Monday, January 2, 2012

HCE user experience: The anabolic range may be better measured in seconds than repetitions

It is not uncommon for those who do weight training to see no gains over long periods of time for certain weight training exercises (e.g., overhead press), even while they experience gains in other types of exercise (e.g., regular squats).

HealthCorrelator for Excel (HCE) and its main outputs, coefficients of association and graphs (), have been helping some creative users identify the reasons why they see no gains, and break out of the stagnation periods.

It may be a good idea to measure the number of seconds of effort per set; in addition to other variables such as numbers of sets and repetitions, and the amount of weight lifted. In some cases, an inverted J curve, full or partial (just the left side of it), shows up suggesting that the number of seconds of effort in a particular type of weight training exercise is a better predictor of muscle gain than the number of repetitions used.

The inverted J curve is similar to the one discussed in a previous post on HCE used for weight training improvement, where the supercompensation phenomenon is also discussed ().

Repetitions in the 6-12 range are generally believed to lead to peak anabolic response, and this is generally true for weight training exercises conducted in good form and to failure. It is also generally believed that muscular effort should be maintained for 20 to 120 seconds for peak anabolic response.

The problem is that in certain cases not even 12 repetitions lead to at least 20 seconds of effort. This is usually the case when the repetitions are performed very quickly. There are a couple of good reasons why this may happen: the person has above-average muscular power, or the range of motion used is limited.

What is muscular power, and why would someone want to limit the range of motion used in a weight training exercise?

Muscular power is different from muscular strength, and is normally distributed (bell curve) across the population, like most human traints (). Muscular power is related to the speed with which an individual can move a certain amount of weight. Muscular strength is related to the amount of weight moved. Frequently people who perform amazing feats of strength, like Dennis Rogers (), have above-average muscular power.

As for limiting the range of motion used in a weight training exercise, one of the advantages of doing so is that it reduces the risk of injury, as a wise commenter pointed out here some time ago (). It also has the advantage of increasing the number of variations of an exercise that can be used at different points in time; which is desirable, as variation is critical for sustained supercompensation ().

The picture below is from a YouTube video clip showing champion natural bodybuilder Doug Miller performing 27 repetitions of the deadlift with 405 lbs (). Doug is one of the co-authors of the book Biology for Bodybuilders, which has been reviewed here ().

The point of showing the video clip above is that the range of repetitions used would be perceived as quite high by many bodybuilders, but is nevertheless the one leading to a peak anabolic response for Doug. If you pay careful attention to the video, you will notice that Doug completes the 27 repetitions in 45 seconds, well within the anabolic range. If he had completed only 12 repetitions, at about the same pace, he would have done that a few seconds before hitting the 20-second mark.

Doug completes those 27 repetitions relatively quickly, because he has above-average muscular power, in addition to having above-average muscular strength.