pat davidson

Hormones and Training: What You Need to Know

There are two communication systems in the body, one wired, the nervous system, and the other non-wired, the endocrine system. Communication systems are used to decode the meaning of the environment that the organism finds itself in, and to communicate the environmental messages to the individual cells and DNA of the organism. Hormones do not make the cells do anything differently than what the cells normally do. Instead, hormones change the rate and the magnitude of physiological expression of cellular behavior. Hormones are released from a source cell, and make their way to a target cell where they exert their effect. Some hormones are released a great distance from their target cell, others are released from a neighboring cell, while others still are released in the same cell that ultimately is the target cell. The endocrine system utilizes glands, ducts, and the circulatory system to send its messages throughout the body. To exert its effects on the body, a hormone must bind to its receptor at the target cell. Hormone receptors are located either at the plasma membrane, the nuclear envelope, or inside the nucleus. Generally, peptide hormones have membrane bound receptors, steroid hormones have nuclear envelope receptors, and thyroid hormones have nuclear receptors.

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For all the types of hormones, the receptors are always proteins. Protein receptors are shaped in a way that makes them optimal for a specific class of hormones. When the hormone binds to the receptor, the receptor’s charge will be effected by the presence of the new hormone molecule, and the receptor will seek to change shape to find the shape associated with the next most stable charge. This changing of shape of the receptor protein will set off an intracellular/intranuclear physiological cascade effect that will ultimately effect one of the two phases of protein synthesis, transcription or translation.

Transcription is the copying of the genotype for a specific sequence of the genome, while translation is the construction of a protein from the genomic information at the ribosome. The post-translation folded protein is the ultimate phenotypic representation of the cascade effect featuring the cyclic effects of, environmental signal leading to organismal recognition, leading to secretion of a hormone, leading to migration of hormone to target cell, leading to binding of hormone to receptor, leading to intracellular messaging cascade, leading to change in the rate and/or magnitude of expression of DNA or ribosomal protein synthesis activity, leading to new proteins driving cellular behavior, leading to changes in organism behavior, leading to new interactions with the environment…and the cycle repeats again and again.

Due to the complexity of having a multitude of hormones being released from various source cells and reaching target cells simultaneously for a variable message that leads to an enormous number of concurrent intracellular effects, we need a working model to make sense of any of this concept, and to have a sense of what to do with it as a topic for exercise program design. In this article, we will focus on, what makes a specific cell a target cell, and what sort of internal environment is optimal for a robust anabolic hormone response. As with all models, they simplify complex topics to the point where there are occasions of inaccuracy. So the nit-picking evidence based troll may find several problems with this particular article; however, this article will generally serve as a strong guide for what conditions are appropriate to create on specific training days in a well-crafted training program.

A target cell is one that has the protein receptor for a specific kind of hormone. The attractiveness of a target cell to a circulating hormone becomes greater when the sensitivity and number of the receptors to that hormone is increased (upregulation). We are primarily interested in muscle cells in this article. Skeletal muscle cells are target cells for all of the major types of anabolic hormones. The sensitivity of receptors varies greatly depending upon the state of that particular skeletal muscle cell. Sensitivity of skeletal muscle cell hormone receptors is changed primarily by whether that cell has been recruited and fatigued. The greater the degree of recruitment and fatigue of that particular cell, the greater the upregulation of hormone receptors, and the more that cell becomes a highly attractive target cell for hormones. The next logical question is, how does one recruit and fatigue particular muscle cells.

The Henneman Size Principle is the guiding phenomenon regarding recruitment of skeletal muscle cells. The Size Principle states that at the lowest levels of force production, the slowest twitch muscle cells will be recruited to perform the task, and that as force increases within the task, faster and faster twitch cells will be recruited. At the highest levels of force production, the fastest twitch muscle cells will be recruited.

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Fatigue of muscle cells is based on repeatedly using the same cell for a task, and ultimately witnessing a drop off in performance from that cell. The greater the drop off in performance, the greater the overall fatigue. Not all of the mechanisms of what drives performance drop off are known, but some examples include substrate depletion and accumulation of metabolic byproducts. As a general rule of thumb, we can say that slow twitch cells are easy to recruit and difficult to fatigue, while fast twitch cells are difficult to recruit and easy to fatigue. The juxtaposition of responses between slow twitch and fast twitch cells to recruitment and fatigue creates an adaptable organism, but does present challenges to the exercise program design specialist. The program designer must determine what sorts of cells are necessary for modifying as target cells, and devise training schemes that maximize the receptor sensitivity for those cells to drive adaptive changes into them.

In his tour de force, Science and Practice of Strength Training, Zatsiorsky presents his fiber corridor concept. The corridor demonstrates methods that will lead to specificity of twitch type adaptations. Athletes who need to keep body weight low, and still display the highest levels of force production within their sport tend to employ training methods that systematically recruit and fatigue just the fast twitch cells. Athletes who are looking to put on as much mass as possible without caring too much for what cell type they are targeting can use methods that will recruit and fatigue slow, moderate, and fast twitch cells.

If you want to target just the fast twitch fibers for adaptation, you are generally going to choose resistance training methods involving the maximum effort method (repetitions using 90% or greater of 1RM), or the dynamic effort method (sub-maximal loaded repetitions performed at the greatest velocity possible stopping well short of failure). If you want to target moderate twitch fibers, you can start using the repeated effort method (loads under 90% with sets going to failure). Finally, if you want to target slow twitch cells, you can start using approaches like the stato-dynamic method (explained in greater depth later), which is low force, but high in duration for sets. There are many more methods, particularly when opening the playbook into realms such as plyometrics, change of direction, speed and agility related drills, and conditioning, but for simplicity sake in this article we will stick to resistance training drills only.

All of the methods described in the previous paragraph, perhaps with the exception of the dynamic effort method, have the ability to create dramatic hormonal responses to training through various pathways. The repeated effort method is the approach most commonly thought of for hormonal effects. Most classical research in the area of hormonal responses to exercise have focused on repeated effort method approaches, and have shown that multiple sets of approximately 10RM efforts with short rest periods seems to be the gold standard for highest possible endocrine responses to exercise. Performing 3 to 5 sets of 10RM with 60 to 90 seconds of rest between sets with compound exercises like the squat is one of the most stressful stimuli that you can impart on an organism. Such a protocol will stress every system in the human body to near maximal.

As was mentioned earlier in the article, the endocrine system is a communication system. What was not mentioned earlier is that the messages that the endocrine system primarily relays have to do with the maintenance of homeostasis. Homeostasis involves a select set of variables that cannot leave an acceptable range of values or the organism will likely die. Some variables considered homeostatic include temperature, blood pH, oxygen tension, and blood glucose. A protocol like 5 sets of short rest 10RM squats will threaten all of the homeostatic variables. In response to this, the body will mobilize defense strategies that will protect homeostasis. Activation of the endocrine system is one such response the body uses to ensure that homeostasis is not lost.

The primary purpose of the endocrine system is to return the body to optimal conditions that provide for the greatest safe haven wherein homeostatic variables remain unchallenged. Ultimately, with training approaches aimed at hormones, we can say that the best way to grow muscle tissue would be to recruit and fatigue the maximal number of muscle cells (now target cells), and threaten homeostatic variables to the greatest possible degree to magnify the absolute hormonal response to the highest possible level. Multiple repeated effort method sets are like a shotgun blast to the systematic steps of maximal protein synthesis. A huge number of cells within the Zatsiorsky fiber corridor are recruited and fatigued, a tidal wave of multiple organ systems stress is unfurled within the organism, and the enormous threat to a variety of homeostatic variables forces the creature’s hand to mobilize massive endocrine responses.

The hormonal response to the multiple bouts of repeated effort method work described previously is a mixed bag. This protocol will cause the highest cortisol and growth hormone responses to any regular training method. Catecholamines will also be powerfully elevated due to the massive sympathetic response to this protocol. The elevation of the catecholamines seems to be related to a downstream testosterone response. The growth hormone response will trigger an increase in insulin-like growth factor (IGF) through downstream mechanisms. In short, you see all of the hormones involved with cellular remodeling all at once in massive amounts. For some athletes, this mixed bag is not optimal. Greater specificity of hormonal responses can be achieved with some of the other methods.

Repeated bouts of short rest between sets maximal effort method training are very effective approaches for driving a significant testosterone response. Loads generally have to be at or above 85% of the 1RM in order to witness this testosterone response. In the past I have devised blocks that have been testosterone specific blocks. One such block featured a 3 week build-up. I would pair compound exercises, such as front squat and bench press (A day), and deadlift and incline bench press (B day). 60 seconds of rest would exist between the two exercises. Week 1 would feature 6 sets of 3 reps performed at 85% 1RM. Week 2 would feature 8 sets of 2 at 88% 1RM. Week 3 would feature 12 sets of 1 at 92% 1RM. Structuring the training week could be variable, but generally speaking, you want to get at least 3 training sessions in per week, and preferably 4.

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This seems aggressive, but I’ve personally done it, and witnessed many individuals perform it with extremely impressive responses. I caution participants to avoid getting fired up for sets. Remain neutral emotionally as much as possible. Such a testosterone specific block generally targets fast twitch cells. I recommend not doing more than 2 of these testosterone specific blocks in an annual training cycle. I believe that this is primarily a neural oriented testosterone specific block. In short, this is because neural cell bodies contain an abundance of androgen receptors, and testosterone exerts profound effects on neural cellular remodeling physiology. The three week build up is a good timing element. Synaptic neuroplastic changes will take place within this time period. Neural cell bodies generally take approximately one month to remodel, but a full month of this protocol borders on what I would consider dangerous, and my hope is that the hormonal surge speeds up the remodeling process at the neural cell body.

The stato-dynamic effort method uses loads of approximately 50% or less, and witnesses the participant moving the load at slow velocities. 2 to 4 second eccentric and concentric motions are typically used for this method. The low load and slow tempo makes this approach target the slow twitch fibers due to the very low forces. While the force variable is low, the duration of the set should be large. Slow twitch fibers are easy to recruit, but difficult to fatigue, and the longer duration sets are ideal for setting the stage to turn these slow twitch fibers into target cells. Sets are typically performed for 40 to 60 seconds, and participants can build up to performing multiple rounds of 3 to 5 sets. Typically the rest period is kept in a 1 to 1 ratio with the work duration.

The stato-dynamic effort method fits into the broader category of occlusion based training approaches. Occlusion techniques were made popular by the Japanese, Katso approach, also called Blood Flow Restricted Training (BFR). The overall findings from the various protocols that have been used in BFR approaches is that a substantial increase in growth hormone is typically seen, even when loads of approximately 30% 1RM are used. The thought behind this approach is that occlusion of venous vessels prevents the removal of metabolic byproducts from the local tissue area for an extended period of time, creating a larger than normal level of waste products and heat trapped in the blood that cannot escape until the occlusion is released. Once the occlusion is released, the blood that is loaded with waste products ultimately is circulated back to central regions, such as the heart and neck. Chemoreceptors in the carotid body and arch of the aorta register the high concentrations of metabolic byproducts in the blood, send an afferent signal to the nucleus tractus solitarius, which relays the message to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus perceives the internal environment of the body to be one that would threaten homeostasis. The hypothalamus then begins a signaling cascade to the anterior pituitary that unleashes a potent growth hormone pulse.

The stato-dynamic effort method asks the participant to never completely lock out the joints during performance of the tempo based exercise. Such an approach keeps the muscle tissue actively creating tension throughout the time period that the exercise is being performed. When muscle tissue is actively creating tension, it mechanically compresses the blood vessels that supply and drain the tissue, thus creating an occlusal effect. Eventually the set ends, and the occluded blood is sent back into circulation, leading to the mechanism of hormonal signaling described in the previous paragraph. Since only the slow twitch muscle was recruited and fatigued with this approach, only the slow twitch tissue is the target cell for the hormonal cascade.

Creating appropriate training templates for athletes of various types could easily be considered an act of cellular remodeling specificity. The wise coach is the one who determines the fiber type that primarily needs to be developed, the rate at which that fiber type needs to be developed, and how much of a hormonal driver for increasing rate and magnitude of adaptations needs to be imparted on the athlete at any point in time. All of the approaches listed in this article are considered to be advanced methods. Such methods may not be necessary for young athletes; however, once athletes are reaching advanced years in college or have been involved with professional sports and intensive training for several annual cycles, these approaches need to be considered. When sport specific skill and technical and tactical knowledge have reached their highest levels in advanced athletes, those with more specific fitness for the physiological demands of the game will have an advantage over their peers. At the highest levels, differences are measured with the edge of the razor. The thought that goes into the focus of training blocks should be just as exacting. If alterations in body composition need to be accomplished, we ultimately come to the concept that the morphology of the organism is largely a hormonally driven phenomenon. Those with the knowledge of specific hormones, and the techniques to create specific target cells will be better suited to help individuals with that need.

about the author

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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

Myocardial Oxygen Consumption in Fitness

Oxidative training has made its way back around to being everyone’s darling in the fitness industry. It seems like everyone and their mother is doing cardiac capacity blocks. I’ve been hearing a lot of people use real physiology terms to explain what sorts of goals they’re working to achieve and that makes me incredibly happy. People are looking for capillary density, mitochondrial biogenesis, eccentric cardiac hypertrophy, heart rate recovery capacity through parasympathetic means, improved lactate clearance, etc etc. There are a few areas where I think our attention will be brought to going forward regarding optimal development of aerobic capabilities of the organism, and one of those things is myocardial oxygen consumption (MVO2). MVO2 is a measurement of the aerobic activity specifically at the cardiac muscle tissue. Typically we estimate what the MVO2 is by measuring the rate pressure product (RPP), and inferring that number towards MVO2 scores. Based on this, what we will really be talking about in this article is RPP, and how to go after this variable in training.

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The RPP is the product of the systolic blood pressure and the heart rate (RPP = SBP x HR). RPP is typically referred to as the work of the heart, but in truth it is actually a power number, because of the fact that HR is a time dependent variable. Power is mathematically represented as Force x Distance/Time. With RPP as a power variable, the force is accounted for by the systolic blood pressure, the distance is the ejection of the blood out of the ventricle into the systemic circulation, and the time is one minute (that is the unit of time that HR is measured in). Because time is considered standard, most scientists throw it out in discussion, and simply refer to the concept as a work variable.

The key component that distinguishes RPP from other cardiac related variables is blood pressure. Most aerobic exercise variants that people participate in are rhythmic in nature and minimize the blood pressure response. During activities such as jogging, the autonomic response will be to constrict vessels in the gut via sympathetic output to visceral regions and to open blood vessels in the periphery through the actions of the catecholamines. By dilating peripheral vessels, this combined autonomic effect will actually reduce total peripheral resistance (TPR), and minimize the systolic blood pressure that the heart has to overcome to eject blood to the system. With minimal changes in systolic blood pressure with jogging as the activity, RPP measures will be modest.

When strength training is the activity, the RPP response will be a very different one as compared to jogging. If someone is performing high load, low repetition compound exercise, the skeletal muscle will be contracting forcefully. The high levels of tension taking place in the muscle tissue will mechanically compress the blood vessels perfusing and draining the working tissues. This compression of the blood vessels will prevent blood from flowing, and ultimate create a stopcock like effect in the vasculature that reflects pressure backwards all the way to the heart. The end result of this vascular activity is an immense increase in systolic blood pressure. Typical strength training designs feature large amounts of rest between sets, and as a result, the majority of time is not spent with elevated heart rates approaching what would be associated with an aerobic conditioning training session. When examining RPP responses, jogging and strength training both have limitations for bringing the variable to its highest levels for trainability.

When comparing end diastolic volume of ventricles and overall mass of hearts between different kinds of athletes, some interesting things begin to emerge. A normal untrained individual from the general population (reference person) has a heart that is slightly more than 200 grams and holds approximately 100 mL of blood at the end of diastole in the ventricle. Elite marathoners will typically possess hearts that are approximately 300 grams and hold approximately 180 mL of blood. Elite wrestlers will typically show heart measures of approximately 315 grams and be able to hold about 110 mL of blood.

These examples are commonly given when discussing eccentric vs concentric cardiac hypertrophy with the runner being the eccentric example. What is often not discussed are the athletes who seem to have the best of both worlds, such as elite cyclists. Cyclists will show cardiac measures bordering on the level of the wrestler for mass and the marathoner for volume. The reason that cyclists have such high measures for both mass and volume is because their heart rates are elevated for extended periods of time and their thigh muscles are constantly pushing against relatively high resistance while peddling through terrain such as mountains, which creates high systolic blood pressure responses. In essence, the cyclist has the best case scenario heart because they are the example of consistently high RPP in training.

With popular sports in North America, such as football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and hockey, there is reason to believe that a heart that has been trained to deal with high RPP could be a definite advantage. These sports often deal with athletes using propulsive lower body muscles at high intensities that would lead to contractile behavior that would occlude vessels and reflect significant pressure back to the heart. Football, lacrosse, and hockey in particular will also involve physical contact and elements of grappling with opponents that will elevate blood pressure due to the tensile activity of muscles under such conditions.

If we fail to prepare the athlete for such conditions in training, the system will be ill prepared to deal with these demands in competition. Athletes who are unaccustomed to high RPP situations will probably demonstrate high levels of anxiety under those conditions. The most difficult physiological activity the heart has to perform is isovolumic contraction. When you put people into experiences where they are performing powerful cardiac isovolumic contractions at a high heart rate they tend to go into terrible psychological situations leading to meltdown.

“When the mind is strongly excited, we might expect that it would instantly affect in a direct manner the heart; and this is universally acknowledged…when the heart is affected it reacts on the brain; and the state of the brain again reacts through the pneuma-gastric (vagus) nerve on the heart; so that under any excitement there will be much mutual action and reaction between these, the two most important organs of the body.” This is a quote from Charles Darwin in his book, “Emotions in Man and Animals”, written in 1872.

Steven Porges takes this notion much further in his book, “The Polyvagal Theory” and also explains how the muscles of facial expression play their own role in HR responses and emotional experience. My contention is that sport involves components of extreme exertion that lead to high RPP values. When the work of the heart reaches incredibly high levels, the psychology of the athlete begins to go haywire, and the athlete will display facial expressions demonstrating extreme discomfort and loss of feelings of control. These are the moments where disastrous plays occur in the most important competitions. If the athlete has lots of experience with physical training in high RPP conditions, and has trained their mind to not overreact to the feelings associated with this state, they may be able to maintain their composure during contests where they enter this physiological state.

There are several approaches to creating training conditions that feature high RPP settings. High intensity continuous training is a great modality for eliciting high RPP aerobic settings. Step ups with a weighted vest certainly elevate blood pressure and place the athlete into aerobic HR zones for extended times, as does high incline treadmill walking with a weight vest. The other modality that I view as a tremendous avenue into this sphere of training is circuit resistance training.

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My personal favorite circuit for driving high RPP levels with resistance training is the 30/30 circuit. This circuit is well known to anyone who has purchased my book, MASS, because it is Phase 1 of the overall program. The 30/30 is a brutal workout that takes exactly 31 minutes to complete. You choose 10 exercises, and you complete 3 rounds of 15 repetitions at each exercise using 30 second work and 30 second rest ratios. The goal is to complete 450 total reps with the highest combined load between all the exercises. I’m going to list out my personal favorite 10 exercise combo as well as the heaviest weights I’ve ever been able to complete all 450 reps with.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be able to track my HR during this protocol many times, and it usually averages somewhere around 145 beats per minute (BPM) for the 31 minutes, with a peak HR of about 165 BPM towards the end. The protocol will take you to some very interesting mental places, but the specific repetition goal and satisfaction of completing it at the end makes it incredibly motivating and fun compared to most other methods of training.

I believe there is an incredibly dopaminergic component to this design, as many get addicted to this method of training and feel like regular training just doesn’t do it for them after this approach. This protocol seems to improve a host of variables in those who have engaged in it, including strength, muscular endurance, and aerobic performance. In my mind, the main reason is because it is training the work of the heart and improving myocardial oxygen consumption. This is probably a variable that many people have ignored and not trained, either because they were unaware of it/that it was important, or because it is an absolutely miserable variable to train. Without further ado, here is my personal best 30/30 with my favorite combination of exercises.

  1. 1. Trap bar dead (245 pounds)
  2. 2. Seated overhead dumbbell press (40s)
  3. 3. Lat pull-down (60)
  4. 4. Safety Squat (175 pounds)
  5. 5. Barbell Bench (155 pounds)
  6. 6. Bent Over DB Row (55s)
  7. 7. Inclind DB Bench (50s)
  8. 8. Backwards Lunge off 3” Box Left Leg (30s)
  9. 9. Backwards Lunge off 3” Box Right Leg (30s)
  10. 10. Seated Cable Row (60)

Training with high RPP values year round is probably not ideal for most athletes, because it is a very stressful approach. Systematically placing training that drives RPP into the athlete’s system can work very successfully as a peaking approach prior to important competitions (so long as the athlete is already familiarized with this approach). This approach may also be extremely valuable for modifying body composition in athletes, where you’re looking to decrease body fat while preserving or increasing lean body mass due to the likely dramatic hormonal responses to such work. As with most programming concepts, you need to try things out, think critically about the specifics of the circumstances of the athletes that you are coaching, and do your best to individualize and customize. It is my belief most people will see dramatic improvements in fitness rapidly with high RPP training, because it is likely a novel stimulus, primarily because it is so miserable that few have willingly put themselves through it.

about the author

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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

Understanding the Underlying Purpose of the Energy Systems

The most important thing for detectives trying to solve a case is to understand the motive of potential suspects. Training the energy systems of an athlete is one of the most important jobs of the strength and conditioning professional. To solve this case, you must understand the motive force behind why the energy systems are present in the body. I’m going to say the same thing a bunch of times in a row in the following sentences because I need to kick the absolute hell out of this dead horse to reinforce the point I’m going to try to make with the gravity it deserves. The purpose of the energy systems is to deal with the outcome of the hydrolysis reaction of ATP. Stated in another way, the purpose of the energy systems is to rephosphorylate ATP and to deal with the threat of hydrogen and heat that cellular and mechanical work imposes upon the organism. Stated in another way, the purpose of the energy systems is to allow you to perform sufficient levels of ATP hydrolysis to power your organism’s need to engage in behaviors in specific environmental circumstances. If you do not understand this underlying purpose and the ways in which this plays out in the body, then you do not truly understand energy system training. We all have our pet peeves. One of mine is that I can’t stand it when people say that energy systems create energy. Another one is any time I hear anyone say anything about lactic acid. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Energy is transferred from one state to another inside the body. Lactic acid does not exist inside the human body. Lactic acid never has existed inside the human body. Lactic acid never will exist inside the human body. These statements may sound like condescending, semantical remarks made by an exercise science nerd; however, I do not think they are, and I think that failing to address these concerns will continue to lead to erroneous thought processes in trying to develop energy system training. I think these pet peeve concepts of mine are related to the two biggest missing links in our field’s current view of developing the energy systems, which are both fundamentally tied with failure to appreciate the two-tiered purpose of the energy systems.

Threat Deterrence

We probably all know about the concept of ATP being the energy currency of the body. The ability to restock your supply of ATP is one of the two purposes of the energy systems. This is the most commonly discussed factor in regards to the science of energy systems, and I will surely address this here, but first I would like to discuss the second energy system purpose, which is threat deterrence.

Hydrogen is the most abundant material in the universe, with approximately 80% of the known universe being made up by hydrogen. Movement of hydrogen is what drives the universe. When viewing the internal universe of the human, hydrogen is both the driver of life and something that can kill you quickly if left unchecked. Entropy is the direction of the universe. The universe is expanding and the energy found within the universe is headed more and more towards a chaotic state. Heat is the expression of entropy most prominently displayed by life forms. Try living as a mammal without heating yourself. Hydrogen load and heat load are perhaps the two most fundamental things that the human body has to manage. If not kept within a careful window of appropriate levels, you will surely die. We have a variety of measures and systems that we use to regulate hydrogen and heat, and the energy systems are a powerful one when it comes to the hydrogen threat.

There is no lactic acid inside your body, therefore it is not a threat. Lactate production is an outlet for dealing with an acid threat, and is therefore not a threat (it’s a strategy). Hydrogen is real, and very present inside your body. Hydrogen is a threat, and hydrogen must be accounted for. Where does this hydrogen come from though? Hydrogen is a bi-product of the hydrolysis of ATP. Every time I do anything inside my body, I need to power that action via the hydrolysis of ATP. The potential energy that will power my bodily actions is found in the bonds between the phosphates making up the ATP molecule. I must break these bonds to release energy from a bound/potential state to make it available as free energy to perform work. The body uses a hydrolysis reaction to break these bonds. Hydrolysis reactions are those that require water to be present. When ATP combines with water in the presence of the enzyme ATPase, the bond between the second and third phosphate is broken, and stored energy is released. The reaction looks like this:

ATP + H2O (in the presence of ATPase) → ADP + P + Free energy + Hydrogen + Heat

We did this to gain the release of free energy. Free energy release is the purpose of the hydrolysis of ATP. The energy systems are in the body to deal with the outcomes of the hydrolysis of ATP.

Three Strategies

Phosphagenic

The energy systems put ATP back together again after it is broken down. We have three strategies of putting ATP back together again, a phosphagenic one, a glycolytic one, and an oxidative one. The phosphagenic and glycolytic strategies are the most primitive, and took place in cellular life forms prior to the evolutionary step of mitochondria creating a mutually symbiotic relationship with cellular organisms by moving into the cells of other creatures. The phosphagenic energy system can rephosphorylate a singular ATP through its one enzymatic step, but it cannot do anything to reduce hydrogen or heat levels inside the body. Here is the primary reaction used by the phosphagen system:

ADP + CP (in the presence of Creatine Phosphate) à ATP + Creatine

The phosphagenic energy system has low cost associated with it, since it does not cost any ATP to run the system. This lack of cost cannot be said about the glycolytic system.

Glycolytic

The glycolytic energy system has the ability to rephosphorylate 4 ATP (you receive a net of 2 ATP, because you have to spend 2 ATP to power the glycolytic machinery) through 10 enzymatic steps. Glycolysis can also directly take two hydrogen ions out of circulation. To view the ATP rephosphorylation and hydrogen reduction capacity of glycolysis, the following image is helpful (note that the hydrogen is reduced at step 6, where NAD combines with a hydrogen).

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The non-oxidative energy systems pale in comparison to the ability of the oxidative energy system to rephosphorylate ATP and reduce the hydrogen threat inside the body. One of the interesting things about the oxidative system is that it actually powers itself through the motion of hydrogen.

Oxidative

The oxidative energy system utilizes the Krebs Cycle and the Electron Transport Chain (ETC) to rephosphorylate ATP and to reduce the hydrogen threat inside the body. Very little ATP rephosphorylation takes place within the Krebs Cycle; however, the products of the Krebs cycle power the ATP rephosphorylation machinery of the ETC. The primary product of the Krebs Cycle that powers the ETC to rephosphorylate ATP is NADH and FADH2. Every NADH that enters the ETC allows the ETC to rephosphorylate 3 ATP, and every FADH2 allows the ETC to rephosphorylate 2 ATP. The Krebs Cycle churns out 8 NADH and 2 FADH2 molecules every time carbohydrates are the substrate being utilized to power the energy systems (note fats have the potential for many more NADH and FADH2 molecules). The following diagram depicts the NADH and FADH2 synthesizing steps of the Krebs Cycle (note that the Krebs Cycle spins twice when carbohydrate is the substrate):

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It is fair to say that when it comes to the power of the oxidative energy system, the ability to shuttle NAD/NADH back and forth between the Krebs Cycle and the ETC is the show. If you have a super powered ability to load hydrogen onto NAD (which converts it into NADH), move NADH to the ETC, unload the hydrogen from NADH at the ETC (which converts it into NAD), and then return that NAD to Krebs to repeat the procedure, you will have a monster aerobic system. It is probably also fair to say that NADH is the show inside the show, and the thing that nobody is talking about. Finally, it is tremendously fair to say that the purpose of the Krebs Cycle is not to rephosphorylate ATP directly, but to power the reduction reaction that results in NADH, which powers the ETC.

Electron Transport Chain

The ETC is the engine that is the big bang in the rephosphorylation of ATP. The ETC is also the best strategy for reducing (both literally and figuratively if you appreciate redox humor) the hydrogen threat. The ETC is a multi-enzymatic intra-mitochondrial machine that has the potential to rephosphorylate 28 ATP from the products of the Krebs Cycle when carbohydrate is used as the substrate (8 NADH at 3 ATP per molecule, and 2 FADH2 at 2 ATP per molecule). One of the first enzymes present in the ETC is one called NADH dehydrogenase. The purpose of a dehydrogenase enzyme is to remove a hydrogen ion from a molecule. NADH dehydrogenase cleaves the hydrogen away from NADH, which oxidizes the molecule and returns it to its state as NAD. When NADH is oxidized, the hydrogen ion is then shuttled outward from the inner mitochondrial membrane. To help understand this process, see the following picture:

electron-transport-chain.png

In examining this picture, let’s start at the left. You see NADH being converted to NAD. This is taking place due to the activity of NADH dehydrogenase. You see the hydrogen ion being sent upwards into the space between the inner and outer mitochondrial membranes. Let’s skip over the activity in the middle of the graph to simplify this process. The hydrogen ion that was removed from NADH moves from the left to the right of the picture until it reaches the final enzyme on the right hand side. The most rightward enzyme is ATP synthase. As you can see in the picture, hydrogen moves downward through ATP synthase. The kinetic energy of hydrogen moving through the ATP synthase enzyme is what powers the enzyme to rephosphorylate ATP. ATP synthase is the location where all of the ATP rephosphorylation takes place inside the ETC. From an ATP rephosphorylation standpoint, let’s say that ATP synthase is the show. While giving the credit to ATP synthase for the product that we’re looking for, let’s not forget that it is hydrogen that powers this enzyme’s activity. As I said before, in the internal universe of the human, it is hydrogen that drives life.

While hydrogen drives life inside the human, unchecked, overabundant hydrogen will also kill you very quickly. The hydrogen that powered ATP synthase must be accounted for once it has given this enzyme its motive force for ATP rephosphorylation purposes. Have you ever wondered why the oxidative energy system is named as such? The answer is simple. Oxygen must be present for the system to run. The location of oxygen in this process is inside the inner mitochondrial matrix, specifically right below ATP synthase. When the hydrogen passes through the ATP synthase enzyme, oxygen is sitting there ready to receive it. If I combine two hydrogen with an oxygen, I get water. Synthesizing water is the most effective and least harmful strategy that organisms have adopted for dealing with the potential threat of hydrogen. When your body is able to power its behaviors via an electron transport strategy, the organism is operating in the least costly, most highly efficient manner possible, with the least amount of threat presented. When oxygen supply inside the mitochondria is not sufficient to deal with the amount of hydrogen present inside the mitochondria, or the shuttling of NAD/NADH to and from the Krebs Cycle/ETC is not robust enough or fast enough to move hydrogen through the oxidative pathways, the body is forced to go to a checkdown option and deal with hydrogen another way. This other way is via the creation of lactate.

Lactate

Lactate is created when pyruvate binds to two hydrogen ions. Pyruvate is the product of glycolysis. To see pyruvate, let’s revisit our glycolysis diagram.

Screen-Shot-2015-11-13-at-2.37.14-PM.png

When it comes to glycolysis, things can be summarized into the following statement: one glucose enters, two pyruvates leave. There is no aerobic or anaerobic glycolysis. There is only glycolysis where a glucose comes and two pyruvate leave through ten enzymatic steps. The fate of pyruvate is what determines whether we operate with an oxidative or non-oxidative strategy. The hydrogen load inside the cell determines the fate of pyruvate. If the Krebs/ETC processes can handle the hydrogen load, things run smoothly. If Krebs and ETC are unable to handle the hydrogen coming from a specific rate of ATP hydrolysis, then we must call on the backup system, which is the synthesis of lactate. Lactate equals pyruvate plus two hydrogen. It is as simple as that. View the following image to appreciate this concept:

Glycolysis.png

In viewing the above image, focus on the bottom. Pyruvate is on the left, lactate is on the right. Look at the molecular makeup of the two substances. The only difference between pyruvate and lactate is that a singular bond attaches one hydrogen ion on the left side of the structure, and another hydrogen is bound to oxygen on the right side of the structure. Lactate is a fantastic method of removing two hydrogen ions from existing in a free state. The purpose of the lactate system is to act as an alternative strategy for dealing with hydrogen load during times of extreme behaviors. Lactate is your checkdown receiver on a hot read.

Closing Thoughts

As the great Mike Cantrell likes to say at PRI courses, it’s cool that the aspirin works, but it’s cooler to know how it works. It’s cool to know that the program design approaches of Joel Jameison work. It’s cooler to know what’s happening inside the system that drives the reasons behind why they work. If you do not know why things work, you do not have a good BS detector. You will fall for stupid training concepts and you will be a garbage strength coach. If you want to be a beast in the majority of American sports, you need quality energy system development coached in the proper sequence of development. This may not be the fastest road to success, but it will be the road to the highest success with the least amount of detrimental stress put on your organism’s homeostatic control systems. We live in an age of information and accountability. If you are stupid, you are easily replaceable. Be an intellectual savage who does not accept ordinary, mundane, or low level things in your life. As you were.

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

Shifting In and Out of Patterns: A Discussion on Extension, Neutrality and Performance

I’m a conventional deadlifter, but I’m a short guy. I’d probably be better off pulling with a sumo style. I’ve tried sumo a couple of times, but they were pretty frustrating experiences. I definitely couldn’t pull as much sumo as I could from a conventional approach the first time. I guess I probably just need to work on it. I certainly wouldn’t enter a meet and try to use sumo for the first time ever under those conditions. Something bad might happen. Every year during spring training you hear about pitchers trying out new pitches to add to their repertoire. These pitchers don’t just decide to add a new pitch in the middle of the season, because they know they have to practice it and work out the bugs before trying to mix it in during games that count. In the world of Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) practitioners there is often times discussion regarding whether it is a good idea to pull athlete’s out of their pattern because this might make them run slower, throw with less velocity, or not be able to jump as high. My personal thought on this matter is that perhaps these quantifiable drop offs are the result of the athlete not having practice performing this skill from the new position that they are performing them from. Perhaps with more practice and the acquisition of training volume in this new position, the athlete would be able to reach the same quantifiable expressions of the sport movement, but do so with a biomechanical approach that would be better for longevity related matters.

Extension Patterns

Stress, behaviors, exercise, and specific sports movements are associated with driving people into extension/inhalation oriented positions. Extension strategies are used to power up for strength and power movements in competition and training. If movements are practiced in an extension oriented position, then that position becomes the dominant response strategy that you go with when you need to perform that exercise under competitive or high stakes conditions. Extension strategies, which are associated with anterior pelvic tilt, lordosis, and elevation and external rotation of ribs may limit a number of joint movement capabilities, such as humeral and femoral rotation because of bony positions, or result in compensatory strategies to achieve required necessary motion for sports movements.

While there is nothing necessarily wrong with extension positions, problems may begin to occur when people exist in extension during times of rest, and when they are unable to get out of an extension oriented position in general. Excessive extension seems to be related to unnecessary levels of muscle tone, which may increase internal resistance to joint movements. Discussing all of the pitfalls of excessive extension and resting extension positions is beyond the scope of this document. The overall concept that this document is aimed at addressing is the idea that extension is a part of sports, and a strategy that many athletes may over utilize. Chronic pain syndromes may become a part of an athlete’s life if they are unable to prevent excessive extension during the performance of their sports movements, and if they exist in that position during rest/utilize this strategy during activities of daily living.

Extension and Performance

Regardless of the downside of utilization and reliance on excessive extension, tremendous displays of strength, power, and athleticism through extension is a common occurrence in sports. Exercise adaptations that take place with repeated sports movement performance in extension will result in hypertrophy and force production of the tissues used to power those movements. These adaptations will make these extension driven sports movements even more powerful. These adaptations are very specific to the tissues used in an extension position, and adaptations will not present themselves to the muscles that would be utilized in a more flexed position. Therefore, the musculature that would be recruited and utilized in a more flexed position would essentially be untrained.

Perhaps the reason why sprinters run slightly slower following an intervention that makes them neutral is because they haven’t trained the tissues that they’re recruiting to power that movement under those circumstances. Claiming that making sprinters neutral is a bad idea for their sport may be a short sighted statement. Perhaps an individual with impressive quantifiable expressions of force production who witnesses acute reductions in those expressions after achieving neutrality simply needs to train that movement under the conditions of neutrality. New muscles will have an opportunity to power joint actions if someone achieves neutrality after not being able to reach that position previously. These muscles need to be strengthened and then integrated into more complex athletic movements. If proper joint actions can be utilized for sporting movements with the appropriate prime mover and stabilization strategies of muscles and then optimal quantifiable expressions can be reached, this would appear to be the best practice approach to training and competition. Coaches simply should not expect equal quantifiable expression of new positional and muscular strategies to that of older strategies to be instantaneous.

The quantifiable comparison of an extension strategy to a neutral strategy is not necessarily a fair one if neutrality has been recently achieved. If we as a community want to evaluate whether neutrality is a detriment to the quantifiable expression of an athletic movement, we need to properly train the musculature that would be recruited under neutral conditions in the performance of a sport movement for an appropriate amount of time to allow it to experience the positive effects of training adaptations. Appreciating the differences between acute and chronic physiological expressions is an important consideration on this topic, and one that needs further evaluation before any definitive statement can be made.

Fitting the Mold

In the world of sports performance, it seems that there are criteria levels of fitness that must be met as a requisite to be successful at high level sports. Football receivers will be unable to play in the NFL if they run a 4.9 in their 40 regardless of their sport specific skill. In regards to movement capabilities, there is also likely a similar phenomenon. It is highly likely that each sport, and each position inside each sport possesses a specific range of motion profile that would be a requisite for the ability to execute sport specific biomechanics associated with optimal performance of sporting actions. Once the athlete possesses the appropriate levels of joint movement variability, there is probably little additional benefit from going greatly above and beyond that level.

If the athlete is capable of quantifiably reaching a movement range of motion standard and is able to recruit the appropriate muscles in the right sequence, the athlete will likely be able to realize best case mechanics and will be doing everything in their power from a biomechanics standpoint to prolong their playing career. All this being said, the stress of training and competing, as well as the aging process will likely alter the gross range of motion capabilities or alter the sequencing and/or synchrony of muscular action utilized in the active performance of dynamic tasks over the course of the athlete’s playing career.

If the athlete has been trained with an understanding of proximal neutrality, and what sorts of positions and muscular strategies are associated with being able to stay within a criteria motion standard and synchronization pattern that allows for the expression of proper biomechanics, the athlete will potentially extend their playing career and be able to realize more great performances per playing season.

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

MASS: Are You Ready to Enter the Beast

In case you we're unaware, Dr. Pat Davidson just released his first Ebook this week MASS.  While I'd love to sit here and tell you about how it's THE PREMIERE muscle building program available right now, or how it's forged monsters out of mere men, I'd rather share with you the first several pages of the book for FREE. In those few pages I think you'll get a feel for just how special this program is.  Enjoy:

Just a heads up that MASS is only on sale through Sunday night.

Foreword by Jim Ferris

In the fitness industry, mentioning to colleagues the legendary name “Pat Davidson” gets you two responses. The first is a smile ear-to-ear. The second is usually a story not unlike one you may hear about Scotland’s infamous William Wallace. While Pat is not a 7-foot tall giant like the storied “Braveheart,” he does have a neck thicker than most peoples’ thighs (which is, I imagine, to hold that valuable cranium of his in place). Some who have attended his workouts or lectures will even argue that they have seen fireballs in his eyes. As for the “lightning bolts coming from his arse”—well I guess some things we can just leave to the imagination.

Over the many years that I have known Pat, I have come to respect him as one of the smartest, most creative, and most sought-out coaches around. There is a quote I often recite to my interns and and to coaches whom I mentor, “There is a difference between acting like a pro, and being a pro.” I assure you that when it comes to Pat Davidson there is no acting, nonsense, or BS. He is a true pro’s pro. He is a man with whom everyone in the industry should have a conversation if they are fortunate to have an opportunity to do so.

A few months back I was getting bored with my training routine and wanted to start something new. I needed something fresh. I needed something that would put the edge back into my weekly training sessions. I knew exactly who could conjure up the type of madness I required. I asked Pat for a program. He asked me “Why?” to which I responded that, “I want to know what goes on in that sick, twisted, BRILLIANT brain of yours.” Laughing, he told me that he had something brewing in the lab and would be happy to let me give it a go. All I can write here about Pat’s programs are that they will test you physically, mentally, psychologically, and emotionally each and every time you do them. You will win some days; you will lose some days. The program that follows here will give you the opportunity to push your limits and see what your body and mind can accomplish.

Each of us is a bit of a storyteller with our own tales and experiences that we love passing on to people. Please keep this in mind as you push through and eventually complete this program’s 64 sessions, because this program will certainly give you an epic story to tell. Finally, when you conquer this program and are standing at the top of the “training mountain,” remember that “the top” is small for a reason: not everyone can or will get there. Right now you are probably wondering, “Is this program really such a challenge?” and that I’m just psyching you out. Well, maybe I am—that is for you to find out.

[Click Here to Buy MASS Now]

Introduction 1 by Ethan Grossman

The year is 1985. You have just witnessed first-hand your best friend and training partner brutally beaten to death by a cold Soviet robot of a man. Your wife, the mother of your child, pleads with you to stay home, settle down and enjoy the life you’ve cultivated. Still, you know in your heart it wasn’t his fight and that you could’ve stopped his death. With thoughts racing through your mind, you get in your Lamborghini for a cool drive around the city. There’s no easy way out.

It’s time for you to make a decision. You realize that in order to defeat the beast you must become one. Are YOU ready to become the beast? If so, there’s no time to wait for conditions to be perfect. You don’t need a 10 out of 10. If you score in favor of Russia over LA, then it’s time to give up your soft, comfy existence, strap up your boots and grow out your beard. It’s going to be a cold, hard winter.

Cold, dark Russia:

  1. -You have worked out before but want to take your training to the next level
  2. -You want to push yourself to a higher plateau mentally
  3. -You tend to overcomplicate your own programs and end up getting nowhere
  4. -You want to strengthen your team’s bond
  5. -You consider yourself a beast inside
  6. -You sleep 7 or more hours a night
  7. -You eat for fuel
  8. -You are held back in your workouts by your conditioning
  9. -You are just returning to training
  10. -You have an acquired taste for pain

Score-

Warm, sunny LA:

  1. -You have never lifted a weight or performed a bench press, squat or deadlift
  2. -You refuse to get your heart rate up during training
  3. -You are recovering from an injury or very prone to one
  4. -You can’t commit 4 days a week
  5. -You might miss workouts when you’re too hung over
  6. -You are travelling multiple times over the next 16 weeks
  7. -You only have access to a crowded gym at peak hours or your apartment gym
  8. -You are planning to modify the routine or add additional workouts
  9. -You are an advanced lifter about to compete in a major competition
  10. -You have to switch up the workout often or you get bored

Score-

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Introduction 2 by Dr. Pat Davidson

Thank you for deciding to enter the beast. If you go through with the entirety of this program you will be changed. Most of you who start will not finish. This program is not for the weak and timid. This program is for those who are tough, resilient, and committed to working hard and reaching for the stars. I did not design this program for the 99%. Only the 1% will be able to make it through this program. The 1% are the people who are willing to endure in the face of extreme difficulty. The 1% are the people who are willing to sacrifice many things to realize an eventual goal. I have no pity for you if you are not able to complete this program. If you give up, you are probably like the majority of people on this planet. If you make up the 99% of the population who will not go through this program, there is probably nothing wrong with you, but I’m probably not interested in being friends with you. I like those who are on the fringe. I like those who are different. I like those who live by their own set of values. I like those who don’t mind it when the lunatics run the asylum. If you enter the beast, you must become the beast to survive.

My name is Pat Davidson, and I have credentials that back up my ability to write a program. I have a PhD in Exercise Physiology. I have worked as a professor of Exercise Science at Brooklyn College and Springfield College. I have coached the athletes from Springfield College Team Ironsports. I have competed in Strongman and qualified and competed in two world championships at the Arnold Classic. I have competed in submission wrestling at the highest level in the North American Grappling Association. I have fought professionally in Mixed Martial Arts. I have trained for a long time. I have made weight in weight class sports for a long time. I have studied the workings of the body and lived the science to the best of my ability for a long time. I have been lurking in the shadows, learning and training, not putting my information out for public consumption for a long time. If you are an elite strength coach, you probably know who I am. If you are an elite strongman athlete, you probably know who I am. If you are a regular Joe who is a weekend warrior, or a gym bro, you probably do not know who I am. This is how I meant to keep things. Now I am changing and permitting the 99% to have a glimpse at what the 1% does. Perhaps I can unveil more members of the 1% by putting this information out there for the masses. I doubt there are many of you out there, but if you exist, I’ll know it because you’ll enter the beast, you will become the beast, and you will want to tell me and the world about it afterwards.

This program is not going to be like ones you have done before. You will do the same workout over and over again for four weeks in a row. There is no chest and bi’s day. There is no back and shoulders day. There is no leg day. Every day will be an everything day. After you complete four weeks of the same workout done four times per week, you will move on to the next phase. Each phase builds on the previous one. Do not skip phases. Do not alter the plan. Do not have your own, “good idea”. Fall in line, and accept what is given to you. This program is not built on the singular day. This program is built on the accumulation of all the days put together. You will have good days. Do not get too excited about those good days. You will have bad days. Do not let the bad days get you down. Punch your ticket on a daily basis and ride the wave. Do not think too much. Simply trust the process and do your work. Nobody cares about you except yourself, but you can be your own worst enemy by thinking too much about yourself as a special little entity. You likely suffer from terminal uniqueness. You believe that you are somehow very different than everybody else. You are more like everyone else than you are different. Others have gone through this before you. Others will go through this after you. Either you do this, or you do not do this. You make a decision, and then everything else falls in place. If you have made your decision, then I welcome you to the beast, and I am excited for your transformation into the beast. Do not be afraid of the animal that lurks in the deep recesses of your being. Let it out, and experience its primal forces. Let it breathe the fresh air, and growl at the timid who walk around you.

At this point, you may be asking, what is the outcome that I am trying to get out of this program? The outcome is a multi-faceted one. If you are a typical gym bro, and you’re only looking to put on muscle mass, this will be accomplished through this program if you eat a lot of food. If you are looking to get shredded, this will be accomplished if you eat a moderate amount of food. If you are looking to get injured, this will be accomplished if you have poor technique and do not eat enough food. If you are looking to get stronger, this will be accomplished because the training density will cause you to accumulate a tremendous amount of high quality work. If you are looking to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance, this will be accomplished because your heart rate will be elevated for significant amounts of time while you’re doing this program. This program is a shot gun blast. Whatever it hits, it destroys.

[Click Here to Buy MASS Now]

The MASS program is a combination of periodization based program design schemes of the Soviet Union, and exercises that are extremely popular in the United States. The creation of the MASS program was greatly inspired by the movie, Rocky IV. At the moment where I sit here and write this book, May 24, 2015, I am a 35 year old, American man. I was born in 1980, and if you grew up during that time like I did, you understand that there was a lot of USA vs. USSR stuff going on in our television and movie spheres. Ivan Drago was the epitome of the Soviet villain. Drago was the unstoppable giant who appeared cold and unbeatable. He killed Rocky’s best friend, Apollo Creed in the beginning of the movie, and it appeared as though he may do the same thing to Rocky at the end of the movie. Rocky needed to avenge the death of his friend, so he had to take on the monster that was Drago. The fight took place in the Soviet Union, and Rocky traveled there to train for the epic showdown. The training scenes from this movie are some of the most memorable of any of the Rocky movies. Ivan Drago was the ultimate Soviet sports system laboratory experiment. In every training scene involving Drago he was hooked up to electrodes measuring his internal information. Drago punched devices that recorded his force production. Fancy machines were used in the training of Drago, and there were constantly multiple scientists in white lab coats with clip boards surrounding him, analyzing every aspect of his physiological development. In contrast, Rocky was running outside in the snow, climbing mountains, lifting wagons, and sweating it out inside a barn with a primitive looking fire burning in the background. This was the clash of cultures, philosophies, and approaches to training.

When I was a kid in the 80’s, I was completely fascinated by this movie and it remains one of my strongest childhood memories to date. Not only that, but I was incredibly interested in all the laboratory stuff Drago was using. Every bell had a whistle, numbers on dials were always going up, and the ability to demonstrate increased power and speed was something that grabbed my interest intensely. I thought the Soviet training was the coolest thing that I had ever seen. Conversely, I just knew that what Rocky was doing was even better. Allowing the forces of nature to permeate throughout all aspects of the training process made intuitive sense. Getting outside into big, wide open space and being very primitive in the approach to developing the body resonated as the more correct approach. Drago trained rotary force production on an isokinetic machine. Rocky put a yoke for animals on his shoulders and did the same thing. Drago performed triceps extensions on a device that could quantify force. Rocky was using a multiplanar approach that looked like a triceps extension by hoisting a huge bag of rocks attached to a pully system with a rope. Drago used the barbell clean and press while Rocky was pressing a cart with his training team seated in the back end. The two athletes juxtaposed one another in every possible way, their training included.

In putting this program together I was inspired to do some blending of approaches that reflect what I’ve learned of block training coming from the Soviet sports science approach to training, and some good old fashioned American ingenuity. If I had to define block training, I would say that it is the sequential organization of training phases where each training phase has a fairly specific, objective approach. Each phase prepares you for the following one optimally, and every subsequent phase builds on that which was developed in the previous phase. A training block should identify a fitness quality that it is trying to develop, and it should be very consistent in the way it attacks the development of that quality. While training in a block, you do not want to send mixed training messages at the body. This is why you do the same workouts over and over again during the blocks. Too much variation leads you in too many different directions. Too much variation gets you nowhere from a training perspective. I need to be very precise in picking the correct exercises that will allow me to properly develop the physiological quality I am interested in. The exercises are the tools for the job. I need to first understand what the job is that I am trying to perform, and then I select the appropriate tool. I do not want to use power snatches for time in the first two blocks of this program. The power snatch is a great tool for a phase that is looking to develop strength-speed within a triple extension oriented movement pattern focus. I’m looking to change body composition with this program, pack on muscle, increase strength in a non-specific directional way, and develop the physiology of your energy systems with this program. Giving you highly technical exercises that are easily compromised in their technical performance with fatigue is a very poor idea. In my organization of the blocks for this program, I have selected an approach that will look to recruit and fatigue as many muscle fibers in the body as I possibly can tap into. I have chosen exercises that I believe are the appropriate tools for that specific job. This is my laboratory, Soviet approach to program design.

I’ve also done this program before and had many others perform it as well. Every time I do it and see other people perform it, the program just looks right. I see people working hard, getting results, and enjoying it as much as anybody could with something that is tremendously grueling. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, it’s probably a duck. This program just looks right to me. It’s got an All-American blue collar, red meat eating, punch your ticket at work kind of vibe to it for me. You get to bench press and squat and deadlift a whole lot. There’s not a lot of fancy, high tech looking exercises in this thing. I’m an American and I like to sweat and get a testosterone rush, grunt, and feel like I did something at the end of my training session. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here. I’m trying to organize a really hard, satisfying training experience in a way that will get you where you want to go.

[Click Here to Buy MASS Now]

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together and living the program and thoughts that are conveyed within these pages. If you’ve watched Rocky IV, I hope you enjoy the titles to the chapters, and the way a lot of the famous movie quotes keep coming back to you in the text. I hope you appreciate the fact that I’m mixing in humor and exaggeration in the writing that is in the spirit of the Rocky IV movie. If you haven’t seen Rocky IV, go watch it, because I think it will make your experience with this program better. Don’t be afraid to play the soundtrack from the movie every time you train. As you enter this book, I’d like to welcome you with one thought regarding the outcomes of your training journey into MASS…if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.

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.

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.

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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

The Cloud Atlas of Program Design

You have to figure out what you want in life. Not what you say you want, but what you actually want. I don’t really know what I want at this point. I have ambiguous thoughts about things that would be nice. These are things I might say to myself inside my own head right now, like…I’d like to be really strong…I’d like to learn a lot of powerful information in regards to being an awesome strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and mentor…I’d like to be financially successful and well marketed within the fitness industry…I’d like a lot of people to know who I am and to think very highly of me. Are any of these things truly tangible goals? Not really. Do I have specific actionable steps to put in place to help me reach these vague things? When I’m honest with myself, the answer is no. I’m floating in some ways. What I need is a specific goal to reach. What I need is a plan to get there.

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Should I pick one thing and focus my energies on that objective if I want to ensure the greatest likelihood of reaching that goal? Most people would probably say yes, that is a wise course of action. Should I completely forget about every other element of life and blindly go down one track? Certainly not, only a fool would be that narrow minded. Is this starting to sound like the training process yet? I hope so, because life and training are very similar to one another.

When I was working as a professor in Exercise Science and I was teaching about program design, I always began the unit by saying that good program design and healthy relationships were very similar to one another.

Perhaps the worst thing that could be thrown into a burgeoning relationship is mixed messages. These are very confusing and they tend to lead to excessive stress and things going nowhere. Be clear to the other person what your intentions are if you’re actually interested in making things work long term.

Second, don’t go overboard with things. You’re going to get really excited at first. Everything is new and shiny and great. Relax a little bit. Force yourself to give a little space. Back off. Third, don’t back off so far that you’re not present at all. You’ve got to be somewhere in the middle in terms of presence. You need to find the sweet spot in the beginning between too much and nothing at all if you want things to actually go somewhere long term. Fourth, don’t switch things up just for the sake of doing something new. If something is working, stick with it. Don’t be in a rush to mess things up. Fifth, when that newness wears off, that’s when the real hard work begins.

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When you’ve fallen into a comfort zone, now you have to actually go out of your way and try, or maybe mix something new in every once in a while, otherwise things become stagnant. The parallels to training are pretty clear. Just understand that this applies to a new person just starting training, or even an experienced person who’s just starting a new training block.

The concept of being well rounded is an interesting one when it comes to athletics. Overall from a physical fitness construct perspective, good programming generally develops things in the following order: variability, capacity, and power. Children and young athletes should have lots of sports variability. Children need to develop a wide range of movement patterns and motor programs before specializing later on in their athletic career.

Beginners in a strength and conditioning training environment need to learn lots of different exercises. Beginners need to do plyo’s, change of direction, Olympic lifts, basic barbell exercises, unilateral work, and they need to do different conditioning drills to develop glycolytic and oxidative systems.

Intermediate people tend to do well when capacity becomes the focus. If you have the proper biomechanics for a sports move, do a lot of that sports move and do it well if you are an intermediate who wants to move to the level of advanced.

Once you’re advanced, the primary focus should be power. Power is confusing for a lot of people as a training concept. I prefer to think of it as, “game speed” more than anything.

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The order of developing variability, capacity, and power is incredibly important. You need to have enough movement variability in order to develop a specific capacity. If you don’t have enough movement variability, you likely don’t have the adequate range of motion and coordination to build specific sports movements up. Once you have sufficient work capacity within a given motor pattern family, now fine tune it and accentuate it to its highest form of expression with intensification work.

Intermediate level athletes need to maintain variability while they focus on capacity. Advanced level athletes need to maintain variability and capacity while they focus on power.

Classification is of paramount importance from an applications standpoint within the world of programmed exercise. In strength and conditioning, most coaches use the same taxonomy of loaded movement patterns, and they are familiar with the fact that a deadlift is a potential exercise within the hip dominant category, just as the bench press is an exercise within the horizontal push category. The more that we as a fitness community can develop a taxonomy for classification of exercise, the greater the likelihood that trainees will receive an appropriate dose of the appropriate training modality.

In biology, we have the following taxonomy to determine what living things are.

Life (the construct) broken down into:

Kingdom

Phylum

Class

Order

Family

Genus

Species

Life on Earth can be very diverse, and each creature is here because it came from ancestors who were successful at surviving on this planet. Some forms of life look very bizarre and different from what you might be accustomed to. Regardless of what you think about it, that life form is here because it makes sense on some level (even if you don’t understand why).

If we are better at breaking down the specific components of a life form, then we can study it more accurately and understand it much more clearly. I don’t think fitness development is all that different from the life taxonomy. There’s a million different ways to exercise, and everything probably has a little bit of validity to it, otherwise it probably wouldn’t be here at all. Here is a sample of something that I think could work as a model.

Fitness (as the construct)

Fitness Kingdoms

Variability

Capacity

Power

Training Means

General

General-Specific

Specific

Training Methods

Submaximal Effort Method

Repeated Effort Method

Maximal Effort Method

Dynamic Effort Method

Fitness Patterns

Locomotion

Hip dominant

Knee dominant

Horizontal push/pull

Vertical push/pull

Core control sagittal

Core control frontal/transverse

Explosive heavy

Explosive light

Loaded carry

Exercises within Patterns

Progressions

Regressions

Lateralizations

Work to Rest Ratios

Work output drop offs

Biomarkers values (HR)

Arbitrarily decided sets and reps

Restoration and Recovery

Nutrition

Therapeutics

Pharmacology

Sleep

Periodization

Once such a taxonomy is put into place, decision making capacities of coaches become easier when trying to figure out how to design training plans for specific athletes.

If I have a 15 year old female coming in who reports that she is a soccer player, she will be performing fitness development primarily within the scope of variability. Her training will be general in the weight room. She will utilize exercise within the frame works of the submaximal effort method. Every movement pattern will be addressed. She’ll start with a fairly low level exercise along the regression/progression continuum and we will make advances in her training by moving her up along this continuum rather than by increasing the intensity of exercise. Her work to rest ratios will be primarily based on her heart rate responses, and we will try to maximize cardiovascular and peripheral tissue oxidative adaptations during her initial training blocks. We will educate her on appropriate amounts of sleep, food, and ways which she can balance her life overall.

This would be a very different approach than that which I would take with a 25 year old male looking to win a world championship in power lifting.

I’ve never really wanted to tell people exactly what to do from a details perspective. I just like giving people big picture models to help guide them.

I recommend that you implement the exercises that you know how to coach the best and that you consistently see your clients performing well. The things that you are currently doing in your own training and with the training of your clients are probably the best case idea for you to implement at this point in time in each case, otherwise you’d probably be doing something different.

The world of exercise is very Darwinian. Diversity will always reign supreme, and that which gets results and which people like doing will stand the test of time. Coaches need to figure out what category best suits the individual that they are trying to help reach certain goals. The best coaches are the best at analyzing the athlete/client/individual and providing the right dose of the right exercise at the right time.

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