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Lifting Belts, Lower Backs
Are You Over Trained
Your Own Support Group
Calves: Size vs Shape
Reduced Training
Limits To Cross Training
More Muscle Size
Time To Change Course
Exercise Addicts
Motor Skill vs Fitness
How Young Is Too Old
Electrolyte Balance
More Muscle, More Size?
Positives,Negatives and Recovery





We've all had days when we experienced more fatigue in the lower back than in our quads after a set of squats. Even when we wore a lifting belt, we felt the pain and the burn.

In a recent electromyography study scientists looked at various muscle activities during eight-rep sets of squats performed with and without a belt. Both the erector spine of the lower back and the external obliques contributed increasingly to the movement as each set progressed. In fact, the muscles contributed 20 percent more force during the eighth rep than they did during the first rep.

The effect was the same even when the subjects wore a belt. The lifting belt increased intra-abdominal pressure, adding support and stability to the spine, and also increased the force output of the quads and hamstrings. Even so, the belt apparently does little to take the movement away from the lumbar muscles, and prior fatigue of that area will lead to a burn whether or not you use one. Since the lumbar muscles have to exert increasing force with each successive repetition and set, it's best to train your legs with squats on days when your lower back is fully recovered from any prior back training to avoid overtraining or possible injury to the area.








There are numerous symptoms of overtraining, including both psychological and physiological indicators. Lack of motivation, lethargy, increased resting heart rate, lack of appetite and prolonged muscle soreness are just a few of the telltale signs of impending injury or illness.

Elevations in serum and urinary levels of certain enzymes are also indicative of overtraining and muscle damage. When an untrained person begins a vigorous exercise program, these specific enzymes levels rise significantly following a workout-an increase that is often not seen in trained athletes. In fact, athletes have elevated levels prior to exercise, and these don't get any higher after they've worked out.

This information suggests that athletes may be in a constant state of slight muscle damage; that is, they are always slightly overtrained. Yet they do not experience severe damage during subsequent exercise sessions the way untrained subjects do. Finding just the right balance between training and overtraining is something every athlete struggles with in his or her quest for optimal performance.







We all know the importance of having a training partner, particularly as a contest approaches. Partners help to spot us. They give advise and support, and they make it easier for us to get into the gym on those rare days when we lack motivation: We can't skip, because we know they'll be there waiting.

The benefits of working out with a training partner don't have to end in the gym, however. A recent study done at the Stanford University School of Medicine proved the importance of having a support person or group in achieving one's goals-in this particular case the goal of weight-loss maintenance.

The two-year study consisted of one year of supervised weight loss followed by a year of unsupervised maintenance. As indicated above, the purpose was not to look at weight loss , but rather weight maintenance. Half the subjects received follow-up calls and letters during the second year encouraging them to get regular aerobic exercise and advising them on diet. The subjects receiving this support gained significantly less weight than those who were not contacted.

This research confirms the importance of a support person or group in maintaining your goals as well as achieving them. So don't be shy. Ask for that important support, and as long as you show your gratitude and sincere appreciation, your family and friends will be glad to lend a helping hand. That way they will benefit from the experience right along with you.








A great set of calves can make a fairly good pair of legs look unbelievable. This is why all bodybuilders strive to fill out their lower legs with full, diamond-shaped mass. If you're seeking more lower-leg development and you know how each calf exercise trains the muscles, you can customize your workouts to create more size, better shape or both.

The two main muscles on the back of the lower leg are the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Bodybuilders often choose the wrong exercises to accomplish their goals because many don't realize that it is the soleus, which lies deep in the calf, below the gastroc, that gives the area its size and the gastroc that provides the shape. If you want larger calves, therefore, you are better off focusing on exercises that train the soleus: and if you want your calves to have more shape and sweep, similar to the sharp diamonds seen on many top bodybuilder stars, then you need to focus on training your gastrocs.

Your knee position-bent or locked-determines which of the two muscles you isolate. When your knees are bent at 90 degree angles, as when you perform seated calf raises, you isolate the soleus muscles. When you do standing calf raises, with your knees locked, however, most of the work is done by your gastrocs.

So when you're working calves to add size, concentrate on exercises in which your knee are bent. Heavy, seated calf raises, for example, are excellent for building mass in this area-this was one of Tom Platz's favorites, and he had some of the best calf development ever. For calf shape choose exercises in which your knee joints are locked, such as standing calf raises, and which focus on the gastrocs.






Periods of intense training are known to reduce muscular strength, thereby lessening an athlete's performance capacity. Both physiological and psychological changes may play a role in this response. Athletes who know about this decrease in performance can schedule in a tapering period that enables them to recuperate and peak for competition.

Studies of training frequency, duration and intensity point to intensity as the critical variable that must be held constant in order to maintain the training adaptation. By reducing both the frequency and duration of the workouts, it is possible to not only maintain performance, but also achieve higher levels of fitness. Athletes who do this for a period of five to 21 days before a major competition are able to recuperate and compete at their peak. Although this regimen is widely practiced in a variety of sports, little is known about the physical changes and effects on performance that such tapering causes in the competitive bodybuilder.

Periods of reduced training throughout the year, as well as during a precompetition training phase, should prove beneficial for competitive and noncompetitive athletes alike. As a result their bodies will recuperate fully and thus will increase in strength and size. While we like to think that we are invincible and that we should be able to train hard every day, the concepts of periodization of training and tapering allow us to achieve our goals in a more productive, scientifically sound manner.

Don't schedule your tapering periods too close together-only one or two per year may be optimal. Experimentation will help you determine the frequency and length of tapering periods that will optimize your performance.







The body's adaptation to exercise is well documented; this includes adaptations by the whole body as well as by the skeletal muscle. The nature of the adaptation appears to be specific to the type of training undertaken. Endurance athletes, for example, adapt their cardiovascular systems and increase the aerobic capacity of their muscles. Strength training, on the other hand, does little to increases in anaerobic enzymes along with increases in muscle size. These highly specific training effects lead to the widely accepted physiological principle known as the specificity of training.

The popularity of cross-training among endurance athletes lead to duathalons and triathlons, where endurance athletes participate in several sports within a single competition. These athletes generally perform two or three workouts for each sport on a given day or within a given workout session. Preliminary, unpublished research by Gaesser at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that when runners undertake bicycle training and reduce their run training, they not only maintain their fitness level, but also actually improve their run performance along with their bike performance.

While cross-training may be beneficial for certain sports within a given category of adaptation-that is, endurance or strength-the ideal of cross-training between categories remains questionable. Many bodybuilders include aerobic exercise in their pre-contest training in order to lose bodyfat, yet they have no idea of how much is enough and how much (it any) is detrimental to their size and strength adaptations. Endurance athletes, on the other hand, include strength training to improve their endurance performance.

Research in this area has shown that simultaneous training may inhibit the normal adaptation to either training program. While improvements in both areas will occur, they will not be as great as when either is performed alone. The extent of the interference probably depends on the nature and intensity of the individual training program.






For years scientists have searched for the mechanism that causes muscle growth. While the exact solution to this puzzle is still elusive, the effects of the lengthening, or eccentric, phases of weightlifting movements appear to be a factor.

Skeletal muscle undergoes numerous forms of adaptation to training. Responses to resistance weight training include increases in size due to increased contractile proteins, an increased mitochondria concentration and increased capillarization. Above all else bodybuilders strive to achieve an increase in size, otherwise known as muscle hypertrophy.

In a recent study the eccentric phases of weightlifting movements proved responsible for hypertrophy in a group of subjects. The study involved two groups: One group performed exercises using both the eccentric and concentric parts of the movements, while the second group performed the same movements but only the concentric parts. After 19 weeks the eccentric-plus-concentric group demonstrated a significant increase in muscle fiber size, while no increase was noted for the concentric-only group. This study provided the first hard data that eccentric contractions are the parts of exercise that optimize muscle fiber hypertrophy. If further research substantiates these findings, negatives and lengthening contractions may well began to play a larger role in bodybuilding regimens. We'll keep you informed as this research becomes available.







Bodybuilders experts talk a lot about variety in training, but how often should you vary your training program to make it most efficient? If you change your regimen too often, you may not allow your muscles time to fully adapt and so you may not get the full benefits from your workouts. On the other hand, if you stay on the same program too long, you may become stale or fail to adequate stimulate your muscles to grow. Obviously, it helps to know the time course of adaptation.

Studies show that changes in various parameters including muscle growth occur fairly rapidly, within four weeks of training. If you don't give yourself sufficient time for your body to change and adapt, then your improvements will become inconsistent. Just how long you can stay on any program and continue to improve is not known. It appears that you should give it at least one month to determine how your body will adapt before you decide whether the training program works for you.







Some exercisers, particularly runners, become addicted to their sports. They give their training top priority, convinced that they cannot survive without it, and they train despite pain, illness or injury, putting their all-consuming passion ahead of family, job and health. Some athletes even suffer withdrawal symptoms if forced to stop training. They become anxious, irritable and/or depressed.

It is unclear whether this kind of dependency is caused by physiological or psychological factors or both. Wile many athletes feel that such dedication is necessary to excel in their sports, many find they achieve an increase in performance following a reduced level of intensity and focus. A more level-headed approach to training may not only improve your performance, but it will also bring you a more balanced lifestyle, which will give you a more fulfilling life away from the athletic arena.







Motor Skill vs Fitness

Physical fitness is only one aspect of what makes one athlete superior to another. Other factors include motivation and motor skills. Most experts agree that, while you can do a lot through training to improve your fitness level, there's very little you can do to modify your motor skills.

The four factors that affect motor performance are balance, agility, coordination and speed. These are primarily based on your genetic makeup, and together and separately they help determine your skill and aptitude for a particular sport. In that respect sports are a lot like dancing: Some people are born with rhythm; others are not.

As stated above, however, you can improve your fitness level dramatically through training. The five basic components of physical fitness are cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition. The importance of each component varies from one sport to the next. A football player or bodybuilder needs a higher degree of muscular strength than does a marathon runner, whose main requirement is cardiorespiratory endurance. In addition, certain sports require a lower bodyweight, while others may benefit from a higher mass.

To determine your aptitude for a particular sport, simply look into the specific mental, motor and physical requirements. Then analyze how you fit those conditions and what your potential is for improvement. In the case of elite athletes it appears that they are born to excel. As for recreational athletes, we must simply participate for the sheer joy of it rather than frustrating ourselves by seeking perfection.








When is a good age to start a child on a weight-training program? Many people feel that children should not lift weights due to the risk of injury and the questionable effectiveness of strength training on young bodies, especially those of prepubescent males. Recent research, however, indicates that this may not be so. With proper supervision children who are on a weightlifting program should experience lower injury rates than do adult lifters, many of whom train unsupervised or under unqualified supervision. In addition, the stresses placed on a child's body would have a positive effect on many systems and would benefit, not hinder, growth.

While adults males adapt to strength training through an increase in muscle mass known as hypertrophy, the effect is not as pronounced in women. This is primarily due to the level of testosterone present in the male body. Increases in strength that do not occur in conjunction with an increase in muscle size are said to be due to neural factors, which include the ability to recruit a greater number of fibers within the working muscle and the ability to perform the movements properly, synchronizing the muscles used for each lift and inhibiting those muscles that are antagonistic to the movement. Apparently, when young children lift, most of increases in strength they gain are due to neural adaptations.

In a 20-week study on the effects of weight training on prepubescent boys, researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, found significant increases in muscle strength in all muscle groups tested. The strength increases ranged from 21 percent increases in leg extension, leg curl and leg press strength to 37 percent increases in the bench press and biceps curl movements. These increases occurred even though there were no changes in muscle size or body composition. Apparently, they were due to better coordination between the muscle groups involved in each lift. Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that a weightlifting program can be successful for prepubescent children and that the strength gains will carry over to other sports as well as lead to other positive benefits similar to those obtained by adults who train with weight. These include better self-esteem and a better self-image.






Electrolyte Balance

Last month's discussion of athletes suffering dehydration and muscle cramping brings up the question of water and sodium restriction. In general, the body tries to maintain homeostasis, or a balance of electrolytes, water and other nutrients. By limiting the intake of water and sodium, we throw our bodies our of balance. If we take it too far, the results can be damaging and life-threatening.

For years bodybuilders have limited water and salt intake before a competition. In fact, in the early '80s I helped develop the concept and practice of combining sodium/carbohydrate-loading and depletion. Since that time it has been adapted and modified by various athletes. When it's done correctly, the results are outstanding. When it's done improperly, the athlete is left flat and depleted, or dehydrated.

Timing is key if you're going to alter your water balance. When you restrict water intake, your body releases certain hormones in order to hold onto all the water it can. In fact, a better way to lose excess water is to drink excess water, which causes the body to compensate and increase urine output. Switching to distilled water will also lower electrolyte levels in the body because of the elements that are distilled out of the water. As discussed last month, it is important to replace the crucial electrolytes for muscle contraction, or your muscle will cramp.

By limiting your water and sodium intakes and drinking distilled water, you are setting up your body for water and electrolyte imbalance, which results not only in initial cramping, but also in excessive water weight gain after you return to normal salt and water intake. Use of diuretics compounds matters by throwing the body further out of kilter.

If you want to reduce subcutaneous (extracellular) water levels before a show, increase you sodium intake for a period and then restrict it in order to reduce aldosterone levels. Beginning a few days before the contest, however, you should take in copius amounts of distilled water along with a sodium-free multimineral supplement so that your body continues to flush out water and excess sodium and other electrolytes, which results in the transparent-skin appearance that all competitors seek. It is important that you don't restrict distilled water intake at this point. On competition day you can reduce your water intake slightly to add the finishing touches.








Using the technique of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers have proved that it's possible to increase muscle size without actually changing the size of your limbs. This is possible if the increase in muscle size occurs in conjunction with a decrease in some other factor. In one study subjects exhibited no changes in thigh circumference of midthigh skinfold thickness after 14 weeks of strength training. Although the subjects achieved 41 percent increases in leg strength, their thighs remained the same size. MRI analyzes revealed an 8 percent increase in the cross-sectional area of the midthigh and a 9 percent decrease in the midthigh subcutaneous fat, which explains why there was no change in girth. Thus, it is possible to increase your muscle size and still not notice a change on the tape measure.

When training for a contest, many competitors actually observe a decrease in girth circumference even though their muscle does not appear to be getting smaller. This may be due to similar changes in body composition. From these results you can see that the mirror may be more telling than the tape.








Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common ailment that appears several days after you exercise and diminishes in about a week. Unfamiliar movements and lengthening, or eccentric, exercise produce DOMS more so than shortening, or concentric movements. In addition, new studies confirm other differences between these two types of exercise.

Researchers discovered a discrepancy between muscle glycogen levels in the days following concentric and eccentric training. Muscle glycogen resynthesis rates were significantly lower after eccentric, or negative, exercise than they were after concentric exercise, with the greatest difference occurring two days after training. The researchers concluded that the reduced ability to resupply muscle glycogen following eccentric exercise might be related to the time takes for athletes to develop muscle damage and inflammation.

Keep this in mind when planning your workouts, and allow for adequate time between sessions if you're doing a lot of eccentric exercises. That way your muscle glycogen stores will be restored before you hit the iron again. Training too frequently under these conditions can lead to muscle damage, fatigue and overtraining.