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Q + A – February 2012

Hello and welcome to the first ever Dave’s Gym Q+A! Today we’ve got four great questions from some of our members that actually cover a wide range of topics. I’m not going to blab on too much, lets get to the crux of it!
“Speed / power training for increasing sprint / jumping power” – Rogan
While not technically a question, it’s a great one! If you look at sprinters’ legs they have absolutely huge quads, and while some of this is no doubt due to all the sprinting you can bet your ass they do a LOT of squatting. Like most other things the basis of your programming flat out needs to be based around the squat.
In terms of increasing power, certainly focus on Speed Hex Bar dead lifts (http://bretcontreras.com/2011/06/straight-bar-deadlift-versus-hex-bar-deadlift/), speed squats and Plyometrics. For all of those exercises you need to really focus hard on the speed and power development so you’ll want to do low, low reps and take a fair amount of rest between those sets to recover.
For the speed deadlifts I’d use 50-60% of your 1RM for 12-15 sets of just 1 single rep – put everything you have into that pull and drive your hips through as fast and explosively as possible.
For the speed squats I’d use 50% of your 1RM for 10 sets of 2 reps and ratchet the load from 50% to 55% then 60% over three weeks then go back down and start again. Squat slowly down to a box or bench, but keep your whole body tight (don’t relax onto it and let your posture sag) then explode and drive the weight up as quickly as possible.
As for the plyometrics, a big mistake people make is either doing them for sets of 20 reps, or just half heartedly jumping up onto a platform and back down. You should optimally be doing no more than 40 jumps a week, 6 sets of 3 once a week should be more than enough if you’re doing extra speed stuff like the deads and squats.
A plyometric movement is supposed to use as much speed and power as possible, for example in a jump squat or box jump I want you to explode from the floor as if you had 200 kilos on your back and jump in the air as high and as hard as you can. It should literally be almost a max effort rep in terms of effort and force development. The platform is just what you land on, not what you jump to. Keep the descent into the jump shallow and quick to get the maximum stretch reflex.
Keep doing your regular strength training with heavy weights, and incorporate some of this power stuff on days where it won’t affect that strength work – the more weight you can squat, the stronger your legs are, so the more force they can develop. Do your speed and power work first in the session after a warmup, though.
Let us know how that goes! If you want any more help programming this stuff into your training just pop in for a chat!
“BCAA’s. Worth it?” – Jamie
BCAA’s are actually one of the few supplements that are worth taking. Along with a protein supplement for obvious reasons, fish oils for their anti-inflammatory effects and healthy fats, and a multivitamin for general health, BCAA’s are great for a few reasons.
Firstly the three branched chain amino acids (Valine, Leucine, and Isoleucine) are all essential amino acids meaning the human body can’t synthesize them so they have to be taken in as part of the diet. Leucine especially is incredibly important in building muscle and stopping the breakdown of existing muscle, and Isoleucine can be fed into a few different energy pathways during exercise (it can also be used to generate both glucose and ketones).
So in a nutshell, yes. BCAA’s are definitely worth taking. From a personal perspective when I took them regularly before and after exercise I definitely found my performance in the gym was better, and over the period of a few months when I was taking them my strength certainly increased drastically. This wasn’t all down to the BCAA’s, mind you, but I think they were definitely a contributing factor.
The only caveat is the price. The powder form is the one you want to go for just for ease of taking the required amounts (10-30g per day) and it will run you up a hefty bill if you take them for a long time.
If you can afford them, go for it. If you can’t, it’s not the end of the world.
“Should I be seduced by isolation, or maintain flogging the muscle twice-weekly? I can only train three days per week with any degree of consistency. However, I’ve always felt that I need to hit everything twice per week to get the best results. I’ve been training for a while and I’m knocking on a bit… Would I be better served by a three-day split that only hits everything once per week, but permits more sets and more exercises per bodypart. The goal, as ever, is the acquisition of muscle.” – James
There’s a couple of ways you can go about this, really. While isolation exercises certainly have their place in some programs – mainly for strengthening weak points that might not get enough work from compounds like triceps, biceps, rear delts, calves, traps etc – they don’t make a huge difference to development, put a lot of stress on the joints (since the force is usually through the one joint) and aren’t as optimal in terms of using your time efficiently. Compound movements really are where it’s at in terms of stimulating the maximum muscle growth.
There are some simple things you can do with your current routine to start the gains coming again like timing your rest periods to make sure you’re getting that cumulative fatigue from set to set. If you stick strictly to 60 seconds between each set for hypertrophy you’ll find the workout a lot more difficult, doing sets of 10-15 reps with that little rest is brutal.
Progressive overload is critical in gaining muscle too, the best way to get bigger is to increase your strength in a certain rep range. Rather than increasing your 1-3 rep maxes increasing your weights with some volume is a tried and tested way of getting stronger and bigger. For example, if I do 4×10 with 60kg one week, next week I’ll add 2.5kg to the bar and do 4×10 again, then next week if I get the full 4×10 I’ll go up again.
The key to making this work is starting with weights you know for a fact you can do for the full 4×10 (or whatever rep range you’re using) to give you that breathing space to be able to increase every week. Err on the side of starting too light!
If you’re up for a bit of a change of pace, and find high frequency training has worked for you in the past, you can try a program based around the Squat/Pull/Press method. Essentially what this boils down to is training three times a week and doing a type of squat, a pull, and a press every single workout.
Your rep ranges can be regular hypertrophy things, anything from the basic 3×10 to 5×20 – again, keep your rest periods nice and short and when you manage the full rep range with a certain weight, increase it by the smallest amount possible and keep going. Start light!
Your exercise choices can pretty much be anything you like, just pick three of your favourite squats, three of your favourite pulls, and three of your favourite presses and have at it. My choices would be Back Squat, Front Squat, and Zercher Squat from pins; Deadlifts, Bent Over Rows, and Shrugs; then for presses I’d do Bench, Military Press, and Dips. Organise your exercises into three separate workouts each with a squat, a pull, and a press in whatever order or arrangement that makes “sense”.
Give it a go, let me know how it works out for you!
“I have a student who’s trying to slim down and has asked, ‘what is the quickest way to lose fat?’. Should she be going for the sweatiest highest energy session she can, counting calories, or doing short bursts of exercise??” – Tori
The most important thing to bear in mind, especially with weight loss, is that more exercise doesn’t necessarily mean more weight loss. A lot of people (and women especially) focus a lot on the whole calories in/calories out aspect and do enough cardio that if that were true they’d lose all their body-fat and disappear into thin air within a month.
Unfortunately when you do too much exercise, like low intensity cardio for hours on end, all that happens is your body gets incredibly good at using fat as a fuel source and so after a few months of this it hardly needs any actual body-fat to get the maximum amount of energy out of it to fuel those workouts. Not only that but the more energy you use up during exercise the more your body will adapt your metabolism to slow down and conserve that energy in a highly available form – fat stores! That’s why there are so many women out there who do more cardio in a week than I do in a month (or six) and often end up worse off than they were before.
The best thing your student can do is start a moderate exercise program including weight training, intense but short cardio sessions like sprints, and a little steady state cardio afterwards. The weight training will gear her body towards storing energy in the muscles rather than the fat stores, the intense cardio will increase her metabolism for up to 24 hours afterwards and burn more calories at rest as well as liberating fatty acids from fat stores, and the steady state cardio (which primarily uses fat as fuel) will mop up those fatty acids so they aren’t stored again.
In terms of the diet (which is the most important thing in fat loss) increase protein intake through lean meats (chicken, turkey, lean beef and pork), fish, eggs, and protein shakes – try and get some protein with every meal. Also decrease processed carb intake – fruit and veg, high fibre cereal, sweet potato, oats, brown rice/pasta, and rice cakes are good choices. Fatty foods aren’t necessarily the enemy, carbs are the thing you want to limit – still stick to nuts, olive oil, avocado, and coconut for your main fat sources.
Hope that helps! That’s a lot of information to relay to her, but if she wants any more help with the specifics tell her she’s more than welcome to comment on the blog! I’ll be doing a whole article on this very soon so keep your eye out for that!
And there we have it! Thanks to everybody who submitted a question, we’ll be doing one of these Q+A slots every month so if you have anything relating to health, fitness, the gym, nutrition, sports etc that you want answered either leave a comment on this post, email us at enquiries@daves-gym.co.uk with the subject “Q+A”, or leave a post on our Facebook Page.
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