in the form of more weight or more reps, or, both. While we all know that being able to do more reps means that we are stronger, it's the increase in weight that brings a smile. It's the increase in weight that demonstrates improved strength.

Typically, regardless of where we start out, we reach a point where it seems impossible to make that next 5 or 2½-pound jump. Sometimes we successfully work past it, by any of a number of strategies; only to re-encounter it a short way down the road. If you are at your maximum potential, you may not be worried about trying to add more weight. Chances are pretty good that you are not so close to your maximum potential that you are willing to stop trying to add weight. There may be a way you CAN continue to add weight.

Let's start by examining the fundamental principle of fractional loading. Stated as a concept rather than a law: the typical human body cannot discriminate, by feel, 1 pound increments with anything weighing over 100 pounds.

To illustrate, load a bar to 100 pounds and load another, identical bar to 101 pounds. Have a blindfolded lifter unrack one bar, then the other several times. Ask him which bar is heavier each time. Unless he is a genetic wonder, he cannot possibly discern a difference in the weights. He might guess correctly 50% of the time; those odds are built in. But, he cannot factually tell. The threshold of human tactile sensitivity cannot detect the difference between 100 pounds and 101 pounds, 200 pounds and 201 pounds, etc.

Here's another example many of you have experienced. Do your bench warm ups and work sets all the way to your final top set as you usually do. We assume your top set is intense, i.e., to failure. Add 5 pounds to the bar, unrack and proceed to lift. You can't make it. The additional 5 pounds feels like a ton. Now, strip the 5 pounds and replace it with 1 pound. Unrack and lift. Bet you made it.

The key is the difference of just a few pounds, two pounds too much might as well be 100 pounds. Regardless, you won't lift it. You see it at meets all the time. Lots of lifters practice 'peaking' and, it's an effective strategy most of the time. But, how many times have you seen a win turned into a loss by a few pounds? How many workouts of 'no progress' have left you dejected?

Let's start at the beginning of a cycle and look at how fractional progression is applied to the utmost advantage. Say your deadlift workout is three increasing worksets with the top set using your maximum weight for the workout. Your previous PR is 400 pounds and you are currently doing 200 pounds for 10 reps at the top. These are easy workouts for you. They get you warmed up and you feel great. You feel like you could add 400 pounds now. But use your head. Be patient. Keep your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel.

A few days later, after you rest and eat well, you're champing at the bit to HIT the iron. Add 15 pounds to your top set this workout. After several workouts using this procedure, you are using over 300 pounds. Still well within your capabilities, but it is becoming more like work. Slow the increments to 10 pounds for several workouts. As you get around 380 it starts to get tough. Slow down to 5-pound increments for a few weeks.

Now you're up to 395 and you're working your tail off. You have good control of the weight, great form, and you have a little oomph left at the end of each workout, but now you're undeniably working out. Enjoy the success. Take a few moments before the next workout to recall how good this workout was. Savor it. Mull over how great the next workout will be, because you know you will increase the weight and you cannot possibly fail. Now it's time to get fractional.

At the next workout add 1 pound. Just 1 pound! As you work your way to the top set recall that you are absolutely certain to make the weight. You know your body cannot possibly tell the difference between this load and the load at the last workout. You did it then and you absolutely will do it now. There are no other possibilities. It's easy to envision yourself doing it because you know you will do it. When you get there, the top set will seem to fly.

Continue adding just 1 pound, and following the same procedure, at each workout. The old 400 maximum will no longer be an issue. Just concentrate on that 1 pound more you know you will lift at the next workout. Ignore the actual total. Focus on that inevitably successful 1 pound increase.

You will sail right past that old theoretical PR. You will probably have to take a breather from the intensity before you actually fail at a lift. You used to get to 400 and stall for 3 months with no progress. This time around, at the end of the same 3 months, and before you know it, you are lifting 425. And, you are smiling. "Big time". The best part is, you're still moving up.

Now is a good time for a reality check. We know we can add 10 or 15 pounds at a time, make progress, then begin to stall. We know if we then slow to 5-pound increases we can keep going. And now we know, if we slow to 1 pound increases, we can go on lifting more, virtually forever. Baaaaahhhh. Wrong. Nobody but nobody goes on lifting ever-increasing weight forever. You could slow down to ½ or ¼-pound increments and go a bit further. But at some point, if you actually could continue on and on, you will reach your true PR range, your true potential, your 'best' condition. So there is a double-edged sword of truth here: you can't go on lifting more ad infinitum yet, how many people do you know, who are at or near their true potential? One, two, none?

The bottom line - there's another tool for your toolbox. You pull it out when it's time. You use it when it's appropriate. There is no magic to it. But, there is guaranteed progress.

Like any other nice piece of equipment, nicely finished, personalized, accurate fractional plates can offer a little extra kick in the motivation department. But there is no denying that hanging ½ pound of peanut butter on each side of the bar will do the same thing. It's your choice 'how'. Just do it.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Effective Strength Training: Understanding the Intensity-Duration Relationship - By Dave Durell

Originally posted on on June 1, 1999

The optimal number of sets of resistance exercise required to produce maximum increase in strength remains a very controversial topic. In order for any strength training program to be considered effective, obviously that program would have to produce an increase in strength. If two different systems both produced an equal increase in strength, then other criteria must be utilized to determine which is truly the most effective. These additional criteria would be the amount of time invested to achieve the desired result, as well as the amount of effort expended. Thus, the most effective system of strength training (or anything else) would be the one which produced the greatest possible results with the lease possible amount of effort in the shortest possible time. The purpose of this article is to compare single set training to multiple set training to determine which training protocol comes closest to being the previously mentioned most effective system.

Multiple set training is defined as performing more than one set of a certain resistance exercise, typically 2 to 5 sets. Usually a 1 to 2 minute rest period is taken between sets. Traditionally, multiple set systems have been considered a requirement to stimulate maximum strength gains (1). While multiple set training has produced unquestionably good results in a multitude of trainees over the years, this system contains one inherent flaw: it attempts to defy the principles of logic, reason, and human physiology by disregarding the incontrovertible relationship between intensity and duration.

Intensity is defined as the percentage of possible momentary effort being exerted (2). Duration is the amount of time over which such efforts are conducted. To paraphrase, intensity is how hard it is, while duration is how long it takes. There is universal agreement that intensity is the single specific stimulus required to generate increased muscular strength. The critical, yet often ignored, factor involved in strength training programs is that intensity and duration are inversely proportional. This means that as the intensity of effort increases, the amount of time that such an effort can be sustained will proportionately decrease. These are incontrovertible facts not subject to debate which can be readily observed in everyday life. It is literally impossible for a human being to sustain 100% intensity for prolonged periods of time.

Consider, for example, the activity of running, something almost all of us have had experience with since we were children. Picture yourself sprinting at top speed for a distance for 50 yards. Now imagine yourself running a distance of one mile. Can you run the mile at the same all-out pace you used in sprinting the 50 yards? Of course not. Why? Because intensity and duration are inversely proportional. Since you drastically increased the duration of your run, the intensity had to decrease, whether you wanted it to or not.

Once the facts regarding the intensity-duration relationship are clearly established, it becomes possible to manipulate these variables to produce the desired training result. Since intensity is the factor responsible for stimulating strength gains, and duration is inversely proportional to intensity, an ideal strength training program would combine the highest possible intensity with the lowest possible duration. One set per exercise, performed until no further volitional movement is possible, satisfies these requirements.

Have any studies been performed comparing multiple set to single set training? One study performed at the university of Florida (3) consisted of 25 subjects performing 1 set of lumbar extension exercise 1 day/week for 10 weeks. Strength increases ranged from 42% to 102%. A second study performed at the University of Florida (4) utilized a total of 110 subjects who performed either 1 or 2 sets of lumbar extension exercise 1 day/week for 12 weeks. The results showed significant and similar improvements for both groups as compared with controls. The researchers concluded that performing more that one set was unnecessary for increasing strength in the muscles of the lumbar spinal area.

Another interesting study was performed by Golds Gym of Bristol, CT and ESPN cable television network (5). This study compared the effects of a 3-set, 2-set, and 1-set upper extremity resistance training program on 61 subjects. Results showed an average overall strength increase of 16.42% in the 3 set group, 23.54% in the 2-set group, and 26.95% in the 1-set group.

How do these results compare with other similar studies? A review by Fleck and Kramer (1) showed that the average increase in strength for most studies using isometric or isotonic testing and training of a variety of different muscle groups was between 20% and 30%. Thus from a theoretical as well as practical standpoint, it appears that single-set training systems produce comparable or superior strength gains in less time and with less total effort than typical multiple-set training systems.

How can this information be utilized by the individual wishing to make his own training program as effective as possible? The following guidelines are offered:

1. Make each repetition as intense as possible by maintaining strict form. This includes controlling the repetition speed, taking care to move the weight by muscular force alone without momentum. No quick starts, bouncing or heaving. Lift the weight smoothly, pause at the end position, and lower slowly under full control.

2. Make each set as intense as possible by continuing that set until no further volitional movement is possible, that is, to muscular failure. Continue performing strict repetitions until you are stopped in your tracks during the repetition despite your greatest effort. Remember, if you complete a repetition, no matter how hard it was, you must attempt another one! Make sure, however, you have the proper safety measures in place first, i.e. racks to catch the weight in a safe position and a competent spotter.

3. Make each workout as intense as possible by performing only one set per exercise in the fashion described above. Remember, intensity and duration are inversely proportional; if you do extra sets , the intensity of your workout will decrease, reducing its effectiveness. In addition, keep your workouts as brief as possible by limiting the total number of exercises performed to one, or at the most two, per muscle group.

I hope this article has provided a clearer understanding of the intensity-duration relationship as it applies to effective strength training. Such an understanding, properly applied, is the cornerstone of an effective strength training program.

1. Fleck, SJ; and Kramer, WJ: Designing Resistance Training Programs. Human Kinetic Books; Champaign, IL 1987.
2. Mentzer, Mike: Heavy Duty. Self Published, 1992.
3. Pollock, ML; Leggett, SH; Graves, JE, et al: "Effect of Resistance Training on Lumbar Extension Strength". Am J Sports Med 1989; 17: 624-629.
4. Hochschuler, SH; Guyer, RD; and Cotler, HB (ed): Rehabilitation of the Spine. Mosby-Year Books, Inc., 1993.
5. Sansone, J; and Fitts, B: ESPN/Golds Gym Fitness Study. Unpublished Study, 1993.

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