This week we continue the programming conversation right where we left off. If you missed last week’s episode, stop now, and come back after listening to 92.
Do you even know what your programming is trying to do? Why a given set and rep scheme causes an increase in strength or muscle size?
These are very fair questions to ask. And in my opinion we should be able to answer them fairly easily.
Things that will affect muscle fiber type recruitment and mechanical tension are load used, reps, tempo, and rest periods.
Let us pause and make something very clear. I am not here to shame you for not knowing these things. I am literally here to try and help you better understand these things. Hopefully even just ONE of them.
In moving forward with your programming, make it a point to have a reason and rationale for all of these factors.
My main objective when I interned for two years as a college strength coach was to be great at programming. That was my “thing” if you will. So my mentor set that standard for me very early on. There was no mindless programming. EVERYTHING had a purpose. As it should, truly.
No one asks me or overlooks my programming now, but it behooved me to have that mindset engrained from the get go. So here I am passing it along to you. And make no mistake, a VERY thought through and highly effective program can look VERY simple on paper. Don’t mistake fancy or difficult for thought through or effective.
Type 1: smallest, high endurance and oxidative capacity, low power output – think endurance athlete
Type 2: large in diameter, mid endurance, moderate power output and oxidative capacity. think hybrid, she can do both.
Type 2b: Largest in size, high power output, low endurance and oxidative capacity. Think beefcake, or gymnast. Power sports.
These matter because we stress muscle fiber types with different modalities of training. And factors within that training. For instance a heavy eccentric will bypass the normal type 1, type 2 to type 2b progression and go straight to type 2 and 2b. Same goes for max power output like plyometrics. The demand for those big daddy type 2 and 2b fibers is immediate.
So by a rule of thumb, muscle fibers are recruited in order but also remember we’re not robots. As one is recruited, it’s not like the others turn off or stop working. They all live together in bundles. The more demand on the muscle group, the more fibers, and specifically the more type 2 friends will be recruited.
My last point is why you see body builders completely fatiguing the muscle. To the point where they can’t even concentrically contract. They’ll have assistance in the concentric so that they can then control the eccentric. We’re stronger eccentrically than concentrically. #science.
What they’re doing on a physiological level here is two things – recruiting every last muscle fiber that they can and depleting their muscle glycogen.
This is achieved through TIME UNDER TENSION. Or more specifically a large amount of time under tension.
Hello mechanical tension. Before we discuss this, no, you do not need to train to failure in order to elicit hypertrophy. I simply use that example to paint a picture of WHY they’re driving mechanical tension at the highest level.
Time under tension (TUT): We need this to grow muscle fibers, and fiber sizes. This is what we want if hypertrophy or “muscle tone” is the goal of you or your clients.
What I want you to grasp here from a programming point is that time under tension and eccentrics will drive up likely muscle damage, and mechanical tension. Which we need to grow muscles. It’s truly that simple. Know what you’re doing when you choose a set and rep scheme, weight and tempo.
We can slow things way down to do this, OR speed them up and shoot for high velocity. Both work, but you’d have reasons for both.
Programming is complex, and simple at the same time. For most humans and athletes, I’d argue they need some level of the five fundamental movements – squat, hinge, push, pull, carry.
And then unilateral versions of those as well.
When just starting out, if it fits, stick with these. Master and embrace THE BASICS.
You could seriously just work with the bilateral, unilateral, and variations of these movements, and not veer into anything else. And you’d have some kick ass programming.
The movements are ONE PIECE, then you assign the movements volume, tempo, range of motion, order, load and rest periods.
Stick with simple movements, practice those other factors within the fundamental moves.
This is with the assumption that you’re building strength, capacity or muscle size with your programming.
So build your program, say 3-5 days per week, around those 5 movements and variants of them. But practice using certain sets, reps, tempos and rest periods for your selected exercises.
On a personal note, this is how I became confident in programming. I did it for myself. Like, for years. I get that not everyone can do that, but at least practice programming hypothetically then.
One of these factors I mentioned within using the five fundamental movements is tempo.
It’s under valued, not understood and under utilized.
Before the benefits, I’ll define tempo.
The time spent in each phase of movement. So top, bottom, eccentric and concentric phases. And then of course we can add in 1/4 reps and pauses. But that’s the basis.
Benefits of tempo:
– Possible tendon health improvements
– More time under tension by default when using longer tempos
– Better motor control and neural pathways via slowing down.
– Better mental awareness and presence in the lift or movement.
There are so many positives to focusing on and manipulating tempo.
We can use tempo to build a client’s pattern, to improve proficiency and capacity in certain positions.
I encourage to just start with a simple 188.8.131.52 tempo (a slower down than up tempo) with your own training. Feel it and then implement that with your client programming if it makes sense. Which it should for most populations, if not an even slower tempo. Not for every exercise, but at least the big compound movements.
Lastly for today, and perhaps what people focus on too much is volume.
Your volume is the sum of all sets and reps performed in a session but also per lift. You can also multiply by the load used. Whatever you do, it needs to be consistent when comparing one week to the next.
It’s important to understand volume so that when you progress, it makes sense.
We’d likely not go from 5×10 main sets to 5×3 the next phase. That’s dropping from 50 total reps to only 15. One is seemingly working capacity and the other, strength.
Yes, at some point training will not be “progressive” and may jump around. There will be a shock phase and then you’ll adapt. But to make the most of the work done in one phase, we want to be sure that the volume is a logical step up or down in the coming phase.
We can increase volume and keep load, tempo, and rest period the same. The progression is the volume itself.
Keep it simple.
We can keep the volume and have a longer tempo, with same weight and rest period. You’ve now increased the time under tension per set and total.
We can DECREASE volume by increased load etc. load is the progression here.
This is a perfect place to wrap up. Because I want to you see the simplicity that programming can be when you minimize movement options, and focus on ONE variable at a time.
As you become more proficient, theeennnn we can get fancier and branch out. If it’s even needed.
But just like movement itself. Master the basics, walk before you run.
If programming isn’t fun for you now, I truly hope that is for you one day. Maybe even more so after these last two episodes.
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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