Intensity & Homeostasis: How Manipulating the Weight You Use Will Help You to Grow

In the very first post of this series, I discussed homeostasis and stress. Our body wants to keep everything in balance (homeostasis), but to grow, we must introduce something to disrupt the balance (stress). 

Think of it like Ancient China. The Chinese were constantly getting invaded by surrounding countries like Mongolia. China is our body, and the Mongolians are stress. Rather than let themselves be constantly invaded China built the Great Wall to keep invaders out. In other words, in response to the stress of invasion, China created stronger defenses. If China never had to worry about attacks, there's a good chance they would never have constructed the Great Wall. I may have watched Mulan recently...

Like all analogies, it does not quite do the justice of how our body responds to stress, but I hope it gets the point across. Stressors will help us get stronger, if we manipulate them, and utilize them correctly.

As mentioned in prior installments, five key strategies can help force our body to adapt. The last post I discussed volume, and today I will discuss intensity.

Intensity could also be redefined as difficulty, or how hard are you going? For weight, training intensity is often defined as the weight on the bar relative to your one repetition maximum. However, I just like to think of it as the poundage used, period. Compared to volume there is less to consider in regards to managing intensity. To manipulate intensity change the weight on the bar.

For those of you counting at home, that looks like some pretty high intensity. Also this is what I like to think I look like when I lift...

For those of you counting at home, that looks like some pretty high intensity. Also this is what I like to think I look like when I lift...

However, where it starts to get complicated is when we start to think of the relationship between volume and intensity. In many cases, as intensity increases volume decreases. There is usually a good chance that if you double the weight, you will not be able to do as many sets and reps with that weight.

For instance, let's say you rep out five sets of 10 reps at 100 pounds. Since volume is sets*reps*weight, this would equal 5,000. But if you did 150 pounds you might only be able to handle five reps. The weight has increased by 150%, but the volume has decreased to 3,750 pounds. To quote Hamlet, "Ay, there's the rub."

What do we do then? If volume can help disrupt homeostasis and incur growth, but intensity does the same, what do we manipulate and when? 

I know this may be getting a bit confusing but before you go Avril Lavigne on me allow me to answer your questions. Do not worry about when to manipulate the stressors, I'll explain this later. But in regards to what to manipulate, you can manipulate both. 

Some times, when you just want to go hard and go all out, (these should be few and far between), you can push both volume and intensity up. Your body will hate you for it, but it can be effective every so often. I reiterate though; these should be few and far between.

However, one strategy I like to utilize can be called intensity cycling. Let's say you're doing a three-week program. Well, it may look something like this.

  • Week 1: High Volume, Low Intensity
  • Week 2: Moderate Volume, Moderate Intensity
  • Week 3: Low Volume, High Intensity

By now you should have gotten the hint to read my volume post. If you haven't already, please go back do that. However, if you have, the question may become, "Why is intensity necessary? Couldn't you just keep increasing volume?"

Well, there lies the difficulty. Remember if our body adapts to a stimulus eventually the stimulus is going to cease to be effective. So this is one reason why having another stimulus involved can help with getting stronger.

Along these same lines, each stimulus will cause slightly different adaptations. For instance, volume, more times than not, will help improve muscular endurance, mental toughness, and muscle size. While increasing intensity may help with these as well, it will increase your bodies ability to recruit muscles more than anything. Or as nerds such as myself like to call say, the intensity will help improve your motor unit recruitment. 

Regardless of the vernacular, the better your body can use its muscles the stronger you will become, the stronger you become the higher volume you will be able to endure, the higher volume you can take the bigger or denser your muscles become, the larger more dense your muscles become, the more potential you have to become stronger. And this is the house that Jack built...

Alright, you made it. How are you feeling so far? Take a deep breath.

There is a lot of info in just this little post, but I hope you are starting to get a better grasp of how to make sure you are constantly growing, getting stronger, or getting the physique you've always wanted. Regardless of your goals, forcing your body to have to build more solid walls is the key. 

However, volume and intensity cannot be the only two variables we use. Otherwise, we will eventually cease to keep adapting. This is why in the next post I will discuss exercise variation. But for now, take some time to absorb what you've just read.

- Dave

 

Understanding Training Volume: One of the Most Important Variables for Making Progress

In my last post, I discussed the bodies desire for homeostasis. I began to touch upon the importance of disrupting homeostasis briefly and yet at the same time encouraging it. In this post we are going to focus even more on the disruption of homeostasis by discussing the idea of training volume, or as I will often refer to it as simply volume. 
 


Volume is the measure of total work performed during a training session and one of the most important things to monitor as it pertains to any training. 
 
The first thing I want to touch upon is how to find the volume. In regards to strength training the equation for volume is V = S*R*W or Volume = (Sets)*(Repetitions per Set)*(Weight). If two of these variables stay the same and one of them increases then the overall volume increases. However, sometimes there might be trade-offs. Say for instance you use heavier weight but must then perform lower reps. Well as a result volume may decrease or stay the same. 
 
To get stronger, you must always consider how to manipulate your workouts so that volume gradually increases not just from session to session, but over the week as a whole. Sometimes this means doing more workouts that week or increasing one of the three variables of the equation. However, at the same time volume will not always increase linearly. Due to this wave-like effect of progress, this is why the workouts have been broken into phases. 
 
At HPI we typically structure our programs into components of different phases, about four weeks at a time. By the fourth week of a phase, many of our clients should have the attained their highest volume accumulated over the phase. Then once we start a new phase, you may find the weight increases, the reps drop, and as a result, the volume drops. This drop in volume is by design. Manipulating volume in such a way will ensure steady progress as well as continue to promote recovery so that you do not burn out. The ultimate idea is two steps forward one step backward, but know you are still progressing.
 
With this being said, I would now like to address the endurance oriented readers. Calculation of total volume for the endurance athletes is a tad easier. It comes down to your total mileage for the week. It is also important to take into account heart rate and duration of these workouts. You do not want to have a high volume/intense session of endurance training preceded by high volume/intense lifting session. Such recklessness in the schedule may end up causing overtraining and leave your system fried. 
 
If you know you may have two high volume sessions coming up, I would encourage you to give yourself a minimum of 2 days between these two sessions. This does not mean you cannot run or lift during these two days; it does mean you should monitor your volume as well as your perceived exertion, not letting yourself go over a 6/10. This means you should feel like you are challenging your system but if you sweat it should be more of a glisten instead of a drench.
 
By monitoring volume, and making sure that over time it is gradually creeping upwards, you should find yourself progressing towards your goals volumes. 
 
As mentioned volume is one way, we manipulate homeostasis to do our bidding. I hope you have a better understanding of why it is so important to monitor. Stay tuned for other posts that explore the other methods we utilize to optimize progress. 

- Dave Howington

The Rocking Chair of Homeostasis: The Key to Training Progress

The human body is remarkable. One aspect that does not cease to amaze me is the body's ability to adapt. Think about the smell, for instance; we've all experienced those rank odors that just are not appealing to the nose. After a while, whether we want it to or not we grow used to the smell. 

Pepe.jpg

This ability to adapt is both a good and bad aspect in regards to training. To some extent we want the adaptation to occur because, well this is how we improve. However, this adaptation is something we must also battle against because if our body stops adapting due to lack of appropriate stimuli, then we will not improve or grow. This adaptation is called homeostasis, and because of it, if we want to see results we have to treat our body as if we are in a dating relationship with it. Hear me out. 

Good relationships are like a rocking chair. Have you ever sat in a rocking chair? What happens when you rock too far back? If you have tried this, there is always the feeling that the rocking chair may slip right out from under you. Have you ever leaned too far forward? You are no longer comfortable and may even feel some cramping take the place of said comfort. If you've ever been in a dating relationship where you rocked too far back you find your significant other may not be all too pleased and start writing you off. If you push too far forward and do not give any space, you may find your significant other acting aloof feeling overcrowded. With this in mind let's explore what homeostasis is and what it does. 

 

Homeostasis is the bodies desire to keep everything balanced and is the primary driver as to why adaptation occurs. Stress of any kind disrupts homeostasis by presenting a stimulus that forces the body to respond by bolstering itself up making sure that next time the stressor hits it will not be caught off guard. The body's desire for homeostasis and its response to when homeostasis is disrupted is how we grow. 

However, if we continually do the same thing all the time eventually the body no longer perceives what we are doing as a stressor, and the adaptation either slows down substantially or in some cases stops occurring. 

We want homeostasis to occur, and at the same time, we want to disrupt homeostasis. As a result, different strategies have to be employed. We must understand the functions of the autonomic nervous system as well as periodization. In all honesty, understanding how the balance of disrupting and encouraging homeostasis is the foundation of fitness. Fitness professionals, myself included, are continually trying to figure out how to go about manipulating homeostasis for best results. I will do my best in this post to help give you the framework for the disruption strategy.

There are 5 key strategies to employ to disrupt stress. In this post I will highlight a couple, but throughout the series I will go more in depth regarding each. These strategies are:

  1. Volume - The total amount work performed
  2. Intensity - The heaviness of the weight used.
  3. Variation - Different, but similar exercises used.
  4. Density - How much work you do in the time allotted.
  5. Frequency - How often you work.

Without going too far down the rabbit trail each of these are interrelated, however, they can only be manipulated their own way, which I will talk about in coming posts.

So these are strategies to disrupt homeostasis, however, recovery must be taken into account. During moments of recovery, this is where our body adapts the most. However, we mustn't recover all the time. Otherwise, this ends up being pointless. Although to give recovery the respect it deserves requires it's own post, which I will talk about later. 

I hope you are starting to see how our bodies must be treated with the thought of balance. Just like the rocking chair of relationships so also must we treat homeostasis as a rocking chair. Push too far with training and our body may become overtrained, but pull too far back and we will not present enough stimulus for our body to adapt. 

 

So where is the balance? How do we stay comfortable in the rocking chair known as training and our body's response? These are subjects I will discuss in coming posts.
 

Do Athletes Really Need 10,000 Hours?

In his book “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell discusses the 10,000-hour rule. Essentially stating, it takes 10,000 hours and a decade of dedication to become an expert in your chosen endeavor. With such a revelation, many people pursue this lofty goal to achieve “expert” status. As a result, in youth athletics, the idea of long-term athletic development, has become synonymous with the 10,000-hour rule. Suddenly, the specialization of youth sports is on the rise, because the assumption has become that the younger an athlete is when they reach these 10,000 hours, the more chance they have of becoming successful.

Unfortunately, literature has shown that while this 10,000-hour rule may be right for musicians and chess grandmasters, it does not apply to athletes. In fact, long-term athletic development was never originally supposed to be modeled by the 10,000-hour rule. Instead what long term athletic development points out is that each athlete goes through a maturation process and during this maturation process “windows of opportunity” open up. The theory is that these windows of opportunity are the moments of the athlete's physiological age where certain qualities will be optimally trained. For instance, according to this model strength training will be most beneficial for male athletes around the age of 16 (Ford et al., 2011). 

However, such a model falls short because quite frankly not everyone’s body matures the same. Take, for instance, NBA legend Scottie Pippen; he was 6’1” when he was 19 and the next thing you know he turns 20 and is 6’8”. Suffice to say, his window of opportunity for various qualities happened a little bit later in life. 

Bottom line, regardless of what you subscribe to, 10,000 hours or long term athletic development, it is important to heed the adage “you cannot fit a square peg in a round hole.” Each athlete is different, both in their physical maturation but also in their personality. Research has shown that a majority of athletes are best developed when exposed to a variety of stimulations such as sports, training qualities, etc. Exposing an athlete to these qualities is what we like to call in the business general physical preparation, the foundation of long-term athletic development. 

References

Ford, P., Croix, M. D. S., Lloyd, R., Meyers, R., Mousavi, M., Oliver, J., . . .  Williams, C. (2011). The long-term athlete development model: Physiological evidence and application. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(4), 389-402.

A Wellness Approach to the Holidays

When you think about the upcoming holidays, do you feel anxious and uneasy or happy and excited ? Does your heart pound, and mind race with details of the gathering that you plan to be the best ever? 

For most of us we look forward to what should be a slower more peaceful time of the year. 

 THE  REALITY   for most of us, is that it's very busy and not so peaceful. There are extra errands to run for that perfect gift and chores to do in preparation of our house guests, add that to our day to day responsibilities and you have HOLIDAY STRESS.

The extra stressors of the holiday acts as immediate stress to the body, signaling a fight or flight response from the central nervous system. The brain tells the Hypothalamus to tell the adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. When the immediate stress is over, the central nervous system tells the body to return to its normal state. However, if the body can not return to its normal state because the stressor, (the holiday season) is still present or there was no physical release of these hormones, they will build up in the system and cause havoc to the mind and body.  

Our body in response to the added responsibilities of the holidays will go into over drive and release additional cortisol and adrenaline to help us adapt. In the short term this may be helpful but if we don’t manage it head on we are setting ourselves up for what could be a challenging start to a healthy new year.

Here are 3 things to help combat and meet the effects of stress head on so that it does not interrupt the spirit of the upcoming holidays 

 

  1. Eat foods that lower stress  - 
    1. Foods like Steel Cut Oatmeal boosts the levels of Serotonin and calm the brain
    2. Oranges decrease levels os stress hormones and strengthen the immune system.
    3. Spinach and leafy greens have magnesium which can help fight stress headaches and fatigue
    4. Omega 3 fatty fish can prevent surges of the stress hormones and fight against winter depression 
    5. Avocados high in potassium reduce high blood pressure and can curve your craving for a high-fat treat this holiday season
    6. Almonds full of vitamins like Vitamin E to boost your immune system and can make you more resilient to the holiday stress and depression 
  2. Exercise  - We all know that exercise is important AND during this holiday season probably a little more challenging to get to the gym. But even 20-30 minutes of aerobic activity a couple times a week; i.e.  walking , running elliptical ,will help the body recreate the “flight” response releasing the stress hormones and decreasing the cortisol levels in our body. Can’t fit 20 minutes that into your day?  Break it up, do stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, park a good distance away from the front of the store. Every little bit helps
  3. Take some time to breath and be mindful - It may seem like the impossible to take 5 minutes during this season for yourself but research shows that giving yourself time to “just be” will help bring you back to the present where you can make more conscious sound decisions, even i  rewards to your spending.  It can also help you relax and decompress during stressful times by slowing your heart rate , lowering your blood pressure and decreasing your cortisol levels. 

Make this the year that you enjoy your holidays and go into the new year feeling healthy and prepared instead of making That your new years resolution.

- Donna Taylor