In today’s episode, we’re covering simple strength & conditioning tips and considerations like muscular biases, cardio and lifting, menstrual cycle, limiting factors and more.
Today’s episode is brought to you by 8+ years of personal strength and hypertrophy training, trial and error, and 7+ years of working with clients in person as well as online.
Let’s go ahead and get started with one of my favorite tricks of the trade for super setting exercises.
If we know anything about the cardiovascular system it’s when we lay down or go upside down, the heart rate drops. When we stand up, it tends to rise. Of course there are situational factors at play.
So if you’re wanting to work on strength, but you have a client, or yourself, who is rather de-conditioned. Their wind, or cardio respiratory system is their limiting factor in comparison to their strength. We can play off of that knowledge and lower the intensity of one exercise by choosing a variation that is either laying down, or supported in someway.
For instance, a barbell inverted row vs bent over row. I would hypothesize, the heart rate would be lower during the barbell inverted row than a bent over barbell row. In the bent over row, you are standing, and the load extends from the upper back through to the lower back, into the glutes and hamstrings. Where is the inverted rope is going to mostly tax the upper back. Both exercise target the upper back as the prime movers, one allows you to lower the intensity of the movement.
Same goes for choosing a glute focused exercise to pair with a Romanian deadlift.
A lying single leg bridge would be a fantastic option in order to still target the glutes, but keep the heart rate from continuing to rise.
Smaller muscle groups, and supine or supported positions or some thing to think about in your future programming. Again, that’s just one way to still target the desired muscle group, but maybe keep the cardio respiratory demand down. If that happens to be a mothering factor for yourself or a client.
You can of course tax the cardio respiratory system or work on capacity if that is in fact, factor.
That takes us nicely into the next topic. I talked about this in previous episodes, on the blog, and on Instagram.
The answer is, it depends. Generally speaking, if strength training is the primary focus we would want to prioritize, and perform cardio or more conditioning base work after the strength training session is complete.
If conditioning is the primary focus, and the strength training is in support of the conditioning, then you would perform the cardio activities first, and follow those up with the strength training or resistance training session.
You essentially want to make sure that the primary focus of your training is not being hindered by the other portion of your training. Whether that be resistance training or cardio.
Also, cardio is not going to inherently ruin your strength gains, or hypertrophy. In fact one of the other points we will talk about today are the benefits that are possible for it’s an hypertrophy training from low intensity steady state cardio.
In present day, we can look at CrossFit athletes is a perfect example of this. They’ve pretty much squashed the idea that you can’t be strong and powerful and have a strong aerobic base at the same time. And be training BOTH of these in the same season.
Yes, of course at the end ranges of the spectrum, endurance-based type one of my favorite focused exercise is going to hinder say pick weightlifter. And on the other end of the spectrum working on type two explosive large muscle fibers is likely going to be detrimental to an elite marathon runner.
For anyone in the middle of that spectrum, there are benefits to being cardio-vascularilly fit, as well as strong. And they can 100% co-exist.
The next point has to do with positioning of lever arms, and your limbs in movements in order to create and play with muscular biases of the same exercise.
I like talking about biases because they’re a perfect example of keeping things simple when we look at long-term strength and conditioning gains.
When I say muscular bias, I’m talking about the phenomenon when someone performs a given exercise but their foot is in a slightly different place or the shin is at a different angle, or their arm is pulling from a slightly different angle, or they use a different grip. There is a position with the body that causes either an area of a specific muscle to be targeted (like the upper or lower fibers), or a slightly different group of muscles to be targeted. But the same single exercise is being performed.
A super simple example of this is the Bulgarian split squat. It’s been a popular exercise for decades in order to improve unilateral leg strength. The foot position, as well as the torso position can make a difference in whether this exercise has more of a quad bias or a group hamstring bias.
Now, remember we are using the word bias. So it’s not that the glues shut off in one variation and the hamstring shut off in another variation. These are all working in both variations, but we create a bias towards one over the other.
So in that case, the foot be closer to the bench creates more of a positive shin anal, and has, or can produce, a quad bias. Where is moving the foot further away from the bench, and leading the chest forward a bit, produces a more vertical shin angle and biases the glutes.
I have personally been playing with a single arm row variation biases the lats. Essentially rather than hanging the arm straight down, perpendicular to the floor, the front arm reaches out and we have more shoulder flexion pulling into the row. So it’s almost like the opposite of an incline bench press. We are combining a bit of a vertical pull with a horizontal pull.
You can see this with benchpress, versus incline bench press, versus narrow grip bench press. Look at the direction that a muscle fiber travels, and you can typically figure out how to buy us different parts of that muscle group based on the direction of the fibers.
The next one is actually a question that I received on Instagram and it’s something that I teach inside Annie’s Secret Lab of brain gains inside Built By Annie
The answer is no. But let’s talk about a few things here.
First off, this only applies to a biological female who is ovulating, and has a regular menstrual cycle off of hormonal birth control. In this case, her hormones are going to regulate every 21 to 34 days. Roughly. And during that time, she has four phases. The follicular phase, ovulation, the luteal phase, and mensuration which begins the follicular phase again.
Her training might feel different during each of these phases. But, if her cycle is being well-managed, she should be able to complete training as usual. It just might feel a bit more difficult to say, during her luteal phase. And maybe she feels very strong during ovulation. Or menstruation.
For most general population women in this category, I see their cycle as a factor to take into consideration just like you would with sleep, hydration, getting enough protein and carbohydrates, and managing stress outside of the gym. But not a need to constantly be programming around her cycle. That is just an opinion. So take it for what it’s worth.
But in that opinion, if a client’s menstrual cycle is severely affecting her training, I would look at the health of the cycle over the training itself.
It can be very empowering as a female to learn about your natural menstrual cycle. And I suggest the book Period Repair Manual for that purpose.
Let’s transition into making sure you or a client are working hard enough in order to make hypertrophy and all strength gains.
There can be many factors as to why someone is not putting on muscle mass, or making strength gains. I am discussing one of those possibilities.
Very simply, not working hard enough is one of those reasons. And not only not working hard enough, but not following tempo, and using a challenging mode in order to get that mechanical tension that we need in order to gain strength and or increase cross-sectional area – Also known as hypertrophy.
In most strength programs, clients will be working at 75% of their one rep max one more for the main left. That being the squat, deadlift, bench press, or overhead press. And accessory work will likely also be in that strength range, whether it is for hypertrophy or strength. You’re probably working at an RPE of 7 1/2 to 8.
And of course, none of that matters if the training is not getting enough protein, prioritizing sleep and recovery. But I do think people underestimate the effort that it takes to build muscle and strength. It requires discomfort, and stressing your muscles at new levels up. Whether that be the working from a different angle, adding load, or adding volume.
Last but not least, welcoming cardio into your resistance training. Not within the session but within a program.
This is going to be short. Your aerobic base – you bodies ability to exercise in the presence of oxygen for long durations, is the basis of fitness. It’s the basis of your work capacity in the simplest sense.
Entertain the fact that working on your aerobic base, with a heart rate around the 60% range, can have positive carryover into your work capacity in the weights section. Improving your aerobic base simply allows you and your body to work more efficiently. And ideally, work harder for a longer period of time – to increase your overall capacity.
That’s a win, no? I think yes.
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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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