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A question of strength - Part 3

Eine Frage der Kraft - Teil 3

Q: The following situation: I am a kickboxer and freestyle fighter and have to maintain a certain weight. I'm currently fighting in the light middleweight class, which goes up to 67 or 70 kilos depending on the sports organization. I like this weight class because I'm not disadvantaged by the size and reach of the fighters in higher weight classes. The question now is how I can manage to increase my strength without gaining mass. Every time I start a training program with weights, I build up a few pounds within a week. At the moment I weigh 68 kilos with a body fat percentage of only 6%! I don't like having to lose weight just before a fight as it reduces my stamina.

Increasing strength without increasing lean body mass is best achieved by using weights in the 1 to 5RM range and taking long rests between sets in the 3 to 5 minute range. This will ensure that hypertrophy only occurs in the higher threshold motor units responsible for power release.

Something you have unfortunately not mentioned is your height. It might be beneficial for you to build up a few pounds of muscle mass and move up a weight class. I know this goes against the instinct of all athletes who compete in a certain weight class. Why would you compete in a higher weight class? Well, some studies show that an increase in muscle cross-sectional area of just 17% can result in an 85% increase in strength. The only downside is a possible loss of endurance, but your cardiopulmonary system should adapt in no time.

Q: It seems clear that there is a correlation between an increase in body weight (whether fat or muscle) and maximum strength. I come to this conclusion from the powerlifting formula and the big difference in world records in different weight classes. I weigh 90 kilos with a body fat percentage of 12% and have finally managed to bench press 140 kilos. What consequences can I expect if I reduce my body fat percentage to 7% or my weight to around 85 kilos? Please keep in mind that I would rather jump off a bridge than not be able to bench press 3 plates.

As for the correlation between body weight and maximum strength, I highly doubt that an increase in body fat will increase your strength, unless your fat has contractile properties due to some weird genetic mutation. Conversely, it is possible to achieve a 7% body fat percentage and continue to bench press the same weight as long as you achieve this fat loss through nutritional manipulation and not by increasing your aerobic workload. There are many martial artists who do this regularly.

Q: A few years ago I read an article of yours about the critical "drop off" point. You said that when a muscle reaches a drop in performance (either in terms of reps or weight), the exercise in question should be terminated. My problem is that I usually reach this point after only 1 or 2 sets! For example, I performed incline bench presses with dumbbells on a Swiss Ball using 110 pounds for 4 reps at a 505 tempo. After 4 minutes rest, I could barely do 2 reps at the same tempo. On the third set, I lowered the weight to 100 pounds and completed 3 reps. On the fourth set, I lowered the weight to 90 pounds and did 3 reps. There was a 4 minute break between each set. The same thing happens regardless of what pace I use.

My question is whether I should continue to do several sets and accept such a reduction in weight or whether I should stop the exercise after just one or two sets.

As for your problem, you should keep in mind that the 7% rule is generally intended for training for maximum strength (85% of maximum weight or more). In classic bodybuilding training, I recommend a drop-off value of about 20%. Nevertheless, considering the long rest intervals, I am amazed that you have such a low ability to use the same weights again. The normal performance drop-off for most people is about 2% per set, but for you it is almost 10%. This indicates a very poor work capacity.

This could be related to two things:

  • 1) A genetically determined poor work capacity. It could be that you need to perform more exercises with fewer sets. In other words, instead of doing 4 to 5 sets of 2 exercises, you should try to do 3 to 4 exercises with 2 sets each.
  • 2) Inadequate diet. In your case, I would pay attention to nutrients as you may not be eating enough carbohydrates to ensure adequate glycogen storage.

I hope this helps.

Q: You've convinced me to take the pace of exercise seriously. I even bought a metronome, but I have a question. I usually perform all my sets to concentric muscle failure. However, the set tempo implies that I keep the same time under tension for all repetitions. Should I consider a repetition a failure if I can't do it fast enough while maintaining good form? Will I still make gains if I don't push myself hard to force those last slow and painful reps?

A: First, let me correct a couple things. A set tempo implies that you will achieve the same time under tension on all reps. That's definitely the goal, but realistically, the concentric portion of the last reps will always take a little longer. "Should I consider a repetition a failure if I can't do it fast enough while maintaining good form?" No, absolutely not. It doesn't matter how long it takes you to do the last repetition, as long as you do it as slowly or slower as the tempo demands. In other words, at a 402 tempo on the bench press, it would be a big mistake to bounce the weight off your chest and lift your hips to get past the critical point of the movement, which would take less than a second.

However, if your plan is to perform 6 repetitions at a 402 tempo and you perform the sixth repetition at a 405 tempo, this is perfectly fine.

Q: In a previous FAQ you mentioned one-arm shoulder raises. How do you perform this exercise - especially when using a heavy weight?

A: To maintain balance and proper posture, you should hold onto a bar such as one of the uprights of a power rack with your free hand. Make sure you hold the weight with a hammer grip so that you have a greater range of motion. You should also make sure to keep your sternum high so that your neck is in line with your body.

Q: What types of nutritional manipulations would you recommend for a powerlifter who wants to lose body fat without losing strength?

A: To go into a complete and comprehensive answer to this question is beyond the scope of this column, but here are three very simple, yet effective nutritional manipulations to lose body fat without losing strength:

  • 1) Reduce your carbohydrate intake so that it makes up no more than 40% of your calorie intake (if your body fat percentage is quite high, this reduction may need to be even greater)
  • 2) Take 2 to 5 grams of glutamine on an empty stomach before going to bed and in the morning after waking up to increase your natural growth hormone release
  • 3) Increase your consumption of good fats such as pumpkin seed oil, linseed oil, fish oil, etc. This will help you control your insulin secretion.
  • 4) Use a thermogenic supplement such as a good fat burner.

Q: Over the years I've built a pretty good body, but the owner of the gym I work out at says I have Bill Gates' trapezius development. How can I build muscle quickly in this area?

A: Your lack of trapezius development could be due to two things: a neural blockage or a poor training program. The neural blockage could be due to a subluxation in the area of C3 or C4 (the third and fourth cervical vertebrae) or in the area of the supporting nerves of the trapezius. This can be determined by an orthopaedist.

If you have no problems in this area, here is an excellent training program to build mass in your trapezius area:

  • 1) Dumbbell shoulder raises seated*: 1 set of 6 to 8 reps using a 202 tempo.
  • 2) Pause for 10 seconds
  • 3) Standing barbell shoulder raise: 1 set of 10 to 12 repetitions using a 111 tempo (with a pause at the highest point of the movement)
  • 4) Pause for 10 seconds
  • 5) Hammer neck stretches**: 1 set of 12-15 repetitions using a 202 tempo
  • 6) Pause for 2 minutes
  • 7) Repeat points 1 to 6 twice more.

* Perform these with palms facing each other and make sure to maintain an upright position for this exercise and for shoulder raises with a barbell.

** Very few people realize that neck stretches will help you make your trapezius thicker. The truth is that when the shoulders are fixed in position, the clavicular region of the upper trapezius pulls the back of the head towards the shoulders. In other words, trapezius involvement is necessary to move the neck.

Q: I would like to try real growth hormones, but I have not been able to due to the cost and lack of availability. There are now a lot of ads for supplements that can supposedly increase growth hormone production. However, I am skeptical about this. Are there any supplements that will boost my body's growth hormone production enough to make a difference? Are these supplements worth the money?

There are indeed some highly hyped supplements out there that are indeed capable of increasing your growth hormone levels, but the dosages needed to really make an impact would be more expensive than the real stuff.

But don't despair, you can also increase your body's own growth hormone production by taking glutamine. The study by Welbourne (1995) showed that taking just 2 grams can increase circulating growth hormone levels. (The only subject for whom this did not work was an obese woman).

Glutamine can certainly do a lot for you in a short period of time. When I was studying for my biology exam twenty years ago, glutamine was just a non-essential amino acid. Today, glutamine is considered a conditionally essential amino acid and I believe that when used properly, this amino acid can improve your anabolic drive via the following mechanisms:

  • 1) Acceleration of muscle glycogen synthesis during the first two hours after an intense workout.
  • 2) Regulation of protein synthesis
  • 3) Improvement of immune function. In my opinion, there is a strong correlation between the health of the immune system and your ability to build muscle mass and strength.
  • 4) A glycogen-sparing effect.

Glutamine levels are used by many special forces to control overtraining. The Canadian Army, for example, began measuring glutamine levels 20 years ago to detect overtraining in soldiers participating in Arctic maneuvers. The Australian elite units followed suit when they began to measure the physiological effects of jungle warfare training. To date, most of the research on the performance-enhancing effects of glutamine has been conducted with marathon runners, but I expect that research with strength athletes will soon follow.

Unfortunately, experts disagree on the proper use of glutamine. Dr. Eric Serano recommends very high doses, while Dr. Marcus Jones advises against high doses. For my part, I prefer an approach that is somewhere in the middle and generally use 4 to 6 grams per day.

Q: I am 16 years old and feel I have low testosterone levels. Is there any reason I shouldn't supplement with a testosterone booster formula? If so, are there other ways to increase testosterone levels and keep them high, such as lower intensity workouts?

Also, I would be interested to know if you would recommend serious (steroid-free) bodybuilding training for anyone under the age of 18?

A: I am not convinced that you should use prohormones such as androstenedione or similar. I have several reasons for this:

  • 1) You are only 16 years old. It is possible that you are a late developer. So it could well be that your body will produce more testosterone in a few months.
  • 2) Using prohormones can inhibit your body's production of testosterone and depending on your enzyme system, you could be converting a lot of these prohormones into estrogen. Unless you're working towards a sex change, I don't see the point in using products like DHEA or androstenedione.
  • 3) It could be that you suffer from a zinc or manganese deficiency. Teenagers from countries like Iran and Iraq, whose soils are deficient in these very important minerals, are known for late onset puberty. You should therefore have your levels of these minerals checked by a doctor.

Of course, there is always the possibility that you already have high testosterone levels. It could also be that you have problems building muscle mass because your cortisol levels are too high. There are a number of things you can do to ensure a desirable testosterone to cortisol ratio. For one, you can regularly drink a post-workout shake that contains roughly 40 grams of protein, 200 grams of carbohydrates and perhaps a teaspoon or two of flaxseed oil.

You can also try supplementing with phosphatidylserine. The optimal dosage to reduce cortisol levels is between 300 and 800 mg.

You also asked if I would recommend serious, steroid-free bodybuilding for anyone under the age of 18. Of course I would. As long as you do the exercises correctly and your workouts don't exceed an hour, you should be able to build muscle mass quickly.

From: Charles Poliquin
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