Tri-sets – My Experiences

The most recent training method I used was tri-sets. This is a grouping of 3 exercises for the same body part, performed in sequence with 10 seconds rest between each exercise. Once the third exercise is completed, you wait between 2 and 3 minutes before moving on to the next tri-set or exercise. It’s an accumulation type method that boosts your work capacity while also increasing lactate tolerance to a small degree. It will make you grow but won’t really add much strength.

Exercise selections – with tri sets, you are moving from a weaker ROM to a stronger ROM for exercise 1 and 2. For example, incline press followed by flat or decline press, or incline DB curls followed by standing BB curls. You do this because it helps keep the load as high as possible for each exercises.

The third movement should be something that is significantly easier for new to moderate trainees or something that is tougher but with fewer reps or less weight for the advanced trainee. For example, trap bar deadlifts, DB split squat, hack squats as a beginner or intermediate tri-set and front squat, back squat, front squat for an advanced trainee. When the first and third exercise are the same, we call this a double tri-set and it tends to increase size gains over the traditional tri-set, but it has a much larger intensity cost and should only be performed by people who have the capacity to work that hard.

Some examples of what I did were, for back, lean back supinated chin-ups, neutral grip pull-ups, and lean back supinated chin-ups; wide grip pull-ups, mid neutral grip pull-ups and narrow grip supinated chin-ups; weighted pronated mid grip pull-ups, bend over DB row, standing rope to neck. For chest, 45 degree DB press, flat DB press, and 45 degree DB press; 70 DB press, 30 DB press, DB flies. For shoulders, seated military press, seated Arnold press, and medial DB laterals.

Tempo and timing – the goal is to get about 30-50 seconds of time under tension for each segment of the tri-set. When we include rest time we are looking at about 4:30 to 5:00 minutes of time for each tri-set. This means that you can train two body parts in about 30-40 minutes leaving enough time to do some accessory or structural balance work.

I’ve been doing tri-sets for about 4 weeks now and am getting ready to change things up again. My work capacity has definitely increased and I’ve been sore in the days following my workouts – an indication that my body is adapting to a new form of stimulation. It is a good method that I will come back to in a few months. It’s also a mentally challenging approach because the sets are so long – up to 2 minutes.

The main error people make when performing tri-sets is not adhering to the rest interval of 10 seconds between segments. There is a tendency to take longer and while I can understand why someone would, it lowers the effectiveness of this approach dramatically. Keep in mind that the 10 seconds is only long enough to move to the next exercise, it isn’t long enough to get a drink or have a conversation. But with 2-3 minutes rest between sets, you should have plenty of time to do all of those other things.

I have given it to some of my clients and they have experienced the same things I did – growth, pain and a boost in work capacity. Try it out if you are looking for a new challenge.

The Bad Apple: Group Poison

Jeff Atwood from Coding Horror wrote this piece to discuss Will Felps’ findings about the impact of individuals on group behavior. Basically a negative individual can and does have a greater negative impact on a group of positive individuals than they do on him. It’s an interesting piece that I can relate to very well given some of the jobs that I have previously held.

The warehouse lifer – as a student I worked a number of different industrial jobs during the summer. These jobs were tough, dirty and they didn’t pay very well but I didn’t care, I was able to make some money for school and regardless of everything, I was going back to school in September. There was a common trend in almost all of these jobs, the full timers were miserable and the summer students were positive for the first few weeks or months of the job. But inevitably my attitude about the job would change and I would come to hate it mid way through the summer. It was weird to me because the full timers were making at least 2 times the money of the summer workers, they were given the best jobs to do and they had the protection of the union to prevent them from having to do the dirty crappy jobs. However, over time their poor attitude would rub off on me and I would start to emulate their behaviour.

The lifter turned fitness professional – I have worked with many people who love lifting and working out but who make the bad call that since they love working out they would love working at a gym. While I can see why they make this connection, the two things are not very similar. When you are working out, you are doing exactly what you want to do and you basically own your time. When you are working for someone else, they own your time and you do whatever they tell you to do. One of these individuals can drive down the morale and ambition of a training team very quickly. They complain about the owners and management, they complain about the systems that are in place and they know more about how to run a business than anyone else around them. The problem is, they don’t run their own gym and they don’t bring anything to the table in terms of solving the problems they see.

Clients at the gym – calling clients bad apples isn’t entirely fair because they get trainers because they know they cannot do it on their own. The problem with these types of clients is that they never change their attitude about working out and come to the gym believing that the trainer will be able to make them successful at something they hate doing. Unless the trainer is very strong willed and able to let their clients negativity just roll off of them, they are going to impacted by the bad attitude and eventually give up on believing that the client can do it.

Will Felps’ research revealed that the negative impact of a bad apple was mitigated by a good leader; a person who was able to frame the negativity with conversation and questions about the validity of the beliefs. Doing this tends to prevent the other members of the group from buying into the pessimism and it can often give the bad apple the opportunity they need to actually make decent contributions to the group.

Shelley, my first boss at GoodLife was one of these people. She was able to challenge people’s beliefs about things in such a way as to uncover possible solutions to the problems. She understood the culture of the job but also the critical aspects our roles and was able to help us generate solutions that improved staff buy-in. The outcome was that our club did very well in terms of morale, staff and member satisfaction, and she was able to build a strong community within the Milton club.

It’s an interesting piece that I recommend reading. And if you are a fan of irony, read through some of the comments.

When Do You Change Your Workout Routine? Part 1

A common question I hear from trainees, athletes and clients is “how do I know when it’s time to change my workout?” The traditional answer has been “when it stops working for you.” Recently I’ve come to realise just how useless this answer is because when all is said and done almost every workout will continue to give you some results if you do it consistently. The answer I prefer now is when the rate of adaption to the program slows to a critical rate.

To fully understand the implications of this you need to keep in mind that the body responds to physical work by adapting in two key areas (there are changes in many areas, but to know when it’s time to change a program we need to be concerned with only two areas) – the nervous system and muscular system. The nervous system is concerned with coordinating and transporting the commands that fire the muscle fibers. The muscular system is concerned with the changes within the muscle fibers themselves.

When we first start doing a program the specific demands of the workout are completely new to the body. For example, the rest pause training approach has a trainee perform a set in 3 segments with 15-20 seconds between each segment and 60-180 seconds of rest between sets. The goal is to complete the same predetermined number of reps during each segment. There are very few activities in the real world that mimic this training method so it is an effective way of boosting intensity, work capacity and time under tension.

During the first workout the body is very inefficient that coordinating the required muscle impulses needed to move the load as the workout requires. As a consequence the number of reps that is performed during each segment drops dramatically. When I first did this with behind the neck barbell press I was able to move 115 for 8 reps in the first segment, 5 reps in the second segment and 4 reps in the 3rd segment. With set two I did 105 7 times, 5 times, 4. Set 3 was 105 for 6, 4 and 4. My performance was basically the same for all other body parts, diminishing rep numbers after each pause and lower weight for each set. But it doesn’t take the nervous system long to adapt to the program and after about 3 weeks the behind the neck shoulder press numbers were 125 for 8, 6,5, 115 for 8,7,5 and 115 for 7,5,5.

Lets compare the first workout to the week 3 workout. My max weight I lifted went up from 115 to 125 for 8 reps. The lightest weight I lifted increase to 115 from 105 and the total number of reps I did for this exercise increased from 47 to 56. Overall the amount of work I did (assuming the time under tension remained constant for every rep) increased from 5105 units to 6630 units or about a 30% increase. NOTE: the units are an arbitrary measure that represents the weight multiplied by the number of reps.

So getting back to the CNS and muscle adaption, both contribute to the increase in work capacity and max weight lifted. How do we figure out what is responsible for the increase? My belief is that the improvement in the first segment of each set is the result primarily of muscle adaption while the increase in the second and third segments is the result of CNS adaption. My rational for this is that right before I was did rest pause I was doing push / pull sets and was able to lift 115 for 8 reps. The reason I say the CNS was primarily responsible for the increase in work ability in the 2nd and 3rd segments is that I had the muscle capacity to lift the weight (as indicated by the first segment), I simply didn’t have the capacity to get the muscle fibers to fire. After a few weeks, my CNS has developed the ability to recruit the muscle fibers needed to make the weight.

So how do we use this to figure out when it’s time to change a program? First off, the CNS will adapt much faster than the muscles do so we can use this as an indicator that we’re getting close. With rest pause, we would know that the CNS has adapted when we’re able to do the same number of reps with each set and segment for example, when set 1 and set 3 are made up of 8,6,5 reps each. CNS adaption is not complete, but it has reached what I would consider a critical level. Once you’re able to do that, you know that a program change is getting near.

Check back soon for Part 2 where I will outline how to identify the changes in the muscle system that indicate a program change is needed.

The Testosterone Guide to Happiness – T-nation Article

The Testosterone Guide to Happiness T-nation’s TC contains a few important and frequently forgotten lessons about getting and remaining happy. It’s a nice change from his crass and usually accurate accounts of the world or some of its people.

It’s a good list and his suggested actions are fairly effective at addressing some causes. Below are key things I take out of the article:

Happiness barrier #1 – Complexity

Solution – Simplify

Do you know why monks and some nuns shave their heads? It simplifies their lives. They don’t have to worry about straightening out that nasty cowlick, or whether they need Vidal Sassoon mousse with pro-vitamins to add luster or whether their bed head makes them look like a deranged squirrel.

This one works. I need my car so I can work so I view it as a necessity, but after it, my most expensive possession is my bike which I ride almost every day when the weather is nice; I’m on it more than 200 times a year. After that it would be my other bike and then my watch – it has a heart rate monitor on it that I need when I ride. My clothes are functional, our TV is old, and if we were given the chance to move to a different country I think it would take Rachel and me about $2000 to get our standard of living back to what it is now – assuming I brought my bikes and heart rate monitor and Rachel brought her most important items (probably her text books and her AT treatment kit).

Happiness barrier # 3 – Negativity

Solution – Let Go

“Your prison is nothing in comparison with the inner prison of ordinary people: the prison of attachment, the prison of anger, the prison of depression, the prison of pride.”

The Buddhist view is that happiness is achieved by giving up these neurotic obsessions. Rather than obsess on these toxic thoughts, we should observe these emotions “with compassion” and ask ourselves, “What can I do about this?”

This one works too. Rachel is extremely  positive and it’s something that has really started to rub off on me. Simply put, the one thing everyone can control is their attitude and if you choose to be happy, you become happy. At 35 I know that there are ups and downs in life and that neither is lasting. Since meeting her, I’ve noticed that I’m able to let things go a lot quicker than I used to. The peaks are not as high and the valleys are not as deep. This is one area in my life that the middle ground is a good thing.

Check out the article for more of TC’s solutions.

Going To An Auction

A few weeks ago I went to a fitness equipment auction to buy some equipment for the new SST that is opening in Richmond Hill. This was my first auction and it was an eye opener.

On the day of the auction they have a viewing period to allow you to look at the stuff they are selling. I got there about 30 minutes before the auction started and took full advantage of this opportunity. There was a lot of traditional cardio machine, a bunch of spinning bikes, some benches, some weight machines and a bunches of Olympic plates. I had my eye on one of the spinning bikes for home and for the new center I wanted to buy a bench for bench press, a preacher curl bench, a lat pull down machine and maybe some of the weights. The stuff was in really good condition, better than I had anticipated so if the price was right people were going to be getting a very good deal.

If you have never been to an auction before, it’s very much like what you see on TV – the auctioneer calls the item number, talks about the item a little and suggests an opening bid. If someone likes the suggested bid they will raise their hand or say something to alert the auctioneer that they accept the bid. If they don’t like the bid, there is an uncomfortable silence and the auctioneer will fill it with a joke, some begging, or a truthful comment that we (the people at the auction) are “hammering his balls trying to steal the stuff from him”. It was kind of embarrassing and very funny. The auctioneer did a really good job.

There were a few bidding wars that I didn’t participate in – we do need the rubber flooring, but I wasn’t going to pay $55 a sheet for it because it costs about $80 new. I would have paid up to $30 for 90 lbs worth of bummer plates but when the price went over $100 I thought the people had lost their mind (these two plates sold for $160 which isn’t a bad price but way more than what I was willing to part with).

The deal of the night was $450 for 3 Free Motion pulley Machines. These three pieces were way too big for what we need them for, but they were practically new and they are beautiful machines. I think these items would have cost up to $2000 EACH new. If our location was bigger I would have bought them.

We ended up with 3 items. A Hammer Strength military press bench, a preacher curl bench with Olympic EZ curl bar, and a back extension bench. The total cost with taxes and the sellers cut was about $550. To get these items new it would cost over $2200 so it was a good deal.

I’ll be going to more of these auctions as time goes on. I’m sure there will be plenty of deals coming up.

Speed Training – Uncovering Imbalances

SST is running their Lightening Speed Camp again and the coaches have been getting ready for it by working their way through the drills to make sure we know what we’re doing and to make sure things do smoothly when we’re working with the athletes.

I have never done any speed training for running before. My speed training is for the bike and it focuses on getting me up a hill or around another rider quickly. Most of my power comes from my quads and glutes for the passing and from my quads and hamstrings for the hill climbing. When I started doing the drills for the speed training I was anticipating that they would be a piece of cake given my level of fitness and relative strength, but I was wrong. Boy was I wrong. Turns out that I have a few imbalances or recruitment issues what make sprinting efficiently fairly difficult for me. Worse than this is that these issues have been having a negative impact on my cycling power as well.

Below is a list of the issues I uncovered, how they impact my riding and what I need to do to correct them:

Hip flexors are weak on both sides and I have a recruitment issue with my left side. My tensor fasciae latae was KILLING me on both sides for a few days after the training. This came primarily from the wall knee drives. It’s safe to say that the other muscles that flex the hips are also weak – psoas and illacus. These impact my riding because the hips do flex when pulling the pedals from the 9 o’clock position to the 1 o’clock position. I’ll address these issues by doing more knee ups, a hanging leg cycling movement and hanging leg raises with my toes facing out. I’ll also benefit from doing more sprinting. My goal is not to add a lot of strength to them. Instead I will focus on improving muscle recruitment.

The bottoms of my feet were really sore in the days after. This makes sense because I lift with my feel flat on the floor and when I ride, my shoes have a stiff sole meaning that the muscles in the foot do not have to do very much. I’m losing a little big of power by having loose feet although it isn’t that much. I’ll address this one by doing more running – particular starts and starting to use the power runner machine we have at SST.

My VMO’s were sore. I know I have some recruitment issues with my vastus medialus because my knees sometimes get sore after riding a lot. I’ve been working on this by doing Poliquin step-ups, hack squats with my heal on a step and lots of split squats. The VMO is active mainly when in the first and last 20-30 degrees of knee extension so the alternating wall knee-ups with complete knee extension of the lower leg caused the pain. This issue impacts my riding because I’m not firing these muscles when I need to when the front foot is between 3-6 o’clock in the peddle stroke.

My calf muscles were killing (primarily the gastrocnemius and not so much with the soleus). This one shocked me a little because I have good calf development and I do a lot of movements that use them. However, I haven’t been training them with heavy loads very often because I figured I was getting enough work with the riding. I was wrong. I’ve been losing power with the 4-6 o’clock position of the peddle stroke because of this. To address this I have a variety of options. Lots of standing ankle extension (gastrocnemius), some seated ankle extensions (soleus), back squats with ankle extensions at the end, and forward sled dragging.

The front of my lower leg was somewhat sore but it should have been killing. This indicates a recruitment issue with my tibialis anterior and a possible (very likely) flexibility issue with the antagonist muscles on the back of my lower leg (gastrocnemius and soleus). These issues would impact the 6-11 o’clock position of the peddle stroke as I pull from the very bottom to the top. I’ll address the flexibility issue by doing more stretching of the lower leg. I’ll fix the recruitment issue by doing toe raises, focusing on lifting the front part of the lead foot when doing split squats and by doing some ankle flexion work with band.

All in all I’m losing a fair amount of power that I wasn’t aware of. What’s funny is that I wouldn’t have become aware of it had I not tried the running speed drills. The lesson here is one about diversifying my training and not doing the same thing all the time. I’m fairly sure that if I tried cross country skiing I would uncover more information about how my body is functioning that would make me a better rider.

Another Case For HIIT

In the debate of steady state cardio vs. high intensity interval training (HIIT) I am torn. I hedge my bets by doing both; mainly because mountain bike riding and RPM are HIIT and road riding is more steady state cardio. But fence sitters tend to annoy binary thinkers so my lack of endorsement or a condemnation for one doesn’t sit well with many people. The long and the short of it is that the body will adapt to whatever you throw at it so you need to keep changing things up to make sure you are getting the full benefit from exercise.

But the evidence for in support of HIIT is starting to grow. Short Bursts Of Exercise May Fend Off Disease by the Globe And Mails Paul Taylor reports on a study that tested the impact of HIIT on insulin sensitivity.

The body releases insulin in response to an elevated blood sugar level and this hormone will help facilitate the transport of sugar into the body tissue (fat cells when the muscles do not need it or into the muscles when their levels are diminished. With people who have normal insulin sensitivity, the amount the body releases is appropriate and blood sugar returns to normal levels quickly. However, obese people and type II diabetics are not as sensitive to insulin so their blood sugar levels do not drop as quickly as they should so the body releases more insulin. Blood glucose in high levels is very damaging to the body so being insulin resistant is a long term health risk.

The study revealed that 4 blocks of 30 second intervals of high intensity effort followed by 4 minutes rest was enough to improve insulin sensitivity by 23% in health but sedentary males. These improvements were seen after two weeks of 2-3 sessions per week. The reason for the improvement is that the efforts were high enough to spend most of the stored glycogen in the muscles therefore increasing the need to sugar transfer into the muscles.

The author of the article draws some conclusions about HIIT being better than traditional gym work for lowering heart disease risk that may not be accurate given that insulin resistance is only one of the factors associated with heart disease. The conclusion also fails to consider the positive cardiovascular impact of longer duration exercise.

However, this study is good news for the pro HIIT crowd and anyone who has only less than 60 minutes to workout per week. And it’s more evidence for my belief that intensity is the key component to any exercise routine.

F#@k Moderation – An Interview with Dave Tate

This interview with Dave Tate by T-nation’s Nate Green is amazing! They cover a ton of different topic ranging from how to make some insane cash working as a bouncer at a strip club to what it’s like to stop competing as a power lifter.

Dave is a tank. He’s an extremely large human being who has achieved many feats that 99.9 percent of the population won’t and can’t. He’s genetically gifted from a strength and muscle growth point of view, but he’s also genetically gifted in how he approaches life:

I have two speeds: blast and dust.

It’s just a personality trait. I’ve talked with a lot of entrepreneurs, top CEOs, business people, and athletes that operate in the same mode. You’re 100 percent on for weeks or months, just knocking everything out until nothing is left standing. And then, boom, you’re on the couch for three weeks. Training and business have been that way for me. Fuck moderation. I don’t have time for it.

If I have some Oreos, I’m going to eat the entire bag. I’m not going to have two or three. If I’m going to launch a business, I’m going to do it all the way. If I’m going to train my ass off, then I’m going to do it hardcore. I would rather have no cheat meal for 12 weeks and then eat like a fucking hog for a month, than just have a cookie here and there. I’m going to run on all cylinders and then just disappear.

What I’ve managed to figure out is that I can stagger the roles in my life. So if training is going to be in 100 percent blast, then I know business is going to be in dust. If business is going to be in blast, training is going to fall back in dust. That’s just the way it is.

I admire this all or nothing approach and I seem to be drawn to people who throw it all on the line or throw it out the window. I understand these people a lot better than those who are seeking marginal success and average result. As a coach I love working those athletes bringing intensity and undying passion to their training because these individuals test training method better than anything else – you find out very quickly if the program you set-up is working for them or not because they do everything you tell them to with the intensity that is needed to maximize the outcome.

I’m this way in many areas of my life. I’m 100% on or I’ve buggered off and thrown my passion into something else. It works fairly well with athletic pursuits.

But it can be a pain in the ass for those around you. My friends don’t get to see me as much as they used to when I was trying to be an average sort of person with balance in my life. My family likes that I am happy but sometimes the quality of the time we spend together isn’t the best because I’m thinking about training.

It can also be a pain in the ass for me as well. This all or nothing approach means that I’ll spend weeks or months at something and then go through a period of spending no time doing it. The benefit of this is that it provides the chance for unconscious motor learning to occur so if I return to the task quickly I will be better at it. But I may not return to it for months at which point many of the gains I made are gone and the time away means that no new skills have been learned. Case in point, I dead lifted for the first time in 2 months yesterday and while I pulled 325 lbs, this is 15 lbs LESS than I pulled the last time I did it. If I have pulled once a week for the last 2 months I’m pretty sure I’d but at 350 or 360 by now.

I accept that moderation and balance are not my style and I think I’m in good company with this.

Finding Our Space – New Facility

On Tuesday we started our search for a space for the new SST location in Richmond Hill. This isn’t the same as looking for a new place to live. There are so many things to consider that one doesn’t even have to think about when they are looking for a new apartment or house. For example, my concerns when house hunting are grocery shopping, proximity to riding, proximity to a decent gym, space and safety. These things aren’t of much concern when looking for a place to open a gym.

So far our concerns are focused on a few key areas:

Parking. We need lots of parking. Our needs are somewhat different from a typical commercial or industrial business in that our peak times are going to be early in the morning (6-10) and after school (from 4 PM on). This offers some flexibility but we do need to be sure there is room for all of the people who come to the facility to park regardless of when they come to workout.

Location relative to where the people live, where they are coming from and where they are going to. We need to be easy to get to. While our services are first rate, people won’t show up if it takes them too long to get there or if they have a difficult time getting home. We saw a few locations that were the ideal space – very long for a good running track – but they were well away from the residential areas, which took them out of the running.

Dimensions. We’re looking for a space that is between 3500 – 6000 sq feet but it needs to have a track / turf area. Given that SST focuses on making athletes faster, the track needs to be long enough to allow the athletes to get up to top speed but leave them with enough room to slow down. For this reason, a 60 / 60 space isn’t going to provide us with the length we need. The space we’re looking for needs to be a rectangle and not a square.

Lighting. A location that has poor lighting inside is not going to help motivate people to work hard. If there are no windows people may feel closed in and not like coming to workout. If the lighting outside is bad, people won’t feel safe coming to the center when it is dark.

Feeling we get from the space. Can we see a functioning gym existing in the space and one that we are happy to work in? Once we sign the lease and open the center we are there for years. If the space cannot be made into a comfortable location, there’s no point in setting-up shop. The center’s success will be determined by the attitudes of the people who work there so we need to make sure that we can be upbeat all of the time. The space itself needs to motivate people to push past their perceived limitations and achieve what they believe is impossible.

Vision for the final product. We need to be able to visualize the finished facility from a layout perspective. There needs to be a logical layout for the offices, track and workout areas where nothing presently exists and this layout needs to make the most of the available space.

The process of finding the perfect space is a challenge but one that I’m enjoying and learning from. It’s a challenge that almost every business goes through so I know we’re going to open in a great location that meets the needs of our athletes and our team!