Why is strength training so critical?

We need muscle to move. It’s where energy in the body is stored. It gives us energy to move through our lives to create what we need be it caring for others or caring for ourselves. That critical energy is needed to work and live well for as long as we can. We need energy. In the current political climate, I personally want a lot of energy.

As we age, our bodies naturally lose around 1/4 to 1/2 pound of muscle per year. That mass is often replaced by fat. This cascade leads to much less muscle and strength which ultimately leaves people feeling old and less energetic. Less muscle means less energy and less ability. Muscles also cushion our bodies in the event of a fall or collision. In the case of an injury, you will recover faster with more muscle.

Often, pneumonia is the end for an older person because they stop moving and lose what muscle they have left. My grandmother died this way. She was diagnosed with “Failure to thrive”. She couldn’t get up and soon passed. She was rail thin. A wonderful woman, but that lack of muscle combined with the illness ended her too soon.

We need muscle. Strength training makes muscle.

Bones also become more brittle as we age. I’m sure you’ve heard of an older person taking a fall, breaking a bone and having either a very long recovery or no recovery. Please know that bearing load in strength training also increases the load on bones. They respond and become more dense. That means that strength training increases bone density.

How can we ignore strength training? Perhaps it’s because the way strength training is currently portrayed is at fault. Big muscles and six pack abs are all over the media with huge supplement advertising. It’s aimed right at the people in their 20’s. If you are in your 40’s or 50’s, do you really want to go to an extremely image conscious environment to train knowing that people are watching and judging you? If you are unsure of what to do with weights, then what? I know people who want to train but are very uncomfortable in gyms and end up on the cardio machine because it feels safest. You can get some benefit there but it’s often long and unsatisfying.

You can imitate others in the gym who look like they know what they are doing, but that’s often a guess or a shot in the dark. Most people with weights use momentum. That means they swing and bounce weights which is not only very risky on the joints but it’s moving right through the hardest and most beneficial parts of the movement. This is often done because people choose too heavy of a weight. The whole thing is highly ineffective and risky. Why not use the body as it’s designed?

The key to strength training is stimulating the muscle fibers deeply so that they are taxed beyond what they normally can handle. Then with enough rest but not too much, they can repair themselves and come back stronger. They need rest time in between those taxing sessions so that there is ample time for the tissue to repair itself. Think of how long a cut takes to repair on skin. The more tissue involved, the longer the healing time required. You don’t tug on the cut until it’s healed. The key to strength training is not bouncing heavy weights at the height of joint extension. That’s the key to weakening joints and putting you on a training break for weeks at a time. If you are in your 20’s you can do this…for a little while.

Also, it’s extremely important to know what your exercise is doing to your body. Do you know if you are getting stronger? Are you losing body fat? Measuring how an exercise affects you and how much rest helps you either go up or down in strength is the difference between guessing and shooting in the dark and creating consistent increases in health. It’s hard to do for yourself. Very, very few people can do this consistently.

With SuperSlow® strength training, slow and targeted movements with proper form are executed with instruction, guidance, and measurement. A trainer is guiding you through the movements so that you breathe and relax the muscles you aren’t training. You learn to move slowly, ten seconds up and ten seconds down, through the hardest parts of the movement. There is no momentum; it’s your muscles slowly moving the weight. Ultimately, you are learning to bring your muscles to failure. Failure in this case is success. Most people stop well before this point. That’s why your trainer is guiding you. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s just one set per movement. It’s short, intense and effective. Overall, it’s about  20 minutes. Most people need a week to recover once they learn how to not hide from the failure.

This is a strength training protocol. It’s not a big muscle training protocol. For many who want large muscles, more frequent training sessions are required. This is called high volume training and you can still do high volume training in addition to strength training. Some do. They are not exclusive. However, take care with high volume training. It’s also a lot of volume on the joints.

Some people who are prone to big muscles, do get bigger muscles with SuperSlow® training. The process happens over months. In the majority of people, muscle composition changes to more dense and firm due to the addition of new muscle fibers and fat reduction due to increased metabolism. This training can reenforce other healthy habits like choosing healthier foods. Regardless of muscle size, people report feeling stronger, looking better, and having more energy.

I can tell you more here.

A simple workout log method

If you train physically, then you likely care about your progress in a given modality. For those who track their training, I haven’t found a great method for tracking weight training.

I’m sure there will be a future device that can be worn to track reps, cadence, rest period, weights used and with what exercise. If it exists, tell me. I will buy it. Maybe I’ll make it.

Anyway, I’ve tried spreadsheets, log books, and apps. They all are cumbersome. The best method I have found so far is a 3×5 notecard.

On one side, I write my workout for the next 6 or 12 week cycle.

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On the back, I track what I did.

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That’s it. Super simple. Super easy. Low overhead.

German Volume Training Results

If you’ve ever been serious about building muscle, then you have likely come across Strength Sensei. This guy is at the top of the list for Strength Coaches. If you looked there, then you’ve probably checked other sites, too. You’ve probably come across all kinds of methods and maybe even tried a few. Personally, I have tried many and through that journey learned how to drop body fat and increase strength. I’m on this search because strength, both mental and physical, is one of my key values. Physical training builds both mental and physical strength at the same time. 

I discovered  German Volume Training (GVT) from the link above and decided to try it out to see if I could put more muscle on my ectomorph frame. I just went through the awful but doable protocol for 6 cycles.

Results:

My weight when I started on August 4th was 157 lbs and 13.6% body fat. Today, September 6th, my weight is 168 and my body fat is 13.3%.  These are the best results I’ve ever had from a training regimen focused on muscle growth.

My daughter and I were looking at some older photos yesterday, and she said, “You look the same, except you are more muscle-y now.” I’ll conclude that it works.

Given my experience with different exercise schemes, I would venture that the key variable in building muscle is time under tension consistently and that thinking a rep count protocol is the main factor determining whether your results are strength, definition, or hypertrophy is very misleading. You could crank out 10 reps in 15 seconds for 3 sets for a total time under tension of 45 seconds, or do a 5×5 session for a total time under tension of 1 minute (excluding rest periods). My normal time under tension with GVT in one set was about 40 seconds: 3 seconds down in the negative, no rest, 1 second contracting up, no rest to the negative. 10 sets of GVT is about 6.5 minutes under tension. I don’t recall any rep protocol demanding that much time under tension.

I had to put my ego aside and do lighter weights to do this GVT protocol. So, if you consider it, definitely be prepared for that length of time under tension. I’m glad to be finished with the 6th cycle. It’s time for a change up. More on that later…

 

 

German Volume Training

Since about 2002, I have eschewed body building training protocols. Functional strength and mobility were my main priority. Functional hypertrophy was a maybe. For some reason, I thought of it as the first-wave of physical training and only relevant as a movement toward vanity and too much self-adoration. Although, at one point around 2009, I became concerned that sarcopenia would be a problem as I age and did the GOMAD experiment to see how quickly I could gain muscle. In one month, I gained 22 lbs and increased my lifts to a level I had never achieved prior. I gained muscle and fat. That experiment left me irritated though since it took 3 full months to eliminate the extra fat I added.

Now that I’ve sampled many different kinds of training, I’m back to hypertrophy. There are so many benefits to ample muscle, and I can stay out of the injuries. I’ve normally been around 160 lbs and around 12% body fat. My aim is to add 10 more pounds of muscle and get my lifts back into strong for me zone (double body weight squat).

I’m halfway into my 6 weeks of German Volume Training (GVT). It’s a bit deceptive in its effect. First and foremost, it is a hypertrophy protocol over strength. It’s claimed that one can expect 5 to 10 lbs of muscle over a 6 week period. The protocol is 10 sets of 10 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets, and varying tempos dependent on the lifts. Example: 3 seconds eccentric, no pause, 1 second concentric, no pause. That’s written like 10×10, 3010, 90. You may use a 60% of your 1 rep max (1rm) in order to complete 100 reps or somewhere just a bit above or below that percent.

It’s deceptive in that it feels light in the beginning. When things feel light, one can doubt whether the training is intense enough. It gets hard in the later sets but you finish the workout wanting to train more. Normally, when  you feel like you want to train more, you feel like you didn’t train hard enough. This is where it’s deceptive. The next day a great soreness reveals itself. For me, it can last a couple of days. It’s taken a few of these sessions for me to learn how much they impact they have on the body. In the beginning, it was hard to not train more, but it’s not a problem now. I get it.

I started 8/4/15. Weight was 157 lbs and 13% body fat according to Withings. I seriously doubt this measurement given how defined my midsection is, but it is a measure from start to finish.

On 8/23/15, I’m 161 lbs and 15% body fat (again, according to my maligned scale). We’ll see where I end up at the end. 

Kipping Pullup Stares

I just went into 24 hour fitness for a brief and intense session. While there I did the kipping pullup. Granted, this is San Francisco and people do lots of different things here, but I sure did get some funny looks. One guy had to stop his work out, come over, do dead hang pullups and then give me a good stare. I’m not sure what it meant, but I felt like he was accusing me of “cheating” or something.

The kipping didn’t get any love at 24hour fitness.

I just smiled. I can do plenty of dead hand pullups and my heart rate gets to about 145 bpm max. When I do kipping pullups, I reach over 180 bpm.

I should also note I was in Mustang, OK last week at a great little community gym and did my kippings there. I think people thought I was weird, but I didn’t get any “cheater” stares.