Posts Tagged ‘abs’

I suppose if you are dressing up for Halloween as Bane, it might be a good idea to strap on one of those fancy MMA high altitude simulating masks, but if it doesn’t happen to be October 31st, there is a pretty good chance all that mask is doing is making you look like an idiot.  All the rage these days, training masks that have been popularized by the psuedo-science laden MMA magazine advertisements and Facebook ads alike, don’t hold up to the stringent demands of real science. Let me drop some actual knowledge on you about these  masks so you can better choose your workout gear going forward and hopefully avoid those nasty looks people keep giving you..

bane mma mask

What do these masks promise to do for the unsuspecting user?

  • Improved oxygen uptake
  • Improved anaerobic capacity
  • Increased lung capacity

The claims by the manufacturers of these masks are loosely attributed to the mask simulating training at high altitude (because the breathing restriction aspect of the mask allows less air/less oxygen in each breath) which allegedly causes the user to have lung efficiency adaptations.

So now we know what the claims are, let’s take a look at the science to see if it supports these claims.

  • Improved oxygen uptake – This one falls apart REAL quickly. The basic principle of the oxygen deprivation mask is riding the tails of LLTH (Live Low Train High) principle…. i.e. you wear the mask only when you are training to simulate altitude. This has been proven false. In the study, “Is Hypoxia Training Good for Muscles and Exercise Performance?” authors Vogt and Hoppeler clear this up by stating, “… A common feature of virtually all studies on “live low–train high” is that hypoxic exposure only during exercise sessions is not sufficient to induce changes in hematologic parameters. Hematocrit and hemoglobin concentrations usually remain unchanged with “live low–train high.”  Next…
  •  Improved anaerobic capacity – In the study “Effects of intermittent hypoxic training on aerobic and anaerobic performance. ” authors Cable and Morton found that hypoxic training (using a mask or training at altitude) had, “no enhanced effect on the degree of improvement in either aerobic or anaerobic performance.”  Damn you science!!!
  • Increased lung capacity – All right, last chance here training masks! On the third and final chance at bat, the training masks actually deliver….well…kinda.  It is true that there indeed is an increase in lung capacity due to the restricted nature of these masks, however, that increase did NOT lead to an increase in any of the important aspects of performance such as VO2MAX or anaerobic capacity. Darn!

mma mask fitness

While it might feel like I am here to bash the entire genre of altitude simulation/MMA training masks, the reality is I am just trying to be a clear voice of science founded reason on the topic.  I think it is important to note that while the above info beats down the mask’s ability to back up the claims of the marketers out there, it does actually have a very viable use for MMA athletes.  Wearing these masks makes it hard to breath and “smothers” the user so that they have to adapt psychologically to wearing them and thereby become prepared should an opponent block their breathing in a fight(this is legal to do in MMA) it won’t have as dramatic of an impact on the training mask user.  See, one good point after all!

If you don’t mind looking like a dork and you want to improve your mental game for MMA, then a training mask might be the thing for you!  Everyone else, keep on doing whatever you were already doing…

Well the dieting season is upon us again. Now is the time that people who go onto diets automatically think; starvation, cut-down, eat lettuce, bored taste buds, joyless eating, eat more lettuce. Boring diets, deprivation diets, “faddy” diets, food group eliminating diets, most commercial diets send out the wrong message. Your body is not an enemy that needs to be starved into submission to give up fat.

By building healthy eating habits into your daily food intake can and should be enjoyable. Don’t forget you need to healthy and happy at the same time.

We eat food for a reason and each food has specific benefits and potential drawbacks, take alcohol, studies have shown that alcohol can be good for you, but in the right amounts. Fat can be good for you and some are labeled essential. Chocolate is good for you but can be harmful. The above foods are said to protect against high blood pressure and heart disease. But if you eat nothing but grapefruits, lettuce and the odd tomato you will be loading up with certain vitamins but will definitely be lacking in most of the others, including the much needed minerals. The key to a healthy diet is balance. Too much of anything can hurt. But not enough of everything will hurt the body even more.

Think about it this way; How far would your car go without enough fuel, or without oil, not very far before you’re on the side of the road scratching you head saying “wonder how that happened?” The secret is to be conscious of what fuel and oil you use. Some are better than others and can help you run longer on less fuel. To Fuel your body for optimal performance whilst losing weight (fat) there are four major strategies you would need to adopt to when setting up your weight loss nutrition plan.

  • Control your food portions. You don’t need monster portions.
  • Make smart substitutions in the diet like mustard instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches; you will save 88 calories and may enjoy it better.
  • Focus on power foods. A high protein, high fibre, complex carbs gives you a filling meal rather than a starvation meal.
  • Watch your eating habits, mindless munching, emotional binging, and twice-a-day monster feedings will lower the metabolism and leave the pounds where they are.


The term “diet” really means “a way of life”

A diet is all about numbers-number of calories you eat and burn, numbers on the scale when you weigh yourself. The success of a diet is defined in terms of how well you stick to the numbers. The normal diet mentality assumes that reaching a certain weight is your key to finding happiness and solving life’s problems. But if you mess up on one day it can be upsetting-it means you’ve messed up on everything that matters in the world.

A Lifestyle change is all about you. It’s about changing your eating and physical activities to reach your specific goal. Your success is defined in terms of how the lifestyle changes make you feel about yourself. The lifestyle approach assumes that being overweight is usually the result of other problems not the cause. Addressing these problems directly is the best way to solve both the problems themselves and your weight issues at the same time. This means focusing on many things, not just the numbers in the calories that you eat or the numbers on the scale. Numbers only tell a small part of the story. The bad numbers often gives you clues into areas that need attention and change.

Going on a diet involves an external and temporary change in your eating habits. You start by measuring and counting. You stop eating some foods and substitute others. Based on a few rules of whatever diet plan you are using. You assume it is the diet that produces the results, not you yourself. The results of a diet are external; if your lucky you may change the outside but not on the inside. Normally once you reach your goal weight, you don’t need the diet anymore and then things gradually go back to “normal”. Then so does the weight, plus more. And all the problems that you hoped that the diet would solve are still there.

Making a lifestyle change involves an internal and permanent change in your relationship with food, eating, and your physical activity. You should recognize that the primary problem isn’t what you eat, or even how much you eat, but how and why you eat. Eating mindlessly and impulsively (without intention or awareness) and/or using food to manage your emotions and distract yourself from unpleasant thoughts—this is what really needs to change. Learning to take good care of yourself emotionally and physically, so that you don’t want to use eating to solve problems it really can’t. Dieting is a lifelong learning process that is constantly changing as your needs and circumstances change.

This doesn’t mean things on the surface don’t matter. Clearly, controlling how much and what you eat is vital, and caring how you look and feel is the great motivator. The key to both permanent weight loss (fat) and feeling satisfied and happy with yourself and your life is for you to take personal responsibility for what you can control, and let go of everything else that is holding you back.

Many factors that are normally out of your control can be your genes, age, medical status and your previous weight history; all will or can affect your weight and appearance. These factors may determine how much weight you can lose, how quickly you’ll lose it, and how you’ll look and feel when you’ve gone as far as you can go. When you focus too much on your weight on the scale or what you see in the mirror, you are staking your happiness and satisfaction on things you really can’t control. That pretty much guarantees that you’ll be chronically worried, stressed, and uncomfortable and will be more likely than ever to have problems with emotional eating and will struggle to lose the body fat.

When you rely too much on external (diet) tools, techniques, and rules to determine your behaviour, you are turning over your personal responsibility to the tools and techniques. If you find yourself frequently losing motivation or feeling powerless to control your own behaviour, it’s probably because you’re counting on the tools to do your part of the work for you. You’re the only one who can decide what’s right for you; only you can change your attitude and perspective to achieve what you want to achieve.


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.


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.


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.  Single set versus multiple sets – New research 2012


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?

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…