Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Principles, Partials, Promises, and Pinheads: Acknowledging your Wish Bias

This is an industry in which true knowledge is increasingly being replaced with information. And with the Wild Wild West approach of the modern Internet, a good deal of that information is either faulty, out of context, or flat-out mistaken. (Misinformation and disinformation run amuck, sometimes deliberately.)

And as "wannabe experts" seek to establish a reputation for themselves, content now, is a matter of just making outlandish statements to garner some attention. The sincere trainee is left twisting in the wind in his/her search for relevant and applicable protocol. Let’s address a few examples, and stick a dagger in the heart of the gimmick Internet marketers who write “checks with their mouths that their bodies of information can’t cash!”

Now I can’t cover anything and everything in one article, but I will use a few examples to illustrate my point.

Part I: Partial Reps Application

Lately there seems to be more and more attention paid to the benefits of doing “partial reps” for progress. Well, let’s define benefits, and let’s define progress and let’s examine context and address the relevant principle. The attention paid to partial reps comes from two sports where there seems to be some applicability for this kind of emphasis. These two main sports are Powerlifting and Weightlifting. As the “assistance” of lifting gear (lifting shirts, lifting suits, etc.) became more advanced the lifters get a tremendous boost through most of the entire range of motion; especially for say bench press. As the lift continues to lock out position, the lifting gear is less involved. The powerlifter then has to focus on advancing limit strength in a very narrow range of motion. (For example, the lock phase of the bench press.) Hence, the use of boards, floor presses, etc., was born. And for Powerlifting, this is indeed relevant for the modern assisted lifter. However, for bodybuilding or physique enhancement this is a complete waste of gym time. It is well established that the strength gained from such limited ranges of motion with using partials, is gained only at that exact point of execution and focus. While this is essential for a powerlifter or weightlifter in executing a max lift, it is irrelevant for someone seeking cosmetic physique advancement.

Moreover, it is also well-established that body part training, and (even more so) limited ROM single joint, single plane training, results in faulty recruitment patterns, and neural confusion. This is a worthy trade off for someone seeking a lifting max in a given lifting event. Limit strength must be established in the ROM beyond what the lifting suit can support.

But for bodybuilding progression, this neural confusion and the resultant faulty recruitment does more harm than good. Read this above sentence several times over.

For bodybuilding purposes, the logic of "partials" is faulty at best. Once again we see information from one context being misapplied in another. The truth of the principle of muscle overload for physique enhancement is this: muscles stretched with resistance through their entire intended ROM, receive the most overload. Yet I hear people constantly stating that because of their “anatomical leverage” they should do “partials.” This is the usual ‘tall guy long limb’ argument. Bull$hit! And don’t we all know this from common sense observation? Haven’t we all seen and witnessed the Pinhead population, with pipe stems for legs, who load up the leg press with 20 plates per side and yell and scream for attention as they lower the weight a profound 5-6 inches. Or the similar trainee who puts six plates aside on the squat, barely gets it out of the rack, and whose squat depth is barely visible? Most of them have zero development yet they use this rationale of “partials” to avoid what they really need to be doing! This mentality leads to more of the mistakes made with the mentality of training the movement and not the muscles. So to explain the principle above lets use the bench press and floor presses as an example.

When executing the bench press through its entire “intended” ROM, the involved muscles that are stretched with resistance in that specific range and plane of motion take on the load and become the clear agonists for performance and execution. Then, as the lift progresses out of the ROM for these muscles, the targeted muscles go from being agonists, to contributing as synergists and stabilizers. This is all because of the understanding of biomechanics of a muscle, or muscles in action; as well as a proper understanding of the size principle of fiber recruitment. (See my last two blog posts.) However, if you only emphasize the lockout portion of the “lift”(e.g. a floor press or board presses) then the target muscles are not engaged (as in stretched with resistance through an entire ROM) and cannot go through that stimulus process of agonist to synergist, to stabilizer. And this is the difference between training muscles, and training movements. It’s the difference between target training and lifting weights. Let me be clear. Advanced bodybuilders don’t go to the gym to “lift weights,” they go to the gym to “train muscles.”

Part II: Promises from Pinheads

It’s unfortunate that the competition on the internet has led to the emergence of experts who are anything but. I receive questions constantly about this expert or that expert’s “system” of training or diet. Recently to answer such a question I had to go to one so-called expert’s website, which ended up being nothing but ad copy. Here’s the thing: this expert’s promise to the consumer is that the consumer could
1) Put on muscle without getting fat, and he could also...
2) Diet to get lean, without ever being hungry.
Well, shiznit, where do I sign up!

Any Pinhead that falls for such absolute promise deserves what they get (usually disappointment). I call this the “Bowflex Mentality.” Notice also how these “systems” seem to promote a "one-size fits all" mentality.

Here are the relevant principles involved. Only a genetically select few can put on real world muscle without adding weight or bulking to some extent. To explain this, in my seminars, I always use the analogy of building a house or adding an addition to a house.

To do so, you must have the building materials at the site, and you must have the manpower to put it all together. But first you must have the money to get the materials, and pay for the manpower. In terms of adding an addition to your physique then, think of calories as the currency used to buy the building materials. Then under the stimulus of training, the correct biochemical and endocrine foundations can be used to build this addition. Make no mistake, for most of us with average genetics, building an addition to your house (physique) is metabolically expensive; the cost of which may be putting on extra weight (bank account) so the body has the stores it needs to trigger growth.

Yet with all this internet quackery, we start hearing buzz phrases like “I'm doing a lean bulk” which flies in the face of common sense. If this were indeed a probability, do you not think the best bodybuilders in the world would stay in shape year round? There would certainly be a lot more financial incentive in it for them if they could. Once again simple observation of the real world puts these promises in their rightful place. If top genetically gifted bodybuilders, taking a potpourri of pharmaceuticals know they cannot put on muscle while dieting for a show; then how can someone who is natural with average genetics think they can diet to lose percentages of bodyfat while still putting on visible muscle. It’s ridiculous.

And it’s born of fitness industry sell-outs who only want to gain a heavier wallet than to really help anyone.

And the research is and always has been there to prove it. So as a trainee diets to get lean he shuts off any capacity to gain muscle. (unless he is very advanced) As well-known and respected researcher Dr. Friedl put it, “insufficient energy intake (as in dieting to get lean) is one of the principle causes of decreased testosterone….the hypothalamus detects that there are insufficient calories to sustain current muscle mass and therefore inhibits any muscle mass development.” Moreover, he states, “inadequate energy intake (low calories and/or low carbs) will result in a decline in thyroid hormones and testosterone, which in turn would favour the LOSS of fast twitch muscle fiber, and therefore would be unfavourable to strength athletes.” (Anabolic Steroids in Sports and Exercise, p. 161)

The fact that the Guru-mentality that rules the internet will deliberately mislead people as to what is possible makes me sick. “Huge in a Hurry.” Really?

The second promise was the usual “get lean with my diet without ever being hungry.” Really? Is the fitness industry now really going to take a page from Nutrisystem, LA Weight Loss, and these other money-grab diet approaches? Hey I have an idea, “Have you called Jenny yet?”

Here is the principle to consider on this one folks. Appetite and hunger are tightly regulated feedback loop systems tied directly into the pleasure centre of the brain, as well as metabolic processes. The facts are that an emptier stomach, from the frequent feeding of small meals will trigger appetite centres, and if meals are too small, will trigger powerful hunger cues. The other biochemical reality is that as fat is surrendered for energy and as bodyweight lowers, several hormones kick in to induce hunger. This is all about metabolic set point and the body’s desire to always maintain homeostasis. Getting lean as in bodyfat below 10% requires getting used to being hungry folks. Really hungry. The promise of a diet to get lean without hunger, is a promise from Pinheads that ignores the biochemical principles.

Let’s get real.

These modern internet sell-outs have latched on to the same marketing influence that supplement companies have used since the travelling snake oil salesmen. It’s about marketing, not about facts. And it’s about marketing to consumer wish bias. We discussed this concept at my recent workshop and attendees were shocked to the degree to which they have been part of their own exploitation without realizing it. So of course the internet marketer makes money by telling you that you can gain muscle and get ripped at the same time. Of course he makes money by telling you that you can diet and not get hungry. He’s appealing not to reality, but to your wish bias. And it works.

My point to ponder for all of you regarding the rise of the modern internet expert is to get real. The more general “reality principles” if you will, regarding training and diet are as follows:
1) Choose the goal, then choose the appropriate behaviour to accomplish it.

2) If you choose the behaviour then you choose not only the results, but the consequences as well. Diet to be ripped, and you will most surely be hungry. Really hungry. Anyone who has competed can tell you that.

3) And the number one Abel Principle of them all regarding training or diet is “if it doesn’t feel like work, then it’s not going to work.” This is where the beauty of the challenge for physique transformation lies. Let’s start embracing that reality, instead of seeking ways to circumvent it. 
Unfortunately lately, there seems to be a mentality among true experts that “if you can’t beat them, join them.” They seem to be throwing in with the internet marketing approach. But consumers are catching on to this. As one student recently stated on my Blog:
The concept of 'more' is especially noticeable in today's world of online fitness information products. You barely have time to process the true meaning and value of one product before you are being sold something else that is an 'essential' resource."

While I am all for continuing education, it seems like even some of the most respected experts who aren't just blatant product shills in disguise or internet marketers are also guilty of this.

The focus on promoting more materials seems to detract from authentic learning experiences in the gym. 
Aye, there’s the rub!

Myself, I am continually dismayed by experts who know better, but are instead selling-out to make a buck. Here’s something for you to look out for: if an “expert” makes promises of "fast or guaranteed," move on. If an expert starts using street lingo to cater to you--words like “jacked” or “freaky”--be skeptical. And the latest trend is for “experts” to hide behind a lot of junk science.

There is more than one skinny pencil-neck out there garnering attention for “research capability.” What a crock. Do you think any great athlete in any sport got there by studying a book, on physiology or biochemistry? “Experts” totally one-sided to this end, are usually hiding something on the other end. Research in our industry is NOT hard science.

So, I would respectfully challenge fellow experts to start exposing promise from principles on worthy sites like this one. It would be a huge step in the right direction.Let’s stop deliberately trying to manipulate people to make a buck, and instead let’s start deliberately trying to help them, and make a difference. And you the consumer need to stop being so easily complicit in your own wish bias. I’ll finish with a quote from, Dr. Lightsey, from the great book, Muscles, Speed, and Lies.
“Once you have a basic understanding of both the possibilities and the limitations of muscle development, a mental “quack alarm” should ring as soon as you hear about a way to gain two to three pounds of solid muscle per week. You’re obviously dealing with someone uneducated in muscle physiology and nutrition; someone who will stretch the truth to make money, or more charitably, someone who will misrepresent gains in fat mass, bone mass, increased water retention or increased stored sugar as muscle mass development.” (2006, p. 115)
Real world fitness, physique, performance, and strength gains in this industry are seldom linear. Look at the above quote again; watch out for promises. These industry wannabes don’t care about you. They care about their own bottom line. It’s a magic act. It is sleight-of-hand wish bias manipulation.

And the most confusing thing about this is the strength of the wish bias. I am actually on the side of protecting the consumer from false promises, gimmicks, potions, lotions, powders, and pinheads. Yet I take a lot of heat for doing so. Most perplexing. But I’m a big boy (figuratively speaking).

My sincerest regret regarding all of the above of this blog post is that some of you will get it; some of you will not.