The Need for Speed

“Just as the wave cannot exist for itself, but is ever a part of the heaving surface of the ocean, so must I never live my life for itself, but always in the experience which is going on around me. It is an uncomfortable doctrine which the true ethics whisper into my ear. You are happy, they say; therefore you are called upon to give much.”

Albert Schweitzer

photo: Teeny Manolo.  Very nice!Maximal effort is the key to muscle growth, irregardless of repetition configuration, or protocol structure – these are the findings of Sandee Jungblut of Adelphi University’s (Garden City, NY) Human Performance Laboratory (full article, here).  Or, as the study’s abstract states:

Many resistance training experts claim that a very heavy resistance is required to produce optimal strength gains. However, the size principle, motor unit activation studies, and the overwhelming majority of resistance training studies refute that claim. In fact, these studies support the premise that a moderate amount of resistance will produce similar strength gains.

Nothing to refute here; Clarence Bass and Matt Metzgar have both done a fine job in follow-up commentary, and in breaking the study down to the usable take-away messages, the most important of which being the notion of maximal effort.  Bodybuilers have understood the underlying principals of this study intuitively – in fact, you could say it comes part and parcel in the bodybuilding genome – maybe in some inverse relationship with the myostatin gene?  😉   Who knows.  What we do know is, that the Iron Guru, Vince Gironda, may not have articulated it as such, but his training methods are a real-world manifestation of this study’s findings.  Did we need science to prove that Vince was right?  Did Vince need science to prove he was right?  I wish the old man was still around to offer his biting commentary, as I always envisioned him as a Jack Kerouac with muscle.

The thing is, though – and for those more concerned with athletic performance as opposed to merely lookin’ good nekkid – there’s much more to the story; the collective chapters of which would fall under the heading of Central Nervous System Optimization.   This is the aim of all power-oriented work, in fact.  Hang around a gym long enough and you’re sure to run across the prototypical 170-pound string bean who can out-max anyone in the place.  How is that?  CNS optimization, my friend – either trained, or genetic.

These two “camps”, though, need not be at odds with one another.  In fact, what ought to be attempted by each trainee is to consistently fine-tune the “yin-yang-edness” of muscle mass together with cns optimization.  This, in my mind, is the missing link that is so often overlooked in the training communities.  You’re either a bodybuilder or a performance athlete.  Bullshit to that, I say – unless you’re looking to unnecessarily limit yourself – or looking to create added revenue via manufactured conflict.

In health,


Time Under Load

“Colleges hate geniuses, just as convents hate saints.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Question; would you train this athlete…

That's my boy --

That's my boy, shorin' up the hot corner

…the same as this knucklehead?


Well, the fact is, that in many ways science tells us that they should train the same.  The rub comes from the fact that empirically speaking (and this is where the art of training comes into play), there are some subtle, yet very important ways in which they should never be on the same page.  Let’s consider just one aspect of training for a moment: time under load (or, if you prefer, time under tension).  We’re taking about muscular gains, here; gettin’ swole — hypertrophy.

From the Wow, that sounds a lot like Dr. McGuff files…

So I came across an interesting T-Nation article recently; interesting, not so much for the training protocol information it provided, but in that who the author was endorsing this particular protocol — namely, Dave Tate.  The subject of this particular article is hypertrophy, and how best to train for that end; the interesting thing is, once you break down the science behind what Dave Tate is endorsing here, it becomes clear that both he and Doug McGuff (and anyone seeking pure hypertrophy, for that matter) are preaching from the same pulpit.  The delivery methods are different, and the delivery men might as well be from different planets, but when broken-down to the bare essentials, the message is strikingly similar.  The total time under tension between the two protocols each endorses are, well, nearly identical.  Why?; because it’s been shown both scientifically, and (most importantly), empirically to work.

Now remember, we’re speaking strictly of hypertrophy gains here.  If you’re a seasoned athlete who’s primarily concerned with strength, power and speed gains, such a protocol is likely (at least during the protocol itself, and for the near future thereafter) to negatively affect those aspects.  This is why when I go on a hypertrophy bender (25 for a bigger engine), I prefer to shade a little more toward the strength end of the spectrum.  Sometimes, though, an athlete has to take a step back in order to take two forward.  Just a little something to keep in mind.  For those new to the iron game, though, it’s a different story.  But hell, newbies can perform repeated sets of — hell, I dunno — carrying  dumbbells from one end of the gym to the other, and make gains in both strength and size.  As always, keep in mind the cardinal dictate: Know thyself, know thy weakness(es) and know thy goals.

Back, though, to time under tension.  In the article, Dave Tate points out (correctly, in my experience), that the best hypertrophy gains are made — regardless of the specifics of the protocol, so long as the muscle(s) in question is/are placed under a constant tension with a load sufficient to induce temporary failure within a time period of 30 – 45 seconds, with a total time under tension not to exceed 90 to 135 seconds.  Again, we’re speaking about an emphasis on hypertrophy here.  Why these time brackets?  Because we want to hit that sweet-spot balance between exhausting all fibers (time and load dependent), and not allowing the slow twitch fibers enough time to sufficiently recover.  Now, there’s lots of room to maneuver within these two requisite time brackets — sets, reps, tempo, method — but just remember with the goal being hypertrophy, we want to aim for exhaustion of all muscle fiber types affected by the applicable exercise.

Something I’d like to quickly point out before we move on: a physiological response to induced stress (in our case, the body’s response to an exercise bout), cannot be isolated, nor can it be segmented.  That is to say, it is impossible to classify one modality as purely hypertrophy-inducing, strength-inducing, or otherwise.  And to convolute matters a bit more, we’ve got the variances in each individual’s genetic “hand” to deal with.  Personally, I rarely lift with a hypertrophy response as my aim, and yet I’m fairly well hypertrophied.  And conversely, I’ve run across athletes who rarely perform other than hypertrophy-leaning protocols, and who yet maintain an explosive, power-producing ability.  The latter case is much more rare in my experience, and yet I have run across it.  My point is that it is very important to think of exercise in the same way as, say,  insulin response to food ingestion, or the body’s energy system contribution in the face of various energy requirements.  We’re speaking in terms of shades here, not clearly defined cubby-holes.  There are no absolutes, only leanings.

Anyway, what’s interesting, when considering “Tate” protocol as compared to Dr. McGuff’s, is that we see the same, overall, time under tension prescription.  Tate breaks his up between three sets of 30 -45 seconds in length, per exercise, and he’ll perform 6 exercises in a workout.  That’s between 90 and 135 seconds of TUT per exercise, and, at 6 exercises per workout, we’re at a grand total of between 9 and 13.5 minutes of overall TUT in a single outing.  Looks rather familiar, huh?   What is different, though, is the prescribed dose.  Tate will perform his routine 4 times per week, whereas McGuff (in most instances) prescibes once/week.  Both methods, though, can be easily fine tuned by tracking the progress of one’s does-response.  Tate’s protocol splits the workouts so as to work roughly half the body in each workout, whereas McGuff takes an all-in-one view.  Stress is stress, though, as far as the body is concerned; that stress may be concentrated in one zone, but the overall response will still be additive on a whole body scale.  Keep that in mind.  What would be very interesting would be to put Tate on a McGuff protocol for a while and chart his dose-response curve.  I’d bet the farm that Tate would be a recovery “freak” and be able not only to tolerate, but make his best gains under 2 McGuff sessions per week.

By the way, I guess it’s TMuscle now, instead of T-Nation.  My bad; old habits die hard.  Different name, same chock- full-of-great-information site, though, that I love to hate.

Have a great weekend!

In health,