Sunday, June 29, 2014

Want to Double Your Gains? Get a Trainer to Kick Your Lazy Ass, Periodize & Personalize Your Workouts & Off Times!

Bad news for lone wolfs.
Don't we all know this? There are those days when you hit the gym, go through your workout routinely, go home and tell yourself: "Well, I've done the best I could, I will try to increase the weight next week!" ... I see, you know what I am talking about ;-)

Just like the subjects in a recent study from the University of California Los Angeles, I suppose. All of them were member of the Exquinox Fitness Club, 30–44 years of age, and had a history of exercising 5–7 days per month at the club over the previous 3 month - archetypical average ambitious Gymrats, so to say.
Looking for the rules to design optimal workouts? Look no further!

Periodize to Get Strong(er)!

Sequential or Alternating?

From 16% to 8% Fat W/ CrossFit

Cardio! Before or After?

12% Less Fat in 12 Weeks?

Determinants of Training Success
After randomly selecting 40 men who met the above criteria, Thomas W. Storer and colleagues randomly assigned the subjects to either
  • a nonlinear periodized training program (TRAINED, N=17), or to 
  • a self-directed training (SELF, N= 17)
The total training volume and frequency, i.e. three training sessions per week, was identical for both groups. The same goes for the food intake which was not recorded in either of the groups (unquestionably a drawback).
"The templates for the supervised training regimen were developed by senior EFC staff and guidance
from outside experts including exercise physiologists, physical therapists, certified PTrs, and athletic trainers.[...] The training regimen consisted of a 3-cycle, nonlinear program in which acute program variables including exercise selection, volume, and intensity were varied over both the 4-week mesocycles and within the weekly microcycles."
The volume or intensities of each training session were categorized as high (H), moderate (M), or low (L) and applied on a given day during the course of each week of training. That's in stark contrast to the SELF group, the members of which had to log their workouts, but were otherwise totally free to train whatever they thought fit for the compulsory training goal "maximize lean mass!"
Figure 1: Changes in weight, lean body and fat mass, as well as body fat % (left) and corresponding rel. (%) changes in chest press, leg press, leg peak and average power (Storer. 2014)
If you take a look at the data in Figure 1 it's plain to see that "what you see fit", is not exactly the way of training that worked for the average Joes in the study at hand.
Let's not forget the exercise selection! Eventually, the way the trainers picked the optimal exercises for their clients may have been as important as the periodization; and the procedure is intriguing: "[T]he xercise selection for each subjects’ training program was based in part on use of a screening method that highlighted fundamental movement patterns that could be performed without compensation and movements that were dysfunctional; these were subsequently addressed by corrective exercise during the course of the 12 weeks" (Storer. 2014). In other words, the trainees performed only exercises they could master... much in contrast to 90% of the trainees I see squat and deadlift hilarious weights on their self-designed routines at my local gym.
What's interesting, though, is the fact that all of them made progress - at first that sounds great, but without the comparison to the TRAINED group the guys would never have realized that they could have reduced their body fat % twice as much in the same 12 weeks, if they had had a trainer to plan their routines and kick their asses.

Figure 2: The lean body mass (LBM) gains in the self-directed training group did not gain any muscle on average. One guy even lost ~4kg of lean mass in 12 weeks - in spite of being told to train for maximal hypertrophy (Storer. 2014)
If you take a closer look at the data in Figure 2 you will also see that for some, the self-selected training regimen - although designed to deliver maximal muscle growth - led to significant decreases in lean muscle mass - in one of the subjects almost 4kg of lean muscle mass in 12 weeks in the course of which he was told to "maximize muscle growth".

Although I can only speculate about the reason for his misery, I suspect he was overtraining. Doing more instead of less, when the gains he was expecting as a reward didn't come.
"Are You Overtraining? Two Scientifically Proven Methods to Test Yourself - Method 2: The ABEL Sport Test. Plus: 54 Item Questionnaire + 8 Additional Clues to Identify Overtraining" | learn more
Bottom Line: In the end, I am not telling you that you have to pay a trainer to be successful. It's well possible that the direct influence of the trainer is negligible. What's not possible, though, is to ignore the importance of periodization, exercise selection and variable and personalized training planning. It was after all probably not the missing kick in the ass which is to blame for the loss of 4kg lean mass in 12 weeks (see Figure 2). It's way more likely that a kind, but determined "you got to take more rest" was what the poor wretch who set out to "maximize" his muscle mass was missing.

So, if you don't want to or simply cannot afford a trainer, use what you('ve) learn(ed) here at the SuppVersity and don't succumb to either your own laziness or ambition.

What this means practically? Well, "don't skip workouts" and "don't avoid increasing your training weights", but also "don't add another workout to an overcrowded weekly schedule" and "don't punish yourself for not making results by training even more frequently".
  • Storer, Thomas W.; Dolezal, Brett A.; Berenc, Matthew N.; Timmins, John E.; Cooper, Christopher B. "Effect of Supervised, Periodized Exercise Training vs. Self-Directed Training on Lean Body Mass and Other Fitness Variables in Health Club Members." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2014). Ahead of Print.