Posts Tagged ‘weight’

Last time was all about preparing mentally and physically for training so now we will talk about getting the most out of the session in the moment.

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There are a few times in your life where you make landmark improvements in your life and I’m going to share many of those with you here. Briefly, the best information I learned about healthy fat loss while strengthening muscle came from Tom Venuto’s Burn the fat, Feed the Muscle; Ben Pakulski was the one who taught me the most about exercise form and muscle growth with his MI40 program. As far as mental focus and drive, I credit Anders Ericsson’s book Peak alongside Carol Dweck’s Mindset.

FOCUS

The term focus is one that I love because it is all about being in the present. It puts your mind squarely on the task at hand. But I find that focus is something that needs cultivation. It means secluding yourself from outside distractions. It is something that gets better with persistent practice.

Focus is having laser vision on your current activity while pushing towards your desired future. It is connecting your mind to your body. It is he single moment when you what to quit a set but you tell yourself that this rep is the one that will determine whether you progress.

I’ve said before that progress is not easy, and this is one area that is definitely not easy. Nor is it intuitive. Our bodies and minds are designed for survival, meaning that when things get difficult our brain tells us that we are entering a danger zone and that’s when we quit.

That instinct is clearly important, but being aware of it, and knowing when you can push past it is where we begin to grow. In this way that inclination to quit can actually serve you extremely well, as it will guide you ever closer to the edge of your comfort zone.

The more you practice reaching this point and pushing past it, the better you get at doing it naturally – which can impact your life both inside and outside of the gym.

The pursuit of getting to this point where we not only face challenges head on, but in fact enjoy such opportunities to progress can be understood using what Carol Dweck calls the “growth mindset”. When we learn to crave growth we also learn to love the challenge.

PROGRESS

With the right mindset and the right teaching, people are capable of a lot more than we think.” – Carol Dweck

Ingredients for progress:

  • Specific performance goal
  • Focus
  • Meaningful positive feedback

As I suggested in part 1, short-term performance goals take into account your current limitations and give you a target to aim for that is slightly beyond your current ability. This should be slightly ambitious but not unrealistically so.

The term “progressive overload” is probably familiar to most who have entrenched themselves to some degree in physical activity – even more common is the concept of the “comfort zone”.

But a term that may not familiar to you is the “zone of proximal development”, an intriguing concept initially developed by psychologist Lev Vygotsky.

While the intentions of this concept seem to be geared towards childhood development, I’ve found it to be applicable to training psychology as well. The zone of proximal development represents the happy medium between pushing upwards enough to progress while not so hard as to inflict injury or discouragement. This is where I always strive to be – on a constant but gradual incline.

This idea can also be conceptualized by thinking of your comfort zone as something that is continuing to grow as you progress.

It may help to remind yourself that any upward climb is – by definition – difficult, while also maintaining the humility to understand our limitations.

In order to ensure progress you should keep a training log. This will help you know week to week the amount of weight to use and also help track your progress.

Additionally, while I suggested having an open mind and being creative with your program creation, there is also value to keeping a program somewhat consistent over a number of weeks. This helps you know that you are advancing in either weight or reps.

As an aside, I find humility itself to be a key component of improvement of ANY kind. In fact I have heard it said that humility is the prerequisite to wisdom.

Feedback can come in many forms, it could be from progress photos or a coach, or just a friend commenting on your progress. Whatever the source, it seems to be a key component to maintaining long term progress. Instagram has become a breeding ground for “attention seekers” but while its commonplace to shun such people, the reality is that getting positive responses is actually something we need.

The Ingredients of Muscle Growth

If we think of muscle building as hypertrophy, there is little better resource than the work of Brad Shoenfeld, who determined that the primary factors leading to muscle growth are: muscle damage, muscle tension and metabolic stress (aka cell swelling).

Brad suggests periodizing these factors. Personally I’ve found that simply being aware of them can help understand the true goal of the training session.

In the protocol I suggest below all of these factors come into play, and by being mindful of them you will access their true power.

TRICK YOURSELF INTO LIFTING MORE WEIGHT

The “contrast principle” or “perception effect” suggests that our mind perceives things in comparison to one another. So how can this be used to improve physical training?

Instead of training with a constant weight for a constant number of sets, try reverse pyramid training. This method suggests starting with the heaviest weight and dropping the weights while increasing reps for successive sets.

I’ve seen time after time that implementing this techniques has resulted in rapid strength and muscle gains.

Now for a word of caution…. if you are too ambitious on your first/heaviest set you risk injury (yes this is coming from experience). A set or two of lightweight warm ups to mentally practice the form will help prevent against this, and make sure that the incremental increase from your last session is moderate. In actuality it’s the second set where true growth often occurs as this is where you are typically lifting above your previous ability.

MUSCULAR FAILURE

In order for progress to be true there has to be a controlled variable. This is one reason why training to “failure” is preferred when doing resistance training.

This means that you are physically unable to perform any more repetitions while maintaining proper form. That point cannot be overstated, because doing a low number of reps with a relatively light weight won’t accomplish much (outside of rehabilitation purposes).

It should be noted that at different parts of the range of motion you have greater strength. If you have ever seen someone squatting or bench pressing with chains this is the reasoning behind this. In the case of bench press, as you push the bar farther from your chest you are stronger and therefore the chains give you more resistance to work against.

However in many gyms using chains isn’t practical, so one way I’ve found to be more practical for getting to muscle failure is using “top partials” – which is doing a few reps at the top – or more accurately – strongest few inches – of the range of motion at the end of each set.

DENSITY

Density refers to the amount of “work” done within a set amount of time. From my experience it is an amazing way – if not the most effective – to progress physically as well as aesthetically.

In my Superhero training program I suggested working on three things: power, size and speed.

Using density as a measurement can help improve all of these.

The beauty is that you can progress in a number of ways almost indefinitely because the amount of density is essentially:

(sets) x (reps) x (load) / time

So you can progress by:

  1. lifting heavier weights
  2. doing more reps
  3. doing it in less time – usually done by decreasing rest time.
  4. A strategic combination of the above three.

One of the best ways to do this type of training is using reciprocal inhibition (RI), which means pairing up antagonizing my muscle groups. This is my favourite RI split:

  • Day 1: chest + back (rowing)
  • Day 2: quads + hams
  • Day 3: shoulders + back (lats)
  • Day 4: biceps + triceps

And then I will work low back and abs into the routing intermittently.

Try doing that split while using a rep scheme something like this:

20 reps, 15 reps, 6 reps, 8 reps, 10 reps, 6 reps, 8 reps, 15 reps.

Then each week decrease the rest time between supersets from about 60 sec to 15 seconds. When the rest becomes that low you can go back to 60 seconds but with heavier weights 😊

Related: Man’s Search for Muscle: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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It is no secret that you can’t continue on the same program indefinitely and have continual results – certainly not on a linear trajectory of improvement. Some claim that you need “muscle confusion” or other such new stimuli to continue to progress, but I believe it to be more of a psychological condition.

After a while we get bored of doing the same thing over and over and it is no longer fun, but a chore. When something becomes work and not play it loses the appeal. Don’t get me wrong, there is great value to be found in disciplining yourself to do work ESPECIALLY when you don’t want to – in fact this is one of the things Anders Ericcson considers to be a trait of top performers in all fields.

So contrary to what we tend to seek as beings who – ironically put a great deal of effort into seeking the path of least resistance – we ought to be doing the opposite. However while our training should be challenging it should also have a level of enjoyment.

As an aside, it was in the process of learning how to optimize exercise form so that a relatively light weight would seem harder that I began making noticeable improvements in building muscle.

And so it seems many of us are constantly on the lookout for a brand new training program or diet, which has the outward appearance of bypassing the problem of boredom. But as I mentioned earlier, many programs set you up for failure from the beginning.

Virtually every marketable fitness program available sells itself by offering something new and exciting. This is exactly why the industry thrives. Purchasing such a program can provide a short-term novelty factor that motivates people to go all in. There is also something to be said for sacrificing your money for something important to you.

However what these programs don’t tell you is that what they are offering is typically no better than any other method out there, just simply different enough to sound interesting. It is the clever combination of being both familiar yet new that helps these salespeople market their product to unwitting clients (victims).

The other hidden secret in these program is something that only recently occurred to me… Consider the people marketing these programs. They make a living off of being in good shape. This is no secret. So how do they keep such high levels of physicality?

I’ve asked myself this question many times over the years and the answer that seemed obvious was that they are motivated by having to market themselves. In other words their motivation is monetary. But it turns out that is not the case at all.

The real reason the elite fitness professionals maintain such high levels year-round: Because they create their own programs.

Trust me, they don’t want you to know this because it will put them out of business!!!

Why is this? This has to do with the discovery that humans are more engaged when they feel that they are doing something creative.

Engaging and exercising our creative abilities is not something to be thought of lightly. Milton Erickson is a fantastic example of that. He was interested in the idea of using hypnotherapy to help his clients but the research up to that point was not promising. Trying to think of new ways to approach the concept he came up with a form of trance where he joined the patient in trance and managed to create extremely effective, lasting results in a relatively short amount of time… in a sense that’s very similar to what we want to accomplish as “physique artists”. Erickson is a shining example of creativity by the way. In addition to his hypnotherapy methods, he created several unconventional and revolutionary methods of helping people – and more than likely just as many unsuccessful experiments – which led his successors to create the highly regarded Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).

So here’s an idea for you… instead of jumping onto a new training program try this:

Get a blank notebook. At the top of the page write three things: the date, the body part (or parts) you want to train, then – recalling part 1 – wrote down your purpose.

Then fill out the page with the movements you do, number of reps and weight as appropriate. This will allow you to be creative within your session while working the pre/planned parts.

There is actually further evidence of the effectiveness of this method in studies on what had been coined “autoregulated periodization”, although it tends to give credit to “listening” to your body.

In PART 3, we discuss pre-workout.

Related:

Man’s Search for Muscle: Part 1

Over the last decade or so, I’ve had numerous innovative exercise-related theories spring to mind in the midst of intense training sessions. Those seem to be the moments in which my brain seems the most attuned to creative training and diet philosophy. Within recent years various aspects of human psychology have worked their way into my mind as well, and this blog series is what I consider to be the marriage of these ideas to the best of my current ability.

I’ve achieved my greatest physique improvements during this time, but I’ve also suffered my greatest setbacks. I came to realize that my biggest mental barrier between knowing what to do and actually doing it has been motivation, and the temporary fix seemed to be hopping from one training program over to another.

The source of the problem was not actually a problem at all, but rather success itself. Having a happy relationship and being comfortable with my level of fitness seemed to take a devastating toll on my drive. My physique, as well as my motivation to improve it hit an all-time low and not only was I unaware of what was happening, I was frustrated by my seeming inability to get the fire back. I hated what I saw in the mirror but felt I was too far gone to do anything about it. My energy and passion for activity were non-existent, and no amount of program hopping helped. Sure I would go to the gym a couple times per week but the training was half-hearted and my nutrition was not kept in check.

Compounding the issue, it is quite shocking to look back and realize that many well-intentioned fitness programs are specifically designed for short-term success followed by long-term lulls.

So I went on an intense journey to try to understand the very nature of self-motivation, with the ultimate goal of trying to harness its power. What I discovered was that much of what is driven into our way of thinking are the exact things that make it difficult to do the things that will make us happy.

Ironically, your goals can be the very thing getting in your way.

I can hear you saying “huh?”

If you’re considering baling on me now I can’t blame you. Every single fitness program out there seems to start off by going on about the importance of goal-setting, so it stands to reason that we are conditioned to put high value on goals. And I’m not saying all goals are always bad, in fact some will be necessary to progress – rather what I’m saying is they need to be handled with care.

It has been shown that result-oriented (or outcome) goals can – if not properly handled – not only inhibit motivation, but lead to unethical behavior, and since I have attacked this from a standpoint of maintaining ethical behaviour and integrity this concept caught my attention.

Again, you may be scratching your head, but just consider the transformation challenge for a moment… how many people do you suppose, desperate to win the challenge, or even simply meet their goals, resorted to using performance enhancing drugs? While I have never gone to those lengths I would be lying if I tried to suggest that the temptations weren’t there.

There are several other examples of this in the real world, where companies or individuals are so driven to meet a specific goal that they have to sacrifice quality or workmanship to accomplish it.

So how do we combat this?

First of all, I think that it should be pointed out that it is virtually impossible to go into a fitness program of any kind without some sort of overarching goal such as improving body composition, gaining strength, building muscle etc, but what we should attempt to focus on day-in and day-out is action-oriented goals rather than result-oriented goals.

it should also be noted that result-oriented goals can serve the function of getting you over a mental hurdle, but beyond that we are better off using action-oriented goals than results-oriented goals. These serve the function of driving us to DO the things that will serve us best keeping integrity intact.

A results-oriented goal would be: lose five pounds this week Where as an action-oriented goals might be: go to the gym every day.

Action-oriented (or process) goals can even be momentary, such as: complete THIS rep.

I also like to think of these as “progress goals”, which takes into account your current capabilities in a very specific area and are intended to help you push those limits.

I find action oriented goals work well for dietary adherence as well.

Like most things in life there are exceptions to every rule, and most sports psychologists insist upon having clear, measurable goals. You can do so but the key is to make sure you put integrity above achievement. Do not “win at all costs” or the cost will be our soul. This is why I now prefer to think in terms of “purpose” or life meaning.

YOUR PURPOSE

The first thing you want to start out with is a PURPOSE. This replaces the traditional “goal”. Nietzsche made the observation “he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” – in other words, plant firmly in your mind the reason you are doing this.

A purpose might be as noble as lowering your blood pressure or as superficial as getting a six pack. What’s important is that it is important to you. The stronger your understanding of WHY this is important to you, and the stronger it connects to your personal values, the better it will be, because when you are working towards something that aligns with your deepest values failure does not exist.

That’s probably an easy point to gloss over, but I want to emphasize that even when you don’t hit your goals or make the progress you want… hell, even if you regress, the act of striving to accomplish something can provide amazing feedback as to what works and what doesn’t.

Other examples of a purpose could involve: building strength, building muscle size, losing fat, improving health, improving in a specific sport etc.

Your purpose doesn’t have to be limited to one thing, but try to keep it relatively few and non-contradictory. For example you could conceivably get bigger and stronger.

One method for deciding upon your purpose is projecting your mind into the future and think about what you want to have accomplished, and how you got there – including challenges you had to overcome.

While I can’t give you your purpose for obvious reasons, it should be noted that discovering it can be profoundly difficult. One trick I learned was to look at yourself objectively – or to “see yourself as a stranger” in order to begin to learn who you are and what you ought to strive to accel at.

While hunting for my own purpose, both in physical terms and in my broader life, I was drawn to the work of Viktor Frankl, who suggests that we can find out life’s meaning in three ways:

1. through performing deeds

2. experience or encounters

3. through dealing with unavoidable hardships

This can be an amazing guide. I remember being inspired when I met Ben Pakulski and being excited by his training philosophy. Likewise I can attest to the satisfaction that comes following physical work of virtually any kind, and I wholly believe that the demonstration of true character – and learning life’s great lessons happens in the presence of adversity — if only I had the luxury of learning this from a book and not personal experience.

I learned the lesson of growth through hardship fairly young. My house burned down at age eighteen. Our family and pets escape safely while virtually none of our possessions were salvaged. Of course it was devastating, but as we began to rebuild our lives I began to understand the frivolity of material possessions at a much earlier age than most people have the benefit of. Similarly, when my twelve year marriage ended I began to see my character weaknesses for the first time and made a conscious effort to rebuild myself. Of course these were not deliberate acts for the sake of finding meaning, but helped provide the character and insite needed to embark on the search.

What did I come up with through my own search for meaning? Ironically the search itself and the unexpected findings was highly fulfilling – to the extent where I must believe that meaning is my meaning, not only my own but bringing meaning to my interactions with others and hopefully helping bring meaning to the lives of those who desire it.

I’ve been working on this for quite a while, so hopefully there is some value here for you…

I can’t put my finger on exactly what sparked this line of thinking, but I recall having an “aha” moment when comparing muscle function to our conception of superheroes.

Muscles have many evolutionary functions, we can think of tribal cavemen who had to survive harsh elements including competing with their own kind in order to mate.

Specifically these functions are: power, speed and size

These three functions also happen to be what we attribute to modern-day heroes both in real life and to exaggerated extents in fiction.

Size may stand out a little bit because it doesn’t actually seem on the surface to be a true function, but the more we consider it the more we may value it’s purpose. Consider the muscularly huge people we see – they immediately earn respect. Their size also tells others they are not to be messed with. Furthermore their size seems to correlate to their own confidence which compounds their capability.

A case could be made that balance contributes to this as well… but to be perfectly honest I could not think of a way to attribute balance to superheroes. Still combining balance and strength training seems to have a harmonious effect – making such movements as split squats one of my personal favourites of late.

So if your goal is to create a training program that helps achieve that superhero persona, we ought to consider designing the program to develop these three functions.

Let’s look at what seems to develop them individually:

POWER

Here we look to the world of power and strength trainers. These people are known to lift tremendous amount of weight, but in small bursts. This is where progressing with heavier weights using small repetitions seems to be most beneficial.

SPEED

When I think of speed in mere mortals I usually visualize martial artists. Not only do those committed to martial arts tend to be fast, they also tend to have efficient physiques – meaning lean and toned.

But between working full-time, being a full-time single dad and everything else in my busy life, I simply haven’t had the time to commit to martial arts training, never mind the costs that seem to be skyrocketing in proportion to the rising popularity of MMA.

So it has had me looking for other ways to develop speed. Here is what I’ve found…

Explosive concentric (positive) movements appear to help this area, which can fortunately be trained to a certain extent while performing strength training.

Incorporating such things as box jumps and HIIT sprints/upright bike into your routine also seem to be effective. Just look at the massive quads on Olympic sprinters if you want more evidence.

SIZE

This is an interesting one, because it isn’t strictly about being huge, it’s about LOOKING huge. That is what I’ve heard described as the illusion of size. Basically it amounts to being both muscular and lean enough for the muscularity to look even larger. Basically what we’re looking at training like here is bodybuilding style volume, but we also want to add in a level of metabolic training to use stored fat as fuel. For that I find antagonistic supersets to be best.

So in an attempt to train all these areas within one program, this is what I came up with…

Note: whenever possible use explosive concentrics and controlled negatives

Day 1: Chest and back (rows)

Bench press superset with 1-arm dumbbell rows; 8 sets; reps = 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 6, 15

Cable crossover superset with seated cable row: 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Incline dumbbell press superset with barbell rows: 4 sets of 6-10 reps

Day 2: Legs

Leg extension superset with lying leg curls; 8 sets; reps = 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 6, 15

Squats superset with box jumps; 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Bulgarian split squats superset with 1-leg stiff-legged dumbbell deadlifts: 4 sets of 6-10 reps

Day 3: back (lats) and shoulders

Dumbbell shoulder press superset with wide-grip pulldowns; 8 sets; reps = 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 6, 15

Dumbbell laterals superset with reverse-grip close-grip pulldowns: 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Dumbbell upright rows superset with bent-over dumbbell laterals: 4 sets of 6-10 reps

Day 4: arms

Seated dumbbell curls superset with overhead dumbbell extensions; 8 sets; reps = 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 6, 15

Dumbbell hammer curls superset with cable press downs: 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Ez curls superset with skull crushers: 4 sets of 6-10 reps

To make this even more effective at least metabolically, try incorporating density something like this:

Week 1: 60 seconds rest between supersets

Week 2: 45 seconds rest between supersets

Week 3: 30 seconds rest between supersets

Week 4: 45 seconds rest between supersets

Week 5: 30 seconds rest between supersets

Week 6: 15seconds rest between supersets

Week 7: 45 seconds rest between supersets

DIET

Obviously what you eat will make a huge difference and what I’ve found to be most effective, practical and sustainable in terms of maximizing body composition is the idea of carb backloading.

In short you eat protein, fat and veggies in the early part of the day and save your carbs for the last meal or two.

If this sounds like a weird concept, you are probably used to the notion of eating your carbs early in the day and tapering then off. The mentality behind this was that you would give yourself energy in the early parts of the day and reduce them while your metabolism is slowing down.

While that does seem to make sense on the surface, if we try to think about it from another angle the picture will look a little different.

Reason number one to avoid early carbs: at the start of the day we don’t “need” extra energy. In fact if your body determines it needs extra energy, in the absence of carbs it will take the energy from stored fat – which is what we want!!

Reason number two: our brains send different kind of messages depending on the present food sources. Protein and fats send messages (neurotransmitters) that are energizing and motivating, while carbs tend to be more relaxing and feel-good. This makes it clear that we want the protein and fats early and carbs later on.

Give this puppy a 6-week run and let me know how it works for you!!!

I’ve seen a bunch of articles popping up today citing a study from Birzeit University that suggests fizzy/sparkly/carbonated water can lead to fat gain…

The reasoning is that they feel it leads to a release in ghrelin – the hunger hormone.

Now there are a few details that I think are important to note here…

According to the information provided They tested both diet sodas and carbonated water on rats and found they ate more than the taking non-carbonated drinks.

What this information seems to leave out is the minor detail of artificial sweeteners… sucralose and aspertame do a lot of nasty business to your body and are obviously in abundance in the diet sodas, but how about the fizzy “water”? Just look on the labels at a grocery store and you’ll notice that the vast majority have some form of artificial sweeteners.

I know this is purely anecdotal, but when I drink a carbonated drink I don’t feel hungry but rather I feel full. I also tend to get sparkling water sweetened only from natural sources.

So from what I can tell – and I stand to be corrected – this study was greatly flawed from the outset. That being said I would certainly avoid artificial sweeteners and sugary sodas.

Last week I had to make a weigh-in within 48 hours and had to drop about 7 pounds… here’s how I did it:

Perhaps you have heard of the supposed benefits of ice baths, if not the claims are pretty incredible. The claims are that they can help you lose fat in the area a four pounds per week, help detox and speed up recovery from training.

So are these claims realistic?

When it comes to burning fat using ice baths, my experience is that the result is negligible.

Where I feel the true benefits of ice baths lie is in between your ears.

When you subject yourself to something this uncomfortable you are first and foremost programming a message to yourself that this is important to you. This kind of thing builds resilience and the kind of attitude needed to make progress in other areas of your life.

It is also a good opportunity to practice focussing on something other than the pain, much like meditation. This also has additional benefits in life, certainly where fitness is concerned as strong focus can lead to better and more efficient time in the gym.

I do believe there are benefits as far as recovery which may lead to a greater ability to increase your training volume, thus accelerating your progress.

So if you are considering this for your program I think you can find great benefits in doing it safely; just make sure to manage your expectations.