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.


Glenn said...

Hi Ned,
Nice article as always. Thanks for mentioning the book. Doug responds well to high volume workouts, but he also will hit the lower rep ranges occassionaly to maintain variety. On deadlifts, he recently did 585x6.
Btw, the subject of Time Under Tension (TUT) for maximal anabolic response has been extensively studied by Charles Poliquin. The charts are included in his coaches manuals, but they are propriety and I'm not allowed to share them. However, see this:

Glenn said...


MAS said...

What do you think about John Little's Max Pyramid protocol that uses static holds? Seems it fits it nicely to this post, as you can dial in exactly how much TUT your experience based upon the weight used.

MAS said...

Here is a link that goes into Max Pyramid by John Little.

Ned Kock said...

Thanks Glenn. CP defines the 30-70s as the hypertrophy range. I think we’ll find more variation, in any population of individuals, with some people responding better at higher set durations. Generally, probably too many people work at a very low TUT, and don’t even know it.

Ned Kock said...

Thanks MAS. That is a nice post. In the research literature, however, static-only exercises don’t seem to have a very good record. It may be related to boredom.

garymar said...

Hi Ned,
I switched from a standard "Big 5" as described in Body by Science to the Max Pyramid this fall. Just finished a 3 week break and started the New Year today with a 2-exercise Max Pyramid -- a squat and an overhead press on my Smith machine.

Boredom is the least of my worries! No boredom at all as I'm being crushed with a mere 50 kg static hold of a squat with legs at 35 degrees to parallel. (This is after starting at 55 kg, going up stepwise to 62.5 kg, then stepwise back past 55 down to 50.) Absolutely killer and leaves me wobbly long after. Couldn't make 20 seconds on the last 5 holds. Great way to go to failure.

I won't do it again for 5-7 days in order to hit the “supercompensation window” as described in your previous post.

David Isaak said...

Is that J-curve shaped more like the Mississippi Valley, or the Grand Canyon? In other words, how much difference does it really make?

Plenty Vaporizer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ned Kock said...

Hi garymar. Longer recovery times are often one of the important missing elements for those who really like to do weight training. And they vary from individual to individual. You said you will wait 5-7 days. Before, how many days would you wait, usually?

Ned Kock said...

Hi David. For some people, it makes a big difference; not in terms of achieving amazing gains, but in terms of achieving some gains as opposed to none. In this sense, the percentage difference approaches infinity, as any number divided by zero yields infinity …

The reality seems to be that, with a few exceptions, most people will experience very small gains that will add up over time. I am talking about 0.5-2 lbs of muscle protein accretion per year. Possibly a bit more if you consider lean body mass gain as a whole, including muscle glycogen and the extra water that comes with it.

Steroid users, young men (late teens to 30s), and natural mesos (who probably have high levels of circulating testosterone) are among the exceptions. These folks gain faster. You seem to be a natural meso.

Ned Kock said...

Spam comment above, by "Vaporizer", deleted.

Ed Terry said...

I have to disagree that limiting range of motion is preferred, but probably because I'm naturally limber (and not muscular). At 55, my goal is no longer trying to lift more weight, but to maintain strength and flexibility.

The only time I have injured myself is when I limit range of motion in order to lift more weight. Using a full range of motion forces me to reduce the weight and the speed of the movement and to keep TUL to 40 to 90 seconds.

I have a crazy theory that maintaining my strength and flexibility will keep my arteries flexible since I'm constantly stretching them under a load. It's a pleasant delusion ;-).

Anyway, keep up the great work on your's a godsend.

Ned Kock said...

Hi Ed, thanks. On the cardio-protective effects of intense exercise (not only weight training), the findings of the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study are quite revealing:

Ned Kock said...

Related to the comment above, I guess the warning should be: “Before embarking on a program of NO exercise, you should consult your doctor.”

Ned Kock said...

Below is a link to a post on the cardio-protective effects of glycogen-depleting exercise. The post refers to a classic study, and also mentions the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study.

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