Intra-Workouts Are Unnecessary

The importance of nutrition and weight training is known by most, even novices. Eating well around a training session not only ensures energy levels remain consistent throughout, but also, muscular gains are maximized (by limiting catabolism, as written about here).

Intra-workout nutrition is defined as nutrient intake during a workout. For the strength athlete, is this necessary or simply a revenue raiser by supplement companies?

The Concept –

The process of training elicits a catabolic response from the body, whereby degradation trumps the making of new proteins. Furthermore, training depletes certain elements, like amino acids and glycogen. This can have a detrimental effect on performance.

In order to flip the balance to favour anabolism (protein building) while maintaining a constant supply of nutrients, sipping on a protein-carbohydrate blend is said to do the trick.

What Does The Evidence Say?

Much of the research thus far has been conducted on endurance athletes. From these studies, it’s clear that a mix of carbs, proteins and electrolytes offers benefit to these individuals.

In the athlete pursuing strength, the research fails to isolate intra-workout nutrition from pre and post-workout. Consequently, it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness due to a lack of separation.

Some papers suggest good pre-workout nutrition (30-50g of carbs and protein, plus a small amount of fat, 1-2 hours before training) makes an intra-workout redundant.

Endurance

The Flaws –

For one, nutrient uptake isn’t instantaneous. It takes time, 15-30 minutes, before nutrition makes it’s way into the blood stream for use.

Secondly, the function of the gastrointestinal system is significantly reduced during a workout, further hindering uptake. Blood flow at this time is re-directed to muscles screaming for nutrition due to the physical stress they are under.

Finally, a weight-based training session doesn’t deplete glycogen stores as bouts of endurance do. As a result, ‘topping up’ glycogen is not required.

Who Should Use It?

Certain conditions and athletes call for this type of nutrition, including:

  • Long, intense training sessions (2+ hours).
  • Multiple workouts in the same day.
  • Individuals looking to gain significant mass (i.e. another method to increase overall caloric intake).
  • Endurance athletes.
  • Individuals with very high metabolisms.

Guidelines For The Minority –

If you fit into the above categories, below is a good framework to follow to optimise nutrition during your workout:

  • Carbohydrates – 20-50g (mixture of slow and fast release).
  • Protein – 20-50g.
  • Fats – 5-20g (keep on the lower side as it slows digestion).

Guidelines For The Majority –

For most, the following principles will keep you in good stead:

  • Focus of pre- and post-workout nutrition.
  • Hydrate throughout the workout with water.

In Conclusion –

As alluded to earlier, the evidence certainly isn’t strong enough to warrant that every strength athlete uses an intra-workout. Remember, supplements in general should be just that. They should be a useful adjunct to a sound foundation. The changes in performance that this type of supplementation offers is minimal in the scheme of things.

As always, focus on the basics.

 By Andrew Cammarano

References

4 Reasons You Need a Coach

Whether a newbie or experienced campaigner, coaching can take you a step closer to reaching your goals. The recent boom in online services has made highly accredited mentors accessible to everyone, meaning you don’t have to stoop to a local inexperienced coach for advice.

Here are 4 reasons to hire a coach:

  1. Knowledge – With many years of success and failure under their belts, a good coach will provide you with invaluable experience. From preventing you making school boy errors to understanding setbacks, this alone is enough to warrant hiring a mentor.
  2. Accountability – We’ve all skipped the odd exercise or training session. Why? Because we’re only accountable to ourselves. By having a support crew monitoring progress, you’ll be less likely to skimp on the required number of sets the program asks for.
  3. Weaknesses – When setting up your own program, whether it be a training  or nutrition, it’s natural to play to your strengths. Consequently, weaknesses fall to the wayside, further increasing the imbalance. A mentor identifies the areas of struggle and makes this central to your plan.
  4. Stress and Time Management – Take the strain and guesswork out of exercise selection, nutrition planning and competition strategy. Leave this in the hands of your coach, allowing you to focus on the basics.

If you’re considering hiring a coach, do your research. Ensure the individual is knowledgeable in their given field. Make certain they are not only book smart, but also have got their hands dirty in a practical sense.

By Andrew Cammarano

How To Boost Central Nervous System Activity

Typically, we associate incredible feats of strength with big, hulking man-mountains such as Strong Man competitors. Though, equally impressive, if not more so, are the lighter athletes who possess unbelievable strength relative to their weight.

Adaptions of the Central Nervous System (CNS) are greatly responsible for these athletes super human abilities. This rudimentary structure, developed when humans weren’t quite top of the food chain, has played an important part in survival of humanity.

What Is The CNS?

The brain and the spinal cord make up the CNS. It can be thought of as the software of the body. It has two main roles:

  1. The “fight or flight” response – When under threat, this function prepares the human body to either fight the sabre-toothed tiger or get the hell out of there! The body becomes excited, initiating a number of physiological responses like…
    • Faster transmission of nerve impulses.
    • Increased blood flow to skeletal muscles, like the quadriceps.
  2. The “rest and digest” response – During quieter times, free from danger, this response in essence is opposite to the above. Nerve impulses travel at a slower speed and blow flood is redirected to vital organs, thus allowing for recovery.

How Do We Activate the CNS?

Now I have your attention! So, the big question is, how do we flick the switch and turn on the ‘fight or flight’ response right in time for some heavy lifting?

The coach of disgraced track and field athlete, Ben Johnson, is believed to be one of the first to implement activation drills. He famously had Johnson complete a rep or two of heavy partial-range squats prior to a sprint in an effort to kick him into a higher gear.

The idea is to improve motor unit activation in two ways – to increase the number of units firing as well as the speed at which they are sending off impulses.

Here are some strategies you can employ:

  • Train with low reps (1-3) with loading at 90% or above your 1RM with long rest periods (6 minutes).
  • Preparatory exercises – Prior to your main lift perform 3 sets of 3 reps with a weight you can move quickly and explosively.
    • Squats – box jumps, jump squats and kettlebell swings work well for this lift.
    • Deadlifts – try out some cleans, snatches or kettlebell swings.
    • Bench – medicine ball chest passes or plyometric push-ups will do the trick.
  • Partial range movements of the same lift can also be used. For example, prior to your work set for squats, carry out a quarter squat with more weight on the bar you can handle for the full-range movement.
  • Shouting has also been shown to have a stimulatory effect. Expect to get a few odd looks from fellow gym goers!

1988 Olympics Ben Johnson

Hold Your Horses!

Before you go off and throw these into your routine, you must consider a few factors in order to optimise these drills and to avoid injury…

  • Be wary of fatigue. The activation exercises I have suggested are very taxing, so keep the volume low or it will have a detrimental effect on your work set.
  • Ensure you are competent with the particular movement. For example, I suggested cleans above. If you have never performed Olympic lifts, or a complex exercise, then trying to perform them explosively on first attempt is likely to result in injury. Use movements your confident with and slowly add new exercises to your repertoire.
  • The ‘activation’ has a short shelf life. This is to say, the facilitation which it achieves has an appreciable effect for only 5-10 minutes. So, if incorporating the above drills into your warm-up, ensure your working set soon follows to gain an appreciable effect.

CNS Fatigue

Another consideration to ensure you’re utilising your CNS to it’s best ability, is managing fatigue through appropriate recovery. Think of our ability to use the ‘fight or flight’ function of our CNS as a fuel tank. If we constantly use the above techniques, we will very quickly be running on empty. This will have negative effects on your ability to lift heavy things and move quickly, along with other side-effects like poor quality sleep.

The CNS is designed to be used in short bursts for the ‘fight or flight’ response, followed by periods of ‘rest and digest’. Here are some strategies to keep your CNS in tip-top shape:

  • If a training session requires you to operate around or above 85-90% of your 1RM, ensure you have a 48 hour break of similar intensity training. In the meantime, perform lower intensity training, focus on technique and recovery methods like foam rolling.
  • Don’t go bonkers every time you hit the gym. On the odd occasion, it is OK to sniff some smelling salts, bang your head against the bar and get your buddy to whack you across the back. Don’t make this a routine, as you’ll quickly burn out and likely pick up some low-grade concussion!
  • Ensure you get regular high quality sleep. Quality is as important as quantity. Get into good habits where you’re waking up rested rather than restless.

Summary

As you can see, utilising the CNS effectively is a real balancing act. Ensure it’s raring to go when you need it, like competition day, but give it the rest it requires. I’d be interested in your thoughts and opinions on the subject. Feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

By Andrew Cammarano

References

Selecting The Correct Program

With a myriad of strength protocols out there, how do you go about making the right choice?

You’ve heard it before – the best program or plan is the one you’re going to follow. Yes, this is accurate to an extent. but it doesn’t really hold true for the disciplined strength athlete who has no issue with consistent gym attendance. So the question remains, which program is best for me?

Line Up Your Goals

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, the number one factor to consider is, what do you hope to achieve? This acts as your filter. Once you decide upon this, your options reduce drastically. You are now in a much better position to sift through the remaining potential candidates.

Let me hit you with an example…

Albert is a keen Powerlifter. He aims to increase his total, i.e. the cumulative sum of his squat, bench and deadlift. As a result, his program should be centred on improving the competency of these lifts in a low repetition range. On the other hand, Harold’s goal is to get stronger globally, but with no specific targets. This gives him more leeway with his protocol selection. Though compound lifts and low reps should still be a mainstay of his program, but with more variation permitted.

Training Age

Experience level is another vital variable. A novice will benefit greatly from nearly any program (with varying effectiveness) as his/her body is responding for the first time to an unfamiliar stimulus. As a consequence, a simple program honing in on the basics works best. This allows the beginner to become accustom to the gym and the different lifts.

Though, as an athlete grows in training age, a more complex protocol is required to initiate strength adaptions. Intermediate and advanced trainers must therefore put more focus into program selection.

snatch

Weigh Up Your Options

Once you have defined your goals and experience levels, the next step is to research. Utilise the various websites and forums which offer others experiences and opinions, to make an informed decision.

Be wary though, the internet is a never-ending pit of information – don’t be sucked in too far. We have all been guilty of ‘paralysis by analysis’, where, due to the huge number of options, doubt and uncertainty prevents a decision from being made!

Program Hopping

Over-analysis often leads to jumping from one program to the next. Strength training must be viewed as progressing in the medium to long-term rather than from session to session.

Here are some questions to consider before changing from your current program…

  • Have I given the program at least a 12 week trial?
  • Have I followed the basic nuts and bolts of the program without making any drastic changes?
  • Have I been recording and gauging overall progress?

If you answer yes to all of the above with little improvement in strength, then it’s time to look to a new program. Otherwise, keep going! Give your body a chance to improve at the lifts and rep schemes rather than continually mixing and matching.

Same S@#$ Different Program

I have come to the conclusion that, once you have filtered for experience and goals, variation between programs is fairly small (in most cases). That is to say, if you’re unsure about whether to go with Protocol A or B, in reality there is little separating the two, go with either

In this case, it comes down to personal preference, and clever marketing by the creator of the program!

Take Your Pick

By systematically working through the above variables, making a good decision regarding programming should be a cinch! Notice I said good decision, as there is no perfect program, focus on execution.

By Andrew Cammarano

4 Reasons To Implement A Deload Week

Training and nutrition are integral parts of the strength building machine. However, an often underestimated and misunderstood component is the importance of rest.

A deload week, whereby you take a week to reduce volume and/or intensity, provides an excellent platform to further your progress. Here are 4 reasons why…

  1. Injury prevention – Weight training, or any form of physical training places stress on various structures of the body, including joints and the central nervous system. A rest period gives these areas an opportunity to rest before breaking point, thus boosting performance and longevity.
  2. Hunger – Training session after training session can have the effect of lowering your desire to get in the gym and improve. A rest week often helps to stoke the fire ensuring you’re raring to go.
  3. Growth – Remember, resistance training provides the stimulus, but it is the rest and recovery aspect where muscle and strength gains are made.
  4. Switch Focus – Another benefit of a deload is that it allows you to take a look at other aspects of your life, such as spending  time with family and friends. This helps to return balance and perspective, reducing the likelihood of burnout and aiding with enjoyment.

The value of a deload week grows in importance as your training age increases. Be intelligent about your training and implement it into your schedule to optimise performance.

By Andrew Cammarano

 

References