ISSUE #101


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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 transformation contests.

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 the duration.

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.

Bodybuilding Applications 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: 371-83, 1956).

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 continue.

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 badly.

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 executed.

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 well.

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
  • "Time-under-tension"
  • Hammer Strength Machines
  • Other?

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.

b) "Time-under-tension"

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 for some.

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.

d) Other?

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 newsletter.

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