Archive for month: January, 2016

A progress picture from September 2015 after months of continually setting PRs in the big lifts. I would rest up to 5 minutes in between working sets for the main movements.

We love to feel tired in the gym. For many of us, our mission is to not leave the training floor until we feel like our lungs are about to burst and our hearts are on the verge of exploding out of our chests. We crave the burn and chase that pump. It’s not a good workout unless we’re completely drained and depleted, we reason.

Circuit training and bootcamp-style workouts certainly may have their place in an exercise regimen – there’s no denying that. And perhaps logically, it makes a lot of sense; high rep, high intensity, low rest sweat sessions feels like our fat cells are being fried to a crisp. It’s almost as though our bodyfat is literally melting away as we thrust, lunge, and burpee our way to exhaustion.

This is not actually true (obviously), but here's one of many thoughts we may have while running ourselves into the ground.

This is not actually true (obviously), but here’s one of many thoughts we may have while running ourselves into the ground.

So, we reason, common sense would dictate that if we want to improve our body composition, circuit training is the way to go.

But sometimes, common sense is wrong.

While men and women are both guilty of opting for bootcamp after bootcamp in hopes of building quality muscle and sizzling away their love handles, I’ve observed that this phenomenon is especially prevalent amongst women. High reps! No rest! Keep your heart rate up the whole workout or else you’re wasting your time! It’s all about the calorie burn! These are just a few statements regurgitated by well-meaning but woefully misinformed health enthusiasts.

Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., world’s foremost expert on muscle hypertrophy, published a study recently titled, “Longer inter-set rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men,” in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Dr. Brad Schoenfeld

Dr. Brad Schoenfeld

In this study, Dr. Schoenfeld and colleagues found that taking 3 minutes of rest vs. 1 minute of rest between working sets of squats and bench press led to greater increases in both muscular strength and hypertrophy. Interestingly, these conclusions don’t exactly mesh with conventional training wisdom that dictates that shorter rest periods are superior for muscle growth (de Salles BF et al., 2009).

Here’s a link to the full paper available on ResearchGate. A Cliffnotes version of the study is below:

  • 21 young resistance-trained men performed 3 full body workouts per week, 7 exercises per session, and 8-12 repetitions per set for a total of 8 weeks. One group rested 1 minute between sets (SHORT), while the other rested 3 minutes between sets (LONG).
  • Ultrasound imaging was used to measure muscle thickness (MT) of the elbow flexors, triceps brachii, anterior quadriceps, and vastus lateralis. Muscle strength was measured via 1RM testing of the flat bench press and back squat.
  • LONG exhibited greater increases in muscle thickness in the anterior thigh with a trend for greater increases in the triceps brachii; increases in vastus lateralus thickness were similar in LONG and SHORT and measured at 11.5% and 10.0% from baseline, respectively.
  • LONG exhibited greater increases in muscular strength in both the 1RM squat and 1RM bench press.

Pretty cool, right? But what does this all mean in practical terms? Fortunately, Dr. Schoenfeld was kind enough to jump on a phone call with me earlier this week to answer some questions I had.

Q: Hi Brad, thanks for taking time out of your day to humor me and my probing questions. I understand that there have been studies conducted previously by other researchers comparing different rest periods that didn’t necessarily lead to the same findings as yours. Why did previous research have confounding results?

A: You have to look at who the subjects were (age, level of training experience, etc.) and also the different rest periods compared, plus the methods of measurements. My thinking [based on past research] is that 2 minutes of rest is probably sufficient over something like 1 minute of rest. One study looked at 1 minute vs. 2.5 minutes and found that 2.5 minutes found better results for muscular strength and hypertrophy (Buresh et al., 2009). Another one looked at 1 minute vs. 4 minutes in elderly untrained men and their method of physique assessment was via BodPod (Villanueva et al., 2015), whereas we used direct site-specific measurements (ultrasound to ascertain muscle growth). Based on the literature and looking at where this fits in, 1 minute seems to be insufficient to recuperate strength and ends up compromising volume load. And as we know, volume is important for strength and hypertrophy gains. But for our study, the strength and hypertrophy gains were better in the 3 minute group.

Q: Why was it previously believed that shorter rest periods (30 to 60 seconds between working sets) would be superior for hypertrophy?

A: The proposed mechanism is increased metabolic stress. When you train in the moderate range, you promote a buildup of metabolites (lactic acid, H+, phosphate metabolites, etc.) that accumulate and there is evidence that metabolic stress is a driver of muscle growth (Schoenfeld, 2010). However, we also know that volume is another driver of muscle growth. It would seem that the reduction in volume is not made up for by the heightened metabolic stress. This is the working theory. Metabolic stress also drives acute increases in growth hormones and other systemic factors, but the increases acutely have not been shown to have a substantial effect on hypertrophy.

Q: In other words, total volume load is a greater contributing factor for hypertrophy than metabolic stress?

A: That’s the idea, yes.

Q: But that’s not to say that metabolic stress has no place in a training program, right?

A: Correct. Short interval rest periods are not worthless; we just need to take research into context. It’s not necessarily either-or. For metabolic stress-type work, you could put them towards the end of the workout. This would conceivably increase buffering capacity.

What I generally recommend is to do it more with single-joint exercises. So things like bicep curls, triceps extensions, and glute cable kickbacks would benefit more from the shortened rest. Even the hip thrust would benefit from metabolic stress work. The big compound movements (squat, bench, deadlift) are the ones that you would want to employ longer rest on.

Of course, a lot of this is theoretical. We can only go by the evidence that we have, so when we’re giving advice on this, we have to use some degree of speculation and use the research we have to make our best recommendations. Without evidence to the contrary, these are our suggestions. We can only go by logical reasoning.

Q: Is there a point at which rest periods become too long?

A: The only thing I could think about is that it would be highly inefficient to be in the gym for several hours at a time. If you want to take 10 minutes between sets and that helps you, I don’t think there would be negative effects to that so long as you have the time to spare. I would also imagine it would be important not to let your body temperature drop too much as you’d want to stay warm for your working sets.

Q: I assume we could reasonably apply these practical applications to females as well. Can we apply these findings to different populations?

A: That’s a great question. I can think of no reason why women would respond differently to this. Any researcher could of course say that we did not conduct research on women so we would not be able to speculate. Why would a woman respond differently, though? We would need this study replicated in women to know for sure, but I can’t think of any reason why this would not be the case.

Q: What are your recommendations for trainees then?

A: Based on this study and other previous studies, we probably don’t need to go the full 3 minutes rest in between all working sets. My extrapolation is that 1 minute is too short, but with 2 minutes, you can start to get back enough of your energy capacity. Optimal rest periods will vary depending on the individual, of course, but the suffice to say that in general, longer rest periods will yield better results.

A progress picture from September 2015 after months of continually setting PRs in the big lifts. I would rest up to 5 minutes in between working sets for the main movements.

A progress picture from September 2015 after 8 years of focus on the big lifts. I would rest up to 5 minutes in between working sets for the main movements to get stronger.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty encouraged by this. I can tell you based off of personal experience in addition to working with hundreds of clients (primarily women) that taking more of a breather in between heavy working sets for the main compound movements has helped improve strength, which in turn has led to positive body composition changes. But I’m not the only one who’s made this observation; the top coaches in the strength and conditioning field are in agreement as well.

“Everyone’s worried about burning calories, but they overlook building muscle, strength, and confidence,” reflects Dan Trink, co-owner of Fortitude Strength Club in New York City. “We’ve gotten to the point where, for women in particular, it seems to be all about chasing fatigue. People think that if they get tired, then they’re improving their body composition – but this is not the case.”

Over at 3E Crossfit in Cheshire, Connecticut, owner Ed Williams strives to teach men and women alike about being strong. His clients are prescribed a plethora of deadlifts and other big compound movements. He’s also big on teaching women how to lift heavy weights – creating tension in their bodies and exerting sufficient force to get the bar moving with proper form. “Strength is the foundation of everything that we do,” he says. He reports that his female clients have indeed experienced body composition improvements by training in this matter with longer rest periods, to the tune of 3, 4, and sometimes even 5 minutes of rest between sets.

Ben Bruno, a trainer in Los Angeles who trains a lot of high profile women, uses this same approach for his female clients, and especially pushes heavier weights for hip-dominant movements such as hip thrusts and sled pushes in order to build up the derrière. Here’s a video of one of his clients, Brazilian fashion model Barbara Fialho, performing landmine Romanian deadlifts:

And another of model Kate Upton doing landmine deadlifts with pristine form:

There’s nothing inherently wrong with circuit training per se. But by training exclusively in this manner, individuals may weigh less on the scale while body composition may not improve. As Trink reminds us, getting the “toned” look actually entails having some degree of muscle mass. The idea that lifting heavy weights necessarily makes women bulky is a huge misconception; it’s typically the increased calorie intake and accompanying fat gain that contributes to the “bulky” look, not the muscles themselves. And in order to build muscle mass, we need to be lifting heavier weights.  How do we accomplish this feat? By allowing for sufficient rest between working sets.

Understandably, moving away from the “more fatigue is better” mentality is not always an easy endeavor. Many may feel uneasy, as though they’re not doing enough in the gym. What’s the best way, then, to manage this transition?

“Focus on what you can build rather than what you can burn,” Trink advises. And Williams adds, “Find ways to do some of what you want while still doing what you need.” Plug in filler work. For example, in between sets of heavy squats, do face pulls or some mobility drills. This gets you away from sitting anxiously but still has you doing something else that won’t affect your strength.

“Focus on what you can build rather than what you can burn.” – Dan Trink

Here’s an idea of what a sample training day could look like:

A. Back squat 3×3-5 // 3-5 minutes rest between sets
B. Incline bench press 3×5-8 // 3-5 minutes rest between sets
C. Hip thrust 3×8-12 // 2-3 minutes rest between sets
D. Lat pulldown 3×8-12 // 2-3 minutes rest between sets
E. Bodyweight back extension 3×20-30 // 45 seconds rest between sets
F. Seated hip abduction 2×20-30 // 45 seconds rest between sets

It should go without saying that pushing heavy weights and taking longer rest periods in the gym are necessary, though not sufficient, on their own to achieve the physique and performance goals desired. Proper nutrition is arguably more important than training to shed bodyfat, while other factors such as sleep and stress management come into play as well.

The moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to take longer rest between sets, particularly for the big compound movements. Stop chasing fatigue in the gym and strive to build strength and muscle. Employ an appropriate blend of heavier weights with long rest in the beginning of a training session and lighter weights, higher reps with short rest later in the workout for optimal body composition results. Keep the goal the goal.

Thank you, Dr. Schoenfeld, for your ongoing contributions to the field of strength and conditioning.

To end, I shall leave you with clips of women from the #eatliftthrive community lifting heavy weights, taking ample rest between sets, and crushing PRs:

 

See related:

What Is Progressive Overload?
The Importance of Chasing Strength
Is Spot Reduction Really Possible?
When “Just Lose More Fat” is Not the Answer
Strength Training for Women: 7 Myths 

25 Things to Know About Training & Conditioning
25 Things to Know About Fat Loss

References

Buresch, R., Berg, K., & French, J. (2009). The effect of resistive exercise rest interval on hormonal response, strength, and hypertrophy with training. J Strength Cond Res. 23:62-71.

de Salles, B.F., Simao, R., Miranda, F., Novaes, Jda S., Lemos, A, & Willardson, J.M. (2009). Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Med. 39(9):765-77.

Schoenfeld, B. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance trainingJ Strength Cond Res. 24(10):2857-72.

Schoenfeld, B.J., Pope, Z.K., Benik, F.M., Hester, G.M., Sellers, J., Nooner, J.L,, Schnaiter, J.A., Bond-Williams, K.E., Carter, A.S., Ross, C.L., Just, B.L., Henselmans, M., & Krieger, J.W. (2015). Longer inter-set rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men. J Strength Cond Res. [Epub ahead of print]

Villanueva, M.G., Lane, C.J., & Schroeder, E.T. (2015). Short rest interval lengths between sets optimally enhance body composition and performance with 8 weeks of strength resistance training in older men. Eur J Appl Physiol. 115:295-308.

My most popular posts on Instagram from the year 2015. Kind of fun to see!

Oh, 2015. I’ve toiled over my business and watched it thrive and flourish this year, and I’m beyond proud of the #eatliftthrive community that I – and the rest of my teammates – have built.

Here are some career highlights from Sohee Lee the fitness professional:

January: Finalized the SoheeFit official logo and slogan; created first #eatliftthrive t-shirts and tanks
April: Became a Certified Sports Nutritionist under the International Society of Sports Nutrition (CISSN)
May: Trained for and obtained my Strong First Girya (SFG) Level I kettlebell certification; trained for and competed in my first powerlifting meet – hit 165lb squat, 105lb bench, 226lb deadlift in the 105lb weight class.
June: Spoke at my first ever national conference at the ISSN National Conference in Austin, TX.
July: Launched my next e-product, The Beginner’s Guide to Macros.
August: Hired my second assistant, Jenni Belser, to keep up with the growing demands of my brand.
October: Competed at OCB nationals and won my IFPA bikini pro card after eating a Snickers bar for 70 consecutive days.
December: Applied to graduate school for my master’s in psychology; hosted my first ever webinar on entrepreneurship in the fitness industry. 

The final SoheeFit logo. I probably went through 3 or 4 different logo over the past few years before falling in love with this one, which perfectly encapsulates the essence of my brand.

The final SoheeFit logo. I probably went through 3 or 4 different logo over the past few years before falling in love with this one, which perfectly encapsulates the essence of my brand.

As well, I launched my group training only service and one-time macro calculation service and got the ball rolling on building my own custom dedicated fitness forum. I added more merchandise to my store (hats, hoodies, training journals, and Blender bottles, to name a few!), which was a fun side project for me. And perhaps most importantly, I became more serious about thinking like a scientist – a little more skeptical, a lot more curious.

Phew.

This year has been at once beautiful and heartbreaking and ironic in so many ways. Over the past twelve months, I’ve felt the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I’m simultaneously grateful for this past year and ready for it to be over.

It’s certainly been one of the more eventful times of my life, I’ll tell you that much.

Here are some lessons that I’ve learned in 2016:

1. Always bring a sweater.

This one doesn’t change from last year’s 25 lessons. I’m still just as much of a weenie when it comes to cold, and I’ll probably stay that way for a long time. (Side note: the temperature in my home is set to 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Love it!) In the car, at a friend’s house, at a restaurant – a sweater will always come in handy.

2. Always carry a pen.

This second lesson still holds true as well. Is it nerdy of me that I’m actually proud of the fact that I never had to mooch a pen off of anyone this year? Oh, which reminds me: If someone borrows a pen from you, make sure you get it back. Especially if it’s one that you really like.

3. Blackout curtains are a sleep game changer.

I didn’t get blackout curtains until just recently, and it’s enhanced my snoozing experience in a big way. There’s something incredibly peaceful and relaxing about not having any lights distracting you in your bedroom. And if you want to take a nap in the middle of the day, no big deal. The sun’s got nothin’ on you!

4. Netflix is worth the monthly subscription fee.

Boy oh boy, do I love me my shows. I’m a movie- and show-junkie; vegging on the couch is one of my favorite pastimes, and I have no qualms about spending my Saturday evening drooling in front of the TV.  Some solid shows that I’ve stumbled upon over the years include: Jane the Virgin, Parenthood, Parks and Recreation, Grey’s Anatomy, 30 Rock, The Following, How to Get Away with Murder, Scrubs, Psych, and Arrested Development. Of course, there’s a respectable movie selection as well. I’d say paying $8.99 a month to have access to all of these and more is an absolute steal.

5. Flowers are a nice touch to any home.

There’s no place like home, right? I’m a big believer that your home should be your haven. I invest in high quality furniture that I absolutely love – that way, I feel good about where I spend most of my time, and my heart is at peace. Flowers are a great way to make your condo, apartment, or house feel more personable. If you don’t have a special someone in your life, then why not purchase them for yourself?

An unexpected housewarming gift from my client Jenny. I didn't have any flower vases on me, so I used my #eatliftthrive Blender Bottles instead. LOL!

An unexpected housewarming gift from my client Jenny. I didn’t have any flower vases on me, so I used my #eatliftthrive Blender Bottles instead. LOL!

6. Pay off your credit card bill in full every month.

This is one of those things that should simply be a no-brainer. Avoid racking up unnecessary interest. If you simply pay off the minimum balance due every month, you’ll actually end up paying way more for a given purchase than if you’d paid it all off in the first place. Oh yeah, and don’t spend beyond your means.

7. Always wear your seatbelt.

Need I say more?

8. Sometimes, “healthified” recipes just don’t cut it.

Sorry, but I’d much rather enjoy a big fat slice of my mother’s homemade pecan pie than choke down a half-fat imitation on a random Tuesday afternoon. And I know that for me, a mediocre cookie that saves me 50 calories is just not going to hit the spot and satiate my craving like a succulent, oozing white chocolate macadamia nut cookie. Pass me the real deal, please.

9. Be super picky about your treats.

I don’t hesitate to splurge on the good stuff that I thoroughly enjoy. This goes for not only desserts and other junk food, but also high quality clothes and other luxuries. Not everything has to be off the sale rack from Ross. I always liken spending money like consuming calories – if you’re smart about your checks and balances, you can afford a splurge every now and then.

Butter cake at Mastro's. I totally get the hype!

Butter cake at Mastro’s. I totally get the hype!

10. Social media is a double-edged sword; don’t let it consume you.

When I first got an Instagram account back in 2012 (very reluctantly, might I add), I hardly ever posted pictures. Interestingly, I consider myself a wallflower when it comes to everyday life – I don’t like being the center of attention (in fact, it makes me shudder), and I’m the kind of gal who doesn’t mind quietly slipping out of a party just as stealthily as I came in. How curious then, that I chose a career for myself that is so heavily dependent upon my active social media presence! Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have been good for my brand development – there’s no doubt about that – but at the same time, I’ve had to take painstaking measures to ensure that it doesn’t become the bane of my existence. It’s a slippery slope, and I see social media eat other people whole all the time. I’d like to still have a life outside of my iPhone.

11. Don’t regret delicious food.

Macros be damned, sometimes the late night gelato is totally worth it. And splitting pancakes with a loved one at the diner at 2.am.? Also worth it.

12. Show up on time.

There’s really not a valid excuse for running late to a commitment. If you anticipate traffic, leave your home earlier. If you do happen to be behind on schedule, own up to it and apologize.

13. You can almost always work around an injury.

If I were to break my leg tomorrow (knock on wood), I don’t think I’d be terribly upset about it. Yes, I’m sure it would hurt, and it would make my life a tad inconvenient for a number of months, but there are worse things. On the physique front, no big deal – there’s still a lot you can do to get ample training effect. Having your lower body sidelined is prime time for you to maybe work on your pullups or hammer out your upper body as a whole. Broken arm? Leg extensions, leg curls, hip thrusts, walking lunges, back extensions… the list goes on. Whatever training limitations you have, there’s likely still plenty for you to do. You just have to get creative.

14. Nothing with nutrition is ever unfixable.

Seriously, nothing. One gluttonous meal does not a failure make. You’re always just one meal away from moving back in the right direction, and extra bodyfat that comes on can come back off.

15. Sleep makes everything better.

For me, getting sufficient quality sleep is the difference between being the goofiest, most chipper chick on the block who feels invincible and being a nasty, horrific monster of a witch who finds a reason to snap at everyone around her. Not only that, but studies have consistently shown that we’re more creative, more productive, and generally better at life when we get enough sleep.

16. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

More hours spent “working” does not always translate into more work actually being done. In other words, there comes a point – believed to be at about the 50 hour-a-week mark – at which productivity drops significantly. Gone are the days of bragging about working 100 hours a week. What good is that if I can actually get the exact same amount of work done in half the time? Not only that, but if you can have a life outside of your job and spend time pursuing hobbies and making memories with loved ones, it seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?

17. Don’t make rash decisions when emotions are high.

Oh, it’s so tempting sometimes to air your dirty laundry and cause a big scene, doesn’t it? It’s easier to be immature, extreme, and rash when you’re seeing red – and in a way, there’s some sick gratification that comes from it. I get that. But just sleep on it for one night and see how you’re feeling tomorrow. You’ll likely be glad you didn’t do something you’d later regret.

18. Don’t ever feel guilty about taking care of yourself.

Are you feeling a pang of guilt any time you try to slip away to the gym for an hour? Or worse, is someone close to you trying to make you feel bad and calling you selfish for taking care of your health? Get the hell outta town! We all have a right to eat well, exercise regularly, and get our rest. You have to take care of yourself first and foremost if you want to be the best person you can be for others. No apologies.

19. Being a victim is a choice.

The glass actually is half full, if you let it be. And no matter what circumstances you’re dealt with in your life, you have the power to take ownership and make the most of your situation.

Michael Scott is the best.

Michael Scott is the best.

20. We could all use a little more Brené Brown in our lives.

I’ve read Daring Greatly twice now and just finished Rising Strong. Brown is a social worker/researcher best known for her work on shame and vulnerability. I’ve learned so much from her about being comfortable in the skin you’re in and not hiding who you are, and I believe that we could all experience more loving, compassionate, close relationships if we shed our rock hard exteriors every now and then.

21. Education is an ongoing, lifelong journey.

It doesn’t stop once you receive your bachelor’s degree or once you’re outside the formal confines of an academic setting. Read books. Subscribe to journals. Attend seminars. Never stop learning.

22. Life isn’t fair, and it never will be – but that’s okay.

Ah, probably one of the hardest lessons for me as of late. Coming to grips with the fact that some people will never have financial struggles or relationship turmoil to the extent that you do, or they’ve always had and will always have a close, loving relationship with their siblings – man, this is a tough one. But when it all comes down to it, we are all fighting our own battles, and it’s futile to compare our lives to those of others.

23. Not every battle is worth fighting.

I’ve had to put my ego aside more times than I care to count this past year for the sake of putting a relationship first. Sometimes, even if you know you’re right, it’s better not to hash something out or let it escalate into a nightlong fight. Pick and choose your battles.

24. Forgive everyone for everything.

Part of me can’t believe that I’m actually writing this. I’m the queen of holding grudges! And maybe I’m being overly generous here, but I’m beginning to think that we’re all better off not harboring any hatred or anger toward anyone. Compassion wins the day.

25. Change is the only constant.

People will change. Those who thought were your closest, most trusted confidantes may end up betraying you in the worst way possible. Relationships will fade away and new ones will form. In 2010, I never would have thought that this would be the kind of life and career I’d have, yet here I am.

26. The best is yet to come.

This one I believe down in my heart of hearts. I feel it deep in my soul. Wherever you are in your life, you may feel like there’s no possible way for you to live the life that you truly want, but you have to know it. You have to believe it. Your behaviors fall in line with your beliefs. It may get worse before it gets better, but I’m telling you: the best is yet to come.

My most popular posts on Instagram from the year 2015. Kind of fun to see!

My most popular posts on Instagram from the year 2015. Kind of fun to see!

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