Bringing the Pendulum Back to Center (Part 2)

TAGS: weight loss, overtraining, mr. miyagi, low carb, cut, cosgrove, warm up, diet, stretch

It is often said by futurists (those who study the past to predict the future) that there is an over-reaction to most new concepts in the short term, yet an under-reaction in the long term. We can all come up with countless examples of it – the high carb trend of a few years ago – which has become the zero carb trend recently.

However, never has this concept been more apparent than in the strength and conditioning industry, particularly in recent years.

This is part two of what I expect will become an ongoing series where I, or other writers, give their opinions as to the current attitudes towards different ideas in our world.

Stretching

Over-reaction

There was a time when even joggers stretched (warming up to warm up?). Athletes were told to stay away from weight training as it made you muscle bound and stretching was the most important thing you could do.

I can remember performing a vigorous 20-30 min dynamic warm up in TKD class, sweating heavily and then sitting down to stretch for 15-20 mins. Did we get flexible? Yes. But did we lose a whole bunch of the benefits of our dynamic warm up – yes too. And there lies the real problem

Under-reaction

We learned that static stretching wasn't the best thing for power athletes, as it relaxed the stretched muscle. When you think about it – this is no real shock is it? The very reason you stretched at all was to relax an overly active muscle. The tool that we used to relax an overly-tight muscle was just misused – we were using it to develop flexibility in every muscle. Stretching an already lengthened muscle is not an optimal use of training time.

If I give you a static stretch to do it's because a muscle is overactive. It's too strong in relation to the other muscles. I want it to relax. So of course it's immediately weaker — I just made it relax. That was my goal. It's not a detrimental side effect; it's the effect I was looking for.

But here's the point: Once I've established that I need to reduce the tension in a muscle, why would I then want to directly maximally strengthen it? That's the exact opposite of my goal. I've already established that it has too much tension there. It's already overactive. If I spend time strengthening it I'm creating a bigger problem (besides beating my head against a wall).

(Here’s my problem with the studies: If you think about it logically again (something most people seem unable to do), if I tested your 5RM in the squat and then a couple of minutes later tested your 6RM, do you think that your 6RM might be reduced because of what I just did? Of course. If you interpret this case literally, I just proved that strength training makes you weaker.)

Now the smarter conditioning coaches out there studied the information, made an informed decision and decided to use static stretching sparingly and replaced it with dynamic mobility work. However, the majority of coaches just replaced it with nothing, which was never the message. So we now have kids doing NO mobility work.

In my opinion flexibility work is necessary. Once you have a flexibility portion in your program we can debate about what "type" of flexibility training is best.

The problem is the majority of programs don't address it at all.

Now please don't misinterpret this. If I wanted maximal strength in the workout, then I don't use a static stretch. But if I use a static stretch I'm well aware that there's a short term strength deficit as a result, and I feel that's beneficial.

Several coaches, Martin Rooney and Joe DeFranco spring to mind, do static stretching of the hip flexor prior to vertical jump testing to prevent the antagonistic contraction of the hip flexor from reducing vertical jump — with great results I might add. The static stretching inhibits the hip flexor contraction, which is exactly the goal in this case.

Back to center

Static stretching is a tool. I use it. There are times when I feel it's useful. In my experience (competitive martial arts) guys used to do hours of static stretching and they'd kick your head off.  So much for making you weaker.

I think there is enough anecdotal evidence that it helps athletes remain healthy over the long term.

Whether or not you choose to use static stretching, you need to understand the effect it has on the tissues. And if you choose not to do static stretching – you still need to do some form of flexibility training regularly.

All my athletes do flexibility work. That doesn't mean they stretch. It doesn't mean they do static stretching. It might mean they just do deep lunges, etc.But I should add that whenever a client has knee pain, stretching the surrounding musculature (quads, hamstrings and claves) ALWAYS, ALWAYS helps reduce the pain.

Static stretching was never the problem. It was that people didn't understand how best to use it. Again, it comes back to knowing why you're using a certain technique instead of blindly following the masses.

Overtraining

Over-reaction

We can directly blame Mike Mentzer and Stuart McRobert for this one. The birth of the hardgainer. The idea that the genetically inferior amongst us could only recover from 2-3 sets of an exercise done every ten to fourteen days is bullshit.

I was getting emails for a while saying “I lift three days per week for about 40 mins. I’d like to ride my bike on Saturday with my kids – is this overtraining?”

Come on.

Everyone stopped training hard.

Under-reaction

Now someone quotes the Bulgarians who trained six times per day. I’m not arguing this data, but I just want to suggest that this was a “survival of the fittest” situation. The athletes (and remember – these were full time world class athletes) who could not recover or even survive this type of training were just dropped from the team. To model your training after the top 0.5% of World Class elite athletes is just freaking stupid.

Recently I’ve seen suggestions of up to ten weight training sessions per week for the recreational lifter. This is unlikely to work for the average drug free trainee with a job or school and any semblance of a life. If you increase training, in order to increase results – you need to increase recovery.  And with that kind of volume, regardless of what you think you are doing, your intensity is suboptimal.

Back to Center

You do not get better by training – you get better by recovering from training.

Read that sentence again and let it sink in.

Once you truly understand that idea, you understand that when we increase training, we have to increase recovery. If you can’t increase recovery then the increased training won’t have any effect. Training is not about how much or how hard or how long you can endure – it should be about the amount of training, when combined with the recovery available in your unique situation that will give you the best results.

I think in general most individuals will have the most success training with weights three to four times over a week. If you add a full time job, or other sports training to this equation then the only logical solution is to cut back on your strength training.

“Go heavy or go home” is an over-used phrase, but in general if you can’t improve then you need more recovery – not more training. More is not better. Better is better. If in doubt – train harder with less volume.

Low Carb Dieting

Over-reaction

Atkins had it right. The obesity problem in this country can be linked almost directly to the intake of refined carbohydrate. However, I’d say that most people on the Atkins diet never read the good doctors’ book. They have used their own interpretation of the Atkins diet and think it means bacon grease and cheese. That is not what the Atkins diet is.

Most junk food is in the form of carbs. Reducing this has always been good. All vegetables are carbs. Reducing this has never been good. Don’t confuse the issue.

There is a restaurant near me that serves a low carb platter. The dish consists of a steak, cooked in butter and topped with a half pound of blue cheese. This is a diet food?  The same restaurant serves Buffalo wings and low carb Buffalo wings. The difference? The low carb wings do not come with carrot sticks or celery.

Somehow I don’t think the obesity problem is a result of too many carrot sticks and celery stalks in our diets.

Under-reaction

We have yet to truly enter the under-reaction phase but trust me – it’s coming.

Supplement companies are busting their ass to produce protein bars with zero net carbs (which is a garbage term), and “recovery” drinks loaded with sugar.

GNC still sells a weight gainer that has 400g of carbs per serving.

We have to recognize that high blood sugar causes insulin release. Insulin is a storage hormone. Post workout it stores the glycogen in the muscles. At other times it increases your fat stores. Controlling insulin is still important.

Back to Center

As a very general diet guideline, I think we should reduce our carb intake. However I also think we should increase our fruits and vegetable intake.

The key with a moderate carb diet is to reduce the junk that is made up of refined carbs. Carbohydrate is not the enemy. Refined, bleached junk sugar is.

The fact that lower blood sugar levels are effective for fat loss does not mean however that a hypoglycemic state is optimal either.

“Balance is key.

Balance Good. Karate Good. Everything Good.

Balance bad – better pack up and go home”

-Mr. Miyagi.

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