Archive for February, 2012

I have been working in the fitness industry for nearly 20 years and have always worked hard to seek out the best science founded information with which to develop both my clients’ and my own workouts.  One of the confusing topics I have waded through many times over is the ongoing debate in the strength training and bodybuilding communities as to whether a single set of an exercise is superior for building size and strength than training with multiple sets.  I have always worked out using multiple sets and gotten great results from that type of training.  I am, however, not so short sighted as to assume that because I got great results that it was “causation” instead of merely “correlation.”

I hear it all of the time:

Client“Jason, I started doing crunches and I lost 3 inches off my midsection!”

Me:      “Did you also change your food intake and your cardio training?”

Client“Well, yes, but it was the crunches that made me lose the inches!”

The inherent demand for logic and reason that my brain imposes on me precludes me from formulating a steadfast opinion without having done my due diligence in research first. So I offer you a look at the some of the information I have used to formulate my opinion on this much talked about debate.

The idea that a single set of an exercise might be more effective than traditional multiple set training was first popularized in the 1970s by Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus strength training equipment. It was Jones’ belief that a single set per exercise taken to the point of failure was the most effective type of training for improving both strength and size. This type of training is often called HIT or High Intensity Training and was made famous by the late Mike Mentzer (He called it Heavy Duty Training) and 6 time MR Olympia Dorian Yates. In a series of published articles circulated throughout the strength and bodybuilding communities, Arthur Jones wrote about what he believed to be the superiority of single set training.  This subsequently sparked heated debate on the issue that continues to this day.

The debate drew the attention of exercise physiologists around the world, resulting in a growing body of research data examining the issue. However, despite an abundance of research studies physiologists were not able to resolve the issue. The main problem was that the research was equivocal; some studies supported the idea that a single set was more effective than multiple sets, other studies found multiple sets produced greater increases in strength and size, but most studies found no statistical difference in results between the two training methods. In short, there was no consensus in the research.

In general most research indicates that multiple sets tend to produce somewhat larger increases in strength and size. However, the issue is that the difference in results between the two has not been large enough to definitively say that multiple sets are superior. On average multiple sets produce a few percentage points greater increase in strength and size, usually in the range of 2-10%, but this difference has not been large enough to be statistically significant (statistical significance is important to show that the results are not just a matter of chance).

With research unable to declare a clear winner the debate continued unabated. Despite the lack of consensus the physiological community generally accepted multiple sets to be superior to a single set, which drew some very vocal and deserved criticism from a few scientists.

In response to these critics a number of “meta-analyses” have been conducted by researchers in recent years to see if the conflict could be resolved. A meta-analysis is essentially a study of studies. It is a way of analyzing the results of multiple studies on the same research hypothesis to see what can be learned by looking at the entire body of research data as a whole versus the examining the results from individual studies. A meta-analysis can often more powerfully estimate the “effect size”, the true difference in results, in comparison to the smaller “effect size” of a single study. Measuring “statistical significance” is different than measuring “effect size”. The advantage of measuring effect size via a meta-analysis is that it may reveal actual differences that were missed by examining the statistical significance of the results of the individual studies comprising the meta-analysis.

Let’s have a look at these meta-analyses and see if they have finally put to rest the whole single set versus multiple set debate.

Strength Studies

The first meta-analysis was conducted by Rhea et al (4) in 2002. Examining 16 studies Rhea reported that 3-set training produced superior results to 1-set training. In 2003 Rhea et al (5) conducted another meta-analysis, this time of 140 published studies, and concluded that 4-sets produced maximum strength gains in both trained and untrained subjects. Both of these studies received some criticism due to the criteria Rhea used for study inclusion and also for his statistical analysis methods.

A third meta-analysis conducted in 2004 by Wolfe et al (6) of 16 studies found multiple sets to be superior to a single set in trained subjects and in programs lasting 17 to 40 weeks. As in both Rhea’s meta-analyses, Wolfe’s study received some criticism for his statistical analysis methods.

Aware of the criticism of the previous three analyses, Kreiger (3) conducted a fourth meta-analysis in 2009 specifically designed to improve upon the limitations of the previous studies. He examined 14 studies with 92 effect sizes measured across 30 groups of subjects comparing 1-set, 2-3 sets, and 4-6 sets. He found that 2-3 sets produced 46% greater increases in strength than 1 set in both trained and untrained subjects. Interestingly, he also found no difference in results between 2-3 sets and 4-6 sets. Performing more than 3 sets did not produce a greater increase in strength. Kreiger’s study strengthens the findings of both of Rhea’s previous studies. There were some differences between Wolfe’s findings and Kreiger’s findings in terms of the effect of volume of training but Kreiger’s study also strengthened Wolfe’s finding that multiple sets produce superior results to a single set. Finally, a 2010 meta-analysis of 72 studies by Frohlich et al (1) found single set training to be the equal of multiple set training for short training periods but multi-set training to be superior over longer periods of training.

In summary, there is now a consensus in the research literature supporting the idea that multiple sets are superior to single set training for increasing muscular strength.

Size Analysis

All of the meta-analyses cited above examined differences in strength gains; none examined the issue as to whether single or multiple-set training elicited greater muscle size gains. Increases in strength are caused by both neural and hypertrophic changes and it is possible that the superiority of multiple sets for increasing strength might be due to a greater neural effect and not hypertrophy. It is possible that multiple sets might be superior for increasing strength but not size so this issue needed to be resolved also.

In 2010 Kreiger (2) addressed this topic with another meta-analysis designed to determine if multiple set training elicited greater muscle hypertrophy compared to single set training. Examining 55 effect sizes across 19 groups in 8 studies he found that multiple sets produced 40% higher increases in muscle hypertrophy regardless of the training status of the subjects or the length of the training program. Kreiger also concluded that the 46% greater increase in strength from multiple sets revealed in his earlier meta-analysis was largely due to greater hypertrophy and not neural factors.

Interestingly, while Kreiger found no significant difference in hypertrophy from 2-3 sets or 4-6 sets he did find a trend for greater hypertrophy with 4 or more sets. One weakness of his analysis was a limited number of studies that utilized 4 or more sets so he stated that no definitive conclusion could be reached as to whether 4 or more sets was superior to 2-3 sets for inducing muscle growth.

Summary

The debate as to the superiority of single versus multiple set training has been on-going for around 40 years. High intensity training (HIT), originally popularized by Arthur Jones in the 1970s, promotes the idea that single set training is superior to traditional multi-set training for improving both strength and size. Until now research on this topic has been equivocal and unable to resolve the dispute. However, six recent meta-analyses have confirmed that multiple set training produces greater increases in both strength and size than single set training in both trained and untrained subjects.

References:

1. Frohlich M, Emrich E, Shmidtbleicher D., Outcome effects of single-set versus multiple-set training- an advanced replication study. Res Sports Med. 2010 Jul;18(3): 157-75

2. Kreiger JW., Single vs. multiple sets of resistance exercise for muscle hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr; 24(4): 1150-9

3. Kreiger JW., Single versus multiple sets of resistance exercise: a meta-regression. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Sep; 23(6): 1890-901.

4. Rhea, MR, Alvar, BA, and Burkett, LN. Single versus multiple sets for strength: a meta-analysis to address the controversy. Res Q Exerc Sport 73: 485–488, 2002.

5. Rhea, MR, Alvar, BA, Burkett, LN, and Ball, SD. A meta-analysis to determine the dose response for strength development. Med Sci Sports Exerc 35: 456–464, 2003.

6. Wolfe, BL, Lemura, LM, and Cole, PJ. Quantitative analysis of single- vs. multiple set programs in resistance training. J Strength Cond Res 18: 35–47, 2004.

7.  Trainingscience.net  Single set versus multiple sets – New research 2012

 

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I am sitting at my dining room table just having finished my dinner at 10:16pm.  I am eating 1.5 cups of fire roasted tomatoes, 12 ounces of grilled salmon and 1.5 cups of grilled mushrooms, all washed down with32 ounces of whole milk.  The kids and wife are already fast asleep, so it is just me and our Chihuahua Belle sitting in the dining room light.  The reason I am still awake is because I didn’t feel too good earlier so I took a nap and when I woke up it was 7:30pm and I had yet to go to the gym.  So I slapped on my workout clothes and heart rate monitor and drove to Life Time Athletic to hammer out my Monday exercises. Tomorrow is both Valentine’s day (yuck) and far more importantly, my 1 year anniversary with my beautiful wife Roni.  You would think I would have just gone to bed after not feeling good and it being so late, but no.

I realized a long time ago that the concerted efforts I put into bettering myself are most rewarded when it isn’t convenient or easy to go about.  Anyone can go workout in the middle of the day when they have lots of energy and nothing else going on.  It takes discipline and tenacity to drag yourself to a workout when you don’t feel good, you’re super busy all day and a cozy warm bed is calling your name.

Why am I still up?  Well, you see, I still have 900 calories I need to consume to be on point for my daily allotment to achieve my goals.  Since I just ate a late dinner and my stomach is kind of full, I need to wait until it empties a little bit so I can consume my final 900 calorie protein laden meal replacement shake.  Just like Rock Balboa, I use the wonderfully nutritious raw egg as the mainstay of my meal replacements.  6 raw eggs to be exact.  12 ounces of whole milk mixed with a little creatine, a scoop of BCAAs,  some whey protein and a couple scoops of “Muscle Milk” chocolate.  Fire up the hand mixer and “POOF” a fine sipping cognac.  Well, I might be exaggerating that part, but it gets the job done. I can’t forget to take my multi-vitamin and my fish oils too.

I want my body to have all the raw ingredients it needs to repair and grow from my grueling workouts, so I will go make my shake and drink it and head to bed knowing I did what was needed to create the best possible environment for my amazing body to move one step closer to my goals.

I personally love the Bell curve and all that it represents. Take for example the people in America. On one end of the Bell curve we have the standard American: overweight and underactive. On the other side we have an athletic American: in shape and most likely overactive. What do I mean by overactive you are probably thinking? Let’s start by talking a little about how your body works.

The human body is an amazing work of art. Every day for hundreds of years, all over the planet, thousands of the world’s smartest people (doctors and research scientists) have been TRYING to figure it out. One of the most impressive things they have discovered is that the harder you work the body (within reason of course) the better it becomes! Try doing that with your car and see what happens. There is a certain amount of your physiology that is based in your parents genetic contribution to who you are, but the vast majority of who and what you are today, is nurture, not nature. What this means is that you are the end product of every single interaction with the world and the subsequent remodeling your body went through to accommodate to those interactions. Think about it for just a second. Remember when you cut your big toe on a sprinkler while walking barefoot through the park back in 5th grade? Take a look at that same toe right now and gently run your finger over that scar that you’ve carried with you all these years. Let me ask you this: why do you know that 5×5=25? It is because while sitting in Miss Larson’s class, you had to write your multiplication tables over and over and over again until the cells in your brain created and reinforced a connection that has stuck with you to this very day. You are the product of all of your life’s interactions. Interesting isn’t it?

So what does this have to do with being overactive? While our bodies are always looking to find a state of homeostasis, the truth is, our environment is ever changing so that homeostasis is a moving target. Take for example doing a push-up. The first time you attempt to do one, it is a foreign movement and you struggle to not only keep your body straight but also to push yourself up against gravity’s pull. After the challenge is over, the adaptations begin! The body recognizes that it was just faced with a new challenge and it will now seek a way to make it easier should you have to attempt it again in the future. Your brain has to establish new pathways to control the muscles more efficiently, the muscle cells use some of the freely available amino acids floating in your blood stream to build themselves a little stronger and even your blood vessels adapt to allow for greater blood flow to carry oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. This happens every day with everything you encounter as the body seeks the path of least resistance.

Not too much, not too little

The problem arises when we purposefully attempt to force our bodies to be what want. Whether this be a cosmetic change of fat loss/muscle gain or a performance goal like running a marathon. While the goals seem innocuous in their healthy appearance, they can in fact become detrimental if not worked towards in a logical, science founded manner. Work just hard enough to elicit the desired compensatory response and then rest adequately for the body to be 100% ready to go again. Sadly while the sedentary Americans err on the side of undertraining, our overzealous athletic Americans are rampantly overtraining and not allowing for enough rest time before starting again. In this case, as is with most, more is not better! I love to tell my clients to remember the age old story of Goldilocks and the three bears. If you are in doubt when it comes to “how much” as it pertains to your food or exercise, go with Goldilocks’ thought process: Not too much, not too little, just right. Simple enough, wouldn’t you agree?

One of my favorite things in the whole wide world, is debating with my 9 year old about how much of the serving of veggies I put on his plate he has to eat before he is done. Now mind you, by “favorite things” I mean, “things I hate.”  It drives me batty that I can selectively shop for fresh meats, fruits and vegetables for the family, come home and cook it all with just the right spices so that it literally melts in your mouth and then have my kids balk at it like I served them a plate of depleted uranium.  It’s not pork lips or chicken elbows man, just eat it!

I am by no means the world’s greatest chef, nor am I perfect with eating clean food all of the time, but I do put forth a concerted effort to lead my family by example when it comes to healthy eating  and also to learn as much as possible when it comes to tasty cooking.  I really enjoy making healthy food choices taste amazing at the same time, especially since this seems to the average American to be somewhat of a paradox.  Apparently the common consensus is that if it tastes good, it must be bad for you and if it is good for you, it’s going to taste like a tennis shoe. I beg to differ.

It is my opinion that a major contributor to most of the diseases in this country are based in poor food choices.  I like to keep it simple with my own food choices as well as what I recommend to my clients:

  1. Eat things that have been recently alive.
  2. Eat the right amount for you, for that day.
  3. Drink water.

Pretty straight forward, wouldn’t you agree? Don’t eat things that are overly processed, don’t over eat and hydrate yourself.  I would like to think these are simple ideas to follow but as I am sure you can imagine people find a way to over complicate even these simple concepts. That is a blog for another day though…

 

 

Client:   “Jason, what’s the best exercise to get a six pack for summer?”

Jason:   “Do lunges into the kitchen, snatch the box of Coco-Puffs out of the cupboard and then tricep-press it into the trash can.”

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that question, I would be writing this blog from the cabin of my G5.  The cover of every single fitness magazine purports to have the “Answer to your tight, toned midsection” on page 73.  Crunches, side bends, the infamous Ab-Lounger, along with all of the rest of the ridiculous exercises that are claimed to magically squeeze the fat off of your core, are outstanding examples of the brilliant psychology of popular media at work.  Those brilliant advertisers know exactly what the common consumer is looking for and with the help of a contest ready model and few key words, they lure you into buying the newest issue of “Muscular Mythology Monthly.”

The very nature of being human is to subconsciously seek the path of least resistance. Everyone wants the quick fix, the easy way out and it isn’t because they are consciously choosing to be lazy; it is because their own bodies are seeking homeostasis.  Although I often joke about the fact that in America we have remote controls for our car stereos, (I don’t want to have to reach that extra 13 inches to change the station) it is just a sign of the times, that we as humans are always seeking to find a way to get the job done with less effort.  With that being said, despite the common consensus, if you want to change your body in either form or function, you have to EARN it by forcing the body to change.  This begins with understanding how our amazing bodies actually work.

I am not going to bore you to death with a physiology or biochemistry lesson, but I will give you a simple analogy to help with this whole “6-pack” debacle.  The average American is ignorantly of the belief that if one works the muscles of the midsection, the overlying fat (read: muffin top or spare tire) will magically disappear.  The truth is there is no such thing as spot reduction of fat.  Well, unless you have a really sharp pair of scissors, but that is another blog altogether.  The ridiculous belief that working a muscle in a given area will reduce the fat on top of it, is just as ridiculous as the notion that pressing the gas pedal in your car will engage the brakes.  Just because the gas pedal and brake pedal are REALLY close to each other, doesn’t mean they have any interaction what so ever.   If this thought process held true, auctioneers would have the most chiseled faces in the world.   The most entertaining part of this whole scenario is that, while there is no such thing as spot reduction, there IS such thing as spot increase.  So all the crunches and side bends in the world won’t decrease the flab on your belly, but it WILL increase the muscle in that part of your body, thereby pushing your fat out further and making you look 8 months pregnant.  Unless that is your goal, I would say stop trying to squeeze the fat off and maybe eat a little less food so you lose fat all over your entire body.

But what do I know, I don’t even have my own personal jet…

Living in Las Vegas, Nevada affords me many great opportunities, not the least of which is being smack dab in the middle of MMA’s epicenter.  Being a rabid fan of MMA, partaking in MMA training (Specifically Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu) and having the honor of working with many of the incredible MMA athletes (amateur as well as professional) gives me a multi-dimensional viewpoint when it comes to what works and doesn’t work with MMA conditioning training.  I am humble in my approach as I feel I am forever a student of the body and I would like to believe that is what helps me to achieve great success with my clients.  I don’t pretend to know it all, but rather I voraciously pursue furthering my knowledge base by means of reading cutting edge scientific journals, attending as many relevant certifications as possible and just flat out keeping an open mind.

Something I see happen all too often, is a random trainer calling himself a “MMA conditioning specialist” with little to no practical knowledge or experience in the field.  Training Mrs. Smith to lose 10 pounds of fat is ever so slightly different from training an elite athlete to perform at his/her peak in competition.  (Did my sarcasm show through just now?) While a lot of these trainers might have good intentions, they are sadly setting themselves and their clients up for failure by applying antiquated belief systems and training paradigms to what might be considered the single most challenging athletic endeavor out there: MMA.  These athletes need a flowing, balanced blend of speed, strength, skill, flexibility and endurance that is tailored to their own unique physiology in such a manner that the outcome is a harmonious dynamic of purposeful movement that does the “Art” portion of the moniker justice.

A true professional MMA conditioning coach approaches their athlete with a goal of improving their structural and movement based efficiency, facilitating effective improvement in the goal based aspects of the program and all the while minimizing opportunities for injury and/or overtraining.  This requires a thorough grasp of exercise science and the ability to apply it in an individualized manner that is both progressive and periodized as needed to accommodate the athlete’s goals. The balancing of speed, strength, skill, flexibility and endurance is of paramount importance to the MMA athlete’s success.

There are three main steps to this process:

  1. Assess the athlete for goal orientation as well as physical needs/capabilities
  2. Design the program based around the information provided by the assessments
  3. Instruct the athlete utilizing the well-designed program

If you or someone you know is thinking about working with a MMA conditioning coach, make sure that coach can answer the following questions:

  • What muscles groups should be trained? Why?
  • What basic energy sources (e.g. anaerobic, aerobic) should be trained? Why?
  • What are the types of muscle action(s) (e.g. isometric, eccentric) should be trained? Why?
  • What are the primary sites of injury for the particular sport or activity, and what is the prior injury history of the individual?
  • What are the specific needs for muscle strength, hypertrophy, endurance, power, speed, agility, flexibility, body composition, balance and coordination?

A true professional will be able to answer all these and more.

First, let’s start with a definition:

Apathy (also called impassivity or perfunctoriness) is a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as concern, excitement, motivation and passion. An apathetic individual has an absence of interest in or concern about emotional, social, spiritual, philosophical and/or physical life.

It is my opinion that the very downfall of western civilization (USA) is and will be deeply rooted in the rampant apathy that has spread across this once great nation.  I will give a few examples for you to peruse:

  • “I’m just retaining water.”
  • “I’m not fat, I’m big boned!”
  • “It’s the carbs that made me fat!”
  • “I have flat feet, so I can’t go hiking.”
  • “It’s my thyroid that made me overweight!”
  • “I’ll never be good at sports because I have bad genetics.”

I could go on and on, but I am already getting angry just from typing those examples, so I won’t.  My intense irritation surrounding this issue that pervades American society, is in no small part due to my lifelong career as a personal trainer.  On a regular basis I have had to question why I had more motivation, determination and passion for the success of my clients, than even they did.  Why do I believe in them more than they do themselves?  Because they live in a sad little place called “apathy.”

“Whoa was me.  I’ll never be successful because the cards are stacked against me.  Why bother? ”

It’s like hanging out with Eeyore, only minus the entertaining nature of Eeyore being a cartoon!

We are not slaves to our genetic code, but rather partners with it in the journey of life. If more people would just try to understand a little more about their bodies, I think a world of difference would be made in how we live.  Sayer Ji wrote the following in an article titled: “Defective Genes “Cause” Less Than 1% Of All Disease”

“In the mainstream media (and the popular consciousness programmed to consume it) defective genes are spoken about as if they were “disease time bombs,” fatalistically programmed to go off inside of us, thanks to flawed genetic contributions of our ancestors. And yet, despite common misconceptions, monogenic diseases, or diseases that result from errors in the nucleotide sequence of a single gene are exceedingly rare.  In fact, less than 1% of all diseases fall within this category…

Following the completion of the Human Genome Project (HGP) in 2003 it is no longer accurate to say that our genes “cause” disease, any more than it is accurate to say that DNA is sufficient to account for all the proteins in our body. Despite initial expectations, the HGP revealed that there are only 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA (genome), rather than the 100,000 + believed necessary to encode the 100,000 + proteins found in the human body (proteome). Did you follow that? There are not even enough genes in the human body to account for the existence of the basic protein building blocks that make it possible, much less explain the behavior of these proteins in health and disease states!

 

The “blueprint” model of genetics: one gene one protein one cellular behavior, which was once the holy grail of biology, has now been supplanted by a model of the cell where epigenetic factors (literally: beyond the control of the gene) are primary in determining how DNA will be interpreted, translated and expressed. A single gene can be used by the cell to express a multitude of proteins and it is not the DNA itself that determines how or what genes will be expressed. Rather, we must look to the epigenetic factors to understand what makes a liver cell different from a skin cell or brain cell. All of these cells share the exact same 3 billion base pairs that make up our genetic code, but it is the epigenetic factors, e.g. regulatory proteins and post-translational modifications, that make the determination as to which genes to turn on and which to silence, resulting in each cell’s unique phenotype.

Moreover, epigenetic factors are directly and indirectly influenced by the presence or absence of key nutrients in the diet, as well as exposures to chemicals, pathogens and other environmental influences. Thoughts and emotions also play a role in how these epigenetic factors are articulated, indicating that the flow of genetic information, once thought to be strictly vertical (passage of genetic information from one cell or individual organism to its progeny by conventional heredity mechanisms), also flows horizontally and bi-directionally, opening the door back up for the human soul to return to biological science, having been reduced to a mere “ghost in the machine,” since René Descartes (1596-1650), the French philosopher and mathematician, split body and soul asunder, almost five centuries ago.

In a nutshell, what we eat and what we are exposed to in our environment directly affects our DNA and its expression.

The implications of these findings are rather extraordinary: epigenetic and not genetic factors are primary in determining disease outcome. Even if we exclude the possibility of reversing certain monogenic diseases, the basic lesson from the post-Genomic era is that we can’t blame our DNA for causing disease. Rather, it may have more to do with what we choose to expose our DNA to, and even more surprisingly: how we choose to think and feel about our embodiment.”

In summary, I would suggest people take a little bit more responsibility for where they are in life and feel refreshed in the knowledge that their actions can take them to new heights, if that is what they want.