Physique: A Different Kind of Cross Training

Has your strength hit a plateau? Train for size.

Not getting any bigger? Train for endurance.

Not making any sense? Let me explain.

This week I’m going to be brief and to the point. As we’ve discussed before, periodization is key to progression, and once most trainees are nearing a training plateau they will modify their programs with the expectation of new and greater gains. Where many fall short of their aspirations however, is that they are too single-minded in their goals and their approach to training. By this I mean that exercisers or athletes looking to make breakthroughs in their strength training will make changes in their programs, but generally migrating to other forms of strength training. So too do those looking to add mass. They move to other forms of hypertrophy. For many, this will ultimately lead to only modest improvements. Here’s why:

First, we must acknowledge that we each have a finite number of muscle fibers in our bodies. We each have different, but very specific, numbers of fibers on any given day. Then to understand how strength training works, imagine each of your fingers is a single muscle fiber working on its own. When we strength train, we’re working to realign the neurological pathways so that more fingers (muscle fibers) are working simultaneously. As more fingers come into play, the stronger you get. Now, you only have 10 fingers. What happens when all 10 digits are firing at once, where do you turn for continued strength increases? You need more fingers!

So athletes training for increased strength should periodically train for hypertrophy to add new muscle fibers. Once new muscle has been added, you can return to traditional strength training to bring the new muscle in sync with the mature muscle. The same approach holds true for athletes looking to add mass, because hypertrophic training has a strength component.

When training for hypertrophy, we tend to work with weight that represents 65 to 75 percent of our one rep max. If we can increase the max lift on which we base our programs, we can increase the intensity and volume in our workouts, and therefore our potential to add new muscle. So the cycle goes looks like this:

Add new muscle • Add new muscle • Add new muscle
Bring the new muscle in sync with the mature muscle to get stronger
Add new muscle • Add new muscle • Add new muscle
Bring the new muscle in sync with the mature muscle to get stronger

So, then there’s the question of what the endurance athlete should do. It’s simple though. If you have 1) more muscle that can 2) carry a heavier load, doesn’t it stand to reason that an individual would be able to sustain peak performance for longer periods?

Expand your thinking. Tap into alternative forms of training. Improve your results.

Happy Lifting!

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