Let’s get straight to the point: Can you complete the workout as it is prescribed (as RXd), and should you? It’s a simple yes or no answer to both questions, but it seems to be such a conundrum for many.
Can refers to your ability to perform the movements and/or loads that have been prescribed. Remember, the workout you see on the blog and on the whiteboards is a guideline to ensure that everyone achieves the desired outcome of that workout. Given that everyone is different, everyone performs a modified version of the workout that’s relative to their goals and abilities to ensure that the desired outcome of the workout is achieved.
The question of can you perform the movements/loads as you see it on the whiteboard simply refers to whether you can or can’t complete at least a few repetitions of that task, not taking into account the entire workout. Can you do the RXd workout? If no, modify to ensure that you move with good technique AND intensity while meeting the objectives of the workout. If yes, the next question is should you?
You should complete the workout as RXd only IF you will be able to do so with the desired intensity.
The guidelines loads and reps, the time domains set, and the expectations the coaches give you in class are all there to help you decide on whether you should attempt the workout as RXd or not. There is no point attempting a workout as RXd because you can do everything if you aren’t going to get the right amount of work done within the right amount of time.
If you halve the time of a workout, you double your power output even if you had a lighter load. Double, no ifs ands or buts, double!
Given that power output (which is exactly defined as intensity) is the one variable most closely associated with favourable adaptations to exercise, you should be aiming to optimise your power output at every workout. And that means smartly modifying and scaling the workout, 99% of the time.
Note: “scaling” the amount of reps down to enable you to do the RXd loads is not smart scaling, it’s stupid.
The RXd workout is a guideline and certainly something to work towards. But it’s not a destination.
Resting heart rate (HR), age-predicted maximum HR and HR training zones are commonly used by the general fitness and medical industries, and by some sports, to evaluate health, fitness and training efforts. HR zones are even used to guide training intensity for sports and general fitness. What do those HR numbers mean? More importantly, what are they founded on and are they of any use?
Maximum Heart Rate
Your age-predicted maximum HR is supposed to be 220 – your age. This is said to be the maximum heart rate (MHR) you can safely attain through exercise, regardless of your training status. For example, an obese 20 year old has an MHR of 200, whereas a 30 year old Olympic level decathlete theoretically has an MHR of 190. There’s your first clue that HR data means little – an athlete who’s taken years to qualify for their national Olympic team should have a lower MHR than a 20 year old who’s spent years eating shit while sitting on the couch? Not likely!
Where does that equation come from?
I’m not entirely sure, but it was fed to us by both the medical and exercise science departments since year one at uni, and to decades of students before that. So it’s no surprise that it’s used to widely. I do believe that the number came about through research evaluating exercise and heart disease, so if anything, it may be useful in the training of individuals who have heart disease.
Heart Rate Zones for Training
Have you ever trained with an endurance sports athlete who used an HR monitor? They’re constantly trying to adjust their pace – usually to make it slower – in order to keep their HR in the “aerobic zone” so they can go the distance without boinking. It’s similar to the advice you’ll get from a trainer at a commercial gym or the guidelines you’re given by health schemes – keep your HR at 60-70% of your MHR to stay in the “fat burning zone.”
[I’m genuinely having a chuckle while I read and write this, because those claims actually sound ludacris!]
The image below is an example of these heart rate zones.
Let’s look at an example of these zones and what they tell us about performance. Consider a group of professional athletes all aged 25. In the group we have an F1 driver, marathoner, rugby athlete, baseball pitcher and tennis athlete, all of whom compete at the highest level.
F1 drivers have an average HR of about 160 beats per minute (BPM), which is similar to the average match HR of the tennis athlete and that is not far off from the marathoner’s average race HR. A baseball pitcher (who rarely does much work in a game) has an average game HR of about 175 BPM, similar to that of the rugby player. Interestingly, the average HR of a rugby referee is similar to that of the athletes’!
The fitness requirements of these comparative sports are vastly different, yet they elicit a similar HR response. Could a marathoner perform like the F1 driver if we were to throw them into the cockpit? Would a baseball pitcher go the distance in a game of rugby? It’s not a rhetorical question, the answer is no. There’s more to HR than just physical demands.
Although F1 drivers need to be physically fit, the heat and stress they’re exposed to raises the HR significantly. Similarly, the baseball pitcher’s senses are dialled before pitching the ball and that elevates the HR. Your HR during physical efforts tells us little to nothing about your physical abilities in that task. HR zones are therefore a poor guide for training intensity.
Heart Rate and Training Intensity
A reminder about intensity: It is directly defined as power output which is determined by the amount of work completed in a given time.
Power Output (Intensity) = Work / time
Here is where the HR zone chart starts contradicting HR zone guidelines. Let’s use the most common example to examine this – the endurance athlete. In general, endurance athletes are to keep their training HR in zone 3 to improve aerobic fitness while limiting muscular fatigue. Yet the chart shows that training in zone 5 maximises performance? This is why so many recreational endurance athletes “boink” on race day. That means they “hit the wall,” start cramping up or experience debilitating muscular fatigue. It’s because they focus on preventing themselves from blowing out in training by limiting HR, only to be exposed to a far greater intensity on race day.
Intensity rules, especially when you learn how to adopt very good movement patterns under fatigue.
What about the F1 driver from above. His MHR should be 195. His average race HR is 160 BPM, about 82% of his MHR. According to the HR zone chart, he should only last 2 – 10 minutes. Instead, he is as lit up as his instrument panel all the way through the race!
How does he do that and how do we apply those principles in YOUR training? We use interval training. We get your HR really high, many times higher than what your MHR should be, add in some rest and then repeat several times. Or, we maximise your power output (intensity) in training by keeping the duration of your exercise bouts where there is greatest carry over for all energy systems. And then we ensure that there is a healthy dose of structured variance to keep you working beyond the realms of your experience and comfort.
On the training topic, your HR monitor cannot accurately calculate your caloric expenditure from exercise. The equation is complex.
So, HR is a poor indicator and guide for intensity, training effort and performance – even if you are a true endurance athlete. Regardless of your sport or health goals you simply need to develop the capacity to go harder for longer, and your HR isn’t going to tell you if you’re doing that or not.
Should you control your food portions? It’s a question I’ve covered a lot on the blog and in nutrition seminars. My answer is always yes, and no. Whether you should or not is dependent on your goals and your personality traits. But there’s no point getting into that unless you understand what portion control is.
There are some visual guidelines of what your plate should look like, and for some those guidelines work. If you’d like to get it done correctly you do need to measure your macronutrient intake. It makes the amounts specific to YOU, and the numbers enable you to make educated changes about your portion sizes.
What is a Macro?
Macronutrients (macros) are nutrients that provide calories or energy. Nutrients are substances needed for growth, metabolism, rebuilding and all basic body functions. There are three macronutrients that all food is categorised under:
What do Macros Do?
On one hand, all macros provide calories (energy). Carbohydrate provides 4 calories per gram, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram. Aside from providing calories to fuel various functions, each macro has a different set of responsibilities in the body.
We need CHO because:
They are the body’s main source of fuel.
They are easily used by the body for energy.
All of the tissues and cells in our body can use glucose for energy.
They are needed for the central nervous system, the kidneys, the brain, the muscles (including the heart) to function properly.
They can be stored in the muscles and liver and later used for energy.
They are important in intestinal health and waste elimination.
We need protein for:
Growth (especially important for children, teens, and pregnant women)
Making essential hormones and enzymes
Energy when carbohydrate is not available
Preserving lean muscle mass
Fat is essential for:
Normal growth and development
Energy (fat is the most concentrated source of energy)
Absorbing certain vitamins ( like vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids)
Providing cushioning for the organs
Maintaining cell membranes
Providing taste, consistency, and stability to foods
Why Measure Macros?
As you can read above, macros provide calories. We need enough calories to support exercise but NOT body fat. One reason for measuring macros helps to ensure that you’re getting the correct amount of calories in. The other reason is to ensure that you’re giving your body the correct amount of nutrients it needs to fuel and recover from exercise, and for basic human function.
Food quality is more important than quantity though. You can’t out-measure a shitty diet.
How to Calculate Macros?
There are a ton of different methods but they essentially come down to a few differences. One thing most methods do have in common is that they should be based on the individual’s body composition and levels/type of activity.
Calorie Based: These methods only calculate macros in order to calculate caloric intake and they do so under the belief that weight management is based simply on balancing calories in and calories out. There’s much more to that equation. More importantly, this method leaves people thinking that a calorie is a calorie, and it’s not.
Sustainability Based: These methods keep food categorised at CHO, fat and protein instead of calculating calories. They also place a high emphasis on food quality. The changes implemented in one’s diet are intended to be lifelong so change is gradual and maintainable.
Sports Based: These methods have been founded on systems used for athletes in weight category sports such as martial arts, weightlifting, and powerlifting. Or in sports that simply require an athlete to be at particular body weights for optimal performance or aesthetics. Such methods are characterised by having “cutting,” “building” and “maintenance” phases.
Yay or Nay?
If you are far above or below a healthy body composition, then yes, learn how to calculate and track your macro amounts. If you’d like to improve your performance in general or specifically for an event, yes, calculate your macros. If you would like to AND are able to manage flexibility with the foods you eat, yes, calculate your macros.
But only if you have the correct mindset.
For example, if you have a problem with balance – you know, the all or nothing sort – I would avoid calculated portion control. (If you’re reading this and are denying that you have a problem with balance, you have a problem with balance). Whereas if you are able to manage balance and flexibility in what you do and don’t eat, counting macros could be extremely valuable.
If you are good at AND are honest in understanding your body needs, you shouldn’t need to measure macros at all. That said, a 2-4 week stint of measuring and tracking would be good because you’d be able to compare it to what you’ve been doing by just listening to your body. If you’re good at listening to your body, there shouldn’t be much difference.
Quality and quantity both matter, but unless you, your goals and your approach fit the bill, there’s no point in measuring quantities. More importantly, you can’t out-measure or out-train a shitty diet 😉
Protein powders, proteins, and performance aids are the most popular products in the supplement industry. Too little attention is given to recovery and health based supplements. Vitamin and mineral supplements are becoming increasingly important as the quality of our food diminishes concomitant to ever increasing life stressors. One such mineral is magnesium.
What is Magnesium
Magnesium is one of the four micronutrients (along with sodium, potassium, and calcium) essential to all life. Magnesium is necessary for bone formation as well as calcium metabolism, and converting Vitamin D into an active form in the body.
Magnesium can be found in abundance in a variety of natural foods such as pumpkin seeds, spinach, Brazil nuts, almonds, rice and sesame seeds. While magnesium deficiency is primarily the result of poor diet and food choices, your magnesium levels could still be low even if you follow a healthy diet AND you lead an active lifestyle
How do you know if you are magnesium deficient? Different forms of stress, including exercise, increase magnesium consumption in the body. Adequate magnesium absorption may also be adversely affected by consuming disproportionate amounts of protein and fat relative to carbohydrates (another good reason to calculate your macros), and excessive alcohol consumption. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- Significant decrease in energy levels
- Reduced immunity
- Poor memory
- Training plateaus
- Retrograde performance.
Magnesium and Training
Individuals who train frequently at high intensity need more nutrients because of the increased demand on the body. Magnesium supplementation has been shown to be beneficial for athletes. Studies have found that athletes that supplemented with magnesium were able to perform at higher (relative) intensities for a longer period of time and increased their VO2max (maximum oxygen consumption) during exercise. This effect may have to do with the role magnesium plays in muscle contractions.
Magnesium supplementation has also been shown to combat fatigue. That may be the result of reportedly better sleep with magnesium supplementation, or it could be due to the role magnesium plays in energy production. Regardless, it improves restful sleep and reduces fatigue, and everyone could do with some of that!
Other Benefits of Magnesium Supplementation
- It contributes to a healthy metabolism
- Magnesium contributes to maintenance of healthy teeth and gums (it is necessary for calcium metabolism.). It also contributes to the maintenance of healthy bones. When we exercise we place a large amount of stress on the skeletal system and magnesium has been shown to assist in the repair and maintenance process.
- It contributes to electrolyte balance, which in turn plays a critical role in hydration.
- Magnesium contributes to the normal functioning of the nervous system and has been shown to have a calming effect on the nervous system.
- It aids protein synthesis.
Even if your magnesium levels are normal and your diet provides optimal levels of the mineral, a magnesium supplement will be beneficial to your health and performance. When looking for a magnesium supplement, get one that has no additives.
I’ve written about this topic and presented on it a fair bit, but I couldn’t possibly know what I’m talking about. So here’s a good, easy-to-read article from one of the oldest professionals in our industry.
Is Cardio Making You Skinny Fat?
By Charles Poliquin, Strength Sensei
Not including athletes, the reason most of us exercise is to:
- Obtain or maintain an attractive body
- Stay healthy and prevent disease
Yet, when you ask the majority what they’re doing to get there, they commonly answer:
- Running, cycling, swimming, or any other moderate-intensity steady-state aerobic activity (a.k.a. CARDIO!)
This response stems from the false belief that exercise should focus on burning calories, and the reinforcement from conventional wisdom that endurance training is the best way to stay healthy and fit.
Meanwhile, the only thing cardio promotes is the ability to run for a really long time. And aside from creating a physique that’s far from ideal, this is an inferior biomarker for health and longevity.
- Muscle Mass
- Metabolic Rate
- Body Fat Percentage
- Aerobic Capacity
What’s worse, is that cardio reduces the more critical biomarkers in the process. Those that continue to run, swim, and cycle further and more frequently are losing muscle; and as it continues to decline they’re losing strength, storing fat, and reducing their resting metabolic rate.
Chronic Cardio = Excess Cortisol
One of the ways cardio destroys muscle is via elevations in the stress hormone, cortisol. During exercise, cortisol is secreted as soon as a workout starts and continues to rise until completion.
- A study from 1976 in the Journal of Applied Physiology found two times the cortisol at 30min of exercise (75% intensity) compared to 10min.
The longer the workout, the higher the cortisol, and the slower the speed before it returns to normal. This is demonstrated when comparing the cortisol levels of amateur endurance athletes with the general population. Those running the furthest and most frequently exhibited the highest levels.
- A study from 2011 analyzed the cortisol levels in 304 amateur endurance athletes and the average additional secretion above the control was 42%.
Other than a long list of negative health consequences (altered immune function, cognitive decline, damaged reproductive health, bone loss, etc.), excess cortisol promotes fat storage and muscle loss. Mainly because it inhibits testosterone, and generates a poor testosterone-to-cortisol (T:C) ratio.
A high T:C ratio is anabolic (muscle-building), while a low ratio is catabolic (muscle-wasting).
With cortisol increasing steadily throughout a workout and testosterone peaking at 20-30 minutes, an unfavorable T:C ratio is experienced during lengthy exercise bouts. Leaving those training for marathons and triathlons in a chronic muscle-wasting environment…
…and those fooled into ‘exercising to burn’ not far behind.
Chronic Cardio = Type 2 Fiber Loss
Another way aerobic or endurance exercise leads to muscle loss, is by causing a shift in fiber type. As illustrated below, endurance training produces a considerable shift from Type-2 (favor testosterone) to Type-1 muscle fibers (favor cortisol) in just 16 weeks.
Other than facilitating testosterone and muscle growth, type-2 muscle fibers promote fat loss. Meaning, the less you have the less you burn. Interestingly, the inactive population has more type-2 fibers than endurance athletes.
Implying that NON-runners have superior testosterone-to-cortisol ratios; and suggesting that the practice of ‘jogging’ may be accelerating the muscle loss, fiber shift, and fat storage that’s normally associated with aging.
Chronic Cardio = Reduced RMR
The reason the majority continues to select cardio as their method for getting fit is because they’ve bought into the calorie reduction method to losing weight. They’ve been led to believe that obtaining a better physique requires consuming less calories, burning more calories, or a combination of the two.
Although many end up pushing through the exhausting workouts and extreme battle with hunger to achieve some degree of ‘weight-loss,’ the results are short-lived and the damage is long-lasting. Mainly, because our body seeks an energy homeostasis and adjusts for the low intake (during a diet), or high output (from exercise), by stockpiling fat for future fuel needs, increasing hunger to access more calories, lowering the basal metabolic rate, or burning tissue with a high-energy cost (muscle):
Research suggests that nearly 40% of weight lost in a caloric deficit is muscle.
Aside from the long-term health consequences of less muscle, this further reduces our basal or resting metabolic rate (the # of calories we burn while sedentary). Since 60-75% of our total energy expenditure is determined by this rate, and we’re already fighting a natural reduction with age (3% per decade after the age of 20), this is extremely unfortunate.
Essentially, a caloric-deficit (through diet or exercise) is a double-edged sword – as you continue to decrease the rate at which you burn calories, you lose useful muscle that would otherwise burn additional calories.
Chronic Cardio = Skinny Fat
Those losing ‘weight’ via excessive cardio gain it back because their body has become metabolically inactive. The reductions in muscle and RMR (resting metabolic rate) have made storing more likely and burning more difficult.
Sadly, even those that manage to maintain their new weight wind up with a high-fat, low-muscle physique that isn’t strong, muscular, or attractive.
Those that continue to run further and more frequently to ‘burn’ end up reaching distances and frequencies that produce a skinny-fat physique, that is hardly conducive to the ‘better body’ they started exercising for in the first place.
And what’s it all for? Better aerobic capacity?
Exercise should focus on building and maintaining muscle, not burning calories. This translates to a higher metabolic rate, lower fat storage rate, and decreased risk of degenerative disease and mortality.
Exercise to Build NOT Burn
Individuals that work on building muscle always look better than those that focus on burning calories. Not only because a toned muscular build is more aesthetically pleasing, but because muscle increases our daily burning rate.
People with more muscle burn more energy at rest, and require less exercise to maintain their physique.
The perfect example is a study from 1999 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition that put two groups on a calorie restricted diet, with one doing ‘only cardio’ and the other doing ‘only resistance training.’ Both groups lost weight (28.2lbs and 32lbs respectively), but:
- The ‘only cardio’ participants lost 9lbs of muscle and decreased their RMR by 210 calories/day
- The ‘only resistance’ group lost 1.8lbs of muscle (because of the deficit), and managed to increase their RMR by 63 calories/day!
In other words, the ‘only resistance’ group will burn 273 more calories than the ‘only cardio’ group EVERY day going forward without moving a finger. Plus, they’ll be sporting a stronger, more muscular physique; which aside from being more visually appealing, sets the stage for successful aging.
Link to the original article: http://www.strengthsensei.com/is-cardio-making-you-skinny-fat/
Posts tagged with ‘performance’