Is Training All No Pain and No Gain? Guest post by Chris Martinez

Today I have a guest post from Chris Martinez who is going to dispel the old myth about “no pain, no gain.” Sit back and enjoy. Mike T Nelson

Take it away Chris……

Now I’m sure a lot of you have heard this old saying when it comes to working out and training, “NO PAIN, NO GAIN!”

Terence Malhado

I wonder how many of you believe in this saying because I remember when I used to tell people, “if you aren’t sore after hitting the weights, then you simply didn’t hit it hard enough” or “I’m telling you, you have to feel the soreness in your muscles after training, this will tell you that you had a good workout and means you’re going to grow.”

These were the exact words that were coming out of my mouth to people. All I can say is shame on me for this and that I’m human and I make mistakes just like everybody else. I’ve made it a high priority on my “research to do list” to research how muscle damage and hypertrophy co-exist and there was one study I came across that really hit home. It was a study from The Journal of Experimental Biology and found that you don’t have to be sore after a workout in order to get your muscles to grow. (1)

In this article I will explain how muscles hypertrophy, how weight lifting damages muscle tissue, the study conducted, what the results were, and how this can be applied into your workouts and training methods. If your arms are too sore to even move the mouse to read this, then I’m going to become your new best friend!

Muscle Growth 101

How in the heck do our muscles grow? Let’s start off with the word muscle hypertrophy (making the muscles bigger) first. When you hear this word, just think of it as a fancy scientific term for an increase or growth in muscle size. Muscles are overloaded and stimulated to grow when they are trained with weights that are heavier than the body is used to handling. The way a muscle grows is by increasing its rate of protein synthesis. When increasing the rate of protein synthesis, the muscle makes new contractile proteins and incorporates them into the muscle tissue to make it stronger and larger over time. Skeletal muscle tissue needs protein, carbohydrates, fats, and vitamin, in addition to recuperation time to grow bigger and stronger over time.

Keep in mind, this was just a simple synopsis on muscle hypertrophy and though easily defined, it is an intriguing and complex adaptive process.

Damage and Muscle Growth

Weightlifting damages muscle tissue. I’m sure you freaked out when you heard the word damaged. But, it’s a good kind of damage. You see, when you lift weights, your muscle tissue is actually broken down (atrophy) or in this case damaged. There are several aspects on hypertrophy, but I feel that the stretch placed on the muscle tissue (think of the full stretch when the weight is going down on a preacher curl) and the tension (think of how long the muscle is burning while going down in that stretch) are two of the more important aspects for hypertrophy.

Back to muscle damage being a good thing because when you rest and recover properly, amino acids are then synthesize to create new muscle tissue. This then allows the body to enlarge the muscle to be bigger, stronger, and better able to handle the same overload, or heavier overload in the future (hint: This is why we need protein after a workout). So, when you hear the word muscle damage, it just means that you stimulated the muscle tissue in a good way through overload (strength/resistance training).

Muscle hypertrophy is possible in the absence of symptoms of damage. A study conducted by Flan et al (2011) in The Journal of Experimental Biology found that you don’t have to experience muscle soreness in order to get a hypertrophic response. In this study, fourteen healthy university students (8 males and 6 females), were divided into two groups with a structure that equalized age, sex, height, body mass, and strength of the quadriceps.

The two groups consisted of pre-trained (PT) and naïve (NA) and both groups comprised of three women and four men. All training was performed on a recumbent bike, high-force, eccentric leg cycle ergometer. Now, they chose the recumbent bike because the motor drives the pedals in a ‘backwards’ direction (towards the person) and the person has to resist this motion by pushing on the pedals as they move towards them. Because of the pedals moving towards the person, the person has to apply resistance and this results in lengthening contractions of the knee and hip extensors, including the quadriceps muscle (just try and picture this, you would definitely feel the muscle stimulation in your quads as you’re trying to push against the pedals from coming at you).

They had the PT group experience three weeks worth of the recumbent bike exercise and then they brought in the NA group. The PT group had a three week head start, gradually building their strength up and they hypothesized that by bringing in the NA group, they would experience muscle soreness and muscle damage.

They figured their muscles have not experienced any overload in three weeks, nor have they even had a chance to gradually increase the load. But they went ahead and started the NA group on the same load as the PT group and resumed the 8 and 11 week study (8 weeks for the NA group and 11 for the PT group).

Muscle Damage and Growth Results

What were the results you ask? The two groups experienced significantly different levels of muscle damage. There was no muscle damage in the PT group and there was some slight muscle damage in the NA group, mostly in weeks 4-7 and that’s probably because their muscle, joints, etc. had to get accustomed to the routine and the PT group had a three week head start. Both muscle size (in the quadriceps) and strength increased equally in both subjects. Overall, the total work effort expended over the 11-week training session was identical for both groups.

By contrast, muscle damage was statistically different between the groups. With NA group showing detrimental symptoms of muscle damage and soreness, whereas the PT group experienced no symptoms of either damage or soreness.

Enough, What Did They Find?

Here is the what the found. Independent of levels of initial damage, the changes in muscle size, growth factor levels and quadriceps strength were the same.

Real World Training For Muscle Growth

How can we apply this in a real world setting, like your training regimen you ask? Well from this study we now know that muscle hypertrophy can happen independently of any symptoms of muscle damage. This study showed in both groups, the high forces (heavy resistances) produced by lengthening and eccentric contractions provided a powerful stimulus to promote muscle growth and strength.
Also, there have been quite a bit of studies conducted besides this one and have proven similar result, such as work from Phillips and Brad Schoenfeld. While still thinking that we have to come up with a workout routine that is going to leave us dead sore in order to build muscle is ridiculous. In fact, it could be counterproductive.

More does not automatically mean better.

Being sore is not an accurate measurement of how good your workout was or doesn’t mean you’re going to grow more muscle. Now in no way am I saying not to work out or train hard, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m a huge advocate of training hard, but there’s a difference between being smart about it and not being smart about it.

Big picture, don’t worry so much about going into the gym and thinking more is better and that you absolutely have to destroy a body part during a workout in order for it to grow. If you’re sore after so be it, if you’re not sore, oh well, doesn’t mean that workout was wasted and that you’re not going to get that hypertrophic response.


Some take home points for you to try out, based on this info, are:
1) Stick to your training routine and workout hard at it, but not to the point where your buddies have to carry you out on a stretcher.

2) Be smart and let your body recover from a vigorous training session.

3) Don’t always think you have to leave the gym with a mindset of being sore the next day because soreness doesn’t mean you induced hypertrophy

4) Be consistent and always have your nutrition on point.

NO PAIN, NO GAIN is gone, adios, ba-bye!

Peace!  Chris

Bio: Chris Martinez is a huge fitness and nutrition enthusiast. He owns a training and nutrition consulting business, Dynamic Duo Training, with his twin brother Eric. He’s also a fitness and nutrition writer, fitness model, and a coach that loves helping people reach their goals. Chris can be reached at


Flann, Kyle, Paul Lastayo, Donald McClain, Mark Hazel, Stan Lindstedt. “Muscle damage and muscle remodeling. No pain, no gain?” Journal of experimental biology 214 (2011): 674-679. Company of biologists ltd. 3 Nov. 2010.

Schoenfeld, BJ. Does exercise-induced muscle damage play a role in skeletal muscle hypertrophy? J Strength Cond (2012)

Phillips et al. Similar increases in muscle size and strength in young men after training with maximal shortening or lengthening contractions when matched for total work. Eur J Appl Phyisol. (2012)

Baechle, Thomas R and Earle, Roger W. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning/ National Strength and Conditioning Association. USA: 2008 by the National Strength and Conditioning Association

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How To Read Fitness Research: An Interview with Mark Young

How To Read Fitness Research by Mark Young

Let’s cut right to the chase here, why did you create a product for people to do their own research?  Aren’t you afraid they will never buy another product again once they can find research on their own?

Frankly, I created this product because I’m sick of the pseudoscientific crap I’m seeing tossed around the fitness industry as legit information.  With all of the misinterpretations of research and stuff that is flat out created out of thin air, no wonder people (even coaches and trainers) are confused.  And if there is one thing I know about coaches and trainers is that they’re always trying to learn more…but many don’t have the formal education to navigate the complex and crazy world of research.  I created this product to give people the power to break free from hype and dogma and make decisions based on fact, not fiction.

And I’m not really worried that people won’t buy products again.  I think people like to learn from others.  However, I think it is imperative to be able to determine who to listen to and to critically analyze for yourself what those people are saying.  I think this product will help to determine who is legit and who is pulling stuff out of their ass.

What research background do you have that allows you to create such a project Mr Smarty pants?

I actually started getting involved in research in the summer following my second year of university.  I volunteered in a motor control lab doing experiments on the effect of vision on movement planning.  It was a pretty awesome experience and I was completely hooked after that.

For my 4th year thesis I did a really interesting biomechanics study where I looked at the inertial characteristics of the human foot (hey…I said interesting not exciting) and presented the poster at the World Congress of Biomechanics which is kind of a big deal if I do say so myself.

Then I went to grad school and did some exercise physiology research in one of the world’s leading labs for muscle protein metabolism research under the very brilliant Dr. Stuart Phillips.

Warrior Nerd Alert: Mike T Nelson with Dr. Stu Phillips at EB 2011

Aaaah, yes, Dr. Stu Philips is a great guy.   I am such a huge dork (um, Warrior Nerd) that I had my picture taken with him at the recent Experimental Biology conference in DC.  Great guy.

So I see you have a research background, but do you work with clients also?

Yep.  I’ve actually been a trainer/coach for around 11 years now and have probably put in tens of thousands of hours on the training floor with clients.  These days, of course, I’ve pulled back significantly so I can spend more time with my family and work on other projects, but I still make sure to get in my “in the trenches” time.  I also provide services to one of Canada’s very few government funded Bariatric Medical Programs for the evidence based treatment of obesity.

Any parting words you want to add, like how much you love my blog, hahaha.

You have a blog?  I thought you were just going to put this in that shoe box you keep in your trunk with all those weird photos you take of yourself with other researchers.  :)
In any case, I guess I just want people to know that there is now a product available not only to tell you what to do, but how to discover what to do for yourself and to challenge the assumptions you’ve created by reading popular fitness information.  Thanks for letting me share this message.

In all seriousness, you did a great job on the product and I highly recommend everyone pick it up today (Wed), before the price doubles this Friday.   Go to the link below to get it now

How To Read Fitness Research by Mark Young

Thanks again Mark for taking time out your crazy schedule today!

It has been my pleasure.  Thanks Mike!

Mark has a bonus interview with Dr Stu Phillips all about protein- how to use it correctly for bigger and stronger muscles.

It is an amazing interview!  Check it out below

How To Read Fitness Research by Mark Young <–price doubles this Friday

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Heretics in the High Country: Muscle Growth (Hypertrophy) Research from Dr. Lonnie Lowery

Heretics in the High Country: Muscle Growth (Hypertrophy) Research from Dr. Lonnie Lowery

Dr Lonnie Lowery and Me

One of the great things I love about my job is that I get to talk to really smart people.  One of those uber bright guys is Dr. Lonnie Lowery.  Not only is Lonnie a PhD and an RD, he has spent a lot of time under the bar in the gym too.

Below is a great article on some brand new research on how to get bigger muscles (muscle hypertrophy),  effects of cortisol, fat burning drugs,  and set new personal records in the gym.

Be sure to check out the bio below and Dr. Lowery and friends on Iron Radio.  It is an awesome podcast that you will love.

Take it away Dr. Lowery

Heretics in the High Country: Muscle Growth (Hypertrophy) Research from Dr. Lonnie Lowery

Not all scientific conferences are of interest to strength athletes. Sometimes I find myself wading through oceans of obscure biochemistry or data with unsure applicability. Sometimes the topic matter veers too far into food and nutrition, or some clinical treatment, with no immediately apparent implications for those who are laser-focused on bigger guns or a broad back. But when I go to ski country in Barrie, Ontario in late January each year, I expect cutting edge science and an element of controversy that is sure to intrigue most bodybuilders. This year I saw some early data that seemed absolutely heretical; if the physiology and nutrition labs up there weren’t absolutely world class, I wouldn’t even have sat through some of the lectures. Some of the data and audience discussion flatly flew in the face of what many of us have long-accepted.

As a preview, here are some of the topics:

·         Cortisol: friend or foe to body fat?

·         New insight into satellite cells and muscle size

·         The optimal number of sets beyond which one is wasting time

·         The pros and cons of clenbuterol

·         Why women are tougher than men

·         Stacking stimulant drugs for maximal performance and alertness

·         The importance of insulin compared to leucine in muscle gain

·         The single best training intensity for muscle hypertrophy

If you’re interested, read on for a brief synopsis of some of the outside-of-the-box thinking I saw and what it might mean to scientific training recommendations in coming years. Of course, not every little study warrants an immediate change in your training or eating regime; nonetheless, I‘ll make some speculative or clarifying comments after each section as food for thought. Whether or not a particular study is revolutionary or game changing, having new knowledge is always good in my opinion.

Cortisol: friend or foe to body fat?

Dr Lowery and the Mighty Fortress

Glucocorticoids, as stress hormones, have long been known to increase lipolysis (fat breakdown and mobilization) and yet cause fat deposition on the torso. This study helped explain this seeming contradiction. It revealed how basal concentrations of corticosterone (think “rat cortisol”) enhance certain lipolytic enzymes in adipose tissue (which sounds good for leanness) but high concentrations induce fat cell hyperplasia (multiplication) over time. If the same holds for humans – and it probably does (consider the appearance of Cushing‘s Syndrome patients) – I personally don’t want high levels of stress causing new fat cells to slowly start appearing across my torso. Further, these researchers suggested that a high-fat diet (they weren’t specific about which type of fat) doubled corticosterone in rats. To me, this offers some insight into why stressed-out, fast food-swilling Americans (and Canadians) are sporting giant bellies and uni-pecs.

What this could mean to you: We now have even more understanding of why cortisol in excess (which is elevated by emotional stress, coffee, potentially diets high in total fat, and overtraining) is not the friend of the physique athlete. Keep in mind that the data above are from rats, not humans, but that this is indeed a valid model that offers solid information which is probably relevant to humans. It looks as though cortisol – although necessary at modest concentrations – could lead to more detriment than simply degrading muscle tissue or temporarily storing fat in certain anatomical regions; it could literally multiply one’s number of fat cells making future dieting attempts harder.

New insight into satellite cells and muscle size

Dr Lowery teaching a Staley’s Seminar 2008

Exercise,especially eccentric lifting (“negatives”) not only causes muscle soreness but is also great at activating satellite cells. Among other things, these are cells that lie among the mature muscle fibers and “wake up” to donate their nuclei to help maintain a larger muscle fiber. They can also fuse together themselves into a new entity. This research group was showing a new lab technique that can quickly count how many muscle building satellite cells get activated in response to a new anabolic stimulus. In a matter of hours this automation will offer valid results, eliminating the weeks and weeks of forcing a hapless grad student to physically count stained muscle samples under a microscope.

What this could mean to you: New training techniques can now be tested for this aspect of hypertrophy (increasing muscle cell number or muscle cell “permanent size” in a sense) at a realistic pace. This could mean less speculation and more rapid progress in the science of muscle gains. Cool.

The optimal number of sets beyond which one is wasting time

Dr Lowery looking very professosorial

A graduate student from Stu Phillips’ noteworthy lab shared insider data that three sets appears to maximize the protein synthetic response in a muscle. Earlier work from a partner lab showed that six sets were no better than three and these grad students were taking it a step further: looking at three sets versus one. Using a 70% of one-rep max (moderately heavy weight) protocol, combined with 20g whey protein immediately post-exercise, their data was such that significant elevations in fractional synthetic rate (read “anabolism”) was possible at 5 hours post-exercise from either three sets or one set, but that only the three set protocol still had anabolism kicking at 29 hours post-exercise. Note that although they’re looking at just synthesis here and not breakdown, it is muscle protein synthesis that’s largely responsible for net gains post-workout.

What this could mean to you: If you are the kind of person who performs many many sets for each muscle group in the gym, it might be worth planning certain mesocycles to purposefully cut back on the total number of sets you do, perhaps down to just three per muscle group. This is strictly from a protein synthetic (muscle size) perspective. This is not to say that extra sets might not be good for overall leanness of other benefits. Also note that they used one particular, common intensity level (70% of max) and other intensity levels may alter the picture to some extent. I think this study does make one wonder how much time he or she might be wasting in the gym if strict bodybuilding (size gains) are the immediate goal.

The pros and cons of clenbuterol

Yes, there was actually a study on the usually taboo bodybuilding drug clenbuterol – in rodents. The inhumanly large doses often given in animal studies were again present here: 30mg per liter of drinking water. The study revealed a decrease in mitochondrial (aerobic) function, including less fat oxidation (“burning”). There was also a rise in glycolysis (carb breakdown) capability. It was all suggestive of a switch toward a faster muscle fiber type. What struck me during this session was a comment from the audience (to paraphrase): “So, this stuff is bad. If it is given clinically to patients, we need to warn them of the aerobic declines and risk of fatigue.” After witnessing hard data on increased muscle mass and a significant drop in body fat, the main conclusion from this attendee was “so this stuff is bad”? Maybe I’m biased toward bodybuilding but I for one saw a few pros among the cons.

What this could mean to you: If you are someone who has used clenbuterol or are considering it, this study suggests that you may shift toward a faster, more carb-focused muscle fiber type, possibly meaning less aerobic (endurance) capacity. Of course, this is an arena where self-administering bodybuilders and even Hollywood celebrities probably know more on a practical level than do the cautious scientists: At tolerable microgram (not milligram) doses, body fat can indeed decrease dramatically (for gross calorie expenditure reasons) and strength can climb significantly. (Sheer muscle mass is not altered very much at human-tolerated doses.) In any case, I sure hope researchers start giving clenbuterol a closer look in humans before any stigma creates a bandwagon of negativity that‘ll keep its possibilities in the dark forever.

Why women are tougher than men

Many readers know that women exhibit less post-exercise muscle damage than men. Estrogen is a big part of this. These researchers went further, showing data that exercised women also exhibit less fatigue during recovery days than men do – at least when it comes to “lighter intensity“ (lower frequency) testing. The study had an almost comical title: “The effects of sex on human skeletal muscle fatigability” and used repeated bouts of electrically-stimulated isometric knee extension exercise as the initial stressor. They concluded: “These results suggest that females are more fatigue resistant than males and are able to recover force at an accelerated rate following an acute bout of intermittent isometric exercise.” Wow.

What this could mean to you: If you’re a woman, this talk provided evidence that not only do you resist muscle damage better than guys but in some respects, you outperform them. I’ve often wondered why we don’t see a sport designed around less intense but more punishing, ongoing demands. It looks like women would dominate such an event.

Stacking stimulant drugs for maximal performance and alertness

An ironically calm student was sharing a proposal to stack caffeine (in an extra strength military gum) with a drug called modafinil to max-out alertness and performance among emergency workers and/or military personnel. Earlier work from his mentor suggested 22% increased time to exhaustion with modafinil and other data suggest around 5-30% improvements on cognitive tests of memory, reaction time, etc. after sleep deprivation. We all know caffeine has similarly energizing effects. The researchers weren’t very concerned that a dose of caffeine typically peaks at 60 min. (entry into blood is fast, starting in about 5-15 min.) while modafinil doesn’t peak until 120 minutes; both drugs have lingering improvements for a few hours.

What this could mean to you: Although at the proposal stage, this talk offered information on the pharmacokinetics (onset of action, blood levels over time) of these stimulant drugs and how they might “stack“ (additive effects). I may live under a rock, but I haven’t heard much about modafinil before. It’s cognitive and physical performance benefits are intriguing. Stay tuned for future results.

The importance of insulin compared to leucine in muscle gain

Many of us know that insulin and the amino acid leucine both stimulate the protein synthetic “mTOR pathway” in skeletal muscle. This group wants to see just how crucial the insulin aspect really is. They compared the anabolic effects of leucine in mice with and without pancreases (surgical removal in half of the animals). What happened? The normal pancreas-sporting (and thus insulin-capable) animals responded as expected to leucine, with a full anabolic response. The muscles of the insulin-lacking critters were not uniform in their ability to respond to leucine, however. It looks like different muscle groups (probably due to slow- versus fast-twitch fiber differences) react differently to leucine when insulin isn‘t around. Some can respond (at least on some level) and others cannot. Particular aspects of the mTOR pathway responded well in slow twitch muscle fibers but not in fast twitch fibers. Of course, fast twitch (and moderately fast-twitch) fibers are what strength athletes typically value for size and strength, so this suggests insulin remains an important part of the picture for us.

What this could mean to you: If you’re an endurance athlete or just interested in maintaining slow-twitch muscle fibers, leucine in a fasted state seems like an effective strategy for you. Of course it’s very preliminary (i.e. new research) but it will be interesting to see if endurance guys or those trying to hold on to endurance muscle fibers can get away with leucine-only meals at otherwise unfed times of the day. (I realize some dieting bodybuilders already try this.) If you‘re all about fast twitch muscle fibers, however, it currently looks as though regular meals throughout the day maintain insulin levels that help leucine induce fast-twitch-specific growth. A final caveat: even in a fasted state you have basal (“single digit”) concentrations of insulin and not essentially zero insulin as in the pancreas-free animals; it’s an experimental model trying to tease apart mechanisms. I for one am very interested in how important leucine is versus insulin. Perhaps one day we’ll see a consensus that humans can get away with leucine-only meals during periods of fasting.

The single best training intensity for muscle hypertrophy

This presentation from Nick Burd in Stu Phillips’ impressive lab at McMaster University was almost blasphemous. Here’s the title: “Low intensity-high volume resistance exercise promotes greater anabolic signaling and myofibrillar protein synthesis versus traditional and work-matched resistance exercise paradigms”. Come again? I’m going to get bigger with light weights? It appears so, based solely on protein synthesis data. These guys compared heavy, 90% of one-rep max lifting (subjects failed at five reps) with a work-matched set at just 30% of one-rep max (subjects were stopped at 14 reps) and finally a set to failure with 30% of one-rep max (subjects failed at 23 reps). Although protein synthesis was up at four hours-post exercise in all groups, muscle protein synthesis was still elevated at 24-hours only in the 30% to failure group. Longer periods of lingering heightened protein synthesis sound good to me.

What this could mean to you: You may benefit from (at least considering) periods of the year in which you cycle-in light, 30% of max lifting exclusively to max-out muscle size. This may be doubly true if you’re an intensity hound like me and haven’t done a set over 8 reps in ages. I was so intrigued by the protein synthesis data and with subsequent talks with Nick on, I’m trying a “two week light (30%) / two week heavy (85-90%)” type of periodization. (A recent and timely snowboarding accident sort of forced me away from heavy lifts for a couple weeks anyway.)

I’m still trying to get my head around barbell curls with an empty Olympic bar and benching with 95-135. I’ve got to admit, this one is tough to swallow but a combined effort from universities like McMaster and Nottingham has me suspending my disbelief until their planned training study is completed. It’s then that we’ll know with more certainty whether the very light, roughly 23-rep per set protocol will be as effective or even more effective than the heavy training for mass gains.

Dr. Lonnie Lowery is a former regionally-competitive bodybuilder, exercise physiologist and nutrition professor who travels to scientific conferences often, looking for new data and new ideas that may progress the field of bodybuilding and sports nutrition. He can be reached and listened-to by way of

Thanks again Dr. Lowery!

Comments?  Do you want to see more research and Dr Lowery again?  If so, drop some comment love and let us know!

rock on

Mike T Nelson

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How To Build Bigger Muscles (Hypertrophy) with New Research Part 1

Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy with New Research (aka How to Lift and Eat)


Sorry for the delays here as I have been swamped and the last two days it feels like I got hit by a truck. Ugh.  So after lots of sleep I am back on track now.

Jodie and I had a blast in S. Padre Island kiteboarding and I will have an update soon.  I am working on TONS of great content coming up here.  As always, drop me a line on what YOU want to see.

Maximize Muscle Growth

Very cool new study today on what may be the best combination of lifting and eating for performance.  I am a huge geek and spend hours per week (literally) combing the literature to see if there are any new research gems that will help guide on how to increase muscle size and strength to make you a freaky athlete!    I am happy to report I found an AMAZING study.  Don’t worry, as I will break it down into terms even the most novice can understand and those who have been around for a bit will probably pick up some new things too.  Here we go!

We know that connective tissue (collagen) is a key component in strength since it is literally holding everything together (along with a specialized form called fascia).

Strong Connective Tissue + Bigger Muscle = Crazy Strength

A Tangent on “Jammed Joints = Muscular Weakness

This is not a new thought, but it is rarely talked about and there has been really a big hole in the literature regarding any direct data to support this idea.  It makes sense that just like if you have a buggered up joint, it will start to decrease strength (”shut down”) the muscles around it.

I can say that first hand this is true when I messed up my ankle in a snowboarding incident about 5 years ago to this very day.   It swelled up to the size of a large softball, I had a walking cast, crutches, the whole 9 yards (hardcore all the way—haha).  I could not even MOVE my ankle, let alone generate any strength.   My body had shut every thing down there and increased fluid to the ankle (massive swelling) to further immobilize the ankle.

Now this is an extreme example, but it happens to a lesser degree with a joint that does not have optimal mobility (called the arthrokinetic reflex and taught in Z Health).

So we know the nervous system has a MASSIVE influence on strength.  It would only make sense that if we thought our connective tissue was not up to the task, our smart brains would limit our strength.

While we don’t have direct data on that point yet, we are getting closer and this study below holds some HUGE keys to muscle growth for you!

Contraction intensity and feeding affect collagen and myofibrillar protein synthesis rates differently in human skeletal muscle

This study looked at any changes to

1) connective tissue (collagen synthesis rates) and

2) muscle protein synthesis rates (FSR) which tells us how much protein is being added to muscles.

More protein added to muscles = bigger muscles (hypertrophy)

The great part is they looked a feeding them also to see if it helped out.  As you know, I highly recommend some protein around the time of your lifting session.

(from wikipedia)

Intramuscular total collagen protein synthesis rate (more connective tissue)

The heavy black is a direct quote from the study and the blue is my translation

“There was a clear effect of prior exercise on  skeletal muscle collagen FSR whether studied in the fasted or fed state (p<0.05)”

Even if you lift in a fasted state (no food before), there is still an increase in connective tissue formation.  Lifting BY ITSELF ALONE is highly anabolic for connective tissue.

“These changes in collagen FSR were unaffected by contractile intensity (p>0.10). Feeding did not increase  resting nor post exercise collagen protein synthesis rate and nor was the post exercise temporal response different compared with fasting”

It did not matter if you lifted a lighter load or heavier load, as there was still an increase in connective tissue.  This effect was NOT changed by eating.

Myofibrillar protein synthesis rate (bigger muscles)

“Fasting myofibrillar protein FSR was influenced by the contraction intensity of a prior exercise bout (interaction: p<0.05,).   Myofibrillar FSR was 303 0.08±0.01 %?hr-1 at rest and LL contractions was not sufficient to enhance the myofibrillar FSR  level significantly above that level (early: 0.11±0.01 and late: 0.09±0.02%hr-1; NS).

In contrast, HL contractions resulted in a delayed improvement (late: 0.14±0.02 %?hr-1, 2.0±0.4 fold, p<0.05).”

Lifting heavier (70% of max) was better than a very light load (16% of max) for bigger muscles.

Oral feeding elevated myofibrillar protein FSR at rest 2.3±0.3 fold up to 0.18±0.03 %?hr-1 (p<0.05,) and this elevated level was maintained at all post exercise time points irrespective of prior contraction intensity.

WOW!  If you eat protein after training, you can maximize your gains by over 2Xs as much as skipping it.  Very cool and simple to do!

When food was provided, LL contractions kept the myofibrillar protein  FSR elevated above fasting conditions at the late time point (p<0.05). Similarly, HL  contractions tended to increase the myofibrillar FSR at the late time point (p<0.10).

You are still building muscle HOURS after you leave the gym!  Simulate and then recover

What Did We Learn Today

Today we learned

Have a protein shake (I like a whey protein isolate from Protein Factory) after training to more than DOUBLE your gains.

Connective tissue increases are primarily only from lifting, even at a light load

Muscle growth needs a higher load and food help a ton!

Stay Tuned

Come back tomorrow for some tips on how you directly use this information to maximize your muscle gains in the gym with some novel methods

The full abstract is below

Any questions/thoughts let me know in the comments!  I want to know if you think this is helpful or not.  What do you want to see?

Rock on

Mike T Nelson


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Contraction intensity and feeding affect collagen and myofibrillar protein synthesis rates differently in human skeletal muscle

Exercise stimulates muscle protein fractional synthesis rate (FSR) but the importance of contractile intensity and whether it interplays with feeding is not understood. This was investigated following two distinct resistance exercise (RE) contraction intensities using an intra-subject design in the fasted (n=10) and fed (n=10) states. RE consisted of ten sets of knee-extensions. One leg worked against light-load (LL) at 16% of 1-repetition maximum (1RM), the other leg against heavy-load (HL) at 70% 1RM, with intensities equalized for total lifted load. Males were infused with (13)C-leucine and vastus lateralis biopsies were obtained bi-laterally at rest as well as 1/2, 3, and 51/2 hr after RE. Western blots were run on muscle-lysates and phospho-specific antibodies used to detect phosphorylation status of targets involved in regulation of FSR. The intramuscular collagen FSR was evenly increased following LL- and HL-RE and was not affected by feeding. Myofibrillar FSR was unaffected by LL-RE, whereas HL-RE resulted in a delayed improvement (0.14+/-0.02%xhr(-1), p<0.05). Myofibrillar FSR was increased at rest by feeding (p<0.05) and remained elevated late in the post-exercise period when compared with the fasting condition. The Rp-s6k-4E-BP1- and the MAPk-pathways were activated by the HL intensity and were suggested to be responsible for regulating myofibrillar FSR in response to adequate contractile activity. Feeding predominantly affected Rp-s6k and eEF2 phosphorylations in correspondence with the observed changes in myofibrillar FSR, whereas 4E-BP1 remained to respond only to the heavy load contraction intensity. Thus, the study design allows us to conclude that the MAPk and mTOR dependent signaling responds to contractile activity, whereas elongation mainly was found to respond to feeding. Further, although functionally linked, the contractile and the supportive matrix structures upregulate their protein synthesis rate quite differently in response to feeding and contractile-activity and -intensity.

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Fat Loss Performance Tip: Neuroscience To the Rescue!

Fat Loss Performance Tip

Below is an abstract on how you can increase the calories you burn while working to drop body fat without a decrease in performance. As always, if you want to deflate the muffin top you need to take in fewer calories than you burn off. If you miss that part, you will not loose weight. But once you have that down, the tip below may help you out.

The take away is that a calorie free beverage during training, appears to help performance about 2-3%.  Nothing huge there, but since you did not take in any calories it might help a bit.

Our perception molds our reality, so if you THINK you are drinking calories, you can get a slight performance boost.  To quote Jodie L. Rummer “potential for pre-performance brain input could be huge!”   The biggest changes in performance will be advances in neuroscience, and we are just on the very edge of unraveling it.  I believe this study was one of the first to look at a performance change combined with fMRI (brain imaging) in relation to an ergogenic beverage.

Let me know what you think
Rock on
Mike T Nelson

Other References

Go rinse your mouth: a novel way to improve endurance performance? J Physiol June 1, 2009 587 (11) 2425-2426; published ahead of print March 30, 2009,

Carbohydrate sensing in the human mouth: effects on exercise performance and brain activity

1. E. S. Chambers1,

2. M. W. Bridge1 and

3. D. A. Jones1,2


Exercise studies have suggested that the presence of carbohydrate in the human mouth activates regions of the brain that can enhance exercise performance but direct evidence of such a mechanism is limited. The first aim of the present study was to observe how rinsing the mouth with solutions containing glucose and maltodextrin, disguised with artificial sweetener, would affect exercise performance. The second aim was to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify the brain regions activated by these substances. In Study 1A, eight endurance-trained cyclists (Graphic 60.8 ± 4.1 ml kg?1 min?1) completed a cycle time trial (total work = 914 ± 29 kJ) significantly faster when rinsing their mouths with a 6.4% glucose solution compared with a placebo containing saccharin (60.4 ± 3.7 and 61.6 ± 3.8 min, respectively, P = 0.007). The corresponding fMRI study (Study 1B) revealed that oral exposure to glucose activated reward-related brain regions, including the anterior cingulate cortex and striatum, which were unresponsive to saccharin. In Study 2A, eight endurance-trained cyclists (Graphic 57.8 ± 3.2 ml kg?1 min?1) tested the effect of rinsing with a 6.4% maltodextrin solution on exercise performance, showing it to significantly reduce the time to complete the cycle time trial (total work = 837 ± 68 kJ) compared to an artificially sweetened placebo (62.6 ± 4.7 and 64.6 ± 4.9 min, respectively, P = 0.012). The second neuroimaging study (Study 2B) compared the cortical response to oral maltodextrin and glucose, revealing a similar pattern of brain activation in response to the two carbohydrate solutions, including areas of the insula/frontal operculum, orbitofrontal cortex and striatum. The results suggest that the improvement in exercise performance that is observed when carbohydrate is present in the mouth may be due to the activation of brain regions believed to be involved in reward and motor control. The findings also suggest that there may be a class of so far unidentified oral receptors that respond to carbohydrate independently of those for sweetness.



(Resubmitted 2 October 2008; accepted after revision 17 February 2009; first published online 23 February 2009)

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