ISSUE #52                               



-“How to Train Better by Asking Questions”
-“Genetics, Muscle Fiber Composition & Performance”
-“Diabetes: An Education in Prevention”





A story once told how the Ancient Greeks determined the smartest philosopher. It turns out that it was the guy who asked the most questions, not the one who had the most answers. Makes sense because after all, asking questioning shows a sign of intelligence. Going through school we have all become accustomed to believing everything the authority figure says, and that continues on into the realm of athlete conditioning and personal training.


When reading training websites or magazine, regardless of whether or not you agree with the writer, always respect authors that have a different view on exercise, lifting, and nutrition. They think “outside the box” and motivate readers and clients to question what is considered “fact”. Hopefully you will question things too, such as the whether or not one can tell if their muscles are fast-twitch or slow-twitch, based on the information in the second article of this issue.


In addition, even simple training theories thought of as exercise “rules” need to be questioned. For example, just the other day the question was asked why 8-12 repetitions are considered best for hypertrophy (muscle growth). Here is a brief explanation…


Simply put, one must have sufficient levels of intensity and volume for a growth stimulus to be effective (for hypertrophy to occur). Performing 8-12 reps is a nice tradeoff of both intensity and volume, or perhaps better termed, the optimal amount of both.


For example, a 1 RM represents the utmost intensity (neglecting eccentric contractions) but the volume (or time under tension or what-have-you) of muscle contraction in a 1 RM is insufficient for maximal growth, unless you performed 20-30 of these in one session. And the same goes for using a 20 RM, the weight is probably too light to obtain the best results.


There is very, very little concrete evidence regarding the exact stimulus for muscle hypertrophy, although Dr. Marty Gibala from McMaster, in his excellent review article*, puts it very bluntly, "Resistance exercise represents a potent stimulus for skeletal muscle hypertrophy". The problem is, most people want some information that is a little more precise than just, “3 sets of 10 reps”.


Early (1960's) research suggested the 3 sets of 6 reps workout was the best "protocol" for increasing arm strength. The legend grew from that and from bodybuilding practices and tradition, so that now 8-12 reps per set is ingrained in Personal Training literature as the best repetition protocol. Unfortunately, at present there is little research funding given to training studies, so we are stuck with this recommendation.


But as for the exact number of repetitions in a set or the number of sets per exercise or even the number of exercises per muscle group per workout, none of these have been established to have an optimal number for best results. Training recommendations are merely combined extensions of general scientific principles and personal philosophies.


Certainly though we see that powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters can restrict their training to 1RM and 5RM training and still have the ability to grow large muscles whereas many bodybuilders claim to do 15-20 sets of 12-15 reps per muscle for there successful growth. The 8-12 reps is just a recommendation, perhaps thought to err on the side of safety. However, in my opinion this higher repetition range (leading to high training volumes) may cause overuse injuries (i.e. shoulder inflammation).


Unfortunately, this article must stop here because debate on this unresolved situation could go on forever.


* Gibala, M. Nutritional Supplementation and Resistance Exercise: What is the evidence

for enhanced skeletal muscle hypertrophy? Can. J. Appl. Physiol. 25(6): 524-535,





(an excerpt from my thesis)


Kind of a “what came first?” issue…


The physical activity background of individuals may influence and account for muscle fiber composition or alternatively, the inherent fiber type composition of an individual may influence his or her selection of events. Endurance trained athletes have a greater composition of type I fibers (Costill et al., 1976a; 1976b; Jansson and Kaijser, 1977; Larsson and Ansved, 1985; Tesch and Karlsson, 1985) and a lower composition of type IIx fibers (Friden et al., 1984; Ingjer, 1978b; Tesch et al., 1984) compared to control subjects.


In a cross-sectional study designed to examine the contrast in muscle fiber composition between elite athletes, sprinters had a small proportion (24%) of slow twitch fibers in comparison to the large slow twitch fiber (69%) composition in distance runners (Costill et al., 1976a). 


Whether the difference is due to training, or selection of the sport as influenced by genetics, is unknown. Tesch and Karlsson (1985) hypothesize that long-term endurance training may influence muscle fiber composition. Not only was their hypothesis supported by a large proportion of type I fibers in the vastus lateralis of runners, but also by a large proportion of type I fibers in the deltoid muscle of kayakers and wrestlers (Tesch and Karlsson, 1985). Differences in fiber type have been shown to be associated with significantly greater maximal oxygen consumption in endurance-trained athletes (Ingjer, 1978b).


Classical dancers also have a significantly greater proportion of type I fibers and a lower proportion of type IIx fibers in the vastus lateralis, when compared to sedentary individuals (Dahlströhm et al., 1997). This greater proportion of type I fibers would benefit these performers, because their activities are of low intensity and long duration. Larsson and Ansved (1985) conclude that fiber type make-up is not determined exclusively by heredity and can adapt to physical demands. 

Weightlifters and untrained individuals were shown to have similar type I percentages, but the weightlifters had a lower average percentage area of the type I fibers (Gollnick et al, 1972). Percent fiber area is calculated as a product of the percent fiber type and the fiber area, as a proportion of the entire muscle area. Percent fiber area may be more important than fiber proportion in determining function. A greater type II percent area would result in a larger proportion of fast myosin heavy chain isoforms in the muscle and therefore a faster velocity of shortening.

Tesch & Karlsson (1985) found the type II fiber area of weightlifters to be significantly greater than in wrestlers or kayakers and that runners had the smallest fiber areas for the vastus lateralis. The small fiber areas of the runners would contribute to a lower force production and a possible impairment in power production.


THEREFORE, if by training you increase the size of your type II fibers to a greater extent than your type I fibers, you will, by definition, have a “faster” muscle, provided that there is no change in fiber type.


References: Available upon request at





A recent estimate proclaimed that 25-35 percent of Westernized populations could suffer from a degree of insulin resistance or from some of health consequences associated with this disease of lifestyle in the future. After further reading of websites and research papers, the following tips were found that were suggested to reduce the risk of acquiring diabetes.


The information is not meant to cure the disease, but because it is more a disease of lifestyle than anything else, scientifically validated information is available to help you reduce your risk. This is mostly information that you have heard all before, good nutrition, good health, and exercise, but judging by the incidence of disease from the numbers presented above, people still have not been told enough.


The ideal diet for modifying insulin resistance should reduce body weight, decrease fat while sparing muscle tissue, and improve insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity refers to the increased uptake of blood sugar by muscle cells, which is particularly important because high levels of blood sugar (blood glucose = same thing) are associated with disease. While it is relatively simple to find agreement within the literature on these general points, it is difficult to find an agreement among experts regarding the ideal diet that will best help to accomplish these goals.



High fiber diets are recommended, as is decreasing the amount of saturated fat in the diet. However, processed carbohydrates (high-glycemic carbohydrates) often take the place of fats, but excess carbohydrates can be very deleterious because they lead to very high levels of blood sugar. North American diets are high in processed food, for example, 8 spoons of sugar in a 355ml soft drink, and the excess sugar-diet is likely one of the largest contributors to the great prevalence of diabetes (aside from a sedentary lifestyle).


White bread, sugary cereals, pretzels, sports drinks, and flavored-beverages, etc. are all packed with high-glycemic carbohydrates ready to skyrocket your blood sugar levels. They are calorie-dense but severely lacking in nutrients. Sure pop tarts and frosted flakes are truly low-fat foods, but with chronic consumption are these better breakfast foods than eggs and whole-wheat toast? I honestly can’t say for sure.


While high-glycemic carbohydrates may not need to be fully eradicated from the diet, they should not be the staple foods of your meal plans. In fact, reduce your consumption of high-glycemic simple carbohydrates to immediately post-workout. Plan around vegetables and lean meats and fruits, and include processed foods as a low priority.


Many people have used all types of diets successfully and unsuccessfully. NOTE: everyone is on a “diet”, this simply refers to the food that you eat…for example, a University student may be on a diet of Pasta, Pizza, Burgers, and Beer, and even though this student may get fat, he/she is still on a “diet” per se.


But anyway, some skinny people can eat a lot, and some skinny people can eat a lot of high-glycemic carbohydrate, while overweight individuals can eat relatively healthy, and average individuals can eat a wide-variety of food and all end up with no change in their body compositions. After seeing all this, who is to say what the best “diet” and macro-nutrient composition is for everyone, or for you?


Just like training, nutrition is sometimes best learned by trial and error, but reading literature on healthy eating helps as well, even though you are guaranteed to find two experts with completely opposing views on the best way to lose body fat, etc. Most importantly, if you can’t stick to your food schedule due to a complete hatred of the foods you are eating, than that food plan is likely to be unsuccessful, regardless of how well thought out that it is.


Again, just like training, nutrition is best tweaked to individual considerations, what works for a young man to get “lean for the beach” may not necessarily be the healthiest diet for a middle-aged, overweight, pre-diabetic. Educate yourself. Learn what foods are healthy, and pick the ones from that list that you enjoy. Eating can be enjoyable and healthy.


Often bodybuilders and athletes get caught up over-emphasizing the macro-nutrient profile of their meals (i.e. how much protein and fat is in a meal of chicken and rice). However, they will fail to consider the amount of micro-nutrients that are lacking in this bland meal (i.e. very little vitamin C, and other healthful antioxidants, etc.). The recommendations are for self-education and consultation with a true expert if necessary. Oops, getting a little sidetracked, so let’s return to looking at some other risks for diabetes:


Cigarette smoking – It is unbelievable that this is this still legal. Enough said.


Stress – Very difficult to prove that stress causes illness, but many experts believe that decreasing the amount of stress and hassle in life goes a long way towards increasing overall health. So, get rid of your stress. Sometimes you need to remember that there is nothing that you can do about certain things in life, so accept that. But if you can change things, do so for the better.


Physical activity is important for disease prevention. Exercise may be the single most important lifestyle factor for both preventing and reversing insulin resistance, but don’t let it be an excuse for a poor diet! Everyone should attempt to maintain low (yet healthy) levels of body fat and moderate amounts of muscle mass. The recommendations are quite simple, but regular exercise is huge step in the right direction, away from diabetes. Pick some activities and do them consistently.


The importance of resistance training in overall health is no longer just my opinion, but is gaining great scientific support. If you jog 5 times a week for nothing more than health reasons, you could reduce that to 3, even 2 sessions, and replace the other days with resistance training for a greater overall health benefit. Why? Resistance training increases muscle mass.


Muscle serves 3 important functions: One, it is a very metabolically active tissue, helping to take up and use more blood glucose, and thus it may help improve the blood sugar profiles of diabetics. In fact, after young healthy men did weight training for several weeks, they needed to release less insulin to deal with a large amount of carbohydrate, thus indicating that insulin sensitivity increased with an increase in muscle mass (Yarasheski, 1992).


Second, muscle provides strength for daily function and should help to prevent injuries (for example, more muscle should reduce the injury risk associated with “pounding the pavement” (jogging) 5 times a week). And three, plain and simple, everyone looks a little better with some “pipes” rather than “pipe-cleaners” in their sleeves.


As people age, they lose muscle, which in my opinion is due mostly to lack of activity, rather than aging factors. Again, in my opinion, it is a matter of “what came first?”, the loss of muscle and then decreased activity, or no activity leading to a decrease in muscle? According to *Hasten and colleagues, sedentary older men and women (age 78+) have lower rates of protein synthesis than younger sedentary counterparts.


However, within just 2 weeks of resistance training the older individuals were able to increase their rates of protein synthesis as much as the younger men and women. Therefore, it shows that older individuals maintain the ability to increase muscle growth in response to short-term resistance exercise. My conclusion: It is never too late to get out and train for muscle mass and health. But…


IMPORTANT: A key point to remember if you are sedentary, don’t jump back into things too quickly! Any activity you do today is more than you did yesterday, so slowly but surely, build exercise and strength capacity. As always, consult an expert if your knowledge is limited in this field.


                Will we ever be free of disease? No, unfortunately that is not likely to happen. But there are many simple steps that can help improve health. If you improve your health, fitness and performance improvements are likely to follow. In the future, research will guide us along the path to better lifestyle choices, and fortunately will provide us with some help to correct our mistakes. However, since lifestyle factors play such a prominent role in insulin resistance, we can modify the bad habits right now, so that insulin resistance can be avoided in the future.



*Hasten, D.L. et al. Resistance exercise acutely increases MHC and mixed muscle protein synthesis rates in 78-84 and 23-32 yr. olds. Am. J. Physiol. 278: E620-626, 2000.


Yarasheski, K. et al. J. Appl. Physiol. 1992.

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