Lifting Belts, Lower Backs
Are You Over Trained
Your Own Support Group
Calves: Size vs Shape
Limits To Cross Training
More Muscle Size
Time To Change Course
Motor Skill vs Fitness
How Young Is Too Old
More Muscle, More Size?
Positives,Negatives and Recovery
We've all had days when we experienced more fatigue in the lower back
than in our quads after a set of squats. Even when we wore a lifting
belt, we felt the pain and the burn.
In a recent electromyography study scientists looked at various muscle
activities during eight-rep sets of squats performed with and without a
belt. Both the erector spine of the lower back and the external obliques
contributed increasingly to the movement as each set progressed. In
fact, the muscles contributed 20 percent more force during the eighth
rep than they did during the first rep.
The effect was the same even when the subjects wore a belt. The lifting
belt increased intra-abdominal pressure, adding support and stability to
the spine, and also increased the force output of the quads and
hamstrings. Even so, the belt apparently does little to take the
movement away from the lumbar muscles, and prior fatigue of that area
will lead to a burn whether or not you use one. Since the lumbar muscles
have to exert increasing force with each successive repetition and set,
it's best to train your legs with squats on days when your lower back is
fully recovered from any prior back training to avoid overtraining or
possible injury to the area.
SYMPTOMS OF OVERTRAINING
There are numerous symptoms of overtraining, including both
psychological and physiological indicators. Lack of motivation,
lethargy, increased resting heart rate, lack of appetite and prolonged
muscle soreness are just a few of the telltale signs of impending injury
Elevations in serum and urinary levels of certain enzymes are also
indicative of overtraining and muscle damage. When an untrained person
begins a vigorous exercise program, these specific enzymes levels rise
significantly following a workout-an increase that is often not seen in
trained athletes. In fact, athletes have elevated levels prior to
exercise, and these don't get any higher after they've worked out.
This information suggests that athletes may be in a constant state of
slight muscle damage; that is, they are always slightly overtrained. Yet
they do not experience severe damage during subsequent exercise sessions
the way untrained subjects do. Finding just the right balance between
training and overtraining is something every athlete struggles with in
his or her quest for optimal performance.
BENEFIT FROM SUPPORT
We all know the importance of having a training partner, particularly as
a contest approaches. Partners help to spot us. They give advise and
support, and they make it easier for us to get into the gym on those
rare days when we lack motivation: We can't skip, because we know
they'll be there waiting.
The benefits of working out with a training partner don't have to end in
the gym, however. A recent study done at the Stanford University School
of Medicine proved the importance of having a support person or group in
achieving one's goals-in this particular case the goal of weight-loss
The two-year study consisted of one year of supervised weight loss
followed by a year of unsupervised maintenance. As indicated above, the
purpose was not to look at weight loss , but rather weight maintenance.
Half the subjects received follow-up calls and letters during the second
year encouraging them to get regular aerobic exercise and advising them
on diet. The subjects receiving this support gained significantly less
weight than those who were not contacted.
This research confirms the importance of a support person or group in
maintaining your goals as well as achieving them. So don't be shy. Ask
for that important support, and as long as you show your gratitude and
sincere appreciation, your family and friends will be glad to lend a
helping hand. That way they will benefit from the experience right along
GASTROCNEMIUS VS. SOLEUS
A great set of calves can make a fairly good pair of legs look
unbelievable. This is why all bodybuilders strive to fill out their
lower legs with full, diamond-shaped mass. If you're seeking more
lower-leg development and you know how each calf exercise trains the
muscles, you can customize your workouts to create more size, better
shape or both.
The two main muscles on the back of the lower leg are the gastrocnemius
and the soleus. Bodybuilders often choose the wrong exercises to
accomplish their goals because many don't realize that it is the soleus,
which lies deep in the calf, below the gastroc, that gives the area its
size and the gastroc that provides the shape. If you want larger calves,
therefore, you are better off focusing on exercises that train the
soleus: and if you want your calves to have more shape and sweep,
similar to the sharp diamonds seen on many top bodybuilder stars, then
you need to focus on training your gastrocs.
Your knee position-bent or locked-determines which of the two muscles
you isolate. When your knees are bent at 90 degree angles, as when you
perform seated calf raises, you isolate the soleus muscles. When you do
standing calf raises, with your knees locked, however, most of the work
is done by your gastrocs.
So when you're working calves to add size, concentrate on exercises in
which your knee are bent. Heavy, seated calf raises, for example, are
excellent for building mass in this area-this was one of Tom Platz's
favorites, and he had some of the best calf development ever. For calf
shape choose exercises in which your knee joints are locked, such as
standing calf raises, and which focus on the gastrocs.
PEAK FOR COMPETITION
Periods of intense training are known to reduce muscular strength,
thereby lessening an athlete's performance capacity. Both physiological
and psychological changes may play a role in this response. Athletes who
know about this decrease in performance can schedule in a tapering
period that enables them to recuperate and peak for competition.
Studies of training frequency, duration and intensity point to intensity
as the critical variable that must be held constant in order to maintain
the training adaptation. By reducing both the frequency and duration of
the workouts, it is possible to not only maintain performance, but also
achieve higher levels of fitness. Athletes who do this for a period of
five to 21 days before a major competition are able to recuperate and
compete at their peak. Although this regimen is widely practiced in a
variety of sports, little is known about the physical changes and
effects on performance that such tapering causes in the competitive
Periods of reduced training throughout the year, as well as during a
precompetition training phase, should prove beneficial for competitive
and noncompetitive athletes alike. As a result their bodies will
recuperate fully and thus will increase in strength and size. While we
like to think that we are invincible and that we should be able to train
hard every day, the concepts of periodization of training and tapering
allow us to achieve our goals in a more productive, scientifically sound
Don't schedule your tapering periods too close together-only one or two
per year may be optimal. Experimentation will help you determine the
frequency and length of tapering periods that will optimize your
THE POPULARITY OF CROSS-TRAINING
The body's adaptation to exercise is well documented; this includes
adaptations by the whole body as well as by the skeletal muscle. The
nature of the adaptation appears to be specific to the type of training
undertaken. Endurance athletes, for example, adapt their cardiovascular
systems and increase the aerobic capacity of their muscles. Strength
training, on the other hand, does little to increases in anaerobic
enzymes along with increases in muscle size. These highly specific
training effects lead to the widely accepted physiological principle
known as the specificity of training.
The popularity of cross-training among endurance athletes lead to
duathalons and triathlons, where endurance athletes participate in
several sports within a single competition. These athletes generally
perform two or three workouts for each sport on a given day or within a
given workout session. Preliminary, unpublished research by Gaesser at
the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that when runners
undertake bicycle training and reduce their run training, they not only
maintain their fitness level, but also actually improve their run
performance along with their bike performance.
While cross-training may be beneficial for certain sports within a given
category of adaptation-that is, endurance or strength-the ideal of
cross-training between categories remains questionable. Many
bodybuilders include aerobic exercise in their pre-contest training in
order to lose bodyfat, yet they have no idea of how much is enough and
how much (it any) is detrimental to their size and strength adaptations.
Endurance athletes, on the other hand, include strength training to
improve their endurance performance.
Research in this area has shown that simultaneous training may inhibit
the normal adaptation to either training program. While improvements in
both areas will occur, they will not be as great as when either is
performed alone. The extent of the interference probably depends on the
nature and intensity of the individual training program.
For years scientists have searched for the mechanism that causes muscle
growth. While the exact solution to this puzzle is still elusive, the
effects of the lengthening, or eccentric, phases of weightlifting
movements appear to be a factor.
Skeletal muscle undergoes numerous forms of adaptation to training.
Responses to resistance weight training include increases in size due to
increased contractile proteins, an increased mitochondria concentration
and increased capillarization. Above all else bodybuilders strive to
achieve an increase in size, otherwise known as muscle hypertrophy.
In a recent study the eccentric phases of weightlifting movements proved
responsible for hypertrophy in a group of subjects. The study involved
two groups: One group performed exercises using both the eccentric and
concentric parts of the movements, while the second group performed the
same movements but only the concentric parts. After 19 weeks the
eccentric-plus-concentric group demonstrated a significant increase in
muscle fiber size, while no increase was noted for the concentric-only
group. This study provided the first hard data that eccentric
contractions are the parts of exercise that optimize muscle fiber
hypertrophy. If further research substantiates these findings, negatives
and lengthening contractions may well began to play a larger role in
bodybuilding regimens. We'll keep you informed as this research becomes
Bodybuilders experts talk a lot about variety in training, but how often
should you vary your training program to make it most efficient? If you
change your regimen too often, you may not allow your muscles time to
fully adapt and so you may not get the full benefits from your workouts.
On the other hand, if you stay on the same program too long, you may
become stale or fail to adequate stimulate your muscles to grow.
Obviously, it helps to know the time course of adaptation.
Studies show that changes in various parameters including muscle growth
occur fairly rapidly, within four weeks of training. If you don't give
yourself sufficient time for your body to change and adapt, then your
improvements will become inconsistent. Just how long you can stay on any
program and continue to improve is not known. It appears that you should
give it at least one month to determine how your body will adapt before
you decide whether the training program works for you.
Some exercisers, particularly runners, become addicted to their sports.
They give their training top priority, convinced that they cannot
survive without it, and they train despite pain, illness or injury,
putting their all-consuming passion ahead of family, job and health.
Some athletes even suffer withdrawal symptoms if forced to stop
training. They become anxious, irritable and/or depressed.
It is unclear whether this kind of dependency is caused by physiological
or psychological factors or both. Wile many athletes feel that such
dedication is necessary to excel in their sports, many find they achieve
an increase in performance following a reduced level of intensity and
focus. A more level-headed approach to training may not only improve
your performance, but it will also bring you a more balanced lifestyle,
which will give you a more fulfilling life away from the athletic arena.
Motor Skill vs Fitness
Physical fitness is only one aspect of what makes one athlete superior
to another. Other factors include motivation and motor skills. Most
experts agree that, while you can do a lot through training to improve
your fitness level, there's very little you can do to modify your motor
The four factors that affect motor performance are balance, agility,
coordination and speed. These are primarily based on your genetic
makeup, and together and separately they help determine your skill and
aptitude for a particular sport. In that respect sports are a lot like
dancing: Some people are born with rhythm; others are not.
As stated above, however, you can improve your fitness level
dramatically through training. The five basic components of physical
fitness are cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular
endurance, flexibility and body composition. The importance of each
component varies from one sport to the next. A football player or
bodybuilder needs a higher degree of muscular strength than does a
marathon runner, whose main requirement is cardiorespiratory endurance.
In addition, certain sports require a lower bodyweight, while others may
benefit from a higher mass.
To determine your aptitude for a particular sport, simply look into the
specific mental, motor and physical requirements. Then analyze how you
fit those conditions and what your potential is for improvement. In the
case of elite athletes it appears that they are born to excel. As for
recreational athletes, we must simply participate for the sheer joy of
it rather than frustrating ourselves by seeking perfection.
START 'EM YOUNG
When is a good age to start a child on a weight-training program? Many
people feel that children should not lift weights due to the risk of
injury and the questionable effectiveness of strength training on young
bodies, especially those of prepubescent males. Recent research,
however, indicates that this may not be so. With proper supervision
children who are on a weightlifting program should experience lower
injury rates than do adult lifters, many of whom train unsupervised or
under unqualified supervision. In addition, the stresses placed on a
child's body would have a positive effect on many systems and would
benefit, not hinder, growth.
While adults males adapt to strength training through an increase in
muscle mass known as hypertrophy, the effect is not as pronounced in
women. This is primarily due to the level of testosterone present in the
male body. Increases in strength that do not occur in conjunction with
an increase in muscle size are said to be due to neural factors, which
include the ability to recruit a greater number of fibers within the
working muscle and the ability to perform the movements properly,
synchronizing the muscles used for each lift and inhibiting those
muscles that are antagonistic to the movement. Apparently, when young
children lift, most of increases in strength they gain are due to neural
In a 20-week study on the effects of weight training on prepubescent
boys, researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, found
significant increases in muscle strength in all muscle groups tested.
The strength increases ranged from 21 percent increases in leg
extension, leg curl and leg press strength to 37 percent increases in
the bench press and biceps curl movements. These increases occurred even
though there were no changes in muscle size or body composition.
Apparently, they were due to better coordination between the muscle
groups involved in each lift. Based on these findings, the researchers
concluded that a weightlifting program can be successful for
prepubescent children and that the strength gains will carry over to
other sports as well as lead to other positive benefits similar to those
obtained by adults who train with weight. These include better
self-esteem and a better self-image.
WE THROW OUR BODIES OUT OF BALANCE
Last month's discussion of athletes suffering dehydration and muscle
cramping brings up the question of water and sodium restriction. In
general, the body tries to maintain homeostasis, or a balance of
electrolytes, water and other nutrients. By limiting the intake of water
and sodium, we throw our bodies our of balance. If we take it too far,
the results can be damaging and life-threatening.
For years bodybuilders have limited water and salt intake before a
competition. In fact, in the early '80s I helped develop the concept and
practice of combining sodium/carbohydrate-loading and depletion. Since
that time it has been adapted and modified by various athletes. When
it's done correctly, the results are outstanding. When it's done
improperly, the athlete is left flat and depleted, or dehydrated.
Timing is key if you're going to alter your water balance. When you
restrict water intake, your body releases certain hormones in order to
hold onto all the water it can. In fact, a better way to lose excess
water is to drink excess water, which causes the body to compensate and
increase urine output. Switching to distilled water will also lower
electrolyte levels in the body because of the elements that are
distilled out of the water. As discussed last month, it is important to
replace the crucial electrolytes for muscle contraction, or your muscle
By limiting your water and sodium intakes and drinking distilled water,
you are setting up your body for water and electrolyte imbalance, which
results not only in initial cramping, but also in excessive water weight
gain after you return to normal salt and water intake. Use of diuretics
compounds matters by throwing the body further out of kilter.
If you want to reduce subcutaneous (extracellular) water levels before a
show, increase you sodium intake for a period and then restrict it in
order to reduce aldosterone levels. Beginning a few days before the
contest, however, you should take in copius amounts of distilled water
along with a sodium-free multimineral supplement so that your body
continues to flush out water and excess sodium and other electrolytes,
which results in the transparent-skin appearance that all competitors
seek. It is important that you don't restrict distilled water intake at
this point. On competition day you can reduce your water intake slightly
to add the finishing touches.
MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING
Using the technique of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers
have proved that it's possible to increase muscle size without actually
changing the size of your limbs. This is possible if the increase in
muscle size occurs in conjunction with a decrease in some other factor.
In one study subjects exhibited no changes in thigh circumference of
midthigh skinfold thickness after 14 weeks of strength training.
Although the subjects achieved 41 percent increases in leg strength,
their thighs remained the same size. MRI analyzes revealed an 8 percent
increase in the cross-sectional area of the midthigh and a 9 percent
decrease in the midthigh subcutaneous fat, which explains why there was
no change in girth. Thus, it is possible to increase your muscle size
and still not notice a change on the tape measure.
When training for a contest, many competitors actually observe a
decrease in girth circumference even though their muscle does not appear
to be getting smaller. This may be due to similar changes in body
composition. From these results you can see that the mirror may be more
telling than the tape.
DELAYED ONSET MUSCLE SORNESS
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common ailment that appears
several days after you exercise and diminishes in about a week.
Unfamiliar movements and lengthening, or eccentric, exercise produce
DOMS more so than shortening, or concentric movements. In addition, new
studies confirm other differences between these two types of exercise.
Researchers discovered a discrepancy between muscle glycogen levels in
the days following concentric and eccentric training. Muscle glycogen
resynthesis rates were significantly lower after eccentric, or negative,
exercise than they were after concentric exercise, with the greatest
difference occurring two days after training. The researchers concluded
that the reduced ability to resupply muscle glycogen following eccentric
exercise might be related to the time takes for athletes to develop
muscle damage and inflammation.
Keep this in mind when planning your workouts, and allow for adequate
time between sessions if you're doing a lot of eccentric exercises. That
way your muscle glycogen stores will be restored before you hit the iron
again. Training too frequently under these conditions can lead to muscle
damage, fatigue and overtraining.