Tonic and Phasic – Why you can’t treat your muscles the same.

The basics are the same.  Our nervous system sends a signal. Groups of muscle fibers respond and contract.  Muscle groups work in concert with each other to create motion in our skeleton.  The action of this muscle contraction is across the hinge of any variety of joint.  Using this joint as a fulcrum, the two lengths opposite the joint either increase their angle or decrease their angle.

Got all that?  Ok good.  When our muscles contract and result in an increased or “opening” of this angle we call it extension. When we decrease or “close” this angle we call it flexion.  There are plenty of other actions that can occur. Rotation, supination, pronation… but we are going to focus on extension and flexion.

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The Laws of Fitness: The Law of Diminished Returns

Improving performance is a process.  It doesn’t happen over night and it doesn’t come without a lot of work. In fact,  one thing that becomes apparent as we progress as athletes: The better we get, the harder we have to work to get better.

Everyone starts their path of training at different times, with different levels of experience and for a multitude of different reasons. There is commonality in the things that happen to us when we all start, regardless of whether we are trying to run faster, go longer, lift heavier and more. quads

We get started on a new program, we start training and for the first week or so, we are sore. Our body is trying to get used to the “abuse” that we call training.  Soon after that we quickly see increases in strength and speed.  We start to see progress and it seems like all we have to do is more and the results will keep coming. The day eventually comes when the progress starts to slow down.  We have to do twice as much to get half the results.

Depending on our level of experience, the first 1-3 weeks of a new program is all about Inter-Muscular Coordination. This means that we our Central Nervous System is learning which muscles to use and when. We may be able to start moving more weight but it has nothing to do with strength. Imagine that you and friends were going to push a car. This phase would be like trying to pick which friends and how many you need to push.  The car is obviously going to be able to move faster, based off the fact that you have learned to recruit more to your cause.

The Next 1-3 weeks, is about Intra-Muscular Coordination. Now that our body knows which muscles to use, we now have to get all the muscles to work together.  This involves developing timing and balance. Not just getting one muscle to work at the right time, but being able to properly utilize a whole muscle group or groups.  Back to our car pushing analogy, this would mean getting everyone in our group to heave and push together and at the same time.

These first two phases are often considered the Novice phase. This has nothing to do with your level of experience or athletic background. This is solely based on how your body is responding to the stimulus. In these phases, it seems like everything that you do is making you stronger or faster and that all you have to do is keeping doing more. dyel

After so many week we finally hit the prized phase of Hypertrophy. This is the point where I body realizes that it has turned on the right muscles and that they are working together, but they need more. Your body then turned to increases muscle size and density in an effort to increase contractile force of the muscle.  In order for this phase to continue, we must continue to provide stimulus that our body will respond to. In addition to this we must also be able to provide the correct nutrition for our body to be able to grow and develop our muscles.

The unfortunate part is that most people do not always make it to this point.  They assume that because their progress has slowed down that the program is no longer working. This could not be further from the truth. Reaching this phase is where your body actually begins making changes. Far too many people will start a program and only do it for 6-8 weeks and then stop because their growth slowed, and then start something else. They then wonder why it seems that they never get any stronger.  People will consider this an insurmountable plateau and move on to a new program. In fact, once you reach the hypertrophy phase there will be several plateau’s that one will work through. gain-muscle-protein-meme-284x300

In contrast to this, muscles take a lot of protein and nutrients to be maintained and develop.  This is why if we take too much time away from training our muscles begin to atrophy.  Muscle mass that is very nutritionally expensive to build, and if it isn’t being used our body begins breaking it down so that the body will not need so many resources.

The worst part is that you can’t always just do more for the sake of doing more. There is only so much time in the day and so much volume that our bodies can endure without reaching the point of exhaustion and potentially causing injury.

There is no escaping it. The harder you work, the harder you will have to work. This is what will separate the novice athletes who are perpetually jumping from program to program, and the committed who work day in and day out.

The Laws of Fitness: Wolff’s Law

We work out with the intent of increasing the strength and size of our musculature.  At that the same time that we are working on our muscles, our body is also thinking about our bone structure.  Without a skeleton to provide support our muscles become practically useless. Our bicep cannot create flexion with out a joint and to structures with which to create flexion. Just like a crane is useless without a cable AND a boom, we are not able to create the movement we need without both parts. Luckily with all the time that we spend working on our muscles, our body is smart enough also strengthen our skeleton. Read More

The Laws of Fitness: SAID Principle

When it comes to fitness there are very few things that are set in stone.  There are so many techniques, movements, and varieties of methods. It can be argued that some may be better than others but to some extent they may all hold some value. Our bodies are wonderous devices capable of far exceeding the limits that we believe them to have. So when it comes to training and preparing our bodies, there may not be a wrong or right way, but there are things that we do know to be true and are the standing concepts with which all of this running around, lifting weights, biking, running, and pure simple hours of sweat are based on.

That being the case there are several “laws” that we do know exist and operate with out fail. The first is known as the SAID Principle. For the sake of this conversation we will acknowledge it as being a “law”.  The SAID Principle is “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands”.  In simple terms our bodies get better at what we make them do. Read More

Them vs. You vs. Me

Everyone’s discovery of Crossfit, was not immediately followed by the statement that they were going to be the greatest Crossfitter ever.  The first time we read about it or show up at our local box, making it to the Crossfit Games was the furthest thing from out minds.  Our interest started for different reasons. We were hoping to lose weight. We were hoping to be in better shape for our kids. We wanted to be better at a sport. We wanted to be better at our jobs. We didn’t want to feel our age.  We want to prepare for a run, ride, obstacle race, etc…

Regardless of our motivations, we walked in the door and we got started.  From there we have done numerous workouts and countless reps.  Every so often we take on a benchmark WOD or even sign up for a local competition to see how we are doing.  Or we venture out and play a sport or take on some completely new challenge.  The main thing that we must understand is that there is a difference between Training and Testing.table_011

One measure that people will use is the Rate 0f Perceived Effort (RPE).  Rate of perceived effort (or exertion) simply provides a subjective way for you to describe how hard you would describe a given workout. The  Borg Rating Scale runs from 6 – 20. This may appear to be an odd range, but the intent is that the rating number multiplied by 10 should be comparable to your heart rate for that activity.  So running at an RPE  12 pace, should put you in the ball park of an 120 beats per minute pulse rate.   And similarly for someone at maximal exertion would have a heart rate very near to your max heart rate. This is generally found by subtracting your age from 220.

(Max Heart Rate = 220 – Age)

So for a 22 year old, that would mean: 220 – 22=198, their Max heart rate is 198.

The older that we get the lower our max heart rate becomes, and the more subjective this scale becomes.

Other RPE scales are based off of a more familiar  1 – 10 comparison. 0 being no exertion and a 10 being the hardest you could possibly go.  One of the best references that I have found and utilize is this.

chart

Everyone has different strengths and can lift different weight and move different speeds. So just like I can ask someone to lift 90% of a max lift, I can also ask someone for 90% effort.

Training

This is an important concept in training. If I  come and are working on max effort deadlifts you may not be horribly sore the next day but you aren’t going to be ready to perform at your highest level. Your body just underwent great stress both on your musculature and your central nervous system. Simply put; your circuits are going to be a little fried.  This could be potentially limiting for your training for the next day or two.  From a training standpoint, going a 100% one day, will probably put you at 80% the next day, and then possibly 60% the day after.
This is why we program a rest day every few days to give our body the opportunity to recover.   From a training stand point, we don’t need to go to our max everyday.  When we consider our RPE our best training is when we are consistent. If I can push myself and keep my RPE at about an 8 out of 10, then I will be getting a good workout but my body will be able to recover adequately before my next workout.

Testing

Testing are those times when we want to know what our MAXIMUM capacity or output can be. One Rep Maxes. Time Trials. Benchmark WODs. Competing in local competitions, or even the Crossfit Open. These are the times when we measure our progress. Every day is not a testing day.  In fact, testing days should not be that frequent.   Testing too often breaks up the consistency of a training program and slow progress not always enhance progress. This is especially the case when training for an event or competition. In these cases people set up their training programs to allow them to “peak” at the time of their competition.

One of the things that gets people in trouble tends to be impatience.  Athletes when they are following a program, especially if it s a new program, start to get curious about how well its working.  Maybe they can see some progress and they want to see where they are at now. Or maybe they aren’t seeing the immediate progress and need to know that their program is working.  In cases like this you have to trust in your coach and their programming.  Testing itself isn’t bad, just testing too often.

Testing gives us a chance to really “open up the throttle” and see how well we can do.  When done right, testing can give you an opportunity to mark your growth and improvements.  Progress can take many forms. Improved movement, increased strength, improved times.  When done wrong, it can impede our training and even give us a false sense of accomplishment or success.

Truth in Numbers

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As we have just seen, most cross fitters have just finished up the Crossfit Open. Unfortunately with any competition there is always those that are trying to find a competitive edge, sometimes beyond the limits of what is permissable.  It is usually a case of pushing the standard of what is a good rep and a no rep.  For the competitors that hope to make it to Regionals or even the Crossfit Games, the lines can be blurred because of the motivations of profit and celebrity. In the case of those of us that rank much further down on the list, it tends to be a case of ego. Athletes jockeying for position on the leaderboard but willing to perform and count questionable reps. Just to try to gain a few spots or do better than the person next to them.  They are afraid of the damage their ego will take when they realize that their performance isn’t quite where they think it should be.  If we cheat our testing, or sacrifice the standard just to rank higher and to make ourselves feel better, then where we really lose out is in understanding what we can do to actually get better. Do you want to say that you ranked a few positions higher or do you want to we truly desire to get better and have our integrity in tact in the end.

In the end we need to understand where we should put forth out efforts.  Consistency is the secret. Rome was not built is a day, and neither can we expect to build ourselves to be as great as we dream unless we are willing to put in some SMART and HARD work.  We need to train to get better, and we need to test from time to time to know and see how much we have gotten better. As athletes, we need to put more trust in our training and embrace the process not just the progress.

Hey Joe, What do you know (Part 2: The Good News)

Some people already do it and but everyone has at least seen it, the guy with his shaker mixing up his pre-workout before they hit the gym.   We have talked about the basics of what caffeine does inside our body, but can we use it to increase our performance.

Given that we have three different energy systems, we will have to explore the effects on all three if we really want to understand how it can improve our performance. Read More

One Must Imagine Crossfitters Happy

Lets get philosophical for a moment. In the talk of fitness and the pursuit of health one thing can sometimes get left out. Its not easy, in some cases its down right hard, and its not always fun. Sometimes the workouts are hard and then sometimes devastating. Sometimes it seems easy to eat healthy, and then other times it feels like we are surrounded by temptation in the form of cookies, soda and (insert appropriate guilty pleasure here).  There isn’t a party or cheerleaders when you resist the temptation or finish a workout.  So why do we keep doing it?  Can we learn to enjoy the “grind” and take pleasure in the process and not just the results?

Lets take a look back in history and mythology at the most epic grinder of them all:  Sisyphus.

The story of Sisyphus comes from Greek mythology. He is known more for his punishment in death, than the things that he did in life. His life was interesting enough, but we will concentrate on his punishment and death. In case your are curious however. The Myth of Sisyphus

Sisyphus, for his deeds in life was sentenced to an eternity of rolling a massive boulder up a mountain, only to reach the top and have the boulder roll back down.  The Greek gods felt that there would be no worse punishment than to endure an eternity of futile and fruitless labor. Read More

HOW do I get better?

There is a simple truth that any one that does crossfit, powerlifting, bodybuilding, endurance training, or any other type of physical fitness training will understand. “We are what we repeatedly do:  Our body has learned to adapt and will adapt as long as it feels the need. So in order to get better, stronger or faster, we must first understand the mechanisms that cause it to happen.

But HOW do we get better?  There are three different areas that we improve in; Central Nervous System, Hypertrophy, and Energy Systems.

Central Nervous System

Our Central Nervous System, or CNS, is comprised of our brain, spinal cord and nerves. This system of neurotransmitters created our ability to communicate and contraol out body. If our body was our car, it would be the wires, controls, sensors, computer and spark plugs. We are training our CNS every time we move, experience, feel. From a training stand point we think of this as practice, and it results in better balance, coordination, accuracy and agility. Read More

Are You Tough Enough?

One often over looked key to fitness has nothing to do with your lungs, heart, muscles or bones. Instead, we have to look to what lies between our ears.  There is a mental aspect of our training that we don’t always seem to understand. Mental toughness is not something that we walk into our local gym and PR. I can add 10 lbs to my deadlift, but I can’t exactly measure my mental toughness. We all know what it feels like to have one of those days where it does not feel like we had our head in the game, so the question is how do I improve my physical game by improving my mental game.

One of the best definitions that I have heard to describe mental toughness is “the ability or willingness to suffer”.  I think we can all understand that. Nobody can force you to do a workout.  Some one may tell you to do the workout, but they can’t do the workout for you. At some point you made the decision that you were about to do “Fran”. It was a conscious and willing (albeit probably hesitant) decision, and in that act elected to suffer. The reason that we decide to suffer is that we feel that by sacrificing our short term comfort, we will improve our long term fitness. This concept is very similar to another word he have all heard. Discpline.  An ability to obey or follow a code or rule of behavior. In this case, our behavior involves routine sacrifice for our personal betterment. Read More

Lessons from 2015

The difference that a year makes. Every time you think that you know something, all you really do is realize how much more you don’t know. Even in the past year it seems like all I have done is start discovering how much more there is to the iceberg. In some cases we find something completely different, and in other cases we start to see how deep the rabbit hole really goes and how important it really is. As I enter 2016 here is the biggest most notable “icebergs” that I take with me from 2015.  And as the year goes on, we will keep traveling down some of these “rabbit holes”.

1 – What Are You Training For? Have a goal, have a reason for the journey. Maybe its training for a competition, or working towards a new a certain weight on a lift, or a new run time. But have a reason to show up every day. Write down that goal, Write down three reasons you want that goal and three ways to meet it.  Make it realistic, make it attainable, and make it measureable. Not just “I want to get better at double-unders”. Instead I want to string 10 double-unders in the next month. “ Read More