Category Archives: Guest Blogs

Muscles Cannot Change Size Without Changing Shape

Let me lay down the groundwork for this guest article from Andrew Vigotsky. On March 3rd, I posted THIS thread on Facebook. It’s a before/after pic of Casey Bergh, which I used to illustrate my point that muscles can indeed change shape. Many fitness professionals chimed in, stating that muscles don’t change shape, they just grow. Before I entered the S&C scene, I was a high school Algebra and Geometry teacher, so I know my mathematics. I kept stating repeatedly throughout the thread that muscles don’t just grow proportionately larger, and that since the fixed endpoints don’t grow as much as the muscle belly, the shape must necessarily change. In addition, some regions grow more than other regions depending on which portion of the muscle is most highly activated, but that’s not as important.

My colleague Andrew and I were discussing this one night, and in typical fashion, he sent me this guest article a few hours later. Andrew is the smartest kid I’ve ever known, and when his mind is fixed on something, he gets to the bottom of it very quickly. You might be thinking, “who gives a shit?,” in which case we wouldn’t blame you. But this is the sort of thing that biomechanics geeks love to contemplate. We’re not saying that resistance training turns triangles into rectangles, we’re simply stating that muscles cannot grow without changing shape. Hopefully at least a few of you geeky meatheads will appreciate the article. 

Muscles Cannot Change Size Without Changing Shape
By Andrew Vigotsky

Last week, Bret posted a rant on Facebook describing how muscles can change shape. Many say this is impossible, but to be frank, they’re wrong. The purpose of this piece is to show, mathematically, that a muscle cannot change size without changing shape.

Firstly, it is important that we understand how shapes are comparable. Shapes can be compared in three ways.

  1. Congruency – congruent shapes can be made identical and superimposable by translating, rotating, or reflecting.
  2. Similarity – similar shapes can be made identical and superimposable by translating, rotating, reflecting, or proportional
  3. Isotopy – isotopic shapes can be made identical and superimposable by deforming a shape in such a way that does not “break” it (think tying a knot).

When it comes to muscle, the most appropriate measure of comparing its shape is similarity, as it changes size, so scaling may be necessary.

In order to do this, we will assume muscle has a hyperbolic cosine (my favorite function) shape, which does have a strong correlation with a muscle’s actual architecture. Next, we know points of muscle attachment cannot change, so let’s say the muscle before and following hypertrophy is modeled by the following function, where x is a position and α is the coefficient of hypertrophy.

1Graphically, it looks like this. Of course, these numbers are arbitrary, but the principles of this model still hold true.

2

Let’s say the muscle doubles in size, α = 2.

3

Traditionally, shapes are compared using Procrustes analysis, which is when the shapes are optimally scaled, rotated, and superimposed to best match. Then, Procrustes distance is calculated by

4Of course, this is an approximation, as, in reality, there are an infinite number of points that can be analyzed. Nevertheless, I used MATLAB to find the Procrustes distance between these two functions. If a distance exists (d > 0), then these functions are dissimilar.

Using 4585 points, a distance of .0070 was found. Using 5 points, a distance of .0074 was found. These functions are not similar; therefore, these shapes are different.

A muscle cannot change size without changing shape, as the attachments of a muscle remain constant, but the size of the muscle changes. In order for a muscle to remain the same shape, the attachments would need to shift with changes in size. Lastly, this model assumes uniform growth, but in reality, this does not occur, and non-uniform growth would make d even larger (more dissimilarity).

Sugar – The Sweet Truth

The following is a guest article discussing the evidence behind sugar by my friend Menno Henselmans. For some of you, the following information is going to seem hard to believe. I confess, when I first learned the truth about sugar, I was highly skeptical. However, starting a couple of years ago, I quit worrying about the complexity (pun intended) of my carbohydrate intake, and during this time, my physique has actually gotten better due to gaining strength. It’s such a relief to know that as long as I hit my caloric and macronutrient targets, I can enjoy a variety of carbohydrate sources depending on my preferences without negatively impacting body composition and health. Knowledge is power my friends. Check out Menno’s personal trainer certification course HERE

Sugar – The Sweet Truth
Written by: Menno Henselmans

There are only 2 things that every nutritionist in the world seems to agree on (and we know everyone is a nutritionist these days). Vegetables are good and sugar is bad.

But things aren’t so black and white if we let the light of science shine on sugar. Will sugar make you fat? It depends on your diet.

Specifically, sugar’s effect on your body composition depends on if your diet has a predefined set of macros that you stick to every day or if you just eat until you’re full.

All-you-can-eat sugar

If you eat until you’re full (ad libitum, as researchers call it), and you start adding sugar to your coffee, your oatmeal and your protein shakes, you are most likely going to gain weight (or lose less weight, if you’re in an energy deficit).

The reason is simple. Sugar scores very low on the satiety index. This means it doesn’t fill you up much relative to how much energy you consume. So if you add sugar to a meal, you won’t eat much less of it. In fact, you may eat more of it because it’s tastier (higher palatability, as labcoats say). Adding sugar to your meals will thus generally increase your energy intake.

And since your body follows the laws of physics, specifically the laws of thermodynamics, what happens to your weight depends on your body’s energy balance. You gain weight in an energy surplus, because energy will be stored. You lose weight in an energy deficit, because your body will have to oxidize AKA burn bodily tissue to get enough energy.

sugar

Sugar tracking

Ok, so far so obvious. But what we really want to know is this. Is table sugar AKA sucrose (50% glucose, 50% fructose) more fattening than starches like rice or oatmeal when you consume the same amount of calories?

Many studies have compared groups eating a diet with the same macronutrient composition (% protein, % fat, % carbs) that differed only in which carb sources were consumed. The groups eating lots of sugar lose just as much fat without losing more muscle mass than the groups consuming little or no sugar [2-3]. In studies where complex carbs like whole-wheat bread are replaced with sugar but the total caloric intake is kept constant, no body composition changes take place [4].

So as long as you track your macros, having sugar in your diet is in itself not bad for your physique. And it gets even better.

Not so simple

A 6 month study of 390 participants found that this is true for all simple carbs, like fructose (fruit sugar) and lactose (milk sugar): whether you consume simple or complex carbs does not affect your body composition [1]. Or, for that matter, your blood lipids, an important marker of your cardiovascular (heart) health.

While it is easy to classify simple carbs as bad and complex carbs as good, the distinction between simple and complex carbs is in fact completely arbitrary. It is merely a medical tradition that we call carbohydrates with 3 or more sugars ‘complex carbs’ and we call carbohydrates with 1 or 2 sugars ‘simple carbs’.

What about blood sugar?

It is a myth that sugar causes a massive blood sugar spike followed by a complete crash. The effect on a food’s blood sugar is measured by the glycaemic index (GI). Sugar, due to its 50% fructose content, has a GI of ~68, which is a ‘medium’ effect on blood sugar. Sugar even has a lower GI than whole-wheat bread, which has a GI of ~71 [7]. The same applies to the insulin index [6].

What about health?

There are many cultures in tropical climates thriving on diets of up to 90% carbohydrates [8-10]. And we’re not talking oatmeal and broccoli here. These cultures rely on sugary fruits. In fact, honey is the favorite food of the Hadza from Tanzania [9].

Evolution has made sure our bodies can deal with sugar, because it is found in many of the world’s most nutritious foods: fruits. Fruit is in fact one of the foods humans have consumed for the longest period of our genetic existence. It has been a staple in our diet ever since we were still monkeys living in the jungle [5, 11]. And glucose is literally in our blood.

Conclusion

Sugar isn’t bad. Nor is it good. Sugar has empty calories. It doesn’t satiate. But if your overall diet is very nutritious, you are healthy and physically active and you are tracking your macros, sugar won’t make your abs fade into a mountain of lard. You don’t have to live on rice and broccoli. And unless you have a food intolerance, you certainly shouldn’t avoid fruit or dairy because they contain sugar. That’s exactly the kind of broscience that drives bodybuilders into following obsessive and monotone diets that aren’t healthy in psychological or nutritional terms.

Interested in more articles like this and advancing your fitness education? Have a look at the Bayesian PT certification program, an evidence based course about the science of physique training.

About the Author

Menno

Online physique coach, fitness model and scientific author, Menno Henselmans helps serious trainees attain their ideal physique using his Bayesian Bodybuilding methods. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter and check out his website for more free articles.

References

  1. Randomized controlled trial of changes in dietary carbohydrate/fat ratio and simple vs complex carbohydrates on body weight and blood lipids: the CARMEN study. The Carbohydrate Ratio Management in European National diets. Saris WH, Astrup A, Prentice AM, Zunft HJ, Formiguera X, Verboeket-van de Venne WP, Raben A, Poppitt SD, Seppelt B, Johnston S, Vasilaras TH, Keogh GF. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000 Oct;24(10):1310-8.
  2. Weight loss in overweight subjects following low-sucrose or sucrose-containing diets. West JA, de Looy AE. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 Aug;25(8):1122-8.
  3. Metabolic and behavioral effects of a high-sucrose diet during weight loss. Surwit RS, Feinglos MN, McCaskill CC, Clay SL, Babyak MA, Brownlow BS, Plaisted CS, Lin PH. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Apr;65(4):908-15.
  4. Extended use of foods modified in fat and sugar content: nutritional implications in a free-living female population. Gatenby SJ, Aaron JI, Jack VA, Mela DJ. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Jun;65(6):1867-73.
  5. The biology of the colonizing ape. Wells JC, Stock JT. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2007;Suppl 45:191-222.
  6. Effect of glucose, sucrose and fructose on plasma glucose and insulin responses in normal humans: comparison with white bread. Lee, B. M. ; Wolever, T. M. S. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dec, 1998, Vol.52(12), p.924(5)
  7. Atkinson, F. S., Foster-Powell, K., & Brand-Miller, J. C. (2008). International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008. Diabetes Care, 31(12), 2281-2283.
  8. Lindeberg, S. (2009). Food and western disease: health and nutrition from an evolutionary perspective. John Wiley & Sons.
  9. Tubers as fallback foods and their impact on Hadza hunter-gatherers. Marlowe FW, Berbesque JC. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2009 Dec;140(4):751-8.
  10. Hypertension, the Kuna, and the epidemiology of flavanols. McCullough ML, Chevaux K, Jackson L, Preston M, Martinez G, Schmitz HH, Coletti C, Campos H, Hollenberg NK. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2006;47 Suppl 2:S103-9; discussion 119-21.
  11. The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. Lieberman, D. 2014.

Four Reasons Why Athletes Must Sprint

Robert A. Panariello MS, PT, ATC, CSCS
Professional Physical Therapy
Professional Athletic Performance Center
New York, New York 

The athlete’s ability to sprint at high velocities is an integral component in the related fields of Sports Rehabilitation and the Performance Enhancement Training of athletes. A principal objective of the rehabilitation process is to restore the athlete to their previous level of athletic performance including the athlete’s pre-injury running velocity. With regard to the athlete’s performance enhancement training, a necessary component of training, when appropriate, would be to enhance the athlete’s abilities in linear velocity. The review of the various rehabilitation and/or performance enhancement training program designs often leads to the inquiry, as well as reveals the lack of an appropriate programmed sprinting volume as often the focus of the running volume prescription is “tempo” in nature. The Rehabilitation and Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Professional must ensure that the athlete incorporates an appropriate and proficient amount of sprinting volume into their rehabilitation and performance enhancement training program designs. Based on the athlete’s medical history, demonstrated physical quality levels, biological age, training history, etc., these appropriately prescribed sprinting volumes will vary from athlete to athlete. Nonetheless it is essential to incorporate appropriate high velocity sprinting volumes into the athlete’s rehabilitation and performance training program design.

The following are some of the simple explanations for prescribing suitable sprinting volumes for the athlete:

  1. Speed Enhancement – The obvious reason for the incorporation of appropriate sprinting volumes is for the athlete to increase their linear velocity. Speed is a dangerous weapon in the world of sport and the fastest athletes will have a distinct advantage over their slower opponent in the arena of athletic competition.
  1. Improve the co-activation index of the lower extremity musculature – An additional benefit of performing high sprinting velocity training is the positive effect upon the body’s co-activation index. A simple example of the co-activation index transpires during slower velocity body weight (as well as applied weight intensity) activities resulting in the stabilization of a joint via the agonist and antagonist muscle groups working together as these slower movement velocities result in an applied stress application over a prolonged period of time. Thus the co-activation index of the agonist and antagonist muscle groups working together during a prolonged slow activity performance is close to or at a 1:1 ratio.

High velocity sprinting movements are dependent upon a brief factor of ground contact time. The performance of high velocity sprinting activities requires a prominent contribution from the agonist muscle group(s) while the antagonist muscle group(s) has a lower level of contribution. This emphasized contribution of the agonist muscle group results in a shift in the co-activation index in favor of the agonist. This emphasized contribution of the agonists result in optimal high speed propulsion, as well as a fluid motion of the body in the desired direction of movement. Charlie Francis and Tudor Bompa have indicated that the highest skilled athlete’s are those with the ability to completely relax their antagonist muscle groups during high velocity movement and that ridged and rough movements are a result of poor coordination between the agonists and antagonists.

  1. Speed Endurance – It’s one thing for the athlete to perform at top sprinting speed for a few repetitions, but a necessity of many athletic contests is for the athlete to perform at top velocity frequently throughout the length of the competition. If the athlete does not have the speed endurance to perform at maximum velocity repeatedly over time, excessive fatigue will occur resulting in a loss of force output, technical proficiency, possible risk of injury, and neuromuscular inefficiency during the sprinting performance. The athlete must perform an adequate volume of sprinting to establish an appropriate level of speed endurance.
  1. Neuromuscular timing – The literature has demonstrated that the hamstring muscle most often injured during athletic competition is the biceps femoris (BF). One possible mechanism that may result in the injury of this muscle is poor neuromuscular timing. The BF muscle is comprised of a long head and a short head with different nerve innervations. The tibial nerve innervates the long head of the BF while the short head is innervated by the common peroneal nerve (Figure 1). If the neuromuscular “timing” of the BF muscle innervation is poorly coordinated, this may result in a hamstring injury.
Figure 1: The Biceps Femoris Muscle

Figure 1: The Biceps Femoris Muscle

An analogy of the significance of applicable neuromuscular timing of the shoulder occurs during the rehabilitation of the rotator cuff musculature in a baseball pitcher. During this shoulder rehabilitation process a neuromuscular timing must be established between the musculature of the gleno-humeral (GH) and scapula-thoracic (ST) joints of the shoulder for optimal throwing performance to occur. During the final stages of rehabilitation the initiation and progression of a post-operative rotator cuff repair tossing/throwing program may be prescribed as follows: Short Toss to Long Toss to Pitching on Flat Ground to Pitching from a Pitchers Mound.

This throwing progression requires the shoulder/arm to travel at higher throwing velocities during each progressive throwing phase of the athlete’s rehabilitation. Thus the neuromuscular efficiency, or timing, of the GH&ST musculature that is required for optimal throwing performance is enhanced via a progression of higher throwing velocities. Therefore wouldn’t the efficient timing of the dual innervation of the biceps femoris require the same high speed program design for optimal performance as well as the prevention of injury?

Optimal running velocities are imperative for success in many athletic endeavors. Appropriately prescribed sprinting volumes at the applicable times will not only enhance an athlete’s sprinting velocity, but maintain that linear velocity throughout the course of athletic competition while assisting in the prevention of lower extremity injury as well.

Simplify Your Deadlift

Simplify Your Deadlift
By Adam Pine

Getting a big deadlift may not be easy, but it’s a lot simpler than most make it to be.

The most important advice I can give someone wanting a bigger deadlift is, “practice the deadlift.” Just like everything else in life, practice makes perfect.

If you want to deadlift a ton of weight, master the movement.

The most important part of the deadlift is the setup.

Setup Takeaways:

  • Setup close to the bar.
  • Feet at or inside hip width.
  • Hands outside your hips with an over/under grip.
  • Breathe and brace, get as tight as possible. This can be done at the top at the beginning of the setup, or at the bottom right before you lift. It is important that you stay extremely tight, try to become immoveable.
  • Push your hips back to the wall behind you creating tension in your hamstrings. Keep this tension.
  • Grab the bar. Pull the slack out, try to bend the bar over your kneecaps while keeping straight arms.
  • As you pull the slack, use the weight as a counterbalance to pull your chest up and lower your hips. As you lower your hips, find the tension in your hamstrings and create tension through your entire body.
  • Chest up, abs braced, maintain a neutral spine position.
  • Keep your weight on your heels and maintain a fairly vertical shin position.
  • Stand up through your heels as explosively as possible. Try to melt imprints of your heels into the ground. Lockout hard by squeezing your glutes together like you’re trying to crack a walnut between your butt cheeks and hump the bar.

Me pulling 710.

Common Mistakes and Corrections

Too Much Variation and Focus on Accessory Work

If you want to get good at deadlifting you have to practice deadlifting. Seems very obvious, but tons of people get caught up in training movements similar to the deadlift, without actually training the deadlift itself.

You should have at least one day a week dedicated to the deadlift, devote the most mental and physical energy into it.

Variations are certainly important. They are great for addressing specific weaknesses in your lift. The problem is, it’s often difficult to diagnose what your weakness is if your form isn’t on point. Typically people will confuse a deficiency in technique for a muscular weakness. First, master your technique. Then find your weakness and attack it with the right variations.

Info on deadlift variations: 3 Tips for a Bigger Deadlift, How to Increase your Deadlift: Deficit Deadlifts, Snatch Grip Deadlifts, Paused Deadlifts, Deadlift Mastery: Paused Deadlifts

A great way to practice your deadlift technique is to reset and setup again between each rep. If you’re doing a 5X5 and you reset each rep, that’s 25 chances you get to practice and perfect your deadlift setup. If you don’t reset, you practice setting up only 5 times.

Accessory work is as the name suggest, an “accessory to” or “supplemental to” your main movement.

There is no secret to a great deadlift. Accessory work is great for targeting weak links, but make sure you are focusing most of your energy on your primary movement. Too much focus on too many accessory movements can impede your recovery.

With that said, don’t use this an excuse to dog your workouts. It’s not an excuse to do your deadlifts and leave the gym, because you did the “essentials”.

Your Takeaway: First, master the movement. Then you can spend time addressing weaknesses with the correct variations and accessory movements.  

Time Spent Worrying About Equipment

This is simple.

Finding the right footwear is easy. If you want to be as close as possible to the floor, go barefoot. If you want something with a little grip, wrestling shoes are great. Still close to the floor, plus some added stick.

Buy a good belt (I like my Inzer, 10mm, single prong). Throw on some chalk and you’re good.

Your focus should be on getting stronger. It’s easy to get distracted by what the best equipment is. If you’re a raw lifter, just get a belt, a pair of shoes you like and focus on your technique.

Your Takeaway: Your time is much better spent focusing on your technique, programming, mobility, recovery, and diet rather than your belt, shoes and whatever else.

Changing Your Program/Technique Too Often

Pick a program and run it for the full duration. Most programs are at least 12-weeks. Run the program as prescribed and give it a fair shot. All too often people modify the program or hop from one to another, hoping for faster more dramatic results, (The grass is always greener).

The best program in the world won’t yield results if you are not sticking to it. Results follow consistency. Consistently training and applying effort to your training.

Stick to your program, do as it says and critique it after your cycle.

This goes for technique as well.

You should stick to one technique (ie. Conventional deadlift). Practice until it’s ingrained and it becomes a habit. It’s taken me years to master my deadlift technique.

If you find that the technique isn’t working well for you, find why and look for solutions. Don’t change technique without reason. Stick to one style and master it.

If there comes a time you feel you would be better suited with a different technique, experiment. There does come a time where everyone should experiment with other techniques.

For instance, if you have always only conventional deadlifted, you will never know if you would be a better sumo puller. There’s time to experiment with other techniques, just makes sure you have mastered one first.

I am still experimenting myself. Recently I have been trying a new technique I think will help me get to my goal of 800.

Finding what technique best suits you takes time. I recommend working with an experienced coach to analyze your form and find what best suits you.

Your Takeaway: Pick a program ideal for your goals and run it as prescribed. Choose a technique you feel best suits you and master it. After a lot of time under the bar you can reassess. If change is required, you can move onto a different program and try alternate deadlift techniques if you like.

Mismanaging your Volume and Intensity

Going too heavy too often is a problem I often see, especially amongst powerlifters.

You don’t need to be pushing near you max every week in order to make gains. Actually, the opposite is often true.

I only took two reps above 600 in my training cycle before pulling 700 for my first time.

Deadlifitng too heavy, too often can leave you more prone to injury. It is a lot easier for your form to break down when lifting with weights over 90+%.

Taking weights I am 100% sure I will make has been a huge proponent to my success. Not only is breaking down and missing weights not beneficial to building strength, it’s mentally damaging. Missing attempts shakes a lot of lifters’ confidence. The stress of a missed attempt can often have a greater impact psychologically than physically.

Remain confident by always hitting your attempts. Train with weights you know you will hit.

Also, it simply isn’t necessary for building a big deadlift. If you are constantly pulling heavy singles, how can you expect to peak? How much can you realistically expect to put on your deadlift when you’ve been maxing weekly?

It’s hard for some to get out of the mindset that if they aren’t always hitting new 1RM’s, they aren’t making progress.

There are plenty of other ways to hit PR’s. Volume PR’s. If you are doing 5 X 5 with more weight than you’ve ever done, that is a PR. RPE PR’s. If something you’ve done previously that felt like a 10, that’s now an 8 or 9, that’s a PR. You can hit rep PR’s. These are all ways in which you can track your progress. They may not be as glamorous as hitting a new 1RM, but they will absolutely translate to a new PR.

Another problem with always going high intensity/low volume is you get very little rep work in. You will have a lot more trouble mastering the deadlift with such little volume. Every rep is a chance for you to perfect your technique and when you have 30 reps of deadlift in your training vs. 3, you have a lot more opportunities to master you technique.

Your Takeaway: Maxing out frequently is not optimal for success. Look to hit volume, RPE, and rep PR’s to ultimately improve your 1RM deadlift. Train with weights you know you with hit.

Summary

The setup is extremely important. Focus on mastering your setup.

To build a big deadlift, make sure you get a lot of reps in with the actual movement, not including variations. Variations do serve a valuable purpose in bringing up sticking points. They should be supplemental movements to the deadlift. Master the setup for optimal performance.

Don’t focus too much attention on your equipment. Time spent focusing on technique, programming, mobility, recovery and diet will help you far more than the best deadlifting sneakers.

Stick with a program and see it through. Changing your programming, philosophies and technique weekly will leave you spinning your wheels. Commit to something, see it through and assess after you give it an honest try.

Make sure you get enough volume in your training. Don’t fall victim to pushing your 1RM every time you step into the gym. If you are constantly testing your 1RM deadlift, you are not leaving yourself time to build it. Go into each lift feeling confident by consistently hitting all your attempts.

Bio:

Adam Pine is a Strength Coach in Boston, an Elite level powerlifter with a 700+ pound deadlift, and the owner of a rapidly growing online coaching business.

Website: http://www.adampine.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/adam.pine.9

Instagram: https://instagram.com/adamnpine/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/anp0386

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AdamPine1

Don’t forget to sign up for my free newsletter, and if you have questions on programming, accessory work, peaking for a competition, or coaching inquiries, please shoot me an email at: adamnpine@gmail.com.

adam