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Want more from your workout?
You spend a fair amount of time in the gym. You’ve seemingly tried everything from lifting heavier weights to eating better. You’ve incorporated interval training, tried new classes and are running farther and farther. You’re in good shape, but can’t seem to get over that hurdle and notice the sleek lines and muscle definition that those select few possess. What is the secret? Is it all just hard work or is there a magic training chapter that’s been torn from your copy of the book of health?
Turning the corner and increasing the depth of muscular definition will take a tremendous amount of energy and continued focus, but you’ve already exhibited the willingness to put forth that type of effort. There are many different approaches to really separating yourself from the pack, but in particular I would concentrate on three primary avenues to sharpen and shred those muscles.
Rule number one is to slow down the return phase of each repetition during strength training. If, for example, you were at your favorite watering hole and doing 12 ounce curls with your favorite beer, it’s pretty important that the return trip from your lips to the table doesn’t involve smashing the glass to pieces on its descent! Yet we see this pretty regularly in all types of strength training, as the lifting portion (called the concentric contraction) garners all the attention. Relaxing and releasing the weight to fall freely back to its starting point (called the eccentric portion of any lift) can cost you up to 60 percent of total muscle recruitment. Think about that for a moment. You’re putting in all that effort and then, depending on the muscle group, only utilizing 40 percent of that muscle’s potential? You need to start buying roundtrip tickets if you want to maximize the muscle’s full potential. One to two seconds up should be matched by one to two seconds back down to earth.
Rule number two is that extended periods of running actually inhibit the body’s ability to recruit, repair, and generate muscle fiber. During longer bouts of running cortisol production is increased. Cortisol is a stress hormone which inhibits the body’s ability to repair and regenerate muscle tissue by slowing down the secretion of testosterone, which in turn slows down the much needed protein synthesis required for optimal muscle recovery. In short, your muscles breakdown under the tension of lifting weights, then regenerate both in the total number of fibers and in the quality of those fibers. Think of cortisol as a wall in the middle of that path to recovery and replenishment. Try limiting your running to twice a week, with 72 hours of recovery between sessions. Vary the sessions from a lower mileage, higher speed set of say 25-30 minutes, to one longer, slower session of 40-50 minutes. You’ll notice and appreciate the improvement in power and appearance rather quickly. Feel free to mix in additional, non-impact, high intensity cardio in moderate duration on the off days as the goal here is to improve not only muscular strength and appearance, but maintain the oxygen delivery system for overall circulatory health.
Finally, the third rule involves nutrition. Try a small intake of carbohydrates and protein a couple of hours before your workout, drink water during your workout, and finally consume a small post- workout mini-meal with protein to reach the optimum level in muscle function and repair. Small portions here are of primary importance as a vast majority of Americans overeat, and you can always adjust up in calories as your muscles begin to reach optimal size, shape, power, symmetry, and stamina. Try a post workout mini-meal of 4-6 ounces of cranberry juice with a whey based protein powder mixed in (cranberry juice has a high glucose to fructose ratio which helps restore natural glycogen levels and whey based protein is rapidly assimilated and starts that muscle recover process quickly).
Three components designed to get you over that wall, and the pay-off is not only in how you’ll look but primarily in how great you’ll feel. Once you tap into that “walking around power”, you’ll never want to go back to being mortal.
Islander Bryan Welch is the co-owner of Club Emerald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.clubemerald.org.