Monday, January 21, 2008

New format, muscle tidbits and training

To make this blog a bit more readable, I've decided to integrate my random musings with my training log entries. That way, people who want to read my insane ramblings can do so without sifting through the training log entries. And people who want to know what I'm doing in the gym just have to scroll down to the bottom of the most recent post!

Interesting Tidbits on Muscle

I'm beginning the process of studying for my CSCS certification. Step 1 is reading a big textbook. It's kind of imposing, especially when I flip to the first page and see it chock-full of terms such as epimysium, periosteum, sarcomere, and more. I had horrifying flashbacks to high school biology class...

But, as I slowly waded through Chapter 1 in an attempt to learn all the terminology, I did glean a few very interesting tidbits that involved few enough big words for me to clearly understand:

Longer muscles can act more rapidly than shorter ones.

The basic functional unit of a muscle is called a sarcomere. Each sarcomere is a certain length, and each sarcomere is capable of roughly the same amount of contraction. Longer muscles have more sarcomeres in series. More sarcomeres in series contracting at the same time means a faster movement of the limb. (If 10 sarcomeres in series produce 2 cm of movement in a limb when firing, 20 sarcomeres would produce 4 cm of movement, and so on.) This is why long-legged people are fast: not only do they cover more ground with each stride, but they can also move their legs more quickly than someone with shorter leg muscles could.

Bigger muscles aren't necessarily stronger.

I've beaten this dead horse before, but now I more clearly understand the "why" of it: Muscles get big via hypertrophy. There are 2 kinds of hypertrophy. Kind 1 is called myofibrillar hypertrophy, and it involves the growth of more muscle fibers and therefore an increase in strength. Kind 2 is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which involves an increase in the amount of fluid in each muscle cell, called sarcoplasm, but no growth in the contractile elements of the muscle. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is why many bodybuilders are huge, but aren't as strong as you'd think.

Pre-loading a muscle makes it stronger.

It takes time for a muscle to go from relaxed to fully tensed and contracting. So pre-loading a muscle is basically putting a demand on your muscle before you actually start the exercise, giving it that split second it needs to say "oh crap, it's time to work hard!" and get its metaphorical butt in gear. This happens automatically with free weights -- when you unrack a Bench Press or a Squat, the muscles that you use to support the weight are the same as the ones you'll be using to perform the exercise, so you're pre-loaded and ready for maximal contraction throughout the entire motion. With machines, however, there is no demand placed on your muscle until you're ready to start the movement, so you're not pre-loaded and you don't get the benefit of full contractile strength in the beginning portion of the movement.

So I lied, there were a few big words in there. But now not only do you know more about muscle, but you also know some intimidating big words to use whenever you want people to think you're smart!

Training 1-21-08

5 x 5 x 235

3 x 5 x 140
4 x 140
3 x 140

Power Clean
5 x 3 x 145

Bent Over Row
5 x 5 x 165

One Arm Dumbbell Snatch
3 x 5 x 65

Comments: Still tend to Good Morning the Squats, need to watch that. One more chance to get the full 5x5 on Press before I go to Timed Total Tonnage. Power Clean was sloppier, concentrate on form. Bent Over Row felt better than before the break -- concentrating on keeping the back straight and firm helped. One Arm Dumbbell Snatch seems like a good assistance exercise to add on for both Press and Power Cleans, since it helps with overhead stabilization and hip explosion.


Charlotte said...

I love that CSCS textbook! I'm not certified but I read my friend's copy for fun:) So... question: I get what you are saying about strength vs. muscle size. So is there a particular type of workout that builds strength MORE than size? Obv. being a girl, I don't want a lot of size but I loooove getting stronger. I know they overlap some but is there a certain type of training you recommend? Thanks, Lucas!

Lucas said...

I agree, the book is great! It's just a little intimidating when you think "oh crap, I have to read and remember this entire thing, and the first page has 7 vocab words I've never seen before in my entire life..."

In an ironic twist, the most effective way to build strength and "tone" without adding size is the exact opposite of what most people do when they have this aim in mind: low volume, high intensity training.

Pavel recommends 2 sets of 5, the first set using your 5 rep max weight and the second set with 90% of that. I'm personally a fan of 3 sets of 5 across (all with the same weight). As long as you keep the volume low (under 20 total reps in 4 or fewer sets) and the intensity high (I'd say 80% or more of your 1RM), then you'll be building strength without much mass.

In reality, no matter what kind of set/rep/intensity scheme you use, you probably won't have a problem with getting too much mass. Women don't "bulk up" as a result of weight training like men do. We have that whole testosterone thing going on, which makes it a lot easier for us to build visible muscle mass compared to you gals.

Charlotte said...

Thank you - I might need to reference this in another post! Very well put.

Andrew said...

I like the new format.

Lucas said...

Thanks, Andrew! I think I'll refer to it as the "lump it all together and let 'em read what they want" technique.