Monday, September 05, 2011

Adhering to Real World Principles: Understanding Max Load Training

Some time ago Aristotle made the salient point that although methods are many, principles are few. What a seminal point. But what I see is that these “methods’ are so varied that they are violating key fundamental principles. The result is that you the trainee are not getting results from your gym time by following questionable methods that fly in the face of real world principles. And this is the frustrating thing for me. I train people in the real world. I’m not sure what is being taught at certification courses these days, but what is interpreted as “principles” is faulty at best. In this article I want to use a real world example for those of you training to gain size, muscle, and thickness, and have the mistaken belief that this is accomplished with “max weights.” This is another term I have trouble with as it is quite misleading, as we will see.

The other day I received an e-mail from a client who was a little confused. While training, a personal trainer walked by and advised that my client lighten the load substantially, and do 4/4/1 tempo "to get more out of it." Say what? My client was confused because I had advised to lift explosively, regardless of rep range. So, who is right?

Well, let me pose a theoretical situation and some questions. I lift 100 lbs for 5 reps, and you lift 100 lbs for 5 reps. I do 5 reps in about 5 seconds, and you use the tempo above and take about 30 seconds to lift it. Here are the questions: Who demanded more power from that set? Who had more metabolic demand from that set? The answer to both is me. Power, folks, is a rudimentary principle expressed in many ways, but is essential to training for size, strength, thickness, etc. The simple basic premise is that it takes more power to move a weight in one second than it does to move it in two seconds. Over the course of a workout this is seen as an expression of more work in the same amount of time, or the same amount of work in less time. These are all expressions of the principle of power. Notice the above “method” of tempo violates that principle. Simple.

Next question. In the above example which one of us achieved the most overload? The answer is that it is a trick question. If that 100 lbs is a weight we are used to performing, then neither of us achieved overload for that set. Therefore, the advice of lightening a load you can already do explosively, and take 4 times as long to do it, is faulty logic that does not follow basic principles. It means negating max load, and therefore negating the overload principle in general. This is just one example of a “method” being faulty at best.

Now if you follow this so far then you may be thinking that max load is therefore the way to abiding in the Overload Principle. Well yes, and no. Max load is not max weight!!!! This is the fault of the industry that details external cues as the be all and end all of performance. How much you “can” lift is not the deciding factor. The deciding factor is how much stress a muscle endures as overload. These are entirely different things, as I will explain below and use a real world example.
First, let’s understand these basic principles in more concrete terms. Power is an expression of force with speed. There are several types of power. Of concern to us here are Explosive Power, and the Power Expression itself. Explosive Power can be defined simply as force over time. It can also be defined as the time it takes to get to max force output. Or it can be expressed as recruiting fibers for strength performance in a context of speed. So simple explosive power is expressed as f/t. Force is defined as load or strength within this context. This is where all the confusion on the gym floor begins. Inexperienced trainers and trainees seem to think that the above solution means to use a “max load” as in weight, and be explosive. This is untrue for forcing an adaptive response. The example below illustrates my point and I’m sure if you look around your gym you will see many people making this same mistake.

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