Tag Archives | efficiency


Every once an awhile it’s possible to have an interesting exchange on social media. Recently I had an exchange with a smart and well-respected trainer who questioned whether infrequent training was even necessary.

We went back and forth a bit and it made me realize that most people just don’t look at this issue the way I do. They basically start with the belief that they love lifting weights and want reasons to do it as often as possible. I use golf as an example to explain their thinking. Golfers want to golf more often, not less often.

The difference is golfers don’t claim every single game makes them better and lowers their score.

Golfers don’t claim to “make progress” on every game. I think that’s because they actually measure their strokes! The numbers never lie. If most people could take a stroke off their game every time they played, they’d be better than Rory McIlroy in a year or so.

That got me wondering. What if these guys training two and three times per week actually did make progress on every workout the way many of them claim? 

To help visualize this, think about what you can lift on any exercise and how far that is from the world record. Using the bench press as an example, let’s say you could lift 200 lbs right now, and the world record for a ‘raw’ lift is 800 lbs (which is a bit high, but I’m approximating for simplicity).

So, can we agree that 800 lbs is the absolute heaviest you could ever expect to bench press, and that your reality is very likely substantially below that? Like 500, 600, or 700 lbs?

So if you can bench press 200 lbs now, it means the greatest possible improvement you could achieve in your lifetime is to lift 400% of that weight and hoist 800 lbs.

That’s it. Over a lifetime of lifting, under ideal circumstances, the most you could ever expect to improve is to lift 400% of what you can already lift.

So here’s a chart showing how quickly your strength would improve if every workout yielded 2 to 5% improvement. I’ve used 100 lbs, not 200, as the starting weight. So think of being able to do a bench press today with 100 lbs and then you can see how quickly you’d be lifting multiples of that weight.

For example, if you made a tiny 2% improvement on each workout and started with 100 lbs, after 10 workouts you would be up to 122 lbs. After 20 workouts you’d be hoisting 149 lbs. In the real world, I think most people would expect to make faster progress, but it’s still nice to see small gains on a consistent basis.

But look what happens to our 2% gains after 70 workouts. The trainee has gone from 100 lbs to 400 lbs. It also means the guy who started with a bench press of 200 lbs would be at the World Record 800 lbs.

So he’s done! For life! No matter how often he trains or how he trains he will never, ever make progress beyond this point.

But remember – most trainers tell their clients to lift 100 to 150 times per year (two or three times per week)! They tell them to lift up to 750 times in five years.

Why?

How can people possibly make progress with such frequent workouts? Do they make 0.001% improvement per workout? Are these trainers measuring with that exacting granularity and precision?

No. They aren’t.

In fact, they really don’t measure at all. That’s how they can fool themselves the way no golfer could ever fool himself.

Next, look at how ridiculous it is to expect to improve on 150 workouts per year. A guy who could bench press 100 lbs at the beginning could now bench 1,950 lbs? Or if he could leg press 300 lbs at the beginning he could now leg press 5,850 lbs?

This is how ridiculous it is to assert that people can “make progress” training so often. The reality is, if you train logically and with careful measurement you should be able to reach your peak power output within just a few dozen workouts but they will need to be carefully spaced apart in order to guarantee full recovery and the growth of new muscle before returning to the gym.

I can almost hear the objection; “Actual increases are really small – like less than 2% – so training often is still a good idea.” 

Really? Because if gains are, say, 0.1% per workout it means that after 20 workouts a trainee’s bench press would improve from 100 lbs to 102 lbs. Does that sound right to you? Even ten times that rate of improvement, 1%, only gets a person to 122 lbs after a whopping 20 perfect workouts. Still seems low to me.

One More Thing

In our recent Mass Gain Study, we tracked the progress of strength gains over 10 workouts. If we measure from the very first workout we get a pretty big number. But that number isn’t fair, because people take time to get accustomed to lifting in the strongest, safest range of motion, so they make fast progress because of technique rather than pure strength gains.

So we also measured from their third workout to their tenth workout. Over six different exercises the trainees in the study gained about 80% in those last seven workouts. That’s a compounded increase of 8.8% per workout.

Also, it took these trainees nearly 80 days to do all ten workouts. So figure eight days between workouts, although near the end it was even more. So these guys would be at a point of doing maybe three workouts per month, whereas all the other guys spinning their wheels in the gym would train roughly 13 times to their 3 times.

So take a look at how fast a person would reach his peak power output if he could maintain that  8.8% improvement per workout (which does not seem likely over a long period of time, frankly. But I also would not call it impossible.)

After just 20 workouts a person who started at lifting 100 lbs would be lifting 540 lbs. Of course, in the real world, we have to remember it’s really hard to be so consistent. We can miscalculate a new goal, or our recovery time, or we can misjudge how tired or stressed we are. Or how much of our energy was taken from shoveling the driveway or loading a truck. We can screw up our diet and have our energy drop. A lot can go wrong, so it hard to hit a home run on every single exercise during every single workout.

But those are all reasons to take MORE measurements, not fewer measurements. Those are also reasons to space workouts farther apart, not closer together.

Do You Want to Make Progress, or Just Lift Weights?

When a person tell me he’s trained three times a week for three years, all I wonder is how many of those 450 workouts were absolutely wasted in terms of making objective progress. Was it 400? Was it “only” 250? Or, frankly, was it 435 of his 450 workouts that basically did nothing whatsoever to improve his strength and build new muscle? (Because, don’t forget, every workout digs a metabolic hole that you have to recover from. So people can and do move backwards in terms of progress. This is when their trainers tell them their routine is “getting stale” and they should just switch to other – lighter – exercises and keep training frequently. Again – the trainer’s secret is to never take objective power measurements so their lame advice is never clearly revealed.)

Granted, I’m the first to agree that there are other ways to measure strength than just a one-rep max for a world record. I’m the guy who coined the terms Alpha Strength and Beta Strength to differentiate the calculations of momentary and sustained intensity. But, again, these are things that deserve to be accurately and objectively quantified and tracked so progress can be measured in a clear and meaningful way.

I think the burden of proof is on the trainers who tell people that they need to train 150 times per year to actually show how you can get stronger 150 times in a row when doing it. This is something they will never prove. I’ve never seen a single example of a person who could stay on a fixed training schedule of 2-3 times per week and demonstrate progress month after month. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen it on 10 consecutive workouts of regular folks performing multiple exercises every workout.

The reality is, training frequency is a complex calculation that is a constantly moving target. In a perfect training routine your recovery would never be exactly the same twice, if you could measure down to the hour.

Similarly, no two workouts should ever be the same twice. Because if your previous workout was successful, you are returning to the gym a new and different person who can and should lift a little more total weight on every single exercise.

And when you realize that all that separates you from the peak of human power demonstrated by world record holders, you see that increasing your Alpha Strength power 300-500% is all you can likely do in a lifetime. And there is no good reason to divide that gain over a thousand workouts when it can be done in a few dozen workouts spaced apart at the right intervals, guided by objective and meaningful measurements.

 

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What Works Best?

What works best?One of the perennial questions that comes up on my blog and probably on every blog about building new muscle is something like, “I’ve heard the ABC method of training works well, but I’ve also heard that XYZ is great too. Does anybody know which one is best?”

A common variation is: “Which method would be best for me?”

Here’s the harsh truth. The training method that is best for you is unknowable.

You can, and should, make an educated approximation. But you will never have certainty that you went with the “best” possible training method for you.

We Tested

We’ve been testing all sorts of things for over twenty years. Individual exercises, exercise combinations, multiple sets, and more. A lot of that is in our free e-booklet, Workout Variations Revealed.

We’ve even tested whether Static Contraction of Power Factor workouts build more mass.
Short answer:

– Nothing is more efficient at building mass, per minute of exercise, than Static Contraction
– A very particular Power Factor routine builds more mass per workout (but the workouts are longer than SC workouts)

The details of that testing, and the winning Mass Gain Workout are in this report.

We are working on and testing a very new workout that has the potential to exceed anything we’ve done in the past. I first tested it one-on-one with some 20-something guys in a gym. They were so wiped at the end of it they had to rest before walking out of the gym. The tonnage per minute is off the charts. I keep the page that talks about it hidden from our casual web traffic. If you’re interested you can try it here.

Limits of Empiricism

When we deal with experiments and evidence there’s always a limit to what we can claim to know. In weightlifting and bodybuilding this fact never seems to stop people from declaring things like, “I tried everything and the only thing that built my biceps was kettle bell curls on a Swiss ball. That’s the BEST biceps exercise there is!” As if there are magic properties of a 20kg kettle bell that a 20kg dumbbell or sandbag do not have. Not to mention avoiding inferior Belgian balls.

The bigger problem is that not all people have exactly the same physiology. I often use the example of penicillin. It’s a great antibiotic for the majority of people, yet it can be completely ineffective and even lethal to some people. Why?

I think it’s safe to say that seemingly strange variations occur in the area of strength training as well.

I know for sure that some people can training in only their strongest, safest range of motion and see almost complete transference of strength to their weak range. While others see virtually zero transference. Why? (I always ask the latter group, if you gain 20lbs of new muscle, why do you care about weak range maximum power? When do you ever need it?)

And the final blockade to knowing what is “best” is a problem of logic. Because anyone can assert that, – if only Michael Phelps had trained in the gym using the XYZ method – he would have been just a little bit faster in the pool. And whether or not that is correct is unknowable. So nobody can claim “best” with any measurable degree of certainty.

I’m sure some kind of exhaustive testing could be done, but my vote would be to spend those resources on cancer or heart disease testing instead.

And in any case, a giant, billion dollar weightlifting muscle gain study would come down to something like: 68% of people got better results with the ABC protocol, while 32% did better with the XYZ method. And at that point you still don’t know which one would suit YOUR metabolism better. And you’re right back at – pick one and see how it goes!

What to Do?

I think most people fail in the gym because they just don’t measure anything. They talk about intensity but never measure it. They talk about making progress but never measure it. They talk about recovery time but never measure it.

So the thing to do is to pick a workout program – virtually any program – and then write down your actual performance numbers on every exercise during every workout.

Write down how many pounds you lift per minute on every exercise. Write down the total tonnage of every workout. Then make sure you better those numbers next time. All of them. If you don’t, it means you should give yourself more recovery time. Anybody, anywhere can do this with a stopwatch, paper and pencil. Your smart phone has all three of those. If you don’t want the hassle, we’ll do it for you.

Over time, this is the only way to get anywhere close to the answer for ‘what works best’ for you personally. It requires evidence, measurement, reason, and occasional course correction. But the numbers are immune to hype, opinion, speculation, nonsense, and gym lore.

Train with your brain.

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