Tag Archives: Body composition

How Muscle can help you burn fat!

This article is geared a little more towards female training but equally applies to men. Traditional weight training is linked with the development of bulky muscles, useful in contact sports where body mass and increased strength can be very beneficial. A muscular physique is usually associated with as being masculine and heavy. As a result many females avoid weight training like the plague. They favour cardio training as a means to stay fit and keep body fat down. In many cases female athletes have had great success reducing bodyfat as caloric expenditure did lead to fat loss.

Most people want to achieve a “toned” physique. They often believe weight loss to be the main mechanism in which to achieve this desired look. Instead they simply achieve a skinny flat appearance lacking in shape. This can be identified in the controversial zero size model physique. Recently people have realized that shape comes from muscle underlying the fat. Simply losing fat does not create the physique one may desire.

This physique is not quite what most people look for. It is the product of fat loss with little lean muscle!

This physique is not quite what most people look for. It is the product of fat loss with little lean muscle!

The good news is that building muscle helps to burn fat. Lean body mass is made up of muscles, bones and ligaments. Muscle is considered a metabolically active tissue. This means that it is a consumer of energy. The more muscle you have the more total energy expenditure you will create. In addition weight training, depending on intensity, can burn just as many calories in a given time period as cardio training. The bonus is that when recovering from weight training we consume extra calories as muscle cells repair and recover. Growth and repair of cells has an energetic cost. Thus our overall metabolism increases helping to keep bodyfat levels down

For those worried about the bulky physique, they must consider the amount of training required to build muscle. It is a relatively slow process to gain muscle. Most experts will agree that 1 lb increase per week of lean muscle mass is about as good as one can expect without chemical assistance. This increase is also not usually consistent; over a year one may not expect to gain 52 lbs. There is also an increased water content in the body which may account for extra “scale weight” which is not necessarily muscle. The point is that athletes spend years actively trying to gain muscle and in some cases bulk up. It requires a lot of hard work in the gym and in the kitchen. Genetics also play a major part in how easy it is to gain muscle. One will not simply become bulky because one lifts weights. It will require a very focused effort over a long period of time.

The main lesson here is that building muscle is a key component in achieving a lean aesthetic physique. Many may find their weight loss can stall when using only cardio methods to lose fat. This is because your body can adjust its metabolism to meet energy intake. Focusing on building lean muscle tissue and supplying the nutrients required to do so can influence a shift towards body fat utilization. While diet is a key component, anyone looking to lose weight or “Tone up” needs to put time into developing lean muscle. It has great benefits to overall lifestyle as well as appearance. It will help make daily tasks much easier as you will become stronger and more efficient. Body composition is often much more important than body weight when it comes to physique.

Many female and male athletes are subject to body mass restrictions and targets. Often they avoid weight training as it has been traditionally stereotyped as a weight gain strategy. This is not in fact the case. It can be the tool that allows an athlete to achieve their desired weight while actually having a positive influence on their performance. One should establish whether or not they need to lose weight or in fact change their body composition. In the case of physique, muscle provides the shape and fat loss allows the shape to be displayed. Never neglect the benefits of weight training and lean muscle mass.

Complexes for fat burning!

There are many solutions for burning fat. The general theory is the energy balance, in the form of calories in, calories out. An energy or calorie deficit will undoubtedly lead to weight loss. The question is, will it create fat loss? Weight loss and energy balance are tricky as we assume that weight loss is in the form of fat. This is not always the case; energy usage is fairly unselective meaning it will burn both fat and reduce muscle. In fact, some suggest that during chronic energy deficit, muscle may be lost as part of a survival mechanism. The body adopts a philosophy where it looks to reduce energy consumption via muscle and retain energy stores ie. fat. This leads to a reduction in overall bodyweight but a retention of body fat.

In order to lose fat we must create a mild calorie deficit so as to avoid this survival mechanism and promote or at least retain lean muscle. One great method is through the use of complexes. Complexes string together a number of resistance exercises as a form of superset. The involvement of multiple muscle groups with little rest creates a large metabolic demand. The resistance aspect also promotes muscle adaptations and potential hypertrophy. By switching through movements one can use a relatively heavy weight as local muscle fatigue is reduced. Overall it ticks the boxes of what we try to achieve when looking to specifically target fat.

A complex can be relatively short and completed within a 10minute timeframe. It can be used effectively as a finisher style exercise at the end of a regular training session. It can also be combined with some traditional cardio to create a conditioning session.

Here are some examples of complexes.

Pure Complex

  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Barbell bent over row
  • Hang clean
  • Push press
  • Back squat

Rotate through the exercises for one rep and repeat 6 times for a full set

Conditioning Complex

Beastly circuits are a popular form created by ex Allblacks coach Ashley Jones

  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Barbell Row
  • Power Snatch
  • Overhead squat
  • Back squat

Complete 6 rounds then 3minutes on treadmill for one total set, repeat for 6 sets with no rest.

Excellent example of a barbell complex (Courtesy of www.defrancostraining.com)

Complexes are great for promoting lean muscle and muscular endurance. The fact that they burn a lot of calories is a major bonus. They should be used to promote fat burning where strength levels are a priority. Traditional cardio is also a popular method but may not support strength levels as effectively. Complexes can be a useful tool for athletes who must improve body composition but also maintain strength levels. They can also be used as a conditioning tool as it supports muscular power endurance which is beneficial to many sports.

A coach can be quite creative in structuring complexes but it must be noted that technique can be compromised under fatigue. Simple multi joint exercises are most effective; Olympic lifts and gymnastics should only be attempted with technically advanced athletes. They are an effective tool which can cover a lot of needs in a fairly time efficient manner.

HIIT, fat loss and muscle!

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a very popular training method. When used correctly it effectively improves cardiovascular conditioning, burns fat and promotes new muscle growth. In addition a relatively short HIIT session is sufficient to elicit substantial performance gains. Like any training method, understanding the basic physiological principles will make a big help to using it effectively. This article will explain a bit about this type of training and some of the pitfalls to watch out for.

HIIT is popular because it is time effective. An individual can burn a lot of calories in a short space of time. As the name implies it is an intense form of exercise. Our energy systems function on a simple mechanism of energy charge. The rate of energy (Adenosine Triphosphate/ATP) utilization in the muscle cell must be matched by an energy supply system. Slow rate of energy expenditure during low intensity work is supported by oxidation. Oxidation supplies a lot of energy but at a slow rate. High intensity work is supplied by the glycolysis and phosphate systems which have a much faster supply. Supply must meet the demand. There is often a slight lag between utilization and supply. This means that even during rest intervals and post exercise energy consumption is still elevated. In simple terms our metabolism is increased and we continue to burn more calories than at normal rest conditions. For this reason even though a 20min session burns, for example 500kcals, energy expenditure is raised throughout the day. A low intensity session lasting one hour may burn 800kcal with minimal elevation in metabolisms for the rest of the day. For this reason HIIT may actually burn more calories on a daily basis. This is why it is so effective at fat burning.

HIIT can also be performed with a strength endurance element, supporting a leaner physique!

HIIT can also be performed with a strength endurance element, supporting a leaner physique!

In addition, the power output which is produced during the work period of HIIT is high. Higher power output during work periods are often effective in improving your conditioning. It also helps maintain strength and power simply by utilizing larger motor units. The main issue to consider with HIIT relates to energy supply. If we cannot supply the cells with adequate energy then they become damaged. This is known as metabolic stress. A certain degree of metabolic stress or damage can be reversed. This is what promotes new muscle growth. Moderate metabolic stress during training can, at times, be quite effective for promoting hypertrophy.

If we place too much stress on the muscle cells the damage can be irreparable. The cells will begin to die. When this happens on a regular basis muscle wastage can occur. It also places the body under larger amounts of general stress which will begin to impact on our immune system. There is a large list of potential health implications that this can eventually lead to.

Preventing this scenario is relatively easy but not always something we think about. One of the determinants to energy supply is our energy store. In the case of HIIT we need adequate stores of glycogen for an adequate supply of energy. If we do HIIT in a fasted state we are putting ourselves under severe metabolic stress, as there is little energy supply to fuel it. In addition the lack of energy will dramatically reduce performance so conditioning benefits may also be lost.

The take home message is this. Fuel up for intense exercise! Low intensity exercise can be done in a fasted state as the oxidative system works effectively to provide fuel. With intense exercise such as HIIT style training, you must have some glycogen stores or glucose in the bloodstream. If you are in a totally fasted, glycogen depleted state then consume some simple sugars close to training. By doing so you can maintain high intensity and reduce cell stress. You will still achieve an elevated metabolism that promotes fat burning. You also place the cells under just enough stress to help promote hypertrophy

It is important to understand training methods as the smallest oversight can cause more harm than good. HIIT is an effective tool but if it is not adequately fuelled it loses a lot of its benefits. It is a popular successful way to train and should be used in any program. Like any training method the process is the important part. It needs to be considered and managed properly in order to see the full benefit.

Our top 5 finishers to a strength workout!

Following on with our offseason theme I have decided to give out some our favourite strength workout finishers. When we go into the offseason period usually our volume of gym based training increases. After a while sessions can become a bit boring and monotonous. We recommend using finishers as a way to add some fun into a workout and provide a challenge that benefits towards the athletes goals. Here are some great ones to use when you have an athlete undertaking a hypertrophy program.

1) Density circuits:

These look to add volume in a short space of time but also play off the competitiveness of an athlete. Step 1 Pick two or three multi joint excises. You can use complex exercises with more experienced athletes but generally the simpler the better. Step 2 choose a reasonable time frame. Anywhere form 3-10mins should be sufficient. Step 3 choose a simple rep scheme that allows you to perform multiple rounds of your chosen exercise before the time runs up. As always technique must be the priority and the athlete should perform the reps at a speed which does not compromise form. Here is an example.

8 minutes of as many rounds as possible: 5 deadlifts @100kg, 5 Chin ups and 10 Pressups.

2) Chipper

The chipper concept was made popular by crossfit but is a nice way to add some simple volume in a fun way especially with a group of athletes. All you have to do is choose a simple multijoint exercise and a perform a large number of reps for time. Keep it simple so the athlete can concentrate on form. Having a group to compete with makes this pretty effective. Here is an example.

For time: 100 BW squats & 100pressups

3) Mega Drop sets

Drop sets are popular in the bodybuilding world as they are fantastic ways to fully fatigue a muscle group. We use mega drop sets to do the same thing with the added benefit of providing a little cardiovascular work into the mix. Pick a simple exercise that can be done for high reps with load. Chose a very high amount of reps to complete. Try and complete these reps as quickly as possible reducing the weight as necessary to maintain the pace you complete reps. For example.

200 rep leg press dropping 20kg every 50 reps.

4) The pyramid

This is one of our most utilized finishers. Usually done at the end of upper body sessions. The athlete performs one pressup and holds at the top for two seconds. He then performs 2 pressups and holds at the top for 2 seconds, then three reps and so on up to ten reps and back to zero, holding for 2 seconds between each rep cluster. Seems simple but will often be quite humbling to an elite athlete when they fail to do a pressup. We’ve never seen an athlete get to ten reps!!

5) Tabata medley

Tabata is 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for 8 reps. A total of 4mins work. We chose 4 exercises and simply rotate through following the tabata timing so they are all completed twice. For example

Tabata of Pressups, Situps, Inverted row and Air squats.

While these options are pretty simple they can have a significant contribution to improvements made by an athlete. As long as the majority of they’re program follows a strict progression plan, small finishers will do no harm. Most of the time athletes look forward to these as it provides them with a little competition to keep them going in a non competitive portion of their annual program.

Weight training and endurance athletes!

Traditionally endurance athletes tend to avoid doing a lot of weight training. The reason being that they don’t want big blocky muscles which they will have to carry around during a race. This perception is starting to dissipate with modern endurance athletes, as they realize the benefits of weight training. I will discuss a number of these benefits and how they can improve endurance performance.

  1. Increased Strength

The first and most obvious benefit to weight training is improved strength. This strength comes from a number of physiological adaptations. Muscle fibres develop so they can produce a stronger and faster contraction. In addition the recruitment of muscle fibres is improved. Neural patterns become better trained allowing for more efficient contractions during movements. Ligaments also become strengthened which also increases the amount of force we are capable of applying.

This strength increase means that relative workloads become easier for an athlete. It requires less relative effort to maintain a certain pace or power output. They will find it easier to sustain a certain workload and will be capable of working more than they could previously. They also have the higher maximal power output which may be useful during sprint type scenarios.

  1. Injury prevention

Weight training strengthens ligaments and tendons. This means the ligaments and tendons can tolerate greater amounts of force. This will significantly reduce the risk of injury as they are much more resilient to damage, which may occur during intense exercise. High loads through the joints are common for all athletes during athletic movements. Making the ligaments stronger would be a good way to prevent any damage occurring.

When we spend large amount of time training a particular skill or movement the muscle involved becomes more developed. Often their opposing muscle group lacks this development leading to imbalances. This not only affects movement patterns but can also heighten the risk of injury. Weight training can be an ideal time to correct these imbalances.

  1. Core Strength

I refer to core strength on its own purely because I want to emphasize its importance. Having a strong trunk and core allows us to transmit force through our body much more efficiently. A tired runner or cyclist tends to wobble back and forth in their upper body. This is an indicator that their core has fatigued as they cannot maintain efficient posture. This is a waste of energy and a waste of effort. A strong core allows for more efficient and direct movement. This can help an athlete conserve energy without sacrificing pace. Weight training is a superb way to strengthen the core and help coordinate the body.

  1. Hormonal support

Weight training promotes certain hormones which can be beneficial to all athletes. It can help promote lean body mass and reduce fat mass. This means that you carry less “dead weight” in favor of muscle which can contribute to your performance. As an athlete you will become more energy efficient.

The most important thing for any athlete to remember is to favour movements over muscles when weight training. Their goal is performance orientated and their program should be different to that of a bodybuilder. If they train compound multi-joint movements with an emphasis on form and the goal of getting stronger, they will see a benefit.

Most endurance athletes fear weight training for fear of getting too big. In reality this is quite unlikely. Our capacity for hypertrophy is largely determined by genetics. We tend to identify our body type shortly after puberty. Heavy, more muscular individuals are unlikely to ever succeed in a sport that favors slender, lean bodies like endurance running or cycling. While we can influence our size, it is usually quite apparent we are naturally suited to some sports more than others. We enjoy sports that we can compete at. If we are the wrong shape or size we tend to avoid that sport because we don’t do so well at it. A high level endurance athlete is unlikely to gain the amount of muscle mass that would hinder his performance. They can still however, see significant strength improvement without muscle gain. They should not fear weight training as it is likely not to become a problem unless they are struggling with an unfavourable body type to begin with.

In summary, athletes of all types will benefit significantly from weight/strength training. They should always approach it from a movement perspective and not try to isolate muscles unless prescribed for prehab or rehab purposes. Endurance athletes are now realizing that an appropriate strength program should not be feared. It can and should be implemented to their program as they are likely to see quite noticeable improvements in the areas discussed.

The critical factor to gaining muscle!

There are thousands of young athletes desperately trying to increase lean muscle mass. There are also an equal amount of training programs, diets and supplements which promise results. With these distractions it can be easy to overlook the basics. In the end the basics are what will get real results.

Most of us are now familiar with the concept of hypertrophy. When we lift a heavy weight, the tension placed on the muscle fiber during a contraction causes microscopic tears. The body reacts to this by repairing these tears and increases the size of the fibers. This adaptation allows us to react to, and survive the stress placed on us. This cycle can be repeated with training, eventually producing noticeably bigger, stronger muscle. As we adapt to a level of training we must progressively increase the level of stress to continue to progress.

The body can only repair itself when at rest. Structural repair will also take a certain amount of time to occur. If we apply further stress too soon after a session we only cause more trauma, not adaptation. When looking to increase muscle mass it is important to be well recovered on a regular basis. If we train too frequently without rest, results will be mediocre. Generally, because we see reasonable progress from training we assume more will be better. There comes a point where we are doing too much and lose sight of the process we are trying to promote.

The fact is that there is only so much the body can cope with. New muscle is created during rest, not during training. If we train too frequently there is no opportunity for the growth to take place. An athlete must be aware of this and schedule rest days as part of a hypertrophy program.

The best approach is to start with a simple hypertrophy focused program and progress things slowly. The trick is to remain patient and stick to a plan. It is very easy to get excited and add extra sessions, thinking it will accelerate progress. Recovery needs to be as much a priority as the training itself. If an athlete neglects recovery and rest they will put themselves at a great disadvantage.

When looking to gain lean tissue an athlete must follow a gradual progressive overload program. They must ensure rest and adequate nutrition. Hypertrophy is a slow process and patience is key. There are no magical programs. A coach must monitor the athlete to ensure that he sticks to the process. Young athletes must be especially careful as their inexperience can create insecurities with the program. In a competitive environment, where team selection may be a factor, athletes must learn to trust the program and commit to it.

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Blueprint for big legs!

My old coaches used to say “The legs feed the wolf! There are few sports where having big, strong legs does not carry over into performance. Many people struggle to build leg size and strength while others have no issues at all. This post will discuss some factors which can influence growth of the leg musculature and how one can use this knowledge to their advantage.

Muscle is not all the same; there are several types and subgroups with different characteristics. Mostly when dealing with skeletal muscle we define the fibers as either Type 1 (Oxidative or Slow twitch) or Type 2 (Glycolytic or Fast twitch). Every muscle is made up of bundles of muscle fibers. Each bundle is from all of the same fiber type and innervated by a single nerve. The bundle and nerve assembly is known as a Motor Unit (MU).

Type 1 fibers tend to be smaller in size and produce less force. They also have excellent blood supply and mitochondrial density which makes them very efficient at oxidative metabolism. This means they don’t fatigue easily. Type 2 fibers are larger in size and more powerful. Unlike Type one they are not so efficient at oxidation and rely heavily on glycolysis, intramuscular ATP and Creatine Phosphate stores for energy. They are much more fatiguable than Type 1 fibers.

The recruitment of the muscle fibers is in order of size, from small to large. The rate and quantity of recruitment will depend on the activity. Slow, low force movements may only require a small recruitment of some type 1 fibers, whereas a heavy lift or sprint will additionally recruit a large portion of type 2 fibers.

When we are born we are genetically predisposed to having a larger distribution of one fiber type over another. With training we can influence a switch over, from one fiber type to another. The fibers will be persuaded to take on new characteristics rather than switch totally. In our earlier years of training and sport we have a large influence on the muscle fibers as they develop. In addition, our genetic makeup will naturally direct us into sports we are suited to physiologically as we are more likely to have success.

When we look at body parts and muscles, the fiber distribution can be influenced by the function. For example forearm muscles contain higher amounts of type one fibers, as grip endurance is required for relatively constant movement of hands and fingers. Legs are similar because we spend relatively large durations of time on our legs, walking and standing etc. For this reason legs will always have a relatively large amount of type 1 fibers.

Micro trauma to the fibers is the catalyst for growth. When we recover, micro tears in the fibers are repaired and the fibers become larger and stronger. Tension and metabolic stress are the two things that will cause stress and trauma. Time under tension (TUT) has long been regarded as a key factor in muscle growth. The more time a fiber is placed under tension the more damage created. In addition metabolic stress can also be quite effective at creating trauma. All we have to do is look at a track cyclist or sprinters legs to demonstrate this.

Putting this knowledge into practice is pretty simple. In order to successfully create hypertrophy in the musculature we must stimulate and cause trauma to both sets of fibers. The challenge with type 1 fibers is that they are harder to fatigue. They need higher volume to do this, and so a higher rep strategy should be employed. The challenge with the type 2 fibers is activation. Heavier and more explosive lifts are needed to activate and fatigue them. Lower reps with heavier weight, combined with some power and sprint training will be needed to promote growth of these fibers.

Tom Platz was famous for utilising high reps sets to produce bodybuildings most famous legs.

Tom Platz was famous for utilising high rep sets to produce bodybuilding’s most famous legs.

This not only applies to athletes but also to bodybuilders. The secret to growth is to cover all your bases and keep things simple and consistent. Using a combination of high and low rep training will provide a good overall stimulation making sure you are covering everything. When used as a part of a simple progressive training plan and combined with adequate recovery any athlete will build bigger stronger legs. The key point is to target the fibers effectively so they respond. If you rely on one technique exclusively it is unlikely that you will have long term success.

As with most training, athletes must try and learn their weakness and how to fix them. They can then target the issues with a balanced program to give them a well rounded base. The more familiar they are with the physiological factors involved the more effective a training program can be!

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Fat loss for athletes!

Body composition and body mass are important for most sports. The success of an athlete can rely heavily on falling within the norms of their sports, especially where a weight category is involved. Nutrition and training are both vital in the role body composition and weight management. I will not discuss dietary strategy as it is not my are of expertise. Instead I will discuss the training considerations and strategy.

Step one is for an athlete to identify whether he needs to reduce bodymass (weight) or reduce body fat. Bodymass deals directly with bodyweight on the weighing scale with no concern for body composition. Body fat deals with body composition with possibly no influence on overall bodymass. When reducing body mass the main focus, is to create a consistent calorie deficit. How one trains doesn’t really matter as bodymass will decrease over time if calorie expenditure exceeds consumption. The issue is that this reduction will not be selective in terms of tissue loss. Both muscle and fat tissue will be lost but this is not such a good thing. In many cases an athlete will need to retain as much lean mass as possible and may even need to increase or at least maintain it. This creates a more complicated scenario where fat tissue must be the focus for reduction while avoiding any muscle tissue loss. The training strategy becomes a little more complex.

We know that in terms of metabolism, exercise at lower intensities utilise fat as fuel more effectively than high intensity exercise. The main drawback is that in terms of time efficiency it takes a relatively long period to burn sufficient calories. The other issue is that low intensity work can promote adaptations that are not so favourable for an athlete. Long periods of low intensity (LSD) training can promote a conversion of type 2 muscle fibers into fibres which more resemble the characteristics of type 1 muscle fibers. The athlete runs the risk of losing strength, speed and power. So this method must be used sparingly.

High intensity training has been touted as the magic pill for fat loss and performance in recent literature. Calorie expenditure is higher for a given work period and metabolism is elevated in the post training period. Sessions must, however be shorter as they will be more demanding. It is in this post training period where an elevated metabolism and active oxidative system plays its role in metabolising fatty acids. HIT may also promote strength, power and conditioning through a number of adaptive responses. At first glance this seems to be the obvious choice. As with most training methods it carries its disadvantages. By focusing on HIT we become reliant on the Glycolytic system during exercise. This system utilises carbohydrate metabolism and is always active even at rest when the oxidative system is dominant. Over time an athlete may promote the use of carbohydrates during metabolism which will in fact spare fat cells. If they do not consume enough carbohydrates there can also be a reduction in lean tissue as muscle cells do not get enough energy to survive.

The best strategy is to utilise both methods in an appropriate fashion. LSD can be made more effective in reducing fat and improving fat oxidisation by adding fasted LSD sessions into a program. Done before breakfast or immediately following a training session, enzymes active in fat oxidation must up-regulate to compensate for glycogen depletion. This means that less time is needed to initiate fat oxidation. HIT should then be performed in a fuelled state in a separate session to make use of its benefits. When both types of sessions are used in a balanced way that does not impede the athletes recovery, they can see all the benefits while negating the disadvantages.

As with most strategies a balance is required for optimum results. The body is exceptional at adapting to stress. Overemphasising one method over another will only display short lived success and may create problems in the long run. In the case of managing body weight and body mass a strategy must be formulated to suit the needs of the individual. A gradual and monitored approach is best for achieving long term and consistent results.