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We can calculate a force-velocity profile for an athlete in a lift by measuring the bar speed and the force produced at a range of loads. Measuring this force-velocity profile at varying times during a training block can be used to monitor the effects of a training program.

Very often, the gradient of the force-velocity profile will change after a block of a certain type of training. …


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We can calculate a force-velocity profile for an athlete in an exercise by measuring the bar speed (and the force) produced at a range of loads. Measuring this force-velocity profile at varying times during a training block can be used to monitor the effects of a training program (similar information can be gained by measuring velocity with a range of different loads, although this is called a load-velocity profile).

Very often, the gradient of the force-velocity profile will change after a block of a certain type of training. This tells us that the program block has unique effects on force produced at different speeds (some types of training have larger effects on force at slow speeds, while other types of training have larger effects of force at fast speeds). …


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In a previous article, I addressed the question of how many stimulating reps in a workout would maximize the dosage of mechanical tension leading to muscle growth. Even so, researchers have identified that strength-trained males can achieve gains in maximum strength when training with only a single set to failure in each workout.

While gains in maximum strength are produced by a number of mechanisms (and muscle growth is only one of them), this article addresses the question of how many stimulating reps in a workout are necessary for measurable amounts of hypertrophy to occur after long-term strength training.

What data are available? (part one)

From a practical perspective, the easiest way to identify the minimum number of stimulating reps in a workout is to look at early studies that compared different training volumes. Many of these early studies used very low workout volumes in the low volume group, and also used sensible training frequencies (recent studies have assessed much higher volumes). …


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According to the stimulating reps hypothesis of muscle growth, hypertrophy is stimulated when the muscle fibers controlled by high-threshold motor units experience a sufficiently high level of mechanical tension. This mechanical tension is primarily the result of the force-velocity relationship (although the passive element of the length-tension relationship can also affect muscle fiber force production if range of motion is altered or when force is exerted during eccentric contractions).

Consequently, we observe hypertrophy after any workout in which effort is high (since effort determines motor unit recruitment) and bar speed is slow (since slow speeds permit muscle fibers to produce high forces, which produce the high levels of mechanical tension). This combination of variables commonly occurs during heavy strength training workouts, but it can also occur in the final reps of a set when using light loads and training to failure (since bar speed reduces over the set, while effort levels increase). …


Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is pain or discomfort associated with a previously-exercised muscle, which usually appears the day after exercising. In addition to any pain or discomfort that is present at rest, the muscle is more sensitive to touch and to movement. Strangely, despite decades of research, we still don’t really know what causes it.

What are the possible mechanisms of DOMS?

Introduction

Over the years, many mechanisms have been proposed to explain how and why DOMS occurs after exercise. If you pick up any review paper written in the last thirty years, you will find a list of many proposed mechanisms. While previous reviewers have rarely tried to assess which mechanism is most likely, we can make some progress in figuring out the most likely explanation for DOMS by assessing the extent to which each mechanism can explain any or all of the following…


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When writing a bodybuilding training program, we need to consider individual training variables (including rep range, proximity to failure, volume, frequency, rest period duration, exercise selection and others). However, we also need to consider how each of these variables interacts with the others. This is easiest to appreciate in the context of volume and frequency (higher workout volumes require lower workout frequencies and vice versa). Yet, another variable that also affects frequency is exercise selection.

What determines training frequency?

Training frequency is largely determined by the amount of long-lasting fatigue caused by each workout. Long-lasting fatigue is made up of several individual types of fatigue, including central nervous system (CNS) fatigue and multiple types of peripheral fatigue (mainly excitation-contraction coupling failure and myofibrillar damage). …


With the arrival of velocity-based training methods, it has become clear that athletic strength training does not need to involve a high degree of fatigue. Indeed, superior results in some high-velocity performance measures seem to be achieved when training with a smaller degree of velocity loss on each set (and therefore less fatigue). So why might fatigue be detrimental for making gains in high-velocity strength?

What is fatigue, and what does it do?

Whenever we exercise, we experience a temporary (and reversible) reduction in strength. This is called “fatigue.” Contrary to popular belief, fatigue is not how we feel after a workout, but the measurable change in performance.

There are many mechanisms that cause losses in strength (fatigue). Broadly speaking, these mechanisms work in one of two ways. …


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When we take the time to look carefully at the anatomy and biomechanics of different muscles, we can learn a great deal about how we might best train them. Usually, our investigations reveal a lot about exercise selection, but we can also draw conclusions about optimal training volumes and frequencies as well, and this has an impact on how we might implement some popular high volume training routines.

What’s the background to training volume?

Talking about training volume in the fitness industry is difficult, partly because there are several standard definitions of “volume” floating around in the research literature, and partly because even the standard definitions do not account for situations when sets are not taken to muscular failure (as you may know, I think we can get around this latter problem by counting the number of stimulating reps in a set). …


When we exercise, we often experience a temporary (and reversible) reduction in strength, which is called “fatigue.” Importantly, it is the loss in strength (the ability to voluntarily produce muscle force) that is the definition of fatigue, and not any accompanying feelings that we might have.

Most of the time, we don’t stop to think about how this reduction in strength occurs. Yet, it is useful to think about fatigue by looking at the sequence of events by which we produce muscle force, and then consider the ways in which fatiguing mechanisms can impair each of these events.

What events are involved in force production?

Once we decide to produce a muscular contraction, the motor cortex generates an electrical signal that it sends to the agonist (working) muscle. This signal then travels down the spinal cord and the efferent nerves to the neuromuscular junction of the muscle. …


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In the bodybuilding community, almost everyone has an opinion about which exercises (and ways of training) are best for each muscle group. Much of the time, these opinions are formed based on how the muscle feels when training using an exercise (or training technique), what famous bodybuilders are known to have done, or simply tradition.

While such information should not be discounted, there is also a wealth of knowledge to be found by trawling through the research literature. But what information should we look for? Many strength coaches and researchers use muscle activation to help them identify the best exercises, although this is not without its challenges. …

About

Chris Beardsley

Figuring out how strength training works. See more of what I do: https://www.patreon.com/join/SandCResearch

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