- "Challenging some ATHLETIC CONSULTING beliefs"
- "Dr. Stuart Phillips & muscle growth: Response of muscle to training?"





MYTH from "Champion Building" ISSUE # 56:

" have visible abs you must decrease your body fat to 10% or less."


 Lou Schuler, fitness editor of Men's Health, disagrees with CB ATHLETIC CONSULTING. According to Lou, "I've seen that number (suggested) before, and even printed it a couple of times, but now I seriously doubt it. I recently had my body fat tested on a Bod Pod and DEXA, at 22 percent, and a trainer measured it at 17 percent with calipers. However, I can see my abs most mornings when I wake up, and I can definitely see them post-workout. Have you considered revisiting that 10 percent equation? Personally, I think if I could get down to 14-15 percent (calipers) or under 20 percent (DEXA) I'd be able to see my abs all the time, instead of just twice a day."


In addition to Lou's observation, other researchers have suggested that males with less than 15% body fat will be successful in developing a "4-pack", but that they may not be able to achieve a cover-model shredded "6-pack". Time to rephrase the 10% rule...How's about, abs are definitely visible when % body fat is under 15% (as estimated by skinfold caliper measures), but the lower the body fat, the more consistent their appearance will be. And if your goal is to be a cover model, continue to strive for single-digit body fat!


All in all, this is good news for females because they require greater levels of body fat for health. Given that a female is considered very lean at 12% body fat, this means that females can have both optimal health and visible abs.



MYTH: Bioelectrical Impedence Analysis (BIA) is the best measure of % body fat.


Not so according to Gianni Parise, Ph.D. candidate at McMaster University. This experienced tester states that, "DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) is the best out there right now for body composition testing. The best BIA would be any multi-frequency unit (meaning it uses a different electrical frequency for fat, muscle, etc.)." From experience, Parise believes that BIA consistently overestimates % fat and also that it is not very good for people at extremes (i.e. those who are overly fat or very lean)." He adds, "We compared BIA to DEXA in another study and found that directionally, it seems to work quite well (i.e. if training and DEXA says you lost 2% fat, then the BIA result will be similar). However, it also consistently overestimated the body fat levels of the subjects."



MYTH: High volume, high frequency training programs get the best results.


Anyone with several years of training experience will likely have tried numerous training splits throughout the past. Unfortunately, most people's first training routines are extracted from the fabricated training journals of famous athletes or bodybuilders. It is too bad that most people will unsuccessfully follow these programs, and may in fact develop overuse injuries or a dislike for training as a result.


The most common error in workouts today is overtraining. More and more recreational lifters are learning from experience that 3 sessions per week is the optimal number of training sessions. Alternate day training enables effective workouts because it incorporates adequate recovery time between workouts. This is a far cry from the 5-6 workouts that were often possible in the teenage years where recovery capacity was practically unlimited (possibly due to raging hormone levels). Still, young men and women are not free from the power of overuse because small injuries occurred in youth often turn out to be "training curses" as they age.


Don't fall for the "more is better" philosophy or feel that you need to train in an identical program to one that a pro has prescribed. Prioritize your training based on your competitive demands or fitness goals. Most artificial programs published in magazines don't plan enough rest, so make sure that when you or your training coach puts your regimen on paper you include sufficient recovery.


Unfortunately, the 7-day week has many intrinsic problems that result in awkwardly constructed training plans. Do not hesitate to follow a routine where the same workout is NOT performed each and every Monday (i.e. most individuals choose to train chest on Monday). If your workout plan calls alternating workouts and gets interrupted by a weekend or holiday, don't get stressed, just pick up where you left off the previous week. Many lifters try to maintain a strict schedule based on the current 5-day workweek and 2-day weekend. Unfortunately, when "something comes up" this results in the neglect of certain body parts and causes strength imbalances (i.e. they always make the chest workout on Monday but miss the corresponding upper back workout later in the week).


Not sure how some people made it through high school following the crazy workout schedules read in magazines. After all, all efforts follow the law of diminishing returns. Not to jump on the 1-set is as good as 3-sets bandwagon, but really, how much better 4-5 sets of a single exercise than 1-2 sets? Are you really able to train at a sufficient intensity for more than 2 or 3 sets? Remember that intensity is the key to improvement, so when it suffers, realize that it is time to move on.



MYTH: In order to train with Plyometrics, you must be able to squat one-and-a-half times (1.5x's) your own body weight.


First, the exact rules of the "test" must be clear. Are we performing a full squat or a half-squat? Is our body weight included in the squat total? Based on readings from the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), this recommendation refers to squatting to parallel (half-squat) with 1.5x's your body weight on the bar before you should enter into a plyometric training program.


This test could be debated indefinitely as to its safety, effectiveness, and specificity of transfer. After all, some chiropractors believe the half-squat is more dangerous than the full squat. Furthermore, athletes need strength through a full range of motion around the knee joint, so isn't it somewhat counterproductive to limit the athlete to performing a half-squat? Regardless of these arguments, this statement remains the rule in the eyes of the NSCA.


But why set such a limit? Don't all kids jump and play and perform plyometrics every time they are outside? Does this mean children have to cease all play if they can't squat 1.5x's their body weight? Well of course not. Common sense tells us that play and jumping should be encouraged to help develop athleticism.


If you do choose to enter into a plyometric training program, the most important aspect to consider is proper volume. Since nearly all plyometrics occur at the same general intensity, the key is to start with a small amount of drills and progress as your body adapts to the stress. Furthermore, don't even think of performing plyometric training without including an adequate warm-up. Refer to ISSUE #22 for tips, or better yet, contact a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) in your area for a training session.



The most important lesson to learn from these challenges is to ask questions regarding commonly held beliefs, no matter what the source of information. Be open to other views and be willing to admit your mistakes. By doing so, you will get the most out of your hard work and you will be able to avoid the training pitfalls made by others in the past.






The onset of a weight-training program brings the inevitable question from the beginner, "When will I begin to see the results"? While the typical pre-programmed "personal trainer" response is "Oh, in about 4-6 weeks", does the personal trainer truly understand the complexities that determine the length of time between the onset of training and changes in appearance?


Dr. Stuart Phillips, an exercise scientist and rugby coach at McMaster University recently authored an article in the prestigious Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology on this topic. This article will review and comment on Dr. Phillips' summary of the scientific evidence of a "training effect" (and hopefully will do it justice). For readers unfamiliar with the scientific community, a "training effect" is defined as a statistically significant change in measurements from the onset of training. This ensures that only the training program could have led to the results.


Dr. Phillips states, "It is well known that strength (resistance training) induces increases in muscle fiber cross-sectional area (CSA) otherwise known as hypertrophy." Hypertrophy, or muscle growth, is the result of myofibrillar proteins being assembled in the muscle. Phillips further states that most evidence suggests a "time-course for muscle fiber hypertrophy...appears to require at least 6-7 weeks of regular (3 days per week) resistive training at reasonably high (i.e., >70% of single repetition maximum) intensity before increases of 10-12% in fiber CSA are deemed 'significant'."


Significant strength increases have been shown within two weeks whereas significant muscle growth may occur in 4 weeks in the upper body and takes as long as 6 weeks in the lower body (Eur.J. Appl. Physiol. 81:174-180, 2000). The researchers suspected that significant growth probably occurs even earlier than these results indicate, however, current measurement techniques may not be sensitive enough to pick up the smaller initial increases.


Nevertheless, positive muscle protein balance is observed following an isolated bout of resistance exercise. It is obvious to all beginner lifters that "something" is going on in the muscle within hours of their first workout. It is likely that remodeling takes place quite soon after training, although much to the beginner's dismay, huge muscles are not achieved after a week of "pumping iron". In fact, while most people get very strong very quickly when they begin a strength-training program, it is generally considered to be the result of an increased "neural drive to the muscle".



Unfortunately, while generally accepted, there have been few, if any quality explanations of the mechanisms behind this "increased neural drive". To be quite honest, it is difficult to design a study that could invasively test for any "neural drive" hypothesis in humans (as cutting open the skull is often deemed unethical for some strange reason). The attributed "neural component of strength" is nothing more than a default explanation, but how is one to measure actual changes in the neural tissues to prove changes at this level?


Consider this, a beginner performs a few workout sessions, and within a very short period a "training effect" (significant increase in strength) will be evident. However, if you were to take a muscle biopsy, there would be no change in muscle fiber area, and thus scientists conclude that any strength change are due to the "mysterious" neural factors. However, if the nervous system is tested (i.e. by measuring changes in the electrical activity of the muscle), these too may be devoid of any significant changes. It is more likely a combination of the two components of strength, that while they are non-significant independently, they combine to produce a significant increase in strength.


It is also dependent on the exercise. Researchers found that hypertrophy may contribute more to the strength gains in simple machine exercises (i.e. machine biceps curl) whereas the neural component may result in proportionately more strength gain in complex free weight exercises such as the bench press and squat (Chilibeck et al., 1998).


Is it known that the nervous system has a faster rate of physiological adaptation to stimuli? What are the actual physiological adaptations taking place in the nervous system? Is there more nerve tissue? Likely not, are there more receptor sites or neurotransmitters being released? Until it is shown that the nervous system adapts more rapidly than contractile proteins are added, literature from prominent organizations (such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association) should avoid blanket statements regarding the increases in early strength as being primarily neural and not due to increases in muscle hypertrophy.


Returning to Dr. Phillips' review, he emphasizes that protein turnover is a constant occurrence in skeletal muscle. Training-induced hypertrophy is the result of an increase in the rate of skeletal muscle protein synthesis that chronically exceeds the rate of skeletal muscle protein breakdown. He suggests several mechanisms for hypertrophy, and while one must remember that there are many different types of proteins in muscle, it would seem logical that the contractile protein composition must increase in order for an increase in strength to be evident. Furthermore, structural proteins must be added. Just as you need more equipment in a factory to do more work, you also need more structure to house the new equipment. Growth depends on the individual's initial muscle mass, genetics, their training program, their nutritional habits, and other factors.


Based on research by Dr. Kevin Yarasheski showing that a net gain of contractile protein may occur after one training session, Dr. Phillips theorizes that as little as one "training" session could cause an increase in strength due to muscle growth. Unfortunately, the exact time courses for molecular changes in the muscle and nervous system are not yet known. Hopefully some researchers will attempt to answer this question in the future, and CB ATHLETIC CONSULTING will bring that info to the masses seeking mass.




Phillips, S.M. Short-term training: when do repeated bouts of resistance exercise become

training? Can. J. Appl. Physiol. 25(3): 185-193, 2000.

CB Athletic Consulting, Inc.
Copyright © CB Athletics 2015. All Rights Reserved