For many years it has been thought that to build muscle, we must demolish our muscles in a very isolated manner through hundreds of repetitions and then let them rest for a week.
But what we’ve found is that despite the ‘science’ supporting this approach, newer science has shown something much different.
In fact, all of the data points in the opposite direction. Increased frequency (versus massive volume just once per week) is actually the key to muscle growth.
This is because exercise is much more of a signal than a structural influencer. As an example of this, common knowledge tells us that lifting weights is good because it ‘breaks down’ our muscle. Then our body compensates by putting more protein in there, right?
Sort of, but not really. See exercise changes our bodies’ metabolic preferences by signaling to different tissue systems that we need to get stronger to handle the stress of our current activities. (Your brain tells your muscles to get bigger in order to be better at lifting things.) This is why higher frequency demands quicker muscle growth – muscles love frequent signals.
Imagine you stopped moving altogether. You’d probably lose muscle, right? But that’s not because you’re tearing down muscle without replacing it. It’s because you aren’t using it. So your nervous system sends everyone a signal that says, “Stop building & maintaining this muscle. We don’t really use it all that much and it’s metabolically expensive to maintain.”
So let’s play this same game with fat loss.
Common knowledge states that as we exercise, the fat from fat cells is extradited and sent to some fat-furnace in the middle of your body where it goes to be incinerated.
But this isn’t entirely true either. In a way, all movement helps to signal fat loss because extra fat doesn’t make sense in the presence of extra movement. Holding onto excess fat would be detrimental because it would make movement more difficult.
And all of this signaling is performed by … drum roll, please … hormones. Your body’s hormones are the gatekeepers to health.
But we can help control them by our actions. We can strength train, move a lot during the day, sleep plenty (during the night, preferably), keep our stress levels low, and manage our hunger cues. And when we take care of ourselves, our hormones in turn take care of us back.
So there are two main take-home points here:
Movement & exercise (and all of the other things that I mentioned above) are far less about the actual, physical, structural implications of the exercise and much more about the signals that all movement produces in our body. To think about things only in terms of calories in versus calories out or breaking down muscles is sort of silly when you consider the larger impact that movement has on our bodies’ internal functions.
Hormones truly control our health – everything from our brain function to weight to energy levels to sleep quality to sexual & reproductive health relies on hormones to function optimally. But you can’t depend on hormones to always just regulate themselves and keep you healthy in the absence of self-care. Health is a two-way street. To optimize your results, you need to think about optimizing hormone production. This means managing stress levels, going to bed at a consistent time every night, moving a lot during the day, strength training a little, and eating unrefined foods that are actually good for your body.
But what does feeling better even mean? There are a zillion ways to define feeling better, but we’re going to focus on feeling physically better.
So let’s say that feeling physically better means moving more fluidly, being relatively free of pain and discomfort, and having the energy to do things like walk around or do some spur-of-the-moment athletic thing.
Of course working out, sleeping for at least 7-9 hours, and destressing regularly will all help you in your quest to feel better physically, but for now let’s focus on a few things that you can do on a daily basis that will make you feel better (almost) instantly.
Folks love standards, mostly because we love to compare ourselves to other people and see where we lie on the continuum. It validates us. It gives our ego this little tiny boost that makes us feel good for a minute.
And usually, I’d write a post telling you to forget about standards. Forget what other people are doing. Get off of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Stop watching other people live life and giving yourself massive FOMO while you sit on your couch with re-runs of The Office in the background.
But I think standards can be helpful now and then. They give us metrics to compare ourselves to ourselves, to see how we’re doing. We can pit our strengths against our weaknesses and uncover the areas of our health & fitness that we need to work on.
First, I’ll tell you why not. It’s not gluten. It’s not fat or carbs or sugar. No, it’s not animal products. Or dairy. Or because there aren’t enough gyms. It’s not because you don’t workout enough.
So then, by this logic, none of the following are going to help: more diets, more diet foods, more gyms, more obstacle course races and 5ks, or more trainers crafting clever blog posts about making sensible lifestyle choices.
There are three main reasons why America is so overweight and they all stem from the fact that we’ve spent hundreds of years attempting to create the most luxurious, convenient, easy-peasy-lemon-squeezey lifestyle of any human beings in history, ever.
I mean, it makes sense, why would we make food less accessible if we don’t have to? Why use manual labor when we have machines that can do twice the work in half the time?
We live in this age of technology and information. But unfortunately, half of the information on the internet is outright wrong and we’ve forgotten that human beings are actually just gorillas that can drive to Starbucks and order a latte.
Ah, the battle rope: a staple in “metabolic conditioning” workouts across the country and the world. There are hundreds of ways in which you can swing the rope up and down, side to side, and slam it to the ground in an effort to raise your body temperature high enough that you start sweating.
Here’s a quick alternative: try eating extra spicy garlic beef jerky and slicing an onion at the same time. You’ll sweat way faster (and cry, too).
Large enough to tie up a yacht with, these ropes come in all sorts of colors and sizes. Different lengths mean different weights and different levels of challenge.
They’re usually associated with calorie-burning, fat-torching, butt & gut workouts designed to counteract those seventeen glasses of wine that you downed last week.
But if you ask many strength coaches, they’ll call them the dumbest thing in the gym. They’ll call them useless and ineffective at burning fat, building strength, or developing cardiovascular capacity.
So here we go again with another blogisode (that’s a blog episode) of Fitness Purity.
First off, do I care if this theory actually abides by the definition of the phrase lowest common denominator? No. I do not. All I care about is that myself and my members make progress in a safe and sustainable way. So this is what I’ve come up with.
The Lowest Common Denominator Theory simply states that we want to create the smallest possible volume-load progression for each exercise, each week we step in the gym.
We use a lot of rep-maxes and estimated 1RM’s to create programs that allow our members to progress slowly from week to week. When we progress slowly week to week, we create progress that is more sustainable. And success in fitness is built on sustainability, which helps us develop commitment and consistency.
This post isn’t for everybody; this post is for people that want to build muscle.
Maybe you’re a teenage athlete looking to gain some size for next season or maybe you’re just dipping your toes into the strength training pool and want to learn how to put muscle on to support your strength gains.
Whatever the case may be, gaining muscle isn’t all that hard. It isn’t all that complicated, either. Gaining muscle is simply a product of increasing volume over time, both through increasing weights and increasing volume at the same weight.
Your muscles respond to the challenge by literally growing themselves.
Don’t get too hung up on rest periods or rest-pause or drop sets or forced eccentrics. Sure, these things can help and certainly do, especially when we’re talking about higher level bodybuilding & strength athletes. But if you’re just starting out, stick to the basics.
Whatever thing it is that you keep telling yourself you have to do, you don’t have to.
You don’t have to do anything.
In fact, you never have to do anything you don’t want to do.
Disagree? That’s okay, you don’t have to agree. You’re allowed to disagree. It doesn’t make you a bad person. And it doesn’t make me a bad person. And it doesn’t mean you can shame me for having that opinion (or vice versa). But we don’t have to agree.
If you quickly Google the word “toning,” the first page of search results is a mishmash of both pro-toning and anti-toning blog posts. The fitness world loves the word toning. It’s schismatic (how’s that for SAT vocab?) and makes for good blog content. Heck, isn’t that why you clicked on this post in the first place?
And I have a confession: for a while, I was a fitness purist.
I believed that, whenever somebody came to me looking to “tone up,” it was my job to correct them. I needed to explain to them that toning is a myth and that muscles only get bigger or smaller and that bodyfat is what really matters. Then I’d dive into a quick soliloquy (I’m crushing the SAT words today) about rep ranges, percentages, and how we were going to program so that they got exactly where they wanted to be.
But at the end of the day, they just didn’t want the “stuff” on the underside of their arm to jiggle as much.
With intermittent fasting on the rise once again, the question of meal frequency is rearing it’s myth-covered head.
How often should I be eating?
How many meals should I eat each day?
Won’t more meals speed up my metabolism?
Should I be eating breakfast?
Is it bad to eat before bed?
Shouldn’t I consume at least 20 grams of protein every two hours?
Is it ok to go more than 2-3 hours without food?
First off, yes. Your body, as a rule of thumb, can go about two weeks without food. So, yes, it’s okay to go hungry for a few hours.
Meal frequency is a hot topic in the fitness & nutrition industry right now. And along with it comes meal timing, so we’ll cover both today.
After reading through this article, you’ll have the knowledge and tools to design your own meal schedule, allowing you to work efficiently, train intensely, sleep better, and live an awesome life in general.