From Previous articles we have seen that there are many more factors that constitute a muscle-system’s shape and condition, besides the limited view of simple the fiber types – and we have seen therefore that there are many other training factors (beyond simply weight and reps) to be considered in the gym when trying to overload the entire “muscle system” in order to force a recovery/compensation response.
We have seen also therefore that unless we pay attention to the complete elements of the muscle system and, importantly – How they all work together – we can seriously short-change our efforts in the gym!
Many people train for years (or their entire lives) on the wrong style of training that is not properly “matched” to their genetic strengths – so they never realize their full potential!
You MUST train according to the entire muscle system and the TOTAL performance profile of ALL system elements working together, in order to maximize your effectiveness in the gym.
But what are the performance factors that they affect (the “outputs”) and how do we use an iterative process to optimize the inputs?
Most people consider only the weights and the reps as a measure of the performance ability. But these factors, we shall see, can be very misleading and certainly do not show the full picture, as we will now explore.
If we consider a very common occurrence in a gym – using a hypothetical trainee named “John.
John has been attempting to achieve 3 sets of 10 repetitions in bench press with 60kg. (you can imagine anything here that you yourself can relate to; 30kg, 100kg, 180kg – and possibly Joan instead of John!)
He/she quite often gets them for sets 1 and 2 but may reach failure in set 3 at around the 5th or 6th rep.
Today, he/she achieves the ten reps in all 3 sets. However there are a few common scenarios that may have occurred that mean that he has not actually progressed much physically: These are the common ways in which we often fool ourselves:
- Between sets 1 and 2, he rested 2 minutes, but for set 3 he subconsciously waited for 4 minutes to recuperate enough to ensure the 10 reps!
- For set 3 (and possibly all sets) he subconsciously conserved energy by performing the reps very fast!
- For set 3 or possibly all sets, he subconsciously conserved energy by bouncing the weight of his chest!
- For set 3 or possibly all sets, he subconsciously spared the muscles by locking out at the top of each rep for 3 or 4 seconds!
- For set 3, his training partner was assisting and unbeknownst to John or the training partner, he was taking about 10kg of the weight, but thought he was only taking 1 or 2kg, and tells John “I barely touched it”!
- Any combination of the above – there are about 153 combinations for cheating in this example!
Just consider for a moment example 1 to illustrate this concept; If John had a clone (to remove all variables relating to genetics so we can purely focus on the performance factors) – if John’s clone could do all 3 sets and achieve 10 reps whilst resting exactly 2 minutes between sets, would you believe that the clone is slightly “better” than John? If so, – why?
In a quick review of the above variations, we can point out the issues that make John “inferior” to his clone assuming that the clone does not have to use the cheat techniques in each example:
- By resting the extra time between sets 2 and 3, John has reduced his Work Intensity (the rate at which he achieves a set amount of work)
- By performing fast reps, John reduced the time under tension. This reduces the stress on the muscle and again relates to the intensity of the load
- By bouncing the weight, John reduced the range of motion for which the weight was working and additionally, by giving the weight some momentum, he reduced the force required to get the weight started in the upward direction. It is also likely that he virtually “drops” the weight to his chest and therefore is not working as much in the eccentric phase of the movement either
- By locking out at the top of the reps, John was giving his muscles mini-rests and reducing the intensity of the work
- By having his training partner take some of the weight, John was performing less Work, and also reduced the force required and the stress on the muscles
It is easy to see how we can inadvertently make subtle changes to achieve goals similar to Johns. And we all know, intuitively, that the changes reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.
The problem really is that the goal is wrong!
John’s goal was:
“to achieve 10 reps for 3 sets with 60kg”
What his goal should have been was:
“To Stress the Muscles”
You can see how this different goal will have a different implication on the way that John/Joan performs the exercise.
If this was you and your training, you still have to lift the weights and still try for 3 sets of 10 reps, but your focus will be different and it is less likely you’d “fool” yourself and rob yourself of the benefits – as well as ruin the traceability of your improvements.
As an example of this last statement regarding traceability – you can see that in each of the examples, it is difficult for John/Joan to quantify the degree of cheating and hence he has no real idea of his improvements, or in fact, whether there have been any at all.
To understand this concept of traceability and how misleading yourself robs you of proper benchmarks and indications of whether you are improving or not, consider you were trying to compete in a 100m sprint and you are trying to get under 11 seconds.
- If you only practice on windy days with the wind in your favor so you can feel good about the training session but you may not be improving
- If you were to lay out the track without accurately measuring it, you might be only running 90m instead of 100. If this distance is different every time, you have no real gauge of whether or not you are improving!
- If you have a favorite track with a springy surface that is not sanctioned by the federation, you do not know how much “boost” you are getting
- The stop watch you are using is not calibrated and actually runs a bit slow, losing a few seconds a minute which varies depending how much you wind it, so you don’t know how many seconds is runs slow
- You take a banned performance supplement (it might even be “hidden” in a supplement you are taking) – again, you do not know the full effect of the supplement – and how much it is boosting your performance
All of these examples are similar to John cheating in his reps and losing the traceability of his real improvement (or lack of improvement!) Using cheat techniques means that a black-box analysis is impossible – since you do not know the true output of the system for any given input – i.e. you have no idea of how your muscle system performs!
For instance, if you were blind-folded and throwing a ball at a target, and after the first attempt, you asked me how close it was to the target and I refused to answer, or even wore, gave you misleading information – you could never improve and hit the target except perhaps by sheer fluke.
Many people train this way – though it is not their fault. There are three significant factors that have contributed to this – 1) Paradigms – we have all fallen into the usual paradigms of training passed on over the years. People who respond well to these paradigms help to reinforce them . . “Wow, you look good . . How do you train . . ?” “Easy, I just do 8 reps heavy . . “!; 2) – Lack of knowledge of the other significant training variables and the elements that work together within the muscle systems; 3) Inability to measure the training variables accurately – even if they’d been widely published (and some have been mentioned from time to time), it has been difficult to measure them accurately until now – wearable technology puts this scientific training within the reach of everyone, not just Olympians and pro athletes!
So how do you ensure that you:
- Stress the muscles properly
- Maintain proper accountability of your performance
- Take into account ALL the variables that relate to your performance and progress
- Achieve an accurate “black-box” analysis process to find your ideal training
And, getting back you our earlier question: – what are the performance factors that they affect (the “outputs”) and how do we use an iterative process to optimize the inputs?
These are the principles that are built into the AMP Your Workout system.
AMP Your Workout helps identify and guide you to the workout style that best suits your genetic strengths, for each muscle group and each exercise – i.e. it MATCHES YOUR WORKOUTS TO YOUR GENETICS