What really IS High Intensity Interval Training

You hear all the time these days about the HIIT training (which is actually a redundant phrase as HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training). Do you know what it really is, what it’s purpose is, and how to achieve it? Many people think they do, but a high percentage of those people would be wrong.
HIIT is a type of hybrid training that involves fast twitch and slow twitch muscle training. It was originally designed to increase athletic performance and to increase something called the anaerobic threshold and localized muscular endurance. What does this mean? basically it means that you train for shorter periods doing almost any activity type, but at a far higher rate of performance than you would during long bouts of cardio.

Some of you may be thinking “so what’s the difference between HIIT and weight training then, since they are doing similar muscular activity?” While it’s true the goal of HIIT is to fatigue the muscle quickly, there is a very important difference between HIIT and weight training to failure. Where weight training (if performed correctly) is designed to push a specific muscle past the point of load that it can perform, essentially forcing a muscle to adapt and grow, HIIT training doesn’t push any one muscle past it’s work threshold all at once, it does it more gradually, while still being used anaerobically (see my post on weight training for the beginner exerciser here for more info https://bankshealth.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/weight-training-for-the-beginner-exerciser-and-technical-failure/). This means that while we are still looking for a failure point, we are achieving that failure for different reasons with HIIT than we do with weight training. Where weight training is looking to engage all of the muscle fibers in a muscle group and fatigue them quickly, HIIT is looking to draw all of the potential chemical energy out of a muscle site, using up all the oxygen and glycogen at a muscle site, this forces the body to adapt and allow for larger stores of glycogen, more efficient mitochondrial reaction (higher oxygen efficiency) and essentially better performance in that muscle group. To compare that with regular steady state cardio, with regular cardio, you should never become anaerobic, your body should always be able to replace oxygen and glucose reserves to keep you going at the increased metabolic rate.
For the reasons stated above, HIIT training has a very specific purpose, it’s designed to work muscle groups hard and fast. HIIT training sessions should be 10 to 40 minutes maximum, depending on how your endurance levels are, and the type of activity. The working to resting periods should be 20 and 40 seconds (respective) for beginners and as low as 30 and 15 seconds for highly trained athletes (that means 30 seconds of very hard work, coupled with 15 second rest periods) for anywhere from 4 repetitions to 20 repetitions. This means that a normal HIIT training routine will last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes if done right.
The difference between HIIT training and Weight training is that you CAN perform HIIT training next to cardio and not sustain any noticeable hormonal drawbacks as the hormones produced from HIIT training are similar to a moderate cardio routine, in other words feel free to do a 15 minute HIIT session followed by 30 or 40 minutes of cardio.
Who should be doing HIIT training? Well, anyone who wants to increase athletic performance, specifically people who need explosive movements coupled with long-term activity, for instance, hockey players, football players (both american and otherwise), basketball players, volleyball players, swimmers, moderate distance runners. HIIT training will allow for better muscle coordination along with the localized muscular endurance increases. HIIT training generally will NOT increase either workload of a muscle (I.E. you generally won’t become physically stronger with HIIT training) nor will it increase overall cardiovascular endurance (much, maybe small gains), it’s designed to work a localized muscle group, allowing you to perform at peak levels for longer periods and more periods, giving you that “burst” of energy even after an extended period, like a runners kick, or a better example would be a hockey player being able to put on a burst of speed to reach a puck in the 3rd period after a full game of hockey. That’s what HIIT training is really about.
Side effects and benefits of HIIT training are abundant. HIIT training is hard on the joints, be sure you’re physically able to perform HIIT training before you try it. Also anyone with cardiovascular or bone problems should consult a qualified medical professional before attempting HIIT. Of course, HIIT training will burn calories at a higher rate than straight cardio, but that is somewhat balanced by the fact that you can’t perform as long. Normally, a 20 minute HIIT training session with a 5 minute warm up and a 5 minute cooldown is the same caloric expense as about 50 to 60 minutes of moderate cardio. HIIT training (and any anaerobic activity) will create oxygen debt, which means that your metabolic rate will be raised for a time period post exercise (called EPOC or Exercise Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption), this means a slightly higher metabolic rate for a time after the exercise, anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours depending on the individual. HIIT training is NOT something you should perform every day, it’s hard on the body and long-term you could increase the likelihood of injury or arthritis, give your body plenty of rest days (or regular cardio) between, and make sure you stretch and cooldown after a HIIT session. There are other side effects of HIIT training, and in general it’s a great addition to any active and fit persons regimen, but it isn’t all you need to be athletic, nor should it be overused. If you have questions, please contact me.

Advertisements

Pre-made exercise programs

Programs are all over the place.  They all claim to give you a super lean, super strong body, usually with between 30 and 90 minutes per session and between 3 and 6 days per week of work.  But do these “canned” workouts deliver on the promises they make?  As with anything worth while, you get out of it what you put into it.  Take the popular Tony Horton program P90X, the exercise methodology of periodization or “muscle confusion” is solid and as a trainer, I can tell you that it works, but only if you push yourself and reach levels close to your maximal.  Other programs like spin classes and Body Pump (from Les Mills) offer similar types of results but with a much more static set of exercises (spin is primarily leg based HIIT training, and Body Pump focuses more on localized muscle fatigue without cardiovascular fatigue). 
The real question is, do they work, and if they work, why?  Well, in general if you’re working up a good sweat, reaching anaerobic maximal capacity (heavy breathing, muscle fatigue), or working to technical failure, you’re probably doing something right; as with anything though, the real bane of these programs are the adherence required for long-term success.  A workout program that leaves you tired and sweaty is great, but if you become quickly bored with the moves, if the moves are extremely repetitive, or if there are barriers to workout, then the program might be doomed from the start. 
Whether you’re an avid exerciser, or a beginner just looking to shed some unwanted pounds, it’s all about finding a program that you can stick to and that goes for both nutrition and for exercise.  While some of these programs offer a tremendous one time workout with excellent gains, over the long-term, their level of difficulty may deter many from staying with the program.  For others, if you perform them often, because of their repetitive nature, not only may you become bored, but your muscles will become accustomed to the workout, which means more efficiency and less energy being needed to perform the same (and even harder) versions of the routine.
If you are now, or are thinking of becoming a fitness professional, remember, it’s all about being dynamic,  adjusting to your client’s needs, and keeping their interest peaked.  Doing the same routine every week may be a good way to increase a specific activity, but it’s also a good way to bore your client, or make them think they no longer need you.  So be very careful when you recommend one of these canned programs as an in-between routine (one they can do between sessions), better to take the time, sit down, and write-up 3 or 4 different routines with guidelines on when and where to do them, and sit down every few months and re-write or revise the programs to keep your clients interested.
The bottom line is that it’s all about keeping the pressure on.  Changing it up and offer things that add value to the workout besides simple physical gains.  Make sure your clients are engaged with you,  talking to you, offering up their own opinions, and giving you feedback on a routine.  Clients that feel like they are contributing are clients that see value in the program, and that means better adherence and better physical gains.

Self control and Restrictive diets

People often see that I lost about 55 lbs and ask “How did you do it?”.  I don’t mention this to brag,  although I’m very proud of what I have done,  I say it to show you that I don’t just speak, I practice my own philosophy.   A huge part of becoming healthy physically is setting limits and being honest with yourself.  I can truly say that I have not cut any particular food type out of my diet.  I still eat fast food sometimes, when the mood hits, I still eat pizza; I still have candy and cookies on occasion.  I’ve just learned to do it far less frequently.  I say this simply to show that there’s no “secret” plan that we who have succeeded adopt that we just aren’t sharing with the rest of you.  Sure you can go all restrictive and eat only veggies, chicken breast, and sweet potatoes if you want, but that’s not the only way to do it.  That method (restricting yourself to certain foods or food types) can work, but it requires a strong will, and full knowledge that you’ll need to do more work later to maintain your goal.

 

Through years of experience mentoring others looking to lose weight, I’ve learned a few things, the main thing is to use the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!).  KISS means don’t over think it, don’t use 2 steps when 1 will work, and always look for ways to make something easier.  With regards to your nutrition, KISS is great.  A lot of people think that by going low carb, or removing cookies, or removing sugar, or raising your fiber will be the cure-all for their issues, it’s not.  It’s all about moderation folks.  Planning and moderation.  Let’s go back to the KISS principle and apply it to a restrictive diet.  Say you want to go low carb, thinking that this will get you where you want to be.  It may do just that, but when you reach your goal weight or body fat %, what do you do now?  Now you have to redesign your plan and rebuild your nutrition, this is much more difficult than one would think, and it violates the KISS principle fundamentally.  A better method although maybe a little slower to see results, would be to design your nutrition plan right at the start, just allowing for a larger calorie deficit at the start and rather than changing your whole diet, adding more of the same calorie types to your existing program when your calorie deficit needs to change, eventually adding enough to maintain at the end.  This eliminates the need to redesign your nutrition after the initial stage.

Of course, the above technique still requires will power, just because you can have the foods you like, doesn’t mean you don’t have to change your thinking about HOW MUCH to have at any one sitting.  Sure you can have cookies, but instead of the whole box, maybe you just have 3 or 4.  Will power to resist such things isn’t something we are born with, it’s simply you having the mental strength to say “Yes, I want more, but I need to stop because eating more is not the right move.”  On a final note, self-control can sometimes mean disappointing others.  Deal with it folks, when your best friend wants to “go out for drinks” because he/she is feeling bad about something, you absolutely can (and maybe should) go with her/him.  Here’s the thing, when they ask you to “drink with them” or “eat with them” that’s where you MUST draw the line.  No excuse is a good excuse, because no excuse exempts you from weight gain, and don’t kid yourself there is a psychological factor when you “fail” often enough.  Succeed a few times and your confidence goes up, as does your conviction.  Don’t give in to pressure, your friends and family will get over it if you don’t indulge with them, and if they don’t, that’s their loss (and yours, pun intended).

Setting Health goals

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve plagiarized myself.  I’m writing a book, and I’ve taken this post directly from a chapter in my new book, I’ve modified it a little to live “on it’s own” but essentially this is a segment of my book.  So if you like it,  maybe you’ll like the book itself.

Goals are not dreams.  Goals are not wishes.  Goals are not hopes.  Goals are specific, reachable reference points that help you to focus instead of just moving along without a direction.  Having a goal helps you plan and keeps you interested in the subject at hand.  If you have no goal and just begin exercising and eating better, then the odds are eventually you will fall back to your old patterns.  Most people function better with a goal.  Below, I will try to detail the process of creating effective goals for your health and wellness.  Goals are one way to track progress, there are other ways but this one is an effective and relatively simple method, what ever the case, knowing how to formulate and track a goal is an important step towards becoming healthy and fit!

     in my opinion a well thought out goal should have 4 aspects.  The first aspect of a goal should be distinct measure-ability.  this means, any goal should be provable by observed and recordable results.  A good example would be a weight goal, or a body fat % goal, or a running time goal.  All of these are discretely measurable datum points.  the second aspect of a goal should be concrete definition.  This means that a plan of action can be laid out to reach that goal.  If the goal is to drop 25 lbs, then there should be a plan that acts as your basic roadmap to achieve that goal because lets face it, just saying “I want to lose 25 lbs” sounds more like a wish; but saying “I want to lose 25 lbs and I will eat a healthy balanced diet with a 500 calorie deficit every day and do moderate cardiovascular exercise 3 days a week for 30 minutes and weight train for 2 days a week for 45 minutes” sounds like a real well thought out goal.  The third aspect of a goal should be an endpoint.  An end point allows focus, an endpoint tells whether the correct amount of progress is being made.  Whether the goal is reached in a timeline is irrelevant, that the work being done towards that goal is what matters.  Make no mistake, with the first few goals made, some may actually fall short, that’s ok, it’s trial and error.  The odds are when you have a specific end point, whether the goal is reached or not, it’s most likely that work will be done all the way up through that endpoint, and THAT is the important aspect of a goal, coaxing you to work from beginning to end.  The 4th and final aspect of a goal is longevity.  Goals should have some distance to them from your starting point.  Setting a goal every week is probably a bit of overkill.  Better to make the goal some time in a few months or even a year distant.  If markers are needed to make the goal seem more real,  see the next section on waypoints.
   
  Waypoints are ways to break a goal up into smaller, more manageable parts.  Some like to call these mini-goals, but I think waypoints just sounds better.  What ever you name them, waypoinst don’t need to include all the aspects of a goal, but it should include 2, the time/date the waypoint is to be measured, and the goal datum to set the waypoint to.  For example, take the goal stated above of losing 25 lbs, add an end date to that goal of 6 months, now add waypoints such as, “after the first month I would like to see a 6 pound loss, after the 3rd month I would like to see a total loss of 15 lbs and after the 5th month I would like to see a loss of 22 lbs”.  Besides giving a point to reach for that is in a relatively short period of time, this method also allows you to re-focus at certain intervals.  If after 1 month you feel that you haven’t made sufficient progress, edit your routine, or even change your ultimate goal to reflect this correction.  One small point you may want to heed is to not put too many waypoints into your goal.  When goals are saturated with too many measurements, we cannot “see the forest for the trees” or in other words, the little waypoints become so all-encompassing, we lose the original intent of the goal, being conscious of your current situation is important, but being focused on your goal is also key.  Find a balance between these two extremes and you will be well on your way to success.

Avoiding the “creep”

 Everyday life can be stressful and full of distractions.  Adults have commitments and responsibilities that keep us from sticking to a plan.  Even the most noble of causes can be sidetracked by a change in a child’s soccer practice schedule, or an unexpected work function after hours.  Even a funeral or a routine oil change (that you completely forgot about until your car “reminded” you) can mess with your carefully laid out plans.  Unfortunately for us, what usually seems to suffer the most is our eating and exercising schedule.  I know I’m not the only person who feels that how well you eat, and how well you stick to your exercise plan is pretty low on your priority list, right down there with routine dentist cleanings and picking up clothes from the dry cleaners.  I like to call this phenomenon “the creep of life” or simply the creep.

Life creeps up on us, and health and wellness can suffer for it.  As a Personal Trainer, it’s my job to make sure my clients don’t fall victim to that lethargic behavior and the excuses that people make for themselves.  I have followed with a short list of mental strategies and techniques you can use to help avoid the creep and stay on track.

 

1) Learn to say “NO”!  I put this first because it’s SUPER important to give yourself a chance to keep a schedule.  The word “NO” has some very negative connotations, and many people who have that “pleaser” mentality avoid it like the plague.  I was once a big time pleaser, I have learned that the word NO is only bad if you let it be.  When you come to terms with the idea that your time is just as valuable as everyone elses time, you’ll understand that saying NO to some people to keep your own schedule (whether you deem something more or less important that someone else’s request is irrelevant) is empowering and important.

 

2) Not “feeling” like working out is not a reason NOT to work out.  If you create a workout plan, you better darn well stick to it!  Don’t let your subconscious brain undermine your conscious efforts.  When you don’t feel like doing it, do it anyway, there’s no middle ground here, you just have to do it.  Please note, this is different from the idea of making a plan and then realizing it’s not a good plan later, that’s fine,  adjust as you go, but once you have a plan in place that you know you CAN follow if you stick to it, you must follow it.

 

3) Always make food decisions consciously.  I know we can’t always eat as healthy as we like, but that’s no reason to unconsciously graze and choose things because they make you feel better.  I’m a huge proponent of conscious choices.  If you decide that Friday night you DO want to go to that restaurant and you know it’s going to be less than healthy, that’s fine, just make it a conscious choice, accept the consequences of that action, and move on.  Where we get in trouble as people is when we stop thinking about our food choices and just “eat”.

 

4) Make everything count.  Your workouts don’t need to be super long or super technical, but they should be maximum effort with the exception of rest days.  By that I mean, if it’s a cardio day, make it the hardest cardio you can sustain for the time period that you are sustaining it.  If it’s weight training, go to fatigue, whether it’s heavy and short or light and long (see my beginning weight training blog for more info on that), your goal should be fatigue with good form.  If it’s HIIT training, the goal should be spiking your MHR to above 90% at every high intensity period.  With food, your healthy days should include all the macro and micro nutrients you can find in the right quantities, and of course if you decide to make a less than healthy choice, try to minimize the bad parts as much as possible. 

 

5) Give yourself time (and cut yourself some slack).  Don’t pack your day with appointments, give yourself a buffer for everything, if you plan on getting your oil changed at 6:00 and going to the gym at 7:00, throw an extra 30 minutes in there, maybe you get there before that, maybe you don’t but now you have a little more time to play with.  And don’t mentally berate yourself if you miss an appointment, be analytical about it, sit down and figure out why you didn’t make it, and if this is something that will be a problem in the future, if you think it may be, adjust to account for it.

 

6) Plan for success.  Don’t just make a schedule; think about what it takes to implement that schedule.  If you plan to eat your dinner at 5:30 every night, think about what you need to make that dinner healthy, if you want to go to the gym at 7:00, think about time to dress, shower, stretch, and cool down.

 

7) Slow down.  This goes along with number 5, plan some down time where you have nothing to do for 15 minutes or 30 minutes.  And I don’t mean set aside time for unexpected tasks, when you plan this, DO IT.  Watch TV, take a quick nap, hop in a hot bath, play with your dog, or read a magazine… anything that constitutes you not being stressed.  I like to do this right before bed, I actually meditate for about 15 minutes, it is a great way to lower my heart rate and helps me fall asleep quickly and more deeply (which is important for your health!)  If you take a few minutes every day to allow your brain to wind down, you’ll lower stress levels, lowering cortisol levels, which reduces fat storage, and who doesn’t like the sound of that?

 

These are just a few minor tweaks you can do to help avoid the “creep” of life, I hope you find something interesting in here.  Feel free to email me if you have any questions or comments about this section.

 

Best wishes,

-Banks

Unofficialness

So I sort of went on an unofficial hiatus from my blog site.  Mostly because I was in the middle of work drama (old job getting weird,  new job starting, taking a very difficult certification test, baseball playoffs…etc.), but fear not folks, I’ll be starting posting again bi-weekly in about a week or two.

I’m sorry if this caught any of you guys off guard.  But it’s a testament on how I feel about health.  I’m a big fan of learning to incorporate healthy practices into every day life, and this little “break” shows how that can work.  Not only did I continue working out through this relatively stressful time, I also continued (mostly) to eat right, keep my weight at the same level, and even started working out at a new gym (my old workplace had a very nice gym at the office so I didn’t need to pay for one), all of these little accomplishments are minor by themselves, but they are the sort of thing that throws people off track, gives them excuses, I didn’t let that happen, and I can help you keep these types of issues from interrupting your healthy lifestyle as well.  Feel free to contact me for sure fire ways to ward off the creep of life into good health.  I’ll be continuing my blog series with (fittingly) a blog on fitting healthy practices into every day life, look for it in about a week or two.  Until then,  feel free to peruse a few of my older posts to pick up other great tips and ideas about your health and being happy with your body!

 

best wishes all

Go Pats!

-Banks

Alcohol, metabolism, and effects on weight loss

Alcohol is a sneaky little devil.  Humans love it, we consume it often, we consume it in relatively large quantities, some people abuse it, and sometimes we have it when we shouldn’t.  When it comes to alcohol and how our bodies process it, many people who are trying to lose weight, think of alcohol from a “calories consumed” perspective.  I usually don’t do this.  Alcohol creates a very specific, very different situation in the human body from normal nutritional digestion.  I will, in this blog, attempt to go over the basics of alcohol metabolism and give people a clearer idea of why you should be very careful when consuming alcohol when trying to lose weight.

The first thing we need to know is the basics of alcohol as a nutritional product.  Alcohol doesn’t contain any micronutrients at all, that means no vitamins, no minerals, no means of helping the body maintain the tens of thousands of chemical reactions it needs to function correctly.  Essentially alcohol does three things,  it “messes” with the brain, it forces the liver to change the way it handles energy, and it provides calories, 7 calories per gram in fact, that’s more energy than both carbohydrates or protein, and just slightly less than fat.  Alcohol, similar to some simple carbohydrates, begins digestion the moment it enters your body, and is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream for transport to the brain and liver.  On it’s way into the blood stream alcohol enflames both the stomach lining and the intestines causing reduced nutrient absorption.  Consistent, regular use of alcohol can also lead to all kinds of long term problems, one of the biggest being alcoholism, and the other being liver diseases; but lets leave these issues aside for this discussion and just look at how alcohol affects you right now.

The body requires fuel,  because the body sees ethyl alcohol as a poison, it tells the liver, “HEY, if you see any alcohol,  drop what you’re doing and oxidize it, because that stuff is dangerous!”  And so no matter what your liver was doing when you take a drink, it’s priority changes, and that food that you were digesting and using quite happily until you drank, now becomes extra, and generally will be stored as fat.  Why?  Because what your body was going to use as energy is now not needed (the alcohol provided the energy instead).  Even a moderate amount of alcohol can retard weight loss for days after consumption.  It takes a few days for your body to repair the damage to the stomach and intestinal lining after a moderate session of drinking, during which, you will absorb less nutrients, meaning even if you eat perfectly, you won’t be receiving the required nutrients.  Alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning that it forces the body to excrete more water than normal.  Even mild dehydration can really throw your metabolism out of whack, it takes 24 to 48 hours for the adult body to fully recover hydration and electrolyte levels after a moderate to heavy day of drinking.  In more severe instances, blood vessels in the brain become dilated and the accompanying lack of glucose causes that ever popular “hangover headache” that many people receive after a night of heavy drinking.

And of course we should never leave out the psychological and physical aspects of drinking.  Drinking lowers inhibitions, which means the foods you would normally avoid when trying to lose weight, are not as “taboo” as they once were, along with that,  portion sizes are judged differently, and those who count calories lose track. Add to this how one feels the day after drinking.  Many people who would have normally exercised the day after drinking, will no longer do so, claiming strong feelings of exhaustion or nausea as the reason.  This, of course, only heightens the effect alcohol plays on the body. Add to this the dehydration and loss of electrolytes from drinking, and even those who do exercise are at higher risk for exhaustion related situations, and will almost always perform at a lower level of effectiveness, claiming “sluggishness” or fatigue as the main reason, dehydration and lack of proper electrolyte balance can cause this.

In summary, alcohol does some bad things to us from a weight loss perspective.  It usurps energy usage from normal nutrients causing increase fat production and storage, it causes us to lose perspective of our food intake, it reduces our desire and ability to exercise, and it reduces our body’s ability to extract nutrients from the food we eat.  While I won’t sit here and say “you should never drink again!” I will say that limiting one’s alcohol consumption during an attempt at weight loss is probably a pretty good idea.  Trying for 1 to 4 drinks (depending on your size, sex, and age) once every two to three weeks is probably fine, but just be aware, alcohol in any amount will slow fat loss progress, possibly setting you back days or even weeks in some cases.  Be aware of it,  and keep the alcohol in check, especially if you’re attempting to lose body fat.

Quick Electrolyte Post

Today I would like to focus on electrolytes.  Electrolytes with regards to human nutrition are generally salts, acids, or bases that contain a free ion making the specific chemical electrically conductive.  In humans, the important electrolytes are Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, hydrogen phosphate, and hydrogen carbonate.  Electrolytic balance in the body is responsible for many health related conditions.  Everything from hydration, to ph level, to nerve function, to muscle contraction all depend on the correct electrolytes being present at the correct levels.  when people talk about electrolytes they usually think of sodium and potassium.  And yes, these two ionic compounds are of the more common type to be out of balance in the body.  When one has an imbalance of these two chemicals, things such as dehydration, confusion, muscle spasms, and nausea can occur.  Prolonged imbalances can result in severe medical conditions and even death.  When in balance (called homeostasis) electrolytes keep water at the right levels in cells and allow the transmission of electrical signals between nerves which result in proper motor function.

Your kidneys are the main way your body keeps electrolytes in balance.  when we sweat, part of the liquid being expelled has electrolytes in it, which is a main reason why you must not only hydrate when we exercise for prolong periods, but also make sure that the liquids we ingest at that time has electrolytes in it.  Other than exercise, when we are sick and we exhibit extended bouts of diarrhea and/or vomiting, we can lose electrolytes, it is important to replenish the supply as soon as you can in order to keep your body strong enough to fight the sickness and regain health.

When you are outside exercising or working in the sun for long periods, make sure to drink something with salts or acids and bases in it such as magnesium, sodium, chloride, and potassium to replenish your electrolytic balance.  If you find yourself developing a headache, dizziness, or sluggish reaction time, it’s time to stop, find some shade, drink some liquid (with electrolytes in it) and give yourself a nice long recovery period before continuing with activity.

 

 

Weight training for the beginner exerciser and technical failure

“Lifting to technical failure” is a term often used in the weight lifting community to mean performing a specific resistance activity enough times that the primary muscle cannot perform that exercise with good form any more.  Why should everyone know and utilize this technique?  Because it is a basic reason why we develop and grow muscle fibers in the body.  This makes us stronger, more powerful, and allows our bodies to burn more calories even when at rest.

 

First I’d like to clear up a few myths that are rampant about lifting weights.  Women, don’t worry about “bulking up” lifting heavy weight, because of how your bodies are built, it’s extremely difficult for women to generate that “bulky” look from lifting weights, more likely results will be more streamlined or sleek looking muscles, and more strength, agility, and power without much change in muscle size, it will NOT happen “by accident”.  Second, you don’t need to lift weight for hours, perform dozens of exercises per workout, or workout 4 or 5 times a week in order to develop new muscle mass; in fact for most people who are just looking to gain a little strength and muscle mass while dropping some body fat, 2 to 3 days a week of heavy weight lifting, targeting the right muscle groups, and performing with enough weight, for 8 to 10 different exercises totaling about an hour should be plenty to get you where you need to be and keep you there.  And lastly, heavy weight lifting is not a specialized activity only to be performed by a select few “meat heads” looking to become body builders, in fact everyone (adults) should be doing some type of anaerobic resistance exercise every week, that goes for people who are 18 years old to people who are 80 years old.  In fact, studies show, that people in their 50’s and above benefit enormously from heavy resistance training in the form of increased bone density (a big problem for older adults) and increased strength and stamina.

 

Both strength training and cardiovascular exercise should be part of your weekly regiment.  Doing a 2/3 or 3/3 or 2/4 weight training/cardiovascular split every week will help you not only increase strength and stamina, but it will tell your body “Hey!  I’m using my muscles, don’t use them for energy, burn fat instead”.  Why not do just cardio?  Cardio is great, but it generally only works half your muscle fibers, there are two (really 3, but for this purpose 2 is fine) types of skeletal muscle fiber in the body, one that is more endurance based, one that is more power based.  The muscles that are worked primarily in cardio are the endurance based muscles, and it’s great to make them work hard, but without working the other half, you’re doing your body a disservice.

 

Many people question both how to start lifting weights, and how many repetitions one should perform and how many sets is correct.  There’s no definitive right answer for this.  Depending on your goals and timeline, your repetitions per set, and sets per routine will change.  Some people are looking for increased power and strength, but don’t care a lot about muscle size, for this you want small repetition totals with slightly less sets (for example 4 to 6 repetitions and 3 to 4 sets with higher weight) where as someone looking for size increases more than strength increases would use a little higher repetition totals, lower set totals and a bit lower weight (for instances 8 to 12 repetitions, 4 to 5 sets, 80 to 85 percent of maximal weight).  Of course, you almost never build size at the exclusion of power and vice versa, therefore you will usually gain some of both while doing your sets.  The important factor is you need enough weight to go to technical failure right at the last repetition of a set.

Technical failure simply means with GOOD form, you can no longer perform another repetition of the routine.  That doesn’t mean you have to try that extra repetition, odds are you’ll know you can’t do another repetition by half way through the one before.  Some people preach high repetition sets (20 and above), this does have its place in weight training, but it’s not as a muscle building activity, it’s as a muscular endurance activity.  High repetition sets will focus more on the development of the muscle cells to hold more of the enzymes and fuel needed to keep performing for longer periods, and to develop more mitochondria in the cells to deliver the all important energy needed to fuel those cells.  This is something that should be taken into account, especially for hybrid athletes such as soccer or basketball or hockey players who do both explosive moves and thus need more power quickly, but also need to perform for extended periods without fatigue.

 

For beginners, I would recommend a visit with a trainer, a single appointment with a good trainer (make sure you vet your trainer beforehand thoroughly, and that they know the goal of the appoint is simply to show form and give you a good starting weight), while a trainer is great for continuation of your program, one is not required to weight train.  As long as you hit all the major muscle groups, have correct form, and are using enough weight to induce failure, you can continue alone.

 

Tips

  •  If you can do all repetitions in your set and feel like you can do more, you don’t have enough weight.

 

  • While it’s fine to do both cardio and anaerobic activity (weight training) in the same day, do weight   training before cardio, and give yourself a few hours between the two if you do.

 

  • Whenever you are doing weight training with a barbell, always have an experienced spotter (except in the   case of Olympic lifts where spotting is dangerous, in this case learn how to correctly “miss” the bar”)

 

  •  While knowing your 1 repetition maximum (1RM) is nice, it’s not required.  A little trial and error to find   the right weight is fine.

 

Weight gain with new exercise programs

To understand why we gain or lose weight when we begin a new exercise program, we first must understand the basics about human skeletal muscles and how they function.  With that in mind, here is a very basic primer on muscles.
To begin, let’s define what we are talking about.  Skeletal muscles are what provide motion of all kinds in the body, unlike involuntary muscles such as smooth muscle (e.g. intestinal walls) or organ muscles (e.g. the heart) which are both involuntary systems that we don’t consciously control, skeletal muscles, in most cases, respond to our requests in the force that we request (or require) to perform work.  Within this sphere of skeletal muscle,  there are two distinct types of muscle, with the second having two sub-classes.  Type I muscle fibers perform work mostly within the aerobic capacity, using oxygen to a high degree to create energy to do the work required of them, these muscles generally can work for long periods of time at moderate exertion levels, for instance, a long distance runner would train type I muscle fibers to allow for higher maintained endurance and speed.  Type II muscle fibers have a sub-categorization of Type IIa and Type IIb, Type IIb muscle fibers work mainly in the anaerobic capacity (no oxygen) and are mainly used for short, high power bursts.  Type IIa fibers can be developed to have characteristics of either Type IIb. or Type I fibers, the predominance of which is determined by the type of activity that is trained.
Now that you know the basic muscle types, I’ll explain what the heck I mean by “muscle fibers” muscles are made up of long, thin cells called fibers, these cells connect to connective tissue or directly to bone, and they also connect with the central nervous system (CNS).  The brain tells the CNS how much power to exert to a muscle to do the work it needs.
Muscle fibers have only 2 states fully contracted and fully extended, there is no in between.  So the brain will tell each fiber in a muscle or a subset of the whole muscle (called a bundle of fibers or just a bundle) to contract.  To put this into real world scenario, to curl a 2 lb. weight, your biceps needs (random guess) 2% of its total potential power,  so your brain would tell the equivalent amount of fibers to contract fully, the rest remaining dormant.  To make that exact same motion, but with a 30 lb. weight, you need maybe 75% of your total power, so the brain would delegate that many fibers.  This becomes very important for the next section where we talk about weight gain from exercises.
OK, so now you basically understand how skeletal muscle is constructed and the types we have.  Now let’s talk about how they are fueled.  Muscle has 2 main types of fuel, aerobic fuel, and anaerobic fuel.  Glucose and glycogen are one type, they use oxygen as a catalyst to create Adenosine Tri-Phosphate, which is the actual energy a cell uses (called ATP for short).  The body keeps most glycogen stored in the liver, but some, for the really fast needed energy at the muscle site, this glycogen is stored with water around the muscle site extra cellular (outside the cells in fluid form).   When we use muscles over an above normal daily need, that glycogen (which is just long chains of glucose) is tapped and then replaced by the liver.  I won’t go into muscle metabolism any deeper, but just know that this barley scratches the surface.
The other thing to keep in mind is muscle states.  When we are sedentary for a long period of time or don’t use a muscle to its maximum for a long time, some of the fibers are never used.  The brain essentially turns them off so that they aren’t taking up resources (calories).  This is called atrophy.  This can happen because of an injury (look at someone who’s been in a cast for 2 or 3 months, the casted limb is usually far smaller and weaker).  In most cases of sedentary activity, the atrophied muscle fibers haven’t been cannibalized to a large extent, just switched off.   The brain will NOT store glycogen for muscle fibers that are “switched off”
Now let’s put it it all together.  When we begin a new exercise program, lots of things change.  WELL before you start “growing new muscle”, your body starts recognizing the need for increased strength, and begins activating those unused, partially atrophied muscle fibers.  Only when your muscle fiber incorporation reaches around 95% do you begin putting on actual muscle mass.  This is why you can see dramatic strength gains (and endurance gains) in the first 4 to 6 weeks; you are “switching on” those dormant muscle fibers.  Along with those fibers come glycogen stores and the water which suspends in.  Also those muscles require other liquid mediums.  Add to this the increased need for extra cellular fluids and you have pounds of weight added to your frame without adding size (significant size) or fat (or muscle mass either).    Increased active muscle amount also increases the needs of those muscles from the body, and that means increase plasma volumes in the body.  For weeks, sometimes months, you can go through weight gain without any accompanying size increases (or not much at least) but with significant performance gains.
What does this mean?  It means YOU DON’T PUT ON MUSCLE AT THE START OF AN EXERCISE ROUTINE!  There are exceptions to this of course, well-conditioned athletes that are just changing up their routine could possibly achieve muscle mass gains much faster, but that’s usually because their muscles have not atrophied nearly as much, but in general, things to look for follow:
• Weight gain while still increasing strength.
• Weight gain while in a caloric deficit (moderate deficit).
• Weight gain with reduced measurement size.

To be clear,  even though this is essentially fluid weight, it’s not temporary unless you stop working out,  you will always keep most of this fluid as your muscle needs it to function.  But it will level out eventually and usually weight loss will begin again.  Please note, except in special conditions, you usually will never gain significant muscle mass while in a caloric deficit.  But you absolutely can re-activate your existing muscle fibers while in caloric deficit.  Which, many times, is why people who begin a new routine, can have a fast plateau?
Also note,  everything I talk about here is with regards to adults with no medical conditions.  Children and those over the age of 65 or have medical conditions may have different things happening and need different explanations.  I am not a medical professional, please treat anything I write as such, I am simply an experienced armature that has read and researched on the topic of nutrition and human metabolism.