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There are three general attributes of skeletal muscle that athletes try to develop: strength, power, and endurance. Although these attributes are not really separable, they reflect the different physical capacities of muscles.

Strength

Strength is simply the maximum contractile force that a muscle can exert. Functionally, this is defined as your one repetition maximum, or 1RM. For example, if the absolute maximum amount of weight you can curl one time is 40 lbs., that gives you an estimate of the strength of your biceps brachii. Physiologically, strength is determined predominantly by cross-sectional muscle area. Basically, the bigger the muscle is, the stronger it is. (Although other variables are involved, such as the communication between nerves and muscles and the efficiency of energy metabolism, these have a much smaller overall effect on strength.) To understand the link between cross-sectional muscle area and strength, think of muscle as being a little bit like rope; the more strands there are in the rope, the greater the load it can lift without snapping.

Power

Power is the amount of work you can do per unit of time. Unlike strength, which is simply a measurement of contractile force, power is the application of that force to do work (e.g., to move something or move yourself) as a function of time. Consider two examples, based on the one above.

If you can curl 40 lbs. in 1 second, that is twice as powerful as curling 40 lbs. in 2 seconds.

If you can curl 80 lbs. in 1 second, that is twice as powerful as curling 40 lbs. in 1 second.

This is why power is often used interchangeably with concepts like "explosiveness"; it is not just the force your muscles exert but the way that force is applied.

Although cross-sectional muscle area is a component of power, other variables, such as nerve-muscle communication, muscle fiber recruitment, and muscle fiber composition, play a much larger role.

Endurance

Endurance is the ability of a muscle to sustain repeated contractions for an extended period of time. Functionally, let's return to our previous example. If your 1RM is the maximum amount of weight you can move one time, endurance is the number of times you can move a certain amount of weight. Since we know your 1RM is 40 lbs. for the curl, to test the endurance of your biceps brachii, you may instead determine how many times you can curl, say, 15 lbs. before you reach muscle failure (the inability to initiate a contraction). That gives you an estimate of muscle endurance.

Endurance is determined mostly by muscle fiber composition, cardio-pulmonary efficiency, and energy metabolism.

Now, as mentioned above, you cannot completely separate these three capacities of skeletal muscle in reality. All workouts will contribute to all three attributes, but you can emphasize one over the others to some extent. There are many many ways to design workouts that focus on one or two of these components (many of which will be the subjects of future posts), but here is a general rule: as you move from power to strenth to endurance, increase the number of repetitions (by decreasing the resistance) and decrease the rest between sets:

Power: 3-5 sets of 1-5 repetitions, 2-5 minutes of rest between sets

Strength: 3-5 sets of 8-12 repetitions, 1-2 minutes of rest between sets

Endurance: 3-5 sets of >15 repetitions, <1 minute of rest between sets

Future posts will explore more sophisticated ways to train these attributes.

Any given workout should have, at its most basic level, three components:

1. Warm-up

2. Primary workout

3. Cool-down

The first part of a workout, the warm-up, is typically 5 to 10 minutes of light to moderate activity designed to ease you into a more vigorous workout. It is important for several reasons. First, as the term suggests, it warms up your muscle tissue, making it more pliable and more responsive, thus reducing the risk of injury and improving performance. Secondly, warming up loosens the joints, which helps to prevent injury and enable proper mechanics. Thirdly, it gradually raises your heart rate and blood pressure and dialates your blood vessels, preparing your cardio-pulmonary system for increased activity, and begins diverting blood flow from organs like the liver and kidneys to the muscles. Lastly, warming up can safely alert you to any areas that are sore, stiff, or mildly injured, so that you can properly address them prior to strenuous exertion.

Good warm-ups typically include two components:

Light movement of the whole body, such as jogging, jumping rope, or any other activity performed at low to moderate intensity; generally speaking, the more fit you are, the closer to moderate intensity your warm-up should be.

Dynamic stretching, which involves moving through the (nearly) full range of motion about the major joints without holding the stretch or straining your flexibility; this includes such exercises as arm circles, hip rotations, and torso twists.

Some general guidelines for warm-ups:

The colder the ambient temperature, the longer the warm-up should be. Ten minutes is generally sufficient in all but the most inclement conditions, and as little as 5 minutes is fine in warm environments.

Avoid static stretching (i.e., holding stretches for extended periods to improve flexibility); when muscles are not warmed up, they are not pliable, and so it is both ineffective and potentially harmful to stretch this way without properly warming up first.

Avoid explosive or other high-intensity movements or exercises; begin slowly and progress gradually when warming up.

The second part of a workout, the primary workout, is obviously the central component, and will be discussed in greater detail in subsequent "Workout 101" posts. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when designing your primary workout. Most importantly, what is the goal(s) of the workout? For example, you might have general functional goals (e.g., to improve/maintain speed, agility, stamina, balance, coordination, responsiveness, etc.), specific functional goals (e.g., to improve/maintain muscle strength, endurance, or power), mental goals (e.g., to maintain a program consistently, overcome a mental "block", etc.), or structural goals (e.g., to recover from a previous workout or to prepare yourself for future workouts. These elements will be discussed in greater detail in future posts.

The last part of the workout, the cool-down, is much like the warm-up in reverse. It gradually returns your body from its enhanced, exercise-oriented mode to its baseline. Generally speaking, the same activities you do for a warm-up can be done for a cool-down, but consider the following:

Static stretching is better than dynamic stretching at this time. Static stretching capitalizes on the pliability of your now-warm muscles to improve your flexibility safely.

The length of the cool-down is proportional to the intensity of the workout; the higher the intensity, the longer the cool-down. A cool-down should be at least 5 minutes, but it can last as long as you'd like.

When planning a fitness program (and do note that having a plan is a good thing), there are four things you should focus on:

1. Type of activity

2. Frequency

3. Duration

4. Intensity

(Fitness professionals use the mnemonic FITT, Frequency Intensity Time Type.)

These are the four aspects of any fitness program that you can (and should) modify to suit your needs: What type of activity will you be doing (e.g., kung fu, running, weight-lifting, &c.)? How often will you do it (e.g., three times a week)? For how long will you do it (e.g., one hour each time)? How intensely will you do it (e.g., jog, trot, or sprint)?

Why is it important to modify these four aspects?

Varying the type of activity, also known as cross-training, is important for several reasons. First, it allows you to take advantage of the strengths (and minimize the weaknesses) of different activities. Swimming, for example, is fantastic for cardio-pulmonary development but terrible for building strength. Weight-lifting is great for building strength but lousy for training agility. Secondly, cross-training minimizes the risk of injury. Doing the same activity over and over, particularly if it is a highly repetetive activity like cycling or running, increases the risk of repetetive strain injuries and promotes the development of muscle imbalances, which can lead to acute injuries. Thirdly, cross-training helps keep you from becoming bored with your workouts. The psychological aspects of training are often ignored, but one of the most important parts of a fitness program is that it has to be something you want to do. For most people, a certain variety is helpful in this respect. Lastly, cross-training helps to produce more complete fitness. Professional athletes will focus on a particular set of physical skills, but for most of us, general, functional fitness is more useful. Spending three hours a day in a batting cage is important for baseball players, but won't help with most of the activites you do in your daily life. Varying the type of activity you do helps you to become generally fit rather than narrowly talented.

Determining the frequency of activity is largely an issue of time management and organization. First, it is important to schedule at least one rest day per week. At least one day out of every seven should be reserved for rest so that your body can repair the small amounts of damage that occur with exercise and so that you can take a mental break as well. Secondly, you want to distribute your workouts so that they complement each other. For example, if Monday is a really intense weight-lifting session, then don't schedule your second really intense weight-lifting session for Tuesday. Try to spread out your workouts so that there is day-to-day variation in type, duration, and intensity. Lastly, your workouts need to fit within your busy life. If you schedule a hard workout at the end of what you know will be a very busy day, you're a lot less likely to do it. Try to plan your workouts so that they fit comfortably within your schedule, and acknowlege that on some days, it's just not going to happen. Work, family, and other obligations are important; working out should be a source of stress relief, not a cause of stress.

Varying the duration of activity, as with frequency, is largely about time management and organization. If you know you will only have a half an hour one day, for example, that's a better day for a high-intensity workout than for a slow jog. It's also important to consider how much time you will need to get the workout you want. Generally speaking, the cardio-pulmonary benefits of biking for 60 minutes may be achieved in 40 minutes of running or 20 minutes of swimming. Also, if you are new to an activity, you should start with a short duration and gradually increase it over time.

Varying the intensity of activity is largely about the trade-off between training benefits and recovery time. Generally speaking, working out at a higher intensity increases the efficiency of your training (i.e., greater benefits in less time) but also increases the recovery time. Recovery is not the same as rest--recovery can occur during performance of an activity--but it is just as important. Furthermore, some levels of intensity train different abilities better. For example, low-intensity activities tend to be better for training endurance, high-intensity activities tend to be better for training power.

A final note about progression. You will no doubt be unsurprised to learn that you must increase "something" in order to improve your level of fitness. Doing the same things week after week will allow you to maintain your current level of fitness/health but will not help you to improve it. But what do you increase and how? Generally speaking, for any particular type of activity, you should increase first the frequency, then the duration, and lastly the intensity. This will make the transition from easier to harder workouts as smooth as possible and minimize the risk of injury.

 



 

Today is just one of those days where pain teaches many lessons as long as you remain open to what is being shown. Pain is simply a reaction of your body to something that has caused it to be stressed to a point that it does not need to be at. It is not a good thing but it is not a bad thing. That quality of good or bad can only be applied to our reaction to the painful stimulus.

Pain teaches us to be honest but only if we truly let it. It is easy to use pain to mask the honesty behind a veil of frustration and out right anger. This is a defense mechanism to allow us to lash out and in a vain attempt to control the pain. In the end it allows us to us that pain to wound our friends, families, and even strangers. We strive to lessen our pain by passing it to others but in the end it is our integrity and our honor that is truly wounded and lost. Pain is not fun but remember to think before allowing fear to push you to something destructive. Just think that if you do not find pain fun, then why would you want to put others you in the same position. Instead, strive to capture that pain, transform it within, and then unleash it again as simple beauty to counter the pain that already exists in this world.

Pain teaches us to be honest. I would never advocate pushing through pain but nor would I suggest using it to control others. Although not quite the same as anger, using pain for sympathy and gain is dishonest. It once again pushes the pain on others and in the end that is as bad as lashing out at others. It is okay to take help that is offerred especially when you feel that you can no longer stand, but it is no more right to demand sympathy than it is to demand respect. Demanding either is the best way to loose both.

Pain is not easy but it is honest. In our lives it will come and go, sometimes by our actions or without our consent. Although I admit sometimes living a life of pain can be scary and causes you to question many things that you cannot control, it can be dealt with. I wish it had an easy solution but if you simply practice not using it as an excuse, there are great lessons to be learned and once you learn them perhaps great days to be had by all.

Hi All,

Just had to test the instructor's blog feature to see if it works. Check back sometime later to see if I blog about anything interesting.

Brian

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