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Fat Loss Secrets with
Men's Health Expert, Alwyn Cosgrove
Prepare yourself to achieve the lean athletic
physique that you've always wanted. The secrets to success
are about to be unleashed. Alwyn Cosgrove is a superstar
in the world of personal training, physique transformation,
and athletic preparation. He's contributed his advanced
knowledge to both cbathletics.com and on www.grrlathlete.com,
training champions in multiple sports and in 12-week body
CB: Alwyn, tell us about the foundation
of the 12-week transformation contests that you do with
your clients. Where do you start?
AC: The single most important part of the
process is goal setting. They need to really want to get
amazing results and be prepared to do whatever I ask to
get them. It's not that hard to get the results -- it's
building that overwhelming desire that counts.
Most people think -- "Well - this cake won't hurt me will
it?" I get my clients to think, "Will this help me or not?
Is this a positive step or not?" Once you get that -- you're
a hit. After that -- it's reverse goal setting as I'm sure
you know a lot about, and at that point I do a full functional
screen to assess any weak areas that may need special attention.
CB: After you have assessed the person,
and drawn up the plan, what are the exercise techniques
that you use for the continuous loss of body fat?
AC: Typically a 3 day split using full body
workouts each time (a bodypart split is a thing of the past
in my opinion -- except for bodybuilders). I usually lean
towards upper-lower body supersets and have had great success
with a combination or modifications of the German Body comp
program, and Charles Staley's EDT program. Basically I pair
an upper body and lower body exercise and we try to perform
as many reps as possible in a given time period (e.g., 15
minutes). I usually do three such pairings in the workout.
This takes a bit of planning.
One of the best methods I have ever seen for rapid physique
changes (i.e., adding lean tissue and stripping fat fast)
is a program called Turbulence Training which combines the
above with some serious high intensity interval work. Have
you ever heard of it? :)
(CB: Turbulence Training is included in
the Get Lean manuals available at www.workoutmanuals.com).
CB: What do you think about using high
reps and low weight for losing fat?
AC: If using light weight and high reps worked,
then using no weight and even higher reps would work even
better right? So the best exercise for lean legs would be
walking which does absolutely nothing.
Basically if you don't do something your body cannot do
-- it will not change. My rule is the reps can be high,
but you still better lift as close to your max as you can
for those reps. You need to tap into that overload zone.
CB: And another debated topic is "cardio"
training. How effective is this for fat loss in your opinion?
Are there more effective alternatives?
AC: Aerobic training is useless. Take a look
at aerobics instructors. They are fat. Sprinters (20 seconds
or less of cardio work) are leaner than marathoners (2 hours
plus). If more is not better, and in fact in the example
I gave less is actually better, why do more?
I've always felt that the core problem with aerobic training
has always been the prescription. As there is an upper limit
to the aerobic state, the only way to further increase the
participants fitness is to do anaerobic work (which they
have yet to do any training in that state) or to increase
Doing aerobic training will not prepare you for anaerobic
training -- so we have a problem. And just doing more and
more and more at each stage is just dumb.
As for the fat burning zone -- the ridiculous idea that
we somehow burn less fat if we work too hard ... PLEASE!
If that logic were true -- and we burn less fat (I know
it's true as a percentage but it's not true as a whole)
at lower intensities -- then the best exercise for fat loss
must be sitting on the couch right?
The only cardio training I recommend is short rest intervals
in the weight room and some kind of interval training. I
never recommend aerobics. A total waste of time.
CB: Realistically, how often does a person
need to train to make improvements in their body composition?
AC: I truly believe with sound attention to
diet, and following the above guidelines (especially no
aerobics), 99% of all trainees will make amazing progress
with three one hour total training sessions each week. That's
3 hours out of 168 or less than 1.8% of your week.
CB: Thanks Alwyn. To hear more from the master, visit www.results-fitness.com
or check out his upcoming articles on www.grrlathlete.com.
with Dr. Digby Sale
Issue #100 featured an interview with a man
that has greatly influenced CB Athletic Consulting - Dr.
Digby Sale, exercise physiology professor at McMaster University.
Part II explores bodybuilding, including the history of
bodybuilders such as Arnold and Mike Mentzer. Dr. Sale also
discusses issues such as super-slow training and HIT.
CB: Let's move on to bodybuilding. You
have an incredible collection of bodybuilding magazines
dating back almost 50 years, so you have seen the trends
come and go. What are your thoughts on Mike Mentzer and
his HIT (high-intensity training) philosophy?
DS: Actually, my oldest magazine is a 1946
issue of Strength and Health Magazine, published by Bob
Hoffman. In those days there was little training information
in the magazines. You had to send away for it (i.e., pay
for it). Magazines were basically a long series of advertisements.
From what I see, things haven't changed too much today,
although training programs are given.
In developing his HIT approach, I suspect Mike Mentzer was
influenced by Arthur Jones, who heavily promoted this approach
to training in articles in Iron Man Magazine in the late
1960's, and in his Nautilus Training Principles Bulletins
published in 1970 and 1971. Mr. Jones was an excellent writer
and a charismatic figure. Consequently, he acquired quite
a following, which likely included Mentzer.
Mr. Jones emphasized the importance of intensity of effort
(taking sets to "failure") over volume (number of sets and
exercises). According to his writings, Mr. Jones arrived
at these conclusions based on his own training experience
and on the observations of others who trained under his
supervision. He decried what he felt to be the gross overtraining
practiced by bodybuilders during that period.
Mr. Jones may not have been aware that experimental evidence
in support of what came to be known as the "overload" principle
was already published in the 1920's and even earlier (e.g.,
Siebert, WW Investigations on hypertrophy of the skeletal
muscle. Zeitshrift fur klinische Medizin 109: 350-59, 1928).
The importance of the overload principle in physical therapy
was well known by the middle of the 20th century (e.g.,
Delorme, TL Restoration of muscle power by heavy resistance
exercise J Bone Joint Surg 27: 645-67, 1945; Hellebrandt,
FA, Houtz SJ Mechanisms of muscle training in man: experimental
demonstration of the overload principle. Phys Ther Rev 36:
Although the need to train to failure has been recently
challenged (Folland JP, Irish CS, Roberts JC, Tarr JE, Jones
DA. Fatigue is not a necessary stimulus for strength gains
during resistance training. Br J Sports Med 36(5):370 3;
discussion 374 2002), an even bigger issue than whether
to train to failure has been how many sets should be done
(Carpinelli RN, Otto RM Strength training. Single versus
multiple sets. Sports Med 26(2):73 84 1998).
CB: How many sets should people do per
exercise in strength training?
DS: Recently, a meta-analysis of 140 training
studies has been published, which suggests that the optimal
number of sets (to failure) for both trained and previously
trained subjects is four (Rhea MR, Alvar BA, Burkett LN,
Ball SD. A Meta analysis to determine the dose response
for strength development. Med Sci Sports Exerc 35(3):456
64 2003). No doubt the debate (and hopefully research) will
CB: You once also visited the training
facility of Arthur Jones, who invented the Nautilus system
and heavily promoted 1-set to failure. What did you learn?
DS: I visited Arthur Jones in Deland, Florida
in 1972. The purpose of the visit was to learn more about
the new (at that time) Nautilus equipment, which incorporated
the variable radius cam. The concept was unique, at least
in its application to weight training. By use of the variable
radius cam, it was possible to have the pattern of resistance
through a range of motion match the strength curve (i.e.,
the pattern of strength change through the range movement).
Most conventional exercises fail to do this, some quite
Ironically, at about the same time, a bio-engineering consultant
from New York, James Perrine, was developing the first commercially
available "isokinetic" dynamometer, called the CYBEX. These
dynamometers also provided "matching" (to strength curves)
variable resistance. Nevertheless, Nautilus equipment, which
was more suitable for training gyms, became very popular.
When I visited Arthur Jones, I had already read his articles
and training bulletins (discussed above), so there was nothing
new to be exposed to in terms of training theory. Jones
strongly emphasized one aspect of training to failure. He
cited the widespread belief that continuing a set to failure
risked injury (muscle strains, etc.).
His counter-argument, citing a law of physics, was that
if injury risk is related to the magnitude of force produced
by muscles, then it is the first repetitions of a set that
are most dangerous because they tend to be more quickly
According to Newton's second law of motion (acceleration
= force/mass), quicker execution must mean greater force
generation and hence greater risk. As failure is approached
in a set, fatigue decreases force generating capacity and
therefore the weight is lifted more slowly. So the force
and risk of injury is actually decreasing as the set is
completed (this assumes that "strict" form is used).
CB: Why do most people think that training
to failure has a greater risk of injury?
DS: The answer is that as failure is approached
the weight feels heavier so the trainee has the impression
that more force is being exerted to lift the weight, the
exact opposite of what is happening.
While I was visiting Arthur Jones, I met Casey Viator and
Pete Grymkowski, two high profile bodybuilders of that period.
They were training under Arthur's supervision at the time.
In his early writing, Mr. Jones advocated 2-3 sets per exercise,
and later may have reduced the recommendation to one set,
particularly if Nautilus machines were used. He believed
that his machines were so much more effective than conventional
exercises, that only one set (to failure) was needed. There
may have also been a "commercial" reason. Nautilus machines
were becoming very popular in health clubs. It was convenient
and time-efficient for clients to do one set on each of
a number of machines (i.e., a circuit) and then head for
the showers. For the gym owner, it meant less congestion
and a faster "through-put".
CB: You also watched Arnold's rise to
the top under the guidance of Joe Weider. Any stories you
would like to tell about Arnold's or Weider's training styles
or influences on the sport?
DS: I first read about Arnold in a 1968 issue
of Iron Man Magazine, then published by Peary Rader. Still
a teenager, he had not yet come to the USA and was little
known in North America. He was big, however. The training
programs attributed to him were the antithesis of what Arthur
Jones would recommend; namely, a very high volume program
typical of what most magazines promoted.
When Arnold came to the USA, I believe he continued with
the high volume split routines popular at the time. Arnold's
biggest impact was in making bodybuilding more generally
known and understood. Arnold, by means of his accomplishments
and personality, became a "household" name, something very
few bodybuilders have achieved, and perhaps none with his
success. As you mentioned, Joe Weider, recognizing his great
potential, gave Arnold the promotion that served them both
CB: How did bodybuilders come up with
the 3 sets of 10 system? Do you believe that is more effective
than 1 set of 8 or 5 sets of 5?
DS: The tradition of doing "3 sets of 10 reps"
even pre-dates me. As mentioned in response to an earlier
question, Thomas Delorme, a physician and former lifter,
used this system in the rehabilitation of soldiers during
World War II. To Delorme is attributed the term "repetition
maximum" (1 RM, 10 RM, etc.) that is still in use today.
In the 1960's Dr. Richard Berger of the University of Illinois
undertook an ambitious series of studies to determine the
optimal number of sets and repetitions. His work settled
on 3 sets of 6 RM as about the best method. But there are
so many possibilities that it would take very many studies
to sort it all out.
I referred earlier to the recent meta-analysis of 140 published
training (Rhea MR, Alvar BA, Burkett LN, Ball SD. A Meta
analysis to determine the dose response for strength development.
Med Sci Sports Exerc 35(3):456 64 2003).
CB: Did this study settle on any general
recommendations for strength training?
DS: This analysis found the optimal number
of sets to be four for both untrained and trained subjects.
The optimal intensity was 60% 1 RM (~12 RM) for untrained
and 80% 1 RM (~8 RM) for trained subjects. The optimal training
frequency (presumably per muscle group/exercise) was 3 d/wk
for untrained and 2 d/wk for trained.
These results should make some happy and others unhappy
based on their experience and what they have been actively
promoting. And while this study is not the last word on
the subject, the findings seem reasonable.
CB: Any thoughts on present day training
systems and techniques such as:
- Super-slow training
- Hammer Strength Machines
DS: a) Super-slow training
Physiologically, there should be no difference between 12
reps of 5 s each vs. 6 reps at 10 s each, assuming that
the set is continued to failure in each case. Metabolic
changes would be the same. There should also be little difference
in motor unit activation. Reps done so quickly that momentum
becomes a factor could alter the situation, but this would
not apply to the speeds most trainees use naturally.
As I understand this concept, it refers to the duration
of a single set. Thus, an 8-RM set would be "better" than
a 1-RM set because there is more "time-under-tension" (TUT).
The TUT for the whole training session may be more important
than what happens in a single set.
A recent study had one group of subjects do 40 sets of 1
rep at 75% of the 1 RM, with 30 s between sets (it was basically
one long set of 40 reps). Another group did 4 sets of 10
reps at comparable intensity with 3-min rest periods. The
groups made similar increases in strength (Folland JP, Irish
CS, Roberts JC, Tarr JE, Jones DA. Fatigue is not a necessary
stimulus for strength gains during resistance training.
Br J Sports Med 36(5):370 3; discussion 374 2002).
An important difference between the two programs is that
whereas the 4 sets of 10 group did sets to failure and experienced
significant fatigue, the 40 sets of 1 group did not experience
failure or fatigue, and thus found training sessions much
less stressful. The results of this study not only challenge
the "train-to-failure" concept, they have important implications
for training special populations.
For example, elderly patients with cardiorespiratory limitations
could safely use the 40 sets of 1 rep method because the
low level fatigue would cause a much smaller increase in
heart rate and blood pressure. For coaches, an application
would be to periodically give their athletes a break from
the fatigue and mental stress of "failure" training, but
still be getting some training results.
c) Hammer Strength Machines
These I have seen. They seem to be designed to accommodate
large athletes, which would make them popular with groups
such as football players. I have also noticed that several
stations permit unilateral actions, which would be useful
The use of olympic plates instead of weight stacks may have
some practical advantages, such as loading for advanced
trainees. On the other hand, weight stacks are safer for
less experienced trainees and special populations. From
a physiological perspective, there is nothing special about
the training stimulus these machines could provide, apart
from the points made above.
Something should be said about eccentric (ECC) training.
In the last 10 years there has been considerable research
on this mode of training, due in part to the availability
of isokinetic dynamometers that offer ECC loading (e.g.,
Seger JY, Arvidsson B, Thorstensson A Specific effects of
eccentric and concentric training on muscle strength and
morphology in humans. Eur J Appl Physiol 79(1):49 57 1998).
The majority of the research indicates that ECC training
does provide an added training stimulus (for an example
of a recent study, see Brandenburg JP, Docherty D. The effects
of accentuated eccentric loading on strength, muscle hypertrophy,
and neural adaptations in trained individuals. J Strength
Cond Res 16(1):25 32 2002).
The physiological basis of the benefit of ECC training is
that in ECC contractions there is greater load on each muscle
fibre, which may provide a greater stimulus for hypertrophy.
Even when the force of ECC and concentric (CON) contractions
is the same, as in doing a repetition of a weight training
exercise, the load per muscle fibre is greater in the ECC
phase (lowering weight).
The reason for this is that because muscles are stronger
in ECC actions, the CNS activates fewer fibres to lower
the weight (ECC phase). Moreover, there is some evidence
that type II (fast twitch) muscle fibres are preferentially
activated in ECC actions, the very fibres that show the
greatest hypertrophy response to training.
Finally, ECC actions are very efficient, which means the
metabolic cost of doing them is relatively low. The result
is that ECC actions can provide a strong training stimulus
with little fatigue.
This feature of ECC training is another challenge to the
"failure" concept, which implies termination of exercise
due to fatigue. The latest research, including a study done
here at McMaster, indicates that high (vs. low) velocity
ECC actions may provide a greater training stimulus, which
may partly account for the effectiveness of certain plyometric
exercises (involve fast ECC actions).
This latest research also threatens the "time-under-tension"
(TUT) advocates, since the TUT of the fast ECC training
(less than one second per contraction) was only a fraction
of the TUT for the slow training.
CB: Thank you Dr. Sale for providing
the nitty-gritty about strength training. Hopefully this
will direct everyone toward more effective training programs.
There will be a Part III to the interview in an upcoming
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