Monday, June 22, 2009

Useful fat loss workouts - More random thoughts.

For the macro picture, you want to do some strength training, some HIIT, some traditional cardio from time to time, and a bit of flexibility training. The fine details of exactly how each part of the complete program is structured varies according to sports-specific and individual needs.

Craig Ballantyne wrote this home bodyweight workout that I've been passing out as an example of what you can do for a workout without using weights, his stuff is pretty decent if you're in the target demographic. That is, you're not practicing for sports-specific performance in anything, you're looking for a reasonably minimal workout routine that'll get you a base level of fitness for life.

I've only chatted with him a couple times online, he strikes me as a decent guy and his workouts are legit. You don't actually need to buy his pre-made routines though, you already know what's in there: antagonist supersets of compound movements and some HIIT, plus count calories. And of the two counting calories count for more when it comes to weight loss, there's no way on God's green Earth to out-train your diet.

One reason for buying a pre-made routine from someone else is something Dan John spoke about a while back; there's less thinking involved. Which is where Turbulence Training comes in. But if you have sports-specific goals that go beyond generic fitness getting workout ideas from TT that you then have to go in and modify to work with what you actually training for strikes me as an unnecessary step where you'll just wind up paying extra for no reason. Since you probably won't be able to use Craig's stuff as is, I mean - if you could use it as is TT isn't bad, his workout designs are in the same space as Alwyn Cosgroves' from The New Rules of Lifting and The New Rules of Lifting for Women so they'd fit right in if you're looking for something in that space that isn't by Cosgrove.

But if you've got sports-specific goals you're going to have to do a lot of work to adapt anything you pick up to you own use anyway, so you might as well skip that step and go straight to getting some sports-specific material instead.

'course, there's other considerations as well - I'm consistently running into a lot of shoulder issues with people who've been sitting at a desk for a few years and used a mouse. Shoulders with limited mobility, improper stability, dysfunctional movement patterns, rotational deficits and other problems are seldom candidates for heavy loading. If you have mobility/stability issues, more than a current injury you need to train around, here's a shoulder rehab protocol from Jimmy Smith you should be using then if you can't get to a physical therapist to give you an individualized routine - start with no weights at all for a runthrough to see how your shoulder holds up.

That, plus the YTWL exercise is a good combo for shoulder rehab, you'd use surprisingly low weights on either to have a training effect. My preferred YTWL runthrough uses 8 reps of each letter before moving on to the next, and it's perfectly acceptable strength training for a beginner to just use your arms with no weights at all ;)

The reason I call TT good for base fitness but not necessarily good for sports-specific performance is that it lacks specificity. When it comes to sports-specific performance you're better off with an exercise program that's designed specifically around exercises with a high degree of athletic transfer from your workout to your sport than a generic fitness routine. If you don't have a specific sport you're practicing for, you have limited training time, and you're looking to get into good all-round condition with a combination of strength, aerobic and anaerobic fitness and flexibility TT or NROL/NROLW would work awesome.

If your goals have a bit more specificity to them it's often a better strategy to train each component separately; "Starting Strength" for any strength goals, a combination of steady state and interval training for endurance, and yoga for flexibility for example. The downside of a program like that is that while it'll get you better results than a combination workout will, it'll also take quite a bit more time.

You'd probably devote as much time to each individual component (20-60 minutes depending on activity, 1-3 times a week, 4-6 hours total) as you would to one of the combination workouts. If you've only got 2-3 hours a week to squeeze in a workout that's not a very useful approach just from a time management perspective, even if you'd see better results from a pure fitness standpoint.

Keep in mind that muscle/body size is entirely down to your diet - if you're training for strength with low-rep training and keeping calories in check you'd look more like little 97-lbs Suzanna who's about 50% stronger than me pound for pound than Jessica Biel. Or you'd look more like Gisele who's known for rockin' the Romanian deadlift at Peak Fitness. As long as calories are kept at maintenance or slightly lower there's no growth signal to your muscles, while the strength training preserves what you have and adds to bone density and neural tonicity of your muscles.

If you're doing a generic medium-high rep workout (10-15 reps) with a slight calorie surplus (350-500kcal/d) there is a growth signal to your muscles - and you might be able to 2-4 pounds of muscle in a month if you're male, about half that or 1-2lbs per month if you're female.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Some thoughts on what constitutes a useful workout.

Bad information about exercise physiology isn't restricted to the pink dumbbell set of Shape, bodybuilding comes with its own share of non-physiological idiocies, and I've wasted plenty of time on crap workouts myself. At the time, body part splits seemed logical, I saw the nice charts and graphs of recovery and protein synthesis. But I didn't stop to think about the concept of "population specificity" - was I actually part of the group of people this applied to, or was that just wishful thinking on my part?

Everything you've read is not wrong, but it's used out of context. In most trainees with less than 5-10 years of training background and without an ass full of steroid needle tracks, muscular protein synthesis returns to baseline within 48 hours after a single bout of resistance training.

Exceptions exist, but they are rare.

It's why the Starting Strength model is far superior to body part splits for beginners and intermediaries. After a few years of training when you're closer to your genetic limit for strength and muscle size and you're interested in hypertrophy training as opposed to function, then a split program makes sense in context, since you're close enough to your genetic limit to need more training volume for a particular muscle group than what you can get in with 3xwhole-body; going to a push/pull or upper/lower 2xweekly for a total of 4 weekly sessions then makes sense.

But if you look at something like DC training, Westside Barbell, Bill Starr's 5x5 and a whole host of other models for very advanced athletes you'll see they're also using 3xweekly sessions just like starting strength, it's just that they're using weekly, monthly and even yearly periodization schemes to inch a little closer to their genetic max.

The bodybuilders you see in Muscle&Fiction and other magazines sure as heck didn't start out with a split routine and got anywhere; beginners shouldn't be looking at what advanced athletes are doing now after 10-20 years of consistent training, they should be looking at what that athlete did to get to that point in their training career.

Of course split routines work too, for a given value of work. It's just that they take longer and deliver less results than a whole-body routine performed 3xweekly for the novice, beginner and intermediate trainee. In my book, slower, inferior results isn't exactly worth recommending.

Context-dependent though. If you have a) 10+ year of lifting experience, and b) hypertrophy-oriented goals, body-part splits are a useful training methodology and will deliver superior results in that specific training parameter - for that specific population. Everyone else just aren't strong enough yet to be able to train with a high enough load to make body part splits a useful training modality.

(Body part splits are in general outdated as a training methodology even within bodybuilding, and it's certainly gotten a well-deserved kick out the door by most strength coaches. Push/pull-oriented workouts or movement-oriented workouts focused on basic compound exercises with assistance exercises to strengthen weak muscles in a particular kinetic chain deliver more results in less time.)

Interesting fact: did you know that adding an isolation movement to a compound movement that works the same set of muscles do not improve muscle growth? Once you've maximally stimulated muscular protein synthesis in your triceps by performing a set of close-grip bench press at 85% of your 1RM, the addition of triceps extensions or pressdowns won't lead to more muscle growth. Once you've done your chinups and rows, your biceps will have had all the stimulation they need to grow and adding more in the form of bicep curls won't make a meaningful contribution to your training.

Well, for a beginner, that is. A more advanced athlete may need more training volume to stimulate muscle growth if that's a goal for your training and there's a limit to how much heavy loading your joints can take which is where isolation and assistance exercises come in. And split routines, because getting in sufficient volume takes time and there's a limit to how long a meaningful hypertrophy workout is.

But even if your goal actually is bigger muscles, up until you have that base level of strength you'll have better long term results from focusing on mastering the basics.

If you're just starting out the best advice I can give you is to pick up a copy of Mark Rippetoes' Starting Strength book.

I've been doing this for a while and I still pick up on new things when I go back and read through it and "practical programming for strength training".

In other news, I'm trying a Pavel concept for my current workout - I'm "greasing the groove" on chinups. Legs seem to be more functional again after the surgery but with the layoff period I think I'm going to stick to bodyweight exercises for a week or two until I'm convinced everything works.

The combination of chinups, pushups, dips, and single-leg stepups doesn't cover everything of course. But it does help get prepped for more; I have remarkably little interest in crippling myself with DOMS if I can avoid it. Assuming no funny business from the leg, I'll be back under the bar squatting in a week or two ;)