Is it necessary?

Having little money/ being broke ever since I left home has forced me to put things into perspective in terms of what is necessary when it comes to my personal fitness.

Things were simple when I first started exercising about 12 years ago. I worked out at home and scaled back my calorie consumption. I wasn’t paying for a gym membership and I was consuming little calories that came from food my mom bought. I dropped -too much- weight and found myself having to re-evaluate the angle I was taking.

I later joined a gym located around the corner from my house. It was one of the half dozen weight rooms ran by the city of Brampton in their recreational department. In addition, I eventually smartened up when it came to nutrition — or so I thought.

Fast forward a little futher and I am paying for a gym membership and have begun picking up my own groceries; because eating copious amounts of lean chicken and turkey with rice and broccoli is the only way to get fit (rolls eyes so hard they almost fall out). A couple of decent chicken breasts are easily 10 bucks; which adds up mighty quick when that is the bulk of your diet.

My time spent on fitness websites were at an all time high, gawking over all the amazing physiques telling myself I will look like that one day. Heck! I may even compete. Before I could even think about that however, I needed supplements, lots of glorious supplements!!!

Of course whey protein was the first to be added, then branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), followed by L-Arginine, Beta Alanine, creatine, and caffiene. I even wrote a post about it all. My once zero dollars spent on supplements easily became 100-130$ every 4-5 weeks.

Wake up call

At the end of fast tracking a second diploma in early 2016 I found myself with a lot of debt, and jobs that paid me little or offered few hours. I couldn’t spend money unnecessarily without it coming back to bite me in the ass. There were days where I had to decide to put gas in my car or groceries in my fridge. I remember pulling to the side of the road one afternoon and cried as I fought anxiety and tried to figure out how the hell I am going to keep it together.

At this point my purchasing of supplements days were long gone. After 3-4 years of taking supplements I had no choice but to put it to rest until I was in a more stable financial situation. My days of eating chicken and turkey breasts were also behind me. Meat had always grossed me out, I just got it in my head that it was the best way to be lean and fit. Now, without a bunch of money to waste on dead carcasses; I began eating more beans, lentils, rice, pastas, and even bread.

Funny thing is, my strength did not deteriorate; if anything it increased. Is it possible the supplements weren’t doing much and I simply wasn’t giving my body what it needed from food? Yes, yes it is. Is it also possible that eating a plethora amount of animal products isn’t the optimal diet for a weightlifter? Yes ma’am, thats what I have come to believe.

Now I know this post comes with no hard core facts, just personal opinion. Take from it what you may. Im simpy suggesting you don’t waste your money on a bunch of supplements. If anything supplement your deficiencies, while considering the time of year. For example, I take Vitamin D3 drops in the fall/ winter because of the lack of sunlight.

As for the meat — I honestly believe it’s not good for us humans. Maybe 1-2 times a week; but not every meal, every day. Without getting into the science and health facts, to me eating more plant based foods just makes sense. From my experience I feel better, my skin looks better, and I carry the most muscle mass I ever have, all while spending less on groceries.

What are your thoughts?

 

 

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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.

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.

logbook2

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.

logbook1

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.

The Complete Power Look Program – My progress

I just wrapped up the first phase of “The Complete Power Look Program” that I picked up off of one of my favourite training sites – TNation. The first phase was 4 weeks in length and I am now transitioning into the second, with 3 phases all together.

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 WHY I CHOSE THIS PROGRAM:

  •  4 years ago I transitioned from endurance training into heavy strength training in the pursuit of lots of lean muscle mass and continual increases in strength. I build my programs around the 4 main lifts – Squat; bench press; deadlift; and overhead press (push-press/military press). This program is built around these king exercises for 10 weeks, with changes to the reps/sets and the accessory exercises every 3 or 4 weeks.
  • This program uses the front squat instead of the back squat, and the push-press instead of the military press; which I absolutely love because my spine could use a break from heavy back squats, and I will benefit from the push-press since the military press is one my weakest exercises; the push-press will allow me to move more weight and use the eccentric phase to help build strength.
  • I chose this program to learn more about proper strength training programming. The use of % RM is something fairly new to me, as well as the manipulation of the set/rep schemes each week.
  • I have yet to incorporate exercises to correct weak areas in my main lifts such as the deficit deadlift, floor press, and top-half press from pins.  Therefor, I can’t wait to see my new 1RMs at the end of the program.

 MY CURRENT 1RMs

MY CURRENT 1RMS

EXERCISE WEIGHT(LBS)
Front Squat 120
Bench Press 90
Deadlift 200
Push-press 90

WEEKS 1-4: My thoughts and progress

  • Figuring out my weights for the accessory exercises, along with mastering the correct movement pattern for new exercises, always contributes to the challenge during my first week on a new program.
  • The deadlift from a 2 inch deficit challenged me the most; the increased forward lean made it harder to sit back on my heels. With that said, I feel like my low back and quads were more taxed than usual, but the whole posterior chain benefited from an increased range of motion.

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  • Getting a solid push-press technique down took me a few tries. Learning how much momentum to use, along with keeping a solid stance took time, but I improved immensely as the weeks progressed.
  • The bent-over barbell row with torso angled at 90 degrees attacked my mid/low traps and biceps.
  • The paused front squat was a fantastic incorporation of time under tension and my quads benefited.
  • On squat day, arms remain in the front squat grip position for almost the entire workout – very hard on the wrists if you aren’t used to it.
  • The Bulgarian split squat with a front squat grip was new to me, and it just made me love the split squat even more.
  • I have already seen an increase in the size of my triceps thanks to the floor presses, and significant anterior chain development thanks to the front squat and push-press.
  • I no longer work-out; I TRAIN.

WEEKS 5-7: My thoughts and progress

  • I thought the deadlift from a 2 inch deficit was hard; and then came the sumo deadlift from a 2 inch deficit – holy shit, hands down the most challenging exercise for me this phase.
  • The wide-grip bench press initially made me nervous (not-so-good left shoulder), but I was surprisingly stronger than I thought I would be. It’s too bad my right side is noticeably weaker despite it being the more stable of the two (I’m a southpaw).
  • Deadlift from pins (pins just below knees), blasted my mid/low traps and lats.
  • Week 5 – day after push-press, my triceps were extremely sore due to the half push-press; I loved that one, along with the 1/2 bench press.
  • Week 6 – the night after the 3×5 front squats my quads and anterior delts were screaming! I continue to see immense anterior chain development and I love it.
  • EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: USE OF GUARDS OR PINS. I’ll admit, I was an idiot and actually performed a couple moves incorrectly and felt it right away. Read the whole program and make sure you understand each exercise before walking into the weight room (unlike me).
  • Week 7 – Front squats; my legs were feeling strong and my confidence was going up as quick as the weight that day. Also, I knew I had made gains because resting the bar on my anterior delts was less uncomfortable = shoulder development, woot woot!!
  • Sumo deadlift is still blowing me away (I made a lot of notes about this one, so I’m not kidding).
  • Noticeable development of my “top shelf” a.k.a. Upper Traps.
  • On average, these workouts have been taking me 30-45 minutes to complete. I stick around afterwards to bang out conditioning work such as BARBELL COMPLEXES or I practice aspects of the Olympic lifts, which I hope to soon conquer.

SIDE NOTES: 

If you have a look at THE COMPLETE POWER LOOK PROGRAM you’ll see that Christian Thibaudeau offered exercises for optional bonus work. I am always game for more, but I decided I would choose the exercises (it’s hard for me to follow a plan designed by someone else and not have a say at all). Moreover, you’ll notice there isn’t any direct ab training included in this program. I add 1 or 2 weighted ab exercises after training, but make sure not to overdue it – this program is incredibly heavy on the core!

This is me back in January of this year finally hitting one of my long term goals – 200lb deadlift. I hope this program takes that number up a notch, or two.