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Bulletin #33 – Parrillo Performance Guide to Muscle, Part 6

Over the last five bulletins we’ve takea detailed look at muscle. We’ve coveredbasic scientific concepts of muscle struc-ture, function, and physiology all the waydown to the cellular and even molecularlevel. Now you know about the slidingfilament theory of muscle action and thedetails of how muscle is controlled by thenervous system. In the last bulletin wetalked the cellular and molecular basisof muscle growth, including musclehypertrophy, hyperplasia, and the re-cruitment of satellite cells. In previousseries we explored the aerobic andanaerobic energy metabolism of muscleas well as the hormonal regulation ofmuscle growth and the way to controlhormones through diet and exercise.This month I want to talk about dif-ferent training strategies for muscle andhow to tailor your training to achieveyour particular goals. Bodybuilding,powerlifting, endurance running and bik-ing, and sports like football and basket-ball all require muscle training, but ob-viously the performance goals of thesesports are different and the best way totrain for each of these is different. Theplace to start is to decide what your goalsare, and then map out a plan for how toget there.Let’s start with powerlifting, since thisis one of the simplest forms of training toconsider. Powerlifting is about one thing:the guy who can lift the heaviest weightin proper form wins. The winner will thusbe determined by two factors: his shearphysical strength and his mastery of tech-nique. At top level lifting events, techniquegets to be very important.

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Elite lifters havegreat skill in using their strength to lift theheaviest weight possible. The techniqueof competitive Olympic-style lifting is afield in it’s own right, and is not the topichere. What I want to discuss here is thestrength aspect.  Muscle strength is de-fined as the maximum load (weight) thata muscle can lift one time (1,2,3). Thus,the one rep maximum (1RM) is a mea-sure of muscle strength. At first, youwould think that the only important thingwould be how strong the muscle is, andsince bigger muscles are stronger, the guywith the biggest muscles would be thestrongest.This is not quite true, however. Theimportant thing is how much force themuscle can generate, which not only de-pends on how big and strong the muscleis but also on how efficiently the musclecan be activated by the nervous system.(Obviously, leverage factors like skeletalstructure and tendon attachments also arevery important, but there’s not much youcan do about that.) You can easily provethis to yourself simply by comparing thephysiques of bodybuilders andpowerlifters. Bodybuilders have biggermuscles, but powerlifters are stronger. Somuscle size must not be the only impor-tant thing.

The higher the percentage ofmuscle fibers you can recruit to fire (con-tract) at the same time, the stronger agiven-sized muscle will be. Estimates arethat the average person has the ability torecruit only about 50% of the fibers of amuscle to fire at once, and that with train-ing this may increase to around 70%. I’mconvinced that elite powerlifters can prob-ably do even better – maybe around 90%.It should be obvious that the more fibersyou can get to fire at once, the more forcethe muscle will generate. This is whypeople see such great gains in strengthduring the first six months or so oftraining without seeing much increasein muscle size. What they’re doing islearning how to more efficiently recruitthe muscle fibers they have.This is primarily a consequence oftraining the nervous system. With prac-tice, your brain learns how to recruitmore motor units to fire at the sametime, resulting in greater force produc-tion from the muscle. This takes usback to one of the fundamental prin-ciples of training – that of training speci-ficity. For powerlifting you want toincrease strength, which means in-creasing your 1RM. To do this, youwant to train at low reps with heavyweight.  Since the competition involveslifting at low reps, you want to do mostof your training at low reps. Scientificstudies have consistently shown that thegreatest gains in strength come from train-ing in the 3-6 rep range with heavy weight(1,2,3).

This rep range allows you to trainwith about 90% of your 1RM. You shouldalso train some heavy singles, especiallynear the competition, but not at everyworkout since these are very hard on yourjoints. You should take plenty of time torest between sets, generally from 3-5 min-utes. This allows your nervous systemand muscles to recover completely be-tween sets so you can give maximal ef-fort to each set. The best gains in strengthusually come from relatively low volumetraining, around 3-5 sets per exercise.Keep the number of exercises and the to-tal number of sets fairly low.  The con-cept for strength training is to do a low volume of extremely high intensity lifting.Train mostly the basic compound jointexercises, such as squat, deadlift, benchpress, military press, and barbell row.These are probably the best exercises forincreasing overall body strength.Bodybuilding is a close cousin ofpowerlifting, and the training styles arevery similar. The goal of bodybuilding isto maximize muscle size, more thanstrength, and to minimize body fat. Ofcourse, muscle size and strength do gotogether, and big bodybuilders are indeedvery strong. As we discussed last month,the main adaptation responsible for in-creases in muscle size is hypertrophy -an increase in diameter of muscle fibers(1,2,3). This is accomplished by additionof more myofibrils inside the muscle cell.Packing in more actin and myosin fila-ments will make the muscle bigger andstronger.

The training strategy for this issimilar as for powerlifting. For maximalincreases in muscle size, it is best to trainmostly in the 6-12 rep range with a mod-erate load (1,2,3). By “moderate” I meanthe heaviest load you can lift for 6-12 repsin good form. This rep range allows youto use about 70-80% of your 1RMweight. It is important to train to failureat each working set, which means keepperforming reps until you absolutely can-not get another.  When you can perform12 or more reps with a given weight, in-crease the weight by about 10%. This isthe concept of progressive resistance.Bodybuilders generally get better re-sults from a slightly higher volume of train-ing as compared to powerlifting, say 4-6sets per exercise, and more exercises permuscle group. Powerlifters might do 8-12 total sets per workout while bodybuild-ers usually do 15-30. Rest intervals be-tween sets are usually 1-2 minutes forbodybuilding. It is crucially important foroptimal gains in muscle size for the body-builder to emphasize the eccentric phaseof the muscle action. This means lowerthe weight slowly and resist the weighton the way down. This results in greatermicro-trauma to the muscle fibers, andthis damage serves as a stimulus to theadaptation process resulting in increasesin muscle size.

Refer to the Parrillo Per-formance Training Manual and High Per-formance Bodybuilding for detailed infor-mation on the best exercises for body-builders and for instruction on proper ex-ercise performance.The best bodybuilders also incorporatepowerlifting-style training into their work-outs. Many bodybuilders actually start offas powerlifters for a few years to get asolid foundation of strength, and then usebodybuilding-style workouts to refine theirsize and shape. There are several ways toincorporate both training styles into yourworkouts. One way is to do some veryheavy sets to failure at 3-5 reps, followedby some moderate sets to failure at 6-10reps in a single workout. This approachtrains for muscle size and strength at eachworkout. Another increasingly popularapproach is called “periodization,” Whichinvolves a cycle of relatively light break-in training, followed by a cycle of body-building style training, followed by a cycleof powerlifting style training. Each cyclecan last from about 4-12 weeks, depend-ing on what works best for you. Whenyou hit a plateau in your training, it gener-ally means it’s time to move to a newworkout.Sports like sprinting, football, and bas-ketball require maximal muscle power,which is different from strength.

Poweris work per unit time, which is also equalto force times speed. Power requires gen-erating a lot of force, and generating itquickly. Force is equal to mass times ac-celeration, so the faster you accelerate agiven weight, the more force you’re pro-ducing. In sports like football and box-ing, the transfer of kinetic energy fromone player to another is very important.Kinetic energy is equal to one half theproduct of mass times velocity squared,so the faster you’re moving the more ki-netic energy you have. To sum up,powerlifting and bodybuilding are justconcerned with muscle size and strength,but these other sports add in the factor ofspeed.As an example, if two athletes have a1RM of 200 pounds on the bench pressthey have the same strength on that exer-cise. But if one athlete can perform themovement in 2 seconds while the otherrequires 4 seconds to lift the weight, theformer is generating twice the power ofthe later. While absolute strength is animportant component of performance,power is probably even more importantfor most sports (1).  Muscle power is theproduct of strength and speed, both ofwhich are obviously central to football,basketball, and like sports.Training the speed component addsanother factor to your training. As youmight guess, this involves trying to lift theweight as quickly as possible. One effec-tive approach to weight training for speedcalls for using about 30% of your 1RMweight and performing the positive (lift-ing) phase of the movement in explosivefashion. This is usually done for about 10reps per set.  

Another technique to in-crease muscle power is plyometrics.Plyometrics is a way of overloading themuscle prior to an explosive contractionwith speed-strength as the goal (3). Anexample of plyometric training for legs isto step or jump off of a box, land andsquat, and then jump up as fast as pos-sible. This does two things. First, poten-tial energy is stored by stretching the con-nective tissues, such as the muscle sheath,the tendons, and the muscle itself. Sec-ond, the rapid eccentric movement of land-ing and squatting evokes the stretch re-flex, or the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC)of the same muscle (3,4).The basis of the stretch reflex is themuscle spindle. Muscle spindles are sensory nerves located in special muscle fi-bers called intrafusal fibers. These fibersrun parallel to the extrafusal muscle fi-bers, which are the ones we normallythink of as being responsible for musclecontraction. When a muscle is stretchedthis activates the nerves in the intrafusalfibers, which sends a signal back to themotor neurons in the spinal cord. Thesesend a signal out to the extrafusal fibersto contract. The muscle spindle is a safetymechanism that causes a muscle to con-tract whenever it is stretched.

This reflex keeps the musclefrom tearing from excessivestretching. When you add inthis reflex arc, this results ina more powerful contractionfrom a stretched muscle thancan be consciously achievedby contracting a muscle fromit’s normal resting length. Theelastic properties of themuscle and tendons store en-ergy during the eccentric(stretching) phase, and thisalso contributes to force pro-duction (3). Another form of plyometricleg training is jump squats, where a rela-tively light weight is used and you jumpwhen coming out of the squat, with yourfeet actually leaving the ground. Baechle(reference 3) contains an extensive list ofplyometric training drills and techniquesfor those of you interested in more infor-mation.The best form of training for competi-tive endurance activities is training that ac-tivity itself.  In other words, endurancecycling is the best way to train for endur-ance cycling. That’s not to say that weighttraining can’t help, but weight training ismainly about muscle size, strength, andpower, not endurance. Endurance train-ing is an aerobic exercise activity, whileresistance training (weight training) isanaerobic.

Endurance training involves avery large number of submaximal mus-cular contractions (3). Compared toweight training, the intensity is very lowand the volume is very high (3). The ad-aptations to aerobic training are very dif-ferent than those to anaerobic training.Endurance training reduces the overallconcentration of glycolytic enzymes, theones involved in anaerobic energy produc-tion (3). In endurance training there is in-creased recruitment of type I muscle fi-bers compared to type II fibers (3). How-ever, since type I fibers have less capac-ity for hypertrophy than do type II fibers,endurance training does not result in asgreat an increase in muscle size as doesresistance training.During endurance training there is agradual conversion of type IIb fibers totype IIa fibers (3). Type IIa fibers, or fastoxidative glycolytic (FOG) fibers, have agreater aerobic capacity than type IIb fi-bers, or fast glycolytic (FG) fibers (3).The result of this conversion is a greaternumber of fibers which can contribute toendurance performance (3). Endurancetraining increases the number of mitochon-dria and the concentration of myoglobinin muscle cells (3). As you know, mito-chondria are the organelles responsible foraerobic energy production. Myoglobin isa protein which can bind and store oxy-gen, much like hemoglobin. Thus whileweight training mainly results in bigger,stronger muscles, endurance training re-sults mainly in increased aerobic energyproducing ability.

Bodybuilders should remember how-ever to include aerobic exercise as part oftheir training, since this trains a very im-portant muscle called the heart. Aerobicexercise also burns fat and helps to in-crease capillary density in muscle. Thisallows for increased blood supply, whichParrillo Performance Guide to Muscle, Part VIThe basis of the stretch reflex is the musclespindle. Muscle spindles are sensory nerveslocated in special muscle fibers calledintrafusal fibers. These fibers run parallel to theextrafusal muscle fibers, which are the oneswe normally think of as being responsible formuscle contraction. When a muscle isstretched this activates the nerves in theintrafusal fibers, which sends a signal back tothe motor neurons in the spinal cord.means increased nutrient supply, whichmeans bigger muscles.This concludes our series on muscle.Whatever your training goals, don’t for-get the central role of nutrition.  Serioustraining is hard work – don’t throw it awayby not eating right. Try to eat every threehours or so, and include the right balanceof carbohydrates and protein at each meal.Good protein sources are chicken breast,turkey breast, fish, and egg whites. Goodcarbs include potatoes, rice,beans, oatmeal, peas, corn, andvegetables. Refer to the NutritionManual for detailed instruction.As far as supplementation goes,the most important ones for in-creasing muscle size and strengthare Hi-Protein Powder, CapTri,and Muscle Amino. For endur-ance performance, the most im-portant are Pro-Carb, The Bar,CapTri, and Max Endurance.Never lose sight of your dream.Never give up. The Parrillo Pro-gram has built a lot of champi-ons, and we’ll build a lot more.Be one. Parrillo Performance – wheredreams come true.


1. Wilmore JH and Costill DL. Physi-ology of Sport and Exercise. Human Ki-netics, Champaign, IL, 1994.

2. McArdle WD, Katch FI, and KatchVL. Exercise Physiology – Energy, Nutri-tion, and Human Performance. Lea &Febiger, Malvern, PA, 1991.

3. Baechle TR. Essentials of StrengthTraining and Conditioning. Human Kinet-ics, Champaign, IL, 1994.

4. Komi PV. Strength and Power inSport. Blackwell Scientific Publications,Oxford, 1992.

2018-03-13T11:10:37-04:00 May 20th, 2009|Technical Supplement Bulletins|

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