Most of the various misconceptions associated with weight training have one thing in common : they are excuses for not working hard in the gym. Although these misconceptions have been disproved many times, they linger on as they provide a convenient justification for people who want great results without exerting significant effort. However, there is no shortcut to achieving the numerous benefits of weight training; in fact, to be successful does not only require hard, but also smart work. The underneath paragraphs are intended to make you smarter with regard to common weight training concepts; they set you straight about some of the most prevalent weight training myths and explain the plain facts behind.
MYTH 1 : Weight-Training is Bodybuilding. Wrong !
Weight-Training is sometimes mistakenly understood to be synonymous with bodybuilding. Although both activities involve systematic training against the weight resistance of dumbbells, barbells, exercise machines, various other equipment and even one’s own body weight, there are significant differences .
The term weight-training is commonly used in referring to people who lift weights but not for the purpose of competing in bodybuilding, powerlifting or weightlifting. Weight-training is a “ specialized method of conditioning designed to increase muscle strength, muscle endurance and muscle power”. It is the major component of any sensible fitness program, aiming to develop muscle tissue throughout the body to increase the body’s athletic performance and appearance, increase basal metabolic rate for body-fat control, restore and maintain good health, and, last but not least, counteract aging ; cardio-respiratory exercises and stretching for increased flexibility are most beneficial supplements and may complement any weight training program. With weight training, muscle development is not exclusively sought for the sake of improved appearance, but mainly for its performance-, fitness- , and health-enhancing qualities.
Bodybuilding on the other hand focuses primarily on building the perfect physique with the greatest possible amount of muscle mass, optimum muscular symmetry and outstanding muscular definition . Muscular efficiency, strength, endurance or health benefits are secondary, but - to some extent - derived as by-products of pursuing the goal of ultimate muscularity, provided bodybuilding is performed naturally. Major emphasis is on appropriate nutrition, including performance enhancing supplements, without which the achievement of the desired levels of muscularity is impossible. Bodybuilders also often use and abuse - partly illegal - chemicals and drugs in order to enhance their muscular development and to keep up with their competition. The intake of these chemical substances and drugs often leads to severe health problems in later years.
MYTH 2 : Weight-Training can change the shape of individual muscles.Wrong !
In old and outdated books on weight training, you may still find notions on how some exercises “shape “ the muscles, while other exercises are said to build muscle mass. You may f. ex. still find instructions on how to close the gap between the pectorals by specifically working the “inner” pecs with crossover cable flyes; dumbbell flyes are, on the other hand, recommended to specifically isolate the “outer” pecs.
First of all, it is important to realize that “inner” and “outer” pecs are no separate individual muscles; in fact, it is the areas near the origin of one and the same muscle, the pectoralis major, which are referred to as “inner” pecs, while the areas near its insertion are referred to as “outer” pecs.
A muscle can not contract harder on one end than on its other end. When stimulated, it always contracts evenly towards the middle; the effect of any exercise movement is thus always generalized throughout the whole muscle. The idea that some exercises may work one border or side of a muscle harder than the other probably developed due to the experience that, with some exercises , fatigue is felt more on one side or border of that muscle than on the other. This does, however, not mean that an exercise is more effective in that particular area.
Vertical Knee Raises ,for example, tend to cause an intense burn in the lower abdominal area, while fatigue from Sit-Ups and Crunches can rather be felt in the upper abdominal area. This has even led to the misunderstanding that “upper” abs and “lower” abs are different muscles and therefore need to be trained with different exercises. They are, however, only the opposite ends of the rectus abdominis, which originates on the sternum and lower ribs and inserts at the pelvis. Any exercise, whether performed for the “upper” abs or the “lower” abs will benefit the rectus abdominis throughout its entire length and also strengthen the assisting muscle groups, such as the obliques.
The shape of an individual muscle can obviously not be changed or influenced by the choice of exercises; it can, however, increase in size in response to proper stimulation through exercise of sufficient intensity.
We can, however, change the shape of any body-part, which is composed of different individual muscles by favoring exercises emphasizing specifically one or the other particular muscle over the remaining muscles of that particular body-part.
Bodybuilders in the final stages of preparing for competition usually decrease the weight loads of their weight training exercises and increase the number of repetitions per set. This practice may have contributed to the misunderstanding that performing sets with high repetitions and reduced weights is best for creating muscle definition. There is, however, no special lifting routine for increasing muscular definition. The observed decrease of weight resistance is rather an inevitable consequence of the extremely strict diet, which bodybuilders have to subject themselves to in order to achieve the low levels of body-fat, necessary to compete successfully; dieting hard, they just lack the strength to handle their usual weight loads and try to make up for this by increasing the number of repetitions per set.
If you want to achieve optimum muscle definition, you must focus on two things :
1) You must train with heavy weights and high intensity to build optimum muscle size;
2) You must restrict your calorie intake in order to reduce the amount of body-fat covering your muscles. Reducing your body-fat percentage by strictly adhering to a controlled diet is most essential for your muscles to eventually become clearly and distinctly visible through your skin.
MYTH 4 : Lifting light weights for many repetitions creates muscle tone without size increases . Wrong !
Some fitness enthusiasts don’t want to do without the numerous health benefits of weight training, but worry that working out might make them grow too big. In the unsubstantiated fear that weight training might cause them to become too muscular, some exercisers restrict themselves to handling only very light weights for lots of repetitions and many sets. This concept of performing a high amount of work with only very little effort is called “toning”, and is erroneously believed to produce muscle “tone” (firmer muscles ) without any size increases.
The term “toning”, is, however, merely a made-up term, which does not have any scientific basis and can not be found in any physiology book. It has meanwhile been known for more than fifty years that the low intensity /high volume “toning” approach is an ineffective training method, as it hardly affects any muscular adaption. The result of such exercise is a waste of time and energy and may at the most improve muscular endurance to some extent. Increased muscle tone, a state of continuous partial contraction, which gives muscle tissue a firm consistence, is in fact a result of regular progressive strength training with high intensity!
Significant increases in muscle size are not easy to achieve. Without the appropriate genetics , extremely dedicated hard training over many years, a daily calorie intake far beyond what is considered “normal” and the use of performance enhancing supplements, chemicals and drugs ( often including anabolic steroids, human growth hormone etc.!), it is almost impossible to achieve major gains in muscle size. Even men, who actually want to get big and work very hard to achieve this goal, are hardly ever able to gain as much muscle as they desire. There is certainly no chance at all that anybody will unintentionally become too big by just working out with weights and consuming an adequate healthy diet.
MYTH 5: Women need to train differently from men. Wrong !
Examining a muscle cell under an electron microscope, it is not possible to discern whether this particular cell comes from a female or a male organism. As there is obviously no difference in the anatomic make-up of female and male muscle cells, there is also no reason to believe that they need to be trained differently : training principles are universal and not based on gender. Training programs and concepts for women and men should therefore generally be quite identical in order to be effective. To provide any muscle with the optimum training stimulus requires maximum effort and striving to slightly exceed oneself next time. This applies to women as well as for men, if they are serious about achieving their fitness goals.
Women may not be able to handle as much weight as men, as they usually have less lean body mass than men. However, on a basis of lean body mass, many women are capable of proportionally becoming as strong as many men. Entirely different is, however, the effect of weight training on men’s and women’s physical appearance.
MYTH 6: Weight-Training makes women look unfeminine and too bulky.Wrong !
Although male and female muscle cells are anatomically identical and ought to be trained according to the same training principles, the training effect in men and women is very different due to physiological differences.
Women produce 10 to 35 times less testosterone than men; with testosterone, the “male” hormone, being mainly responsible for increases in muscle size, it becomes apparent that women have nothing to worry about. Although women become stronger in response to systematic weight training with high intensity, their muscles do not tend to increase much in size due to the naturally low levels of testosterone present in the female organism. Weight training rather tends to make women’s muscles firmer and tighter and over time usually leads to a reduction in the circumference of their body-parts and limbs, due to eventual fat loss throughout the body. As muscle tissue is much denser than fat tissue, women are soon able to wear smaller clothes-sizes as a consequence of their weight training efforts. Such reshaping of their physique is what women should generally look forward to achieve as it makes them look slimmer, healthier and more attractive.
The excessive muscular development of certain competitive female bodybuilders, as seen in bodybuilding magazines, can only be achieved by very few genetically gifted female athletes. Apart from exceptional genetics, it takes them many years of dedicated training, strict nutritional discipline and the use of performance enhancing supplements, drugs and chemicals to build their extraordinary physiques.
It is completely impossible for any woman to accomplish such excessive muscle development unintentionally or accidentally merely by following a sensibly designed weight training routine as part of a healthy fitness lifestyle.
Whether you are male or female, don’t let any of these outdated and debunked misconceptions get in your way and prevent you from working hard in the gym. Train in accordance to a sensible fitness program designed to achieve your individual fitness goals and always work with correct exercise technique, avoiding the use of other muscles than the target muscles to lift the weight. Adhere to all training principles and don’t be afraid of training “heavy”. To the beginning and intermediate weight trainer “heavy” generally means using enough weight to be able to perform an exercise correctly for 8 to 12 repetitions per set.
If you can easily perform more than 12 reps, you are not lifting enough weight to stimulate your muscles. Do not use more weight for any exercise than you can handle for the recommended number of repetitions, but also never finish a set knowing that you could have performed more reps. Challenging your muscles and pushing them to their limit is the key to success !
Dr. Christoph Klueppel
Master of Fitness Sciences
Specialist in Performance Nutrition
"YOU DON'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WISH FOR, YOU GET WHAT YOU WORK FOR."
WHAT ABOUT YOUR SIX-PACK ???? - Abdominal Training Tips
Fat often tends to be stored in the most inactive areas of the body and therefore the abdominal/hip area naturally is one of the preferred areas for fat deposits. For a great majority of people,who strive to improve their appearance, the reduction of this fat layer in their midsection is a most urgent matter of concern.
In the quest to lose these unwelcome pounds, people engage in performing a great variety of abdominal exercises; they are caught up in the misconception that exercises such as sit-ups, crunches and leg raises will affect fat loss in the abdominal area. However, as I already explained in a previous article, this kind of “spot reduction” is not possible; working your abdominal muscles systematically against weight resistance -even for hundreds of repetitions- will not reduce belly-fat, but rather strengthen, respectively tone up your abdominals underneath the fat-layer. Fat loss requires a sensible reduction of daily calorie intake by optimizing your food choices ( not starving yourself !) along with an increase in calorie output through regular prolonged aerobic activity in combination with a properly designed weight training program to increase your metabolism. Unless all these requirements are met, there is no way that you will ever get to actually see your abdominal muscles.
Another misconception related to abdominal training is the idea that upper and lower abdominals are different muscles and have to be worked with different exercises. The main abdominal muscle, apart from the external and internal obliques, is the rectus abdominis, a long, flat band of muscle fibers extending vertically between the pubis and the cartilages of the lower ribs on the front part of the trunk. It is those 70 % of the rectus abdominis lying above the navel, which are commonly referred to as “upper abs”; those 30 % of the rectus abdominis lying underneath the navel are referred to as “lower abs”. Note that these aren't two separate muscles that you can truly isolate; any exercise for the abs, whether “upper” or “lower” abs, stresses the whole abdominal wall. Using a variety of different abdominal exercises and exchanging them once in a while is yet sensible and advisable, as it keeps your abdominal workout interesting and challenging.
Some people may start to wonder, why they should even bother to train their abdominals at all, especially since abdominal exercises obviously do nothing to reduce their belly-fat.
Strengthening the abdominals is yet most recommendable, as these muscles have a number of very important functions to fulfill. The abdominal muscles, for example, protect the visceral organs and compress the abdominal contents. This can contribute to giving one’s midsection a trimmer appearance.
The abdominals, particularly the rectus abdominis, are responsible for the flexion of the vertebral column, which is essential in countless everyday movements and sports activities. Working as the antagonists of the erector spinae complex, balancing the action of these strong extensors of the vertebral column, they also contribute a great deal to stabilizing the midsection, which is particularly important during weight-training exercises like the barbell squat, deadlift, shoulder press, etc.
Unfortunately, improper performance of abdominal exercises will most certainly lead to lower back pain and could even cause spinal damage over time. The tips listed underneath are intended to provide you with some guidance for your abdominal work-out in order to optimize its effects and prevent injuries and pain in the lower back:
1) Keep your back rounded, particularly in the lower areas, throughout the performance of any abdominal exercise!
2) If you plan to perform several abdominal exercises subsequently, arrange them in such an order that the most challenging movements ( leg-raises etc.) are performed before the less challenging movements (crunches, etc.). Therefore do those so-called “lower ab exercises” before "upper ab exercises"; perform twisting ab-movements before straight ones.
3) Ab-movements with a larger range of motion should be performed before movements with a shorter range of motion! (i. e. leg raises first, sit-ups later, and crunches at the end of your ab-routine!)
4) Don’t perform sets with very high numbers of repetitions, but rather increase the resistance, as soon as you can easily perform more than 15-20 correct repetitions of the respective exercise movement ( f. ex. use ankle weights with leg raises or hold a weight plate in front of your chest during the performance of a sit-ups or crunches).
5) Avoid leg raise movements, which require stretching the legs out far forward, while lying on your back; this will lead to arching the lower back and cause back pain.
6) Perform sets of back extensions alternately with your abdominal exercises in order to create balance in these opposing muscles.
Dr. Christoph Klueppel
Master of Fitness Sciences
Specialist in Performance Nutrition
THE IMPORTANCE OF PROTEIN !
The word “protein” comes from the Greek word “protos” which means “first”; “proteios” stands for “primary” and “proteion” translates as “ the first place”. Proteins rightfully deserve their name, as they are the most fundamental components of all living cells. Consisting of chains of amino acids, proteins are a necessary part of the human diet and are supplied especially by such foods as meat, milk, eggs and legumes.
Proteins make up nearly half of the dry weight of the human body and are constantly being replaced. With the exception of the water component, protein represents 98% - 99% of the skeletal muscle. Research indicates that exercise of either long duration, high volume or high-intensity increases the protein requirements of athletes; in fact athletes may require between 23 and 178 percent more protein than average people !
The longer or harder an athlete trains, the more important dietary protein becomes to maximizing the muscles’ repair and building process. As training breaks down muscle proteins, muscles require protein intake to be used for repair and rebuilding. When there is not sufficient protein available for these processes, exercise will keep continuously breaking down muscle tissue, and the athlete will end up loosing valuable tissue (catabolic state) !
Weight-training athletes, who considerably increased their intake of dietary protein, were found to be able to increase their strength, muscular hardness and lean body mass. This increase of lean mass brings about an increase of the body’s metabolism, which is the most important aspect in achieving and maintaining a healthy, lean physique. After all, bigger muscles burn more calories all day long than little muscles, whether during exercise or at rest !!!
Endurance athletes are also well advised to increase their protein intake, as prolonged aerobic exercise can burn amino acids after the body uses up its stored glycogen (gluconeogenesis). In the event that there are not enough amino acids derived from dietary proteins circulating in the blood, the body has no other choice than acquiring the needed amino acids through breaking down muscle tissue, thus cannibalizing itself.
Dietary protein is, however, not only vital for the repair of existing tissue levels ,the synthesis of new tissue and used as an alternative source of energy during periods of intense stress, injury and caloric deficiency.
The amino acids, derived from ingested dietary proteins, are in fact also essential for the synthesis of other amino acids as well as hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes and other biochemicals and –last, but not least - also of utmost importance for the optimal functioning of the immune system!!!
Protein-deficient athletes can expect such conditions as tiredness, reduced energy, weakness, mental depression, lowered resistance to infections and disease, slower healing of injuries and prolonged recovery from exercise. As whole-food sources of protein are often high in fat and additionally place high demands on the digestive system, it is important to understand that it is virtually impossible for any athlete to make optimum progress without the steady use of a quality protein supplement.
PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTATION FOR ATHLETES -YES OR NO ?
In my previous article on the importance of protein, I have made the assertion that optimum athletic development without the regular use of a quality protein supplement is not very likely. This may leave some people wondering, why it should not be possible to satisfy their protein needs by simply consuming sufficient amounts of whole food sources of protein. After all, the current RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) with only approximately 0.8 g protein per kg of body-weight for adults does not appear too difficult to meet by consuming traditional food sources of protein. Unfortunately, the RDA does not appreciate the scientifically proven fact that the protein needs of individuals with an active athletic lifestyle are significantly higher than the protein needs of sedentary individuals . How much protein a person needs depends on the level of activity and the intensity of training. Experiments have shown that the actual protein needs of most athletes are at least between 1.6 and 1.8 g per kg of body-weight per day. Competitive bodybuilders, especially when training intensely under the influence of anabolic agents, may even benefit from protein intakes of more than 2.5 g per kg of body-weight per day.
In order to get a better understanding about the issue of protein needs and protein supplementation, let us first have a look at some basic facts on protein in general.
Proteins are made up of chains of individual amino acids; 22 amino acids are commonly found in nature. Eight of these 22 amino acids are called “essential” or “indispensable” amino acids , as they must be obtained from our diet. Seven other amino acids are called “conditionally essential” as the body may under certain circumstances like intense physical activity or illness not be able to manufacture all of them on time or enough of them to cover all of proteins vital functions. The remaining amino acids are called “non-essential” or “dispensable”; they do not need to be ingested , as the body is capable of manufacturing them from the eight Essential Amino Acids.
Whole food sources of protein, which contain all the eight Essential Amino Acids are called “Complete Proteins” ; examples of “complete” protein foods are meat, chicken, fish, milk, eggs etc. Even though “complete”, these proteins are yet not all of the same quality: some have a higher Biological Value (BV) than others. (The BV is a measure of a protein’s quality and indicates how many percent of the protein consumed is actually absorbed and utilized by the body; the higher the BV, the better the protein! ). Cow’s milk, for example, has a BV of 91, fish has a BV of 83; the BV of beef is 80 and the BV of chicken is 79.
Other common measures for evaluating protein quality are the PER ( Protein Efficiency Ratio), the NPU (Net Protein Utilization) and the so called PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score); though none of these indices is ideal, they all offer a general indication, how “usable”a protein is by the body.
Foods which are lacking either one or several of the eight Essential Amino Acids are called “Incomplete Proteins” ; these Incomplete Proteins are mainly of plant origin and include legumes (lentils,beans), oats, grains etc. Combinations of two or more Incomplete Proteins, deficient in different Essential Amino Acids, can usually jointly supply all the eight Essential Amino Acids, needed to manufacture any Non-Essential Amino Acids. Unfortunately these Essential Amino Acids are provided in the wrong ratios to maintain a positive nitrogen balance and to manufacture sufficient amounts of all necessary non-essential proteins in time for optimum physical development. The Biological Value of incomplete proteins of plant origin is therefore generally lower than the BV of complete proteins of animal origin (rice has a BV of 59, wheat’s BV is 54). The only exception is soy protein; it contains all of the Essential Amino Acids in adequate amounts and recent advances in soybean processing technique have led to the development of high-quality soy isolates, which have various health benefits and even beat many whey, egg or casein based protein supplements by their content of certain amino-acids .
Although there is no official scientific evidence that one can’t meet all one’s protein needs for muscle growth through food, this is certainly no easy task. Being serious about your work-out and your physical development, means you have to eat a meal every three hours; each of these meals must contain a complete protein such as egg-whites, lean meat, chicken or dairy products. While it may not be completely impossible to ingest the necessary amounts of protein in form of food, it certainly takes careful meal planning and quite some time and effort to prepare all these meals and eat them ! It is certainly much easier to prepare and drink a protein shake than cook and eat poultry ,fish or egg whites every three hours. Not to forget, the stress that protein foods like these cause to the digestive system. It takes several hours to digest beef or chicken, which means that your muscles and all your other physiological systems need to wait that long for the urgently needed amino acids to fulfill their vital functions.
A high-quality protein shake on the other hand provides all important amino acids to your body only within minutes after consumption. Whey protein supplements ( with whey protein isolate being the purest form of all whey proteins !) are called “fast-acting”, as they excel in providing high amounts of branched chain amino acids to your muscles faster than any other protein supplement. The fast supply of amino acids is of particular importance immediately after an intense work-out session. By then the blood flow to your muscles is still high and your muscles are especially receptive to nutrients; supplying them with the necessary amino acids right then ensures optimum recovery and growth.
Another disadvantage of getting all your protein from whole food sources is that you can’t help ingesting a certain amount of saturated fat and cholesterol, which any serious athlete must try to avoid. (The dietary fat intake of athletes should exclusively consist of unsaturated fats like olive oil, and non-hydrogenated flaxseed oil, safflower oil, or sunflower oil.)
A high-quality protein shake on the other hand usually contains up to 90-95 % protein in its purest form and only little (if any) fat, cholesterol or lactose ! Thus it allows you to get your necessary protein without the fat and unwanted calories, and the absence of lactose even makes such a protein shake the ideal source of protein for lactose intolerant people.
Last, but not least, it is important to realize that intact dietary proteins are generally less bio-available than quality protein supplements, even though both may contain the same amounts of amino acids. Therefore a diet based on traditional sources of protein may provide an adequate intake, but may yet not be as effective as one that includes a quality protein supplement like a whey concentrate/isolate or soy isolate. Other quality protein supplements include casein-based protein powders ( the “other” milk protein aside from whey ) and protein powders manufactured from egg whites. Unfortunately casein has a negative effect on one’s cholesterol profile and egg white protein does not only taste badly, but also contains about 10 % carbohydrates.
The most recommendable protein supplement for athletes may therefore be a mixture of fast acting whey, immune-system enhancing soy and a certain amount of slower acting casein.
A combination of all of these proteins will definitely provide you with better gains than either one of the above mentioned protein supplements alone.
Dr. Christoph Klueppel
Master of Fitness Sciences
Specialist in Performance Nutrition