Thursday, July 28, 2016

Do or Don't: Separate Shoulder days?

Should you have a separate shoulder day dedicated to training shoulders, since they are already being trained on chest and back days? This is often debated among weight lifters, trainers, physiologists and sportsmen alike. Here are the most common arguments raised for both sides. Read on about the benefits and downsides and decide what is best for you.

You should have a separate shoulder day

This is why some say that you should have a separate shoulder day dedicated to training shoulders:

By neglecting shoulders, you are limiting your other lifts

By neglecting to do shoulders on their own, they are dependent on other lifts to be stimulated to grow. An example would be the front shoulders (anterior deltoids) that work with the chest muscles (pectorals) during a bench press, primarily used as a chest exercise. Since shoulders are not trained on their own to be stronger, they might grow at a slower rate than the chest. This means that your bench press will be limited to the amount of weight and volume that your shoulders can handle instead of the weight and volume that your chest can handle, limiting their growth. This can be so for other muscle groups as well like triceps, biceps and back.

Not having a shoulder day could cause injury

Similar to the point above, by not training shoulders on their own they won't be as strong as the other muscles. This means that they will probably get injured during lifts where other muscles are capable of handling weight that the shoulders aren't able to. Using the bench press example again, when the chest muscles can lift a heavy weight but the shoulder muscles can't stabilize the movement properly, injury can occur within the shoulder joint.

Shoulder size won't be in proportion

Just like calves that need to be worked separately to have legs that look in proportion, shoulders need to be worked separately to have the best looking upper body. By ignoring this muscle group (or by stimulating it indirectly only), it is not given the chance it deserves to grow in proportion to the rest of the body.

You should not have a separate shoulder day

Already convinced you should have a separate shoulder day? Take a look at the other side of the argument before you decide for yourself:

Overuse: Working the shoulder too much can cause injury

Overuse is one of the most common causes of shoulder injury. They are already used during almost all compound exercises like the bench press, dumbbell fly, dip, pull up and the dead lift; and during many isolated exercises like elbow extension and contraction exercises. Overuse can not only damage the shoulder joint directly, but indirectly as well because constant, strenuous use of the shoulder muscle will make it weaker. Weaker shoulder joints will therefore not be able to support their joint counterparts, leading to further injury.

When are shoulders supposed to rest?

The bench press (which does stimulate the shoulder muscle) works the shoulder really well already. Most chest exercises work the front shoulders and most back exercises work the back shoulders (posterior deltoids). Since shoulders are already being worked twice per typical program cycle (on chest days and on back days), they are not getting enough time to rest and fully recover if they are being worked again in isolation, when the chest and back muscles are resting. If other muscle groups are only being stimulated once a week, for example, and shoulders are being worked more than once, then the rest they get to recover will be a fraction of the other muscle groups. Without sufficient rest, they will not be able to grow and strengthen the best they could and will inevitably lead to weakness and injury.

They get enough stimulation

Shoulders don't need a day dedicated to them because they get all the stimulation they need from other exercises like chest and back movements, as discussed in the previous points above.

So should you have a separate shoulder day or not?

The answer to this question varies from person to person. Some people need an extra shoulder day because their shoulders are not getting enough stimulation from other exercises that involve them. On the other hand, some people do not need to dedicate a day specifically for shoulders because they are already being stimulated enough. The genetic makeup of everybody is different. Some people are chest dominant during the bench press (meaning that their chest does most of the work), whilst others are shoulder dominant (their shoulders take on most of the work). A dedicated shoulder day will help some to get further towards their physical goals, but will limit others. It depends greatly on your body type, genetics and training style.

The best way to figure out whether or not you should have a separate shoulder day is through trial and error. Try adding a shoulder day and see how your body feels. Try subtracting it and see how that feels (you will definitely see the difference and know what is best for you). For example, I have found that not having a separate shoulder day, but isolating front shoulders after chest exercises on chest day and isolating back shoulders after back exercises on back day works best for me. STAY STRONG!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

High Intensity Interval Training

High intensity interval training is a favorite form of fat burning exercise for many bodybuilders for a few reasons. It is one of the quickest ways to shed fat, does not decrease muscle size, takes less time than standard cardio and is considered less boring than most other cardiovascular exercises.

What is high intensity interval training?

High intensity interval training is a form of cardio where you alternate between extreme bursts of exertion and less intense bouts of activity. This can be done with running, swimming, rowing, skipping and other exercises. The typical timing is 1 minute to 30 seconds of extreme exertion and 2 minutes to 1 minute of lighter exercise respectively. For example, someone who is performing high intensity interval training while using running as their method will sprint as fast as they can for 30 seconds, jog at a medium intensity for 1 minute and repeat for 10 to 40 minutes without taking a break, depending on their fitness level. The lower intensity period is almost always double the amount of time as the high intensity period, acting as the form of active rest while keeping the heart rate up. It is important to push yourself as hard as you can (running as fast as you can, for example) during the high intensity part, while you almost catch your breath during the lower intensity period.

Benefits of high intensity interval training

High fat burning capability

Pushing the body to perform at its maximum possible energy output burns more calories in a shorter period of time than any other form of exercise. The body is also put into a fat burning mode for a longer period of time after exercise as it tries to recover from the cardio at such a high intensity. More fat is metabolized (broken down and used) one to two days after this form of exercise than when it is actually performed. It is because of this extreme fat burning state that makes high intensity interval training such an effective way to burn fat.

High intensity interval training does not harm muscle mass as much as other cardio forms

Another reason why this form of exercise is loved by many is because it does not decrease muscle size as much as other cardio forms like standard steady-state cardio. Muscle is comprised of fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. Slow twitch muscle fibers are used for longer periods of time and result in decreased muscle mass. This is why marathon runners have skinny bodies. Fast twitch muscle fibers are used for shorter periods of time that require a higher level of intensity, like weight lifting. These fast twitch fibers are the ones that are responsible for increased muscle size. Stimulating slow twitch muscle fibers too much will result in decreased muscle size as the body adapts to the new stimulus (yes, running a marathon will cost you some gains). High intensity interval training, on the other hand, puts the body in a fat burning zone, but stimulates the fast twitch muscle fibers instead of the competing slow twitch muscle fibers, as maximum output is reached in a shorter period of time. This means that it won't affect muscle size the same way as traditional cardio.

It takes less time

This is one of many people's favorite things about high intensity interval training. A simple 30 minute training session can burn more calories, overall, than a 2 hour standard cardio training session. For people who have limited time to train or who want to dedicate most of their training time to weight training, this form of cardio is ideal. It is also less boring than standard cardio. Some people dread the thought of idly walking on a treadmill for long periods of time.

Things to consider regarding high intensity interval training

Every form of exercise has its pro's and con's. Here are a few things to consider about this form of training.

High intensity interval training pits a lot of stress on the central nervous system

All exercise stresses the central nervous system. The central nervous system becomes stronger as a response, just like muscles get weaker during training but stronger when they have the time and nutrients needed to recover. The greater the intensity of an exercise is, the greater the stress that is placed on the central nervous system. Putting too much stress on the central nervous system leads to negative symptoms like a weaker immune system, decreased ability to recover from and perform exercise, and over training syndrome. High intensity interval training stresses the central nervous system more than most exercises because of its intensity. This is why it is recommended that high intensity interval training should not be done for more than 3 times a week for most people. If your current weight training program is already putting a lot of strain on your central nervous system, then adding high intensity interval training might not be the best idea. If your central nervous system can handle the extra stress placed on it by adding high intensity interval training to your program, this won't be a problem.

Increased nutrient need

The body will respond to this exercise by scrambling to recover, even until long after the exercise is done. It will not only burn more fat cells because of this, but will also need more nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, oxygen etc.) to recover. Make sure that your body has enough of the nutrients it needs so that the body does not end up breaking down muscle for those nutrients. 

Higher chance of injury than standard cardio

Because of the high intensity, the risk of injury is greater than most other exercises. This does not mean that high intensity interval training is particularly dangerous, but that caution must be taken to make sure that injury is avoided. Higher intensities (of any exercise) put more pressure on joints, for example, than lower intensities.

It takes a lot out of you

High intensity interval training takes a lot of energy. If you do it right, you will feel drained afterwards (and possibly for the next few days afterwards!). This needs to be taken into consideration when deciding when to perform this exercise. Doing it just before weight training, for example, will lower the amount of energy you have left for your weight training session.

High intensity interval training is a great way to burn fat, increase fitness and add a level of intensity to your program but will require extra energy, nutrients and planning. STAY STRONG!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Should you cycle creatine?

Quick answer: Yes. Read on to find out why...

Creatine is a nutrient that is naturally found in red meat. It is non-essential, which means that it is created by the body, for the body, in the body. The fact that it is already created in the body is the core reason why you should cycle creatine supplementation.

Creatine and its primary role

Creatine is required for muscle contraction. Therefore, even runners, swimmers and ordinary people use creatine daily. Our bodies use creatine as and when it is needed.

The effect of creatine supplementation

When creatine is ingested in larger doses (i.e. via consumption of creatine pills, powders and liquids bought at supplement stores), it does more than just provide energy. More creatine than usual in your system will have other effects as well. You will experience more power output and muscular endurance during your workouts because your muscles will have more of this primary energy resource to use. Additional creatine also causes water retention in muscle. When creatine is no longer consumed via supplementation, the extra water leaves the muscles. Many people reduce creatine's reputation to something that just fills the muscles with water. This is because it makes the muscles look larger when they are filled with water from the creatine and then makes the muscles look smaller in comparison when the water leaves the muscle. It is true that creatine does this, but its water retention properties are beneficial to muscle growth. This is because the extra water retention in the muscles creates more space for the muscle to grow. Additionally, extra muscle size (from water retention) means that more nutrients can enter the muscle through the blood stream, and waste products are much easier removed. As explained earlier, the extra creatine that is available to muscle because of supplementation means that muscles are able to generate more power for longer periods of time.

So creatine equals higher output, recovery and size. Are there any side effects?

Firstly, creatine causes water retention in the muscles. As discussed, this is a good thing. However, this will lead to increased hydration needs as the body scrambles for water to fill its muscles. Therefore, that you need to make sure that you are drinking enough water when using creatine so that you can have the best effect. If you don't drink enough water when using creatine, there will be a water shortfall. Your body can either account for this by taking water away from the muscles (which could lead to muscle break down) or from other organs in the body (like the brain, leading to headaches. Decreased water flow can also affect the kidneys). A good rule of thumb is to make sure that you never get thirsty when using creatine. If you are thirsty, chances are that you are already in a water shortfall (especially when using creatine).

Creatine in its pure supplement form (creatine monohydrate) can also cause water retention in the gut when it is ingested. This varies from person to person, though, which is why different people react differently to different types of creatine. Some people can experience diarrhea or nausea from creatine monohydrate when others don't have any problems at all. Also, some people have better effects with creatine HCL than with creatine ethyl ester, and for some it's the other way around.

If you want to find out more about the popular forms of creatine available and their differences, read all about creatine and its different forms.

Creatine is rumored to damage kidneys; however studies on the subject have shown conflicting findings. My personal opinion is that it will not damage your kidneys, as long as you stay optimally hydrated (that means no alcohol while using creatine, up to one week after using it), and as long as you have no pre-existing kidney complications.

If you stay well hydrated and use creatine at the right doses, creatine is beneficial to muscle growth without being dangerous. It that is the case, then why cycle creatine instead of using it continually?

The reason why creatine should be cycled is because it is non-essential. Essential nutrients like protein should not be cycled because muscle cannot grow without it. Additionally, essential nutrients need to come from external sources to be used in the body. Creatine, however, is made in the body on its own. Our bodies are efficient at adapting. When creatine is supplemented for a long period of time, the body will slow down the production of its own creatine, since it is already getting so much of it elsewhere. Secondly, the body will start to build up a resistance to the extra creatine, meaning that it will take more creatine to achieve the same effect as it did previously. Thirdly, muscle can develop a dependence on the increased use of creatine over time. This will mean they will need an ever-increasing, constant flow of new creatine to maintain output and growth. People who have supplemented with creatine for too long and then stop might find decreases in size and strength before their bodies re-adapt and are able to grow again without using it.

That last bit sounds risky. Should I supplement with creatine at all or rather not take the risk?

The potential benefits of increased size, power and recovery are great, and the risk of decreased sensitivity, increased dependence and decreased production are small in comparison, if used the right way (hydration, dosage, cycling). By using creatine for up to two months, ceasing usage for one month and continuing usage again (a 2-month-on, 1-month-off cycle), you get the benefits without the risks when done correctly. STAY STRONG!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Can High Reps Build Muscle Mass?

Short answer: yes. Working out in the higher rep range can build muscle. Read on to find out why.

The jury is out on the rep range that causes the most muscle size. Some professionals swear by the higher rep range of 15-20 reps, whilst others swear by reps as low as 3-5. The most common consensus is that a typical 8-12 rep range is ideal. However, the question remains: can a 15-20 rep range elicit great muscle growth?

Reasons why high rep ranges are great for muscle growth

1) Increasing muscle glycogen storage

High rep training is often referred to as hypertrophy-focused weight training while low rep training is often referred to as strength training. High rep training requires more glycogen, a form of energy stored in the muscles, because more energy is spent by the muscles to complete more repetitions of movement. The individual muscles will adapt by storing more glycogen in the muscle tissue. Increased glycogen storage translates to increased muscle size. This is the biggest (see the pun?) reason why high rep training increases muscle size.

2) Increased joint strength

Low rep training places a heavy burden on joints, which over time can lead to injury as sufficient rest is not given specifically for joints to recover and rebuild. Joints take longer to strengthen in response to training than muscles do. High rep training strengthens joints because the muscle can be maximally taxed without overloading the joint with weights that are too heavy for them to handle. High rep training is therefore best used to build stronger joints (or recover joint strength from a previous low rep training program) before following a low rep exercise routine.

3) High reps build muscular endurance

High reps build muscular endurance, which is important for getting bigger guns. 

4) Longer time under tension

Muscle grows as a response to stimulus. The amount of time a muscle is tensed on order to execute or hold a movement determines the amount of stimulus it gets, which determines the growth it will attempt to achieve. Higher reps naturally have a greater time under tension than lower reps, giving the muscle enough stimuli to prompt it to grow further.

Even though high reps can build bigger muscles, there are reasons why high rep training is not always the best muscle building rep range.

Reasons why high rep training is not the best muscle building rep range

1) High reps activate mid-twitch muscle fibers

High repetitions do not activate fast twitch muscle fibers as well as low repetitions do. This is a very important point because fast twitch muscle fibers have the ability to grow the largest, compared to mid twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. The type of muscle fiber that is activated depends on the duration of the exercise. Low-rep weight training activates fast twitch muscle fibers, while long-distance running activates slow twitch muscle fibers, for example. This is why the leg muscles of bodybuilders are much larger than those of marathon runners. Therefore, in order to achieve the best possible muscle size, a lower rep range (lower than 15-20 reps) is ideal as they will better target the potentially bigger, fast twitch muscle fibers.

2) High reps require more calories

High rep training uses up glycogen stores, which the body gets from carbohydrates. More calories are needed to sustain a high rep training routine, meaning that less of these calories are actually used for building muscle. This is easily avoided, though, by consuming more calories through the diet.

3) High rep training places stress on the Central Nervous System

Since muscles are placed under tension for longer periods of time, the central nervous system is also placed under stress for a longer period of time, especially if worked until failure after every set. This point is not as important as the first 2 points because ALL exercise places stress on the central nervous system, including low-rep training. The central nervous system will adapt to exercise by getting stronger and more able to cope with the stress, but this takes time and too much stress placed on the central nervous system can lead to over training.

If high rep training is great for muscle growth but not the best rep range, then what is the best rep range?

The best rep range is the one you haven't done. This is because the best thing to do is vary between rep ranges for the best muscle growth over time.

Why should you vary your rep ranges?

1) Muscle confusion

The number 1 reason why you should vary your rep ranges is because of muscle confusion. The muscle grows by being forced adapt to a stimulus. Muscle growth will plateau over time as it gets accustomed to a certain stimulus and therefore does not feel the urgent need to grow and adapt anymore. This is why people who change from a low rep range to a higher rep range (and vice versa) experience greater muscle growth. It is advised to change your workout program every 3rd month or so for the best results, altering things like your rep range, number of sets, exercise order, rest in between sets, style of training, etc. or a combination of the above.

2) Joint strength

Lower reps activate fast twitch muscle fibers the best, but can take their toll on joints over time. Higher reps strengthen joints the best but don't activate the fast twitch muscle fibers as well as lower repetitions. By alternating between rep ranges, muscle can optimally strengthened as well as joints. To read more on joint pains from exercise and recovery, click here.

3) Muscle strength and size

By alternating between different rep ranges, you can focus on building muscle strength as well as size. Some rep ranges will increase the one more than the other, even though both will increase with both rep ranges. Strength and size are very closely interlinked (strength is needed to lift heavier to grow and size is needed to house more strength), but different exercises and rep ranges affect the balance of this spectrum differently. 

Which rep range is best suited for beginners?

The higher rep range is best suited for beginners for the following reasons:

1) Form

Beginners need to focus on using the right form (executing the exercise the right way) more than anything else to stimulate muscle growth and avoid injury. After a while, lifters start to get a feel for what form is correct and what form is not. By using higher repetitions and therefore lower weights, more emphasis can be placed on learning, practicing and getting the feel for the right form. 

2) Joint Strength

As discussed above, high reps will be needed to strengthen joints so that heavier weights can be lifted later on.

3) Mind-to-muscle connection

Beginners need to develop a mind to muscle connection, which is the ability to force a muscle to perform at its maximal output for an extended period of time. Low rep ranges rely heavily on an already developed mind to muscle connection in order to get the most out of every rep. High reps are a great way to develop this connection.

4) Muscular Endurance

Higher reps develop muscular endurance, which is greatly needed to push the muscle to a point where it is optimally stimulated to grow. High reps develop this faster than lower reps do.

We hope that you have learned something from this article. High reps can indeed increase muscle mass, but the best way to do so is through a varied rep range. STAY STRONG!