Metabolic Men And Metabolic Women

Key Points:

1. Most of the major differences in performance and metabolism between genders can be explained by size and body composition, not gender itself.

2. Of the true gender differences, the most important ones have to do with differences in sex hormones and fiber types.

3. Additionally, womens’ fat and muscle tissue is better equipped than mens’ for handling both carbs and fat.

4. All of these differences make women better metabolically suited for… just about everything related to health and performance except for short, intense bursts of activity that rely on glycolytic capacity.

 

It’s no secret that most strength, fitness, and nutrition content out there is by men, for men. That’s shifting somewhat, but powerlifting, bodybuilding, and sports science have traditionally been, and still are, male-dominated pursuits.

So, just for starters, how much of a difference IS there between men and women? Or at least, how large are the physiological differences in major parameters that relate to strength and performance?

Not very large at all.

For starters, men and women are very metabolically similar, at least when looking at metabolic rate. About 90% of daily energy expenditure can be explained by fat-free mass, fat mass, and activity level. Women *do* tend to have slower metabolisms than men, but the difference is primarily a function of muscle mass and body size, not gender.

In terms of muscle mass differences, women tend to have about 2/3 the muscle mass men do, with a larger difference in upper body muscle mass (about 1/2) than lower body muscle mass (about 3/4). And although men tend to be stronger than women, that difference is explained *almost* entirely (97%) by muscle mass differences. That means if a man and woman have the same size muscles, they should have roughly the same strength.

On the aerobic side of things, men tend to be slightly faster than women with equivalent levels of training. However, the difference is almost entirely explained by body composition differences (men tend to be leaner), hematocrit differences (higher levels of testosterone lead to slightly higher red blood cell counts), and differences in heart size.

So, just to get this out of the way early, the VAST majority of the differences between men and women that are relevant to performance aren’t necessarily gender differences, but rather can be primarily explained by differences in body composition. A woman and a man with similar training and similar amounts of muscle and fat will perform similarly. The point of this article is to delve into those differences that DO exist and talk about the difference they can make in training and diet.

Metabolism

To discuss metabolic differences, the main source for this article is this recent (absolutely fantastic) review article.

The article starts out with an interesting quandary. Women tend to have about 2/3 the muscle mass and 2x the fat of men, but tend to have substantially better metabolic health. On the surface, you’d expect someone with more muscle and less fat to be more metabolically healthy. However, the numbers tell a different story. In men, depending on the study, rates of elevated fasting blood glucose are 50-100% higher, whole body blood glucose clearance is ~15% slower, and the rate of glucose uptake in muscle is ~30-50% slower.

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So the obvious question: Why the difference?

Short answer: Women are more metabolically equipped for just about everything.

Longish answer: Keep reading.

 

The Role of Estrogen

When discussing gender differences in just about any realm, the first place most people think to look is sex hormones, and for good reason. The majority of the difference is muscle mass is attributable to mens’ higher testosterone levels, and a lot of the difference in metabolic characteristics can be explained by womens’ higher estrogen levels.

Your muscles have estrogen receptors, and, in fact, there’s good reason to believe that estrogen plays a major role in the beneficial adaptations that occur with aerobic training. When compared to sedentary men, endurance-trained men have 3-5x as many estrogen receptors in the muscles (suggesting they become more sensitive to the effects of estrogen), and it’s been found that, at least in mice, estrogen receptors on mitochondria increase the rate of glucose uptake into the muscle when activated.

Now, I’m sure men reading this are starting to get a little uneasy. The last thing you’d want is estrogen affecting your muscles, right? Isn’t this just another reason to avoid cardio forever? Wrong. Men who are born with abnormalities in the estrogen system (faulty aromatase enzymes or mutated estrogen receptors) are more prone to insulin resistance and diabetes. As long as your estrogen levels are normal, the only major thing that happens due to increased muscle sensitivity to estrogen is improved glucose uptake into your muscle and improved metabolic health.

Another major reason to believe that estrogen is a major player in womens’ superior metabolic health is that gender differences in insulin sensitivity don’t arise until puberty (at which time, it decreases in men and increases in women per kg of lean body mass). Furthermore, womens’ insulin sensitivity declines again after menopause, but is often improved when they go on estrogen replacement therapy.

However, as with most things, too much can be just as bad as too little. Some studies have shown that women using oral contraceptives have about 40% lower insulin sensitivity than women not on the pill, when matched for BMI, body composition, and physical activity.

(Note: HRT and hormonal contraceptives don’t follow those trends in all cases, and the literature isn’t unanimous. As always, don’t base medical decisions on blog posts. Ask your doctor about your options and the potential risks and benefits)

So the major takeaway: Estrogen is a good thing for metabolic health, within the normal physiological range. It’s a major reason women are more metabolically healthy than men (and increased sensitivity to estrogen is one reason metabolic health improves in men with endurance training). When it’s too low (like after menopause), when something in estrogen system is out of whack (like nonfunctional aromatase or estrogen receptors), or when it’s too high, metabolic health suffers.

Difference in Fat

Though women tend to have more fat, there are differences in where that fat is stored, and also the characteristics of that fat.

For starters, men tend to have more visceral fat (fat stored around the organs in the abdominal cavity), and women tend to have more peripheral subcutaneous fat (fat stored between the muscles and the skin). This gives rise to the “apple” and “pear” shaped, or android and gynoid fat distribution patterns.

 

android-gynoid-obesity

This is a very important difference. Visceral fat is the particularly nasty kind that increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and all sorts of nastiness.

A major reason that visceral fat is particularly nasty is that it’s more sensitive to catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline), meaning more of it gets broken down and released into the blood stream. Subcutaneous fat goes directly into general circulation, but visceral fat is sent first to the liver. Your liver and your pancreas are the major organs that regulate blood glucose, and the increase in fatty acids sent to your liver from visceral fat can decrease your liver’s insulin sensitivity, which can throw off glucose homeostasis.

Since women tend to have less visceral fat, they’re less prone to fatty acid-induced hepatic (liver) insulin insensitivity.

Visceral fat is also more active in producing inflammatory cytokines as well. Inflammation (and how it’s affected by and interacts with fat tissue) is a big topic, so for the purposes of this article, just be aware that that’s also not a good thing, and we’ll leave it there.

So the fat distribution pattern in women is a more beneficial one, and the fat itself also helps women metabolically.

Fat produces two hormones that positively impact metabolic health: leptin and adiponectin.

Leptin helps suppress appetite and improve insulin sensitivity. Interestingly, although women have up to 4x higher leptin levels, they have greater central leptin sensitivity than men, largely due to the effects of estrogen. However, its effects seem to be mainly central (i.e. altering hunger), at least in humans. Resting leptin levels don’t seem to affect metabolic rate in humans the same way they do in animal models.

Adiponectin is associated with better insulin sensitivity. Depending what study you look at, women have somewhere between 34% (obese women vs. obese men) and 127% (lean young women vs. matched men) higher adiponectin levels. Adiponectin works by activating AMPK (the AMPK pathway is implicated in many of the positive effects of aerobic training), increasing glucose uptake and fat oxidation in muscle. However, women have fewer adiponectin receptors than men, and a strong correlation between adiponectin level, AMPK activation, and glucose uptake is only seen in men.

Taken as a whole, though women DO have higher levels of leptin and adiponectin, they probably only play a minor role in the metabolic differences between men and women.

One last little tidbit before we move on from fat differences: Fat tissue absorbs glucose from the blood at roughly 40% of the rate of muscle tissue, meaning that although muscle is a more important factor for glucose disposal, fat tissue does play a non-negligible role. When you culture male and female fat cells in a petri dish, the rate of glucose uptake is higher for female fat cells than male fat cells, which could (potentially, though you shouldn’t put too much faith in in vitro research) also play a role in womens’ superior glucose handling.

Muscle Differences

The most important muscular difference is that women tend to have a greater proportion of Type 1 fibers (roughly 27-35% greater Type 1 fiber area relative to total fiber area) and greater capillary density.

Those are two major factors. More Type 1 fibers and greater capillary density mean better tissue perfusion (ability to get more blood to the muscle to provide oxygen and clear metabolites) and greater capacity for glucose and fatty acid oxidation (because Type 1 fibers are the ones with more mitochondria and aerobic enzymes). Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are negatively correlated with Type 1 fiber percentage and capillary density in both lean and obese people.

(As an aside, that’s a major reason why black people – particularly of West African descent – tend to do exceptionally well in power-dependent sports like football and basketball, but also suffer from higher rates of diabetes and heart disease. On average, they have a higher proportion of Type II muscle fibers, which are awesome for explosive sport performance, but not so great for metabolic health. Just one example here.)

So women have a greater proportion of Type 1 fibers and the assistance of higher estrogen levels, which largely explains how their muscles handle glucose better. However, it doesn’t end there. Female muscles also handle fat better, even when comparing female Type 1 fibers to male Type 1 fibers.

Women have roughly 40% higher plasma fatty acid concentrations than men, and they’re able to put those fatty acids to good use. FAT/CD36 is the most important protein for bringing fatty acids into muscles and transporting them to the mitochondria. FAT/CD36 concentrations increase in both genders as a result of aerobic training, but they’re higher in women regardless of training status.

This is a great thing for cardiac risk factors. After you eat, triglycerides and VLDL (very low density lipoprotein, which primarily functions as a transport vessel for fat) levels increase. They return to baseline faster in women because their muscles can absorb more fat, and do so quicker.

Building off that, women have greater stores of intramuscular triglycerides than men. Now, these aren’t the nasty sort described in the last article, but rather the beneficial sort I briefly mentioned in the footnote.

Just a little aerobic physiology 101 – the greater the proportion of fat you can burn at any given exercise intensity, the better. It spares glycogen, reduces rate of perceived exertion (which is strongly related to glycogen levels), and pushes back how long it takes to “hit the wall.” Most importantly, there’s a strong relationship between how much fat is stored in the muscle (not independent fat cells interspersed with the muscle tissue as the last article mainly dealt with, but fat stores within the muscle fibers themselves) and how readily available it is to use during exercise.

What’s more, it’s not just that women have more intramuscular triglycerides than men, but those fatty acids are also more accessible. Men tend to have a few large lipid droplets, and fewer perilipins (proteins on the outside of the lipid droplets that break down the triglycerides and help transport them to the mitochondria). Women, on the other hand, have more numerous, smaller lipid droplets, and more perilipins. Smaller lipid droplets have a higher surface area to volume ratio, meaning they’re more accessible to perilipins and lipases to break down the stored fat to be oxidized in the mitochondria.

Going a bit further down that rabbit hole, women also have higher levels of the protein Stearoyl CoA desaturase 1, whose role is to (as the name implies) convert saturated fatty acids into unsaturated fatty acids. There is some data to suggest that muscle lipases have a higher affinity for less saturated fats.

So now to the important stuff: how all this actually affects training.

Regardless of training status, women use more fat at any given exercise intensity than men do, meaning that, all other things being equal, they’re more resistant to fatigue.

Conversely, men have a higher glycolytic capacity than women. That means that they can burn through more glucose in the absence of oxygen, which lends itself to better performance for short-intense bursts of effort, but which also means more lactate accumulation and longer recovery times after all-out efforts. This is related to both the higher percentage of Type II fibers, and also higher levels of glycolytic enzymes (glycogen phosphorylase, pyruvate kinase, phosphofructokinase, and lactate dehydrogenase in particular).

More on this later.

 

Differences in Substrate Use

There are some interesting differences in the proportion of fat and carbs men and women use at different times.

In the fasted state, men and women tend to burn about the same proportion of fat and carbs. However, after eating, women tend to preferentially store more fat and oxidize more glucose immediately, relative to men. When eating isocaloric, high-carb diets (increasing from 55% to 70% over the duration of the study), glycogen concentrations increased in men, but not in women because the additional carbohydrate was immediately used as fuel instead of stored.

In the fasted state, plasma triglyceride levels increase in both genders, but after a 48-hour fast, muscle triglyceride storage increases in women, and liver triglyceride storage increases in men.

During training, as previously mentioned, women burn a greater amount of fat relative to glycogen at any exercise intensity. However, after training, that reverses. Women then tend to burn an increased proportion of carbs, whereas men burn an increased proportion of fat.

Takeaways

Just to reiterate, gender differences related to acute performance aren’t that huge, and are less a function of gender per se, and more a function of body composition. Furthermore, be aware that everything in this article is representative of trends, but may not hold true when comparing individual men and women, obviously.

Of the differences that do exist, the largest contributing factors are fiber type differences and sex hormone differences. And, in essence, they set women up to be more metabolically suited to just about everything. They clear VLDL and triglycerides better, have better insulin sensitivity, have a more favorable fat distribution, and burn a greater proportion of fat at any given exercise intensity, making them less fatigueable. The only place where men have the edge is in glycolytic capacity and explosive (but not maximal strength) performance (both related to Type II fiber proportion).

 

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So what do we do with all that?

For starters, ladies, do not be afraid of carbs. Not only are they delicious and awesome, but you have better insulin sensitivity, and the more of them you eat, the more of them you burn.

Second, you do not have a harder time losing weight because you’re a woman. Yes, you’ll probably have to eat fewer calories than a man who weighs the same amount you do, but the primary factors in determining your calorie needs are body size, body composition, and activity level, with gender playing little to no role. If you’re more jacked and/or more active than a guy who weighs the same as you, then you can eat more than him. If not, you can’t.

Finally, as far as training goes (though we’ll get more into training as this series progresses), odds are pretty good that you can do more work and benefit from more work than a guy can. Your muscles are inherently more glycogen-sparing and fatigue-resistant. You can probably do more reps with a given percentage of your 1rm before fatigue sets in, and do more total work (relative to 1rm) before you hit a wall due to higher proportion of Type 1 muscle fibers, greater proportion of fat being burned instead of glycogen, and lower glycolytic capacity.

So with that, I’ll put a bow on Part 1 of a (planned) 4-part series. This article was to set a basic groundwork with metabolic differences, Part 2 will cover structural differences and delve into training implications much more, Part 3 will mainly be about the menstrual cycle and contraceptives, and Part 4 will cover the female athlete triad.

Dead Lifting And Spinal Position

Dead lifting. So may of us dead lifting very few the right way. It is about pulling heavy shit off the floor BUT it is not about pulling heavy shit off the floor by any means possible. Our injury prone nation that lies in and out of the gym astonishes me when it comes to weights and the spine.

In the matter of dead lifting there are particular circumstances that an elite lifter may round their back…key note here they’ve been working their technique over and over for a decade at least. But who I am targeting are the non elite lifters and this spinal action.

I think it’s important to note that although most of us are jacked up we may not feel any symptoms of pain, but it doesn’t give us a pass go card to go through the span of flexing the spine, albeit, rounding or go in the other direction of extension. Complete extension. Too much of anything is not good. Well except millions of bucks. I don’t care what people say that kind of money would bring me a special kind of happiness…

 

Dr. Vince Lobato (chiropractor, friend and mentor) and I have had repeated discussions around the spine. The position is the most important factor unloaded or loaded and can be easiest path to disc herniation(s) and bulge(s).

This is no game to play with seriously. And to do such just to conquer a lift for one does not pay the dividends and two you are being talked about by on lookers. The ones who know anyway. And by the ones who will think they know but like you do the same thing but swear their not.

 

What To Do To Fix The Problem

The first thing one needs to make note of is what a decent spine looks like. It has normal curve (kyphotic) in the upper back and and another curve (lordotic) in the lower back.

deadlift-lower-back

set up..

 

The key is TENSION!

 

Where many people falter is in their initial set-up. Just dropping down to pick up the bar is not it. One thing Ive learned is how to use the lats. It’s such a big muscle that covers a lot space from the arm down to the pelvis simply put.

deadlift-shoulders

hip and shoulder position…

Getting the lats to engage to a greater degree is a full proof way to provide more spinal stability and prevent the back from rounding during a Deadlift.

 

Often times people rip out “pull your shoulder blades together” thinking this will solve the problem but it really doesn’t. In fact I think it makes the lift even more difficult and actually harder for one to get into good position to lift.

deadlift-lockout

get long and tall…

Creating tightness throughout the body is essential but it in areas desired.

I like to tell people pull on the bar without trying actually lift the weight and so to take the slack out of the bar.

 

The combination of these cues I believe will help activate the lats and provide a more stability to the spine.

deadlift-lower-bar

on the way down..

Make OJ is a word I think of cues such as with oranges in your armpit and squeeze. That is tension. This is what we are seeking. If this is still hard to do I would say some work would need to be done for lat activation moving with the hip hinge pattern.

 

Hope this helps! Dead lift right or don’t dead lift…and the latter would be unexcuseable!

What Is and Is not Training?

I had a short discussion with some of my strongmen in regards to training…and ….cross fit. And it took 5 secs at the most for us to get the point across that cross fit is not training. It’s WOD. Funny not long ago I didn’t even know what WOD meant! I am no cross fit fan for sure for legit reasons. But I don’t need to discuss that in this article as it would never end.

 

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But what I do want to discuss is training. Training and working out are not one in the same. Training requires program design to achieve an end result that is sought out. What kind of result? Any! Strength, power, strength, fat loss, weight loss (the last two respectively are not one in the same either).  If you have done your homework you would understand this acronym S.A.I.D. principle. I say this especially to those self proclaiming trainers out there whose “education” came from personal workouts, drug abuse and muscle and fitness magazines.

 

CrossFit-Tuluka-gana-terreno-en-Buenos-Aires

Cross fit is not training… you can’t hit a movement in one week and come back 6 weeks later and think you’ve improved and found appropriate adaptation for that movement. So again, cross fit is not training it’s WOD. What also falls in line with cross fit and it’s WOD is smash workouts.  Barely being able to walk out of the gym or barely breathing the entire time does not equate to training for a reason and outcomes. The only outcome is your body is thrashed. But people mistakenly think pain means good. Eh…!?! So again, smash workouts do not equate to training either. If you like them so be it. You may see some change if you hadn’t worked out in awhile. Or was put on a ridiculous bodybuilding contest dieting scheme. Yes getting shredded is a great look but unsustainable if done in a contest cut regimen.

 

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But when things don’t change anymore and you have tweaks to injury let me know and I’d gladly say I told ..I mean I will gladly explain why.

So I just wanted to get a simplified reason on what training IS and what WOD IS NOT… I sincerely hope those of you out there looking for training will think about the difference.

Your Squat Unleashed!

Sounds cool huh? Squat Unleashed. I like it…therefore…I used it for my article. Before we get into the square meal of what I want to talk about in Your Squat Unleashed (damn that’s badass) ..sorry ok, article…let’s make sure we know what page we all are on.

 

 

get low squats

 

#1 – we know there are a thousand and probably more articles, blog posts, books, emails, voicemails etc on how to squat big numbers. This method that method. True there are some good methods out there for your routine. This leads me to #2.

#2 – PRINCIPLES. Principles People PRINCIPLES. The PPP. Do Not mistake it for O.P.P. please…lol. A lil back in the day.

What do I mean? Well a wise man once said, methods are many, but principles are few. I believe Ralph Waldo Emerson said that. I hope it was he who said that, but regardless I’m just glad I remember what was said (?). whoa. Anyway point made is there are many methods to doing something..aka better squat programs and so on. But if your principles aren’t in place I’m not so sure those methods would be so worthy. What are the principles? Well we may all have different ones. But I’ll shed light on a few of mine because hey there are only a few.

1 – Built Around Ground Based Multi-joint Movement Patterns

2- Addressing Specific Metabolic Demands

3 – Individually Tailored Programs

4 – Improving General Physical Preparedness (GPP) and Special Physical Preparedness (SPP)

This isn’t my full definition of my philosophy but this will suffice for now.

 

So on to the square meal. Your Squat Unleashed. It’s not about your sets and reps. Not about how to load and progress. It’s truly about you. Your pattern from the ground up. We’ve seen corrective exercise shoot through the roof over the last 5-7 years talking about weak links and how to improve your pattern to squat. But I have found that it depends on each individual. I’ll explain. I had an awesome conversation with a guy who is my chiropractor, who has helped me find some intelligence in the world of being an athlete, training athletes, training all populations and helping me become a better strength coach yearly. His name is Doc. Ha really but his real name is Vince Lobato. Smart as hell guy. I can’t even explain to you how far advanced he is. And has been for a very long time. Any way, we were talking about squatting and my question to him was regarding natural knee hingeing in the squat. A ton of guys box squat, a ton of guys free squat, a ton of guys squat really wide and more than a ton of guys don’t squat at all. (We won’t talk about them though I would really like to).

So the discussion was basically about the coaching cue knees out. A very common cue. Because the good ole values stress (inward migration of the knee) and trying to control the knee. Therefore, corrective exercise specialists immediately went for the glutes region. Well maybe yes. Obviously one would have to know what your looking at and assess. But the table turned on that thought when Doc explained this to me. “Cueing the knees out going down is ok to a degree. And is ok should the knees get back to its natural path to hinge as we rise up in out of the squat. And of course without migrating too far into valgus. Here is the problem(s) if each squatter is not evaluated. Most of the time when one is cued to push knees out the equally roll outing supinate the foot as well. Which in tern means you cause a strain on the LCL ligament and the gracilis at the proximal attachment point. Not good.

And so if we don’t cue knees out then the possibility of one going down and up with the knees too far in could be disastrous too. Strain on the mcl, pets anserines and ACL scare. But this is why we assess. And what if we see pronation at the foot or supination at the foot? What if its unilateral? So I begged  this question of the DOC… so if I evaluated my client squatting with no shoes and they lift with no shoes obviously I’ll know whats happening at the feet.

WHAT IF??

I left that alone for a minute. What if we see one or the other or both in the feet while we squat? Speaking of pronation, supination at the foot. His answer? If there is no pain, no compensatory stress in the body anywhere then let it be. What?. Answering..we all have natural positions in the body. A slight varus tibia on one or both sides underneath the femur. An internally or externally rotated femur underneath the pelvis and above the tibia.  There pattern. Some may need adjustments and repositioning work. But unless they have pain, tweaks, or what have you they are good and will probably be strong.

All Purpose Deload Week

I’m often asked about deload weeks…

1-What do you do during one?

2-Do I need them? And if so, how often?

FIRST – A good rule of thumb on a deload week is a 50-60% reduction compared to your normal volume and/or intensity. One isn’t necessarily better than the other and if you’re feeling really run down, reducing both is good.

What you don’t want to do during a deload is take the week totally off, because chances are you will come back, start training and get really sore and you can lose a bit of your fitness taking a total week off to boot. I think it is important to add in her that introducing new stressors during a deload week may impede your restoration, which is the entire purpose of a deload.

Deload weeks are also the perfect time to do as much passive restorative work as possible, like ice baths and contrast showers.  These kind of things reduce inflammation and muscle damage..but they have a purpose in the training adaptation process  that signals the body to grow/strengthen to prepare for the stress you’re imposing on it (SAID PRINCIPLE).

 

**Much Needed Insert Here** See Below

Guys.. I mandatory part to here is you need a deload week. Too many hate backing off in fear of losing strength, power, etc.  And I get it, your’e motivated you want to push and push because only Va J J’s quit or punk out and rest. I have to say those who get rest by reduction will actually come out stronger, period.

 

Ok back on track…well I think we were anyway lol…

 

SECOND – If you actually understand how to train hard and you do that on a fairly high volume program (if you train on lower frequency/volume then you can probably go without deloads), then I would suggest you deload every 3rd to 7th week. The stronger you are, the more frequently you’ll need to deload. I know that I need a deload every 4th week in a meet training cycle to stay healthy and keep progressing, you might not need to as frequently, but you’ll be better off taking one before you really need one. Make sure that you are earning your deloads, so the training during the previous week should be very demanding. If you aren’t being honest with yourself about pushing yourself during regular training, then don’t pretend that you need a deload when you don’t and on the other side of things, don’t try to have the hardest deload/recovery work possible, as then things just all tend to turn into medium intensity work and that doesn’t really get you anywhere. Make your hard work hard and your easy work easy.

 

Review your programming variables…volume, frequency, intensity, loading, and I’ll toss in stress. These are key elements to progression vs regression in terms of  your goals.

 

 

 

I Am Tight … Do I Need To Stretch

Today we are going to talk about muscle tightness. When to stretch and when not to. To get to the point, muscle shortness is when muscle sarcomeres or muscle fibers change their structure … it is an issue that takes place with an injury or after surgery or a joint stuck in one position for a long time. Those are the situations we need to stretch in terms of  lengthening muscle structure. I gotta tell ya that takes a long time. To lengthen a muscle takes a lot longer than one would realize. Protocols seen out there that prescribe  20-30s to stretch a muscle really isn’t going to accomplish the desired effect.

 

 The Question Is Tightness.

Shortness does not equal tightness. Tightness is dictated by the neuromuscular system. It is very nervous system oriented. People mistake tightness for shortness on a daily basis for years.. They think the muscular system has shortened (we will talk hamstrings in a sec) but really its their nervous system sending a signal to the muscle to increase tension or tone. So, if the hams always feel tight and you’ve been stretching them everyday but still feel tight or you can bend over and touch your toes or lie on your back and lift your leg up to 90 degrees, lets say, then there is nothing wrong with your muscle structure. It’s a message from your nervous system telling the hammies to increase tone or tightness.

Why Is That?

The reason is often times because people lack stability somewhere else. What does that mean? Let’s look at the glutes. If they are under active, the pelvic floor or abs are not holding the trunk in right position then the hams are going to be asked to hold on for dear life because to the brain it’s the only place to find stability. Even though one may accrue stability even possibly through the adductors it is not the most efficient pattern to do so.

 

I hope this all makes sense…we’ve had this notion of always stretching the hamstrings and most of the time I would not do this. We’ve gotta start trying to look at other things going on before we just stretch a way.

 

Next we will be discussing some strategies to address muscle tightness and how position can make instant changes to the tone your hamstrings are holding.

 

Nikki Rouillard, CSCS

Camala Rodriguez-McClure Arnold Classic and Fitness International Winner

1st Place Sweeps – Camala Rodriguez-McClure

“Bang Bang into the room” lol! Camala surprised a lot of people this year coming back after a difficult loss in September 14′ at the Olympia. Let me interrupt myself…not just coming back but sweeping the Arnold’s in Columbus and Australia! Her presence was commanding. Her figure physique was on point from every aspect that not a judge or fan or anyone present could deny.

 

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There you go. Hard work but I will also add in smart work has paid off. Bodybuilding is a game of chess at times with your self and with the one’s adding points and/or docking points so to speak and everything in between. But you do your best one day at a time.
Next up , where does Camala go from here?
Well it’s not my place to announce, but I do know her eyes are set on the Olympia. If any other contest is in line before I guarantee she’s not looking past it. Camala wants to win it all, who wouldn’t? But redemption is in my thoughts…
In the meantime enjoy this Camala, for it is the present! And your time to train and prepare is close ahead and will be here shortly!

Michael Burke Jr. Arnold Classic Strongman

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Michael Burke Jr.. Strongman
6 foot something…HUGE

3oo something out pounds…..

He will get stronger.

We will make him better. Faster.

‘Na nah nuh…nuh huh na nun na nuh naa..’ (think 6 million dollar man theme song)
okay okay, so Mike didn’t quite finish the way we wanted nor thought. But a little 5.5 month history real quick. Dating back in October 2014..Knee injury. Out 6 weeks! That sucked. No leg work. Well I wanted to do some things but imagine a 5’7 142lb female (I’m strong though) looking up at a 6 ton heavy. So, I say okay Mike whatever you need for now. LOL

ok anyway, it was amazing but not out of the question for him in my mind to get close to a 900lb Dead Lift by March 6, 2015. 1500b. Bale Tote? Besides his training Mike has shear heart and passion for what he does and sets out to achieve. 1100b Frame carry? That’s some heavy shit too. But you have all seen it now. Here is a lil more of what you did’t know. Mike had been sick for a few weeks. Couldn’t put on weight, cramped to all get out, and hurt his shoulder on the frame. So the deadlift and frame and Cry DB happened after the injury. Had he been healthy had he not hurt his shoulder … we all would be humming …

‘Na nah nuh…nuh huh na nun na nuh naa..’

And I’m willing to bet he would have finished in the top 2 and a good chance at number 1. But these things happen and it sucks.

He didn’t quit though. That’s the thing. He got caught back at 7th (which damn near gave me and a few others heart failure. But Mike pulled it out and fought back to 4th. Not bad with only one comp lift to get it done. That last lift he finished with pure heart and will.

Let’s see what he does at the WORLD’S STRONGEST MAN!!!!

‘Na nah nuh…nuh huh na nun na nuh naa..’

Which Squat Variation Should Athletes Use?

Which Squat Variation Should Athletes Use?

Squats are a corner stone lift, however, I don’t back squat all athletes.  I prefer the front squat variation to the back squat depending on the situation.  There are times where even front squatting could be discarded and I’ll go with single leg variations. A lot of coaches may take issue with this view-point (that the low back was the weakest link in the bilateral squat lift and one could get better results with semi – heavy single leg training).

I agree with this assessment that the low back is a limiting factor and if you have someone lift a lot of weight in a single leg stance it doesn’t necessarily correlate to bilateral lifts. For example if you can get an athlete to lunge with 225lbs it doesn’t mean that he can necessarily squat 450lbs.

As strength coaches, our job is to teach movements and while there are an infinite number of ways to improve strength, I feel that there is tremendous value in using the squat while training athletes. Ultimately, it comes down to which variation of the squat front or back, limits the amount of risk while still providing a training effect.

In my opinion, the front squat is the safer choice for the majority of athletes and while also improving movement and performance markers implications such as the vertical jump and broad jump. However, box squatting has become a huge favorite.

 

back-and-front-squat

back-and-front-squat

 

The analyses joint motion at the hip knee and ankle and compares the two lifts and the data might surprise you.

 

Joint Motion/Alignment Front Squat Back Squat
Hip Flexion 56.1 43.8
Ankle Dorsiflexion 69.2 70.4
Knee Flexion 63.4 69.0

 

There is more hip flexion in the front squat vs the back squat while reducing low back shear. Basically the front squat allows for more hip motion while maintaining a relatively safer, more upright low back position vs the back squat.

There is more movement in the knee-joint during the back squat than the front squat which might be contrary to what most people think. That’s interesting to take in terms of knee pain and while squatting for some with knee pain won’t be an option it seems that the front squat is the more knee friendly of the two.

Now obviously there can be discrepancies between two people and what their squat looks like but in general the front squat allows you to keep the upper back more upright and its easier on the low back because of the reduced torso angle.

 

Core Strength

anterior-core

 

anterior-core

 

One benefit of the front squat is that it hammers the anterior core and works the obliques and rectus abdominis.  The load shift to the front forces a posterior tuck of the hip to engage the abs and glutes to keep the hip neutral. Most athletes generally are weak in this area so anytime you can shift the load to the front during an exercise you should.

During the back squat, it is much harder to keep a neutral spine and it will force more compression in the low back as you arch our back. Arching the low back disengages the abs and glutes and puts you in a mechanical disadvantage and puts a lot more work in the low back instead of having the glutes and abs help out.

This isn’t to say that back squatting will lead to low back issues but keep in mind that for the majority of athletes who “live” in extension the back squat reinforces the pattern and might not be the best variation for them.

 

Squats and Shoulder Health 

Both the front and back squat can put stress on the shoulders. The front squat can put stress on the A/C joint with the front loaded bar position while the back squat forces the client to externally rotate the humerus which can be an issue for certain training populations.

We don’t back squat our overhead athletes, mainly because of the position it puts the athletes shoulder in. Since most throwers/tennis players need external rotation range of motion and generally have more range on their dominant/throwing side, putting them in that position can cause some instability in the joint and we feel there are “safer”  options such as the front squat.

While the front squat is a great variation for throwers, if they have A/C joint issues or injuries the pressure of the bar can aggravate that. In these cases use the safety squat bar for either front or back squats. We also have harness front squat variations as well.

I’ll put a post up of some different variations we use at NPF in a future post.

There is a more research needed to fully examine which squat helps improve vertical jump and broad jumps the most. However, if the goal is to minimize risk while improving performance I feel like the front squat is still the safer option.

 

Conclusion

While I have talked about the benefits of front squatting this isn’t to say that I don’t like back squats. Most athletes need to work on improving movement patterns, and again the goal should be maximizing performance while minimizing risk of injury.

I think it is well said to say something to the effect of how you train your athletes and how you train yourself should not be the same. Just because you may have a bias towards a particular system or a set of specific exercises doesn’t mean your athletes need to train that way. Be diligent and match exercises appropriately to athletes who can perform them with solid technique.

Minimizing risk includes appropriately pairing the squat variation with the athlete while considering multiple factors. This is why we assess athletes and while we like the front squat there still may be instances where squatting might not be the best option for them. The last thing you want to do as coach is have an athlete tweak or injure something while lifting in the weight room.

 

Why Young Athletes Should Train Smarter, not HARDER!

I stumbled on a Twitter comment that I’ve been ramping about for ages. The bottom line to the long time approach to athletic conditioning. He wrote, “It’s easy to make someone tired. It’s difficult to improve an athlete’s performance”.

It wouldn’t be hard to layout these thoughts… he saw craziness. Either coaches or ‘trainers’ were beating their athletes bodies to death (or athletes doing only what they’ve been taught or read about) with some form of Cross Fit, or other “boot camp” style nonsense!

Hunch back tire flips? Or perhaps, he had the chance to observe another cranking out rep after rep of plyometric box jumps, only to land each time in a high risk ACL occurrence and a loud thump.

Also seen, the notorious Olympic lifts performed with lousy form, a seemingly endless amount of push-ups, pull-ups and overhead pressing movements (can you say shoulder impingement?), or repeated sprinting drills done with no regard for proper running form, and almost zero in the way of recovery time.

Whatever prompted this remark, suffice it to say it’s a sentiment that more athletes, parents and coaches need to share. Because more often than not, the type of training described above does little more than increase your chances of becoming injured.

And please, spare the macho BS that seemingly goes hand-in-hand with this suddenly cultish approach to fitness. Beating your joints into submission on a regular basis doesn’t make you some sort of “bad-ass”; what it can make you though, is an orthopedic surgeon’s dream.

Not that I have anything against working hard, mind you. As all of my athletes will undoubtedly attest, the workouts that I put together for them are a far cry from what anyone would consider “easy”. We just try and be as smart as possible in how we go about implementing them and always train with the bigger picture in mind.

As such, the training serves as more of means to an end, rather than simply a way of testing the limits of what the human body can endure.

The truth is, if I wanted to, I could fix it so that my athletes couldn’t sit down for a week following a workout. I say this not to own bragging rights about what a great strength coach I am- in fact, quite the contrary!

As stated, it’s easy to make someone tired and sore. The real art to this stuff is being able to read your athletes and assess how they’re recovering from one training session to the next. This will allow you to adjust their training accordingly, to help ensure continual progress.

Keep in mind, you don’t make gains during the actual workouts- whatever improvements you’re able to make in terms of strength, size, or speed are made during the recovery period. Essentially, your body is learning to adapt to the progressive overloads being placed upon it at regular intervals.

Here’s the thing though, if the loads are too excessive, in terms of either their intensity, or volume, your body can’t adapt and the result is fatigue, burnout and almost certain injury.

The bottom line is that training is supposed to be progressive- not haphazard! Sure, you can always throw some things in for variety here and there to keep it fresh. For the most part though, your focus should be on making measurable increases in both performance and health.

Whether that means more weight on the bar/ more reps at a given weight, shaving some time off your 40 yard dash, enhanced flexibility, or better posture, at the end of the day, your goal is improvement…not merely exhaustion!

Obviously this is a topic I have some strong opinions on. So, rather than simply continue my rant, I’ve prepared a little checklist to help you ensure that your training (or that of your athletes) is serving it’s intended purpose:

1. Have a plan:

Work on improving things like mobility and systemic strength first, before rushing into more advanced forms of training. If for example you can’t do a basic body weight squat without your heels coming off the ground, or your lower back rounding, it makes absolutely no sense to load the movement with any sort of resistance.

Once you’ve improved your mobility and become more stable through the core, then start concentrating more on strength development. Finally, adding in some power training in the form of Olympic lifts, plyometrics and medicine ball throws would be the icing on the cake, so to speak.

Keep in mind however, that a progression like this would take place over the course of several weeks, months, or even years, depending on your age, and level of physical development when you start training.

2. Never sacrifice technique for reps:

This is one that I’m an absolute stickler about. And that’s because when you’re talking about things like lifting weights, plyomteircs and speed and agility training, it only takes one bad rep to hurt yourself.

Even as fatigue starts to build, you have to ensure that you’re still using proper technique. This holds especially true for Olympic lifts and plyometrics, which besides being very technically difficult to execute, target an energy system that isn’t meant to sustain prolonged effort. Meaning that doing them for high reps essentially negates any explosive benefits you may have otherwise gotten from them.

3. Listen to your body:

It doesn’t matter what you have planned from a workout standpoint on a given day. If you’re too tired, or sore from excessive practicing and playing, or if you haven’t sufficiently recovered from your previous workout, take a break. This happens with my athletes all the time.

I’ll have specific things I want to work on, or target goals in terms of weight, or reps for particular exercises, only to have them show up for the session completely gassed from a tough practice, or weekend competition. When this happens, we’ll either re-schedule, or change the focus of the session so as not to excessively tax specific body segments, or energy systems.

When it comes to training young athletes, I try and stick to a simple mantra: Educate, don’t annihilate! There’s no benefit to be had from subjecting kids to workouts that would make a superhero nauseous.

About the only thing they can expert for their efforts, besides being in a state of perpetual exhaustion, is placing themselves at increased risk for things like disc herniations, tendonitis and even early onset osteoarthritis.

If I come across as a bit of an alarmist, it’s because I’ve seen first hand what too much of the wrong kind of training can do to developing young bodies. So I’m determined to do everything I can to help reverse this disturbing trend.