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Training the Core in the Sagittal Plane Part II: Performance

Welcome back for Part II of our Training the Core in the Sagittal Plane series. If you missed Part I, be sure to go give it a quick read. The info in that will really help you better understand the material we’re going over today, and improve your ability to think critically about training the “core.”

The Training Process

While being able to riddle off some anatomy is great, it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t relate it back to training and get people a training effect.

Like all things, the training process can be broken down into three major steps:

  • Learn/Teach
  • Train
  • Integrate

This process is something everyone has experienced before, and learning to ride a bike provides a great visual for understanding the separate steps. You start off (at least most people do) with training wheels because you need to give your brain an opportunity to learn (an extra bonus provided by training wheels is that they decrease threat, but that’s a topic for another time). Eventually, as you log more and more hours, the training wheels come off and you get to start experiencing the real thing.

But you still aren’t crushing it yet. It’s not like the training wheels come off and you immediately hop into full fledged down hill racing, or start launching yourself off ramps in the backyard. You still have to practice and train.

After playing around with the real thing for a while, and again acquiring very important hours of exposure for the brain to learn, you start stepping it up and doing some of the sexier things you see on TV.

This is all part of the process, and whenever you’re attempting to learn a new physical skill you and/or your athletes will have to go through it as well.

Now…let’s relate this all back to the core.

Step 1: Learn

Before you can get to what most people would consider the sexy part of training (deadlifting, jumping and doing other such things), you must first give yourself and/or your athletes the chance to learn. In other words, you need to give the brain access to experiences and outcomes so it can begin adapting.

For example, in Part I I briefly touched on what we’re looking for when it comes to core control and strength: the ability to keep your ribs down and pelvis underneath you.

So, go ahead and do that….

Chances are you can’t (unless you’ve been coached through it before) because you don’t know what it feels like. The position is very foreign, and you’re attempting to find it without a map.

Thus, we need to give you a map. We need to figure out where you are so we can properly teach you how to get there, and one of the best places to start is with breathing.

Yes…breathing, and in particular learning to exhale because if you can truly exhale then you’re very close to regaining control over the sagittal plane. In other words, exhaling gives you abs. I’m going to repeat that one more time just so we both know how important it is: exhaling gives you abs.

And it gives you abs because while your internal obliques, external obliques, and transverse abdominis are pushing air out (aka they’re exhalers), they are also bringing your ribs down and pelvis underneath you (sound familiar?). If that doesn’t make sense, look back at the pictures in Part I and envision what happens as those muscles shorten.

Here’s the issue though: most people are terrible exhalers and need some help learning how to exhale again.

Enter our friend the balloon.

*I’d like to pause here for a second to briefly touch on

PRI

(The Postural Restoration Institute) because the balloon and everything else we’re talking about today draws heavily on their principles. If you aren’t familiar with PRI, then please go take a course. I can’t recommend it enough, and I’m not going to be going down that rabbit hole today for a handful reasons. The most important of which being that I’m not qualified to do so. It’s a monster of a rabbit hole and I’m going to let smarter people than me teach about it.

The balloon is a wonderful teaching tool because it provides resistance as you exhale, in turn forcing you to actually use your abs to get air out. You may laugh, but I’ve seen plenty of people (athletes I may add) who honestly can’t blow up a balloon.

So…here’s a quick tutorial on how to blow up a balloon:

And here are a few great exercise options to get you started (you can realistically implement the balloon into any exercise we’re going over today to help make sure you are appropriately exhaling):

  1. All Four Belly Lift and progressions

While the all four belly lift may seem like its over shooting a little on the flexion piece of the equation, you have to remember that I’m assuming we’re dealing with someone who has lost the sagittal plane. In other words, I’m assuming we have a bilaterally extended individual who has no idea how to flex and breath, so I need to re-establish that first before addressing other needs.

Also, let’s think through what’s happening from an anatomy standpoint. In particular, let’s revisit our good friend the serratus and appreciate how the reach in this exercise is helping to draw your rib backs, thus allowing you to better use your abs.

In review: serratus + obliques + transverse abdomins = winning.

  1. 3 Month Breathing with Band Pulldown

Remember how we’re attempting to give people a map? Well think of the All Four Belly lift as a system reset (in other words teaching them how to flex and breath), which then gives you the opportunity to create a new map with an exercise like 3 Month Breathing with Band Pulldown.

For starters, it gives the person a reference center: the ground. Which in all honesty is one of your best friends as a coach. It makes your life way easier when you can get someone on his or her back (with gravity on their side I might add) and cue him or her to “crush a bug” or “velcro their low back to floor” because they’ll be able to feel that. In addition, it gives you a target for your ribs: “as you exhale here I want you to think about drawing your ribs down to the floor.” In essence, whenever you can make things simple…do it.

Now, a key feature of this exercise, like all other exercises, is how it’s performed. The low back needs to be pinned to the floor, and the ribs need to come down and stay down (to a degree) on the inhale. In other words, your low back shouldn’t pop off the floor when you go to take a breath in because that defeats the purpose of doing the exercise. I want to see if you can get in a good position with some added tension from the band and breath without breaking down.

It’s absolutely essential that the athlete learns what this feels like, and is able to find it on his or her own, because this is the foundation for everything else you’ll be doing.

Step 2: Train

Once the new map has started to take hold, it’s time to up the ante a little and add some more definition to the map. If you ever played Age of Empires, think of it like at the beginning of the game when the whole map is black except for where your few little settlers are.

As you played the game and explored you uncovered more and more of the map, and the black area slowly gave way. The same thing is happening here: you’ve done some of the early exploration work, and now it’s time to set off and uncover more of the map.

Thus, let’s stress the system a little more. Let’s put you and/or your athletes in positions that’ll challenge their ability to hold the rock solid position you taught them earlier.

  1. Leg Lowering with Band Pulldown

Yeah, this should look really familiar. All we’ve basically done is take the 3 month breathing with band pulldown exercise from above, and make it more dynamic by seeing if you can move your leg without falling apart.

Let’s think on a deeper level though and focus on a big muscle we talked about last time: the rectus femoris. What’s happening to that muscle as you’re going from hip flexion to hip extension? It’s lengthening right. And as that muscle is lengthening what is it doing? It’s attempting to yank your pelvis forward, and make your low back come off the ground. In order to prevent that from happening what better be working? Your abs! Those sexy obliques and transverse abdominis better be opposing that quad, or else you’re going to lose the tug of war.

This, in essence, is exactly what you’re looking to do when training the “core”: how many different ways can you pit someone’s “abs” against muscles like a quad or a lat.

3 Month KB Pullover

I explained pretty much everything in the video, so yeah…not gonna waste your time and repeat myself.

While there are probably 50-100 exercises that could fit into this section, hopefully these two exercises give you a good idea for how to start thinking about “core” training: opposition. It doesn’t matter that you can do crunches. What matters is that you have abs capable of opposing big muscles like your lats and quads. Ultimately, if you understand anatomy then you should have a field day coming up with ways to challenge this.

*challenge homework assignment: think your way through a split squat.

Step 3: Integrate

At the end of the day, the goal is to be bigger, faster, stronger and better conditioned than everyone else. Period. Unfortunately, however, people often mistake what I’ve gone over thus far as being “too low level” or “not intense enough” to reach that end goal. But I couldn’t disagree more. If you aren’t adequately addressing Step 1 and 2 in this process, then you one, aren’t doing your job, and two, are merely setting up your athletes for failure down the road. You’ve gotta build the pyramid from the bottom up.

Now that that short rant is out of the way, let’s talk about integrating because this is what we live for right? I mean who gets excited about lying on the floor and breathing? I know I don’t (I actually hate it). I’d much rather turn on some loud music, hangout with my bros, and throw weight around for an hour.

And assuming you’ve done your homework in Step 1 and Step 2, it gives you the ability to do so because now we can start talking about deadlifting. In other words, movements like the deadlift represent your highest level of “core” performance. It’s where are the boring, shitty work you do on the side gets to shine. Just think through any major, compound, complex movement and you’ll see a beautiful sequence of events that all stems from your basic ability to control the sagittal plane.

And let me make something perfectly clear: this is the goal. The goal isn’t to lay on the ground and breathe. That is merely a tool so that we can get you on your feet, integrate, and turn you into a monster. So PLEASE, do not forget this step. Performing a high quality deadlift is core training. Performing a high quality squat is core training. And so on and so forth.

Closing Thoughts

While there are many exercises that we could have gone over today, I chose to focus just on a few them because I care more about you understanding the principles behind why we do them as opposed to just listing off exercises. Thus, if you feel lost or don’t understand anything we’ve gone over today, please post your questions in the comments below.

Also, I’d like to go over one last tidbit of info before I sign off for the day, and that’s failure. Generally speaking, when someone is performing these exercises I look for them to fail 2 out of every 10 reps because this tells me that I have found something that’s adequately challenging. In other words, if someone can crush something for 10 reps and every rep is literally perfect, then you should probably find a way to progress the exercise or else they won’t get better. Small amounts of failure tell me that I’m imposing enough stress to get an adaptation.

That's about it for today though.  Hope you enjoyed the article and post any questions/thoughts you have below.

about the author

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James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitterand Instagram for the latest happenings.

Rethinking Agility Ladders: How to Actually Make Athletes More Agile

Since the dawn of the new era of sports performance and strength and conditioning, there is one tool that just about every athlete has used. Go into any sporting good store, go to any team’s offseason workout, even watch any show about NFL offseason training and you will see this tool being used. This tool is the speed ladder, and to be honest, it’s not actually doing what you think it is for your athletes. Most coaches use it for agility purposes claiming the speed ladder is going to get their athletes more agile, in turn allowing them to speed around their opponents. The one problem is this is not true at all. Now don’t get me wrong…the speed ladder is a great tool for athletes, but just not to improve their agility.

As an athlete, the speed ladder is a great tool to use as a warm-up or as a conditioning tool. For starters, it forces you to work at a maximal effort in a cardiovascular sense. While you’re using it, you will feel your heart rate start to elevate faster than you can recover and you will start sweating up a storm. Your legs will begin to grow tired, and it is an amazing tool for increasing your alactic capacity (your ability to continuously perform maximal contractions). Depending on how much rest you take in between each set, it can also improve your lactic capacity. As a warm-up tool it helps to get some blood flowing into your legs and to get your anaerobic and aerobic capacity going. There are, however, much better tools to use when working on agility.

What Is Agility

So what is agility anyway? Agility is the ability to start, decelerate, stop and explosively change direction while playing a sport. In other words, how fast can you stop and change direction during a game? It is easily one of the most important aspects in all sports, and it can mean the difference between winning and losing a contest.

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The key to agility is the rate of force development. In order to be agile, your body needs to be able to decelerate at a very quick pace, come to a complete stop and then reaccelerate in a different direction. When looking at an elite athlete, such as a running back in the NFL or a point guard in the NBA, they both having incredible rate of force development. They are able to be sprinting full force, come to a complete stop and then accelerate again to fake out a defender and either change direction or keep sprinting.

The best way to see an increase in this performance is through improving strength in each of the three phases. These three phases are the eccentric phase (deceleration), coming to a complete stop (isometric) and the acceleration phase (concentric). Now does the speed ladder truly improve the strength in these three phases? The answer is no it does not.

The eccentric phase is the lengthening of the muscle, and it is the phase that shows how much force your body can absorb while decelerating. The Isometric phase is that one point in agility when your body comes to a complete stop, even for as little as a tenth of a second. And the concentric phase is when you must forcefully explode out and change direction. This is all defined as rate of force development.

Rate of force development is the speed at which your body can produce force as fast and as explosively as possible. Developing the three phases of muscle contraction is the key to increasing rate of force development. The more you develop these three muscle contractions, the faster and more agile you will become.

Now in my experience, the best way that I’ve seen to do this is through the use of bulgarian split squats. Here's a short list why:

  • 1.  Bulgarian split squats put a premium on core "stability" as your abs are having to oppose a lengthening quad on the back leg.
  • 2.  More shoulder friendly than back loaded positions with a barbell
  • 3.  They are loaded from the bottom so put less compressive forces on the spine.
  • 4. It's a single leg activity, and once you have the necessary strength base in a bilateral movement, it becomes very important to be able to transition that into a single leg world.  Because last time I checked....all sports that involve running and cutting are realistically played on one leg.

Programming

Now that we’ve gone over all the technical stuff, let's talk programming. As with everything else in strength and conditioning you need a base to build off of. The first step is to do a 5 rep max squat. We do 5 rep max because it is enough weight to be able to figure out a legitimate 1 rep max, without stressing the central nervous system too much. We want to save the central nervous system for actual competition itself.

Once you get your 5 rep max go here and plug in the weight you used and type “5” in the reps category then hit enter! This is the weight that we’re going to base all your lower body strength work off of. It is important to get exact numbers, because every athlete is different and we need to be constantly stressing the body through increased loading. By getting an exact max, this allows you to stress yourself through exact percentages and progress much faster.

With this program you will be doing legs 3 times a week. Yes, that’s right, 3 times. Before you start complaining saying “that’s too much”, hear me out. You’ll be using non-linear periodization so each day will be using different volumes and different intensities. We will be using the Cal Dietz “Triphasic Training” model (If you haven’t read the book, I highly suggest doing so it has a ton of awesome stuff!).

Accumulation

The first 3 weeks of training will be the accumulation phase, to get the body ready for higher forces later on. It will look like this:

Day 1 (Monday): Bulgarians 4x8

Day 2 (Wednesday): Bulgarians 3x6

Day 3 (Friday): Bulgarians 4x12

Day 1 is medium intensity with medium volume, day 2 is high intensity with low volume and day 3 is low intensity with high volume. As coach Dietz explains in his book, this is done so that your body can recover better from the volume. When doing high volume on a Friday, the body has 2 days off (the weekend) to recover from the training, so it will get back in working order. If you do the high volume day on another day during the week, your body won’t have enough time to recover from the session, which will affect your performance in other training sessions.

Eccentric

Once you’re done with the accumulation phase, the fun part begins. You get to do two weeks of eccentric loading, two weeks of isometric loading and end off with two weeks of dynamic effort. The periodization for both eccentric and isometric loading will be the same, because we’re training two different contractions for 2 weeks at a time. It will look a little something like this:

Day 1 (Monday) Eccentric Bulgarians 4x4 with 30% of your 1 rep max

Day 2 (Wednesday) Eccentric Bulgarians 4x3 with 35% of your 1 rep max

Day 3 (Friday) Eccentric Bulgarians 4x5 with 25% of your 1 rep max

**** to do bulgarian split squats you will use the percentages given above, and take the weight you find and split it between 2 dumbbells. For Example, if you get 90 pounds, you use a 45 pound dumbbell in each hand.

So as you can see, we’re doing the same amount of sets each day, but the rep count is different. Not only is the rep count different, but the intensities are different. Like I stated before, this is so your body doesn’t become overtrained.

When doing eccentrics, you’re going to count six seconds on the way down, and explode back up. It’s very important that you get the full six seconds, so that you are truly taxing the eccentric contraction to the best of your ability. Exploding back up is also very important, because this is what is going to get you faster and more explosive.

*this video only shows a 3 second eccentric, but you get the idea

Isometric

Now for the isometric cycle, it’s going to be the exact same set up as the eccentric cycle. For those of you who don’t like to re-read directions (even though it’s literally only 2 paragraphs above this) it’s as follows:

Day 1 (Monday) Isometric Bulgarians 4x4 with 30% of your 1 rep max (3 second hold at bottom)

Day 2 (Wednesday) Isometric Bulgarians 4x3 with 35% of your 1 rep max (3 second hold at bottom)

Day 3 (Friday) Isometric Bulgarians 4x5 with 25% of your 1 rep max (3 second hold at bottom)

Dynamic

Last but certainly not least comes the dynamic effort portion of the cycle. I’m sure most of our readers know what this means, but for those just started out in this industry dynamic effort means you’re moving the weight as fast as you can. This means you need to be as fast as possible. This cycle is where you’re going to see your speed truly coming together and the light bulb will turn on in your head.

The numbers for the dynamic effort cycle are going to be a little different from the other two cycles. This is because you’re trying to work through the entire range of motion as fast as possible. You will not be slowing down at all during these lifts, so therefore you need to use a little lighter weight. The concept is still the same though for the periodization. The numbers are as follows:

Day 1 (Monday) Dynamic Effort Bulgarians 4x4 with 22.5% of your 1 rep max

Day 2 (Wednesday) Dynamic Effort Bulgarians 4x3 with 25% of your 1 rep max

Day 3 (Friday) Dynamic Effort Bulgarians 4x5 with 20% of your 1 rep max

Closing Thoughts

While I've gone out of my to simplify the concept of agility today, I hope this article gives you a better understanding of what your athletes actually need to be more agile.  Also, please understand that's there more than way to skin a cat.  Just because I focused on bulgarian split squats today using a triphasic approach doesn't mean that's the only way to get things done.  If you have any questions post them below, and feel free to chime in with what you've been getting results with.

about the author

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Ed Miller is a former intern at Defrancos Training Systems in New Jersey and Syracuse University. At Defrancos he had the pleasure of working under Mike Guadango and Joe Defranco where he trained with some of the best athletes in the world from the NFL, MLB, NHL and various other sports. At Syracuse University he worked under Coach Corey Parker and Coach Veronica Tearney. He has a B.S. in Exercise Physiology from SUNY Brockport and is also the founder of “The Zone: Strength and Fitness” in White Plains, New York where he works under Anthony Renna owner of Five Iron Fitness. He is also the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Rye Neck High School in Mamaroneck, New York. Ed has prided himself on getting his athletes bigger, stronger and faster using the “less is more” mentality.

What Causes Muscles to Grow Part II: The Science Edition

To truly be able to understand topics, we need to be able to see the forest through the trees, but we also have to stare at some bark. The big picture in regards to muscle growth says that we have to stress the body with mechanical loading, create some heat, and feel an acid load during training, and then we have to recover effectively in the aftermath. The small details of muscle hypertrophy can be quite confusing, and modern researchers are far from understanding all of the intricacies of the pathways associated with growth and breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue. Despite the long road ahead for anabolism based researchers in elucidating all of the pathways associated with what it takes to pack on muscle tissue, there are some things that we can point to with some certainty as being extremely important factors involved with the cellular and molecular regulation of muscle mass.

The Rate Limiting Factor

Discovering the rate limiting factor of complex inter and intracellular physiological pathways is a critical component that researchers are always interested in discovering. The rate limiting factor is the thing that typically determines whether progress continues or halts in any endeavor. Suppose I own a shoe factory, and I have a few employees who have assigned roles. Tom puts the lace holes into the leather of the shoes, Mary puts the laces in the shoes, and Jimmy puts the rubber soles on the bottom. My team simply is not making as many shoes per hour as I would like. Is it the team, or is there a rate limiting factor. I put up cameras in the factory to see what’s going on. When I analyze the film from the assembly line, I see that Mary is not cutting it. Tom is pumping out shoes with lace holes, but Mary seems more interested in checking her cell phone than diligently lacing up the shoes. The shoes are piling up into Tom’s work station. Tom simply stops doing his thing, because the log jam is happening one step ahead of him. There’s no need for Tom to keep doing his job. I have a talk with Mary, and she agrees to not use her phone at work. Suddenly the production of shoes leaving the factory increases markedly. I figured out what the rate limiting factor was and I used an intervention strategy that mitigated that component from decreasing productivity.

When discussing muscle growth, we see that it is governed by the interaction between protein synthesis and protein degradation. If synthesis exceeds the rate of degradation, then we have a net increase in protein fibers that accumulate in muscle tissue, aka, we gain muscle mass. When discussing responses to resistance training, we see that it’s a process based more on increasing protein synthesis rather than greatly diminishing degradation; whereas, responses to endurance training are more based on limiting degradation. Therefore, when examining what people who lift weights are interested in, we have to discuss the factors associated with protein synthesis.

Photo Credit:  Pearson Education
Photo Credit: Pearson Education

Protein synthesis is the manufacturing of new proteins inside of a muscle cell. The two phases of protein synthesis are transcription and translation. Transcription is the act of copying the instructions from the DNA on how to build a new protein in the form of messenger RNA (mRNA). Translation is the process by which the ribosome assembles a protein based on the instructions coming from the mRNA that travels from the nucleus to the cytosolic region where the ribosome resides. The question of greatest import is, which of the two components of protein synthesis is the rate limiting factor? The answer is that translation seems to be the lynch pin in the operation.

Diving deeper into the translational process, can we identify what is the rate limiting factor within this puzzle? The answer is that the scientific community is not there yet, and it seems as though there are many possible pathways that can be utilized in this process, but one that seems to be of critical interest is that which is called, the mTOR dependent pathway. The other critical factor is how much ribosomal biogenesis is taking place. Essentially protein synthesis is dependent upon ribosomal efficiency, which is driven to a large part by the ability to activate mTOR, and ribosomal capacity, which is related to the overall content of the number of ribosome complexes present inside a muscle cell. If we can maximize ribosomal efficiency and content, we should have the best case scenario for building muscle mass.

Readers of this article are encouraged to explore this topic within the peer reviewed articles associated with this topic. This article certainly will not present to you the full scope of what is happening in this convoluted and extremely involved logistical beehive of translational steps. Instead, the author would like to present to you key concepts that are associated with the major theoretical phenomenon involved in what governs the translational machinery’s activities.

Transcription is a nuclear based phenomenon. The instructions for assembling all of the proteins that the body is made of are coded for in the DNA. We need to copy the code before we can begin the building process. The copy of the code is mRNA, and the process of transcription is the act of creating the mRNA strand. The first thing that we need to do is to unwind the DNA double helix to get the necessary structures into the proper place to copy the appropriate code. A signal to activate transcription (STAT) is sent to the nucleus to begin the process. Transcription can be increased by influences from steroid hormones or peptide hormones. Steroid hormones such as, testosterone move directly through the sarcolemma and bind to the androgen receptor which is located on or near the nuclear envelope. Once the steroid hormone binds to the androgen receptor, the hormone/receptor complex then migrates into the DNA and starts the transcription process.

Peptide hormones bind to the sarcolemma and activate a secondary messenger cascade driven by janus kinase (JAK) enzymes. JAK phosphorylation activity causes the release of STAT, which migrates to the DNA. STAT signals for DNA helicase to begin unwinding the double helix. DNA helicase travels along the length of the helix, unwinding it as it goes. Riding on the tail of DNA helicase is RNA polymerase, which is copying the code from the DNA inscribed instructional palate. mRNA begins forming from the back end of RNA polymerase. Once RNA polymerase has copied all of the necessary components of the DNA to construct the appropriate mRNA segment, mRNA breaks away from RNA polymerase and migrates through the nuclear pores into the cytosol. mRNA then travels to a ribosome where it is situated between the two segments of a ribosome (almost like mRNA is the meat that goes in between the two buns of a burger).

Now that mRNA has reached the ribosome, we can see the translational process in action. Translation is based on the ribosome instructing transfer RNA (tRNA) to collect appropriate amino acids from the cytosol to bring back to the ribosome for construction of the appropriate protein. tRNA brings amino acids back to the ribosome, which are assembled in the proper triplicate orders to create the desired protein product. The act of getting translation to start seems to be the critical matter in this entire process, and there are multiple options that the body can utilize to try to pull off this building procedure. The most discussed method of initiating translation is the mTOR dependent pathway. There are two separate mTOR complexes, mTORC1 and mTORC2. mTORC1 is regarded as the critical component, and seems to be a potentially powerful rate limiting factor in protein synthesis. When mTORC1 is activated, it seems as though translation takes place and muscles continue to grow, so being familiar with factors which can activate mTORC1 is of critical importance.

There are many steps that take place at the ribosome involving various proteins and enzymes that must be initiated to begin the actual process of translation. The enzymes involved in this process are kinase enzymes. Kinase enzymes participate in phosphorylation based actions. Phosphorylation essentially refers to any time that a phosphate is passed from one enzyme to another…much the same way that a bucket brigade works to put out a fire. If a phosphate continues to be passed in an appropriate manner from one enzymatic reaction to another, the resulting reaction will take place. mTORC1 seems to be a big player in whether the phosphorylation cascade will continue on the route towards achieving the translation phenomenon at the ribosome. The kinase enzyme, p70s6k must be activated to begin translation. If we can get p70s6k to go through a phosphorylation reaction, then translation will take place. p70s6k is an mTOR dependent step though. So what we see is that mTOR is the show. How then do we ensure that mTOR participates in this process?

Photo Credit:  Nature
Photo Credit: Nature

mTor activation appears to be dependent on a few cellular mechanisms. Leucine availability in the ribosomal region of the cytosol appears to be a powerful player, as does the state of protein kinase B (Akt). Akt is an enzymatic step that takes place prior to reaching mTOR in the pre-translational cascade system. Excessive oxidative stress appears to be a factor that will inhibit Akt and prevent mTOR from being activated, thus shutting the process down. The actions of anabolic peptide hormones, such as IGF and GH appear to be players in opening intercellular portals that admit leucine into the ribosomal region of the cytosol. Therefore, it seems that if we can create an internal environment where we have chronic states of low oxidative stress and high levels of circulating anabolic peptide hormones, we provide the appropriate setting for mTOR to be activated and muscle growth from a ribosomal efficiency standpoint to be maximized.

Achieving optimal states of circulating anabolic hormones is associated with good, hard training sessions that are not excessive in duration (not much longer than 1 hour maximally). Having low oxidative stress seems to be associated with not having prolonged glucocorticoid responses during resting states of the body. The presence of appropriate content of circulating amino acids, namely leucine is also of critical importance. This is where the merger of proper training and sound nutrition coalesces.

When discussing ribosomal content, it seems as though beta-catenin levels are critically important for driving an increase in ribosomal biogenesis. Beta-catenin/c-Myc signaling is independent of the mTOR pathway. This is still as yet an area in the literature that is not strongly understood, but identifying factors associated with this type of activity seems to be crucial.

The empirical process is reductionist in nature. We continue to break things down into smaller and smaller constituent parts as we attempt to deduce what the rate limiting factor of an operational procedure is. When it comes to hypertrophy, it seems as though there are multiple options. When faced with consistently applied mechanical stress, the body will find a way to make a compensatory change. The compensation is hypertrophy. The robustness of an organism on this planet is driven by the plasticity of that lifeform. Lifeforms need options and contingency plans to be able to survive in face of threatening situations. Hypertrophy is the response to mechanical threat. While variability is a critical component, it does seem that the mTOR dependent pathway towards ribosomal efficiency and the beta-catenin pathway for ribosomal biogenesis are the primary drivers of the two ways in which we maximize translational activity, which is the rate limiting factor of protein synthesis.

If I am thinking in a personal and reflective manner on the ways in which I would attempt to maximize the mTOR dependent pathway of translation, I would go with the following approaches based on my understanding of the science and my, “in the trenches” experience as a strength athlete.

  1. 1.  I need to have a decent amount of oxidative fitness. If I’m going to maintain chronically low oxidative stress, it really helps if I have a fairly high number of mitochondria. Oxidative stress in local muscle tissue is often times the product of being unable to inhibit tissue neurologically, and having that tissue exist in non-oxidative conditions for excessive periods of time. Increasing the mitochondrial content of a muscle improves the ability of that muscle to go into an inhibitory state. Also, having a better aerobic system will allow me to exist under more of a parasympathetic condition as my resting heart rate will be lower.
  2. 2.  I would not perform excessive amounts of high intensity cardiorespiratory exercise that is of long duration. Plasma leucine levels seem to be highly linked to whether or not sufficient leucine can be transmitted into the ribosomal region of the cytosol. Aerobic exercise that is of high intensity and long duration is associated with decreasing plasma leucine levels to the point where it is below a threshold point that allows mTOR to be inhibited by an insufficient intr-ribosomal leucine content. I would perform aerobic exercise that is of moderate intensity for moderate amounts of time. 140-160 HR for 30 minutes to an hour maximally 2 to 3 times per week maximally.
  3. 3.  I would manage my insulin levels well. Chronically high insulin levels are associated with existing in an inflamed state. This inflammatory state, which comes from downstream effects of insulin (such as increased interleukin-6 and reactive protein C) cause oxidative stress, which would reduce the activity of protein kinase B. This reduction in the activity of protein kinase B would be problematic for the m-TORC1 pathway.
  4. 4.  I would try to get plenty of sleep. Growth hormone is critically important for the translational machinery. The actions of GH at the plasma membrane when it binds to its receptor involve a secondary messenger cascade that ultimately activates the JAK/STAT pathway for transcription related matters, but also opens a portal that admits leucine into the ribosomal region of the cytosol (facilitating the activity of mTOR)
  5. 5.  I would train hard. Most importantly, I need to have significant amounts of mechanical loading, which seem to be the primary signaling method for activating the transcription and translational machinery through what appears to be some kind of structural protein, piezoelectric flow communication phenomenon that transmits messages from extra-cellular, sarcolemmal, and intercellular strain related forces to the nucleus and the ribosomal regions.
  6. 6.  I would try to eat quality carbohydrates and proteins and perhaps supplement with amino acids in the peri-workout time period. IGF-1 is a potent driver of facilitating the mTOR dependent pathway. IGF-1 also creates myogenic activity in the basement membrane of muscle cells, which causes proliferation and differentiation of satellite cells. These satellite cells will ultimately turn into new nuclei inside that cell, which will become new sites for transcription. IGF-1 levels in the circulation are intimately connected with the state of the amino-acid pool. Low levels of amino-acids in the circulation and within cells will reduce the IGF-1 responses that an individual can have.
  7. 7.  I would find relaxation methods that work for me so that I can calm down and recuperate between training sessions. The energetics of protein synthesis and the recovery process in general is an autonomics driven phenomenon. If I can’t relax and have fun, then I can’t enter quality parasympathetic states. Parasympathetic activity is associated with anabolism. Staying sympathetic, constantly on, and being under stress too often will kill gains. Relax with friends and have fun.

Good training combined with appropriate nutrition and allowing for recovery are the hallmarks of successful mass building programs over the years. The science is beginning to explain why these approaches worked. Maybe by understanding what’s going on a little bit more clearly you will be more highly motivated to hit all the details in the mass building process required to maximize gains. If you are interested in following a good program to maximize muscle growth, I recommend picking up a copy of the e-book, MASS. That book is my best attempt to organize a plan that jives with my understanding of the science that I laid out for you in this article. Good luck to you in your pursuit of gains, my friend. As you were.

Be sure to pick up a copy of Pat's newly released ebook MASS today.  It's only available for one week, and who knows when it'll be available again.

about the author

d9ca6c07fc91bb289822a676849ad941.jpeg

pat davidson

-Director of Training Methodology and Continuing Education at Peak Performance, NYC.

-Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, 2009-2011

-Assistant Professor, Springfield College 2011-2014

-Head Coach Springfield College Team Ironsports 2011-2013

-175 pound Strongman competitor. Two time qualifier for world championships at Arnold Classic

-Renaissance Meat Head

What Causes Muscles to Grow

There are a million articles and programs offering up the next secret (aka, gimmick/fad/farce) method for packing on tons of muscle. Rather than give you some, “top secret” approach or quick tip that will have you spinning your wheels in the gym, I’d rather explain to you the overall concept of what has to happen for you to add muscle mass to your frame. As an overall concept, what I would like to get across to you in this article is that the human body doesn’t want to put on muscle mass.You have to make a conscious decision to do something that is incredibly uncomfortable and jarring to your organism so that you give your body no other choice but to pack on more muscle so that it can defend itself from the same stressor if it is encountered again. Gaining muscle mass is hard work that never ends. Following the application of significant stress to your body, you need to recover. The recovery period is where you add new proteins to your muscles so that they become bigger and stronger. As un-sexy and not new as it sounds, if you want to gain muscle mass, you’re going to have to work very hard in the gym and live a healthy lifestyle outside of it featuring appropriate sleep, nutrition, and hydration. If you understand the big picture and why things have to be done a certain way, perhaps you will be more willing to actually do it.

The Captain and The Ship

Think of a ship out on the open ocean. The ship encounters a storm. Driving winds and rain wreak havoc on the deck while the hull is getting pounded by enormous waves. The ship survives this storm, but it took on significant damage. The captain of the ship looks around in the aftermath and sees a broken mast, holes in the sidewall, and a few steady leaks. If he wants to keep sailing in these waters he’s clearly going to have to make some repairs and perhaps revamp this boat.

He analyzes the damage of the ship and sees which areas were most impacted by the storm. He reinforces those areas. He puts up a thicker, sturdier mast, makes the sidewalls denser, and shores up the leaks with a stronger adhesive material. The ship goes back out on the ocean, and another storm comes along almost exactly like the first one. The ship survives this storm with only minimal damage. All the areas that the captain focused on for repairs held up pretty well.

Photo Credit:  Todd Kumpf
Photo Credit: Todd Kumpf

The next day he and his crew patch the ship up a little bit and it’s ready for the open ocean again. This time a completely different storm is encountered. Freak snow comes out of nowhere, icy seawater sloshes over the sides of the boat, and chunks of debris come flying through the air, shredding the ship. The crew and the vessel make it, but this time the damage is completely different compared to the first storm. It was as if nothing the crew had done in their repairs following the first storm had prepared them for this last squall. The captain orders the crew to go back to work the next day. They focus on the areas that were most heavily damaged in this last disaster and rebuild those sections with more robust material.

Do you think the captain and crew of our imaginary ship want to spend their days laboring to rebuild their ship? Of course not. All they want to do is to continue to sail so that they can do their jobs so they can put food on the table. They would never put in the effort to work on the ship unless it was very clear that the ship was unfit for use and that it needed to be strengthened to handle similar difficult demands again in the future.

Do you think they’re going to fix and rebuild parts of the ship that were unharmed from the storm? Of course not. You focus your attention on the areas that need help. Can you fix every part of the ship all at once? Probably not, you have a limitation to the size of your crew, and they can only work so hard for so long. You also do not have unlimited amounts of wood, tools, and other assorted pieces to be able to repair everything all at once. Ultimately, you have to decide what kind of storm you want your boat to be ready to handle. You simply can’t have it all. You also can’t permanently live in the storm. If you’re going to be fixing your boat, you should probably do it when it’s sunny and you’re safely docked.

Your body is the boat. The captain is your brain. The crew is your immune and endocrine systems working to trigger the appropriate cellular repair steps. The wood and the tools that you use for repairs is the food you eat, the water you drink, and the sleep that you acquire. You have to figure out what kind of storm is the appropriate kind in order to trigger the appropriate repair process that will build you a new body that is more muscular than it was before. Obviously running a marathon is an absolutely ungodly storm that you could encounter, but the repair mechanisms that would take place after wouldn’t be geared towards adding muscle to your frame. The storm has to be highly specific. The raw material also has to be of very high quality that you use to repair yourself after the fact. Do you want to be going into your next storm on a boat made of rotting wood, or do you want only the finest, most outstanding construction material possible for your vessel?

The Perfect Storm

What is the perfect storm for creating the optimal stimulus for growing muscle? It primarily comes down to three variables. It seems as though the combination of mechanical load, heat, and acidity is the right environment for optimizing muscle growth.

The research in this area seems to indicate that multiple sets (3-5) of approximately 10 repetition maximum (RM) load using multi-joint compound exercises (squatting, bench pressing, deadlifting, pull-ups) with short rest (approximately 60 seconds) is optimal for increasing muscle mass. Go ahead and try doing 5 sets of 10 (with a weight where you couldn’t get 11) in the squat with 60 seconds rest in between. You’re going to be hot, acidic, and your muscles will be dead. You just hit the perfect storm.

Your brain will register this event and trigger all of the cascade responses driven through the hormonal and immune systems associated with repair and growth of skeletal muscle that you can muster up as an organism. You could do this kind of workout over and over again for a pretty substantial period of time and continue to get great gains for a while. The problem with that exact workout is that it’s pretty boring at a certain point, and even if you were the most diligent person, who cares nothing about routine and boredom, at a certain point, your body would adapt to this, and you’d stop making any headway. You need to vary things up a little bit to keep yourself engaged, and to force the organism to have to adapt to a salient threat. The thing is, you don’t want to vary things up so much that it’s a completely different kind of storm. If the storm is wrong, then the repairs will be to create a different kind of ship. If the challenge to the body isn’t appropriate, it might strip material away rather than add on.

Closing Thoughts

To finish off this article, you need to understand the following things about the storm and the repair process. Feeling a fairly heavy weight, feeling hot, and feeling an acidic burn are the three threats that drive the muscle building train.

When it comes to driving adaptation, you need to scare your body…so threaten it the best you possibly can. Sets between 6 and 15 reps are probably the most appropriate for hypertrophy, with sets of 10 being most optimal. Rest periods need to be kept short to create the truly significant heat and acid load response. If you’re using the same exercise over and over, look to stay within 60 to 90 seconds of rest. If you’re setting up a circuit, you’ve got a little more leeway, and you can make the rest periods shorter.

Autonomic-Nervous-System.png

Work really hard, but when you’re done, make sure you recover appropriately. Earlier I talked about fixing the boat in sunny skies and calm seas. Here’s my recommendation for sunny skies and calm seas in life. Most importantly, have a good relationship with family and friends. Spend time with other people. Social engagement will trigger the parts of your brain associated with relaxation, regeneration, and recovery (specifically the nucleus ambiguous component of the parasympathetic nervous system located in the medulla). Second, if you’re going to do recovery exercise, do easy cardio. Try to get outdoors to soak up some vitamin D. You don’t want to try to create a whole new storm environment to fix your ship in. Light cardiovascular exercise increases circulation (gets the repair pieces to the tissues), and increases the amount of mitochondria in your body. Mitochondria are the location where you utilize oxidative rephosphorylation of ATP. If you’re using your oxidative energy system, it allows the muscle tissue to relax in that location. Being able to relax and hit the off switch is critical when it comes to repair and growth.

When it’s time to be in the storm, make it the perfect storm. The storm should be hell. See what you’re capable of surviving. Load the bar up pretty heavy. See what you’ve got. Push through those last couple of reps. Keep your rest short…feel like you’re going to die. When the storm is over, shut it down. Relax. Enjoy other people that you really like. Eat, drink, and be merry. Do a little recovery work between storms. Make sure you don’t have to recover from your recovery work. I wish you well young sailor. Hopefully your vessel is sound and your captain is wise. Keep sailing, I’ll see you in Gainsville if you stay the course.

If you're into this whole muscle thing, then be sure to checkout Pat's new e-book MASS.  It gives you 66 pages of awesome info coupled with a 16 week training program designed to build muscle.

about the author

d9ca6c07fc91bb289822a676849ad941.jpeg

pat davidson

-Director of Training Methodology and Continuing Education at Peak Performance, NYC.

-Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, 2009-2011

-Assistant Professor, Springfield College 2011-2014

-Head Coach Springfield College Team Ironsports 2011-2013

-175 pound Strongman competitor. Two time qualifier for world championships at Arnold Classic

-Renaissance Meat Head

How to Use Low Intensity Plyometrics to Facilitate Maximal Strength Gains

Since the times of Ancient Greece, athletes have explored ways to get stronger, jump higher, and run faster. Each generation of new athletes have attempted to push the barrier and break previous records. It was with this quest in mind that Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky stumbled upon and created “shock” training. In the Western world, this is known as the plyometric method. So what exactly is a plyometric? A plyometric exercise is one that utilizes the stretch-shortening cycle or myostatic stretch reflex.

The myostatic stretch reflex occurs when elastic energy is stored within the tendons and muscles following a rapid stretch, such as during an eccentric contraction. If a concentric contraction directly follows, as happens during a plyometric exercise, then the stored energy is released and it contributes to total force production.

If you're having trouble visualizing this, think of it like stretching and launching a rubber band very quickly.  The lengthening/stretching of the rubber band represents the eccentric portion, while the shortening/launching of the rubber band represents the concentric contraction.

While the topic of plyometrics is broad to say the least, this article will specifically cover how late intermediate and advanced lifters can use low intensity plyometric exercises during their warm-up, or within their training, to elicit maximal strength gains utilizing post-activation potentiation (PAP).

Maximal Strength & Power: A Partnership?

Strength is defined as the ability to produce force. You are able to display strength both isometrically and dynamically. When it comes to maximal strength, or limit strength, it is usually quantified as the greatest amount of force that a muscle or muscle group can exert in one maximal effort.

Power, on the other hand, is a combination of force and velocity:

P= Force x Velocity

In particular, power represents the exertion of force on an object and the object’s velocity in the direction which the force is exerted. As a result, alterations in force theoretically should create changes in power production.

photo credit:  http://www.elitefts.com
photo credit: http://www.elitefts.com

Is that the case?

Yes! According to the literature, maximal strength is an important quality that affects power output and peak power production.

As noted by Schimidtbleicher, increased maximal strength allows for greater peak power production since it gives a person the ability to more easily accelerate submaximal loads. Moreover, people with higher levels of maximal strength tend to have a greater percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers or type IIa/IIb fibers. As we know, type IIa/IIb muscles fibers most contribute to high power outputs.[1] These assertions are also supported by the research provided by Moss et al and Stone et al, which looked at the relationship of maximal strength and power.[2]

Side note: Don't take this to mean that just boosting maximal strength will automatically increase power. That's a quality you have to train. However, boosting maximal strength gives you the chance to be more powerful because you're now working with a larger strength base.

Nevertheless, since the human body is complex it doesn’t end up being nearly that simple. Enter the central nervous system (CNS).

The Role of the Central Nervous System

Before moving on, lets have a quick recap.

1.  Strength is the ability to produce force. Force = mass x acceleration.

2.  Power is measured by taking the product of force and an object’s velocity in the direction that the force is exerted.  Power = force x velocity

3.  Higher levels of maximal strength tend to lead to higher levels of power according to the scientific literature.

Why isn’t it that simple?

When it comes to force generation one of the key component is the CNS. The CNS allows for coordinated muscular movements and force generation through innervation via motor units.

image001
image001

Motor units consist of a motor neuron and the skeletal muscle fibers innervated by the motor neuron’s axonal terminals.

As opposed to getting into muscle physiology, however, you just need to know that all motor units aren't created equal, and that you have two main types:

  1. Low threshold motor units

These are smaller motor units that innervate type I muscle fibers, which generate low amounts of force, but are highly resistant to fatigue.   These are the muscle fibers and motor units that allow us to do low intensity activities like writing this article, taking a walk, or getting a glass of water.

  1. High threshold motor units

These are larger motor units that innervate type IIa/IIb muscle fibers, which generate large amounts of force, but fatigue more easily, especially the IIb muscle fibers. These muscle fibers and motor units allow us to engage in explosive and powerful activities like lifting a maximal squat or performing a heavy clean & jerk.

So, in order to produce force quickly, one must be able to effectively utilize their high-threshold motor units. This is where plyometric exercises are useful. As noted by Bompa, the CNS controls muscle force by changing the activity of the muscle’s motor units; if a greater force generation is required, a greater number of motors units are recruited. This is known as Henneman’s size principle. Motor units are recruited from smallest to largest based on the force requirement needed.

photo credit:  Science and Practice of Strength Training
photo credit: Science and Practice of Strength Training

One of the benefits of plyometric training is the increased activation of the fast-twitch motor units. [3] Plyometric drills allow for an individual to improve their efficiency of utilizing their high-threshold motor units.

This is important since both max force production needed to move maximal weight and peak power production needed to move a weight explosively both rely on the high threshold motor units to innervate fast twitch muscle fibers.

Since we know that both peak power and max force production are directly correlated to high threshold motor unit recruitment, we can then utilize plyometric drills directly before a heavy resistance set to take advantage of the phenomenon known as PAP.

Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP)

If you are unfamiliar with the term PAP, it refers to a phenomenon by which acute muscle force output is enhanced transiently (between 5 to 30 minutes) as a result of contractile history of the muscle fibers and nervous system stimulation.[4] This is typically accomplished by completing a set of a heavy resistance exercises prior to an explosive exercise that uses the same movement pattern.

Why does this phenomenon occur?

The truth is that the exact cause is unknown, but there are two proposed theories.

1.  The first theory involves the Hoffmann Reflex (H-Reflex). The H-Reflex is an excitation of a spinal reflex elicited by specialized nerves that conduct impulses to muscle. The theory is that PAP comes from an enhancement of the H-Reflex, which increases the efficiency and rate of nerve impulses to the muscle.[5]

2.  The second theory involves phosphorylation (addition of a phosphate for production of ATP). The idea is that a max contraction makes actin and myosin more responsive to the calcium ions released, thus triggering events that lead to enhanced force production.[6]

Traditionally, PAP has been used to promote increases in power production rather than maximal force production. In other words, heavy sets of squats have been used to produce more power during box jumps or sprinting.

Yet, we know that both peak power production and maximal strength are directly correlated to high threshold motor unit recruitment. So what prevents us from switching the order? Well, nothing at all.

In fact, I've seen athletes blow through plateaus time and time again by performing a low intensity plyometric exercise prior to a maximal strength exercise.

So now that you understand the science and rationale behind my methods, it is time to get to the programming.

Sample Programming

Prior to moving on, a word of caution:  these techniques are for individuals that have a substantial strength base and training age. If you have not been training for several years, then focus on getting stronger before using advanced techniques.

When it comes to integrating low intensity plyometric exercises to benefit from the PAP phenomenon, I like to do it in two ways:

The first includes the plyometrics during the warm-up phase, which works great for people that are quite powerful and explosive, but tend to fatigue quite easily. The second uses contrast training, which works well for people that have great work capacity, but are not as powerful and explosive.

Low Intensity Plyometric During Your Warm-Up

The general purpose of a warm-up is to increase core temperature, activate dormant muscles, prepare the body for movement, and stimulate the CNS. The latter can be done using low intensity plyometric exercises after you've finished your breathing drills, soft tissue work, and dynamic mobility drills.

The low intensity plyometric exercises should be the last drill that you perform during the warm-up phase prior to performing your first main compound movement of the day (i.e. a bench press, deadlift, or squat variation).  This is because PAP lasts anywhere between 5 to 30 minutes in length.[7]

Generally speaking, the plyometric exercises during the warm-up for lower body days are one-leg and two-leg bounding, power skips, lateral skips, and repeated jumps. During upper body days, I will use plyo push-ups and some medicine ball ballistic exercises since true plyometric exercises are limited when it comes to the upper body.

Sample Lower Body Warm-Up

Squat Variation Max Strength Day

A) Lateral High Knee Skips or High Knee Skips – 2 X 20 ground contacts (10 right and 10 left)

Rest 30 – 45 seconds, then perform B

B) Hurdle or Dumbbell Jumps – 2 X 6

Rest 2 minutes and go back to A. After last set completed, then start to pyramid up to your working set for your main squat variation for the day.

C) Squat Variation (Main Movement)

Deadlift Variation Max Strength Day

A) Lateral Bounding or Forward Bounding – 2 X 14 ground contacts (7 right and 7 left)

Rest 30 – 45 seconds, then perform B

B) Repeated Jumps (back and forth) – 2 X 6

Rest 2 minutes and go back to A. After last set completed, then start to pyramid up to your working set for your main squat variation for the day. 

C) Deadlift Variation (Main Movement)

Sample Upper Body Days

Bench Variation Max Strength Day

A) Medicine Ball Overhead Slam or Rotational Medicine Ball Slam – 2 X 8 (per side for rotational slam)

Rest 30 – 45 seconds, then perform B

B) Plyo Push-up – 2 X 6

Rest 2 minutes and go back to A. After last set completed, then start to pyramid up to your working set for your main bench variation for the day.

C) Bench Variation (Main Movement)

Contrast Training

The contrast sets should only be used for the main movement of the day and not during warm-up sets for the main movement. You only pair the plyometric movement with your working sets.

Bench Press Variation Day

1a. Choose 1: (3-5 sets X 4–6 reps)

Explosive Pushup

Medicine Ball Chest Pass to Floor

Supine Medicine Ball Chest Throw

Rest Period: 75 to 90 seconds before primary lift set

1b. Bench Press Variation for Max Strength

Squat Variation Day

1a. Choose 1: (3-5 sets X 16-20 ground contacts)

Lateral Bounding

Forward Bounding

High Knee Skips3-5 X 16-20 ground contacts

Rest Period: 75 to 90 seconds before primary lift set

1b. Squat Variation for Max Strength

Deadlift Variation Day

1a. Choose 1: (3-5 sets X 4-6 reps)

Repeated Jumps

Hurdle Jumps

1 Leg Lateral Hop (per side for reps)

Rest Period: 75 to 90 seconds before primary lift set

1b. Deadlift Variation

Closing Thoughts

By utilizing these methods, you will not only find yourself busting through your current plateau, but you may find that your bar speed increases during your submaximal effort days or dynamic days.

Just remember to properly use the rest periods between your plyometric exercise and heavy sets because if not fatigue will negate the effects of PAP.

Now go out there and time to hit some new PRs at the gym!

IMG_6087_small
IMG_6087_small

About the Author

James Darley is the founder of Historic Performance, and specializes in making busy office professionals strong, jacked, and athletic.   He has formerly interned at LIU-Brooklyn and Benfield Sports Performance, and has worked with a variety of individuals ranging from financial executives to Division I athletes. Outside of fitness, James enjoys reading history books, fishing, and hiking.  Check out his Twitter and Facebook to get daily goodies!

Resources

[1] SCHIMIDTBLEICHER, D (1992). Training for power events. In: Strength and Power in Sports. P.V. Komi, ed. London: Blackwell Scientific Publications, pp. 381–395.

[2] MOSS, B.M. P.E. REFNES, A. ABILGAARD, K. NICOLAYSEN, AND J. JENSEN (1997). Effects of maximal effort strength training with different loads on dynamic strength, cross-sectional area, loadpower and load-velocity relationships. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 75: 193–199.

STONE, M.H., H.S. O’BRYANT, L. MCCOY, R. COGLIANESE, M. LEHMKUHL, AND B. SCHILLING (2003). Power and maximum strength relationships during performance of dynamic and static weighted jumps. J. Strength Cond. Res. 17:140–147.

[3] BOMPA, TUDOR AND CARRERA, MICHAEL (2005). Periodization Training for Sports, 2nd edition, 199.

[4] ROBBINS, D.W (2005). Postactivation potentiation and its practical applicability: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res., 19(2): 453-458.

[5] HODGSON, M., DOCHERTY, D., & ROBBINS, D. (2005). Post-activation potentiation underlying physiology and implications for motor performance. Sports Medicine, 25 (7), 385-395.

[6] HAMADA, T., SALE, D.G., MACDOUGALL, J.D., & TARNOPOLSKY, M.A. (2000a). Postactivation potentiation, muscle fiber type, and twitch contraction time in human knee extensor muscles. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88, 2131-2137.

[7] CHIU, L.Z., FRY, A.C., WEISS, L.W., SCHILLING, B.K., BROWN, L.E., & SMITH, S.L. (2003). Postactivation potentiation response in athletic and recreationally trained individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 17(4), 671-677.

To Think or Not To Think: The Power of Mental Rehearsal

Bases loaded, I click my shoes twice to get the extra dirt off my cleats. I take three practice swings outside of the batters box with two bats, going through my walk up routine perfectly, without even thinking. As I approach the plate my coach says, “Don’t think and just rip it." Pitch one, strike. I didn’t like it, too far outside. Pitch two, swing and a miss; I wasn’t even sure what happened. What gives? I wasn’t over thinking, my swing was PERFECT, coach said so himself. Count is 0-2 and my hands are so clammy I can barely hold onto the bat. I start to go over my last swing in my head, but then the ball comes right at me. Pitch three, perfect pitch, right down the line.

I struck out, and it was the first of many times at bat where I would approach the plate with uncertainty. Dragging my head down in shame back to the dugout, my coach pats me on the back. “You were thinking too much again.”  This isn’t a flash back from an intense collegiate game, it was fourth grade little league and it marked the beginning of me critically thinking about “thinking.”

Do I ‘Think’ Too Much?

I never knew what to focus on when at bat or, as my coach would say, what not to think of, and it followed me through my entire career as an athlete. Lets jump forward 15 years to me now competing as a weightlifter. If you are involved with strength sports you may agree with me when I say it is one of the most fatiguing athletic ventures. But you're probably thinking in terms of how hard your program is physically and how you have DOMS from those back squats you did the other day.

Tommy Kono, a well known weightlifter and coach, as well as an inductee of the International Weightlifting Hall of Fame, broke down the main aspects of weightlifting success into a pie chart, which looks like this:

Pie-Chart.png

50% is from the mind   30% technique   20% power development

He stated most lifters and coaches seem intent on spending no time on the first item and every little second of all their efforts on the last, until exhaustion. It's not the amount of physical strain placed on our bodies which may make us a successful competitor in the long run; instead, it's the combination of cultivating the correct mind-set so when we approach our times of physical strain we are prepared.

I can guarantee every single person reading this has been advised at one time or another that the reason they missed a lift, or didn't make the big play, was because they were over thinking, spending too much time analyzing, or rather, not relying on their “muscle memory" and instincts.

Research on memory and its various systems is vital to understanding information processing and motor performance. Muscle memory has been used to describe the observation that various muscle-related tasks (such as swinging a bat or performing a snatch) seem to be easier to perform after previous cyclic practice. It is as if the muscles “remember.” Information is perceived by the CNS and prepped for a meaningful motor response, when at some point information selected must be retained or stored for a future use.

Within a few weeks of starting a resistance training program strength increases despite little to no increase in hypertrophy. These initial increases in strength are due to neural adaptations. When we learn to snatch we are not just taxing our muscles in a physical manner. The retention and subsequent retrieval of information can be either beneficial or detrimental. For example, if you spend a year squatting improperly it will become frustrating to reteach proper mechanics because your body has adapted in more ways than one to the stimulus.

Similarly, the same concept adheres to our decision making process:  if we are groomed to think a certain way for a long period of time it will take longer to restore because the brain reverts back to its automatic decision making processes when we are faced with reoccurring situations.

By creating habits, we forge new pathways in our brain and it can be exhausting.

Lighter weight reps and sets are relatively monotonous, and we rarely think about the lift, it’s almost automatic. Often we are told we cannot think about what we want to do when attempting an action and it will occur naturally, but when we hear this, we miss the big picture. One must be present on all accounts, mentally and physically. What you should be doing when approaching a lift is actually the opposite of being on autopilot and just going through the movements. Practice builds confidence, but to reach higher levels of lifting one must become an intelligent athlete aware of the situation and in complete control of their thoughts.

How to Snatch
How to Snatch

The top 5 weightlifters will almost always be more reliable than the other competitors, suggesting consistency leading up to performance is a major factor.   The higher placed athletes in each weight class were more consistent in their performance between competitions when compared with athletes who placed in the bottom half (McHuigan & Kane, 2004). Why may this be?

The secret of weightlifting is mastering the content between your ears. I will never down play hard work, the incredible amounts of dedication and the years of training athletes put in because all of those play a role in what makes a great athlete. But to be mentally present through every step of your performance determines the outcome, and I’m not just talking about competition day.

It’s also much easier to avoid the hard work that comes with mental training. In fact, for every hour I spend in the gym, I try to put in at least half that time with mental-skills work.

For the purpose of this article, I'm going to specifically speak in terms of daily training circumstances and hold off on a competitive situation or the day of a meet for now. Incorporating new techniques during a pressure situation will likely not be beneficial. Utilizing a mental rehearsal program will take time to develop and is not a one night stand.

At the higher level of the sport spectrum (where you find your national and international athletes), there isn't much difference in strength and/or power between competitors, so what it ultimately comes down to is what’s going on in their brain.

As stated in my last article, we are not born with this state of mind...it takes grooming. I attempted to end off explaining that mental skills are qualities that develop over time, just as your muscles do. So lets start with our first step into mental training and dissect one of the most reoccurring problems I see.

Often when attempting a heavy weight one may change how they approach the situation compared to when lifting lighter repetitions. Granted, hitting a new PR can be scary. Sometimes we get stuck thinking about the number rather than what we know we are supposed to be doing. Especially if this number has been haunting us for a while. The situation I repeatedly encounter when working with athletes is their inability to see the difference between how they approach their lift, not on a technical level, but a mental one. Typically, the athlete will try to critique their form immediately:  “I pulled too early, I was slow, I’m just too weak.”

My first question is what were you thinking when you approached the bar and placed your hands on it? My next is, what were you thinking when you were warming up with a weight you can do but isn’t so easy to handle? Lastly, what about your warm up sets? Typically three different answers are given. This is the main problem, there is no consistency.

Plato Quote
Plato Quote

Conducting a Mental Rehearsal

Many of us seem to think our mental approach only needs to be turned on when we attempt heavy lifts in the snatch, and clean and jerk. But it starts with the warm-up attempts. Mental rehearsal is not day dreaming, but rather a drill of precision. The technique is not concerned with positive statements or self-confidence boosting, which is a separate entity.

As you approach a mental rehearsal, you visualize yourself performing the lift and doing exactly what you want.  This, in turn, creates neural patterns in your brain just as if you had physical performed the action (Porter, 1990).

The pattern relates to practicing, which is an extension of physical training. Each time you utilize this technique you reinforce your memory, so when a pressure situation arrives you're well prepared and confident of accomplishing the task at hand.

Before you approach the bar you must visualize the lift being done in your head. The method of which you choose to do so will vary with each of us.

Here is an example of how I mentally prepare for a snatch

1.  Look straight ahead and drive up with your chest

2.  Slow and controlled form the start, push the ground away from you with your heels.

3.  Push into the hand on your back (a cue my coach gives me)

4.  Barbell to belly button & turn over fast, sit hard.

5.  Press into the bar with your lower traps.

6.  Remain in the bottom position until you are settled, don’t "rush out”

You need to have a mental game plan. When you are lifting, this entire script is not going through your head. It’s more like the dress rehearsal before the actual movement occurs. Before I approach the bar I typically have my back to it with my eyes closed. When you block out vision, you isolate the inner physical sensations around you. I prefer to mouth/ speak what I’m thinking out loud. I think of the lift in two phases, the pull and the catch, this personally helps me break down the complexity.

We all have different weakness and strengths; this isn’t a cookie cutter outline for everyone. Take time to develop your mental skills and figure out what you must focus on. Actually sit down and write it out, then simplify it just like I did above.

Understanding how the motion of the lift feels as well as looks is important. An automatic reaction should be a desired one which is done through practice. You have to ask yourself:  are you just going through the motions to get the lift done or are you training with purpose? This is most important when we do our accessory work and our lighter lifts. Often these attempts are rushed and spent less time on (mentally) compared to the main lifts. I know this was true for myself, originally they were less fun and not as rewarding or exciting. The moment I began to understand how important it was to take every single detail of my training into account was the moment I actually progressed.

When you approach the bar as it becomes heavier with each rep, it is not often that we are so physically tired as to why we can’t lift the weight, but mentally drained. If we are not prepared for our lift, or we have scattered thoughts, it may be detrimental to our physical capability. The possibility of using self-talk strategies too often, commonly termed ‘analysis to paralysis’ or ‘over thinking’ may often result in negative performance. Having a habitual approach to the bar will off set this manifestation of over thinking. Attempting to think about 100 new corrections before you snatch a heavy weight isn’t the time or place. And if it gets to that point it’s time to strip the bar and move on.

Dani Snatch
Dani Snatch

Some key concepts to be aware of when you approach your training session:

1.  Visualize the completion of the lift before you attempt to do so.

2.  Be consistent. Pick a strategy and stick with it. Follow through.

-If you’re focusing on sitting hard during the lift that day, don’t overthink your pull.

3.  Stop thinking about the previous lift & focus on the task at hand.

-It’s over, move on. If you keep thinking about it, it’s likely it will keep happening.

4.  Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.

-Instead of finding the flaw in every lift, focus on what you did correctly and re-structure your words for the next attempt.

-Avoid mentioning the technical mistake and instead replace it with a corrective measure in order to maintain focused on the task at hand.

-Do not harp on what you did wrong, focus on the cue which will guide the movement.

5.  Always approach the bar with conviction.

-All of your hard work deserves fierce confidence in your capabilities. After all, what have you been training for?

6.  Just because it’s an accessory exercise doesn’t mean it’s less important.

-The same rules apply; they wouldn’t be in your program if they didn’t matter.

7.  Over analyzing should not take place outside of the gym.

-Stop worrying about WHY you missed your lift. Instead be constructive and write down what you’re going to do to change it.

-Your mental rehearsal may change from training season to season as you acquire new skills or weaknesses. This is not necessarily a bad thing; we would never want to be stagnant. There is always something we can work on to better ourselves.

about the author

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Dani Tocci is an eccentric individual whose primary goal is to cultivate a positive growth mindset with everyone she works with on both a sport consulting level and with training. Having a not so typical background with degrees in art and philosophy gives her an edge on her thought process. Dani is a competitive olympic weightlifter and has had the pleasure of working with national level athletes.  Follow her on Instagram (@d_tocc) for all the happenings.

The Minimal Adaptable Load And What It Means For Your Training

As coaches and athletes we’re always in pursuit of the same thing:

PROGRESS

And that progress will come in many different shapes and sizes. For one person it may mean losing 15 lbs, for another it may mean deadlifting 500lbs, and for another it may mean winning a world championship.

At the end of the day, however, progress is always the uniting principle by which we can gauge the effectiveness of a training program:

Is it taking you/he/she closer towards their goal?

If yes, then you’re making progress.

If no, then you’re not.

BUT, here's the magical question:  how do I or my athletes make progress?

The answer...stress.

But not just any stress, it has to be the right type of stressor, at the right time, in the right amount.  If any of those factors are off, then you won't be incurring the type of positive adaptation you're looking for.

While there are many variables to consider when putting together a comprehensive training program, I'd like to focus today on one that I believe doesn't get enough attention, and the implications it has for training.  And that variable is called:  The Minimal Adaptable Load.

The Process of Adaptation

Before continuing, it's important that you know a thing or two about adaptation since that is, at the end of the day, how we make progress.

Thus, let's walk through the basic process.

In the graph below you'll notice fitness level is on the y-axis and time is on the x-axis.  The 0 point on the y-axis represents your current fitness level, while above it represents improvement and below represents decline.  It's important to note that any fitness quality can replace "fitness level" on the y-axis.  For example, you could easily get more specific and put something like speed strength, or starting strength, or absolute strength, but for today we'll just focus on the broader concept of fitness.

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As you can see in the above graph, the process of adaptation follows a pretty simple formula:

Step 1:  Provide a stressor/training stimulus

Step 2:  Fatigue

Step 3:  Recovery

Step 4:  Supercompensation

Step 5:  Involution

If you'd like to read more about adaptation, then checkout this post I wrote for Eric Cressey a little while back.

Let's take this a step further and consider three separate scenarios:

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Scenario 1:  Not Enough Stress (Purple Dashed Line)

In this scenario, the athlete has not been stressed nearly enough.  While they did accumulate low levels of fatigue, it wasn't enough to force a positive adaptation (notice how the purple dashed line doesn't cross back over the original fitness level).

Scenario 2:  Too Much Stress (Red Dashed Line)

This is the exact opposite of our first scenario:  the athlete has been stressed far too much (driven too low) and can't adequately recover.  In other words, they dug a hole too deep to climb out of (again...not surpassing the original fitness level and maybe even getting worse).

Scenario 3:  Just Right (Green Dashed Line)

Jackpot!  The athlete has been stressed enough to force adaptation to occur.  Fatigue accumulated, but it was the right amount of fatigue because the athlete could adequately recover from it.

The Minimal Adaptable Load

What you just experienced in Scenario 3 is the minimal adaptable load.  And seeing as this is a term you're probably not familiar with (I'm fairly certain I made it up this past weekend) let's go ahead and define it:

The minimal adaptable load represents the total amount of volume in tons/lbs/kgs that must be lifted over the course of a designated period of time in order to incur a positive adaptation in a fitness quality.

Hopefully I don't need to explain why this concept is important, but this value does change with time.  When you first start off training you can practically just look at weights and get stronger, but once you've been lifting for a while it takes a little more effort to keep putting weight on the bar.

Which brings us to our next big point:

The Beginner vs. The Advanced Athlete

I think the real beauty of the minimal adaptable load shows through when considering how you go about training a beginner vs. a more advanced athlete.

Since the beginner has a lower training age it won't take nearly as much stress/load to improve a given fitness quality.  The more advanced athlete with an older training age, on the other hand, will require significant stress/loading to improve a given fitness quality.

For example, take a freshman in high school who hasn't touched weights once his entire life and an all american going into his senior year of college.  Different scenarios?

You bet your ass they are.

And that has to show through in their programming.

PyramidImages_Pyramid.png

The beginner can afford to train several different fitness qualities at once because it doesn't take much loading to incur a positive adaptation.  For example, let's say it takes 300 lbs of volume (and this is a completely arbritrary number) for him to see improvement in maximal strength.  That's not much at all, so you can afford to go after multiple qualities at once.

The advanced athlete, on the other hand, might need 10,000 lbs of volume (again, made up number) to see progress.  Thus, he needs to periodize his programming to focus on one fitness quality at a time.  He cannot train max strength, strength speed, and speed strength simultaneously because it'll be impossible to make progress in any category.  If he actually did perform the necessary amount of loading in each category he'd be so overtrained that he'd get worse.

Keeping Track of Training

The other important thing to note is that you should be keeping track of your training (and your athletes training if you're a coach).

If you don't have these numbers, then how are you ever going to appropriately monitor training from month to month, and year to year.

For example, let's say you hit a 3 month block aimed at improving your deadlift.  At the end of those three months you retest and see very minimal gains.  What should you do next?

Well...you should consult you're training log.  Look at volume, look at intensity, look at how many different fitness qualities you're attempting to train at once etc.  In essence, bury yourself in the numbers and figure out where your program is coming up short.

Granted, there are other variables to consider as well:  nutrition, total allostatic load etc.  But having a training log is an invaluable tool when it comes time to making consistent progress over the long haul.

Key Takeaways

While we touched on some bigger concepts in today's article, here are the three major takeaways I hope you have:

1.  Identify your and/or your athletes training age because it will have a big impact on how you approach programming for them.

2.  Keep track of your and/or your athletes training with a detailed training log because it gives you invaluable data on training volume etc.

3.  Begin thinking in terms of the minimal adaptable load (i.e. how much volume needs to be lifted over x amount of time for me to see gains in y lift).

As always, feel free to post questions, comments, concerns and/or pictures of people curling in the squat rack below.

about the author

812f4cb124c2dda65e33a5f1c2f087ef.jpeg

James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.

Performance Based Nutrition: How to Forge Your Own Plan

“I’m absolutely stuffed; I feel like I’m going to explode. I’m so dead from eating all of this food but I can only eat so much (incredible laughter ensues)...On the way home, can we stop at a gas station to grab a few muscle milks?” While sitting in a Chipotle in Columbus, Ohio, Zach Hadge sat complaining about his “sour belly” from the bolus of food he just had. Except, bolus is an exaggeration and it was maybe more like a forkful

Immediately after hearing this I started laughing because I knew once I looked at his plate it was going to be full. Sure enough, it was, it literally could have been returned for full price. It looked like he did nothing more than twirl around some sour cream. He should have been starving, on account of the fact that he missed breakfast, and trying to gain weight for the Arnold.  Instead, he ate minimal food, and drank maybe two of the four muscle milks we got on the way home.

Now I am not sharing this with you to show that Zach is an elite level food waster, it is to show how incredibly intelligent and resilient the human body is. I also programmed for Zach leading up to this Arnold and I saw the stress from training Zach put on his body. How can sub optimal nutrition somehow fuel a world champ? Really...think about how big of a deal it is to be a world champion in something, even for a short period of time. Knowing how big of a role nutrition plays in performance, how is it possible that anyone can get to that level without perfect macros?

This is because everything works in nutrition. It has to...because if it doesn’t, you die.

It really is that simple: the human body is incredibly adaptive.

If your body couldn’t adapt to the non paleo, gluten filled, GMO stuffed food like substances we consume, you would slowly deplete to death. This adaptive process, however, is what makes nutrition so difficult to manage. You can count every macro and eat for absolute optimal health and still end up with a heart attack, and you can eat candy and be a world champ.

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At a lean 230 I can almost guarantee Zach was not taking in much more than 3000kcal leading up to the Arnold World Championships due to an inconsistent appetite. It's typical for Zach to eat sour patch kids and/or snickers intra workout. Some people just have the predisposition to put on lean mass very easily, while keeping body fat very low. Of course, I am picking out the worst nutritional habits Zach had, but his daily approach was far from what many would consider an optimal performance based weight gain diet.

With that in mind, anyone who is looking to take their performance or health to the next level should put some effort into their nutrition. With nutrition being the broad topic it is, most people are left with a few options:

  1. 1.  Hire a coach
  2. 2.  Forge your own plan
  3. 3.  Steal one from a teen girl magazine
  4. 4.  Go on without self improvement.

Well not everyone has the means or the desire to work with a coach, teen girl magazines haven't gotten anyone to an above average level in ever, and if you have any level of motivation, not making a change isn’t an option.

This leaves you with forging your own plan. Scary, huh?

With all of these different methods, it can be difficult deciphering exactly how to go about drawing up a nutrition plan. Thus, I have outlined the most important steps you must take into consideration to have an effective meal plan.

  1. Intake

There is a hierarchy of importance in nutrition. Many people will argue the amount of energy (calories) taken in each day will play the largest role in what direction a meal plan will take. The biggest misconception about this is the “clean eating” fad where people eat as much as they want as long as the food carries the healthy connotation. Yes, it is a step in the right direction for many people and it does drive results to some degree, however, it is far from the most important step.

To put this in better perspective we will use the example of John. John is a 190lb male that has been resistance training with intent for a few years and has developed some respectable strength. He is already relatively lean and follows the clean eating approach. Most lean individuals who train regularly do not necessarily have a haphazard enough habitual meal plan to see negative effects, like decreased body composition, getting weaker, tired all day etc. However, he is certainly not getting the most out of his meal plan.

The next step is to attack intake directly, or the amount of calories a person should be taking in. Caloric intake is completely dependent on the individual. Factors like lifestyle, genetics, body comp, training frequency, past nutritional habits, allergies, diseases...and the list goes on and on. In simplest terms, if you’re a shredded 250 you can handle significantly more calories than a sloppy 175.

Sounds simple, but that means there is a little bit of math involved using information you must obtain from yourself or your client. This means there should be an extensive and confidential exchange of information regarding current and past health, goals, current eating habits, activity level etc.

Here are two examples on how I came to find the appropriate caloric intake for two different athletes:

BW*1.5 easy estimation of maintenance kcal for a trained population

Female, 26, novice strength athlete, 130lbs:

Training Day: 2100kcal

Non Training Day: 1800kcal

Baseline: Approx 1900-2000

This is a simple meal plan:  she trains at the same times 4 times a week with her only goals being improved body composition and strength. I had previously worked with this client for some time trying to increase her intake, and based on how her bodyweight responded to the changes we made over several weeks I estimated she was between 1900 and 2000kcal to maintain her bodyweight. I simply did slightly under that for her non-training day to allow her to consume more on her training days. This should tip the scale slightly close to or over 2000kcal.

Male, 21, 166 NCAA Wrestler, 8-10 weeks out of a large tournament where he will cut to 157:

High Intensity Training Day: 2800kcal 3x a week

Moderate Intensity Training Day: 2500kcal 3x a week

Non Training Day: 2000kcal 1x a week

Weekly Intake: 2555kcal

This is a more complex situation to determine intake because of his goals and, more specifically, his lifestyle. Being a student athlete is difficult, being a student and a wrestler is very difficult, being a student and a competitive wrestler attempting to compete unaffiliated with the school while in school is insane. Adding a weight cut to that lifestyle demands special attention and a close relationship with the athlete to ensure success of the program. Especially when handling weight cuts it is important to have open and frequent communication with the athlete.

At this point, we are in a transitory period, switching goals from more off-season based to a specific tournament. Thus, I am putting minimal emphasis on weight loss, and focusing on maintaining weight while we transition in training.

As your training week changes and you intake different amounts every day it is simple to average your intake for the week. Just add up the kcal for each day of the week and divide by 7. This is a good indication of where weekly kcal is, and allows me keep a closer eye on his intake as his schedule changes.

As he transitions through a pre/off-season training block, where strength and general work capacity are high, keeping his intake high is essential to not only allow the adaptations to be more permanent but to ensure he can continue to adapt at a high rate.

The way you distribute their food is the next important concept. If you have someone eating 80% of their daily intake simply because it is easier to starve all day and binge eat at night, there is a 100% chance they will not comply long term to the plan. Creating an effective meal plan is about compliance.

  1. Macro Nutrient Breakdown and Distribution

The next step is the breakdown of your calories and how you distribute them throughout the day. Total calories is broken down into three macro nutrients: fat, carbs, and protein. At this point you must choose the type of meal plan you would like to use: high carb, carb cycling, high fat, intermittent fasting, and the list goes on.

Using your calories as 100%, convert each of the three macro nutrients into percentages that add up to 100.

Here are some general guidelines for a few common protocols:

Balanced:

Fat: 28%

Carb: 36%

Prot: 36%

High Carb:

Fat: 22%

Carb: 43%

Prot: 35%

High Fat

Fat: 50%

Carb: 10%

Prot: 40%

Once you’ve individualized your macro nutrient distribution and have your percentages, the next step is to convert them into grams. Take your total caloric intake and multiply it by the decimal form of the chosen percentage. This will give you the amount of calories of the chosen macro nutrient. Finally, divide that number by the amount of calories per gram:  4 for carbohydrates and protein, and 9 for fat.

For the sake of examples, we will use 2500kcal as the daily intake for the three examples I outlined above.

Balanced:

Fat: 77g

Carb: 225g

Prot: 225g

High Carb:

Fat: 61g

Carb: 268g

Prot: 218g

High Fat:

Fat: 138g

Carb: 63g

Prot: 250g

Now that you have daily totals you can begin tracking your intake. While there are many ways to go about doing this, I’m going to share with you what has worked best for my athletes and myself.

Create a meal database. This will give you the opportunity to do less and less thinking in making and managing your own meals the longer you are compliant with your meal plan.

*Side note: Grams is an effective way to measure your ingredients because every food substance will have an unchanging mass for the most part. If you are using cups or spoons to measure, you are in fact measuring volume, which can change under certain conditions.

As you begin creating meals that both fit your macros and you enjoy, keep track of them on your phone, laptop, and/or notebook in a database. You can use google sheets, microsoft excel…really whatever goes. The goal is just to make an easy reference book of meals that you can turn to.

Distribution can be as simple as dividing your daily totals by four to have four evenly based meals throughout the day. You may also track what you eat in accordance to your natural appetite using modern day apps. This is an okay method although it has some inaccuracies and mathematical issues, but it is a reliable measure of intake if you are consistent.

The important concept to understand here is eating for compliance. You will not adhere to a meal plan if you're eating 80% of your calories at night so you can binge eat cake and pizza. This will not only ruin your energy levels and appetite/satiety axis, but it can have lasting effects on your metabolism as well.

  • Peri Workout Nutrition

Outside of extreme cases, the goals of most meal plans involve some sort of physiological change related to exercise adaptation. Any sort of moderate to high intensity exercise, especially resistance training, gives major opportunity for a proper nutrition plan to synergistically work together and give you even better results.

There is an incredible amount of research to prove this, especially in diseased populations. That being understood, there is a lot to be said regarding nutrient timing in relation to exercise, this is coined peri-workout nutrition.

We can split peri workout nutrition into pre-intra-post in relation to exercise. The main variable in this equation is carbs. I will take you through my peri-workout training shake protocol, and give you some insight on the programming aspect of it.

If you are interested in learning more about the protocol itself, click here.

Pre Training:

This should be a bolus of fast digesting carbs with a small amount of protein and minimal fat. The goal is to raise insulin levels to facilitate glucose into the muscle cell. This should be anywhere from 20-30% of your daily carbohydrate intake and 10-15% of your protein. The distinguishing factor with the pre training approach is that food or liquid are an option, whereas for the other two, liquid is strongly recommended.

I often utilize a liquid pre workout option that has an even split of dextrose and highly branched cyclic dextrin combined with whey isolate. The 50/50 split provides more optimal glucose uptake into the cell without bogging down sympathetic drive.

I time this about 30-45 minutes pre workout with any stimulants I use coming 10-15 minutes later. I utilize isolate to save a bit of money primarily, but this is facilitated by the gap in time after drinking and before training (30-45 minutes) which allows for longer digestion of the only slightly more intact isolate chains.

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Intra Training:

Intra training nutrition is one of the most highly experimented with modalities. Plenty of research has shown efficacy to intra training nutrition in improving recovery, and decreasing the dip in peak performance during a training session.

Intra training nutrition, however, has a very unique twist to it: you don’t want to spike insulin often or too high.

This is related to the autonomics of training and how they are almost inverse to the autonomics of nutrition. Simply put, insulin is a chief anabolic hormone, however, it is also a driver of the parasympathetic nervous system. All carbohydrates elicit some sort of insulin spike, the trick is picking the right balance.

Training must be a catabolic process facilitated by the sympathetic nervous system in order to illicit adaptation. The parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system work inversely, but one is always present. Ideally in training we want to minimize the parasympathetic system so we can further stress our bodies into adaptation.

Highly branched cyclic dextrin and hydrolyzed whey are my picks. While people have experimented with upwards of 70% of their daily intake for greater hypertrophy based adaptation, I tend to stick to 10-35% daily intake of carbs. As far as protein goes, keep the protein consumption low at roughly 5-10% of daily intake. Although it is not uncommon to see only BCAA’s used.

Post Training:

This is typically the best tasting shake, and should include a fast digesting carb that elicits a large insulin response. The parasympathetic system is what drives us to recover and adapt. After resistance training, muscle cells have a markable increase in insulin sensitivity, and this has even been been shown in diabetics. For that reason, I utilize a more balanced protein to carb ratio because utilizing them together can lead to greater glucose uptake (thanks to leucine and his friends), which drives recovery and makes you stronger for your next training session. 25-30% carbohydrates and 20-25% protein should suffice and refresh you after a tough session. I use dextrose and hydroylzed whey.

If we continued using the 2500kcal as our example my peri training shake combo would look like this

Pre:

28g of dextrose, 30g of HBCD, 35g whey isolate

Fat: <2g (Incidentals due to protein)

Carbs: 56g (21%)

Prot: 28g (14%)

Intra:

50g HBCD and 17g hydrolyzed whey

Fat: 0g

Carbs: 48g (18%)

Prot: 15g (7%)

Post:

67g dextrose powder and 48 hydrolyzed whey

Fat: 0g

Carbs: 67g (25%)

Prot: 41g (19%)

Something to Keep In Mind: Gut Health

Anatomy is typically what most people have memory lapses on, so here's a list of the organs of the gut: the gall bladder, large intestine, liver, oesophagus, pancreas, small intestine and stomach.

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This is the system associated with digestion, nutrient absorption and expelling waste.  Basically all of the organs in which food related substances travel through (they're kind of a big deal)

The most important tie in for gut health in nutrition is that it's a direct window into the immune system. This is incredibly important because it can really help or hurt you. If you're sick, putting the proper food into your system can help mitigate symptoms and improve recovery time.

We see this profoundly in our recovery to training. In fact, you can test this yourself:

Scenario 1:

Next time you have big training session make sure to start your recovery with no liquids and nothing but taco bell.

Scenario 2:

After your next big session have a shake of hydrolyzed whey, dextrose, and some salt.  Follow that up with a large chicken breast cooked generously in coconut oil with some white rice 30-60 minutes later.

It's important to note that the immune system can also be nasty to bite back. Any food coming into the system that's not recognized properly will elicit an immune response causing inflammation. Over time this chronic, low level immune system activation can severely impair recovery and training readiness, as well as lead to a slew of cardiac and health based issues.

Luckily, it’s very simple to avoid. You just need to make sure you’re adequately, not under or overly, hydrated and eat foods that you can easily define.

If you have no idea how the food you're eating was made, its safe to say you should limit it. A very easy way to manage this is just prep a good majority of your own meals.

Also, you should not have excessive bloating or gastric distress from the foods you eat. Great foods to help this process are leafy green vegetables and fermented vegetables (saurkraut, kimchi, pickles).

For those who really want to optimize gut health, try not drinking water 10 minutes before or after a meal and limit it during. Water can dilute the enzymes in the stomach and change the PH to less than optimal for nutrient absorption.

The End

There is nothing that pains me more than seeing people work their ass off just to have a lack of knowledge limit their success. While nutrition can be scary, there is a beautifully creative side to it as well.

And if you make sure you're properly managing the above criteria, then you're well on your way to creating an effective nutrition plan.

Don’t ever let knowledge be your limiting factor.

For more information on how to pick the right meal plan for you, see another of my articles:

http://rebel-performance.com/nutrition-pick-plan-works/

about the author

Andrew Triana “The Leucine Frog” is a promising young coach who has an intense passion for his clients success and writing. It is evident in his work that he is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. At 20 years old Andrew has produced National champions, World champions, Pro strongmen, and has helped many others reach their goals.  Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewTriana) and Instagram (@andtriana).

The Top 5 Mistakes Semi-Experienced Lifters Make that Limit their Gains

You’ve been training for a while now. You’ve noticed gains in strength, size, and body composition. So have your sex partners. But progress has come to a screeching halt. Personal records (PRs) are few and far between. Training is fun and all, but it seems to be going nowhere.

I’ve been there. Years back, I remember having read a few training articles on T-Nation.com and thought I was the shit. Kept working out, pushing my limits, only to get hurt what seemed like every week.

Man, if I could have those days back…

Now that training other people is my career, it is my goal is to prevent you from making the same mistakes I made. Here are the five most common mistakes I see intermediate lifters make.

Mistake #1: They don’t have a structured plan

Everything you do in the gym should have a purpose. To find out what that purpose is, you first need to have an end goal in sight.

Set a goal

I used to bounce around from program to program, spinning my wheels and never making progress.

Find something you’re good at—powerlifting, strongman, intramural co-ed volleyball, whatever—and start heading down that path.

Focus on building strength instead of testing it

You’ve already realized your newbie gains. PRs will not come as easy anymore. They will be hard fought… and much more satisfying.

Your training needs to be planned over the long-term. The term we use in the fitness industry for this planning is “periodization”.

The idea is that you figure out when you’re going to compete, then you work backwards from there.

When your next competition is far away, your training should be focused on building up general qualities that transfer well to all sports, such as work capacity, aerobic power, and general strength. As you get closer to a competition, your training should become more and more specific and focused. Specificity is one of the guiding principles of smart, effective training, but spending all your time being specific with your training doesn’t give you a foundation upon which you can build. You have to do the things that you don’t like to do if you want to get better.

You have to go back to basics.

Track your progress

If you’re not making progress that you can track, then whatever you’re doing is not working.

Talk to a professional to figure out how to accomplish your goal

If you remember only one thing I say in this post, remember this: If you’re serious about your goal, you need a coach.

If you broke your leg, you would go to the doctor. Why would you not refer your training out to a professional who spends all of their time trying to get better at what they do?

Mistake #2: They never learn how to move well

Quality movement is absolutely essential for long-term gains.

Learn how to squat and bend

When squatting or bending under load (like when you’re deadlifting), keep your spine stable and load your legs by “pushing” through the floor instead of trying to pick the bar up. Avoid leading with your shoulders and arching your back.

If you need to relearn how to squat and bend, try a Kettlebell Deadlift.

Learn how to press

When pressing (like with a bench press), keep your shoulder blades stable and elbows tucked. If you don’t do this, it’s like you’re trying to shoot a cannon from a rowboat. A good exercise to try is the Dumbbell Floor Press.

Learn how to row

When rowing, always lead the movement with the shoulder blade. You should feel the muscles in your upper back working. A good exercise to try is the 3-point Dumbbell Row.

Learn how to be move on one leg

Single leg work isn’t fun, but it IS important. A good, albeit difficult exercise to try is the Single Leg Rufus Deadlift.

Do more reaching exercises

If you want to stay healthy, you’ve got to remember how to reach. This is especially important for those general phases of training we were discussing earlier.

When doing push ups, think about pushing your hands “through” the ground (all the way to China) before you finish your rep.

Mistake #3: They don’t get enough sleep

Training hard is only effective if you can recover from it. Restful sleep is essential to the recovery process.

Sleep quantity

Shoot for 7-9 hours each night.

Sleep quality

Avoid electronics before bed. Try to get on a schedule so that you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. If you have sleep apnea, go see a doctor.

*Here's a good post by our buddies over at Precision Nutrition if you want to read more about sleep.

Mistake #4: They forget about their nutrition

In addition to sleep, nutrition is also essential to your recovery. Quicker Recovery → Harder Training → More Progress.

Become conscious of what you eat and why you eat it

I like prescribing a 3-day food log. Record everything you ingest, when you ingest it, and what you were doing at the time of ingestion. This is all the info you need to determine the number one change you can make to optimize your food intake.

Fill your gas tank with premium, not crap

If you’re trying to make your body a high performance machine, you should fill it with premium fuel, not sludge.

*Further Reading:  Nutrition:  How to Pick a Plan that Fits Your Goals

Mistake #5: They do the wrong type of conditioning work

Improper conditioning is a pet peeve of mine. Coaches everywhere run their athletes into the ground, making them worse instead of better.

What are you training for?

There are three basic systems in the body that produce energy. Determine the ones that your sport uses and then train those systems.

Don’t fall into the trap of doing conditioning simply because it “feels hard”. Any coach can make you puke, but can he or she make you better?

*Further Reading:  How Do You Train For the Long Haul?  Develop an Aerobic Base

Summary of the Top 5 Mistakes Semi-Experienced Lifters Make

Mistake #1: They don’t have a structured plan

Mistake #2: They never learn how to move well

Mistake #3: They don’t get enough sleep

Mistake #4: They forget about their diet

Mistake #5: They do the wrong type of conditioning work

Don’t fall into the same traps that I and so many others have fallen into. My goal is to teach, so if you know someone who you think would benefit from this, please forward it to them.

P.S. I made a whole 16-week program that is great for these intermediate lifters who need some guidance. You can even get the ebook, presentation, and first month of the program totally free of charge.

about the author

Lance Goyke, CSCS, is a Nerd Extraordinaire and secret admirer of lesbians everywhere whose expertise focuses on the human body. His clientele ranges from other trainers to kids to house moms to fighters to baseballers to anyone who needs to be taught how to exercise. Go invade his home base at www.LanceGoyke.com.

The Athletic Mindset: Comparison In Relation To Self-improvement and The Real Reason As To Why You're Not Reaching Your True Potential

Comparison can be a tragic thought process. We currently live in a world of social media where images and videos are pouring out of every crevice at a rapid pace. When we start to get into the habit of comparing ourselves to someone else, the result can be a false evaluation of our success. Many people have an idol of some sort growing up; perhaps this idol is the reason you participate in your sport today. A common mistake we make as beginners is relating our success in sport to what an elite athlete can do. We soon realize this is an inappropriate evaluation process.

It is not always apparent that we cannot start as a novice and expect to be a professional. Instead we decide to pick on somebody our own size and choose a more “suitable” option; perhaps a teammate or opponent whose been training for about the same amount of time and has similar numbers in terms of strength.

Perfect right? No, wrong again! 
This is also inaccurate! It's actually worse than comparing ourselves to someone we clearly know is on a different level all together. Here is why...
We fail to realize using such a tactic as means of motivation is the worst way to achieve a goal.

Instead you wind up stripping yourself of the opportunity to feel good about yourself. It is not because an extrinsic means of motivation is ‘bad’ [Although, research has identified athletes who exemplify intrinsic motivation may be the greater determinant of achieving success in sports when compared to those who are extrinsically motivated, statistically speaking, especially at the elite level (Hardy, Jones & Gould 1996 & 2003; Mahoney et al., 1987) We will dive more into that topic at another time] rather, it is due to the fact that we create a ceiling for our potential.
 Let me explain...

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By stating phrases such as "I can't imagine being like that” when comparing ones self to another, you might as well just take a seat and save yourself the time and heartache of what is to come.

We all have self-limiting feelings, which determine how far we will go. It is basically our self-image driven thoughts, in which we limit our expectations. Nothing more and nothing less. No one can truly steer your thought pattern when saying, “that’s impossible." It is you who allows him or her to do so.

You have the power to determine how far you will go, and I get it... that is an incredibly scary concept! No one wants that kind of commitment; everyone wants to point a finger or two or blame the situation on genetics or some other excuse. Take pride in all my actions? Admit I am responsible for my own actions? No thanks, I’ll pass.

This becomes a vicious circle of incomplete development as a human and puts a false sense of pride in satisfaction of mediocre achievement. Most of us do not achieve a fraction of our potential.

Few athletes view themselves without reference to the value attributed to them by society. Feldenkrais (1972) proposed societies recognition and approval gives a sense of organic contentment. He states our individual aspirations and desires will arouse anxiety and remorse, in turn the individual seeks to suppress the urge to realize them. This is due to the internal criticism he or she will have placed on them by the doubters and idealists. Because let’s face it, the road to success is far from ideal.

Photo Credit:  Nike
Photo Credit: Nike

When we compare, we fail to reach our inconceivable notions of greatness. We limit ourselves based on another person’s ability to do so.

Reaching is not enough. Those who exceed their potential must reach further. Stopping after greatness is perceived can be just as limiting as never getting there at all. We are not pre-destined for this greatness. Everyone should strive for higher standards. The difference is they create the concept in their mind, a simple commitment to a decision, and as time goes on habits are built, goals are set, and setbacks are inevitable.

This concept cannot be created unless it is first a repeated mental imagery of our own capability and none other than our own. This is the difference between doing the effecting outcome and being mediocre at best. It is a simple decision, a simple misconception, and we are all making it so complicated.

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Comparison can be a tricky thing to beat because beautiful ideas have stemmed from another mind other than our own. This is one perspective on how society has formed - a cultivation of ideas, which built on top of one another. However, being able to differentiate comparison and inspiration are vital for success in our performance.

Coaching

Let us switch gears and focus on a coach’s role. Achieving your potential as a coach is just as important, if not more so than as an athlete. Once you decide to be a coach you decide to use your acquired knowledge to influence another being, which you would like to see be successful.

Coaches must assess the abilities of their athletes and then decide to push further. This is not done by magic periodization schemes and squat cycles. Having good knowledge of technique and programming is just the start of coaching. Understanding how to speak to athletes and know what motivates them is the hard part. An athlete who does not respond to a coach will never achieve their full potential.

A coach sets the pace and creates the right environment for an athlete to excel. A coach who instills a base of confidence in the athlete will then see a spiral of positive effects to come, including higher lifts in both training and competition. If the athlete being coached is having a problem with constant comparison or negative self talk, consider using some mental skills training techniques to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive. By creating an atmosphere, in which the athlete is eager to perform daily mundane habits, a recipe for success is then made.

Competition

Weightlifting competitions are learning experiences, at which you can reflect on your training and assess whether you trained correctly to peak or not. They are not to be used as a comparison tool. The beauty of our sport, as can be applied to any, is the process and not the destination. Olympic weightlifting is about self -improvement. The basic misconception is that it is about competing against other lifters, when really it is about challenging yourself.

Your opponent is nothing more than a stationary barbell. The lifter who succeeds is the one who can stretch his or her imagination and believes in achieving what is pictured in their mind as possible. This may not be enough to win the class, but perhaps new personal records or overall performance, and that is the goal.

After reading this you may be confused on how to begin to incorporate this mindset into your training. Not many of us welcome change with open arms, because we are creatures of habit. Being creatures of habit can be beneficial once we learn to train our brains accordingly.  A crucial role for the basal ganglia is in habit learning as well as a host of other related functions such as motor control and emotional functions (Seger & Spiering, 2011).

What many of us don’t realize is our brain does not distinguish good and bad habits, but we can take control of them. During “habit mode,” our brain activity shifts from the higher-thinking cerebral cortex to our more primitive-thinking basal ganglia. Neuroscientists have discovered our habits never really disappear after being encoded. When too many choices suddenly proliferate in our mind, we go with our habitual tendencies to solving a problem.

The learning process consists of a progression of simple steps leading to more complicated ones, just as if a beginner were to learn a snatch. Mental skills are qualities, which develop over time, just as our muscles do. We need to make simple changes, which become fixed habits, which then become encoded in our brain as a natural routine. We must transform our thought process on assessing our value as an athlete. This is the first of many steps and will spiral into the beginning of a successful athletic mind-set.

about the author

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Dani Tocci is an eccentric individual whose primary goal is to cultivate a positive growth mindset with everyone she works with on both a sport consulting level and with training. Having a not so typical background with degrees in art and philosophy gives her an edge on her thought process. Dani is a competitive olympic weightlifter and has had the pleasure of working with national level athletes.  Follow her on Instagram (@d_tocc) for all the happenings.

REFERENCES

Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York, NY: Random House Publishing.

Feldenkrias, M. (1972). Awareness Through Movement: Easy  -to-Do Health Exercises to Improve Your Posture,     Vision, Imagination, and Personal Awareness. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Hardy, L., Jones, G., & Gould, D. (1996). Understanding    Psychological Preparation for Sport: Theory and Practice of Elite Performers. Wiley, Chichester.

Mahoney, M.; Gabriel, T.; Perkins, S. (1987) Psychological     skills and exceptional athletic performance. The Sport Psychologist. 1:181-199.

Seger, C. A., & Spiering, B. J. (2011). A Critical Review of Habit Learning and the Basal Ganglia.

Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience

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