Bigger, Stronger Traps: My top 3 Moves

Lu Xiaojun
Lu Xiaojun – one of my favourite Olympic Lifters

 

#1. Snatch and Clean Pulls + Shrugs: If you really want to improve the size and strength of your traps, just take up Olympic Weightlifting. Oly lifters have some of the most impressive backs imaginable. The sport is extremely technical however, and I wouldn’t suggest trying it without a coach; but clean and snatch pulls are a great start and extremely effective in making the trapezius grow.

#2. Dumbbell Rows + Shrugs on an Incline Bench at Varying Angles: The trapezius does more than just shrug –  it elevates, depresses, retracts, and rotates the scapula, or shoulder blade. Performing the rows and shrugs at varying angles will ensure more of the traps are being hit – not just the upper fibers.

#3. Farmers Walks + Shrugs: Farmers walks are excellent at developing the core muscles, and so long as you are standing up straight with you your shoulder blades pulled back, your traps will take most of the beating.

 

There are plenty of other exercises that are effective at developing the traps, but these are 3 of my favourites – and from my experience the most effective. You must have noticed I add shrugs at the end of each move, and incorporate time under tension every now and again. I do this when I want to put extra focus on those suckers and I vary the reps from 3-8 depending on what I am pulling.

Keep Moving!

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GABA

Gaba photo 2

What is it?

Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid is an amino acid and an inhibitory neurotransmitter.

What does it do?

Gaba reduces the activity of nerve cells in the nervous system.

Why am I talking about this?

Because it has helped me immensely in regards to sleep, anxiety, and preserving lean muscle mass.

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Intro:

Gaba is a chemical messenger that is widely distributed in the brain. Its natural function is to reduce the activity of the neurons to which it binds. Furthermore, Gaba receptors are probably the most common kind in the mammalian nervous system. It is estimated that close to 40% of the synapses (connections) in the human brain work with Gaba and therefor have Gaba receptors (thebrain.mcgill.ca, 2018).

I’d like to have a look at some research, starting with Gaba’s ability to preserve lean muscle mass. If you’ve read my Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) Training article, you may have picked up that I have a thing for growth hormone. I came across a randomized, double-blind, cross-over study who’s purpose is to determine the growth hormone responses to Gaba ingestion at rest and after exercise (Powers et al., 2007).

11 healthy resistance trained males participated in this study. They were randomly assigned and either given 4 gaba (750mg), or a 4 placebo (sucrose). Neither the researchers nor the participants knew which one they were taking until the study was over. Subjects participated in 4 experimental trails, each separated by 1 week. This consisted of 2 resting and 2 exercise bouts completed in a counterbalanced fashion. They were told to continue their normal daily activities, keep their diet, refrain from any drugs or supplements proposed to have an ergogenic (performance enhancing) effect, as well as lay off exercise 24hrs prior to each experimental trail. Blood samples were taken before each trial as well as 15, 30, 45, 60, and 75 minutes after supplementation.

Figure 1 gaba article

Results: There was no difference in the total number of reps completed when comparing the exercise with gaba and exercise with placebo. However, serum growth hormone concentrations increased approximately 18-fold above pre-ingestion value during both exercise with gaba and exercise with placebo. In addition, an approximate 15-fold increase above baseline was observed during the rest with gaba trail; but no difference throughout the rest with placebo.

More importantly, the GH response 30 minutes after the cessation of exercise was about 200% greater in the exercise with gaba responses than the exercise with placebo. Therefore, gaba supplementation results in the greatest increase in serum GH hormone levels while at rest, as well as immediately after and 30 minutes post-exercise.

There are many reasons why one should care about their levels of growth hormones as it serves important roles in adult life. This includes maintenance of lean body and bone mass, promoting lipolysis (breakdown of fat), thereby limiting visceral adiposity (fat stored around important organs), regulating carbohydrate metabolism, cardiovascular system function, aerobic exercise capacity, and cognitive function (Chertman et al., 2015).

GABA AND SLEEP

I take 750mg of gaba every night, 30 minutes prior to bed. It has a calming, sedative effect and helps me fall asleep quicker, and remain asleep for longer. A 2015 study found that subjects taking gaba did in fact fall asleep sooner by an average of 5 minutes. In addition, a 2008 study found that patients suffering from insomnia had 30% lower levels of gaba compared to the control group (Tatsuzaki et al., 2015).

GABA AND ANXIETY

I am all too familiar with the body jerking; heart pounding; unable to concentrate or think straight feeling brought on by anxiety. If you’ve experienced it you know how much it can negatively affect your health, especially if it’s ongoing. Gaba reduces the activity of nerve cells in the nervous system, which could be linked to anxiety and fear. When my anxiety starts to climb I reach for gaba and take about 300mg. Within 5 to 10 minutes I notice a difference – my heart slows and my concentration improves.

A 2002 study found that those with panic, mood and anxiety disorders, or a family history of these disorders had decreased brain concentrations of gaba (Kent et al., 2002). There is significant amount of data supporting gaba’s ability to reduce anxiety and well as help treat depression.

gaba photo

SUMMARY

Gaba is an amino acid and an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps reduce the excitability of nerve cells in our central nervous system. Research supports that supplementing with Gaba relieves anxiety, improves sleep and increases levels of growth hormone. In addition, it can reduce depressive symptoms, relieve PMS symptoms, decrease inflammation, and improve focus in ADHD.

I have been supplementing with Gaba for over 2 years and I have not experienced any adverse effects. You may experience a tingling sensation at a higher dose. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding you should steer clear because it’s affect on these individuals has not yet been studied. If you are currently taking medication for anxiety or depression, make sure to speak with your doctor before using Gaba; as it may affect these medications.

Finally, there is controversy on whether or not gaba crosses the blood-brain barrier. Some research says it does not, other research says it does. All I know for certain is this natural supplement has helped me immensely and I wanted to share this in hopes it helps others.

Keep Moving.

 

 

References:

Chertman, L.S; Merrium, G.R; Kargi, A.Y. Growth Hormone and Aging. NCBI Bookshelf. A service of Natural Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health. 2015.

Lydiard, R.B. The Role of Gaba in Anxiety Disorders. J of Clin Psychiatry. 2005; 64 Suppl 3: 21-7.

Kent, J.M; Matthew, S.J; Gorman, J.M. Molecular targets in the treatment of anxiety. Biol Psychiatry. 2002, 1008-30.

Powers, M.E; Yarrow, J.F; McCoy, S.C; Stephan, E.B. Growth Hormone Isoform Response to Gaba at Rest and After Exercise. Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology, Centre for Exercise Science. 2007, 104-108.

The Brain From Top to Bottom. Anxiety Neurotransmitters. McGill, 2018. (thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/d/d_04/d_04_m/d_04_m_peu/d_04_m.peu.html) (Accessed April 1, 2018).

Yamatsu, A; Yamashita, Y; Maru, I; Yang, J; Tatsuzaki, J; Kim, M. The Improvement of Sleep by Oral Intake of Gaba and Apocynum venetum Leaf Extract. J Nutri Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2015; 61(2): 182-7.

 

 

Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) Training

Occlusion-Training

What is it?

Blood flow restriction (BFR) is a training strategy involving the use of wraps or cuffs placed proximally around a limb; with the aim of maintaining arterial flow while occluding venous return during exercise (Scott et al. 2015). In layman’s terms this means that blood is flowing into the muscle; but none, or very little is getting out.

How is it performed?

A popular method is to use elasticated knee wraps and wrap them around the upper thighs or upper arms. A perceived wrap tightness of 7/10 will result in complete venous, but not arterial occlusion and has been used in a study by Lowery et al. (2014).

One must ensure the wraps are not too tight nor too lose. Loenneke et al. (2014) found that pressure appeared to increase muscle activation from 40-50% arterial occlusion but did not result in further increases at higher pressure. In other words, if they’re too tight
you will not elicit any benefits and you’ll increase risk of injury, if they are not tight enough blood easily leaves the muscle, eliminating the purpose of the wraps. Many strategies have been reported, however relatively light load resistant training using 20-30% 1RM is most common. Performing 4-6 sets to failure of exercises such as leg extensions, hamstring curls, squats, lunges, biceps curls, and triceps extensions.

Why use this technique?

Takarada et al (2002) did a study on a group of 17 male athletes and divided them into 3 groups – low intensity with occlusion (LIO); low intensity without occlusion (LI), and normal training.

The LIO group had both sides of their upper thighs trained with the proximal portions being compressed by a specially designed elastic belt. The subjects performed bilateral knee extensions for 4 sets at approximately 50% of their predetermined 1RM to failure, with 30 second rest intervals. Sessions lasted no longer than 10 minutes. The LI group then had to match the number of reps performed by the occlusion group. This was completed twice a week for 8 weeks, totalling 16 sessions.

This study aimed to measure several things including changes in muscle strength through measurement of isokinetic strength at preset angular velocities, and measurement of isometric torque at a knee angle of 80 degrees. They estimated changes in muscle endurance by having the subjects perform 50 repeated contractions of leg extensions and comparing the average value of peak torque during the last ten contractions compared to the initial ten contractions.

In addition, an MRI was used to retrieve cross-sectional images of the thigh in order to determine if an increase in strength was due to muscle hypertrophy or neuromotor adaptation. EMG signals were recorded from the vastus lateralis muscle as an indicator of muscle fibre recruitment during isometric torque exertion. Tests and image results were recorded prior to and after the 16 sessions.

The results of this study are undeniable as dramatic increases occurred within the LIO group in comparison to the LI and untrained control group. Percentage increases in strength after training were 14.3 (2.0)%, and 3.2 (2.3)% for the LIO and LI groups, respectively. Significant improvements in muscle endurance was seen in the LIO group only, which was believed to be caused by metabolic adaptations in the muscle fibres instead of an increased resistance to fatigue in the nervous system.

Both pre and post training MRI images were taken of the LIO group only. After the 8 weeks of vascular occlusion there was an approximate 15% increase of the cross-sectional area of the knee extensors. These results suggest that the increase in strength after occlusion training is due primarily to muscle hypertrophy.

Since hormones basically control everything, I want to quickly refer to a separate study previously conducted by Takarada et. al (2000). This study looked at growth hormone after low-intensity exercise with occlusion. The protocol was very similar to the one mentioned above, but used just 20% of the subjects 1RM.

The results of this study indicated that exercise with occlusion can provoke strong endocrine responses even at low intensities, as growth hormone increased 290 times as high as that before exercise. This is a significantly greater increase than that reported by Kraemer et al. (1990) for high-intensity resistant exercise with a short rest period (typical bodybuilding routine).

Conclusion

Blood flow restriction is a training strategy that can elicit major increases in muscle size and strength, as well as improvements in muscle endurance using just 20-50% 1RM. Major increases in growth hormone, peaking 15 minutes after the completion of low intensity resistance exercise with occlusion have been reported. This increase is even greater than that found after high-intensity resistance exercise without occlusion.

How I Use BFR

I recently employed this technique in my own training. Thus far I have completed 4 barbell back squat sessions using 35% of my 1RM, and 2 barbell front squat sessions using 30% 1RM. I performed 15-20 reps for 4-5 sets and keep my rest period under 1 minute. Since I do not have access to the special cuffs I have been using elasticated wraps and follow the suggested perceived wrap tightness of 7/10. Since the studies I have read kept the total occluded time within 10 minutes, I do as well; only removing the wraps after I have completed the exercise session.

It is difficult for me to measure if increases in muscular strength, size, and/or endurance is solely attributed to BFR as I train in weightlifting 3-4 times/ week and recently got back on my rollerblades since the weather has gotten more tolerable up in the North. However, I do plan on re-testing my 1RM back squat after a few more sessions, as prior to utilizing BFR my numbers were plateauing. Simply from the way my legs look and feel after these 6 sessions, coupled with the results of these studies, I am confident this will be the catalyst to any increases in my performance.

 

 

 

References

Scott, B. R., Loenneke, J. P., Slattery, K. M. & Dascombe, B. J. (2015). Blood flow restricted exercise for athletes: a review of the evidence. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.

Lowery, R. P., Joy, J. M., Loenneke, J. P., de Souza, E. O., Machado, M., Dudeck, J. E. & Wilson, J. M. (2014). Practical blood flow restriction training increases muscle hypertrophy during a periodized resistance training programme. Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging, 34(4), 317-21.

Loenneke, J. P., Kim, D., Fahs, C. A., Thiebaud, R. S., Abe, T., Larson, R. D., Bemben, D. A. & Bemben, M. G. (2014a). Effects of exercise with and without different degrees of blood flow restriction on torque and muscle activation. Muscle and Nerve.

Takarada, Y., Sato, Y., Ishii, N., (2002). Effects of resistance exercise combined with vascular occlusion on muscle function in athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology.

Takarada, Y., Nakamura, Y., Aruga, S., Onda, T., Miyazaki, S., Ishii, N. (2000). Rapid increase in plasma growth hormone after low-intensity resistance exercise with vascular occlusion. Journal of Applied Physiology.

Kraemer, W. J., L. Marchitelli, S. E. Gordon, E. Harman, J. E. Dziados, R. Mello, P. Frykman, D. McCurry, S. J. Fleck. (1990). Hormonal and growth factor response to heavy resistance exercise protocols. Journal of Applied Physiology.

Weightlifting

September 1st, 2015 I made the move from Brampton to North Bay, Ontario. I came in light of new experiences and the opportunity to learn how to Olympic style weight lift from one of the best coaches, Larry Sheppard.

My desire to get in shape started when I was 16 years old, and now at 28; I have learned so much through education, personal successes, and failures. However, just when I thought I had a good grasp on everything; my style of training has been completely flipped in pursuit of becoming an athlete.

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For as long as I can remember I worked out to look good. Vanity and lack of self esteem pushed me towards the commercial facilities where mirrors line every wall, and platforms are non existent. I’ve worked out in gyms that don’t allow chalk, and have had employees tell me I can’t drop the weights as I was performing heavy deadlifts.

I dipped my toes in the physique competitions – but in all honestly they were super amateur. It’s something I am proud of in the sense it took hard work and courage; but at the same time I roll my eyes because it just wasn’t me.

I wish I had known someone in the powerlifting or weightlifting community 10 years ago; but would-a-should-a-could-a; this is where I am at now and thats what matters. I began learning the snatch and clean & jerk in early September 2015.

What is the Snatch?

Snatch+Phases+Trajectory-lowres

The Snatch is the first of the two Olympic lifts to be contested, followed by the clean & jerk. The aim is the lift a loaded bar from the floor to overhead, in one smooth, continuous motion.

The athlete begins by setting themselves up so that the bar is directly over their metatarsals with their feet hip width apart; toes turned out slightly. A wide “hook grip” is used on the bar (fingers on top of thumbs), and the arms straight with the shoulders directly over the bar, or slightly in front of it. The thighs should be almost parallel to the floor (depending on femur length), and the back remains straight and tight with extension in the thoracic vertebrae. The chest should be open and head titled back.

“Lift off” begins the moment the bar is separated from the floor as the athlete then moves into the “first pull.” During this phase the lifter begins to extend their knees and moves their hips upward while keeping a constant back angle relative to the floor. Centre of gravity shifts towards the heels as the lifter pulls the bar close to their body. The bar begins to accelerate at the end of this phase as they “transition” to position themselves appropriately for the second pull. During this transition is where you’ll often see the “double-knee” bend.

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$50,000 Eleiko platform from the Pan Am games

The “second pull” is an explosive movement that is executed through the extension of the hips, knees, and ankles (triple extension); followed by a strong elevation of the shoulders (shrug). This is where the bar will “brush” the hips and feet leave the ground to quickly move into the squat position. The “turnover” phase occurs as the lifter begins to pull themselves under the bar, and the “catch phase” occurs the moment the lifters feet have landed on the platform, catching the bar overhead with arms locked out. It is finished only when the lifter shows control of the bar by standing up and bringing the feet together.

What is the clean & jerk?

The clean & jerk is the second lift to be contested and is comprised of two stages which also has the athlete lift the bar from the floor to an overhead position.

They begin by setting their feet under their hips and by grabbing the bar just outside their legs using a “hook grip.” The bar is lifted to the top of the knees where the athlete then performs the “triple extension” through explosive extension of the hips, knees, and ankles; followed by a big shrug. The aim here is to get the bar as high as possible before dropping into the squat and receiving the bar in the “racked” position (bar sits in front of the neck resting on the anterior deltoids). The lifter then stands back up and readjusts their grip width in preparation for the jerk.

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The jerk begins where the clean finishes; with the bar across the shoulders and the back vertical. The lifter dips just a few inches by flexing the knees; then through explosive extension of the knees the barbell is propelled upwards off the shoulders. The athlete pushes the bar with their arms and quickly drops under by splitting their feet in a lunge type fashion (one forward and one back). The bar is received overhead with the arms straight, and once stable; the lifter recovers from the split position by bringing their feet back together.

Ofcouse these explanations may be missing some aspects, but you get a good idea of what I have been up to over the past 8 months. I have competed in 3 competitions thus far and took 3rd place in my weight class in my last competiton on April 9, 2015. I still have a long ways to go before I am even close to competing on a more serious level (these girls are strong!!!), but I am just happy to have found something new and exciting. It feels great to be more concerned over how I perform rather than how I look.

Most importantly, I have been working hard to learn how to coach these lifts. I have engulfed myself in everything weightlifting and succeeded passing my level one weightlifting certification with the NCCP. I will have a second diploma in strength and sports condidtioning in a couple weeks time and I hope to find work in the health promotion and coaching fields.

The past to now

I don’t often treat shape180 as a journal, but this is an exception. I have made major changes in my life and feel it necessary to write out some highs and lows as reminder to myself in the future.

I recently left my job of four years working for the city of Brampton. I worked as a personal/group trainer at a few different recreation centres over those years. I had the opportunity to work with diverse groups of people and gained experience that cannot be learned in the classroom.

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My experiences all involve people and the relationships I made with them. My clients were a pleasure to work with and I would like to thank all of those who helped me grow. More specifically, I will not forget the day when a couple of men from eOne Entertainment distribution centre came in looking to put a class together for their employees once week. I became their boot camp instructor, and that one class a week eventually turned into 6, with myself teaching 5 of them. Their company opened it up to their office and warehouse staff, and 2 years later I can say with honesty that it was successful on both ends.

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Although the classes were successful; Brampton was wearing me out – overpopulated, frustrating, expensive, redundant. I had lived in the same house for 27 years, only moving out at the beginning of summer to live with a girlfriend before school started in North Bay, September 8th, 2015. I had missed the classroom, and needed a way out. My relationship with me ex-boyfriend lasted about 3 years, knowing him for 5. That was over; a lot of my friends have moved; and I could not be stuck in Brampton for another 27 years.

I started the strength and sports conditioning program at Canadore College and I am fast-tracking a second diploma (thanks to my previous diploma in fitness and health promotions from Humber college). I was so pumped when I was told I was able to fast-track; things were going my way and I am not quite used to that.

So far so good! I am lucky to have my dog with me for the ride – she means the world to me. I am renting a room on a large property with a lot of space for her to run. There are 2 other dogs here – Laska showed them who’s boss so things have been going smoothly since then.

Canadore College

North Bay is beautiful and a breath of fresh air. Its nice to be reminded that civilization hasn’t destroyed all of Mother Nature. I am enjoying my program and cannot believe the difference between Canadore and Humber college in terms of population. It is not crowed here and my experience is so relaxing compared to the past. For one, I have a car and a parking pass (but even if I didn’t, I only live 2km down the road); I used to take the bus to Humber – 1.5 hours one way – and it absolutely sucked. Another reason is all thanks to Humber college; I feel educated in the subjects I am taking and I have a strong background both academically and professionally. This is also largely credited to my experiences in my previous jobs (I worked at Curves prior to the city – at least it was fitness related :P).

It’s just myself and my dog up here but thats ok, I am meeting people quickly and I am training hard like always. I have already met one very important man that I will have to write about another time.

Here’s to a new start.

LOG YOUR TRAINING

When you walk into the gym do you have a plan? Do you know your weights from the last session or do you just go on whim? Having a plan and logging your training will help you progress closer to your goals than without – no doubt.

If you exercise for “general” health and fitness, feel free to leave this page and head to Zumba class. However, if you’re looking to get bigger, faster, and/or stronger; grab a glass of water and stay a while.

WHAT TO RECORD

  • Date
  • Exercises
  • Weight lifted
  • Sets / reps
  • Tempo (optional)
  • Rate of perceived exertion (optional)
  • Additional notes (optional)

IN THE NAME OF GAINZ

Date it. You’ll need to know the last time you performed that workout so you can ensure you won’t go too long without a repeat. I’ve never put the time of day in my log but thats something you may want to consider, as you may notice that you perform better at certain times over others.

For anything to work you’ll need a plan. Make sure to have your programs ready to go so all you’ll have to do is fill in the weight and repetitions. Having a set plan is advantageous for obvious reasons. One not so obvious reason is the fact you can mentally prepare and visualize the upcoming session.

liftlog

OTHER POINTS TO CONSIDER

Tempo:

Tempo refers to the rate at which you move the weight. It is comprised of four stages – the eccentric phase (muscles lengthen); pause at bottom; concentric phase (muscles shorten); pause at top. It is shown like so – 2:1:1:1 (biceps curls example: 2 seconds to lower, 1 second pause at the bottom, quick 1 second lift with a 1 second squeeze at the top). This will be important in programs that use time under tension or slow eccentrics. Whether or not you choose to record it is up to you – but tempo is something you should be thinking of either way. SLOW DOWN POWER UP.

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Rate of perceived exertion (RPE):

The RPE scale is strange in the sense it goes from 6-20. 6 being no exertion and 20 being maximal exertion. To keep it simple I just ask my clients how they feel on a scale from 1-10. It’s another way to indicate both progress and weakness within your abilities. Personally, I take notes on how I feel that day and specific weaknesses and/or strengths I notice after certain exercises. This will help me when creating future programs and allow me to train smarter.

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Additional notes:

When listing your exercises its also necessary to take into account such things as stance, body positioning, and grip style. These will all affect the number of reps and/or weight used and will differ from their relative variations. For example, I know I can do 6 strict chin-ups (underhand/close-grip), but I can barely complete 1 strict pull-up (overhand/wide-grip).

You may also want to take into account how you feel that day; the number of hours you slept the previous night; and current mood or mindset. Remember; reaching your goals isn’t a linear path. Your success graph will have ascends and descends but the BIG picture will depict a slow but steady climb to the top; if, and only if, you stay consistent and positive. Oh – and work your ass off.

How to set it up:

There are hundreds of free programs available online, selecting one that coincides with both your goals and current level of fitness will be optimal. Some websites have plans and templates ready to print to make things even easier for you. Feel free to e-mail me though if you ever need any help.

Finally, whether or not you print it out or write it out; keep it in a (water proof) journal or binder and have it in order! Organization keeps me sane anyways and I have kept all of my training logs since I began taking this stuff seriously 10 years ago. Its awesome to look back and see my progression as well as my past training styles/programs.

Look at your plan in the gym, not your cell phone.

Keep moving.