Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cutting W/ Combined Resistance + Specific Plyometric Exercises: 15.7% Reduced Fat Mass, 2.1% Increase Lean Mass in 7 Week Study With Elite Handballers

Deadlifts as staple, plyometrics as bonus - wouldn't this be worth trying for you or one of your clients, as well?
I hope that it's no news for you that losing weight usually starts in the kitchen. Diet, not exercise it the main determinant of your body weight. Exercise, on the other hand, is the main determinant of how this body weight is distributed, i.e. whether you're 100kg and lean or 100kg and fat.

The 12 elite competing Portuguese Major League handball players who participated in a recent study by researchers from the Research Center in Sports Science at the CIDESD and the Human Movement Laboratory at the ISMAI in Portugal, obviously were lean. Not 100kg, though - rather ~80k and not bodybuilding ripped, but with 14% body fat still below average.
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The actual study period of twelve weeks comprised three different training phases, with the first three weeks having a clear focus on resistance exercises:
"Training sessions consisted of 15 exercises focused on both upper and lower limbs. Every exercise was performed in 2 sets of 15-20 repetitions (60 to 75% of 1 RM), an interval of 45 s between exercises and 2 min between sets. The main goal was to learn the exercise motions in order to prevent injuries and prepare athletes for a further load increase with individual load assignments. The exercises included: 1) leg press; 2) leg extension; 3) leg flexion; 4) standing calf raise; 5) cable bent-over triceps extension; 6) lat pull; 7) butterfly; 8) bench press; 9) barbell upright row; 10) sit-up in inclined bench; 11) lower back extensions; 12) cufflink flexors; 13) shoulder external rotation; 14) barbell half squats; 15) reverse and forward lunges with a bar."
In the subsequent second 4-week phase, the training was hypertrophy-specific.The program consisted of 8 exercises (leg press, leg extension, leg flexion, calf muscles, triceps, lat pull, butterfly and bench press) which were conducted in two sets of 8-12 maximal repetitions (75 to 80% of 1 RM) with a 60 s interval between exercises and 2 min between sets. The load increased in all exercises each time a subject performed over 12 RM. The main goal was to increase the muscle cross sectional area.
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The third and last phase, focused on neural adaptations and lasted five weeks. The exercises were still the same, but the load was increased.
"Players performed a pyramid model (6-4-2 maximum repetitions) with a load increasing throughout the sets. The resting intervals were 2 min between exercises and 3.5 min between sets. The load was increased in all exercises each time a subject performed over 6 RM. The main goal of this particular phase was to increase neural adaptations."
Moreover, from week 6-12 a specific plyometric program was added to the strength training program. The plyometric training was based on the combination of concentric and eccentric actions with a similar speed and muscular contraction used in handball specific technical abilities. Upper limbs, trunk and head movements contributed to an increase in jumping performance so as to potentiate the concentric action (positive jump phase).
"Four exercises of 3 sets of 12 reps were used in this plyometric program with no additional loads. An interval of 30 to 40 s of rest was allowed between exercises and 3 min between sets. The plyometric exercises included hurdle jumps, lateral multi-jumps for plantar flexors and leg extensors and frontal multi-jumps. The plyometric program was integrated in the technical training of regular handball practice, 3 times per week. The execution speed was high so as to increase the stretch shortening cycle force development."
To summarize, what we've got here is the classic ramp up with a light load, high rep introduction, a hypertrophy and a brute strength phase with a plyometric twist to the program from weeks 6-12.
Figure 1: Changes in skinfold measures, body fat %, fat mass and lean mass (Carvalho. 2014)
With quite astonishing results - specifically in view of the fact that there was no diet component involved (see Figure 1), the concomitant reduction in body fat and increases in lean mass speak are significant.

The same goes for the increases in squat jump, counter movement jump and 40 consecutive jump height (6.1%, 3.8%, 6.8%) and the isokinetic strength gains that ranged from +1.3% to 11.4% depending on the muscle that was tested.
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Bottom Line: "The present findings suggest that handball coaches should use combined strength and plyometric training programs with regularity throughout the competitive season in order to achieve gains in maximal strength improvement in the capacity to generate force seems to potentiate the performance of specific handball motor actions such as the VJ [vertical jump]" (Carvalho. 2014)

The above is the authors' bottom line to which I can just add that even non-handball coaches may think about using similar combination protocols for their clients, if increases in athletic performance and body composition are more important than maximal mass gains.
  • Carvalho, Alberto, Paulo MourĂ£o, and Eduardo Abade. "Effects of Strength Training Combined with Specific Plyometric exercises on body composition, vertical jump height and lower limb strength development in elite male handball players: a case study."