Here's what you need to know...
• If you're an athlete or a lifter trying to gain muscle and get strong, then you need carbs.
• Fat people have poor nutrient partitioning abilities. The carbs they eat are more likely to be stored as fat.
• If you're relatively lean, your carb intake can be higher because leaner people have better nutrient partitioning abilities.
• People cling to the diets that initially gave them good results. Bad idea. Your metabolic condition changes.
• Lower-carb diets may be the best approach for improving body composition. Shoot for 100-125 grams per day.
• Serious lifters and athletes need 1-3 grams of carbs per pound.
The Carb War
The carb war has been raging in gyms, kitchens, classrooms, and nutrition conferences for decades, and will continue to do so in perpetuity.
There's religious-like passion and cult-like followings on both the low-carb and high-carb sides of the fence. The pendulum of popularity seems to swing back and forth between the two.
Regardless, both sides of the battle can be right. Both approaches can work. The answer lies in this simple recommendation:
Match your carbohydrate intake to your individual activity levels, metabolic condition, and physique or performance goals.
It seems simple and logical enough, but it's surprising how often that advice gets ignored when it's applied to real-life diets, even when it comes to intelligent athletes and coaches.
So how do you decide whether you should be following the food pyramid, the fitness freaks, or the paleo geeks? How about you stop following any dogmatic and inflexible system, and have the balls to find what works for you.
There are four variables you should consider in your quest to customize your carb intake.
Variable #1: High Intensity Activity Levels
Carbs are the primary fuel for high-intensity activity. While the body can use fatty acids as fuel during rest, and even those who train only in the aerobic zone can become "fat adapted," high intensity activity requires glucose.
If you perform strength-training sessions on a regular basis, or compete in intermittent sprint sports, then you need carbohydrates. Perhaps you need a lot of carbohydrates. Those carbs will be used to optimally fuel your body and help you recover from your training sessions.
This of course isn't true for the sedentary individual. Muscle-energy reserves fuel muscular activity. If you're not depleting muscle energy reserves through activity, you don't need to refill them, thus you don't need to consume a lot of carbs.
The Car Analogy
If your car has been sitting in the garage, it doesn't need gas. Loading up on carbs is like trying to fill up a full tank. It just spills over the side.
In the human body, that overspill equates to sugar backing up in the bloodstream (high blood glucose). This in turn leads to body fat storage and a host of other negative effects like elevated triglycerides and cholesterol, insulin resistance, and type II diabetes.
However, if you drive your car around every day, sometimes for long mileage, you have to fill it up often. If you don't, you'll run out of gas.
An empty tank in the human body equates with fatigue, depression, lethargy, impaired performance, muscle loss, stubborn fat, insomnia, low testosterone, impaired thyroid production and resting metabolic rate, foul mood, and frustration over your body not changing despite dieting and training.
No diet is worth developing a lifeless noodle or its female equivalent, the dusty papaya, and then being an ass to everyone around you because of it. So give your body the fuel it needs when it needs it and you'll be good to go.
Variable #2: Current Shape
We all have different physiological responses to food based on our individual metabolic condition, which is a combination of a couple of things.
The first is just the general shape you're in. If you're overweight or are someone trying to go from out of shape to decent shape, your carbohydrate intake should lean towards the lower side.
That's because, in general, overweight individuals have poor nutrient partitioning abilities, meaning the carbs they eat are more likely to be stored as fat. At the very least, they have a damaged capacity to burn fat.
If you're normal weight, relatively leaner, or trying to go from good shape to great shape, your carb intake can be higher, or at least moderate, even in dieting phases because leaner individuals have better nutrient partitioning abilities. That means the carbs they eat are more likely to be stored as glycogen and less likely to be stored as fat.
Variable #3: State of Insulin Sensitivity/Insulin Resistance
The second side of the metabolic condition coin is your state of insulin sensitivity or insulin resistance. This is basically a term that describes how easy or difficult it is for your body to properly store nutrients (particularly carbs) in its cells.
In an otherwise healthy person, your insulin sensitivity is related to the physical shape you're in. Leaner individuals tend to have good insulin sensitivity. This means insulin can efficiently do its job of transporting carbs into muscle cells. If you can properly use and store carbohydrates, you can include more of them in your diet.
Overweight individuals tend to have lower insulin sensitivity or some degree of insulin resistance. This means insulin has a harder time of doing its job of getting carbohydrates into the muscle cell.
Sugar can back up in the bloodstream, which wreaks havoc on the body. Higher and higher levels of insulin are released to try to get it where it should be going. This downward spiral is what ultimately leads to type II diabetes.
Since insulin resistance and type II diabetes are essentially diseases involving the inability to properly use and store carbohydrates, it makes sense that those on this side of the metabolic condition equation respond best to lower carb diets.
The Carb Club
Think of your muscle cell as a popular nightclub. If a group of hot girls walk to the front of the line, the bouncers let them walk right in the door (good insulin sensitivity).
If a group of dudes that look like hobos try to get in, the bouncer makes them wait in the back of the line for hours, and when they get to the door, he says the club is full. They're sent back into the streets. Angry and frustrated, they wreak havoc on the city (bad insulin sensitivity, poor blood sugar control).
Variable #4: Changes in Metabolic Condition
Your metabolic condition can change over time, which means the diet plan that's optimal for you can change over time, too.
Let's say someone starts out sedentary, overweight, and somewhat insulin resistant. He sets out to improve his health and lose some weight by following a low-carb diet. It works great.
He loses weight, his insulin sensitivity improves, and his energy goes through the roof. He starts exercising, which helps him lose some more fat, as well as build some lean muscle mass. Now he's really into it, and the frequency and intensity of his training increases.
This individual is now at a healthy weight or relatively lean, is exercising regularly, and has better insulin sensitivity. He's a completely different person, metabolically speaking, than when he started.
But the problem is that he's no longer properly fueling his body and recovering from his intense training sessions (which were once non-existent).
He's starting to feel tired and fatigued in the gym, is always in a bad mood, is holding on to stubborn body fat, can't sleep at night, gets sick all of the time, and is maybe having some sexual performance and hormonal issues.
His diet no longer matches his new activity levels and current metabolic condition, because they've completely changed over time. If this person objectively looked at his situation and progress and listened to his own body's biofeedback, he'd consider some dietary adjustments. A moderate-to-higher carb intake might be a better fit.
The problem is that people tend to cling to a diet that initially gave them good results. It got them from Point A to Point B and they assume it'll then get them from Point B to Point C. I've been there myself. Part of it is initial experience, part of it is the influence of marketing material, and part of it is pure emotion.
Practical Applications for Low-Carb Diets
1. Lower carb diets may be the best approach for improving body composition and biomarkers of health for severely overweight, insulin resistant, and sedentary populations.
2. Give your body just enough carbs to support liver glycogen stores and fuel the brain and central nervous system at rest, have good cognitive function, energy, and mood, etc., without overshooting your daily energy needs and gaining fat.
3. Shoot for 100-125 grams of carbohydrates per day.
4. The balance of your calorie requirements should be made up of protein and healthy fats.
Practical Applications For Moderate-To-Higher Carb Diets
1. There's a wide range of appropriate carbohydrate intakes for performance athletes, strength trainers, and bodybuilders.
2. A good ballpark starting point would be in the range of 1-3 grams of carbohydrate per pound (2-7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram).
3. Those with good insulin sensitivity or on the higher end of training intensity or volume who want to maximize performance or gain muscle mass would lean towards the higher carbohydrate range.
4. Those with poor insulin sensitivity or on the lower end of training intensity or volume and/or looking to lose fat would lean towards the lower end.
5. Test, assess, and refine until you find your sweet spot in the carbohydrate continuum.
Make small adjustments during the assessment period (10-20%) rather than extreme changes. For example, if you start with 250 daily grams of carbs, increase or decrease by 25-50 grams, depending on the goal, rather than cutting to 50 grams or ramping up to 500 grams.
Miyaki, N. (2015 January 01). How Many Carbs Do You Need?
Retrieved from http://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/how-many-carbs-do-you-need/
Here's what you need to know...
• This four-stage plan takes care of the big dietary issues first, then narrows things down according to the athlete's needs and goals.
• The first step is removing the obvious junk getting in your way.
• "Pretend health foods" make fat loss harder in spite of their health claims.
• Although controversial, the vast majority of people lose body fat when they remove wheat, milk and fruit juice from their diets and replace them with better choices.
• Choose foundational supplements that improve your workout performance and help you recover faster. Everything else is based on filling individual gaps and needs.
• Losing fat and fueling hardcore workouts doesn't have to involve counting calories. Keep it simple and fine-tune as needed.
NFL athletes are awesome to work with. They're used to being coached and perform at their best in that environment. They do what you tell them to do, they get results, and they say thank you.
These guys don't want to be inundated with science and complex plans. They want something that works, they don't want it to be a pain in the ass, and they want results.
Come to think of it, that's what most people want.
There's a time and a place for more extreme or complex diet plans, but the majority of lifters can shift their nutrition to focus on building muscle or losing fat without the process taking up half their lives.
Recently, while helping an NFL athlete who needed to lose fat, I realized that most of my advice for him would work for just about everyone. Here's the plan I laid out for him.
The 4 Stage Diet
These stages can be used by anyone who needs to clean up and re-focus his or her diet:
Stage #1: Drop the obvious crap.
You don't need anyone to tell you that candy, cookies, sodas, junk food, fast food and excess booze are wrecking your body or at least hampering your progress.
Actually, maybe you do.
That's because there are a lot of hucksters and spineless pleasers out there telling you that this shit is okay "in moderation."
They also like to say "there's no such thing as a bad food" because apparently they define "food" as anything you can swallow that won't kill you immediately.
Well, they're wrong.
Every time an overweight person consumes what we'll classify here as "obvious crap" they're either taking a step backward or temporarily halting their progress. And since many of these foods have addictive properties, moderation goes into the trash faster than junk mail.
If your goal is to lose fat, keep it off for good, and boost performance, cheat foods have to be set aside. Yes, there are a lot of plans out there that encourage cheat foods, but those people-pleasing plans have about the same long-term success rate as Weight Watchers did for your fat aunt.
Maybe it's time to grow up and stop feeling so entitled to a food reward every time you do your workout. Sure, a few skinny young dudes and heavy steroid users can get away with eating junk for a while, but try staying lean after the age of 30 or 40 when you eat like a spoiled chubby kid every weekend.
Like a good strength and conditioning coach, a diet coach must first fill the cracks in the foundation, then build up a strong structure. This is easy, because usually the athlete knows damn well what he's eating that he shouldn't be. And you do too.
Oddly, it's human nature to keep making those obvious mistakes until someone tells you to cut it out. So here it is: cut it out.
Stage #2: Get rid of the less obvious crap.
With the obvious crap removed, it's time to narrow things down. What is "less obvious crap?" These are foods often considered to be healthy that, well, really aren't.
Sometimes these are "better bad" choices: things that are still hampering your progress but not as badly as the obvious-crap foods were before. These are also the types of foods that cause much debate in the field of nutrition.
I call many of them pretend health foods. They proclaim their health benefits right on the package: low fat, fat free, low carb, gluten free, high fiber, organic, whole grain, etc.
But low-carb foods can be calorically dense and filled with the worst type of dietary fats, and fat-free foods are often sugar bombs or brimming with processed flour. Sugar is gluten-free. Kid's breakfast cereal is "high fiber." And all of them will still make you fat.
You know this, but often when fat loss is the goal, the IQ drops before the body fat percentage does.
But let's move beyond the not-so-common common sense stuff. Here's what I have my NFL guys drop from their diets that may surprise you:
• Fruit juice
The wheat issue is controversial, but not to those who just want results and simple rules. So, a simple guideline is to ditch wheat-containing foods or greatly reduce your intake.
The anti-wheat doctors and paleo advocates will bore you to death with studies showing that wheat polypeptides bind to the brain's morphine receptor, the same receptor to which opiate drugs bind, meaning that you get cravings, overeat, and disrupt your natural appetite signaling mechanisms.
They go on to list dozens of other nasty-sounding effects, some of which seem to be spot-on and some of which may be a bit exaggerated.
But this much is true: the health benefits of this particular grain are largely nonexistent, you don't need it, and it's probably doing you more harm than good, for whatever reason.
Maybe it's more related to FODMAPs, or maybe it's just that most wheat-containing foods are also full of the same stuff that can lead to something called toxic hunger. Doesn't matter. The simple rule is the same: Does it contain wheat? Then don't put it in your mouth.
Besides, adopting a gluten-free diet even if you're not a celiac tends to get rid of most of the stuff that made you get chubby in the first place, as long as you don't fall for those pretend-healthy food scams.
If your body fat is stubborn, or you feel out of control around food and you haven't eliminated wheat yet, give it a shot. Same for milk, same for fruit juice.
It can take anywhere from 5 to 28 days to drop the "addiction" to these foods. Food scientists and behavioral psychologists refer to this as the "don't be a pussy" stage and suggest three servings of "suck it up, princess" until bad habits wane and unnatural cravings subside.
Out here in the real world, it works for 90% of people. Let the geeks fling their studies like monkeys fling poo. We'll just focus on simplicity and results.
Stage #3: Replace all the above crap with better stuff.
Replace your breads, cereals, and pastas with rice, potatoes, quinoa, oatmeal, buckwheat, and starchy vegetables.
Replace your milk with unsweetened almond, coconut, or cashew milk because you're not a newborn cow. Replace your juice with water because you're not 7 years old.
Replace the pretend health foods with foods you cook yourself. Don't follow a Paleo diet, but eat your meats, veggies, eggs, and coconut oil.
Stage #4: Supplement to enhance performance and fill gaps.
Much like food choices, supplement prescriptions have three phases.
1. Drop the Kid Supplements
If your supplement choices resemble those of a teenager's after hitting the supplement store at the mall, they probably suck.
If you're spending mainly on things that contain the letters "NO" or your pre-workout is nothing but stimulants that make you feel tingly, you're doing it wrong. If your favorite brand is a multi-level marketing operation, you can't be helped.
Get rid of the things that really don't work or that do very little and focus on the big-bang supplements that every hard lifter benefits from.
2. Build the Foundation
The foundation is workout nutrition. To guarantee the greatest gains from training, fuel, protect, and reload muscle immediately prior to, during, and after workouts.
3. Fill the Gaps
The point here is to fill the nutritional gaps or take care of individual needs. You may only need one or two additional supplements, or none at all.
Bonus: Easy Food Prep for AthletesHere's a simple way to have healthy meals ready to go.
First, go buy a big slow cooker (Crock Pot). Slow cookers come in small, medium, and big-ass. Go for big-ass because you're going to make multiple meals in one pot. You'll want one with a timer so it'll stop cooking when you're away and switch over to the warm setting.
1. Get a giant hunk of animal flesh: beef roast, a dozen chicken breasts, a turkey breast, a couple of pork tenderloins, etc. If it had to die for your dietary needs, it's good to go. Salt, pepper, toss it in.
2. Vegetables. Get some. Chop them up. Throw them in. Frozen veggies work too.
3. Dice up some potatoes and add them to the pot.
4. Add liquid. I suggest stock, any kind: beef, chicken, or vegetable.
5. Herbage. Use whatever is handy. Dried stuff is fine. Or slather the meat with tomato paste.
6. Now, in the morning, turn your cooker on low for 7-8 hours. Now go do those things that you do: work, school, smashing heads to protect an oblong pigskin, whatever.
7. Come home and it'll be ready. Store the leftovers for later.
1. Before you go to bed, toss a cup or two of steel cut oats in the slow cooker. For every cup of oats, add three cups of water.
2. If you want, add a couple of bananas, apples, or a bag of frozen berries or peaches.
3. Using the low setting, set the timer for around 7 hours. Go to bed.
4. Wake up, mix a scoop or two of protein with your hot and ready-to-eat oats. Save the leftovers because you just made breakfast for the next several days.
There's no calorie counting or macro micromanaging here. For most hard-training people, there doesn't need to be. Just follow the basic guidelines and you'll figure out how to fine-tune things as you go along.
It works for the best in the NFL and it'll work for you.
Shugart, C. (2015 February 03). The Simple diet for Athletes.
Retrieved from http://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/simple-diet-for-athletes/
Sitting for eight or more hours a day can be deadly.
That fact has been hammered home in study after study showing the negative health effects -- including heart disease, poor circulation and joint pain -- associated with being parked on your behind for most of the day. The only sure way to prevent those problems, researchers have said, is to sit far less.
But there is growing evidence that there are ways to reverse the damage without necessarily committing to being on your feet for eight or more hours a day.
A new study by researchers at Indiana University published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that the impaired blood flow in leg arteries can actually be reversed by breaking up your sitting regimen with five-minute walking breaks.
Sitting can cause blood to pool in the legs and prevent it from effectively flowing to the heart -- a precursor to cardiovascular problems. After just one hour of sitting, normal blood flow became impaired by as much as 50 percent, the study found.
But the men who walked for five minutes on a treadmill for each hour they sat didn't see that decline.
"American adults sit for approximately eight hours a day," Saurabh Thosar, the study's lead author, said in a statement. "The impairment in endothelial function is significant after just one hour of sitting. It is interesting to see that light physical activity can help in preventing this impairment."
The findings add to a growing body of evidence that all is not lost for people unwilling or unable to get on the standing desk train or those who can't do much about long commutes. It is also the first experimental evidence that moderate movement can promote healthy blood flow, in spite of sitting habits.
Participants in the study were otherwise healthy males between the ages of 20 and 35 who did not have any heath problems like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes.
"They were inactive people though; they did not exercise regularly,” Thosar said in an interview. “There is a risk that people who don’t exercise can start sitting more and more. That’s why we chose that population.”
Going to the gym isn't likely to reverse the damage caused by sitting all day (one study found that six hours of sitting counteracted the positive health benefits of an hour of exercise). But several studies suggest that simply breaking up bouts of sitting with moderate exercise or movement can have a positive impact.
One study earlier this year found that breaking up prolonged sitting with light or moderate walking breaks reduced the blood pressure of a group of obese adults in a randomized trial. And yet another recent study found that breaking up sitting with light activity improved blood sugar levels, but breaking up sitting with bouts of standing did not.
Thosar's study did not investigate whether walking proved more effective than standing when it came to improving blood flow. But he suspects that walking prevented impaired blood flow in the legs because it requires active muscle movement.
"Walking definitely increases blood flow in the legs," added Thosar, who is now a researcher with Oregon Health & Science University. "If it's static and people are not moving, perhaps people are still not using their muscles as much as during walking."
(Disclaimer: The author of this story recently began using a standing desk, which raised eyebrows throughout The Washington Post newsroom.)
Phillip, A. (2014 September 08). Take a seat. You may be able to reverse the damage to your health.
Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/09/08/take-a-seat-you-may-be-able-to-reverse-the-damage-to-your-health/?hpid=z4/
Here's what you need to know...
You need to train very hard to progress optimally, but if you train so hard that it affects the quality of your other workouts or causes so much stress that performance decreases, it's a bad move.
• If you train a muscle only once a week, you'll be able to impose a lot more punishment without too many ill-effects than if you train each muscle several times in a week.
• Testing your mettle with challenge-based workouts can be a great way to see how physically capable you are and preparing for those challenges can boost your training motivation significantly.
• If you don't go borderline crazy from time to time you lose sight of what training hard means. An occasional lesson in pain in the gym will allow you to keep things in perspective.
• Puking may make you seem hardcore, but vomiting during a workout simply means that you mistimed your food intake and training, which really doesn't make you that hardcore at all.
Feeling the burn. Driving yourself into the ground. Feeling crippling soreness. Puking. Not being able to walk after leg day. Not being able to drive after arm day.
All of the above are badges of honor for many lifters, but none of them guarantee that your workout was positive and will lead to improvements. Regardless, many of us prefer to focus on these elements rather than on objective progression.
Why? Because doing madman workouts makes you look hardcore, like a warrior. Your workout often turns into a test of how much suffering you can endure. But do you really need to drive yourself into the ground every single workout to make progress?
I Feel Like I Accomplished Something
I used to train TV sportscaster Joe Buck. We did a lot of sled pulling, flipping tires, and farmer's walks along with strength work. We didn't take much rest during the workouts (in part to reduce talking to a minimum) and as a result every session was supremely demanding.
Then he said it: "What I like about training with you is that I feel like I accomplished something."
At first I took it as a compliment, but after thinking about it I reevaluated my coaching approach. I wanted to be known as the guy who got results, not the guy who could inflict pain. Causing severe discomfort in the gym is easy; it doesn't require much smarts to do it. Getting results over the long run is another story. That requires skill and knowledge.
Still, that experience taught me that the average gym rat will use the level of discomfort to evaluate how good the workout was.
A lot of my clients were previously trained by sadistic coaches, so when they started training with me I actually had to work hard to convince them that being able to walk after a session didn't meant that it wasn't a good workout. It wasn't until they started to get superior gains that they accepted what I was saying.
Is Killing Yourself in the Gym Necessary?
If you want to progress fast you need to train hard, much harder than the way most people do train. Unfortunately, once you get past a certain threshold, pushing even harder won't lead to more gains and could even impair your long-term progress.
I'll give you a few examples from my own training. I recently did a "CrossFit/Strength" workout consisting of 10 rounds of:
4 Atlas stone lifts from ground to shoulder (175 pounds)
4 Front squats (225 pounds)
4 Bench presses (225 pounds)
This was done every minute on the minute, which meant that at the start of every minute I started a movement and I had one minute to do it before I had to go to the next movement. If completing 4 reps took me 30 seconds, it meant I had 30 seconds of rest before starting the next exercise.
While the weights in this workout weren't monumental, I can tell you that front squatting 225 x 4 twenty seconds after lifting stones is hard. I felt great after the session. Completely wiped, in pain everywhere, and more tired than I remembered feeling in a long time. I was exhilarated. I felt like I "accomplished something." I was so proud and pumped that I planned to do similar workouts three times per week.
That resolve didn't last long. The next morning I had the most debilitating soreness I have ever felt - quads, biceps, shoulders, back, everything was fried. And I felt sluggish, tired, and unmotivated. In fact, that soreness and overall crappy feeling lasted five days. I tried to train once in those five days but stopped after ten minutes because nothing good would have come from it.
Now I'm not somebody who avoids training because of soreness, but this was excessive. The question I had to ask myself was, "Was this workout so productive that it was worth missing four other workouts?" Any fool could see that the answer was a resounding "No!"
You need to train very hard to progress optimally, but if you train so hard that it affects the quality of your other workouts or causes so much stress that performance decreases, it's a bad move.
Those Who Kill Themselves and Progress
I will say this though - it's hard to argue with results. There are in fact many guys and gals getting very good results by always defying death in their workouts. I have several thoughts:
1. How deep you go into the "danger zone" depends on your training frequency. If you train a muscle only once a week, you'll be able to impose a lot more punishment without too many ill-effects than if you train each muscle several times in a week. So what if you can hardly walk for five days after leg day if you only do legs once a week?
However, for someone like me who believes in the importance of frequency above other variables, it makes it much harder to find the proper training dose. You need to do enough to stimulate progress, but not so much as to negatively impact the next session.
2. How much punishment you can handle and recover from in a session is also dependant on the amount of weight you're lifting in proportion to your 1RM. For example, if your average load in your workout is 60-70% of your max, you'll be able to go a lot deeper into the pain zone without ill-effect than if you use 80-90%, let alone 90-100%.
I believe that the body can recover pretty well from super intense muscular and metabolic work, especially if Plazma™ and Mag-10® are used peri-workout. The problem arises when you combine "killing yourself" with "using big weights," so I'm not surprised when I see bodybuilders able to kill themselves using techniques such as drop sets, rest/pause, partials, etc., because they're using weights that are fairly low in relation to their capacities.
3. One should not dismiss the role of "altered physiology" when it comes to recovery. Drugs such as steroids, growth hormone, and others help many recover much faster from training. As such, killing yourself in a session when you're chemically enhanced will not have a long lasting negative impact on your capacity to train. I'm not saying that everybody getting good gains from training like a madman is on drugs; I'm just saying that it's one of the factors that can allow someone to train harder for longer and still recover.
4. We all have our own specific physiology and respond to training differently.Some people respond better to volume and others to heavy weights. Likewise, some people are unbreakable and others can only sustain a very limited amount of stress.
I trained an Olympic athlete who was super explosive, the most explosive person I've ever seen in fact. He was very strong (a 425-pound bench press at 171 pounds, for example) but he could only handle, at the most, 6-8 total work sets during a session. Not sets per exercise, mind you, but total sets for the whole workout. On the other hand, I've also known guys who can do set after set for 2-3 hours, day in and day out.
5. We become good at dismissing training-related fatigue. At first we might feel tired and our motivation goes down a bit, but as dedicated lifters we force ourselves to go train anyway. After a while we're so used to our state of fatigue that we see it as our normal state. And even though we might be functioning at 70% of our capacities, we don't even notice it.
6. Someone who has nothing to do but train, like a professional athlete, will obviously recover faster than someone with a full time job, especially if it's either a physically or mentally draining job.
A Russian weightlifter who's paid by the government and has unlimited access to massage/physical therapists and recovery methods such as ice baths and saunas will be able to train six hours a day, but the same workload might cripple you.
Can Going Crazy in the Gym be Beneficial?
Even though I believe in focusing on progression and being able to train each lift/muscle more often - thus avoiding making a muscle completely FUBAR with training - I still believe that death-defying workouts can offer some benefits.
1. Going to muscle failure and beyond (with drop sets, rest/pause, added partials after failure, etc.) is actually justifiable when it comes to stimulating growth. If I were an advocate of training to complete muscle failure, I could easily make a solid case for it. I could start and end by quoting Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky: "A muscle fiber that is recruited but not fatigued is not trained." While you might not need to go to muscle failure and beyond to train the fiber, going to failure offers some insurance that you're fatiguing a lot of fibers.
The counter-argument to this is that driving motor-units to fatigue isn't the only way to make a muscle grow. Cell signaling (mTOR activation among others) and hormonal responses are examples of things that can lead to muscle growth. Likewise, muscle fatigue isn't necessary for strength gains as improving neurological factors will lead to gains in strength without having to fatigue every muscle fiber.
2. Testing your mettle with challenge workouts is a great way to see how physically capable you are. Also, preparing to be ready for those challenges can boost your training motivation significantly. I include challenge-based workouts in my own training once or twice a month.
These can take several forms: the stone/front squat/bench press session mentioned above; doing 100 sets of bench press; 100 reps of power clean with 205; 50 sets of squats... these are all things that I've done in the past. While they all crippled me for a few days, thus hurting my training, they also gave me a lot of motivation and taught me how to push myself.
3. Going crazy in the gym can readjust your perception of hard training. You don't need to kill yourself in the gym to progress at an optimal rate, but you need to train very hard. If you don't go borderline crazy from time to time you lose sight of what training hard means. You actually begin to lose your edge, train just a little less hard from month to month. You don't even realize you're slacking off!
On a scale of 1 to 10, your average training difficulty should be an 8, but if you never go to 10 you'll lose your perception of what an 8 really is. Because of that, a lot of people are really doing a 5 or 6 when they think they're at 8. An occasional lesson in pain in the gym will allow you to keep things in perspective.
Doing level "10" workouts can be useful, but you must understand how they affect the body and plan your training accordingly. Realize that you will not be in an optimal shape for a few days after doing a stress session, so either plan rest days or program in some easier training in the days after your challenge.
More on Training to Failure... and Beyond
There's "Crossfit/GPP Crazy" and "Bodybuilding Crazy." The former refers to killing yourself with metabolically demanding work, going to the point of vomiting. The latter refers to inflicting as much pain as possible during each set you do, going to complete failure and beyond.
As I mentioned, there is indeed a possible benefit of going to failure. You will ensure that you fatigued the maximal amount of muscle fibers, thus making that set as effective as it can be to stimulate adaptation. Remember, failure itself isn't necessary to optimally fatigue the muscle fibers, but it's a decent insurance policy.
I do want to point out that muscle failure is not always due to full muscle fiber fatigue. In fact, muscle failure can be due to energy depletion (depletion of the phosphagen system for example), incapacity of the nervous system to continue recruiting the required motor units, loss in the response of the muscles to the neural drive (acidity in the muscles can cause this), and muscle fiber fatigue.
So going to failure isn't necessarily an indication that you fully fatigued the maximum amount of muscle fibers, and going to failure might, in fact, not be significantly different than stopping one rep short. However, going to failure and beyond can also increase the cell signaling responsible for increasing protein synthesis and can also lead to the release of local growth factors. As such, it makes sense that training to failure can effectively stimulate muscle growth.
The drawback is that the cost-to-benefit ratio might be prohibitive. There's no doubt you can stimulate growth by going beyond failure. I'll use my economics analogy: You have a limited amount of money to spend on your training. Understand that a set where you go to and beyond failure is more costly than a regular set where you stop one rep short. So if you decide to go the "super intense" way, you'll have to make cuts somewhere else or you'll run out of training money - stagnation and even overtraining.
Understand that as a natural lifter you have less training money to spend. Anabolic drugs basically give you a much larger sum of training money to invest.
If, however, you're a bodybuilder training each muscle infrequently, then it's probably fine to use a decent number of sets to failure and beyond, but if you train each muscle group three times a week (or even twice a week) you're probably asking for trouble.
Puking: A Badge of Honor?
Now more than ever, throwing up during a hard workout is seen as a sign of being hardcore, of training balls-to-the-wall, but is it really?
The main cause of vomiting during intense training is diverting blood flow away from the stomach and toward the muscles. The body will always send more blood toward the places that need it most. During intense exercise the muscles require extra oxygen and the need for waste removal from the working muscles is increased.
As a result, the body will send more blood to the muscles, thus delivering more oxygen while also removing excess waste product from your muscles. This obviously means that less blood is sent to the stomach.
This is where the problem arises. If you're still digesting a solid meal when blood flow begins to divert towards the muscles, that's where nausea and vomiting can occur. So the fact that you are vomiting during your workout simply means that:
1. Your training forces a very large shift of the blood flow to the muscles.
2. You mistimed your food intake and training, which doesn't really make you all that hardcore.
So what type of training is most likely to cause vomiting? Logically, anything that requires a lot of blood to be sent to the muscles. Any type of training that requires a very high-energy production fits the bill, but of particular interest is the physical work that leads to a great accumulation of waste products/metabolites.
Hard Prowler work, 400-800 meter all-out sprints, CrossFit WODs, and bodybuilding training that causes a huge accumulation of lactic acid and the like are types of workouts that might cause vomiting to occur due to the need to get rid of waste products/metabolite accumulation. So yes, the more intense you are in those type of activities, the more likely you are to taste your lunch a second time!
So in a sense it is true that training to the point of vomiting could mean that you're capable of enduring a lot of pain and suffering in the gym. Reaching the point where you produce so many waste products that you start to be nauseated requires a very high pain tolerance, so I'll give you that.
If you're capable of reaching the point of throwing up, you're likely someone who is very mentally and physically tough. But is it a worthy goal? After all, exercising in humid 110-degree weather until you get heat stroke is also a sign that you can tolerate pain and discomfort, but it's not a practice conducive to rapid progression!
Throwing up is not an anabolic stimulus. The act of vomiting will not produce any muscle growth or strength gains, but can it actually be harmful to your progress? Throwing up once in a while during training isn't likely to kill your gains. However, several things happen after puking that might make it harder to get the most out of your session:
• You lose electrolytes, which will also make it harder to perform and recover.
• You're wasting nutrients that could be used for growth and recovery.
• It can ruin your appetite for a few hours after the session.
• It can kill your workout. Not everybody can continue to train hard right after vomiting.
• You run the risk of becoming dehydrated. And dehydration leads to a significant decrease in performance.
As you can see it's not a huge risk of muscle wasting, but it still remains counterproductive to optimal training, growth, and recovery.
Take Home Points
1. Training a muscle until you're crippled at the end of the session can limit your capacity to train that muscle again in the near future. It might work for those hitting each muscle once a week, but if you train each muscle/movement pattern frequently it might be counterproductive.
2. We all have a limited capacity to recover and grow from physical work. If you invest in beyond-failure sets, understand that you should decrease overall volume or you'll stagnate.
3. Some individuals, due to their physiology (genetics or chemical assistance) can recover and thrive on death-defying workouts, but most can't when they're done too frequently.
4. Infrequent challenge workouts performed once every couple of weeks can be a very effective strategy both from a physiological and psychological perspective.
5. The name of the game is progression. If you're not progressing in strength, performance and/or body composition from week to week, your training or nutrition might not be optimal.
If going crazy in the gym doesn't lead to week-by-week progression, then it's likely holding you back.
Thibaudeau, C. (2014 September 08). How Hard Do You Need to Work out?
Retrieved from http://www.t-nation.com/training/how-hard-do-you-need-to-work-out/
Every experienced lifter out there can remember the first time they moseyed into the weightroom, full of fear, confusion, and insecurity. Though most of us make it past these initial stages, some lifters never do. Some lifters quit training, mostly because they don’t understand it. If only there was a seasoned lifter at every gym who could talk to beginners and educate them on what things are important and what things aren’t very important. Below are the more common sources of confusion and misunderstanding that newcomers to resistance training share.
1. The Exercises Become Easier Over Time
Starting out, nothing seems to feel natural. Asymmetries are abound, rhythm is lacking, and coordination is terrible. This is especially true for compound, multi-joint lifts. Maintaining good mechanical form is incredibly difficult, especially as load and effort increase. The ability to contract certain muscles or feel certain muscles working during movements can be challenging at first, and cues like, “stay tight” don’t seem to make much sense early on. Going to failure leads to terrible break-down in form, as does performing anything heavier than a 5RM. Don’t worry, this all changes over time.
The good news is that every single training session, you’ll be rapidly increasing your stability and coordination. Every week, the lifts feel more and more natural. In 2-3 months, most of the lifts will feel right, and in a year, you’ll feel quite confident in your form and exercise competency. You’ll be able to get much more out of heavy lifting, and you’ll be able to hold much better form when taking a set close to failure. Make sure you consistently use strict form – your nervous system will be grooving motor programs so they become roughly automatic, and you want these memorized motor patterns to be solid.
2. Sweating is Overrated
Beginners seem to feel that they should be performing circuit training when they first start lifting, and this tendency appears more common with women. I suppose that this desire to ramp up the metabolic rate and get a big sweat going makes logical sense; it is natural to want to work hard and give a workout your all. But while circuit training can definitely be effective, it’s not the best way to build a great physique.
You need to get comfortable with resting in between sets. Now, the amount of time you rest will vary depending on your inherent recovery ability, the exercise you perform, and your goals. For example, women recover faster in between sets than men, squats require more rest time between sets than curls, and strength athletes will usually rest a bit more in between sets than physique athletes.
However, in general, you’ll want to wait around 120-180 seconds in between sets of intense compound lower body exercise, 90-120 seconds in between sets of intense compound upper body exercise, and 60-90 seconds in between sets of isolation exercises. Exceptions can certainly be made, but the point is, you shouldn’t just bounce from one exercise to the next without resting at all in between sets. Learn to cherish the rest time, as it gives your muscles time to recover so that you can perform higher quality sets, gain more strength, and build a better body.
Now, maybe I shouldn’t have said that “sweating” is overrated. You will definitely sweat while you lift weights. But the goal isn’t to just jack up your heart rate as high as possible and maintain this elevation throughout the training session, nor is it to sweat as much as humanly possible. An amateur equipped with a whistle could give you a very challenging workout by just having you do non-stop push-ups, burpees, mountain climbers, and jump rope, but this strategy would fail to maximize your physique enhancement. Building a stronger body over time should be the long-term goal, not collapsing in the floor in exhaustion.
3. Soreness is Overrated
Many lifters gauge the effectiveness of their workouts on how sore they are over the following couple of days post-workout. This, too, is short-sighted. Soreness is a decent indicator of muscle damage, but muscle damage is just one of three primary mechanisms (and probably the least important) of muscle hypertrophy. Moreover, exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) is more related to strain than activation, meaning that you can just do a ton of exercise that stretches the muscle to long lengths without highly activating the muscle and you will create damage. Finally, novelty leads to greater soreness, so if you were hell-bent on getting sore, then you could just do a bunch of new exercises.
However, these strategies aren’t ideal for building muscle, building strength, or shaping the body. Some soreness is good, but the law of diminishing returns applies. Excessive soreness prevents you from achieving quality workouts on subsequent days. If you perform full body training sessions several times per week, then soreness will prevent you from gaining strength. Many of my clients who have seen the best results typically experience very little soreness but gain tremendous strength over time. Building a stronger body over time should be the long-term goal, not crippling yourself so that you can barely move the following day.
4. Cardio is Overrated
Sure, cardio is great for your health and stamina. But so is strength training. Ever wear a heart rate monitor when you lift? If so, then you’re well aware of how effective plain old resistance training is for stimulating the cardiovascular system. But I know what you’re thinking – cardio is vital for fat loss. Is it really?
Think about this. Two twins weigh 200 lbs and are 25% bodyfat. They want to get leaner. Twin A does cardio all year long. By the end of the year, he loses ten pounds. Five of the pounds lost are fat and five are muscle. Now he weighs 190 lbs and is now 24% bodyfat. Twin B lifts weights all year long and consumes some additional protein each day. By the end of the year, he too loses ten pounds. However, he ended up putting on 5 lbs of muscle while simultaneously losing 15 lbs of fat. He’s now 190 lbs and his bodyfat percentage has dropped to 18%. Twin B looks much better than twin A.
Lifting weights is incredible for improving body composition over time, but you have to gain strength and engage in progressive overload. You want to get as strong as possible in all rep ranges in a variety of movements at a given bodyweight to maximize your aesthetics. I have amassed numerous case studies such as Kristen to demonstrate the efficacy of just strength training on body composition and shape. This isn’t to say that you should never do cardio, especially if you like it. But in most beginners overestimates cardio’s effects on body composition changes and mistakenly believe that if they don’t do their cardio, they’ll get fat (or they won’t lose fat). Some lifters mistakenly believe that cardio gives them the right to binge on junk food (of they think that a quick cardio session will “undo” a binge). This is definitely not true, and the best physiques in the world usually belong to those who prioritize strength training and eat properly.
5. Strength is Underrated
It’s not just about going to the gym and doing the exercises. Showing up and simply “going through the motions,” will not yield fantastic results. You have to push yourself on many levels… push yourself to maintain sound technical form when the going gets tough… push yourself to squeeze out another rep… push yourself to add 5-10 more pounds to the bar… push yourself to master new exercises and variations.
There will be times when your strength gains stagnate. You’ll have to analyze your form, analyze your training program, and consider everything else outside of the gym (diet, sleep, stress, etc.). But if you’re dialed in on gaining strength, you will prevail. Every year, your body will be stronger than it was the year before, and your physique will continue to improve. Strength creates curves and shapes the body. The same cannot be said for cardio and stretching. Prioritize progressive overload and your body will thank you for it.
6. Consistency is the Name of the Game
I know you’re gung-ho. You want to fast-forward your results and do everything possible to expedite your progress. However, more isn’t better. Training four hours a day, seven days per week won’t help you reach your goals more quickly, quite the opposite. It could easily lead to overuse injury, which would stop your progress dead in its tracks. You don’t need to combine every method under the sun. Trust me, we all read about new exercises and new regimens. We see the headlines just like you… sprinting for fat loss, plyos for power, grueling conditioning workouts to get you shredded, and various stretching movements for “long, lean muscles.” The temptation to train for hours on end is there for all of us, but it didn’t work for us, and it won’t work for you.
What you need is not endless exercise or crash diets, but consistency in the gym. It takes time to create adaptation. Strength training will create a denser body. If mass stays the same, this means less volume or overall size, which explains why clothes typically start hanging off of people even though bodyweight on the scale might not change. Bones will become denser, tendons and ligaments will become stronger, and muscles will start to reveal their shape. Fat will be shed and body composition will markedly improve over time, as will functional strength.
However, the rate at which these adaptations occur is rather slow. You will not get the body of your dreams overnight. In fact, you won’t get the body of your dreams in 30-days. In a year, you’ll be very pleased with your progress, but it is very likely that you still will not be completely satisfied. Building your best body is a work in progress that takes years to achieve. Consistency is the name of the game. The tortoise always beats the hare in the iron game, and there’s no better way to improve your physique than plain, old resistance training. Your goal should be to lift weights 3-5 days per week for 50 weeks out of the year for five straight years. If you do this, I guarantee that you will see great results.
7. Neural Improvements Precede Hypertrophic Improvements
During your first couple of months of strength training, you’ll likely be asking yourself, “What in the heck is going on – I’m gaining tons of strength, but my body isn’t changing much?” This is normal. During your first six weeks of training, your strength will rapidly increase, but these improvements will be brought upon largely by the nervous system. Your brain will figure out what you want it to do and will begin to coordinate the muscle actions and activate the proper muscles in the proper timing sequence more effectively. After a month or two, the primary cause of strength gains begin to be brought upon by hypertrophy. Your muscles will now begin to grow, and your shape will start improving. Make sure you stick it out during these initial times so you can reap the rewards of your hard work.
8. Hypertrophy is Your Friend
In case you didn’t already know, the word hypertrophy refers to muscle growth. If you’re a male, then chances are you don’t need any convincing about the merits of strength training for hypertrophy. However, if you’re a woman, then you might be on the fence. Perhaps you just want to get skinny and don’t want any appreciable gains in muscle mass. This is all well and good, but just know that your diet largely determines whether you gain weight, maintain weight, or lose weight. Exercise certainly helps, but not as much as most people assume (at least not in the amounts that most people perform).
At any rate, in a caloric surplus, strength training will cause the weight that you gain to consist of a higher proportion of muscle and a lower proportion of fat. At a caloric maintenance, strength training will cause your body to recompose so that you gain more muscle, lose fat, and improve your bodyfat percentage. At a caloric deficit, strength training will cause the weight that you lose to consist of a higher proportion of fat and a lower proportion of muscle.
This is important, as you want to maintain your muscle as you lose weight. First of all, muscle mass influences your metabolic rate, so holding onto your muscle will keep your metabolism elevated. And second, holding onto muscle will allow you to retain your curves. Nobody ever says, “My goal is to get skinny-fat.” If you get skinny but you have little muscle, flabby glutes, and 30% bodyfat levels or more, then I’m almost certain that you won’t be pleased with your physique. When you lose weight, you rarely just lose fat for weight loss. You have to do everything in your power to preserve the muscle and whittle off the fat.
As you can see, strength training is “pro-anabolic” training when gaining weight and “anti-catabolic” training when losing weight. It helps no matter what your goals are and what your diet is like.
9. You Can’t Out-Train a Crummy Diet
Diet is equally, if not more important than strength training for physique purposes. The person who consumes a nutritious, healthy diet and stays active will have a better physique than the person who trains hard but eats complete crap, even if this person doesn’t lift weights. You need to make sure you’re regularly consuming the proper number of calories and the proper ratios of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Many women don’t consume enough protein, and this negatively impacts their rate of physique improvement. Many individuals regularly consume too many calories, too much sugar, and too much saturated fat. Don’t get me wrong, a healthy diet has room for sugar and fat, but you can’t just eat whatever the heck you want and expect to possess a great physique. That is, unless you have elite genetics or you rarely crave junk food. Good nutrition and training go hand-in-hand, so make sure you don’t sabotage your gains by eating poorly.
10. Suffering and Progress Aren’t Linearly Correlated
Many lifters mistakenly believe that the more they suffer, the better results they’ll see. Sure, strength training is challenging. Sure, you will have to sacrifice in order to make progress. Sure, you will have to abstain from eating too much of certain foods. As you gain experience, strength, and conditioning, your workouts become more and more rigorous and demanding, which can be daunting. However, life doesn’t have to absolutely suck in order for you to see excellent results. You can get in and out of the gym in around an hour, you can and should take days off from training, you can season your foods, you can incorporate the foods you love into your diet in proper amounts, you can enjoy variety in your diet and experiment with new recipes, and you can plan ahead of time to allow yourself some wiggle room at social gatherings so you can splurge a little bit. You need to create a regimen that’s flexible and sustainable, so make sure your training and diet isn’t so grueling that it’ll cause you to quit in a couple of months. Start thinking about longevity and learn to enjoy your healthy habits.
ConclusionSo there you have it – ten things that all beginning lifters should be aware of. Lifting weights is tough. Stepping inside of a weightroom for the first time is intimidating. Changing your daily routine takes determination and dedication. But you must stick with it, as the rewards are numerous.
Strength training leads to the maintenance of functional ability, the prevention of osteoporosis, sarcopenia, lower-back pain and other disabilities, a reduction in insulin-resistance, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, falls, fractures, and disabilities, cardiovascular demands of exercise, and depression, an improvement in metabolic rate, glucose metabolism, blood pressure, body fat and central adiposity, blood-lipid profiles, gastrointestinal transit time, cognitive function, and quality of life, and an increase in muscle and connective tissue cross-sectional area, strength, power, endurance, hypertrophy, flexibility, joint stability, posture, mood, and self-esteem.
In other words, lifting weights makes you look good, feel good, and function well. But you need to know what you’re doing. Hopefully this article has shed some light on what things are critical in allowing you to reach your full potential.
Contreras, B. (2014 August 05). 10 Things All Beginning Lifters Should Know.
Retrieved from http://bretcontreras.com/10-things-beginning-lifters-know/
Here's what you need to know...
Too many women, because of poor exercise choices or practices, end up building a body that's "skinny fat," a condition where they appear thin in clothes, but actually have a higher body fat percentage than they did before they started exercising.
• Women generally need to use heavier weights. Stop with the delicate little flower thing. Your muscles won't grow – won't get curvy – if you're pressing, squatting, or curling with weights that have roughly the same heft as your iPhone.
• The one exception to working with heavy weights is the waist. The waist is comprised of muscles and muscles respond to heavy weights by getting bigger.
• It's virtually impossible – no matter what you eat – to gain any fat in the post-workout period. While gaining fat during this period is highly improbable, it's highly probable that you will build some muscle during this same timeframe, provided you give your body the protein (and calories) it requires.
For anyone knowledgeable about exercise, walking into a public gym is kind of like stumbling into a nudist camp – you quickly just want to slap on some horse blinders because there's so much that you don't want to see. In the case of the nudist camp, it's usually a lot of flabby, pasty-white guys that should never be naked, even when they're alone in a secluded cabin on a mountaintop. In the case of the gym, you want to restrict your view because people are often doing the lamest, silliest, most illogical exercises and practices imaginable and it hurts your sensibilities as a fitness expert.
Guys are probably the biggest tools in the gym because they're driven by ego instead of logic, but women make their own share of mistakes that are unique to their sex. Women are torn between what they read in Shape or on some insane aerobic queen's blog, their unqualified husband's or boyfriend's pontifications on diet and exercise, or society's conflicting and confounding expectations of what a woman should look like. It's no wonder women can't decide between lifting weights, becoming a Crossfit wind-up toy, doing aerobics until they're thin as a waif from Oliver Twist, or practicing so much yoga that their seven angry and overworked chakras pack up their things and go to Cabo for a weekend of volleyball, sun, and suds.
Too often women end up blending elements of all those practices and as often happens when you combine too many recipes, that dish won't cook. Women make little progress and often end up looking worse than when they began, sometimes developing a body that's "skinny fat," a cruel, paradoxical condition where they appear thin in clothes, but actually have a higher body fat percentage than they did before they started to exercise because they lost muscle instead of body fat.
I'm going to assume that one of the reasons women go to the gym is to look better, and looking better usually means becoming leaner and/or acquiring more curves. Bodies, at least the most aesthetically pleasing ones, are a combination of convex and concave curves instead of straight lines. You're a delectable and enticing mammal, not a tree. As such, you want to build muscle to build or accentuate convex curves. If you're already blessed with convex curves, you want to create concave curves by losing fat. You accomplish either or both by smart weight lifting. Plenty of women have accepted this wonderful reality, but I still see stuff that makes me want to wear blinders. Here are some of the regrettable practices I see women making all the time.
1. Fear of Appearing Butch
You've heard this one before, but it doesn't look like it's sinking in. You need to evolve beyond using rubber-coated dumbbells that have a clump of iron the size of a baby's fist on either side. In other words, you need to use heavier weights. Stop with the delicate little flower thing. Your muscles won't grow – won't get curvy – if you're pressing, squatting, or curling with weights that have roughly the same heft as your iPhone. Say hello to the 20 and 30-pound dumbbells, aspire to the 40 and 50-pound ones. Use weights that allow you to do between 8 and 15 repetitions.
And don't play the age-old, "I don't want to get too big" card. Unless you're the one woman in a million that has such high Testosterone levels that female horses start to whinny nervously when you walk by, you're not going to suddenly sprout muscle from your ears and everywhere else. Neither will your muscles grow beyond your aesthetic ideal unless you start feeding them a lot more. Muscles don't grow out of thin air; you've got to supply them with protein and carbs. That's why men who lift weights eat barnyards of fowl, ranches of cattle, rivers of fish, barrels of protein powder, and vats of Cocoa Puffs. If you don't eat that way, you won't get "too big." (See mistake #9 for advice on when you should eat big.)
2. Fear of Making an Ugly Face
We just discussed using heavier weights, but we didn't discuss intensity. When you're lifting weights, you shouldn't be able to maintain the same facial expression as when you're getting a mani-pedi. Too many women just don't get down and dirty. There's rarely even a grimace or a bit of semi-feminine grunting. Look, building muscle requires some discomfort; it requires some pain. You might be able to look all pretty and composed for the first few reps, even while using an appropriately heavy weight, but you're ultimately going to have to make an ugly she-wolverine face on the last few highly-productive "money" reps where you coerce muscle into growing. No ugly face, no curvy muscle. No ugly face, no increased strength. Tank your outdated views of femininity. Screw how it looks or what anyone thinks.
Absession is not a new scent from Calvin Klein. Rather, it's being obsessed with working the abs or the waistline in general. Here's a shocker: everyone has a six-pack; you just have to whittle away enough fat so that it shows. Granted, you may want to build the abdominals so they're more pronounced, but stop thinking that you need to dedicate half your workout or more to working abs. Three or four hard sets of 15 to 20 – using resistance or using more challenging angles as necessary – a few times a week is all you need. Spend the rest of the time building overall muscle and doing activities that burn fat in general.
4. Working the Abs Like a Powerlifter
I know mistake #1 said to use heavier weights, but ab work is the one exception. For some reason, a lot of women already use heavy weights when working the midsection. Oddly, they think that working the waist with heavy weights is somehow going to make it smaller. Maybe... if we all lived in the Bizarro world. The waist is comprised of muscles and muscles respond to heavy weights by getting bigger. If you want a waist that's as broad as a tree stump, then have at it. If, however, you want the mythical wasp waist, stop working your abs with heavy weights. As mentioned in the previous tip, stick with weight or resistance that allows you to do roughly 15 to 20 reps. Most importantly, don't use weights while working your "side muscles," otherwise known as the obliques. The surest way to build a blocky waist is to do side bends while hanging onto dumbbells. Instead, work your obliques by doing a few sets of side planks a couple of times a week.
5. Balancing on the BOSU
I'll grudgingly admit that the BOSU ball probably has some merit in developing balance. As such, it might be useful for Cirque du Soleil performers. It also makes for a lovely post-modernist style chair. Beyond those functions, I see little use for it.
Okay, I'm being overly snarky. Yes, the BOSU has some application for abdominal work or rehab work for people with hinky ankles and it can probably help with balance issues, but somewhere along the line, exercisers, most often women or their enabler-slash-trainers started using the BOSU as a weight-training accessory. They either put one foot on it to use with lunges or they put both feet on it while doing any number of traditional weight training exercises like dumbbell curls, lateral raises, overhead presses, or squats. Some morons have even taken this a step further by doing these same movements on a Swiss ball. (If you see someone doing the latter, feel free to hip check the ball and send them crashing to the ground.)
The thinking is that lifting weights on an unstable surface makes the muscles work harder to keep you from doing a face plant, but balancing isn't the type of muscular effort that builds muscle. And, in order to keep your balance, you have to use lighter weights than you would otherwise.
Lifting weights – even light ones – while standing on a BOSU will make your muscles fatigue much faster, forcing you to abort the set earlier than you normally would. You end up missing out on the "money reps," those reps at the end of a set where you activate the muscle fibers most responsible for growth. If all of that falls on deaf ears, consider that none of the major studies conducted on the BOSU have found it to build muscle any faster than doing the same exercises on solid ground.
6. Too Much Aerobics
I've got a question for you: Have you ever see a marathoner or even an accomplished jogger with a really good body? Probably not. They're either slightly emaciated, have a body with very few curves, or are plagued with the skinny-fat condition I talked about in the intro. They also have really ugly feet.
Without going into all the hormonal or evolutionary permutations, let's just accept the scientific fact that the body would generally, during caloric deficits, rather sacrifice muscle than fat, and what is excessive endurance exercise but an artificially induced caloric deficit? Regardless, women especially are saddled with the myth that the more aerobic exercise they do, the better they'll look.
Remember, you want muscle, and excessive aerobic exercise is death to muscle. There are far more effective ways to burn fat. Going for a brisk walk first thing in the morning is incredibly effective and it saves muscle. Similarly, brief bouts of high-intensity exercise in the form of sprinting or Tabata-style exercise-bicycling or weight training build muscle and burn fat simultaneously. In case you're not familiar with Tabata, it's a simple but brutal protocol where you do an activity as fast and hard as you can for 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds, and then do another exercise/rest cycle of 20 and 10 seconds. You do this for 4 minutes straight and then collapse into a spent but proud heap. You can do Tabata workouts with kettlebell swings, dumbbell squats, stationary bicycle sprints, or any number of other exercises.
7. Workout Monogamy
Mating for life, as swans, wolves, turtledoves, and Catholics are wont to do, has some biological advantages. Mating to your workout for life, however, has none. Too bad so many women ignore this fact. Whether it's from a lack of imagination or a misguided belief that "exercise is exercise" or that "there's only one way to lift a weight," some women keep doing the same routine year-in and year-out. They may have torn it out of a Shape or Cosmothat was lying in the doctor's office and since they've been healthy and haven't gone back to the doc's office and read some new magazines, they're still doing the same routine a year or two later.
That's unfortunate because the body adapts to workouts whether they be weight workouts or aerobic workouts. That's why there are so many fat aerobics instructors. They've done the same routine for years and their neurological system is so accustomed to it that it costs them little in calories or effort to complete the workout. You need to cycle your workouts every four to six weeks. Emphasize legs in one cycle, shoulders or arms the next. Get new routines from articles right here on T Nation.
8. Workout Promiscuity
The opposite of the workout monogamist is of course the workout slut. While much more common among males, there are plenty of women who can't stick with a workout for very long. They try out a workout a few days, see that it hasn't yet given them an NFL cheerleader body, and then try something else. One manifestation of this is "CrossFit Fever." These women, not entirely sure of what constitutes CrossFit training, do a bastardized version where they perform non-stop, often non-sensical, semi-aerobic, semi-anaerobic conditioning work for 1 to 2 hours for no apparent reason, save to exorcise or exercise some professional or personal demons.
In either case, their workouts are chaotic and ultimately produce rotten results. Find a logical, progressive workout that addresses your particular needs, builds muscle, burns fat, and makes you the queen of curves and give it 4 to 6 weeks to work. Then and only then should you change it up, even if it worked well (see step #7).
9. Fear of Food
Ready to have your dietary beliefs shaken, Jell-O like, to their core? Okay, here goes: It's virtually impossible – no matter what you eat – to gain any fat in the post-workout period, which is roughly defined as the hour-long timeframe after you finish lifting weights. While gaining fat during this period is highly improbable, it's highly probable that you will build some muscleduring this same timeframe, provided you give your body the protein (and calories) it requires.
It all has to do with insulin, the hormone that carries glucose and amino acids to muscle cells. Broadly speaking, insulin has two choices, it can either shuttle glucose and protein to storage in fatty tissue and the liver, or it can deliver those nutrients directly to muscle cells where they're used to fuel, repair, and grow muscle. The path it takes is determined by exercise – if you're lifting weights or just finished lifting weights, insulin will take the nutrients directly to muscle instead of storing it.
Muscle is particularly sensitive to insulin during this workout/post workout period, so if you want to build muscle/curves, it's imperative that you eat during what we call the "peri-workout" period, which is comprised of the period just before, during, and after a resistance workout. So temporarily forget your calorie fears. Temporarily forget your carb fears, too, because this is when you definitely need to provide your muscles with the material it needs to build those curves. In general, have a protein/carbohydrate drink about 45 minutes to an hour before a workout and a substantial amount of protein and carbohydrates after a workout. In an ideal world, you'd also sip a protein/carb drink during the workout, too, but at the very least, make sure you don't skimp on that post-workout meal.
No, not juicing as in steroids. I'm talking about the plastic cups of pulverized, Osterized, barely palatable concoctions of kale, seaweed, wheat grass, and whatever other obscure vegetables or fruits the juicer is able to buy at a discount that so many women have permanently affixed to their hands when they walk into the gym.
I know it seems contrary, even heretical, to suggest you stop or limit your consumption of these drinks, but hear me out. Vegetables and fruits contain simple sugars and more complex, harder-to-digest carbs. No problem there. However, when you blend up fruits and vegetables, you're breaking down all those normally hard-to-digest carbs into infinitesimally small pieces. Drink that stuff down and you're virtually bypassing much of the digestive process. All those sugars are presented to your bloodstream like flowers to your momma on Mother's Day. They get absorbed super quick, and your pancreas releases a surge of insulin to counteract all that sugar. It's virtually the same effect you'd get from shot-gunning a 24-ounce 7-11 Slurpie.
Insulin shuttles off some of the sugar to muscle cells and the rest are stored (in the liver or as body fat), but then insulin levels dip below baseline and you get hungry again pretty fast. If you give in to that hunger, you're ingesting more calories than you might normally have and extra, unnecessary calories get stored as fat. What's more, if you do the juice thing often enough, you may actually develop some insulin resistance, which is the first step down the path to Type II diabetes.
There's one more thing to consider, too. You probably wouldn't be able to eat all the fruits and vegetables that are in a typical fruit or vegetable smoothie if they were sitting there on a plate. They'd take up too much room in your stomach and even all that Spandex in your Lululemon pants wouldn't be able to flatten out your belly. However, pulverize all those fruits and vegetables down into primordial ooze and they, and all the calories they contain, fit in your stomach just fine. Juicing allows you to eat more than you normally could, which is never really good if you're trying to keep tabs on your body fat levels.
I'm not suggesting that you give up all juices. Drink them in moderation, eat them in their un-pulverized, natural state, or simply employ one simple trick: just have the juice junction, jamboree, or whatever add a scoop of protein (whey or casein) to your drink. The protein will ameliorate the big insulin surge, not to mention giving your muscles some extra building blocks.
TC. (2014 May 05). 10 Mistakes Women Make in the Gym.
Retrieved from http://www.t-nation.com/training/10-mistakes-women-make-in-the-gym/
Here's what you need to know...
• P90X fuels anti-weight training propaganda. And "muscle confusion" is largely BS.
• More and more people are being conned into thinking that jumping around in front of the TV set is somehow superior to lifting weights and eating lots of protein. It isn't.
• There's a vast difference between something that hurts versus something that works.
Editor's Note: Why are we running an article about a workout program that probably very few of you do? Look at it this way: Between 3 and 4 million people have purchased the program. We figure it's our civic duty to talk about this and other similar programs. Friends don't let friends drive drunk, and friends don't let friends do P90X. Besides, it's a huge Google search term, so maybe some of the poor bastards who want to try it out will instead stumble over here to T Nation and see the hypertrophic light.
Although this is mainly about the "evils" of P90X and the many other programs that basically involve bouncing around in front of your TV, the best place to start this critique is to examine the downside of what actually doeswork best for most people: progressive resistance training with weights.
I'm taking this approach for two reasons: First, because it's important to appreciate that no exercise or training system is without its flaws. The best we can really hope for is a worthwhile benefit-to-cost ratio. And secondly, it's only because of these flaws (or perceived flaws) that dangerous and inefficient programs like P90X are able to flourish in the first place.
So with that in mind, let's take a quick look at the downside of progressive resistance exercise, which I'll just call "weight training" from here on out. Despite the many proven benefits of weight training, there are a handful of problems with this activity:
1. You need weights. This means you'll either need to buy a gym membership (which isn't only a financial expense, it's often inconvenient), or you'll need to set up some equipment at your house. Of course, the second option really doesn't have to be expensive at all, but many people perceivethat it is.
2. You need to learn how to use the weights. The best exercises are like the best drugs – they not only have the most benefit, they also have the most potential downsides. In the case of weight training, one of these downsides is the skill requirement involved. As a reader of T Nation you probably already know that lifting weights isn't exactly as complex as nuclear physics, but again, we come back to perception. And quite often, the marketers of commercially popular exercise programs will fuel these misperceptions by taking advantage of popular myths and misconceptions.
For example, a Beach Body Facebook acquaintance of mine recently told me that Tony Horton regards kettlebells as "missiles of death." Now I know that statement wasn't meant literally, but it still fuels anti-weight training propaganda.
3. Lifting weights takes too much time. Here we are at that tricky perception issue again. Yes, lifting does take time. Certainly more time than P90X. But it needn't take most people more than 2-3 hours a week (particularly at the beginning), and that certainly strikes me as a reasonable price to pay for superior results.
4. Lifting weights (usually) doesn't leave you feeling trashed. It might strike you as odd that I list this point as a downside of weight training, but the truth is, it might be the most powerful one from the opposition's standpoint. People expect pain, and exercise programs that fail to deliver on this expectation handicap themselves in terms of commercial viability.
Now with these four objections to weight training firmly in mind, it's time to unveil the primary "hurdle" that the marketers of P90X must clear in order to close the sale:
The primary goal of P90X is to convince you that you don't need weights to build a great physique.
That's because, if the marketing minds at Beach Body can pull that off, the world is its oyster, because suddenly you don't need a gym membership, which means you can work out at home, and further, you won't need to invest any time in learning how to lift. And, as an added bonus, you're reallygonna hurt. Sometimes a bit too much.
"But Charles, It'll Really Kick Your Ass!"
Most infomercial exercise programs have a common denominator: They capitalize on the most prevalent misconception that newbies have about exercise, namely, that it must hurt if it's going to do any good. Fortunately, as the creators of these programs have discovered, it's almost unfairly easy to cook up stuff that hurts. In fact, if I chose a random person off of the street, he could easily create a workout that would devastate the most gifted Olympic athlete.
If only it were that easy to create a training program that helps people become stronger, leaner, faster, and less prone to injury – those type of results require the expertise of an exercise professional, not a multi-level marketing convert masquerading as a fitness trainer.
Finally, it's helpful to have the ability to distinguish your goals from the costs of attaining them. I certainly don't object to people paying a price in the pursuit of their goals, but the price should never be the goal itself. See the difference?
But Isn't Anything Better Than Nothing?
Asking such a question is the sign of a reasonable, rational person, so I do appreciate the intent behind it. On the surface at least, it certainly seems like a thoughtful query. But no, I don't think anything's better than nothing, and here's why.
Imagine that you're really out of shape – you haven't seen your toes (or other important appendages) in years, and you're understandably anxious about starting a new exercise program. Then, late one night, through the haze of orange Cheese Doodle particulate matter, you suddenly catch a glimpse of the jacked and tanned Tony Horton himself pitching his latest DVD set. You're tired, you're frustrated... in short, your defenses are down. And you know what? Tony's telling you everything you wanna hear. In fact, you'd swear he can actually read your mind:
1. No gym membership required. All you need is a chinning bar or a dumbbell! (I'm paraphrasing here of course, forgive me).
2. 100% no questions asked, money back guarantee!
3. But wait! If you order in the next 10 minutes...
4. And hey, it worked for Tony, right?
So you whip out the ol' Visa and dial that 800 number. In a few days, the DVD's arrive, and they're beyond slick. You're psyched and ready to roll. So the next night, you throw on a pair of sweats and pop that DVD in. Here are a few negatives that you should be prepared for:
1. Your "moves" need a little work. Okay, let's be honest, you really don't have moves at all. Now in all honestly, some people do have a sense of choreography and can follow Tony and friends as they urge you on. Others, well, not so much.
2. Exercise really sucks the big one. I mentioned the potential downside of skilled movement earlier, but I've always found that learning skilled movement is far more rewarding and satisfying than jumping around doing various callisthenic moves. I think that's why so many people gravitate toward things like dance, martial arts, and yoga for fitness purposes – you get the chance to learn a skill as you get fit.
3. When you don't need to leave the house, there's no urgency. Of course, this is a fallback of home weight rooms as well. I'm just pointing out that the "drawback" of having to drive to the gym isn't entirely a drawback at all.
4. Despite all the discomfort, your body isn't really changing much. Your mileage may vary of course. If you're a rote beginner and fairly weak, many P90X drills are in fact legitimate forms of strength training. Once your strength reaches a certain level however, you'll need weight.
5. You could get hurt. I was unable to find data on comparative injury rates between P90X and other forms of training. I'm left with anecdotal reports from colleagues, friends, and clients, as well as own my understanding of exercise principles. Over the past few years, I've spoken to several orthopedists, MD's, and physical therapists who've expressed genuine concern about P90X based on the number of injured patients they see on a regular basis.
From a principle-based point of view, these injuries are no surprise to me. After all, if you don't have weights, the only way to make your customers "feel the burn" is to perform high reps at a fast pace, with minimal rest between repeats. That particular combination of variables increases fatigue while simultaneously decreasing movement control, which decreases net safety.
Muscle Confusion is BS
One of P90X's biggest selling points is the concept of "muscle confusion." I found this on the P90X website:
"P90X uses targeted training phases so your body keeps adapting and growing. You'll never "plateau" – which means your body will never get used to the routines, making improvements slow down or even stop."
Please allow me a moment here, because there are so many great ways to destroy this claim, I'm not even sure where to start. Here's how I'll tackle it: Since I know many P90X converts liken themselves to being super-intense athlete types, maybe it might be instructive to look at how the typical Olympic athlete trains. Let's take the sport of weightlifting. When you look at a 3-minute video clip of great weightlifters in training, it's quite exciting and inspiring. You'll wanna go straight to the gym after watching these amazing lifters.
Being one of these lifters however, is a very different story. The truth is that, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, nearly all National and World-level weightlifters perform no more than about 6 exercises, and perhaps a few slight derivations of them. It's really like being a monk – if you've got even a speck of ADHD in you, you won't be able to hang. Every day is pretty much the same old thing: snatch, clean & jerk, pulls, squats. Every day. Over, and over, and over again.
Muscle confusion isn't about preventing plateaus; it's about giving beginners enough variety so they won't immediately get bored and quit. And when you constantly vary your training, you might not be as likely to quit, but you're not going to make any real progress.
Think about learning a language in high school. If you take 4 years of French, you'll be quite proficient by the time you graduate, right? Now, along the way, there will be days (and perhaps weeks) where you're sick and tired of studying the subject, but that's the price you pay for personal development. If instead, you took French as a freshman, Spanish as a sophomore, Italian as a junior, and Japanese in your senior year, you'll be a lot less bored, but the price you'll have to pay is reduced competency. This is a universal principle of personal development, and it applies to the weight room as much as it does to the classroom.
Now, is there any truth to the whole "muscle confusion" idea? Sure. In fact, I used to read about it all the time in Muscle & Fitness back in the 70's. It simply refers to the fact that a monotonous physical stimuli will lead to reduced adaptations over time, as compared to a more varied stimuli.
Where people go wrong however, is that they overestimate the amount and scope of variety that's really needed to minimize plateaus (eliminating them, contrary to P90X's marketing promises, isn't possible). The weightlifters I mentioned earlier simply vary their loads to accomplish that purpose. They don't, for example, do a 4-week "incinerator" phase, because if they do, they'll lose much of the progress they made previously.
Like much of P90X's marketing, muscle confusion is a concept that has a kernel of truth to it, but it's a very old idea, and if you mention it to an experienced lifter, he'll smile in knowing recognition of your ignorance.
So, What's The Alternative Then?
Now whenever I'm criticizing something, I think it's only fair to provide an alternative to the problem I'm pointing out. But in this case, what I'm going to suggest really isn't an alternative at all – it's really the gold standard – the standard for which P90X is supposedly an alternative.
And that standard of course, is progressive resistance training. The details of exactly what type of resistance training you should do is up for discussion. What's NOT up for discussion however, is whether or not there are better options available than properly performed progressive resistance training, because there are none. The undeniable bottom line is that, across the board, the best physiques are built with weights.
Now of course, with proper nutrition in place, P90X can help you lose weight. That's not saying much, however, since proper nutrition by itself can help you lose weight. So can a really bad case of diarrhea. What you really want is to lose fat. The problem is, fat loss is usually accompanied by muscle loss as well (the ratio of fat/muscle loss depends on a number of factors). The reason that progressive resistance training is so important is that it helps to offset the loss of muscle while you're in a caloric deficit. This means that you don't merely lose weight, you lose fat. And that's what really changes bodies.
So is P90X ALL Bad?
Nope, certainly not. Even the worst programs have a few folks who benefit. And there's no doubt in my mind that there are people who enjoy and actually benefit from doing P90X. And if you're one of those people, the hazards I'm speaking of here clearly don't apply to you. What I'm addressing here however, are likelihoods of success as compared to other approaches. And the bulk of the evidence is clear – progressive resistance training, when performed intelligently, is by far the safest and most effective way to making meaningful changes to the human physique. While programs such as P90X manage to bypass the perceived shortcomings of resistance training, on balance, they don't deliver the same results by any stretch of the imagination.
Staley, C. (2014 April 11). P90X and Muscle Confusion: The Truth.
Retrieved from http://www.t-nation.com/training/p90x-and-muscle-confusion-the-truth/
Here's what you need to know...
• Ironically, spending 20 hours a week in the "fat burning zone" leads to very little fat loss and a lot of muscle loss. The result? Looking like a flabby runner.
• Steady state cardio should be reserved for endurance athletes, not for those seeking fat loss and awesome body composition. Physique competitors don't even need traditional long-duration cardio.
• Metabolic interval training can be made even better with advanced work-to-recovery ratios and a few select tools.
Back in 2008, I wrote a controversial article for T Nation: The Final Nail in the Cardio Coffin. In it, I talked about how my body composition suffered when training for an Ironman Triathlon. Despite twenty hours per week of endurance training, time spent mostly in the so-called "fat burning zone", I barely lost any fat and definitely lost muscle, even with a controlled diet plan and a couple of weight training sessions per week.
This solidified my belief that steady-state aerobics is absolutely, completely, utterly ineffective for fat loss. Long, steady-state endurance is not the answer for a defined, lean physique, and it's a waste of time if your goal is long term fat loss. Endurance work is only the answer if your goal is to compete in an endurance event, not if you want to actually look your best. If you want to lose fat but not look like a soft endurance athlete, metabolic interval training is the way to go.
That was five years ago. Have I changed my mind? And what have I learned since then as a coach, gym owner, and yes, as a woman who still competes in endurance events? Let's discuss.
Deeper and Deeper Into the Grave
Is it time for steady state cardio to rise from the dead as a tool for fat loss? Exactly the opposite. As my experience accumulates, my thoughts have not changed one bit since I wrote the original article. In fact, steady state cardio is sinking deeper and deeper into the grave when it comes to tools to use to shed fat quickly and effectively. We have progressed some of the ideas about how we do our metabolic interval training, which I'll share below, but my final paragraph still stands:
Get off the treadmill, stop spinning your wheels, and push yourself in the gym if you want to lose some serious fat. Take it from me, I finally learned first hand. It's time to put the final nail in the cardio coffin of using aerobics for fat loss, bury it for good, and do some high intensity, interval dancing on its overdue grave.
Five Years Later
After the 2008 article, I took a break from endurance training and lifted consistently three days a week along with a metabolic workout one to two times a week and an occasional short, hilly run. I maintained the body you see in the picture from the original article for the following three years.
Then I started to get the endurance bug again. I signed up to take a whole team to the Nike Women's Half Marathon in October 2011. I ramped up my endurance training once again, putting in the long steady state miles week after week, and I've continued to race every October, three years in a row.
What I started to notice year after year is that my body composition would fluctuate throughout the year, but interestingly I'd reach my "peak" body fat level right as I was training for my half marathon. Without changing my diet (and in fact staying very conscious of what I was eating), only shifting my training from mostly lifting to include more steady state aerobics, my body would shift to my "endurance body" with less muscle and more fat as a percentage. Interestingly, my weight didn't change much. I wasn't yo-yoing – my body composition was just responding to the activity I was doing.
I enjoy competing and love crossing a finish line. Unfortunately, looking back, my body composition around race time has once again confirmed my original statement: the more steady state aerobic exercise I do, the softer my appearance seems to be. There are a few things this could be attributed to, other than just the fact that I was doing more steady state cardio, including:
1. By doing more steady state cardio, I end up doing less strength training. Is it necessarily the cardio that's the problem, or just not strength training/metabolic interval training as much?
2. The strength training I'm doing could be suffering in quality and recovery since I usually head out for a run either the morning of, directly following, or on the opposite day when I could be recovering from my lifting session.
3. Increased appetite from doing more steady state cardio. I'm pretty careful about tracking my intake, but we won't rule this out as maybe I do end up hungrier and make up for the extra calories burned in my food intake.
I do my best to manage body composition when training for endurance events by lifting a couple times a week along with tracking my nutrition. I'm always only a month or two out from getting back to being photo shoot ready following the race. After each half marathon I shift gears, decrease the steady state aerobics, and hit the weights.
Just two months after the above pic, I filmed a DVD in December of 2012. After 8 weeks of no steady state aerobics and re-prioritizing lifting, I was once again photo shoot ready.
Steady State Cardio: More Efficient, Less Defined
Yeah, I'm just one person. Everyone is different and some people do respond to endurance training. People who go from being sedentary to walking or jogging can of course see results from adding activity to their day. In fact, any time you do something new or different your body usually responds by dropping body fat, at least initially.
Here's the catch: your body quickly adapts to steady state aerobic activity, decreasing the amount of calories you burn with each walk/run, making you more and more efficient at the activity. This is the goal if you're training for an endurance event – to be super efficient using the least amount of energy (calories) possible to complete the distance. You want just the opposite if you're trying to lose fat.
Over the past five years I've also had the opportunity to train clients for both endurance events and Bikini/Figure competitions. While training for the half marathon, many of our clients notice they have a hard time maintaining their muscle and their body fat percentage starts to creep up, looking "softer" come race time. By the time they do the race they can't wait to get back to heavy lifting and take a break from steady state running.
We've also had teams of Bikini/Figure competitors train for and compete without using any steady state cardio over their 12-16 week prep. They lift weights four days a week and do a metabolic workout one to two days a week. These women decrease their body fat consistently by half a percent a week on average while maintaining or gaining muscle.
Think about this for a minute: the endurance athletes do what many experts say you have to do to lose body fat – steady state cardio – and their body composition gets worse as the event nears. The physique competitors on the other hand do no steady state cardio, only weight training and metabolic conditioning, in order to achieve a very lean and hard condition. Ironic... at least to those who don't know any better.
The Newest Research
Let's review some of the recent research. Since the last article there have been several studies published showing no real fat loss benefits of aerobic training. In fact, a review paper by Stephen Boutcher opened with the statement, "Most exercise protocols designed to induce fat loss have focused on regular steady state exercise such as walking and jogging at a moderate intensity. Disappointingly, these kinds of protocols have led to negligible weight loss... the effect of regular aerobic exercise on body fat is negligible."
Another paper from the American Journal of Medicine also stated, "Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise programs of 6-12 months induce a modest reduction in weight and waist circumference in overweight and obese populations. Our results show that isolated aerobic exercise is not an effective weight loss therapy in these patients." One study looking over the clinical benefits of high intensity interval training concluded, "Exercise has numerous benefits for high-risk populations and such benefits, especially weight loss, are amplified with HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)."
Advanced Interval Training
At Results Fitness, we've always focused on metabolism-boosting, interval training workouts for fat loss. We know they work, but could we get them to work even better? Yes. Here's how we've dialed them up:
1. We've advanced the interval protocols. There are four different options we've incorporated into our programming:
Fixed Work, Fixed Recovery.
This was how we initially started our metabolic interval workouts, programming a fixed time such as 30 seconds work to 60 seconds rest.
Fixed Work, Variable Recovery.
With this variation you move for a fixed work period but then, using a heart rate monitor or rate of perceived exertion, you recover as long as needed. The better shape you're in, the less rest you'll need.
Fixed Work, Progressive Recovery.
Instead of having the same rest period we've used a progressive rest period that gets longer each round as you're getting tired.
Variable Work, Variable Recovery.
We use this most often now, with all of our members wearing heart rate monitors which individualizes the workout completely. We saw our results increase when we added in the monitors. People in great shape may take 1-2 minutes on an exercise to get their heart rate up to the intensity it needs to be. Those same people will recover much faster and be ready to go again quickly. Meanwhile, someone newer to exercise will hit red in less than 30 seconds and may take 1-2 minutes to recover.
2. Heart rate technology has changed the metabolic training game. All of our metabolic interval classes are done monitoring our members on Polar heart rate monitors. This has allowed us to individualize their workouts and guarantee they're working at the intensity necessary to get the best results, along with recovering fully before doing another interval.
3. Over the past few years we've incorporated other tools such as kettlebells, sandbags, sleds, and ropes into our metabolic training. The advantage of using a tool such as a kettlebell or sandbag in metabolic training is the ability to change the exercise – keeping the heart rate up when the movement you're doing is getting fatigued. You can easily switch from swings to push presses to cleans to deadlifts while keeping the heart rate elevated. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioningcompared traditional weight training to superset weight training. The researchers concluded that pairing exercise sets burned more calories during and after the training session than traditional training.
In addition, there has also been some research in the past five years showing kettlebell training is a fantastic tool for fat loss. One study compared two groups – one doing explosive training and the other slow training. The explosive group burned 13% more calories during training and 7% more in the post-exercise period. In another study, researchers established max kettlebell snatch rate per minute. Subjects then performed one-fourth of the max reps for 15 seconds on, 15 seconds off for 20 minutes. Caloric burn was 20.2 calories per minute.
Also a huge bonus, these exercises are lower impact than other aerobic options, like running or jumping rope. Easier on your body and more effective!
Not Quite "Anti"
I confess, I still love running and endurance sports. I know this may sound like an anti-steady-state cardio article, but please make sure that you add "for fat loss goals" to the end of that sentence! We don't use steady state cardio for our fat loss clients, but we do have a strong endurance following at our gym with mud run, triathlon and half marathon teams.
Plus this year I adopted a dog. She loves to go running and I love to take her running. Every morning we head out on an adventure together which includes a couple miles of steady state cardio. Interestingly, my body fat percentage has been creeping up with the added seven days a week of steady state cardio. Why would I keep going for a run when I know it isn't effective for fat loss? Because I enjoy it more than I care about seeing my abs right now. If you love going for a run, if it's your meditation or you're training to cross a finish line, by all means go out for a run!
If you're getting ready for a photo shoot, a beach body reveal, or want to look like a physique competitor with chiseled abs, skip your run for a few weeks and make strength training and interval training your priority. Mix in a heart rate monitor, kettlebells, and sandbags and see if you reach the same conclusion I have.
I'm signed up for three half marathons this year and believe me, this endurance athlete would love to look like a Figure competitor crossing that finish line. I'll continue to work on how to do that, if it's possible... Stay tuned.
Cosgrove, R. (2014 April 07). The Death of Steady State Cardio.
Retrieved from http://www.t-nation.com/training/death-of-steady-state-cardio/
Here's what you need to know...
Anyone that says calories don't matter has zero credibility. But anyone who claims calories are all that matter has even less credibility.
• Balance the metabolism first, then worry about calories if needed. Hunger, energy, and cravings (HEC) are your keys to understanding your metabolism and working with it, rather than against it.
• The combo of sugar, fat, and salt will short circuit your appetite centers, turning that "cheat meal" into a cheat week, or worse.
• The idea that calorie excess always leads to fat gain and calorie reduction always leads to fat loss is not accurate.
• The standard "eat less, exercise more" approach to dieting leads to about 20-50% loss of lean tissue.
• The quality of food you eat can directly affect the future efficiency of your metabolism.
So, I'm at this health and fitness business mindshare thing. There are all kinds of successful authors, clinicians, health bloggers and other experts in attendance. It's not long before I find myself in a small group discussion about calories and weight loss.
There's the "calories are everything" camp and the "hormones are everything" camp. I'm thinking to myself, "This is like arguing about what's more important to driving a car, the steering wheel or the gas peddle." It borders on comical. I just silently watch for a while, then I ask a question: "Out of curiosity, what would you guys recommend to a client who's trying to lose weight?"
Suddenly there's immediate consensus. Everyone agrees the diet would be mostly protein and veggies, that weight training would be the dominant form of activity, and sleep and stress management are critical. Then I ask, "Why the higher protein? Why not carbohydrate? They're equal in calories. And why weights over cardio? Cardio would burn more calories. And why are we putting an emphasis on sleep and stress management? Neither has any calories."
And from there, the argument once again spirals out of control with the calorie counters taking their stance and the calorie deniers taking their stance. Damn shame. They missed my point.
Is a Calorie a Calorie?
Anyone that says calories don't matter has zero credibility. But anyone who claims calories are all that matter has even less credibility.
There are two things required for sustained, lasting fat loss: a calorie deficit and a balanced metabolism. Anyone can lose weight for a time, but done the wrong way and you risk gaining all the weight back, just like 95% of all dieters do. And you're likely to gain even more fat than you started with. This occurs in 66% of dieters.
But why? Most people think the metabolism works like this:
Cut calories → Lose weight → Have a balanced metabolism
It actually works like this:
Get a balanced metabolism → Naturally reduce calories → Lose weight effortlessly
Calories are a part of both equations; it's their degree of importance that's different. To understand how this works you need to understand what I call the 3 Laws of Metabolism. They're really just general guidelines, but I call them laws because of their central importance to understanding metabolism.
The Law of Metabolic Compensation
If you eat less and exercise more you'll easily create a calorie deficit, but you'll also create an unbalanced metabolism. This is one of the most well understood and least controversial aspects of weight loss research. Eat less and you get hungry. Exercise more and you get hungry and develop cravings. Do both to the extreme and your motivation goes out the window and your energy is sapped.
Another thing that happens is your metabolism slows down. In weight loss research this is called adaptive thermogenesis, and it's highly variable from one person to the next. Research suggests this metabolic slow down averages about 300 calories, but can be as a high as 500 to 800 in some and very low in others. This isn't just a result of loss of body mass. A person who weighs 180 pounds who diets to get there burns 300 calories less on average per day compared to a person of the same weight who did not diet.
Let's say you come to me at my clinic and ask me to help you lose fat. I take a purely caloric approach and tell you we need to cut your daily calorie intake by 500 calories per day through some combination of eating less and exercising more. You follow my directions and, for the first few weeks, are losing weight.
Then the Law of Metabolic Compensation kicks in. You start feeling hungry all the time. Your energy falls and becomes less predictable. You start getting late night cravings for salty, fatty and sugary stuff. But you have an iron will, so you suck it up. But now adaptive thermogenesis kicks in. And let's say you're one of those people that's highly adaptive so your metabolism slows things down by about 500 to 800 calories per day.
Now you not only stop losing weight, but you may even start gaining it. Not to mention you're perfectly primed to go on a three-month eating orgy because your metabolism is making you crave and desire salty, fatty and sugary foods rich in calories.
At this point you have a few choices. You can double down on your efforts and make things worse. You could just give up and go back to eating normally, which will cause you to blow up like a helium balloon. Or you can try to do things a little more intelligently by trying to balance your metabolism first.
Balance the Metabolism by Assessing HEC
Hopefully you can see why taking a "calories first approach" can get some people in trouble. It's easy to see the appeal. Calories are easy because you can count them. And when you cut calories you usually will see some short-term benefit. The initial results are alluring and keep many dieters stuck.
You can think of this like a metabolic credit card. You get some benefit in the short-run, but there are long-term penalties to pay later. Hunger, energy, and cravings (HEC or what I call "heck") is your key to understanding your metabolism and working with, rather than against it.
If your HEC is in check then you can be pretty sure your metabolic system is balanced. And when it is, you're more likely to achieve a calorie deficit without even trying. So it's not about throwing calories out the window; it's about balancing the metabolism first, then attending to calories if required.
Certain calories impact HEC differently. The differences between a doughnut and a chicken breast makes this point nicely. Both have 250 calories, but which is going to make it more likely that HEC stays in check? And yes, reliable intervention trials in humans have shown substituting equal calories of carbohydrate with protein leads to greater weight loss, more fat loss, greater muscle maintenance, and less chance of weight regain.
Now, I'm not the type to throw a whole bunch of obscure science references at you that vaguely support what I'm saying. I'm going to provide you with one very good one, from a highly respected journal and one that will get you up to speed on the Law of Metabolic Compensation quickly. It validates pretty much all of what I just said. Check it out here.
Another part of metabolic compensation is the way calorie combinations impact HEC. One emerging understanding is the way the combination of sugar, fat, and salt (the so-called fast food diet) short circuits your appetite centers. Research in animals is showing that these food combinations not only increase food consumption at the current meal, but also cause increased cravings for the same calorie-rich foods at future meals.
So that 250 calorie doughnut not only makes you want to eat more doughnuts now, but also crave more doughnuts later. There's no reason to suggest this isn't the case in humans. This may explain the frequent finding in my clinic of patients who engage in "cheat meals" who then find themselves on a cheat week, unable to regulate their hunger, energy, and cravings.
The Law Of Metabolic Multitasking
The body is not a good multitasker. It likes to be either burning or building, but not both. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but the two big ones are beginners and those using anabolic hormones.
Another name for this law is the Law of Metabolic Demand. The body responds to what you subject it to. This is another major insight to the calorie argument. The idea that calorie excess always leads to fat gain and calorie reduction always leads to fat loss is not accurate. You can reduce calories and lose weight, but that weight may or may not be mostly body fat.
Research tells us the standard "eat less, exercise more" approach to dieting leads to about 20-50% loss of lean tissue (water, glycogen, muscle). That's important because metabolic rate (BMR) accounts for over two-thirds of calories burned at rest and more than half of BMR is determined by your muscle mass.
So you can be increasing calories and gaining weight, but that weight may or may not be fat. You could instead be gaining lean tissue (water, glycogen, muscle) and if you do, you're doing your metabolism a favor. The demands you place on your body will determine whether excess calories become fat or muscle and whether reductions in calories will result in fat or muscle loss.
This is why all those experts agreed that weight training should be the dominant form of activity in fat loss programs. It's the only type of movement that can funnel extra calories into muscle gain versus fat. But it's not a high calorie burning form of exercise.
There's a study to illustrate the point. It was published in the April 1999 Journal of the American College of Nutrition and looked at two groups of obese subjects put on identical very low calorie diets. One group was assigned an aerobic exercise protocol (walking, biking, or jogging four times per week). The other group was assigned resistance training three times per week and did no aerobic exercise.
After 12 weeks, both groups lost weight. The aerobic group lost 37 pounds, 27 of which was fat and 10 of which was muscle. The resistance-training group lost 32 pounds, and 32 pounds were fat, 0 was muscle. When resting metabolic rate was calculated after the study, the aerobic group was burning 210 fewer calories daily. In contrast, the resistance-training group had increased their metabolism by 63 calories per day.
What you do has a direct impact on whether a calorie is a calorie. You can't separate calories from lifestyle.
The Law of Metabolic Efficiency
There's no such thing as a perfectly efficient engine, and the human body is no exception. This is the second law of thermodynamics at work. As an aside, many quote the first law of thermodynamics to prove "a calorie is a calorie." Truth is, the first law doesn't apply to open systems like humans. The second law does however.
Here's an oversimplified example to make the overall point: Diesel gas versus regular unleaded. Each has a different efficiency. Put the diesel in your car and you'll get better gas mileage. It more efficiently converts its energy into movement and less is lost as heat. Regular unleaded will give you less gas mileage. More energy is lost as heat.
Protein is like unleaded gasoline – more of its energy gets lost as heat. Carbs are more like diesel – less gets converted to heat. And fat? It's the most efficient of the macronutrients.
Both carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram, but your body will capture less of those calories when you're burning protein versus carbs. And yes, this has been studied. Substitute equal protein in place of carbs and you'll see body heat go up and more weight loss.
Protein is not only less efficient and more thermogenic, it's more satiating too. And it's more likely to result in muscle mass maintenance in a low calorie state. This means it's one of the best tools we have to control all three laws. So is 4 calories of protein the same as 4 calories of carbs? No!
POPs and Bugs
This discussion wouldn't be complete without discussing two other aspects of metabolism that impact efficiency: POPs and bugs. POPs is an acronym for persistent organic pollutants. These things come from the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. They accumulate in our bodies and are stored in fat.
When we lose weight they're released from our fat and make our metabolism more efficient at storing fuel. (Remember, for weight loss you want a less efficient engine, one that puts out a lot of heat.) They do this because they short-circuit our metabolic hormones, especially thyroid. These compounds have been shown to be more correlated with weight regain than even the master hormone leptin. They are a very big deal.
This calls into question the wisdom of paying zero attention to food quality. The quality of food you eat can directly affect the future efficiency of your metabolism. These compounds bioaccumulate in the fat of animals we eat. Lower fat diets and organic animals may play a role in future fat loss attempts.
And then there's the "bug" issue. "Bugs" is a term we use in the functional medicine world to describe the bacteria populations living in our gut (aka probiotics). You have more bacteria inhabiting your digestive tract than you have cells in your body. Research has now shown certain bacterial colonies impact the efficiency at which we digest and absorb calories.
You can think of these bacteria like an annoying friend who keeps stealing french fries off your plate. They subtract from your calorie intake, because they soak up the energy first. This is a very exciting area of research. One 12-week study showed significant weight loss (2 pounds) and waist reduction (more than half an inch) from just adding a probiotic supplement. Not bad results for doing nothing but swallowing a bit of bacteria each day.
The Right Questions
So the question "is a calorie a calorie" is not the correct question. The right question is, how important are calories in the short and long-term fat loss equation? And what other factors are influencing how calories are used and stored? If we want to work with our metabolism instead of against it we need to understand quantity and quality are inseparable and linked.
Dr. Teta, J. (2014 February 26). A Calorie Is Sometimes Not A Calorie
Retrieved from http://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/a-calorie-is-sometimes-not-a-calorie/
The squat probably gets more of a bad rap than any other strength training movement, especially the barbell back squat. Many people choose the leg press machine instead, blaming the squat on their knee or low back injuries. Others will only perform partial squats, fearing injury if they go too deep. Avoiding injury is always good, but avoiding the squat is like refusing to walk because you’ve seen other people trip and fall on the sidewalk. Millions of professional and amateur athletes around the world somehow manage to squat regularly without hurting themselves.
The fact that a properly performed squat is inherently safe has been presented many, many times by others who are much more qualified than I am. In spite of this, the misconceptions persist, so I believe that the available evidence bears repeating. This article will deconstruct what may be the three most common squatting myths: Squatting below parallel is bad for your knees, your knees should never go past your toes and squatting is bad for your back. I will also present two very basic guidelines that should keep just about anyone injury-free when squatting.
Myth #1: Squatting below parallel is bad for your knees
Despite the ability of the knee joint to provide an average of 140 degrees of flexion, the idea has been promoted that knee flexion should be limited to 90 degrees during a squat. This myth can be traced back, at least in part, to a single study published in 1961 by Dr. Karl Klein at the University of Texas. Dr. Klein determined that a group of competitive weightlifters displayed greater laxity at the knee joint than a group of non-lifters, and issued a blanket recommendation against squatting below parallel. The study was of very low quality, though, and Dr. Klein was seeking to validate his bias against squatting below parallel. Somehow, this erroneous belief was adopted by the general population and has remained standard dogma ever since, even though it’s been disproven many times over.
Powerlifters squatting double their body weight, to depths of 130 degrees of knee flexion, have been shown in studies to have more stable knee joints than individuals who do not squat. In fact, separate studies have revealed that the knees of those who regularly squat deep are more stable than distance runners and basketball players! In one study of female volleyball players, researchers concluded that there was no statistically significant increase in peak forces at the knee when squatting to depths of 70, 90, and 110 degrees of knee flexion. Yet another study showed that forces on the ACL are reduced as the knee is flexed beyond 60 degrees, and forces on the PCL are reduced as the knee flexes past 120 degrees. Still further studies show that powerlifters who are squatting over twice their body weight experience shearing forces on the knee that approximate only 25% of the maximal tensile strength of the ACL, and 50% of the maximum strength of the PCL.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean that just anyone should attempt to squat with a load equaling twice their body weight on their back. While those feats clearly demonstrate what the human knee is capable of, the important point is that forces on the knee are actually reduced as squatting depth progresses beyond parallel. How deep should you go, then? Well, once you are able to drop below parallel, meaning that the crease at the top of your hips is below the top of your knees, then you should only squat as deep as you can without losing form. If your lower back starts to round, that’s your stopping point. And if you can’t squat below parallel without rounding your lower back, then don’t increase the resistance until you can. It’s also worth mentioning that you should utilize a stance that allows you to squat between your legs and not on top of them, because pressing the hips directly against the calves under a heavy load can create a dislocating effect on the knee.
Squatting below parallel has the additional benefit of significantly increased activation of the gluteal muscles. The deeper you squat, the greater the glute activation. Whether you’re seeking to improve your performance or your appearance, you’re not doing yourself any favors by leaving the glutes out of the picture.
Myth #2: Your knees should never go past your toes
This one is about as mythical as you can get, as it’s hard to find much information at all regarding it’s origin. Search online and what you will find are numerous references to one study from 1978 at Duke University which found that keeping the lower leg as vertical as possible reduced shearing forces on the knee. I wasn’t able to find the actual paper and there’s no available explanation I’m aware of as to why those researchers believed the knee was incapable of sustaining those forces, or how they performed their study. Whether this is the actual origin of the myth or not, an obscure study with zero supporting evidence is hardly any basis for providing any legitimate rules about squatting.
There was one study conducted in 2003 that essentially recreated this scenario by having experienced weight lifters squat under two conditions. First they squatted normally, allowing their knees to travel forward past their toes. Then, they repeated the movement while restricting forward movement of the knees beyond the toes. This reduced torque at the knee by about 22%, and it also increased torque at the hips by over 1000%. (What appears to be a disproportionate redistribution of forces can be explained by a change in torso angle.) This shows that you can reduce torque at the knee by preventing them from going past the toes, but it doesn’t prove that this is necessary. Interestingly, it appears that letting the knees travel past the toes was part of the “normal” method of squatting for those experienced lifters, and the prevention of forward movement of the knees was accomplished by artificial means. In either case, the volunteers in the study seemed to be fully capable of handling the load without incident or injury.
This shouldn’t be surprising, because your knees go past your toes all the time when you run, jump, walk, sit down, and stand up. This is made possible in part by the natural dorsiflexion range of motion at the ankle. Furthermore, when your knee is flexed, some tension is removed from the gastrocnemius muscle at the knee joint. This allows the ankle to dorsiflex through a greater range of motion than when the knee is fully extended, and permits movement of the knee over and past the toes. Why, all of a sudden, will your knees get blown out if they go past your toes during a squat? It’s amazing how our bodies work but it’s a shame that some people remain so unaware of its capabilities.
The actual distance your knees will travel is dependent upon which type of squat you’re doing, as well as your body proportions. Are you doing front squats? Your knees are definitely going over your toes, no matter what. If they don’t, you’re doing them wrong. Do you have long femurs? Your knees will go further over your toes than an individual with shorter femurs, regardless of which type of squat you do. Are you doing split squats? In that case, your front knee may not go beyond the toes at all, but your back knee will travel well past the toes on that respective leg. Are you doing a back squat? As long as you push your hips back into the squat appropriately, and stay balanced on your midfoot throughout the movement, it doesn’t matter where your knees end up. Let them travel as far forward as they need to.
Myth #3: Squats are bad for your back
This is like saying food makes you fat. The idea that squats will hurt your back gets perpetuated by people who perform squats incorrectly, and sometimes by woefully misinformed professionals who claim to know what they are talking about. A recent article posted on Journal Sentinal Online titled, in part, “Squat lifts likely cause of stress fractures in young athletes” claims that performing squats with good form puts the spine at risk of injury, based on a new study. The main problem with the study they reference is that the researchers don’t know how to properly perform a squat. The pars fracture cited as the predominant injury risk is typically an overuse injury involving hyperextension of the spine, and the increase in “sacral slope” they measured is another indication of hyperextension.
By contrast, the goal in any squat should be to maintain a neutral spine. If there is hyperextension of the spine, then the squat is not being performed correctly. Furthermore, as the weight gets heavy in a squat, the challenge is to resist excessive spinal flexion, not extension. It’s much more common to observe a lifter who is rounding their back when squatting, even when lighter loads are being used. This error can easily be corrected by learning proper form and using a manageable resistance. That study and related article fail on such a massive scale, yet the faulty arguments still have the potential to exert undue influence on the general public for many years to come.
Other concerns focus on spinal compression in the squat, and again with the back squat usually being singled out. Some individuals will assert that placing a load on the back is an unnatural movement that should be avoided. The truth is, the human spine is very capable of handling compressive forces. The trick is to load the spine without creating excessive shear, which can be accomplished by keeping the torso as upright as possible (and practical, considering which squatting variation is being used), as well as by keeping the spine in neutral. The ability to maintain an erect torso with a neutral spine will be the limiting factor in the squat for most people. This need not be interpreted as a reason to avoid the squat, though. It simply requires that more attention be given to proper form instead of the amount of weight being lifted. If squats hurt your back and you haven’t had a recent injury or chronic pain issue, then you need to fix your squat. My suggestion is to seek advice from someone who knows how to squat!
Safe squatting and mythbusting basics
Can I promise that no one will ever get hurt doing squats? Well, no, there are no absolute guarantees, and freak accidents do happen. Even the idea that you won’t get hurt if you’re bigger and stronger sounds nice in theory, but in reality it’s impossible to predict and/or protect against all injuries. You can be sure, however, that when you squat correctly, your chance of injury will be very, very slim. Properly supervised weight training has been shown to have an extremely low risk of injury, lower than soccer, rugby, basketball, football, gymnastics, tennis, and even badminton. This may seem surprising or even hard to believe, especially if you’ve gotten hurt while lifting weights, but it makes sense if you understand that weight training can and should be performed in a much more controlled environment, absent the chaos and unpredictability inherent to many sports. Weight lifting injuries can be avoided 99.99% of the time.
There are two basic tips that will help you squat safely and I’ve already referred to them in this article. The first is to squat with proper form, simple as that. Admittedly, the squat can be a tricky movement to master, especially the back squat. How do you know if your form is good? The video in my previous post about Hip Drive should give you a good idea of how a squat should look, comparing three different squat variations. If anything hurts when you squat or the movement feels awkward or imbalanced, those are good indications that you’re doing something wrong or using too much weight. And very importantly, if your lower back is rounding at the bottom of your squat, that is an issue that needs to be addressed before you start adding more weight. I explain how to do this in my post about maintaining a neutral spine in the squat. Take whatever time is necessary to learn proper form.
The second tip is to squat within your limits, adding resistance conservatively. This will allow your body to recover and adapt, a concept that is completely ignored when you read or hear about the supposed dangers of squatting. Amazingly, your body will adapt to the demands placed upon it, as long as you don’t exceed its current ability or its capacity for recovery. Usually, this is more of an issue with men, for whom its tempting to add 50, 75, or 100 lbs. at a time to the bar in an attempt to force progress or prove their masculinity. (Women typically go in the opposite direction, hesitating to add much weight at all out of an irrational fear of getting big and bulky and losing their femininity, another stubborn myth that has no basis in reality.) A good way to avoid this mentality is to approach each squatting session as an opportunity to practice the squat, rather than a chance to show off how much weight you can lift. That’s a bonus tip: keep your ego in check.
Squats are a skill like any other movement, and many of us have been out of practice for a long time. It can be difficult to learn (or re-learn) how to squat and labeling them as dangerous provides a convenient excuse for omitting them from a workout program. You don’t have to be that person who always looks for the easy way out! As long as you’re willing to make the effort required to learn how to squat correctly and patiently allow your body to adapt, you’ll be rewarded by making consistent progress with minimal injury risk. On a personal note, I’ve had numerous people over the years warn me that I was going to destroy my knees from deep squatting. Well, I’ve been squatting well below parallel for the last ten years and I’ve never had an injury. I’ve also never had a client who I couldn’t train to perform some variation of a deep squat, even those with previous back or knee injuries, or both. They squat with skill and confidence, undeterred by unsubstantiated myths, and you can too.
Sabo, B. (2012 February 09). 3 Squatting Myths That Refuse to Die.
Retrieved from http://www.biomechfit.com/2012/02/09/3-squatting-myths-that-refuse-to-die/