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- Fitbit Staff
Combat the Cost of Groceries with a Plan

Food costs have skyrocketed in the past year, but that doesn’t mean you have to forego healthy eating. With just a little forethought, there are ways to counter this increase. Here are some tips for maintaining  a nutritious diet without breaking the bank. 

Think ahead 

Take inventory. Before heading to the store or submitting your online grocery order, shop for your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Take inventory and plan to make recipes using what you have on hand first. 

The most important tip is taking inventory and planning your menu accordingly. Have you ever tossed a bag of soggy spring salad mix? Welcome to the club! It’s happened to most of us at some point, but that’s throwing money away. 

Prioritize perishables. Take care to use up fresh produce like spinach or other greens that tend to spoil quickly. Toss greens into a soup or pasta sauce to use them up and simultaneously add a nutrient boost to your meals. Check the expiration dates for perishables like yogurt and create meals around those foods first. For example, you might use up yogurt in breakfast parfaits for the family.

Planning your meals, starting with what you have on hand, helps reduce waste and therefore save money. But you might also consider changing what’s on the menu altogether. 

Eat less meat. Meat is expensive. Beef, chicken, and fish can run up a grocery bill faster than anything else. Adding more protein-rich plants to your plate can help. This can mean using beans a few nights a week instead of meat–and thinking of ways to add more produce to your meals overall. This will automatically help increase your fiber and antioxidant intake.

“The cost of meat and meat products isn’t dropping, so think about incorporating more plant-based foods in your meals,” recommends Sara Haas, RDN, a Chicago-based chef, author, and food photographer.  “Whole grains, canned/frozen/fresh varieties of vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, beans, and legumes are all great options.” 

Though the price of eggs has more than doubled all over the country, eggs are still one of the least expensive sources of protein you can buy. Consider enjoying them for dinner for an inexpensive meal like Eggs in Purgatory. This recipe is made with canned tomatoes and is a great base for adding any vegetables you have in the fridge to use up, such as zucchini, peppers, and spinach.

List it out. Create a detailed grocery list and stick to it. Shop online (if you get free shipping) or go through the store as quickly as possible. Most of us know not to go to the supermarket hungry since that’s a recipe for impulse buys. However, studies show the longer you’re in the store, the more you buy. To save time in the store, organize your list by food aisle or departments to avoid backtracking—and make sure you have a snack before you shop! 

Shop smart 

Shop the sales–and stock up. Take a few minutes to peruse the weekly online ads for your favorite supermarket. It may help to get the deals delivered to your email as a reminder. Many sales are seasonal, and you might notice how some stores offer similar sales on a monthly cycle. Take note and buy accordingly. 

Haas reminds us to check out sale items and develop meals around those foods first. 

And don’t forget the staples. “If those shelf-stable basics are on sale, buy extra! Think rice, beans, and canned goods that can last at least one year if not opened,” she advises. 

Use coupons wisely. Physical coupons are great but not always available. Clip digital coupons to save time and money at the register—and remember, coupons are only a good idea if you buy food that you will actually eat. Though they exist, there aren’t many coupons for fresh fruits and vegetables or fresh meat, poultry, or seafood. Look instead for deals on frozen or canned produce, yogurt, eggs, and other healthy foods, plus household items like detergent and toothpaste.

Buy in bulk—if it makes sense. This strategy is common, but it only saves money if your family can eat the food before it expires. Large containers of olive oil or nut butter can go rancid and giant boxes of cereal can go stale if not used on time.

Switch things up 

Be flexible. If you have a recipe that calls for ground beef, but ground turkey is on sale, substitute ground turkey. There’s a wide range of substitutes that work well. If your recipe calls for chicken breasts but chicken thighs are on sale, consider making the swap. If you’re making stew, baked chicken, or soup, the chicken thighs will add even more flavor to the dish, so don’t be afraid to try something different!

Grow and regrow herbs and more. With fresh water and sunshine, you can grow a variety of foods indoors. We all know how expensive those little packages of fresh herbs can be. You might be surprised at how easy it is to grow them yourself. 

Common herbs, including basil, parsley, mint, and oregano, grow in plain water—no soil or potting needed. Simply place the stems of leftover fresh herbs in a jar of fresh water and place them in a sunny area such as a windowsill. Use as needed and refresh the water regularly. 

You can also regrow flavor-packed green onions using the same method. Place the white root end in a glass of fresh water and watch them regenerate in seven to 10 days. This is a fun project for kids to manage, but it also saves you from buying green onions again.

Though some of these tips may seem small, it all adds up in the end. Use these tiny tips to save big over time. 

The post Combat the Cost of Groceries with a Plan appeared first on Fitbit Blog.

- Leandra Rouse
New Year, Strong You: 3 Recipes for Mental Strength

As you set about keeping your goals for the new year, consider how you fuel your brain for the day. Nutrition research shows people who consume breakfast do better in mental performance tests, have improved focus and even say they feel in a better mood when they have breakfast. What you eat matters too. Following a Mediterranean style of eating—which is rich in whole grains, pulses (like chickpeas), vegetables, fish, eggs, and olive oil, in addition to limiting saturated fats and sugars—has been found to protect our brain function as we age. 

Keep reading for three delicious and nourishing recipes that put these strategies into practice—and promote brain health, mental strength, and longevity. 

Turkish-Style Turmeric Eggs with Yogurt 

Inspired by a traditional Turkish breakfast consisting of eggs, thick yogurt, spices and fresh herbs, this healthy and filling dish is  eaten alongside pita or crusty bread. It is so simple, yet a very unusual food combination for an American diner. 

Bright colors of spices stand out against the white background of thick yogurt, which makes this meal beautiful enough to be the star of a special occasion brunch, but so ridiculously easy to prepare it could become your healthy weekday breakfast. The combination of eggs and thick Greek yogurt makes it rich in protein with about thirty grams per serving—the perfect start to a busy day. 

Adding ground turmeric to the hot olive oil flavors the oil and brings color to the egg whites. The result is a vibrant orange egg. And, when combined with the red paprika (or aleppo pepper), bright green kale, and fresh herbs, the colors of this dish really stand out from the crowd. Try it served along some sort of pita or crust bread, so that you can scoop up and absorb the yogurt and egg yolks with each bite. 


2.5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 bunch kale (6 to 8 leaves), removed from stem and rough chopped  

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, or aleppo pepper

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fresh black pepper

½ teaspoon turmeric

4 large eggs

1 cup (250 mL) plain unsweetened low-fat Greek yogurt

1 lemon, juiced and zested

1 clove of garlic, shaved 

½ teaspoon chili flakes, optional   

1 round whole wheat pita, sliced in fourths 

2 teaspoons mixture of fresh herbs such as mint, dill and parsley, rough chopped 


Begin by preheating the oven to 375F (190C). Toss the torn kale with ½ tablespoon of olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper. Toss to coat and add the kale to the hot oven. Cook until it begins to wilt and get a little crispy at the edges. Approximately 6 to 8 minutes. Carefully remove from the hot oven and set aside. 

Mix yogurt with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, ½ teaspoon of lemon zest, shaved garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt. To prepare each plate, smear 1/4 cup of the yogurt mixture onto each plate using the back of a spoon and sprinkle with smoked paprika. Place half of the baked kale evenly around the yogurt on each plate. 

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large well seasoned cast iron pan or nonstick skillet. Once oil gets hot, add the ground turmeric and stir to combine. Cook the turmeric in the oil until it becomes fragrant and well incorporated, approximately one to two  minutes. Keep the oil just below smoking point. A small drop of water added to the pan should immediately sizzle. 

Carefully crack the eggs into the hot pan and season with remaining salt and pepper. As the eggs cook, tilt the pan to the side and use a spoon to baste the eggs with the turmeric olive oil. This will help the egg cook while keeping the center moist. It will also turn the whites bright yellow. Keep basting until the eggs are puffy and cooked, approximately one minute, or to your liking. Transfer to the plate and arrange on top of yogurt and kale. 

Finish with a teaspoon of fresh herbs and serve with pita. 

Makes 4 servings (one egg per person).


Calories 285 kcal/1194 kJ

Protein 16 g

Total fat 16 g

Saturated fat 3.5 g 

Cholesterol 190 mg

Carbs 24 g

Fiber 6 g

Total sugars 6 g 

Added sugars 0 g

Sodium 505 mg

Quinoa Egg Bowl with Smoked Salmon 

This simple and healthy quinoa breakfast bowl is sure to be in high rotation in your kitchen. Quinoa has eight grams of protein per cup and impressive levels of fiber and vitamin B. Try this quinoa breakfast bowl where the grains are topped with perfectly runny poached egg and the vibrant flavors of fermented veggies and smoked salmon..

The trick to cooking great quinoa is to add flavor to the cooking water. In this dish this is  achieved by cooking the grain in a broth, adding aromatics, and tossing in a little butter at the end. Another great trick for bringing out the unique nutty taste of quinoa is to toast the dry grain over medium heat before adding any liquid.

The protein in this breakfast bowl comes from the quinoa, egg, salmon, and even the tahini sauce. The flavor is rounded out with acidic pickled vegetables and the umami of the miso tahini sauce. You may want to consider making a double batch of the tahini sauce to maximize your efforts in the kitchen. It makes a great dressing or marinade for a future dish. 

There are many ways to poach eggs, and many strong opinions on which method is “correct”. In this recipe, it’s done by  adding vinegar to the cooking water, turning a complex process into an achievable weekday breakfast. Plus the added vinegar flavor adds a nice sharpness to the dish. 

Like any “bowl” recipe, it can easily be adapted to what you have in your refrigerator and your personal tastes. Don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s how great meals are invented! 


1 cup (180g) dry quinoa 

2 cups (470ml) low sodium vegetable broth

½ tablespoon butter  

2 bay leaves

4 cloves garlic, whole and peeled

4 oz (110g) dry smoked salmon 

4 large eggs 

2 tablespoons vinegar—white, apple cider or red wine vinegar 

1 12 oz (340g) bunch spinach 

4 tablespoons pickled vegetable, we used a store bought beet sauerkraut 

Miso Tahini Drizzle Sauce (Makes 10 servings)

2 tablespoons miso, white preferred 

2 tablespoons tahini 

1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger 

1 garlic clove

2 teaspoon maple syrup 

1/4 cup (60ml) rice vinegar

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons olive oil


Toast quinoa over low heat until fragrant, being careful not to burn. Then add the stock, bay leaves, garlic cloves, and butter. Bring the pot to a boil, and then simmer on low for 15 minutes. Be sure to keep the lid on the entire time and avoid letting out any steam. Once the water is absorbed, remove the pot from the heat, fluff the quinoa with a fork and pull out the bay leaves and full garlic cloves. Cover and let stand for 5 to 10 more minutes. 

While the grain is cooking, fill a saucepan ⅔ of the way full and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Once at a light simmer, add two tablespoons of vinegar to the water. 

Make an easy miso tahini drizzle by combining all sauce ingredients into a blender and blending on high until smooth. Pour into a jar and reserve. 

Dish quinoa into four bowls and split the smoked salmon into four servings among the bowls. Top each with one tablespoon of fermented vegetables. 

Once the grain and the sauce are prepared, you are ready to poach the eggs. Crack and carefully slide each egg into the simmering water leaving plenty of space between them. If the egg white spreads out, use a spoon to bring it closer to its yolk. Poach each egg until the white is firm and the yolk feels soft but contained. Use a spoon to carefully ladle hot water over the egg yolk until the top becomes opaque. When you believe the egg is poached, use a slotted spoon to carefully lift the egg from the water and touch the yolk to test for its desired consistency. A runny poached egg takes approximately three to four minutes. 

When the eggs are ready, use the slotted spoon to carefully remove from the water and nestle two eggs on top of each quinoa bowl. Drizzle the dish with a tablespoon of miso tahini sauce and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. 

Serve hot. 

Makes 4 servings.


Calories 360kcal/1506 kj

Protein 22 g

Total fat 14 g

Saturated fat 3.5 g

Cholesterol 193 mg

Carbs 72 g

Fiber 7 g

Total sugars 3 g

Added sugars 1 g

Sodium 530 mg

Coconut Ginger Chickpea Stew

This dish is warming and nourishing, satisfying and rich in spices. It’s reminiscent of Indian dal—hearty and flavorful, and is great served alongside warm flat bread or laddled over basmati rice. It has become our go to soup to bring to friends in need. And we recommend always doubling that recipe, because it freezes beautifully and makes a healthy meal in a pinch. The coconut milk may be totally or partially omitted and replaced with an additional low sodium vegetable broth. 


3 tablespoons olive oil 

3 garlic cloves, diced

1 large yellow onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced 

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

1 teaspoon ground turmeric 

1 teaspoon red-pepper/chilli flakes, plus more for serving

½ teaspoon salt, divided 

¼  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced   

2 15-ounce (425g) cans no-added salt chickpeas, drained and rinsed. Reserve ½ cup (130g) for serving

1 15 oz (425g) can of  light coconut milk, (optional) 

3 cups (700ml) of low sodium vegetable broth 

1 bunch 12 oz (340g) spinach, rough chopped

½ cup (125g) non-fat yogurt, for serving (optional)

1 cup mint leaves, torn into pieces for serving


Preheat the oven to 425F (215C). Dry ½ a cup of the canned chickpeas on a paper towel removing any loose skins and place them on a small baking sheet with two teaspoons olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Roast until crispy for approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and set aside. 

Meanwhile, heat remaining olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the diced onion, garlic, and ginger to the pot and cook until the onion is fragrant and translucent, about five minutes. Then add the ground turmeric, red pepper/chilli flakes, salt, and pepper and toss to combine. Let the spices heat for one to two minutes, give everything another good stir to incorporate. Then add the chickpeas and carrots and toss to combine. Sautee for 5 minutes until carrots begin to soften. Lastly add the vegetable stock and coconut milk. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and cover, simmering for 15 to 20 more minutes. 

When you are ready to serve, ladle a cup or so of soup into a bowl. Top with a dollop of yogurt and a pile of fresh herbs. You may also finish the dish with a little drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. 

Enjoy on its own, or alongside a salad, flat bread, or rice. 

Makes 6 servings.


Calories 310 kcal/ 1297 kj

Protein 12 g

Total fat 14 g

Saturated fat 5g 

Cholesterol 0 mg

Carbs 37 g

Fiber 11 g

Total sugars 9 g

Added sugars 0 g 

Sodium 360 mg

The post New Year, Strong You: 3 Recipes for Mental Strength appeared first on Fitbit Blog.

- Fitbit Staff
Fitbit’s Year in Review: Which Countries Took Their Health and Fitness to the Next Level in 2022?

As we head into a new year, it’s always important to reflect on the one gone by. 2022 was filled with highs and lows, wins and losses, learnings and celebrations. Above all else, it taught us that when we come together as a community, we can achieve great things such as the combined 47 trillion steps we took in 2022!

If you find that impressive, you’ll want to keep reading because Fitbit researchers analyzed data from Fitbit users around the world and found some of your most outstanding stats to date. Read on to discover which countries were the top contenders for highest step count, best rest, least stressed, and more.

Total Global Step Stats

The Fitbit community stepped up and showed out on May 27 taking a total of 162 billion steps, making it the most steps taken in a single day around the globe in 2022. Fitbitters also seemed to have an extra spring in their step during the month of May as it was our best step month of the year! 

Lastly, together we clocked 20 billion total miles in 2022. That’s enough to walk to Mars 143 times and enough to walk to Pluto 6.5 times!

Total Global Sleep Stats

How did Fitbitters fare when it came to hitting the hay? With an average of 6.5 hours of sleep and an average 76 Sleep Score, these metrics give you a “fair” score in snoozing. But not to worry, you can utilize your Fitbit sleep data to help get you back to an “excellent” sleep score in 2023! 

Another fun fact? The most common sleep animal in 2022 was the Giraffe, which means your sleep tends to be shorter, and you are more likely to sleep later and wake up earlier. You have a relatively good proportion of deep and REM sleep despite a shorter overall duration.¹ 

Total Global Exercise Stats

Active Zone Minutes, or AZM, is the heart-based metric that tracks the amount of time a user spends in heart-pumping activity. With a total of 173 billion Active Zone Minutes, Fitbit users certainly brought the heat in 2022—specially on May 14, with 612 million minutes total. Way to get moving!

Who got the highest Active Zone Minutes in 2022?

Based on recommendations from the World Health Organization, American Heart Association, and others, we should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. So, who took these activity targets to heart and got  the most AZMs in 2022? Drum roll please… Switzerland! Next up were Sweden and Denmark respectively. 

Who stepped it up in 2022?

But which country was the real MVP of steps? Let’s get a round of applause for Hong Kong! Following closely behind were Switzerland and Spain. Well played!

Who got the best rest in 2022?

Even with busy schedules and fluctuating routines, Fitbitters remembered that when you prioritize getting good sleep, your body and mind are healthier. According to our data, Finland hit the lights the most this past year. Other top snoozers include New Zealand and Belgium. 

Who had the best Stress Management Score in 2022?

You’ve been tapping into your mindfulness practice and putting your mental health first, even with the continued uncertainty in the world. And the country that won the best Stress Management Score in 2022? None other than Spain! Next up were Sweden, Netherlands, Ireland, and finally Denmark. How’s that for zen?

This new year will undoubtedly present a new series of opportunities and challenges as we all continue to refine and evolve our health and wellness routines. Through it all, it’s key to remember that the journey is just as, if not more, important than the destination. Cheers to 2023! 

¹ Requires Fitbit Premium membership. Not intended for medical purposes. Consult your healthcare professional for questions about your health. Must wear device to sleep for at least 14 nights over a month-long period.

The post Fitbit’s Year in Review: Which Countries Took Their Health and Fitness to the Next Level in 2022? appeared first on Fitbit Blog.

- Deanna deBara
What is the Sober Curious Movement—and Why Is It So Popular?

Many people think that, when it comes to alcohol use, it’s all-or-nothing; you either pursue full sobriety or you drink whatever and whenever you want. But it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. There’s a movement aimed at helping people want to better understand their relationship to alcohol and make healthier choices for themselves without necessarily giving up alcohol completely. It’s called the sober curious movement.

Let’s take a look at all things sober curious: what it is, how it differs from full sobriety or abstinence, and how (if you’re curious about it!) you can embrace the movement in your own life.

What is “sober curious”, and why is it having such a moment?

“The Sober Curious movement was launched by Ruby Warrington and her book, Sober Curious, in [late 2018],” says Elisa Peimer, LCSW, a therapist who has worked with a Sober Curious support group. “Sober Curious is a method of being mindful about drinking. People following it learn how to notice what triggers their drinking, what the act of drinking means to them, what needs it’s fulfilling, and how it’s adversely affecting their lives.”

The movement gained momentum quickly, in part because it allows people to explore living a more sober lifestyle without making the commitment to give up drinking entirely. “The movement encourages a sober (or more sober) lifestyle, but embraces and welcomes individuals who are not ready to quit alcohol entirely,” says Ian Andersen, co-founder of mindful drinking and moderation app Sunnyside.

The rise of the sober curious movement could also be viewed as an extension of health, wellness, and mindfulness in general becoming more mainstream. “As mindfulness in general has become more and more popular, being sober-curious feels like a natural extension of healthier lifestyle options like plant-based diets, yoga, and meditation,” says Molly Watts, author and host of The Alcohol Minimalist podcast.

Finally, the sober curious movement has gained quite the following on social media. And as more people and influencers have embraced the movement—and been willing to speak out about their choices around drinking less, or not at all—the movement has spread to more people. For example, “hashtags like #mindfuldrinking and #sobercurious are driving millions of views on social media,” says Andersen.

How is being sober curious different from being fully sober?

Being sober curious differs from traditional sobriety in a few ways—most notably that it doesn’t require abstinence from alcohol. Instead, it encourages people to, as the name suggests, get curious about their drinking—and aim to make better, more mindful choices around their alcohol use.

This allows people “to explore living a life without alcohol without having to fully commit to not drinking,” says Dr. Brooke Scheller, a Doctor of Clinical Nutrition who specializes in nutrition to support a sober or sober-curious journey. 

“The focus is not on just abstinence, but on the choices we make when the stressors in our lives drive us to relieve them with alcohol rather than in more healthy ways,” says Peimer.

It also appeals to a wider audience. While full abstinence is generally recommended for people with an alcohol use disorder, the sober curious movement is a fit for anyone who wants to have a better relationship to alcohol—or who want to cut back their drinking for reasons outside of addiction or alcohol use disorder, like improving their health.

“Before this, sobriety was mostly reserved for those who identified as having a problem with alcohol,” says Scheller. “Over the last two years, people are now exploring a sober-curious lifestyle by cutting back or even fully eliminating alcohol for reasons that include physical and mental health reasons, to improve their careers, relationships, or even just because they’re sick of the hangover habit.”

“Sober curious offers a flexibility to acknowledge your use of alcohol might not be healthy without the rigidity of an all-or-nothing approach,” says Peimer.

Feeling curious? Tips on how to embrace the movement

Practice mindfulness when you reach for a drink. Mindfulness is the foundation of the sober curious movement.

“Sober curiosity is about mindfulness—looking at your actions in the moment and being honest with yourself,” says Peimer. “Notice what’s going on for you when you decide to drink.” 

Before you take a drink, pause for a moment. Ask yourself “why am I taking this drink?”—and then, based on the answer, decide whether you want to move forward and have the drink. For example, when you stop to think about why you’re reaching for a drink, you may realize that it’s because you trying to manage challenging emotions, like boredom or anxiety—in which case you might opt to skip it in favor of a healthier coping mechanism, like calling a friend or going for a run. 

Practicing mindfulness in the moments that you want or reach for a drink can help you better understand the motivations behind your drinking—and whether those motivations are in line with the kind of relationship you want to have with alcohol.

Get curious and ask yourself some deeper questions. In addition to bringing mindfulness to moments when you want to drink, being sober curious means…well, getting curious. Ask yourself some deeper questions about your relationship to alcohol. “Be thoughtful about what drinking means to you,” says Peimer. “Is it helping you create a narrative that’s appealing? Is it a reminder of happy times? Is it an indication that the weekend is starting?”

Understanding the reasons behind your drinking can help you make better, healthier choices around if and when to drink. 

If you want to take things a step further, you may also want to ask yourself some questions about what it would be like to give up alcohol completely or consume less of it. “Ask yourself how your life would look without alcohol,” says Peimer. 

If you want to see how drinking may impact your Sleep Score, check it after a night out with friends. You can also try comparing your Sleep Score on a night you haven’t imbibed with that of a night when you have. (Learn more about how to tap into Fitbit’s sleep tools, including your Sleep Score, here.) 

Plan ahead. As mentioned, part of being sober curious is about being mindful when you reach for a drink. But while it’s important to be mindful in the moment, some are harder than others. And if there are moments you think it might be hard to say “no” to a drink—even if you want to? Plan ahead for them. “Try making a plan ahead of time for not drinking at an event that you normally would,” says Watts.

For example, do your Sunday catch-up brunches with your friends always end with you having one too many cocktails? Make a plan for what you’re going to drink instead (for example, a sparkling mocktail)—and for what you’re going to say.

As the old saying goes, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. Make sure to plan ahead for potentially challenging situations.

Try some non-alcoholic alternatives. If you want to change your relationship to alcohol—but also really enjoy the taste of beer, wine, or other alcoholic drinks? There’s good news.

“We’re…seeing a huge boom in the non-alcoholic beverage industry,” says Scheller. “While stores used to sell only one or two NA beers, we’re seeing a huge range of NA drinks in liquor stores, grocery stores, and even small markets—making it much easier to access alternatives to alcoholic beverages.”

There’s also been some serious improvements in the quality of non-alcoholic beverages—so you don’t have to sacrifice taste along with the buzz. “Many people are really surprised by how delicious some of the NA beverages are and you can have the mouth feel of your favorite drink without the negative aspects of alcohol,” says Watts.

Instead of having a drink every time you normally would (for example, with dinner or in the evening while you watch TV), “try to alternate your regular alcoholic drinks with an NA alternative,” says Watts. 

And have fun with it! As mentioned, there are tons of NA options on the market—so choose beverages that seem interesting, tasty, and that you’ll be genuinely excited to try. “Having options that you can get excited about that are not alcohol is a great way to modify your habits,” says Andersen.

The post What is the Sober Curious Movement—and Why Is It So Popular? appeared first on Fitbit Blog.

- Deanna deBara
Try a Mood Board for Your Fitness and Wellness Resolutions This Year

The New Year is one of the best times of the year to set fitness and wellness resolutions. And one of the best ways to ensure you keep those fitness and wellness resolutions all year long? A mood board.

Mood boards can be a great source of inspiration for making healthier decisions and moving towards your fitness and wellness goals. But what, exactly, is a mood board, how do they work,  and how can you use mood boards to become the happiest, healthiest version of yourself in 2023 (and beyond)?

Sometimes called a vision board, a mood board is a collection of images, graphics, words, and other visual imagery collaged together. They essentially create a visual representation of a chosen topic, idea, concept, or goal.

You can make a physical mood board (for example, by cutting out images from a magazine and collaging them on a piece of posterboard)—or, if you prefer the more tech-savvy route, you can create a virtual mood board using a digital design tool.

What can you use a mood board for?

Mood boards are extremely versatile. You can make one on just about every topic and for just about any reason (including just because you want to!). But one of the most effective ways to use them? To help you hit your goals.

For example, let’s say you just bought a new home. You might make a mood board full of interior design images to help guide your decorating process—including the colors, styles, textures, and patterns you want to include in your home design.

Or let’s say you’re still renting—but your goal is to buy a home in the near future. In that situation, you could make a mood board to keep you moving towards your goal, complete with photos of your dream neighborhood, the kind of home you’d like to buy, and images that will inspire positive financial habits.

Mood boards can be a helpful tool in working towards any goal. But as the New Year approaches, they can be especially effective in helping you work towards your New Year’s resolutions—including your health and fitness resolutions.

So how, exactly, can you use mood boards to help you hit your health and fitness goals—and keep you moving towards your healthiest, happiest self straight through 2023?

Make sure all of your health goals are represented—mental, physical, and emotional

When setting health resolutions for the coming year, it can be easy to focus on the physical—things like changing your diet or getting more exercise. And while you’ll 100 percent want to include those goals on your mood board, your physical health goals aren’t the only resolutions you want represented on your mood board. You’ll want to include your mental and emotional health goals as well.

Think about the resolutions you want to make to improve your overall health in 2023—physical, mental, and emotional. For example, maybe your health resolutions look something like this:

Physical: Run a 10k, learn to cook healthy meals at home, improve sleep hygiene and get 8 full hours of sleep each night Mental: Create a daily self-care practice, learn an instrument, read one book per month Emotional: Start seeing a therapist, schedule at least one “friend date” each week

All of those resolutions are going to help you become a healthier, happier person—and so you’ll want to include them on your mood board.

Include images that inspire you

Once you know all of the health resolutions you want to include on your mood board—physical, mental, and emotional—it’s time to start putting your mood board together. And the first step in that process? Gathering images to create your collage.

There’s no “right” way to search for, find, and collect imagery for a mood board. If you’re making a physical mood board, you might clip images from books and magazines or incorporate your own photos—while if you’re making a digital mood board, you might search the internet and take screenshots of images that align with your goals.

But however you conduct your image search, the most important thing to keep in mind? Choose images that inspire you.

Look for inspiring images that align with the goals you’re trying to hit. For example, is one of your fitness goals to finish your first marathon? Look for photos of people triumphantly crossing marathon finish lines or epic scenery shots of the location where you’d like to run. Are you planning on embracing a more plant-based lifestyle in the coming year? Make sure to incorporate lots of pictures of delicious, nutritious foods and meals to inspire your plant-based menu.

Bottom line? The purpose of your mood board is to act as a visual representation of your health and fitness resolutions—and to inspire you to keep working towards those resolutions, even when it gets challenging. So, to make sure your mood board inspires you when you need it most? Choose inspiring images.

Put your mood board on display

A mood board is a great reminder of the goals that you’re working towards and inspiration to help you work towards those goals. But it can only remind and inspire you if you can actually see it.

Display your mood board in a place where you’re sure to see it every day—for example, on your bedroom wall, on your dresser, or in your workout room. The more often you look at your mood board, the more visual reminders you’ll get of your fitness and wellness resolutions—and those reminders can help you stay accountable to hitting your goals and keeping your resolutions.

Add to your mood board as necessary

As the year progresses, your fitness and wellness resolutions may progress right along with it. So, if you want your mood board to continue to inspire you? Make sure to change and add to it as necessary.

For example, let’s say your major New Year’s health resolution is to get better sleep—and, as such, your mood board is focused on sleep-related imagery and inspiration. If you’re focused on that goal, chances are, your sleep is going to improve throughout the year—and by June, you may be getting such high-quality Zzz’s, improving your sleep no longer feels like as much of a focus.

In that situation, you may feel called to add new resolutions to your mood board, like getting more exercise or cooking more healthy meals—or you may be called to make a new mood board altogether!

The point is, in order for a mood board to be effective, it needs to be a reflection of your current fitness and wellness goals and resolutions—so don’t be afraid to change or add to your mood board as those goals and resolutions change.

The post Try a Mood Board for Your Fitness and Wellness Resolutions This Year appeared first on Fitbit Blog.

- Karen Ansel, MS, RDN
Should You Try a Ballet-Style Workout?

Barre classes may do great things for your glutes, thighs, and core, but if you really want to be strong like a ballerina, consider a ballet workout. This total body exercise doesn’t just strengthen and lengthen muscles; it boasts some decided fringe benefits, like better posture, balance, and confidence, says Victoria Marr, director and co-founder of Sleek Technique Ballet Fitness

What is a ballet workout, and how does it compare to barre? Read on to learn if this new spin on ballet is right for you. 

What is a ballet workout? 

“Ballet [workouts] take you through the entire journey of a ballet class,” says Chris Vo, director of programming, group fitness at Equinox and Equinox Media. But with a twist. In addition to plies, arabesques, and other classic moves, a typical ballet workout might include resistance bands to tone the arms and back or planks for core strength. Either way, the result is a gentle cardio workout that sculpts, tones, and leaves you feeling light, flexible, and more graceful.

A mind-body workout

Ballet-focused classes aren’t just about building a better body. “Dance can lead to a long list of benefits,” says Vo. In addition to improved flexibility, coordination, and balance, dance may also reduce stress and depression, he says. Escaping to the world of dance may also help you become more mindful, adds Marr. “Mentally, you absolutely have to focus for that 30 to 40 minutes and block out any other stresses and distractions,” she explains. Research backs up her theory. For example, one recent study found that dance students reported greater mindfulness and life satisfaction than students in other disciplines.

How do ballet workouts differ from barre classes?

On the surface, ballet and barre workouts may sound like the same thing, but there are some subtle—and not-so-subtle—distinctions. Here are the main ways they differ from one another. 

Coordination and rhythm. “A good barre workout will work on coordination and rhythm but focuses on the more basic ballet steps,” says Marr. “[However], there is even more of an opportunity to advance the work on your coordination and rhythm once you leave the barre as you start to work with a bigger vocabulary of movement and build longer dance sequences.” 

Upper body strength. Want ballerina arms? Then book a ballet class. While barre work can do magic for your lower body, it doesn’t always target the back and arms like sashaying across the floor with arms stretched outward or overhead does.

Cardiovascular endurance. “There is more of an option for larger range, dynamic movements off the barre,” says Marr. Plus, moving your arms and legs simultaneously really gets your heart pumping! Ballet is so effective for heart health that one recent study found that regular moderate-intensity dancing reduced a person’s risk of dying from heart disease by 46 percent. 

Perceived effort. “They both can be strenuous in different ways, but when you get lost in the artistry and the theatrical aspect of a ballet class, somehow one’s perceived exertion is much less,” says Vo. 

The fun factor. “Barre workouts tend to feel like workouts, [and are] usually focused on smaller range of motion, high repetition, and light resistance exercises,” says Vo. By contrast, the jumps, leaps, and turns of a ballet class make you feel like, well, a dancer. 

If you’re torn between the two, the good news is you don’t have to choose one over the other. “Both have their place and complement each other brilliantly,” says Marr. 

But if you’re still not convinced that ballet is really exercise, consider the results of a recent meta-analysis. When researchers reviewed the results of 28 studies, they found that dance was more effective than traditional exercise for improving flexibility and balance and reducing BMI, body fat, and triglycerides. And it was equally as beneficial as exercise for cardiovascular health. So go ahead and dance your heart out!

The post Should You Try a Ballet-Style Workout? appeared first on Fitbit Blog.

- Leandra Rouse
Healthy Recipe: Holiday Hot Pot


Hot Pot is a delicious family meal that is served with a steaming soup at the center of a table, where all guests can participate in flavoring the broth. This is a tradition that has been seen across Asia for thousands of years. Most notably in China (know as huǒguō), in Japan (known as Nabemono), and in Korea (known as Jeongol). It is a fun way to share a communal meal with loved ones, making it especially perfect for the  holidays. 

To ensure this dish is tasty as it is healthy, we will show you how to make the broth light and the vegetables abundant. The seafood and vegetable theme brings forward some of the best hot pot ingredients such as Asian mushrooms, tofu skin, and daikon. Although, you can swap in similar ingredients based on season and your preferences 

The key to a good hot pot is a great broth! We have a great hack to save time and deliver on flavor. Add shrimp and vegetable peels to your favorite pre-made vegetable stock then add This adds extra vitamins, minerals and a rich umami flavor into a packaged broth.  

Lastly, hot pot is traditionally served in the center of a dining table. You will need a heat source such as an electric hot pot, hotplate, or induction stoveplate to keep broth warm. (We’ve always used a plugged in hotplate, but this year added an electric hot pot to our holiday wish list.) 

Most importantly, share this dish with a group of loved ones. It is interactive, fun, easily tailored for personal tastes, and takes a flavorful departure from traditional American holiday flavors.  


2 32 fl.oz (950ml) containers vegetable broth, sodium reduced or without added salt is preferred 

2 teaspoons powdered dashi *optional 

1 lb (450g) white fish filets, such as Mahi Mahi, Bass, Tilapia 

6 shrimp, peels removed and reserved 

1 14 oz (400g) package tofu, firm, cut into cubes 

6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced in half

2 enoki mushroom bundles 

4 baby (400 g) Bok Choy or Pak Choi, bottoms removed

2 cups (200g)  cabbage, Napa or green

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 cup (160g) daikon/mooli, peeled and sliced into 1” (2.5cm) half moons 

1 bunch (100g) green onions or spring onions, ends trimmed and reserved

½ lb (225g) vermicelli noodle, cooked

For the dipping sauce: 

1 tablespoon white miso paste

½ tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon rice vinegar 

1 ½  tablespoon tahini

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame seeds, white, toasted

2 tablespoons water to thin sauce


Stock: Begin by simmering shrimp peels, shiitake stems, and any other reserved vegetable peels in one cup (240ml) of water. Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes. Strain and add this concentrated mixture to a large stock pot with the pre-made vegetable broth and powdered dashi. 

Hot pot: Chop and plate all the vegetable and seafood ingredients into approximate bite size pieces. Plate decoratively and arrange the ingredients based on the type. Place the ingredients across two or more plates to ensure that guests on all sides of the table have easy access. 

Dipping sauce: Whisk together the ingredients in a bowl. Portion the finished dipping sauce into several bowls and place around the table for guests. You may consider individual dipping sauce bowls. 

Set the table:  Put the heat source at center of the table, arrange the plates of ingredients and dipping sauce around the table so guests can reach them. Supply each guest with a bowl, soup spoon, and chopsticks. 

Hot pot meal: When you are ready to serve, carefully bring the large stock pot of broth and place it on the heat source at the center of the table. It should be kept at a low simmer during the meal. Guests can contribute to the flavoring of the broth by selecting raw ingredients, and carefully placing them into the hot pot using chopsticks or a spoon. Give the ingredients plenty of time to cook through and soften before spooning into bowls. The seafood typically will take 7 to 10 minutes to cook and the vegetables a minimum of 5 minutes.Once cooked, ladle the soup from the hotpot into guest bowls, including a little of each added ingredient. Guests can individually season with the dipping sauce. 

Eat and be merry!

Makes 15 servings. 


Calories 180 KCal

Protein 14g

Total fat 6g

Saturated fat 2g

Cholesterol 20mg

Carbs 19g

Fiber 3g

Total sugars 3g

Added sugars 0g

Sodium 600mg

The post Healthy Recipe: Holiday Hot Pot appeared first on Fitbit Blog.

- Pamela DeLoatch
Here’s How You Can Brighten Winter with the Danish Practice of Hygge

Winter can be tough for many people, with fewer hours of daylight and plunging temperatures. Sure, there are many holidays and celebrations to look forward to, but they can come with over-the-top busyness, and expectations can be emotionally and physically draining.

This season, give yourself a break and perhaps elevate your happiness by following the Danish practice of hygge.

Hygge literally means—well, there is no direct translation into English! But it is a sense of cozy comfort, gratitude, and well-being. Pronounced “hoo-ga” or “hui-gah,” it is a common practice in Denmark to prioritize slowing down the pace of life and enjoying simple pleasures, such as close family and friends, food, nature, and relaxation.

Denmark is known for being one of the happiest countries in the world, and hygge may be the reason. With the average winter temperature hovering at the freezing mark and a mere seven hours of sunshine each day in December, the Danes use this time to comfort themselves and enjoy what they have.

History of hygge

The word hygge comes from the Norwegian language, where it means well-being. It was first seen in Danish writing in the 18th century. The concept of hygge fits well into Danish culture, which embraces genuine connection and a laid-back approach to life.

Although the concept of hygge grew in Denmark, an article published about it in 2015 began a spike in coverage around the globe. Subsequent articles and books about hygge followed. In 2016, the word hygge made the Oxford Dictionary shortlist for word of the year. It was defined as “a quality of cosiness  and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).”

As the idea of hygge became more popular worldwide, it became more commercial. The Broadway production of the musical Frozen includes a song called Hygge—ensuring future generations will be well-versed in the concept. Lifestyles stores promote furniture, blankets, candles, and other accessories to make a home more hygge. Still, the original meaning of the word focuses on enjoying what you have, not necessarily needing to get more.

In addition to being a newly accepted word in Scrabble, hygge can be used as a verb, adjective, and noun.

Ways hygge may help happiness

While practicing hygge sounds good, can it really make you happy? Everyone is coping with different stressors and situations. However, hygge corresponds with the concepts of well-being and happiness.

Connection is essential to hygge, and good social relationships are a key predictor of happiness. Hygge is a perfect solution year-round, especially in winter when people socialize less and can feel more isolated without activities with close friends.

A significant part of hygge is gratefulness, an appreciation of what you have. Research shows that gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness. According to Harvard Medical School, “gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Practicing hygge provides regular opportunities to appreciate the people and things around you.

Rest is another aspect of hygge that translates to well-being and happiness. Taking time from overloaded schedules to slow down and relax reduces stress, boosts creativity and productivity, and helps decision-making. Instead of waiting until burnout occurs, hygge creates built-in downtime.

Adding hygge to your life

If you don’t think you’ve practiced hygge before, there is no need for FOMO—you probably have! Think of the last cold, dreary day when you and your bestie wore sweats all day, piled on the blankets, binge-watched a Netflix series, and talked about anything and everything. Perhaps it was when you had a game night or Friendsgiving with a few of your favorite people. Or when you went on a nature walk with your pup, appreciating the open space and chance to breathe fresh air.

There are many ways to hygge. But it’s not just about the activity; it’s about intention and attitude. Because hygge is part of Denmark’s culture, the people there hygge intentionally and consistently. They allow their schedules to include downtime and appreciate the restorative aspects of hanging out with friends and family. And they don’t just do this on special occasions. They do this weekly.

Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute and author of The Little Book of Hygge, highlights the central tenets of hygge:

Get together with a few close friends in a trusting environment. Danes believe the ideal number of people to hygge with is three or four. Enjoy good food and drink. This can be simple food at home, a local coffeehouse, or a casual and relaxing restaurant. Disconnect from digital devices and distractions to savor the moment. This includes leaving work on time to be with family and friends and turning off emails and social media when you’re with people. Turn the lights down. Candles are an important aspect of creating a hygge environment. Dress comfortably. Now isn’t the time for suits and heels. Think soft sweats and thick, warm socks. Have a hygge spot at home where you can light candles, snuggle under a blanket, and drink hot tea, coffee, or cocoa.

While hygge is often practiced indoors, it doesn’t have to be, even in winter. A brisk walk or run outside, a snowball fight, or ice skating with friends are excellent ways to hygge. Activities like picnics, barbecues, canoeing, and camping are popular in warmer weather.

Although hygge can help improve happiness, it isn’t a substitute for psychological support. Still, with its multiple benefits, practicing hygge may help this winter be a little brighter, warmer, and more fulfilling!

The post Here’s How You Can Brighten Winter with the Danish Practice of Hygge appeared first on Fitbit Blog.

- Fitbit Staff
Googler Zahra Barnes Tried Fitbit Premium’s Sleep Profile for Two Months

Googler Zahra Barnes, an editorial content manager and contributor to the Google Keyword blog, was immediately intrigued by Fitbit Premium’s Sleep Profile feature when it launched in June—and the thought of understanding more about her sleep quality, not just quantity. That’s why, after being set up with a device by Fitbit, she decided to test out our Sleep Profile for the next two months. 

Sleep Profile is determined by analyzing 10 key metrics identified by the Fitbit research team to be most important to your sleep health, including sleep schedule variability, sleep start time, sleep duration, time in deep and REM sleep, and more. Plus, Sleep Profile will reveal which animal represents a user’s most recent sleep habits. The options are Bear, Dolphin, Hedgehog, Parrot, Tortoise, and Giraffe. 

Read on for Zahra’s takeaways: 

Setting up her Sleep Profile was simple. Once her device and the Fitbit app were set up, all she had to do was wear it.  She thought her Inspire 3’s 10-day battery life was the stuff of dreams. “I’m frankly still not over this!” Zahra shared. She found looking through her sleep data fascinating, especially her Sleep Score, and was able to improve her sleep as a result.  Smart Wake made her mornings less groggy by waking her with gentle vibrations at the lightest point in the sleep cycle. Fitbit’s breathing exercise and guided meditations helped her wind down before bed. On nights when she couldn’t drift off, she found that Fitbit helped.   Getting her sleep animal, the Giraffe, was as rewarding as she’d hoped. She discovered that like her other fellow Giraffes (the most common Sleep Animal), she went to bed later, got less sleep than women her age, and did not have much time spent awake while sleeping.  Fitbit’s workout encouragement helped her tire herself out. “If I’d known my Fitbit would basically be a life coach and cheerleader right on my wrist, I’d have tried one out a lot sooner!” Zahra wrote. 

Interested in trying it yourself? If you’re a Premium member, all you have to do is wear your Fitbit device to bed for at least 14 nights of the previous month, and on the first day of the month, you’ll get your monthly Sleep Profile. Available on Google Pixel Watch, Sense 2, Sense, Versa 4, Versa 3, Versa 2, Charge 5, Luxe, Inspire 2, or Inspire 3. 

Want to find out more about Zahra’s experience? You can read the full story on the Google Keyword.

The post Googler Zahra Barnes Tried Fitbit Premium’s Sleep Profile for Two Months appeared first on Fitbit Blog.

- Elisa van der Plas
Fitbit Research Findings Show that Users Who Meet Physical Activity Recommendations Are Able to Improve Their Resting Heart Rate, Sleep, and More

Did you know that the famous 10K steps per day target wasn’t originally based in science? Manpo-kei, translated as “10,000-steps-meter,” was introduced by a Japanese pedometer manufacturer in 1965. As we know at Fitbit, a wide range of research has occurred since then, indeed suggesting that hitting this daily target can improve sleep duration and quality, have a positive impact on self-reported mental health, boost blood oxygen levels, and decrease resting heart rate

Research shows that it’s not only step count, but also intensity that matters. Since 2020, Fitbit has inspired Fitbit users to push up their physical activity levels with the introduction of personalized Active Zone Minutes (AZMs) minutes of high-intensity activity that are based on heart rate targets achieved for each minute spent on any workout that gets your heart pumping.

For this analysis, we investigated whether hitting the American Heart Association’s recommended physical activity target of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity leads to measurable improvements in Fitbit users. We also took a look at approximately how long users should meet these physical activity targets to get the highest return on investment on these aspects of their health.

We analyzed 471 million AZMs and 106 billion steps of anonymous and consenting users who met the physical activity targets in February 2022, but not in January 2022, and assessed whether they saw corresponding improvements in their health compared with users who did not meet the targets in the same period. The results show positive health impacts across resting heart rate, HRV, sleep and stress management scores so long as at least one threshold is reached. Health benefits are even further pronounced when users achieve multiple recommendations.

Users who met both 10K steps per day and the 150 AZMs per week target saw improvements in multiple metrics compared to those who did not meet those thresholds. Specific improvements were as follows: 

Heart rate variability improved by 20 percent (6.1 millisecond or ms. difference) Resting heart rate lowered by 8.1 percent (4 bpm difference) Stress management scores lowered by 7.3 percent (5.4 difference)1 

In addition, users that met or exceeded only the 10K steps per day recommendation still showed a 3.44 millisecond higher heart rate variability (higher is better), 3.05 beats per minute lower resting heart rate, and 3.97 improvement in their stress management score than comparable users. 

Users that met or exceeded only the 150 AZMs per week recommendation showed a 3.08 ms higher heart rate variability, 1.35 beats per minute lower resting heart rate, and 5.08 higher stress management score than comparable users. These findings suggest that meeting even one of the targets may still yield improvements in your health.

Next, we looked at how long the same user who initially does not meet the physical activity targets needs to be active to start reaping the health benefits:

Reaching the 150 AZMs per week and 10K steps per day targets for as little as two weeks increased heart rate variability by 20 percent, decreased RHR by 4.3 percent, and increased sleep scores by 4.2 percent compared to remaining at below-target physical activity levels Users that managed to hit the physical activity targets for an additional two weeks (6 weeks total) also saw a 4.9 percent decrease in their resting heart rate² Importantly, these positive effects on health lasted for over 4 weeks even if activity later dropped!

Key recommendation: Shoot for 150 AZMs per week in addition to 10K steps per day for the biggest benefit. If that’s too much, aim for activity consistency balanced with some higher intensity workouts for measurable benefits. Use Fitbit’s Activity goals to set daily targets for steps and AZMs and remember to turn on those reminders to move! By enabling these features, Fitbit can help you set targets and achieve your health goals. 

1 This analysis was not designed to directly compare the AZM and step count physical activity targets as these distinct workouts are subject to different variables that affect health, such as measurement error. So it is possible that the associations we found with health are attributable to some other unobserved characteristic of the workout.

² As these analyses were observational in nature, we were unable to control for all confounding variables, so it is possible that the associations we found with physical activity and health are attributable to other, unobserved characteristics in the groups. However, other studies, including prospective randomized controlled trials, have shown comparable changes in RHR and HRV over a similar time period.

The post Fitbit Research Findings Show that Users Who Meet Physical Activity Recommendations Are Able to Improve Their Resting Heart Rate, Sleep, and More appeared first on Fitbit Blog.

- Eric Trexler
How Much Dietary Fat Do We Really Need?

Note: This article was the MASS Research Review cover story for September 2023 and is the first installment of a new type of MASS article called “From the Mailbag.” The purpose is to address questions from MASS readers (or questions that are frequently asked within the evidence-based fitness community). If you want more content like this, subscribe to MASS.

How much dietary fat do we really need? This is one of the most common questions that stumps even the most seasoned and experienced fitness pros from time to time.

Before one begins to answer this question, it’s really important to frame the question deliberately. When asking how much dietary fat we need, we must operationally define what “need” means. Are we trying to identify the minimum fat intake that prevents death? The minimum fat intake that prevents clinically relevant adverse effects? The minimum fat intake that is practically feasible? The minimum fat intake to support feeling good? The minimum fat intake that is compatible with optimal physical function? The answer to each question will be a bit different. So, for this article, I want to focus on some of the key outcomes that establish informative boundaries for daily fat intake targets. I also want to make something very clear on the front end: this article exclusively pertains to healthy adults with no underlying medical conditions, and it does not constitute medical advice. For personalized nutrition guidance, it’s always advisable to consult with a qualified professional with appropriate credentials and training. 

Gallstone prevention

The gallbladder is a small organ located in the upper-right quadrant of the abdomen. Its primary function is to store bile, which is produced by the liver. When we eat a fatty meal, the gallbladder releases bile to facilitate the digestion of fat. Gallstones are small, hard, pebble-like objects that form when bile hardens within the gallbladder. In many cases, gallstones do not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, if they block a bile duct, they can cause a painful buildup of bile, and may eventually necessitate surgical removal of the gallbladder.

It’s been known for decades that gallstone formation is one of the most common side effects reported in clinical weight loss trials in which considerable amounts of weight are lost very quickly (1). Rapid weight loss programs can sometimes cause the liver to release extra cholesterol into bile, which can increase the risk of gallstone formation. Beyond the risk associated with very rapid fat loss, extreme fat restriction seems to independently increase the risk of gallstone formation. It’s possible this is driven by a notable reduction in bile release when dietary fat is restricted, which leads to a bunch of bile sitting around for extended periods of time.

In clinical weight loss trials in participants with obesity, you might be shocked to see exactly how extreme some of the intervention diets are. It’s not particularly rare to see diets in the range of 500-800 kcal/day, with single-digit levels of daily fat intake. In a fitness industry where people are sometimes ridiculed for ever suggesting someone should eat fewer than 1200 kcal/day, these numbers might seem a bit jarring (especially for participants who often weigh over 200 pounds!). Unsurprisingly, these types of diets have been shown on many occasions to increase the risk of gallstone formation. Fortunately, it seems that this risk can be dramatically reduced by adding some fat to the weight loss diet, and the necessary amount of fat is shockingly low. Based on the best available evidence, an extremely modest fat intake of only 7-12 g/day appears to be enough to largely counteract the negative effect of extreme fat restriction on gallstone formation (1).

Essential fatty acid intake

Another factor impacting dietary fat needs is our unavoidable need for essential fatty acids. Different fatty acids have different physiological roles in the body, and the structure of a fatty acid dictates its function. Fatty acids consist of a carboxylic acid attached to a hydrocarbon chain, and this hydrocarbon chain can vary in length. As a result, you’ll often hear about “short-chain,” “medium-chain,” and “long-chain” fatty acids. Another structural feature that can vary is the number of single and double bonds (Figure 1), which gives rise to the most recognizable distinction among fatty acids: saturated fats have all single bonds (with no double bonds), monounsaturated fats have one double bond (“mono” means “one”), and polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds (“poly” means “many” or “multiple”). 

We can also distinguish fatty acids based on the specific location of their double bonds within the hydrocarbon chain – omega-3 fatty acids have their first double bond located at the 3rd position from the “omega” end of the chain, which is the end of the chain furthest from the carboxylic acid. Conversely, omega-6 fatty acids have their first double bond located at the 6th position from the omega end (Figure 2).

Finally, we can distinguish some unsaturated fatty acids from others based on the spatial orientation of their hydrocarbon chain. Unsaturated fatty acids have at least one double bond that joins two carbons together, with a hydrogen atom bonded to each carbon. If the hydrogen atoms are on the same side of the double bond, we’re looking at a cis formation; if the hydrogen atoms are on opposite sides of the double bond, we’re looking at a trans formation (Figure 3). This is where we get the terms “cis” and “trans” fatty acids from (which leads to the common recommendation to avoid trans fats). 

Generally speaking, human beings are pretty good at rearranging the building blocks of fatty acids, rendering them largely interchangeable. We have all the enzymatic machinery necessary to chop up long fatty acid chains into shorter ones, build upon shorter ones to make longer ones, and swap between saturated and unsaturated bonds. However, there’s a major exception: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. We lack the necessary enzymes to place a double bond at the 3rd and 6th position of these long-chain fatty acids, but sufficient omega-3 and omega-6 availability is considered essential for optimal health. As a result, we need to get omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from the diet. But exactly how much do we need?

Surprisingly, that question is hard to answer. While we know that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential in nature, clinically relevant deficiencies of these fatty acids are so rare that it’s challenging to confidently identify minimum dietary targets to support health. As a result, some governing bodies have set “adequate intake” levels based on the median intake that happens to be observed among healthy individuals. Adequate intake levels of linoleic acid (the primary dietary source of omega-6) are 17 g/day for males and 12 g/day for females (2). However, some have argued that most adults should be able to get by with an intake of only 3-6 g/day of linoleic acid (3). Adequate intake levels of α-linolenic acid (the primary dietary source of omega-3) are 1.6 g/day for males and 1.1 g/day for females (2). If you’re wondering how the fatty acids in fish oil (EPA and DHA) fit into this equation, our bodies can use α-linolenic acid to produce EPA and DHA. If we look at a collection of recommendations from different countries, we tend to see intake targets around 1.4-2.5 g/day for total omega-3 fatty acids, with 140 to 600 mg/d coming from a combination of EPA and DHA (4).

When converting this to a daily target for total fat intake, we have to consider the concentration of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids within the actual foods and oils you consume. For example, you might say that safflower oil and peanut oil are both sources of linoleic acid (omega-6), but safflower oil is over 70% linoleic acid by weight, whereas peanut oil is around 20% linoleic acid by weight. Similarly, you could say that chia seeds and walnuts are both sources of α-linolenic acid (omega-3), but the oil from hemp seems is over 60% α-linolenic acid by weight, whereas the oil from walnuts is around 10% α-linolenic acid by weight. All in all, this creates a murky picture when trying to set minimum fat targets: there’s a lack of clarity about the actual daily requirement for these specific fatty acids, and dietary sources vary considerably in terms of their essential fatty acid concentration. However, if you’re looking for a rough heuristic to summarize this information, it seems reasonable to suggest that someone could meet their needs for essential fatty acid intake by consuming at least 20-30 g/day of fat, especially if they’re supplementing with essential fatty acids or intentionally selecting highly concentrated food sources. 

Fat-soluble vitamin absorption

If you thought this section would bring a precise target with more clarity than the previous section, brace for disappointment. In lieu of a massive literature review, I’ll save you some time and provide a simple summary: vitamin absorption is complicated. We see all sorts of interactions among micronutrients, such that some are absorbed less in the presence of certain micronutrients, but absorbed more in the presence of others. Based on a combination of biochemistry and intestinal physiology, we know that dietary fat should facilitate the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (which are vitamins A, D, E, and K). However, when it comes to the research exploring exactly how much it matters and exactly how much dietary fat is needed (and when it should be ingested), the findings are all over the place. 

For example, one study found that short-term vitamin D absorption was improved by a low-fat meal (11g) rather than no meal or a high-fat meal (35g), but it didn’t make a big impact on long-term vitamin D levels (5). Some studies have indicated that the fat content of a meal meaningfully impacts vitamin E absorption (6), while other studies find no substantial impact (7). It gets even messier when branching out from single-meal absorption to longer time scales (several months) when assessing dietary fat intake and adequacy of fat-soluble vitamins, because fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in body fat and other tissues for later use. As a result, a person’s circulating levels of a fat-soluble vitamin aren’t necessarily reflective of their recent dietary habits. We know that medical conditions involving fat malabsorption considerably increase the risk of fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies (8), so we know (by extension) that a zero-fat diet would not be suitable for enabling adequate absorption. However, when it comes to supporting fat-soluble vitamin absorption, a clear and concise daily minimum fat target eludes us.

The most common recommendation is to aim for at least 10% of calories coming from dietary fat in order to support fat-soluble vitamin absorption (9). That amounts to 11 g/day for a 1,000-kcal diet, 22 g/day for a 2,000-kcal diet, and 33 g/day for a 3,000-kcal diet. This is a great example of why percentage-based dietary recommendations have some pretty big limitations – I don’t believe vitamin needs go down when you decide to cut your calories, but that’s an unspoken assumption of any percentage-based recommendation in this scenario. People who make percentage-based recommendations generally assume that you’re eating somewhere around 2,000 to 2,500 kcal/day, so we can probably reframe this 10% of total energy target as 22-28 g/day of fat intake, give or take. In the interest of using round numbers that are easier to remember, we can call this 20-30 g/day – after all, what’s the harm in rounding an inherently imprecise number?

Sex hormone levels

At this point, we’ve discussed the non-negotiable elements of minimum dietary fat targets: regardless of goal, we simply shouldn’t be okay with adopting a diet that meaningfully increases the risk of gallstone development, inadequate essential fatty acid intake, or inadequate fat-soluble vitamin absorption. These outcomes are (from my perspective) categorically unacceptable, which is why I’ve never (and probably will never) get on board with a diet recommendation involving less than 30g/day of fat. Having said that, we’re now venturing from non-negotiable necessities to an outcome that is absolutely desirable, but sometimes sacrificed in the pursuit of certain athletic endeavors. Many studies have shown that reductions in fat intake can lead to reductions in circulating sex hormone levels. Few lifters would consider that to be an ideal outcome, but we also know that decreased sex hormone levels are commonly observed in a variety of competitive endeavors, such as endurance sports and physique sports. 

I’ve written about this topic previously in MASS, so I’ll only hit the highlights and summarize the literature in this article. Back in 2021, Whittaker and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis exploring the relationship between dietary fat intake and testosterone levels in men (10). They assessed short-term (2-10 weeks) interventions comparing low-fat diets (~19% of energy intake on average) to higher-fat comparator diets (~39% of energy intake on average) with similar total energy content in healthy, approximately weight-stable participants. They ended up including six studies with 206 total participants, and the analysis revealed that low-fat diets induced statistically significant reductions in total testosterone, free testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and urinary testosterone, with non-significant reductions observed for luteinizing hormone and sex hormone binding globulin. Similar effects have been observed for estrogen levels in women; a meta-analysis from 1999 (11) reported that changing from a high-fat (29-46% of energy) to a low-fat (12-25% energy) diet reduced estrogen levels, with particularly large drops observed when fat was dropped below roughly 20% of total energy intake.

With these findings in mind, it seems very justifiable to suggest that studies support the recommendation to keep fat intake at or above 20% of energy to prevent drops in sex hormones. You could make a defensible argument that this should be 25% instead of 20%, but in the spirit of identifying absolute bare minimums, I’ll err toward the lower number. Having said that, there are a few important caveats to highlight. First, it would be inaccurate to say that more fat is always better, as excessive carb restriction has also been shown to reduce sex hormone levels. Second, it’s probably not ideal to frame fat intake as a percentage of total energy intake, as a super-low-calorie diet wouldn’t be expected to reduce the fat intake needed to support circulating sex hormone concentrations. If we assume a caloric intake of 2000-2500 kcal/day, the 20% of energy figure would lead us to a lower fat intake boundary of about 45-55 grams per day. To account for uncertainty, imprecision, and inter-individual differences, I personally would expand this range to around 40-60 grams per day. This range generally matches my observations as a coach and competitor, for what it’s worth.

Third, I want to be clear that low fat intake is not the only factor driving low sex hormone levels in endurance athletes and physique athletes. In many cases, the independent impact of dietary fat is dramatically smaller than the impact of insufficient energy intake (relative to training load and total daily energy expenditure), and insufficient energy stores (in the form of fat mass). In other words, it’d be incorrect to say that eating at least 40-60 grams of fat per day is enough to be confident that your sex hormone levels will stay within preferred ranges – if you’re absolutely shredded and/or dramatically underfueling, reductions in circulating sex hormone concentrations are often unavoidable. So, adequate fat intake levels appear to support typical sex hormone levels, but they certainly don’t guarantee typical sex hormone levels or attenuate drops driven by more impactful factors.

Practical considerations 

Now that we’ve covered the physiological and biochemical stuff, I want to briefly mention some practical considerations that contribute to “realistic” lower boundaries for fat intake. First, the presence of dietary fat tends to make a diet more satisfying by influencing the taste, smell, mouthfeel, and hedonic properties of meals (12). Ask any coach who has ever tried to recommend an extremely low-fat diet – clients tend to report a high level of diet dissatisfaction very shortly after the switch, and adherence slips.

Even if we set hedonic preferences aside, it’s exceedingly impractical to shoot for extremely low fat intakes for extended periods of time. If you’ve ever tried to do an extremely low-fat approach for a short period of time, you already know this to be true. Fat will find its way into your diet, whether you’re looking for it or not. Fat is present in most of the foods that we typically think of as protein or carbohydrate sources, and even the foods that we typically consider “approximately” fat-free have trace amounts of fat. On a food-by-food basis, this fat content seems negligible, but over the course of an entire day, you’d be surprised by how quickly it adds up. If you don’t believe me, open up any diet software and try to put together a 2,000-Calorie diet with less than 20g of total fat – it’s probably harder than you expect!

All of that is to say, most of this article has discussed minimum daily fat requirements based on physiological needs. When we set our sights on the practical aspects of actually designing and following an extremely low-fat diet, we tend to find that practicality and feasibility keep most peoples’ daily fat intake higher than the physiological bare minimums. This is purely a speculative hunch, but I suspect that this is one explanation for the fact that the United States and European countries recommend that fat makes up 20-35% of total energy intake, whereas some global bodies and Asian countries set the lower boundary at 15%. There are several countries in Asia with cuisines that are more compatible with low fat intakes, such that population-level average fat intakes are lower and lower fat intake recommendations are comparatively more feasible. 


In the introduction, I mentioned that the topic of minimum dietary fat requirements can stump even the most seasoned and experienced fitness pros. While that might have seemed like a jab at fitness pros who are unable to confidently produce an answer to the question, it’s more like a compliment in many circumstances. If someone feels uncertain about the lower boundary of dietary fat requirements, it likely reveals that they have an appreciation for the complexities of the topic, and they are aware that the scientific evidence makes it exceedingly challenging to provide a singular, one-size-fits-all number with high confidence.

With this in mind, I think the discussion about theoretical minimum fat targets is addressed most effectively by going outcome-by-outcome to piece together a comprehensive understanding. If your goal is to merely avoid immediate medical events in the context of rapid fat loss diets lasting only a few months in duration, the daily minimum fat intake is actually quite low. So far, studies suggest that somewhere around 7-12 g/day of total fat intake should be enough to meaningfully attenuate the risk of gallstone formation that is commonly observed with very extreme low-fat weight loss diets. However, that’s not the only factor to consider when setting the lower boundary. If you’re interested in ensuring adequate intake of essential fatty acids, your target for total fat will depend entirely on the specific fat sources you’re selecting, but 20-30 g/day might serve as a decent (but very approximate) heuristic. This range (20-30 g/day) would also be a suitable “bare minimum” target if you’re aiming to support fat-soluble vitamin absorption. If you wish to support sex hormone levels, you probably don’t want to go too far below 40-60 g/day. 

For convenience, these rough heuristics are presented in Table 1.

Table 1. Rough (approximate) heuristics for absolute minimum fat intakesOutcome of interestApproximate minimum intake (g/day)Attenuate gallstone formation7-12Support essential fatty acid intake20-30Support fat-soluble vitamin absorption20-30Support sex hormone levels40-60Caveats: These are approximate values based on surprisingly limited evidence. They are absolute minimums, not recommendations. Needs might be slightly lower for people who are considerably smaller than the population average, and slightly higher for people who are considerably larger than the population average. This table exclusively pertains to healthy adults, and does not constitute medical advice.

These rough estimates refer to absolute minimums, not recommendations – I am not declaring or implying that low-fat diets are inherently superior to other dietary approaches in all cases. People often ask how much fat we truly need as a “bare minimum,” and that’s precisely what this article seeks to address. Whether or not a low-fat (or very-low-fat) diet is optimal, advisable, enjoyable, or tolerable for a given individual in a specific set of circumstances is a different conversation altogether. 

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References Festi D, Colecchia A, Orsini M, Sangermano A, Sottili S, Simoni P, et al. Gallbladder motility and gallstone formation in obese patients following very low calorie diets. Use it (fat) to lose it (well). Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1998 Jun;22(6):592–600. Field CJ, Robinson L. Dietary Fats. Adv Nutr. 2019 Jul;10(4):722–4. National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on the Tenth Edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances. Chapter 5: Lipids. In: Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. Aranceta J, Pérez-Rodrigo C. Recommended dietary reference intakes, nutritional goals and dietary guidelines for fat and fatty acids: a systematic review. Br J Nutr. 2012 Jun;107(S2):S8–22. Dawson-Hughes B, Harris SS, Palermo NJ, Ceglia L, Rasmussen H. Meal conditions affect the absorption of supplemental vitamin D3 but not the plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D response to supplementation. J Bone Miner Res. 2013 Aug;28(8):1778–83. Jeanes YM, Hall WL, Ellard S, Lee E, Lodge JK. The absorption of vitamin E is influenced by the amount of fat in a meal and the food matrix. Br J Nutr. 2004 Oct;92(4):575–9. Traber MG, Leonard SW, Ebenuwa I, Violet PC, Wang Y, Niyyati M, et al. Vitamin E absorption and kinetics in healthy women, as modulated by food and by fat, studied using 2 deuterium-labeled α-tocopherols in a 3-phase crossover design. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 Nov 1;110(5):1148–67. Siener R, Machaka I, Alteheld B, Bitterlich N, Metzner C. Effect of Fat-Soluble Vitamins A, D, E and K on Vitamin Status and Metabolic Profile in Patients with Fat Malabsorption with and without Urolithiasis. Nutrients. 2020 Oct 12;12(10):3110. Jéquier E. Response to and range of acceptable fat intake in adults. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1999 Apr;53(1):s84–93. Whittaker J, Wu K. Low-fat diets and testosterone in men: Systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention studies. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2021 Jun;210:105878. Wu AH, Pike MC, Stram DO. Meta-analysis: dietary fat intake, serum estrogen levels, and the risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1999 Mar 17;91(6):529-34. Drewnowski A, Almiron-Roig E. Chapter 11: Human Perceptions and Preferences for Fat-Rich Foods. In: Montmayeur JP, le Coutre J, editors. Fat Detection: Taste, Texture, and Post Ingestive Effects. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2010.

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- Hayden Pritchard
Practical Strategies for Returning to Training After a Break

Since I began hosting the Stronger Dad’s Collective Podcast, I have become more aware of the impact of the seasons of life. We go through phases: You might be studying for a number of years, working in a particular industry for a period of time, living in different locations, or raising young children. Each of these represents a different season of life and has a direct impact on the things we prioritize and the choices we make – including our training habits.

It’s not uncommon for someone who once put a lot of time and effort into their strength training to have it drop right down – or even completely off – their list of priorities. I’ve heard such stories from a number of guests on the podcast, as well as through conversations I have had with friends and colleagues. 

Sometimes life forces your hand, or perhaps motivation to train fades, and the next thing you know you haven’t trained for a number of months or even years.

If that sounds like you, then I hope you can take some encouragement from this article. The primary objective is to provide you with practical strategies that can help you effectively get back into strength training. So let’s get into it. 

Keep the Enthusiasm in Check

If you’re still reading this article after the introduction, it probably means you’re keen to get back into training. So this first section may seem a bit counterintuitive. But it’s an important one to ensure your motivation doesn’t quickly wane due to being overzealous at the beginning. If you are smart in the way you approach the first few weeks, I think you’ll have more success over the long term.

Most of us have experienced the soreness that comes from undertaking a new training plan or performing unaccustomed exercises for high volumes. I’ve experienced this myself on many occasions, usually when jumping straight back into higher volume work within those first few weeks post-competition; the muscle soreness can end up fairly debilitating. Thankfully, there is a better way.

That way involves an introductory week – or even a few weeks. The purpose of this introductory training is to take advantage of the repeated bout effect, and thus blunt the soreness and fatigue that can come following unaccustomed training. It is an effect that has been regularly demonstrated in the literature.

For example, Nosaka et al. (2001) found that when groups of participants performed initial training sessions with only two or six maximal eccentric bicep contractions, they experienced less muscle soreness than a group performing 24 maximal eccentric bicep contractions … not surprising. However, even the group that performed only two maximal eccentric bicep contractions – and experienced minimal soreness from that training session – received enough of a stimulus that soreness was reduced when they undertook a bout of 24 maximal eccentric bicep contractions two weeks later (see Figure 1 below). Interestingly, the group that performed an initial bout of only six repetitions actually achieved as great of a protective effect against muscle soreness as the group that performed 24 repetitions in their initial session – showing that you don’t need a large dose of training to get the protective benefit of the repeated bout effect in subsequent sessions.

From Nosaka et al. (2001). Muscle soreness following an initial session of 2, 6, or 24 eccentric reps (1st Bout), and following a second session of 24 eccentric reps two weeks later (2nd bout). Despite causing significantly more soreness following the initial session, higher volumes of eccentric training in the first bout didn’t seem to provide more protection against muscle damage in the second bout than lower volumes of eccentric training.

Similar protective effects have been shown for low-intensity training. Huang et al. (2019) found that performing eccentric contractions using loads of only 10% of maximal isometric contraction strength was able to induce protective effects to subsequent high-intensity eccentric contractions at 80% of maximal isometric contraction strength. In this study, the experimental group performed 50 low-intensity eccentric contractions. Whilst a high number of repetitions, it did not induce muscle soreness. The low-intensity contractions were performed by the experimental group two days before 50 high-intensity eccentric contractions, whilst the control group did not perform any prior activity. Nine different muscles were tested, and protective effects were found across muscle groups – although the magnitude of these effects did vary. For comparison with Nosaka et al. (2001), the results for soreness of the elbow flexors are included in Figure 2 below. Together these findings show that the repeated bout effect can be attained with both low-volume and low-intensity approaches.

From Huang et al. (2019)

What does this look like in practice? Well, a tactic I sometimes use is simply aiming to incorporate a smaller dose of training – maybe around 50% – in a “Week Zero” that is performed prior to beginning a new block of training. Table 1 below provides an example series of bench press sessions that could occur over a mesocycle when incorporating an introductory week. Week Zero represents the introductory week and the prescriptions are read as sets x reps at a corresponding RPE.

Week ZeroWeek OneWeek TwoWeek ThreeWeek FourBench Press2×8 @6-73×8 @7-84×8 @7-84×8 @8-9x8 @9-10, 3×8 @ 90% of above

You will notice two key points in the program within Week Zero above:

The number of sets is less than Week One;  The RPE is lower. 

This ensures that the overall training volume is less than what will be experienced in later weeks, as well as the intensity (or load on the bar) being less. Overall, the total training load is much lower. 

There isn’t anything magic about the above plan. In fact, if you have had a long time away from training, you could probably use only one set and perhaps an even lower RPE. You’ll still get the benefits of less initial muscle soreness from that first session, as well as less soreness in the subsequent weeks. Win-win.

Thinking Longer Term

Given you are likely going from zero – or very limited – training, you need to be wary of adding too much too soon. Some researchers have found associations with rapid increases in training volume and the incidence of injury. Whilst such rapid increases in training aren’t going to guarantee an injury, it is worth being aware that there might be an increased risk of injury when one tries to add too much training load too quickly (Gabbet, 2016). Also, muscle soreness when going from 0 to 100 percent effort has the potential to demotivate you, as mentioned earlier. So it is best to start small and build your way back into it.

What could this look like? Let’s again use the bench press as our example and show how we might progress week to week over a few four week training blocks for someone who hasn’t lifted for a few months.

Block OneWeek ZeroWeek OneWeek TwoWeek ThreeBench Press1×8 @5-63×8 @5-63×8 @6-7x8 @7-8,2×8 @ 90% of above Block TwoWeek OneWeek TwoWeek ThreeWeek FourBench Press3×5 @6-74×5 @7-84×5 @7-8x5 @8-9,3×5 @ 90% of above Block ThreeWeek OneWeek TwoWeek ThreeWeek FourBench Pressx3 @7-8,2×5 @ 80% e1RMx3 @7-8,4×5 @ 80% e1RMx3 @8-9,1×5 @ 80% e1RMTesting Triplex3 @9.5-10

Again, the above program isn’t anything magical or special. It’s written to demonstrate some key principles to consider after several months (or more) out of the gym:

Total training load should be added slowly and progressively;  Take your time before pushing towards max efforts.

This plan has an intro week of less volume than the initial example for that concept. The lifter has gone from a training load of zero, so the intro week (Week Zero of Block One) reflects that. This first block then progresses first in volume (adding sets) and then in intensity (increasing RPE). 

The first week of the second block adds to overall intensity by reducing the number of reps whilst maintaining intensity, then adds to both (just slightly) and holds for the next two weeks. The final week gives a chance for the lifter to push a bit harder, prescribing up to a 9 RPE.

In block three, over the course of several weeks, the lifter builds to hitting a maximal effort triple in week four, with a slight taper in volume in week three. Overall though, the concepts applied reflect those we discussed in earlier weeks. Note for the percentage work, an e1RM can be calculated from the prior block’s final week. 

This program spends 12 weeks building before pushing to a maximal effort. It doesn’t mean that length of time is required before testing; but in a situation where a person is rather untrained, I want to ensure we spend some time rebuilding a foundation before focusing too much on the load on the bar.

Exercise Selection and Training Frequency

If you can keep your enthusiasm in check and manage your training load, you’re most of the way there. However, exercise selection and training frequency will also play a big part in the total training load each day and across the week, respectively.

When referring to exercise selection, I am primarily referring to the number of exercises in a day, as this will have the largest impact on total training load. During the initial phases of returning to training, I would consider doing fewer exercises per day – maybe as few as three exercises a day. On each of these exercises, you’d follow similar recommendations for introductory weeks and volume progression as outlined above.

Major compound lifts should also be the focus – think pushes, pulls, squats and hinges. Each week I would be aiming to hit 1-2 of each type of lift to begin with. The below template shows two examples: a shorter, minimalist, daily plan with only two days a week, and the other slightly longer daily plan with three-day weeks.

Day OneDay TwoSquat ExerciseHinge ExerciseVertical PushHorizontal PushVertical PullHorizontal Pull Day OneDay TwoDay ThreeSquat ExerciseHorizontal PushHinge ExerciseHinge ExerciseVertical PushSquat ExerciseVertical PushHorizontal PullHorizontal PushVertical PullVertical PullHorizontal Pull

During your first few months back, I would keep exercise selection simple, like above. I’d also try to ensure you rest at least a full day between sessions. Over the course of the months that follow, you could add in more exercises, increase your training frequency, or otherwise gradually build toward a style of training that works for you.

Also, it is worth noting that the repeated bout effect has been shown to have effects across similar exercises (Zourdos et al., 2015). This means if you are doing variations of an exercise, we could anticipate it may reduce soreness to some degree on these similar exercises. Meaning a very low-volume introductory week may not always be required from block to block if exercises are similar.

Wrapping Up

If you’re looking to get back into training, I hope this article has provided you with some practical strategies that can help in this endeavor.

The concepts above are pretty simple: Start slow. Build gradually. Be patient.

They’re easy enough to say, and they make sense in principle. The challenge comes in being able to be sensible in the short term so that you can continue to train in the long term. Be intelligent in your approach. 

I wish you every success as you get back into training!

Read more about returning to training A Guide to Detraining: What to Expect, How to Mitigate Losses, and How to Get Back to Full Strength by Greg Nuckols Returning to Training After a Break by The MASS Research Review Team Risks of Returning to Training by Jason Eure (DPT) References Gabbett T. J. (2016). The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder? British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(5), 273–280. Huang, M. J., Nosaka, K., Wang, H. S., Tseng, K. W., Chen, H. L., Chou, T. Y., & Chen, T. C. (2019). Damage protective effects conferred by low-intensity eccentric contractions on arm, leg and trunk muscles. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 119, 1055-1064. Nosaka, K., Sakamoto, K., Newton, M., & Sacco, P. (2001). The repeated bout effect of reduced-load eccentric exercise on elbow flexor muscle damage. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 85(1-2), 34–40. Zourdos, M. C., Henning, P. C., Jo, E., Khamoui, A. V., Lee, S. R., Park, Y. M., … & Kim, J. S. (2015). Repeated bout effect in muscle-specific exercise variations. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(8), 2270-2276.

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- Greg Nuckols
No, Creatine (Probably) Doesn’t Cause Hair Loss

A couple weeks ago, we published a research spotlight covering the effects of creatine on muscle growth. When we posted it on social media, the replies were awash with a common question: does creatine really cause hair loss?

When you talk about creatine on the internet, it’s almost guaranteed that someone will bring up hair loss. There are many common concerns, myths, and bits of unsubstantiated speculation about creatine, but none of them seem to be quite as popular as the idea that creatine will make you go bald.

So, in this article, I’d like to discuss where the idea came from, and why you probably don’t need to be concerned about creatine causing hair loss.

Why do people think that creatine causes hair loss?

In short, the hormone DHT (dihydrotestosterone) has been implicated in hair loss, and a single study suggested that creatine raises DHT levels.

DHT is a lot like testosterone. Your body actually synthesizes DHT from testosterone, via the 5ɑ-reductase enzyme. DHT and testosterone have similar effects in the body – they bind to the same receptors (androgen receptors), and upregulate expression of the same genes. However, DHT has about 5-times greater affinity for androgen receptors, so per unit of hormone, DHT has much larger effects than testosterone itself.

DHT is (at least partially) responsible for a lot of the physiological changes you experience during puberty. Most notably for the purposes of this article, DHT has pronounced effects on hair follicles. DHT is largely responsible for the maturation and growth of facial, body, and pubic hair. However, it’s also heavily implicated in androgenic alopecia (which used to be called “male pattern baldness,” even though it also affects females). In fact, most of the popular drugs people take to prevent hair loss are 5ɑ-reductase inhibitors – they stop the conversion of testosterone to DHT. If you can stop your body from producing DHT, the progression of androgenic alopecia slows way down, stops entirely, or (sometimes) reverses slightly.

So, if severely reducing DHT levels can stop hair loss, things that increase DHT levels must increase hair loss … right?

That’s the concern people have when they learn about a 2009 study by van der Merwe and colleagues.

In this crossover study, 16 young rugby players took either creatine or a placebo for 3 weeks. Following a 6-week wash-out phase, the initial placebo group took creatine for 3 weeks, and the initial creatine group took the placebo for 3 weeks. The creatine supplementation protocol consisted of 25g of creatine per day for one week (a loading phase), followed by 5g of creatine per day for two weeks (a maintenance phase). The researchers measured serum (i.e. blood) testosterone and DHT levels before the start of each 3-week phase, after the loading phase, and at the end of the maintenance phase.

Long story short, creatine supplementation seemed to increase serum DHT levels and DHT:testosterone ratios both within the creatine phase itself, and when compared against the placebo phase.

So, this finding has led to some concern that creatine increases DHT levels, DHT causes hair loss, and therefore creatine will cause hair loss.

But is that really the conclusion we should draw from this study?

Assuaging concerns about creatine, DHT, and hair loss Level 1 – basic research criticism

When sciency folks try to allay the fears of people who are concerned that creatine causes hair loss, there are a few things they’ll typically point out about this study.

First, this is just one relatively small study. There aren’t any other studies showing that creatine increases serum DHT levels (though, in the interest of transparency, it’s worth noting that no other studies have even measured the potential impact of creatine on DHT). It’s usually not worth getting too worked up about the results of a single small, non-replicated study.

Second, other research that has measured the impact of creatine on serum androgen levels has generally failed to find much of an effect. There have been 12 studies measuring the effect of creatine on total testosterone levels, and 5 studies measuring the effect of creatine on free testosterone levels (free testosterone is the testosterone that would actually get converted to DHT). 10 of the 12 studies measuring free testosterone levels, and all 5 of the studies measuring free testosterone levels failed to detect a significant effect.

Third, this study didn’t actually assess hair loss. All of the concern is based on the assumption that since DHT is implicated in androgenic alopecia, increases in serum DHT levels serve as a valid and reliable proxy for androgenic alopecia risk.

Fourth, the observed changes in DHT levels were all relatively small fluctuations within the normal range. Serum DHT levels in men are generally between 0.47-2.65 nmol/L. So, even if creatine did increase DHT levels, it didn’t push DHT levels particularly close to the top of the normal physiological range in these subjects.

Fifth, it’s not entirely obvious that creatine supplementation did actually increase serum DHT levels. This was a crossover study, meaning the same subjects completed both arms of the study (both the creatine and placebo conditions). So, you’d expect baseline (week 0) measures to be the same in both arms of the study – you’re dealing with the same group of subjects, and at baseline, there shouldn’t be anything related to the study that would be impacting their DHT levels. Furthermore, you shouldn’t expect a placebo to affect DHT levels. However, that’s not what we see in the table above. For unknown reasons, baseline DHT levels were randomly ~20-25% lower at the start of the creatine phase than at the start of the placebo phase. Similarly, DHT levels tended to decrease in the placebo phase for unknown reasons. So, it’s hard to be confident that creatine did actually increase DHT levels relative to placebo. The results could have been driven by (in part) random variability: the different changes over time were statistically significant, but actual DHT levels weren’t meaningfully different when comparing the start of the placebo phase (1.26nmol/L) to the end of the creatine phase (1.38nmol/L). So, did creatine actually increase DHT levels relative to placebo, or is this finding merely a false positive, driven by randomly low baseline DHT levels in the creatine condition (which couldn’t be caused by creatine supplementation), and random (non-significant) decreases in DHT levels in the placebo condition (which also couldn’t be caused by creatine supplementation)?

If this is a topic you’re familiar with, I probably haven’t yet presented any arguments or information you haven’t previously encountered. If you were already skeptical of claims that creatine causes hair loss, you’re probably nodding along while starting to lose interest, because this is all old hat to you. Similarly, if you’ve done a bit of reading on this topic but you’re still convinced that creatine causes hair loss, I probably haven’t swayed your opinion, because these are counterarguments against the findings of the van der Merwe study that you’ve already encountered.

So, let’s shift gears and go a level deeper, digging into material that I’ve never seen discussed in the conversation about creatine and androgenic alopecia. What if I told you that this isn’t just a small, unreplicated study with somewhat shaky findings? What if instead, I told you that this study is entirely and completely irrelevant to any discussion of hair loss?

Level 2 – the only study that’s even marginally related to the topic is completely irrelevant.

The lone study people cite to support a link between creatine supplementation and hair loss only measured serum DHT levels.

Serum DHT levels are completely irrelevant to hair loss 1.

I stumbled across this fun little fact while doing research for our recent podcast episode on creatine myths and misconceptions. I was looking for dose-response studies quantifying the relationship between serum DHT levels and prevalence or rates of progression of hair loss, because I wanted to be able to tell people how large of a hair loss impact they should expect from a ~0.5nmol/L increase in serum DHT levels (if we were to assume that we can take the results of the van der Merwe study at face value).

I kept striking out. I just couldn’t find any good studies quantifying the relationship between serum DHT levels and hair loss. In fact, study after study reported that serum DHT levels were the same in people with and without androgenic alopecia.

That’s when I stumbled across a 2018 review paper discussing how DHT actually causes hair loss. This review helped all of the pieces fall into place:

“Men suffering [androgenic alopecia] have normal levels of circulating androgens. However, testosterone and DHT can be synthesized in the pilosebaceous unit through mechanisms that include one or more enzymes. The unwanted androgen metabolism at the hair follicle is the major factor involved in the pathogenesis of [androgenic alopecia] … As no correlation between pattern of baldness and serum androgen has been found, the pathogenic action of androgens is likely to be mediated through the intracellular signaling of hair follicle target cells.”

In short, serum DHT levels – the levels of DHT in your blood – aren’t predictive of hair loss, and aren’t important for hair loss. Rather, the DHT that causes hair loss is the DHT produced in your hair follicles themselves.

When we think about hormones, we tend to think of systemic hormones: hormones that are mostly or entirely produced in a particular organ, released into the bloodstream, and travel to distant tissues to exert their effects. Insulin is a great example: It affects almost all tissues of the body, but it’s specifically produced by the pancreas. If your muscles need insulin, they can’t just make their own. Testosterone is similar – it’s mostly produced in the testes in men (and a combination of the ovaries and adrenal glands in women), after which it’s released into the bloodstream so it can travel throughout the body exerting its effects.

DHT, on the other hand, is primarily an autocrine and paracrine hormone. Autocrine hormones are hormones produced within a cell for its own use. Paracrine hormones are hormones that act in cells near where they were produced.

The skin – including the skin of the scalp – produces its own DHT. Testosterone diffuses into the cells of hair follicles, and those hair follicle cells then convert the testosterone to DHT, use the DHT to promote androgenic adaptations (thickening of facial and body hair, or thinning of scalp hair), and then break down the vast, vast majority of the DHT they produce, so that it never enters systemic circulation.

So, that explains why DHT can cause hair loss, despite people with androgenic alopecia having normal DHT levels. Systemic DHT isn’t the DHT that’s contributing to hair loss, so you can experience androgenic alopecia with totally normal serum DHT levels. Furthermore, virtually none of the DHT that contributes to hair loss (DHT produced within the hair follicles) ever makes it into systemic circulation – it’s metabolized locally within the hair follicle cells.

Let’s circle back to creatine now. There’s a single study potentially showing that creatine increases serum DHT levels, and that’s it. However, even if creatine does increase serum DHT levels, that’s completely uninformative about creatine’s effects on hair loss, because androgenic alopecia isn’t caused by, or even associated with, elevated serum DHT levels.

As an analogy, using serum DHT as a proxy for risk of hair loss is like using global homicide rates to predict your likelihood of being murdered in your own neighborhood. The factors that influence local violent crime rates are almost entirely separate from the factors that would influence violent crime globally. You’re ultimately looking at the same measure (homicide rates) on different scales, but global homicide rates and local homicide rates are almost entirely unrelated, and only local data would be informative about your actual level of risk. In much the same way, scalp and serum DHT levels are influenced by different factors, they’re almost entirely unrelated to each other, and only scalp DHT levels would be informative about your risk of developing androgenic alopecia. 

Long story short: Even if we uncritically accepted the findings of the van der Merwe study at face value, and we confidently asserted that creatine definitely increases serum DHT levels, that still wouldn’t imply that creatine increases your risk of hair loss.

Maximal skepticism

Just to anticipate a bit of pushback this article is likely to generate, I’m not conflating absence of evidence with evidence of absence. I’m not confidently asserting that creatine doesn’t increase your risk of androgenic alopecia (because there isn’t evidence clearly demonstrating that creatine doesn’t increase your risk of androgenic alopecia). I’m simply pointing out that there’s not currently a good reason to expect that it would increase your risk of androgenic alopecia.

In other words, there’s just as much evidence both for and against the idea that creatine causes hair loss as there is for the idea that eating apples causes hair loss. Or that tending a garden causes hair loss. Or that being a Taylor Swift fan causes hair loss. In other words, there isn’t any evidence. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

So, if you value your hair, I’d recommend treating creatine with the same level of concern you’d apply to eating a fresh honeycrisp, trimming the hedges, or listening to 1989 on repeat. If you don’t avoid all of those things because there’s not conclusive evidence that they don’t cause hair loss, I’d recommend applying a similar rubric when assessing the risk that creatine will cause hair loss.

Wrapping it up

If you’d like a more in-depth and conversational discussion of this topic (along with a few other myths and misconceptions related to creatine), check out our recent podcast episode. And if you’d like to dive further into the research on androgenic alopecia, check out the show notes of the episode. We went down quite a few rabbit holes related to the mechanistic underpinnings of androgenic alopecia that go well beyond the scope of this research spotlight.

If you’d like to learn more about creatine, you can find our in-depth guide on creatine supplementation here, and our recent article about creatine’s effects on muscle growth here.

1    My phrasing here is probably slightly too strong. It’s conceivable that serum DHT levels could get high enough to influence hair loss. For example, if someone’s blasting steroids and walking around with serum DHT levels that are 20-times the top end of the normal range, I wouldn’t be shocked if those serum DHT concentrations were sufficient to cause hair loss. But, outside of extreme interventions (like blasting loads of gear), serum DHT levels are completely irrelevant to hair loss.

The post No, Creatine (Probably) Doesn’t Cause Hair Loss appeared first on Stronger by Science.

- Eric Trexler
Beyond the Headlines: Aspartame and Cancer Risk

Note: This article was the MASS Research Review cover story for August 2023 and is the first installment of a new type of MASS article called “Beyond the Headlines.” The purpose is to concisely address a topic that’s currently dominating headlines or causing some controversy in the fitness space. If you want more content like this, subscribe to MASS.

You’ve likely seen quite a few headlines about aspartame within the last month or so. The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently made some waves by declaring aspartame a “possible carcinogen,” which inspired a flood of news articles about the safety of consuming products containing aspartame. In this article, I’ll provide a quick rundown of what happened, what it means, and how you can make informed decisions about your risk tolerance moving forward.

Who is the International Agency for Research on Cancer?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer is “the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization.” Their stated mission is to promote international collaboration in cancer research. The organization was formed in 1965, and was created in response to a French initiative to address the multifaceted burdens associated with increasing cancer prevalence. Their website indicates that there are now 27 member countries, and that the organization “has conducted research worldwide and helped thousands of cancer researchers from developing countries hone their skills through fellowships, courses, and collaborative projects” over the last five decades. 

In line with its mission, the International Agency for Research on Cancer maintains a list of carcinogenic classifications. They evaluate a number of “items,” which can range from food or beverage ingredients to environmental or occupational exposures. These items are placed into one of four hazard categories, as listed in Table 1.

Of course, it’s important to understand what these categories literally represent, as the details matter when using this information to guide health-related decisions. The categories can be interpreted as follows:

Group 1: There is enough evidence to conclude that it can cause cancer in humans. Group 2A: There is strong evidence that it can cause cancer in humans, but at present it is not conclusive.  Group 2B: There is some evidence that it can cause cancer in humans but at present it is far from conclusive.  Group 3: There is no evidence at present that it causes cancer in humans.  What category is aspartame in?

The reason this list of carcinogens is all over the news is because the International Agency for Research on Cancer recently assigned aspartame to group 2B, which is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” As noted above, this reflects the organization’s perspective that there is some evidence hinting at carcinogenicity in humans, but the evidence is far from conclusive. According to the website of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the US Department of Labor, “this category is used for agents for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. It may also be used when there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. In some instances, an agent for which there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals together with supporting evidence from mechanistic and other relevant data may be placed in this group. An agent may be classified in this category solely on the basis of strong evidence from mechanistic and other relevant data.”

What else is in this category?

It is inherently difficult to translate categorical hazard designations into actual health-related decisions. In this particular scenario, one strategy to help calibrate your expectations is to explore the other items that find themselves in Group 2B (possibly carcinogenic). This is a rough, non-scientific way of comparing this “new” perception of aspartame risk to other things you encounter on a regular basis. You might really stress over these exposures, or you might not worry about them at all, and that can be helpful in guiding your relative panic level about aspartame. 

Some other items in the “possibly carcinogenic” group include progestins (used in some contraceptives), engine exhaust, kava extract, ginkgo biloba extract, aloe vera extract, and caffeic acid (found in coffee, wine, thyme, sage, spearmint, Ceylon cinnamon, apple sauce, apricots, prunes, barley, rye, and yerba mate). In contrast, several common exposures find their place in category 2A, which is “probably” carcinogenic (that is, a higher level of carcinogenic potential). These include eating red meat, working the night shift, drinking hot beverages (above 65 degrees Celsius), anabolic steroids, indoor fireplace emissions, emissions from high-temperature frying, and working as a hairdresser. If we move up yet another category of carcinogenic potential, alcoholic beverages, solar radiation, processed meat, wood dust, and air pollution find themselves squarely in category 1 (carcinogenic to humans).

Knee-jerk reactions

Based on internet chatter, it seems like a lot of people jumped straight to an extremely understandable knee-jerk reaction: “I don’t want cancer, and aspartame is a carcinogen now, so I will try to avoid all aspartame moving forward.” I don’t fault anyone for applying that logic, and no one is going to suffer direct adverse effects from not consuming aspartame. However, this logic gets tricky if we apply it to other elements in the same hazard category as aspartame – I’ve never met anyone adamant about avoiding all foods and beverages containing caffeic acid (I only provided a tiny fraction of the full list), as it would be quite difficult to do. The same is true when we go up to group 2A, which includes things like red meat, indoor fireplace emissions, or very hot beverages. I’ve never seen someone treat red meat like a pure poison based on this list from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, nor have I heard of anyone boarding up their fireplace or buying a thermometer to test their coffee or tea temperature each morning. Even if we consider the highest category for carcinogens (group 1), I know plenty of folks who readily consume alcohol on a regular basis, despite the fairly common knowledge that it is associated with increased risk of cancer and other medical conditions.

To be clear, the point of the previous paragraph was not to use “whataboutism” as a superficial argument to minimize perceived risks associated with aspartame consumption. It was merely to recalibrate our mental starting point as we dig into a more nuanced interpretation – if we are worried about aspartame merely for being placed in category 2B, we should understand the types of fairly mundane things that fall into similar (and higher) hazard categories so we can anchor our panic level accordingly.

Digging deeper

Concerns about links between aspartame and cancer are not new. They spiked in response to a series of rodent studies completed at the Ramazzini Institute, with the first results published in 2006 (1) and 2007 (2). In the years since, the scientific community has broadly concluded that these findings are unreliable, but concerns persist. Mechanistically, the metabolism of aspartame can yield a small amount of formaldehyde (3), a known (group 1) carcinogen. There are also some mechanistic papers linking aspartame to physiological effects associated with carcinogenesis (such as oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, angiogenesis, and genotoxicity), and some isolated observational findings linking aspartame to certain forms of cancer (4). This combination of rodent data, mechanistic data, and epidemiological data provides the perfect substrate for a simmering, persistent level of concern about aspartame and cancer risk. So, to contextualize the impact of this classification, I want to highlight a few key points.

First, being placed into group 2B isn’t a particularly big deal. For example, this article by the American Cancer Society lists known carcinogens (group 1) and probable carcinogens (group 2A), as determined by two different organizations. They don’t even bother to list the items in group 2B, because the evidence for these items simply isn’t strong enough.

Second, you interact with carcinogens in the same hazard category, and even higher hazard categories, on a regular basis. Solar radiation, air pollution, wood dust, caffeic acid, the occasional glass of wine or sausage link… you get the idea. Artificial sweeteners tend to get disproportionately large reactions when they show up in health-related headlines, and I suspect that a large chunk of that interest relates to the “artificial” part of the name. Plenty of folks fall prey to the “appeal to nature” logical fallacy, and assume that “artificial chemicals” must be bad for us. Next up is point number three, which is possibly the most important: this list of carcinogens refers to carcinogenic potential, not the likelihood that typical levels of exposure will cause cancer. 

Ultimately, this comes down to the difference between hazard and risk; to quote the European Food Information Council, “A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm while risk is the likelihood of harm taking place, based on exposure to that hazard.” This list of carcinogen categories pertains exclusively to the concept of hazard rather than risk. As the American Cancer Society puts it, these categories “describe the level of evidence that something can cause cancer, not how likely it is that something will cause cancer in any person (or how much it might raise your risk).” Within a particular group, there are very different risk levels – for example, smoking confers greater cancer risk than processed meat. In addition, this list makes no attempt to identify safe levels of exposure. Solar radiation can cause cancer, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid the sun at all costs. X-ray radiation can cause cancer, but that doesn’t mean we should entirely stop using x-ray imaging in the medical field. 

For my fourth and final key point, I want to refer to a recent report (published in 2022) on non-nutritive sweeteners by the World Health Organization (WHO). I’m not name-dropping them purely to imply credibility, but because the International Agency for Research on Cancer is actually part of the WHO. While this report is not explicitly restricted to aspartame studies, aspartame is by far the most-studied non-nutritive sweetener, and therefore contributing the lion’s share of the data analyzed. Their report includes meta-analyses for cancer mortality and cancer incidence in humans, in addition to a huge table summarizing findings for specific forms of cancer. The hazard ratio for both mortality and incidence was 1.02, which is about as close to zero effect as you’re going to get (check out this link if you’d like a detailed explanation and comparison of hazard ratios, odds ratios, and risk ratios). When it comes to specific forms of cancer, the researchers found statistically significant increases in cancer outcomes (quantified as hazard ratios, odds ratios, or risk ratios, depending on the outcome) for bladder cancer, larynx cancer, and “cancers not related to obesity,” but significant reductions for lung cancer and ovarian cancer. The bladder cancer findings are most likely attributable to saccharin rather than aspartame, and the other significant findings are for cancers with very limited data available (so those findings should be treated as inconclusive). For the other types and categories of cancer in the summary table (about 20 or so), the effects of non-nutritive sweeteners were non-significant. I don’t want to take a huge detour here, but if you think I’m being too flippant about looking past isolated findings of altered cancer risk, I’ll merely refer you to Figure 1, which comes from a pretty famous paper (5) demonstrating that just about everything we eat appears to both cause and prevent cancer if you’re willing to take all isolated findings at face value.

Other recent systematic reviews focusing exclusively on aspartame report similar conclusions. For example, a 2023 paper by Borghoff and colleagues (6) set out to specifically focus on potential links between aspartame and cancer risk in their systematic review, with a thorough approach that considered a combination of animal studies, epidemiological studies, and over 1300 mechanistic endpoints. After an extensive review of the best available evidence, they concluded as follows: “Taken together, available evidence supports that aspartame consumption is not carcinogenic in humans and that the inconsistent findings of the [Ramazzini Institute] studies may be explained by flaws in study design and conduct (despite additional analyses to address study limitations), as acknowledged by authoritative bodies.”

So, we’ve got two different questions with two different answers here. Based on all available data (including mechanistic research and rodent research), is it possible (not certain or probable) that aspartame might be carcinogenic at some dosage? Yes. Do we have sufficient evidence to be alarmed about the carcinogenic potential of aspartame at doses that are actually consumed by humans? So far, no. 

Practical application

It’s important to remember what really happened here. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is affiliated with the World Health Organization, categorized aspartame as a “possible carcinogen” after an updated review of the evidence. While this sounds pretty jarring on the surface, we interact with many possible, probable, and known carcinogens on a regular basis. Their conclusion is based on a fairly limited mix of mechanistic, animal, and human research, and the “possible carcinogen” label reflects a low level of certainty. As of 2022, the World Health Organization had set the acceptable daily intake level for aspartame at 40 mg/kg of body mass, which is 2800 mg/day for a 70kg person. As explained by Ahmad et al (3), the acceptable daily intake level is “an estimate of the maximum amount of a food additive in food or beverages (expressed on the basis of body weight) that can be safely consumed on a daily basis over a person’s lifetime without any health risk to the consumer, including a 100-fold safety factor.” You can probably drink a 12-pack of your favorite diet soda before hitting this threshold, and the US Food and Drug Administration set an even higher threshold of 50 mg/kg. Even after the decision to categorize aspartame as a group 2B carcinogen, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (which includes the World Health Organization and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) has not modified or reduced the acceptable daily intake level. 

At the end of the day, you don’t need aspartame. If you have very low risk tolerance for potential carcinogens, you can simply err on the side of caution and choose to avoid aspartame. That’s totally fine, and you won’t keel over from an aspartame deficiency. Personally, I’m not particularly worried about aspartame intake – not because I want cancer, but because I haven’t seen compelling evidence pointing to a high risk level in humans. I’ve long been aware that there is some mechanistic research hinting at the possibility of a carcinogenic effect, some very mixed evidence in rodent models, and some very mixed evidence in observational human data. To date, most national and international agencies have not considered the totality of this evidence as concerning enough to warrant bans or warnings, and my perspective is quite similar. With this in mind, I want to reiterate an important quote from before: “this category [2B] is used for agents for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” In my opinion, this is the correct category for aspartame (based on that part of the description), but not a cause for panic or extreme concern.

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References Soffritti M, Belpoggi F, Esposti DD, Lambertini L, Tibaldi E, Rigano A. First Experimental Demonstration of the Multipotential Carcinogenic Effects of Aspartame Administered in the Feed to Sprague-Dawley Rats. Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Mar;114(3):379–85. Soffritti M, Belpoggi F, Tibaldi E, Esposti DD, Lauriola M. Life-Span Exposure to Low Doses of Aspartame Beginning during Prenatal Life Increases Cancer Effects in Rats. Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Sep;115(9):1293–7. Ahmad SY, Friel JK, Mackay DS. Effect Of Sucralose And Aspartame On Glucose Metabolism And Gut Hormones. Nutr Rev. 2020 Sep 1;78(9):725-746. Riboli E, Beland FA, Lachenmeier DW, Marques MM, Phillips DH, Schernhammer E, et al. Carcinogenicity of Aspartame, Methyleugenol, and Isoeugenol. Lancet Oncol. 2023 Jul 13:S1470-2045(23)00341-8. Epub ahead of print.  Schoenfeld JD, Ioannidis JP. Is Everything We Eat Associated With Cancer? A Systematic Cookbook Review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jan;97(1):127-34. Borghoff SJ, Cohen SS, Jiang X, Lea IA, Klaren WD, Chappell GA, et al. Updated Systematic Assessment Of Human, Animal And Mechanistic Evidence Demonstrates Lack Of Human Carcinogenicity With Consumption Of Aspartame. Food Chem Toxicol. 2023 Feb;172:113549.

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- Hayden Pritchard and Pak Androulakis-Korakakis
Effective Strength Training for the Time-Poor

It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your goals are, there are going to be times when your strength training has to take a back seat. It could be for a week, a month, or perhaps even a year or more. There are going to be seasons in life when you simply have less time and attention to devote to training. It isn’t a matter of if, but when.

For me, Hayden, becoming a Dad significantly shifted my focus. Whilst training is still important, it is now far from my top priority. This doesn’t mean it has fallen off my radar completely and I’ve abandoned the pursuit of progress. It simply means that I have had to adapt, as I couldn’t train like I used to. Things had to change.

For me, Pak, working multiple jobs, conducting research, and having a heavy travel schedule means that I can’t always stick to a “plan” or commit to lengthy strength training sessions like I did when I was in my early twenties. But I love lifting and don’t want to give up on my muscle gain and strength goals just because I can’t always optimize my training environment for them.

The aim of this article is to help you prepare for such times in your life. Whether it is a short-term interruption or a longer-term shift, this article will provide you with information and practical strategies to continue to train with purpose.

Summary Taking up to a week off from training is unlikely to impact your maximal strength. Such situations can be used as a chance to rest and recover; there’s no need to worry about losing strength. To maintain strength, high intensity, very low volume approaches (e.g., only a few heavy, 9-9.5 RPE singles across the training week) or significantly reduced training volumes (e.g., by 50%) can be effective strategies for at least a couple of months. For a minimal effective training dose for improving maximal strength, a handful of working sets of 1-5 repetitions on the major lifts per week, using RPEs from 7.5-9.5 should be sufficient. If time allows, you could also add in a little accessory work. Other strategies can also be used to improve your training efficiency. Consider shorter more specific warm-ups, timing your rest periods, choosing “bang for buck” exercises, and incorporating supersets or circuits. Taking a Short Break?

Typically, we should be a lot less fearful of short periods of time when our strength training has to take a backseat. There’s a good reason for this, as typically a few days without any training doesn’t have the negative impacts you might expect.

Studies have found that maximal strength tends to be well-maintained when taking up to a week off from strength training. Travis et al. (2022) found that when 19 powerlifting athletes (16 male, 3 female) were pair-matched and had either three or five days off training after four weeks of strength training, they maintained their isometric squat strength. Although the group that took five days off did have a statistically significant (~2%) reduction in their isometric bench press. An earlier crossover study by Pritchard et al. (2018) had eight resistance-trained males cease training for 3.5 or 5.5 days following four weeks of strength training. Isometric bench press peak force improved following training cessation versus pre-training, with no decrease in lower body strength and no differences between 3.5- or 5.5-day conditions. Furthermore, when Weiss et al. (2004) had 25 strength-trained men assigned to 2, 3, 4, or 5 days of training cessation after four weeks of strength training, they observed no significant changes in upper body strength on 1RM bench press or isokinetic bench press. Thus, the available literature on resistance-trained athletes indicates that a few days off from training isn’t likely to negatively impact one’s maximal strength performance. 

It’s important to note that although there is also data (e.g., Coleman et al., 2023) showing that a week off may negatively impact strength, the totality of the currently available evidence is more than reassuring as far as strength decreases are concerned. Additionally, it is very likely that any strength lost when taking time off will be regained very quickly.  

So, when you’re heading away on a brief holiday or for a work trip, and you’re unlikely to be able to make it to the gym – don’t stress. The key is to ensure you don’t take too long off all at once. If you’ll return to your regular training patterns in about a week, then just take it as a chance for some rest and relaxation. Your strength is unlikely to go anywhere.

What about detraining? 

While this article is focused on strategies you can take to continue to train effectively when you are time-poor, we should consider the risk of detraining. If we reduce our training by too much or are forced to take longer than a week away from the gym, detraining starts to become a more genuine risk. So let’s take a quick look at detraining. 

Probably the most informative study on this is the 2013 meta-analysis by Bosquet et al. This was a meta-analysis of 103 studies, considering the impact of training cessation on maximal strength, maximal power, and strength endurance. It has been comprehensively discussed previously by Greg, so we’re just going to scratch the surface today and focus only on the findings related to maximal strength. 

The main finding was that the length of time taken off training impacts the magnitude of the decrease in maximal strength – not particularly surprising. They found only trivial effect size decreases in strength over the first four weeks of training abstinence. This means that while you do lose strength within the first few weeks away from the gym, it isn’t as drastic as you may have assumed. However, after this period, the losses became more pronounced – within a few months becoming small and moderate effect size decreases. Interestingly, there weren’t any differences found in the rate of change for upper or lower body strength or between the sexes. 

The take home? The longer you take off training, the worse things get.

From Bosquet et al. Dose-response curve for the effect of the duration of training cessation on maximal force.
A = different from standardized mean differences computed for ≤112 days of training cessation. (Graphic by Kat Whitfield.)

What we’ve covered so far can be summarized in a couple of key points:

Short periods of time without training are unlikely to have major impacts on your maximal strength performance. You don’t want to allow these time periods without training to increase beyond a few weeks, or you will lose meaningful amounts of strength.

This knowledge should allow you to be less fearful of short periods of time out of the gym; however, the purpose of this article is to learn how we can still continue to progress when we are time-poor. So let’s get into it.

When Optimal Isn’t Possible

Sometimes life gets in the way of “optimal” training. Work gets busy, things get more demanding at home, whatever it may be, you simply don’t have the same availability. It may not even be that you have less time available, but that the demands placed on you outside the gym end up decreasing your motivation to train for multiple hours several times per week. Thankfully, you don’t have to. Let’s look at a few key studies that demonstrate this.

Tavares et al. (2017) had 33 previously untrained males train for eight weeks with Smith machine half-squats and leg extensions before reducing their training volume. Throughout the eight weeks, their training progressed from three sets of 10-12RM twice per week, to four sets of 6-8RM three days per week. After this training, all groups gained nearly 30% in half squat 1RM strength. This was then followed by eight weeks of either complete training cessation or two reduced training volume (by ~50%) conditions. In the reduced training volume conditions, one group completed their volume each week in one session (four sets of 6-8RM), and the other with the volume spread across two sessions (two sets of 6-8RM per day). Unsurprisingly, the complete cessation group had significant reductions in half squat 1RM strength (by 22.6%) after eight weeks without training. Reducing training volume,  – regardless of frequency – enabled the maintenance of strength, demonstrating that you can make considerable reductions in training volume over an extended period of time and still maintain strength. Furthermore, you could make this fit within your unique constraints, as both one larger session per week or two shorter sessions achieved the same outcome.

Hang on, this is only maintenance? What if I want to continue to make gains? Thankfully, recent research has uncovered some interesting findings on the minimum effective training dose for maximal strength.

Androulakis-Korakakis et al. (2021) undertook a series of experiments to determine the minimum effective dose that could improve maximal strength in powerlifters. Utilizing findings from surveys and interviews with powerlifting coaches and athletes, the researchers determined what would constitute a meaningful change in strength from six weeks of training and used this to determine the likelihood of meaningful change from their intervention studies. The first of their two intervention studies within this paper had a training group performing a “daily max” single at 9-9.5 RPE (MAX group) and another that did the same but was also followed by two back-off sets of triples at 80% of the “daily max” (MAX+boff group). The second of the two intervention studies had the MAX+boff group following the same protocol as above, as well as a training group that performed a single AMRAP set at 70% of 1RM until reaching a 9-9.5 RPE (AMRAP group). In both studies, the squat was trained twice per week, the bench press three times per week, and the deadlift once per week. No other exercises were performed. The MAX+boff group had the highest probability of increasing the powerlifting total by a meaningful amount. Check out the results in the table below.

Table 1: Dr Pak’s Study Results Training GroupModal Powerlifting Total Increase95% HDIChance of Meeting a Meaningful ChangeChance of Exceeding a Meaningful ChangeMAX11.4 kg0.8 – 19.5 kg13.3%6.3%MAX+boff*26.8 kg17.3 – 41.6 kg6.0%98.1%AMRAP15.3 kg3.4 – 31.3 kg26.7%41.4%* Includes data from both intervention studies.

You may be wondering how the authors were able to calculate the chance of achieving meaningful strength changes. So, aside from just looking at the “raw” strength increases of the powerlifters that completed the studies, the authors essentially looked at the probability of the powerlifters achieving strength increases that were either regarded as meaningful or beyond meaningful by coaches and athletes that were surveyed. As mentioned, the MAX+boff group (i.e., the group that performed less than a handful of single repetitions and a few sets of three as back-off sets with no additional accessory work) had a 98.1% chance of achieving strength increases that were greater than the “meaningfulness” threshold determined by the coaches and athletes. It’s important to note that although the MAX group’s probabilities of achieving meaningful increases were low, the powerlifters in that group performed a total of two repetitions per week for the squat, three repetitions per week for the bench press and one repetition per week for the deadlift (not counting warm-ups), all in the form of singles at RPE 9-9.5. Sure, their chances of making meaningful gains were low, but they still managed to gain some strength and not regress in six weeks, despite doing an extremely low amount of training. 

To summarize, if you are happy to simply maintain strength during these time-poor periods of life, then you could either make large training volume reductions (e.g., 50%) compared to your usual effective training, or you could implement high-intensity, very low-volume training (such as a handful of heavy singles across a training week). 

If you want to continue to improve maximal strength, then a slightly higher training dose is required, such as the addition of a couple of back-down sets to the high-intensity protocol. However, if singles and low-repetition sets are not your “cup of tea,” then previous research (Androulakis-Korakakis et al., 2020) has shown you may still be able to achieve significant maximal strength increases by simply performing 2-3 sets of 6-12 repetitions per lift per week at roughly 70-85%1RM with a high intensity of effort (i.e., with close proximity to momentary failure). 

We’ve included some example programs toward the end of this article. You can find more templates at

Efficiency Within Training Sessions

When you’re time-poor, efficiency is king. So before you go ahead and jump straight into a minimum training dose approach, consider whether training more efficiently could allow you to maintain a larger training dose. It may even allow you to keep a more similar structure to your previous training style before you became time limited. Either way, it’s worth considering how you can maximize the limited time you have available. A narrative review by Iversen et al. (2021) provided some useful thoughts on this that, alongside our own practical experiences, helped to inform the comments made in this section.

First things first, the warm-up. If you’re spending a large chunk of your session on this, that’s time you can’t devote to productive working sets. A specific warm-up should focus on a series of lighter sets prior to your work sets, gradually increasing the load as you build up to your target loads for the day. Whilst cases have been made for general warm-ups, such as light aerobic activity like rowing or cycling, the evidence hasn’t really demonstrated any positive impacts of this in addition to specific warm-ups. So when you’re time-strapped, it is probably the best strategy to get straight into a specific warm-up. How about mobility? Well, your specific warm-up should help with this, but in some cases (i.e., you can’t achieve a required position for a movement), you could include some targeted between-set stretching or mobility work that allows you to get into these positions. But the key when you’re time-poor is to keep the warm-up brief and focused on its primary goal: preparing you for your working sets.

Rest periods are the next big thing to consider. Do you need as long as you currently take between sets? Maybe not. A decent rule of thumb is around 3-5 minutes for high-RPE, strength-focused sets and maybe 1-2 minutes for your other sets. Check your watch between sets next time you’re in the gym. You might be surprised how long you take between sets. If you are resting far longer than these recommendations, do your best to get into the ranges mentioned above. Note that this may be a gradual process for your primary lifts, if you “need” seven minutes between your heavy sets now, you may want to slowly reduce this time period so as to not impact these top sets.

Another consideration is your exercise selection. Generally, this won’t be of concern for your primary movements, as these are typically compound movements, such as the big three for powerlifters. However, the selection of any assistance or accessory exercises might be a chance to consider “bang for buck” exercises. Let’s consider training the bench press. You’ve planned the main work – the competition-specific bench press – but how could you target your shoulders and triceps after this? Well you could go with some dumbbell front raises and tricep pushdowns, but rather than have two exercises, why not go with a seated dumbbell shoulder press? Planning your session in such a way can ensure you are still able to hit your target muscle groups or weak points, but minimize the time-demand in doing so. 

Supersets are another useful way of condensing your work into a shorter time period. Essentially you just perform two exercises back to back, then take your usual between-set rest. To minimize the impact of fatigue, pair together exercises that work different muscle groups, such as your rows and your DB shoulder press. However, this could also be applied to exercises targeting similar muscle groups. Usually, this strategy is best utilized for your secondary or accessory movements.

Circuits can be helpful in getting through your secondary or accessory work. Similar to supersets, move through the planned exercises without taking set rest periods. You could have three or four exercises that you do back to back, ideally shifting from one body part to the next. These can be really helpful if you want to keep isolation work in the program but keep it efficient. After your main bench work, you do a circuit that goes from your DB flyes into your tricep push-downs and onto your DB front raise, taking no rest before starting again from the top.

There are plenty of other things you could try, such as EMOMS, drop sets, and clusters. If you’re looking for other ideas, give those a quick search and see if they may suit your preferences. 

Spell It Out for Me?

To make it simple, let’s break it down by providing a few examples of “minimum effective dose” programs that you can run and still expect to make meaningful strength and hypertrophy gains. It is recommended that you take a full day off between sessions but if that doesn’t work for your schedule, doing some of the sessions back-to-back is totally fine.

First up, if you are someone who is purely focused on improving your 1RM and can only squeeze in a very small amount of training, a singles-only program could be what you’re after. This template meets the description stated on the label – “singles only”. 

Table 2. SBD: Singles-Only Template Session OneExercisePrescriptionBack Squatx1 @9-9.5 RPEx1 @ 90% of top singleBench Pressx1 @9-9.5 RPE2×1 @ 90% of top singleSession TwoExercisePrescriptionDeadliftx1 @9-9.5 RPEx1 @ 90% of top singleBench Pressx1 @9-9.5 RPE2×1 @ 90% of top singleSession ThreeExercisePrescriptionBack Squatx1 @9-9.5 RPEx1 @ 90% of top singleBench Pressx1 @9-9.5 RPE2×1 @ 90% of top single

A few notes regarding the above template: The x1 @ 9-9.5 RPE means you build up to a single (self-selected) at 9-9.5 RPE (i.e., one rep, or likely one rep, left in the tank). On the back squat and deadlift work, you then rest before taking 10% off that load and doing one more single. It’s similar for the bench press work, except you would do two further singles at that reduced load. 

While not explicitly stated in the template, you’re also welcome to add accessory work as you see fit or as time allows. 

If you’re someone who has a bit more time available and wants to increase your chances of achieving meaningful 1RM strength increases in as little time as possible, the following template includes more volume than the template above but is still low enough in volume to be very time efficient. 

Table 3: Singles + Back-offs Template Session OneExercisePrescriptionBack Squatx1 @9-9.5 RPEx3 @ 80% of top singlex3 @ 80% of top singleBench Pressx1 @9-9.5 RPEx1 @ 90% of top singlex3 @ 80% of top singlex3 @ 80% of top singleSession TwoExercisePrescriptionDeadliftx1 @9-9.5 RPEx3 @ 80% of top singlex3 @ 80% of top singleBench Pressx1 @9-9.5 RPEx1 @ 90% of top singlex3 @ 80% of top singlex3 @ 80% of top singleSession ThreeExercisePrescriptionBack Squatx1 @9-9.5 RPEx3 @ 80% of top singlex3 @ 80% of top singleBench Pressx1 @9-9.5 RPEx1 @ 90% of top singlex3 @ 80% of top singlex3 @ 80% of top single

Next up is a template focused on general strength and hypertrophy. This provides an example of another approach that could be taken. This includes more exercises than just the big three powerlifts, as well as some built-in, but self-selected, optional accessory slots.

Table 4. SBD: AMRAPS + Hypertrophy Template Session OneExercisePrescriptionBack SquatAMRAP to @8.5-9.5 RPE at 80-85% of 1RMBench Press2 sets of an AMRAP to @8.5-9.5 RPE at 70-80% of 1RMOverhead Pressx6-12 @9-10 RPEOptional: Do a further two accessory exercises of your choice for 1×6-12 @9-10 RPE.Session TwoExercisePrescriptionDeadliftAMRAP to @8.5-9.5 RPE at 80-85%% of 1RMBench Press2 sets of an AMRAP to @8.5-9.5 RPE at 70-80% of 1RMBent Over Barbell Rowx6-12 @9-10 RPEOptional: Do a further two accessory exercises of your choice for 1×6-12 @9-10 RPE.Session ThreeExercisePrescriptionBack SquatAMRAP to @8.5-9.5 RPE at 80-85%% of 1RMBench Press2 sets of an AMRAP to @8.5-9.5 RPE at 70-80% of 1RMOverhead Pressx6-12 @9-10 RPEOptional: Do a further two accessory exercises of your choice for 1×6-12 @9-10 RPE.

An AMRAP set stands for “As Many Reps as Possible.” However, in this case, it is as many as possible until you hit the prescribed RPE. So in the case of the work prescribed for the big three powerlifts, you would load up 70-80% of your 1RM and do repetitions until that RPE is reached. For squat and deadlift, this is one set; for bench press, you do two sets. While on the overhead press and bent-over barbell row, the x6-12 @ 9-10 RPE means you build up to a near-maximal effort set of 6-12 reps (self-selected load) at 8.5-9.5 RPE. The accessory work follows the same pattern.

If you haven’t been undertaking higher rep work, it could be worth doing a week prior to starting the above strength and hypertrophy template where you do one set across the board and keep it to one set of 5-12 reps at an 8.5-9.5 RPE.

For each of the above templates, it’s recommended that you run the template for six weeks, rest for 3-5 days, then test your 1RM strength. After that, it’s over to you! You could repeat the template, or jump on another one. Head over to if you are interested in trying out a few more templates!

Concluding Remarks

It is a given that at some stage in your training career, you will end up time-poor. Training might be forced down your priority list, or perhaps be a result of a change you make willingly. Regardless, things will have to change in your training.

When it is only going to be for a week or so, such as a holiday or other short-term interruption, it’s best to consider using that time as a chance to rest and recover. We’ve seen that maximal strength tends to be well-maintained over such time frames, so there is no need to stress.

It’s possible to maintain strength for at least a couple of months with only a handful of heavy singles on your main lifts across a training week or by reducing your overall training volume by around 50%. So whether you prefer high-intensity training or simply a reduced style of your standard training, you can go with your preference when maintaining strength.

A slightly higher training dose may be necessary when looking to continue to progress maximal strength. A handful of working sets of 1-5 repetitions on the major lifts spread across a training week, using RPEs from 7.5-9.5 should be sufficient. Accessory work could be added to this if time allows.

Finally, efficiency is king when you have limited time to train. So consider ways to step up your training efficiency through specific warm-ups, timed rest periods, supersets, and circuits. These may allow you to maintain a high training dose in less time.

References Androulakis-Korakakis, P., Michalopoulos, N., Fisher, J. P., Keogh, J., Loenneke, J. P., Helms, E., Wolf, M., Nuckols, G., & Steele, J. (2021). The minimum effective training dose required for 1RM strength in powerlifters. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 248. Androulakis-Korakakis, P., Fisher, J. P., & Steele, J. (2020). The minimum effective training dose required to increase 1RM strength in resistance-trained men: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 50(4), 751-765. Bosquet, L., Berryman, N., Dupuy, O., Mekary, S., Arvisais, D., Bherer, L., & Mujika, I. (2013). Effect of training cessation on muscular performance: A meta‐analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 23(3), e140-e149. Coleman, M., Burke, R., Augustin, F., Pinero, A., Maldonado, J., Fisher, J., Israetel, M., Andoulakis-Korakakis, P., Swinton, P., Oberlin, D., & Schoenfeld, B. (2023). Gaining more from doing less? The effects of a one-week deload period during supervised resistance training on muscular adaptations. SportRχiv, PrePrint. Iversen, V. M., Norum, M., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Fimland, M. S. (2021). No time to lift? Designing time-efficient training programs for strength and hypertrophy: A narrative review. Sports Medicine, 51(10), 2079-2095. Pritchard, H. J., Barnes, M. J., Stewart, R. J., Keogh, J. W., & McGuigan, M. R. (2018). Short-term training cessation as a method of tapering to improve maximal strength. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 32(2), 458-465. Tavares, L. D., de Souza, E. O., Ugrinowitsch, C., Laurentino, G. C., Roschel, H., Aihara, A. Y., Cardoso, F. N., & Tricoli, V. (2017). Effects of different strength training frequencies during reduced training period on strength and muscle cross-sectional area. European Journal of Sport Science, 17(6), 665-672. Travis, S. K., Mujika, I., Zwetsloot, K. A., Gentles, J. A., Stone, M. H., & Bazyler, C. D. (2022). The effects of 3 vs. 5 days of training cessation on maximal strength. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 36(3), 633-640. Weiss, L. W., Wood, L. E., Fry, A. C., Kreider, R. B., Relyea, G. E., Bullen, D. B., & Grindstaff, P. D. (2004). Strength/power augmentation subsequent to short-term training abstinence. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18(4), 765-770.

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- Greg Nuckols
Don’t Close the Door on Creatine Yet

If you asked most gymgoers to list the supplements that actually help build muscle, you can be confident that creatine would be on almost everyone’s list, and for good reason. In fact, a 2022 study found that creatine was the most popular supplement among male bodybuilders. Dozens of supplements claim to help you build muscle, but very few are supported by more than one or two longitudinal studies.

Creatine has held a well-deserved spot on the list of effective supplements ever since 2003, when Dr. J. David Branch published an absolute monster of a meta-analysis summarizing the creatine literature to that point. It included 100 studies in total, with 33 of those studies assessing the impact of creatine on measures of lean body mass. This meta-analysis found that creatine had a small (ES = 0.33) but significant effect on lean body mass.

That’s basically been the lay of the land ever since. There’s certainly been more research on creatine supplementation, and there have even been a handful of newer meta-analyses summarizing the impact of creatine supplementation on specific outcomes or in specific populations. But, Branch’s 20-year-old meta-analysis is still the paper that everyone cites to support creatine’s effectiveness at increasing muscle growth.

However, astute readers may have noticed an issue with the last couple of paragraphs. Branch’s meta-analysis looked at the effects of creatine supplementation on lean body mass, but lean body mass and muscle mass aren’t identical. Lean body mass also includes water, and creatine is known to cause some degree of fluid retention. So, a skeptical reader might (rightfully) note that Branch’s meta-analysis suggests that creatine increases muscle growth (since muscle is certainly a major component of lean body mass), but it only provides indirect evidence for that claim.

To directly assess the impact of creatine on muscle growth, you need studies that directly assess muscle growth. So, instead of studies measuring lean body mass (which might just reflect changes in fluid retention), you’d need to look for studies measuring muscle thickness or cross-sectional area.

Surprisingly, there were no studies directly assessing the impact of creatine on muscle growth when Branch published his meta-analysis, and there haven’t been a ton of studies on the topic in the intervening years. However, we now have enough studies on the topic to warrant a meta-analysis, which Burke and colleagues completed earlier this year.

The researchers identified all of the studies meeting these criteria:

The studies needed to compare resistance training without creatine vs. resistance training with supplemental creatine. Furthermore, the resistance training intervention needed to last at least six weeks. The studies needed to be conducted on healthy adult subjects. The studies needed to be published in English-language, peer-reviewed journals. The studies needed to directly assess muscle size pre- and post-training using methods like ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The studies couldn’t provide subjects with additional potentially anabolic ingredients (i.e., they needed to test the effects of creatine in isolation, not as a part of a multi-ingredient supplement).

Ultimately, 11 studies met these inclusion criteria, and were included in the meta-analysis.

Just to skip to the headline finding, creatine supplementation generally increased muscle growth, but the pooled effect size was (seemingly) tiny: ES = 0.11. You’d typically categorize that as a “trivial” effect.

From “The Effects of Creatine Supplementation Combined with Resistance Training on Regional Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis.” Burke et al (2023)

The overall magnitude of the effect was similar for all muscles assessed: the elbow flexors, elbow extensors, knee flexors, and knee extensors.

From “The Effects of Creatine Supplementation Combined with Resistance Training on Regional Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis.” Burke et al (2023) From “The Effects of Creatine Supplementation Combined with Resistance Training on Regional Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis.” Burke et al (2023)

Finally, the effect appeared to be larger in younger adults (mean age: 23.5 years) than older adults (mean age: 61.6 years), and in shorter-term studies (6-16 weeks) than longer-term studies (52 weeks). Though, it’s worth noting that those aren’t necessarily independent findings – all of the long-term studies were also studies on older adults, and the short-term studies on older adults also reported very small effect sizes.

From “The Effects of Creatine Supplementation Combined with Resistance Training on Regional Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis.” Burke et al (2023)

I’m a bit late to the party for discussing this meta-analysis. It was published in April, and creatine is always a popular topic, so most folks who disseminate sciency fitness content have already shared their two cents. The most common interpretation is that creatine isn’t as effective as we’ve previously been led to believe: Instead of having a notable effect on muscle growth, it only has a “trivial-to-small” impact, according to this meta-analysis. 

I completely understand where that interpretation is coming from, but I also think it’s a bit off base. So, even though I’m well behind this wave of discourse, I still figured it was worth weighing in.

Let’s discuss effect sizes

To explain where I’m coming from, we first need to take a couple steps back and discuss effect sizes. There are quite a few different types of effect sizes, but the effect sizes used in the present meta-analysis (and most meta-analyses in the field) were standardized mean differences in the Cohen’s D family.

Standardized mean differences essentially ask the question, “By how many standard deviations did this measure change?” or “By how many standard deviations did the changes in these two groups differ?”

So, if you have a within-group standardized mean difference of 0.4, that means that the outcome measure changed by 0.4 standard deviations. In other words, if you had the standard response to the intervention, and you were perfectly average at the start of the study, you’d be 0.4 standard deviations better than the pre-training average at the end of the study.

Similarly, if you have a between-group standardized mean difference of 0.2, that means that one group experienced a change that was 0.2 standard deviations larger than the other group. So, if one group improved by 0.4 standard deviations, the other group may have improved by 0.6 standard deviations.

To put some real numbers on it, let’s assume you have two groups, each of whom have a pre-training bench press 1RM of 100 ± 10kg (mean ± standard deviation). Group 1 does Program A, and Group 2 does Program B. At the end of the study, Group 1 put an average of 10kg on their bench press 1RM, and Group 2 put an average of 15kg on their bench press 1RM. So, the within-group effect sizes would be 10kg/10kg 1 = 1.0 for Group 1, and 15kg/10kg = 1.5 for Group 2. Similarly, Group 2 experienced a 5kg larger strength increase, so the between-group effect size would be 5kg/10kg 2 = 0.5 in favor of Group 2.

I personally prefer to interpret standardized mean differences literally (for whatever reason, I find thinking in standard deviation units to be pretty intuitive), but it’s common practice to put labels on ranges of effect sizes to denote the magnitude of the effect. This is the most common set of labels you’ll see:

Effect Size Classifications, From Cohen (1988)Effect SizeClassification0-0.19Trivial0.2-0.49Small0.5-0.79Medium0.8+Large

However, most people don’t stop to ask where those effect size labels came from.

They come from a 1988 textbook about statistical power for psychology. The author, Jacob Cohen, was the person who popularized magnitude-based effect sizes. The impact of his work shouldn’t be overlooked, but the context of his work shouldn’t be overlooked either: He was writing to other psychologists and behavioral scientists about how to interpret psychology and behavioral science results. 

Here’s the rub: How you interpret effect sizes is extremely context-dependent. In situations where large changes frequently occur, a standardized mean difference of 1.0 may be a pretty small effect. Conversely, in situations where small changes can have a huge impact, a standardized mean difference of 0.3 may actually be indicative of a very large effect.

Just to illustrate, let’s assume that, in untrained powerlifters, the average powerlifting total (squat + bench press + deadlift) is 300 ± 30kg. Similarly, let’s assume that for world-class powerlifters in a particular weight class, the average total is 800 ± 30kg. If an untrained powerlifter and a world-class powerlifter both added 30kg to their totals over the course of a year, would you interpret those increases the same way?

I doubt it (or, at minimum, I hope not). You’d expect the untrained powerlifter to add way more than 30kg to their total over the course of a year: A standardized mean difference of 1.0 would be indicative of a pretty small effect, because most other untrained lifters would experience considerably larger changes. Conversely, the world-class powerlifter would be over the moon if they added 30kg to their total over the course of a year: A standardized mean difference of 1.0 would be indicative of a very large effect, because most other world-class lifters would experience considerably smaller changes. So, a standardized mean difference of 3.0 in untrained lifters might have the same meaning as a standardized mean difference of 0.3 in elite lifters – depending on the population, context, and outcome, you can (and should) interpret the same standardized mean difference in very different ways.

This isn’t a novel insight, by any means. Way back in 2004, Dr. Matthew Rhea even proposed different sets of effect sizes for strength training research based on the subjects’ training status.

From “Determining the magnitude of treatment effects in strength training research through the use of the effect size.” Rhea (2004) We should probably interpret hypertrophy-related effect sizes differently

In fact, the authors of the present creatine meta-analysis (I promise I haven’t forgotten that this is an article about the creatine meta-analysis – this is a lengthy but necessary detour) used a set of effect size interpretations designed specifically for strength and conditioning research. They presumably recognized that a set of effect size interpretation thresholds coming from the behavioral sciences weren’t ideal for resistance training outcomes.

From “Comparative effect size distributions in strength and conditioning and implications for future research: a meta-analysis.” Swinton (2023) Effect Size Classifications, From Swinton and Murphy (2022)Effect SizeClassification0-0.13Trivial0.14-0.28Small0.29-0.50Medium0.51+Large

However, I suspect that these effect size thresholds are still a bit too large for hypertrophy research. They were derived from studies on strength outcomes, jump height, sprint times, power output, and agility measures – not studies on hypertrophy outcomes. And, in general, measures of performance are simply capable of increasing to a far greater extent than measures of muscle size.

A 2022 study by Steele and colleagues documented the typical effect sizes observed in both strength research and hypertrophy research. You can see those results below.

From “Meta-Analysis of Variation in Sport and Exercise Science.” Steele et al (2022)

The average change in strength observed in the literature is associated with a standardized mean difference of 0.87. Conversely, the average increase in muscle size observed in the literature is associated with a standardized mean difference of just 0.34. That suggests to me that standardized mean differences should be interpreted a bit differently for strength and hypertrophy outcomes.

A between-group difference associated with an effect size of 0.28 may truly be a “small” difference in the context of strength research. If one group has an effect size of 0.73 (a little below average), and another group has an effect size of 1.01 (a little above average), you might reasonably say that the difference between groups is pretty small.

However, in the hypertrophy research, a between-group difference of 0.28 might mean one group had a within-group effect of 0.20, while the other group had a within-group effect of 0.48. The between-group standardized mean difference is the same (0.28 in both examples), but since typical changes are so much smaller in the hypertrophy research, the relative impact of a between-group effect size of 0.28 is much larger. I don’t think most people would interpret a 2.4-fold difference in hypertrophy to be a “small” difference.

Bringing it back to the creatine meta-analysis

With that in mind, I think we can proportionally scale Swinton and Murphy’s effect size classifications to make them more relevant for hypertrophy research. The average within-group standardized mean difference for hypertrophy outcomes (0.34) is about 39% as large as the average within-group standardized mean difference for strength outcomes (0.87). So, the effect size interpretation thresholds should also scale proportionally, unless we assume that interventions designed to promote greater hypertrophy are (relatively) far more effective than interventions designed to promote greater strength gains (or vice versa). If we proportionally scale those interpretation thresholds, here’s what we get:

Rough Effect Size Classifications for Hypertrophy OutcomesEffect SizeClassification0-0.054Trivial0.055-0.1Small0.11-0.19Medium0.2+Large

With these interpretation thresholds, the present meta-analysis would suggest that creatine has an overall small-to-medium effect on muscle growth, with trivial-to-small effects observed in older adults, and medium-to-large effects observed in younger adults.

Now, you might reasonably accuse me of (quite literally) moving the goalposts, to which I’d first respond, “Touché. Fair critique.” However, I’d also note that all of these goalposts are pretty arbitrary in the first place. Most effect size interpretations are still based on one guy’s suggestions about how to interpret behavioral science research. The interpretation thresholds used by the authors of the creatine meta-analysis came from research on strength, power, and agility outcomes. Is it really so crazy to suggest that hypertrophy effect sizes should be graded on their own scale? 

Basically, I’m not moving the goalposts because I’m married to any particular interpretation of this meta-analysis. I’m moving the goalposts because I think the original goalposts may have been bad goalposts, for the reasons discussed previously.

A more literal interpretation

As mentioned previously, I don’t really like effect size classifications in the first place. I prefer the direct, literal interpretation of standardized mean differences. Just tell me how many standard deviations something changed by, and I can decide for myself whether that’s a relatively small or a relatively large change, or a relatively small or a relatively large difference between groups.

In this case, the math is pretty simple. The average standardized mean difference for within-group hypertrophy outcomes is 0.34 in exercise science research. So, measures of muscle size generally increase by about 0.34 standard deviations following a training intervention. This meta-analysis suggests that creatine has an additive effect on hypertrophy, associated with a standardized mean difference of 0.11. So, when people take creatine, their muscle size increases by an additional 0.11 standard deviations. That means, in real terms, this meta-analysis suggests that creatine will help you build muscle about 1/3rd faster than you otherwise would have.

I personally don’t view that as a trivial effect. If I could choose between building 3 pounds of muscle or 4 pounds of muscle, I’m probably going to choose 4 pounds of muscle. That’s not a night-and-day difference, but it’s certainly a notable difference.

I’ll also note that I checked the within-group effect sizes in the present creatine meta-analysis to make sure they tracked with the rest of the literature. The average within-group effect size in the placebo groups: 0.33. In other words, these studies dovetail nicely with the rest of the hypertrophy literature, bolstering the takeaway that creatine increases your rate of muscle growth by approximately 1/3rd.

Final considerations

To be clear, there’s still plenty of variability in that estimate. Responsiveness to creatine differs from person to person. Some people are creatine non-responders. Therefore, logically, plenty of people also have above-average responses to creatine (that’s the only way a positive average effect makes any sense). So, if creatine increases hypertrophy by approximately 1/3rd on average, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will increase your rate of muscle growth by approximately 1/3rd.

This meta-analysis also invites us to consider whether the effects of creatine wane over time, since the effect sizes in shorter-term studies were larger than the effect sizes in longer-term studies.

I personally think there are two extremely justifiable interpretations of this finding.

The (apparent) relative effects of creatine actually do decrease over time. While direct measures of hypertrophy will be less affected by fluid retention than measures of lean mass, creatine does likely increase intramuscular water content to some extent. So, shorter-term studies might be overestimating the effects of creatine on “actual” hypertrophy, because they’re still picking up on increased muscular fluid content. Over longer time scales, the differences between groups are more reflective of the “true” effect of creatine. The apparent effect of time is actually just an effect of age. As noted previously, all of the long-term studies were studies on older adults. Furthermore, the shorter-term and longer-term studies on older adults had broadly similar findings. So, it might be the case that older adults simply experience less hypertrophy, which makes the nominal additive effect of creatine appear smaller, regardless of study length. Blue box = shorter-term study in older adults. Red box = longer-term study in older adults. The average effect size (just a simple average of the pooled effect sizes for each study) for shorter-term studies was 0.097, and the average effect size for longer-term studies was 0.093 – practically identical. This makes me skeptical that the effects of creatine decrease over time.

Boxes added by SBS team for illustrative purposes. Original graphic from “The Effects of Creatine Supplementation Combined with Resistance Training on Regional Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis.” Burke et al (2023)

I’m personally comfortable withholding judgment on the matter until we have some longer-term studies in younger adults to serve as a point of comparison.

Overall, I think a lot of people found this meta-analysis to be pretty surprising. They believed creatine was an effective supplement to help with muscle growth, and were dismayed to find out that the effect of creatine was merely a “trivial” effect. However, I think this meta-analysis just confirms what people have been saying about creatine for ages: Taking creatine isn’t going to double or triple your rate of muscle growth, but it will likely have a positive, notable impact on your gains.

Ultimately, I think the disconnect came from the way most readers interpret effect sizes: taking the language used to describe the effect sizes (i.e. “trivial-to-small”) at face value, without pausing to reflect on what the effect size is literally communicating, and without stopping to consider effect sizes contextually. A between-group effect size of 0.11 means something different in an area of the research where within-group effect sizes of ~0.9 are typical (like strength research) than in an area of research where within-group effect sizes of ~0.3 are typical (like hypertrophy research).

So, I did want to write this article to push back against some of the creatine doomerism I’ve seen in the past few months, but I mostly wanted to write this article to discuss effect size interpretation more broadly. Hopefully this article gave you something to chew on. If it helps you think a bit more critically about interpreting effect sizes in their proper context – instead of just accepting the classification label a study puts on a particular effect size – it will have served its purpose.

For more on creatine, including mechanisms of action, interactions with caffeine, potential effects on hair loss, and more, you should check out our guide on creatine supplementation.

1    mean change/pre-training standard deviation2     difference between mean changes/pre-training standard deviation

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- Michael Zourdos
Muscle Fiber Composition is Related to Repetition Performance In Some Muscle Groups

Note: This article was the MASS Research Review cover story for July 2023 and is a review of a recent paper by Van Vossel et al. If you want more content like this, subscribe to MASS.

Key Points Researchers classified 95 novice trainees (38 women and 57 men) as having slow or fast twitch muscle fiber typology based on intramuscular carnosine levels. They examined the relationship between fiber typology and reps to failure on the leg extension, leg curl, biceps curl, and triceps extension exercises at a combination of relative intensities ranging from 40-80%. Subjects classified as fast twitch individuals performed significantly fewer reps to failure on the leg extension, leg curl, and biceps curl than slow twitch-classified individuals. However, the number of reps performed on the triceps extension was not significantly related to fiber typology. The presently reviewed study suggests that individuals with a greater proportion of type II fibers tend to perform fewer reps to failure on certain exercises. However, the correlations reported in this study were not very strong (all r ≤ 0.42); thus, it would be a stretch to say that reps to failure can predict fiber typology with high accuracy. 

While some degree of scientific support can be found at times that one training style is superior to another, we also understand that rates of hypertrophy and strength gain are highly individual (2, 3, 4, 5). We also can say that, on average, individuals may perform about 10 reps to failure with a load corresponding to 75% of 1RM on the squat or bench press. However, substantial interindividual variation in reps performed at a given relative intensity (percentage of 1RM) exists. For example, recent data indicate that trained men and women performed a range of 6 – 28 repetitions on a squat set to failure at 70% of 1RM (6).

That individual variation sparks, what I believe, is the most pressing training question we face today: why does this individual variation exist? Regarding repetition performance, data have shown (6) that an individual’s body mass explains 20% of the variance in reps performed to failure at a given relative intensity, with heavier individuals completing fewer reps to failure. However, that leaves 80% of the variance unexplained. One popular suggestion to explain the remaining variance is that individuals with a higher proportion of type I fibers (slow twitch) have better muscular endurance than those with type II fibers. This suggestion makes sense, as type I fibers are more resistant to fatigue than type II fibers. A previous foray into this topic (7 – MASS Review) found that among 30 women and men, those with more type II fibers tended to perform fewer squat reps to failure at 80% of 1RM, but the correlation wasn’t that strong (rho = –0.38), leaving the conclusions tenuous. Thankfully, a new study from Van Vossel et al. (1) investigated the relationship between muscle typology and repetition performance at various relative intensities among 95 women and men.

Purpose and Hypotheses Purpose

The reviewed study had three specific aims:

To determine if maximal dynamic strength and isometric strength differed between individuals classified into slow and fast typologies. To examine the relationship between muscle typology and reps performed to failure on leg extensions, leg curls, biceps curls, and triceps extensions. To examine if various factors (relative intensity and strength level) influenced the number of reps to failure.  Hypotheses  

The researchers hypothesized that individuals with a faster muscle typology (a greater proportion of type II fibers) would have greater max strength and perform fewer reps on various exercises (leg extension, leg curl, biceps curl, and triceps extension). 

Subjects and Methods Subjects

Ninety five women (n = 38) and men (n = 57) participated in the study. The researchers described the subjects as “resistance training novices who had never participated in a structured resistance training program.” Additional subject characteristics can be seen in Table 1.

Pre-Testing for All Subjects

Before splitting subjects into groups, the researchers needed to determine muscle fiber typology. They did this via magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which identifies the chemical makeup of scanned tissue. In this case, the researchers examined the amount of carnosine in the scanned muscle. As you may recall, carnosine is a dipeptide of which beta-alanine is the rate-limiting precursor (i.e., to increase muscle carnosine effectively, you should take beta-alanine rather than carnosine itself). In addition to serving as a physiological buffer to delay fatigue, naturally occurring carnosine also indicates muscle fiber type. Specifically, higher amounts of carnosine are associated with more fast twitch (type II) fibers, while lower amounts of carnosine are associated with having more slow twitch (type I) fibers. Without getting into unnecessary specifics of the methodology, the researchers assessed fiber type through this technique for the vastus lateralis, gastrocnemius, and soleus and then estimated biceps, triceps, and hamstring typology from those muscles. Once fiber type was established, the researchers converted carnosine content to a z-score (more on this in the Criticisms and Statistical Musings section), and subjects were classified as fast twitch, intermediate twitch, or slow twitch. The researchers then assessed 1RM isometric leg extension torque for all subjects.

After these initial assessments for all 95 subjects, the researchers split the subjects into two groups to answer different research questions. One of the groups (the repetition group) contained a subgroup. Figure 1 provides a breakdown of group and subgroup structure; then, the following sections explain the specific procedures.

Repetition Group

In addition to testing leg extension isometric torque, all subjects in the repetition group also tested their dynamic 1RM on leg extensions, biceps curls, triceps extensions, and leg curls. Next, all individuals in the repetition group performed three sets to failure on leg extensions and biceps curls at 60% of 1RM. The exercise subgroup then performed additional sets to failure (the researchers did not specify how many) at 60% of 1RM on the same day, while the load subgroup performed three additional sets to failure at 80% of 1RM and additional sets to failure at 40% of 1RM over two more days.

Carnosine Group

Another 43 subjects, the carnosine group, performed only three sets to failure on leg extensions and curls following the initial assessments, but did not perform any dynamic 1RM testing. 

Methods Summary and Outcomes

For clarity, Table 2 conveys each task done by each group or subgroup, and Table 3 lists the outcome measures assessed in each group or subgroup. Another note is that the researchers examined if upper leg fat-free mass (estimated from a scale), strength level, or body mass influenced the number of reps performed to failure.


The main take home of the findings is that individuals classified as having fast twitch muscle fiber typology tended to perform fewer reps during sets to failure on the leg extension, leg curl, and biceps curls than individuals classified as having slow twitch fiber typology. Muscle fiber typology did not significantly influence reps performed on the triceps extension. Further details for all outcome measures are in the following subsections.

Relationship Between Typology and Isometric Strength

Across all subjects, there was a significant relationship between carnosine z-score and leg extension isometric torque (r = 0.30, p = 0.003) and relative torque (r = 0.22, p = 0.03), indicating that fast typology individuals could generate more force (i.e., were stronger). When broken down by sex, only men exhibited significant relationships between z-scores with both absolute (men: r = 0.37, p= 0.01; women: r = 0.19, p = 0.24) and relative (men: r = 0.26, p = 0.05; women: r = 0.16; p = 0.35) leg extension torque.

Relationship Between Typology and Reps Performed

Leg Extension and Leg Curls

Fast twitch individuals performed significantly fewer reps to failure than slow twitch individuals at 60% of 1RM on both the leg extension (p = 0.03) and leg curl (p = 0.01) (Figure 2). Further, there was a significant inverse relationship between carnosine z-score and reps performed to failure on leg extensions and leg curls (r = –0.44; p = 0.003), indicating that fast twitch typology individuals tended to perform fewer reps than slow twitch individuals. These findings were not significantly impacted by any covariate (upper leg fat-free mass, strength, or body mass). There was also no significant interaction by set, meaning that the rate of fatigue (decrease in reps performed from set to set) was not significantly different between fast and slow-twitch individuals. However, training load (40, 60, or 80% of 1RM) did impact reps performed in the load subgroup. Specifically, there were significant inverse relationships between carnosine z-score and reps performed at 60% (r = –0.41, p = 0.05) and 80% (r = –0.42, p = 0.04) of 1RM, but not at 40% (r = –0.23, p = 0.28). These findings indicate that fast twitch individuals tended to perform fewer reps than slow twitch individuals at 60 and 80% of 1RM but not at 40% of 1RM.

Biceps Curls and Triceps Extensions

Fast twitch individuals performed significantly fewer reps to failure at 60% of 1RM on the biceps curl (p = 0.02); however, there was no significant difference between groups for reps performed on the triceps extension (p = 0.96). Further, reps performed on either exercise were not significantly influenced by strength level or body mass (p > 0.05).

Variance in Reps Performed

Lastly, I want to highlight the range of reps performed, which was vast. For example, across three sets of the biceps curl at 60% of 1RM, a range of 18 – 62 reps was completed. The range of reps performed for all exercises with all three sets combined is in Table 4.

Criticisms and Statistical Musings

While not a criticism per se, this section explains the methods for those wanting a more complete understanding of how this study’s results were derived. A critical piece of the analysis in the presently reviewed study was classifying subjects as fast, slow, or intermediate twitch. To make this classification, a standardized “score” needed to be created to compare individuals to a reference value. In this study, the researchers had carnosine concentrations already established for a control population consisting of “active, healthy non-athlete” individuals for the gastrocnemius and soleus (women = 112; men = 163) and the vastus lateralis (women = 56; men = 70). Therefore, to classify individuals into high, intermediate, or slow twitch muscle fiber typologies, the researchers created a z-score for each individual’s carnosine concentration and compared that score to the mean score of the control dataset. A z-score is a standardized score that indicates the magnitude of standard deviations the metric differs from the mean of the entire dataset. In this study, the z-score was calculated as z = (observed value) – (mean of the control data set) / standard deviation of the control data set. Individuals were classified as slow twitch if they had a z-score of ≤ -0.5, intermediate twitch with a z-score between -0.5 to +0.5, and fast twitch with a z-score of ≥5.


As stated in this article’s introduction, I believe the most critical questions in contemporary training research are related to identifying the factors that explain inter-individual differences in training responses. For example, the rate of hypertrophy and strength is highly variable (2345); some individuals grow more with drop sets and some with traditional sets (6), and the number of reps performed to failure at a given relative intensity is also highly variable (6910). Yet, we know very little about why the interindividual variance is so great. In the mid to late 2000s, data revealed that those with more satellite cells and myonuclei per myofiber tended to experience more muscle growth (5). More recently, researchers observed that individuals who grew more and gained more strength in response to higher volume training also tended to have greater levels of ribosomal biogenesis (i.e., increases in muscle ribosome content) (11). However, none of those findings are practical for the coach and lifter. In practice, coaches and lifters have to use trial and error to determine what training style someone responds best to. Therefore, research must attempt to examine practical strategies to explain individual variation.

Why Have a Practical Fiber Typology Assessment?

So, what’s practical about assessing fiber typology through an imaging technique? Well, nothing directly. However, if fiber typology can predict reps to failure, someone could do a set to failure and determine whether they are primarily fast or slow twitch. The next question is, why does determining if someone is a fast or slow twitch individual matter? Well, there is some evidence that having this information could impact programming decisions. For example, aside from knowing if a lifter has good muscular endurance, one study (12 – MASS Review) showed that individuals with a higher proportion of type II fibers took longer to recover from a maximal bout of cycling than those with type I fibers. The elongated recovery time could affect training frequency and training volume; thus, identifying fiber type classification could allow a lifter to manage their volume per session accordingly to ensure appropriate recovery. Other examples include the possibility that individuals classified as fast twitch may be more prone to overreaching (13 – MASS Review) and that low-load blood-flow restriction training may preferentially cause hypertrophy of type I fibers. I’m not sure any of the above examples are definitive. However, there’s enough research to suggest the possibility that a simple rep test to determine fiber typology could be practical and useful. 

The Findings from Van Vossel et al. (1)

The presently reviewed study from Van Vossel et al (1) found that fast twitch individuals tended to perform fewer reps to failure at 60% of 1RM on the leg extension, leg curl, and biceps curl but not on the triceps extension than slow twitch individuals. Additionally, fast twitch individuals also performed significantly fewer reps to failure than slow twitch individuals at 80% of 1RM on the leg extension and leg curl; however, fiber typology did not significantly influence reps to failure at 40% of 1RM. There are two ways to interpret this data. On the one hand, someone could point to the somewhat tenuous relationships between fiber typology with leg extension (r = –0.41) and leg curl (r = –0.42) at 60% of 1RM and say that the r2-value was only about 0.20, which means fiber typology only explains 20% of the variance in reps performed. Someone could also say that the p-values for the relationship between typology and reps performed at 60% (p = 0.05) and 80% (p = 0.04) of 1RM on the leg extension and leg curl barely crossed the significance threshold. Additionally, Hall et al (7 – MASS Review) also reported correlations (Spearman correlations as opposed to Pearson) (rho = –0.38; p = 0.039) that barely crossed the significance threshold showing a greater proportion of type II fibers to be related to fewer reps to failure at 80% of 1RM on the squat in trained women and men. Moreover, another study from Douris et al (14) found that when fiber typology was estimated from a 55-rep fatigue test on a dynamometer, there was a significant relationship between reps performed and leg extension reps to failure at 70% of 1RM (r = –0.48; p = 0.02). Lastly, Terzis et al (15) found that active men with a slow twitch typology (fiber type composition >50%) performed only one more rep to failure, on average, on the leg press compared to fast twitch individuals, which was not a statistically significant difference. In other words, all of these findings barely cross the significance threshold, and one could conclude that those data aren’t solid enough to conclude that rep tests can be used to predict fiber typology. 

On the other hand, someone could point to all the aforementioned studies (171415) and conclude that although the relationships aren’t particularly strong, they show a clear trend. The authors of the presently reviewed study, Hall et al (7) and Douris et al (14) all observed significant correlations showing that slow twitch-classified individuals performed more reps to failure at relative intensities between 60 – 80% of 1RM. Additionally, one could argue that even though the findings from Terzis et al weren’t significant, the one more rep, on average, in favor of slow twitch individuals follows the trend of the other studies. Further, Terzis et al (15) did find a significant relationship, and a fairly strong one (r = 0.70; p = 0.01) between capillaries per mm2 of muscle cross-sectional area, otherwise known as ‘capillary density” and reps to failure at 70% of 1RM on the leg press. An optimist would say that finding is important because type I fibers typically have far more capillaries than type II fibers (16), and capillaries have many mitochondria, aerobic enzymes, and lots of myoglobin (providing additional oxygen to the muscles), which all aid type I fibers’ fatigue resistance. 

Although I’m cautiously optimistic, I take more of the latter view on this topic as I think these studies show a clear trend. I don’t think the data are strong enough to make all out predictions; however, if someone performs well above the mean (e.g., two standard deviations) for reps to failure, there is certainly enough data to suggest that their fiber typology may have something to do with it. However, the data are not robust enough to make specific claims such as “every rep above the mean is associated with 1% more type I fiber composition.” That type of claim would require a much more precise test with stronger correlations, and thus would be completely inappropriate. My advice is to take this data for what it’s worth – there’s probably something there, but it’s not yet definitive enough to drive training decisions.

It’s also worth noting that Van Vossel et al (1) did not find that slow twitch individuals performed more reps than fast twitch individuals on the lying triceps extension. The authors argue that one explanation for this is that the triceps are overwhelmingly composed of fast twitch fibers. Further, since researchers estimated triceps fiber typology from other muscles, it’s likely that triceps composition was different from other muscles and that all subjects had fast twitch dominant triceps. On the other hand, the gastrocnemius is about a 50/50 split between fast twitch and slow twitch, on average. Although the vastus lateralis tends to have more fast twitch muscle fibers, researchers have reported a large variation 13 – 18% for fiber type composition of the vastus lateralis. Therefore, reps to failure on some exercises may be affected by fiber typology more than others. 

Moderators of Rep Performance and General Variance in Reps Performed

In the presently reviewed study, fiber typology accounts for approximately 20% of the variance in rep performance on the leg extension and leg curl, which means 80% of the variance was unexplained. Interestingly, the moderator’s sex, absolute strength, relative strength, and upper leg fat-free mass did not significantly affect reps to failure. The factor that moderated the relationship between typology and reps to failure was relative intensity (load lifted). Specifically, typology was related to reps performed at 60% and 80% of 1RM but not at 40% of 1RM.

Research failing to identify predictors of reps performed is fascinating, considering the large interindividual variation. For example, Table 4 in the Findings sections illustrates that over three sets to failure on the leg curl, the range of reps performed was 71 – 344 (40% of 1RM), 26 – 75 (60% of 1RM), and 14 – 33 reps (80% of 1RM). This phenomenon is present in many exercises, as shown in a foundational study from Hoeger et al (9) in both trained and untrained women and men, in a study in both resistance-trained and endurance-trained individuals from Richens and Cleather (10), and from Cooke et al (6) in a study on trained women and men. Cooke et al (6) not only found that trained women and men performed a range of 6 – 28 squat reps at 70% 1RM, but they also found in a multiple regression examining factors (body mass, body-fat %, femur length, age, and sex) influencing reps to failure that body mass was almost significant (p = 0.057). While intriguing, more research is needed to confirm the near-significant finding that those who weigh more tend to perform fewer reps to failure. 

Additional Thoughts 

One aspect of the findings I still need to address is the weak but statistically significant correlation (r = 0.22; p = 0.03) between isometric leg extension peak torque and fiber typology, indicating that fast twitch individuals tend to have greater isometric leg extension strength. However, fiber typology was not related to dynamic strength in any exercise. This finding is similar to Machek et al (17 – MASS Review), who found that among 12 powerlifters, there was no significant relationship between type II fibers and Wilks score. 

Overall, many other factors (e.g., leverages, muscle size, etc.) influence repetition and strength capability over just fiber typology. However, fiber typology impacts recovery. Therefore, those with a greater proportion of type II fibers may need less volume and frequency to progress hypertrophy and strength than those with a greater proportion of type I fibers. That speculation is tenuous, but I bring it up to demonstrate the importance of identifying factors that can influence how to adjust training variables such as volume, intensity, and frequency. If research can make such practical assessments, coaches and lifters can begin to individualize training prescriptions without undergoing significant trial and error.

Next Steps

There are many directions this research could go. One path is to recruit lifters, assess fiber typology, then observe them all over the same training program and examine if typology was related to hypertrophy and strength gains. However, since assessing fiber type distributions isn’t practical, I’d like to see a study that assesses various practical measures at baseline (reps performed to failure, body composition, and limb lengths, among other practical metrics) and have these subjects complete a within-subjects design training study. In this proposed study, one limb could perform more frequently than the other. Theoretically, individuals who perform fewer reps to failure during pre-testing would potentially be fast twitch individuals and would need more recovery time and may benefit from less frequency. The same study could also be conducted but with volume between limbs manipulated instead of frequency. There are many options for what training variable to manipulate. Ultimately, as I said at the outset of this article, the concept of individualization is the most pressing question that research in our field needs to address, so hopefully, we see more in this area soon.

Application and Takeaways Van Vossel et al (1) found that individuals with a greater proportion of type II fibers tended to perform fewer reps to failure than slow twitch-classified individuals at 60% of 1RM on the leg extension, leg curl, and biceps curl. Fiber typology did not influence rep performance on the triceps extension. Similar to Van Vossel et al, other research has also reported weak but statistically significant relationships between fiber typology and rep performance. Despite the significant relationships between fiber typology and rep performance, the relationships aren’t strong enough for me to recommend that coaches and lifters can definitively predict fiber type by performing a set to failure. Get more articles like this

This article was the cover story for the July 2023 issue of MASS Research Review. If you’d like to read the full, 100-page July issue (and dive into the MASS archives), you can subscribe to MASS here.

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References Vossel KV, Hardeel J, Van de Casteele F, de Jager S, Lievens E, Boone J, Derave W. Muscle typology influences the number of repetitions to failure during resistance training. European Journal of Sport Science. 2023 Apr 25(just-accepted):1-21. Hubal MJ, Gordish-Dressman HE, Thompson PD, Price TB, Hoffman EP, Angelopoulos TJ, Gordon PM, Moyna NM, Pescatello LS, Visich PS, Zoeller RF. Variability in muscle size and strength gain after unilateral resistance training. Medicine & science in sports & exercise. 2005 Jun 1;37(6):964-72. Klemp A, Dolan C, Quiles JM, Blanco R, Zoeller RF, Graves BS, Zourdos MC. Volume-equated high-and low-repetition daily undulating programming strategies produce similar hypertrophy and strength adaptations. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2016;41(7):699-705. Erskine RM, Jones DA, Williams AG, Stewart CE, Degens H. Inter-individual variability in the adaptation of human muscle specific tension to progressive resistance training. European journal of applied physiology. 2010 Dec;110(6):1117-25. Petrella JK, Kim JS, Mayhew DL, Cross JM, Bamman MM. Potent myofiber hypertrophy during resistance training in humans is associated with satellite cell-mediated myonuclear addition: a cluster analysis. Journal of applied physiology. 2008 Jun 1. Cooke DM, Haischer MH, Carzoli JP, Bazyler CD, Johnson TK, Varieur R, Zoeller RF, Whitehurst M, Zourdos MC. Body mass and femur length are inversely related to repetitions performed in the back squat in well-trained lifters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2019 Mar 1;33(3):890-5. Hall EC, Lysenko EA, Semenova EA, Borisov OV, Andryushchenko ON, Andryushchenko LB, Vepkhvadze TF, Lednev EM, Zmijewski P, Popov DV, Generozov EV. Prediction of muscle fiber composition using multiple repetition testing. Biology of Sport. 2021 Jun;38(2):277-83. Angleri V, Ugrinowitsch C, Libardi CA. Individual Muscle Adaptations in different Resistance Training Systems in Well-Trained Men. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 2022 Jan;43(01):55-60. Hoeger WW, Hopkins DR, Barette SL, Hale DF. Relationship between repetitions and selected percentages of one repetition maximum: a comparison between untrained and trained males and females. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 1990 May 1;4(2):47-54. Richens B, Cleather DJ. The relationship between the number of repetitions performed at given intensities is different in endurance and strength trained athletes. Biology of sport. 2014 Jun 1;31(2):157-61. Hammarström D, Øfsteng S, Koll L, Hanestadhaugen M, Hollan I, Apro W, Whist JE, Blomstrand E, Rønnestad BR, Ellefsen S. Benefits of higher resistance‐training volume are related to ribosome biogenesis. The Journal of physiology. 2020 Feb;598(3):543-65. Lievens E, Klass M, Bex T, Derave W. Muscle fiber typology substantially influences time to recover from high-intensity exercise. Journal of applied physiology. 2020 Mar 1;128(3):648-59. Bellinger P, Desbrow B, Derave W, Lievens E, Irwin C, Sabapathy S, Kennedy B, Craven J, Pennell E, Rice H, Minahan C. Muscle fiber typology is associated with the incidence of overreaching in response to overload training. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2020 Oct 1;129(4):823-36. Douris PC, White BP, Cullen RR, Keltz WE, Meli J, Mondiello DM, Wenger D. The relationship between maximal repetition performance and muscle fiber type as estimated by noninvasive technique in the quadriceps of untrained women. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2006 Aug 1;20(3):699-703. Terzis G, Spengos K, Manta P, Sarris N, Georgiadis G. Fiber type composition and capillary density in relation to submaximal number of repetitions in resistance exercise. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2008 May 1;22(3):845-50. Andersen JL. Muscle fibre type adaptation in the elderly human muscle. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports. 2003 Feb;13(1):40-7. Machek SB, Hwang PS, Cardaci TD, Wilburn DT, Bagley JR, Blake DT, Galpin AJ, Willoughby DS. Myosin heavy chain composition, creatine analogues, and the relationship of muscle creatine content and fast-twitch proportion to Wilks coefficient in powerlifters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2020 Nov 1;34(11):3022-30.

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- Greg Nuckols
Can You Avoid Plateaus by Manipulating Relative Training Intensity?

Note: This article was originally published in MASS Research Review. It’s a review of a recent study: Different Load Intensity Transition Schemes to Avoid Plateau and No-Response in Lean Body Mass Gain in Postmenopausal Women by Carneiro et al.

Key Points Healthy, postmenopausal women completed 24 weeks of lower-body resistance training, consisting of 12 weeks of moderate-load training (sets of 8-12 reps), and 12 weeks of low-load training (sets of 27-31 reps), performed in a randomized order. Both orders of training sequencing produced similar increases in lean soft tissue mass (15). Furthermore, average rates of lean mass accrual were similar in the first and second 12 weeks of training. The present study employed a crossover design and reported individual subject data. Such data allows us to probe questions related to optimizing relative training intensity for individuals, and the reliability of classifying people as “high responders” and “low responders” to resistance training.

When you reach a plateau in your training – you keep training hard, but further muscle growth and strength gains are hard to come by – how can you break through that plateau? Potential options range from fun (dreamer bulk, baby), to practical-but-boring (try to sleep more and manage stress better), to illegal-in-many-jurisdictions (up the dose, lift the most). One surprisingly controversial option, however, is to make significant adjustments to your training program. Some will argue that changing your training program is only logical, since your current program isn’t producing the results you want. Other people will accuse you of “program hopping,” or say you have “training ADHD,” and that you just need to commit harder to your current training approach (especially if it previously produced solid results for you).

So, what does the research say? Can you get the gains rolling again by changing your training approach, or is doing so a waste of time? Surprisingly, there’s not a ton of research on the topic. However, a recent study (1) purports to demonstrate that switching to a completely different relative training intensity (percentage of 1RM) can help you avoid a plateau. In the present study, subjects completed 24 weeks of training. Half of the subjects did 12 weeks of low-load training (starting with 30% of 1RM, and performing sets of 27-31 reps), followed by 12 weeks of moderate-load training (starting with 80% of 1RM, and performing sets of 8-12 reps). The other half did 12 weeks of moderate-load training first, followed by 12 weeks of low-load training. The researchers found that, in contrast with other research (which suggests that hypertrophy slows down dramatically after about three months of training), lean mass gains occurred at the same rate during both 12-week blocks of training. So, are wholesale changes in training intensity the holy grail for avoiding or breaking through plateaus? Read on to find out. I’m not fully convinced, but the design and thorough data reporting in the present study allow us to probe several interesting and practical questions related to individual responses to different training styles.

Purpose and Hypotheses Purpose

The primary purpose of this study was to compare the effects of low-load training followed by moderate-load training, versus moderate-load training followed by low-load training, for the purpose of supporting lean mass accretion. The secondary purpose was to see how changing training intensity would affect responsiveness to resistance training. 


No hypotheses were directly stated. 

Subjects and Methods Subjects

24 postmenopausal women participated in the present study. All subjects were at least 50 years old, had not menstruated in the preceding 12 months, did not use hormone replacement therapy, were free of significant cardiometabolic or orthopedic issues, and had not participated in regular physical activity more than once per week in the six months preceding the study. Subject characteristics can be seen in Table 1.

Experimental Design

This study took place over 28 weeks, including a 24-week training intervention. During the first week, subjects performed three familiarization sessions to get acquainted with the exercises used in the study (leg press, knee extensions, leg curls, and calf raises). During the second week, subjects completed 1RM tests to determine their initial training loads, and researchers collected the subjects’ basic anthropometric data (height, weight, and body fat), along with assessing thigh lean soft tissue mass (via DXA). From weeks 3-14, subjects completed twelve weeks of resistance training. During week 15, researchers reassessed the subjects’ thigh lean soft tissue mass and 1RM strength for all four training exercises. From weeks 16-27, subjects completed 12 more weeks of resistance training. Finally, thigh lean soft tissue mass was reassessed in week 28. Post-training 1RM strength was not assessed (or, at minimum, it wasn’t reported).

All subjects completed two different resistance training programs. Both programs consisted of leg press, knee extensions, leg curls, and calf raises, all performed for three sets (2) with 90 seconds of rest between sets. All sets were performed “until, or close to, voluntary concentric failure,” according to the study (though, as far as I can tell, proximity to failure wasn’t strictly controlled or directly quantified). The two programs only differed in terms of training load. The moderate-load program started with subjects at 80% of their 1RM, with the aim of completing 8-12 reps per set, while the low-load program started with subjects at 30% of 1RM, with the aim of completing 27-31 reps per set. When subjects completed at least 12 reps during the first set of an exercise on the moderate-load program, or 31 reps during the first set of an exercise on the low-load program, training loads were increased by 5-10% for their next training session. Half of the subjects were randomly assigned to complete the moderate-load program first, while the other half completed the low-load program first. After the first 12 weeks of training and the mid-study strength and lean mass assessments, subjects switched training programs for the second half of the study. So, half of the subjects completed 12 weeks of moderate-load training followed by 12 weeks of low-load training, and half of the subjects completed 12 weeks of low-load training followed by 12 weeks of moderate-load training.

The researchers were primarily interested in two outcomes: progression of training loads (absolute training loads, total reps completed, and volume load), and accrual of thigh lean soft tissue mass. The lean mass data was also analyzed in two different ways. First, the researchers compared the two training approaches (low-load followed by moderate-load training, versus moderate-load followed by low-load training) to see if either loading scheme produced better outcomes. Second, the researchers split apart “high responders” and “low responders” to resistance training following the first 12 weeks of training, using a median split (i.e., the 50% of subjects with the largest lean mass gains during the first 12 weeks of training were deemed to be high responders, and the 50% of subjects with the smallest lean mass gains were deemed to be low responders). They were interested in assessing whether training responsiveness during the first 12 weeks of training was predictive of responsiveness during the last 12 weeks of training, and whether changing relative training intensities would improve overall training responsiveness in the initial low responders.


Table 2 shows the training load progression observed following the two training approaches.

Overall, both of the programs worked, insofar as absolute load and volume load increased over time. I’m not too interested in the direct comparisons between the two programs, though. According to the results table, the low-load program looks like it was more effective, but I think that’s an artifact of the way initial training loads were assigned. Once people get a bit of training experience (i.e., once someone establishes decent strength endurance), they can generally complete considerably more than 27-31 reps at 30% of 1RM, whereas 8-12 reps at 80% of 1RM is pretty challenging for most folks. So, by using 30% of 1RM as the initial intensity for the low-load training protocol, I think the researchers simply (inadvertently) stacked the deck for low-load training to appear to allow for greater progression of training loads. Regardless, it’s clear that both programs effectively promoted improvements in strength (demonstrated by absolute training loads increasing in both programs) and work capacity (demonstrated by total volume load increasing in both programs).

Table 3 shows the changes in lean mass over time.

Both protocols were similarly effective at promoting increases in thigh lean soft tissue mass. In the group completing low-load training followed by moderate-load training, subjects gained an average of 0.4kg of lean mass in the first 12 weeks of training, and 0.3kg of lean mass in the last 12 weeks of training, for a net increase of 0.7kg. In the group completing moderate-load training followed by low-load training, subjects gained an average of 0.3kg of lean mass in the first 12 weeks of training, and 0.4kg of lean mass in the last 12 weeks of training, also for a net increase of 0.7kg.

However, an interesting pattern emerges when we look at the thigh lean soft tissue mass accrual of “low responders” versus the “high responders.” During the first 12 weeks of training, which were used to determine responsiveness, the low responders gained very little thigh lean soft tissue mass (0.1kg), while the high responders gained 0.6kg. However, during the last 12 weeks of training, the low responders actually gained (nominally) more thigh lean soft tissue mass (0.4kg) than the high responders (0.2kg; p = 0.16). The high responders did still wind up gaining significantly more thigh lean soft tissue mass over the entire 24 weeks of training (0.8kg versus 0.5kg; p = 0.044), but the difference between high and low responders narrowed considerably. You can see individual subject data illustrating the different time course of lean mass gains in Figure 1.

Criticisms and Statistical Musings

My only significant criticism of the present study was the decision to analyze high versus low responsiveness to training using a median split. Ultimately, if you’re interested in analyzing whether training responses during the first 12 weeks of training are predictive of training responses during the last 12 weeks of training, regression analysis is far more informative (3). With a median split, you flatten out differences between individuals, such that the worst responder is treated the same as a subject in the 49th percentile, and the best responder is treated the same as a subject in the 51st percentile. Similarly, subjects near the median who experienced very similar responses during the first 12 weeks of training are treated as if they’re completely different.

I extracted the data in Figure 1 using WebPlotDigitizer, and wanted to see the relationship between relative increases in thigh lean soft tissue mass in the first 12 weeks, versus increases in the last 12 weeks of training. You can see the results in Figure 2. Each data point represents a single subject; their x-axis coordinate tells you their relative increases in thigh lean soft tissue mass during the first 12 weeks of training, and their y-axis coordinate tells you their relative increase in thigh lean soft tissue mass during the last 12 weeks of training.

As you can see, there wasn’t much of a relationship between hypertrophy during the first phase of training and hypertrophy during the second phase of training (r = -0.28; p = 0.18). This scatterplot is more informative than the group-level analysis comparing mean responses at the bottom of Table 3. And, while Figure 1 displays all of the same information seen in this scatterplot, it’s still harder to directly interpret since the low responders and high responders are split out onto different axes. However, when we treat training responsiveness as a continuous variable (rather than a binary variable), we can more clearly see that lean mass accretion during the first phase of training was poorly predictive of lean mass accretion during the second phase of training.


This is a study I’ve wanted to see for a long time. My anecdotal observation is that some people simply seem to respond better to heavier training, and some people simply seem to respond better to lighter training. However, the controlled evidence to back up that observation was shaky at best. There were two studies that could be used to make that case, but both of them had some obvious issues. First, a study by Beaven and colleagues ran subjects through four different training protocols (3 sets of 5 reps at 85% of 1RM, 4 sets of 10 reps at 70% of 1RM, 5 sets of 15 reps at 55% of 1RM, and 4 sets of 5 reps at 40% of 1RM), and tested the subjects’ acute salivary testosterone and cortisol responses (4). Subjects completed three weeks of training with the protocol that elicited the largest increase in testosterone:cortisol ratio, and three weeks with the protocol that elicited the smallest increase (or largest decrease) in testosterone:cortisol ratio. The researchers found that subjects experienced a larger increase in body mass during the three weeks when they performed the protocol that elicited the largest increase in testosterone:cortisol ratio. However, the limitations in that study should be obvious. The training intervention was really short (just three weeks with each protocol), and it’s a stretch to assume that increases in body mass necessarily equal increases in muscle mass. Another study by Jones and colleagues assigned subjects to training protocols that were supposed to be compatible with their genetics or incompatible with their genetics, using a proprietary algorithm (5). The subjects completed strength endurance-based training or power-based training. Overall, subjects experienced larger improvements in several measures of performance when training in a manner that was compatible with their genetics. However, that study contained a clear conflict of interest – the algorithm used to assign subjects to different groups isn’t publicly available, and an employee of the company that developed the algorithm was one of the authors of the study. Now, studies with conflicts of interest shouldn’t be discounted out of hand, but it helps for results to be independently validated by other research groups that lack those same conflicts of interest. To the best of my knowledge, the results of the study by Jones and colleagues haven’t been replicated.

Furthermore, as we’ve covered in MASS before, there’s quite a bit of evidence that many training variables have a much smaller influence on hypertrophy than innate differences in trainability. For example, a study by Hammarström and colleagues (reviewed in MASS6) investigated the effects of training volume (total sets performed) on quad growth. Subjects completed six weekly sets of quad work with one leg, and 18 weekly sets with another leg. The researchers found that higher training volumes tended to result in more muscle growth, but that innate differences in trainability influenced hypertrophy far more than training volume. In other words, someone who experiences a lot of muscle growth with high training volumes will probably experience a lot of muscle growth with lower training volumes, and someone who doesn’t experience much growth with low training volumes probably won’t experience that much more growth with higher training volumes. A study by Damas and colleagues (7 – also reviewed in MASS) had similar findings when testing the effect of keeping training variables consistent session-to-session versus varying load, rest intervals, the muscle actions performed, and training volume. Subjects who experienced a lot of growth following varied training were also likely to experience a lot of growth with more consistent training, and subjects who experienced little growth with varied training were unlikely to experience way more or way less growth with consistent training (Figure 3).

Thus far, I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture for folks who want to optimize their training. Maybe manipulating training variables can improve your results slightly, but the vast majority of your results are merely dictated by your innate trainability. However, there’s a notable exception to this rule. Another study by Damas and colleagues tested the effects of different training frequencies (frequencies of 2, 3, and 5 times per week), using a within-subject unilateral design (8). Each training session employed the same volume, such that a frequency of five times per week coincided with 2.5-times more volume than a frequency of 2 times per week. In that study, innate trainability didn’t seem to matter quite as much. Some subjects grew a ton with higher volumes and frequencies (and not very much with lower volumes and frequencies), and some grew a ton with lower volumes and frequencies (and not very much with higher volumes and frequencies). So, while volume itself seems to matter less than innate trainability when training frequencies are the same (6), a single individual can achieve dramatically different results – either better results or worse results – when pairing higher or lower training volumes with higher or lower training frequencies (Figure 4).

I’ve long suspected that relative training intensity was another variable that can influence individual results. Some people really seem to respond well to heavier training, while other people swear by low-load, high-rep training. However, while some studies employing within-subject unilateral designs have tested the effects of different relative training intensities (9 – MASS review10 – MASS review), they haven’t reported individual subject data, which would be necessary to see if individual results do, in fact, significantly differ when training at different relative intensities.

The present study helps fill that gap (1). While it didn’t employ a within-subject unilateral design, the subjects did all complete a relatively long period of both low-load training and moderate-load training. It’s possible that the crossover design may have introduced some sequencing effects (i.e., perhaps subjects respond differently to one training style after a period of training with a different training style), but that seems unlikely, since group-level results of both moderate-load and low-load training seemed unaffected by which training style was performed first. In other words, low-load training seemed similarly effective when it came before moderate-load training and when it followed moderate-load training (and the same was true with moderate-load training, preceding or following a period of low-load training).

Referring back to Figure 2, it doesn’t just show individual results during the first twelve weeks of training versus the last twelve weeks of training. Since subjects changed training styles at the midpoint of the study, it also shows individual results following moderate-load training versus low-load training. Figure 5 displays the same data in a slightly different format (similar to Figure 1), showing that individual hypertrophy responses to one loading scheme have virtually no bearing on individual hypertrophy responses to the other loading scheme.

This is an exciting finding, because it presents us with another clear option to try when “normal” training isn’t producing particularly notable results in a particular trainee. Most hypertrophy-focused training employs a moderate set volume (5-10 sets per muscle group per session), a moderate intensity (loads that let you complete 6-15 reps per set), and a low-to-moderate frequency (training most muscle groups 1-3 times per week). For most people, that produces pretty good results. However, if that doesn’t work particularly well for someone, there aren’t a ton of great troubleshooting recommendations that we know are likely to produce substantially different outcomes. There are some things that might, on average, produce slightly better results (i.e., increasing training volume; 6). There are also plenty of options for which within-subject variability is unquantified. For example, we know that training to failure and stopping a few reps shy of failure tend to produce similar muscle growth, on average, but we don’t know if they tend to produce substantially different results within a single trainee. If stopping a few reps shy of failure doesn’t result in much growth for you, are you likely to achieve meaningfully different results if you start training to failure? We don’t know for sure. Ideally, we’d have a long list of training variables that are known to result in large within-individual differences in muscle growth. However, until now, the Damas study which tested the effects of different volumes and frequencies provided us with the only known set of variables that produce large within-subject differences in muscle growth (8). So, if “normal” hypertrophy training wasn’t working, you could advise someone to double (or halve) their weekly training volume and per-muscle training frequency, and be reasonably confident that such a recommendation would produce substantially different results…but that’s a pretty dramatic recommendation. The present study suggests that a less dramatic recommendation could also be prudent: if sets of 10 aren’t cutting it for you, give sets of 30 a shot instead.

Before wrapping up, I want to tie up a few loose ends.

First, the authors of the present study suggest that their findings demonstrate that shifting from moderate- to low-intensity training or from low- to moderate-intensity training prevents (or at least delays) plateaus, and preserves training responsiveness over a longer period of time (1). Some evidence suggests that hypertrophy tends to slow down quite a bit after about 12 weeks of training (11), but subjects in the present study grew just as much during the last 12 weeks of training as the first 12 weeks of training. However, I’m not sure I agree with the authors’ interpretation of their results. It appears to me that changing training intensities only preserved the same average rate of progress because it dramatically improved the results of the subjects who experienced minimal muscle growth during the first 12 weeks of training. If anything, changing training intensities may have hindered the growth of subjects who experienced substantial muscle growth during the first 12 weeks of training. In other words, average results were similar during both 12-week blocks of training because most of the subjects completed one block of training they responded well to, and one block of training they didn’t respond well to; for about half of the subjects, the first block of training was the effective block, and for the other half of the subjects, the second block of training was the effective block. I think a better takeaway is that you shouldn’t necessarily change training intensity every so often for its own sake; rather, you should change training intensity if it becomes clear that a particular relative training intensity isn’t producing the results you want, but you should stick with a particular relative training intensity as long as it’s still working for you.

Second, this study could be interpreted as a study comparing linear periodization versus reverse linear periodization. As we discussed recently, it appears that linear and reverse linear periodization result in similar muscle growth, on average (12). The present study adds to that body of literature.

Third, the present study beautifully illustrates a pitfall that’s pretty common in the evidence-based fitness community. When you consume a lot of scientific literature, it’s easy to fixate on average results, because most statistical techniques are focused on testing for differences between means. However, averages often cover up a lot of underlying variability. For example, imagine someone asks you, “should I give low-load training a shot? I’ve been doing sets of 8-12 for the past six months, and I haven’t seen any results.” It might be tempting to answer, “don’t waste your time. Low-load and moderate-load training produce similar muscle growth, so if moderate-load training isn’t working for you, low-load training probably won’t either.” While that answer would be based on a kernel of truth (13), it would still be a pretty bad answer. “Thing A and Thing B produce similar results, on average,” is not the same as, “Thing A and Thing B produce similar results for all (or even most) individuals.” When fielding questions or evaluating anecdotes, it’s important to keep that distinction in mind.

Fourth, the present study helps illustrate one of my problems with the concept of identifying high versus low responders to resistance training. Ultimately, if someone is identified as a “high responder,” that just means they responded particularly well to one particular training program. Similarly, if someone is identified as a “low responder,” that just means they responded particularly poorly to a particular training program. Over the course of your training career, I’m sure you can think of periods where you were making rapid progress, and periods when your results were stagnating (or even regressing). If a researcher took a snapshot of your training at various points in your lifting career, they might identify you as a high responder sometimes, and a low responder other times. Thus, the label doesn’t seem particularly meaningful, because your innate ability to respond to training didn’t change – you were the same biological organism the whole time (I assume). In the present study, if the median split technique to identify high versus low responders was repeated after the subjects completed all 24 weeks of training, a full third of the subjects would have switched groups (Table 4). Four of the “high responders” (within the top 50% of responders) after 12 weeks of training would have been categorized as “low responders”  (within the bottom 50% of responders) after 24 weeks of training; similarly, four of the low responders after 12 weeks of training would have been categorized as high responders after 24 weeks of training. After completing a single training program, we really don’t know if a particular individual is a high or low responder to training in a general sense. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that virtually all subjects ended up accruing a substantial amount of lean mass over the course of the study. It’s not uncommon for studies to report that approximately 1/3rd of subjects are “nonresponders” – people who either lose muscle, or experience gains that fall below the limits of reliable detectability. In the present study, 7 out of 24 subjects (29%) either had reductions in lean mass, or increases smaller than 1.3% (the lower end of reliable detectability for the DXA used for lean mass measurements) after the first 12 weeks of training. However, after giving low responders the opportunity to try a new training program for an additional 12 weeks, only two subjects (8%) would have been classified as nonresponders after all 24 weeks of training. With all of that in mind, I think most classifications of “high responders,” “low responders,” and “nonresponders” are essentially bunk. At minimum, there’s not great evidence that such a classification is particularly persistent or reliable, and the present study provides evidence that such classifications are not persistent or reliable.

Finally, just to address a potential criticism of this article, I’m sure some readers may be concerned that the subjects of the present study were untrained postmenopausal women. First, I don’t think that’s inherently a limitation; postmenopausal women do exist, after all, and some of them read Stronger By Science. So, even if the results of this study don’t generalize beyond that population, the results are certainly still valuable. Second, and more importantly, I do suspect that the results of the present study will generalize to other populations. In studies on older adults, I’m primarily concerned about three things when assessing whether the results are likely to generalize: 1) are the subjects healthy enough to handle a robust training stimulus, 2) are the results broadly in line with studies on other populations, and 3) are the subjects so old that they simply don’t experience a robust training response anymore. This study ticks all three boxes. First, the subjects were completing 18 sets of quad training to failure (or near failure) per week, so they were clearly capable of handling some pretty challenging training. Second, it’s very well-established in a variety of populations (including both trained and untrained lifters) that moderate-load and low-load training produce similar hypertrophy, on average. That was the main point of intersection between the present study and the broader literature, and the results of the present study were perfectly in line with the broader literature. Third, the subjects clearly experienced a robust hypertrophy response: thigh lean soft tissue mass increased by an average of 0.7kg (7.6%) over 24 weeks of training. A 2020 meta-analysis found that whole-body lean mass increases by about 1.5kg (about 2.5%) after about 10 weeks of training, on average, in subjects between 18 and 40 years old (14). You can’t make a strict apples-to-apples comparison between those two figures – thigh lean soft tissue mass isn’t identical to whole-body lean mass, and 24 weeks is much longer than 10 weeks – but they’re certainly in the same general ballpark. Thus, while I’d certainly like to see these results replicated in other populations, I’m not too terribly concerned about a lack of generalizability.

Next Steps

I’d love to see the present results replicated in other populations. I’d also love to see this same study design applied to other training approaches. As just one of many potential possibilities, I’d love to see a study investigating whether people truly get desensitized to training volume over time. There’s a popular idea proposing that if your training volume creeps too high, you’ll be unable to continue building muscle if you try shifting to a lower-volume approach. A crossover study could investigate that claim. One group could perform 12 weeks of high-volume training (maybe 20 sets per muscle group per week), followed by 12 weeks of lower-volume training (maybe 10 sets per muscle group per week). Another group would complete the same blocks of training in the opposite order (lower volume followed by higher volume). The study could investigate total muscle growth over the full 24 weeks of training, and also examine whether the high-volume-to-low-volume group was unable to continue building muscle during the lower volume block of training. 

Application and Takeaways

If moderate-load training isn’t helping you build muscle at the rate you’d like, low-load training might just help you get over your plateau. Even though low-load and moderate-load training are similarly effective at building muscle, on average, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your individual results will be similar with both approaches. The present study demonstrates that how well you respond to training at one intensity isn’t predictive of how well you’ll respond to training at a very different intensity.

References Carneiro MAS, de Oliveira Júnior GN, Sousa JFR, Martins FM, Santagnello SB, Souza MVC, Orsatti FL. Different load intensity transition schemes to avoid plateau and no-response in lean body mass gain in postmenopausal women. Sport Sci Health. 2022. During the very first week of training, subjects only completed one set per exercise. They completed two sets per exercise in week 2. They completed three sets per exercise in the subsequent 22 weeks of training. Altman DG, Royston P. The cost of dichotomising continuous variables. BMJ. 2006 May 6;332(7549):1080. doi: 10.1136/bmj.332.7549.1080. PMID: 16675816; PMCID: PMC1458573. Beaven CM, Cook CJ, Gill ND. Significant strength gains observed in rugby players after specific resistance exercise protocols based on individual salivary testosterone responses. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Mar;22(2):419-25. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31816357d4. PMID: 18550956. Jones N, Kiely J, Suraci B, Collins DJ, de Lorenzo D, Pickering C, Grimaldi KA. A genetic-based algorithm for personalized resistance training. Biol Sport. 2016 Jun;33(2):117-26. doi: 10.5604/20831862.1198210. Epub 2016 Apr 1. PMID: 27274104; PMCID: PMC4885623. Hammarström D, Øfsteng S, Koll L, Hanestadhaugen M, Hollan I, Apró W, Whist JE, Blomstrand E, Rønnestad BR, Ellefsen S. Benefits of higher resistance-training volume are related to ribosome biogenesis. J Physiol. 2020 Feb;598(3):543-565. doi: 10.1113/JP278455. Epub 2020 Jan 15. PMID: 31813190. Damas F, Angleri V, Phillips SM, Witard OC, Ugrinowitsch C, Santanielo N, Soligon SD, Costa LAR, Lixandrão ME, Conceição MS, Libardi CA. Myofibrillar protein synthesis and muscle hypertrophy individualized responses to systematically changing resistance training variables in trained young men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2019 Sep 1;127(3):806-815. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00350.2019. Epub 2019 Jul 3. PMID: 31268828. Damas F, Barcelos C, Nóbrega SR, Ugrinowitsch C, Lixandrão ME, Santos LMED, Conceição MS, Vechin FC, Libardi CA. Individual Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength Responses to High vs. Low Resistance Training Frequencies. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Apr;33(4):897-901. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002864. PMID: 30289872. Lasevicius T, Ugrinowitsch C, Schoenfeld BJ, Roschel H, Tavares LD, De Souza EO, Laurentino G, Tricoli V. Effects of different intensities of resistance training with equated volume load on muscle strength and hypertrophy. Eur J Sport Sci. 2018 Jul;18(6):772-780. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2018.1450898. Epub 2018 Mar 22. PMID: 29564973. Nóbrega SR, Ugrinowitsch C, Pintanel L, Barcelos C, Libardi CA. Effect of Resistance Training to Muscle Failure vs. Volitional Interruption at High- and Low-Intensities on Muscle Mass and Strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2018 Jan;32(1):162-169. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001787. PMID: 29189407. Counts BR, Buckner SL, Mouser JG, Dankel SJ, Jessee MB, Mattocks KT, Loenneke JP. Muscle growth: To infinity and beyond? Muscle Nerve. 2017 Dec;56(6):1022-1030. doi: 10.1002/mus.25696. Epub 2017 Jun 11. PMID: 28543604. DE Camargo JBB, Brigatto FA, Braz TV, Germano MD, Nascimento GS, DA Conceição RM, Teixeira I, Sanches TC, Aoki MS, Lopes CR. Order of Resistance Training Cycles to Develop Strength and Muscle Thickness in Resistance-Trained Men: A Pilot Study. Int J Exerc Sci. 2021 Aug 1;14(4):644-656. PMID: 34567366; PMCID: PMC8439707. Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Dec;31(12):3508-3523. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002200. PMID: 28834797. Benito PJ, Cupeiro R, Ramos-Campo DJ, Alcaraz PE, Rubio-Arias JÁ. A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Resistance Training on Whole-Body Muscle Growth in Healthy Adult Males. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Feb 17;17(4):1285. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17041285. PMID: 32079265; PMCID: PMC7068252. The actual term used in the study was “thigh free-bone LBM.” I’m pretty sure they meant lean soft tissue mass of the thigh (all of the lean mass of the thigh, minus bone mass – lean soft tissue mass is the most common term for this), but I’m not 100% positive.

The post Can You Avoid Plateaus by Manipulating Relative Training Intensity? appeared first on Stronger by Science.

- Greg Nuckols
How many additional calories does each pound of muscle burn?

A recent discussion with Shane Duquette in the MASS Facebook group 1 prompted me to consider something I hadn’t given much thought to in ages: How many extra calories do you burn per day by gaining a pound of muscle?

When you start working out, it’s almost a rite of passage to “learn” that building muscle dramatically increases your daily energy expenditure. You may hear it from a big dude in the gym, you may read it in an online article, or you may encounter it on social media, but you’re virtually guaranteed to “learn” that muscle burns a ton of calories, even at rest. I’ve seen suggestions ranging from 20 calories per pound per day on the low end, to 100 calories per pound per day on the high end, with 30-50 being the typical figure.

It would be nice if that were true – I think everyone would love to start working out, build 10 pounds of muscle, and find that they can eat an additional 300-500 calories per day, independent of their activity levels. Unfortunately…it’s not true.

On the contrary, skeletal muscle only burns about 6 calories per pound (13 calories per kilogram) per day at rest, according to the research. So, when you see folks suggesting that building muscle dramatically increases your energy expenditure, there’s a pretty high likelihood that some sciency person will chime in and “correct” the record, stating that building 10 pounds of muscle should only increase your energy expenditure by about 60 calories per day.

However, the truth isn’t quite that simple. It is true that the tissue-specific basal metabolic rate of muscle is just 6 calories per pound per day, but there’s more to energy expenditure than basal metabolism.

You can split your total energy expenditure up in a variety of different ways, but for our purposes here, it’s easiest to just sort energy expenditure into two buckets: active energy expenditure, and non-active energy expenditure.

Non-active energy expenditure includes basal metabolism (the energy you expend each day to just “keep the lights on” – keep your organs working, carry out basic cellular processes, etc.), and the thermic effect of feeding (the energy you burn to digest, absorb, and metabolize the food you eat). Active energy expenditure includes everything else – energy you expend walking, sitting upright instead of lying down, running, lifting weights, washing dishes, fidgeting, etc.

Gaining a pound of muscle affects both categories of energy expenditure. The figure of 6 calories per pound per day only accounts for the effects of muscle on non-active energy expenditure. To estimate the impact of gaining a pound of muscle on active energy expenditure, we can rely on a simple relationship: for a given level of activity, active energy expenditure scales linearly with body mass.

Calories are a unit of energy, and energy expenditure scales with the amount of work you perform, assuming gross movement economy doesn’t radically change. Here, we’re using the physics definition of work: Work = Force × Distance. Furthermore, Force = Mass × Acceleration. So, Work = Mass × Acceleration × Distance. In other words, if acceleration and distance remain constant (i.e., if you move around about the same amount, in about the same manner), work, and therefore energy expenditure, scales roughly 1:1 with mass.

If the mass you’re moving around increases by 1%, your active energy expenditure should increase by about 1%, assuming your activity levels don’t change. That’s true regardless of whether total mass increases due to an increase in muscle mass, an increase in fat mass, an increase in hydration, or simply wearing heavier clothes.

So, we just need to estimate your active energy expenditure. To do that, we’ll need to do a bit of math. Don’t worry. It’s easy math. There’s also a calculator at the end of this article that will do all of the math for you.

To start with, estimate your total daily energy expenditure. If you track your food, and you have a pretty good idea of how many calories you need to eat each day to simply maintain your weight, use that figure (by definition, your maintenance calories should roughly equal your total daily energy expenditure). If you don’t track your food, you can use a calculator like the one at the end of this article to get a rough estimate.

Next, subtract your non-active energy expenditure from your total daily energy expenditure. To do this, estimate your basal metabolic rate (the calculator at the end of this article will do that for you) and your thermic effect of feeding. Thermic effect of feeding is roughly equal to 10% of your total energy intake. So, assuming you’re not in an enormous energy surplus or deficit, you can just use 10% of your total daily energy expenditure as a rough estimate. Subtract your basal metabolic rate and thermic effect of feeding from your total daily energy expenditure to estimate active energy expenditure.

Then, divide your active energy expenditure by your body mass to estimate your active energy expenditure per pound. Gaining or losing a pound of any tissue (including muscle) should increase or decrease your active energy expenditure by roughly this amount.

Now you know how much an additional pound of muscle will increase both your active energy expenditure, and your non-active energy expenditure. Add these two figures together, and you have the final answer: how much your total energy expenditure should increase when you gain a pound of muscle.

Here’s a simple illustration:

Let’s assume I weigh 200 pounds, my basal metabolic rate is 1700 calories per day, and I burn 3000 calories per day in total. If I’m not in a huge energy surplus or deficit, I can assume the thermic effect of feeding accounts for about 300 calories.

So, to calculate my active energy expenditure, I’d just subtract my basal metabolic rate and thermic effect of feeding from my total daily energy expenditure: 3000 – 1700 – 300 = 1000 calories per day.

Then, I’d divide my active energy expenditure by my body weight to calculate my active energy expenditure per pound: 1000 ÷ 200 = 5 calories per pound.

Since I already know that gaining a pound of muscle will increase my non-active energy expenditure by 6 calories per day, I just need to add my per-pound active energy expenditure to estimate the impact of gaining a pound of muscle on my total energy expenditure: 6 + 5 = 11 calories per pound per day.

EE = energy expenditure. TDEE = total daily energy expenditure. BMR = basal metabolic rate. TEF = thermic effect of feeding. Effects on active EE per pound of tissue assume no major changes to activity levels. Non-active EE per pound of muscle tissue is actually closer to 5.9kcal/lb (converting from 13kcal/kg), but the 0.1kcal/lb difference is functionally meaningless. You can multiply the final figure by 2.2046 to calculate kcal/kg of muscle.

Most people have an active energy expenditure of about 1-6 calories per pound. So, if you’re quite sedentary, gaining a pound of muscle should increase your total energy expenditure by about 7 calories. On the other hand, if you’re quite active, gaining a pound of muscle should increase your total energy expenditure by about 12 calories. If you’re extremely active (for example, if you’re an elite endurance athlete), gaining a pound of muscle might increase your total energy expenditure by up to 15-16 calories per pound. But, for most people, most of the time, 9-10 calories per pound is a decent ballpark estimate.

I’ve added two versions of the calculator at the bottom of this page. The basic version just asks you to fill in information anyone would know: height, weight, age, sex, and activity level. The advanced version lets you specify any of the intermediate input variables (TDEE, BMR, TEF) to test specific scenarios.

The takeaway from this article should be pretty straightforward: The next time someone asks how many calories a pound of muscle burns, the bros and the nerds are both wrong. The bros pulled a random figure out of their ass (or they’re just passing along a figure that someone else pulled out of some other ass), and the nerds are only correct if you never leave your bed. When you account for the impact on both active and non-active energy expenditure, we can estimate that each pound of muscle you gain will increase your total energy expenditure by about 9-10 calories per day in total.

So, gaining 10 pounds of muscle still won’t increase your energy expenditure by 300-500 calories per day, but 90-100 is at least a little better than 60. /* Add some style to the calculator */<br /> .container {<br /> width: 80%; /* Use percentage instead of pixel */<br /> margin: 0 auto;<br /> border: 1px solid black;<br /> padding: 20px;<br /> font-family: Arial, sans-serif;<br /> box-sizing: border-box; /* Include padding and border in width calculation */<br /> }</p> <p> .input {<br /> width: 100%;<br /> margin-bottom: 10px;<br /> padding: 5px;<br /> border: 1px solid gray;<br /> font-size: 1rem; /* Use rem instead of pixel */<br /> box-sizing: border-box; /* Include padding and border in width calculation */<br /> }</p> <p> .label {<br /> display: block;<br /> margin-bottom: 5px;<br /> font-weight: bold;<br /> font-size: 1.2rem; /* Use rem instead of pixel */<br /> }</p> <p> .radio {<br /> margin-right: 10px;<br /> font-size: 1rem; /* Use rem instead of pixel */<br /> }</p> <p> .checkbox {<br /> margin-right: 10px;<br /> font-size: 1rem; /* Use rem instead of pixel */<br /> }</p> <p> .button {<br /> width: 100%;<br /> padding: 10px;<br /> background-color: green;<br /> color: white;<br /> font-size: 1.2rem; /* Use rem instead of pixel */<br /> cursor: pointer;<br /> box-sizing: border-box; /* Include padding and border in width calculation */<br /> }</p> <p> .result {<br /> margin-top: 20px;<br /> font-size: 1.5rem; /* Use rem instead of pixel */<br /> font-weight: bold;<br /> color: blue;</p> <p>}</p> <p>@media (max-width:600px) { /* Add a media query for small screens */</p> <p> .container {<br /> width: 95%; /* Increase the width of the container */<br /> padding: 10px; /* Reduce the padding of the container */<br /> }</p> <p> .input {<br /> font-size: 0.8rem; /* Reduce the font size of the input */<br /> }</p> <p> .label {<br /> font-size: 1rem; /* Reduce the font size of the label */<br /> }</p> <p> .radio {<br /> font-size: 0.8rem; /* Reduce the font size of the radio */<br /> }</p> <p> .checkbox {<br /> font-size: 0.8rem; /* Reduce the font size of the checkbox */<br /> }</p> <p> .button {<br /> font-size: 1rem; /* Reduce the font size of the button */<br /> padding: 5px; /* Reduce the padding of the button */<br /> }</p> <p> .result {<br /> font-size: 1.2rem; /* Reduce the font size of the result */</p> <p>}<br />

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The post How many additional calories does each pound of muscle burn? appeared first on Stronger by Science.

- The MASS Team
Attempt Selection in Powerlifting: An Interview With All-Time Great Coach Matt Gary

Maximizing powerlifting performance isn’t just about being strong – it also requires performing effectively on meet day. One of the most important aspects of gameday success is the coach and lifter’s attempt selection strategy. Which weight should you open with? Do you go for broke on your second attempt or save that for your third attempt? How do strategies change with experience level and the goal of hitting a personal record versus winning an international meet? 

Matt Gary, who has coached on various national and international powerlifting teams over the past 25+ years, was kind enough to sit down with Eric Helms and Mike Zourdos to provide his world-class knowledge on the topic. Matt is recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts in powerlifting attempt selection, and his influence on the topic has been felt worldwide for many years. Recently, Matt’s theories and personal statistical analyses of powerlifting meets have found support in the scientific literature. In this interview, he shares how his experiences in the trenches and his own data collection informed his gameday coaching tactics.

Note: This interview was published in the June 2023 edition of MASS Research Review. If you want more content like this, subscribe to MASS.

Watch the full interview above, or download the audio-only version here.

Interview transcript

Mike (00:00:01):

Hi, everyone. Welcome to the first ever interview cover story in volume seven, issue six of MASS for June 2023. Today, Eric Helms and I, my fellow MASS reviewer, are here with Matt Gary. Matt, how’s it going?

Matt (00:00:15):

Outstanding. Thank you so much for having me.

Mike (00:00:18):

We’ll hear more from Matt in just a moment, but it is just such a pleasure to have him here. The reason that Matt is here today is because we’re gonna focus this cover story on attempt selection in powerlifting. Also in this issue, Dr. Helms reviewed a paper titled ‘Analysis of Competition Performance Leading to Success at the International Powerlifting Federation World Championships between 2013 and 2019.’ Now, this paper, as the title suggests, analyzes data looking at what factors were related in terms of attempt selection to winning competitions at IPF Raw Worlds to maybe not placing so well. Now, Matt Gary is here because he’s somebody that I admire a great deal. He taught me almost everything I know about powerlifting, and he is the world’s foremost expert, in my opinion, on attempt selection in powerlifting.

A lot of what he has been saying was looked at in this scientific publication. Matt has been saying this ever since I met him about 15 years ago, and I’m sure well before that. So it was a pleasure to see it come out. As soon as Eric and I saw this paper, we said, “We gotta get Matt in MASS.” Then to think, hey, we gotta make it the cover story. This is not something that people should miss. Now that this paper has come out, and for Matt to be able to not only talk about some of the data, but talk about his experience, what he does in the trenches, and what he’s learned over the years. 

For those who aren’t familiar, can you give us a background on yourself, your experience in powerlifting and strength and conditioning, the facilities you’ve worked in and owned, and how many lifters you’ve coached over the years?

Matt (00:02:08):

Thank you both again for having me. It’s quite an honor to be featured and to collaborate with you guys on this topic that I’m so passionate about. So I really appreciate it. I’ll try to keep the introduction specific to powerlifting so that I don’t over talk. I was first introduced to the sport of powerlifting in 1982. I was only 10 years old at the time and our new football coach came from the ADFPA, which stands for American Drug-Free Powerlifting Association, which was USA Powerlifting before USA Powerlifting became a thing. 

My football coach, he said, look, I’ve got something that can help you become bigger and stronger, and that’s gonna translate to your performance on the football field. As a 10 year old, I’m like, “Hey, man, you had me at bigger and stronger.” I wanted to be a better football player, but I figured, hey, if I could become bigger and stronger, that would be a win. So I squatted with him for the very first time on the very first day, the next morning I woke up and could literally not get outta bed. And that’s not exaggerating. I had never experienced in my entire life muscle soreness like that in my legs, and it was not something that he warned me about. So I was appalled. I literally had thought that I had done something wrong and was really scared into quitting and saying, “you know what? I’m never gonna do this again. I don’t wanna do this again.” For whatever reason, he didn’t tell me that muscle soreness kind of comes with the territory, so to speak, especially in your first application of such an endeavor. 

So if we kind of fast forward through high school, I went to Baylor University in Texas and I walked on the football team there and eventually earned a partial scholarship. But my strength and conditioning coach there turned me onto the squat, bench, and deadlift as a means of getting stronger and improving sports performance. So I ultimately ended up transferring back from Baylor University to the University of Maryland, killing two birds with one stone, which was getting out of Waco, Texas, and then getting back to the University of Maryland where I could then study kinesiology.

So I started studying kinesiology and ultimately got my degree from the University of Maryland in kinesiology, graduating in 1994. In and around that time I was training at the University of Maryland training like a powerlifter doing squats, bench, and deadlifts, and learned about a facility that was only about two miles away from the university called Maryland Athletic Club. That was where legendary Kirk Karwoski and my future wife Suzanne “Sioux-z” Hartwig-Gary were training at the time. And lo and behold, I had no idea that this powerlifting mecca was literally in my backyard. So I started training there and continued to train like a powerlifter and now with other powerlifters. I started competing in 1995. So that was kind of my first exposure to an actual gym where people trained like powerlifters and I immersed myself that way, in training alongside these legendary lifters.

Then I didn’t get my first exposure to international level competition until 2003. But that’s kind of my background in terms of powerlifting. I’ve done some strength and conditioning, obviously I’ve interned at the University of Maryland. I also interned with the Washington Redskins Strength and Conditioning staff back in 2007. And I was the strength and conditioning coach in 1995 at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, which is a nationally renowned private school that is nationally contending in football and basketball every single year. And I had the great privilege and honor of working with them and being their strength and conditioning coach, but that should hopefully kind of tie a ribbon around some of my background and how I got into the sport.

Mike (00:06:22):

Yeah, it’s interesting to hear all that. You mentioned DeMatha, which is very famous, especially for the basketball program. But you know a lot of these places, and I do too, Matt because we went to the same high school, is that correct? 


Yes, sir. Bullis.

Mike: Yeah. We went to the Bullis School and I met you in 2009, I believe. We spoke on the phone a year or two before that, you probably don’t remember. I was actually the strength and conditioning coach at Bullis, and I called you; I asked somebody at Rockville Fitness about barbells. I was looking to get one for the gym and they said, “I don’t know, but you gotta call Matt Gary.” And I didn’t know you at the time when I called you up. You gave me some recommendations. But I met you in 2009. It was one of my favorite days of powerlifting ever, I came back for the USAPL Maryland States. I was living in Tallahassee, Florida, and there was a blizzard in Maryland and the meet was canceled, but you had a blizzard meet for those that could make it.

And I made it out to the gym. That was a phenomenal day. That video I think exists on YouTube. And at that time you started talking about attempt selection. I remember you asking me what I was gonna open with in the meet and I had some numbers and you were watching me lift, and I could just see the look on your face. Like, “this guy, he doesn’t get it yet, this guy doesn’t get it.” That was a very enlightening day for me. Then I went home and later that day, or within a few weeks, I read your article, which I still read and reference and send to people to this day, which was written in 2009 on the Maryland Powerlifting website. That article was on attempt selection, like the paper that Eric reviewed in this issue of MASS, which, if you haven’t read that article yet, I would go check out the written text.

It’s amazing all these years later that you nailed it in that 2009 article. You were right on the money with what the scientific data now show, and this is a long time ago. So can you just give us your general overarching theory on attempt selection and how you came about these thoughts? Was it through just theory? Was it through practice and competing or coaching? But what’s your overall theory on attempt selection that you wrote about in this article? Then how was the way that you kind of came about these theories?

Matt (00:09:08):

We’ll start with the overarching theory. I mean, you have to understand what is the goal of the competition. So in a powerlifting competition, the goal is to achieve your biggest or heaviest total possible and the best way to do that is by making as many lifts as possible because powerlifters are afforded nine total attempts, and that’s only three per discipline. It stands to reason that the probability of building a larger total increases with the number of successful lifts. That’s how it works out. So if you can step away from strength for just a moment, and kind of equate kilos lifted to points scored, then the lifter with the most points at the end of the day is the winner. So the overarching theory or goal of attempt selection is to set your lifter up to increase the probability of his or her success.

You do that by making more lifts. So making nine out of nine is better than eight out of nine and is better than seven. I came to that realization just through coaching and through serving as an assistant coach. I said my first exposure to international competition was 2003 at the IPF Open Worlds in Chicago. That was the equipped Worlds at the time, I was dating my now wife, Sioux-z Hartwig-Gary. She asked me to come along with her and I traveled to the World Championships and I became her personal handler that day, and literally just went into the warm up room and realized, “holy smokes, I’m completely out of my element here.” Let me obviously defer to the national team head coach, which at the time was Dr. Larry Maile, who is also the USA Powerlifting President. He would ultimately become my mentor and my teacher. So I served that day as a handler, and then I wound up helping the rest of that week, and that was my first exposure to international competition. 

Ultimately every time that Sioux-z would make a team, Larry would then invite me back as his assistant. So I immersed myself as an assistant coach on five national teams from 2003 to 2008 until I received my first head coaching position for the NAPF team in 2008. So those five years were really formative in shaping my perspective on game day coaching and strategic attempt selection because I’m shadowing my mentor the entire time, Larry, as he coached.

Then my thinking shifted from seeing competition as a test day, as this strength exhibition, as a max out day, to understanding how to build a total and win even when our lifter wasn’t the strongest. I thought that it was a foregone conclusion that the strongest lifters would just always win, and that the weaker opponents had no chance. So I experienced this paradigm shift and was fascinated at how a weaker lifter could somehow, through strategic attempt selection, beat somebody who was clearly stronger. So that was literally and figuratively the moment when it became clear to me that powerlifting was truly a game, a sport with strategy and no longer just an exhibition of lifters showcasing feats of strength. So that was around the time that I began to do this deep dive into gathering data, into looking at the statistics from powerlifting competitions and through the years, to date, I’ve looked at over 17,000 individual performances from 112 competitions starting in 2000. That’s about the time that the data is reliable and verifiable. When you go back before 2000, the results are kind of sketchy and you get these incomplete meet results. So since 2000, and I’ve looked at the past 22 years, up through 2022, that’s about the time that I stopped collecting the data. So 112 competitions over 22 years. But I found that the world champs at IPF World Championships were averaging 7.4 successful attempts out of nine. So that’s about an 82% success rate. So the best of the best are averaging about seven and a half attempts out of nine.

So they’re making at least one third attempt, you know, per discipline, pouring into their total. That’s kind of how I came to that realization that it’s truly a sport with strategy. Nowadays, I mean, that’s never been more true, right? Because the talent pool is rising, it’s getting deeper and deeper. So you’re not gonna get these one-off lifters. I mean, you still will see them occasionally, but it’s become more rare, that one can go into a competition and win on four or five attempts. I mean, you’ve gotta use all the bullets in your gun and make eight or nine lifts if you want a chance of being on top of the podium at the end of the day.

Eric (00:14:21):

Well said, Matt. I think that’s a really great intro that aligns exactly with what the findings of the paper that I reviewed in this issue of MASS also reported. I think now with that background on who you are, how you came to these conclusions, your overarching theory and the actual data collection that you’ve done, which by the way, isn’t too dissimilar to what has actually been done in the peer-reviewed literature. We can actually get into the specifics. Before we do, I just want to say that my coaching philosophy before I met you and Mike in the same place in 2013 in Australia, when I first became aware of who you were and then started paying a lot of attention to things you had to say from that point on because I was so impressed, it fundamentally changed how I do platform coaching.

I had the privilege and opportunity to see that in person as an assistant to you with Bryce at two different World Championships. From that point on, I wouldn’t even say I became a better platform coach. Rather I got the opportunity to be a good platform coach because I actually had a pathway that made sense. So all credit due there. Now to get into the specifics, let’s start with the first thing that a lifter has to do, and that’s their opener. So what would you suggest that a lifter use as their opener or what’s the underlying recommendation based upon, and when does it differ? I would imagine, you know, if someone is cutting weight and they have to squat first, it might be a little different than their bench press. So talk to me about the nuances of first attempt selection and what you generally advise someone put on the bar for their first attempt.

Matt (00:15:58):

When I started looking at the statistics, I wanted to tie in some real world numbers, so I started looking at the data and trying to find out where people who are successful with their third attempts are opening relative to their third attempt and relative to their max, if I know what their max is. So what the data reveal is that an opener, typically it’s gonna be somewhere between 90 to 92% of 1RM. I find that is our sweet spot, or the number that I kind of like to use is right in the middle, about 91% for most people. You know that’s gonna be somewhere around your best triple. So it’s whatever you can do for three reps to competition standard.

So that’s a good place, particularly for a novice to start if they don’t know or have never tested a true 1RM, is take whatever you can get as your best triple to competition standard. That usually translates to a safe place to open, regardless of discipline. As you become more experienced, higher level, really elite level lifters, you could probably use their best double and that might translate to a safe place. But of course, by then they probably have tested their maxes so many times and know where their true 1RM is. So once again, kind of that sweet spot is right around circa 91%. What we have found is there’s not a whole lot of variability between disciplines other than maybe in the bench press. You could probably open just a touch heavier in the bench press because the jumps tend to be a little bit lower.

There’s less absolute load on the bar typically, unless you’re talking about some of these elite-level one-off bench specialists. So then you might open as high as 92%. To your point, Eric, sometimes lifters would be wise to perhaps open just a little bit lighter in the squat or at the lower end of that range because first of all, it’s the first lift of the day and there’s usually some anxiety and some built-in stress associated with the fact that this is the first lift of the day, and so the nerves are kind of kicking in. With the deadlift, the rationale might be, “Hey, this is the final event. Let me take just a pinch off the first one to preserve energy for that all important third that I’m gonna need.” But typically speaking, other than that, most of the openers, again, tend to kind of hover right around 91%. That seems to be a nice jumping off point that gets you into the meet safely. It’s something that you can hit to competition standard, it’s “heavy,” you know, because it’s above 90%, but it’s not a weight that anybody should really have fear of missing, particularly if they can perform that for two to three good quality reps to competition standard.

Mike (00:18:55):

Hey, Matt, what would you say to somebody that said to you, “Hey okay, my best triple though, but that’s a little bit light. I can do that for three. Why am I doing that for one? I’m gonna go a little bit more.” What’s your response to them, in terms of “I’m gonna go 9.5 RPE, maybe a 9, I could maybe do one more, but that’s a little bit light.”

Matt (00:19:29):

So I try to talk them off the ledge and tell them that as we add load, as we increase intensity to the bar, there is less wiggle room, there’s less margin of error. You need to dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ so to speak, as we do this. So the goal of the first one is not to win the competition, it’s to literally just put points on the board to get into the competition to guarantee, I’ve hit my first one, now I can secure a total, versus when you miss an opening attempt, now your back is against the wall. Now you’re adding this unnecessary stress upon yourself. Look, momentum in powerlifting competition is gonna build positively or it’s gonna build negatively. So as our good friend and colleague Mike Tuchscherer always likes to say is, “let’s build momentum.” And so you wanna build positive momentum, that’s what an opener does. So I would try to talk the lifter off of the ledge and say, “look, man, we’re just trying to get you in the meet and build some forward progress.” It creates a good jumping off point to get to the second attempt.

Mike (00:20:35):

I think that’s a phenomenal way to look at it and something that I didn’t really think too much of. We’ve joked about it before, “why don’t I just open with my PR? I have three chances at it, right?” The thing I think people need to keep in mind with this is if you go a little bit heavier, the chances of you missing it increase the chances of you getting a little nervous. If you’re not feeling great that day, all of a sudden, 95% is a lot closer to 100%. If you miss that, that’s a lot of fatigue from missing a lift. It’s a lot different than a snatch. If you miss it, there isn’t that essential component to it. You might get it on the next one, but if you miss that, especially due to strength, you’re gonna be in rough shape. Then, like Matt said, you bomb out of the meet if you missed that one. So it’s not really about getting the most, it’s a stepping stone really to put yourself in the best position to lift the most when you can later on. As you said, not all the strongest individuals win the competition, and if they make that mistake and you hit your opener, you could slide right in there and win something. So with that said, even though the opener shouldn’t be a problem, let’s say somebody misses it. Maybe they miss it for strength, maybe they miss it because they miss a command, whatever it might be. If that happens and they miss an opener, what would you recommend? Does that affect how your strategy is after that? Or do you still move on ahead?

Matt (00:22:08):

So let’s start by laying just one simple ground rule. If your lifter misses the opener on strength, we’re obviously gonna repeat that attempt, right? I can’t think of any scenario where if an opener was missed on strength, why you would want to therefore increase the attempt, that doesn’t make any sense. So we can kind of get that outta the way. Now the answer to the remainder of your question is situationally based. It’s gonna be based on the lifter’s experience. It’s gonna be based on their goals and objectives for the day, and naturally based upon the level of competition. So to your point, if a novice misses their opening attempt, particularly if it’s a first time novice, if this is their very first competition, I would say the vast majority of the time we are going to repeat the attempt unless it’s something that they absolutely blew out of the water, and then they missed it on something silly like a rack command.

They were just over anxious, you know, like an opening squat. They just destroyed the squat. They were plenty deep, they went to competition standard, they did all the right things, but then they rushed into the rack or something of that nature. I would just back up just a bit and say– and I don’t say this to sound self-righteous or holier than thou – but that’s also incumbent upon the coach to practice these commands in competition with the lifter, right? One of the biggest compliments that our lifters get, who are novices that we work with, is that we’ll have people come out of the audience and look at them and realize that this was their first time. They’ll compliment us by saying, “Your lifters look like the most polished lifters and the most seasoned veteran lifters here on the day, because they obeyed all of the commands.”

They had crisp and clean walkouts, and they executed to standard. So there’s some groundwork that the coaches need to do before the competition. But having said that, like our discussion before we got on air today, you know, humans are fallible. We get nervous, we make mistakes. So in those particular situations where they miss on something like a rack command, then we might go ahead and move up to the second attempt. Or if we’re a little bit uncertain, maybe when we kind of go halfway between the opener and the second attempt and go somewhere in there with an experienced level lifter, it really does depend upon their objective and the level of the competition and also their opponents. What I mean by that is if you have an experienced level lifter, or you have, say an intermediate level lifter who might be competing for the sake of hitting a qualifying total that day, they’re not necessarily concerned with where they’re placing, they simply want to procure a total, to qualify them to go to, like a nationals or something, then maybe we might repeat the opener, take it again, or just have a small increase.

But I’d like to give an example. At this past World Championships in 2022, in the 93 kg class we had Chance Mitchell competing for the United States of America and Chance missed his opening squat on a technicality. I believe it had something to do with his hands not being entirely secured around the bar or something to that effect. So he had to replace the bar, and then he wound up missing his opener. So he was stuck in a weight class where there were literally four or five lifters, any of which could have won that day. It was just gonna come down to who made the most attempts and who was there kind of at the end, where if Chance repeated that attempt, he was essentially already just forfeiting because by that point, he was gonna potentially lose between 15 to 17.5 kg, which would be commensurate with the jumps that he would normally take based upon his strength level.

So he and his coach, Arian Khamesi, wisely had already discussed this in prior game planning, and they went ahead and went up to their second attempt anyway, because the strength was there. It moved really well. He just got called on some weird kind of one-off technicality. So in those situations, at a very, very high level where if you basically repeat your opener, you might as well be saying I have no chance of placing now, or I have no chance of first place. When your objective matter of factly is to win and you have the opportunity to win based on the data, based on your strength level, then in that case you just go ahead. Of course, he’s a more seasoned lifter as well, while that was his first World Championships, it was not his first rodeo in terms of high level competition. So at those particular instances, you can give the benefit of the doubt to the lifter and say, “Hey, I know you’re not gonna make that same mistake twice. We feel comfortable about moving up with you.” So those are kind of some situational scenarios where one might stay with the opener with a first time novice, or something like that. Or in the situation of an experienced lifter, go up.

Eric (00:26:50):

And Chance went on to become world champion partially because of that decision. So it was probably the right call, I would say the so-called proof is in the pudding. So I think that’s really helpful. Now we’re on the board, we’re building that positive momentum. We’ve gotten the jitters out, especially on the squat, maybe a counter for the fact that we had to cut weight and our strength was temporarily down while we’re re-hydrating. Second attempt time comes up. So what would you suggest for the second attempt? Then on top of that, are there times where the planned second needs to be adjusted based upon the first, or are these both sort of just set in stone? What are we looking at here and does it change based upon which discipline we’re in, squat, bench or deadlift?

Matt (00:27:36):

Yeah, so that’s a great question. So once again, let’s go back to the data first. What did the data say and the data reveal? The second attempt is typically gonna be somewhere between 95% to 97% 1RM. Again, like we said, our sweet spot for the opener was about 91%. My personal sweet spot, and what I’ve found anecdotally and over years of experience works best is right around 96%, or 96.5% for that second attempt. I think what we have to understand as coaches and as competitors, but mainly as coaches, is that every single attempt is essentially a diagnostic tool and a data point where the coach observes the lift in real-time and then objectively, unemotionally determines what does my lifter have left in the tank based on that data point, based on what I just saw?

So, while 96.5% is our sweet spot, that comes with the understanding that we may go a little bit lighter if the opener doesn’t move as planned or it felt heavier, it was sluggish, or there was a technical abnormality that we experienced, or we might aim for the top end of that range around 97% if the opener absolutely flies and it’s faster than we anticipated. However, I don’t recommend going any heavier than 97% of 1RM on a second attempt, because oftentimes what that will do is, it’s not a risk of missing, it’s more that it’ll deplete energy for the all-important third attempt. So if you go heavier on the second attempt outside of that range, you’re just oftentimes using up too much gas in the tank. Situations can vary based upon the level of the meet.

So for instance, let’s say we’re at a high level meet and you have someone competing at a World Championships where there are opportunities for individual event medals. It’s just not the overall medal. So occasionally you may have a lifter that has really no chance at the end of the day of hitting a podium placing but they’re really good in one of the particular events, be it the squat or let’s say even the deadlift of any of the events they’re particularly good at. And so then you’re strategically – not necessarily adhering so rigidly to these percentages – as you are at that time interpreting the score sheet, playing the game in terms of potentially matching somebody’s attempt or strategically positioning the lifter so that they can achieve that goal of potentially getting an individual event medal.

So that’s where you need to remain flexible and not so rigid, but just be willing to interpret what’s going on in competition. I’m sure we’ll get into this later in our discussions, but that’s where you start to strategically use lot number and world record chips and other things to your advantage. Then of course, in the deadlift where it is the last event, your second and third attempts could change based upon what the rest of the field is doing. You know, if you’re pretty far ahead, then maybe you’re not adhering to percentages, you’re just trying to protect or preserve a lead, kind of pad your total to stay ahead. If you’ve got ground to make up in the deadlift and you’ve got somebody who’s a prestigious deadlifter, then maybe you’re slightly more aggressive and you go a little bit bigger. So those are kind of some examples about that second attempt and how it might change accordingly.

Mike (00:31:11):

Matt, before we move on, and I wanna talk about the third attempt in a moment, but something that you said is something that we were gonna touch on. I think this is a great opportunity to do so because it’s gonna come into play also kind of on the third attempt, and especially when we talk about the deadlift as well on the third attempt. So can you talk a little bit more about what you mean by “lot number” for those listening and how you can use that to your advantage and strategically be aware of what your lot number is?

Matt (00:31:41):

Sure. So as powerlifting coaches, it is matter of factly our job to put our powerlifter, our athlete, in the best position to succeed. So at the beginning of the day, you are trying to leverage whatever you can to stack the deck. I use cards as an example, to stack the deck in your favor. So when your lifter gets weighed in, clearly you’re looking at a bunch of things. You’re not just looking at the amount of weight that you’re lifting, but you’re looking at what was their lot number? The lot number determines the order in which you weigh in. More importantly, it determines the order of lifting when two people take the same attempt. So if Eric and I are competing against each other and we both call for 200 kg in the squat, if Eric has the higher lot number, that means I have to go first.

He would have the advantage of seeing my attempt before he has to take his, where that becomes all important is in the deadlift when at the end of the day, if two lifters are taking the same deadlift attempt, as a coach and as a lifter, you would get to see me go first. So then you might know how to strategically base your attempts based off of my performance. So having that lot number advantage is something that becomes really, really valuable. You pretty much always want to have a higher lot number. The only advantage of having the lower lot number is if you’ve cut a tremendous amount of weight and you’re really anxious to get weighed in and start that rehydrating and refueling process. Also if you’re a weaker deadlifter, because at the end of the day, the lot number is really not gonna matter to you anyway.

It doesn’t matter that you have the best lot number if you can’t out-pull your opposition. So in those particular one-off scenarios, the lot number might not mean anything to you, but in all other situations, it’s better to have a higher lot number so that you can see what your competition is doing. So that’s just one of the ace cards that you can have up your sleeve, the higher lot number. Another ace card would be, of course, being the strongest powerlifter in the room. I mean, if you’re just the strongest lifter in the room and you play your cards right, since we’re using that analogy, you’re gonna be tough to beat. So if you have the highest ceiling, it’s hard to trump that ceiling.

Another ace card would be, being the strongest deadlifter because the deadlift is the last event, and you get to go last. So we talked about being the strongest powerlifter overall, the strongest deadlifter, having the higher lot number, and clearly having a lower body weight is an advantage because if two lifters are competing in the same weight class and have the same total, then the lighter lifter wins. So if the lighter lifter is going at the end of the day, they might know, “Hey, all I need to do is tie this person on total, and by virtue of me being the lighter lifter, that increases my placing. So I can go for the win in that way.” Then, of course, the last final ace card, but since we’ve already used the four aces in the deck, let’s call it a joker card, would be having the opportunity to go for a record.

So the typical increase in a powerlifting competition or the minimal increase is 2.5 kg, which is 5.5 lbs for those of you who prefer pounds. That is the absolute minimum increase. However, if you’re attempting a record, a national, international or world record, then you’re allowed to go up by 0.5 kg, which is 1.1 lbs. So we refer to that as having a chip advantage. The reason we call it chips is because these are the smaller disks that the weightlifting manufacturers’ manufacture that go on the bar. So we use the expression ‘chips on the bar.’ So when they call for chips on the bar, you’re allowed to go up by a smaller increment. So these are five different things that you are trying to leverage and stack the deck in your favor that you’d like to play. So if you have any of those cards to your advantage, you want to try to play each and every one of them as often as you can.

Mike (00:35:53):

So you talked about second attempts, and then I was gonna ask you about third attempts, and it was perfect that we got to talk about lot numbers right there. But in that last answer to get to the third attempt question, you mentioned setting a record, you mentioned winning, and you talked about PRs. So when we go to third attempts from a second attempt, is it just all about, “Hey, what do I have left? What is the absolute most I can lift today?” Is that always what you’re going after in your third attempt? Or do those other things, the PR, the setting a record, and the winning, do they play into strategically how you’re going to select a third attempt? And how would you go about it in each of those situations?

Matt (00:36:36):

I think that’s best answered by determining the level of the competition, the experience level of your lifter, and their objectives. So when you can answer those questions beforehand, that then gives you the keys to the kingdom in determining what those answers might be. So if you’re working with novices or even intermediate level lifters who are competing at the local level at a state championships, let’s say even provincial championships, if they’re competing in Canada or whatever their local competition may be, look at the PB or the PR, the personal record as we call it in America or the PB, internationally is the personal best. That is the foundational thing that we’re going after, right? Every single one of us wants to do something that we’ve never done before. So going for that lifetime PR or PB is what we all crave so much.

We want to lift things that we’ve never done before. So at these competitions where the stakes don’t necessarily matter, and there’s no real benefit or loss if you lose, then yeah, the PB or the personal record becomes the goal. And so you’re aiming to do something that you’ve never done before. So you are then kind of just observing, “Hey, what do I have left in the tank based on my second attempt?” So we don’t really assign percentages to third attempts. Like I said, it’s situationally based. So if the second attempt moves well and it feels good and the lifter is confident, then heck yeah, let’s load it up and go for that incremental PB, that next 2.5 kg increment above their current PR. Alternatively, if the second attempt was tough, if it was hard or if it was sluggish, if it didn’t move well, if there was a decrement in performance or you didn’t uphold the standard of competition and you got a red light or something like that, then you’re basically picking based on the second attempt to potentially tie your PB or PR.

So again, it’s not really assigning percentages, it’s just asking, “Hey, what do I have left in the tank?” Now when we’re talking about lifters who are competing at national championships or world championships, or these competitions that are based on formulas, or there’s money involved, there are prizes, there are consequences of winning and losing. Then, you know, we’re really looking at putting our lifter in the best position to succeed. So yeah, if a PB is on the table that kind of lines up with what our goals are and everybody’s feeling confident, then yeah, there’s a good opportunity there that we’re gonna put a PB on the bar and go for it. But you know, like we talked about earlier, you might tend to be a little bit more conservative in the squat and the bench press, understanding that those are the first two events and there’s still more to come, there are more events left because the logic in the squat might be, “Hey, we’re trying to build the total here.”

Most powerlifters, unless you’re one of these one-off bench specialists, most powerlifters are building their total through their third squat and their third deadlift. Those are gonna be the heaviest attempts of the meet. So in the squat, because it’s the first event, it might be a little bit more advantageous to go for the number that you know you can get versus the one you want, right? Because it’ll serve to build the total and also save that precious energy, particularly in the form of lower back fatigue for the third deadlift. In the bench press, because the loads tend to be absolutely less, it’s more about holding serve, building the total, and “let’s not unnecessarily lose kilos.” However, sometimes with lighter, smaller, weaker lifters, sometimes the risk of getting the extra two and a half kilos on a third bench is worth potentially losing five kilos, and sometimes it’s not.

So those kind of have to be weighed on the scale, so to speak, and taken into consideration with the coach. Then of course, the third attempt at the deadlift, particularly at high level competitions, nationals and higher, is all about positioning and potentially winning. So I use the expression all the time, “There’s only one day out of the year when you can become a champion, and today is that day at a national or world championship. You can hit a PR or a PB 364 other days out of the year.” So today is the day that we’re setting you up for success and setting you up for positioning and becoming a champion. So if it means taking less than you wanted or less than a PB, but we know that it’s gonna secure your placing, securing the ‘W’ so to speak, or will move you up a place or put you on the podium, then it’s all strategically about positioning your lifter to do that.

Eric (00:41:26):

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think sometimes lifters don’t think about that, and that’s why it’s so valuable to have a coach that understands: “I’ve got 10 more in me, coach!” “But, you only need five to be a world champion.” “Well, what if I go seven and a half?” “Well, if you miss, you’re a silver medalist, so let’s just think about what’s at stake here and let’s think about this probabilistically rather than emotionally.” That is a challenge to do when you’re a lifter, which is why it’s so good to have rapport with a coach and have someone who has a little more objectivity in that moment. So that makes a ton of sense. One minor follow up question that kind of applies to potentially any second or third attempt, is would you ever have a lifter scratch an attempt, to simply not come out for an attempt? Is there ever a reason to do that in your mind?

Matt (00:42:15):

So if I give you a one word answer, the answer is “rarely”, but let’s expand upon that. Lifters only get nine opportunities to build the total or score points as we’ve said. So scratching an attempt means we are essentially forfeiting approximately 11% of our scoring opportunities, right? So I would not intentionally want to forfeit 11% of my opportunities to score points. However, when the second attempt, particularly in the squat, looks like a limit lift for whatever reason, an RPE 10-type lift, and you know, based upon your lifter’s previous performances, he or she just doesn’t have anything left in the tank or they misgrooved it and they’re not likely to come back and get it on their third, then yeah, it might be wise to scratch the third attempt where “discretion is the better part of valor” as they say.

So we scratch that third to preserve and save energy because we’ve probably gotten all of the kilos we can get out of that lifter anyway. Occasionally, one caveat to that might become flight size when you get stuck in a smaller flight and you’ve got a bigger, stronger lifter and the second attempt is really, really tough and you know, wow, man, there’s a quick turnaround here. We’re in a really small flight, you’re not gonna get your full rest period. It’s gonna come back to you pretty quickly. That might be another scenario. As I said, rarely are we gonna forfeit or scratch a third attempt, but those might be some of the scenarios that I would consider. Then it’s about knowing your lifter and having a conversation with them quickly, but also kind of building that into the game plan beforehand. So it’s incumbent upon the lifter and coach to have these strategy game planning calls beforehand, particularly for these higher level competitions so that we’re all on the same page and that we have the plays called so that we can call the play in the moment objectively, unemotionally during a time when the adrenaline is pumping. And we’re on a clock, when we have 60 seconds to get our next attempt in. 

Mike (00:44:30):

Matt, for those that aren’t as familiar with powerlifting meets, what exactly do you mean by flight? Then can you talk about the size of the flight and how or if that may or may not affect your attempt selection strategy?

Matt (00:44:55):

The term ‘flight’ is just synonymous with a group. It just means a group or a collection of lifters. So meet directors and competition promoters will organize these groups, these flights as they call them, based on gender, based on weight class, and sometimes based on age for its juniors, sub juniors, masters level lifters and so forth. They will collect you in these groups. So the minimum amount of lifters that you are allowed to have, and this is most federations, and I think for the purposes of our discussion here, IPF level competition and IPF affiliates, the minimum amount of lifters you can have in one group or flight is six, the maximum is 14. So in the rare case that you have fewer than six lifters in a flight, they build in what they call compensatory time to make it as though you had six lifters.

So let’s say the three of us are competing in the same flight, and it’s Eric, Mike, and Matt. They would set the clock for an additional three minutes to make it as if there were six lifters. Because you can typically assume each lifter has one minute once they call ‘bar is loaded’ to get their start command in the squat or the bench or to make a bona fide attempt in the deadlift. So typically an attempt takes one minute per attempt, per lifter. So the maximum amount of lifters, as I said in a single flight, is 14. So small flights naturally with fewer lifters tend to move quickly. That might mandate a more conservative approach from coach and lifter, particularly if you’re coaching larger, heavier, stronger lifters who create more of an oxygen debt, if you will, after each attempt, they use up more energy, they’re breathing more heavily, they can’t recover as quickly as a lighter lifter.

Typically lighter females can recover very quickly after maximum effort, they’re ready to go again. Whereas bigger, heavier lifters are gonna take longer to recover. So a smaller flight might mandate a more conservative approach. Also, if we’re talking about equipped powerlifting, where you’re using squat suits, bench suits, knee wraps and so on, that might mandate a more conservative approach as well if you’re in a smaller flight because you’re having to accommodate getting your lifter ready with all of that equipment, wrapping their knees, pulling the straps up, these sorts of things which induce additional fatigue on your lifter during the day. I think most people would like to be in a flight with about 10 to 12 lifters. That seems to be a good pace for most lifters for most weight classes, because things do typically move a little bit faster than a minute per lifter.

But it’s nice to have like an eight to 10 minute break between maximal exertions. So to your point, Mike, you have 60 seconds to submit your attempt after coming off the platform. So again, during that one minute timeframe, you need to huddle up with your coach, have the game plan installed beforehand so that you know what you’re looking at and you’ve got a range of numbers that you’re gonna hit. So that discussion can be succinct, it needs to be objective from the position of the coach, unemotional, just based on the data point that the lifter has given you. Then obviously you’re gonna get some feedback from the lifter in terms of how it felt. Then together you arrive at a number, but all that has to be done within the 60 second time frame so that you can submit your next attempt. Because if you don’t get your attempt in on time, if you had a successful attempt, they’re gonna take you up the absolute minimum, which is 2.5kg. If you’ve missed the attempt for whatever reason and you don’t submit it within 60 seconds, you are going to be forced to repeat that attempt.

Eric (00:48:56):

Yep. That’s all really valuable information. One thing I want to rewind us back to just a little bit, is that a lot of the things we’re discussing here are predicated on knowledge we have from training or from prior meets. So I guess the question I have is: how can a coach or an athlete, if they’re self coached, intentionally use their training in a way to inform or even determine their planned attempts on game day? Does that mean they need to go through 1RM testing phases in their training? Should they be practicing their openers? Are we estimating 1RM from training? What do you recommend as far as using training as an informational tool to inform competition day attempt selection?

Matt (00:49:39):

Yeah, so as powerlifting has become more popular, there have become more diverse approaches. So it really doesn’t matter how the lifter has gotten strong and reached that level of preparedness. So regardless of your method or preferred style, it is imperative for that game day coach to review the lifter’s heaviest training as a key first step to installing that competition game plan. So with that in mind, there are satisfactory methods of determining attempts from the training data, and then there are better methods in my opinion. So some coaches feel that an estimated 1RM serves as this reliable proxy for game day performance. I, matter of factly, do not share that sentiment. I think that estimated 1RM is an estimate or it’s a best guess of a lifter’s abilities on a specific training day, but they’re not even guaranteed that day.

They’re not guaranteed tomorrow, three weeks from now or at the competition. They’re really not a predictive measurement at all. They are moments in time that allow us to compare to other training days. So, you know, estimated 1RM can be calculated from the rating of perceived exertion. It can also be calculated based on various rep calculators. So calculating your estimated 1RM from RPE, it can be flawed because of the variability of the subjective rating used by the lifter. You know, he or she may have inaccurately assessed their performance. And females can often do more reps at a higher percentage of their 1RM which tends to disrupt the estimations. So with all of that sort of thing said, and sometimes the rep calculators aren’t as accurate either, these higher rep sets become really misleading in terms of a lifter’s 1RM capability.

So this is where specificity comes into play. Specificity is important because, you know, what do we do on game day? Well, we do one rep maxes, or we do a single, that is our set, if you will. So I prefer using bar speed video feedback and the coach’s eye on singles that are 90% and above that are also performed to competition standard, obviously, and then at or near competition body weight. It also matters in the discussion of the bench press and the deadlift: were those lifts performed after a significant squat? Because if you tell me “I had a bench press PB today in training”, I’m gonna say “That was fantastic, but first question, did you squat first? Okay, and second question, were you at body weight?” Because if you didn’t squat first, then really it’s an irrelevant data point unless you’re competing at a bench press only competition where you bench first, because in a real competition, you’re gonna have to squat first and you’re gonna accumulate just this systemic or structural fatigue from holding a heavy bar across your back.

So that is going to fatigue your shoulders for the bench and of course, your lower back for the deadlift. But also to answer your question, Eric, yes, openers should and can, and probably ought to be practiced to instill training confidence and also to create reliability through verifiability. If you can verify, yes, my lifter is executing these singles circa 90% to 92%, and this is to competition standard and they’re at or near competition body weight, then this serves as a reliable place for us to open on game day. That’s gonna bring confidence to your lifter. So yeah, you’ll see many powerlifters do this during their taper week or just before their taper week at the start of their taper. They might be going through their openers in each discipline, which serves to test as they get closer to the competition body weight. Are these verifiable? Are they reliable? Are we in top form?

Mike (00:53:47):

You know, one thing before I have the next question for you is, you said that if somebody has a bench press PB, you would ask them if they had squatted first. I think, you know, you would never need to ask me if I squatted first. You also know that I haven’t set a bench PR in 14 years. One thing I remember, and I have a lot of anecdotes that I remember from training when Supreme Sports Performance and Training was in Rockville, Maryland. It was somewhere that I looked forward to coming back to once or twice a year. And it was very important to me to come back and train there and get to spend time with you and Sioux-z. And I was warming up and Sioux-z was watching me warm up and she said, “You know, Mike, you only have so much gas in the tank.” And I altered my warmup strategies after that day of talking with her and having her critique what I was doing. So, can you talk a little bit about how you would warm up for your opener, but not only how you warm up for it, as so much of what we talked about today is related to what you mentioned earlier about maybe opening with the triple because things are different on the competition day than they are in the gym. Well, when you have to warm up at a competition, it’s not just you, there are two warmup racks maybe and however many lifters. So how would you warm up ideally? Then are there situations where based upon what’s going on in the warmup room, where you might have to alter your warmup, or you don’t have enough time to get to a rack. How might you strategically change things to make sure you’re ready, even if you can’t get in everything you want to in the warmup room?

Matt (00:55:29):

There’s a lot to unpack there. I think it starts with understanding that, you know, what are these key components of the purpose of warming up? Why do we warm up? Why don’t we just walk out on the platform and throw our heaviest weight on the bar? We want to prepare the body for the impending loads and for what is to come. So, you know, these key components, if you will, of a typical warmup are gonna be some type of general warmup to increase your heart rate and core temperature. You might be doing some mobility drills to increase range of motion and increase blood flow to the muscle. That might mean you’re doing some dynamic stretching to lengthen the muscles and improve function and so forth.

You might have them implement some muscle activation to kind of prime some of the stabilizing muscles that have a role in supporting the prime movers. Then of course, ultimately, there’s gonna be a barbell warmup to prime the nervous system for these heavier weights. But I think what’s really key and important here is understanding that on game day, it’s a warmup for essentially lifting a maximum or testing your strength level. It’s not the warmup for a workout, you know, it’s not the warmup for a 5×5 or 10 triples, or eight doubles or whatever it is. It’s a warmup for you taking three ascending singles, in theory. You want to preserve as much energy and save as much gas in the tank as possible. While that might look slightly different based upon lifter preference and lifter feel and lifter strength level, typically, most warmups at a powerlifting meet are gonna be three reps or fewer, frankly.

I mean, you might take the bar for a set of 8-10 just to kind of loosen up and stretch, and your first set might be three to five reps, but after that, you’re probably looking at predominantly doubles, singles, maybe a triple here and there, kind of pyramiding up, if you will, to where you’re doing singles at the end to prepare your body, your mind, your musculature and your connective tissue for these impending loads. So what I have found anecdotally speaking is that most of the time, if we’re gonna have a lifter open, like I said, circa 91%, then we kind of look at where do they prefer taking their last warmup? What is an appropriate load jump for them from the last warmup to the opener? Once we can determine that number, we then count backward to the bar as opposed to just winging it and saying, “Well, we’re gonna start with the bar, just add reds each time.” That might work for Ray Williams or Jesus Olivares who are squatting a grand, but that’s not gonna work for most people.

So you typically find out “Where is the last warmup?” I have anecdotally found in my 28 years in the sport that for the squat and the deadlift, that typically falls right around 83% of maximum as a really good place to be. If you’re opening right around that 91% range, that seems to be an appropriate jump. For the bench press, it’s a little bit higher. The last warmup typically tends to be about 85%-ish, give or take, don’t get lost too much in the numbers. But, once you find that last warmup, you then count back to the bar making sure that your jumps are incrementally sound, that you’re not taking a small jump followed by a bigger one. They’re either the same incrementally or they’re getting slightly smaller as you approach your opener. So those are some rules of thumb in terms of warming up.

Then to get to the point, Mike, in terms of, you know, realizing that you’re not the only one at the beach. You have to share a warmup room, share a rack with other lifters. You know, when you’re at national championships or elite level international championships, there are going to be these combo, lever adjustable racks in the back at these higher level competitions. But when you attend a local competition, you may not have any racks like that. You might be warming up out of a cage or off of a CrossFit rig or something like that, where the heights are not adjustable. So my recommendation first of all is, as a coach, is to be assertive and understand that you are an advocate for your lifter. And so if you’re in a warmup room where there’s limited space, you need to matter-of-factly advocate for your lifter and try to pair up with lifters of similar strengths and similar heights. It just makes sense. Similar rack heights in the squat and in the bench press, the deadlift, it doesn’t matter as much. You just wanna try to warm up with somebody who’s around the same strength so you’re not changing from an 800lbs last warmup to a 200lbs last warmup. I mean, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, so try to strategically pair up with people like that. A general recommendation would be to start early. If you have a lot of warmups, start your warmup early, you can always slow down, but you’re not gonna be able to speed up without increasing anxiety and inducing additional fatigue on your lifter.

Fatigue can be created from anxiety and from worry from them thinking, “Hey, I’m not gonna get all my warmups in.” So if you start early, then you should have enough time. All that is to say, look, if you have a lifter that’s opening around 150kg (that’s 330lbs) in the squat and they have listed nine warmups, you’re gonna have to probably shave off some of those warmups. Lifters at that strength level, I can’t really think of anybody who’s gonna need nine warmups to get to their opener, you need to strategically shave off a few of those warmups and have that warmup make more sense. Again, that all comes with the understanding that in competition, you’re now on the clock. You’re on somebody else’s schedule. This isn’t a workout where you can take two and a half hours to warm up and get to your top weights. You’re sharing racks and you’re on borrowed time, so to speak. So those are some considerations that should all be taken into consideration and discussion when formulating a warmup strategy.

Eric (01:01:53):

Matt, you’ve specifically talked about how things can be quite different at high level meets sometimes for the better, sometimes for, I wouldn’t say the worse, but certainly for a higher pressure situation. Some of the things we talked about earlier, chip advantage and lot number; let’s dive into these a little deeper and talk about these lesser known factors that are present in the rules that often never rear their head at local competitions because people can’t set national or international records, and can’t use them in a strategic way. The ability to take a 0.5kg or any increment less than 2.5kg or an increment between 2.5kg provides potential advantages in certain circumstances. Also the fact that the deadlift is unique and you can change that attempt multiple times. Can you talk us through how these variables and their interaction can sometimes make a difference at higher level competitions, to try to help the listener understand if they’re ever in that situation where they’re gonna be coached internationally, if they’re just that strong where they should be aware of this type of thing?

Matt (01:03:03):

Sure. I think the best way to kind of go through that is maybe give you a couple of examples,  and we can elaborate on some of those. So I’ll give you an example that comes from a high level competition. It was the 2017 IPF Classic Worlds in Belarus. My wife Sioux-z was competing in the 52kg weight class. At the time she was a world-class squatter, certainly a world-class powerlifter. But we understood based on the day that was before us, that Sioux-z was not going to be in the running for a podium spot. She was in all likelihood gonna place probably fourth or fifth in a very competitive class. So, for us, it was all about securing an individual event medal for her, taking back the squat world record and getting the gold medal in the squat.

Those were our objectives. Then beyond that, of course, per usual, going nine for nine, representing yourself well. And look, if one of these other lifters slips up or trips up or only makes six or seven lifts, that maybe Sioux-z can sneak in and grab a podium spot, but the game within a game became our approach, her trying to procure the gold medal in the squat. So at the time we had another prestigious squatter in the weight class, Liz Craven from Australia. So Sioux-z had been trading this world record back and forth with Liz for a couple of years, and they finally got to clash, you know, the clash of the squat, and the titans, so to speak, at Worlds where they came together. So this is where lot number advantage and body weight becomes really critical.

All three of these things were at play, body weight, lot number advantage, and then having chips to your advantage as well. Sioux-z was lighter than Liz, and we also had the lot number advantage. We knew that Sioux-z had the potential to see what Liz did. And then for her second attempt, and then the third one, we might be able to go after her. So anyway, as it unfolded while Sioux-z did have the lot number advantage (the higher lot number), Sioux-z actually opened 2.5kg lighter than Liz. So Sioux-z opened at 142.5kg, while Liz opened at 145kg. So Sioux-z had to go first because she’s lifting the lighter weight, and, in powerlifting, it goes from the lightest lift up to the heaviest, and then the round starts over.

So Sioux-z went out first. They both secured their first attempts and hit them very well. They both called for 150kg on the second attempt. So what that means was Sioux-z took a 7.5kg jump from 142.5kg to 150 kg, while Liz only took a 5kg jump. But what that meant, and was important for us, was the order would then change because Liz had the lower lot number. She was then forced to take 150kg before Sioux-z. So we had the advantage of seeing how Liz’s second attempt looked. Then also more importantly, once she came off, after making her second attempt, which looked great, she came off the platform and we had the opportunity to see what she put in for her third attempt. That’s where the strategy really came in. So both ladies made the 150kg attempt.

Like I said, Liz went first. Liz then submitted 156kg, which is a weird number. She held the world record at the time at 155.5kg. So she submitted 156kg for her third attempt. So strategically, because we had the lot number advantage, because we were going to go second, I intentionally called for the same attempt. You say to yourself, “Well, why do you call for the same attempt if it’s a world record?” Here’s the reason, because by rule in competition, and this is what a lot of readers may not know, is that you can’t have two people holding the same world record on an individual lift. So I went ahead and strategically called for 156kg, therefore matching Liz, because by rule, if Liz makes the 156kg, our attempt automatically gets chipped up an additional 0.5 to 156.5kg. If Liz misses the 156kg, then we stay at 156kg and there’s no reason for us to overexert ourselves and take more than is necessary.

So I called for 156kg, Liz went out and hit the 156kg, breaking her own world record. So momentarily, she’s holding this world record, the new world record, and momentarily gold medal position in the squat while they automatically chip Sioux-z’s attempt up to 156.5kg, and Sioux-z went out and hit the 156.5kg and took the world record back. So by that point, it was mission accomplished. We got a gold medal in the squat, we got Sioux-z’s world record back, and that was the start of a fantastic competition for her. Sioux-z went on to go nine for nine. She actually placed right where we thought she would place, which was fifth place, but she had an outstanding day. You know, of course a world record in the squat, it was just mission accomplished. So that’s really it, you know, an example of where all three of those factors came into play. If we didn’t have lot number advantage and so forth, then we would not have been afforded that opportunity to see what Liz did.

But again, by rule, you automatically get chipped up to that higher weight. So that’s kind of one of these examples where all three of those situations come into play. Later that week, also in Belarus 2017, we had two 93kg lifters. We had LS McClain and Dave Ricks lifting in the 93kg class. Rather than go on this 30-minute explanation of what happened, I was coaching LS McClain, my wife Sioux-z was coaching Dave Ricks. Out of integrity and fairness to the competitors, when you have two lifters that have the opportunity to place, you matter of factly, need to split them and have different coaches, because you can’t play chess against yourself, it wouldn’t be fair for me to coach both Dave and LS. So we intentionally switch the coaching duties or split the coaching duties, I should say.

While we did warm up together as a unit, as part of Team USA in the back, I was coaching LS, Sioux-z was coaching Dave Ricks. So anyway, LS is kind of known as this subtotal lifter, he’s good in the squat and good at benching and not bad in the deadlift, but not as good as some of his other competitors. And we knew that we were gonna be deadlifting before some of his other competitors. You have to really kind of stack the deck in your favor by building the biggest total possible at subtotal. So, as it turned out, LS was actually in eighth place after squats, but we regained some ground because as you know, LS is a world-class bencher. He did wind up hitting three benches. So we moved into second place after the bench press. After the opening deadlifts, we dropped back down to third, after second deadlifts we were in fourth place.

Then I’m confronted with this conundrum, where I have LS capable of deadlifting more. But, I have to ensure at that point – because we are in fourth place going into the third deadlift, we do not have body weight advantage, we do not have lot number advantage, and we do not have any chip opportunities because deadlift is not his best event. So we can’t go for a world record. So as a coach, I have to put a number on the bar that I know that LS can make. It’s a high probability make to build our total and force our competitors out of their comfort zone and force them to make their attempts. But, if we miss our third attempt, then we’re in fourth place. We can do no better than fourth place. If we make our thirds, we then put pressure on our competitors.

As fate would have it, we went up and LS was not happy with the number that we took. I put on a number that I knew that he could make and his feelings, quite frankly, didn’t really mean too much to me at the time. Me ensuring a podium placing at that point in time was the objective, because he was in fourth place. Anyway, as the story unfolded, and as fate would have it, LS wound up winning that competition because he made his deadlift, and his other competitors overestimated their abilities. I was keen to watch them and watch their second attempts and knew that they were unlikely to make their thirds. So, I had to intentionally put a number on the bar that I knew LS could make to force our competitors out of their comfort zone.

And it did. I said, “Look, this guy’s anger for me is soon gonna fade once he’s standing on top of that podium and they’re playing the national anthem.” So that was a good example of not having any of these kinds of advantages really in our favor and just strategically selecting attempts to engineer victory, if you will. Then one of the last examples before I talk too long, would be the 2019 USA Powerlifting Nationals with your lifter Eric, Bryce Lewis, and going in a situation against Ashton Rouska, where matter of factly on paper, when you just look at the sum of their PBs, Ashton’s the strongest guy in the room. And so you then have to leverage these things to your advantage. So we knew at the time what we could leverage to our advantage, because Bryce didn’t really have any chip opportunities at any one of the individual events.

And he was the heavier lifter because Ashton came in lighter. At the time, the only advantage that we had was lot number and through strategic attempt selection, we kind of outfoxed and out-maneuvered them where we made our second deadlift. Then I intentionally forced our opposition, forced Ashton to take a lift that he did not need. He had to take more than he needed to win. As it played out, Ashton wound up missing his third attempt, and Bryce was the champion. I know that’s kind of a glossed over way of looking at it, but without going into lift-by-lift every single detail, we leveraged lot number to our advantage and used that to force our opposition to pull after us and to take more weight than they needed.

So those are kind of three examples where you have these advantages that you can use to your favor. You know, where at lower level competitions, that’s not the objective. The objective at these lower level competitions, as we said, is gaining valuable experience, becoming a better competitor, hitting the personal best, because there’s really no loss or decrement, if you will, for missing a PB. Whereas at a World Championships like you said earlier, Eric, if you miss a PB or a shot at the PB, well that might mean that you drop off the podium or that you drop placing or instead of the gold medal, you’re now silver. So these are scenarios where it’s important to try to leverage every advantage that you can into your favor.

Mike (01:14:43):

You know, Matt, I am absolutely loving these examples and you just can’t get this from the scientific literature. You can get the relationship between how many lifts were made and placing, but to be an effective coach, it does also matter how you got there. And the strategy that you’re discussing is how in these situations for Sioux-z versus Liz and for LS and for Bryce, it matters how you got there. This is why I think it’s so important that we’re including this here in MASS. It is to get this insight to everybody. I wrote down a couple things here. 

To use a golf analogy – as an aside, one of my favorite sports days of the year is Sunday at the Masters. If you’re watching, they’ll say “So-and-so is in the clubhouse at eight under.” That individual might not be leading, somebody else might be nine under, but they have three holes to play. Anything can happen in those three holes. What you talked about for LS is you wanted to put something on the bar that was a high probability make for his deadlift. It’s not his lift. You didn’t have any of the advantages. But your best chance was to get him in the clubhouse and put that number on the board. Other people had to see it. They knew they had to hit their lifts. Similar thing with Bryce, although Bryce went last in his third, on his second what he took and the fact that he was going last, his competitor had to take something more than he really needed because that lift was on the board for him. So I think there’s a lot to be said for ‘being in the clubhouse’ with something on the board like that. 

I have one other question for you, but first I don’t know if that analogy makes sense to you and how you’re referring to things? Or, if you have any other examples or anything else to add to that? But, that’s one of the things I took from some of those examples.

Matt (01:16:56):

Yeah, what you said, Mike, it’s a great example. When you’re in a position like LS was in, you want to force your competitor to go out on the platform and win the competition because if you miss your lift, then you’ve already lost. So that’s where it is truly about just building the total, about putting on the bar a high probability make. It might be less than the lifter wanted, it might be less than their all time best, less than a PB, but so be it. It strategically positions them and forces your opposition. You know, this isn’t football, there’s no offense [and] defense, we’re not calling plays. You’re strategically adjusting to my formation or the play that you think I’m gonna call. It’s me putting pressure on you.

The way that I put pressure on you is by making my attempt, by having my lifter make their lift. So that you then have to go. I don’t care if you only have to go up by 2.5kg and that’s 10kg under your PB, you still have to walk out on that platform. You could trip on the rug, the bar could be covered in baby powder or something, or you could mis-grip the bar. Or for these ultra wide sumo deadlifters where there’s such a such a small margin for error, they’re literally and figuratively walking that tightrope of performance and they could miss. So you want to force your competitor to make their attempt to beat you, otherwise you’re essentially handing them the game. 

This all comes with the understanding from the data that I’ve looked at that reveals that 43.5% of lifters miss their third squat, 49% of lifters miss their third bench press, and 50% – half the lifters – miss their last deadlift. So right there, just painting with broad strokes, almost half of the competitors miss their third attempts. 24% of lifters miss both their third squat and their third deadlift. As we said, those are the two attempts that affect the total the most. So if you just focus on building a total, even if the thirds are lighter than what you’d hoped for, you’re still probably outperforming half of the field. So those are statistics that are worth taking to heart and understanding that you can win the game even when you are not matter-of-factly the strongest person in the room because powerlifting determines who is the best powerlifter, not who is the strongest.

Mike (01:19:34):

That’s a great way to look at it. The 16-0 Patriots and 73-1 Warriors, neither one of them won the championship. They were the best teams, but they didn’t win the championship.

Matt (01:19:44):

That’s right.

Eric (01:19:45):

Well said. As someone who has the privilege of working with some relatively high level powerlifters, I’ve greatly appreciated your expertise. You mentioned how you worked with one of my lifters, and, for those not super familiar with modern powerlifting, a lot of the most prominent, well-known, most experienced programming coaches don’t happen to live in the same city as a lifter [who needs a coach], because it’s a new sport. A common thing is to work with someone online, you meet via video, they do your programming, they might do your nutrition, but it might be a challenge for that person to be there on game day. Especially if they moved to New Zealand and the lifter is in the U.S., to give a personal example.

I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege of a shared coaching relationship with you for Bryce Lewis, where when he’s competing at nationals, since 2015 or 2016, either you or Sioux-z, but SSPT has been there to coach him. So I would love it if you could just talk a little bit about how you’ve shifted towards specializing on game day coaching: what you do at SSPT, [and] how that’s something that’s available to a lot of people who are in the same position as myself. And then also [tell] those who aren’t in a position to hire you as a game day coach where they can learn more, as I know you have a recently released book on this topic.

Matt (01:21:25):

Yes. Just to discuss what it is that we do briefly, who we are and our passion for game day coaching. I kind of use the analogy that powerlifting is our game and our business is personal bests. So our mission is helping lifters become the strongest version of themselves, both on and off the platform. What that means for us on a day-to-day basis in person is we have a physical facility here in Bozeman, Montana, called SSPT, which again is short for Supreme Sports Performance and Training. It’s a private facility where we do one-on-one coaching with powerlifters and, of course, the general population as well, using the powerlifts to get them closer to their goals. But our passion, what gets our motor running more than anything else, is game day coaching for powerlifting.

That is absolutely what lights our fire and what turns us on more than anything else. And so to your point, Eric, we’ve been blessed and just extremely grateful to work with lifters of all levels from first time novices who are competing at their very first local competition all the way up to elite level lifters like Bryce Lewis and Mike Tuchscherer at the World Games, which only happens every four years. And of course everything in between. We’ve done that in both formats, raw and equipped, and that is what we absolutely love to do. We’ve cultivated that passion through years of coaching on national teams and of course, doing this on an individual basis. So, it’s been an honor to collaborate with you, and like you said, we have this shared collaborative coaching experience where you’re the guy with the recipe and you’re cooking up the meal, and then we’re kind of serving the meal, if you will, on game day, where we have to strategically get the most out of [the athlete].

Every lifter that we coach on game day is, like you said, strategically, we have to watch their training, we have to collaborate with their programming coach, should they have one. And then we get on these calls and we collaboratively install these game plans, working our way through each and every scenario that we think might pop up. And of course, there’s gonna be more scenarios at these higher level competitions where the talent pool is deeper, where the stakes are higher, where there are more opportunities for success, where maybe you can’t win the competition, but you can procure an individual event medal or something like that. So we have these strategy calls with lifters and people also hire us just to do strategy calls where maybe we can’t be there on game day, but maybe they just want our expertise in terms of collaborating with their coach.

Maybe they just want a third set of eyes, if you will, to kind of collaborate. So we’ve been blessed to have those opportunities as well. Then more recently, what I decided to do, Eric, to piggyback off of what you mentioned was I decided to take these 28 years of experience that I have and just package it up and put it into written form. So I decided to do that in an ebook format. Obviously I owe a lot of that success to you because as you know, I picked your brain on a number of consultation calls and quite frankly, you led me to my editor and my formatter. So God bless you for that, man, because I literally could not have done that without you, and that’s just keeping it real, I’m keeping it 100. You were extremely influential and instrumental in that process, and I’m forever grateful. 

So I was able to create this ebook, which was the culmination of my cumulative 28 years in the sport. So I wanted to make it, the advantage that I have is scarcity in the marketplace. While there’s a lot of text and information out there on training systems, on training approaches, on nutritional perspective and so forth, there was virtually nothing in the marketplace that I was aware of in written or electronic format that you could go back and refer to. There were videos put out, but nothing in a tangible book form on game day coaching for powerlifting. So I decided to put that together. Fortunately, I think what I’ve done, through the help of others such as yourself, Jason Tremblay, Mike Tuchscherer, and Kedric Kwan of course, who helped me with the making weight chapter and so forth, consulting with these other experts in the field, because literally and figuratively throughout my tenure in the sport, I’ve been standing on the shoulders of giants in so many scenarios and situations. I’ve been able to put together what I feel is a really comprehensive text that dives into attempt selection strategy, but also into having a coaching philosophy and understanding the psychology that goes into dealing with lifters and understanding that we’re not coaching robots, we’re coaching humans.

Humans are emotional and they’re fallible and they have wins and they have losses, and they have other stresses in their life. So I tried to create this text that I thought covered just every imaginable touchstone point within the sport of powerlifting, but specifically to game day coaching. I understand that powerlifting is a niche sport, and then I’m a niche within that niche. So, I tried to create what I thought was the most comprehensive text that kind of covered all of the bases. So every imaginable thing that you might think about from warming up to making weight, to attempt selection and strategy in terms of how to formulate your game plan, how to put a warmup plan together, how to pick your attempts, and everything in between.

I tried to include that in one comprehensive text, and I think I’ve done that pretty well. I’m excited, actually, next week to release an updated version that is gonna be free to everybody who’s already purchased a copy. They’re gonna get an updated version that is going to include four additional case studies. I think anytime you put together an instructional or how-to manual specifically for a sport, it is impossible to think of every single scenario that you’re gonna encounter. So you write this book and then you go to a competition and you’re like, “Ugh, I have a scenario now that’s staring me right in my face that I forgot to include. Let me include that.” Then I realized, oh, but I’ve got the Arnold and I’ve got Sheffield that’s coming up, so let me wait until the Arnold happens, let me wait until Sheffield. So my revisions were born out of those experiences. So I’ve added about six pages of additional content to the book with four additional case studies and added additional layers of context to, again, what we started with at the beginning of today’s discussion, this overarching theme of building your biggest total possible through nine attempts and strategic attempt selection and just positioning your lifter to succeed and become the best version themselves, certainly off the platform, but of course, in the context of powerlifting on the platform as well.

Mike (01:29:07):

Matt, a couple things. One, you said you’ve stood on the shoulders of giants. I think we’ve all stood on your shoulders. 

Matt (01:29:21):

Thank you for saying that.

Mike (01:29:22):

Well, I mean, it’s difficult for me to get up that high, but you know, you have impacted so many people and this is all very, very sincere. We’re familiar [with you] and we were starting in powerlifting at a certain time. But for those that are just getting into powerlifting now, Matt, they may not know your name. And one of the things I’ve always admired about you is you weren’t out for people to know your name. You were out to do the right things and to work hard and then to make people’s lives better.

For those who may have a coach now, your coach is probably somewhere in the lineage of Matt Gary, and anybody that I’ve coached or that Eric has coached has been influenced by you, and many of those people have gone on to coach other people, and that tree extends very far these days. I think it’s important to know that if you’re hearing about attempt selection or these things – you know I still use your and Sioux-z’s squat setup video to send to so many people when they’re trying to learn to walk out. These teachings extend to so many. So although you said you’ve stood on the shoulders of giants, I think so many of us have benefited and been impacted by you. So this next question is very sincere. We are not affiliates and would get nothing from this in any way, but where can people get your book?

Matt (01:31:09):

So probably the easiest way to find the Game Day Coaching Manual would be one of two places. You can find it on our website, which is If you go under resources there, you’re gonna be able to find it under the ebook, the Game Day Coaching Manual, or if you prefer on social media, you can just go to Instagram. You can find me @MLGary72, and the link is just in my bio. So you just click on that and that will direct you right to the page. And thank you again for your kind words, Mike. I think I’d be remiss if I said that wasn’t one of my intentions for writing the book, my primary intention was to lift up the powerlifting community. I understood that there was scarcity in the marketplace, as I said.

So let’s put something out there that everybody can benefit from, lifters of all levels and all goals, all objectives, regardless of competition. And of course, their coaches. So just use it as an instructional tool to put out there, to lift up the community. Obviously to leave something behind in terms of legacy. I have never had delusions of this becoming a New York Times Bestseller. I mean, that’s not what’s gonna happen with this book. Like I said, it’s a niche within a niche. So having said that, I’m not allergic to money. It’s nice to be able to make something from your efforts and from something that I’ve poured so much time and effort into. But more importantly, it is an instructional manual but it talks a lot about life and it talks about a lot about how to conduct yourself, I think, in a way that is morally upright and serves the community well. So if for no other reason that it helps you in that way, if just to become a better human being, then mission accomplished.

Eric (01:32:58):

Love it. Thank you, Matt. And just as a final note, we’ve covered a lot of ground but you are the expert here. Is there anything that you feel we have not covered in the realm of game day coaching that you want to make clear to our subscribers? 

Matt (01:33:15):

I think we’ve covered most of it, Eric. I mean, we really did touch upon a lot of things. I think at the most rudimentary level what you have to understand as a coach is that it is your job to put your athlete first regardless of the endeavor. You could be a chess coach, you could be a golf coach, a powerlifting coach, gymnastics, it does not matter. It is to move your athlete and to put them in the best position to succeed, in the best position for them to achieve their goals – not your goals, their goals. So as you perpetuate down that road, you learn more, more about human beings, more about the human condition. It’s about putting them in their best position to succeed, and that’s gonna look different for different people.

But at the end of the day, and it is cliché, but if you’ve done that, if you’ve checked those boxes and you’ve put them in their best position to succeed, then you’ve matter of factly done your job. It is incumbent upon them, in this context, for the lifter to go out and execute because unfortunately, once they step onto the platform, that’s where your hands are no longer on the bar. You can’t make the lift for them. But it is our job to do that. So I think if you’ve done that, then you’ve fulfilled your primary role and objective as a coach and put them in their best position to succeed. You’ve done all you can and hopefully they can thank you for that. 

Mike (01:34:54):

Well, with that, Matt, thank you for doing this. We are absolutely honored to not only have you in MASS, but to have you be the very first interview cover story. Thank you for what you’ve done for each of us here and just what you’ve done as a broader support for the powerlifting community and for so many people that are out there today. I know a lot of people watching or reading this have probably been impacted by you – and I would be really remiss to not say, by you and Sioux-z, for what both of you have done. So we’re honored to have you. Thank you, sir.

Matt (01:35:30):

Thank you again. The feeling is entirely mutual. I love and respect you guys and what you’re doing to lift up the community on your end as well. So thank you again very much.

Mike (01:35:40):

Thanks, Matt. Yeah, much appreciated.

The post Attempt Selection in Powerlifting: An Interview With All-Time Great Coach Matt Gary appeared first on Stronger by Science.

- Lauren Colenso-Semple
Increased Satellite Cell Number is Associated With Higher Responders to Resistance Training in Young, Untrained Women

Note: This article was the MASS Research Review cover story for May 2023 and is a review of a recent paper by Smith et al. If you want more content like this, subscribe to MASS.

Key Points  Changes in satellite cell number and ribosome content after 10 weeks of resistance training, along with acute myofibrillar protein synthesis in response to a single exercise bout, were assessed in 34 untrained young women to determine the extent to which these outcomes were predictive of muscle hypertrophy in higher and lower responders. There was no significant association between the change in vastus lateralis cross-sectional area and myofibrillar protein synthesis (r = 0.095; p = 0.602) or changes in muscle ribosome content (r = 0.014; p = 0.937). Satellite cell number increased significantly in higher responders (p = 0.026), but not lower responders (p = 0.118), and the percent change in satellite cells per fiber was correlated with the mean change in fiber cross-sectional area (r = 0.471; p = 0.007). Although the authors report that satellite cell abundance was more reflective of the resistance training response than muscle ribosome content, they acknowledge that this is inconsistent with previous data, and that several methodological limitations preclude their ability to discount a role for ribosome biogenesis in the hypertrophic response.

Skeletal muscle hypertrophy involves an increase in the diameter of individual muscle fibers, which results in an increase in total cross-sectional area. Hypertrophy occurs when the rate of muscle protein synthesis exceeds that of muscle protein breakdown. Protein synthesis requires the following steps:

In a process known as transcription, sections of DNA are copied to form three types of RNA: messengerRNA (mRNA), transferRNA (tRNA) and ribosomalRNA (rRNA). Think of mRNA as the template, or the set of instructions, for protein synthesis. rRNA and ribosomal proteins form the building site and tRNA transports materials to the site. The next step is known as translation, in which tRNA attaches to specific amino acids according to the mRNA instructions, and brings them to the ribosomes where proteins are synthesized. You might have heard the term “ribosome biogenesis,” which is the process of making new ribosomes. The translational capacity of the muscle fiber is dependent on the number of available ribosomes; a building site is required to build new proteins. In this sense, muscle protein synthesis and ribosome content are inextricably linked. 

The mRNA, or “instructions,” are copied from DNA in the nucleus. As a muscle fiber grows, its ability to keep up with the transcriptional and translational requirements becomes more limited (3). In this scenario, satellite cells (muscle stem cells) can assist by donating nuclei, adding to the “machinery” available for translation, and, thus, increasing translational capacity. 

There is compelling evidence to demonstrate “higher” and “lower” hypertrophic responders to resistance training. The underlying factors may include differences in the untrained state, including genetics, satellite cell number, and ribosome content (2). In some cases, high responders appear to experience a greater increase in muscle protein synthesis and ribosome content in response to resistance training, resulting in a larger increase in muscle size compared to that of low responders (2). The differential response to training may include the increase in myonuclei or remodeling of the extracellular matrix due to satellite cell proliferation (2). 

These physiological differences between higher and lower responders have been explored in men, and it is unclear if there could be sex-based differences. Thus, Smith and colleagues assessed protein synthesis, changes in satellite cell number, and changes in ribosome content in young, untrained women (1). This was a secondary analysis of a subset of participants in a study from the same lab group that investigated the influence of peanut protein supplementation on strength and hypertrophic outcomes (4). The purpose of the analysis, which included 34 untrained young women, was to determine the extent to which the following outcomes were predictive of muscle hypertrophy, and if they differed between higher and lower responders:

Acute myofibrillar protein synthesis following an exercise bout Chronic changes in satellite cell number in response to resistance training Changes in ribosome content in response to resistance training

The researchers assessed the 24-hour myofibrillar protein synthetic response to a single exercise session, which consisted of three-repetition maximum (RM) leg press, barbell bench press, and hex-bar deadlift strength assessments, followed by two sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise at 50% of the participants’ estimated 1RM. Then the participants completed supervised resistance training sessions twice per week (one higher load session and one lower load session) for 10 weeks. The exercises included the leg press, barbell bench press, knee extension, hex bar deadlift, and lat pull down. The higher load sessions consisted of five sets of 6 repetitions, while the lower load sessions consisted of four sets of 10 repetitions.

Higher and lower responders were classified using a composite change score (from baseline to post-training) of the following variables: Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) lean/soft tissue mass, vastus lateralis cross-sectional area (measured with ultrasound), mid-thigh muscle cross-sectional area (measured with peripheral quantitative computed tomography), and 3RM hex-bar deadlift strength (Figure 1). Based on the composite scores of the 34 participants, the eight individuals in the upper quartile were labeled “higher responders” and the eight individuals in the lower quartile were labeled “lower responders.” The authors in the presently reviewed study assert that an inclusive, multidimensional approach to delineating responder sub-groups should include strength and hypertrophy measures. It’s worth acknowledging that statistically quantifying true response heterogeneity is quite difficult, and there is much disagreement about how to properly categorize responders. 

Data are presented as group mean change scores ± SD, along with individual values. HR = higher responder; LR = lower responder

There were no differences between higher and lower responders in the 24-hour myofibrillar protein synthetic response to the exercise bout at baseline. The average rate was 2.25 ± 1.05% per day (HR: 1.88 ± 0.98% per day; LR: 2.43 ± 1.25% per day). There was no significant association between myofibrillar protein synthesis and the change in vastus lateralis cross-sectional area (r = 0.095; p = 0.602). The researchers were not surprised by these findings, particularly because they only assessed a 24-hour period, and the exercise bout was a novel, likely damaging stimulus

There was no difference in RNA content per mg of wet muscle from baseline to post-training in any of the participants, and there was no significant correlation between changes in muscle ribosome content and the change in vastus lateralis cross-sectional area (r = 0.014; p = 0.937). This finding is not consistent with previous data in untrained men (2), which points to changes in ribosome content as a distinguishing factor between higher and lower responders. While RNA concentration, or ribosome density, is reflective of ribosome biogenesis, this measurement is just a snapshot at one time point, and doesn’t give us a complete picture of a very dynamic process. In any case, it would be, in my opinion, highly premature to highlight this as a known sex-based difference without a lot more research. 

Satellite cell number increased significantly from baseline to post-training in higher responders (p = 0.026), but not lower responders (p = 0.118). There was a significant positive correlation (r = 0.471; p = 0.007) between the percent change in satellite cells per fiber and the mean change in fiber cross-sectional area. These results are shown in Figures 2 and 3.

Data are presented as group mean change scores ± SD, along with individual values.

These findings align with other data suggesting that myonuclear addition drives superior growth (5), and that the number of satellite cells in an untrained individual is a determinant of his/her hypertrophic potential (6). That said, the extent to which satellite cells are required for hypertrophy is heavily debated. Satellite cells can repair or replace damaged muscle fibers or divide and self-renew to maintain the stem cell pool. An increase in muscle fiber size is often associated with an increase in the number of myonuclei. Satellite cell differentiation results in fusing and donating nuclei to an existing fiber. There is some evidence to suggest that the proliferation, differentiation, and fusion of satellite cells are required for hypertrophic adaptations in both young and older individuals (7) that occur with a concomitant increase in fiber cross-sectional area (8). An “extreme” growth response to resistance exercise appears to include a large increase in the satellite cell pool. The simplest evidence to support the contribution of satellite cells to muscle fiber growth is an evaluation of long-term anabolic steroid users. Eriksson and colleagues reported vastly larger muscle fibers and a greater number of myonuclei per fiber in these individuals (9). There was a positive correlation between the number of myonuclei per fiber and the fiber cross-sectional area, which provides compelling evidence that myonuclear number contributes to hypertrophic adaptations.

That said, satellite cells certainly serve other functions, including remodeling of the satellite cell niche and maintenance/renewal of the satellite cell pool. Thus, an increase in satellite cell number is not necessarily indicative of a growth response (10). This is further demonstrated by evidence that satellite cells contribute to non-hypertrophic remodeling in response to aerobic interval training (11). It is conceivable that satellite cells are nonessential for muscle hypertrophy in the short term, assuming an upregulation of transcriptional capacity by existing myonuclei. However, they are likely required for longer-term growth and the maintenance of muscle mass, tissue health, and function. 

Application and Takeaways

This body of literature doesn’t provide very practical take-home messages for the coach or the lifter. However, it gives us some insight into the complex process of muscle hypertrophy, which is pretty fascinating in my opinion! It is also a reminder of the variability in the response to resistance training between individuals. Perhaps at some point in the future, we will be able to tease out the mechanisms for higher and lower responses to particular resistance training programs. For example, why do some individuals respond better to higher volume or higher intensity training than other individuals? There is a lot more work to do in this area, and our ability to explore these nuanced, complex processes will improve with the development of more sensitive analytical techniques. 

References Smith MA, Sexton CL, Smith KA, Osburn SC, Godwin JS, Beausejour JP, Ruple BA, Goodlett MD, Edison JL, Fruge AD, Robinson AT, Gladden LB, Young KC, Roberts MD. Molecular predictors of resistance training outcomes in young untrained female adults. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2023 Mar;134(3):491-507. Roberts MD, Haun CT, Mobley CB, Mumford PW, Romero MA, Roberson PA, Vann CG, McCarthy JJ. Physiological Differences Between Low Versus High Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophic Responders to Resistance Exercise Training: Current Perspectives and Future Research Directions. Front Physiol. 2018 Jul 4;9:834. Brook MS, Wilkinson DJ, Smith K, Atherton PJ. It’s not just about protein turnover: the role of ribosomal biogenesis and satellite cells in the regulation of skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Eur J Sport Sci. 2019 Aug;19(7):952-963. Sexton CL, Smith MA, Smith KS, Osburn SC, Godwin JS, Ruple BA, Hendricks AM, Mobley CB, Goodlett MD, Frugé AD, Young KC, Roberts MD. Effects of Peanut Protein Supplementation on Resistance Training Adaptations in Younger Adults. Nutrients. 2021 Nov 9;13(11):3981. Petrella JK, Kim JS, Cross JM, Kosek DJ, Bamman MM. Efficacy of myonuclear addition may explain differential myofiber growth among resistance-trained young and older men and women. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Nov;291(5):E937-46. Petrella JK, Kim JS, Mayhew DL, Cross JM, Bamman MM. Potent myofiber hypertrophy during resistance training in humans is associated with satellite cell-mediated myonuclear addition: a cluster analysis. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2008 Jun;104(6):1736-42. Roth SM, Martel GF, Ivey FM, Lemmer JT, Tracy BL, Metter EJ, Hurley BF, Rogers MA. Skeletal muscle satellite cell characteristics in young and older men and women after heavy resistance strength training. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2001 Jun;56(6):B240-7. Blocquiaux S, Gorski T, Van Roie E, Ramaekers M, Van Thienen R, Nielens H, Delecluse C, De Bock K, Thomis M. The effect of resistance training, detraining and retraining on muscle strength and power, myofibre size, satellite cells and myonuclei in older men. Exp Gerontol. 2020 May;133:110860. Eriksson A, Kadi F, Malm C, Thornell LE. Skeletal muscle morphology in power-lifters with and without anabolic steroids. Histochem Cell Biol. 2005 Aug;124(2):167-75 Mackey AL, Holm L, Reitelseder S, Pedersen TG, Doessing S, Kadi F, Kjaer M. Myogenic response of human skeletal muscle to 12 weeks of resistance training at light loading intensity. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011 Dec;21(6):773-82. Joanisse S, Gillen JB, Bellamy LM, McKay BR, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ, Parise G. Evidence for the contribution of muscle stem cells to nonhypertrophic skeletal muscle remodeling in humans. FASEB J. 2013 Nov;27(11):4596-605

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- Eric Helms
Crash Dieting is Still a Bad Idea

Note: This article was the MASS Research Review cover story for April 2023 and is a review of a recent paper by Vargas-Molina et al. If you want more content like this, subscribe to MASS.

Key Points  14 resistance-trained women were randomized into two groups: a severe energy deficit group (25kcal/kg of fat-free mass per day) or a progressive energy deficit group (40kcal/kg of fat-free mass per day, decreasing by 5kcal/kg every two weeks) for eight weeks.   After eight weeks of dieting combined with resistance and cardiovascular training, there were no significant differences between groups for changes in body composition or performance.  Notably, the severe energy deficit group was prescribed a greater net energy deficit for the eight weeks observed; however, they did not lose more fat or body mass. Thus, likely due to poorer adherence, the intended greater net energy deficit did not occur.     

We all want to reach our goals yesterday, which is why the allure of crash dieting will never go away, and why studies like the presently reviewed one (1) are important. On paper, there is a lot of appeal to faster weight loss. You spend less time altering your lifestyle and being uncomfortable, and you make fast, visible progress which can be very motivating. Unfortunately, what works on paper doesn’t always work in the real world. As discussed by Dr. Trexler in his review of a meta-analysis comparing slow versus faster rates of weight loss (2), when comparing interventions that result in similar total weight loss, faster rates lead to a slightly higher proportion of weight lost as lean mass, a slightly lower proportion as fat mass, and slightly greater metabolic adaptation. Thus, it seems the fable “the tortoise versus the hare” applies in the context of dieting. However, savvy readers might say “that’s only when matching for similar weight loss – the whole purpose of choosing a faster rate of loss is to lose more total weight in the same time frame.” That’s absolutely true; however, the present study suggests that attempts at rapid weight loss don’t always result in more total weight loss than slower diets, even when applied over the same time period. In the present review, we’ll dive into these findings and discuss what happened (and why).

Purpose and Hypotheses Purpose

The authors stated that “the aim of this study was to compare the effects of an 8-week high-protein SER [severe energy deficit] or PER [progressive energy deficit] dietary intervention accompanied by a high-volume concurrent training (CT) program on body composition and strength-related variables in resistance-trained women.”


The authors hypothesized “that eight weeks of a [progressive energy deficit] intervention would elicit a greater reduction in FM [fat mass] while maintaining FFM [fat-free mass] and strength levels compared to a [severe energy deficit] due to a better adherence to the nutritional strategy in resistance-trained women.” 

Subjects and Methods Subjects

14 women (29.5 ± 3.8 years old; 164.9 ± 7.0 cm tall; 63.1 ± 9.0 kg body mass; 23.8 ± 2.8 BMI) with at least two years of training experience and no reported performance enhancing drug use in the last two years participated in this study. Participants had to be between the ages of 18-35, regularly menstruating, and were not permitted to perform any exercise outside of the study or use any ergogenic supplements during the study.  

Study Design

This randomized, parallel-group trial compared body composition and performance changes over eight weeks in women performing concurrent aerobic and resistance training split between two groups: a severe energy deficit group (n = 7) and a progressive energy deficit group (n = 7). All participants in this study were recruited following the completion of a prior eight-week study by the same lab group where they were prescribed a 45kcal/kg of fat-free mass per day ketogenic diet while performing resistance training for the purpose of increasing muscle mass (3; reviewed here). Prescribed training was identical in both groups in the present study, with the only variable that differed being the severity and pattern of energy restriction. 

Diet Specifics

In the severe group, the participants were prescribed a 25kcal/kg of fat-free mass per day diet and were instructed to follow it for the full eight weeks. However, the progressive group started at 40kcal/kg of fat-free mass per day and reduced this intake every two weeks by 5kcal/kg per day. Thus, they consumed 40kcal/kg of fat-free mass per day in weeks one and two, 35kcal/kg in weeks three and four, 30kcal/kg in weeks five and six, and 25kcal/kg per day in weeks seven and eight. Individuals in both groups were assigned macronutrient distributions of 2g/kg of protein, 1g/kg of fat, and the remaining calories from carbohydrates. All participants recorded digital food logs using the MyFitnessPal app and received guidance from “a sports nutritionist with experience in RT [resistance training]” who helped them manage their diets. (I’d add that they also had been doing so for the previous eight weeks since they were recruited out of a prior study.) 

Training Specifics 

Participants trained six days per week, following a four day per week upper/lower resistance training split (two upper-body sessions and two lower-body sessions per week), and performed a total of six aerobic training sessions. Resistance training sessions followed a format where the participants completed heavy multi-joint exercises paired with light single-joint exercises (super sets). Immediately following the resistance training session, the participants performed 20 minutes of cycling at 65% of heart rate reserve, and on two non-lifting days, they performed 45 minute aerobic sessions at the same intensity. They had one “rest day” per week on which they abstained from both aerobic and resistance training. Specific details of the training plan are displayed in Figure 1.

Graphic by Anna Wilder Testing Specifics

Pre- and post-intervention body composition was measured by DXA seven days after menstruation to prevent hormone-mediated water retention from confounding the results. Notably, the authors reported not only lean mass changes but also lean mass changes corrected for “fat-free adipose tissue.” Since only ~85% of adipose tissue is actually fat mass, this means the remaining ~15% of adipose tissue is technically fat-free mass (4). Thus, they reported both lean mass changes and lean mass changes minus this fat-free adipose tissue value. To assess changes in performance, participants’ countermovement jump height and Smith machine squat and bench press 1RMs were assessed following 48 hours of exercise abstention at both pre- and post-testing.

Findings Nutrition

Macronutrient and energy intakes were estimated from food records, as shown in Table 1. While energy intake was lower in the severe deficit group in weeks one and two (p = 0.01), there were no significant energy intake differences in weeks three to six (p = 0.12-0.17). Despite intentions, the severe intake group had a significantly higher energy intake than the progressive deficit group in weeks seven and eight (p = 0.003).

Graphic by Anna Wilder Body Composition

There were no significant body composition group differences (p = 0.11-0.52). Versus baseline, both groups lost significant body and fat mass, but only the progressive deficit group lost a significant amount of fat-free mass (-0.6 ± 0.4 kg; p = 0.008). Fat-free mass reductions in the severe group were similar in magnitude, but were not statistically significant (-0.4 ± 0.8 kg; p = 0.258). When corrected for fat-free adipose tissue, neither group’s change was significant (p = 0.07-0.58). Even without this correction, however, there were no between group differences, mean changes in fat-free (-0.6 ± 0.4 vs -0.4 ± 0.8) and corrected fat-free mass (-0.3 ± 0.1 vs -0.2 ± 0.1) were similar (and small), and in Figure 2, you’ll see one subject gained over a kilogram of fat-free mass in the severe group. This likely caused this group to not have a significant drop in fat-free mass. Thus, ultimately, there were no statistically discernible or meaningful body composition differences between groups.   

Graphic by Anna Wilder Performance

As shown in Figure 3, there were no significant changes within either group compared to their baseline performance values (p = 0.10-0.94), nor were there any significant differences between groups over time (p = 0.39-0.97).

Graphic by Anna Wilder Interpretation

If these participants were robots, you’d have expected greater total body mass losses as well as fat mass losses in the severe energy deficit group. While the progressive deficit group eventually got to the same relative energy intake of 25kcal/kg of fat-free mass per day as the severe deficit group, for the first six weeks of this eight-week study the progressive deficit group was prescribed a higher relative energy intake (30-40kcal/kg of fat-free mass). Thus, on paper, the net energy deficit should have been higher in the severe deficit group, and subsequently, they should have lost more body mass and fat mass. But, that’s not what happened. If that had happened, this interpretation would have a different focus. Instead of writing about the impact of larger or smaller deficits on adherence, which I will discuss, I’d focus on their impacts on body composition. In the interest of completeness and to be charitable to faster weight loss, let’s take a diversion and discuss another study with a subtly different design before I dive into the present findings. 

Garthe and colleagues published a study in 2011 where they prescribed a group of mixed-sex elite athletes diets intended to cause “slow” weekly body mass losses of 0.7% or “fast” losses of 1.4% (5). While dieting, the athletes performed a four-day upper/lower resistance training split in addition to their sports training, quite similar to the present study. However, the authors prescribed the diets based on weight loss targets, rather than relative energy intake. Specifically, they made an ecologically valid design decision to prescribe individualized diet lengths based on the personal goal weight and group assignment (0.7% or 1.4% target weekly weight loss) of each participant. For example, a 70kg athlete who wanted to lose 5kg would have been prescribed a five-week diet if they’d been assigned to the fast loss group, but a 10-week diet if they’d been assigned to the slow loss group. Thus, there was a mean diet length of 8.5 ± 2.2 and 5.3 ± 0.9 weeks in the slow and fast loss groups, respectively. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given this was a group of elite athletes, adherence was quite high as indicated by the same mean body mass losses (-4.2 ± 0.6 kg) in both groups (which was again, accomplished faster by the fast loss group). However, as shown in Figure 4, the proportions of the body composition changes differed between groups such that there were significant differences in lean and fat mass changes favoring the slow loss group. The slow loss group actually gained a small amount of lean mass on average, while the fast loss group lost a small amount of lean mass on average, and thus, subsequently lost a smaller proportion of their weight as fat mass. 

Graphic by Anna Wilder

The findings of Garthe and colleagues illustrate that at best, faster weight loss is a trade-off where you reach your goal slightly faster, but the results are slightly poorer. Like the present study, a progressive, challenging resistance training protocol was followed and sufficient protein was consumed (~1.6g/kg in the study by Garthe), yet results still favored the slower loss group. This shows how the size of the energy deficit is one of the most important variables dictating diet success. To be fair, however, you might view the results differently if you primarily value getting to your goal faster, as the loss in lean body mass was not much in the fast loss group (-0.3 ± 0.4 kg). Thus, this trade-off may potentially be worth it to some people in some instances (as a side note, however, this whole discussion gets more complicated if the goal is to maintain weight loss long term, rather than simply reaching a target weight for competition).

If we take the findings of Garthe and tie them into the present study, we get another layer of nuance. Specifically, we realize that the entire concept of faster weight loss being a potentially worthwhile trade-off only makes sense if it actually works. The present study didn’t use variable, individualized diet lengths for each participant. Instead, everyone had to diet for eight weeks. That means the severe energy deficit group had to tough out a larger deficit for much longer, while the progressive energy deficit group was only prescribed a similarly challenging deficit for the final two weeks, after six weeks of easier dieting with the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” quite close. This probably influenced the adherence to the diet, as the severe deficit group only recorded a significantly lower energy intake compared to the progressive deficit group for the first two weeks of the diet. Then, adherence likely started to wane, and the energy intakes of the two groups were not significantly different in weeks three to six, and in fact, the progressive deficit group (despite being prescribed the same relative energy intake) consumed significantly lower calories than the severe deficit group in the final two weeks. This finding aligns with something we’ve anecdotally observed for years at 3D Muscle Journey. As described by my colleague Coach Alberto Nuńez, there is an inverse relationship between the prescribed energy deficit and diet adherence, such that the intention to diet harder results in more adherence issues, and – as shown in the present study – can actually land you in the same place you’d have gotten to with a less aggressive diet, but with more frustration and self-loathing. Whether it was the fact that the fast loss participants in the study by Garthe had shorter diets or because they were elite athletes (or likely both), they had better adherence to a larger deficit than the participants in the severe deficit group in the present study. 

Therefore, it might be ok to use larger deficits to pursue faster weight loss when you do it for a shorter period of time. Thus, if you have a lot of weight to lose, and therefore a longer-term goal, larger deficits probably aren’t a good idea, at least for the entirety of the diet. Although, you could potentially implement large deficits initially, subsequently decreasing the size of the deficit (or taking a diet break) when things get challenging. What do I mean by “large?” Well, I probably wouldn’t go higher than a rate of loss in the range of 1.5-2% of body mass per week. Further, the upper end of this rate can be too high in cases of people who weigh in excess of ~200lbs, as it requires very large deficits (2000kcals/day+), so a functional lower limit of 25kcal/kg of fat-free mass – as used in the present study – is probably a decent guideline. But even then, based on prior research, it’s worth the reminder that for the same total weight loss, you might get slightly poorer results in terms of the composition of that weight loss, even when you have the other big rocks in place (progressive resistance training and sufficient protein intake).

Next Steps

This study had a progressive energy deficit group that steadily decreased its intake. But, what about a deficit group that steadily increased its intake? I would like to see a study where two different forms of progressive energy restriction matched for the same prescribed net deficit are compared. Specifically, one group would follow a diet like the progressive group in the present study (although I’d prescribe energy as a percentage reduction from maintenance calories rather than kcal/kg to avoid the impact of individual differences in energy expenditure), and the second group would follow the opposite pattern. Specifically, their energy intake would start low and then get higher over time, such that they’d have the smallest prescribed deficit at the end of the study. Theoretically, I’d hypothesize that when body fat stores are higher and diet fatigue is lower at the start of the diet, the participants would have better adherence to a large deficit. Then, as diet fatigue increased and they lost progressively more body fat, a smaller deficit might improve adherence and reduce losses in lean mass. Lastly, it would be ideal if energy expenditure was measured in this proposed study to determine if metabolic adaptations differed between groups (which notably weren’t measured in the present study). 

Application and Takeaways

Fast weight loss, or at least the intention to lose weight faster, can backfire. As shown in the present study, trying to follow a larger deficit doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to. You might get to the same place you would have with a less aggressive approach, but with more frustration. Even when you can stick to a more aggressive deficit, the quality of your body composition changes might be poorer than if you’d lost the same amount of weight over a longer time period. While there are times this trade-off might be worthwhile, a weight-loss rate of 0.5-1% of body mass per week is generally a better choice to improve adherence and body composition outcomes.         

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References Vargas-Molina S, Bonilla DA, Petro JL, Carbone L, García-Sillero M, Jurado-Castro JM, et al. Efficacy of progressive versus severe energy restriction on body composition and strength in concurrent trained women. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2023 Feb 17, Epub ahead of print.  Ashtary-Larky D, Bagheri R, Abbasnezhad A, Tinsley GM, Alipour M, Wong A. Effects of gradual weight loss v. rapid weight loss on body composition and RMR: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2020 Dec 14;124(11):1121-1132. Vargas-Molina S, Petro JL, Romance R, Kreider RB, Schoenfeld BJ, Bonilla DA, et al. Effects of a ketogenic diet on body composition and strength in trained women. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2020 Apr 10;17(1):19. Heymsfield SB, Gallagher D, Kotler DP, Wang Z, Allison DB, Heshka S. Body-size dependence of resting energy expenditure can be attributed to nonenergetic homogeneity of fat-free mass. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Jan;282(1):E132-8. Garthe I, Raastad T, Refsnes PE, Koivisto A, Sundgot-Borgen J. Effect of two different weight-loss rates on body composition and strength and power-related performance in elite athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011 Apr;21(2):97-104.

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- Eric Helms
Specificity: Conceptually Simple, but Deceptively Complex

Note: This article was the MASS Research Review cover story for March 2023. If you want more content like this, subscribe to MASS.

The principle of specificity, or “SAID” principle, is a fundamental tenet of exercise science that states that the body will make “Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands” (1). Every trainer and exercise science student becomes familiar with this principle very early in their education, along with other principles like overload and individuality. Before I go further, however, let me state clearly that I’m absolutely not going to frame this article as an “everything you thought you knew about specificity is wrong” takedown. Despite how common this approach is in the social media era and how it can pull people in emotionally, everything you thought you knew about specificity is not wrong (although doctors do hate me for the one weird trick I’ve discovered). Rather, at least initially, I think some people just conceptualize specificity too narrowly, and this can get them, or their athletes, into trouble. Therefore, this article will help you broaden your perspective on specificity, so you can understand its nuance and apply it to getting stronger. 

Moving Beyond a Spectrum

In my experience, many people view or present specificity as a spectrum, from less to more specific. Depending on the context, at least in powerlifting, this spectrum could be applied to load or movement specificity. The idea being, that less specific movements or loads, visualized on the left side of the spectrum, have less transfer for every “unit” of training to the movement or load shown on the right side of the spectrum that you are trying to enhance (Figure 1). I first discussed this simplified view of specificity and the problems with it (in MASS at least) in a video back in Volume 4, Issue 3, and I’ll expand on it further here. 

While it’s conceptually true that 100% of 1RM is more specific to a max attempt in competition than anything lighter, and that the competition lifts will generally transfer to themselves more than any other movement, if one was to take this concept in a vacuum and apply it universally to programming, it would miss a lot of nuance and lead to problems. For one, the complexity of the movement matters to an extent. Rossi and colleagues (2) compared a group performing only leg presses, to a group performing only squats, to a group performing half of their training as squats and half as leg presses to see the effects on squat and leg press 1RM. Notably, while the only-squats group increased their squat 1RM significantly more than the only leg press group and had the largest improvement in squat 1RM out of the groups, all three groups had very similar increases in leg press 1RM. This illustrates that more complex movements are more “sensitive” to specificity. But even if we constrain this conversation to complex movements, like multi-joint free weight lifts, there’s still missing nuance in a spectrum view. To illustrate it, here’s a simple question: what’s more specific, a single at 80% of 1RM using your competition style, or a max attempt on a close variation? It’s not so clear, as one is more specific to the movement, and the other is more specific to the load. Ultimately, if you choose to view specificity as a spectrum, at the very least you have to consider that both movement and load specificity are constantly in interplay. But even then, a simple spectrum view doesn’t represent the complexity of motor learning, or training. 

Before I explain why, let me first say it’s completely understandable if you view specificity this way. I used to, and I applied it to my own programming. I remember attempting to do as much highly specific training as possible. I saw any deviation from highly specific load or movement specificity as a necessary evil that I had to partake in to manage joint pain, under recovery, or burn out. But I thought if I could somehow do more highly specific training without it causing pain, injury, under recovery, or burn out, it would be better. However, the way I was rigidly viewing specificity was not supported by the data. Another fundamental concept you might be less familiar with than specificity, is the motor learning principle of varied practice, which I discussed in my video in Volume 6, Issue 5. It states that you can more effectively learn motor skills when multiple variations of the skill are practiced in a given period, as opposed to just practicing the same skill over and over. There is a great discussion by Chua and colleagues (3) in their multi-experiment paper where they demonstrate how varied practice – by switching up the distances from the target – improves accuracy when throwing a ball or golf putting, at least in part by enhancing attentional focus. Not only do the experiments themselves demonstrate how varied practice enhances motor learning (and perhaps why), but the authors also cite and discuss much of the foundational work since the 1970’s that’s reported how varied practice leverages “contextual interference” to reinforce learning motor skills in various contexts (Mike has a great video on these concepts here). Now you might be wondering, how much of this data is on lifting, and do these concepts apply to lifting? That’s a valid question, as most of the data are not on lifting, but other sporting tasks. Further, in “open” skills like throwing and cutting, you have to react to an opponent, gauge distance, and the environment can change how the skill is performed (i.e., open skills are performed in a dynamic, changing environment). In contrast, “closed” skills like lifting (or swimming, cycling, track and field, etc.) are relatively static in comparison, so it’s not unreasonable to hypothesize that varied practice isn’t as beneficial for lifting. However, there are studies that hint at the benefit of varied practice specifically for lifting. Even moreso, some indicate that movement variability may be even more important than load variability. Specifically, in 2014 Fonseca and colleagues found that lifters who divided their volume across not only the Smith machine squat, but also the deadlift, lunge, and leg press, gained more Smith machine squat strength than lifters who performed all of their volume on just the Smith machine squat, even when the lifters who only squatted varied the load and repetition range they used (4). If that finding makes you a little uncomfortable, or seems illogical, I get it. When I first wrestled with these concepts I thought “how could practicing something less similar to the skill I’m trying to enhance be better than practicing the skill itself?”

Well, first consider that there are limits to the concept of varied practice. I’m sure you can think of things so dissimilar from the skill you’re trying to enhance that they couldn’t be considered variants of it. Certainly, no one is advocating that swimming transfers to your deadlift (although if done between bouts of deadlifting it might provide contextual interference and help retention, but I digress). Remember, we’re in a bubble as powerlifters, with a skewed view of specificity. To an outsider, an approach like Westside seems very similar to a highly specific, competition lift-only approach. So obviously, specificity to some degree is always needed and is a fundamental part of training. But beyond understanding that, I think I can alleviate further discomfort and skepticism by addressing the concept of the dose of specificity

To many, the spectrum view implies that higher loads and more specific movement variations transfer more efficiently per unit of training, and that therefore you should do the highest dose of specific training you can handle. But when you think about it, that’s actually a logical leap. Even if we accept specificity as a spectrum, the spectrum doesn’t tell us what dose of specific training is needed to get the maximal benefit out of it. What if a low dose of specificity, below the total time and energy a lifter had, was all that was needed to get the maximal benefit from highly specific training? Moreso, what if additional specific training beyond that low dose provided dramatically less benefit per “unit” of training, or was even counterproductive? If true, it would be more efficient to spend additional time in the gym doing something else. In the rest of this article, I’ll go over the rationale and data that suggest that may in fact be the case.     

The Cost of Specificity

Way back in Volume 2, Dr. Zourdos reviewed a paper where similar gains in strength were observed in a group that kept the same, peak load each set, compared to two other groups that either reduced their loads after the first set by 5% or 10% (5). Not only were strength gains similar, the perception of effort was lower in the group that reduced load by 10%. Thus, it seemed that the key factor influencing increases in strength was exposure to the peak load, not necessarily the total volume with that peak load. More importantly, this study does not stand in isolation. You might be familiar with Schoenfeld et al’s 2017 meta-analysis which reported a diminishing, yet notable dose-response relationship between performing 1-4, 5-9, and 10+ sets per muscle group per week, respectively, with enhanced hypertrophy (6). On average, 64% of the hypertrophy effect size associated with performing 10+ sets was observed with 1-4 sets, and 84% with 5-9. However, that same year Ralston and colleagues published a similar meta-analysis on maximal strength gain using the same sets per week categories (7). Ralston categorized them as sets per exercise not per muscle, and in Figure 2 the relative effects are side by side to compare.    

You’ll notice two things when examining the figure. First, Ralston combined the 5-9 and 10+ sets per week categories which had nearly identical mean effect sizes of 0.98 and 1.01, respectively, which I’ve labeled as 5-12 (as that covers the range of study volumes that were represented). Secondly, the difference between 1-4 sets and 5-12 is small, as 81% of the strength gain effect size associated with 5-12 sets was achieved, on average, with just 1-4 sets per week. In fact, technically, while the differences between 1-4 and 5-12 sets were significant, they would be classified as “trivial” as they were mostly below the cut off of 0.2 for the “small” classification. These findings indicate that you don’t need a ton of volume to enhance strength, and indirectly they suggest that if you have more time and energy to train, maybe it would be better spent on something else rather than additional, specific training. The pushback against this interpretation is that five of the nine studies in the Ralston meta-analysis were on untrained individuals, and therefore the findings might not apply to trained lifters. And furthermore, from the perspective of a competitive lifter trying to do everything in their power to get stronger, you could argue that the diminishing returns associated with higher volumes of specific work, even if they are technically “trivial”, are still worth the extra time and energy. I understand this pushback, but ultimately I don’t think the data support it. 

In 2021 one of our awesome guest reviewers, Dr. “Pak,” wrote about a study from his PhD in which competitive powerlifters made gains greater than what would be considered meaningful by elite powerlifters and powerlifting coaches by doing a “231” with back-off sets approach for six weeks (8). Specifically, 231 refers to the weekly frequency that these powerlifters worked up to a single at a 9-9.5 RPE on the squat, bench, and deadlift, respectively (i.e., two singles on squat, three on bench, one on deadlift). They then followed the single with 2 × 3 back off sets at 80% of that single. Meaning, these competitive powerlifters made substantial gains doing just 14, 21, and seven total working reps (not sets) on the squat, bench, and deadlift per week, respectively. This successful low volume, yet highly specific approach, in powerlifters, shows that highly specific training is both very effective (at least in the short term), but also that you really don’t need very much of it. Furthermore, there are additional data on competitive lifters that suggest doing more highly specific training can even be counterproductive. Notably, Gonzalez-Badillo and colleagues took 29 junior weightlifters and divided them into three volume equated groups which performed different proportions of their total training volume on the squat, snatch, and clean and jerk in the 90-100% of 1RM range and compared their strength gains (9). The low, moderate, and high proportion of high load training groups performed 46, 93, and 184 reps in the 90-100% of 1RM range during 10 weeks of training, respectively. Despite the proportion of specific, heavy training doubling in the low compared to moderate, and moderate compared to high proportion groups, no significant differences in strength gains occurred. If anything, the lower and moderate proportion groups actually performed better, as effect sizes and percentage increases in strength were highest in the moderate proportion group, and the low and moderate proportion groups significantly increased their clean and jerk and their squat, while the high proportion group only increased their squat 1RM from baseline. 

Why might this be? Well, let’s consider some of the costs of performing a ton of highly specific training. First, it takes time to perform heavy squats and deadlifts, and to a lesser degree bench presses. Heavy multi-joint lifts require multiple warm up sets to acclimate to and longer rest times between sets to recover from than lighter sets, or machine or single-joint exercises. Indeed, for a strong lifter, performing 5 heavy sets with a competition lift might take more than half an hour. In that same time, you can perform twice as many sets with less complex assistance lifts. If you’ve followed MASS for a while, you know that at least to some degree, over some time frame, if a muscle gets bigger it will likely produce more force and thus, contribute to strength gains (Greg did a great job going in depth on this here). If all your time and energy is spent performing highly specific training, that leaves minimal time or energy for higher rep hypertrophy sets, or accessory work. Also, heavy sets are just less efficient in this regard, as 2-4RM loads produce less hypertrophy on a per set basis than lighter loads in the 8-12RM range (10). While you can gain similar muscle mass using heavy sets with the competition lifts, it’s hard to justify why you would since you may have to perform multiple additional sets to get equivalent hypertrophy to fewer moderate rep sets (11). Furthermore, machine-based exercises produce lower perceived exertion than free weight lower body exercises (12), and bodybuilders (who train lighter, with more single joint and machine-based exercises) have lower injury rates than powerlifters or weightlifters (13). Unless you think there is something qualitatively unique and important enough about the increase in quadriceps muscle size you get from 7 × 3 on squats that transfers better to long term strength than the same increase in muscle size you get from 3 × 10 on leg presses, it’s hard to justify only doing highly specific training, all the time. 

All this is not to say that a highly specific approach won’t work, but it might be short lived. Our very own Dr. Zourdos conducted a case series on three competitive lifters who performed daily squat maxes followed by 5 × 3 or 5 × 2 at 85 or 90% of the daily max, respectively, for 37 days straight (video here). All three lifters increased their strength from start to peak roughly in the range of ~6-10%, which is a lot over this short time period. However, it’s notable that the changes in muscle thickness at the three measured quadriceps sites were either small, or at one site for each participant, actually decreased (14). Further, in an earlier pilot study by Dr. Pak (which Dr. Zourdos reviewed) a group of Greek powerlifters, who took the aforementioned 231 approach without back off sets for 11 weeks leading into nationals, made respectable gains initially, but plateaued after 4-7 weeks. However, the comparative group which used a higher volume, traditional periodized approach made more consistent gains and ended up performing better on the platform (15). To conclude, there are costs to highly specific approaches to training, which might not be worth the gains you get out of them. In addition to these costs, if “specific training” in application is a cookie cutter approach that provides the same answer to all lifters in all situations: “just max out or just do more volume on the big three.” Then, it’s actually not specific to the plateaus lifters deal with in the real world. In the final section of this article, I’ll discuss situations where an approach that appears less specific generally, can sometimes be more specific to the issues individual lifters face. 

Performance Bottlenecks 

In the previous section I leaned heavily on research to make my points, because hey, this is MASS. But, in this section I want to put my coaching hat on and lean heavily on my experiences as a lifter and powerlifting coach. In my experience, getting stronger in the early stages of your powerlifting career is a relatively straightforward process (although it’s not necessarily easy). You are not yet skilled with the competition lifts, you don’t yet have much muscle mass, and you don’t yet have the skills or knowledge that facilitate an environment conducive to recovery, adaptation, and performance like a sport-supportive diet, sleep schedule, or mental outlook on competition. But, any reasonable, progressive training approach, that isn’t too specific or non-specific, coupled with the basic tenets of sports nutrition, sleep hygiene, and the perspective you’ll gain from a couple years under the bar, will take you quite far relative to your potential. At a higher level, however, you start to run into what I would call performance bottlenecks, or “weak points” that limit further improvement. 

For example, about ten years ago Bryce Lewis was breaking through to the 700lbs deadlift barrier. I’d been working with him for about two years at this point, and he was a conventional puller. We’d flirted with sumo, but found he wasn’t any stronger with it, so we scrapped it. However, as he got stronger, his deadlift sessions took more and more out of him. Soreness would bleed into squat sessions, and a second deadlift day, even if we kept it light, seemed to be too much. So, we made the switch to sumo purely because he could recover from it faster. This allowed him to train the competition deadlift, which was now sumo, more frequently and he made a new spurt in strength and crossed the 700lbs barrier. This is a useful example in a couple of ways. For one, it shows the cost of specific training can sometimes be its own bottleneck to further progress, requiring an individualized solution. Secondly, in this case, the solution was to change the definition of what was specific (to sumo), which allowed a higher dose of specific training, which broke the plateau (see, more specificity isn’t always bad). 

However, the next bottleneck Bryce faced was different. As he continued to get stronger, his grip started to become the limiting factor. Even though he could now deadlift two to three times per week using a sumo style, he got to the point where he could pull more with straps and would occasionally miss deadlifts on grip. Obviously, a terrible decision would be to add another heavy deadlift session to improve his grip strength. Yes, the SAID principle suggests that a heavy deadlift is the most specific way to get the deadlift-specific grip strength you need to do a heavy deadlift. But, an additional session of heavy deadlifts would have had a negative impact on the whole program. Instead, I simply programmed heavy barbell holds for time, having him load up near his deadlift max in the rack, just below his lockout height. Doing a two inch range of motion rack pull proved far less taxing than an additional day of deadlifting. He’d hold these weights for time, steadily increasing the weight, and the grip bottleneck was reliably fixed each time it came up as he continued to get stronger, without negatively impacting other aspects of the program.  

For another example, I used to work with a lifter who was very flexible who also quickly developed a sound technical skill with the competition lifts. Also, despite being a 57kg lifter, she could comfortably bench with a nearly max legal width grip. I initially took a pretty basic approach with her, primarily focused on the main lifts, without much accessory work. Since she had a solid arch, she built a respectable bench – just under bodyweight – after lifting for under a year. However, her bench then plateaued, and I also noticed that while she’d built visible muscle mass in her lower body, the same wasn’t true in her pressing musculature. As we’ve discussed numerous times in MASS (here, here, here), it seems the primary benefit of full range of motion training is that it puts tension on the muscle at a long muscle length, which leads to superior hypertrophy (16). But I wasn’t specifically familiar with this body of research at the time, I simply noticed she was doing a lot of benching, but only competition style, in multiple rep ranges, and her upper body was not growing. So, I started swapping out some of her bench sessions for non-arched flat and incline dumbbell pressing, push ups, dips, and close grip bench. She started getting stronger again. Now, it’s possible that like what I think was observed by Fonseca and colleagues (4), she just benefitted from varied practice. But, she didn’t just get stronger, she also grew her delts, triceps, and pecs, which makes me think her bottleneck was a lack of muscle mass due to all her previous pressing being at relatively shorter muscle lengths. Hypothetically, this could also apply to competition deadlifts, but for a different reason than muscle length. Consider a lifter who has underdeveloped hamstrings and glutes, and has a disproportionately weak deadlift, who primarily does competition deadlifts for single repetitions and no accessories. What are they missing (besides a posterior chain)? The eccentric phase. Deadlifts done in a competition style, even if you cluster-set a bunch of singles, are nearly concentric only, as you only have to demonstrate minimal control over the bar on the way down, giving you half the “volume” that an RDL or multi-rep sets of deadlifts with a controlled eccentric might. Over time, such an approach could limit hypertrophy, and thus, strength.

As a final anecdote from my coaching experience, I’ve found that multiple lifters I’ve worked with have benefited from paused deadlifts at mid-shin. But, I don’t apply this haphazardly. Rather, I use this as a teaching tool when a lifter regularly loses position on deadlifts such that the bar drifts away from their shins, resulting in a missed lift. When lifters exert a lot of force immediately to get a bar moving off the ground, they sometimes struggle to maintain control of the bar position and lose it forward. Some lifters aren’t aware that this is what’s causing them to miss, as it all happens so fast. However, forcing them to pause in the range of motion where they sometimes lose shin contact gives them more of an opportunity to notice when the lost contact occurs, and correct it (at least this is what I think is happening). Ultimately, doing a lighter, less specific variation of the deadlift has reliably led to a number of my lifters fixing this specific technical issue, and improving their competition deadlift at what seems like a faster pace than if I’d just had them do more competition deadlifts.

If you view specificity as the spectrum I initially laid out, holding a barbell for time in a cage, or doing an RDL, or a paused deadlift is less specific than a heavy competition deadlift, and incline dumbbell presses or push ups are less specific than bench press. However, if you view each individual case study as a specific problem with a specific solution, grip training is more specific than a deadlift to improve grip strength, full range of motion (at a long muscle length) pressing is more specific than an arched, max-width bench press to increase upper body muscle size, RDLs are more specific for building the posterior chain than concentric only deadlifts, and slowing down at the specific part of a movement where you make a mistake is more likely to help you fix the mistake than blowing by it. These anecdotal and hypothetical examples are just that, but I can (and I’m sure you can too) think of other examples where a “non-specific” programming decision is more specific to the problem at hand.  


Specificity is a fundamental principle of exercise science, and that’s never going to change. But that doesn’t mean that any “non-specific” training would be better spent on specific training, nor does it mean that there often aren’t disproportionate costs to specific training that sometimes make it counterproductive. The principle of specificity also isn’t a trump card in the proverbial deck of exercise science principles that inherently supersedes other principles. You don’t get to trump the principle of individuality and put everyone on a “specific” cookie cutter approach, or trump varied practice and assume that it doesn’t apply to human movement when a barbell is involved. There are also times when something generally considered “non-specific” is actually quite specific to an individual lifter’s situation. Just to reiterate, I’m not suggesting that specificity isn’t powerful or doesn’t work. It is, and it does. Research and real world experience demonstrate that even a small dose of specific training can result in large gains in strength in short time periods, even in well-trained lifters. But like all things, there is a limit to how much of it you can benefit from, and unfortunately, as the returns diminish from additional specific training, the fatigue only compounds and injury risk may be higher (although, admittedly injury risk is a complex topic). So, my advice is be very thoughtful in how you apply specificity, and instead of reflexively pulling the lever of more specificity when you have already pulled it, consider what other options are available first.  

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References Haff GG, Triplett NT, editors. Essentials of strength training and conditioning 4th edition. Human kinetics; 2015 Sep 23.  Rossi FE, Schoenfeld BJ, Ocetnik S, Young J, Vigotsky A, Contreras B, et al. Strength, body composition, and functional outcomes in the squat versus leg press exercises. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2018 Mar;58(3):263-270. Chua LK, Dimapilis MK, Iwatsuki T, Abdollahipour R, Lewthwaite R, Wulf G. Practice variability promotes an external focus of attention and enhances motor skill learning. Hum Mov Sci. 2019 Apr;64:307-319. Fonseca RM, Roschel H, Tricoli V, de Souza EO, Wilson JM, Laurentino GC, et al. Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Nov;28(11):3085-92. Lima BM, Amancio RS, Gonçalves DS, Koch AJ, Curty VM, Machado M. Planned Load Reduction Versus Fixed Load: A Strategy to Reduce the Perception of Effort With Similar Improvements in Hypertrophy and Strength. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2018 Oct 1;13(9):1164-1168. Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073-1082. Ralston GW, Kilgore L, Wyatt FB, Baker JS. The Effect of Weekly Set Volume on Strength Gain: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2017 Dec;47(12):2585-2601.  Androulakis-Korakakis P, Michalopoulos N, Fisher JP, Keogh J, Loenneke JP, Helms E, et al. The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required for 1RM Strength in Powerlifters. Front Sports Act Living. 2021 Aug 30;3:713655. González-Badillo JJ, Izquierdo M, Gorostiaga EM. Moderate volume of high relative training intensity produces greater strength gains compared with low and high volumes in competitive weightlifters. J Strength Cond Res. 2006 Feb;20(1):73-81. Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Vigotsky AD, Peterson M. Differential Effects of Heavy Versus Moderate Loads on Measures of Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men. J Sports Sci Med. 2016 Dec 1;15(4):715-722. Schoenfeld BJ, Ratamess NA, Peterson MD, Contreras B, Sonmez GT, Alvar BA. Effects of different volume-equated resistance training loading strategies on muscular adaptations in well-trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Oct;28(10):2909-18. Cavarretta DJ, Bixby WR, Hall EE. Machines versus Free Weights: Does Exercise Mode Influence Affect and Perceived Exertion? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2018 May;50(5S):315-16. Keogh JW, Winwood PW. The Epidemiology of Injuries Across the Weight-Training Sports. Sports Med. 2017 Mar;47(3):479-501. Zourdos MC, Dolan C, Quiles JM, Klemp A, Jo E, Loenneke JP, et al. Efficacy of daily one-repetition maximum training in well-trained powerlifters and weightlifters: a case series. Nutr Hosp. 2016;33(2):437-43. Androulakis-Korakakis P, Fisher JP, Kolokotronis P, Gentil P, Steele J. Reduced Volume ‘Daily Max’ Training Compared to Higher Volume Periodized Training in Powerlifters Preparing for Competition-A Pilot Study. Sports (Basel). 2018 Aug 29;6(3):86. Pedrosa GF, Lima FV, Schoenfeld BJ, Lacerda LT, Simões MG, Pereira MR. Partial range of motion training elicits favorable improvements in muscular adaptations when carried out at long muscle lengths. Eur J Sport Sci. 2022 Aug;22(8):1250-1260.

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- Cameron Gill
The Comprehensive Core Training Guide

When people hear the term “core muscles” in common usage, they often think of the abs and obliques. These are indeed core muscles, but the core musculature is comprised of so much more, and deepening your understanding of this topic may enhance your ability to reach strength and physique goals. Technically, many of the muscles that function exclusively at the hip joint, such as the gluteus medius, are classified as core muscles (20). However, I already discussed many of these hip muscles on Stronger By Science, so we will be specifically exploring the core’s trunk muscles that have lumbar and thoracic spinal functions.

The Trunk

The thoracic spine is comprised of 12 vertebrae that constitute the skeletal upper and middle back, while the lumbar spine is comprised of 5 vertebrae that constitute the skeletal lower back. Spinal movements can occur in all three planes of motion at the joints that are formed between adjacent vertebrae (i.e., intervertebral joints). 

Thoracic Spine  Lumbar Spine

In the sagittal plane, flexion (i.e., rounding forwards) and extension (i.e., arching backwards) can occur. In the frontal plane, lateral flexion (i.e., side bending) can occur to the right or left. In the transverse plane, rotation (i.e., twisting) can occur to one side or the other. Compared to the lumbar intervertebral joints, the thoracic intervertebral joints have much greater transverse plane available ROM (range of motion) but lower sagittal plane ROM (78).

Trunk Flexion Trunk Extension Trunk Lateral Flexion Trunk Rotation

While the thoracic spine can move while the lumbar spine mostly maintains a fixed position and vice versa, I will refer to movement occurring at both regions as a trunk movement for the sake of simplicity. Some muscles exclusively act on the intervertebral joints in one region and different trunk exercises may bias the muscles in one region more than another, but typically an exercise that trains one region can also be performed in a manner to train the other. With respect to a particular core muscle’s ability to generate torque, variation can also exist across the multiple joints within the same spinal region. For example, the psoas major has greater leverage for laterally flexing the lower lumbar spine than the upper lumbar spine (41, 47). If you wish to delve into the finer details of this variation, you can read through the biomechanical studies I cite, but I will not discuss this degree of nuance in this article because it is not really pertinent to practical application. In the context of this article, I will be operationally using the term “trunk” exclusively to describe the lumbar and thoracic spinal regions, which differs from how other people may use this term. Some researchers define trunk motion as “a compound movement involving the simultaneous rotation of the lumbar spine, pelvis, and hips,” which would result in hip extensor muscles such as the gluteus maximus and biarticular hamstrings being classified as trunk extensors (91).

Of particular importance for understanding the functions of the core musculature is the fact that the right and left sides of a core muscle pair can act on opposite sides of the same intervertebral joint. This can result in the right and left sides of a muscle pair functioning as antagonists (i.e., opposing each other) in the frontal and/or transverse plane while acting unilaterally but functioning as synergists (i.e., contributing to the same function) in the sagittal plane while acting bilaterally. To help clarify this concept, let’s compare the internal obliques to the biceps in a simplified example that hypothetically assumes no other muscles are engaged beyond the muscles that are mentioned. When your right biceps contract while your right triceps are relaxed, your right elbow can flex regardless of how much your left biceps are contracting because your left and right biceps are acting on different elbow joints. In this instance, the origin and insertion of the right biceps are pulled closer together, while the origin and insertion of the right triceps (i.e., the biceps’ antagonist) move further apart. However, if your right and left internal obliques generate the same magnitude of force while contracting, the spine will not laterally flex or rotate because the equal and opposite forces counteract each other in those planes. Rather, bilateral internal oblique contraction will cause the spine to flex forward in the sagittal plane, which causes the origins and insertions of both sides of the internal obliques to move closer together. If your right internal oblique contracts while your left internal oblique is relaxed, the spine can laterally flex to the right or rotate to the right, both of which are actions that cause the right internal oblique to shorten while the left oblique (i.e., its antagonist) lengthens.

Let’s take a look at which muscles meaningfully contribute to the four different trunk actions and examples of exercises that train them. For each of these actions, you can perform either a dynamic or isometric (i.e., static) exercise. While you perform the trained function as a movement against resistance during the concentric phase of a dynamic exercise, you will resist movement that opposes the trained function during an isometric exercise. Especially with direct core training, no universally accepted technique exists for every exercise, and more than one name may be used for the same exercise, which can provide some ambiguity when using certain terms. The “back extension” exercise, which is also known as a “hyper extension” and can be performed on a 45° Roman chair or a glute ham developer, is a prime example of this. One lifter may situate his pelvis above the pad and dynamically flex and extend his hips while keeping his trunk in a fixed position. Another lifter may situate his pelvis below the pad and dynamically flex and extend his trunk while no motion occurs at the hip joint. People may refer to both of these lifts as “back extensions,” but the former exercise trains the trunk extensors isometrically and the hip extensors dynamically, while the latter exercise trains the trunk extensors dynamically and the hip extensors isometrically. As I mentioned in a previous Stronger By Science article, similar variation is present with how people perform movements such as hanging leg raises or reverse crunches. Depending on your technique, you can perform these exercises in a manner that trains your abdominal muscles dynamically or isometrically.

Dynamic Hip Extension Exercise on 45° Roman Chair Dynamic Trunk Extension Exercise on 45° Roman Chair Trunk Flexion

Trunk flexion is primarily produced by the rectus abdominis, internal obliques, and external obliques, while the transversus abdominis can also assist to a lesser degree (13, 35, 41, 47, 69, 79).  Of these four muscles, which are all located within the anterior core, the rectus abdominis has the greatest leverage for generating trunk flexion torque. 

Anterior Core Muscle Anatomy (along with other muscles)

Dynamic trunk flexion exercises include variations of crunches, sit ups, hanging leg raises, and v-ups. Isometric trunk flexion exercises, where you resist extension, include front planks, ab wheel or barbell rollouts, “six inches,” and any exercise where bilateral hip flexion is performed dynamically while the trunk maintains a fixed position. 

Cable Crunch and  Hanging Leg Raise Trunk Extension

Trunk extension is primarily produced by the intrinsic back muscles and secondarily assisted by the quadratus lumborum (AKA QL) and latissimus dorsi, all of which are located within the posterior core (13, 35, 41, 47, 59, 69, 79). The intrinsic back muscles run along the entire length of the spine, and two of its three layers act on the trunk. The intermediate layer contains the prominent erector spinae, which is a muscle group consisting of the iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis. In contrast to the iliocostalis and longissimus that can contribute to movement at the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine, the spinalis runs along the cervical and thoracic spine but not the lumbar spine. The deep layer contains the transversospinales, which is a muscle group comprised of the semispinalis, multifidus, and rotatores. While the multifidus and rotatores cover all spinal regions, the semispinalis stretches only across the cervical and thoracic vertebrae. 

Intrinsic Back Muscle Anatomy

Dynamic trunk extension exercises include reverse hypers, “supermans,” Jefferson curls, and some variations of “back extensions.” Isometric trunk extension exercises, where you resist flexion, include variations of squats, deadlifts, good mornings, kettlebell swings, cleans, snatches, and bent over rows. 

Cable Dynamic Trunk Extension Trunk Lateral Flexion

Trunk lateral flexion is primarily produced by the internal obliques, external obliques, quadratus lumborum, transverse abdominis, and lats, while the erector spinae, rectus abdominis, and the psoas major secondarily assist (13, 35, 41, 47, 69, 79). 

Posterior Abdominal Wall Muscle Anatomy

Dynamic trunk lateral flexion exercises are often performed as some variation of a “side bend” for which you can use a cable, dumbbell, kettlebell, or band as resistance. You can also utilize your bodyweight as resistance for this movement with a side plank variation performed in a manner that trains dynamic trunk lateral flexion. Isometric trunk lateral flexion exercises, where you resist lateral flexion to one side, include static side planks, waiter walks (i.e., single arm overhead carries), and suitcase lifts. The suitcase position refers to when a weight is held with one hand at your side and can be used for carries, deadlifts, rack pulls, and lunges to train isometric trunk lateral flexion and grip strength (if you don’t use straps) concurrently. These exercises will also engage lower body muscles such as the glutes, however, strength of your core muscles is much more likely to be the limiting factor in performance of suitcase lifts unless your lower body muscles are already meaningfully fatigued from prior lifts.

Cable Side Bend and Suitcase Deadlift Trunk Rotation

Trunk rotation is primarily produced by the internal obliques and external obliques and secondarily assisted by the lats (80, 98). Anatomy textbooks may list trunk rotation as a function of the erector spinae and transversospinales, but it is presently unclear how much of a role they actually contribute to this movement (73). Some of the intrinsic back muscles that belong to these groups have been measured to be active during isometric trunk rotation, but they may engage to merely resist other spinal movements such as lateral flexion and flexion, which could otherwise occur in response to contraction of the obliques (66, 80, 82, 98). While the ability of core muscles to function in the sagittal and frontal planes has been well studied for each spinal region, research quantifying the capacity of core muscles to act in the transverse plane is much more limited for the trunk. The orientation of the muscle fibers that comprise the erector spinae and transversospinales indicate that their capacity to rotate the spine is negligible (54). These muscles may generate a very small amount of trunk rotation torque, but the magnitude is miniscule enough to be practically irrelevant (54). Given that I have yet to see convincing empirical data that demonstrates that the intrinsic back muscles can meaningfully contribute to the production of trunk rotation torque, I will not presently attribute this function to them, although new data may emerge in the future that indicates otherwise.

Dynamic trunk rotation exercises include Russian twists and variations of chops that can be loaded with cables or elastic bands. With chop variations, you can adjust the height of the cable or band to provide different directions of resistance that enable you to perform the exercise exclusively in the transverse plane (i.e., no upward or downward motion) or in a diagonal manner (i.e., high to low or low to high motion). Isometric trunk rotation exercise, where you resist rotation to one side, is commonly performed as a Pallof press with a cable or a band that is directed perpendicularly to the direction in which you press. Alternatively, you can train isometric trunk rotation with a unilateral horizontal press or row using a cable or band that is aligned in a manner that directly opposes the direction in which you press or row. 

Cable Chop and Cable Pallof Press High to Low Cable Chop and Low to High Cable Chop Cable Unilateral Press and Cable Unilateral Row A Brief Note on the Lats

Biomechanically, the lats have meaningful moment arms that enable them to generate torque for trunk movements, and EMG (electromyography) research indicates that the lats are active during trunk extension, lateral flexion, and rotation (65, 67, 80, 82, 107). However, the lats also function as primary shoulder adductors and shoulder extensors, and I strongly suspect that exercises that train these movements (e.g., pullups and chin-ups) would provide a notably greater stimulus to the lats than any type of trunk exercise (2, 9, 46, 85). While no longitudinal training interventions have investigated this matter, we do have other forms of evidence indicating that trunk exercises will predominantly train other core muscles such as the erector spinae during extension and the obliques during rotation (17, 18, 19, 98). Consequently, I do not consider any trunk exercises to be a viable substitute for various vertical pulling exercises or certain types of rows with respect to training the lats.

Shoulder Adduction Pulldown and Shoulder Extension Pulldown How the Core Functions while Resistance Training

During various sport maneuvers such as swinging a golf club or a baseball bat, high velocity trunk movement is an important component of high performance (24, 42, 100). However, during heavy resistance training, individuals typically strive to use their core muscles to resist motion at the trunk’s intervertebral joints. A notable exception is when some powerlifters deliberately initiate the deadlift with a flexed thoracic spine prior to extending this region to an upright position during the lockout. Relative to if no thoracic motion occurred, this technique can shorten the moment arm of the resistive torque acting at the hip joint and consequently decrease the demands imposed on the hip extensor muscles for a given weight (36). Other than this instance, few experienced strength athletes or coaches would advocate that a lifter intentionally performs a visibly high degree of trunk movement while training squat or hip hinge variations (e.g., deadlift, Romanian deadlift, good morning). Rather, the conventional guidance is to purposely minimize any other trunk motion during these exercises as movement occurs at the hip and knee joints. When using a symmetrically loaded barbell for these lifts, resisting sagittal plane trunk movement will be most challenging because resistive torque will be greatest in the sagittal plane as the external load imposes flexion torque at the lumbar and thoracic intervertebral joints. Given that the lumbar joints are situated perpendicularly further away from the barbell than the thoracic joints when the torso is in an inclined position, resistive flexion torque will be greater at the lumbar region when squatting and deadlifting. Even with proficient technique and submaximal loads, a greater than expected degree of lumbar spinal flexion may still occur when squatting and deadlifting as demonstrated by research conducted by Aasa et al (2019) and Edington (2017).

Aasa et al measured the ROM that occurred at the upper and lower lumbar spine as 24 powerlifters and weightlifters with a mean of eight years of strength training experience performed 3-rep sets of back squats and conventional deadlifts with 70% 1RM loads (1). With respect to sagittal plane movement, which was slightly greater when deadlifting than squatting, a 9.7-11.8° mean ROM occurred in the upper lumbar spine and a 18.1-21.7° mean ROM occurred in the lower lumbar spine. For reference, some data indicates that 60-65° is a normal amount of flexion ROM for the whole lumbar spine for young adults, but lumbar spinal ROM can meaningfully vary among individuals, particularly if they belong to different age groups (81, 104). Just as the lumbar intervertebral joints will experience greater resistive flexion torque than the thoracic intervertebral joints when squatting and deadlifting, so too will resistive flexion torque be greater in the lower lumbar joints than the upper lumbar joints during these lifts. This difference, stemming from the perpendicular distance between the barbell and these joints, likely contributes to the greatest motion occurring at the lower lumbar intervertebral joints.

Edington also provided insightful data through a well-designed study on 17 well-trained strength athletes that assessed lumbar spine kinematics and kinetics as the participants performed back squat and conventional deadlift singles with 85% of their 1RMs (21). Relative to the maximum lumbar flexion ROM that participants were able to achieve without external load during a standing trunk flexion test, on average the athletes reached 64% and 77% of peak lumbar flexion respectively when squatting and deadlifting. For context, these flexion ROM values were calculated relative to the lumbar spine angles the participants were measured to have while standing upright (a proxy for a neutral position). In this upright position, the lumbar spine is naturally lordotic (i.e., extended beyond 0°) so a meaningful portion of flexion ROM can occur while the intervertebral joints are still at extended angles. For instance, one participant’s lumbar spine was measured to be in 51° of extension when standing and 31° of flexion during the max trunk flexion test. Consequently, if he reaches 64% of his available flexion ROM, his peak angle of lumbar flexion would be just 1.5° of flexion beyond 0°. However, lumbar spinal flexion ROM and lordotic angles can vary widely among people, so the same percentage of lumbar flexion ROM that begins from someone’s upright lordotic position can manifest as quite different angles of peak lumbar flexion. In the same study, another participant’s lumbar spine was measured to be in 23° of extension when standing and 65° of flexion during the max trunk flexion test, so this athlete would reach a 33° angle of peak flexion during the squat if his lumbar spine flexed through 64% of its available ROM. When comparing these two lifters, we can see that reaching the same angle of lumbar flexion during an exercise can have different implications for two different individuals. What may be a moderately flexed position for one person can be an extremely flexed position for another person when accounting for individual differences in lumbar spine lordosis and available flexion ROM.

Spinal Curvature 

With a 50% time point corresponding to when the deadlift lockout is completed and the peak depth is reached during a squat, the angle of peak lumbar flexion was reached approximately 9% into the deadlift (i.e., right after breaking the floor) and 49% into the squat (i.e., in the hole). Just before and just after this position of peak lumbar flexion was reached respectively while deadlifting and squatting, compressive and shear lumbar forces acting on the lumbar spine peaked as well. It’s worth noting that the squat data we are covering reflect the average of the values obtained from the separately measured high bar squats and low bar squats, which you can learn more about from Greg Nuckols. With respect to the lumbar spine, the only significant difference between these two styles was that greater peak lumbar flexion occurred when low bar squatting (68% of max flexion ROM) than high bar squatting (60% of max flexion ROM). Overall, the fact that Aasa et al and Edington assessed submaximal sets (70-85% 1-RM often corresponds to approximately a 12-6-rep max) suggests that a moderate to moderately high degree of peak flexion at the lumbar spine is a normal characteristic of squatting and deadlifting moderately heavy loads (63,76). 

Approximate Positions of Peak Lumbar Spine Flexion for Deadlift and Squat Lifting with Lumbar Spinal Flexion 

If you have some experience with lifting, at some point you’ve likely heard the recommendation to maintain a neutral lumbar spine position during these exercises as opposed to allowing this region to flex dynamically under load. In reality you can dynamically flex and extend the lumbar spine to some degree while simultaneously operating within the neutral zone. The neutral zone is the ROM where “spinal motion is produced with a minimal internal resistance” (84). Just as with available joint ROM, the width of the neutral zone varies among the different intervertebral joints and among different individuals, which adds complexity to this matter (113). Furthermore, there is little reason to believe that the neutral zone measured in a cadaver spine under a constant load will be the same as the neutral zone for a live human being while lifting. For these various reasons, categorically considering whether a person’s lumbar spine as a whole is in a neutral position during a particular activity is not necessarily a simple task. With this said, the lumbar spine is nearly certainly no longer within the neutral zone when squatting or deadlifting respectively with well greater than 50% of available lumbar spine flexion ROM. For reference, one study on cadaver spines reported the initial 23% of maximum lumbar flexion ROM to constitute the neutral zone, which is considerably less than what was measured in the aforementioned study on squats and deadlifts (21, 113). Beyond the neutral zone lies the elastic zone, which is the ROM where “spinal motion is produced against significant internal resistance,” which is passively generated by structures such as ligaments, joint capsules, intervertebral discs, and bony articulations (39, 84). As with any other component of the musculoskeletal system, it is not inherently bad to stress these spinal structures; however, injury can occur in any tissue if it is loaded in excess of its load tolerance. Deadlifting and squatting heavy weights substantially loads the lumbar spine through a combination of compressive and shear forces, and the posture in which the lumbar spine is loaded can affect where stress is distributed throughout the spine’s structures (6, 14, 30).  

When discussing the potential relationship between lifting with a flexed lumbar spine and low back pain, I have previously seen other people refer to a systematic review with a meta-analysis conducted by Saraceni et al (2020). The researchers sought to answer the question “Is there a relationship between lumbar spine flexion during lifting and low back pain?” and found 12 studies that met their inclusion criteria (92). Ultimately, Saraceni et al concluded that “there is currently no credible longitudinal or cross-sectional evidence to suggest that a more flexed lumbar spine during lifting is a risk factor for low back pain onset or persistence…” In the context as a lifter, you may read through the abstract and conclusion that repeatedly refer to lifting and naturally equate lifting to resistance training, particularly if someone mentions this review while talking about lumbar position while squatting and deadlifting. However, none of the studies included in the review examined participants who performed resistance training, and the loads lifted in these studies ranged from a 26.5lb (12kg) box to a pen. Furthermore, 11 of the included studies were cross-sectional, so they compared how people who already had low back pain lifted very light loads compared to people without low back pain. The only longitudinal study assessed lumbar spine kinematics in nursing students as they picked up a pen, pillow, and 11lb (5kg) box (72). We simply cannot interpret these findings to mean that lumbar posture while deadlifting and squatting high loads has no effect on someone’s risk of developing low back pain. 

To my knowledge, no experiments or prospective observational studies have investigated how consistently deadlifting and squatting with a very high or low degree of lumbar spinal flexion may affect a lifter’s risk of developing a low back injury or pain. In the absence of this research, I cannot assert with complete certainty that one method of lifting is inherently riskier than the other. Nonetheless, if this was the only level of evidence that we accepted to be credible enough to guide technique recommendations for different exercises, we would be unable to provide virtually any guidance at all. We have no direct data on how bench pressing with fully extended wrists affects a lifter’s probability of developing wrist pain or how squatting with knees caving completely inward to the extent they bang each other affects someone’s likelihood of developing knee pain. This absence of direct data does not preclude competent coaches from drawing on other forms of evidence to discourage bench pressing and squatting in these manners. Similarly, strength training professionals widely recommend that lifters usually avoid deadlifting and squatting with a highly flexed lumbar position for a reason (99). Ultimately, I coach field sport athletes and recreational lifters to attempt to minimize lumbar spinal flexion when deadlifting and squatting to the best of their abilities in order to err on the side of caution. Maintaining a neutral position may not actually be possible during a heavy lift, but consciously attempting to do so can help a lifter limit how much lumbar flexion unintentionally occurs. Some evidence indicates that the lumbar spine can tolerate a higher volume of loading before injury occurs in a neutral position compared to a moderately flexed position (27). However, I deem the avoidance of extreme lumbar flexion when deadlifting and squatting to have the greatest potential impact on the likelihood that the load tolerance of certain tissues is exceeded while training.  

During a heavy deadlift, the high magnitude of flexion torque acting on the lumbar intervertebral joints can enable these joints to flex to a greater degree than could otherwise be achieved during an unloaded stretch. When a person’s lumbar spine flexes beyond its unloaded ROM during a heavy deadlift, injury to a lumbar spinal muscle, ligament, or intervertebral disc’s posterior annulus may be more likely to occur. If extreme dynamic lumbar flexion occurs while deadlifting, some lumbar spinal extensor muscles may experience an elevated risk of incurring a strain injury as they are subjected to a considerable magnitude of eccentric loading in a very stretched position. Similarly, the supraspinous and interspinous ligaments, which are situated on the back of the spine, are loaded to the greatest degree in a fully flexed position and can be stressed to the extent that they sprain if the lumbar spine is excessively flexed under load (6).  Research on human cadaver spines has indicated that intervertebral disc prolapse can also occur if an extremely flexed intervertebral joint is subjected to a sufficiently high magnitude or volume of loading (4, 5). In cadaver spines from animals with similar spinal structures, researchers additionally found that high rate compressive forces were able to induce disc herniation in joints that were loaded in a fully flexed position but not in joints that were loaded in a neutral position (109). I recognize that spines obtained from cadavers will not necessarily respond to loading in the same manner as those found within live human beings who have the ability to adapt. Nevertheless, I believe that these findings are worth noting without overgeneralizing the conclusions that we can draw from them.

Spinal Ligament Anatomy

Regardless of technique, injury can occur in response to an excessively high volume and intensity of any athletic endeavor whether that be deadlifting, running, jumping, or throwing. However, the technique that is used for any activity can affect how likely a particular workload is to exceed a particular tissue’s load tolerance. Your lumbar spine will not spontaneously combust if it is subjected to loaded flexion, nor will resisting any noticeable lumbar flexion while lifting eliminate your risk of low back injury. Nonetheless, I believe that your training has much room for improvement if you find yourself consistently deadlifting with a cat back and squatting while being completely folded forward at the spine. For another perspective on the topic of lifting with a flexed lumbar spine, you can read “Should You Fear Lumbar Flexion?” by Sam Spinelli on Stronger By Science.

Core Function for Performance

Beyond potentially affecting the likelihood that some tissues are loaded in excess of their load tolerances, a lifter’s ability to stabilize the trunk is invaluable for high performance. An excessive degree of inadvertent trunk flexion may contribute to failing a lift that requires an upright trunk position to be locked out. When a very high degree of trunk flexion occurs while squatting, you can become pitched forward into a disadvantaged position, lose tightness, and struggle to complete the lift. While you’ll likely be able to deadlift with more trunk flexion than while squatting, the ability to extend a considerably flexed trunk can still be a limiting factor in deadlift performance. Whether you opt to intentionally initiate a deadlift with a moderately flexed thoracic spine or a more extended position, high core strength is essential for high performance.

With a symmetrically loaded barbell, core muscles that cannot generate any trunk extension torque may seem to be irrelevant while squatting and deadlifting. Activating the abdominal and oblique muscles may even appear to be detrimental to resisting trunk flexion because contraction of these muscles can generate spinal flexion torque. However, optimal spinal stabilization requires the anterior and posterior core muscles to operate synergistically in an isometric manner to produce a great deal of intra-abdominal pressure, which stiffens the trunk (8). Gas pressure is inversely proportional to the volume in which the gas is contained, so a reduction in intra-abdominal volume generated by simultaneous recruitment of the anterior and posterior core muscles increases intra-abdominal pressure. In common usage, stiffness often has a negative connotation, but trunk stiffness is critical to performance for anyone who performs activities that can transmit considerable loading through the spine such as squats and deadlifts. Stiffness quantifies the capacity to resist deformation in response to a force being applied, so a high degree of trunk stiffness can help an individual resist inadvertent spinal movement in any plane of motion. Consequently, core muscles that cannot generate spinal extension torque, such as the rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis, can still serve a role in resisting spinal flexion when a lifter properly uses them to brace. This may in part explain why isometric trunk flexion endurance strongly positively correlates with maximal relative deadlift strength (i.e., 1RM/bodyweight) (43). The influence that intra-abdominal pressure can have on resistance training performance is the primary reason why many lifters opt to wear a belt during axially loading exercises such as squats and deadlifts. Compared to training beltless, training with a belt that is used properly allows most people to generate greater intra-abdominal pressure during these exercises (38, 48, 49). This is likely the reason why many lifters who are familiar with the technique of bracing against a belt report that they can squat and deadlift higher 1RMs or complete more reps with a given load when wearing a belt. For a deeper dive into how wearing a belt can affect resistance training, I recommend reading “The Belt Bible” by Greg Nuckols.

Increasing intra-abdominal pressure has the potential to boost performance further by enhancing torque production elsewhere in the kinetic chain. Dr. Stuart McGill, a notable spine expert and clinician, has repeatedly stated that “proximal stiffness (meaning the lumbar spine and core) enhances distal athleticism,” and this principle is on full display while lifting heavy weights (64). Whenever a muscle contracts, it generates a force directed in a manner to pull its anatomical attachments (i.e., insertion and origin) closer together. In order to maximize how much force is directed to generating torque at one end, the other end must be fixed. For instance, the gluteus maximus originates on the pelvis and inserts onto the femur. Contraction of this muscle can pull the femur backwards via hip extension, which pulls the insertion closer to the origin, or it can tilt the pelvis backwards via posterior pelvic tilt, which pulls the origin closer to the insertion. For optimal deadlift and squat performance, you want to maximize how much force generated by gluteus maximus contraction is diverted to generating hip extension torque. To do so, the pelvis must be stabilized by muscles that can tilt the pelvis forward via anterior pelvic tilt such as the erector spinae. Tayashiki et al (2016) investigated this matter by assigning 20 recreationally active participants to a control group or a training group for an eight-week intervention comprised exclusively of abdominal bracing without external resistance (103). Specifically, the training group performed five sets of 10 reps three times per week, where each rep was comprised of a two-second maximal isometric abdominal brace. After eight weeks, the training group increased mean isometric hip extension and trunk extension strength respectively by 35% and 14%, while all of the control group’s performance metrics were unchanged. This strength increase was accompanied by a 37% increase in maximal intra-abdominal pressure that the training group could generate while bracing. Furthermore, the training group increased peak power by 16% during an exercise functionally equivalent to a concentric only box squat from parallel depth. 

Ultimately, Tayashiki et al’s findings demonstrate that core training may transfer to greater lifting performance if it enhances your bracing technique and facilitates a more efficient production of intra-abdominal pressure. What may appear to be a core strength deficiency during a squat or deadlift can actually arise from improper bracing, particularly for individuals with low levels of training experience. However, at a certain level of technical proficiency, the force production capacity of some core muscles can directly limit performance. With the great degree of resistive trunk flexion torque that may be present while squatting and deadlifting, strengthening the posterior core muscles, which generate trunk extension torque and intra-abdominal pressure simultaneously, will likely yield the greatest carryover. While recruitment of the anterior core muscles is necessary for optimal bracing, their activation will still produce undesirable trunk flexion torque. Ultimately, the magnitude of advantage produced by the intra-abdominal pressure they develop can be greater than the magnitude of disadvantage incurred from their trunk flexion torque, resulting in a net benefit. Nonetheless, increasing the force produced from these muscles beyond a relatively low threshold is unlikely to yield any improvement in squat or deadlift performance as suggested by EMG research. Regardless of which load is used for squats or deadlifts, activation of the obliques and abdominals has been measured to be consistently well below their maximum (i.e., mean EMG values not exceeding 25% of maximal voluntary isometric contraction EMG values) (11, 16, 83, 89, 90, 112). In contrast, EMG measurements have indicated that the intrinsic back muscles are much more engaged while squatting and deadlifting, which is congruent with what we would predict given the biomechanical demands of these lifts (11, 15, 16, 83, 89, 90, 112). These EMG studies most commonly assessed the lumbar erector spinae, but a couple of studies also assessed the lumbar multifidus and found it to be quite active while squatting and deadlifting as well (15, 83). To my knowledge, activation of the thoracic erector spinae and multifidus has not been measured while squatting, but I would expect these muscles to be highly active while squatting just as they are while deadlifting (15). 

Are Squats and Deadlifts Enough?

Given the importance of the posterior core musculature for squat and deadlift performance, one would intuitively think that squats and deadlifts are ideally suited to strengthen this region. Biomechanically, I see no reason as to how heavy squats and deadlifts cannot provide a viable stimulus to strengthen these muscles, but using them in the absence of direct core exercises may be insufficient to maximize their force output. Androulakis-Korakakis et al (2021) tested lumbar spinal extension isometric torque at 5-7 different joint angles for recreationally trained (i.e., at least two years of resistance training experience) men, noncompetitive powerlifters (Squat 1RM = 390lb and Deadlift 1RM = 450lb), and competitive powerlifters (Squat 1RM = 474lb and Deadlift 1RM = 511lb) (7). Much to my disbelief, lumbar spinal extension strength was quite similar among the three groups, and the recreationally trained group had the highest mean values by a slight insignificant difference despite having a significantly lower body mass than the other two groups (7). It’s important to not put too much weight on the findings of any single study, particularly one that is not designed to determine if a causal relationship may exist, and I wish the recreationally trained men were tested for their squat and deadlift 1RMs to provide a clearer comparison. However, causality can be inferred from randomized trials that measure lumbar extension strength before and after training interventions. 

Hammond et al (2019) assigned 14 males with at least six months of resistance training experience to either a back squat or barbell hip thrust group as both groups performed two sessions per week for four weeks (37). Each session was comprised of three sets performed until failure with 80% of the assigned exercise’s 1RM, resulting in 6-10 reps per set. While some people will refer to failure as leaving no reps in reserve, this study had its participants continue the set until they literally failed the concentric phase of a rep. Six sets per week is not a particularly high volume of training, but the lifters in the squat group definitely had a grueling month where they intentionally got buried 24 times, so I was surprised to see 100% adherence for the study. Following the intervention, the squat group increased squat 1RM by 6.5% and hip thrust 1RM by 12.5%, while the hip thrust group increased squat 1RM by 6.8% and hip thrust 1RM by 15.4%. Mean isometric lumbar extension strength increased by just 1.7% for the squat group and 2.4% respectively for the hip thrust group. Neither of these changes were greater than the typical error of the measurement. 

In another randomized controlled trial, Fisher et al (2013) assigned 36 young adult male subjects with at least two years of resistance training experience (including a deadlift variation) to 10 weeks of training the Romanian deadlift or a machine lumbar spinal extension exercise (22). Each group performed a single set of 8-12 reps to volitional failure through a full ROM once per week, and participants were able to use straps for the Romanian deadlift training and testing 1RMs. While both groups significantly increased their Romanian deadlift 1RMs (by 16.1% for the Romanian deadlift group and by 7.5% for the lumbar extension group), only the direct lumbar extension group significantly increased its isometric lumbar spinal extension strength (22). An important takeaway from Fisher et al’s study is that increasing isolated lumbar extension strength through dynamic lumbar extension exercise can transfer to improving performance on a heavy hip hinge with free weights. Throughout the 10-week intervention, the participants refrained from any other exercises that trained the low back, glutes, or hamstrings.  For trained individuals, neglecting the previously trained hip extensor muscles for this duration of time may result in a loss in hip extension strength, which could impair Romanian deadlift performance. Consequently, the 7.5% increase in Romanian deadlift 1RM that was experienced by the lumbar extension exercise group after only 10 total sets over 10 weeks is more notable in this context compared to if a similar improvement occurred for untrained subjects. Given that the lumbar spinal extensors serve a very similar function during squats, deadlifts, and Romanian deadlifts, I would hypothesize that dynamic lumbar extension exercise can transfer to enhancing squat and deadlift performance as well. Because other variables such as hip extension strength can be the limiting factor during these lifts, the degree to which increasing lumbar extension strength transfers to enhancing them will vary among individuals.        

The two training interventions conducted by Hammond et al and Fisher et al certainly provide data that is worth noting, but we must be careful not to overgeneralize their findings. It would be erroneous to claim that they demonstrate that exercises such as deadlift or squat variations that require the posterior core muscles to act isometrically to resist lumbar spinal flexion are incapable of meaningfully increasing lumbar extension strength. Rather, I interpret these findings to indicate that those types of exercises are not the most efficient way to develop isolated lumbar extension strength with regard to set volume allocation. I liken this to comparing conventional deadlifts to hack squats with respect to inducing quad growth. Both exercises engage the quads, but performing one set of hack squats to failure can provide a meaningfully greater hypertrophic stimulus to the quads than one set of deadlifts to failure. Deadlifting may be able to induce quad hypertrophy, but hack squats are a more efficient means of doing so in large part because they ensure that quad strength is the limiting factor during a set and can train the quads at long muscle lengths. Perhaps some lifters may experience similar quad growth whether they perform a low volume of hack squats or a high volume of deadlifts. However, the volume of deadlifts that may be required to induce meaningful quad hypertrophy in trained lifters can impart much more systemic fatigue, and no growth may be detected if only low volumes are used.        

Similarly, higher volume Romanian deadlift or longer duration squat interventions may have resulted in detectable increases in lumbar spinal extension strength. While Hammond et al and Fisher et al stated that their subjects had lifting experience and were consistently training at the time of recruitment, we know very few specific details as to what their prior training included, which can certainly affect how they respond to a new protocol. For an undefined period of time directly preceding the interventions, Hammond et al’s participants were training back squats and hip thrust at least once per week, and Fisher et al’s participants were not performing Romanian deadlifts or “specific lumbar exercises.” Other than this, we don’t know anything about key variables such as the types of exercises and volumes that the subjects were previously utilizing. This element of uncertainty and lack of standardization of prior programs is typically the trade-off that is presented by recruiting trained participants for training interventions rather than assessing untrained individuals.  

Like Hammond et al, Fisher et al did not measure the size of any muscles throughout the study, which could have provided clarity as to how much of the documented strength gains resulted from hypertrophy as opposed to neural adaptations. Nonetheless, I suspect that a dynamic trunk extension exercise can be better suited to induce posterior core muscle hypertrophy than a hip hinge or squat. Fisher et al did not measure lumbar spine joint angles as participants performed the Romanian deadlift; however, the researchers coached the lifters to utilize the conventional technique where a flat back position or lordotic lumbar curvature is maintained (26, 29). In contrast, the machine lumbar extension group dynamically trained through 72° of lumbar ROM that would load the lumbar extensor muscles at longer lengths than the Romanian deadlift. As previously discussed on Stronger By Science, the peak muscle length that is loaded during an exercise has a meaningful effect on the hypertrophic stimulus that it can provide. Training a muscle at long lengths has been measured to produce greater increases in size than training at short lengths, likely due to stretch-mediated hypertrophy (55, 70, 87, 93). 

Romanian Deadlift ROM vs. Machine Lumbar Extension ROM (22,61)

A dynamic lumbar extension exercise that trains through a rather flexed lumbar position loads the posterior core muscles at longer lengths than a hip hinge variation. Correspondingly, it would be reasonable to predict that the former type of training could yield greater hypertrophy than the latter if volume is equated. In the initial stages of resistance training, strength gains can be predominantly attributed to neural adaptations such as improved motor unit recruitment, but increasing muscle size plays a larger role for further strength development as an individual becomes more experienced (25, 77). Consequently, the value of training the posterior core muscles at long lengths to optimize hypertrophy may be greatest for more experienced lifters who wish to maximize long-term increases in trunk extension strength. 

Isolated Lumbar Extension Training

Multiple other resistance training interventions have also indicated that isolated dynamic lumbar extension exercise can be a very effective means of increasing isometric lumbar extension strength (12, 23, 32, 33, 34, 61, 75, 88, 101, 105). While many studies have examined dynamic lumbar extension exercise interventions, I am unaware of any research that assessed strength adaptations after a thoracic extension training intervention. Given that extension strength in both the lumbar and thoracic regions is important for squatting and deadlifting, lifters can benefit from training the intrinsic back muscles in both regions. With the functional overlap between these groups, I hypothesize that the thoracic extensors can be strengthened in a very similar manner as the lumbar extensors. Rather than performing an extension exercise where only lumbar movement is trained, thoracic movement can be trained by itself or in conjunction with lumbar movement as a whole trunk extension exercise, which would be the most time-efficient.

 Safety Squat Bar Dynamic Thoracic Extension and  Cable Dynamic Thoracic Extension

One trend evident throughout the research on lumbar extension training is that the degree to which strength increases occur can meaningfully vary across different joint angles (12, 32, 33, 34, 61, 75, 88). After a 12-week training intervention, isometric lumbar extension torque typically improves for each joint angle tested but to the greatest extent in the most extended lumbar positions, where increases as high as 92-130% have occurred (12, 32, 34). Regardless of whether someone performs a lumbar extension exercise intervention, the least extension torque can be generated in the most extended angle relative to more flexed positions, but the relative difference in strength between these positions decreases following training (12, 31, 32, 33, 34, 56, 61, 88). Some data also indicates that the difference in lumbar extension strength between full extension and flexion is smaller for females compared to males (31).

When reading the lumbar extension exercise studies published since 1989 (which encompasses nearly all of the research on this topic), I couldn’t help but notice the similarity in how they were designed and how one of two researchers helped conduct almost all of them. Every study I found that assessed isolated lumbar extension strength before and after a training intervention selected the MedX lumbar extension machine to measure isometric lumbar extension torque at the same seven different joint angles (12, 22, 23, 32, 33, 34, 37, 61, 62, 75, 88, 101, 108). Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of these studies included a training group using the same MedX machine to perform lumbar extension exercise through the same ROM (i.e., 72° ROM starting in full extension) (12, 22, 23, 32, 33, 34, 61, 75, 88, 101). To my knowledge, significant increases in lumbar spinal extension strength, as tested on the MedX machine, have only ever been measured to occur in participants without low back pain after using the MedX for a training intervention (12, 22, 23, 32, 33, 34, 61, 75, 88, 101, 105). In contrast, Moon et al (2013) did find participants with non-specific low back pain to significantly increase lumbar spinal extension strength on the MedX machine after completing an eight-week bodyweight core training intervention comprised of 14 dynamic exercises or 16 isometric exercises (74). No such increase has occurred in asymptomatic participants after dynamic trunk extension exercise interventions performed on Roman chairs or other machines, despite the high EMG activation of the lumbar extensor muscles during these exercises (34, 60, 62, 86, 108). 

MedX Lumbar Extension Machine (34)

With its ability to limit extraneous movements, the MedX machine does seem to be rather well designed for isolating the lumbar extensors both for testing and training purposes. While using this device or a similar piece of equipment may be the most reliable method of measuring lumbar extension strength, I wonder how much the positive results of these interventions were influenced by using the same machine for both training and testing. One of these studies conducted by Graves et al (1994) assessed how the decision to train with the MedX lumbar extension machine or one of two different lumbar extension machines may affect changes in isometric lumbar extension strength as tested on the MedX machine (34). Notably, sedentary individuals were recruited as subjects, and the two other machines, which were made by Nautilus and Cybex and analyzed together as one group, lacked the restraint that the MedX machine used to restrict any pelvic motion.  

Cybex Eagle NX Back Extension and Nautilus Inspiration Back Extension

After 12 weeks of training, where subjects performed one set of 8-12 reps until volitional fatigue once per week with the assigned machine, the MedX group significantly increased isometric lumbar extension torque at all seven angles tested, while the other training group experienced no change at any angle. In light of these findings, the authors concluded that “pelvic stabilization is required to isolate and strengthen the lumbar extensor muscles.” Except for the rep tempo (two-second concentric phase and four-second eccentric phase) and ROM (72° for the MedX group and 90° for the other group), the authors did not state how the subjects were actually instructed to perform the exercises. As Graves et al mentioned in the article, the group training without the pelvic restraint could have relied on the larger gluteus maximus and biarticular hamstrings to perform the exercise. A similar compensation may have also occurred in the Roman chair trunk extension interventions that did not improve isolated lumbar extension strength for untrained participants (62, 108). While untrained individuals may naturally use such a movement strategy, this does not mean that specialized equipment that forcibly restricts pelvic motion is required to strengthen the lumbar extensors. If subjects in the unrestrained group were expressly instructed and consistently coached to perform the exercise exclusively as a lumbar extension movement while keeping the pelvis in a fixed position, they may have been able to train their lumbar extensor muscles more effectively. When using a machine that is designed to prevent any possible pelvic motion, no such instruction or coaching is required to target the lumbar extensors because lumbar extension is the only movement that someone could perform to move the weight. Training experience, or lack thereof, could also be a relevant variable. Even with proper instruction and coaching, sedentary individuals can struggle to perform a particular exercise proficiently without compensatory movement. Moving a load exclusively via dynamic lumbar extension when the pelvis is unrestrained requires a degree of coordination and kinesthetic awareness that can take time to develop. 

Hip-Dominant Technique on Lumbar Extension Machine Trunk-Dominant Technique on Lumbar Extension Machine

Several years after Graves et al’s study was published, Mayer et al (2002) conducted a 12-week dynamic lumbar extension exercise intervention where two groups used the MedX machine, but one group trained without the standard pelvic restraint that was utilized by the other group (61).  When tested on the MedX with pelvic restraint, both groups significantly increased isometric lumbar extension strength at all seven joint angles to a similar degree, indicating that pelvic restraint is not necessary to train the lumbar extensor muscles effectively. While this study still used the MedX machine for both groups, I see no reason why lifters cannot employ other dynamic trunk extension exercises with an appropriate technique to enhance trunk extension strength. Compared to the average person who does not perform resistance training, lifters will typically have better body control during an exercise, but minimizing hip extensor contribution during a dynamic trunk extension exercise may still pose a challenge. If you have spent years intentionally minimizing lumbar spine movement while moving at the hip joint when performing exercises that load the trunk extensors, utilizing the opposite strategy during an exercise may feel awkward for a while. Furthermore, some lifters may be psychologically inclined to perform each exercise in a manner that allows them to move the most weight from point A to point B. While this mindset has its advantages in certain situations, such as a powerlifting meet, applying it to smaller accessory exercises can be counterproductive to long-term progression if it impairs the hypertrophic stimulus provided to the target muscles. Performing a trunk extension exercise with minimal hip extensor contribution will require that you use relatively light loads, so I recommend to not let your ego get the best of you and negatively influence your technique in an effort to move more weight.   

Trunk Lateral Flexion Exercise Value 

Training a specific movement can certainly be an effective means of enhancing strength during that movement, but carryover can also exist between different movements. When a particular muscle can meaningfully contribute to the generation of torque for two different joint movements, exclusively training one movement can transfer to enhanced strength during the other untrained movement. Such an effect has been reported to occur by Bourne at al (2017), who conducted resistance training interventions comprised of knee flexion or hip extension exercise (10). Both groups significantly increased knee flexion and hip extension strength, despite exclusively training only one of the movements. These results are congruent with what would be predicted based on the known determinants of muscular force production. While coordination adaptations are specific to the movement that is trained, increased muscle size and motor unit recruitment can transfer to enhanced force production during any movement where the trained muscle functions as a prime mover.  

With the exception of the transversospinalis, all of the core muscles that function to flex or extend the trunk in the sagittal plane while acting bilaterally contribute to laterally flexing the trunk in the frontal plane when acting unilaterally. Similarly, all of the core muscles that function as trunk rotators also function as trunk lateral flexors. Consequently, trunk lateral flexion exercise can engage nearly all of the core muscles simultaneously and may transfer to enhancing strength in every trunk movement. This is not to say that exclusively using trunk lateral flexion exercise would be as effective for developing the core musculature as a combination of core exercises that train all four trunk functions. However, if you wish to train the greatest number of core muscles with a single exercise, a trunk lateral flexion exercise would be quite effective.

Diagram of Core Muscle Function for the Trunk

With respect to improving squat and deadlift performance, I expect that exclusively adding a direct trunk extension exercise into your program would have greater carryover than exclusively adding a trunk lateral flexion exercise. However, I do suspect that training both types of exercise to some degree may be somewhat more advantageous in the long term than only utilizing trunk extension exercise. In the absence of research, I speculate that muscles that can meaningfully contribute to two different functions, such as the erector spinae, may experience mildly greater long-term development if both functions are trained relative to if only one function is trained.    

Similarly, if a trained individual wishes to maximize hamstring hypertrophy, I along with many other coaches would advocate that the lifter utilizes both knee flexion and hip extension exercises throughout a macrocycle. While variation can be achieved by cycling through different leg curl variations, completely omitting any hip hinge variation such as Romanian deadlifts in a long-term program may be suboptimal for hamstring development. Both knee flexion and hip extension exercises can train all three biarticular hamstring muscles, however, training interventions that measured changes in the size of these muscles suggest that they do not respond in the same manner to these different movements (10, 55). Knee flexion exercise may be the most effective selection to train the semitendinosus, while hip extension exercise with an extended knee position may target the biceps femoris long head and semimembranosus more effectively. Consequently, it is prudent for a trained lifter to include both types of exercise throughout a training macrocycle to facilitate total hamstring development. It has yet to be tested, but I would hypothesize that some of the posterior core muscles (or even certain subregions within a particular muscle) may also be trained more effectively through a combination of both trunk lateral flexion and trunk extension exercise rather than only trunk extension exercise. As previously mentioned, the posterior core musculature encompasses several distinct muscles that are comprised of their own individual regions, so I would not expect that they would all be optimally developed by a single type of trunk exercise. 

For someone who has both strength and physique goals, a trunk lateral flexion exercise can be rather efficient because it can help develop the abdominals and obliques while strengthening the intrinsic back muscles. At a rather high body-fat percentage, the size of the abdominals and obliques will have no discernible effect on someone’s midsection appearance if they are thickly shielded from the world by adipose tissue. However, as the size of the anterior core musculature increases, the body fat percentage required for them to be visible increases in turn. After losing weight following his dominant strongman career, Eddie Hall exemplifies this concept by displaying defined abdominals with a level of body fat that is not particularly low by any metric that applies to mere mortals with normal amounts of muscle. 

Eddie Hall weighing 432lb (196kg) in 2017 vs. 362lb (164kg) in 2018 Multi-Planar Core Strength           

While trunk extension strength is generally the most impactful type of core strength for recreational lifters and strength athletes, other types of core strength can still directly affect performance for some individuals. Aasa at al’s previously mentioned study, which measured lumbar spine ROM during squats and deadlifts, reported similar amounts of total lateral flexion and rotation motion to occur during these lifts, ranging from 6.2-7.7° (1). The sagittal plane ROM that occurred while squatting and deadlifting was certainly greater, but some frontal and transverse motion may still occur with submaximal loads, so having trunk lateral flexion and rotation strength may help keep this motion from becoming excessive. Trunk lateral flexion strength may be particularly useful while squatting if the barbell begins tilting down to the right or left during a rep. The bar tilt may ultimately stem from a different technique error such as a hip shift or poor starting position, so increasing trunk lateral flexion strength may not address the root issue, but it can help a lifter complete a squat if a noticeable tilt unintentionally occurs.Generally speaking, core strength in multiple planes can become more important as the instability and awkwardness of an exercise increase. As I previously discussed on Stronger By Science, walking out a heavy squat requires that the lifter has a sufficiently high degree of hip abduction strength to stabilize the pelvis in the frontal plane during the moment that one foot leaves the ground when stepping back. However, the frontal plane pelvic stability demands that are present while walking with a very heavy weight may require additional contributions from trunk lateral flexor muscles. McGill et al (2009) analyzed competitive strongman athletes as they performed various strongman events, including a 486lb (220kg) super yoke walk, which is functionally similar to a heavy squat walk out (68). To walk with this load, the athletes required greater hip abduction torque than their hip abductor muscles could maximally generate by themselves. Consequently, they used their quadratus lumborum and obliques, which attach to the pelvis, to provide the additional frontal plane pelvic stability that was needed for the movement. Therefore, strengthening these core muscles may concurrently enhance trunk and hip stabilization, both of which may transfer to a smoother walk out for a heavy squat.     

Brian Shaw’s Yoke Walk and McGill et al’s Yoke Walk Frontal Plane Diagram (68) Programming Recommendations

With all other training variables equated, I doubt that any type of exercise is superior to a dynamic full ROM trunk extension exercise for increasing the size of the intrinsic back muscles. Similarly, full ROM trunk exercises are likely the most effective means of increasing the size of the abdominals, obliques, and quadratus lumborum. Nonetheless, I would not necessarily recommend the inclusion of these exercises for every lifter who prioritizes the development of these muscles to pursue strength and/or physique goals. A wide degree of variation exists among individuals with regard to spinal structure, training experience, prior injury history, and lifestyle factors that may all affect how someone may respond to a dynamic trunk exercise. Consequently, a method of training that one lifter uses to great success may provoke pain for a different person employing the same technique. Regardless of programming, some people with prior injuries can experience low back pain during particular lumbar spine motions even with a very conservative approach to training.

To be clear, this article is not designed to tell any particular individual how or how not to train, and I am not providing any medical advice. Rather, I wish to communicate the information that is available on this matter, so that you can be better informed to make your own personal choices after assessing both the pros and the cons they may bring. With all of this said, not all dynamic trunk exercises are created equal with regard to the reward to risk ratios they exhibit. If you make the personal decision to include these types of exercises in your program and wish to reduce the likelihood that the load tolerance of certain lumbar tissues are exceeded, adhering to a few recommendations may be prudent. Ultimately, I cannot claim that any of these recommendations will definitively reduce the risk of injury for any particular person, but you can assess the reasoning behind them and decide if they merit inclusion in your program. While trunk extension exercises are the focus of these programming recommendations, lifters can apply the same principles for flexion, lateral flexion, and rotation exercises.     

The first guideline is to select an exercise variation that minimizes spinal compressive loading. On one end of the spectrum, you can train the posterior core muscles dynamically at long lengths with a cat back deadlift that starts in full trunk flexion while initiating the pull and finishes in full extension during the lockout. Alternatively, you can utilize an exercise that exclusively trains trunk movement while the knee and hip joints remain in fixed positions. Examples of this include a trunk extension exercise performed on a 45° Roman chair, glute ham developer, or a machine that is specifically designed to do so (i.e., back extension machine). These exercises can be performed in a manner that does not use the powerful hip or knee extensors as prime movers. Consequently, they will require substantially lighter loads to train the posterior core muscles compared to an exercise that does, therefore limiting lumbar compressive forces.   

When minimal equipment is available, you can also use the Jefferson curl to train trunk extension dynamically with free weights. The standard version of this exercise involves hip extension as well, but you can modify it to a variation with a fixed hip position to reduce how much external load is required to target the posterior core muscles. To begin this variation, you can hinge at your hips until reaching the bottom position of a Romanian deadlift with fully stretched hamstrings. Once in this position, you can flex your trunk during the eccentric phase and extend it during the concentric phase while keeping the hips in a statically flexed position. Doing so will require a very low absolute load to train the posterior core muscles dynamically. If you have access to a slant board, it can also be used for the modified Jefferson curl to help deemphasize the hip extensor muscles.

Modified Jefferson Curl and Slant Board Modified Jefferson Curl

The second guideline is to select a rep range and tempo that further minimizes how much external load will be required to stimulate the desired adaptations. Unsurprisingly, spinal forces are greater when the load or speed used for an exercise is increased (50, 110). While intentionally lifting with an extremely slow velocity (e.g., 10 second concentric phase) is an exception, using a fairly slow and controlled tempo can be just as effective as lifting rapidly for inducing hypertrophy if sets are performed until the same proximity to failure (96, 97). High-load training is typically the most effective way to induce neural adaptations that transfer to improved maximal strength, but a wide range of absolute intensities (i.e., percentages of 1-RM) can be used to maximize muscular hypertrophy (53). If an equal number of sets are performed until volitional failure, a very similar degree of muscle growth may be produced by 6-rep sets, 30-rep sets, or anywhere in between, which may roughly correspond to 50-85% of a 1RM for many lifters (95).  Certainly a minimum intensity threshold exists for a set to induce a robust hypertrophic response, but even lifting loads as light as 30% of 1RM has yielded similar growth as lifting with 80% of 1RM, so a wide range can be utilized (71). Consequently, a dynamic trunk exercise with light loads that enable 20-30 reps per set will likely stimulate core muscle hypertrophy just as effectively as a high-load exercise but with lower peak forces transmitted through the lumbar spine. While Fisher et al (2018) did not examine any changes in muscle size, they did assess how different intensities may affect changes in lumbar extension strength after a lumbar extension training intervention with the MedX machine. Fisher et al assigned recreationally active subjects to a high-load (80% of maximum voluntary isometric contraction) or low-load (50% of maximum voluntary isometric contraction) exercise group for six weeks of lumbar extension training (23). Each group performed a single set until failure once per week, where the high- and low-load groups respectively averaged 8 and 26 reps per set. After the intervention, both groups significantly increased lumbar extension strength to a similar degree, indicating that high or loads can both be effectively utilized. 

The third guideline is to avoid the extreme terminal ranges of motion during a dynamic trunk exercise. While loading a muscle in its stretched position can yield greater hypertrophy than loading it in a moderate or shortened position, no evidence has yet to emerge indicating that training a muscle at its greatest length is superior to training a muscle at 90% of the peak length it could reach. Perhaps a slightly greater magnitude of stretch-mediated hypertrophy may be induced per set by the former approach, but it may present disproportionately greater risks for some individuals. As previously discussed, repeatedly loading the lumbar spine in extreme flexion may be more likely to stress certain structures excessively compared to if a modestly lower angle of peak flexion is reached. Similarly, loading extreme extension, lateral flexion, or rotation may pose their own risks relative to if close to a full ROM is used for a dynamic trunk exercise but extreme end range is avoided. For instance, the lumbar spine’s facet joints can be particularly stressed in fully laterally flexed, rotated, or extended positions (40,58,94).  

The fourth guideline is to abstain from dynamic trunk exercise soon after waking. Generally, I consider the best time to train to be whenever is most convenient and enjoyable for a particular person within the context of his/schedule and individual preferences to bolster adherence. That may entail training 30 minutes after rising in the early morning to complete a session prior to work for some people or training in the late evening after a day’s work for others. Throughout the day, some aspects of athletic performance will often vary. For instance, jumping ability and anaerobic power is typically greater when measured during the afternoon or evening than the morning (44). While these performance fluctuations may result in testing being more reliable when consistently performed at a similar time, I doubt that they will have much of an impact on long-term development. However, meaningful changes occur within the spine’s intervertebral discs throughout the day.  

When the body remains in a lying position for a prolonged period of time, compressive loading on the spine is essentially absent, facilitating the movement of fluid into intervertebral discs, which increase in height as they swell (57). As the intervertebral discs experience compressive loading in an upright posture throughout the day, some of the fluid is driven out of these discs (28). This fluid shift reduces disc height and is the primary reason why people are on average 1% (on average corresponding to .75” [1.9cm]) taller initially upon waking compared to when they go to bed at night (106). The differences in hydration status result in the discs experiencing greater internal fluid pressure soon after waking relative to later in the day (111, 114). This elevated level of pressure restricts available lumbar intervertebral joint ROM and subjects the discs and spinal ligaments to a greater magnitude of loading for a given degree of motion (3). Consequently, dynamically loading the lumbar spine soon after waking will stress these structures to a greater degree compared to if the same movements were performed later in the day. The most pronounced effect will be present within the first hour after waking, as indicated by the finding that 54% of the reduction in height that occurs throughout the day happens during this period (106). With further passage of time, the rate of change declines, so the initial window merits the greatest consideration with respect to when dynamic trunk exercises may pose an elevated risk for some individuals (106).  

The fifth guideline is to implement a gradual progression if you incorporate dynamic trunk exercise into your training program and recognize that this type of movement may not be the best choice for you as an individual. This is the same principle discussed in the programming recommendations for reverse Nordic curls in a previous Stronger By Science article. For nearly any physical activity that is strenuous enough to induce a meaningful physical adaptation, a sudden spike in volume and/or intensity may result in an elevated risk of injury relative to if stressors were progressed at a less rapid rate. Gradual progression can help facilitate proper recovery and adaptation to resistance training, just as it can for running, jumping, and a multitude of different athletic maneuvers. When adding a new movement into your program, I recommend beginning with low volumes rather than immediately starting with high volumes for an exercise to which you are unaccustomed. If you respond well to the new movement and suspect that higher volumes will be beneficial in the overall context of your program, you can always incrementally increase the volume over time. 

With respect to lumbar extension exercise performed on the MedX machine, Carpenter et al (1991) and Steele et al (2015) investigated how different training volumes can affect strength adaptations, and their findings indicate that very low volumes can be rather effective. Carpenter et al assigned untrained subjects to one of four groups that performed a single lumbar extension exercise set of 8-12 reps to failure either once every other week, once per week, twice per week, or three times per week (12). After 20 weeks of training, each training group increased isometric lumbar extension at all tested joint angles, and the magnitude of increase did not significantly differ among the groups. While these results indicate that a very low volume and frequency can be sufficient to induce lumbar extension strength gains in untrained individuals, lifters with more experience may respond differently.    

Steele et al assessed this matter by recruiting participants who had been resistance training for at least six months including two or more sessions per week and “exercises designed to condition the lumbar extensors” (101). The lifters were assigned to a control group or one of two training groups that performed one or three sets of lumbar extension exercise for 8-12 reps to failure once per week for six weeks while not training “any other lumbar conditioning exercises.” Following the intervention, the control group exhibited a significant 8.9% decrease in lumbar extension strength, while the one-set and three-set groups respectively experienced significant 8.3% and 10.7% increases. The authors of this study interpreted these findings to indicate that “set volume does not impact upon strength changes in trained people” with respect to isolated lumbar extension exercise. While the findings do not clearly demonstrate the superiority of higher volumes, I question this conclusion based on the differences between the training groups. The three-set group had greater training experience by an average of two years (five- vs three-year means) and had 18.9% greater baseline lumbar extension strength, which may result in further increases in lumbar extension strength being more difficult to achieve. Consequently, performing multiple weekly sets of lumbar extension exercise may still be more beneficial than only one weekly set for trained individuals, although diminishing returns will be present and a single set per week can still yield a notable effect.

Generally, I don’t find the control group in training studies to be worth specifically discussing primarily because untrained subjects are assessed in most of these studies. This is not to say that a control group comprised of untrained individuals provides no value because it helps determine if training groups improved test results as a result of becoming more experienced with the test. However, Steele et al’s control group of people with an average of three years of resistance training experience provided further insight because their lumbar extension strength significantly decreased over six weeks when they refrained from “lumbar conditioning exercises.” When compared to this reduction in strength, the significant strength increases experienced by the training groups are all the more impressive, reinforcing how even very low volumes of dynamic lumbar extension exercise can have a meaningful effect for experienced individuals.

When to Program Different Core Exercises

With a broad topic such as core training and the large degree of variability that exists among individuals, I cannot make sweeping programming recommendations that apply to everyone.  Ultimately, I intend to communicate the available data and my interpretation of them in a manner that better equips any particular person to make informed decisions for his/her program.  Nonetheless, we can briefly cover some examples of how these ideas can be put into practice to work toward achieving certain goals.

If you wish to prime your core muscles’ spinal stabilization ability prior to lifts like squats and/or deadlifts, isometric core training is an ideal choice. As Greg Nuckols and Dean Somerset previously discussed, isometric exercises such as plank variations, can be valuable tools to improve your neuromuscular trunk control when squatting, particularly when combined with a focus on proper bracing. A 15-minute bout of isometric core training comprised of the side plank, bird dog, and modified curl up has been assessed to increase trunk stiffness acutely after it was performed, underscoring the value of this training when incorporated into a session’s active warmup (51). While it has yet to be tested, I see no reason why other isometric core exercises cannot be used to induce a similar effect. With consistent application, isometric core training can also yield a longer lasting resting core stiffness as indicated by a six-week training intervention that included a variety of isometric core exercises (52). Beyond transiently increasing trunk stiffness, isometric core exercises can also warm up muscles throughout the body, including those that act the hip and shoulder joints. Exercises such as side planks, bird dogs, Pallof presses, suitcase carries, waiter walks, and ab wheel rollouts engage many muscles simultaneously, so they are efficient options to reap the benefits of core training while preparing the rest of the body for subsequent lifts. 

An additional benefit of using specifically isometric core exercises to start your session is that isometric actions generate less muscle damage than eccentric actions (45, 102). With the greater muscle damage that it can produce, a dynamic exercise that includes an eccentric phase may be more fatiguing prior to your session’s primary exercises. This will mainly be relevant when selecting exercises that train the intrinsic back muscles during sessions that include squat and deadlift variations. If you prioritize strength performance on these lifts, you’ll want to implement core exercises in a manner that minimizes any interference. Consequently, I generally do not recommend performing challenging sets of dynamic trunk extension and lateral flexion exercises shortly before your squats and deadlifts.   

To facilitate sufficient recovery between training sessions, I also typically do not recommend programming dynamic trunk extension and lateral flexion exercises the day before sessions that include challenging sets of deadlift and squat variations. Essentially, I usually program these core exercises in a similar manner as accessory exercises used to induce quad and gluteus maximus hypertrophy with respect to when they are performed. For instance, if you squat and/or deadlift on Mondays and Thursdays, leg pressing and lunging on Sundays and Wednesdays can easily fatigue you for your squat and deadlift sessions. Given the importance of the intrinsic back muscles to squats and deadlifts, dynamic trunk extension and lateral flexion exercises can cause similar interference if recovery time is inadequate. To maximize recovery time, I generally program these exercises on the same days where I train squats and deadlifts after the primary lifts are completed, which is the same approach I use with knee extension and hip extension accessory exercises. 

When you perform dynamic trunk flexion and rotation exercises in your program is not particularly consequential because oblique and abdominal force production rarely limit performance in any lifts besides specific core exercises used to target these muscles. If you wish to develop your abdominals and obliques, you can include these exercises into an upper body session, lower body session, or even an active recovery day, and one option wouldn’t necessarily be better than the other. Personally, I believe that the best time to perform these exercises is whenever is most convenient to you, which is the same view I have with scapular protraction, hip abduction, and hip flexion exercises.


In the broader sense of the word, a core is an essential component of something, and this indispensable nature certainly applies to the muscular core’s role in resistance training. Whether you are a competitive strength athlete or a recreational lifter, your core muscles serve a pivotal function in numerous movements. Targeting these muscles through specific accessory exercises can transfer to enhanced performance in a variety of lifts such as squats and deadlifts, so direct core training can be a valuable component of nearly any program for lifters who wish to increase their full body strength.

Image Sources

The three core muscle anatomy images were published by “OpenStax,” are licensed as a Creative Commons work, and can be found here.

The lumbar and thoracic spine anatomy images were published by “BodyParts3D, © The Database Center for Life Science,” are licensed as Creative Commons works, and can be found at here.

The spinal curvature image was published by “Injurymap,” is licensed as Creative Commons works, and can be found here.

The spinal ligament anatomy image was published by “sportEX journals,” is licensed as Creative Commons works, and can be found here.

The Eddie Hall transformation image was published by his Instagram account and can be found here.

The Brian Shaw yoke walk image was published by Rogue Fitness’s Twitter account and can be found here.

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Can You Drop (Set) Weight for Gains?

Note: This article was the MASS Research Review cover story for February 2023 and is a review of a recent paper by Coleman et al. If you want more content like this, subscribe to MASS.

Key Points Researchers conducted a meta-analysis to compare the magnitude of hypertrophy and strength gains between drop set training and traditional set training. Findings showed only trivial effect sizes (ES) slightly favoring drop sets for both hypertrophy (ES = 0.08) and strength gains (ES = 0.07), indicating that the drop sets and traditional sets were similarly effective. Although this meta-analysis reports similar effectiveness for traditional sets and drop sets, this article proposes why traditional sets may be favorable for strength gains, and discusses the importance of considering individual responses when deciding whether or not to include drop sets in your training program.  

I’ve always liked drop sets. They don’t take long, you get a great pump, and they are super fun with a training buddy. In fact, this describes most of my and my buddy Greg’s (a different Greg) time spent lifting weights in his basement 20 years ago. Drop sets, rest-pause sets, and super sets are training in the rawest form, and they remind me of a time when I didn’t think too much and just put my head down and lifted weights. Further, as I wrote about recently, a certain mystique surrounds these strategies. Although most individual studies (2345) have shown muscle growth to be similar between drop sets and traditional sets, there is some evidence hinting at a slight advantage for drop sets (6), which has kept their mythical existence alive. Fortunately, a meta-analysis has arrived to provide some authority on the topic.

Purpose and Hypotheses Purpose

The purpose of the reviewed meta-analysis was to compare drop set training to traditional set training for longitudinal gains in strength and hypertrophy. 


As is customary in a meta-analysis, the researchers did not state any hypotheses.


Coleman et al (1) systematically searched PubMed/Medline, Web of Science, and CINAHL databases to identify longitudinal studies comparing drop set training to traditional set training for either hypertrophy or strength outcomes. The researchers conducted the meta-analysis following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines and pooled the findings of the included studies for analysis. The researchers criteria for including studies in the analysis are in Table 1. 

Coleman et al (1) identified five studies (23456) that met their inclusion criteria. Of these studies, all five assessed hypertrophy, and four (2456) assessed strength. In total, there were 13 comparisons for hypertrophy and 11 comparisons for strength. The researchers rated study quality using the “Downs and Black” checklist (7), which consists of 27 items. Each item was scored as 0 (criteria not satisfied) or 1 (criteria satisfied), and studies were scored as good, moderate, or poor quality if they received 21-29, 11-20, or ≤10 points, respectively. The average score was 18.4 points with two studies scored as “good” and three studies as “moderate” quality.


The researchers did not use null hypothesis testing (i.e., no p-values) and instead calculated effect sizes [(mean change 1 – mean change 2) / pooled baseline standard deviation] to compare hypertrophy and strength outcomes between drop set and traditional training. The researchers also completed a “leave one out’ analysis, in which each individual study was removed from the analysis one at a time to see the influence of each study on the findings. Lastly, the I2 statistic was calculated. This statistic quantifies the degree of heterogeneity (variation in effect size estimates among studies) that is not due to sampling error. The I2 is reported as a percentage (Low = <25%; Moderate = 25-75%; High = >75%).


Out of the five studies and 13 comparisons, the between-group effect size for hypertrophy was trivial (ES = 0.08; 95% Confidence Interval = -0.08 – 0.24). Similarly, the four studies and 11 comparisons for strength resulted in a trivial effect size (ES = 0.07; 95% Confidence Interval = -0.14 – 0.29) when comparing drop sets to traditional set training. The relative degree of observed heterogeneity was quite low for both the  hypertrophy and the strength comparisons (I2 = 0%). Lastly, no study in the “leave-one-out” analysis led to an “appreciable difference” in the findings. Forest plots for the hypertrophy and strength findings can be seen in Figures 1 and 2, respectively.


Overall, the Coleman et al (1) meta-analysis found that drop set and traditional training led to a similar degree of hypertrophy and strength gains, as evidenced by the trivial between-group effect sizes. I mostly feel comfortable with that conclusion, but there are four areas that I would like to elaborate on throughout this interpretation:

Long-term strength gains are probably better with traditional training than with drop sets. The individual response to drop set training. Drop sets and the perceptual response.  Drop sets are not a standalone training programming method.  

To understand why I want to highlight these four points, Table 2 breaks down the five studies (Table 2) included in the meta-analysis.

Table 2 is mostly full of null findings. Further, many of the between-group percentage differences are pretty close, which shouldn’t be surprising given the trivial effect sizes in the meta-analysis. The general takeaway is that, on average, traditional training and drop sets result in similar strength gains and hypertrophy. However, let’s now consider the four points I noted earlier, beginning with my assertion that traditional training is probably superior to drop sets for strength gains over the long term.

Longitudinal Strength Gains

One reason for suggesting that drop sets are inferior for long-term strength gains is because the strength data from Fink et al (3) was not included in the meta-analysis, and this data showed triceps pushdown 12RM to increase 9.1% more with traditional training than with drop set training. The authors did not specify why this comparison was omitted, but I suspect they viewed the 12RM test as a muscular endurance test rather than a strength test.

Further, in a within-subjects design, Ozaki et al (4) reported significantly greater increases in 1RM biceps curl (+9.5%) with high-load traditional sets than drop sets. Importantly, the peak relative intensity (percentage of 1RM) lifted was 80% of 1RM in Ozaki et al in that comparison. In the Forest plot in Table 2, two other comparisons favor drop sets for strength gains from Ozaki et al. However, those two data points compare drop sets (peak relative intensity = 80% of 1RM) to low-load training (peak relative intensity = 30% of 1RM). Therefore, when peak relative intensity was equated, traditional sets produced greater strength gains in Ozaki et al.

When considering that high-load training led to greater strength gains than drop sets in Ozaki et al and the omitted data from Fink et al, there is justification to suggest that traditional sets are superior for strength gains. Moreover, traditional sets are more likely to have a higher average relative load than drop sets over multiple sets. Traditional sets are also more likely to be trained shy of failure than drop sets (i.e., have a lower velocity loss and more RIR). Further, on exercises commonly used to develop specific strength with a high skill component (i.e., squat, bench press, and deadlift) the quality of later sets may decrease with drop sets due to training in a highly fatigued state with little to no interset rest. Therefore, over the long-term, I suggest using drop sets to supplement training, not as the primary training method, if strength is the main goal. 

Individual Responses

Despite the meta-analysis’ general takeaway that strength gains are similar between drop sets and traditional sets, I don’t think that tells the whole story since we must consider the individual response with any comparison. In a between-subjects design, Enes et al (5) reported a range of leg press 1RM increases of 2.3% – 27.0% in the drop set group and 4.5% – 18.0% in the traditional group. These findings demonstrate that not all individuals responded well to the training type they were assigned. Fortunately, three studies (246) included in the reviewed meta-analysis used a within-subjects design where one limb was assigned to drop sets, and the other to traditional training. I’ve written about this in-depth before, but in brief, with a within-subjects design, it can be ascertained how an individual would respond to both protocols. However, in a between-subjects design, such as Enes et al., we only know that there was a wide range of responses and cannot ascertain if someone who did not respond well (i.e., +2.3% strength gains) would have responded better to the other protocol.

Of the three studies with a within-subjects design, one (2) reported how specific individuals did in each condition. Angleri et al (2) found that although there was no significant difference at the group level for hypertrophy or strength gains between drop set and traditional set protocols, five out of 16 subjects gained more leg press strength with traditional training, and two subjects gained more strength with drop set training. That’s 7 out of 16 subjects, or ~44%, who benefited more from one protocol than the other. Angleri et al also reported that three subjects experienced more vastus lateralis hypertrophy with traditional sets, while two subjects benefited more from drop sets.

Drop Sets and the Perceptual Response

Similar to the individual response, downstream effects of a protocol, such as perceived difficulty, should also be considered. For example, Fink et al (3) found that subjects self-reported a significantly higher session RPE following a drop set training session (7.7 ± 1.5) than a traditional training session (5.3 ± 1.4). Importantly, volume load and the peak relative intensity (75% of 1RM) were equal between training groups; thus, I’d wager the reason for the higher session RPE was because the drop set group took all sets to failure with little to no interset rest.

If two protocols offer a similar training response and one is more fatiguing, you get more bang for your buck with the less fatiguing protocol. It’s analogous to using a practical and cheap recovery option such as foam rolling instead of a time-consuming and more expensive option like cold water immersion or cryotherapy. Although we lack direct evidence connecting session RPE to long-term resistance training adherence, long-term engagement in physical activity has been associated with ratings of pleasure following acute exercise (8), and a positive feeling following aerobic exercise has been associated with greater intention to exercise (9).  

I’d be remiss not to state that the aforementioned Fink et al study (3) compared a training session of only drop sets to a training session of only traditional sets. While I think using solely drop sets for every training session is not a long-term recipe for adherence, I don’t think the more common approach of using traditional sets and finishing the session by running the rack on dumbbell curls is going to spike session RPE or decrease adherence. If anything, including drop sets on assistance movements toward the end of a workout may be enjoyable for many.

Drop Sets as a Standalone Training Strategy

As should be apparent from the end of the previous section, I don’t view drop sets as a standalone training method. Rather, drop sets, along with rest-pause, cluster, and super sets, are training strategies that should be incorporated at the appropriate time within an otherwise sound training program. To understand when to use drop sets, it’s necessary to ask: what is the point of using drop sets? I addressed that question in-depth in this article, but in brief, drop sets are a training strategy used to accumulate volume in a short period of time. Based upon that understanding, it doesn’t make sense to perform a bunch of drop sets a week or two out from a powerlifting meet or a gym test day since volume is usually trending downward (i.e., tapering) a week or so before testing strength. Instead, drop sets are good strategies to include in volume blocks, situations where a lifter is short on time, or as “exercise snacks.”

Drop sets are also better suited for some exercises than others. For example, always training squats with drop sets would be very fatiguing and may result in technique breaking down due to the lack of interset rest. On the other hand, lifters could implement drop sets more frequently on biceps curls and triceps extensions. Practically, it’s simpler to finish a set of curls, put the weights down (or throw them down to look super tough), and pick up dumbbells 5kg lighter than it is to rack the barbell on squats, change the weight, and squat again. This example isn’t to say that a lifter shouldn’t ever do drop sets on squats; it’s just that I would use drop sets more on assistance exercises.

There are various ways to program drop sets. As outlined in the latter portion of Table 3, lifters can train drop sets to failure or shy of failure. Drop sets can be used as the sole prescription for a particular exercise or as an add-on. To utilize drop sets as the sole prescription, a lifter could perform one set of dumbbell curls for 10 reps, then drop the weight by 10kg and perform 10-15 more reps, then proceed to drop the weight by 2.5-5kg three more times and perform 10-15 reps. However, drop sets can also be performed as a single drop set following traditional sets. For instance, if a lifter bench pressed 3 ´ 8 at 85kg, they could immediately drop the weight to 50kg after the third set and perform a set at or near failure. Specific situations in which lifters might implement drop sets and further examples of how to program drop sets are in Table 3. Additionally, these videos (onetwo) provide additional examples of including drop sets (and other training strategies) when in a time crunch.

Next Steps

I’d like to see a longitudinal study comparing the addition of a single drop set after the last set of squats and the last set of curls to just doing traditional sets. Specifically, one group would train with a typical prescription, such as 3 × 10 at 70% of 1RM, and the other group would also do 3 × 10 at 70% and then immediately drop the load to a weight in which failure occurs at 15-20 reps. This study would evaluate if adding a single drop set to upper and lower body exercises and multi-joint and single-joint exercises enhances hypertrophy and strength. I also would deliberately not equate volume between groups since when lifters perform a drop set like this, the choice is usually to either perform the single drop set or stop training. Furthermore, lifters don’t usually consider performing an extra traditional set in lieu of the drop set; thus, I would aim for ecological validity over equating volume. Of course, an even better design would be a third group that trained traditionally and with equated volume compared to the drop set group, but that takes additional time, people, and money.

Application and Takeaways This meta-analysis found that drop sets and traditional set training produce similar hypertrophy and strength gains. Despite the findings of the meta-analysis, there may be better long-term approaches than drop sets for maximizing 1RM strength. Drop sets are not well-suited as a standalone training method, especially for major exercises like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts. Lifters should mostly implement drop sets as a secondary training strategy to accumulate volume in a time-efficient manner. Lifters can implement drop sets by performing 3-5 drop sets back-to-back, or one final drop set following traditional sets. Ultimately, all iterations of drop sets are appropriate as long as they are included as a supplementary component of a well-designed training program. Get more articles like this

This article was the cover story for the February 2023 issue of MASS Research Review. If you’d like to read the full, 100-page February issue (and dive into the MASS archives), you can subscribe to MASS here.

Subscribers get a new edition of MASS each month. Each edition is available on our member website as well as in a beautiful, magazine-style PDF and contains at least 5 full-length articles (like this one), 2 videos, and 8 Research Brief articles.

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References Coleman M, Harrison K, Arias R, Johnson E, Grgic J, Orazem J, Schoenfeld B. Muscular Adaptations in Drop Set vs. Traditional Training: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Strength and Conditioning. 2022 Nov 28;2(1). Angleri V, Ugrinowitsch C, Libardi CA. Crescent pyramid and drop-set systems do not promote greater strength gains, muscle hypertrophy, and changes on muscle architecture compared with traditional resistance training in well-trained men. European journal of applied physiology. 2017 Feb;117(2):359-69. Fink J, Schoenfeld BJ, Kikuchi N, Nakazato K. Effects of drop set resistance training on acute stress indicators and long-term muscle hypertrophy and strength. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2018 May 1;58(5):597-605. Ozaki H, Kubota A, Natsume T, Loenneke JP, Abe T, Machida S, Naito H. Effects of drop sets with resistance training on increases in muscle CSA, strength, and endurance: a pilot study. Journal of sports sciences. 2018 Mar 19;36(6):691-6. Enes A, Alves RC, Schoenfeld BJ, Oneda G, Perin SC, Trindade TB, Prestes J, Souza-Junior TP. Rest-pause and drop-set training elicit similar strength and hypertrophy adaptations compared with traditional sets in resistance-trained males. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2021;46(11):1417-24. Varović D, Žganjer K, Vuk S, Schoenfeld BJ. Drop-Set training elicits differential increases in non-uniform hypertrophy of the quadriceps in leg extension exercise. Sports. 2021 Aug 29;9(9):119. Downs SH, Black N. The feasibility of creating a checklist for the assessment of the methodological quality both of randomised and non-randomised studies of health care interventions. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 1998 Jun 1;52(6):377-84. Williams DM, Dunsiger S, Ciccolo JT, Lewis BA, Albrecht AE, Marcus BH. Acute affective response to a moderate-intensity exercise stimulus predicts physical activity participation 6 and 12 months later. Psychology of sport and exercise. 2008 May 1;9(3):231-45. Kwan BM, Bryan AD. Affective response to exercise as a component of exercise motivation: Attitudes, norms, self-efficacy, and temporal stability of intentions. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 2010 Jan 1;11(1):71-9.

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10 Vegan Recipes For Fall

‘Tis the season for all of the comfort food! If you want to enjoy your favorite fall flavors without dairy or eggs, I’ve got you covered. I’ve gathered up 10 delicious vegan recipes for fall.

Hi friends! Anyone else feeling SO EXCITED for fall? Last year, I felt like I was going through the motions, but this year, I actually feel myself really looking forward to the upcoming season. I can’t wait for some fun celebrations with the fam and fall and winter activities.

I also feel like my cooking mojo has come back, so it’s been fun to finally enjoy cooking again and trying new recipes. For today’s post, I wanted to share some vegan recipes we love or new ones that are on our radar. Please shout out any fave fall vegan recipes in the comments below!

10 Vegan Recipes For Fall 1. Pumpkin Pie Protein Bowl

A delicious and healthy high-protein breakfast option that tastes like pumpkin pie! It’s gluten-free, vegan, and an awesome breakfast for busy mornings.

2. Apple Pie Walnut Baked Oatmeal

This apple pie baked oatmeal is gluten-free, vegan, and an incredibly delicious make-ahead breakfast option. This is perfect to make as part of meal prep for busy weekday mornings. Simply reheat and eat.

3. Vegan Eggnog

Anyway, let’s talk about this recipe! It’s a holly jolly holiday beverage, minus some of the ingredients that can make us want to crawl into hibernation. (Don’t worry, there’s still some booze in there if you want it!) For a creamy egg-less eggnog, I used my favorite strategy for awesome texture minus the dairy: soaked cashews, plus a little turmeric for that light golden egg-ish color.

4. Pumpkin Pie Mousse

This tastes like pumpkin pie in a bowl, minus the crust. It has the creamy texture of pumpkin pie filling but is totally egg-free for my vegan friends out there.

5. Jackfruit Carnitas Burrito Bowl

A delicious and savory vegan lunch or dinner option! Make the jackfruit carnitas and enjoy in a burrito bowl, salad, or breakfast scramble. Here’s the recipe for my favorite burrito bowl!

6. Buffalo Chicken Dip

An easy, protein-packed dip recipe that’s also dairy-free! Enjoy with celery sticks and your favorite crackers. Instead of the chicken, try using jackfruit to make it vegan – the sauce and flavorings are amazing.

7. Raw Apple Tart with Almond Meal Crust

A delicious and healthy sweet treat with an almond meal crust, + spiced apples. They’re an awesome boost of healthy fat, and fiber, and taste delicious.

8. Vegan Apple Bread via Eating Bird Food

This vegan apple bread is studded with fresh apples and has a delicious cinnamon pecan topping and creamy glaze. It’s the perfect loaf for fall!

9. Stuffed Acorn Squash + Wild Rice Medley via The Simple Veganista

Stuffed Acorn Squash + Wild Rice Medley features tender roasted squash stuffed with wild rice, mushrooms, spinach, red bell pepper, and white beans for a delicious fall-inspired meal!

10. Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells via It’s All Good Vegan

Looking for a delicious cozy fall recipe? Whip up these savory Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells. Layered with a creamy butternut squash sauce and topped with stuffed vegan ricotta shells, mozzarella cheese, crushed red pepper, and fried sage leaves. These stuffed shells will be your new favorite go-to dinner this fall.

Get ready to FALL in love with these vegan delights!

And just like that, we’ve reached the end of our delightful plant-based and vegan fall recipe journey! These plant-based dishes make the most out of the incredible seasonal produce that this time of year has to offer. From creamy sweet potato-filled creations to comforting bowls of butternut squash soup, we’ve truly explored the depths of fall produce.

In just 30 minutes (because who has time to wait forever?), you can whip up these healthy vegan delicacies that are as nourishing as they are tasty. The quinoa salad with roasted brussel sprouts is the perfect side dish to accompany any autumn meal, while the vegan pumpkin pot pie steals the spotlight with its heartiness.

Embracing the flavors and colors of fall has never been this easy! So next time you’re in the mood for a taste of the season, look no further than these tantalizing (and super easy) recipes. Not only will they satisfy your cravings, but they’ll also make your taste buds do a happy dance.

Remember, being vegan doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the deliciousness that fall brings. So grab your apron and get cooking – it’s time to celebrate the flavors of fall in a truly plant-based way!

Are you team apple or pumpkin? Shout out your fave fall recipe in the comments!

The post 10 Vegan Recipes For Fall appeared first on The Fitnessista.

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141: Ditching the “all or nothing” mindset, Q&A episode

Hi friends! How are you? I hope you’re enjoying the morning! New podcast episode is up with a little Q&A. Thank you so much to those of you who submitted questions via Instagram. If you have any topic or guest requests, please send them my way!

141: Ditching the “all or nothing” mindset, Q&A episode

Here are today’s questions:

– How do I improve my all or nothing mindset? I feel like when I’m on the plan, I can stick with it, but once I do something that’s not on the plan, the whole day is ruined.

– How to adjust mindset/nutrition/movement when recovering from surgery?

– Lab ranges that are different in functional medicine

– Kettlebells! How to choose the correct weight? Where to start? Work with a certified kettlebell coach

– Nutrition certification and deep dive of coaching options

1:1 Coaching – email me with the subject COACHING for an application

Fit Team– phased strength training plans you can do at home, designed to improve strength, performance, and body composition

Vitality– health foundations, functional lab testing, and personalized action plan to get you feeling your absolute best

More resources from this episode:

I love love love the meals from Sakara LifeUse this link and the code XOGINAH for 20% off their meal delivery and clean boutique items. This is something I do once a month as a lil treat to myself and the meals are always showstoppers. You can join their fall reset now!

If any of my fellow health professional friends are looking for another way to help their clients, I highly recommend IHP. You can also use this information to heal yourself and then go one to heal others, which I think is a beautiful mission. You can absolutely join if you don’t currently work in the health or fitness industry; many IHPs don’t begin on this path. They’re friends who are passionate to learn more about health and wellness, and want to share this information with those they love. You can do this as a passion, or start an entirely new career.

You can use my referral link here and the code FITNESSISTA for up to $250 off the Integrative Health Practitioner program. I highly recommend it! You can check out my review IHP Level 1 here! I just finished IHP2 and will share a review of my experience, too.

I’m still obsessed with my sauna blanket. This is one of my favorite ways to relax and sweat it out. I find that it energizes me, helps with aches and pains, I sleep better on the days I use this, and it makes my skin glow. Link to check it out here. You can also use my discount (FITNESSISTA15) for the PEMF Go Mat, which I use every day, and the red light face mask, which is a staple in my weekly skincare routine.

Get 15% off Organifi with the code FITNESSISTA. I drink the green juice, red juice, gold, and Harmony! (Each day I might have something different, or have two different things. Everything I’ve tried is amazing.)

Thank you so much for listening and for all of your support with the podcast! Please be sure to subscribe, and leave a rating or review if you enjoyed this episode. If you leave a rating, head to this page and you’ll get a little “thank you” gift from me to you. 

The post 141: Ditching the “all or nothing” mindset, Q&A episode appeared first on The Fitnessista.

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August Book Recap

 Sharing the books I read in August and if I’d recommend adding them to your collection!

Hi friends! I hope that you’re enjoying the day so far. The Pilot was off work, so he took the kids to school while I caught a barre class, we enjoyed a coffee date, and lunch together. It was a lovely treat in the middle of the week!

For today’s post, I wanted to share a recap of some of the books I’ve read recently. This post is a little belated because I kept thinking I’d finish Daughters of Rome but I couldn’t do it (more below). I’d love to hear about what you’ve been reading lately if you’ll share the goods in the comments section!


A friend recommended this book to me, as we both have tween daughters and are heading into new territories when it comes to friendships, independence, all those teen-y things. This book was AMAZING. It’s all about helping your child navigate the seven stages of adulthood, including friendships, mood/attitudes, bullying, relationships (with others and with parents), and I found it be incredibly insightful and full of helpful tips. I highly recommend it if you have a tween or teen.

One of my favorite metaphors that the author gave was that our kids are swimming in a pool, and we’re the wall. They need to venture out and be able to swim and find independence, but sometimes, they may need to come back to the wall. Sometimes, they push off the wall, which can be painful, but we need to stay there for them. A kid with a wall is going to have an easier time navigating tough situations than if the wall wasn’t there. <3

From Amazon:

In this sane, highly engaging, and informed guide for parents of daughters, Dr. Damour draws on decades of experience and the latest research to reveal the seven distinct – and absolutely normal – developmental transitions that turn girls into grown-ups, including parting with childhood, contending with adult authority, entering the romantic world, and caring for herself.

Providing realistic scenarios and welcome advice on how to engage daughters in smart, constructive ways, Untangled gives parents a broad framework for understanding their daughters while addressing their most common questions, including:

My 13-year-old rolls her eyes when I try to talk to her and only does it more when I get angry with her about it. How should I respond?

Do I tell my teen daughter that I’m checking her phone?

My daughter suffers from test anxiety. What can I do to help her?

Where’s the line between healthy eating and having an eating disorder?

My teenage daughter wants to know why I’m against pot when it’s legal in some states. What should I say?

My daughter’s friend is cutting herself. Do I call the girl’s mother to let her know?

Perhaps most important, Untangled helps mothers and fathers understand, connect, and grow with their daughters. When parents know what makes their daughter tick, they can embrace and enjoy the challenge of raising a healthy, happy young woman.

The Mediterranean Dish

I’m old-school and will love cookbooks forever and ever amen. The internet is amazing, but there’s something magical about having all of your favorite recipes in one spot, and to see olive oil splattered pages and well-worn edges of beloved cookbooks. Since I’m doing the EquiLife detox, a Medterranean style of eating has fit in well with the meal guide. Also, after watching Blue Zones on Netflix, I’m inspired to enjoy more fresh and vibrant daily eats!

We all love Mediterranean food (especially the kids!), so I thought it would be fun to pick up this cookbook for new inspiration. It is AMAZING. We’ve tried a couple of recipes that were both fantastic, and I can’t wait to make more.

From Amazon:

What began as one of the first online Mediterranean food blogs has blossomed into the leading site for modern Mediterranean cooking and lifestyle with millions of readers—and now it is the inspiration for the long-awaited first cookbook from Suzy Karadsheh. In her cookbook, Suzy brings cross-culturally inspired dishes from throughout the Mediterranean into American home kitchens, using easy-to-find ingredients and easy-to-follow, tested-to-perfection recipes to make your meals more vibrant, delicious, and yes—even a little healthier, too!

Born and raised by the sea in Port Said, Egypt, Suzy lived in Michigan and Des Moines with her family before moving to Atlanta, where she now lives. Her modern cooking reflects the rich and complex traditions of the Mediterranean and Middle East, from Greece and southern Spain to Jordan and Tunisia, as well as inspiration from her new Southern roots.

Practical and weeknight-easy recipes include: Spanakopita Egg Muffins, Chicken Shawarma Bowls, Garlicky Spinach and Chickpea Soup with Lemon and Pecorino Romano, Roasted Asparagus Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil, Middle Eastern Rice Pilaf with Toasted Vermicelli and Pine Nuts, Orange-Cardamom Olive Oil Cake, and of course Homemade Pita Bread to serve with just about everything.  Suzy’s winning combination of approachable instructions, reliable recipes, stunning photography, charming authentic stories, and simple assemblies is sure to thrill anyone hungry to eat healthier food that bursts with flavor and spice.

Daughters of RomeDNF

This was my second book in this series, and I was really looking forward to it, since I love Kate Quinn (I’ve read many of her books). The first book, Daughters of Rome, was a slow burn for me, but I still enjoyed it. Since the first book was a little slower, I stuck with this book and ended up reading more than half of it before calling it quits. The plot just dragged on, and while it was interesting to be introduced to characters from the first book but in an earlier time setting, I couldn’t get into it. Boo.

From Amazon:

A.D. 69. The Roman Empire is up for the taking. The Year of Four Emperors will change everything – especially the lives of two sisters with a very personal stake in the outcome.

Elegant and ambitious, Cornelia embodies the essence of the perfect Roman wife. She lives to one day see her loyal husband as Emperor. Her sister Marcella is more aloof, content to witness history rather than make it. But when a bloody coup turns their world upside-down, both women must maneuver carefully just to stay alive.

As Cornelia tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered dreams, Marcella discovers a hidden talent for influencing the most powerful men in Rome. In the end, though, there can only be one Emperor… and one Empress.

Part of Your World

I went into this Abby Jimenez combo backwards; I read Yours Truly first (which is technically the second book) and then this one. Turns out, it didn’t really matter. Some of the characters overlap but it doesn’t make a huge difference in the plots.

Abby Jimenez is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. The books are fun and light, and she includes the perfect amount of witty banter that I love. They’re definitely fun to mix in between reading about autoimmune issues and historical fiction; a little lighter fare. 9/10

From Amazon:

After a wild bet, gourmet grilled-cheese sandwich, and cuddle with a baby goat, Alexis Montgomery has had her world turned upside down. The cause: Daniel Grant, a ridiculously hot carpenter who’s ten years younger than her and as casual as they come—the complete opposite of sophisticated city-girl Alexis. And yet their chemistry is undeniable.

While her ultra-wealthy parents want her to carry on the family legacy of world-renowned surgeons, Alexis doesn’t need glory or fame. She’s fine with being a “mere” ER doctor. And every minute she spends with Daniel and the tight-knit town where he lives, she’s discovering just what’s really important. Yet letting their relationship become anything more than a short-term fling would mean turning her back on her family and giving up the opportunity to help thousands of people.

Bringing Daniel into her world is impossible, and yet she can’t just give up the joy she’s found with him either. With so many differences between them, how can Alexis possibly choose between her world and his?

So tell me, friends: what did you read last month? What’s on your TBR (to be read) list??

I have a whole pile of Book of the Month picks I need to work through!



The post August Book Recap appeared first on The Fitnessista.

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How to get back in shape

Sharing tips on how to get back in shape and start a fitness routine after taking a break after an extended time or injury.

Hi hi! How are you? I hope that you’re having a wonderful morning. Thank you to those of you who have entered the giveaway so far! Check out the post here. This morning, I’m taking a yoga class, and then meeting a friend for lunch in between podcast interviews.

Today, I wanted to share some strategies on how to get back in shape if you’ve taken some time off.

The truth is, sticking to a regular fitness plan can be quite a challenge. Life happens, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself taking a break from your fitness routine. Whether it’s due to a busy schedule, health issues, or just a lack of motivation, getting back in shape after a hiatus can feel like a daunting task. But the good news is, it’s never too late to restart your fitness journey, and I’m here to help you ease your way back into it.

How to Get Back In Shape Find Your Motivation

The first step in your fitness comeback journey is finding your motivation. Ask yourself why you want to get back in shape. Is it to improve your health, regain confidence, or simply feel more energized? Knowing your ‘why’ can provide the drive you need to stay committed.Motivation often varies from person to person. Some might be inspired by a desire to shed a few pounds, while others want to increase their energy levels or reduce stress. Whatever your motivation, write it down and remind yourself of it daily. It’s your compass on this journey.

Create a Plan

Once you’ve found your motivation, it’s time to create a plan. Set clear fitness goals and establish a workout routine. Having a plan in place gives you a roadmap to follow, making it easier to stay on track.

When creating your plan, consider the following: Goal Specificity:

Make your goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). For example, instead of saying “I want to lose weight,” say “I aim to lose 10 pounds in three months.”

Balanced Workouts:

Include a mix of cardiovascular exercises, strength training, and flexibility work in your fitness routine. This balanced approach ensures you’re working on various aspects of your fitness.

Progress Tracking:

Keep a fitness journal or use a tracking app to record your workouts, nutrition, and progress. Tracking your achievements can be incredibly motivating.

Rest Days:

Don’t forget to schedule rest days in your plan. Rest is essential for muscle recovery and overall well-being.

Start Slow and Smart

Don’t rush into intense workouts right away. Start slow to avoid injury and prevent burnout. Begin with low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, or cycling. These activities help you ease back into physical activity and increase your heart rate gradually.

Starting with less intense workouts allows your body to adapt and minimizes the risk of overuse injuries. It’s essential to listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard initially.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Before and after each workout, remember to warm up and cool down. Warming up prepares your muscles for exercise, increasing blood flow and flexibility. Cooling down helps your body recover and reduces post-workout soreness. A simple warm-up can include five minutes of brisk walking or gentle stretching.For a warm-up, you can also include dynamic stretches like leg swings, arm circles, and torso twists. These movements prepare your body for action by gradually increasing your heart rate and loosening up your joints.

Build Up Strength Gradually

When it comes to strength training, take it one step at a time. Begin with bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, and push-ups. As your muscle strength improves, gradually add weights or resistance bands to your routine. This approach prevents overexertion and minimizes the risk of injury.Strength training is essential for toning your body, increasing muscle mass, and boosting metabolism. It also improves bone density, which is crucial for overall health, especially as you age.

Set Realistic Goals

Set achievable fitness goals that align with your current abilities. Remember that your body has muscle memory, which means you can regain lost strength and endurance faster than you might think. Be patient and celebrate small victories along the way.For example, if you used to be able to run a 5K but haven’t been active for a while, your first goal might be to run a mile without stopping. Celebrate when you reach that milestone, and then set a new goal.

Find a Support Group

Sharing your fitness journey with others can be incredibly motivating. Consider joining a fitness class, finding a workout buddy, or engaging with online communities focused on health and fitness. We have an amazing one with Fit Team! Having a support group can provide encouragement and accountability.

Connecting with others who share similar goals can make your fitness journey feel less lonely and more enjoyable. You can exchange tips, share progress, and celebrate achievements together.

Workout To Get Back In Shape 1. HIIT Treadmill Workouts for Beginners

HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) is an effective way to boost your cardiovascular fitness. This workout alternates between short bursts of high-intensity exercise and periods of rest. To get started, try this HIIT Treadmill Workout for Beginners. It’s a fantastic way to torch calories and improve your endurance.

High-intensity interval training is time-efficient and provides excellent results. It can help you burn more calories in less time compared to steady-state cardio workouts. (I also have a post comparing HIIT and Steady State here!)

2. Peloton Workout Plan for Beginners and Bodyweight Exercises

Peloton offers a variety of workouts, including cycling, strength training, and yoga. Check out this Peloton Workout Plan for Beginners and Bodyweight Exercises to explore a range of Peloton workouts that cater to all fitness levels. Whether you have the equipment or not, there’s something for everyone.

Peloton workouts provide the convenience of home workouts with the motivation of live classes and a supportive community.

Remember, consistency is key on your fitness journey. Aim to work out at least 30 minutes several times a week, gradually increasing the intensity of your exercises as you progress. Stay committed to your fitness routine, and you’ll soon start seeing positive changes in your body and overall well-being.

Getting back in shape may seem intimidating, but with the right strategies, it’s entirely achievable. Remember to find your motivation, create a plan, start slowly, and listen to your body. Celebrate your progress, no matter how small, and stay committed to your long-term fitness goals. Your body has an incredible capacity to adapt and regain strength; you’ll be glad that you got back into the game.



The post How to get back in shape appeared first on The Fitnessista.

- Fitnessista
Lemon Blueberry Muffins and Chocolate Coconut Energy Bites

This post is sponsored by my friends at NOW Foods. They’re one of my all-time favorite companies and I love their line of products, from sports supplements, to pantry essentials, beauty and skincare, and essential oils. Check it out here and use FITNESSISTA for 20% off! Also, check out the giveaway details below.

Hands in the air if you’re equally excited to be back in a routine, but also lamenting the end of summer. We are officially back in school, back to the dance-horses-homework extravaganza, and while I thrive on a schedule, things are busy, as I’m sure many of you can relate.

I’m here trying to make the week as streamlined as possible, and here are some of the things that have helped:

– Doing anything I can the night before. This means packing lunches, setting out uniforms (including hair accessories and shoes), packing snacks, and setting out water bottles to be filled. I also make a mental note of what the kids are having for breakfast, so I can make anything in advance.

– Start dinner in the afternoon. Many nights, Liv is finished with dance late, so I have dinner waiting for the crew when they’re done with their activities for the day. I’ve found that late afternoon, before school pickup, is the best chance to get some veggies chopped, and make anything I can before pickup.

– Snack prep! I try to make snack staples at the beginning of the week, so that the kids have lots of options.

Here are two favorites that they’re loving lately!

Lemon Blueberry Muffins and Chocolate Coconut Energy Bites Lemon Blueberry Muffins

These lemon blueberry muffins have a bright and zesty flavor. P says they taste like pancake muffins! I also like that they’re not too sweet. You can absolutely increase the sweetness by adding more coconut sugar or maple syrup. Make a batch and freeze to have on hand for the week. I’ll heat them up and serve with pre-boiled eggs for a quick school morning breakfast.

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.tasty-recipes-print{font-size:11px;line-height:1.5em}.tasty-recipes-print .tasty-recipes-description p{font-size:1em;line-height:1.5em}.tasty-recipes-print ul,.tasty-recipes-print ol{padding-left:1.25em}.tasty-recipes-print .tasty-recipes-details ul{padding-left:0}.tasty-recipes-print-view h3{font-size:1.2em;letter-spacing:0.1em;margin:0 0 10px 0}.tasty-recipes-print-view .tasty-recipes-ingredients-header,.tasty-recipes-print-view .tasty-recipes-instructions-header{margin:0}.tasty-recipes-print-view .tasty-recipes-ingredients,.tasty-recipes-print-view .tasty-recipes-instructions{padding:1.25em 0}.tasty-recipes-cook-mode__label{color:#797B7C}.tasty-recipes-cook-mode__label,.tasty-recipes-cook-mode__helper{font-size:0.8em} Lemon Blueberry Muffins Print Recipe

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A delicious and healthy muffin recipe that you can make in advance, freeze, and enjoy throughout the week. Gluten-free and dairy free.

Author: Gina Harney Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 15 minutes Total Time: 25 minutes Yield: About 15 muffins Ingredients

1 cup gluten-free flour baking blend

1 cup almond flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of sea salt

1/2 cup almond milk

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

2 eggs

1 cup blueberries

zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons coconut sugar

Cook Mode Prevent your screen from going dark Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a standard muffin pan with liners.

In a small bowl, combine the almond milk and apple cider vinegar and set aside.

In a medium bowl, add the gluten-free flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.

Stir in the remaining ingredients, adding the blueberries last.

Fill the muffin tins 3-4 of the way, and then bake for 15 minutes or until set. Allow to cool completely before freezing.

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Chocolate Coconut Energy Bites

These coconut coconut energy bites taste almost like a candy bar, and are a great source of healthy fats. The girls love them for a little sweet bite, and I’ll pack them in their lunch snacks. I like to have them on hand, waiting in the fridge, especially when I want a quick snack on-the-go.

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.tasty-recipes-print{font-size:11px;line-height:1.5em}.tasty-recipes-print .tasty-recipes-description p{font-size:1em;line-height:1.5em}.tasty-recipes-print ul,.tasty-recipes-print ol{padding-left:1.25em}.tasty-recipes-print .tasty-recipes-details ul{padding-left:0}.tasty-recipes-print-view h3{font-size:1.2em;letter-spacing:0.1em;margin:0 0 10px 0}.tasty-recipes-print-view .tasty-recipes-ingredients-header,.tasty-recipes-print-view .tasty-recipes-instructions-header{margin:0}.tasty-recipes-print-view .tasty-recipes-ingredients,.tasty-recipes-print-view .tasty-recipes-instructions{padding:1.25em 0}.tasty-recipes-cook-mode__label{color:#797B7C}.tasty-recipes-cook-mode__label,.tasty-recipes-cook-mode__helper{font-size:0.8em} Chocolate Coconut Energy Bites Print Recipe

★ 5 Stars ★ 4 Stars ★ 3 Stars ★ 2 Stars ★ 1 Star

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A delicious and healthy energy bite recipe that kids love! Make a batch to keep in the fridge for easy snacking throughout the week.

Author: Gina Harney Prep Time: 10 minutes Total Time: 10 minutes Yield: 8-10 energy bites Ingredients

1/2 cup raw cashews

8 pitted medjool dates

1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (plus more for rolling)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

2 tablespoons raw cocoa powder

pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cook Mode Prevent your screen from going dark Instructions

In a food processor, pulse all of the ingredients until chopped and a dough-like mixture forms. (Add a little water if it needs help coming together.)

Roll into 8-10 balls. Roll each ball into the extra coconut as a little coconut coating.

Store covered in the fridge for up to one week.

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I used NOW Foods ingredients in these recipes, including their coconut oil, almond flour, maple syrup, cocoa powder, coconut sugar, and coconut. They’re one of my go-to places to shop, especially because they put so much care into the quality of their products. I had the opportunity to visit their headquarters years ago and was blown away. You can check out my recap here!

I especially love their creatine, protein powders, essential oils, skincare staples, and natural foods.

I thought it would be fun to share a giveaway with a lucky reader friend, and NOW generously offered a $150 gift card for one winner! Winner must live in the US and be over the age of 18 to win.

Here’s how to enter:

– Leave a comment on this post – it can be anything 🙂

Bonus entries:

Follow me on Instagram and leave an extra comment to let me know

– Follow NOW Foods on Instagram and leave an extra comment to let me know

Check out today’s Instagram reel for another way to enter, too!

I’ll pick the winner randomly and will announce in this week’s Friday Faves post.

Ready, set, go!



The post Lemon Blueberry Muffins and Chocolate Coconut Energy Bites appeared first on The Fitnessista.

- Lindsey Bomgren, CPT
30-Minute Barre Sculpt At Home
Strengthen, sculpt and tone with this barre sculpt workout at home! This full body workout combines high-rep strength training and traditional barre exercises to challenge your mobility and core. Add a set of light weights and feel the burn in this barre workout at home.
- Lindsey Bomgren, CPT
30-Minute Bodyweight Tabata Workout (No Equipment)
No equipment needed for this fast-paced, bodyweight Tabata workout! There are four Tabata supersets in this workout, with options for high impact or low impact exercises. This is a quick and effective bodyweight Tabata workout that will challenge your muscular endurance and burn calories.
- Lindsey Bomgren, CPT
30-Minute AMRAP Workout
Build total body strength and raise your heart rate with this full body AMRAP workout! AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) means you work at your pace. This full body dumbbell workout pairs a lower body exercise and an upper body exercise in each circuit for a total body burnout. Count your reps and work at your pace.
- Lindsey Bomgren, CPT
10-Minute Yoga: Active Recovery Yoga
Use this 10-minute active recovery yoga routine to recover from intense workouts (or to stretch out after sitting at a desk all day). Flow through these 8 yoga stretches to speed up recovery and relieve tight muscles.
- Lindsey Bomgren, CPT
The Best lululemon Jackets and Sweatshirts for Fall
The best lululemon jackets and sweatshirts for women! These transitional pieces range from the perfect work-from-home sweatshirt, a TikTok-famous athletic jacket, and the best water-repellent jacket for hiking and running errands! Size and fit guide included.
- Lindsey Bomgren, CPT
As a mom who lifts heavy weights, I prioritize easy, high-protein snacks to ensure I get the proper amount of protein I need every day to build and repair muscles. These are my favorite high-protein snacks, including my favorite protein bar, protein powder, and my high-protein meal prep recipes.
- Lindsey Bomgren, CPT
8 Best Foam Roller Exercises (Recovery Day Foam Roller Stretches)
Release tight hips, hamstrings and back muscles with these 8 foam roller exercises. This guided, 10-minute foam rolling routine is perfect for your next recovery day. Release sore muscles, increase range of motion and flexibility, and reduce risk of injury.
- Lindsey Bomgren, CPT
8-Minute Booty Workout At Home (No Squats, No Lunges, No Jumping)
No squats, no lunges and no jumping in this 8 Minute Booty Workout At Home! Four butt lifting exercises to strengthen your glutes at home without weights. Add this no equipment booty workout to your weekly fitness routine.
- Lindsey Bomgren, CPT
5-Minute Resistance Band Ab Workout
Strengthen your core and tone your abs with this resistance band ab workout. Five resistance band exercises that target your midsection, deep core, glutes, hips and pelvic floor. This is functional strength training for your abs.
- Lindsey Bomgren, CPT
8 Best Tricep Exercises for Women (30-Minute Tricep Workout)
Build strong, defined triceps with the 8 best tricep exercises for women. This challenging 30-minute tricep workout uses dumbbells, a resistance band and your bodyweight to tone your triceps. Reach muscle fatigue in 30 minutes with this strict set format — a set of tricep dips breaks up each strength set in this workout!

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- Kiesha Yokers
Breathwork for Trauma: How to Connect Back to Your Body
breathwork for trauma

Breathwork for trauma is being talked about more and more—and for good reason: 70 percent of adults across the globe have dealt with at least one traumatic event in their lives. These traumas can be the result of events or experiences that range from violence and abuse to serious accidents or even exposure to death or loss. 

Using deep breathing and various breathing techniques with a trauma-informed practitioner or program can be invaluable for healing. This can be a way to work through the experience, the physical manifestations, and the disconnect from your body that often happens as the result of a traumatic event. 

Breathwork was a tool that I used when I healed through the trauma of my stroke. It continued to be invaluable as I worked through the collective trauma of a pandemic and social and political unrest, which most (if not all) of us experienced.

As such, this is a very personal topic for me and something I feel passionately about sharing. Let’s look into how trauma affects the body and how breathwork can help restore balance and connection within yourself so you can heal.

exhale hour_guided breathwork 2 How Trauma Manifests in the Body

The brain’s reaction to trauma stimulates an acute stress response, causing imbalanced cortisol (stress hormone) levels. If this cortisol imbalance goes unresolved, it can cause an allostatic load (cumulative chronic stress) to manifest in the body. This leads to anxiety, depression, inflammation, and a handful of other physical bodily experiences.

Trauma can also cause dissociation from the body. Dissociation is as “an involuntary detachment from reality,” and is one of the ways your brain protects you from the experience. This survival instinct is biological. It’s meant to keep you safe from the trauma, however, it can also keep you stuck in the experience because your body doesn’t recognize that the trauma is now gone and you are safe. 

Breathwork with a trauma-informed program or practitioner can safely get you back into your body to begin the healing process. 

Breathwork as a Tool in Trauma Recovery

This work is so powerful for trauma healing because slow, controlled breathing techniques produce a meditative effect on the autonomic and central nervous system. This can help increase feelings of comfort, relaxation, alertness, and positive energy. At the same time, it also reduces stress, arousal, fear, depression, anxiety, confusion, and anger. 

Think of it as quieting the noise of the trauma in your body and coming back to a space of balance and calm where you can reconnect with your body to process and heal.

New research shows that fast-paced breathing modalities can also help build stress resilience and regulate sympathetic nervous function. This style of breathwork, categorized as “temporary voluntarily-induced stress,” builds stress resilience in a different way than slow, deep breathing. Despite being different, it’s still supportive in the healing process. 

If you want to experience the power of this fast-paced breathwork, join me for Exhale Hour where we use somatic techniques to drop into the body, be present with emotions, and move through them with energy work.

What to Keep in Mind With Trauma and Breathwork

Breathwork can play an important role in trauma healing. As a consistent practice, it can also expand your mental and emotional capacity to deal with future challenges as they arise. However, I do want to emphasize that breathwork is not a cure for trauma. This tool is most effective and beneficial when used alongside other therapeutic modalities. 

I always encourage trauma survivors to seek out licensed professionals with clinical education and expertise in trauma-informed care. When I suffered from complex trauma and PTSD after my stroke, breathwork was the initial access point. This led me to a team of trauma therapists who specialized in somatic (body-centric) treatments. This is what ultimately motivated me to become a somatic practitioner myself. 

A Simple Breathwork Practice for Trauma

Given my own experience and the scientific research surrounding it, I love to use breathwork with clients as a helpful adjunct to their trauma healing. One of my favorite breathing exercises to create calm and reconnect with the body is simple: 

Take a full inhale. Breathe out a long, slow exhale. As you breathe out consciously repeat the word, “peace.” Repeat 3-5 times.

This breathing practice calms the heart rate and lowers heightened states of arousal. This allows you to come to a place of mental, emotional, and physical equilibrium. While this one practice can be helpful, breathwork for trauma is not a one-time thing. To heal, you need to be consistent with the work, and in many cases, pair it with other modalities.

Don’t Overlook Breathwork for Trauma Healing

Traumatic events can cause you to disconnect from your body, but with trauma-informed support and interventions, it’s possible to restore a sense of well-being, balance, and connection within your own body. 

Remember: healing looks different for everyone. The healing process is unique and non-linear, so I encourage you to move at whatever pace feels manageable. While breathwork for trauma healing is becoming more well-known, it’s important that you assemble a team of clinicians who specialize in trauma care to get the care you need. 

As someone who’s been through it before, I can promise you that with the right support team, you will be able to find yourself and your own sense of safety again.

The post Breathwork for Trauma: How to Connect Back to Your Body appeared first on Lindywell.

- Robin Long
5 Deep Core and Pelvic Floor Exercises (That Don’t Involve Kegals)
deep core and pelvic floor exercises

Deep core and pelvic floor exercises are some of the most important for your body, especially if you’re a woman. They’re the reason why I can still jump on a trampoline after having four children! (As long as I don’t have a full bladder and have to sneeze at the same time – ha!)

These exercises help you build strength that supports whole-body balance, a flexible range of motion, and postural alignment. A healthy core and pelvic floor also allow for hip and back mobility, greater sexual pleasure, and better digestion—all things most of us want!

If you’re doing core exercises only thinking about your “abs” though, you’re going to miss out on a lot of the benefits. At Lindywell, our goal is to help you slow down, tune in, and use that focus to be more intentional with movement to help you maximize the benefits.

This type of mindful movement is especially important with deep core and pelvic floor exercises. Let’s talk about why and then get into which exercises you should bring into your workout routine (hint: you won’t find any talk of crunches here). 

lindywell free trial What You Need to Know About Pelvic Floor Function

The pelvic floor is so important, and yet, for many women it’s a cause of discomfort, difficulty, or pain. Research shows that 32 percent of U.S. women will experience at least one pelvic floor issue in their lifetime. Here are some of the most prevalent ways that pelvic floor dysfunction can manifest:

Incontinence: bladder leakage, painful urination, frequent urges, constipation, bowel strain, rectal pressure or discomfort Sexual Issues: painful intercourse, decrease in arousal or libido, infrequent orgasm Chronic Pain: back or pelvic muscle spasms, soreness or tightness in the lower back, hips, genitals, rectum, or pubic bone

Pelvic floor issues usually occur when something weakens this group of muscles, tears the connective tissue around it, or puts unnatural stress on the pelvic region. Whether that’s a procedure, event, or health condition, here are a few main culprits: 

Traumatic pelvic injuries Surgeries in the pelvic area Physical changes due to pregnancy Abdominal separation in childbirth Nerve damage in the pelvic area Untreated UTIs or vaginal infections Chronic pelvic inflammation Pelvic strain due to obesity

While pelvic floor dysfunction is common, you don’t need to accept it as “normal.” Instead, you can strengthen and heal this area of your body with deep core and pelvic floor exercises. If you’re experiencing visible and/or chronic symptoms, seeking the support of a medical professional might be advised and check out NIH’s guide to pelvic floor disorders to learn more. 

5 Deep Core and Pelvic Floor Exercises

While chronic or severe cases of pelvic floor dysfunction might require medical intervention, many women experience restored functionality and lasting pain relief with Pilates. This happens as the result of the intentional breathing, postural realignment, and deep core strengthening aspects of this type of exercise. 

You may be surprised to learn that rhythmic breathing is one of the most important aspects of Pilates for supporting pelvic floor health. On exhalation, the transversus abdominis (innermost core muscle) and pelvic floor draw into your midline. Then on inhalation, the diaphragm contracts to release and lengthen your pelvic floor.

In addition, the gentle, low-impact style of movement builds functional mobility, strength, balance, and flexibility. This means you’ll activate the core and pelvic floor with each intentional movement, alleviating tension while building strength. 

However, you won’t get these results with basic abdominal exercises like crunches. Use these five deep core and pelvic floor exercises instead. For each exercise here, you can add resistance by squeezing a ball or towel between your knees. Get the full workout on YouTube and don’t miss the tips and suggestions below so you can get the most out of each movement.

Pelvic Floor Lift

The focus of this move is to contract and lift your pelvic floor muscles on each exhale, then lower and release them on each inhale. As you do this, think about pulling a tissue out of its box—that is the same motion you want to imitate with your pelvic floor. 

Pelvic Curl

To perform this move correctly, contract the pelvic floor muscles as you use slow, controlled movement to raise your hips into a bridge, releasing as you return to the mat. For healthy pelvic floor function, it’s crucial to be able to maintain a fluid rhythm of contraction and relaxation.

Bent Knee Fall Out

When hinging your each leg out to the side, think about the motion of opening a book. Your core and hips stay stable, like the spine of a book, as your leg (the page) opens. The goal of this move is to create stability in the pelvic floor.

Seated Spinal Twist

As you twist from side to side, focus on keeping the pelvic floor muscles as stable and stationary as possible. This movement should be coming from your core, using those muscles to twist, hold, and return to center, rather than using your arms or hips.

Standing Chair Squat

As you do this movement, remember that your knees will bend, but they should not protrude in front of you. The focus of this squat variation is to release the pelvic floor widen the sit bones as you squat, and activate and lift the pelvic floor as you return to standing.

Strengthen Your Core and Pelvic Floor

Whether you feel discomfort in the pelvic floor region or you want to strengthen this area to help avoid future issues, Pilates is a solution you shouldn’t overlook. Work these exercises into your current daily or weekly movement routine and remember to go at your own pace. At Lindywell, we remind all of our members to meet their body where it’s at and build from there.

Get access to 300+ fun and effective Pilates classes to support your whole body (and mind!), with a 14-day free trial! As a member, you get all the workouts plus a library of guided breathwork sessions and nourishing recipes.

The post 5 Deep Core and Pelvic Floor Exercises (That Don’t Involve Kegals) appeared first on Lindywell.

- Robin Long
Stop being stuck: FREE workshop on September 10

If you’re feeling stuck when it comes to your body, you’re not alone. My new FREE workshop is an opportunity to discover how to cultivate a healthier relationship with your body, food and movement—so you can embrace self-acceptance and prioritize your mental health without sacrificing your health goals. 

So many of us are confused by the extremes in the fitness world and have fallen into this body-checking culture. Body-checking is the habit of seeking information about our bodies (weight, shape, size, appearance, etc). And it can be truly harmful to our self confidence.

So I decided to put together a FREE workshop to help you reclaim your body and freedom!

In a world that often fixates on appearance and external measures of health, it’s time to shift the conversation.

We’re going to uncover the myths and lies in the fitness, beauty and diet industries that have led to a culture of body insecurity and dissatisfaction. The goal that I have for this workshop is to show you how you can erase the lies and negative self-talk. You’ll walk away with a fresh sense of motivation.

You deserve that, I deserve that, and that’s what we’re going to dive into in the Stop being stuck workshop.

Reserve your spot here and join me on Zoom, Sunday, September 10 at 4pm PT/ 7pm ET.

The post Stop being stuck: FREE workshop on September 10 appeared first on Lindywell.

- Robin Long
5 Practical Strategies to Listen to Your Body Each Day
listen to your body

You may have heard someone say, “just listen to your body” and thought: “How do I even do that?” I get it. Learning how to listen to my body has been a practice of mine for the last decade—and I still have to be mindful about it today.

This skill is crucial for maintaining a sustainable health journey in today’s world where we’re often encouraged to ignore our intuition and physical cues. I know you’ve been told, “Push through the pain!” or seen an Instagram post that says, “Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done.”

While these sentiments are meant to motivate and inspire, they can also be harmful because they encourage you to ignore your body. The problem is, if you push when your body says stop, you could hurt yourself. If you always force yourself to workout when you don’t want to, you’ll never stay consistent because you don’t enjoy the experience.

Long-term, sustainable health comes when you listen to your body, and then respond with care, action, and compassion. This has been a significant part of my health journey, and a big reason why I started Lindywell, so let’s talk about what it means and how you can start listening.

lindywell free trial What Does It Mean to Listen to Your Body?

Listening to the body means cultivating a mindful awareness of what it (you!) needs at any given moment, followed by honoring that need. This intuitive practice will help you understand and make decisions based on internal cues, rather than steamrolling past your own limits.

The more present and responsive you are to these important cues, the more impactful your health journey can be. In fact, simply maintaining intentional body awareness (listening to your body), can improve:

Creating a mindful relationship with your body can also make it easier to instill positive habits around nutrition, exercise, body image, self-care, mental resilience, and coping mechanisms.

Emotional regulation Attentional span Self-acceptance Brain function Compassion Stress management Anxiety or depression

Plus, when you do what feels good to your body, rather than forcing something that doesn’t, you are often more consistent because you enjoy the experience. This, in turn, leads to better long-term results and feeling more confident.

5 Ways to Listen to Your Body

All that sounds great, but you’re probably wondering how to actually take action. Here are five practical strategies I’ve used to listen to my body and honor those cues each and every day.

1. Ask Questions and Scan Your Body for the Answer 

Set aside at least one moment each day to pause and ask yourself, “How do I feel and what do I need right now?” Then before rushing into the next item on your to-do list, take action on what your body needs. Here are some examples:

I’m feeling tired, so I’m going to have a snack, take a short walk, and then come back to my computer feeling more refreshed and ready for work. I’m feeling energized and craving movement, so I’m going to squeeze in a 15-minute Lindywell workout right now, while the kids are at school. That way I don’t have to worry about it when they get home. I’m feeling some tension in my neck, so I’m going to do a few neck circles and stretches to ease that discomfort before driving to the store.

In your fast-paced and often hectic life, it’s easy to overlook these basic bodily necessities. The good news is, tuning in and asking what your body needs doesn’t have to derail your day. It may just mean you spend a few minutes stretching or taking a walk—and that will likely make the rest of your day so much better too.

2. Notice How Your Body Reacts to Certain Emotions

Emotions manifest in the body, especially within the cardiac, respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems. I know I often feel anxiety in my chest or stress in my head. You may be able to recall areas of your body where you commonly feel your emotions too.

Bringing awareness to these emotions, and tuning into where you’re feeling them in the body, can make it easier to soothe those intense reactions and get back to feeling balanced quickly. Next time a strong emotion comes to the surface, be curious about where you feel it.

Constriction in your throat?  Warmth in your cheeks?  Tension in your forehead?  Sweat in your armpits?  Nausea in your stomach?  A pounding heart rate in your chest? 

Finally, visualize sending love, calm or peace to that area of the body while taking slow, deep breaths until you start to regain equilibrium. You may be surprised by how quickly the emotion passes compared to the times when you try to push it aside. 

In fact, according to Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, all it takes is 90 seconds to move through an emotion if you stop, identify it, and simply maintain awareness of that emotion. Instead of letting that pesky anxiety hang around all day, let it go right then and there!

3. Build a Mindfulness Practice Around Meal Times

Bring mindfulness to meal times to start creating greater body awareness. The idea is simple: when you’re eating a meal, slow down and tune into your senses. 

What do you smell? How does it taste? What is the texture like? Do you hear crunching or slurping sounds?

By practicing this for even just one meal a day—eating dinner with kids is likely not the easiest time to practice this, but perhaps a solo lunch is—you’re training yourself to slow down and listen to your body. This may also make it easier to notice hunger cues that say you’re full or you want to go in for seconds; a skill that most of us have lost touch with. 

In addition, mindful eating can reduce stress, promote digestive health, increase body acceptance, and curb emotional eating behaviors. 

4. Choose Your Workout Based on What Your Body Needs

Your workouts are most effective when they match your current energy levels, stamina, and time capacity—all of which fluctuates from one day to the next. One morning I might wake up with the motivation to do a 30-minute weighted Pilates workout, while the next day, I desire a slow, 15-minute stretching session in the afternoon. 

This is so normal for women and why cycle syncing your workouts can be really beneficial. If you don’t have a cycle, however, you can still choose workouts each day based on what your body is asking for. 

Pause before starting a workout and tune into which kind of movement feels most enjoyable at the moment. Do your legs feel strong and ready for a challenge? Or does a slower-paced movement sound really good? Plus, ask yourself: do I have extra time or do I need to fit something in quickly? Choose your workout based on these answers.

It’s really easy for Lindywell members to honor what their body is craving (and their schedule calls for) because we have 300+ workouts, both gentle and challenging, that range from 10 minutes to 30+ minutes. As a member, you’ll find whatever workout you need, no matter the season or time frame. 

Start your 14-day free trial to get instant access to all of our workouts, plus guided breathwork sessions and nourishing recipes!

5. Carve Out Alone Time to Connect with Your Body 

When was the last time you thought of your body as a friend to connect with, instead of just a vehicle to move through life? All too often, the focus is on pushing through and getting things done so you forget to spend time with yourself and your body. I fall into that rhythm so easily as a busy mom and business owner and have to be really intentional about this.

Whether you can spare 2 minutes or 20, carve out time and space each week—if possible, each day—to be alone with yourself. Unplug from social media and other external distractions and just connect. You can do this by listening to gentle music, moving your body, meditating or even doing a breathwork session in the Lindywell app.

Practicing mindfulness like this, especially using meditation to do so, can improve your memory, mood and overall well being. Plus it helps you start to understand the language of your body so it’s easy to hear what it’s asking for.

Listening to Your Body Is a Integral Part of Wellness

Your body is always speaking to you—but are you listening? No matter how long it’s been since you last paid attention to those inner cues (or you never have before), consider this an invitation to start. These practical strategies will help you listen to your body, and as a result, get more consistent with workouts, choose movement you enjoy, and ultimately, see better results. It truly is the key to long-term health and happiness.

Take your relationship with your body one step further with my upcoming book, Well to the Core! In it, I dedicate an entire chapter to developing the skill of listening to our bodies and how we can break free from the confines of problematic fitness sayings and develop a more holistic and sustainable approach to our fitness journeys. Pre-order your copy now and get $300 in free bonuses!

The post 5 Practical Strategies to Listen to Your Body Each Day appeared first on Lindywell.

- Robin Long
5 Reasons Mindset is Everything in Wellness and Life (Backed By Science!)
mindset is everything

You’ve probably seen or heard the phrase “mindset is everything” a lot lately—and for good reason. Your mindset creates the lens through which you think, feel, interact, and behave. In that way, it really is everything—and science can prove it. 

For example, recognizing how I perceive stress in my life over the past few years has been incredibly eye opening for me. Understanding when my mindset is coming from a place of lack, scarcity, overwhelm and helplessness allows me to shift to recognizing the challenge while also seeing the many ways in which I can tackle it or make changes to support myself. This has been a huge growth area for me and has made a significant impact in my life. 

To help you embrace the idea that mindset is everything, let’s look at just how powerful your mindset actually is for creating a healthier and happier life.

lindywell free trial Proof That Mindset is Everything

Your mindset shifts your perspective, which in turn impacts how you navigate circumstances, make sense of experiences, strive toward goals, learn from failures, and confront obstacles.

1. Feel Less Stressed (Yes, it’s possible!)

Feeling less stressed may come down to how you think about stress, according to psychologist Alia Crum, PhD, an assistant professor at Stanford University. In one particular study, a group of employees in a downsizing financial company were told that stress could help rather than hurt them in an effort to reduce their stress. It sounds crazy, right? 

Well, turns out, it works! This group of employees reported fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, along with an increase in optimism versus the control group. While we don’t believe empty mantras and affirmations can change your life, we do believe shifting your perspective does—and this is one great example of just how powerful that can be.

In fact, I know that when I’m stressed with an overwhelming workload and I remind myself that the stress about my job pales in comparison to the stress that others are facing, I immediately gain perspective. Similarly, when I focus on the fact that I am grateful for work that challenges me and helps me grow, I can embrace the challenge in a different way.

2. Be More Resilient

Growth mindset, the idea that you can change the way you think (as opposed to a fixed mindset, in which what you believe cannot change), is a key element of feeling more resilient and persistent as you manage the ups and downs of life. (Let’s be honest, we all have them!) 

A study of 2,500 students found that those in the growth mindset group scored lower on “mental health issues” and “stress due to life events” than those in the fixed mindset group. As the research points out, this is because this mindset “encourages healthy and adaptive ways of facing and tolerating anxiety, frustration, and disappointment, which promotes resilience.” 

So often, we feel we’re at the whim of life when we don’t have to. In fact, science says that our mindset can help us feel more resilient in the face of anything that comes our way.

3. Jump-Start Your Wellness Journey

How many times have you started working out just to stop days later? I’m very familiar with this back-and-forth dance; it’s one I did for many years before I found Pilates. Part of this back and forth may be about the way you set goals when you’re just starting out.

This research found that groups who were prescribed “low-and-liberal” exercise recommendations (vs. high-and-stringent) felt that their movement was more adequate. This meant that they were more likely to keep going and feel better about their health a week later.

This is the idea that Lindywell built upon—and what ultimately helped me create consistency in my workout routine once and for all. When you can shift your mindset from “I need to work out hard for 60 minutes a day every day” to something more realistic, like, “I’ll just move my body for 10 minutes in any way that feels good” you’re much more likely to stick with it. 

At least that’s what I and thousands of Lindywell members have experienced!

4. Relieve Symptoms of Chronic Illness

Chronic illness is complex. What I’m not saying here is: it’s all in your head—and mindset can help relieve some of the symptoms experienced. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that if you expect a healing outcome, the body will listen and even respond. 

This research found positive correlations between a growth mindset and functional improvements in the immune, cardiovascular, and neuroendocrine systems. What’s more, patients with type-1 diabetes, who believe their health can change, have lower blood sugar levels. The power of the mind-body connection cannot be overlooked.

5. Feel More Connected in Romantic Relationships

Your mindset is playing a critical role in your relationships, especially romantic ones. This collection of research explains that mindfulness not only enhances closeness and connections with a partner but when measured on the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), researchers found a positive association with relationship satisfaction.

While not everything can be “fixed” with your mindset, you can shift the lens with which to look at your relationship. Being more mindful might help you overlook the little things that aren’t quite perfect while creating an even deeper connection with your partner. 

How to Work on Your Mindset

At Lindywell, we have two favorite ways to work on mindset: Pilates and breathwork. Why?

At Lindywell, we’re continually reframing fitness and our relationship to our bodies through the words we use in every single workout, email and video. While Pilates is inherently a mind-body style of movement, we regularly remind our members to shift their mindset around not just the way they exercise, but how they think about perfection, self-compassion, strength, and so much more.

Similarly, breathwork encourages you to slow down and tune in. When you close down all the tabs in your mind (I have a dozen open most times of the day!), you can understand what you’re actually thinking and feeling. That’s when you can begin shifting beliefs and perspectives that are impacting the way you live your life.

The reminder I always want to share, however, is that it’s not a one-and-done. Consistently showing up on your mat or taking time to breathe with intention each week is the only way to reap the long-term benefits in your life. 

If you want to start working on your mindset (while moving your body, feeling more confident, and so much more!), start your 14-day free trial of Lindywell today. You’ll get instant access to hundreds of workout videos, dozens of guided breathwork sessions, and all of our Lindywell recipes! 

Bottom Line: Your Mindset Matters

Mindset is everything. It impacts your mental, emotional, and physical wellness by shifting the lens through which you see the world. As such, your mindset influences how you overcome setbacks, embrace new opportunities, interact with others, and evolve as a human. Don’t overlook this important aspect of your personal development if you want to live a happier, calmer, and more connected life. 

The post 5 Reasons Mindset is Everything in Wellness and Life (Backed By Science!) appeared first on Lindywell.

- Kiesha Yokers
Why Your Self-Love Mantras Aren’t Working (And How to Fix Them)
self-love mantras

Self-love mantras sound good, in theory, right? Reminding yourself how brilliant or wonderful you are to overcome your self-doubt is a great idea—but it’s not taking the whole picture into account. This particular ideology says that if you believe in a certain outcome or think hard enough, the universe (higher power, source, God) will present it to you.

If that were true, I would be the world’s most patient mother! The thing is, your body can’t be fooled. No matter how many times you repeat a mantra, you can’t overwrite what your body already believes to be true.

If you’re quick to abandon mantras because they just don’t work for you, this could explain why. Before you give up entirely though, I have another idea. Let’s get into the science of self-love mantras (you know we love to dig into the science!) and how to reframe them so you can actually create the change you’re seeking.

exhale hour_guided breathwork 2 Why Your Self-Love Mantras Aren’t Working

The goal of a mantra is to shift what you currently believe into a new, perhaps happier, or more supportive, belief and/or take action on something you want to change. Here’s the problem: in order for a mantra to stick, and actually shift your belief or spur you into action, you need to know it’s possible. You can’t simply “wishful think” yourself into anything despite what many social media influencers might lead you to believe.

I’ll use an example to illustrate. Let’s assume you’re unhappy with how little you’re working out and want to be more fit. You might develop a mantra to combat your body insecurities and motivate you to go to the gym, like: “I am fit. I love to work out. My body is toned.” 

If you’re unhappy with how little you’re working out and how out of shape you feel, chances are this mantra is going to fizzle out in the long term because your body knows it’s a false narrative. You won’t decide to start working out every day or magically start loving your body just because you chant a few things you want to believe. 

Instead, you’ll feel shame when you stay exactly where you are. The good news is, making your self-love mantras work is as simple as a reframe.

The Secret Sauce for Self-Love Mantras That Work

Reframing is what your self-love mantras are missing. Here’s what I mean by that. Let’s use the fitness example from earlier:  

Current Desire: Work out more often to become more fit. Useless Self-Love Mantra: I am fit. I love to work out. My body is toned. Reframed Self-Love Mantra: My body can be active. My body can master new challenges. My body has overcome many obstacles and it can do that again. 

This reframed mantra is effective because all the statements are true. Rather than forcing yourself to chant a hollow phrase you don’t actually believe, this mantra is empowering and reminds you of the capabilities you already have and that you’re more likely to feel are genuine.

This reframing formula leverages NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming, a language technique that can change someone’s thoughts and behaviors to help achieve desired outcomes). It also brings in the power of self-love while rejecting old shame deeply embedded in the fitness industry. 

With all of this, you can tap into the body (somatics) and build new neural pathways (the result of neuroplasticity) to create new beliefs. 

The Science Behind Your New Self-Love Mantras

The brain has a reward center in the prefrontal cortex (the front of your brain), which activates if you do something to cause a positive outcome. This matters because, when you turn your mantra into something you actually believe, you’re more likely to take action. 

When you take action, and feel good about yourself for doing so, your reward center releases dopamine (the pleasure chemical). This has a domino effect, causing you to want to do it more and more, which is, of course, how real change occurs.

The best part about this is that even a small taste of success will ultimately breed more success because the brain is wired to continue seeking it out. This means, reframing your self-love mantras leads to long-term habit-building, growth, and happiness— and that’s what we all want, right? (I know I do!)

It’s Time to Reframe Your Mantras

To reap the benefits of self-love mantras, or any mantras for that matter, you have to echo what’s already true. You can’t overwrite your current beliefs or build new habits just by saying something over and over. You have to leverage what your body already believes to be true to take action. This in turn releases that pleasure hormone, so you’re motivated to keep doing it. Before you know it, that thing you started repeating to yourself has shifted your reality and you can’t even remember what life was like before!

The post Why Your Self-Love Mantras Aren’t Working (And How to Fix Them) appeared first on Lindywell.

- Robin Long
Pilates Before and After: How to Reframe Your Health Transformation
pilates before and after

This is not your average Pilates before and after. You’re not going to find any photos or talk of body weight. For us at Lindywell, the true “before and after” is often felt even more than seen—and this is how we find our members naturally reframe their transformation after joining. 

When workouts meet you where you’re at, make movement easier to access, and support your mental health, the before and after goes much deeper than what can be seen in a photo. So come along with me as I share some beautiful transformations from our Lindywell members. You may even find you want to reframe the way you look at your health transformation too—or become a member yourself!  

lindywell free trial Consistency—FINALLY

Before: I can never stick with my workouts.
After: It’s easy to show up every day, no matter how I’m feeling.

Consistency, specifically the need for it, was my catalyst for starting Lindywell. I struggled for most of my adult life to stick with my workouts. (You might be familiar with this!) The start-and-stop habit as my motivation ebbed and flowed was frustrating—I wanted to be consistent with workouts for my mind and body, but I just couldn’t grind through those hard and long sessions over and over. 

And understandably so, as I can see now that I was trying to force my body to do something it didn’t want to do. Some days I was craving light and easy, other days I wanted to push a little harder. This is natural (especially for those of us women with a cycle) and more supportive of the mind and body. 

When I discovered Pilates, began to listen to my body and reframed my mindset around exercise to choose grace over guilt, I experienced an incredible transformation. 

I created Lindywell to help more people experience the same thing. The Lindywell approach includes a wide range of workout lengths (10 to 45 minutes) but focuses specifically on building the habit of short Pilates workouts naturally into your day. Pairing this with a grace-over-guilt mindset allows you to break free of old patterns that have been keeping you stuck and finally see results in a fresh, new way. Our members experience this on a daily basis!

Here’s Sarah’s Pilates before and after: 

“I love Lindywell! I’ve been a member for almost three years and I’ve never been this consistent with workouts! During this time, I’ve been pregnant and postpartum and continue to complete these workouts 3 to 4 times a week! I have 6 kids and often times they will join me in my workouts! It’s the best monthly investment I have!”

Workouts That Are Fun and Effective? Yes!

Before: My workouts need to be painful to see results.
After: Workouts get to be enjoyable and effective.

You’ve heard the phrase “no pain, no gain” many times in your life, right? It’s a sentiment that we take with us in relationships, work-life, and especially workouts. You may have thought (I know I did!): If it doesn’t hurt, or I’m not miserable, then I’m not going to make any progress.

This simply is not true. Workouts can be enjoyable and effective! And even better, when they are fun, they’re easier to stick with. Will you work out every single day for the rest of your life with Lindywell? Maybe not. But you will be more likely to come back to your mat because you know you can find a workout that challenges you, while also being enjoyable.

Here’s Mary’s Pilates before and after:

“I have been doing Pilates workouts with Lindywell for 6 years, and I absolutely love it. I was never this consistent with exercise before I discovered this program. Lindywell makes exercise fun and convenient. Robin’s positive grace-filled messaging makes me feel motivated rather than guilty. I feel so great, and I’m in the best shape of my life.”

Listen to Your Body (and Still Build Strength)

Before: I need to push my body to work out, even when I don’t want to.
After: I can meet my body where it is (and still get a great workout).

For a long time, I believed I needed to put in 60 minutes at the gym every day to build strength and “take care” of my body. When I decided that there might be another way, everything changed. This is a key area of focus for us at Lindywell. We want you to meet your body where it’s at. This might mean you do a 10-minute stretching session one day and a 30-minute strength-based session the next (all of which you can find in the Lindywell app!). 

This is not only better for your body, reducing injuries and pain, but it’s also a key aspect of staying consistent. When you enjoy the movement, instead of forcing your body, you’re more likely to stick with it! Plus, you can still build strength and support your mental health—truly a win-win.

Here’s Karen’s Pilates before and after:

“Lindywell stresses ‘listen to your body’ and they’re very good at providing modifications to moves. At 58 I feel better about my body than I did before I started Pilates 3 years ago.

It is the only program I have done consistently. Well worth the money paid.”

The True Pilates Before and After 

Do I want you to feel strong and confident in your body? Absolutely! But I also want you to show up for yourself regularly, take care of your mind and body, and love every workout that you do. That’s why, at Lindywell, we focus on grace over guilt and listening to your body. As a result, all of our members tell us they feel better than ever before, mentally and physically—I encourage you to check out the reviews for yourself!

If you’re ready to re-think movement and reframe your health transformation, start a 14-day free trial of Lindywell and get instant access to the entire app.

The post Pilates Before and After: How to Reframe Your Health Transformation appeared first on Lindywell.

- Robin Long
8 Pilates Mat Exercises to Make Your Workout More Fun 
pilates mat exercises

At Lindywell, we focus on Pilates mat exercises because we love how accessible they are. You can do your workout anywhere and sometimes, you don’t even need a mat! (Our standing workouts are a favorite in the community.)

Another thing we love is how fun these exercises can be. Forget workouts that are repetitive, long, and boring. At Lindywell, we always want to make workouts challenging but also enjoyable. I mean, why else would we do it, right? Plus, when we love what we’re doing, we’re more likely to be consistent with it. A win-win!

Let’s talk about the importance of building more fun into your workout routine. Afterward, I’ll share some of my favorite Pilates mat exercises that are as fun as they are effective. 

lindywell free trial The Benefits of Making Fitness Fun

It’s no secret that a consistent wellness routine is important for both your physical and mental health. If you don’t look forward to exercise, however, chances are, you won’t stick with the program. That’s because interest and enjoyment are two main predictors of sticking with a workout routine over time.

This fun factor boosts your intrinsic motivation, which helps to build more consistency. Plus, this has a positive effect on your mental wellness too. There’s a direct correlation between exercise and dopamine (your happy hormone). The more you love it, the more you do it, the happier you are. That’s an equation I can get behind!

Finally, prioritizing fun in your workouts can help with social connections as well. When study participants took part in group or community exercise programs they felt more energized, experienced healthier relationships, and felt more satisfaction in life overall. 

You can’t argue with science—fun fitness pays off!     

8 Fun and Playful Pilates Mat Exercises 

While I think most Pilates exercises are fun, I especially love these ones, which come from our Joyful Movement workout

If you’re not already a Lindywell member, sign up for your 14-day free trial to get instant access to this, along with more workouts, a weekly workout calendar, and daily featured workout suggestions—say goodbye to decision fatigue! Plus, our breathwork sessions help alleviate stress and regulate your nervous system!

1. Spinal Warm-Up (10 repetitions) Spinal Warm-Up

Allow your body to move in an unstructured, free-flowing manner. This is a fun and comfortable way to loosen the spine, increase circulation, and work out any stiffness or tension. Remember to softly bend the knees, maintain a neutral posture, relax the shoulders, then let the arms swing freely as you twist from one side to the other—and have fun!

2. Prancing (10 repetitions) Prancing

This movement activates the calf muscles and helps strengthen the feet and ankles, an area that can be easily forgotten. As you perform this back-and-forth motion, maintain a lift in your pelvic floor and length in your spine. 

3. Standing Balance (5 repetitions on each side) Standing Balance

This is one of my favorite Pilates mat exercises for challenging stability. Balancing forces your accessory muscles (all the little muscles) to work harder, so you’ll build even more strength. Remember to continuously use the core to stabilize yourself as you move through this exercise.

4. Rolling Like a Ball Rolling Like a Ball

Rolling is so silly and playful—and it’s also a great way to massage the spinal column while building core strength. If you find that you’re falling flat on your back as you roll back, tuck your pelvis more (creating more of a c-shape with your spine) to get that rolling motion. This one is fun, so enjoy it!

5. Open Leg Rocker (10 repetitions) Open Leg Rocker

If you love Rolling Like a Ball, you’ll love this one too—and the added challenge can make it even more silly because it’s not always easy to do gracefully! Remember that you can modify this position with a slight bend in the knees. 

6. Hamstring Pull with Roll-Ups (5 repetitions on each side) Hamstring Pull with Roll-Ups

Tension in the hamstrings can lead to injuries or limit flexibility and range of motion in the hips and lower back. This is a great Pilates mat exercise to do regularly to stay mobile if you sit at a desk all day—plus, it’s also great for your core. 

7. Seal Pup (10 repetitions) Seal Pup

Unleash your inner seal with this exercise—”barking” noises are optional, but encouraged! As with all of the other rolling exercises, remember to tuck your pelvis and activate the core so you can flow while building strength. 

8. Plank Hovers with C-Curves (5 repetitions on each side) Plank Hovers with C-Curves

This movement creates resistance in your shoulders, arms, spine, abdominals, glutes, quads, and calves. It’s one of those amazing full-body Pilates mat exercises that’s so efficient! Exercises like this make your workouts super effective—and fun.

Make Your Workout More Fun With Pilates 

No matter where you’re at on your fitness journey, Mat Pilates is accessible, beneficial, and enjoyable. You can adapt each move to your own comfort level while building strength, balance, and flexibility. If you want to make fitness fun, give these exercises a try—and don’t forget to sign up for your free 14-day Lindywell trial to enjoy this full workout and many more like it!

The post 8 Pilates Mat Exercises to Make Your Workout More Fun  appeared first on Lindywell.

- Kiesha Yokers
Somatic Breathwork and Play: How to Be Mindful With a Smile
somatic breathwork

Somatic breathwork, despite how it may sound, is not technical or complicated. In fact, if you’ve ever done a breathwork session with me at Lindywell, you’ve already done it! 

At Lindywell, we consider somatic breathwork a conscious form of breathing that is intended to help you experience being in your body. It teaches you to breathe fully, oxygenate your body, and become aware of your senses. Somatic breathwork helps shift your mental state while allowing you to return to full and healthy breath. 

For example, if I encourage you to sink into the seat below you as you take a deep breath, feeling your body relax into that support, we’re not just breathing, we’re altering our physical state.

This way of breathing is so important because the connection between the breath and the body is powerful. Here’s the thing though: powerful doesn’t have to mean serious. 

In fact, what I want to talk about today is how we can use somatic breathwork to be more playful! Let’s talk about how you can connect play and somatic breathwork, why this connection can be even more beneficial for your body and mind, and, most importantly, a few ways to try it for yourself. 

exhale hour_guided breathwork 2 Breathwork and Play: What’s the Connection?

All breathwork, somatic or otherwise, can be playful. Think back to when you were a child. As children, you were likely playful with your breath in ways you might not even recognize:

Blowing out birthday candles Blowing a pinwheel Blowing bubbles Blowing the fluffy head of a dandelion Sniffing cookies freshly baked

All of these activities brought a deep sense of joy and satisfaction—and were also innately playful. I want you to take a moment right now to think about one of these memories for you. Take a deep breath and imagine you’re back in that moment. 

As you do this, notice how your body feels. You might immediately be transported back to your childhood home with your parents baking in the kitchen, or running around your yard blowing bubbles with your siblings. 

Your senses are heightened like you’re there again. In this moment of nostalgia, you feel more relaxed, you may even have a smile on your face. That right there, is why playful breathwork is important.

The Connection Between Play and Calm

It’s time to let go of what breathwork should look like, and embrace the fun of it! When you do this, you not only experience the nervous system regulation benefits of breathwork (you feel less anxious and stressed, your body is able to function better—hello, deeper sleep and improved digestion—and so much more), but you get to enjoy the benefits of play too, which include:

Better management of difficult emotions like grief. Improved brain functioning.  Increased resilience and self-confidence. Greater sense of optimism and overall life satisfaction. Improved function of most hormones in the body.  Reduced heart rate and glucose levels. Better balance, posture, and bone health.

So much of your life can improve by simply having a little fun with your breath—so let’s get into how you can do that. 

How to Make Somatic Breathwork Playful

Bringing back the playfulness of childhood through breathwork is actually really simple. You just have to be willing to have a little fun! Here are two exercises to start with. The first is down-regulating, meaning to calm the body down. The second is up-regulating, which means to increase energy. Yes, both may feel silly—and yes, THAT is the point!

First: Lion’s Breath  View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lindywell • Pilates • Breathwork (@wearelindywell)

This style of breathwork alleviates feelings of stress and anxiety, increases cognitive function, and boosts lung capacity. 

Find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, and take three deep breaths in and out to slow down and come into this space and your body. Now, inhale slowly through your nose, feeling your belly expand as you fill your lungs with air. There’s that soma (body) connection. 

Now it’s time for Lion’s Breath: after inhaling slowly, exhale forcefully through your mouth while looking up at the exhale. As you do, release the breath with a powerful “ha” or “hah” sound from the back of your throat, creating a roaring or lion-like sound. Stick out your tongue as far as you can, making it feel alive and active.

Repeat this for 3 minutes to start and go longer if necessary.

Second: Breath of Fire  View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lindywell • Pilates • Breathwork (@wearelindywell)

This style of breathwork gives you an energy boost through rapid exhalations. As you prepare, engage your core by drawing your belly button in towards your spine. This will provide support and stability during the practice.

Take a deep breath in, and on the next exhale, forcefully and quickly contract your abdominal muscles to push the air out through your nose. The inhale will happen passively as your abdomen relaxes. It should be quick and automatic, without conscious effort. The focus should be on the forceful exhale.

When doing this, try to maintain a consistent and continuous rhythm. Remember, though, that the speed of the breath should be moderate and comfortable, without straining or gasping for air. Follow your body and what feels best for you.

Repeat this for 30 seconds to up to 10 minutes depending on how comfortable this is for you and your level of experience.

How to Bring Play to Your Daily Breathwork Session

While both of the previous practices are supportive (and fun!), you can make your everyday breathwork more playful too. Here are a few simple ways to do that. 

Choose a Fun Visualization 

Pretend you have a plate of cookies, your favorite food, or a gorgeous flower in front of you. Spend 30 seconds visualizing this item to the point where you start to smell it. This happens because the experience of visualization turns on your olfactory response (the sensation of smell) and your mouth starts to salivate. Crazy, right?

Get creative with what you visualize, but try to get it so clear that you can truly inhale the scent. Enjoy the feeling of calm and happiness that washes over you as you do it.

Use a Hoberman Sphere

This kid’s toy, first invented in 1995, is actually a great breathwork tool! Not only is it fun and playful, but it can increase mindfulness during breathwork. You can use this as an adult to bring more fun and intention to your breathwork session, but it’s also great to share with little ones to model how belly breathing works. Expand and contract the ball as you breathe in and out, just as your belly expands with airflow in and contracts with airflow out.

Try Shape Breathing

This simple somatic breathwork exercise is done by tracing shapes in the air (a heart, a cloud, the outline of a building, anything!) and letting your breath follow as you do. For example, if I trace the shape of a heart, I may inhale on one side and exhale on the other.

It’s fun and playful, and, as a bonus, it helps you bring even more attention to your breath. This is another good one to do with kiddos and something they can do no matter where they are.  

Breathwork Can Be Playful

You might think of breathwork as being serious—and it can be. It requires us to slow down and focus. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it, though! Even more importantly, when you do make it playful, there are more mind-body benefits for you to experience. 

Take your somatic breathwork to a new level and play with these different exercises. You may just find you walk away with a smile on your face and lightness in your step—just like when you were a kid! If you’re still looking for some breathwork guidance, join us for Exhale Hour in July, where we’ll be focused on making breathwork FUN!

The post Somatic Breathwork and Play: How to Be Mindful With a Smile appeared first on Lindywell.

- Robin Long
5 Reasons to Make Play a Daily Habit as an Adult 
daily habit

Here at Lindywell, we’ve been focusing on turning play into a daily habit, both on and off the Pilates mat. What I’ve found is that taking time for play is about so much more than just having fun—it’s an essential component of my mental and physical health.

As adults, however, it can be difficult to integrate play into our normal routines. If you’re anything like me, you have a full schedule of commitments and priorities that need your attention. The good news is, you don’t have to carve out hours each day to leverage the many benefits of play. In fact, you may not even need to add anything extra at all.

Here are five reasons to turn this childhood pastime into a daily habit, plus a few tips for how to do it.

lindywell free trial 1. Play for Mental Health

Mental health struggles can feel unavoidable sometimes. Our world is hectic and our lives are busy! This is why play is so needed—it might even help you restore the balance you’ve been craving in your life.

During COVID-19, 200 respondents in quarantine were asked to track their mood states. According to the research, those who prioritized leisure activities (i.e. things that they participate in voluntarily for fun) were more mentally adaptable and resilient in the face of pandemic stress. Those people were also less vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and loneliness, and they reported higher overall life satisfaction. 

Even in hard circumstances, play can be the natural mood lifter you need to help sustain mental and emotional wellness.  

Your New Daily Habit: Shift your perception of “play.” What I mean is, everyday activities like working out, making dinner, or listening to music in the car can be playful if you choose to make them so. Pick a workout that you love, try a new recipe for dinner, or put on your favorite music from high school to turn these everyday activities into outlets for play.

2. Play for Productivity

Productivity is often the name of the game, whether you’re cleaning the yard or working at an office. Surprisingly, play can be a key element in helping you be more productive. Office workers who played a team video game for 45 minutes were 20 percent more efficient and productive when returning to their tasks. This playtime activity emphasized collaboration and enjoyment, and the results paid off. 

Team members also improved in their cohesion, problem-solving, communication, goal orientation, motivation, and creative thinking. Plus they had to make time to focus and process information quickly, all of which boosts brain function.

Your New Daily Habit: Take play breaks in between productive chunks of your day. Go for a walk, dance around the house, or play with your pet.

3. Play for Your Relationships

It’s not a coincidence that young children who play together often become close friends. This phenomenon isn’t true of just children either. Play is a way to build healthy adult relationships too, no matter your stage of life

A group of adults (45 years or older), who played together for 10 consecutive weeks, had a  noticeable improvement in their relationships with one another. They reported feeling more emotionally attuned, cooperative, altruistic, trusting, and empathetic toward one another—so cool! 

They also felt encouraged to be authentic without any fear of judgment. That’s because shared play can reinforce secure community bonds. So powerful, and yet so simple.

Your New Daily Habit: Prioritize opportunities for play and fun in your relationships with romantic partners, family, and friends. Maybe you put away the phones and try playing a card game while waiting at a restaurant or play charades while catching up with your friends. These small changes can make a big difference in how you connect with the people around you. 

4. Play for Self-Confidence

Confidence doesn’t have to come from loving how you look in the mirror or being the smartest one in the room. Play can actually give your confidence a surprising boost. That’s because fun activities can nurture a sense of personal worth and value, increase feelings of competence and self-efficacy, and create more meaning in life. 

Here’s the trick with this one: your chosen form of play must be enjoyable, stimulating, active, and intentional in order to count as a confidence booster, according to the research. In other words, binging your favorite TV show won’t do the trick. Play that boosts your confidence should immerse both the brain and body. 

Your New Daily Habit: A great way to gain this confidence is to make your daily movement more playful. While I think most Pilates workouts (okay, maybe all!) are fun, we have a few Lindywell workouts specifically designed to be fun, like Mood Boosting Pilates

Start your free 14-day Lindywell trial or log in to get instant access to this plus 275+ more workouts, hundreds of anti-inflammatory (and fun!) recipes, and guided breathwork sessions. 

5. Play for a Vibrant and Energetic Sense of Self

To quote George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” I love this quote because, even though he spoke those words almost a century ago, his point is still so relevant today.

A playful, imaginative attitude will keep you vibrant, energetic, and full of wonder. If you’ve ever watched a child, you know exactly what I’m talking about here. This not only feels great, but it also supports overall health and can even increase predictors of longevity. 

Adults (over age 59) who prioritize active recreation on a regular basis have more efficient metabolisms and more expendable energy, which lowers their risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer mortality. Illness prevention that’s also fun? Count us in!

Your New Daily Habit: Find ways to play that you truly enjoy—rather than letting it be another item on your to-do list. This will help you stay consistent with play so you can reap the benefits well into your 50s, 60s, and 70s and beyond. This is an important part of aging intentionally and loving the journey of it.

Play Is the Daily Habit Your Schedule Has Been Missing

Making play a daily habit can be as simple as turning things like dinner, a workout, or your drive to work into a playful moment. You don’t necessarily need more time—you just need to be intentional about what you do with your time and how playful you make it!

The post 5 Reasons to Make Play a Daily Habit as an Adult  appeared first on Lindywell.

- Kiel DiGiovanni
9 Best Inversion Tables for Back Pain Relief (in 2023)

Most of us experience back pain from time to time. Often that pain is the result of the constant force of gravity compressing the spine, coupled with external forces on the back during resistance training sessions.

Using an inversion table allows you to hang upside down and give some love to your spine by allowing it to decompress, relieve muscle tension, and generally relax.

In this article, we reveal the 9 best inversion tables on the market based on our experience and research. 

SFS Pick best inversion tables for scoliosis Teeter FitSPine X3 Build Quality 5.0 Features 4.9 Price 4.7 Overall Score 4.9 CLICK FOR BEST PRICE Budget Pick most inversion table Innova ITX 9600 Build Quality 4.7 Features 4.7 Price 4.8 Overall Score 4.7 CLICK FOR BEST PRICE 3rd Pick best inversion tables for tall person Teeter EP-560 Build Quality 4.5 Features 4.5 Price 4.8 Overall Score 4.6 CLICK FOR BEST PRICE 9 Best Inversion Tables Overall Best Inversion Table: Teeter FitSpine X3 Best Budget Inversion Table: Innova ITX9600 Best Inversion Table For Back Pain: Teeter EP-560 Best Inversion Table With Heat & Massage: Health Gear ITM5500 Best Inversion Table For Sciatica: Teeter FitSpine LX9 Most Comfortable Inversion Table: Innova ITM5900 Best Inversion Table For Bigger People: HARISON Inversion Table Best Flat Inversion Table: Exerpeutic Inversion Table Best Compact Inversion Table: Skybike MIT 135 1. Overall Best Inversion Table: Teeter FitSpine X3 best inversion tables for sciatica Build Quality 4.8 Features 4.9 Price 4.6 Overall Score: 4.8


The Teeter FitSpine X3 is a mid-price range table from Teeter, the original and most widely regarded player in the market. It offers the best lower body lockdown and security of any table in its price range thanks to a patented ankle support system. In order to allow for a more accurate height adjustment, it also incorporates rotating foot pads.

The Teeter FitSpine X3 Inversion Table's frame is made of 11-gauge heat-treated steel. At Teeter, heat treatment of steel framing is standard procedure. This process increases the material's strength ten times above that of untreated steel.

We love using this table thanks to the quality build and the acupressure nodes that have provided us with unparalleled relaxation and recovery benefits. 

Removable acupressure nodes in the Flexbed on this table were designed to massage and treat back muscle spasms and knots. If you prefer not to receive massages, you can have these nodes removed. For greater comfort and personalization, the floating suspension bed includes eight independently moveable points. With EZ-Stretch traction handles, you have control over how much traction is used while inverted. The EZ-Angle tether on this item allows you to select your inversion angle before inverting.

Teeter is the only inversion table brand that is FDA registered.

Pros +Removable acupressure nodes +Floating suspension bed +Frame made from 11-gauge heated steel +FDA registered Cons -This unit is heavy, making it quite hard to move Overall Best Inversion Table best rated inversion tables Teeter FitSpine X3

X3 PREMIUM FEATURES: Extra-long, aerospace-grade stainless steel handle for easy-reach ankle lock. Traction Handles and elongated Stretch Max Handles add decompression options...

CHECK PRICE 2. Best Budget Inversion Table: Innova ITX9600 top rated inversion table for home Build Quality 4.8 Features 4.9 Price 4.6 Overall Score: 4.8


The Innova Inversion Table features an adjustable height tube, an adjustable six-pin angle system, and an adjustable headrest pad.

The frame is made from heavy durable, commercial-grade steel. Because of the A Frame's sturdy base, it won't wobble or move laterally during use. This apparatus can support a maximum weight of 300 pounds and has an adjustable height range of 4'10" to 6'6".

The ITX9600 inversion tables' backrest pads provide you with the ideal combination of firmness and comfort. The backrest is bigger than those on many rival products, giving your torso ample space. The backrest is also permeable and moisture-resistant.

The oval-shaped, soft foam handlebars of the ITX9600 inversion tables offer plenty of room for gripping. This makes it easy for you to enter and exit the table.

Pros +Heavy-duty steel frame +Well padded backrest +Fully adjustable +Adjustable headrest Cons -Bulky, making it tricky to move Best Budget Inversion Table inversion table best Innova ITX9600

The ITX9600’s True Balance System allows each user to find their own unique center of gravity. The Six Angle Pin System allows users to trust...

CHECK PRICE 3. Best Inversion Table For Back pain: Teeter EP-560 best inversion tables for back pain Build Quality 4.8 Features 4.9 Price 4.6 Overall Score: 4.8


The Teeter EP-560 is a lightweight version of the famous Teeter inversion table. This FDA-registered device sits in the high-budget position in the Teeter stable. The patented ComforTrak bed design allows for customized relief and easily integrated with a range of Teeter accessories. It features a firm yet flexible bed surface but no padding like other inversion tables. However, the smooth decompression surface reduces friction to optimize decompression.

There are eight acupressure nodes on the back pad that can be repositioned anywhere along the track and set at different intensity levels. These can be removed if you don't want them. There is also an adjustable and removable lumbar bridge.

A dual-setting foot platform allows you to customize your ankle lockdown, providing a comfortable hold that won't slip. Grip and stretch handholds are built into the ComforTrak bed and A-frame so you can easily get in and out of position.

Pros +ComforTrak bed for customized relief +Lightweight +Adjustable acupressure nodes +Adjustable lumbar pad Cons -No back padding on LTD model Best Inversion Table For Back pain inversion table for degenerative disc disease Teeter EP-560

Teeter is the ONLY FDA registered inversion table. Indicated for back pain, muscle tension, herniated disc, sciatica, muscle spasm, and more...

CHECK PRICE 4. Best Inversion Table With Heat & Massage: Health Gear ITM5500 inversion table back pain Build Quality 4.8 Features 4.9 Price 4.6 Overall Score: 4.8


The Health Gear ITM5500 has been ergonomically designed to enhance your biomechanics. It features 4-inch memory foam padding through the backrest. That provides a high level of comfort and support but may not provide the firmness needed to lower back relief.

This inversion table comes with a removable therapeutic vibrating heat and massage unit. This unit is controlled by remote control, putting you in total control. The Sur-lock easy in/out ankle support system with 4 adjustable oversized high-density foam leg rollers provides a high level of ankle comfort and lockdown.

The Health Gear inversion table is adjustable to 20/40/60/90 degree inversion angles by way of a four-position side inversion pin. An easy height adjuster also allows you to customize the settings to fit your height. The foldable space-saving design of the Health Gear ITM5500 with built-in transport wheels makes it a piece of cake to roll the table away for storage after use.

Pros +Memory foam back support +Removable vibrating heat and massage unit +Removable vibrating heat and massage unit +Adjustable to four inversion positions Cons -Back support is too thick for firm support Best Inversion Table With Heat & Massage inversion table for heavy person Health Gear ITM5500

The ITM5500 has ergonomically designed 4 inch memory-style foam backrest with contour fit for extra comfort and support. Removable, remote controlled multifunction...

CHECK PRICE 5. Best Inversion Table For Sciatica: Teeter FitSpine LX9 top rated inversion tables Build Quality 4.8 Features 4.9 Price 4.6 Overall Score: 4.8


The Teeter FitSpine LX9 is the only inversion table we have seen that offers a boarding platform. This elevated, non-slip surface makes it easy to get on and off the gadget. Because of this, this device is extremely user-friendly for seniors and anyone with limited mobility.

The Teeter FitSpine LX9 features two cuffs to increase comfort and support. The inside of the ankle pads is lined with supportive material. You can also extend your spinal stretch with the LX9's unique Stretch Max handles. This not only facilitates entering and exiting the inverted position but also results in more muscle activation.

The LX9 has a built-in storage caddy. This allows you to have your phone, drink, or other gadgets within reach when you are inverted.

Pros +Boarding platform +Storage caddy +Stretch max handles Cons -Quite tricky to put together Best For Sciatica inversion table for home use Teeter FitSpine LX9

LX9 PREMIUM FEATURES: Boarding Platform with arched frame makes mounting and dismounting easier than ever. Extra-long, aerospace-grade stainless steel handle for easy-reach ankle lock...

CHECK PRICE 6. Most Comfortable Inversion Table: Innova ITM5900 best inversion table consumer reports Build Quality 4.8 Features 4.9 Price 4.7 Overall Score: 4.8


The ITM5900's sturdy steel A-Frame structure gives you an extremely secure and robust platform from which to work. With this machine, you also have a number of built-in safety features. These include safety handles that you can use to pull yourself up into an upright position and an easily adjustable ankle-locking system. This device also has a foldable design that makes storage simple.

The ITM5900's ergonomically shaped backrest has a heating and massage pad built in to provide extra relief. The remote control that comes with this machine allows you to easily change the intensity of the massage and heat.

The ITM5900 has total weight and size adjustment. The gadget is adaptable to fit people between the heights of 4'10" and 6'6", with a maximum user weight of 300 pounds. The following angles can also be achieved with this table: 15, 30, 46, 80, 75, and 60 degrees.

Pros +Vibrating massage pad +Remote control +Six adjustment angles Cons -Heat and massage does not extend to the neck Most Comfortable Inversion Table best inversion tables for lower back pain Innova ITM5900

The Innova ITM5900 is a heavy-duty inversion table that comes with many features that set it apart from other inversion tables. Starting with its vertical massage...

CHECK PRICE 7. Best Inversion Table For Bigger People: HARISON Inversion Table inversion table for herniated discs Build Quality 4.8 Features 4.9 Price 4.7 Overall Score: 4.8


The HARISON Inversion Table is a full-range inversion machine that allows you to invert at the following angles:

20 degrees 90 degrees 120 degrees 180 degrees

You can also do sit-ups and other core exercises at various angles on this table. A high-quality memory foam 3-d backrest ensures that you get the right balance between comfort and firmness. Large foam-covered foam rollers make it easy to get in and out of the inverted position.

This table is fully adjustable, allowing people from 4'9" to 6'6" to use it comfortably. An easy reach ankle pin-locking system and a precision chuck buckle combine to provide a high level of safety. The combination of a U-shape ankle system and adjustable rear foam rollers with front rollers ensure that your lower legs are comfortably secure.

Pros +4 inversion positions +Memory foam backrest +Fully adjustable Cons -No massage feature Best For Bigger People top rated inversion table HARISON Inversion Table

HARISON Exclusive design! 3D stereo backrest fully Protect spine! Quadruple security provides the safest inversion experience...

CHECK PRICE 8. Best Flat Inversion Table: Exerpeutic Inversion Table inverter tables for back pain Build Quality 4.8 Features 4.9 Price 4.7 Overall Score: 4.8


Compared to most other tables, especially those in its price range, the Exerpeutic Inversion table gives you a wider and longer backrest. The 27-inch width makes it suitable for larger people.

Airsoft ankle holders are a patent-pending element of the Exerpeutic Inversion Table. These offer a higher caliber of support and comfort. The Airsoft holders have a palm-activated, ergonomically shaped ratchet locking system for security and comfort.

This inversion table's backrest is cushioned with one inch of plush foam. It also has a lumbar pillow that is removable. Exerpeutic's inversion table has full loop handles that provide you lots of support when you get into position on it and then walk your hands up to the top to come out of it.

The device's maximum user weight is 300 lbs.

Pros +Well priced +Wide backrest +Airsoft ankle supports Cons -Hard to assemble Best Flat Inversion Table height and weight limits Exerpeutic Inversion Table

Our uniquely designed control wheel lets you stretch out in increments of 0.03 inches. Never worry about stretching out too fast, you're in control...

CHECK PRICE 9. Best Compact Inversion Table: Skybike MIT 135  best rated inversion table Build Quality 4.8 Features 4.9 Price 4.7 Overall Score: 4.8


The Skybike MIT 135 is a simple, portable device that allows you to divert in a confined space. By just sitting in front of the Skybike and leaning back, you will be able to invert to 135 degrees to the floor. This device allows you to achieve this level of inversion without having to put your head lower than your torso.

Your back is supported by four soft foam rollers. The frame is made from one-inch square tube, 14-gauge steel tubing. This combined with the stable support legs means that it can handle a maximum user weight of 300 lb. There is no height limit on this device.

The Skybike Mini Inversion Table measures 17.5” in length x 17” in width x 12.2” in height. It only requires two feet of space, making it ideal for confined apartment living.

Pros +Portable +Simple to use +Safer than full inversion tables Cons -Does not permit complete inversion Best Compact Inversion Table best decompression table Skybike MIT 135

Just sit on front of MIT135, lean your back against on the backrest. And start to enjoy your 135 inversion. The 135 degree inversion ...

CHECK PRICE What is an inversion table?

Inversion tables are cushioned tables that allow you to strap yourself in and tilt backward at an angle or fully upside down. They are designed to treat a range of spinal conditions, including back pain.

Types of inversion tables:

As well as cushioned tables to invert, there are the following devices:

Inversion chairs: This is a chair that you are strapped into before the chair tilts to an angle to invert your body. Some experts believe that this is a safer form of inversion because it puts less pressure on the lower body. Gravity Boots: Gravity boots are padded boots that you wear while hanging upside down from a bar. This allows for inversion therapy in a straight-down position but not for angle gradations. Benefits of Inversion Tables:

The entire body benefits greatly from spinal decompression, oxygenating the tissues, stretching and releasing joints and muscles, and lowering heart rate.

Even frozen joints can be relieved with mild joint and muscle stretching and release. Following their release, exercise can be performed once more to improve mobility and circulation, lessen pain, and limit the risk of additional damage.

Here are the three main benefits of using inversion tables:

1. Reduces back pain

Chronic low back pain that starts in the lower back and travels down the legs is a symptom of sciatica. Due to the capacity to decompress the spine, hanging upside down on an inversion table can instantly reduce back pain.

Inversion treatment will help straighten your spine and release strain on the entire posterior chain. That will aid in releasing and relaxing the muscles in your neck, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, traps, and deltoids, relieving back pain. Any trapped nerves will be released thanks to the increased space between the spinal discs caused by the spinal decompression that follows the liberation from gravity.

Misalignment of the spine can cause muscles to stiffen up. Stretching and energizing muscles with inversion is a very efficient way to extend and realign the spine. It improves circulation and aids in easing overall body stress, which benefits the joints as well.

Due to the removal of compression on the veins and arteries that run around the spinal discs, decompression of the discs results in an increase in blood and oxygen flow throughout the body.1 This is why inversion tables are a tool in physical therapy that a physical therapist may look to in order to help alleviate a patient's issues.

2. Promotes spinal health

Gravity has some detrimental consequences on humans.

The major issue is that it compresses the discs that are located between our spine's vertebrae, which makes us shrink.

It is common for elderly persons to be horrified to discover that they have lost height, sometimes by as much as three inches.

Regular inversion can either prevent or lessen height loss.

Although the spine naturally has a graceful "S" curve, our bad posture patterns tend to change it. Gravity pushes the spine back into its "S" shape when inverting.

As you start to notice how much better you feel when you stop slouching, leaning, and sitting strangely, this can eventually correct bad posture habits.2

3. Improves flexibility

Regular inversion therapy will improve your flexibility. The realignment of the spinal column and releasing of muscle tension that occurs as a result of inversion will make it easier for you bend, twist, and carry out everyday movements.3

what is the best inversion table

Inverter Table Risks:

Even though it is a wonderful tool to decompress the spine, inversion therapy isn't for everybody. You should determine whether it would be safe for you to do so because it may momentarily raise blood pressure. It's not necessary to currently have high blood pressure for it this be significant.

Please consult your doctor before beginning inversion therapy.

People with the following conditions should not use an inversion table:

1. Heart, Stroke & Circulatory Issues

Inversion is not advised if you have a heart or circulatory condition of any kind. That includes those who use anticoagulants, have experienced a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA), or fear they may have had a TIA but have not yet received a diagnosis. Paralysis, trouble speaking, and memory loss are all symptoms.

2. Hypertension

Inversion can elevate the heart rate and blood pressure. This can be dangerous if you already have elevated levels.

3. Eye Problems

Before doing inversion therapy, you should consult a doctor or eye specialist if you have any eye issues. Glaucoma indicates that there is already increased pressure in the eyes, a situation that could be worsened by inversion.

Inversion is also not advised in cases of pink eye, conjunctivitis, retinal detachment, or any other form of ocular inflammation.

4. Weak Bones

Traction includes inversion, which is like a milder version of being on a rack from the Middle Ages. So, inverting could cause harm if you have weak bones. As a result, inversion may worsen conditions including osteoporosis, spine injuries, recent fractures, skeletal implants, and other bone injuries.

5. Disorientation

It is advised to steer clear of inversion until you are certain of the cause of any disorientation and your doctor has given you the all-clear. Disorientation, which includes balance issues, middle ear infections, dizziness, and a foggy feeling, can be brought on by a variety of factors.

It's crucial to determine the source and to wait until any illness has subsided.

6. Obesity

There are several very excellent reasons why inversion therapy might not be safe for you if you are obese. Obesity increases the chance of developing a variety of diseases, including circulatory issues. These frequently go unnoticed for a very long time. As a result, inversion may place additional pressure on your body that it is unable to handle if you already have a cardiac condition or mildly elevated blood pressure.

Additionally, you could have trouble finding an inversion system that can support you because many of them have weight restrictions.

7. Pregnancy

Pregnancy puts a lot of pressure on the body. It may be that you would benefit from a gentle incline on a slant board to take some of the pressure off your abdominal and perineal muscles, but it is vital to get a physician’s approval first. Certainly don’t invert if you have any pregnancy complications, without checking with a physician first. 

According to the Cure Back Pain and Sports Injury Clinic websites, inversion therapy should not be used by pregnant women. The Energy Center warns that pregnant women should get a physician's approval before inverting. Inversion therapy could have a negative effect on the mother or baby depending on the mother's condition and the baby's stage of development.

8. Prescription Drugs

You shouldn't invert if you use any medications that thin your blood, such as aspirin or warfarin.

adjustable lumbar support pad

What To look for when Buying an Inversion Table?

When you get into an inversion table, you rely on it to hang your body upside down safely and securely. To have that confidence you need a table that meets certain standards. Here are the key things to look for when shopping for your next inversion table.

1. Build Quality

To keep you securely in place, the frame of your inversion table needs to be constructed of sturdy steel, and the maximum user weight should be roughly 50 pounds greater than your own.

Additionally, the frame ought to be composed of sturdy steel and be fully wobble-free. The most stable table design is typically the A-Frame kind. You should also opt for frames with self-locking hinges.

2. Features

To be able to use it with maximum efficiency and comfort, an inversion table needs to fit your body. So, you should get a table that is completely adjustable. The ankle brackets should also be adjustable. Additionally, check to see if the ankle brackets have a reliable locking system. The mechanism for adjusting the angle should be simple to operate and accessible from all directions.

The last thing you want to do when your table arrives is to struggle to put it together for hours on end. You need a device that is relatively simple to put together and comes with step-by-step instructions. Also included in the package should be all the tools required for assembly.

How comfortable you are in the inverted position will depend on the quality of the back padding on your inversion table. Look for padding that is at least two inches thick. Additionally useful are tables with lumbar supports that may be removed. Find a table with heat pads and/or a vibrating massager on the back padding if you want the best possible back relief.

3. Comfort

Since your weight will be concentrated largely on your ankles, the ankle brackets should be generously padded.

Armrests should also be well padded. You can enter and exit the inversion table with the aid of the armrests. The best bars are those that let you walk out your hands to aid in positioning. The back pad ought to be thickly cushioned. You don't want it to be overly padded, though. The decompression of your spine will be hampered by excessive back cushioning.

A mesh back pad will be more airy and breathable, preventing sweat and moisture from building up.

4. Warranty                              

Verify the terms of your table's warranty. It will reveal a lot about the manufacturer's level of faith in their product. Some low-quality inversion tables will only provide you with a two- or three-year warranty. The device's bed and frame should come with a guarantee of at least five years.

5. Price

Inversion tables range in price from around a hundred dollars at the budget end to close to $500 at the top end. Higher-priced tables have more features and higher specs on the frame and padding. However, you can still get a very good inversion table at the low end of the market.

6. Reviews

Checking inversion table reviews from verified online purchasers will allow you to get a good idea of the comfort level, ease of setup, and customer service provided.

inverted back machine

Inversion Table FAQs: Is it worth buying an inversion table?

It is worth buying an inversion table if you have lower back problems, spend a long time on your feet or regularly do exercises that compress your spine. Using an inversion table is an excellent way to decompress your spine and bring relief from muscle tension and lower back pain.

What is the best inversion table for the money?

One of the best inversion tables for the money is the Teeter FitSpine X3. Teeter are the original inversion table manufacturer, and they have loaded this table with a range of patented features, including an eight-point floating suspension system, the Delux EZ-Reach locking system, and a precision-balanced three-setting roller hinge.

What works better than an inversion table?

Non-surgical spinal decompression using a computerized traction system is an alternative to inversion table therapy that is more comfortable. However, it is also more expensive.

When should you not use an inversion table?

You should not use an inversion table if you have any of the following conditions; pregnancy, obesity, disorientation, weak bones, eye problems, hypertension, heart, stroke, and circulatory issues. You shouldn't use an inversion table if you use any medications that thin your blood, such as aspirin or warfarin.

What inversion table is best for back pain?

The best inversion table for back pain is the Teeter EP-560. This model features eight acupressure Nodes in varied heights for trigger-point release and focused relief. It also has a lumbar bridge with adjustable arch for added traction and support.

Do inversion tables help with neck pain?

Yes, the spinal decompression and traction that you can achieve with the use of an inversion table will help to relieve neck pain.

How long should you use an inversion table?

You should use an inversion table for no more than five minutes at a time, twice per week. Staying inverted for longer than five minutes may cause your blood pressure to become too high. Start with 30-60 seconds, gradually building your time as your body gets used to being inverted.

How often should I use an inversion table?

You can use an inversion table every day, but do not exceed five minutes per session. Limit yourself to a maximum of two sessions per day.

When should you not use an inversion table?

If you are suffering from hypertension, glaucoma, heart issues, or are pregnant or obese, you should not use an inversion table.

 best fitness inversion table

Summary: Which Inversion Table is Best?

An inversion table is an excellent investment for anyone who wants to show love to their spine. Regular inversion therapy will allow you to decompress your spine, relieve muscle tension and improve your workout recovery.

The best overall inversion table is the Teeter FitSpine X3, featuring a raft of patented technologies from Teeter, including an eight-point floating suspension system, the Delux EZ-Reach locking system, and a precision-balanced three-setting roller hinge.

As a final recap, here are all of our top picks for the best inversion tables on the market right now:

Overall Best: Teeter FitSpine X3 Best for Budget: Innova ITX9600 Best for Back Pain: Teeter EP-560 Best with Heat & Massage: Health Gear ITM5500 Best for Sciatica: Teeter FitSpine LX9 Most Comfortable: Innova ITM5900 Best for Bigger People: HARISON Inversion Table Best Flat Inversion Table: Exerpeutic Inversion Table Best Compact Inversion Table: Skybike MIT 135 Overall Best Inversion Table best rated inversion tables Teeter FitSpine X3

X3 PREMIUM FEATURES: Extra-long, aerospace-grade stainless steel handle for easy-reach ankle lock. Traction Handles and elongated Stretch Max Handles add decompression options...



Prasad KS, Gregson BA, Hargreaves G, Byrnes T, Winburn P, Mendelow AD. Inversion therapy in patients with pure single level lumbar discogenic disease: a pilot randomized trial. Disabil Rehabil. 2012;34(17):1473-80. doi: 10.3109/09638288.2011.647231. Epub 2012 Jan 23. PMID: 22263648. Vernon H, Meschino J, Naiman J. Inversion therapy: a study of physiological effects. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 1985 Sep;29(3):135–40. PMCID: PMC2484360. Jee, Yong-Seok. (2013). The effect of inversion traction on pain sensation, lumbar flexibility and trunk muscles strength in patients with chronic low back pain. Isokinetics and exercise science. 21. 237-246. 10.3233/IES-130506
- Kirsten Yovino
The Best At Home Back Workout (With & Without Equipment)

Working out at home is convenient. You don't have to go anywhere, meaning not only are you able to get your workout in as soon as the opportunity arrives but you also get to avoid forcing small talk with the bros hanging out by the dumbbells. The only downside is that some muscle groups are more challenging to do at home.

For example, everybody knows that when it's time to hit the chest, shoulders, and tris, they can do push-ups until the cows come home. However, when you don't have machines, barbells, and a pull up bar at your disposal, you may need some help planning a muscle-building back workout.

But, don't worry! We have, quite literally, got your back. Back workouts at home are more than possible, and we're about to show you how. Whether you plan to use your body weight or have a minor amount of equipment, like dumbbells, we've got you covered.

Table of Contents:

Best At Home Back Workout (With & Without Equipment) Special Considerations For Home Back Workouts Anatomy & Function Of Back Muscles Best Bodyweight Exercises For Your Home Back Workouts Best Dumbbell Back Exercises For At Home Back Workouts Progression Tips For At Home Dumbbell Back & Bodyweight Exercises

lower back workouts at home

The Best Home Back Workout

Let's kick things off with exactly what you came here for - the best back workouts at home! Afterward, we'll discuss everything else you need to know to properly work your back, including muscle anatomy, how-to's for each of the exercises, and some great programming tips.

Whether you prefer bodyweight back exercises at home or have dumbbells you'd like to put to good use, we have a workout for you.

Prepare to feel the back burn!

At Home No Equipment Back Workout:

This isn’t your typical bodybuilding back day. This calisthenics workout includes bodyweight back exercises to do at home, focusing on mobility and strengthening movements that support posture and core strength to protect your back.




Bird Dogs



RKC Plank


20-30 seconds

Prone IYT


20 reps/letter

Wall Squats



Ab Walkouts



At Home Dumbbell Back Workout:

This full back workout at home requires the use of two techniques to determine how many you need to perform. First, try following the suggested sets and reps, particularly if you have a range of dumbbell weights. Then as it becomes easier to complete the sets and reps using your current weight, you can start using heavier dumbbells.

If you have lighter weights only, try the reps with your weights and slow down the tempo when the moves become too easy. Once slowing it down becomes easier, you will work on the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale.

On a scale of 1-10, aim for an 8, which means you will perform controlled reps to 80% of failure. This means you're close to failure but still have a few reps in the tank.





Romanian Deadlifts




Single Arm DB Row




Chest Supported Row




Renegade Row




DB Pullovers




Special Considerations For At-Home Back Workouts

We know most of you probably aren’t equipped with a Globo Gym arsenal of weights in your at-home training space. That’s ok!

If you don’t have heavier weights, keep slowing down your tempo to increase the burn and time under tension during your complete back workout. Slow, intentional reps always builds more muscle than fast, sloppy ones. If it’s still too easy, add extra sets to increase volume or create supersets with push-up variations or other bodyweight exercises of your choice to make it a HIIT-style workout.

If your dumbbells are light, you will likely easily complete specific exercises. Again, when this happens, try slowing the tempo down, and if it’s still too easy, you can alternate sets, starting with slow and controlled reps and then including another set in which you lift at an average pace but take the exercise close to failure. Remember that training to failure is hard on your body, so leave a few reps in the tank the majority of the time.

You can include a back muscle workout at home in any workout split you'd like. Aim to hit big muscle groups, like the back, twice a week with rest in between workouts. The best plan is the one you will stick to and be consistent with.

back and bicep workout at home

Anatomy & Function of the Back Muscles

Now that we've gone over the best back workouts at home, it's important to understand the muscles that make up the back. Your back consists of the erector spinae, lats, traps, teres major, rhomboids, and multifidus.

Here's a closer look at each back muscle function and the best exercises to target each.

Erector Spinae: The erector spinae muscles include the spinalis, longissimus, and iliocostalis. The erector spinae runs the entire length of your back up to your neck, forming powerful columns on both sides of your spine. They help move the head through lateral flexion and assist with extending the spine. Their most important function is keeping your spine neutral while under loads. The erector spinae is also hard at work throughout the day as the muscles function against gravity to support your spine. Latissimus Dorsi: Your lats cover the majority of your back and play a significant role in creating the coveted V-taper physique. They originate from multiple spots but all insert into the humerus. The lats are responsible for shoulder extension and adduction, horizontal abduction and adduction, and shoulder internal rotation. Pulldowns, pull-ups, and bent over rows are common exercises used to target the lats. Trapezius: This muscle, separated into the upper, middle, and lower traps, is triangle shaped, starting at the back of the skull and neck, extending across the shoulders, and down the middle of your back, connecting to the shoulder blade and collarbone. The traps assist with scapula adduction, elevation