Skip to content

A question of strength The worst time to train

Eine Frage der Kraft Die schlechteste Zeit zum Trainieren

Q: You recently said that training in the evening is the worst time to train, which is especially true for steroid-free exercisers. Why is that?

A: It has something to do with cortisol production. Exercise increases cortisol levels. Let's take a look at what cortisol does.

Its main function is to put the body in the best possible state for the situation in the face of danger and stress. It mobilizes stored energy, increases alertness and temporarily downregulates the immune system so that you have more energy available for muscles and organs that are needed in the face of stress. It also boosts brain performance - primarily by converting noradrenaline into adrenaline.

The ideal cortisol cycle is high in the morning and low in the evening. The cortisol surge in the morning is what wakes you up (when you wake up on your own). The cortisol surge can also increase adrenaline levels, which helps you wake up.

When your cortisol levels drop in the evening, this puts your autonomic nervous system into parasympathetic mode - also known as rest and recovery mode. This allows you to fall asleep more easily, regenerate better, spend more time in deep sleep and achieve a higher growth hormone release.

If cortisol levels remain elevated in the evening, you will find it much harder to fall asleep and get quality sleep. This is the reason why exercising in the evening is not the best choice.

Let's say you exercise regularly in the evening and have restless sleep as a result. This could lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels, which is bad for your gains. The first reason for this is that cortisol increases protein breakdown. The amount of muscle you build is a function of the difference between protein synthesis (anabolism) and protein breakdown (catabolism). If you break down more protein, you'll have a harder time building muscle tissue, especially if you're a steroid-free exerciser.

And then there's the impact on myostatin. Myostatin is a myoprotein that plays a role in how much muscle mass your body allows you to build. The more myostatin you have in your body, the less muscle you can build. Cortisol can increase myostatin levels and thus inhibit muscle growth. It also reduces the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis - the storage of glycogen in the muscles after you've depleted muscle glycogen stores during exercise - which delays recovery.

For all these reasons, the more you can increase cortisol levels by training earlier in the day, the better you can respect your body's natural cortisol levels and the better you can recover.

Chemically assisted exercisers have fewer problems because steroids significantly reduce the effect of cortisol. But natural exercisers need every advantage they can get.

Some people can actually cope with training in the evening: those who can fall asleep even if they've had a killer training session two hours earlier. Usually these people have high levels of either GABA or serotonin, which allows them to shut down their CNS as soon as they finish their workout, putting them into parasympathetic mode.

Interestingly, carbohydrates in the evening (post-workout) can also help reduce CNS activation and lower cortisol levels if you exercise in the evening.

Diagnose your bench press problems

Q: In a previous column, you gave us a table that included problems and solutions for each potential weakness in barbell shoulder presses. Can you do the same for bench presses?

A: Sure. This table only lists the most likely problems that could be responsible for weaknesses in the movement. There could be something more complex going on or there could be a technical issue that is specific to you. But in eight out of ten cases, strengthening in the area of weakness will solve the problem.

So take a look at this table, find out where your weak point is, note the possible causes and use the appropriate support exercise to strengthen that area.

Problem areas in the bench press

Problem area


Support exercises

Directly above the chest

1. the latissimus is weak or not properly integrated

2. external shoulder rotators

3. the upper trapezius is more dominant than the lower trapezius and the posterior shoulder muscles

1. pulldowns with extended arms, pendlay rows (1), seal rows (2)

2. cuban presses (3), seated dumbbell snatch (4), external shoulder rotation

3rd Trap 3 Raises, machine for the rear shoulder muscles, Powell Raises (6), Victory Raises (7)

Lower third

Chest muscles

Bench press with wide grip, spotto press (8), bench press on reverse incline bench, floor press, dumbbell band press, bench press with duffalo bar (9)

Middle third

1. front shoulder muscles

2nd rear shoulder muscles and rhomboids (the shoulders are lifted off the bench)

1st incline bench press, incline bench press with slight incline, prone front raise

2. bench press with resistance bands around the wrists, face pulls, machine for the rear shoulder muscles

Upper third

Triceps, especially long muscle head

Pin press with close grip (10), floor press with close grip, close bench press on reverse incline bench, overhead tricep press


If you have corrected a muscle weakness, it will take some time for these strength gains to transfer to the bench press. Your body has to change its intermuscular coordination patterns to do this. So don't panic if your strength gains on the bench press lag a few weeks behind your strength gains on the supporting exercises.

Facts about fat burners

Q: I know training and diet come first, but can fat burning supplements help you get super lean? How do they even work?

A: The fat burner supplement category is quite broad. There are countless different products sold that claim to help you burn fat faster and easier.

Fat loss supplements are formulated to have one of the following effects:

  • An increase in metabolic rate or energy expenditure via increased beta-adrenergic activity (adrenaline).
  • An increase in the metabolic rate or energy consumption via higher thyroid hormone levels
  • Increased fat mobilization via inhibition of alpha-adrenergic receptors
  • Increased fatty acid transport and/or increased utilization of fat for the purpose of energy supply.
  • Improved insulin sensitivity.
  • Activation of the mitochondrial uncoupling protein UCP1.

There may be other mechanisms (such as a reduction in fat intake), but these are the main ones. Let's look at these in detail:

An increased metabolic rate via beta-adrenergic stimulation

This is achieved with the help of products known as stimulants. This category includes, for example, ephedrine, synephrine and similar compounds. Caffeine can also be indirectly integrated here.

These supplements work and increase energy consumption, which leads to fat loss. However, their effect is limited. An old study looked at the effects of the classic epherdrine-caffeine stack. This increased the metabolic rate/energy expenditure by about 5% which equates to perhaps 100 extra Kcal burned per day.

This may still have an effect and help you burn that last bit of fat when preparing for a race, but it won't work miracles. The main reason these stimulants work is that they inhibit appetite, making you eat less and making it easier for you to stick to a diet. They also give you more energy when you are tired from dieting. When you have more energy, you will move more and exercise harder, which will also help you lose more fat.

However, excessive use of stimulants comes at a price. First of all, it leads to an increase in cortisol levels and most of us already have too much of it. More importantly, chronic overstimulation quickly leads to desensitization of adrenergic receptors (meaning they no longer respond well to adrenaline). When this happens, it will become harder to lose fat and you will also have less energy and motivation. Unfortunately, you will feel worse and worse over time.

It's best to save this category of products for losing those last few pounds of fat, as they should only be used for a few weeks.

An increase in metabolic rate via higher thyroid hormone production

The T3 thyroid hormone is largely responsible for increasing your metabolic rate. The body mainly produces the thyroid hormone T4, which is then converted into T3. To increase T3 levels, you can either increase the total production of thyroid hormones or increase the conversion rate from T4 to T3.

To increase total thyroid hormone production naturally, it is best to provide the body with sufficient raw material to produce these hormones. This would be iodine and tyrosine. Supplements containing these two substances can help to support thyroid hormone production.

When it comes to converting T4 to T3, one of the best things you can do is lower your stress levels. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can interfere with this conversion. Zinc deficiency can also be problematic as zinc is needed to convert T4 to T3. Rhodiola and raspberry ketones can also stimulate this conversion.

Increased fat mobilization via inhibition of alpha-adrenergic receptors

There are two main types of adrenergic receptors in the body: alpha-adrenergic and beta-adrenergic receptors. The beta receptors are the on-switch. When activated, they increase heart rate, CNS activation, energy mobilization (including fat) and muscle strength. These are the receptors targeted by most stimulants.

The alpha receptors are the off switch. When activated, they deactivate energy/fat mobilization, slow heart rate, reduce CNS activation, etc. Some supplements act as antagonists for the alpha-adrenergic receptors, which in simple terms means that they block the alpha receptors. When you block these receptors, your body mobilizes energy for longer.

There is also a theory that stubborn fat deposits (areas where you find it difficult to lose fat) have more alpha receptors than beta receptors, making fat mobilization more difficult.

Yohimbine is an alpha-receptor antagonist. For this reason, it can increase fat mobilization - especially in problem areas.

Yohimbine could also be a good idea if you are extremely stressed or planning a monster training session. Such workouts, even without stimulants, can increase adrenaline levels to the point where it can cause problems. A good time to take it is before cardio training at a constant intensity.

Yohimbine isn't a miracle pill either, but it can help shed stubborn body fat if that's all that's left. It works in conjunction with training and makes training more efficient in terms of mobilizing fat. Yohimbine will have a small effect on its own and it will be more effective in combination with cardio training than with weight training.

Increased fatty acid transport and/or increased use of fat as an energy source

Some supplements improve the transport of fatty acids to the mitochondria or increase the levels of enzymes involved in energy production from fat. However, some supplements only claim to do this without actually doing it.

Acetyl-L-Carnitine can help you use fat more efficiently for energy. The main benefits of ALCAR relate to brain function, for which it is quite effective. Some bodybuilders even go so far as to use injectable forms of ALCAR, which works slightly better.

Raspberry ketones can help increase the levels of enzymes responsible for breaking down fatty acids so that more fatty acids can be used by the mitochondria for energy.

Increasing insulin sensitivity

This is the issue that most people should focus on. Apart from helping in improving body composition, improving insulin sensitivity is very healthy. Improving insulin sensitivity has only advantages and no disadvantages.

But how can good insulin sensitivity be good for fat loss? Insulin is a storage hormone and as long as it is elevated above baseline, fat mobilization is less effective. If you are insulin resistant, then your cells don't respond well to insulin and as a result you have to produce a lot more of it when you eat a meal - especially if it's a meal that contains carbohydrates.

When you produce more insulin, it takes longer for insulin levels to return to normal. This means you spend less time in an efficient fat mobilization mode, making it harder to lose fat. Being insulin resistant won't necessarily make you store more fat, but it will make it harder to mobilize fat.

As your insulin sensitivity increases, your body will need to produce less insulin after meals and insulin levels will drop back to normal more quickly, giving you more time in fat mobilizing mode. This makes it easier to lose fat.

There are a number of supplements that can increase insulin sensitivity, including cyanidin-3-glucoside, berberine, r-ALA and omega-3 fatty acids - and chromium also has a small effect. Cinnamon and apple cider vinegar can also have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity.

Supplements that can improve insulin sensitivity will not lead to a dramatic increase in the rate of fat loss, but they will make the fat loss process much easier - and they will also make you much healthier in the process.

An activation of mitochondrial uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1)

This results in more heat and less energy being produced, meaning you have to burn more fat to produce the same amount of energy.

The best known "uncoupler" is the highly dangerous DNP. It was quite popular in bodybuilding circles for a while, but has directly led to some deaths. Basically, mitochondrial uncouplers work by making energy production very inefficient. Instead of being used to produce ATP (energy) for the most part, glucose and fatty acid are converted into heat. This means that you need a lot more fatty acids/glucose to produce enough ATP to function. This will dramatically increase energy expenditure.

A few supplements have a small effect on UCP1, but it is not spectacular. If something has a large effect on UCP1, then it will have many potential side effects.

The bottom line on fat burners

Not all fat loss products are ineffective. In fact, the effects of a whole range of ingredients are supported by scientific research.

One of the best supplement strategies to support fat loss is to target insulin sensitivity. Stimulants and antagonists for the alpha-adrenergic receptors are effective, but not magic. They should be used cautiously - and only when really necessary (for that last bit of fat) - and only for a short period of time.


By Christian Thibaudeau

Previous article A question of strength Accuracy of fitness trackers
Next article The definitive guide to preventing muscle loss