Category Archives: Strength Training

A Larger Muscle is a Stronger Muscle Due to Increased Strength and Leverage

Bret’s Intro: I’m very excited about the publication of our recent article. The three of us (Andrew Vigotsky, Chris Beardsley, and yours truly) have devoted a large percentage of our studies over the past few years to biomechanics, and although it’s not always sexy, it’s very important for fully understanding various concepts in strength & conditioning. 

Many of us strength coaches devoured the works of Mel Siff, Vladimir Zatsiorsky, and Yuri Verkhoshansky in hopes of gaining insight to better equip us as practitioners. While much of their work was esoteric and over the heads of the majority of strength coaches, every once in a while we gleaned some useful information. I believe that the information in our article, although esoteric, is indeed useful, especially pertaining to powerlifting and athletics. What is fascinating is that increased muscle moment arms are definitely beneficial for strength and high force activities, but for power and high speed activities, they can actually be counterproductive (we explained this in the full article). 

This publication would not have been possible had it not been for Andrew Vigotsky’s superior drive, passion, curiosity, and mathematics background. I can think up concepts but I lack the mathematical skills to model and validate them. Huge props to Andrew for his diligence and talent!

Cliff Notes: As a muscle grows larger, it can produce more torque (rotational force) through greater linear force created by the muscle, but also through greater leverage about the joint center, and the leverage improves by approximately the square root of the increase in the muscle’s cross-sectional area. 

Biomechanically, how does hypertrophy increase strength?
By Andrew Vigotsky

Two years ago, while helping construct the Biomechanics of the Squat and Deadlift manual for Bret’s 2×4: Maximum Strength product, Bret explained to me that increasing a muscle’s size will increase its moment arm. He and Chris Beardsley illustrated this relationship in their Hip Extension Torque manual, but although it made intuitive sense, there were no published studies modeling this relationship. While concepts are neat and useful, it is important in science to construct models to explain mathematical relationships and validate the concepts.

We recently decided to develop this model and submit it to PeerJ for publishing. The model was accepted and published today. It’s open-access so you can download the full paper HERE. The model describes the relationship between a muscle’s size (anatomical cross-sectional area) and its leverage (moment arm length).

* Click HERE to Download the Full PDF *

First, I think it’s important that the readers understand what, exactly, a moment arm is, and why it matters for strength. As you know, the body is made of bones that rotate about joints. Muscles and external forces “fight” one another to rotate the joint. The forces that have a tendency to rotate a joint are classically called torques, or moments. Torques or moments equal the force applied to the bone times the moment arm, or perpendicular distance of that force to the axis of rotation (see below). With regards to a muscle, the larger the moment it can produce, the stronger you are.

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When muscles increase in size, the amount of force they can produce also increases – this is well known and accepted. Obviously a larger muscle will be able to produce more force than a much smaller muscle. However, the other component to generating a moment, a muscle’s moment arm length, has not been well studied. It has been shown that they are correlated (Akagi et al. 2012; Sugisaki et al. 2010), and one study even showed that, with a 33.6% increase in triceps brachii anatomical cross-sectional area, the triceps brachii moment arm increases by 5.5% (Sugisaki et al. 2014).

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In order to gain a better understanding of this relationship, my colleagues – Bret Contreras and Chris Beardsley – and I developed a model of the biceps brachii and brachialis, wherein the original size of the muscles were atrophied to one-half their original size and hypertrophied to two times their original size. We were able to calculate the new moment arm lengths, and how the new moment arm affected each muscle’s tendency to flex the elbow (joint moment contribution, or torque that each muscle produces). Our main findings can be found in Table 1, below.

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This is a relatively unexplored area of biomechanics and hypertrophy that may be important to consider. Not only does the muscle produce more force, but also, depending on the muscle and joint angle, its mechanical advantage will change. We have included an infographic below that summarizes our study and findings.

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References

Akagi R, Iwanuma S, Hashizume S, Kanehisa H, Yanai T, and Kawakami Y. 2012. In vivo measurements of moment arm lengths of three elbow flexors at rest and during isometric contractions. Journal of Applied Biomechanics 28:63-69.

Sugisaki N, Wakahara T, Miyamoto N, Murata K, Kanehisa H, Kawakami Y, and Fukunaga T. 2010. Influence of muscle anatomical cross-sectional area on the moment arm length of the triceps brachii muscle at the elbow joint. Journal of Biomechanics. 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2010.06.013

Sugisaki N, Wakahara T, Murata K, Miyamoto N, Kawakami Y, Kanehisa H, and Fukunaga T. 2014. Influence of Muscle Hypertrophy on the Moment Arm of the Triceps Brachii Muscle. Journal of Applied Biomechanics. 10.1123/jab.2014-0126

All About Box Squats

Ever since I started following Louie Simmons and Dave Tate around 15 years ago, I’ve heavily incorporated box squats into my personal training. I do agree that raw powerlifters should focus more on specificity and perform free squats more often, but this does not mean that they shouldn’t incorporate the box squat throughout the year during specific phases. That said, I can say with absolute confidence that the box squat is highly beneficial for the general personal training client as it teaches them how to sit back and rely on their hips for propulsion in the squat. After a 6-8 week box squatting cycle, you will find that clients gain tremendous box squatting strength that carries over to their free squatting and positively alters their kinematics. Here is a 15-minute video discussing all aspects of box squats.

I hope you enjoy the video and learn a thing or two about box squatting.

box squat

How to Become a Metabolic Machine! An Interview With Katie Anne Rutherford

I’m quite pleased to interview Katie Anne Rutherford today – a dual powerlifter/figure competitor with a highly impressive work ethic and regimen, and an advocate of DUP for powerlifting strength and muscularity. I believe that many of my readers would benefit from adopting a similar approach and attitude as Katie Anne, while obviously tailoring the training and eating to individual weaknesses and preferences. I hope you enjoy our discussion!

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1. Hi Katie Anne! Thank you for agreeing to conduct this interview, I know my readers will appreciate it. Let’s get right down to business. You compete in figure and powerlifting. Which do you like most and why?

Thanks so much for the opportunity Bret! I appreciate it! Yes I do compete in both powerlifting and figure – I truly love both! However, I would say my number one love is training. I have been an athlete as long as I can remember so the athletic performance of powerlifting is what gives me the most enjoyment. I would have to say that I like powerlifting slightly more for that reason – it’s just you vs. the weight. Not much subjectivity to the sport. However, I do love the femininity and challenge of figure – it takes a different type of mindset and training. I love the constant strife to improve myself in both sports – either with how much weight I am lifting or sculpting my physique through hard work each day. With that being said, I would not choose one over the other. I love being a duel sport athlete and demonstrating to women that you can still lift heavy and look good on the figure stage!

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2. Great answer. Let’s switch gears and talk diet for a minute. You’re an advocate of IIFYM, and you have a freakishly high metabolism. How many calories were you consuming when you first started working with Layne Norton, and how many calories are you currently consuming?

Thanks Bret! When I first started working with Layne, I was actually consuming close to 2700 calories (over 300g of carbohydrates) and maintaining weight! However, I weighed closer to 165lbs then (vs 143lbs now). Over the course of the last year, I lost about 20lbs over about 8 months to step on the figure stage. My macros never had to go below 165g of carbs in my prep – which is relatively rare for female prep standards. Over the course of my reverse diet this year, I reached an intake of 320g of carbs and 80g of fat – close to 2700 calories while doing no cardio and maintaining stage leanness. I started my reverse diet at about 144lbs last November and ended it (in Late May) at the same weight. Right now, I am not quite back up to those food numbers (after having had to diet down for a couple weeks for my two figure shows) – but inching back up. I am currently eating 260g of carbs and 65g fat one week post show.

3. I bet many of my female readers are envious of your bodyweight multiplier of 19 for total calories. But this wan’t all magic – it occurred in tandem with some serious strength gains. You turned your body into a metabolic machine by getting freakishly strong. How strong were you at the big 3 lifts when you first started working with Layne, and how strong are you now?

Thank you! That means a lot to me. When I first started working with Layne (we met at a seminar he held in Columbus, Ohio for the Arnold), my max squat was around 290lbs and my max deadlift was around 300lbs. I am not even sure what my bench was! Probably around 130lbs or so. Currently, my max squat is 347lbs, deadlift is 363lbs, and bench is 175lbs.

4. Amazing. Actually, what’s even more amazing is your training volume. You adhere to a DUP approach to training. How many days per week do you squat, bench, and deadlift?

Yes I do! I actually started my DUP training one year ago. Prior to that, I was following a hypertrophy/power program from April of 2014 until July of 2014, which is when I met Dr. Mike Zordous, who has conducted quite a bit of reseach on DUP. Layne and I decided to focus on powerlifting from that time on and incorporated it into my training. I currently squat 3x per week, bench 4x per week, and deadlift 2x per week. Prior to my last training block, I was doing the three main lifts 3x per week. We changed my program up a bit since my bench tends to be the lift that lags behind my other lifts. I am currently prepping for Raw Nationals in October.

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5. Do you just grind through week in and week out, or do you deload regularly? And do you ever have days where you go super light and pull back the reins due to fatigue and exhaustion?

I typically deload about every 5 weeks or so. Generally, there are not many days where I feel completely exhausted and have to go super light – occasionally, if I am not feeling well or I just do not have much energy (which I have experienced a couple times due to figure prep), I may leave out my amrap set (as many reps as possible) and add an extra set. The beauty of DUP is that the volume is looked at from a weekly perspective. As long as I am getting my volume in for the week, I try not to stress about little changes to a day here and there. For example, if I am battling a shoulder injury, let’s say, I might decrease my bench weight and increase the sets and/or reps to equate for the same volume for that session (volume = weight x reps x sets).

6. Do you ever incorporate variety with the big lifts, or is it pure specificity? In other words, do you ever pull conventional (since you pull sumo), or perform front squats, or high bar squats, or close grip bench, or board presses? What about pause squats, pause deads, and extra long pause benches? If not, why?

My lifting is pure specificity – I do not incorporate variations of squats into my program or pull conventional on deadlifts (I pull sumo). I do add in accessory work to focus on my weaknesses – for example, I add in shoulder exercises to help with my bench and back exercises to help with deadlift. However, with DUP, I focus on weekly volume progression. Especially since I am a dual athlete, focusing on too many variations would be overwhelming for my programming. I run a very high volume training schedule – therefore, I have to determine what will give me the most benefit in terms of my powerlifting programming. So as of now, I solely work on the lifts in the same way that I compete (back squat, sumo, and bench with a slight pause). My training is constantly evolving, however, and so who knows how long that will stay constant!

7. I would imagine that you’d attribute most of your body improvements to increases in powerlifting strength. But what other exercises do you typically perform in order to “round out the body” for figure competitions? Please include your favorite accessory lifts for the glutes, hams, lats, delts, and any other favorites.

Yes, I have found that the BEST glute exercise that exist are the squat and deadlift – I can attribute the significant change in my lower half to those exercises alone in the past year. However, I do occasionally add in hamstring work (glute ham raises or leg curls), but no additional quad work. Other accessory work that I really have to focus on are back focused exercises – your back can truly never be big or dense enough for figure! I also add in quite a bit of shoulder work too. Some of my staple exercises I add in are rack chins/pull ups, any type of rows, shoulder presses, lateral raises, calf raises (seated & standing), and standard bicep and tricep work. My accessory work is typically spread out over three days – with a heavy emphasis on back. Figure shows are won from behind 😉

8. Do you do any cardio? If so, how much and what type?

The only cardio I perform is cardio squats and deadlifts! (anything over 8 reps). Haha – no, I do not perform traditional cardio right now, unless I randomly decide that I want to do some interval sprints every once in a while. I warm up on a cardio machine before my lifts for about 10 minutes – if that counts ☺

9. When you compete in figure, do you change the training much? In other words, do you employ higher reps, or add in more accessory lifts, or increase cardio? Or do you keep that all the same and just rely on diet?

When I am getting close to a competition, I do add in a bit more accessory work to increase the volume for my lagging body parts for figure. Generally, my training stays pretty constant throughout the year. Leading up to a powerlifting meet, I typically reduce the amount of accessory work I am doing just to conserve more energy for the main lifts. Ebs and flows, but generally stays constant! Luckily, I have not had to do much of any cardio since last fall – so the only tweaks that Layne and I make to get a bit leaner are through my diet (macros).

10. Do you bulk and cut throughout the year or just stay close to a given bodyweight? By the way, what is your current bodyweight and bodyfat percentage?

Since my show last fall, I have maintained my weight at around 141-146lbs. I tend to fluctuate in weight quite a bit simply due to my high sodium and water intake. To give some perspective, I ended my reverse diet this year at 145lbs and stepped on stage at about 140lbs. I will hope to reverse diet, put on some mass, and maintain around 148lbs this fall/winter. Right now, I weigh 143lbs. I had my body fat measured in the spring when I weighed 145lbs – it was 8 percent – I would estimate I am probably slightly under that right now coming off my show.

11. Let’s revisit nutrition again. What are your current macros, and what does a typical day look like in terms of eating?

My current macros (after coming off my competition season, where I competed at NPC Junior Nationals and NPC Team Universe) are 260 carbs, 65 fat, and 150 protein. My coach and I are reverse dieting and will continue to do so until I determine when I want to compete in figure again. Since I follow a flexible diet, a typical day truly varies! I eat a lot of eggs – so usually I start my day with 2-3 eggs with toast and cream cheese. Pre workout, I focus on getting at least 25 percent of my daily carbs and post workout is the same as well. I like to save quite a bit of my fats for night when I have more eggs or peanut butter (one of my favorites).

12. What are some of your favorite foods that you make sure to include in your diet each week?

As I mentioned, I love eggs! So I usually have 3-5 whole eggs per day. I also love whole grains and potatoes – so Ezekiel bread and sweet/regular potatoes are staples in my diet. I can never turn down ice cream – so that is something I also love to treat myself to at night typically. However, I also eat lots of fruits and veggies – roasted asparagus and strawberries being two of my favorites. Peanut butter, honey, and rice cakes are also foods that I enjoy. No foods are off limits for me, my taste buds are always changing, so I change up my meals pretty frequently!

13. Great choices, and very well put! Just goes to show you the value of added muscle mass in combination with high frequency/high volume training. What advice can you give to beginners out there who are seeking to change their physiques through strength training?

My number one piece of advice is that results will come with hard work and consistency. There truly are no shortcuts when it comes to getting results. Focus on establishing both a training and nutrition plan that are sustainable for the long term – and a workout program that emphasizes heavy lifting and progression. I see too many beginners focusing on quick fix diets and training programs that are not maintainable for the long term. Also, find a program you enjoy! The journey of health and fitness should be something that complements your life and happiness – not detracts from it.

14. Do you believe that figure and powerlifting complement each other, or could you see better results if you just focused on one or the other?

I do believe there are aspects to both types of training that complement each other. The heavy lifting of power lifting has developed my physique into something I honestly never could have achieved without it! Focusing on my weaknesses with bodybuilding accessory work has also given me more strength for power lifting. With that being said, I am sure if I solely focused on powerlifting and did not maintain the leanness that I do for figure, of course my absolute strength would increase. However, as I mentioned before, I would not give up one for the other. I truly enjoy the challenge of being a duel sport athlete. I will say that I do not think I would have the legs that I do without powerlifting – even if I focused solely on bodybuilding.

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15. Thank you very much for your time Katie Anne, last question. Where can my readers follow you? I believe you’re on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube right?

Thank you for the opportunity Bret! I am on Instagram, @katieanne100. My YouTube is under Katie Anne as well (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1SUzQui0z4IBw21dENIpvg) – and my Facebook is www.facebook.com/katie.rutherford Thank you Bret! I hope that this was helpful and interesting for some of your readers!

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The Dead-Stop Reset Push-Up

Many individuals have a very difficult time keeping their cores in check when they perform push ups. They tend to sag in the hips and overarch their low backs. If I had to guess, I’d say 33% of men and 66% of women exhibit this problem when they perform push ups.

Not Good

Not Good

The dead-stop reset push up has you starting from the bottom position. First, you posteriorly tilt the pelvis with a giant glute squeeze and lock down the core. Next, you perform the push up while trying your best to maintain this core positioning throughout the concentric and eccentric portion of the set. Then, you pause at the bottom and reset.

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Good

These are much harder than standard push ups for most people but they will teach individuals to control their lumbopelvic hip complexes (LPHC) and keep them static while performing dynamic push ups.

Left: Anterior Pelvic Tilt (APT) - this is undesirable in a push-up. Right: Posterior Pelvic Tilt (PPT) - this is the position you want in a push up (neutral is fine too)

Left: Anterior Pelvic Tilt (APT) – this is undesirable in a push-up. Right: Posterior Pelvic Tilt (PPT) – this is the position you want in a push up (neutral is fine too)

Below is a video of Camille performing 3 reps. Notice that her form still isn’t perfect – you still see some hinging at the mid-back. These are very challenging for her; she can normally perform 10 bodyweight push ups but she typically anteriorly tilts her pelvis and hyperextends her lumbar spine. With the dead-stop reset push-up, she can only perform 3 reps but her form is markedly better. My guess is that in 6 weeks of employing these twice per week, she’ll be doing push ups like a boss while keeping her LPHC solid.

The dead-stop reset push-up serves as an excellent teaching tool for proper push up performance, I hope you give it a try!