Monthly Archives: March 2013
If you have been lifting weights for longer the 6 months, then this might be a familiar happening.
You planned out your workout perfectly. Each set and rep and exercise was strategically picked to optimize your results. The first 4 weeks or so your bench seemed to jump by 5 pounds each week with ease. The next 4 to 6 week you are still seeing some improvement, you are still going up 5 pounds every week or so. By the third month you see your lifts come to a screeching stop.
The first thought you have is to increase the work. “I am not working hard enough. I need to do more sets. The more sets the stronger I’ll get.” You try this for a few weeks but nothing happens, your weight seems to have stayed the same or even slightly decreased in some instances.
The next idea might be to change up your workout. Either you make a new one or pull one offline that seems appealing to you, or one out of the latest issues of some muscle magazine. You stick to the program, doing everything it tells you to do. Your bench goes up in the first two weeks but after that nothing. Once again you find yourself stuck.
If you have ever been stuck at a plateau you know how frustrating it can be. It is as if you are in no mans land, nothing you do seems to work.
Why You Plateau
To beat the plateau we must first understand why we plateau. If you are someone who has just started a workout routine then the first 4 to 6 weeks is going to be filled with weight increase. You can do almost anything and see increase in strength.
The reason is that you are untrained. Going from something to nothing is a huge stimulus change for your body. The first 6 weeks your strength goes up due to your nervous system and your body being able to coordinate muscular contraction and motor unit recruitment.
The next 4 to 6 weeks you have actual muscle adaption. This means the muscle grows in size and is able to recruit more motor units. This is why you still see gains but not as drastic as the first 4 to 6.
By the fourth or fifth month adaption seems to come to a halt. This is due to the body’s inability to adapt. Without adapting you can’t lift more weight. The reason for this lack of adaption is because the body does not have enough time to adapt between workouts.
Simply put, you plateau because you are not allowing enough time for your body to adapt between workouts.
Getting Over the Plateau
Now that we have an idea of what plateauing stems from. We can now address the issue. To beat the plateau you need to allow more time for adaption. So the mind set of making your workouts harder or increasing the workload is the exact opposite of what you want to do.
What you need to do is go through a week or two of less work. This is called a back off period or a deload. This works by decreasing the workload without decreasing the intensity.
Example: You were doing 5×5 at 205. For your back off period, or deload you will know do 2×5 at 205.
The weight stays at the same intensity. You want to stay within 90% of your rep max, even during the deload, this will allow your body to maintain its level of neuromuscular readiness. What is changing is the amount of total reps. This is what we want to decrease. By keeping the intensity the same we are able to maintain our strength while giving your body time to adapt.
The back off period will last for a week or two, but it could be a full month before your body is fully recovered. Once you have recovered you can go back to your normal sets and reps and progress to higher weights.
Getting stuck at the same weight week after week can be very frustrating. The natural human thing to do is just to push through it and think you need to do more. This mind set will only take you so far, you have to let your body recover and adapt to the stimulus that you are throwing at it.
Keep the weight up and decrease the sets. This will allow you to get over your plateau and help you see gains for months to come.
I was thinking back to the days when I first started lifting; how simple it was, it was upper body or lower body days. I did what I wanted. Loading up the leg press with all the weights in the gym, it was a small gym, but still as a high school kid I felt badass, doing 400 pound shoulder shrugs, the true test of how strong you are, and sets and reps, always without a doubt, had to be 3 sets of 10 reps.
I don’t think I ever went higher or lower then the 3×10 until my junior year in high school. I always thought it was the perfect number, hell it was what everyone else was doing. It turned out that 3×10 was not the best set up for my goal of becoming a stronger athlete. I would have fared much better from a 5×5 or even a 5,3,1 set up. But with youth comes ignorance and many years of ineffective lifting.
At this point I have done a plethora of different set and rep schemes. Two that I have been playing around with recently is cluster sets and high-density sets (honestly I have know idea what these are called, if you know the common name feel free to tell me).
The Cluster Set
Cluster sets are a great way for you to be able to lift heavier weights for a higher number of reps. This results in an increase in strength.
Before you carry me off to be burned at the stake for my wizardry, let me explain how they work. You will soon see that there is no magic involved, just some simple sets and reps manipulation.
The cluster set is a group of mini sets within a set. This is what it looks like: (4×2)x5, this would be five cluster sets of four sets of two. You would do two reps rest 10 seconds and then do the next set and repeat this for four total sets. This equals one cluster set.
Are you following me? Just think of it as the ‘Inception’ of sets, a set within a set within a set.
If you were confused by the movie ‘Inception’ at any point then you should first watch it again and figure it out before attempting these.
For simplicity I will stick with the (4×2)x5 as my example. When selecting your weights you will not be able to use your two-rep max or your eight-rep max but something more like your five-rep max will be used.
You will end up lifting your five-rep max eight times. Isn’t set manipulation great? You can now lift your five-rep max eight times in one set. This will lead to an increase in strength, allowing you to do more work within each set. You can also use this for increasing muscular size and endurance by changing the reps and sets to fit your goals.
High Density Sets (Put Name Here)
This is very similar to cluster sets but with a little twist. This is how it works. You would have your sets and reps set up something like this: 3×5/2×8. At first glance this seems cut and dry, that is because it is.
The magic in all of this is not seen just by looking at the sets and reps. You also have to look at the numbers. This setup allows you to do more work within your workout. Let’s say your five-rep max is 225 and your seven-rep max is 200. If you were to do 5×5 at 225 you will have lifted at total of 5,625 pounds. If you did 3×5 at 225 plus 2×8 at 200 that will be a total of 6,575 pounds lifted. That is 950 more pounds lifted.
This results in more weight lifted but with using less weight due to the increased reps and decrease in weight in the last two sets. This is another great way to do more work but at the same time lifting less weight. Resulting in strength gains and muscle hypertrophy, while giving your joints a rest from the heavier weights.
Give these two sets and rep schemes a try. Not every workout has to be 3×10 or 5×5. Get a little crazy with your planning. Throw in a cluster set for your squat and bench or try using the high-density sets for your lunges and chin ups. If strength is what you’re after then try them out.
If I have not mentioned it before, I love food. Or, I should say, I love eating food. The sad thing is, it does not even have to be good food. Most people will try something and if they don’t like it, they will just stop eating it. I, on the other hand, will realize that what I am eating tastes like garbage, but instead of doing the obvious and just stop eating, I will proceed to tell everyone how bad it is while I continue to eat the thing that I just got done saying tasted like a fresh diaper. Needless to say, I really enjoy eating.
(Warning Random Thought)
As a side note, I really did not like the movie Charlotte’s Web. It had way too much singing in it for my liking, even as a child. But it had one great scene in it that sums up my love for food. Here it is.
Wow, can you find any better choreography and cinematography in a children’s film? I think not.
A common question with us red-blooded food lovers is, how many meals should we eat throughout the day? If it were up to me, it would be every minute of every day, other then when I am sleeping. But this dream is just not possible, if I want to live a healthy life.
So is the answer three meals a day; the classic breakfast, lunch, dinner combo. Or is it 6 to 8 smaller meals throughout the day. How about only two large meals? Is any one way superior to the other? Some would argue, yes. Here is my take on the whole matter of meal frequency.
Goal of Eating
Like so many things in our lives it all starts with a goal. It is no different when choosing your meal frequency.
The over-all reason for eating is to fuel and replenish your body so it can function at its fullest potential. I would like to think eating could be a hobby, the real American pastime.
Looking at eating as strictly eating to fuel our bodies and not as a social, out of boredom, or hobby, is how we should look at eating the majority of the time. This is not to say that you should never just eat to eat, or to take a person of the opposite sex out to a nice dinner every once in a while.
People get caught up in eating three times a day because it is what they have done their whole lives. They think this is the right way to eat just because they have done it that way. You also have the people that eat small frequent meals thinking it will keep their metabolism up all throughout the day. This has been shown to be untrue in resent research.
There is the intermittent fasting group, the carb back loading group, and the palio group. (Have you noticed if someone is on the palio diet they will somehow work it into the conversation to let you know they are on the palio diet)
None of these styles of eating is right or wrong. They can all be very effective if it’s the right fit for your style of living. Some will prefer the sit down three large meals a day, for their life is able to support it. A mother that is always on the go may do better with unplanned small snake like meals throughout the day. As long as you are getting enough to eat and not eating a bunch of junk foods throughout the day, you will be fine with whatever eating style you choose.
What meal frequency comes down to, is what works for you. This depends on your daily schedule, the amount of food you need to eat, when you workout, and how you like to eat.
Eating frequent meals throughout the day does not work for me. It makes me want to eat all the time, causing me to snack more then I should. I usually start eating after my workout. I work out around 11:30, so I eat around 1:00. Then I’ll eat one last large meal at night. I do this because I enjoy eating large amounts of food at one time and because eating at night, 2 hours or so before bed, also prevents me from snacking.
I am also not locked into any one style if I know that I am going out to eat or traveling I may not eat anything all day. I will wait till dinner to eat so I can enjoy my meal and not just eat rabbits food and when it comes to traveling I know I will end up eating like crap so I just plan accordingly. This is what works for me. This style does not fit everybody’s life style. So find what works for you and do you.
You should always eat after your workout. Other then that, you can eat as many or as few times a day as you want. Just make sure you are eating enough food. A diet should not be something you force into your life, it should fit your life. This way you will stick to a healthy eating life style.
I am going to be honest I have not been in the fitness industry that long, but without a doubt the #1 goal for all females that are not athletes, or are athletes for that matter…. O.K. let me rephrases this; the #1 goal for any female that walks in through your doors is to tone up. The conversation goes something like this.
Me: What are some of your goals that you would like to accomplish?
Female: I would like to loose some weight and fat and maybe get a little stronger, but I don’t want to bulk up, I guess I would like to just tone up a little. Oh and I’d really like some abs.
Don’t get me wrong. I think this is a great list of extremely vague goals. The goal of wanting to be toned is a fine goal, if you know what it is.
For some reason the phrase “toning up” has come to be the all-encompassing phrase to sum up, “to get in better shape”.
The word tone means to be firm or to have the appearance of being firm. I used to think this was a combination of weight loss and muscle gain. As you loose fat and gain muscle mass the skin will appear to be firm or tone. This is what toning up meant to me. It’s pretty much the same thing as just getting into better shape, which is a part of the toning process.
While reading Mark Rippetoes’ book, “Practical Programming for Strength Training,” I was able to gain a better understanding of what it truly means to be tone. Here is a quote from his book, “The term muscle tone or tonus describes an electrophysiological phenomenon, a measure of ionic flow across muscle cell membranes. It can be thought of as the muscle’s readiness to do anaerobic work. The more fit the muscle, the more electrophysiological activity it exhibits at rest.”
So what does this all mean? What it means is the more your muscles are ready to lift weights the more tone you will be. So a sedentary person is going to be less tone then a person who frequently lifts weights, and a marathon runner is going to be less tone then a power lifter.
How To Get Tone
If you look at the spectrum of what will get you toned the fastest, going from least effective to most effective, it would look something like this.
Low Toning Medium Toning High Toning
Aerobic Exercise → Low Intensity → High Intensity
Weight Training Weight Training
Huh, that’s funny, if this spectrum is correct then most of the programs that are out there to get you tone buns and thighs are not the most effective means of programming. The typical commercialized toning program usually involves loads of long duration cardio or a cross between a bodybuilding program and an endurance program. This would fall somewhere between aerobic exercise and low intensity weight training, but where you really want to be is all the way over to the right.
Just to clarify, the word intensity is not describing how hard the workout is, it’s describing how heavy the weights are you are using. Doing circuit training and bootcamps can be taxing, and described as an intense workout, but this is not what is meant when talking in terms of weight training. High intensity means to be lifting heavy weights. If you want tone then you need to lift heavy.
If your goal is to have rock solid buns that resemble week old biscuits, not the best analogy moving on though, then take off the pink head band and put down the pink doubles and pick up some heavy weights. The more your muscles are ready to do work the more tone they will be. This is accomplished by strength training, not aerobic exercise or interval training but by good old strength training. Remember its 2013 and strength is the new sexy.