AMA January 2023

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You know it's a new year when we start an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on fitness. For those of you new to this, yours truly takes the hot seat, answers all your questions in detail and adds links to relevant studies where necessary. If the value of this one is anything like previous sessions we shall then add it to the Community Knowledge Base so it can be referenced more easily (this is a new to us approach). A few rules as always: 1. There are no stupid questions. If you don't know something you don't know it. Asking is how we learn. 2. Don't be afraid to comment. I understand that sometimes my response style is overly researched and appears intimidating. It's a mostly unavoidable effect of the work I put into every answer. However, bear in mind that knowledge is not an absolute dictum. The stuff we know now, for instance, reverses virtually everything we know about health and fitness in the 20th century and back then we were sure we knew virtually everything so don't be afraid to ask follow-up questions or explore relevant ideas that are sparked off by the discussion . 3. Tag people into the conversation if you feel they will benefit from it by using the @ and their nick. 4. Remember all the above rules :LOL: . This thread will be open until the end of this month and I will try and answer each question as quickly as possible, day-job pressures allowing.
 

LionAlpha

Well-known member
Guardian from Kavala, Greece
Pronouns: He/Him
Posts: 103
Hey @Damer,

My question is related to muscle building and calisthenics-bodyweight training. I tend to see two different approaches to it, and it gets confusing as to which one is ideal or effective. The first approach is a typical set x reps (like up to 12 - 15 reps or something), and the second approach is high-volume training (building up more and more reps) to replicate tension and resistance for muscle building. What do you think about it?

And one more question, circuits or traditional set x reps with calisthenics-bodyweight training for muscle building?

Thank you in advance for the great resources you provide us!
 

Damer

Administrator
DAREBEE Team
Warrior Monk from Terra
Pronouns: He/Him
Posts: 594
@LionAlpha what a complex can of worms you just kicked open! :LOL: There's no real easy answer to your seemingly simple question. I say 'seemingly' because what you're asking is actually really complex, so let's unpack it a little. We are still not 100% certain what constitutes strength. Strength itself is an outcome that has a multi-factorial basis such as:

  • Bone strength
  • Bone length
  • Hormonal profile
  • Diet
  • Age
  • Muscle density
  • Brain health
The list is non-exhaustive. Because we cannot see what goes on inside us we tend to focus on what goes on outside so most studies and theories about strength are observational in nature. This has led to the inevitable correlation of muscle size with strength even though we now have studies that show that there are many other factors which should be considered first.

Observational studies focus on one of two obvious and measurable indicators of strength: A. muscle size (hence the whole hypertrophy discussion even though there is increased evidence that larger muscles do not necessarily deliver greater force.) B. load increase (which has led to the focus on load progression whereby you increase the amount of load you can physically move with your muscles).

These two have led to the classic set reps or volume/load increase schools of thought. Whether you're working with your body or with weights the principal is the same. Set reps try to take a high load and move it a set number of times while load progression uses a relatively low load an ever increasing number of times (hence, volume) to produce the load progression needed. Interestingly the principal is exactly the same when you consider your second question:

circuits or traditional set x reps with calisthenics-bodyweight training for muscle building?

Circuits are high intensity exercises performed with no break in-between until the set is done and then there is a rest or 'reset' time before the circuit is repeated again to the required number of times and traditional exercises with reps focus on one type of exercise at a time which needs to be completed a number of sets, with rest in between.

Both methods of training deliver strength. To differentiate what's best for you we need to ask the question: "Strength to do what?"

If, for instance, the goal is to increase the length of time muscles can deliver a specific output without tiring then circuits deliver the better result. If the goal is to increase the output of the muscle in a short time then traditional sets X reps is better at delivering that result.

There is no real "one is a superior training method than the other" answer here. Your goal determines what is best for you. And if you have no fixed goal then alternating between the two delivers a better, overall, functional capability.

I really hope this has helped dispel some of the confusion. Please ask further questions if you feel I need to add more clarification.
 

Laura Rainbow Dragon

Well-known member
Bard from Canada
Posts: 1,778
"Striving to be the change."
I understand that sometimes my response style is overly researched
There is no such thing! The only thing that makes DAREBEE Knowledge Base articles useful at all is that you do research them, and you provide links to the relevant studies. The fitness industry is rife with misinformation because far too many people rely on information that is outdated, poorly-researched, misinterpreted (oftentimes deliberately for financial gain), and/or never backed by science in the first place. I appreciate the work that you do here in drilling past the sensationalist headlines (which are designed to be clickbait, not to be accurate) and digging into actual current research, and I always appreciate your inclusion of links to your sources. Thank you for helping me keep my own knowledge up to date!
 
Last edited:

LionAlpha

Well-known member
Guardian from Kavala, Greece
Pronouns: He/Him
Posts: 103
@LionAlpha what a complex can of worms you just kicked open! :LOL: There's no real easy answer to your seemingly simple question. I say 'seemingly' because what you're asking is actually really complex, so let's unpack it a little. We are still not 100% certain what constitutes strength. Strength itself is an outcome that has a multi-factorial basis such as:

  • Bone strength
  • Bone length
  • Hormonal profile
  • Diet
  • Age
  • Muscle density
  • Brain health
The list is non-exhaustive. Because we cannot see what goes on inside us we tend to focus on what goes on outside so most studies and theories about strength are observational in nature. This has led to the inevitable correlation of muscle size with strength even though we now have studies that show that there are many other factors which should be considered first.

Observational studies focus on one of two obvious and measurable indicators of strength: A. muscle size (hence the whole hypertrophy discussion even though there is increased evidence that larger muscles do not necessarily deliver greater force.) B. load increase (which has led to the focus on load progression whereby you increase the amount of load you can physically move with your muscles).

These two have led to the classic set reps or volume/load increase schools of thought. Whether you're working with your body or with weights the principal is the same. Set reps try to take a high load and move it a set number of times while load progression uses a relatively low load an ever increasing number of times (hence, volume) to produce the load progression needed. Interestingly the principal is exactly the same when you consider your second question:



Circuits are high intensity exercises performed with no break in-between until the set is done and then there is a rest or 'reset' time before the circuit is repeated again to the required number of times and traditional exercises with reps focus on one type of exercise at a time which needs to be completed a number of sets, with rest in between.

Both methods of training deliver strength. To differentiate what's best for you we need to ask the question: "Strength to do what?"

If, for instance, the goal is to increase the length of time muscles can deliver a specific output without tiring then circuits deliver the better result. If the goal is to increase the output of the muscle in a short time then traditional sets X reps is better at delivering that result.

There is no real "one is a superior training method than the other" answer here. Your goal determines what is best for you. And if you have no fixed goal then alternating between the two delivers a better, overall, functional capability.

I really hope this has helped dispel some of the confusion. Please ask further questions if you feel I need to add more clarification.
Thank you very much for the thorough answer @Damer . So if I understand correctly both classic set reps and high-volume training are the same. Circuit training is better for muscular endurance and classic sets-reps are better for muscular strength-force.

Shouldn't both circuits and sets-reps have the same results though since the muscles are under tension from body resistance? Both for muscular stamina and force, as well as muscular hypertrophy?
 

Laura Rainbow Dragon

Well-known member
Bard from Canada
Posts: 1,778
"Striving to be the change."
These two have led to the classic set reps or volume/load increase schools of thought. Whether you're working with your body or with weights the principal is the same. Set reps try to take a high load and move it a set number of times while load progression uses a relatively low load an ever increasing number of times (hence, volume) to produce the load progression needed.
Do you know of any studies which demonstrated a statistically significant difference in safety profile between high volume versus high load training? I was taught high volume training with relatively small weights led to fewer injuries than heavy weight training. But I was taught this by a corporation with a vested interest in promoting the former, and the assertion seems to fly in the face of the prevalence of RSIs which can be caused by fairly low load activities.
 

Damer

Administrator
DAREBEE Team
Warrior Monk from Terra
Pronouns: He/Him
Posts: 594
Thank you very much for the thorough answer @Damer . So if I understand correctly both classic set reps and high-volume training are the same. Circuit training is better for muscular endurance and classic sets-reps are better for muscular strength-force.

Shouldn't both circuits and sets-reps have the same results though since the muscles are under tension from body resistance? Both for muscular stamina and force, as well as muscular hypertrophy?
In principle, what you said @LionAlpha is correct. The purely mechanical point of view of the body is that exercise creates force, muscles respond through resistance. The tension the muscles experience is in theory the same as the body's weight does not change from one type of exercise to the other and therefore both types of training will deliver roughly the same results.

But, we're not machines and the mechanical view of the body's response to exerted force is an oversimplification that we've used because it's really difficult to study a living body and there are also some ethical parameters to consider when we devise study protocols that involve people.

This is what we know: the order in which exercises are performed in a circuit will greatly affect the results we achieve. There is a 2019 study on that here. It involves mainly older people, though that shouldn't be a nullifying consideration, plus it cites the effects noted in studies using a much younger set of subjects. We also know that exercise intensity plays a role as does exercise duration. In a study involving kayakers they found that low intensity and high volume produced greater results in terms of performance and endurance than high intensity and low volume. This mirrors, a little, the endurance vs strength question between circuit training and traditional sets.

There are additional factors to consider here as well. One is the number of joints recruited for each exercise. Traditionally, circuit training exercises recruit more than one joint (i.e. squats recruit the knee joint and hip and also the ankle joint to some effect and is regarded as a multi-joint exercise) a wall sit, on the other hand recruits the knee joint and is regarded as a single-joint exercise. The body's adaptive response that leads to strength from such exercises is initially measured visually (muscle thickness) and tendon strength (measured as peak torque at the joint). Multi-joint exercises force the muscles to act as agonists at one joint and antagonists at the other which waters down the force they experience and the adaptations that take place. Single-joint exercises tend to deliver the best results in both cases by a small margin. However, when it comes to measuring performance both types of exercises are at the same level. The study on that one is here.

This suggests that performance in movement is dynamic and relatively unique. It recruits, beyond muscles and tendons the central nervous system (CNS) which is structured uniquely for each person. At the level of exercise that most of us engage in the effect is negligible but the higher up the performance chain you go the more critical it becomes, which is why no two top-level athletes can be trained in the exact same way.

A 2020 study that supports what I just said about single-joint vs multi-joint exercises showed that while all participants improved, there were specific exercises where the multi-joint group performed better and others where the single-joint group performed better. As the study mentions this has to do with training specificity (i.e. your own specific goals that we've already discussed).

To break all this down in a more digestible answer :LOL: both circuit training and traditional sets, in calisthenics, will make you stronger overall, but one will have an advantage over the other if you want to do specific things. If you want to outrun the zombie hordes and still be able to fight-off any hostiles in the Zombie Apocalypse then circuit training will get you there but if your goal is to be able to pick up massively heavy objects and launch them at your attackers now and then you need traditional sets training.
 

Damer

Administrator
DAREBEE Team
Warrior Monk from Terra
Pronouns: He/Him
Posts: 594
Do you know of any studies which demonstrated a statistically significant difference in safety profile between high volume versus high load training? I was taught high volume training with relatively small weights led to fewer injuries than heavy weight training. But I was taught this by a corporation with a vested interest in promoting the former, and the assertion seems to fly in the face of the prevalence of RSIs which can be caused by fairly low load activities.
Yes! Indeed and the most recent one came out just last year! I need to dash for now but I will revert to this a little later and provide a full answer with references.
 

Damer

Administrator
DAREBEE Team
Warrior Monk from Terra
Pronouns: He/Him
Posts: 594
@Laura Rainbow Dragon our article on the science of lifting weights for strength cites a study that specifically addresses exactly what you said (I have linked to the relevant part directly in the link). The problem with resistance training (i.e. weights) is on how you apply it. A study carried out showed that professional athletes who don't push themselves during resistance training suffer more injuries in sport than those who do. This, in turn, is taken as gospel by coaches wanting to push their charges and by individual athletes chasing an edge.

Now, performance in sport in an adaptive response to, hopefully, sports-specific training. And because any type of physical performance presents a stressor to the body and the brain, the best way to prepare for it is to train both to cope with higher stressors so they have the resilience necessary to perform in sport without breaking down. Incidentally, this applies to us at a non-competitive level. But, when resistance training is used at maximal load (what they call 'lifting heavy') the body and mind cannot easily differentiate between stress induced by the effort and thereby needing that extra bit of grit to 'push through' and get one more rep and stress induced by muscles and tendons approaching their breaking point (which is when injuries occur). We know from the Darebee article and other studies that lifting light loads in higher volume and at lower speed produces the same muscle fiber adaptations as when we lift heavy loads at lower volume and (out of necessity) low speed.

What is harder to show is why lower loads are safer and higher loads are not. To help us out here is a study carried out on patients suffering from heart problems. The heart muscle is extremely resilient and very strong. So when it is damaged it can indicate, very quickly, the type of workload that benefits it and the type that damages it. The study in question showed that while both high load work (lifting heavy) and low load work (lifting light) helped improve the cardiac muscle low load work was tolerated a lot more than high load. This sensitivity to load perfectly illustrates the case.

I hope this helps you.
 

LionAlpha

Well-known member
Guardian from Kavala, Greece
Pronouns: He/Him
Posts: 103
In principle, what you said @LionAlpha is correct. The purely mechanical point of view of the body is that exercise creates force, muscles respond through resistance. The tension the muscles experience is in theory the same as the body's weight does not change from one type of exercise to the other and therefore both types of training will deliver roughly the same results.

But, we're not machines and the mechanical view of the body's response to exerted force is an oversimplification that we've used because it's really difficult to study a living body and there are also some ethical parameters to consider when we devise study protocols that involve people.

This is what we know: the order in which exercises are performed in a circuit will greatly affect the results we achieve. There is a 2019 study on that here. It involves mainly older people, though that shouldn't be a nullifying consideration, plus it cites the effects noted in studies using a much younger set of subjects. We also know that exercise intensity plays a role as does exercise duration. In a study involving kayakers they found that low intensity and high volume produced greater results in terms of performance and endurance than high intensity and low volume. This mirrors, a little, the endurance vs strength question between circuit training and traditional sets.

There are additional factors to consider here as well. One is the number of joints recruited for each exercise. Traditionally, circuit training exercises recruit more than one joint (i.e. squats recruit the knee joint and hip and also the ankle joint to some effect and is regarded as a multi-joint exercise) a wall sit, on the other hand recruits the knee joint and is regarded as a single-joint exercise. The body's adaptive response that leads to strength from such exercises is initially measured visually (muscle thickness) and tendon strength (measured as peak torque at the joint). Multi-joint exercises force the muscles to act as agonists at one joint and antagonists at the other which waters down the force they experience and the adaptations that take place. Single-joint exercises tend to deliver the best results in both cases by a small margin. However, when it comes to measuring performance both types of exercises are at the same level. The study on that one is here.

This suggests that performance in movement is dynamic and relatively unique. It recruits, beyond muscles and tendons the central nervous system (CNS) which is structured uniquely for each person. At the level of exercise that most of us engage in the effect is negligible but the higher up the performance chain you go the more critical it becomes, which is why no two top-level athletes can be trained in the exact same way.

A 2020 study that supports what I just said about single-joint vs multi-joint exercises showed that while all participants improved, there were specific exercises where the multi-joint group performed better and others where the single-joint group performed better. As the study mentions this has to do with training specificity (i.e. your own specific goals that we've already discussed).

To break all this down in a more digestible answer :LOL: both circuit training and traditional sets, in calisthenics, will make you stronger overall, but one will have an advantage over the other if you want to do specific things. If you want to outrun the zombie hordes and still be able to fight-off any hostiles in the Zombie Apocalypse then circuit training will get you there but if your goal is to be able to pick up massively heavy objects and launch them at your attackers now and then you need traditional sets training.
The last paragraph answered my question perfectly haha! Thank you very much @Damer !
 

guibo94

Well-known member
Gladiator from New Asgard
Posts: 75
"Silent but deadly."
Hi @Damer and thank you all of these AMAs! I am long time Bee and I wanted to ask you a question(s) about flexibility and range of motion and what science says is the best way to improve these. At this point in my life and fitness journey, my goal is to increase my overall flexibility/range of motion as well as build functional strength. I am a lifetime athlete and I am good at pushing myself and working out to improve my physical fitness, but I have struggled to figure out how to do the same for improving my flexibility and range of motion. The article about improving leg strength got me thinking that this is not as simple as just doing more yoga or stretching (and I do both) so I was wondering what are some good guidelines for setting up a routine that builds "strength" and range of motion over the long term? For the past few months my mantra before I start any workout has been "balance, control, and range of motion" and I approach every movement of every set with this goal in mind, but I feel lost, more so that I don't have a target or a goal post to aim for. For example, when I do push ups I go slow(er), not for the isometric burn, but to keep myself from using momentum or gravity to my advantage so that I can build strength through my full range of motion (not just the top and bottom). While I do much fewer reps (often less than 10 in a set) this way, I feel like the quality of my gains both in strength and range of motion are better than if I were to crank out the full 20 reps at a quicker pace. In fact I notice that other movements have become increasingly "easier" than in the past and I feel like there is an optimum balance, but I don't know what that is. Or maybe my approach to exercise "form" has been wrong all these years, haha! Sorry for the rabbit trail and thank you in advance!
 

Nevetharine

Well-known member
Viking from The Depths
Pronouns: She/her
Posts: 868
This has probably been answered somewhere before... I'll use push-ups for example, because that's my personal best example. 😁

But which is best for muscle strength and/or building muscle size -

a) Doing push-ups until the elbows start going funny and you can't engage your abs anymore, (the loss of proper form)

Or

b) Pushing past that point and doing the push-ups until your arms give and you fall on your face?

I guess now that I reread my own question - I may not be referring to training with dumbbells but bodyweight alone. Because it's obviously not a great idea to lift a dumbbell over your head to train your triceps, until the dumbbell falls on your head. That might lead to a serious concussion. 🤣
 

Damer

Administrator
DAREBEE Team
Warrior Monk from Terra
Pronouns: He/Him
Posts: 594
@guibo94 rabbit trails lead to new places :LOL: so no problem. Great question and, as you've phrased it, it reveals exactly what you have identified as an issue for you:

I feel lost, more so that I don't have a target or a goal post to aim for.

This, actually, is more important to what you do than everything else so in my characteristic forensic style :cool: I'm going to peel back the layers a little. First off, a goal or a target is key for two very important reasons that are related in how they work in front and behind our eyes. Progression and measure. If you cannot see any progress being made it's hard to stay focused and motivated If you can't measure the progress you're making it's difficult to find ways to improve on what you're doing. Motivation is a neurochemical response involving a cocktail of three neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. These accumulate when we are discomfited by something and activate the response that leads to action. They make us, for instance, put up with the stressor of exercise because we have a clear goal in mind and achieving that goal is taking us from a place where we don't feel good about our self to a place where we feel better (like, for instance, becoming stronger or more flexible or faster).

By your description you continue to exercise so my guess is you sort of already know why you exercise (hence your mantra of "balance, control, and range of motion" which is both inspiring and impressive, but if you feel you don't have a target or a goal you need to sit down and work it out for yourself. That will instantly help clarify some of the things that block your progress and also allow you to choose what to focus on as you just cannot focus on everything all the time and still expect to see progress. :LOL: (I'm beginning to sound like a school counselor! :LOL:)

Now, to the more practical components of your question. Your experience of going slowly through an exercise like push-ups, especially during the lowering stage is 100% correct. By slowing down a resistance movement, especially the eccentric part of it (in push-ups that's the lowering part) you end up engaging more muscle fibers and increasing the strength of the signal sent by the central nervous system (CNS) and that leads to a faster increase in strength and greater muscle control because you get both hypertrophy (muscle circumference gets bigger and central nervous system pathways get strengthened). There is a study on this involving weights that was released just last September and can be found here. It made all the usual headlines under the slightly misleading claim that you get stronger lowering weights than lifting them (you need to lift in both cases but you don't let gravity 'drop' them for you.

Usually, when it comes to strength there is a sacrifice in range of motion. That's because the effective part of the muscle that delivers strength can do so through a partial as opposed to total contraction. However, there are notable exceptions to this in specific sports: boxers, for example need powerful upper body muscles that are also flexible in order to create the different angles of attack and defense. Martial artists and ballet dancers similarly need fast, powerful, explosive muscles that allow them to control their bodies fully. All three, as you will say, have a relatively flat, dense musculature. Muscles are strong in a disproportionate manner to their size (thought they are definitely sizeable by the average person's standards). This is achieved through a combination of strength training using slow movements (boxers and ballet dancers, for instance, go through movements, fully, slowly straining their muscles to help them carry them through), repetitions and stretching.

We know that muscles respond and adapt when triggered by fatigue (metabolic load), mechanical tension, muscle damage. The training I discuss above delivers all three. Your slow push ups, for instance, deliver both mechanical tension and metabolic load, this is why you see so much better results. If you want to get to the stage where your body is your own (which I suspect that's what you are getting at) then a combination of stretching, slow movements under load and then full movement under lesser load will get you there.

I hope I've shed some light on this. Please let me know if you need for me to add more clarification to any of this.
 

Damer

Administrator
DAREBEE Team
Warrior Monk from Terra
Pronouns: He/Him
Posts: 594
This has probably been answered somewhere before... I'll use push-ups for example, because that's my personal best example. 😁

But which is best for muscle strength and/or building muscle size -

a) Doing push-ups until the elbows start going funny and you can't engage your abs anymore, (the loss of proper form)

Or

b) Pushing past that point and doing the push-ups until your arms give and you fall on your face?

I guess now that I reread my own question - I may not be referring to training with dumbbells but bodyweight alone. Because it's obviously not a great idea to lift a dumbbell over your head to train your triceps, until the dumbbell falls on your head. That might lead to a serious concussion. 🤣
@Nevetharine usually point A. and point B. are reached almost at the same time. To answer your question however 'better' is a matter of what you're aiming for. If you want o increase strength and control then proper form is important and stopping at the point where maintaining form is no longer possible is the right thing to do. But if you're looking to increase endurance so you can do, let's say, 100 push-ups in a row, then pushing past the point where form goes and going on until total muscle failure is the way to go.

I hope this helps you. (And yeah, it's prudent to avoid concussions :LOL: ).
 

TopNotch

Well-known member
Ranger from Australia
Posts: 1,655
"Motivation is temporary. Discipline is forever."
Hello. I love these. I particularly love the "no stupid questions" bit.:)
My questions have largely already been answered but let me just pose them in a form of summation from your answers (with a few questions sprinkled in), just so I've got things right.
To gain muscular strength (hypertrophy is not a concern), it is as effective to lift light weights slowly until failure as it is to lift a few low-rep sets of, say, 80% of 1RM. Time under tension is the primary thing here then, not the amount of weight moved?
Training slowly increases strength. But if you always train slow, will you be able to move fast? When do you need to train fast to move fast, or even do you? (That's probably a horribly big question, now that I think of it!)

But if you're looking to increase endurance so you can do, let's say, 100 push-ups in a row, then pushing past the point where form goes and going on until total muscle failure is the way to go.
In this case, then, bad form doesn't matter? I would have thought that drop sets might have been preferable - in the case of push-ups, going from full to incline, and finishing perhaps with wall push-ups, all of which maintain the same form but reduce the load until the body can't even face another wall push-up. Or are both methods equally valid?
And just one thing I'm curious about but I'm not sure how to phrase it so it makes sense. I'll give it a go, though. When muscles grow, they weigh more - obvious, really. But when muscles don't get bigger but just get stronger, do they weigh more than they did before they got stronger, if they remain the same size? I guess I'm wondering if the strength comes from the muscle itself (and manifests in a physical way) or its neural connections...
 

guibo94

Well-known member
Gladiator from New Asgard
Posts: 75
"Silent but deadly."
@guibo94 rabbit trails lead to new places :LOL: so no problem. Great question and, as you've phrased it, it reveals exactly what you have identified as an issue for you:



This, actually, is more important to what you do than everything else so in my characteristic forensic style :cool: I'm going to peel back the layers a little. First off, a goal or a target is key for two very important reasons that are related in how they work in front and behind our eyes. Progression and measure. If you cannot see any progress being made it's hard to stay focused and motivated If you can't measure the progress you're making it's difficult to find ways to improve on what you're doing. Motivation is a neurochemical response involving a cocktail of three neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. These accumulate when we are discomfited by something and activate the response that leads to action. They make us, for instance, put up with the stressor of exercise because we have a clear goal in mind and achieving that goal is taking us from a place where we don't feel good about our self to a place where we feel better (like, for instance, becoming stronger or more flexible or faster).

By your description you continue to exercise so my guess is you sort of already know why you exercise (hence your mantra of "balance, control, and range of motion" which is both inspiring and impressive, but if you feel you don't have a target or a goal you need to sit down and work it out for yourself. That will instantly help clarify some of the things that block your progress and also allow you to choose what to focus on as you just cannot focus on everything all the time and still expect to see progress. :LOL: (I'm beginning to sound like a school counselor! :LOL:)

Now, to the more practical components of your question. Your experience of going slowly through an exercise like push-ups, especially during the lowering stage is 100% correct. By slowing down a resistance movement, especially the eccentric part of it (in push-ups that's the lowering part) you end up engaging more muscle fibers and increasing the strength of the signal sent by the central nervous system (CNS) and that leads to a faster increase in strength and greater muscle control because you get both hypertrophy (muscle circumference gets bigger and central nervous system pathways get strengthened). There is a study on this involving weights that was released just last September and can be found here. It made all the usual headlines under the slightly misleading claim that you get stronger lowering weights than lifting them (you need to lift in both cases but you don't let gravity 'drop' them for you.

Usually, when it comes to strength there is a sacrifice in range of motion. That's because the effective part of the muscle that delivers strength can do so through a partial as opposed to total contraction. However, there are notable exceptions to this in specific sports: boxers, for example need powerful upper body muscles that are also flexible in order to create the different angles of attack and defense. Martial artists and ballet dancers similarly need fast, powerful, explosive muscles that allow them to control their bodies fully. All three, as you will say, have a relatively flat, dense musculature. Muscles are strong in a disproportionate manner to their size (thought they are definitely sizeable by the average person's standards). This is achieved through a combination of strength training using slow movements (boxers and ballet dancers, for instance, go through movements, fully, slowly straining their muscles to help them carry them through), repetitions and stretching.

We know that muscles respond and adapt when triggered by fatigue (metabolic load), mechanical tension, muscle damage. The training I discuss above delivers all three. Your slow push ups, for instance, deliver both mechanical tension and metabolic load, this is why you see so much better results. If you want to get to the stage where your body is your own (which I suspect that's what you are getting at) then a combination of stretching, slow movements under load and then full movement under lesser load will get you there.

I hope I've shed some light on this. Please let me know if you need for me to add more clarification to any of this.
@Damer Wow, that was perfect! Not that I was expecting anything less, but thank you!

I don't want to clog up this thread with too many questions, but with the combination of stretching, slow, and full movements that you mentioned (which is exactly spot on with my goals) - I am pretty lost when it comes to stretching, or at least when it comes to creating plans or programs. I read through the guide and I understand the different types, but how do I build a routine or a plan with flexibility/stretching as the main course? I would love to use Darebee exclusively but I have done a fair amount of yoga (I could probably teach a yin class at this point) so I can research/add other stuff. My goal is to create a Hero's Journey for flexibility instead of strength and conditioning, haha!

Last question, when doing a stretching workout, what is the goal or how do I know I am pushing myself in a good way? I am pretty good with strength and conditioning workouts, but I feel like stretching is not the same. I find that I either push too hard (get very sore or injured) or not enough when I do stretching workouts or maybe I my expectation for gains is off. Does it take longer to see results with stretching and flexibility compared to strength and conditioning?

Thank you again!
 

Damer

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@guibo94 I'm glad it helped and great come-back questions. Just like strength and conditioning deliver, predominantly, muscle strength and endurance stretching, by definition, delivers flexibility. Obvious as this may be it actually doesn't mean very much. To define it we need to ask: "Flexibility to do what?" For someone it may be great to be able to touch their toes when sitting on the floor or from a standing position, while others want to do the splits. Which one you go for is determined by what you want to achieve.

If we're talking general health and fitness being able to touch your toes from standing is a pretty good range of motion. It delivers agility, strengthens tendons at the back of the legs and stretches the hamstrings and lower back. I am using this as an example to show how you can create boundaries in your stretching while you train. Your knowledge of yoga is a great asset. Yoga is great at creating flexibility in joints through specific stress positions so it does a lot more than traditional stretching does which focuses mostly on stretching tendons and ligaments.

To use what you know properly and maybe even incorporate some of our stretching workouts at the end of the guide, you need to ask yourself: what is it you want to achieve? A sense of total freedom of movement when you execute a particular motion? A general ability to do something simple, like touching your toes? Or the ability to do the splits? You also need to ask yourself what is it you find easiest? For example, I like Yoga but some of its poses are a challenge to me, particularly where spinal flexibility is concerned. On the other hand I can hold the splits forever and the pain is something I'm accustomed to on that exercise so it doesn't bother me. When I don't want to put in too much time or energy in my stretching routine I do the splits and hold the position for 5-10 mins. It doesn't make me more flexible (I'm on the floor already) but it helps me maintain my ability to kick head height which is what I use it for. There are days however when I will try Marichyasana or the Cat Pose for as long as I can because I know that helps me grow physically and mentally and I do need better back flexibility.

Because I know why I am doing the stretch I am doing I also know how far to go. In holding the splits, for instance, I could use plastic blocks under my feet so I elevate them to hip level or above and that would greatly increase my flexibility there but there is no point to it for what I need it. It wouldn't help me kick higher than head height and it would increase my chances of injuring my adductors which would be a major set back for me. Similarly, when I do back flexibility exercises I tend to go only as far as I can comfortably go.

Tendons and ligaments have far fewer nerve connections running through them and fewer capillaries because of their more fibrous nature. The feedback you get from them is less intense as a result and it is easy to overdo it, especially during workouts when you're already well warmed up. So aim to be consistent, stretch a little, often and you get better results than going for extreme stretches less frequently. Fewer nerve ends and capillaries also suggest that tendons respond more slowly than muscles to triggers that force adaptations, the upside of this is they also tend to lose their attributes much slower, so once you have strong tendons that are also flexible you tend to keep that strength and flexibility a lot longer than the muscles they are attached, when you stop exercising them.

The other thing I will add is that tendons, like muscles respond to mechanical tension and stretching, even passive stretching is regarded as such and a recent study highlighted how even passive stretching stimulates strength building in muscle. We cannot stretch tendons and ligaments without also stretching the muscle tissue they attach to so all stretching delivers strength in muscle over time.

I am not sure how much this has helped you, but please follow up with anything you think I could explain better or differently.
 

guibo94

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@guibo94 I'm glad it helped and great come-back questions. Just like strength and conditioning deliver, predominantly, muscle strength and endurance stretching, by definition, delivers flexibility. Obvious as this may be it actually doesn't mean very much. To define it we need to ask: "Flexibility to do what?" For someone it may be great to be able to touch their toes when sitting on the floor or from a standing position, while others want to do the splits. Which one you go for is determined by what you want to achieve.

If we're talking general health and fitness being able to touch your toes from standing is a pretty good range of motion. It delivers agility, strengthens tendons at the back of the legs and stretches the hamstrings and lower back. I am using this as an example to show how you can create boundaries in your stretching while you train. Your knowledge of yoga is a great asset. Yoga is great at creating flexibility in joints through specific stress positions so it does a lot more than traditional stretching does which focuses mostly on stretching tendons and ligaments.

To use what you know properly and maybe even incorporate some of our stretching workouts at the end of the guide, you need to ask yourself: what is it you want to achieve? A sense of total freedom of movement when you execute a particular motion? A general ability to do something simple, like touching your toes? Or the ability to do the splits? You also need to ask yourself what is it you find easiest? For example, I like Yoga but some of its poses are a challenge to me, particularly where spinal flexibility is concerned. On the other hand I can hold the splits forever and the pain is something I'm accustomed to on that exercise so it doesn't bother me. When I don't want to put in too much time or energy in my stretching routine I do the splits and hold the position for 5-10 mins. It doesn't make me more flexible (I'm on the floor already) but it helps me maintain my ability to kick head height which is what I use it for. There are days however when I will try Marichyasana or the Cat Pose for as long as I can because I know that helps me grow physically and mentally and I do need better back flexibility.

Because I know why I am doing the stretch I am doing I also know how far to go. In holding the splits, for instance, I could use plastic blocks under my feet so I elevate them to hip level or above and that would greatly increase my flexibility there but there is no point to it for what I need it. It wouldn't help me kick higher than head height and it would increase my chances of injuring my adductors which would be a major set back for me. Similarly, when I do back flexibility exercises I tend to go only as far as I can comfortably go.

Tendons and ligaments have far fewer nerve connections running through them and fewer capillaries because of their more fibrous nature. The feedback you get from them is less intense as a result and it is easy to overdo it, especially during workouts when you're already well warmed up. So aim to be consistent, stretch a little, often and you get better results than going for extreme stretches less frequently. Fewer nerve ends and capillaries also suggest that tendons respond more slowly than muscles to triggers that force adaptations, the upside of this is they also tend to lose their attributes much slower, so once you have strong tendons that are also flexible you tend to keep that strength and flexibility a lot longer than the muscles they are attached, when you stop exercising them.

The other thing I will add is that tendons, like muscles respond to mechanical tension and stretching, even passive stretching is regarded as such and a recent study highlighted how even passive stretching stimulates strength building in muscle. We cannot stretch tendons and ligaments without also stretching the muscle tissue they attach to so all stretching delivers strength in muscle over time.

I am not sure how much this has helped you, but please follow up with anything you think I could explain better or differently.
Thank you, again! This is exactly what I needed and I think I have the makings of a plan now. My end goal is still vague (super bendy) but I am definitely going to take a page out of your book and start with something functional, like being able to sit cross-legged and upright for a meditation without straining my lower back and hip flexors the whole time, haha! It's so uncomfortable that I have to either sit in a chair or lay flat on my back to meditate. I'll start there and hopefully be able to sit in a split for 10 minutes with you someday, haha!

Thank you for all of your words of wisdom. You are truly a god among men!
 

Damer

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@HellYeah excellent question and thank you for asking it and it too is one heck of a can of worms. You've taken a couple of lines to ask it and to do it justice I now need to add some text so apologies in advance for the mini-book that follows here. :LOL:

First of all let's agree that to all of us training to failure intuitively feels like it's going to be really beneficial because of the undoubtedly higher perceptual load and effort involved when muscles begin to fail to pull or push a weight. Coaches have also taken this perceptual increase and the effort that goes with it (an observed effect) to mean that the body either recruits more muscle fibers (both Type I, a.k.a. slow twitch and Type II, a.k.a. fast twitch) in which case there is a greater increase in strength than not training to failure or that by training to failure we make faster strength gains because it triggers hypertrophy faster or to a greater degree than if we didn't.

Thankfully we have some studies and solid data that helps explain what happens in the body when we lift to failure and the findings puncture some of the expectations that come from our own intuitive understanding. A 2016 study, for example, showed that untrained individuals who do high-load resistance training to failure don't get much strength gain from it while doing low-load training to failure does give them greater strength gains and also an increase in muscle size (hypertrophy). Trained individuals on the other hand (such as yourself) experienced the exact opposite effect. A more recent meta-analysis on the subject indicates that equal gains in strength and muscle size can be achieved by training with moderate loads consistently instead of to-failure in either light or heavy loads. And these are results that also mirror a 2015 study that also looked at the effectiveness of 5x5 training, like yours, found pretty much the same thing. That study however highlighted something we need to take into consideration that is the magnitude of the adaptations being experienced by the muscles over the time component, when training to failure as opposed to not.

The fact that untrained people experience faster results when training to failure even when the load is light or moderate is one reason why we use it so frequently in Darebee exercises. When we exercise to failure, depending on the effort involved our body undergoes a number of significant neurochemical changes that seem to work against each other. For instance, it triggers hypertrophy and muscle growth, neurotransmitters are released that trigger hormones which promote muscle growth, and it optimizes the way the body puts on muscle.

There are, however, studies that show that when the effort we experience is really high we get so stressed that our system is flooded with cortisol and that has a detrimental effect to muscle growth. These add to some older studies that show that training to failure does not always recruit more muscle fibers nor does it enhance muscle growth.

It is telling that the majority of studies that suggest that training to failure doesn't help with strength gains or hypertrophy are older. The newer ones have better protocols, much better means of measuring changes in live bodies and also take into account the neural component.

I will sum the state of things at the moment with all our current knowledge.

  • Training to muscle failure using high loads and low volume or low loads and high volume will not produce any strength gains or muscle size increase that cannot be accomplished by lifting moderate loads consistently. But training to failure will produce the same results, faster. So it is a strategy for maximizing gains and saving time.
  • Untrained people or those who are returning to training will see the best results training their muscles to failure with low or moderate loads and high volume, the high load with fewer reps does not appear to work for them.
  • Trained people will the best results with high loads and few reps when training to failure with weights, otherwise the results between them and untrained people regarding muscle growth and strength gains remain the same.
When we take all this into account it would appear that training to failure, consistently, is a time-saving strategy which however may backfire if sufficient rest is not factored in for muscles to fully recover between training sessions. Muscles that are inflamed and therefore de-strengthened do not respond well to more exercise.

On the surface of it then, everything that we get from training to failure could be achieved, with a little more patience, over a longer period of time with consistency in training and light to moderate training loads (at least where weights are concerned but the same principle could be applied to bodyweight exercises). If just muscle size and apparent strength are the only goals we may as well forego training to failure completely

However, there are other benefits to training to failure which, in my opinion, make it a necessary component of training provided it is used with sufficient, in-between recovery times. These are:

  • Brain health and the central nervous system (CNS). Training to failure enhances a host of neurobiological functions and responses that are commonly associated with exercise. An equivalent in cardiovascular exercise and aerobics is the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) protocol.
  • Central nervous system (CNS) signalling. Because the central nervous system is key to activating and recruiting muscle fibers, training to failure hardens and strengthens CNS communication pathways making the signal sent to the muscles by the brain, stronger. This is one reason training to failure makes us more resistant to fatigue.
  • Grit. Training to failure increases the cortisol levels in the body and the dissonance felt in the brain as the signals it reads say "stop" and we want to get in "one more rep if possible". It therefore requires us to learn to deal with that stressful response and continue to train. This hardens us to feeling stress and anxiety in everyday life, strengthens our ability to be persistent and not give up easily (which are, truly, neurochemical responses that travel along CNS pathways in the brain) and makes us more resilient in everyday life.
Just for the last three benefits alone, training to failure should be on everyone's to-try list at least once a month.

I hope I have adequately answered your question. If there is anything that may need clarification or further explanation or if my answer triggers any follow-up questions, please let me know.
 

HellYeah

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Big thanks, 👍

I will get a bit more specific:

Let's say for pull-ups (not weighed) someon does 3 sets to failure, the reps they achieve usually drop significantly:
e.x (10, 6, 2)
Another person is doing 4 sets on 80% like be 8, 7, 6, 5 reps followed by another to failure set with 6 reps.

Would the second person have more benefits, from more volume and still a to failure approach in the last set?
 

Damer

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Big thanks, 👍

I will get a bit more specific:

Let's say for pull-ups (not weighed) someon does 3 sets to failure, the reps they achieve usually drop significantly:
e.x (10, 6, 2)
Another person is doing 4 sets on 80% like be 8, 7, 6, 5 reps followed by another to failure set with 6 reps.

Would the second person have more benefits, from more volume and still a to failure approach in the last set?
Yes, definitely! That approach places both volume and load on the muscles and pushes for greater adaptation. The only caveat here, based on the studies, is that the person's fitness level is key here.

Apply the protocol with a subject that is already fit and you will see great results, faster. A less fit person however would experience so much fatigue and physical stress that their body would put all its resources in 'damage control' and little or nothing in building muscle and strength.

I hope this helps.
 

Gafi

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Hi!

This might be already explained in some guide/answered in some other place so sorry if I'm duplicating questions.

I really struggle with cardio exercises (high knees, jumping jacks, climbers, etc) or other cardio activities like running. I get out of breath very fast, my heart is working really hard and I get exhausted very easily. I don't have the same problem with slower exercises (squats, arm raises, step jacks, etc). The same way, I can barely run 2kms but I can easily walk 15-20kms in one day.
I started doing 1-minute HIIT because I know HIIT is recommended for improving your endurance, lose weight and become better at doing cardio stuff. I see the same pattern here, for example day 10 (https://darebee.com/programs/1min-hiit.html?showall=&start=10) was great for me and even though my muscles still felt strained I could do Level 3, while day 11 (https://darebee.com/programs/1min-hiit.html?showall=&start=11) was killing me, made me hate it and only did Level 1.

My question is: does strength training help with endurance and cardio ability at all or is the best way to improve to power through cardio exercises even though they feel harder?

I know doing something like 1-minute HIIT, 30 days of HIIT or 30 Days of Cardio Blast is what is recommended to improve cardio ability but I feel a bit discouraged when I know how hard they can get for me.
Keeping in mind that my goal is exactly what is hardest for me (improve my endurance/breathing/ lose weight) could doing something like 30 Days of Gravity/Power Up still help from this perspective (I know they help in other ways) and get me to a point where I can survive a cardio program better or is doing a cardio program the only way you can actually get better at it?

Thanks!
 

Damer

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Which pushup variation is better if you aren't strong enough for regular pushups, knees or on the stairs? Better is subjective so let's define it as either getting to being able to do regular pushups faster or closer to regular pushup form.
@aerochic you're right in that "better" is subjective indeed. Really, what you're asking is what's the shortest path to being able to do a full push-up using proper form. For that you need to exercise and strengthen the muscles you will use when doing it. Depends on how you position your body at the moment (knees or on the stairs) you're using an incline to lessen the load of the push ups which studies show that during the up and down motion, when executed in perfect form, apply as much as 75% of the body's weight on the shoulders, triceps and back which is what makes them such an effective exercise. Add to it the fact that you also use core, quads and glutes and you begin to see why they're such a popular form of exercise for athletes as well as fitness enthusiasts.

So, really, in order for you to get to do a regular push up you need to feel that the muscles you use are worked. Because there are quite a few variables here that are hard to address such as the angle at which your knees are placed in relation to your hips, when you do push ups on your knees or the angle of elevation of your upper body when using stairs, the best answer I can give you is "listen to the load" if you feel that doing push ups on your knees is too easy, up the volume or change the angle of your knees to increase the weight of your body that is being placed on your arms and shoulders and back.

As with everything like this you need to be persistent and patient. Strength comes over time. You can't rush it.

I hope this helps.
 

Damer

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@Gafi thank you for your question. In order to answer it fully I need to explain some basics. Strength training increases our strength and muscle mass. Cardiovascular and aerobic conditioning develops the body's ability to get oxygen and blood to the muscles quickly and take away by-products of muscle activation. Having said that, lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises is also a cardiovascular activity as it forces the muscles that are being worked to demand more blood and oxygen and the body then builds more veins and capillaries, in response.

So, really, what you're asking is how to increase the heart's ability to pump more blood and the lungs'ability to deliver more oxygen per breath? For that, you need to use aerobic and cardiovascular exercises such as HIIT. Reading from your post I can see that you can walk for miles but find it difficult to run or do anything at high intensity for a prolonged period of time.

When you consider that half a kilogram of weight in the body (fat or muscle) requires up to 5 miles of veins and capillaries to support it you begin to understand why the more weight you have the more strain you place on the heart which has to pump faster and the lungs that need to work harder.

What I would suggest is that success comes incrementally. Since you're walking already see if you can increase the pace but not the distance. That increases intensity and helps heart and lungs get gradually stronger. The same with HIIT. Go for one-minute programs or workouts at the level you can sustain them. If you find the level that, from a physical point of view, is right between comfortable and uncomfortable then you're challenging your body to change and become aerobically stronger but in small steps.

You need to be both patient and persistent.

I really hope this helps you but feel free to get back to me with any follow-up questions.
 

guibo94

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"Silent but deadly."
Hi @Damer, it's me again. These will be quick I hope, but I wanted to ask you about stretching workouts. When is the optimal time to stretch out muscles that have just been put through a strength workout? Let's say I did a pushup workout, would it be advisable to do a full chest and arms stretching workout right after or should I wait a day or two? Secondly, is it okay to stretch muscle groups multiple times (workouts) in one day? Lets say I do an upper body stretching workout in the morning, can I repeat the same workout multiple times that day or do I need to wait and rest for a day or two? Thanks again!
 

Damer

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@guibo94 some excellent questions there and I am really glad you raised them. Unfortunately there is no 'quick' to the answers you seek :LOL: and I will take this opportunity you offered with your questions to explain away some misconceptions about stretching that will hopefully help everyone on this thread understand how to use it better.

So, let's get started: muscle responds with adaptations that make it stronger to three basic stimuli. These are, fatigue, muscle damage and tension. Stretching applies tension to muscles so over time it contributes to stronger muscles much as other resistance exercises, like lifting weights or working with body weight, do. There is a study on this here. Traditionally stretching has been one of the five elements of fitness which are: (1) body composition, (2) flexibility, (3) muscular strength, (4) muscular endurance, and (5) cardiorespiratory endurance. So it has always been included in fitness. Yet a 2016 review study showed that there are many recorded cases in which stretching leads to decreases in performance and contributes to injuries. So much so that in fact FIFA, (the governing body for football) has dropped stretching from its official warm-up recommendations. Similarly, the Institute of Medicine dropped flexibility from its fitness measurements for youths in its 2012 report because there was no credible data it could find that would support flexibility and healthier youths.

So now you see the current fog we are all in. We intuitively know that stretching helps fitness but the data we have doesn't show how and in some cases it appears to be contraindicatory. A 2021 study that took a very carefully thought-through approach to the subject examined whether stretching needs to move from the "can I?" to "should I?" zone. Again the data on the benefits derived from stretching is mixed with some cases being pro and some against.

Obviously, ask any martial artist, ballet dancer or boxer and they will tell you it's next to impossible to perform at the level required by their sport without stretching. Yet, ask a distance runner, cyclist or power lifter and they could happily get through their entire life and sports career without even being able to touch their toes from a standing or sitting position. So what is going on?

To better understand this (which will also lead to an answer to your questions which I will recap, at the end) we need to ask what does stretching actually do? Well it does these things:

  • It increases range of motion (ROM) of a joint by increasing the elasticity of the muscles and tendons that attach to it.
  • It increases propioception, which is a fancy way of saying "body awareness".
  • It increases our sense of mobility by improving overall flexibility.
In my opinion most studies to date that show that flexibility and stretching do not contribute to health outcomes or longevity or quality of life are flawed because of the scope of their research that looks for measurable tangibles that stem directly from stretching. As a component of fitness stretching is a contributory/enabling factor not an initiating one. A super-flexible person for instance who doesn't exercise regularly is neither fast nor powerful nor, necessarily, healthier than those who are less flexible but do exercise regularly. But a person who exercises regularly and is super-flexible enjoys an acknowledged advantage in range of motion, speed and power that is obvious even to the casual observer.

Luckily there are newer studies emerging that begin to support this view. I will take the three benefits mentioned above, in turn:

First, the body is a network of actions and reactions orchestrated by agonist and antagonist muscles. To throw a ball in an overhand throw, for instance, the shoulder and triceps work as agonist muscles that instigate the action while the biceps and deltoids act as antagonists helping balance the movement, stop muscles from over-extending and reducing the chance of injury. A 2018 study that looked at how neuron receptors work in this agonist/antagonist coupling makes the same point.

A properly balanced agonist/antagonist coupling allows greater expansion of power which means greater strength and speed.

Second, when it comes to body awareness, a 2021 study showed that regular stretching contributes to greater elasticity in nerves in muscles and tendons and a reduction in pain sensitivity. Nerves that are stiff become poor conductors of the signals passed by the brain and are more prone to peripheral neuropathy which. with age, limits the body's mobility and damages its awareness of itself in the environment. So, stretching is a mind/body thing that actually contributes to the extension of consciousness we have of our body and the depth of the signals it reports back to us.

Finally, a 2017 study shows that there is increased blood flow through stretched muscles and a distinct and persistent cardiovasculat effect to stretching that is not always calculated or even considered very much. This is not unlike the more recent discovery that strength training (which in the past used to be considered optional as an activity) leads to stronger bones which lead to a healthier brain.

Now, this lengthy response, leads to slightly more direct answers to your questions:

When is the optimal time to stretch out muscles that have just been put through a strength workout? Let's say I did a pushup workout, would it be advisable to do a full chest and arms stretching workout right after or should I wait a day or two?

Seeing how stretching is a muscle workout (because of mechanical tension) which causes a de-strengthening of muscles because of mechanical damage, fatigue and central nervous system (CNS) fatigue, the best time to stretch, briefly is immediately after a workout when the muscles are already warm but the stretches will be less than 60 seconds in duration (and a study on this can be found here) or, for longer stretches and a full stretching workout, the next day when the muscles have recovered sufficiently from the current workout.

Secondly, is it okay to stretch muscle groups multiple times (workouts) in one day? Lets say I do an upper body stretching workout in the morning, can I repeat the same workout multiple times that day or do I need to wait and rest for a day or two?

Stretching is like strength workouts. You wouldn't do strength workouts on the muscles multiple times a day because we know from research delivers weaker returns when, subsequent training sessions work muscles that have been de-strengthened by the first session so does stretching require the muscles to have recovered sufficiently so as to be able to respond with fresh adaptations. So you need to wait after your strength or stretching workout for muscles to recover and then work them again.

I will add to all this two more suggestions based on studies. First, a pre-workout stretch is great if A. It is movement specific (i.e. if you are going to practice punches or kicks if it stretches those specific muscles it will help) and B. It is under 60 seconds long or, for best results about 20 seconds long. A study supporting the first time increment is found here. A study that supports the second time increment for extreme stretches can be found here. Second, if you do static stretching before a workout for longer than the recommended time its negative effects can be counteracted if you then increase the warm-up time and do follow-up exercises that are dynamic and sports specific. The study on that can be found here.

I will finish by adding that the latest research on stretching shows that it contributes to overall strength, power and muscle size (hypertrophy) so it should always be part of our training (to put this in context, each week I will allocate for myself a full training session - 90 mins to just stretching). The study for that can be found here.

I am fairly sure that I have helped raise more questions than I answered here :LOL: so please feel free to ask away on anything you think would benefit from more information on this.
 

guibo94

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Posts: 75
"Silent but deadly."
@Damer Thank you again for all the information and taking the time to respond to all my questions! This is really helpful for me as I am learning how much I do not know about stretching and I feel like you should create an online course at this point! I know you are probably going sigh, but I do have a tiny follow up question that I think I already know the answer to so here it goes. What is the difference between casual stretching, warm-up/cool down and a full stretching workout? My intuition tells me that its the time spent doing the stretch. For example, a full stretch workout would be multiple "reps" or sets of each stretch where a warm-up or cool down stretch is usually once or twice through a stretch. The reason I am asking is I am trying to figure out a way to safely add more strength and conditioning to my routine.
 

Damer

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@guibo94 no problem at all! :LOL: We already have a guide to the different types of stretching and their effect but your questions here prompted me to bring up the issue of stretching and hypertrophy which is based on the latest studies so we now have it on our list to add to the guides. :cool:

You mostly answered your own question, as you suspected. The difference is exactly that: duration of the workout, duration of each stretch exercise and number of reps. Warm-ups should be brief on stretching, cool-downs can afford to be a little longer as you have now finished exercising anyway and do not have to worry about de-strengthening the muscles and a full-blown stretching workout has lots and lots of reps and you hold static stretches a lot longer. I hope this helps.
 

SkorpionUK

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Posts: 311
"Building good habits"
All this talk of stretching has made me think about the topic! To give context, I've always been flexible (in the ballet way, which was my first discipline as a child), but didn't consider it further until a trainee osteopath mentioned I showed markers of hypermobility. At that point, I sought out and got a proper diagnosis: "systemic hypermobility", although the genetic tests for e.g. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome were not done, my case being not so severe that I'd struggle with everyday life. My joints don't pop out too much, and I've even got over my phase of constantly falling over through improving my attention to my feet and wearing "barefoot" shoes.

However, the physiotherapist who diagnosed me advised me not to do any yoga - advice I followed but have come to disagree with. Basically, as far as I could work out, this was founded in the idea that hypermobile people tend to "flop" into extreme positions, which combined with poor proprioception can really stress the joints, since the tendons are generally too weak and loose to hold them in the correct positions. And obviously it would not be ideal to keep grinding down the joints. I just think now that yoga, done properly, should not result in "flopping", but rather teaches us the proper alignment of our joints and builds the strength needed to hold ourselves in various positions... so that would be more of a "how you practice yoga/stretching" question. Have you seen any research into this area that would back up either view?

While I was learning about the topic, I also realised that there are two different and opposing perspectives on what tendons are; the Western medicine view basically seeing them as sort of rubber bands that wear out if you keep pulling on them too much, and the Traditional Chinese Medicine view that sees them more as bamboo that needs to be soaked in water, pulled into the desired shape, and then becomes incredibly strong as it dries, and/or tendons as more living tissue that needs to be worked to be its best. I hope I haven't muddled up the info I found at the time, and I wondered if there were any updates on what is actually going on and any advice for people with weak/soft/loose tendons (i.e. hypermobile) on what approach works well for our bodies.

For extra credit (hehe!), any thoughts on what to do about loose and crunchy joints? My left shoulder doesn't pop out exactly but it crunches every time I rotate it, without giving a satisfying pop, and I just think... should I do anything about it? I tend to think of it like cracking knuckles, which apparently does not lead to arthritis, so NERR NERRR on that.
 

Damer

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@SkorpionUK this is such a challenging condition to have! As with every biodiverse condition there is a spectrum so you need to take everything I say here and the studies I link to and personalize it to your needs. Ultimately we all exercise for the same reason: better control over our body. The way we achieve it depends upon:

  • The biomechanical make up we have inherited (which is our own personal list of limitations and we all have some)
  • The epigenetic effects we can achieve through sustained, organized physical activity
  • Our neuronal profile (which is unique to each of us)
The Ehlers-Danos Suppot UK has a generic (and sometimes overly broad) article on the benefits of exercise in creating stability in joints which can be found here. A 2013 review study that looked at the evidence of exercise benefits for people with hypermobility came up with a mixed bag of results. That study is found here. And the full PDF of it (because it's gated content) can be found here.

Although every study on the subject indicates that yes, exercise helps, no single study agrees on the effectiveness of this help and, I suspect because people who suffer from this syndrome and exercise can overdo it, there is a tendency by healthcare professionals to err on the side of caution and suggest that exercise should not be attempted and physiotherapy instead (which is highly controlled) should be substituted. A 2007 study on the subject leans towards this while, still, pointing out the benefits. The full PDF for that study can be accessed here.

More modern studies take into account the psychological component of having a better sense of physical control and the impact this has on overall health and these latest ones lean significantly more towards exercise. A 2021 study on this is found here. And a 2022 study on the subject also makes the same case. So, the consensus in the medical community seems to be moving towards exercise as a means of management and overall health improvement. This is in line with the shifting view of the body as a complex system that is inseparable from the neurone (the massive nervous system that acts as the information pathways from the environment to us and from our internal world to the external) and the psychological states that it engenders.

Before I add more to this, I will address your shoulder issue which, my guess is, is related to your hypermobile condition. A 2017 study looked at strengthening exercises and shoulder joints (in particular) for hypermobile subjects and found that lifting heavier loads provided greater short-term results than lighter loads. That study is here. The study is important because it provides direct evidence of exercise intervention on improving hypermobility and it also shows that quick results can be achieved if the load is heavy enough to trigger adaptations.

Now, personally, I would advise against heavy load lifting because it is way too easy to overdo it even for people who do not have hypermobility. It would be better instead to lift lighter loads you can easily control but go for volume and be more persistent and consistent in terms of how you go about it and that would provide way better results going forward.

This now brings us to what you should do, personally. The key here, like the rest of us, is to listen to your body, be patient, be kind to it, give it time to adapt, be persistent and be consistent. Exercise always delivers good health outcomes but it has to be approached with all these factors in mind. There will be days, for instance, when you will have a significantly poorer performance. But those days are just blips in the long-term view of exercising every day, every year for as long as you are alive :LOL: .

You will need to keep a diary of what you do (if you don't follow a program) and seek to make small steps over time instead of quick gains. Because health and strength are a result that comes from physical, mental and neural adaptations it is important to remember that these happen over longer periods of time.

Your own understanding of the effectiveness of Yoga when it is aimed at joint stability as opposed to joint flexibility (which you already have) is correct.

The hardest part in all this is how you manage it all. You need to be your own expert, sensible coach and best fan which means you have to be sensible in what you do, restrained as in having a structured way of training that takes into account your own situation and does not overstep the mark and always encouraging so that when you do have bad days or feel you don't progress, you do not become discouraged. This is really not easy to do in the best of times but if you manage that, then, really you will be more than OK moving forward. I hope all this helps.
 

SkorpionUK

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"Building good habits"
I'm just reading this through, thank you so much for your thorough answer, as always!!
But this bit:
The study is important because it provides direct evidence of exercise intervention on improving hypermobility and it also shows that quick results can be achieved if the load is heavy enough to trigger adaptations.
literally made me exclaim "nice" so, you know, sharing that.
FWIW, I do very well with strength training, my body soaks that stuff up, so anecdotally, that sounds right to me. It may work differently for other bodies - I imagine if your joints sublux immediately on load, you may struggle to build any strength at all, at least until you scale the load down to where the muscles actually do something.
 

TopNotch

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"Motivation is temporary. Discipline is forever."
I'm just reading this through, thank you so much for your thorough answer, as always!!
But this bit:

literally made me exclaim "nice" so, you know, sharing that.
FWIW, I do very well with strength training, my body soaks that stuff up, so anecdotally, that sounds right to me. It may work differently for other bodies - I imagine if your joints sublux immediately on load, you may struggle to build any strength at all, at least until you scale the load down to where the muscles actually do something.
I'll just add my ha'penny worth. I too have hEDS, hence my difficulty in running and jumping (limited rebound, you see).
I finally found someone, a podiatrist, who actually knew about hEDS (amazing because very few do!) and he was not at all opposed to stretching, nor to my doing any activity, but rather he was more concerned about my gaining strength saying that, essentially, I had to gain twice as much strength as anyone else in order to be just as good. His rationale was, if the tendons and ligaments can't stabilise the joints, then the muscles have to work harder to do just that. A lot of his exercises (remember, he's a podiatrist so I saw him about my ankle) focused on tendon strength and balance, with a big focus on the 'stick' part of the exercises, so in something like side-to-side hops, there had to be an obvious stop with good balance before I jumped to the other side.
There is nothing I don't do. I know I have limited ROM (particularly shoulders) and I've been working on that, trying hard not to sublux when a joint won't move further (bad habit, I know!) and work on getting the muscles to do the moving. My left shoulder (is there something about left shoulders?!) subluxes from time to time but I've been incorporating more and different shoulder strengthening exercises and that seems to be showing promise.
Yeah, it's a pain (often, quite literally!) but so far I haven't come across anything that I feel I shouldn't do. I find the most important thing is to be intentional and focus on form. Doing it wrong for a bit might be something others can bounce back from but that's not something I'm willing to risk.
So keep doing what you do. If it doesn't feel right for you, don't do it. Just whatever you do, be sure to do it deliberately.
 

Damer

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His rationale was, if the tendons and ligaments can't stabilise the joints, then the muscles have to work harder to do just that.
YES!!!

My left shoulder (is there something about left shoulders?!) subluxes from time to time but I've been incorporating more and different shoulder strengthening exercises and that seems to be showing promise.

As it happens there is a thing about left shoulders (for right-handed people) - because none of us has a truly symmetrical neurone (we each favor one side more than the other because the network of nerves is more developed in it, which delivers us right or left-handedness) the signals sent by the central nervous system (CNS) to the muscles on that side are weaker with the result to exhibit lower strength when performing compound or multi-joint movements. This, in turn, places greater pressure on tendons and muscles on the 'weaker' side which, in turn, get de-strengthened more than the right and are more likely to develop issues as a result.
 

SkorpionUK

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"Building good habits"
His rationale was, if the tendons and ligaments can't stabilise the joints, then the muscles have to work harder to do just that.
EXACTLY THIS!

As it happens there is a thing about left shoulders (for right-handed people)

How did you guess, it's my left shoulder that clicks as well.
Most of my joints are clicky to some extent, but it's the left that does a real righteous crunch, on repeat.

I too have hEDS, hence my difficulty in running and jumping (limited rebound, you see).
Right, yep. Like, apart from the weight and the unfitness, running has _always_ felt unreasonably hard and grindy. I can jump sometimes, if I don't overdo it, but at age 48, I have careful negotiations with my knees about it. And ankles, at one point, but you know all about that.

@TopNotch do you find that going barefoot or with minimal shoes helps at all? For me - not scrunching my toes and feeling the ground is a big help, and I seem to tire less than if I wear giant cushions on my feet. I've not worked out the connection but not randomly losing control of my ankles and falling onto my knees is a big enough bonus, as far as I'm concerned - like, kneecap on pavement is Not Good, especially on repeat. I used to actually watch where I put my feet so I don't miss uneven ground or obstacle, because my tendons don't stabilise me enough - and I still do this with non-flat terrain. It is SUPER TIRING to use my eyes rather than my feet, which is I think why the minimal soles are a help. Would love to know whether any of that has been a factor for you too.
 
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TopNotch

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"Motivation is temporary. Discipline is forever."
Right, yep. Like, apart from the weight and the unfitness, running has _always_ felt unreasonably hard and grindy. I can jump sometimes, if I don't overdo it, but at age 48, I have careful negotiations with my knees about it. And ankles, at one point, but you know all about that.

@TopNotch do you find that going barefoot or with minimal shoes helps at all? For me - not scrunching my toes and feeling the ground is a big help, and I seem to tire less than if I wear giant cushions on my feet. I've not worked out the connection but not randomly losing control of my ankles and falling onto my knees is a big enough bonus, as far as I'm concerned - like, kneecap on pavement is Not Good, especially on repeat. I used to actually watch where I put my feet so I don't miss uneven ground or obstacle, because my tendons don't stabilise me enough - and I still do this with non-flat terrain. It is SUPER TIRING to use my eyes rather than my feet, which is I think why the minimal soles are a help. Would love to know whether any of that has been a factor for you too.
I think what you have to realise is that running is essentially horizontal jumping. If you have trouble jumping, your running isn't going to be great either.

I am generally barefoot when I don't have to go out. I have wide feet. It's possibly another hEDS thing because the tendons and ligaments don't hold the feet together so tightly. I've not looked into that, but it seems logical. I train barefooted, both in my formal classes (I do Taekwondo so that's pretty much a given!) and at home. I wear shoes when I go running or hiking. At the moment they have a fair drop, but once these lot are worn out and I have to get new shoes, I'll be looking at a lower drop shoe. My 'good' shoes are generally very low heeled and as normal-foot shaped as possible. Avoid heavy shoes because they'll pull your feet down more and it'll be way more tiring because you'll be having to use your muscles to stop your toes from dragging.
I totally ruined a slightly-ruined ankle a few years ago. The ligaments are now like strings rather than springs! So I do a lot of work on it, and I am very conscious of how I step. Or rather, I was - it's become habitual now. I love going out hiking. All that uneven terrain! It's a challenge, but I see it as another way to train up my balance and foot strength. I think also, as I know it is uneven, even though I'll sometimes race along tracks, my focus is better, looking for the best places to land my feet. So far I've not injured myself on a trail, but I have while training on mats!
The only other thing I'll add is make sure you don't land on your heels. Not when training, not when running, not when walking. Aim for the mid-foot.
 

SkorpionUK

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Sorceress from Germany
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"Building good habits"
The only other thing I'll add is make sure you don't land on your heels.
Yeah good point - I find that "barefoot" shoes really help with this! It's uncomfortable to heel-strike without a cushion in the way, so your gait automatically adjusts at least a little towards mid-foot, and more if you pay attention. Maybe that's what improves ankle stability for me? Not landing on a rounded heel, but most of the foot and toes, i.e. larger surface? 🤔

And ofc any barefoot or no-drop situation is automatically better for overall posture since you're not overcompensating for walking on tip-toes - legs, knees, hips, spine, head, all in better alignment. Maybe tougher tendon people don't mind so much, but it seems extra difficult for the hypermobile crowd to place joints out of alignment, you know?

Oh! Wait... so the hypermobility comes from my mother's side - not that she knows, but I found out by asking oblique questions and it was less likely to be my dad. She has also always maintained that she can't wear heels (she had wedge heels at most, same for me) but blamed it on a car accident that smashed up her foot. I just wonder now... what if it's the tendons, actually.

Anyway, we know that hardly anyone knows much about HSD/hEDS or can advise on how to manage them better, but hopefully physiotherapists and osteopaths and that crowd already preach the "no heels" doctrine. I do think that barefoot is best, for alignment AND proprioception. For everyone.
Source: Katy Bowman told me 🤣
Actual source: Move Your DNA
 

Anek

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"If the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember Cedric Diggory."
Ok one question before it's too late: I've been working out daily for more than 2 years, doing cardio programs but also strength ones. One of my goals was to decrease the size of my butt so that I can fit into my pants again :LOL: but despite the regular exercises and eating decently, my weight is not going anywhere and I still don't fit into my pants. Now, I see that overall I'm much more fit than I was 2 years ago so the benefits are definitely there, but what kind of exercises should I do to resolve the pants problem? I tried focusing on leg strengthening exercises but after a month of daily squats the problem had only increased...
Or will you tell me that the only solution is to start running again?
Thanks!
 

Damer

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@Anek yeah, the easiest way to do this is to run :LOL: but that's a cop-out answer and if you haven't been running it means there are reasons why you don't so, really, now I need to provide a real answer to your question which means I need to explain what happens when we exercise. :cool:

Broadly speaking, exercise is regarded by the body as a stressor that is experienced because of external circumstances. This triggers the body's adaptive response (because the body is programmed to help us survive external stressors) and we get leaner, stronger and more durable. There are a host of neurochemical and hormonal changes that take place within us during this process and these chemical messengers tell the body what to do.

So, some of them tell it, for instance, what sort of fuel to use (blood sugars or fat - a choice that is dependent on the type of exercise, its intensity and its duration) others tell it what kind of adaptation to prioritize so, depending on what we did, how hard and for how long we get stronger muscles, more capillaries in our lungs, leaner muscles in our legs or butt, etc.

Athletes work to sports-specific requirements and these are always dependent on what their own particular strengths (i.e. physical talent) are and what their sport demands. The rest of us have less targeted aims and because we are not as targeted we don't always understand what is the best thing to do. Which leads me to your specific questions. You know, I suspect, from the way you feel and move that you are fitter and stronger and, presumably, from the way you look, you are also somewhat leaner. The scales are not usually a good guide unless you are already fit with more or less the body composition you desire in which case they are a good indicator of upwards or downwards movements in weight. Otherwise, as you get fitter and put on more muscle and lose some fat the weight remains more or less the same (or can even go up in some cases) even as you begin to look leaner. The reason for this is that muscle is more compact than fat so a leaner look may be just as heavy or slightly heavier as a physically larger one.

Your particular focus is to decrease the size of your butt. That particular area for some people depending on their body's hormonal profile, is used by the body to store fat, and it also houses the gluteus maximus which alongside the other two gluteal muscles forms one of the largest muscle groups of the body. Paradoxically running makes heavy use of the glutes which suggests that the decrease in gluteal muscle size and the general butt area from running is dependent on specific factors.

If we know those factors and understand how they work then we should be able to recreate the effect in exercise, even without running.

So, running leads to a decrease in glute size when it: A. burns off some of the adipose fat that is stored in the body and leads to a reduction of adipose fat stored in the gluteal area. B. Leads to the building of Type II or slow-twitch muscle fibers that are smaller in size. A guide to how the body burns fuel and what muscle types it uses can be found here. If you were to train your body for sprinting you would expect to see an increase in your glutes, not a decrease as Type II or fast-twitch muscle fibers are bigger by volume than type I. As you can see, with this fresh understanding, your leg strengthening exercise delivers a stronger leg but that also translates in stronger (and bigger) glutes which defeats the purpose.

What kind of exercises emulate the effects of running? Cardio programs for sure (but not HIIT ones). So anything that has body movement and gives you a steady burn for x number of minutes is great as that would, over time, reduce the adipose fat stored in the glutes (with a word of warning that there is no topical fat loss. The body pulls stored fat from everywhere so you will need to notice an overall adipose fat reduction in the body in order for the gluteal area to get smaller). Workouts like this one, over time, deliver that result, plus you would need to also use workouts like this one to maintain strength and still burn fat and develop an overall leaner look.

Thank you for your excellent question and I hope my answer helps and, do get back to the thread with any follow-up questions if something I said needs further explanation or examples.
 

TopNotch

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"Motivation is temporary. Discipline is forever."
I've been looking at intermittent fasting of various durations, and I have a question.
If someone has been fasting for, say three days, has remained nicely hydrated (plain water) and has been relatively physically inactive during this period, then has to engage in a period of fast activity (eg, gets into a fight, has to run from escaped lion, whatever) how much energy (and I suppose here the question is about blood sugar levels) will that person have and how long will they last? Can that sparring bout last five minute or will they tank at two? Adrenaline will be a factor here, too (hence 'fight' and 'lion') so it's not simply a matter of the person's wanting to go for a sprint just for the fun of it.
I recognise it would differ from person to person, so imagine this person is relatively fit and accustomed to such activity.
 
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Damer

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Heh! What a can of worms this question is @TopNotch :LOL: It appears simple to answer but as you well know in Kansas, Dorothy, nothing is simple any more.
Cracking Up Lol GIF by HULU


To better understand why I say this I need to strip your question of all the details you added and phrase it this way: Are muscles capable of generating a lot of power when they are seemingly depleted of obvious sources of energy?

Accounts of hysterical strength instances when the human body has exhibited superhuman strength, abound in the literature but are hard to study in a scientific setting because of the ethical boundaries that researchers cannot cross. It is something that fascinates us as we research the possible causes that produce it. So, the obvious answer to your question is your muscles will produce as much energy necessary to get your body out of trouble. The point of this AMA however is not to just give obvious answers but also explain the reasoning behind them so now bear with me as I deconstruct things a little.

Lab studies that have used frog legs that can be stimulated using electricity show that after reaching the point of fatigue that we would translate as 'exhaustion' the muscles still retain up to 50% more capacity to act. Similarly, the BBC article I linked to in the paragraph above suggests that even elite athletes don't use more than 80% of their muscle capacity when competing.

We know that strength is a multi-factorial phenomenon. It has a physical component but it also has an affective one (i.e. emotions) which produces specific neurochemical responses that are characterized by the release of hormonal neurotransmitters. If this sounds like there is a complex web of interwoven processes taking place it is because that's exactly what happens. Every time we do something physical the body has to manage a long checklist of physical processes that compete with each other. To borrow your example, your brain may say "run like hell" or "fight to the death" but your legs and arms will say "we have no energy", your glycogen stores will cry out "we need food" and your heart and lungs will compete for oxygen with each other. While this may sound chaotic it isn't. It's like having a roomful of highly accomplished musicians. On their own they just make so much meaningless noise, but give them a conductor and they can bring out beautiful classical music or the best piece of pop you have ever heard.

The role of the conductor, in our case, is played by the brain's assessment of what we need to do to survive. This is one reason why fear (a really powerful emotional response) can change our physiological output entirely.

Every time we experience external stress our body produces a host of hormonal responses to it. Those hormonal responses, in turn, deliver physiological output. But strength and physical power, in this context, doesn't just stop at just what we feel. It also includes what we think. Because strength has a strong neural component the central nervous system is recruited. The degree to which this happens will depend on how you think about yourself, what you believe in and what values you have. If, for instance, you believe that getting eaten by a tiger is an inevitable part of life, your ability to outrun it may well diminish because your brain doesn't believe that it should perhaps.

There is a sizeable body of research that now links immaterial aspects of us such as the values we hold and the beliefs we fashion with specific structures and centers in the brain and the development of specific neuron networks.

You may, at this stage, rephrase your question to mean: Well, if we can do all this and more why do we collapse in a breathless heap after a single Darebee HIIT workout? And the answer to that is that our body is designed to protect us from our selves. The fatigue we feel is an emotion that's derived from the brain (which means it too has a neurochemical basis) that's designed to protect us from getting so tired and so exhausted that we cannot then rebalance our system (i.e. reach homeostasis) which is what allows us to survive.

So, when it counts, we are all capable of doing way more than we think we can, and when we are physically trained that becomes even more so.

I hope this covers what you asked.
 

Damer

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Ok, Got it! And apologies, I just never saw it. I usually acknowledge every question I see by putting a reaction to it and then I answer it.

But when muscles don't get bigger but just get stronger, do they weigh more than they did before they got stronger, if they remain the same size? I guess I'm wondering if the strength comes from the muscle itself (and manifests in a physical way) or its neural connections...

Muscle fibers weigh the same per volume, regardless of how much strength they can generate. If muscles are trained for strength but not size (eg. ballet dancers, martial artists, decathletes etc) they experience both structural and neural adaptations that help them increase their strength output but not the size of the muscle fibers. On the structural side the process is called pennation and it is the angle the muscles run in relation to their point of attachment to a tendon or ligament. There is a study on this here.

At the same time there is a neural component to strength that has to do with how well connected is the pathway that sends a signal from the brain to a muscle to perform a particular task. The stronger and more refined the pathway the stronger and clearer the signal and the better the muscle responds.

I hope this answers it for you and I am sorry for not seeing it earlier.
 

Damer

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Guys, I will be closing this thread now. Thank you for taking part in this AMA and asking some sterling questions which, I suspect, trouble a lot of people who focus on getting fitter and being healthier. I will be moving this thread to The Hive's Knowledge Base because, really, your questions have made it that valuable. We will be doing another one of these in eight weeks or so. I cannot thank you enough for the way you phrase your questions and also the thought and analysis you then put in my answers and come back with follow-up questions. You're all brilliant!
 
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