Studies Suggest...A Tendency...More Research
Have you ever read a clinical study of something related to fitness? They are awash in vague wording and tenuous conclusions.
I should say at the outset that I have the highest regard for the logic and empiricism that is the foundation of science and I appreciate that careful language needs to be used when making claims of discovery. But at the same time, there is the risk of wording findings so carefully that meaning is lost or, at the very least, so watered down as to leave no impression.
I love the guys like Newton and Einstein who provided conclusion you could measure: F=ma or E=mc2. Nothing tenuous there. Those are conclusions you can hang your hat on. In the world of fitness we get stuff like "studies suggest operating a muscle against resistance has a tendency to cause hypertrophy. More research is required." But when does a study ever say the final research has been done and here are the definitive conclusions?
My point in bringing this up is that there is needless doubt and confusion in the world of fitness, specifically regarding building muscle and getting stronger. Just look at the myriad of fitness magazines that come out every 30 days with "new" workouts on how to sculpt you abs, or build your arms or get "in shape". And the variation and contradiction is astounding: one set, two sets, three sets, one to four different exercises per muscle, multiple workouts per week, different workouts for men than for women...and next month every magazine has a new variation for the same goals!!
Friends, strength training is not rocket science! Mankind has known at least since the time of Milo the Greek who, over 2,000 years ago was said to have lifted a calf every day until it became a full grown bull, that increasing weight from workout to workout is what made a person stronger and stronger. This isn't a "suggestion", it isn't a "tendency" and no more "research" is necessary. Lifting progressively heavier weight makes a human progressively stronger. Period.
So why not lift 100 pounds today and keep adding 10 pounds every day for a year? Heck, in 365 days you'd be lifting 3,750 pounds. We also know that won't work, otherwise we'd all be bench pressing two tons after a year of training. Again, this phenomenon is not a "tendency", this is absolute reality in 100 percent of known human experiments, formal and informal. And I'm sure if we could talk to Milo he say, "I really didn't lift that calf every day, I took days off to recover...especially when he got really heavy."
So what we have so far is:
Fact 1 - Lifting progressively heavier weight makes a human progressively stronger.
Fact 2 - In order to lift progressively heavier weight a human needs rest between lifts.
So a logical question arises. How much rest is required?
And the logical answer is: The amount of rest that permits you to actually lift more weight.
This is easily found for each individual experimentally. Didn't bench press more after 2 days off? Rest for 3 days. Still didn't lift more? Rest for 4 days, and so on.
Using only these two facts - not tendencies or hypotheses, but facts - anyone can increase his or her strength enormously.
Here is another fact. Muscles adapt almost exclusively independent to each other. That is to say, lifting a weight with your biceps muscle will not directly cause hypertrophy in your calf or hamstring muscles. (I have to say "almost exclusively" here because there is a slight symbiosis when heavy exercise causes the release of growth hormone and other metabolic functions that assist all muscle growth...assuming growth has been stimulated in the first place by specific exercises.) The logical conclusion is we need to use specific exercises for each muscle or muscle group. A quadriceps exercise for quadriceps, a chest exercise for the chest and so on. Still nothing controversial there, right?
Now another logical question arises. What is the best exercise for each muscle?
And the logical answer is: The exercise that permits that muscle to lift the most weight.
So suppose there are 5 different biceps exercises and these are the weights you can perform them with:
a) 35 pounds
b) 50 pounds
c) 165 pounds
d) 95 pounds
e) 110 pounds
Isn't it clear and unambiguous which exercise is the best one to use to stimulate growth in you biceps? Why work your biceps with a 50 pound exercise when it is capable of lifting 165 pounds in another biceps exercise? Moreover, why do a set of the 165 lb. exercise, followed by a set of the 50 lb. exercise, followed by a set of the 95lb. exercise? Should Milo have lifted the bull, then a dog and then a chicken? Do you honestly believe that would have made Milo get even stronger?
Believe me, with some muscle groups I could list exercises all the way up to x, y and z and probably beyond. Dozens of useless exercises because they only allow the targeted muscle to lift less weight than the maximum weight exercise.
OK...here's one more fact applicable to 100% of humans: The heavier the weight lifted, the less time it can be held. Whether you do conventional full range lifting or slow lifting or static holds, the amount of time you can support the weight goes down as the weight goes up. That's why 100% of people can do more reps with 30 pounds than they can with 100 pounds.
And heavy weight is the key to maximum growth stimulation, not sustained time. So the amazing thing about our friend Milo is that he lifted a very heavy bull, not that he lifted a dog for a minute more each day until he eventually held the dog for 10 days without putting it down. It is always preferable to increase weight at the expense of decreasing time. That's why gyms are full of heavy weights instead of light dumbbells and comfortable chairs to sit in for hours while holding them.
So another logical question arises. What is the least time to hold a weight and still stimulate muscle growth?
And the logical answer is: The shortest amount of time that permits you to actually lift more weight next workout.
My experiments and observations show me that the amount of time is very brief. Less than 5 seconds. I learned a lot more about this when I got my first Explosive Fitness machine because it gives a digital readout of the weight being lifted as it is happening. So within seconds you can see the meter go from, say, 88 pounds, to 163, to 212, to 248, then down to 198, then to 110 and so on. (The meter remembers the peak reading so you can call it up when you are done.) While it might take a person 4 or 7 seconds to complete the exercise, the peak is reached only briefly and yet it has been empirically proven tens of thousands of times to cause muscle growth stimulation because during the next workout the same subject can lift even more weight and repeat this phenomenon over and over.
Hang Your Fitness Hat on These Facts
If your goal is bigger, stronger, more powerful muscles:
1. You will get bigger, stronger and more powerful muscles by lifting a progressively heavier weight on every exercise during each workout
2. You can only do the above by getting enough time off between workouts
3. The most effective exercise for each muscle or muscle group is the one that permits you to lift the most weight with that muscle
4. Lifting a heavier weight for a shorter time provides more stimulation than holding a lighter weight for a longer time (Think of a sprinter's legs vs. a marathoner's. Thankfully, this is also a heck of a lot more efficient!)
5. You can lift a weight for as little as 5 seconds (perhaps much less) and still stimulate muscle growth
As always, I don't ask you to take any of what I'm saying on faith. (After all, I'm selling something so you should be skeptical.) Please test one or all of these facts in your gym. Each is easy to test. If your experience overturns any of the above I'm sure the entire world of exercise science will want to study you.
Once you know and understand these facts you really see how silly all those magazine articles are with the "workout de jour" for various body parts, especially when this month's advice contradicts last month's advice! *sigh*