Is the hex/ trap bar better for developing athletes?

The title of this article in itself is a little bit contentious as in most cases the answer will always depend upon the situation.

That said understanding where and when to use the trap/ hex bar should be a priority of most forward thinking coaches looking for best practice. The trap bar in itself is often favoured as the loading and hand position makes it pretty easy for those new to the weight training arena to adapt and adopt without finding that technique may be compromised.

Straight bar deadlifting form can often be compromised by poor hip and lower limb mobility as well as weak spinal erectors meaning it is harder to get into the right positions to develop the movement in a safe and effective way.

A recent study by Camara et al. (2016) used individuals who could deadlift 1.5 times their bodyweight. This is interesting as most studies don’t used trained populations- in this case it means that there was a level of mastery for the individuals involved in testing.

Maximal amounts lifted didn’t vary but the peak force and peak velocity were different. This highlights that from a force production point of view that the trap bar may be superior.

From a muscle activation point of view the vastus lateralis (part of your quads down the front of your leg) was more active compared to the erector spinae and biceps femoris (part of the hamstrings down the back of your legs). It brings home the point that the hex/trap bar is not as posterior dominant as the deadlift is when looking at things from a muscle activation point of view.

So is there a reason to remove deadlifts from programming? Not necessarily, the use of any exercise depends upon the context of the athlete. This study highlights that force production may be developed more favourably for a while with the use of hex bar. The role of the quads is obviously enhanced here as it is somewhere between a squat and deadlift. As there is less erector spinae activation (back) it means that there is less stress placed upon the musculature of this area which may be a limiting factor in developing the deadlift e.g. poor hip mobility and weak erector spinae make full deadlifting a bit of an issue.

The trap bar in my opinion tends to be easier to coach than a full deadlift and it makes it an easier catch-all lower body drill. It is a good compromise to help develop physicality especially if mobility issues limit the performance of an effective deadlift. In turn deadlifting may be considered a progression from hex/ trap bar lifts as it challenges the posterior chain and therefore may be a good advancement.

Does tempo matter when lifting weights?

If you are interested in weight training this is a good study to take some interest in. While teaching on personal training programme at my local college we got into a bit of a debate. If a repetition is based on tempo e.g. 3 seconds up/ 3 seconds down and for instance you do 10 repetitions (60 seconds time under tension) for a hypertrophy goal is it the same as performing 5 repetitions for 6 seconds up and 6 seconds (still 60 seconds time under tension) down if weight is controlled?

In fairness there are coaches who base their whole model of training on this concept so it is a good question to ask. I dug in to the research and found this study which pretty much performed the above but for slightly different repetitions and time under tension.

The paper suggests that training protocols conducted with the same time under tension, but with different configurations, produce distinct neuromuscular and metabolic responses so that performing higher repetition numbers with shorter repetition durations might be a more appropriate strategy to increase muscle activation and blood lactate concentration. Traditionally higher repetitions (plus 6) have always been favoured for muscular endurance and hypertrophy work but it does suggests that there may more favourable repetition ranges (higher) to work with submaximal weight if the goals are not predominantly strength orientated.

 

 

The Trouble With HIIT

HIIT training or High Intensity Interval Training is dominating the mainstream media this January as a fix all to lose body fat for time poor individuals.

While training with intensity is a useful thing to do, to say it is the most effective way of training is a bit misleading- especially when you are looking to change your body composition.

HIIT in itself can fit nicely in to short bite size chunks this message of simplicity first is one that personally I like- it’s often better to do something rather than nothing. For people though who train regularly I want to investigate whether this is an efficient and effective way to train and if instagramable routines are the future.

Bring On The Science

Here’s the science bit…. When training there are three main energy systems we are challenging:

1. ATP-CP also termed Alactic System.

This systems provides immediate energy for about 10 seconds at maximal output.

2. Glycolytic also termed Anaerobic System.

This system provides a bridge between the ATP-CP system and the long term aerobic system. After 10 seconds of maximal effort this energy system kicks in. The primary fuel here is stored carbohydrates. At full tilt this system has about 2 minutes of work before lactic acid build up and other factors compromise performance.

3. Oxidative also termed Aerobic System.

This system is the default energy system of the body at rest and during recovery. It provides long term lower intensity energy. The aerobic system plays a role in all work and it’s role starts to build after 30 seconds of activity. Therefore a strong aerobic system maintains a strong power output for longer.

Why is this important?

Your training programme will challenge all of these energy systems but which ones you challenge is important for how you adapt and develop your fitness.

 

Cardio Confusion?

Training on a typical HIIT programme will work the ATP-CP system initially and then if your interval is sub 2 minutes the anaerobic system, after this the aerobic system kicks in to gear taking all the load (if you are going full tilt).

Most interval training proposes an interval of 30-60 seconds with a parallel recovery. In most routines I have watched the intensity level being worked at is no where near maximal (this is okay in certain situations and I’ll explain why in a bit). In this situation the perception is that the glycolytic system is being challenged but what is mainly taking the work load is the aerobic system.

The aerobic system will maintain work at sub-maximal workloads. This is okay if we are looking to develop a base level of fitness. This is why beginners see decent results from this type of training for about 6 weeks before their conditioning plateaus off as they adapt.

Most of these programmes tend to ignore one of the most important component of a workout… recovery.

 

Recover to Go Harder.

Basically, if recovery is inefficient you are not challenging the energy system you set out to train and all work becomes predominantly aerobic recovery.

Working out at high intensity is hard work- the longer you work without recovery then the lower the intensity. What we are trying to do is increase the amount of work done in a given time in order to facilitate all those cool adaptations in the body that mean your fitness is enhanced.

 

What Not To Do.

So how do we guarantee a result?

Unfortunately if you want to burn a lot of fat or get super fit one block of burpees for 4 minutes won’t cut it unless you are dieting yourself in to a hole. This January has seen the publication of the 1 minute workout (seriously)…. With the need for quicker fixes all the time it had to happen at some point though.

Truthfully, I can’t deny there may be good markers for health from short term interval work (the science is really patchy in truth) but the returns level out once you become adapted to this type of training.

 

How Do I Work Out Smart(er)?

What follows is a rough template of workouts I have used for a variety of clients from athletes to those looking to shape up. As the list goes down what you will notice is that the intensity decreases and the recovery time needed increases. As a side note we do not prioritize all energy systems at the same time. Training is about adaptation and specificity so making everything as hard as possible isn’t really working that smart You also need to do enough work at a given intensity to develop certain energy systems- this basically highlights that your one minute workout won’t cut it for energy systems development after 6 weeks. Just to also highlight one thing aerobic work can cause the same positive changes meaning HIIT is no more effective than performing aerobic work if you are a beginner.

 

1. Aerobic Steady

Emphasis Aerobic output- can be used as recovery from intense sessions.

Duration: 30-60minutes or more

Recovery: None

Number of Sessions: 1-3

Description of Exercise: Steady paced cardiovascular exercise or low level weights circuits

Intensity: Steady Pace

 

2. Aerobic Intervals

Emphasis Improving oxygen utilization of the muscles balancing speed and endurance.

Duration: 1-2 sets of 10-20 minutes.

Recovery: 5-10 minutes

Number of Sessions: 1-2 a week

Description of Exercise: Anything that can be paced rowing, air bike, ski-erg,

Intensity: Pacing is key- this type of session is based on resistance as opposed to speed. Your heart rate should sit at around 150bpm or around 65-80% of max (individuals vary though).

 

3. Intervaled Recovery

Emphasis: Fast twitch power output and resistance to fatigue increase oxidative recovery.

Duration: 8-15 sets of 2minutes.

Recovery: 1 minute “active” recovery.

Number of Sessions: 1-2 a week.

Description of Exercise: Complexes and Multi-joint lifts such as kettlebell swings twinned with a core or mobility exercise.

Intensity: Again around 150bpm/ 65-80% max with recovery down to sub- 130bpm.

 

4. Anaerobic Endurance

Emphasis: Power endurance.

Duration: 4- 6 interval sets of 4 to 8 minutes

Recovery: 2-4 minutes of low level recovery

Number of Sessions: 1-2 a week with at least 48 hours recovery between sessions

Description of Exercise: Multi-joint compound movements/ “full body”

Intensity: 90% maximum of your heart rate

 

5. Max Output

Emphasis: Maximal efforts so working the ATP-PC system. Typically the most risky for injury due to explosive nature

Duration: 10-20 sets of 10-30 seconds.

Recovery: 3-5 minutes of recovery between sets.

Number of Sessions: 1-2 a week with 48-72 hours between workouts.

Description: Generally, works better for task specific drills e.g. sprints, jumps and explosive throws.

Intensity: Maximal effort “explosive” in nature, speed shouldn’t be compromised by fatigue.

You may not perform all of these style of workouts in a week. Indeed this depends on the person you are working with and what you are trying to achieve and what energy systems you are trying to develop. When you consider things like the Tabata protocol and why it has become popular (20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds rest) is simply is that it is easier to perform that than grinding out 2-4 minutes at 90% of your maximum heart rate for 10 sets.

Does it matter for beginners? Well I guess something is better than nothing. However if you are stressed, tired and with a bad diet maximal sessions may not be beneficial for your health and steady aerobic work may be restorative and invigorating without burying you under more “stress.”

From an anecdotal point of view for a period my average client was the stressed out, time poor client averaging 2 or less hours of activity in a week. These individuals just aren’t in the position to do high intensity work.

 

A Note On Training For Body Composition.

Which one of these gives me a six pack though?

Well, they are all activity- that is great for creating a calorie deficit. They all will improve physicality so therefore you can work at a higher intensity to burn more calories. As a side note the maximal output has the lowest calorific yield for time spent. The other options will depend on relative intensity maintained as well as duration. Intensity does play a role in fat mobilization so stimulating adrenaline to cause fat breakdown requires intense work so the Intervaled Recovery method and the Anaerobic Endurance method are my favourite. That said the duration you can perform these well will be compromised by your anaerobic fitness (they are mentally the hardest as well).

Time should be spent also developing efficient aerobic pathways highlighting that there is a lot of value in steady state work as it can be performed more frequently for longer so for some individuals it may be more suitable for creating a calorie deficit and can be performed more regularly. This is definitely the case if you are managing fatigue, injuries or in general are a bit out of shape. Developing an efficient and effective aerobic base allows you to do more well in the future which is very important when you are looking to develop a progressive training approach.

Form Fixes- Pulling Exercises.

It could be said that all you need to do in the gym to be successful in the gym and build your strength is to do the simple stuff well. Adding complexity to an exercise isn’t really necessary if it doesn’t develop your physicality in some way- that means doing something because it appears hard may not give you the desired result.

One such exercise is pulling based movements specifically rows- either with both or single hands. Typically, you see when the movement is going a bit wrong it’s usually due to the loading being a bit too much for the muscles around the scapular to control the movement so range is shortened and you end up pulling to the arm pit. Now this will still burn your arms out but makes it pretty redundant for training the muscles you are primarily targeting- in this case the lats, rhomboids and traps. It’s what I sometimes term an “intermediate” mistake in the sense that you recognise the exercise but you are trying to push the intensity but by doing so you ruin the primary goal of the movement.

In the following video notice how the elbows are slightly to the side of the rib cage, the shoulder blades are retracted at the end of the movement and as the movement is controlled outwards the shoulder blades stay stuck to the rib cage and tuck under the arm pit. You can perform high rows with higher elbows but to complete the movement it is generally desirable to get retraction of the shoulder blades. Just as a side point adding too much load could also be termed not strong enough to do the movement properly. It’s sometimes hard to point this out to people as they start to progress and want to work hard.

The same movement in-efficiencies happen on bent over rows as well as dumbbell rows and also TRX/ Suspension trainer rows. In order to challenge the upper body you can add in an element of instability. As a side point adding instability works a lot better for the upper body as opposed to the lower body (perhaps apart from ankle and knee rehab/ prehab situations). The carryover to developing strong and stable shoulders is a lot more effective.

We often use variations of supported rows which are sometimes termed renegade rows (this name came around in the functional fitness trend of the early 2000’s… which also meant people gave names to exercises which to the uninitiated where unable to translate). On this following example we add a challenge to stability on one side of the body on the supporting arm while aiming to maintain control on the rowing movement. The same thing applies for this movement getting retraction of the shoulder blade at the top of the movement. What can often happen is that the setup position is wrong and then the hips lift and supporting hand does not remain directly below the shoulder on the floor.

So overall, the goal with rowing movement is to build strength while not sacrificing form. It’s sometimes simple tips that can make a big difference to coaching but also understanding what poor form looks like is also key to getting the most out of your training.

From a progression standpoint complexity varies by “form” not strength. This is the rough protocol we follow from least complex to hardest.

Cable rows both standing and seated/ single and double arm.

Chest supported rows.

DB single arm rows

DB single arm supported rows

Angled TRX rows.

Bent over rows.

Horizontal TRX rows or Inverted rows from a supported barbell.

3 point rows on a step/ elevation.

3 point rows from the floor.

Some of these exercises are quite close complexity wise so we may use variants in programmes. Hopefully this explains why exercise selection is important and how load and relative strength levels will influence your exercise choices.

The Week That Launches a Million Diets

Welcome to the new year (I obviously hope it was a happy one). Also a big welcome to our new gym website/ blog. We painstakingly rebuilt this whole caboodle before Christmas and while we may not be challenging Facebook or Wikipedia for content I hope that this provides an insight in to what we do at Results FAST. In turn the other website I run www.ianmellis.com I am going to use for more technical articles on programme design/ personal training stuff. This site is more a reflection therefore of the questions I get asked daily (sometimes repeatedly) at the gym and also will include a lot more current affairs articles.

So this week (if you look at the papers and TV schedule) there is a proliferation of diets on display. Some old, some new…. what remains consistent is the deluge of diets happens every year at the same time. If I see the slogan “new year/new you” I generally consider that the PR/ marketing team finished work in November. Anyway what was wrong with the old you in November? Did Christmas and the change of the year create an immeasurable shift in your self that you need to consider reinventing yourself as an Elle McPherson/ Gerard Butler body model? “Old you” didn’t like green juices and quinoa and also January is too cold for salad but it’s not going to stop you.

With the rise of social media and the dropping of attention levels (apparently 4 lines of text or 4 seconds of video before you click something else online) to the information provided short term solutions get a lot of attention. One such thing I saw the other day was apple cider vinegar mixed with grapefruit and himalayan sea salt. You’d be lucky to survive the first mouthful…. It may remove stubborn body fat…. but only because you can’t face eating anything after that concoction. The celebrity expert dominates the media this time of year. Celebrities are not training experts. Indeed they may work hard but they definitely shouldn’t be your first source for fitness and training information. What has happened in effect is the removal of the expert. Experts are boring because they know stuff and say ambiguous statements like “it depends.” We want answers goddamit and if it means I can juice it then great. Even better put it in an Instagram post because I couldn’t possibly handle words- I mean reading is so 1985.

If you are still reading this (thank you!) you are probably at the point of saying what’s my point here. Well to cut through the misinformation out there and give you an operating system of how to diet (if you need to). It’s not really Instagrammable and it’ll take more than 140 characters so Twitter is out the window. As for Facebook unless they pay for advertising you may not even see a post from a page you like- instead you will see Kurt*from Florida and his instaflex* system which all can be yours for £9.99 (and 15 subsequent payments of £2000).

*Kurt and instaflex are both made up- just like the results they promise.

Yes- I am going to explain the celebrity personal trainer secrets that only supermodels and bodybuilders know.

This statements generally run true for losing weight in the New Year. Just consider these points in relation to what you may be trying to achieve. Christmas often encompasses over eating and weight gain leading people to feel anxious and desperate. These are ideal people to sell things too as they “need” a solution.

Most solutions that work in the “long term” have the following in common.

  • You have to eat less than you need to lose weight.
  • The “best” diet is the one you stick to.
  • Whatever you do consistency and sustainability count.
  • Your friends do it? It doesn’t matter it may not be right for you.
  • Long term goals are not achieved with short term strategies (perhaps my favorite quote about nutrition and fitness (and possibly life)).
  • Don’t just remove negative behaviours, add positive behaviours. This creates a sense of achievement rather than than just removing a habitual behaviour.
  • There are no magic foods that are “super”, they will not make you lose weight.
  • There is no magic structure to how you eat.
  • There are no magic macronutrient (protein, carbs and fat) ratios that work for everyone.

So how do you set yourself up for success. Tips vary and not all will be relevant to you but consider the following:

  • Understanding what’s in food can help you make better decisions.
  • Rough portion control is as effective as measuring everything you eat.
  • Plan your meals and create structure that you can adhere to.
  • Build activity to become a habitual behaviour.
  • If you need help consult a qualified professional.

At no point here have I mentioned superfoods, carbohydrate removal, low fat dieting, carbohydrate cycling or anything overtly technical. Why? If your goal is to lose weight you will need to eat less. As a general rule if you are overweight it probably isn’t because you have a week metabolism (it can be but it’s unlikely). The likelihood is that you have eaten more than you need to maintain your former weight.

While not being revolutionary the framework of what actually underpins success for a lot of the people who work with us. Often with diet the process works like this.

Person: I want to lose weight.

Trainer: Here have this list of foods to eat and eat only this.

Person: Sob

Providing an eating list of meal plan does not set you up for success. It may provide help but it’s not the full picture. The process around habit development and long term success is fairly nuanced- there are a lot of different things going on from person to person which one diet system does not guarantee success on. Most of the shelf diets focus solely on the what you do rather than allowing you to develop your own framework. Why? This is the hardest part surrounding a diet as habit formation is hard. Especially when it involves change.

Where to start then? Well I always suggest think of one goal- not necessarily the overall goal of lose weight but one with more of a time driven emphasis e.g. lose weight by a  holiday, lose weight so I can wear his dress/ pair of trousers. Once you have set this goal think about your current habits. What do you do regularly? What behaviours do you perceive as negative? What are you doing well? Where do you need help? From here find solutions- counter negative behaviours by adding a positive behaviour e.g. eat more green vegetables, regularly have a healthy breakfast etc. Add behaviours- don’t just punish yourself, this is what parents do to a naughty child and you are not a naughty child. You are an adult who knows better- create behaviours and structure that empower you, make the decisions around what you are going to do- after all these decisions are all positive as they result in an overall improvement in your health (which you may miss when it’s gone by the way).

Health changes by the way are a poor motivator for change when it comes to exercise and diet. Recently in a survey about undertaking a gym membership “changing room cleanliness” came a strong second “improve health” came seventh. What does this mean? People care about fluffy towels but not fluffy arteries? I’m not sure but getting switched on to health improvements will improve all aspects of your life. This is where I’ll rap this article up as it sort of brings things full circle. If your lifestyle is set up to improve your health rather than dieting to lose weight the overall message of positive behaviour change is stronger as you are looking to change things by doing things that are good for you. Diet has an implication of removal of the things you enjoy and has a negative undertone that you have been doing everything wrong. Perhaps make your new year goals around health improvements, tidy up your food intake by learning a bit more about food, up your activity level (I got a fitbit for Christmas and I enjoy playing around with it). Most of all pick some things to do, create structure and do your best to commit to them the best you can.