Saturday, December 11, 2010

Strength training: A note about Scooby and comments by Anon

Let me start this post with a note about Scooby, who is a massive bodybuilder who has a great website with tips on how to exercise at home without getting injured. Scooby is probably as massive a bodybuilder as anyone can get naturally, and very lean. He says he is a natural bodybuilder, and I am inclined to believe him. His dietary advice is “old school” and would drive many of the readers of this blog crazy – e.g., plenty of grains, and six meals a day. But it obviously works for him. (As far as muscle gain is concerned, a lot of different approaches work. For some people, almost any reasonable approach will work; especially if they are young men with high testosterone levels.)

The text below is all from an anonymous commenter’s notes on this post discussing the theory of supercompensation. Many thanks to this person for the detailed and thoughtful comment, which is a good follow-up on the note above about Scooby. In fact I thought that the comment might have been from Scooby; but I don’t think so. My additions are within “[ ]”. While the comment is there under the previous post for everyone to see, I thought that it deserved a separate post.


I love this subject [i.e., strength training]. No shortages of opinions backed by research with the one disconcerting detail that they don't agree.

First one opening general statement. If there was one right way we'd all know it by now and we'd all be doing it. People's bodies are different and what motivates them is different. (Motivation matters as a variable.)

My view on one set vs. three is based on understanding what you're measuring and what you're after in a training result.

Most studies look at one rep max strength gains as the metric but three sets [of repetitions] improves strength/endurance. People need strength/endurance more typically than they need maximal strength in their daily living. The question here becomes what is your goal?

The next thing I look at in training is neural adaptation. Not from the point of view of simple muscle strength gain but from the point of view of coordinated muscle function, again, something that is transferable to real life. When you exercise the brain is always learning what it is you are asking it to do. What you need to ask yourself is how well does this exercise correlate with a real life requirements.

[This topic needs a separate post, but one can reasonably argue that your brain works a lot harder during a one-hour strength training session than during a one-hour session in which you are solving a difficult mathematical problem.]

To this end single legged squats are vastly superior to double legged squats. They invoke balance and provoke the activation of not only the primary movers but the stabilization muscles as well. The brain is acquiring a functional skill in activating all these muscles in proper harmony and improving balance.

I also like walking lunges at the climbing wall in the gym (when not in use, of course) as the instability of the soft foam at the base of the wall gives an excellent boost to the basic skill by ramping up the important balance/stabilization component (vestibular/stabilization muscles). The stabilization muscles protect joints (inner unit vs. outer unit).

The balance and single leg components also increase core activation naturally. (See single legged squat and quadratus lumborum for instance.) [For more on the quadratus lumborum muscle, see here.]

Both [of] these exercises can be done with dumbbells for increased strength[;] and though leg exercises strictly speaking, they ramp up the core/full body aspect with weights in hand.

I do multiple sets, am 59 years old and am stronger now than I have ever been (I have hit personal bests in just the last month) and have been exercising for decades. I vary my rep ranges between six and fifteen (but not limited to just those two extremes). My total exercise volume is between two and three hours a week.

Because I have been at this a long time I have learned to read my broad cycles. I push during the peak periods and back off during the valleys. I also adjust to good days and bad days within the broader cycle.

It is complex but natural movements with high neural skill components and complete muscle activation patterns that have moved me into peak condition while keeping me from injury.

I do not exercise to failure but stay in good form for all reps. I avoid full range of motion because it is a distortion of natural movement. Full range of motion with high loads in particular tends to damage joints.

Natural, functional strength is more complex than the simple study designs typically seen in the literature.

Hopefully these things that I have learned through many years of experimentation will be of interest to you, Ned, and your readers, and will foster some experimentation of your own.



Anne said...

Scooby's working out with a friend video is hilarious :-)

js290 said...

What are stabilizer muscles and how are they different than regular skeletal muscles?

Tyler said...

Really cool post, I think the idea of "push during the peaks, back off during the valleys" is really important.

Although I'm 21 and train for a sport (decathlon) I notice that if I break that rule too far (I probably have a larger amount of leeway than a 59 yr old), progress comes to a screeching halt.

Another thing this post made me think about- this person seems to be very good at applying only the required amount of stress to the body, not too much. As I understand it, different types of stress (physical, emotional, etc) are recognized as one by the body. Making sure the right "dose" of cumulative stress is applied seems to lead to long term results without burn out.

On the topic of Scooby's nutrition, I checked out his nutrition page out of curiosity. You'll notice he recommends:

-a good protein intake
-unprocessed foods
-lots of fresh vegetables
-up to 25% calories from fat
-no simple sugar, alcohol, or white flour
-plenty of fish and omega 3's

My point is that probably 80-90% of his recommendations match up pretty closely with a paleo or evolutionary nutrition type plan. This is probably why it works for him- he got a lot of things right and is obviously one of the few who has a great tolerance for grains.

By the way, this blog is really great, I learn a lot from the information, Ned.


Scott W said...

I have recently become a believer in not working out at full range of motion for all exercises...tire of getting injuries in my weakest range. Recovery from injuries just keeps you away from the weights for longer than I like (I'm 46).

I like his point that we don't functionally perform in our full range of motion most of the time...would you squat all the way to your heels before starting to push a car out of a ditch? No, you would instinctively work in your strongest range of motion.

The other thing I'm learning more and more about is FULLY recovering between workouts. Committing to 3 days a week, or whatever, no matter what, has always eventually gotten me overtrained as my poundages increased.

...and gawd I despise lunges of any sort. Squat yet, lunges no. Maybe I'm not designed for them. I used to force myself but finally decided life is too short and there are other good exercises. Whenever I see someone doing them I can appreciate how really hard they are working.

Scott W

Ned Kock said...

Yes Anne, Scooby is a funny guy.

Ned Kock said...

Hi js290. When we lift free weights we tend to recruit quite a few muscles that stabilize our position, in addition to the main muscles worked – e.g., various back muscles in the standing military press. Using weight machines at the gym just doesn’t have the same effect.

Ned Kock said...

Hi Tyler, thanks. Yes, the differences are not that huge. By the way, I do think that eating like he suggests either maximizes or gets pretty close to maximizing muscle gain. Multiple meals is not my thing, but it works.

Ned Kock said...

Hi Scott. Right, full range seems unnatural, at least for some movements. I don’t do full squats either; I do them isometrically. Neither do I do lunges.

Ned Kock said...

Scooby’s advice on avoiding injuries is based on first-hand experience. In a few of his videos he is clearly in pain from one injury or another, and he talks openly about them.

Ned Kock said...

Here is a solid statement from Scooby’s site that I think many people should consider:

“So what is a reasonable expectation for how much muscle you can add in a year thru weightlifting? … you can expect to add 5 lbs muscle per year if you are a hard gainer and 10 lbs muscle if you are one of the gifted few.”

This is for someone who is no longer growing. And by 5 lbs of muscle he means 5 lbs of lean body mass. That is not only muscle. For example, glycogen stores, in both liver and muscle, usually become larger if you do strength training and replenish those stores on a regular basis.

Justin Cain said...

Good post Ned. When I was a trainer I used to implement a lot of unilateral work with my clients. Pistols (one legged squats) are one of my favorites. Even though I don't work out anymore I still try to do these on a regular basis when I am bored :). If I had some extra money I would purchase a set of power blocks, an adjustable bench and one of those old Schwinn Airdyne stationary bikes where the arms move. I could do some real damage with that equipment. There was a lot of debate going on a few years ago when it came to the efficacy of unstable surface training in a non rehab setting. Some pretty decent strength coaches were completely against it (Eric Cressy and others) because it actually hurts force output and may actually facilitate dysfunctional motor patterns. Hyper mobility of the joint may be another effect of this kind of training. I will see if I can dig up some of the studies if I can get a chance. Thanks again for the post on strength training and the previous exercise science related posts. It is nice to revisit a lot of that stuff after years of being away from it.

Justin Cain

Justin Cain said...


Here are a couple abstracts:

Cressey is on that paper.

Proprioception is the other thing that is improved while doing unilateral work and unstable surface training. You could take it a step further by closing your eyes or performing the exercise in a dark room.

Doing unstable surface work can be fun though and that may be enough of a reason to include it in ones training regiment even if it may be questionable about the efficacy of it (I'm still not quite sure on that one).


Justin Cain said...

Sorry, here is the Cressey et el. paper.


Ned Kock said...

Hi Justin. Thanks much for your comments and the links!

Unknown said...

I will definitely check this man out again, I have sene his youtube videos but I was not into bodybuilding at the time.

Since this post is somewhat about natural movements, and another commenter posted about poor recovery times, I guess i'll mention eccentric-less training, a term coined by Christian Thibaudeau. It basically includes any movement where the eccentric component of the muscular contraction is not under any load, save for those generated by the bodyweight. This includes pushing, pulling, climbing, and carrying things. I've noticed much faster recovery times from these types of exercises with similar increases in strength. I think it's another great way to prevent injury, and also a great recovery workout for some. Thibeudeau points to studies showing impaired insulin sensitivty after eccentric training. I'm jsut throwing this out there, but if you'r einto strength training, pushing a heavy cough around, or your car, and pulling things, is a great addition

Ned Kock said...

Hi Avishek, thanks. I wouldn’t have thought of eccentric-less training as truly natural. If one climbs a tree, he or she has to get down. Going down involves eccentric movements.

Justin Cain said...

So does deceleration or changing direction suddenly while running. I used to like reading some of Thibaudeau but he seemed to be more into body building instead of pure performance based training if I remember correctly. Though it has been a while since I followed some of these guys.

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gwarm said...

Re:"To this end single legged squats are vastly superior to double legged squats. They invoke balance and provoke the activation of not only the primary movers but the stabilization muscles as well.
Hi Scott. Right, full range seems unnatural, at least for some movements. I don’t do full squats either; I do them isometrically. "

Have you heard of StartingStrength?

It's what MartinBerkhan of recommends for beginners. From the StartingStrength book (you can buy the 3rd edition on amazon):

The problem, of course, is that machine-based training did not work as it was advertised. It was almost impossible to gain muscular bodyweight doing a circuit. People who were trying to do so would train faithfully for months without gaining any significant muscular weight at all. When they went to barbell training, a miraculous thing would happen: they would immediately gain — within a week — more weight than they had gained in the entire time they had fought with the 12- station circuit.

The reason that isolated body-part training on machines doesn’t work is the same reason that barbells work so well, better than any other tools we can use to gain strength. The human body functions as a complete system — it works that way, and it likes to be trained that way. It doesn’t like to be separated into its constituent components and then have those components exercised separately, since the strength obtained from training will not be utilized in this way.

The general pattern of strength acquisition must be the same as that in which the strength will be used. The nervous system controls the muscles, and the relationship between them is referred to as “neuromuscular.” When strength is acquired in ways that do not correspond to the patterns in which it is intended to actually be used, the neuromuscular aspects of training have not been considered. Neuromuscular specificity is an unfortunate reality, and exercise programs must respect this principle the same way they respect the Law of Gravity.

Machines, on the other hand, force the body to move the weight according to the design of the machine. This places some rather serious limitations on the ability of the exercise to meet the specific needs of the athlete. For instance, there is no way for a human being to utilize the quadriceps muscles in isolation from the hamstrings in any movement part that exists independent of a machine designed for this purpose. No natural movement can be performed that does this. Quadriceps and hamstrings always function together, at the same time, to balance the forces on either side of the knee. Since they always work together, why should they be exercised separately? Because somebody invented a machine that lets us?

gwarm said...

The squat has been the most important yet most poorly understood exercise in the training
arsenal for a very long time. The full range of motion exercise known as the squat is the single
most useful exercise in the weight room, and our most valuable tool for building strength, power,
and size (fig. 2-1).
The squat is so effective an exercise because of the way it uses the muscles around the core
of the body. Much is made of core strength, and fortunes have been made selling new ways to
train the core muscles. A correct squat perfectly balances all the forces around the knees and the
hips, using these muscles in exactly the way the skeletal biomechanics are designed for them to be
used, over their anatomically full range of motion. The postural muscles of the lower back, the
upper back, the abdominals and lateral trunk muscles, the costal (ribcage) muscles, and even the
shoulders and arms are used isometrically. Their static contraction supports the trunk and
transfers kinetic power from the prime movers to the bar. The trunk muscles function as the
transmission while the hips and legs are the engine. Notice that the core of the body is at the
center of the squat, that the muscles get smaller the farther away from the core they are, and that
the squat works them in exactly this priority
(fig. 2-2). Balance is provided by the
interaction of the postural muscles with the
hips and legs, starting on the ground at the
feet and proceeding up to the bar, and
controlled by a massive amount of central
nervous system activity under the conscious
direction of the athlete's mind. In addition,
the systemic nature of the movement when
done with heavy weights produces
hormonal responses that affect the entire
body. Not only is the core strengthened, it
is strengthened in the context of a total
physical and mental experience.
The squat is poorly understood
because it involves the use of many muscles
- more than most people realize - and
most of the people that don't understand it
have never done it correctly themselves.
This means that they can't appreciate the
true nature of the movement and the
interactions of all the muscles working in a
coordinated manner, since to truly
understand a thing it must be experienced
personally. The more people who learn to
squat correctly, the more people who will
understand the squat and, like ripples in a
pond, knowledge and strength will spread
through the masses. This process starts
here, with you.

The full squat is the preferred lower body exercise for safety as well as athletic strength.
The squat, when performed correctly, is not only the safest leg exercise for the knees, it produces a
more stable knee than any other leg exercise. The important part of the last statement is the
"when performed correctly" qualifier. Correctly is deep, with hips dropping below level with the
top of the patella. Correctly is full range of motion.
Any squat that is not deep is a partial squat, and partial squats stress the knee and the
quadriceps without stressing the glutes, the adductors, and the hamstrings. The hamstrings, groin

gwarm said...


Figure 2-3. Muscular actions on the knee. The anterior force provided by the quadriceps is balanced by the
posterior force provided by the hamstrings in the deep squat position. The depth is the key: partial (high) squats
are predominately quadriceps/anterior, and lack balance.
muscles, and glutes perform their function in the squat when the hips are stretched to the point of
full flexion, where they get tight — the deep squat position (fig. 2-3). The hamstring muscles,
attached to the tibia and to the ischial tuberosity of the pelvis, and the adductors, attached
between the medial femur and various points on the medial pelvis, reach a fu]l stretch at the very
bottom of the squat, where the pelvis tilts forward with the torso, stretching the ends of the
muscles apart. At this stretched position they provide a slight rebound out of the bottom, which
will look ]ike a "bounce," and which you will l e a r n more about later. The tension of the stretch
pulls the tibia backwards, the posterior direction, balancing the forward-pulling force produced by
the quadriceps, which pull from the front. The hamstrings finish their work, with help from the
adductors and glutes, by straightening out, or "extending," the hip.

In a partial squat, which fails to provide a full stretch for the hamstrings, most of the force
against the tibia is upward and forward, from the quadriceps and their attachment to the front of
the tibia below the knee. This produces an anterior shear, a forward-directed sliding force, on the
knee, with the tibia being pulled forward from the patellar tendon and without a balancing pull
from the opposing hamstrings. This shearing force — and the resulting unbalanced strain on the
prepatellar area — may be the biggest problem with partial squats. Many spectacular doses of
tendinitis have been produced this way, with "squats" getting the blame.

The hamstrings benefit from their involvement in the full squat by getting strong in direct
proportion to their anatomically proper share of the work in the movement, as determined by the
mechanics of the movement itself. This fact is often overlooked when considering anterior
cruciate tears and their relationship to the conditioning program. The ACL stabilizes the knee: it
prevents the tibia from sliding forward relative to the femur. As we have already seen, so does the
hamstring group of muscles. Underdeveloped, weak hamstrings thus play a role in ACL injuries,
and full squats work the hamstrings while partial squats do not. In the same way the hamstrings
protect the knee during a full squat, hamstrings that are stronger due to full squats can protect the
ACL during the activities that we are squatting to condition for. In fact, athletes who are missing
an ACL can safely squat heavy weights, because the ACL is under no stress in a correctly
performed full squat (fig. 2-5).
Another problem with partial squats is the fact that very heavy loads may be moved, due to
the short range of motion and the greater mechanical efficiency of the quarter squat position.
This predisposes the trainee to back injuries as a result of the extreme spinal loading that results
from putting a weight on his back that is possibly in excess of three times the weight that can be
safely handled in a correct deep squat. A lot of football coaches are fond of partial squats, since it
allows them to claim that their 17 year-old linemen are all squatting 600 lbs. Your interest is in
getting strong (at least it should be), not in playing meaningless games with numbers. If it's too
heavy to squat below parallel, it's too heavy to have on your back.

gwarm said...

He is pretty old school (even drinking "GOMAD" which many on reddit r/fitness dismiss), and you can google his name to see him deadlift 600lbs in his prime. He did a recent Ask Me Anything thread (I believe he is 55years old). Here is what he had to say about Crossfit

"I tried CrossFit for 2 years. It exacerbated my injuries, produced some significant health problems, forced me to rationalize the illogic of the program in public, and set my strength back about 5 years. I'm just now recovering. So I'll be more careful in the future about trying things that actually make no fucking sense.
Not that 5/3/1 is one of these programs. Wendler and I are good friends, and his program works well for a guy in the right stage of training advancement.
We all have our demons to wrestle. I fucked up. Sorry. But now that you know, what are you going to do?"

[Had to post 4 times because of 4096 char limit. His 3rd edition has colored graphics for the "Fig" notes]

gwarm said...

Isometrics & rehab setting. 'Here's a good article on isometric training. [link]'!/Martinberkhan/status/145593891356291073

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