Increasing fitness with a resistance training specific angle, staying strong for life.

We spoke a little while ago about the aging active individual and thing you can do to help them (or yourself).

The key element around this is about retaining lean muscle mass. Lean mass retention normally means remaining strong and able to carry out your activities of everyday life more effectively.

It may (hopefully) also mean you are still lifting weights, doing some form of resistance training e.g. callisthenics or competing in sports of some sort right into the twilight years.

People who don’t do this or any kind of resistance type training lose about 10% of their lean mass each decade after the age of 25. This increases to 15% each decade after the age of 50.

That stat kinda sucks. It means when you are 70/80 years old you could be the same adult weight or heavier, with the muscle mass of a 9 year old.

As well as muscle loss bone mineral density decreases, in other words we lose bone and muscle, we lose form and function.

You can see this when someone goes to rise out of a chair or take a few steps up some stairs. The steps you can see the resistance of their weight kick in and they are making it through a sticking point (more about this later). Walking up 3-4 steps really is a mini training session for them. It shouldn’t be like this. People have to move to bungalows cause their quads are not strong enough (realise joints can also be suffering).

The health of the joint is only as strong as the surrounding tissue.

Hormonal decreases, increased negative effects of stress on the body along with increasing inflammation all contribute to this.

The lower strength, flexibility and dexterity all can contribute to falling or injuries. Sometimes a series of injuries can accelerate progression toward a decrepit state as each time you get injured you can’t move or train the injured area sufficiently to retain lean mass. The muscle atrophies and fat replaces the muscle bulk.

I remember seeing the fat replace muscle on an MRI of my back when my disk popped. Not too dissimilar to the picture below…. Nightmare. If you are injured currently please read my Injury chapter and also consider the injury bundle.

Part of retaining your lean mass involves using your muscle so as to stimulate the necessity of the muscle to adapt and repair towards the demands of the exercise imposed on it.

You have to use it. Or you lose it.

In this sense adaptation to fitness and strength is highly specific to the demands of the activity placed on the system.

For the busy reader here’s the low down on building muscle and keeping strong at any age;

1. You gotta lift or involve yourself in a progressive form of training.
2. You gotta track progress.
3. Inflammation gets in the way of everything – control inflammation as you get older.
4. Eat enough protein, not too much. Eat it in larger hits for the best effect as you age.
5. Keep moving – never stop.
6. Take creatine it protects your brain and muscles.
7. Use fish oils or eat loads of fish (oily about 4-5 x per week).
8. Frequent stimulation is better than doing loads infrequently. Do something as part of a daily ritual.
9. Never done it, any of this? – do it now, today.
10. Body weight training rocks. Learn some and do some.
11. Snacking on exercise is a great way to build up 7-9 minutes twice a day.

If you’d like to learn more and also my secret press up stacker which adds to your 1 rep max bench press read on. Feedback appreciated.

Take Home Messages;

1. Maintaining strength means challenging your muscle and your mind to move heavy stuff in a progressive manner (can include you).
2. You need to train the whole body. Your legs are part of your body.
3. To rebuild muscle you need rest, sleep and proper nutrition.
4. Cycling the body parts after learning to train the whole body is one way to increase intensity and allow longer recovery.
5. Muscles adapt through damage. Damage them.
6. The machinery which delivers energy and nutrients needs training. Train hard and cause metabolic disturbance to challenge this system.
7. Not doing this can lead to irrational hypertrophy – big muscles which can’t do much for long.
8. Range of motion is proportional to the intensity of the exercise. Train full range to enjoy better injury protection and full range strength.
9. Gravity and joint specific reasons mean the positions of flexion are important to train too. Train these all in a workout or maximally across a week. Train the angles.
10. Although there are plenty of hacks and tricks consistency overrides the fancy routine. Even a poor routine done for a long time with effort will bring rewards, keep consistent habits and you can tighten up with the fancy stuff later.
11. Training is highly specific keep the end goal in mind.
12. Of the three phases of movement, positive (lifting up), negative (lowering down) and isometric (keeping still) isometrics are the strongest followed by negatives and finally the positive phase – you need to train all three parts of muscle contraction for balanced strength capacity.

Best supplements for muscle growth;

1. Additional protein I prefer plant protein cause I’m whey intolerant (blood tested).
2. Pre training amino complex with all essential amino acids and kreb’s cycle cofactors.
3. Sleep support.
4. Special Power Loader – if you train and eat right and don’t get significantly stronger mail back the unused pot and I’ll refund you (after eating the rest myself).
5. Creatine (on special offer only £10 per month’s supply).
6. If inflammation is getting in the way as an older trainer both fish oils and curcumin are shown to increase muscle protein synthesis. The best all round anti-inflammation supporting blend is the metabolic optimiser.

Use brochure20 for an additional 20% off! Got time and want maximum detail? Read on for a comprehensive discussion of all thing hypertrophy training related.

Want to get better at running? Go running. Want to get stronger at lifting weights? Go lift some weights.

This is normally enough for the 1st phase. However quickly after this ‘play’ and early adaptation, we need to get into some more specific ‘hacks’ and principles we know which accelerate adaptation to these types of activity. First of all get in the gym, get down the park just get going and don’t worry too much about the specifics. Do a class, work hard. Get into the routine.

Before I carry on I want to share a press up story with you…When travelling doing weights can be more difficult. It certainly was back when I was 19. Here’s a chest workout I used to do back then, it actually added to my 1 rep max on return from holiday. It’s easy to remember, harder to do. Here’s what you do. Get a timer / watch and focus on 15 minutes. During this time you are going to do as many press ups as possible, with as short rest as possible. So hit up your first set, this is around 45-55 depending on how fresh you are from other training workouts. Then you rest 20-25 seconds and repeat, you’ll get maybe 25-35. Then you rest 20 seconds, go again you might be down at 15-20. Then here’s the thing you keep your rest at 15 seconds then down to 10 seconds. Your reps will drop until you can squeeze out 2’s and 3’s then towards the end of the workout you’ll be doing what feels like single rep maxes. Tip (they are).

Now here’s another thing. Given your body weight press up should be a submaximal exercise for chest, what happens when you get down to the single rep maxes, are you stimulating the fast twitch fibres or the slow twitch cause it’s submaximal? This question haunted me for years I even asked people, experts who should know. The answer was pretty clear and universal all the experts agreed; by-products e.g. lactate accumulation interfered with muscle function, it’s still endurance but you can’t complete sufficient reps cause of the waste product limiting muscle function (hydrogen ions and lactate).

Are you sure? I asked. Cause it really feels really like a 1 rep max on bench.

Here’s the real deal though, at first your slower twitch and intermediate fibres are doing all the work, this also depends on fitness and speed of reps cause if you are weak your body weight might be your 1 rep max). Once these fibres fatigue you have to draw deeper on other fresh fibres, these are the faster twitch ones, so you recruit more fast twitch after you exhaust the slower twitch fibres. This is a principle of metabolic fatigue. What else are you doing? Well you are taxing the machinery which delivers and clears products to the muscle to keep it working. This accounts for 20% of your muscle mass. It’s worth training.

So by stressing the system, on a submaximal exercise, with high reps and shortened rest periods, this way you get both a metabolic effect and also a fast twitch fibre effect. Cool eh?

Understanding Muscle Fibre Types

One of the essential principles around training specific qualities of muscle tissue is around the type of fibre we are using for a given activity. For simplicity I will refer to 3 rough fibre types, however these can be broken down into further categories. The Type are fast, intermediate and slow.

Slow are endurance based and will therefor use mostly oxygen to fuel their activity. Fast are explosive and don’t need oxygen, instead relying on creatine and glycogen for fuel.

The intermediate fibres can migrate according to the main demands placed on the muscle structure through training. They can become more fast twitch or move towards supporting more slow twitch type activities. They have capacity for growth, as do slow twitch fibres just less than the fast twitch which appear to have the highest capacity for growth.

The fibre types maximum capacity related to the length of time you want them to perform this is sometimes called time under tension, at least when you are performing sets of repetitions in the gym. Can also be about distance, e.g. 100, 200, 400 and 800, 1500m running right up to a marathon there’s a chart below showing the amount of aerobic vs anaerobic needed for each of these activities.

In all of the rep ranges and tasks for maximum stimulation, we are talking about handling the maximum amount of weight to achieve the given reps, or time under tension. If you lift a light weight for 6-8 reps or less (the amount of time to achieve maximum power and fast twitch stimulation) you won’t achieve this. It needs to be the maximum weight you can lift for these reps and you’ll be surprised at how much weight you can handle.

Looking ‘jacked’ normally means carrying a good level of muscle weight or muscle density along with lower levels of body fat. You capacity for working intensively with power will rely on strong fast twitch fibres, good intermediate fibres leaning towards fast twitch fibres and an excellent aerobic capacity which means good endurance fibres along with good machinery supplying the muscle network. This machinery accounts for about 20% of the total muscle volume and comprises of capillaries, vessels, mitochondria and other things associated with delivering blood and oxygen to the working network.

A few writers have referred to this overall concept as creating a ‘super fibre’ what they are talking about is a highly fatigued resistant fitness across all fibre types. A couple of ways to train this are listed below.

Training this network means training metabolic stress. Forcing the body to work under fatigue and oxygen scarcity. Taking short rest between sets. Pyramiding the weight up between sets, using super sets, giant sets and circuit weights to fulfil the speed to working under fatigue. Doing aerobically challenging exercising between set of weights is another way to do this. The tough guy and crazy circuits are two excellent routines to help you see what this is all about.

So the muscles are fired up and supported by the 3 energy systems depending on need. Training these systems causes signalling mechanisms in the body which rebuild these systems at a greater capacity to work. At the higher capacity to work then you need to work them at that higher capacity in order that they continue to adapt. If that’s what you want them to do.

Tip – it should be, that’s what the whole thing is about.

The 3 energy systems are as follows;

1. Aerobic powdered by fat and oxygen. They can go on a long time, the fat provides loads of energy (ATP) however this system can only operate up to a certain intensity. This is sometimes called ‘fat max’ the maximum heart rate or oxygen utilisation threshold you can burn fat up to. Training this can actually lead to up to a 75% fat max, for most people this is thought to be lower at around 50-60% of max heart rate, of course fitness and what you eat dictates substrate utilisation.

Heart Rate Training;

To work out specific zones where you are getting a training effect you need to do the following. Work out your maximum heart rate. Get our average resting heart rate. Then work out the difference (heart rate reserve). For example if your maximum heart rate is 180 and resting 60 the difference, heart rate reserve is 120. Time this by the intensity zones above (which roughly correlate with heart rate) and you can see that if you have a fat max of 75% of your heart rate you can burn mostly fat up to 90 (120 x 75%) + 60 RHR = 150 BPM. Not too shabby. If we take this down to the more likely 60% (120 x 60% = 72) + 60 we get targeting a heart rate of 132 BPM should encourage a nice level of mostly fat used for fuel.

The anaerobic or glycolytic system relies primarily of glycogen and produces lactate as a by-product of this energy system. You can create more power, it doesn’t last as long but can be trained, this lasts anywhere beyond the creatine phosphate system 10-20 seconds up to 90-120 seconds depending on what you read.

Of course there’s cross over. The pure systems may actually only last as per the chart below however we are never purely using one system when we exercise, it’s normally a blend of systems we switch between, where one system the anaerobic creatine phosphate system will be challenged during sets of work and then the other systems (mainly the aerobic) will help the other replenish ready to be hit hard again on the next interval, rounds or set of weights. Whilst we can feel the burn into the end of a 90 second interval at 2 minutes the chances are the aerobic system is taking over and we have remnants of lactate left over.

These systems are really interesting to analyse for any sports, for boxing, MMA or Thai they become really interesting as the athlete has to rely on a big mix of all 3 systems being as efficient as possible. Steady longer term endurance to make the rounds, flurries of power and speed, everything gets challenged. Rugby is another sport with maximum cross over.

The final system the creatine phosphate system produces the most power for the shortest amount of time. It’s there to help you jump up a tree if a sabre tooth tiger sneaks up on you.
Good thing is if you use creatine this systems got a bit more left in it each time you use it. One of the reasons creatine’s such an excellent natural performance enhancer.

Metabolic stress or challenging the time under tension you can complete lifts, shorten rest between sets all seems to pave the way for growth factors and optimal hormonal release following your exercise session.

Strength wise we have the most strength in a static or isometric style hold. The seconds highest level of force we can maintain against a moving weight is the negative or eccentric phase. The concentric part of lifting is the weakest of the three. The eccentric phase has the capacity to cause most trauma and as such the most hypertrophy but also has the highest metabolic cost following exercise. You can get stronger emphasising the concentric or positive phase most and this can potentially increase strength without as significant increasing hypertrophy when compared to eccentric based training.

Metabolic Stress and lack of oxygen

Making yourself stronger then what do you do?

Progression, strength and growth.

A moment I became aware of the effects of weight training and body weight training was when I was 12 years old. There was an old dumbbell – pretty heavy at the back of the gym where they put on free karate lessons. I was always early. Digging this out I did a few curls I think I got 7-8 reps. Couldn’t do anymore. Tried again, got 1 less rep. Two days later got the 9 reps, arm changed a bit shape wise…. I was onto something. Stronger with bigger (slightly) biceps in 2 days. Remembered to do the left arm – then kind of never looked back.

Obviously when you lift a weight like a bicep curl you start with a straight arm and curl it up towards your shoulder this is the concentric or positive phase of the movement, you can pause at the top before lowering the weight through the negative or eccentric phase of the exercise. Each part of these movements can be timed bringing about a time under tension principle. Also a way to alter intensity of the movement.

In fact really creating the maximum amount of tension in the muscle against the maximum load is the key to successfully stimulating muscle building mechanisms and signals. As long as you rest enough time between sessions, then forced reps, drop sets, super sets and heavy negative are highly useful methods within your routine.

In terms of answers on the back of a postcard. If you lift something which causes temporary muscular failure between 6-8 reps this is most conducive to hypertrophy. Hypertrophy occurs through a couple of likely mechanisms. The first is a simple fibre growth. Simply put the sliding theory of muscle contraction means when you lift something heavy you create minor tears in the filaments. These rebuild and can handle higher weight. They tear greatest on the negative part of the movement controlling the weight on the way down. More on this below. You have to exceed their capacity to handle the load to cause the damage. This means progressive overload and also progression in terms of volume, the total weight lifted within a workout. You capacity to work hard within a given time frame is called your work capacity. Shorter rest and handling the same load and reps = progression due to increased work capacity.

You can also potentially grow muscle through stretch aided hypertrophy which increases cell volume and concurrent adjustments in protein synthesis within the muscle caused through the cell volume and stretching effect. Stretching allows more growth through making the sheath which retains muscle more flexible but also perhaps through encouraging a splitting in the fibres. A subject still under debate. Enough to know though is that both stretching the muscle under load and encouraging muscle cellular hydration are both valid methods for encouraging hypertrophy. You can read more about stretch aided hypertrophy routines and the right nutrients to consume here.

The key thing is to do something each time you train which challenges the muscles capacity to handle the load for the required repetitions. Then you can work on repeating the movement for a series of sets of a number of reps – with a designated rest period between each set.

Creating resistance – as mentioned before you can use weights or your own body weight to create resistance and a resistance based workout. Body weight squats, lunges, press ups, chins, dips and sit ups make a pretty gruelling or light workout depending on your ability. Extending this to single limb exercises, e.g. one legged squats or press ups makes this an elite form of training. Some of the best books written on this are by Coach Wade, the convict conditioning series. I was trained by the Kavadlo brothers who also have some awesome resources and courses.

If you get a bar or free standing dipping station, plus a kettle bell – there’s really no need to trek to the gym.

One concept which is key in training with body weight to TRX type devices is the lever. Plus unilateral (one side) vs bilateral (both sides). Manipulating these variables means almost limitless ways to increase load and intensity depending on the exercise.

A great book on unilateral training is called ‘The Power Of One’

You can try some of these concepts by trying archer press ups or pulls ups. Kozak squats or pistol squats using a TRX or full body weight. Progressing to lunges or step ups on a single leg moves you beyond double legged squats. Load can also be added using weight vests and ankle weights to various body weight exercises.

Putting workouts together;

You need to train the whole body (not forgetting the legs) to ensure balanced strength and overall ability to function. Then you need to decide on how frequently to train your body. Normally great progressions in strength can be gained through the classic 3 day split. Training the whole body on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday Split. Working on a heavy day, medium day and lighter day in terms of rep schemes. Tip – this doesn’t need to be in the gym. You can use your body as resistance and do these workouts at home with minimum equipment. Lots of people don’t like gyms.

A very simple starter weights routine might include one major lift for each muscle group where you complete 3-5 working sets before moving onto the next exercise. I’ll list 100’s of variations later in this chapter and online – here’s an example though for you to look through;

Leg Curls
Single Arm Row
Shoulder press
Calf Raises
Sit Ups

So you got 2 legs, 2 pushing exercises across 2 plains, 2 pulling exercises across 2 plains – then a little bit of calves and abs to finish off. You can switch up the core exercises on each day. So the 2nd day could look like this;

Leg extensions
Bent over BB Rows
Incline Bench Press
Arnold Press
Seated Calves
Hanging leg raises

So you are hitting up all the muscle groups on a different exercise. It’s important to work the angles and the strength curves – more on this below.

Day 3 could be;

Sissy squats
Seated cable rows
DB flat press
Heavy Laterals
Hops (single legged)
Plank (weighted)

As you adapt you’ll find you need to switch to the body part split in order to spend more time exceeding the work capacity of a muscle group. You can and should always keep some whole body type activities in your weekly routine, be it circuit weights, body weight training or whole body workouts with the core lifts. This is more reflective of using your body in a sporting or combat situation. There’s heaps of routines later in this chapter.

Here’s an example of an upper lower body split routine and a 4 days per week routine.

Strength Curves, plains and Range Of Motion

Simply put range of motion is directly proportional to the intensity of the exercise. Strength gains are largely related to the range of motion you lift the weights in. Getting strong through the full range of motion means not only complete strength through the whole strength curve it’s also vital for injury prevention. One of the best things younger athletes can do is to develop full range strength through all the exercises in the strength curve making sure all positions of flexion are covered.

Positions of flexion are about the peak force required to lift the weight and are in part down to gravity but also how our bodies move. Let me give you an example. For quads if you train squats the quads will be pretty stress free while you are standing, engaged but not in full contraction. Are we lower the bar the maximum contraction is around mid-way or when the thighs are parallel. This is called a mid-range exercise. When the leg is full extended as in a leg extension you can see the quad is contracting at the end of its range this is the peak contraction phase. A sissy squat sees the quad having to contract in its fully stretched position this is the stretched phase of the positions of flexion. To create maximum strength through the full strength curve you need maximum strength on each exercise.

Sometimes on big lifts you see a ‘sticking point’ this is where the strength curve is lacking and needs training so the body can push through the sticking point. Athletes often use isometric or partials to develop strength on the particular range which is lacking.

By altering the exercise and the position of the body in relation to gravity and the force needed to work against gravity you can enjoy all the benefits of position of flexion training. Both injury prevention and a full or complete look to the muscle are benefits from this style of training.

Here’s a couple of other examples and also in the full 4 day routine you’ll see all super sets are organised in this fashion. For biceps mid-range would be BB curls, stretched include bench DB curls and peak contraction, spider bench curls. Chest mid-range DB press, stretched, DB flyes and peak contraction cable cross overs or plate squeezes.

Here’s a link to several days workouts using some of the principles outlined and talked about above. I used this programme to get the actor Ed Skrein in the best shape of his life this year.

If you like this please do consider supporting your training goals and diet with some additional support from the Amino Man range;

Best supplements for muscle growth;

1. Additional protein I prefer plant protein cause I’m whey intolerant (blood tested).
2. Pre training amino complex with all essential amino acids and kreb’s cycle cofactors.
3. Sleep support.
4. Special Power Loader – if you train and eat right and don’t get significantly stronger mail back the unused pot and I’ll refund you (after eating the rest myself).
5. Creatine (on special offer only £10 per month’s supply).
6. If inflammation is getting in the way as an older trainer both fish oils and curcumin are shown to increase muscle protein synthesis. The best all round anti-inflammation supporting blend is the metabolic optimiser.