Functional vs. Non-Functional Muscle Hypertrophy

Anyone reading this article is going to need to know what I am talking about first. So what is “functional” muscle hypertrophy? Well… whats the function of a muscle? To contract! Therefore, functional hypertrophy is hypertrophy which results in a direct increase in the amount of force that a muscle can contract with. For those of you who do not know what hypertrophy means… it’s basically a fancy and well defined word for biological growth or increase in size. It is fancy but I like it and will not dumb it down.

Anyways, below is a muscle cell! Important bits to note are the myofibril bundles and the sarcoplasmic reticulum.

What you need to know about the sarcoplasmic reticulum, here after referred to SR, is that it is much like a fuel tank. The SR contains calcium ions, glycogen molecules, creatine phosphate, ATP, myoglobin and many other substances important for muscle contraction. It is important to note that hypertrophy of the SR results in longer possible sustained muscle contraction as it increases the storage of energy molecules (gylcogen, ATP, CP) and molecules important for the continuation of the contraction cycle (myoglobin and calcium). Hypertrophy of the SR is referred to as non-functional hypertrophy because it does not directly increase the force of contraction a muscle fiber is capable of. This hypertrophy is commonly seen in bodybuilders as they generally lift weights with lower weight and high repetitions, increasing their need for greater storage of substances in the SR for prolonged muscle contraction. This tends to result in large, bloated looking muscles. BTW I am not bashing bodybuilders as I respect what they do… but this is how it is.

Functional hypertrophy, or hypertrophy brought on by weight training using heavier weight with low reps and high sets, affects the cross-sectional area and density of the myofibril bundles. It is called “functional” because it directly increases the force at which the muscle fibers can contract. It makes sense that training with heavy weights at low repetitions will influence functional hypertrophy as the limiting factor will be the muscles raw force of contraction and not endurance, its all about where the most stimulus is at. A lot of power/olympic lifters train with this idea in mind because lifting very heavy weights is their sport and objective. It doesn’t matter to them what their endurance is like.

There is no fine line between these two types of hypertrophy and there is a great deal of interaction between the two. Many sports require a balance of these types of hypertrophy as too much of one will most often negatively impact an athletes performance. This is, of course, sport specific, and there are many sports out there.

Anyways, that is all I have to say on this matter for now.

Happy training.

Motivation

I think that a lot of people lose their motivation to lift weights and get fit in a relatively short amount of time. I have a few lazy friends and sometimes I ask them why they don’t start going to the gym and throwing some weights around to lose their fat gut. They always answer by saying something along the lines that they just aren’t motivated to do it and that exercising sucks.

I know what their problem is, really I do.

You can not expect to continue exercising consistently for any period of time if exercising is just a serious pain in the ass and makes you want to cry. Personally I like workin out, Shit, if anything I enjoy it and look forward to it. I usually don’t get really pumped up for a workout, I just relax and calmly work my way through it. Makes for a pretty good time I think. But somehow I get the feeling that my method won’t work for a lot people. I think that getting strong is really quite easy and letting the testosterone control you by acting like some kind of animal is pretty much a waste of energy.

Now my friends problem is that he starts lifting because he wants to look good. Nothing wrong with that. But, if it’s not something to look forward to for him then when he does finally look good he will quit. Hahaha, no that’s only if he has insane willpower otherwise he’ll say fuck it and quit long before he reaches his goal.

Anyways, I challenge anyone who reads this to figure out if they actually enjoy exercising or just put up with it. If your one of the guys who just puts up with it then you should find a way to enjoy your time in the gym. Try relaxing and staying calm. Set a bad ass goal for yourself. But never define your own limits before you have reached them and never set goals that cannot be trumped by another goal. There is no mountain top when it comes to fitness and while it may only be possible to achieve greatness in one strength skill at a time, there is always another mountain to take a stab at. I think this is critical for maintaining long term adherence to an exercise plan. Never let a day pass that you don’t improve and always strive to get closer to your chosen mountain top. Damn, I think a post describing this hazy mountain analogy is in order.

My New Goal: The One Arm Chin-up

I view one armed chins as if they have legendary status, they are very rare and I have never known anyone who could do one. I set a goal for a one armed chin a long time ago and to train I did weighted chins and I did this for a long time. I got up to 50 pounds at one point but lost interest as I pursued other things.

Today I discovered that I am closer than ever to performing one. I tried doing weight assisted one arm chins by slinging a rope around a smooth bar so that it acted as a pulley and then I attached 20 pounds to one end. I was able to do a chin without too much difficulty. The last time I tried this I could barely get up with 40 or 50 pounds.

This leads me to believe that I can start doing more specific one arm chin-up work using the method I just described and one arm chins with an assisted rope pull by the other arm.

I will achieve this bad ass skill. It is only a matter of time.

Effort and Its Place in Strength Training

I believe that there is this misconception that putting in an enormous amount of effort into lifting will yield greater results. I have heard people tell me that you constantly need to make yourself uncomfortable to improve. I have been told that the only way to get stronger is by continuously pushing yourself to the very limits of your core. I challenge this notion.

Why is effort so important? Really? For one, things break a lot more often when pushed to the limits, shitting your pants trying to do one more barbell curl is no different than revving your Honda to 7000 rpm. You are much more likely to tear your muscles and your Honda will explode. Other than that, if your not in a competition it just causes unnecessary muscle soreness and probably only slows your progress. Don’t forget that it is also known to produce photos like the one below.

Extreme effort has its place in athletics because athletes are continuously finding themselves in a game situation where it is necessary to push themselves to the limit to succeed. However, It would be unwise to put a lot of effort into strength training and exhaust yourself when you need to spend a lot of time practicing your actual sport.

See things the way I do for a moment. Would you rather be a master or a martyr? A master can do impressive feats of strength while showing little signs of effort. But first, how do you define effort?

-Struggling to control the lift

-Whole body is straining

-Clenching unnecessary muscles: jaw

-Significantly slowed movement speed

I guess that’s how I would describe effort.

Back to the master. Masters avoid these things when they do their crazy shit and as a result, they make it look easy. They can do this because they train without effort to make the strength feats they do, look and feel easy. A martyr grinds rep after rep, constantly riding the edge of failure. They make training difficult for themselves and it shows. Is this an efficient way to train? I say no.

If a person terminates their sets well before they fail, perhaps when movement speed begins to slow down, they will not experience as much fatigue or muscle soreness. This will allow a person to lift more sets per training session, increasing the volume of weight lifted and all the while reducing muscle soreness, which also allows more frequent lifting sessions. I know this because I have tested it. Besides, soreness does not directly equal muscle growth. It may well play a part in muscle growth but the only thing that is really known for sure is that soreness equals muscle damage. I am not in favor of muscle damage and it seems silly and counterproductive if my goal is muscle growth.

The way I see things, muscle growth is driven by various stimulus. Example: A person lifts weights either heavy or light. If heavy, the persons myofibrils increase in size and density as more contractile filaments are synthesized. If light, the persons muscle sarcoplasm swells to allow greater storage of calcium and nutrients involved in prolonged muscle contraction. There is much interaction between these two types of hypertrophy and both can and do occur as a result of adaptation to strength training. It should also be noted that nervous system development and coordination is also a huge determinant of strength. Screaming in agony to pump one more rep out is not going to drive these adaptations any more than taking a short rest and pumping that rep with ease.

I am a Kinesiology student and have some knowledge of muscle anatomy and physiology which I draw upon to make these conclusions, this doesn’t make my opinion valid although it makes perfect sense to me. I challenge you to test these things yourself, do a little research and make your own opinions.

This is what I’m talking about right here.

Happy Training.

Bending Nails

You may be wondering why anyone would want to bend nails. Sounds pretty ridiculous when you first hear it. It is done with wraps ranging from a washcloth to full out leather to prevent damage to the hands and skin. I want to do this because nail bending is very challenging and I think will have awesome effects on my body. So far I have been bending for a month and I have noticed that joints like my elbows and wrist had a lot of catching up to do with my chest and back. They have since healed and feel stronger than ever. It stresses your chest and lats mostly but because the power is transferred through your wrists it makes them strong as hell. I gotta say that since I’ve started my other lifts have been improving as well. Maybe a result of bending or just a coincidence but it’s what I observe.

I have set a goal to bend a 60 penny nail, which at the moment seems impossible and I think is a worthy achievement.

A 60 penny nail is 6″ long and 1/4″ thick and is considered somewhat of a standard in the nail bending world. It stops most people dead in their tracks. At this point in my training I can bend 4″ by 3/16″ cold rolled steel and am doing around 20 at a time. I can do this underhand, overhand and kink it in reverse style. I think when these small nails get too easy I’ll just try to find some 7″ bolts and see if I can bend those. Hopefully I can do a 60 penny by this time. Otherwise I’m outta ideas for now.

60 penny nails are pretty rank as you can see.

Grip Training and Why It’s Worth It.

Grip training basically refers to lifts that train the fingers, wrist and hand to grow larger and stronger. It’s a little unusual and people seem to like asking me why I would bother training my grip. Here are my thoughts on why grip training is valuable.

Grip strength is very effective at increasing the strength of the tissues involved in grip both connective and muscular. Muscles and tendons build up their connective tissue as the muscle increases in strength and really important tissues like ligaments respond by getting denser and stronger. The skin on the fingers and palm also get thicker and tougher and if you do crazy shit like tear decks of cards in half and bend steel spikes you get monstrous calluses all over your hands. Because grip training strengthens your hand tissues so much it’s also great for rehabilitating wrist injuries. Which is exactly why I started including grip exercises when I lift. Many people have relatively weak hands and wrists compared to the rest of their body in part because the grip is just not challenged using small diameter barbells and dumbbells and grip strength simply gets left behind. I fit the bill pretty closely and as a result got bad sprains in both of my wrists when I started kickboxing. I used grip exercises like the plate pinch dead lift, plate curls, sledgehammer levers and thick bar lifts and within a few weeks I could see a difference in how often and severe pain occurred. By the way I am not a doctor and I’m not qualified to guarantee shit, but this is what I did, you decide if it’s bullshit. Right, moving on from my story of triumph, grip training is also obviously beneficial in sports where you use your hands in any way, which is a lot of them. It’s also entertaining and surprisingly addictive, it will turn your hands will turn into a pair of vice-grips and studies have shown that grip strength is a strong indicator of a persons well-being, huh, whooda thought it? And fuck, if all else fails at least you’ll have a pair of gorilla looking forearms.

But wait, wait, wait put down the god damn hand gripper there’s more to grip training than that! Yes I’m talking about integrative grip training. It’s like this, if you’re gonna spend a bunch of time getting stronger hands and wrists you might as well train the rest of your body at the same time. This is easier than you might think and I will explain, but first: There are literally dozens of different ways to train the grip but the lifts I mostly concern myself with are fat-bar lifts, plate pinch lifts, plate curls, sledgehammer levering and hand gripper work.

Fat-bar lifts: This is bread and butter grip training along with plate pinch lifts. Standard barbell handles are simply too thin to stress the grip unless your lifting some seriously heavy shit. Common fat-bar handle diameters are anywhere from 2″ to 3″. If you can hook your hands on anything larger than a 3″ then you have some big fucken hands. Fat-bar handles stress the finger and wrist flexors and to a lesser degree the thumb flexors. Fat-bar handles are also easy to incorporate into your training if you don’t mind the looks of people wondering “what the…” http://www.fatgripz.com sells a 2.25″ handle that fits on almost anything and its 35 dollars. I ,however, use 2″ and 2.5″ ABS pipes that fit over my dumbbells and barbells and this works for me. I like to do dead lifts, rows, chin-ups and cleans with a fat bar and like to alternate using dumbbells and barbells, one arm or both.

Plate Pinch Lifts: I consider a plate pinch to be any grip movement that uses the thumb and fingers to grip an implement with parallel sides with vary thickness. Plate pinches can be as narrow as sheet steel or as wide as your hand will handle. Plate pinches work the thumb flexors, finger flexors and wrist extensors due to how it is lifted and held in the air. I like to do dead lifts and rows with one arm or both when I do plate pinches. My apparatus looks a lot like the one below.

Plate Curls: Plate curls are done by gripping the end of a smooth plate and curling it to your chin. 25, 35 and 45 pound plates are milestones but differ enormously in difficulty and a clamp is necessary to to attach smaller weights and bridge the gap. Plate curls stress the thumb, finger and wrist flexors and put significant stress on the connective tissues of the wrist, resulting in tough wrists, or injuries if you don’t train smart. I believe that a 25 pound plate is about average or maybe a bit above. 45 pound plate curls are very rare.

Sledgehammer Levering: Heavy sledgehammer levers are quite impressive. The most common lift is probably the overhead lever but there are many others which train all forms of wrist movement in different ways. This is a really good site that covers different hammer levers in detail. http://www.sherdog.net/forums/f13/lever-shot-smashys-illustrated-guide-levering-813568/

Hand Grippers: This is the form of grip training that most people will be familiar with. Hand grippers come in differing sizes, strength and handle knurling. Ironmind is a popular brand that is well known for its grippers. Grippers are pretty cool and training with them will likely result in a gnarly handshake but it is my opinion that they don’t transfer strength to other grip exercises particularly well. Most people do not make good progress with grippers because they do not know how to set them. Most grippers need to be set to a smaller handle spread to accommodate a persons hand size. A common set is the parallel set and I know that ironmind requires a credit card set to be certified. This site covers this topic very well so I will direct you there for detailed information that I am not qualified give.        http://www.gripfaq.com/Hand_Grippers/

While I am on the topic, I own this hand gripper and I think that it is pretty fucking awesome. It’s also adjustable which could save money. The Vulcan Hand Gripper

Well that’s all I got for now so if somehow people actually come across this page I hope that I have created an interest in this sick sport.

Biofeedback Training and How To Use It

In the past year Ive been training with a particular philosophy in mind. That is to train using my body’s biofeedback systems. What in the hell is this guy talking about, right? Well I’ll explain. By performing a “test” I can decide whether or not a particular movement is going to benefit me or not on a training day. Suppose You want to train overhead press, so to test that movement what I do is the toe touch test.

1. Bend over to touch your toes and stretch until you just begin to feel tension. That is tension anywhere, like hamstring, calves, lower back, shoulders. Now remember the spot where you began to feel tension.

2. Perform the desired movement for a set. If you want to do high reps and lower weight, then do a set with high reps and lower weight. Same with if you want to train heavy, do the movement with heavy weight.

3. Do the toe touch again. If your ROM without tension increases, then you sir have found an a movement that will yield better results on that training day. If it decreases then you should test either a different variation of the movement you just tested or try something else.

There is a huge number of variations to choose from. To give you an idea just think of the overhead press. You can be standing or seated. You can use a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell. On the barbell you can change hand position from narrow to wide. You can change your leg stance to staggered, straight, wide, narrow if you are standing. With a dumbbell or kettle bell you can do one arm presses. Your imagination is pretty much the limit.

The toe touch isn’t the only test. There is a way to use a gripper device where you measure changes in grip strength that I don’t know much about because the toe touch works fine. The test isn’t always necessary either, sometimes I just know what I want to do and when I do the movement it feels good and I feel like i have strength and power. If I do decide to do the test on these days it only confirms what I already knew.

You have probably never heard of this idea before and are probably pretty skeptical about it. But you should first try it yourself and explore the idea before you simply hit the back button with the first impression that this guy doesn’t know whats going on. The rewards are great if you use biofeedback in your training. Like fewer injuries, better strength gains and the awesomeness of never really having a shitty work-out. Ya that qualifies as great.