Monday, October 25, 2010

Destination: Abs.

As some of you who are friends with me on facebook know, I've been doing a lean down most of this year, I'm going to put up my journey thus far for you guys to see what I did.

This is what I used to be, this was my biggest and fattest. So many guys in the gym think this is what bodybuilding is. I got so offended when 80kg "nothings" would just call me a fat guy. "I can deadlift 205kgs for reps", "I can squat 220kgs" were my defenses. .so what!! I ended up being more like a powerlifter, and a weak one at that, than any kind of bodybuilder. Eating crap and lifting heavy? Yeh that's bodybuilding in the 60's. I was about 110kgs here with about 25% bf, this was about a year and a half ago. The problem was I followed bodybuilding magazine routines and bodybuilder diets forgetting one huge detail, I wasn't taking roids, so I couldn't keep all that muscle when it came time to diet! I remind myself this is how I looked whenever I get fed up with dieting and just want to be "big" again. Big isn't attractive, it's not "cool", women certainly don't enjoy it, and it scares most people, specially when you're fat and not musclular.
This is week 2 of the diet, my 1st week of training (after a holiday to America . .You can imagine how I looked after my body!). Training regime: Alternating set system. 15 Rep supersetting between upper body and lower body. 3 different superset groups in each workout (total of 6 exercises), done x3 per week. Body weight is 98.5kgs. High starchy carb breakfast and pre workout meal, protein and fribrous carbs for last meal of day.
Start of the 5th week Made a few bad choices regarding diet last week (icecream and almost only protein intake), think my metabolism died, so I'm recovering from that. Did my bodyfat % on the OMRON and I'm 17%, needless to say it's been a pretty shit week, starting to question why I'm doing it, you see people eating maccas, CARBS an not being too fat and then I'm sitting there with my 2nd fish meal for the day. . .eh over it! Particularly when you get numbers like 17%!!
Start of week 10- last week of Cosgroves Science of fat loss program. Going to have a week off training next week, then start basic circuits, probably do 2 phases of that then start strength training again. Bodyweight is 90.5kgs and bodyfat % has jus crept under 16% (on the OMRON, so take that as you will). Really should get someone to do skin folds soon . .
Start of week 11, my week off . . . No training beyond regeneration, mobility and flexibility this week. Happy with where I am and plan to be a little indulgent this week with the diet i.e eat carbs whenever I want, eat a little junk an not feel guilty. Spend this week getting my head back into it, having some time off so I can begin my next 12 weeks of gruelling horrible-ness :)
Still at 15% and 90.5kgs . . .Have knuckled down again this week, have started phase 2 of circuits/complexes and edt, with 30 minutes of HISS at the end of every workout now . . Just want some fat to start coming off those bottom abs dammit. This is about 17 weeks into dieting.
This is like week 22, I've been friggin shocking with my diet the last 2 weeks. I'm doing x4 rounds of 8 rep circuits with 40 min HISS after, x3 week plus a day of complexes (x3 sets of 10 reps x5 exercises) and 2 days of HIIT- 1 minute on, 1 minute off. Haven't tested weight and bf% for a few weeks, too afraid. 2 more weeks of this then I'm going to go into a superset, push/pull split x4 days per week with 1-2 interval days.
This is me as of the 25th/10/10. I've been doing a vertical push/vertical pull, horizontal push/horizontal pull (upper) on day 1 and quad dominant/hip dominant, abs/arms (lower) on day 2. I'm 3 weeks into my 12 week phase, have cut out the junk food, am sitting at around 94kgs, not sure the bf%, but it looks to be around 16-17% ish.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


It's come to my attention that I haven't been very clear on the carbohydrate issue, when dieting (as most of my clients are) I usually try to manipulate macronutrient intake to get the fastest fat loss possible (while being healthy). There some basic rules to fat loss via carb intake that I would recommend, as a basic primer, they are outlined below:
Cut starchy carbs out after 4pm.
Only ingest starchy carbs for breakfast and around your workout and fibrous carbs during the rest of the day.
Fibrous carbs only on non weight training days.
You can have starchy carbs post workout no matter what time of the day.
You can have protein and carbs at the same time.
You can have protein and fat at the same time.
You can't have carbs and fat at the same time.
Starchy carbs are things like:
Grains, beans, legumes, cereals (oats), pastas (brown/wholmeal), bread (brown/wholemeal), potatoes (preferably sweet).

Fibrous carbs are things like:
Fruits and vegetables- Asparagus, beans, broccoli, brussel spouts, chick peas, cucumbers, capsicum, salsa, spinach, lettuce, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, kiwi, orange, nectarine, peach, pear, plum, strawberries and watermelon.

Have the most amount of starchy carbs for breakfast and taper them off during the day. If you're going to have starchy carbs, try to fit some veggies in and make sure you have protein with every meal too. If you're progressing through a dieting training program then starchy carbs are the calories you want to reduce from in each phase, while making sure you keep meal frequency at about 4-6 small meals per day with about 30-50 grams of protein with every meal. Generally I will create a 12 week program broken down into x3, 4 week phases, I find it best to make reductions at the end of the 4th week of each phase when going in to the next one. The first phase will generally be about cutting out junk, I'm generally not too strict on the starchy to fibrous carb ratio in the 1st phase, if you're not drinking or eating junk I'm happy. Phase 2 is where it becomes critical to drop the calories, make sure you're eating 4-6 small meals a day, a heap of protein with every meal and are only having starchy carbs for breakfast and post workout (maybe a starchy carb meal pre workout is fine). Phase 3 is where it gets crazy, protein, protein, protein! By this point it'll be scrambled egg whites for breakfast, chicken and vegetables for preworkout meals, starchy carbs and protein for post-workout shake and chicken and vegetables for the last meal of the day. The only variance allowed are smoothies, they make great snacks and are a quick easy way to get more fruit, vegetables and protein in.

I've said it before guys, this is up to you, make small changes each week and before you know it you will be eating healthy, don't self sabotage with junk, have meals/smoothies prepared ahead of time so you don't succumb!
Low starchy carb/high protein meal- Scrambled eg whites, ham, spinach
High starchy carb/high protein meal- oats, skim milk, banana, egg whites
High fibrous carb/high protein meal- fish, broccoli, peas
High protein/fibrous carb meal, add brown rice to make high starch/fibrous meal- diced chicken breast, mixed vegetables
Ingredients for a smoothy
The finished product
Strength coach findings
Bowden J., 2010. High Protein Diet Myths. Retrieved 21/04/2011.

Poloquin C. The Advantages and Disadvantages of Low Carb Nutrition. Reterieved 21/04/2011.

Brinkworth G.D., Noakes M., Clifton P.M., Buckley J.D., (2009). Effects of a Low Carbohydrate Weight Loss Diet on Exercise Capacity and Tolerance in Obese Subjects. Obesity (Silver Spring).

Cook C.M., Haub MD., (2007). Low-carbohydrate diets and performance. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 6(4):225-9.

Koutsari C., Sidossis L.S., (2003). Effect of isoenergetic low- and high-carbohydrate diets on substrate kinetics and oxidation in healthy men. British Journal of Nutrition. 90(2):413-8.

Manninen A.H., (2004).Metabolic effects of the very-low-carbohydrate diets: misunderstood "villains" of human metabolism. Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine. 31;1(2):7-11.
Stiegler P., Cunliffe A., (2006). The role of diet and exercise for the maintenance of fat-free mass and resting metabolic rate during weight loss. Sports Medicine. 36(3):239-62.

Roberts R., Bickerton A.S., Fielding B.A., Blaak E.E., Wagenmakers A.J., Chong M.F., Gilbert M., Karpe F., Frayn K.N., (2008). Reduced oxidation of dietary fat after a short term high-carbohydrate diet. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 87(4):824-31.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Neverending Debate- Distance Running Versus HIIT.

I think I need to state at the outset, when I discuss distance running/steady state/aerobic work I'm talking in terms of what is most effective for fat loss. I'm also not making an absolute statement about the nature of reality, I'm taking a polar position expressed essentially by hyperbole to attempt to change the paradigm. As Michael Boyle states:
"Luckily, Canadian researcher and sport scientist Martin Gibala has come to the rescue. Gibala, an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Canada published a study in the September issue of the Journal of Physiology comparing interval training and steady state training or long slow distance. The study, although conducted over only a two week period (emphasis added), looked at a twenty minute interval program versus steady state work ranging from ninety to one hundred and twenty minutes. The interval work consisted of thirty second sprints followed by four minutes of slow pedaling. This would amount to two to two and half minutes of high intensity work during a twenty minute session as compared to 90-120 minutes in the “heartrate zone” for the distance group. Gee, which would I want if both were equal?
The conclusion was that both methods showed roughly the same improvement in the chosen marker of oxygen utilization. Yes, the same. Do the math. Each group worked out three times a week.  The interval group exercised for a total elapsed time of one hour per week with six to seven and a half minutes of intense exercise contained in that hour. The steady state group exercised for between four and a half and six hours a week yet the aerobic benefits were the same (emphasis added)?" (Boyles 2008)

Distance running has it's merits, and it's places, but should not be used as the primary tool in a fat loss program (I say that with the caveat: for uninjured individuals with a base level of fitness). If you train for a marathon, or some other sport that requires aerobic endurance then obviously you need to do distance running (as well as HIIT as it increases VO2max better). I'm not saying you can't do distance running I'm just saying that you shouldn't (for fat loss), and that stance is based on evidence: from strength and conditioning coaches, studies and anecdote. When I talk of running I'm talking in terms of distance, when I talk of say, sprinting? I'm talking about speed. By its definition you can't sprint long enough to get into distance training so I support sprints. I might, however,  get my clients to do sprints on soft surfaces or cardio equipment but I don't mind them doing them on the ground, it's the distance and the low intensity, steady state nature of distance running that I don't like.

I've been a fairly big proponent of HIIT for a while now, through demonstration and evidence I put credence in Alwyn Cosgrove's "Hierarchy of fat loss" as being pretty accurate in it's listing of methods that result in some of the best fat loss protocols we have discovered thus far. There is enough evidence to support this as valid for the time being, but even if you don't agree, look at it logically:  Running is ineffective for fat loss, causes injuries and has long training sessions.  HIIT causes relatively no injuries, has short/convinient training sessions and superior fat loss results, you really do have to ask what argument are proponents of running for fat loss really trying to make? We should pick a method backed by evidence as inferior? We should promote a method of fat loss that causes injury? Or that we should back a fat loss strategy that requires large quantities of training time per session that cuts into other dail activies? Any one of these arguments on their own would be reason enough to avoid distance running. As Michael Boyle again states:
"Here is the problem as Diane Lee so eloquently put it. Running is a poor choice for most people. I often talk about the group of people I like to call the “speed limpers”. They are the men and women you often drive by on the road that are running with a visible limp. Usually they have a knee sleeve of some kind on. When you ask them about their problem they will almost always reply “ it loosens up after a while and then I ice and take some Advil after”. What a lousy idea. Guess what, good exercise should make you tired but, shouldn’t hurt your joints (emphasis added). The discomfort should be limited to the muscles and should go away almost immediately after you are done. In my opinion running is only good for doctors and physical therapists. We have an entire cottage industry built up to take care of the injuries caused by running.

The reality is that most people are not made to run. More importantly, they are particularly not made to run long distances (emphasis added). Until the Cooper led aerobics craze of the seventies many of us didn’t know what a plantar fascia, iliotibial band or patella-femoral joint was. Most of us in the industry do now. We know because these are just a few of the litany of sites of injury afflicting runners.

More bad news. Running is even worse for women. Women runners seem to to sustain more running related injuries than men." (Boyle 2010)
For some reason people get married to the idea of running, they think if they don't do it, they'll get fat, when just the opposite is true. I'm not sure why I have to keep hammering home this point and why all for it, why wouldn't I be? I think it's the fitness industries classic reluctance to change. The sad thing is I've been arguing with people for years about it now, with clients, trainers, fitness enthusiasts alike. Hell,  even at university it was endurance training as the only option, VO2max test this, astrand rhyming test that.

Here are some general principles to consider with running and fat lass.

Alwyn Cosgroves hierarchy of fat loss:
1. Metabolic resistance training.
2. High intensity anaerobic interval training.
3. High intensity aerobic interval training.
4. High intensity steady state.
5. Low intensity steady state.

Charles Poliquins 6 reasons NOT to do aerobic training:
1.  Continuous aerobic work plateaus after 8 weeks of training so anything more is counterproductive.

2.  Aerobic training worsens power locally and systemically – in other words, it can make you slower.

3.  Aerobic training increases oxidative stress which can accelerate aging.
4.  Aerobic training increases adrenal stress which can make you fatter and produce other undesirable health consequences.
5.  Aerobic training increases body fat in stressed individuals by contributing additional stress.

6.  Aerobic training worsens testosterone/cortisol ratio which impedes your ability to add fat burning lean muscle.

As Keith Alpert finishes up:
"The Power of Interval Training
The way for individuals to raise the intensity of their training is to do "Interval Training." Interval Training alternates bouts of high-intensity exercise with that of low to moderate-intensity exercise. Recent studies have shown that Interval Training is more effective for fat loss while improving both Aerobic and Anaerobic fitness
(emphasis added).
Tabata et al. (1) compared a 70% of VO2 max moderate intensity group (MIG) vs. a high intensity interval group (HIIT). The MIG group did increase their VO2 max by about 10% without a concurrent improvement in anaerobic capacity. The HIIT group improved their VO2 max by 14% and their anaerobic capacity by 28%. The HIIT group actually improved both anaerobic and aerobic capacity at the same time!
Tremblay et al. (2) compared a sprint ergometer group versus an aerobic group. Despite burning 50% less calories, the sprint group lost three times more fat than the aerobic group (emphasis added)." (Alpert)
I hope I've met your burden of proof regarding this situation, this blog is making a cumulative case against running, when you put all the information in this post, with the rest of the blog, I hope my point is clear. If it's not, let me restate: distance running for fat loss is inferior to other methods! But I'm appreciative of correction.

I refer you to this post for a list of references that support my positions in this blog.

Alpert K., Getting Maximum Results Part II - Alternatives to Aerobics. Alternative Exercise Strategies to Help You Break Through a Plateau.

Boyle M., (2008). Death to Long Slow Distance.

Boyle M., (2010). You Can’t Run to Get Fit, You Need to Be Fit to Run.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Trainers Expectations.

As your trainer, what do I expect from you? What do I need from you for you to achieve your goals?

I need you to commit to the program, to express concerns, to stay on top of your diet, to communicate with me (email, in person, this blog, text message) and I need you to put in the effort. I offer every client a program, I offer diet help, encouragement and advice. I'm not perfect, or a perfect trainer, but the best way we can achieve results together is by communication (mostly I mean you listen to me as if I possessed the word of god, just joking, though not really). I can only give you your programs, teach you how to use them and be there to answer questions and guide you, you actually have to make it to the gym to lift the weights and thrash the cardio equipment.

I've stated previously that my programs are of a very intense nature, I only have 30 minutes to work you, once a week in a lot of cases, which means I need to ramp up your metabolism. How do I do this? Metabolic resistance training and High Intensity Interval Training! The downside to this style of training as mentioned in previous posts is, it's hard. You do, however sacrifice training time for intensity.

As Charles Poloquin states:
"Rather than establishing rest intervals between sets, a circuit combines several exercises, usually about 10, so that no two muscles are worked at the same time. The idea is that the workouts are faster and also produce greater aerobic benefits (emphasis added). It’s also a time saver. Whereas the 30 sets that the Olympic lifter performed with station training would take about two hours, 30 sets of a circuit training workout could be completed in 45 minutes." (Poliquin)
Due to how little I see you it is extremely import you either buy more sessions with me, or make sure you come in to your allotted training sessions. I hear a million excuses a day from clients and to be honest I get sick of hearing it. I understand not every client is as committed as me to training, but why are you spending money on personal training, if you're going to waste your, and my time? Why did you join up with the gym in the first place? Is it just to throw some money at a problem and get no results? Or is it to utilise a service to help you achieve that which you might have otherwise been unable. If the latter is the case, and I sincerely hope it is with all of you, then utilise me and my knowledge, it's what I'm here for.

I have plenty of clients who don't listen to me, who like to run, like to walk for long distances,  like to eat starchy carb meals at night, like to skip meals, like to drink alcohol, don't like writing down what they eat, don't like sticking to diets (or making dietary changes), don't like lifting heavy, don't like training hard etc. And you know what? These are the very same people who turn up with injuries, complain they're not getting results,  have no motivation, skip sessions and are physically weak. I'm willing to concede it is my failure as a trainer, at least in part, perhaps I need to learn more about psychology/physiology , perhaps I'm not communicating my ideas effectively, perhaps I'm failing you, I'm certainly honest enough to concede that fact. That's where you need to get my ass in line, that's where I'm accountable to you. After all, you pay me for a service, if I'm not getting you the results you desire, you're well within your rights to bust me. I will generally listen to training concerns, will adapt programs to valid, justifiable concerns a client has, I have a very big tool box, feel free to dig through it (this doesn't sound right for some reason.).

As Dave Tate states:
In short: Training has never changed my life because it is a part of who I am.
In fact, I almost saw the weight room as the cause of keeping me from dealing with the things I avoided and, in some ways, this may have been true. What I was to learn, however, was that the gym was not an escape from things, but actually an entrance into the world of reality as I knew it.
It was the place where I could find inspiration and motivation, where I have had to deal with some of life's biggest challenges. And where I have had some of my best training workouts, business ideas and negotiations. In the weight room, I have forged powerful friendships, held therapy sessions, and made some outstanding breakthroughs toward achieving my goals.
To me, and to many others around the world, the weight room is not just a place to train, but rather a Zen-like temple — a place of symbolically higher ground where we bring our hopes, dreams, and aspirations (emphasis added). A place where we commit to grueling personal discipline and the continual challenge to improve ourselves: five more pounds on the bar, one more rep, another pound of muscle mass, another pound less body fat, more self-understanding. If we are serious, it is a way of life.
The weight room is a place where the trials never end. It is the place where we test ourselves continuously — we struggle to reach one goal, and, as soon as we reach it, there is another and more difficult one to meet (emphasis added). (Tate 2010)
I need to know why you're training, why you're in the gym, but most importantly, you need to know these things and you need to be willing to defer to my ruling. If I tell you running is bad, drinking is bad, missing sessions is bad etc you need to listen, I back up these claims on the blog. You can talk to me, rationalise your choices and see if I agree, if I don't? You might need to consider I know what I'm talking about, it's why I have this blog, it's a written testimony of my knowledge, it provides scientific examples that justify my position. Sometimes you will convince me, or at the very least I can give you strategies to help you customise activities I don't agree with, so you don't get injured and so you can still get results.

In Conclusion
The point is, as I summarise, I care about the results you get, I don't want you spending 1 dollar more than you have to, I want you to achieve what you set out to, so help me do that. Communicate, listen and most importantly come in to every training session pumped up and ready to break something! As they say "train hard or get out of my way!"

Tate D., (2010). How Weight Training Saved My Life. Retrieved 22/04/2011.

Poloquin C., Poliquin 101: Circuit Training and Superset.The evolution of a training revolution. Retrieved 22/04/2011.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Unilateral vs Bilateral Leg Training.

When I first started training, as so many young guys do, I read the muscle mags, I did exactly the kind of training that was in there. Bilateral movements, machines, isolation, steady state cardio, were commonplace in my workout routines for years. Then I started reading from different sources, from strength coaches such as Michael Boyle, Alwyn Cosgrove, Eric Cressey and Gray Cook, I started to learn there are more efficient, productive and healthier ways to get the physical dimensions I desired. Now, having said that, I did do what Cosgrove calls "an over-reaction in the short term, an under-reaction in the long term" with these ideas, I dropped most bilateral movements, all machines, all isolation and all steady state. As Nate Miyaki states:
Most strength trainers, or anyone who's ever taken a physiology class, have heard the ol' sprinter vs. marathon runner comparison a thousand times. You know the drill. Marathon runners that engage in primarily low intensity, aerobic activity are usually skinny-fat, jiggle when they wiggle, and are so injured and beat-up that they look like they've come straight out of a Resident Evil movie. Sprinters that engage in primarily high intensity, anaerobic work are generally more lean and muscular.
It's amazing to me how many intelligent people understand this on a conceptual level, but don't practically apply it within their training protocols. "Yeah, marathon runners are losers." Then that same allegedly intelligent person will go out and do cardio three times a day to try and reach low single-digit body fat percentages.
No physique athlete has any business spending two hours on a stationary bike (emphasis added), unless there's a hot chick with a nice ass on the elliptical machine sweating in front of you. And even then, either man-up and make your move or go home and cry to your buddies about what could have been, but don't waste your time on a glorified coat rack.
The fittest "looking" people in the world, and the smartest coaches in the world -- the Testosterone crew, bodybuilders, figure girls, fitness models, etc. -- base their exercise programs around strength training. They all lift weights -- both the men and the women. Cardio may be a part of the plan, but it's not the foundation. Christian Thibaudeau didn't become The Beast (as an athlete or coach) on an elliptical machine. (emphasis added)

And on a side note, I would say most physique athletes do cardio out of tradition rather than necessity. Diet and strength training are what changes physical appearance. Cardio is supplemental at its very best. (Miyaki 2010)
That was about a year ago, since then I have tried playing around with what fits where and have largely discovered through my own training and my clients that the only thing I would fit back in are bilateral movements (2 legged). I like the conventional deadlift, sumo deadlift and the front squat, that's about it. When programming for my clients it's my responsibility to provide them with the best possible care I can, most of my clients come in tackling weight, strength, body fat and image issues, what they generally don't realise is that they are also dealing with flexibility, mobility and stability issues too.

It's my job when designing programs to tackle all of these issues, how do I best go about doing this? By designing programs that hit several birds with one stone and how do I do that? Largely by putting unilateral leg movements (single leg), all free weights, resistance as opposed to movements based training for the abs, HIIT over steady state and other functional exercises together that compile a "functional" program. What is meant by this buzz word "functional"? In this case it means a program that will help increase dynamic strength, drop body fat, increase stability and mobility (where applicable and possible) and most importantly do no harm! As Michael Boyle states:
[Gray]Cook's analysis of the body was a straightforward one. In his mind, the body is just a stack of joints. Each joint or series of joints has a specific function and is prone to specific, predictable levels of dysfunction. As a result, each joint has specific training needs. The table below looks at the body on a joint-by-joint basis from the bottom up:
The first thing you should notice as you read the above table is the joints simply alternate between the need for mobility and stability as we move up the chain. The ankle needs increased mobility, and the knee needs increased stability.
As we move up the body, it becomes apparent that the hip needs mobility. And so the process goes up the chain: a simple, alternating series of joints.
You're probably asking yourself, "What does this have to do with lifting?" Can it make me squat more? Yes, absolutely.
The basic fact is that over the past twenty years the average gym-goer has progressed from the bodybuilding approach of training by body part to a potentially more intelligent approach of training by movement pattern.(emphasis added)

In fact, in the sports world, the phrase "movements not muscles," has almost become an overused one and, frankly, that's progress. I think most good lifters have given up on the old chest-shoulder-triceps muscle mag thought process and moved forward to a push-pull-anterior chain- posterior chain thought process. (Boyle 2007)
Unilateral leg training is great for a plethora of reasons, for beginners simple split squats and walking lunges can help with proprioception, balance, glute activation and firing, reduce axial loading (spinal loading) and activate the core musculature while not putting too much awkward load on the person. In most cases a beginner can get away with less than 8kgs in each hand and still be very sore the next day, while similarly the strength gains are very practical and help the client to build a functional base level of strength, that we might progress to more traditional bilateral lifts.
The Split Squat
I have read some stuff that suggests bilateral before unilateral, which I would agree with in principle, but when you're working with a client for 30 mins to 1hr a week, you don't always have the time to work in the flexibility mobility training that is required for bilateral work. This way you can get them training right off the bat as you work on their length issues over the coming weeks. I would, however recommend a largely body weight approach to the first few sessions, due to the sheer volume of reps and the fact that single leg training is difficult enough as it is. There should be progressions from body weight split squats to body weight walking lunges, then weighted versions of both before moving onto the bulgarian split squat and the pistol squat.
The Bulgarian Split Squat
I think it is possible to build muscle efficiently with a either/or approach to bilateral/unilateral training, that being the case I'll go for single leg training for my clients, with some bilateral interspersed, in most cases. Single leg when extrapolated to the other leg actually ends up having you lift heavier loads with less physical stress and a greater metabolic demand which is great for clients.

The Pistol Squat, you may look like a dork, but it's great for knee stability and is a great indicator of lower body strength!

Boyle M., (2007). A Joint-by-Joint Approach to Training. Retrieved 22/04/2011.

Miyaki N., (2010). The Best Damn Cardio Article — Period. Retrieved 22/04/2011.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ab Training.

I'm pretty sure every person, every client I have is, at least in part, training for abs. We all want that lean stomach, we may all differ on the kind of definition we want around our abs, but we all agree a slender stomach is desirable. This is largely based on your diet and to a lesser extent training regime, nevertheless your abs, like the rest of your body still require stimulus to grow, but how do we do this without injuring the surrounding structures?

Anyone who trains with me knows I don't do the conventional core exercises, a lot of research (Stuart McGill et al) show nowadays that conventional ab training: crunches, situps, rotational movements (such as the russian twist) actually have a negative impact on the spine as well as shortening your Rectus (RA) Abdominis (conventionally known as the abs).

As Mike Robertson states on his blog:
The RA has three primary functions

The primary functions of your RA include:

-    Trunk flexion/Resisting Trunk Extension
-    Posterior Pelvic Tilt
-    Transmission of “hoop” stresses. (Robertson 2010)
Correct posture when training is essential, cues never involve a rounded back (thoracic kyphosis) as this puts the spine in a compromised position, it also reduces the scapulaes ability to get into appropriate positions which can lead to rotator cuff problems. When we do crunches/situps and back extensions (trunk flexion/extension) we are encouraging a posture that is detrimental, we need to spend a lot of time with clients correcting postures. Crunches shorten the length of the RA, it pulls down your ribs and by extension, shoulders further creating a rounded upper back. As Mike Robertson states:
Mike Boyle has a great analogy here – it’s like a credit card.  Bend a new credit card back and forth and, initially, it bounces back.  But if you continue to bend that card, you eventually start to see a white crack.  Continue to bend it back and forth, and over time that crack leads to a break.  Your spine is not much different. (Robertson 2010)
The RA (as well as the rest of the muscles of the core) is also designed to reduce movements around the lumbar spine (low back), it also transmits forces (from upper and lower body) as well as prevents movements. Core stabilisation training (planks, side planks, bridging) can help clients with low back pain as well as develop the core. As Mike Robertson states yet again:
Who needs crunches anyway?
Everybody and their mother can tell you that crunches train your “core.”  What they may or may not be able to tell you is that you’re training spinal flexion.

First, it’s important to note where you’re getting your movement; a true crunch where your lumbar spine doesn’t move focuses on spinal flexion through the thoracic spine, or upper back.

People will obviously tell you that crunches spare the spine and isolate the abs.  To an extent, they’re correct – when compared to a full range of motion sit-up, they probably are a superior option.

What people fail to discuss are the broader implications of performing a ton of crunches in their programming.  Just because they aren’t hurting your back doesn’t mean they’re a great exercise.

From a global perspective, I can’t tell you how many people I see with jacked up shoulders and necks.  Their postures often look the same – their head is carried in front of their body, their shoulders are slouched forward, etc. (Robertson 2010)
The point is when I program I am essentially designing ab programs that resist movement as opposed to promoting movement. The RA is innervated by the same nerve so you can't isolate upper or lower abs, instead we train for resistance rather than isolation. Ab rollouts/bodysaws, anti rotation presses, planks, all of these make up the bulk of my core routine as they are all exercises which train the abs to develop (hypertrophy) as well as training them in a way that is functionally accurate. That's part of the reason I also get my clients to lift heavy weights, aside from the fact that it has a raft of physiological benefits unrelated to the abs, it also causes the body to engage them in a stabilisation capacity, therefore developing them further.

Ab Rollouts- There are several progressions for this exercise, beginners should begin with a rollout on a fitball. The rollout, due to its eccentric loading can be quite strenuous on the abs, specifically the lower abs (even with a common innervation DOMS can still be felt in specific areas of the RA), hence we reduce the load by raising the torso.
The next progression once the client can do 10-15 reps on the fitball, we then move them onto the ab wheel, mostly ignored by myself and others as a gimmick product, the ab wheel is a great progression, from the fitballl.
If the client is well trained and can do 10-15 reps of the ab rollout, we then progress them to the valslide rollout. I couldn't actually find a picture for it, but below are the valslides, you use them on the carpet. Due to the torso being lower and the resistance of the carpet the exercise is more difficult.
Pallof/Anti-rotation press- This exercise can be done on the cable cross overs, progressions would follow along the lines of increasing the weight of the stack.
Plank/Side Plank- There seems to be some debate as to whether planks are great for hypertrophy for abs, to me it's irrelevant. Every client I get needs more stability around the trunk, they need to learn how to activate their glutes and the plank is a great beginner exercises to get them integrating the whole body into ab work.
Ab training is essential for better posture, strengthening the abs and if your bodyfat is low enough developing some additional definition. As explained above, the abs are primarily designed to resist movement, as such we train them accordingly. Exercises like crunches/situps/back extensions should be a thing of the past, there are enough progressions within the several exercises above to develop the abs functionally. 

Robertson M., (2010). Understanding Your Abs. Retrieved 22/04/2011.

Robertson M., (2010). Understanding Your Abs.Part 2. Retrieved 22/04/2011.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Getting Big.

I've put up very little on principles of getting big (muscular), because honestly, I think I have like one client who is actually trying to build muscle exclusively. As such I've stayed away from writing about it as your average fat loss client doesn't need to be concerned with it. I didn't want to start putting up building programs and tips for fear of someone who reads this thinking they can combine the best elements of a fat loss and muscle building program to create the perfect program, as Michael Boyle would say "stick to the recipe".

Over the years I've experimented with what works for me, while trying to follow the literature, I would advise the same of anyone who wants to get big. One piece of advise I can give that I have fallen prey to is: don't get married to any program, as Poloquin is fond of saying everything works, not everything works forever. Or as Adam Bornstein writes:
 Are you sick and tired of lifting the same weight, day after day, week after week? Then, do something about it. Most men create their own plateaus by not pushing themselves to work harder. They settle on using the same weight, doing the same number of sets and reps. Or, even worse, they stick to the same workout they’ve been doing for the last 10 years (emphasis added). Even Mel Gibson was popular 10 years ago. Times have changed, and so should your workout and your attitude. You need to progressively challenge your body to work harder. That might mean taking a step backwards, and learning how to do exercises correctly. For instance, if you squat and your upper thighs don’t at least reach parallel, you have some work to do. If you’re doing the bench press and only lower the weights 4 inches before pressing back up, well, that’s not really a bench press. Sometimes, the smallest changes can lead to the biggest results. That is, if you’re man enough to swallow your pride and focus on simply becoming better. In some way, you should improve each workout. That’s the goal. Keep that in mind, and you will make changes. Just be patient and realistic with yourself. You might not look like a MH cover model (or not yet, at least), but that’s not a reason to become frustrated and just go through the motions. (Bornstein 2010)
Variation, volume and intensity are important factors in hypertrophy training, and the type of program you follow is dependant on your training age. What is that you ask? Well you may not be asking . .but it's my blog I can say what I want! Training age refers to how long you've been praying to the god made of iron (lifting weights), for beginners I would normally recommend some kind of full body program, that's what I put my clients on. Variation between microcycles (weekly) and mesocycles (monthly) will be alright as long as your macrocycle (yearly) plan is geared ultimately toward muscle gain. You can have weeks where you attack volume or intensity exclusively which will mix it up, keep you motivated and help produce muscle mass. Too much volume too soon can lead to some nasty contraindication such as rhabdomyolosis, those silly crossfit kids may think that's a good thing, but I'm here to tell you, as it's life threatening, it really isn't! A full body circuit style program has all compound movements, which allows for nervous system adaptation, creates a positive hormonal situation and is a nice "easy" way to move into the world of lifting heavy things.

After an initial 12 week phase of circuit training I would move the beginner onto something like superset style training, I personally prefer this style of muscle building training for almost anyone. I think, although the paradigm is shifting, that a lot of lifters are still largely influenced by powerlifting/old school bodybuilding training, what do I mean by this? Long rest breaks, no supersetting, 1 bodypart per day, things of this nature.
As Adam Bernstein states:
 Want to crank up your metabolism? Then don’t become part of this trend: 94 percent of all men rest for more than 5 minutes between sets, while chatting with friends or watching SportsCenter, says researchers from Adam Bornstein’s School of the Brilliant.
You’d think I was kidding, but walk into any gym and the fake stat is fairly accurate. If you want to lose your gut, it takes hard work and a lot of sweat. That means shorter rest periods. How short? Anywhere from 10 seconds to 60 seconds, but no longer. Do more work in less time, and you’ll be surprised how much you’ll change your appearance (emphasis added). (Bornstein 2010)  
Nowadays, even traditional hypertrophy guys like Poloquin are still moving to superset training, Alwyn Cosgrove, Tom Venuto, Michael Boyle, a lot of people, and a lot of the research is moving toward a higher intensity apporach. What do I mean by higher intensity training? Short rest breaks, multiple exercises back to back, shorter workouts, more huffing and puffing. I like upper body/lower body splits broken up into agonist/antagonist pairings for building programs, for example, horizontal push/horizontal pull, vertical push/vertical pull, this allows both muscle groups some rest and allows you lift as much weight as possible, while creating a metabolic demand. I would suggest doing superset pairings based on movements as opposed to training purely by muscles, it may not be a necessarily entirely functional/perfect approach, but it works and I don't think it'll overload any motor patterns too much. Again as Adam Bernstein states:
Unless you’re a bodybuilder or, well, a bodybuilder, there’s really no reason to do a body part split (emphasis added). The most common complaint I hear from guys is, “I have no time to workout.” And that’s valid. You have a busy lifestyle, with work, friends, family, and your fantasy league. So if time is a premium, why are you focused on spending five days a week in the gym? Especially when those five days focusing on a different body part will accomplish less than what you could do in three days targeting your entire body. You can argue about the best training program all day. There’s no consensus. But if you’re strapped for time, you’ll have a hard time arguing splitting your workouts into body parts.
Here’s the bottom line: There are better ways to pack on muscle and lose fat. Or at the very least, much more efficient ways to see results. I’d recommend a total body workout. Or you can try splitting your workouts between upper and lower body. Other options exist, too, but whatever your choice, just start looking at your body as a group of interconnected muscles, and not individual parts that you can isolate (emphasis added). That means focusing on more multi-muscle exercises (think squats, deadlifts, and bench presses), instead of “spot training” a muscle (yeah, I’m talking about curls and calf raises). You’ll thank me later. Trust me. (Bornstein 2010)
A major part of any program is diet, anyone who is looking to put on mass needs to ingest an excess of calories. The first law of thermodynamics states that you can't get something from nothing, for your body to create metabolically taxing, homeostasis breaking muscle it needs the energy and stimulus to adapt. If we accept that you should be having a significant amount of protein with every single meal,  focus starchy carbs for breakfast, pre and post workout, fibrous carbs and protein (with some healthy fats) for every other meal for the day. You want to have high starchy carb days on your weight training days, high fibrous carb on your non training days. You need heavy weights within a typical 8-10 rep range to stimulate growth hormone/testosterone release as a base program, but make sure you program weeks that get out of this zone though, do some volume training with high reps and some density training with low reps. Like I said, don't be afraid to move away from what feels comfortable, sometimes a weight or intensity change can break plateaus.
Putting on muscle is not quantum mechanics, lift heavy weights, eat your time allotted meals (every 2-3hrs), get plenty of sleep, don't drink alcohol. It's really that simple, there's no magic supplement, no magic pill (other than steroids, which I do not recommend). My blog on supplements applies for muscle building too, you don't need costly supplements that are basically just sugar, protein and caffeine, just a routine that changes over time and keeps up the intensity coupled with some carbs and protein applied at the right times..


Bornstein A., (2010). 10 Rules of Weight Lifting. Retrieved 22/04/2011.