Should You Be Training for Strength or Hypertrophy?

 

When people come to me, 99% of the time they’re running in circles. There may be a goal in sight but no efficient plan to get there. The training is often conflicting with the individuals’ end game.  I’m referring to general population clients who are usually looking to lose weight, build muscle, get stronger, improve endurance, and/or feel better overall. These are 5 extremely common goals. A great way to not accomplish any of the 5 would be to intentionally keep yourself crippling sore all the time so you can “feel” you’re great workout. This is a detrimental path that won’t last long term. It will prevent you from exercising as hard and often as you could if programmed better.

I’m going to eliminate to groups of people whom this article may not apply to as much. Athletes, we may get more specific than basic strength vs hypertrophy. Speed, agility, technique, explosiveness, and coordination may need to be prioritized at different times of the season higher than strength and muscle building. I’ll also eliminate those who strictly want to have fun, feel better, and move more for health. I don’t want to say programming structure isn’t important for them but it’s not priority number one, adherence is. If a routine resembling a collage makes you happy, then that’s fine. Just remember it’s not most efficient for strength or body composition.

I will define strength as being able to lift heavier weights at lower reps and hypertrophy training as the method of increasing your overall workout capacity or training volume.  Lifting heavy weight is how you get stronger, exercising with greater volumes will boost your ability to gain or retain muscle (depending on your calorie intake). That’s as simple as it gets. If your greatest goal in life is to see shredded abs then strength training is not the ideal way to get there. Plenty of powerlifters have shredded abs but that is more correlation than causation.  An efficient strength client or athlete will likely be eating in a surplus and getting plenty of recovery, training with lower volumes, two variables that are not in the handbook for becoming shredded. Flip side, a strength athlete trying to get as strong as possible will never reach their potential if eating in a calorie deficit to discover their abs. Recovery will be hampered throughout their training cycle, their desire to train will decrease from lack of food, and energy stores will remain depleted all the time, all of which is a recipe for failure.

Goals should be prioritized. Do you want to gain weight or lose weight? You cannot add muscle efficiently while eating to lose body tissue! If you want to tighten up your stomach, lean out your arms, but you don’t want to get “too big”…PICK ONE. The likelihood that any general population client beginner will immediately get “too big” is probably impossible. Adding muscle is not a cake walk, and adding a tremendous amount of it in a short period without drugs I feel confident is not going to be an issue to deal with. Either way, both goals would be most efficient with hypertrophy style training. When losing weight you would be trying to maintain muscle and minimize atrophy, when gaining weight you would be trying to add muscle tissue. To repeat, You cannot add muscle efficiently while eating to lose body tissue!

Do you feel weak all the time? Carrying groceries get you out of breath? You cannot maximize your strength potential in a calorie deficit! If your primary goal is to get stronger you need to eat adequate food. If you have no gas (calories) in the tank and start training for strength, it’s another recipe for failure.  Sure, you can get stronger but you’ll get there at a much slower pace than you otherwise would if your nutrition and exercise aligned. A calorie surplus is not required but a minimum maintenance level of intake would be recommended. If you try to get freakishly strong and discover your abs simultaneously, you’ll likely not get too close to either goal, frustrate yourself and quit until you build up your desire to begin again for the hundredth time.

Most people tend to opt for max results with minimal effort due to the various higher priorities in life that get in the way. This marketing has blurred expectations for the general population. Reality is, the stronger the effort (intelligent effort), the better the results.  If you want to maximize your strength, your training should align with that specific goal. If you want to maximize your look, your training should align with that specific goal. If you want the best of both worlds then you’ll need to logically accept there will be a trade off towards reaching your max potential in a single endeavor. You may improve in both modalities but not as much as if one had your driving focus exclusively.

This Is Why Exercise Selection Matters, Reduce Your Risk of Injury

There are a variety of reasons why the exercises you choose to do matter and you shouldn’t go into the gym without a plan. As your experience grows with anything you should become better and more efficient, weight training is no different. Adherence is a large factor with anything fitness related but as you become more advanced and conquering goals becomes prioritized exercise selection is a variable that can provide a great boost towards your accomplishments.

In general, when training a muscle we want to feel what we’re working on. I’m referring more so to feeling the muscle during your actual training sets. Contraction, stretch, blood pump are all sensations you should notice during your workout. Creating an overabundance of soreness is counterproductive but more times than not you should sense a small soreness in the area you are attempting to target the following 24-36 hours or so. I guarantee that will be felt more than likely if you are properly targeting the muscles acutely during your training sessions.

Majority of the time I will perform good mornings in the low bar position with a duffalo bar opposed to the high bar position or utilizing a safety squat bar. I can get a much better “feel” in the hamstrings in a low bar position vs high bar. The safety squat bar I use places the weight too high on my neck where it’s difficult to get the same depth effectively, for me. I also get a much better feel using a lifting belt on this exercise.

I have two bone spurs in my right shoulder along with overall deterioration and calcium buildup from playing baseball. It generally does not bother me but is more prone to flare up. Performing these with a normal bar would probably torch my shoulder over a long training cycle combined with benching and overhead pressing. By utilizing the duffalo bar opposed to a traditional straight bar I’m reducing some of the overall stress on my shoulder during an exercise that isn’t designed for shoulder stress.

The combination of my choices will allow my shoulder to stay in relative recovery mode on a leg day. Exercise selection matters and will play a large role in your longevity as a lifter. What exercises do you feel the most and which movements keep you injury free? Those are usually going to be the best ones for you. This will not require you to exclusively choose these exercises but you may want to bias your selections over the year 60% to 70% for reduced injury risk and efficiency improvements!

This is one example on one day, to maximize your potential. You can and should be making educated decisions on every exercise you opt to perform.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Low Bar good mornings with the duffalo bar. I can get a much better "feel" in the hamstrings in a low bar position vs high bar. I can also get a much better feel in my hamstrings with a belt vs without a belt. Performing these with a normal bar would probably torch my shoulder (2 bone spurs) over a long training cycle combined with benching and overhead pressing. This exercise selection allows my shoulder to stay in relative recovery mode on a leg day. Exercise selection matters and will play a large role in your longevity as a lifter. What exercises do you feel the most and which movements keep you injury free? Those are usually gonna be the best ones for you.

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Should You Workout While You're Sick?

Should you be working out when your sick? I routinely get this question.

The answer depends on how sick you are and what exactly it is you're dealing with. Additionally, are you the type to manufacture excuses to not workout? Have you been falling off the wagon a lot lately? If the last two questions describe you then maybe you need to get out there and train anyway.

Long term, a personal trainers objective is to prevent burnout for a client. Weights can be redundant and boring, slow progressions aren't always the biggest motivator in the world but slow and steady is typically the way to go. If you're nursing a cold then taking a small break to get fully recovered is more times than not your best bet. 

If a month has gone by and you have zero momentum in your training or diet, I may recommend that its better to get that started regardless of feeling a little under the weather. Positive momentum is important, and you need to keep accumulating small victories, if you've been accumulating small losses with regularily it's time to reverse the trend. 

You must be honest with yourself, and not create an uncessary excuse because you're not feeling 100%. Fatigue hits people more often than anything, thats probably not a time to skip your training but reassess your diet, sleep, rest, stress, and overall recovery methods.

Obviously, if you're clamy, puking, running a fever then you're best bet is to stay at home or go see the doc.

New T-Bar Row Equipment Arrives at Studio

The newest piece of equipment has arrived at my Charlotte NC personal training studio. This is a T-Bar Row from Rogue fitness to train the mid and upper back area. For years I've been using landmines and various attachments but this serves as a nice upgrade.

Charlotte NC Personal Training T-Bar Row

The description from Rogue...

"This fully assembled, no-nonsense machine gives you all the benefits of a neutral-grip T-bar row without the need of a barbell, landmine unit, or other accessories. Compatible with most styles of steel and rubber plates, the Rogue T-Bar Row features a 1.88” diameter post with more than a foot of useable length. After loading a desired weight, athletes can establish their proper foot placement on the machine’s 10x20” diamond tread footplates and choose from either the wide or narrow set of easy-grip, knurled handles.

The entire T-Bar Row machine creates just a 76" x 39.75" footprint, and includes 0.625" laser cut holes for band work as well as holes for bolting the unit to the floor (not required). The inclusion of high-end pillow block bearings ensures a uniquely smooth rotation point, eliminating unwanted side-to-side movements of the arm assembly so you get a consistent, straight return on every pull.

The T-Bar Row movement itself targets every major muscle group in the back, while also working the shoulders and biceps. Despite its considerable benefits, this movement sometimes gets overlooked simply due to the inconvenience of setting up a row station. This machine eliminates that problem."

4 Highly Recommended Fitness Apps From A Personal Trainer

There are so many apps available today for everything imaginable that it’s hard to narrow down and you will need to play with a few to really get what you want. Over the years there have only been a few that have been staples for me.

                MyFitnessPal

                I don’t believe there is a comparable food tracker on the market. This one has been around as long as I can remember and their food database has expanded immensely to include accurate restaurant data along with many foreign dishes. The ease of use has improved with barcode scanners and I log my bodyweight with this as well. Endless weight tracking applications but since this is multifaceted I’ve never had a urge to switch.

                For weight loss or muscle gain, self monitoring your dietary intake is really a must. Can you be successful without it? Sure…but that’s really not the best plan for success.

                FitNotes

                This is a workout logging app. I’ve used this for 5 years now maybe? The one downside for iOS users is that it’s only a Android app and being an Android user I haven’t been able to test any Iphone apps.

                FitNotes will track your total workout volume, the amount that you lift, and you can share directly to social media. I personally use it more for personal record tracking. You can keep a history of all your best lifts whether it’s your 1 rep max or 25 rep max and keep note of the date it was accomplished. Since I downloaded this, I have used it in literally every single workout and likely will continue until my last training session.

                Spotify

                I’m sure everyone knows about this. Apple Music, Prime Music, I’m sure they’re all good. Every time I train I listen to music and I listen to it now. Spotify is cheap and I think everyone magically gets stronger with their favorite music.

                GoWOD

                I’m somewhat new to the world of stretching. Many studies have documented a decrease in strength directly after static stretching so I’ve admittedly had a bias against it. I was dealing with a lingering hip issue and decided to implement a short stretching protocol and my end range of motion on specific movements became less restricted and more comfortable. Placebo or not, I’ve felt a difference since implementing some very specific stretches into my routine.

                I went with GoWOD after playing with a few apps. They have a free version and a pay version, I utilized their trial and stuck with the original routines it had provided. The app itself is regularly updated with new demos to keep things from falling stale. You can prioritize and look up specific areas of the body to address, I think it’s a great app and will keep referring back to it as I go on in my training career.

                *Honorable Mention – Renaissance Periodization Diet App

                I have not used this app because it does not yet support split shift, night shift schedules so I cannot include it directly with my app recommendations. My assumption is that it’s great because its simply the natural evolution from the RP Diet Templates that I have used and highly recommend.

                Unlike MyFitnessPal where you log your own food, the RP Diet App is advertised as a “diet coach” which will essentially tell you what and when to eat along with providing some check ins and adherence monitoring. Updates are rolled out regularly. Whenever they release the split shift update, I will likely play around with it and inform people of my thoughts.

You're Setting The Wrong Goals

You want to lose fat, build muscle, get stronger, run faster, excel in sports, run a 10k, improve sleep, reduce stress, feel better, master time management, and be the best you that you’ve ever been. You’re thinking this can be done in a few months…

FAIL

We all want these things but being a logical adult, we cannot have all these things, at least not immediately. Over a span of years, sacrifice, and “lifestyle change” you may progressively improve in all of these areas. Your determination, self accountability, and willingness to change will dictate your success.

Most goals above have different paths towards accomplishment. Losing fat requires a caloric deficit and building muscle requires a surplus, opposing directions. Planning to do these simultaneously in a short period of time is like a dog chasing its tail. Prioritize what you want the most and push the antagonistic goal aside for a while. This entry is not for programming a plan (you can submit a new client application for that) but its managing expectations for yourself.

Hopefully you’re good at your job, you may even be an expert in your field. At the very least you should be significantly better at what you do than the general population. Maybe you had a childhood interest, you interned, went to college, and now have 10 years of experience working daily leading to your expertise. If you’ve never ran a proper fat loss diet, you have elementary knowledge (or less) on the subject, and that’s fine. With this level of experience expecting 6 pack abs in 60 days is ridiculous. This goal is doomed for failure from day 1. Anyone can have a successful diet, lose 0.5%-1% bodyweight per week for 12 weeks, take a little break, learn from your first diet, repeat and improve.

Abs, a 315lb bench press, and a 500lb deadlift are relatively common goals among men. I hear these coming from those who haven’t touched a weight for 15 years since high school and people who’ve been training consistently for 10 years. These two individuals are in completely different places in not only life but their conditioning and physical capabilities as well. Micro progression is what they both need. Get stronger, improve your technique, dial in your diet and sleeping, then add 5-10lbs every week to the bar. You’ll be hitting new personal records all the time and eventually reach some of these more lofty goals through a steady long term approach.

I have one final consideration for setting short and long term goals. Who do you want to be, a celebrity, a body builder, a fitness model, a social media person? You’re doing it wrong if those are your aspirations. You should be shooting for an improved version of yourself. There are infinite variables to break down between yourself and another individual. Whatever another person may be willing to dedicate or sacrifice to look the way they do may not be a desire or an option for you. There are exceptions to every rule but generally people at an elite level of anything are not on top by accident. It’s hard work, dedication, and prioritizing what it takes to make them better than everyone else at a very specific thing. That prioritization likely comes at a tradeoff with other aspects of their life and that is something you have to consider when creating your own goals. You will not get elite results without elite effort, get out what you put in.

Eat More Fiber

I've noticed a common trend among many which is a strong lack in FIBER intake. 

  • Women should target for 25g/day of FIBER
  • Men should target for 38g/day of FIBER

The average american intake is 15g/day of FIBER due to the large amount of processed food in our diets and strong lack of veggies, whole grains, and fruits.

Benefits of a high fiber diet include

  • High satiation factor (feeling of fullness to prevent overeating)
  • Control hunger
  • Normalize bowel movements
  • Maintain bowel health
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Controls blood sugar
  • High fiber foods generally contain fewer calories compared to the same volume of low fiber foods
  • High fiber foods generally richer with vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients

The #1 most common excuse I hear for anything is "I don't have the time" whether diet or workout related. Choose an apple or a pear, both contain about 5g of fiber and nothing could be quicker or easier to eat, you can take it with you. You can consume while walking, talking, driving, camping, etc...If you don't believe you like apples test the variety at Harris Teeter. Envy, pink lady, gala, braeburn, fuji, etc. They probably have 15 different choices at least. Two apples a day and you've knocked out 30-40% of your daily intake and only utilized about 160 calories to do so. 1 Medium apple generally equals about 80 calories.

Easy Fiber Options

  • 1 cup raspberries = 8g fiber
  • 1 cup whole wheat spaghetti = 6g fiber
  • 1 cup oatmeal = 4g fiber
  • 1 cup split peas = 16g fiber
  • 1 cup lentils = 16g fiber
  • 1 cup black beans = 15g fiber
  • 1 serving almonds = 4g fiber
  • 1 cup broccoli = 5g fiber
  • 1 cup sweet corn = 4g fiber
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread = 2g fiber
  • 1 slice DOUBLE FIBER whole wheat bread = 4g fiber
  • fiber one bars (more processed than ideal) = 9g fiber
  • NOTE. Test out high fiber/low sugar cereals until you find one to your liking

Needless to say, most stuff I just listed is either quick and easy or possible to make in bulk (ex. broccoli, make a large bag and snack on rest of week....mix in with your chicken/steak/fish/etc).

Track fiber with MyFitnessPal and reach your goal of 25g (women)/38g (men). 8pm rolls around and you're 10g short on your fiber goal for the day. Make a choice to pick a couple high fiber food options for dinner/late night snack. That's what this invaluable tool is there for. 

Slowly increase fiber to the optimal intake to prevent cramping as your body will require a few weeks to adjust, but get to increasing!