Training With Bands: Ninja Tool of Strength Coaches

Ever wondered if elite strength coaches share all of their best tips on social media, or if they keep some of their best training secrets for their clients?  Of course, they do, and one of those ninja tips is the use of bands.  Yep, those wobbly, elastic strings aren’t just rehabilitation and dynamic warm-up tools, they’re also effective strength building tools.  The reason coaches like them is because of their ability to completely stress and fatigue muscles without adding excessive loads.  Specifically, when you integrate 2 different forms of resistance (e.g., horizontal and vertical resistance) into 1 exercise, it creates a “hybrid tension” effect which is MORE stimulating to muscle growth than traditional weightlifting exercises.  Never heard of hybrid tension before?  Read on.

Benefits of Hybrid Tension

Imagine doing a chin-up and pulling your bodyweight up until your chin is above the bar.  Now, imagine doing the same movement but with bands around your ankles and a partner gently pulling the band and your legs away from the pull-up bar.  What’s the impact?  In order to keep your body in a vertical path, you have to focus on two things:  overcoming gravity and keeping your body upright as you pull up.  In short, an exercise that employs hybrid tension is much harder to do.

‘Hybrid tension’ is not just harder, it also activates and recruits more muscle fibers across 2 planes of motion thereby creating GREATER MUSCLE STRENGTH AND GROWTH.  (Barbell and free-weight exercises, in comparison, create resistance in just one plane of motion.)  A secondary benefit is the ‘stretch’ in the band has the added effect of changing tension across a movement pattern, which can be accelerated or decelerated to build up FAST, EFFICIENT REFLEXES.  This is why many strength coaches include band training into their clients’ programs.  If you consider that our body has to deal with forces, momentum and ground reaction from many different angles throughout the day, teaching the body to handle fast and slow movements under different types of tension is helpful for both athletes and adults.

Types of Bands

There are a variety of resistance bands out there, but the three most popular types are:

How much resistance you’ll get is determined by the thickness and/or stiffness of the band and how far it’s stretched, but generally, the wider the band, the more resistance it has.  Also, of the 3 types, looped bands and mini bands are the ones that are combined with free weights to create hybrid tension.

Applications of Band Training

While most of us have seen exercise videos demonstrating the use of bands for a) bodyweight training and b) dynamic stretching (aka to prepare muscles and joints for work), here are 3 other applications of bands in adult strength training.  They are:

Perfecting the Squat.  The squat is the one exercise that draws out muscular/postural imbalances like no other exercise.  And while many use the squat to develop the quad muscles, the truth is the squat is highly dependent on the glutes which kick in once the hips drop below the knees or past 90 degrees.  Brad Schoenfeld, wrote a great scientific article titled The Biomechanics of Squat Depth.  In the article he mentioned research has shown how maximal gluteal activation occurs with full depth squats.  Partial squats had 16.92 ± 8.78% gluteal involvement; parallel squats had 28.00 ± 10.29% gluteal involvement and full depth squats had 35.47 ± 1.45% gluteal involvement.  The key takeaway being that a “full depth” squat develops both the quads and the glutes when executed correctly.   If you watch most people squat, however, you’ll find an abundance of partial squatters, a handful of parallel squatters and a rare few of full depth squatters.  Why is this?

Well, if you ask most partial squatters, they’ll tell you that squatting too low hurts their knees or back or both.  But this is not the real problem.  The real problem is usually poor hip and/or glute activation, and a simple trick to help correct this issue is to use mini bands.  The approach involves securing a mini band around your legs, just above your knees and then performing the squat with just 70-75% of your 1RM for 6-8 reps.  The band resistance forces the lifter to drive their knees out and activate the outside of the hips, which will stabilize the knees (preventing knee valgus) as well as help activate the glutes.  Likewise, as you develop stronger hips and glutes, you’ll be able to handle heavier loads when squatting.  Makes sense, right?  You cannot improve strength and power if you cannot first stabilize and control a movement under tension.

Now, the technical name for this type of band work is Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT), and it’s often used by physical therapists and coaches like Dr. John Rusin for rehabilitation programming and the improvement of movement patterning and quality.  But I think the terminology muddies the water.  The truth is a movement pattern can look clean on the outside and still engage the wrong muscle chain.  Similarly, the absence of pain is not a good enough indicator.  Properly executed movements under tension, will feel good and not so good through a ROM, depending on how muscles crisscross your body, and this changes as we age.  Hence, you absolutely need exercises that help the brain become aware of what a “good” movement pattern feels like in the body, an creating “hybrid tension” is by far the best tool I’ve come across.  

Workout Example (Lower Body)

Warm-Up:  A) Low Box Jump (2 x 5) and B) Banded Crosswalks (2 x 10 Steps/Each Way)
A) BB Back Squat (5 x 10@90 Seconds)
B) Banded BB Pause Squats (2 x 6-8@60 Seconds).  Use ~75% of the weight used in your work sets for exercise A.  Place a mini band around your legs and position just above the knees and squat normally.  Focus here is to go as low as you can and hold for 4-5 seconds without concaving the knees or leaning over.  Then, drive through your heels to stand up.
C1) BB Box Squat (3 x 10-12).  Sit on the box or bench for a full second before standing up.  Rest 60 seconds before C2.
C2) Leg Curl (3 x 12-15).  Rest 90 seconds before C1.
D1) Leg Press (3 x 15-20).  Rest 60 seconds before D2.
D2) DB RNT Reverse Lunge (3 x 10/Each Leg).  Secure a band to a power rack and to one leg, just below the knee.  Focus on keeping hips and knees stable (no internal or external rotation) throughout the movement.  Rest 90 seconds before D1.
E1) Cable Jump Frog Squat (3 x 10).  Do D1 and D2 with no rest between exercises.
E2) Cable Squat (3 x 10).  Rest 90 seconds before D1.
F) Abs – Your Choice (3 x 15@60 Seconds)

Power/Speed Development.  Life is really all about accelerating or decelerating force quickly, and without a doubt, bands are the safest way to practice moving weight at different speeds.  The two most popular methods are simply called the ‘heavier’ and ‘lightened’ methods.  With the heavier method (popularized by Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell), bands are attached to bottom supports and then to the sleeves of the bar so that tension is never released (such as with the bench press and overhead press).  Because of this, a quick start is impossible and locking out a heavy weight is really tough.  The lightened method, on the other hand, involves anchoring the bands at the top of the power rack with a slip knot and then attaching to the bands to the sleeves of the bar thereby creating an almost weightless bar.  This allows the lifter to move more load quickly while developing tremendous power at lockout.

Now, if you’re wondering if fast or slow presses is appropriate for the general population, a 2016 study in the Strength and Conditioning Research Journal tried to address this question with a group of, rugby players.  In the study, they compared the use of free weight resistance (FWR) with elastic band resistance (EB) for the bench press and found that a) EB + FWR not only increased the range of concentric movement in which the barbell is accelerated (35% STRENGTH IMPROVEMENT), maximal VELOCITY (aka speed) also IMPROVED by 17% as compared to the FWR group.  The conclusion being when a load is accelerated through a bigger range of motion, it results in improved speed-strength and thus helpful to power/speed-focused sports.

Workout Example (Upper Body):  Strength/speed training is now a staple of athletic and individualized training programs.  A typical upper body workout might include:

Warm-Up:  A) Single-Arm KB Overhead Walk (3 x 20 meters/each arm) and B) Single-Arm KB Rack Carry (3 x 20-30 meters)
A) Rope Face Pull-Aparts (3x15@60 Seconds)
B)  BB Slight Decline Bench Press (5x10@90 Seconds)
C1) Banded Dynamic Effort BB Bench Press (10x4).  Attach resistance bands to the bottom of rack and then onto the sleeves of a barbell.  Use ~75% of the weight used in your work sets for exercise B.  Focus on explosive push and a 1 second lock-out at top.  Rest 60 seconds before C2.
C2) Plyo Push-Up (10x4).  Rest 90 seconds before C1.
D) Pull-up (3xAMRAP@60).
E1) Banded Russian KB Swing (3x15).  Slip-knot one end of the band on the handle of a kettlebell and then anchor the other end of the band beneath your feet.  Note how much or little of the band you secure beneath your feet dictates the band resistance.  Focus on exploding and moving the KB with the glutes and hips.  Control the weight down and/or resist the urge to let the KB just fall down.  Rest 60 seconds before E1.
E2) DB Pullover on Flat Bench (3x10-12).   Rest 90 seconds before E2.

Hypertrophy Through Maximum Fatigue.  Very often when lifting weights, the smaller muscles tire out first and cannot support a weight through a full range of motion (aka reach failure).  Adding a band to a free weight movement, however, allows a muscle to be maximally lengthened during the eccentric movement, which in turn creates conditions to CONTRACT BETTER and MORE FULLY during the concentric phase of the movement.  As IFBB Professional Mark Dugdale says, “I see quicker growth when a fatigued and massively pumped muscle is fully stretched.”  But it’s not just about the stretch.  By using hybrid tension in the super-set” or “giant set” training technique (2 or 3 exercises performed back to back with no rest), a lifter can extend a work set, supercharge cellular volumization (aka “the pump”) while maximizing muscle overload and growth of antagonist muscle pairs. 

Superset Examples: 

Bench Press (3x10) s/s Banded Chest Machine (3x10 or AMRAP)BB Deadlift s/s Band Resisted Trap Bar Deadlift (Lower Handles) (3x10 or AMRAP)
BB Row (3x10) s/s Banded DB Bent Over Row (3x10 or AMRAP)
BB Back Squat (3x10) s/s Banded DB Goblet Squat (3x10 or AMRAP)

Giant Set Examples: 

Partial DB Lat Raise with Pause (2x10) g/s Banded DB Front Lat Raise (Neutral Grip) (2x6-8), g/s DB Lat Raise (2x10 or AMRAP)
Partial BB Behind the Neck Press (Wide Grip) (2x10) g/s with DB Arnold Press (2x10) g/s with Banded
Close Grip Bench Press (2 x 10) g/s Decline KB Skull Crusher (2x8-10) s/s Banded Triceps Pull-downs (2xAMRAP)

Two caveats here.  When using bands for increased hypertrophy, you have to be careful not to overdo it.  The bands produce a large amount of concentric and/or eccentric overloading and thus can cause excessive soreness.  So, start with one FW/BR superset or giant set and then build up to 2 in a single workout but no more than that.  Or if the volume is too much, another expert tip is to incorporate what Louie Simmons calls “mini workouts” throughout the day … such as doing a lot of band press downs, a lot of band crunches, or a lot of banded squats / lunges, etc. whenever you have the time.  Don’t even worry about following a specific set or rep pattern.  Just focus on getting a strong contraction.  When you train frequently with low stress exercises, you’ll get a nasty pump which is what creates those beautiful, plump muscles.

Summary

If you’re looking for ways to maximize your time in the gym, then creating hybrid tension (with the use of bands) is definitely something you should add to your iron toolbox.  It not only teaches the body to be dynamically and re-actively stable (aka stabilize loaded joints while moving), helps improve speed-strength, it accelerates hypertrophy gains because FW + BR exercises work a bigger cross section of muscles than you would with free weights alone.  And the nice thing is you don’t have to do any special programming.  Just adding 1-2 banded exercises to compliment your daily workout focus will make a difference!

Upping Your Trainability

Every weight lifter knows after a while progress stalls. It’s due to the biological law of accommodation which states “the response of a biological object to a constant stimulus decreases over time.” It means the body adapts, and what was once perceived as challenging is now part of the normal way of doing things. Interestingly, accommodation happens at the cellular level of the body and can be triggered in any number of biochemical processes. For example, when the body continually senses excess glucose in the tissues, it accommodates and stops removing the excess glucose which leads to Type 2 diabetes. If you consume prescription thyroid medication, over time the body adjusts and stops producing its own T3/4 hormones. Likewise, if you’ve been doing the same weightlifting exercises for several months and stop making gains, it’s a sign that your muscles have accommodated. So, how do you avoid accommodation and continue to make progress? Variation. I don’t mean switching exercises. Although that works. I mean introducing new ways to create muscle tension/fatigue that align with your unique strength profile. Just a few of the right changes, every 2-3 weeks can keep your trainability and motivation high making room for muscle gains for many years to come.

Accommodation…Every Weight Lifter’s Nightmare

Weight lifters hate accommodation because it means the body has fully adapted to a certain type of training. The 3 ways the body accommodates are:

Simply stated, the closer you get to being accommodated, the LESS trainability you have. The less trainability you have, the less room for progress and/or the SLOWER progress will be. Ever felt stuck in a performance plateau or lost your motivation to train? It might be due to accommodation.

Variation…Not Novelty

Once your body adjusts to a new demand placed upon it, things that used to work, simply don’t. That’s when weight lifters get creative with programming and change things. But you have to know what to change to keep your trainability high. First, let’s review the not so effective ways.

Variation is a “Finesse” Strategy

Truth be told, most people don’t know how to use variation in a way that keeps them in the “muscle zone.” You know what I mean, right? That sweet spot during a workout when you stop chasing more weight or more sets/reps and are completely focused on doing exactly what your body needs to turn protein synthesis on, stimulate growth factors and produce the right amount of muscle fatigue/tears to signal improvement. Whenever you stop counting reps and can “feel” your body responding to the work you’re doing … even if you’re just working with your bodyweight, you’re in the “muscle zone.” But working in the zone requires a decent knowledge of how your body works and responds to exercise. Some good tips:

Tip #1 – Stay With the Main Lifts (aka Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Overhead Press) – Think of the main lifts as movement training…skills that need regular practice. Even if you are using dumbbells instead of a barbell, always include them in your programs as these methods build up and support your movement foundation.

Tip #2 – Keep Your Muscle Building Switch “On” – When it comes to building strength and muscle, there are 3 variables that have the biggest impact on the body:

First thing to know is you can’t have all 3 elevated at the same time. Why? It stresses the body, spiking cortisol and turning off protein synthesis and muscle growth. So, the rule is to pick 2 and go lower on the 3rd. For mature adults, I recommend increasing frequency first. (For example, it’s much better to do 30 minutes/6x a week than 1 hour/3x a week from a muscle building perspective). Then, vary volume or intensity as you build up your work capacity.

Tip #3: Align Assistance Work With Your Unique Strength Profile – Assistance or isolation work is used to build up specific muscles or muscle groups. These methods are easier to learn and involve shorter muscle chains which means people accommodate to resistance work faster. It also means you can change these exercises more frequently.  But not all changes are equally beneficial to ALL bodies. According to strength coach and author Christian Thibaudeau, the trick is to ONLY change components (aka equipment, methods, sequence, rep scheme, rest intervals, etc.) that align with each person’s strength profile. Over his many years of training world-class athletes and adults alike, he’s identified 5 basic strength types which correspond to whether a person is more nervous system vs. muscular system dominant or some combination of the two. Briefly, they are:

Also, according to Coach Thibaudeau, these profiles have an affinity to motivation. For example, if you are engaging in a type of training that leaves you feeling under-developed, drained…even demotivated, you’re likely doing methods that are not aligned to your strength profile type.

Key Takeaways

To sum it up, purposeful change is good. But you need to learn how to vary the right things at the right time in your program to ensure you stay in the “muscle zone” while giving your body adequate time to adapt and grow (aka to progress). That means doing 3 things:

That’s the key to using variation effectively.  Hope you’re fired up to take your training to the next level.  And as always, seek strength!

Got a Back-Support Plan? Make Sure You Have One

At some point, every adult over 40 experiences back pain, arthritis or some form of disk injury. When it happened to me, I first sought help from my doctor who told me to focus on mild forms of yoga and Pilates to build up my core. After 2 weeks and no pain relief, I went to a spine specialist who told me that the multifidus muscle (aka muscle that fills up the grooves on either side of the vertebrae) had atrophied. That came as a surprise given that I was an advanced weightlifter. So, I asked him, “Is that what caused my back injury (aka my programming was somehow deficient), and how do I prevent it from happening again?” Here’s what he said.

Now, I’m a visual learner, so he showed me 2 MRI pictures.  The first scan was from a person who’d been doing Pilates 3-4x times a week for several years but was still having low back pain. You could see there was no disc injury, just fat deposits where the deeper layers of the multifidus muscle should be. If you’ve never heard of the multifidus muscle, it’s a small muscle that runs the length of the spine and is critical for:

In other words, without a well-developed multifidus muscle, you’re going to have back problems.

Then, he showed me a second scan. There was muscle everywhere!Everything that should be hypertrophied is. The doctor explained that this scan is from a man with a disc injury and that his healthy back was achieved through a protocol that focused on weight-bearing exercises that encouraged para-spinal and multifidus hypertrophy. In other words, the specific adaptation the body learns from yoga or Pilates is specific only to those modalities. Whereas, the way to correct muscle atrophy is by producing hypertrophy… or in this case “phased loading” of the lumbar multifidus muscle.

The Phased Rehabilitation Approach

So, what’s a good back rehabilitation approach? First, it’s always best to consult with a specialist who can develop the exact protocol that addresses your particular back issues. The key is finding someone who is well-versed in both non-surgical and surgical methods, is an expert at developing a progressive program that helps fitness-minded adults and athletes return to their sport and bases their functional assessment and recommendations based on “how” your body moves. If they’re simply giving you a list of exercises without watching how you move, you need to find a different therapist.

Having said that, I’ve been to some good physical therapists and some “not-so-good” ones, and the ones that rise to the top, in my opinion, have a well-crafted template that they follow and can explain to their patients. It’s not just understanding “why” you need do something. You need to know what signs to look for that indicate your body is healing. One of the best I've found is by VanGelder, Hoogenboom and Vaughn [1].  Granted, while their approach focuses on helping athletes heal from herniated disc issues, I've found their approach carries over to back muscle strains, bruised ligaments...even issues with poor posture.  So, I highly recommend you read and print  their article. (Note: the accompanying rationale and research for method selection during each phase is also detailed in the article.) Briefly, their phased approach includes:

Phase 1: Non-Rotational/Non-Flexion Phase (Acute Inflammatory Phase/Days 0-6) – The focus here is to reduce inflammation and to eliminate mechanical stress on the spine by practicing stabilizing exercises through a full range of motion. While many often feel these are “rest” days, the key is to practice creating a protective posture (aka “optimal” neutral spine for your activity or sport) while improving hip mobility and back extension without pain. Some beneficial exercises during this phase include:

Phase 2: Counter-Rotation/Flexion Phase (Repair Phase/Days 3-20) – The next phase is about gradually introducing compound movements under tension while simultaneously resisting rotation. This includes practicing hip hinging exercises versus flexing the spine and utilizing isometric contractions to resist twisting movements. Examples:

Phase 3: Rotational Phase/Power Development (Remodeling Phase/Days/Days 9 – to Full Resolution) – The ability to return to full fitness or sports participation requires integration of transverse movements (aka twisting, turning, stopping/changing direction, swinging a bat or throwing a ball, etc.). Hence, this phase continues to emphasize lifting, carrying and pushing loads while simultaneously practicing good spinal bracing, glute activation, hip hinging and powerful hip extensions. It also adds in exercises that require full dynamic rotation such as:

Phase 4: Full Return to Sport or Activity – Although most doctors will allow some sports-specific skills during phase 3, it’s not until a person can move correctly in all three planes of motion while controlling lumbar lordosis (aka rounding of the back) under load that determines when an individual can be released to play their activity or sport full-time.

So, what’s the best way to restore a weak or injured back? It’s not by lying on your back or being on your hands and knees. Good functional rehabilitation follows the SAID principle (aka Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand), which means you need to learn to walk and lift/carry loads with weight. The exercises that significantly restored my back were practicing deadlifts, the turkish getup and kettlebell swings early, and then progressing to the kettlebell snatch pull and hang clean at the end. Within a few weeks, I was not only pain-free, I had significant back stability and strength. Now, all of these exercises are a regular part of my programming to maintain back health. I’m not saying it’s the silver bullet to every back problem, but if you haven’t tried these sorts of weight-bearing exercises, it’s something to explore and talk about with your doctor or therapist.

Anyway, make sure you're taking care of your back…and until next time, seek strength!

1] VanGelder, L.H, Hoogenboom, B.J., and Vaughn, D.W., A Phased Rehabilitation Protocol for Athletes with Lumbar Intervertebral Disc Herniation. International Journal of Sports Rehabilitation Therapy, August, 2013: Volume 8(4): pages 482-516.

Mastering the Art of Training Hard Enough

One of the principles I live by is knowing what “done” looks like.In fact, it’s such a foundational step in decision making, I reinforce it with everyone I work with.Why?It’s the one thing during planning that provides a space for modification…and to deal with the unexpected.It also helps focus activities so you get exactly what you want.When it comes to strength training, however, many adults have no idea what done looks like.Some think it’s working out hard until they collapse into a pool of sweat on the floor.Others think it’s completing exercises written on the board, but that’s just putting check marks against a “to do” list.We all know if it doesn’t challenge the muscle, it doesn’t change the muscle, but how do you know if you've trained hard enough to trigger growth? Some experts say you need to monitor the rate that muscle fatigue is progressing, and just when you think you're done, go for 1 more rep.  If you can't do it, you're probably done.  But if you can, you may be cutting yourself short and need a little extra work.  Sound complicated?  It's actually very easy.  Here's how. 

Mechanical Tension – Did I Lift Heavy Enough?

In layman’s terms, mechanical tension means “lifting heavy,” and for me, lifting heavy comes in two forms:maximum effort (aka 100-110% of your 1 rep max) and fairly heavy (90%ish of your max).The first is the kind of tension that powerlifters strive for.It’s extremely intense, and to be honest not something most mature adults can do on a regular basis.But there’s research that suggests that working at 90% of your max effort for more reps (so that you’re working more time under maximum tension) isequally effectiveat improving muscle strength.Hence, on my strength days, I’ll work up to a challenging weight and then stay there for 5-6 sets…something like this:

Warm-Up Set 1: 50-60% of 1 RM for 6 repsWarm-Up Set 2:  60-70% of 1RM for 5 repsWorking Sets 3-4:  75-85% of 1RM for 4 repsWorking Sets 5-10:  90% of 1RM for 2-3 repsRest:  2-3 minutes between setsIf Losing ROM Before Fatigue Accumulates: Add strategic pauses or another targeted exercise

Now, one of the very common scenarios with the big lifts and mature adults is the smaller, adjacent muscles usually tire out way before the larger muscles. Hence, if by set 6, I don’t feel my larger muscles fatiguing at the same rate as the surrounding muscles, I’ll add 2-3 second pauses at the bottom of a squat, bench press, overhead press or at the end-range of a hip thrust to maximize time under tension. Or, I’ll add another method right after my heavy work to finish the job. For example, I’ll add Hip Belt Squats or Leg Presses (3 x 8-10) to tire out the quads, Pec Dec or Fly Machine (3 x 8-10) for the chest, Cable Row or Rear Delt Fly Machine (3 x 8-10) for the back and elevated push-ups (on a very high box) or active handstand against the wall (hold for as long as possible) for the shoulders.

Metabolic Stress – Did I Challenge Myself Enough to Feel the “Pump” or Burn?

Bodybuilders often say, “Go for the burn.”It’s the result of keeping the muscle under constant tension (no rest between reps) and reversing direction just short of lock-out or before bottoming out.This action forces blood into the muscles, while the steady contractions constrict the veins preventing them from letting blood escape.The result is a high level of metabolic stress or cellular swelling and the so-called “burn”.Hence, whenever I do hypertrophy work, I often use a variety of rep schemes with the goal of hitting momentary muscle failure…something like this.

Methods: Focused by Muscle GroupSets:  4-6Rep Scheme:  8-15 (or to momentary muscle failure)Tempo:  Use mostly 5 second eccentric (lowering of the weight) and 2 second pause at peak contraction.  Remember, it's the opposite for exercises that start with the concentric portion like the pull-up or bicep curl.  With those, it's quick up, 2 second pause at top and then 5 seconds down.Rest:  30-60 seconds between setsIf Fatigue Hasn't Progressed: Rest 20 seconds and then do another set of max reps or add another exercise with drop sets (2-4 x 12-15 reps) or burn out sets (1-2 x 40-60 reps).

Another issue with mature adults is it takes us longer to get moving…not just mechanically but all of ourinternal functions as well.Inflammation, fibrosis (aka thickening or scarring of tissues) and too many toxins impact the body’s ability to generate heat, transfer ATP to muscles for fuel and to respond to stimuli.These things all inhibit the amount of tension we can create and hold in the muscles…and keep muscle fatigue from progressing.Now,I don’t like to overthink or rework my workouts when I’m training.It disrupts my flow. But if fatigue hasn’t progressed for the muscle group I’m working, I’ll try one of two things.I’ll rest 20 seconds and crank out as many reps as I can with the same weight.Or I’ll repeat the last method and add in more volume with drop or burn out sets. (Note: drop sets require you to add weight, rep it out, reduce the weight and then rep it out again for the prescribed # of sets. Burn out sets are a little different. They involve a lighter weight for a high number of reps...30, 60 or 100 without rest.) The reason I like these methods is they push a semi-fatigued muscle to its limit, depleting the remaining glycogen and giving it a reason to grow. In short, if you do these methods right, you'll definitely feel the burn.

Know What “Done” Looks Like Before You Workout

There have been studies that show if you ask a person to change one habit, he/she has a 70% chance of success, but ask him/her to change 2 things at the same time, their chances drop to 50%.I’m all about finding small hinges that swing open big doors.And in my opinion, the one thing that will change the way you train is knowing when you’ve worked hard enough…when you’re “done”.Enough is the operative word.

Strength programs are great.Working out hard and sweating is great, but none of that matters if you’re leaving growth on the table.Identify what “done” looks like.I’m telling you big gains are just around the corner.

Boosting Your Body’s Energy Grid

Cleaning the Body of Unwanted Cargo

I have my diet pretty dialed in, but I also pay attention to when my body needs a change. Many people adjust food and experiment with recipes. I play with biochemistry. In short, if I can eat or do something that’s going to improve immunity, reduce inflammation or improve mitochondrial function, then I’m going to give it a go. Well, recently I’ve become interested in cellular degradation. It’s the state where cells become worn out and dysfunctional. And as we all know, too many faulty parts encourages metabolic dysfunction and cancerous growths thereby decreasing longevity. So, here's my question. “What’s the best way to clear away bad or damaged cells?”

Impact of Circadian Rhythms and Fasting on Health

First, a little context. Research has shown that when adults consume meals of exactly the same macro nutrient content and caloric amount, glucose levels are lowest after breakfast and highest after dinner…even though meals are 100% identical. This suggests that metabolism changes throughout the day. Similarly, we also know that metabolism is guided by an internal clock making it more active during the day for eating, exercising and working and less active at night for recovery. Now, while the external cue of light/dark helps set our brain’s active/rest states, there is another on/off switch…namely food. Food, in fact, is the oscillator that governs the circadian rhythm of the liver and peripheral tissues and regulates the body’s protein synthesis and protein break-down programs. In short, when you eat food, the body’s resources are mobilized to digest and absorb nutrients. Whereas when you go without food for a period of time (aka fasting), the body switches to a natural cleansing process to rid itself of dysfunctional and damaged cells.

Out With the Old…In With the New

While fasting is a common method for reducing calorie intake to lose weight [1, 2], Dr. Rhonda Patrick (biochemist and scientist) says, its real benefits lie in its ability to ‘clean house’ and make room for new cell and tissue growth. She says, “Whenacell is damaged, it can die. But if it doesn't die, sometimes it becomes what's called senescent, and this happens a lot with aging. What that means is that the cell is not dead, but it's not really alive either. It's not doing its function. It's just kind of sitting around in your body secreting pro-inflammatory molecules, things that are damaging other nearby cells thereby accelerating the aging process because inflammation drives aging in so many different ways. Autophagy clears away those cells that are just sitting there creating damage and not doing much else, which is nice because that's also a very important biological mechanism for staying healthy."   Besides triggering autophagy, fasting also:

Fasting Schedules…Eeny, Meeny, Miney Moe

First, it’s important to note if you suffer from insulin dysregulation, chronic hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal disruption, thyroid disorders, anxiety, are pregnant or breast-feeding, you probably shouldn’t fast.Having said that, here are three popular fasting schedules.

Best Practices for Implementation

According to Dr. Patrick, regardless of your actual age, how old you look corresponds with key biological biomarkers (e.g., telomere length, DNA damage, cholesterol LDL, glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity), which are all largely driven by the health of the mitochondria.Yes, eating the right nutrients and exercise are important for promoting mitochondrial health, but fasting is the mechanism that triggers the body to rid itself of unwanted cargo.Hence, she advocates the following:

Now, I also asked my friend, advanced functional medicine practitioner and nutritionist Tom Malterre for his opinion. He says of course the body needs periods of rest and non-eating, but he’s not convinced that it needs to be programmed. He says the body is ingenious…constantly triaging itself, sending and creating nutrients when and where it needs them, as well as ridding itself of toxins and dysfunctional cells. Because metabolism, digestive enzyme, hormone and neurotransmitter production all go down with age, however, he recommends adults experiment with food to make sure they're not unknowingly consuming foods that irritate their body, eat their biggest meal at breakfast and not eating 3 hours before bedtime. He says although some of those things may be considered a form of time-restricted eating, his motivation is to help people align food intake with their body’s digestion and absorption capacities…so fuel is available when it’s needed.

Bottom line, while fasting likely encourages the body’s cleansing and cellular regeneration processes (aka autophagy), it’s probably not the only mechanism. If it speaks to you, then give it try. But make sure you focus on eating the food that works for your body. That’s the most important thing to consider for optimizing cognitive and physical performance with a youthful vibrancy throughout life.

[1] Hatori, M., Vollmers, C., Zarrinpar, A., DiTacchio, L., Bushong, E.A., Gill, S., Leblanc, M., Chaix, A., Joens, M., Fitzpatrick, J.A., et al. (2012). Time-restricted feeding without reducing caloric intake prevents metabolic diseases in mice fed a high-fat diet. Cell Metab. 15, 848–860.

[2] Heilbronn, L.K., Smith, S.R., Martin, C.K., Anton, S.D., and Ravussin, E. (2005). Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 81, 69–73.

[3] Wu, S. (June, 2014). Fasting triggers stem cell regeneration of damaged, old immune system. USC News.

[4] Marinac, C.R., Natarajan, L., Sears, D.D., Gallo, L.C., Hartman, S.J., Arredondo, E., and Patterson, R.E. (2015a). Prolonged nightly fasting and breast cancer risk: findings from NHANES (2009-2010). Cancer Epidemiology. Biomarkers Prev. 24, 783–789.

[5] Marinac, C.R., Sears, D.D., Natarajan, L., Gallo, L.C., Breen, C.I., and Patterson, R.E. (2015b). Frequency and circadian timing of eating may influence biomarkers of inflammation and insulin resistance associated with breast cancer risk. PLoS ONE 10, e0136240.

6] Brandhorst, S., Cheng, C. W., Childress, P., Choi, I.Y., Cohen, P., Conti, P. S., Di Biase, S., Dorff, T. B., Dubeau, L., Groshen, S., Ikeng, Y., Ji, L., Kennedy, B. K., Longo, V. D., Mirisola, M., Mirzael, H., Morgan, T. E., Navarrete, G., Odetti, P., Park, R., Penna, F., Perin, L., Sedrakyan, S., Vinciquerra, M., Wei, M., Yap, L. P. (June, 2015). A periodic diet that mimics fasting promotes multi-system regeneration, enhanced cognitive performance and health span. Cell Metabolism.