Minimum effective dose in training

If you are a professional athlete that lives of your training, this article is not for you. If you on the other hand have a lot of things going in your life but still prioritize your training, then this sure is for you.

Minimum effective dose is an expression primarily used in medicine. It’s kind of self-explanatory, but as I am gonna use it in regards to training, a few notes on what it actually means might be helpful.

To explain what it is, we might look at what it is not. Minimum effective dose does not imply; if X is minimum effective dose, then 2 times X must be 2 times more effective or more effective at all, for that matter. It refers to the minimum required dose, that produces the wanted result.

Now why is this relevant? The popular way of training now-a-days seems to carry the message: “You can always do more”, “Push harder”. Motivational posters are flooding social media with messages that imply something in the line of: “If you’re not killing yourself in the gym, then you are not working hard enough.”

This message is absolutely fine for those athletes that have training as their main goal or train as a means to reach a certain goal. They should by all means try to outwork their competition. But if your main priorities lays outside the gym, then start thinking of minimum effective dose.

I have been guilty of this. First I had a very hard time switching from training splits 6 days a week to 2-3 times a week of fullbody. I realized that my priorities had switched, they no longer resided inside the gym. I still loved to train, but I was not going to let my training keep me from having fun with my, at the time, girlfriend, friends, my motorcycle, wakeboarding etc. etc. They all had to co-exist, which meant cutting back on training. I think I was around 21 at this point and had been training for 7 years.

What I of course found out, was that this shift in frequency not only allowed me more time to do the things that I loved but it did not affect my body composition all that much after all. A well planned fullbody program can be just as effective, at least for non-competition athletes.

Fast forward to today. I have been training fullbody for now 7-8 years. I have started my own company which by all means are my top priority. But what I found was that, as I am very much guilty of the “kill it in the gym”-mentality, my fullbody routines has grown, and grown, and grown cramming as many exhausting heavy basic exercises in there as I could. Sure this do produce results – but they started leaving traces on my energy-levels the day after, thereby negatively affecting my ability to give 100% towards my main priority; my company. This was unacceptable.

The whole point of my fullbody routines was that; 2-3 times a week I go to the gym, hit it hard and go home. Doing some HIIT after the routine if needed – but the whole point was that I didn’t need to go run some alternating days etc. I of course could if I wanted, but the basic methodology was that I did not NEED to.

So when my routine had come to the point where it drained my energy the day after, it had come to far. I started cutting back on exercises only leaving the ones that gave the most “bang-for-the buck”, then cutting back on sets – generally just approaching my entire routine with “what is minimum effective dose to keep the physical appearance that I want”. Not: “where can I do more”, but; “where can I do less and produce close to the same results”.

This made a giant shift in my energy-levels – exactly the result I wanted. And sure enough I can still maintain the appearance that I want. This of course also has a lot to do with me having paid my dues in the gym for 14-15 years – both in the aspect of muscle mass, but also in me knowing my body.

But it is my belief that, pushed by the endless slogans of the fitness industry, a lot of people has taking their training too far, giving it too much control over their lives, even though it deep down is not their main goal or priority. You can always do more, you can always push harder – but if you do not reserve your energy for your main priorities, then you are just pushing yourself towards exhaustion, overtraining and injuries.

Try to take a step back and look at what 20% of your efforts produce the 80% of results.

What is creatine?

The best way to learn, often is to teach. If you want to figure out just how thoroughly you know a subject – try explaining it to someone else. I was actually going to write a post about creatine and coffee, but after reading through a lot of studies I took a step back and thought about how I would explain what creatine was and what it does in a simple way. Unable to give any good explanation, I read into it, and will now try to give you a short, un-scientific, enables-you-to-explain-it-to-others description of what creatine is and does.

From Wiki:

Creatine is naturally produced in the human body from amino acids primarily in the kidney and liver. It is transported in the blood for use by muscles. Approximately 95% of the human body’s total creatine is located in skeletal muscle.

To get this one out of the way; never confuse creatine with creatinine as the latter is a waste product.

Creatine helps turn ADP back into ATP. If you have read some marketing material of creatine, you may have bumped into this statement. It is very true, but unless you have a medical degree you probably are pretty lost on what it actually means.

All of this is part of the krebs cycle, that is our body’s way of extracting energy from the food we ingest. If you want a really good and easily understandable explanation of this, then take a few minutes to see this presentation by Doug McGuff in the middle of his very long speech – it is the most easily understandable explanation I have ever come across. However if you are only interested in the short explanation, then skip the video.

I will try to be true to the name of my blog and keep it simple. Your muscles needs energy to function. This energy comes from the food you consume. When you are rested and start max effort work, your muscles will be provided with energy through ATP. ATP is short for Adenosine triphosphate, which is only interesting because; upon delivering energy to the muscle, it gives away one phosphate(the energy), and thereby ends up as Adenosine diphosphate(ADP).

Locally in the muscles working, there is a very clever, limited recycling system, that can turn ADP back into ATP. This extends the time your muscles can deliver max effort briefly, if the system is working overtime, as in max effort lifts or sprints. What enables this is phosphocreatine, that reacts together with the enzyme creatine kinase – forget the names but this is, as you may have guessed from the names – where creatine comes into play. Creatine kinase is relatively abundant in the muscles, or at least not the limiting factor. But phosphocreatine is where supplementation with creatine works it magic.

Your stores of phosphocreatine are limited, so given our max effort lift or sprint – when your supplies of phosphocreatine runs out, you are no longer able to produce the same amount of effort by recycling ADP into ATP. Your body will then switch to another energy system, which can run for longer, but not produce the same peak effect.

Therefore, what you do with creatine supplementation is make your phosphocreatine stores larger, which enables you to run your max-effort energy system, a little longer. Think of it as a bicycle with an electric motor, that recharges from your pedalling, and has it energy stored in a battery. When you activate it, you can cycle faster because of the joint effort of your legs and the electric motor, but only for as long as the battery holds power, then you are back to rely on only your legs, until the battery is recharged. Then what creatine does it giving you a larger battery along with a larger generator, so you can recharge as fast as before but run max effort longer.

This was the performance part of the equation, but creatine has even more positive effects up its sleeve. When it comes to building muscle, a lot of people, myself included, think of creatine as only pushing water into the muscles and not actually giving any real size gains. That the gains would only come from the increased ability to train harder. But a lot of studies actually point in another direction. Without going into too much detail, creatine should help decrease the breakdown of muscle and increase the growth of “fast twitch” muscle fibers – this was something that I did not know, before researching for this post.

Furthermore creatine helps your muscles absorb more glucose(carbohydrates) and carbohydrates actually helps your body store more creatine – so that should have you ingesting the two of them together, if you are not already.

What further surprised me, was that studies even have shown positive effects on both intelligence and longevity. Creatine is surely one of the most well known and well documented performance enhancers of all time.

I will not go into any details about how and when to ingest, since I during this research also found some rather interesting information about a slightly different approach, than the one preached for decades. My plan is to try it out and then get back with an evaluation.

One thing I however will do is answer a question that seems to be present in the comments of every article about creatine – what sort should we ingest? Stick to creatine monohydrate – that is the most researched form of creatine, that has been around as supplementation since the early nineties. The other fancy forms of creatine, has to the best of my knowledge not been able to prove any of their claims in studies, yet.

The great thing about creatine monohydrate, is that it is possible to find really cheap. Like this for instance; a great amount from a renowned brand: NOW Foods Creatine Powder, 2.2 Pounds

Intensity Build Up Running (IBUR)

When it comes to fat loss, it is no secret that I am a big fan of HIIT. I want the biggest effect, crammed into the least amount of time. Doing an hour worth of cardio on a treadmill, crosstrainer, or anything similar is way too boring for me. It may yield some good results – but yeah I am just not a big fan.

I have shared some of my preferred HIIT protocols before, like the frontsquat tabata the awesome Litvinov workout and my way to use the crosstrainer. But this time I will share one of my go-to, running protocols.

I can’t in any way take the credit for this protocol, and I am not sure whether this guy came up with the idea, or got it from someone else. But I got it from a guy named Christian Thibaudeau, that wrote an article for T-Nation, called running man. In this article he gives a number of different ways to implement HIIT runs; one of them being IBUR.

I think the reason why I fell for it in the first place was its ease of implementation. You do not need a 400 meter track, or measuring x amount of meters for your sprints. With a interval app for your smartphone, you can enter the intervals and then you are good to go. I personally use one for my iphone, called Gymboss – to my knowledge it is free. Furthermore they are not short 60-100 meter, all out sprints. Which indeed are extremely good, but along with them comes a greater risk of injury. Sure you can still get injured from these longer intervals of IBUR, but you are not doing all out accelerations from a standstill. If you keep yourself from being an idiot and listen to your body, you should be good.

The intervals are as follows:

Jog

30 sec

Sprint

20 sec

Jog

60 sec

Sprint

30 sec

Jog

90 sec

Sprint

40 sec

Jog

120 sec

Sprint

50 sec

Jog

150 sec

Sprint

60 sec

Jog

180 sec

Sprint

70 sec

As you can see the sprints increase with 10 sec in length for each interval and the jog increases by 30 sec. This gives a total of about 15 min running, and trust me; you will know how to take deep breaths once you’re done.

I have entered a 1 minute countdown before these intervals, in my Gymboss app, so I have a total of 90 sec jog, before the first sprint. Then going for the first sprint, I won’t go all out, but perhaps 70%. This is all done in order to get my body into the right temperature, since I do not do warm-up before. When I do this, I can go all out by the second or third sprint, but everytime I listen to my body and start of conservatively. Violent accelerations can pull a hamstring, and I am no olympic sprinter, I do this for fat loss and conditioning. But a conservative start does not mean that you should not go all out! HIIT is meant to be all out and you should push yourself as hard as possible.

Conquer the battle with your mind. If it tells you to stop – just keep going a bit longer – this is how you build character and willpower.

Have fun!

Best HIIT workout?

So what is the best HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout? Is there a thing as the universal best – of course not. ‘Best’ will always be in the context of the person and his or her individual goals. But even with this in mind, I will still give you what in my opinion could be one of the top contenders for a universal best HIIT workout.

In order to qualify for a top contender it needs to consist of one or more movements that you can give your absolute everything and drain but muscles and lungs. Therefore tabata (20 sec work 10 sec rest – 8 rounds) push ups does not qualify – yes you would be able to push yourself to muscle failure in triceps, pecs and shoulders, but you would not activating big enough muscles, to have your lungs fighting for air.

The whole thought behind HIIT is ‘bang for the buck’; do very high intensity for a very short amount of time and reap great benefits. I will not go into detail about all the benefits of HIIT, why it works etc. But when it comes to losing body fat, HIIT has always been my preferred choice.

One of my very first blog posts was actually about one of the HIIT workouts I use The Litvinov workout. This is a highly efficient protocol, that leaves you absolutely hammered afterwards. It is right up there with the most intense of its kind, but it is not my choice as the best, although it is part of my personal favorites.
Another one of the HIIT workouts, I have described in an earlier blog post, is the Tabata front squats. This is just pure mean! And it fits incredibly well with the Tabata protocol – if you do it right, you will not be doing anything at all after having done those.

But why are none of these my bet for best HIIT workout. They are among the most efficient; meaning that they are some of the HIIT protocols, where you get the absolute most bang for your buck, along with all out 200 or 400 meter sprints they really do deliver. Their “net-effect” on the body and fat loss may even be greater, than my overall choice for the best. But what they also introduce though, is a greater risk of injury. If you are not used to sprinting and go directly for all out 200/400 meters or hill sprints you will probably soon know how a pulled hamstring feels. With proper warm-up and thought, they are however; amazing. You work both your stamina, your conditioning and your agility – that’s fitness 101!

The frontsquat Tabata introduces the risk of injury if you break the proper form. Which would not be all that uncommon, given the nature of the Tabata protocol. Intense burning from your legs, combined with your lungs fighting for a grasp of air, might take your thoughts away from focusing 100% on proper technique. I would never suggest that you should avoid them – they are too great for that; but be aware of the risks involved.

Now my overall best HIIT workout then; needs to be something where you can give yourself a 100%, not be limited by local fatigue, as in the push up example earlier, and that does not introduce a high risk of injury, even though you are pushing yourself to and beyond the limit. What I have found to do this best, is actually something as far away from gymnastics, bodyweight exercises and bodybuilding as the cross trainer. But beware, some of these are built by engineers, that never saw a human move! However, if you are in the lucky situation and find yourself a proper engineered version, they can provide a totally brutal finisher.

I am a big fan of the Tabata protocol, and doing it on one of these cross trainers, actually gives you the ability to, rather safely, push yourself all the way to the limit. Set the resistance high enough for you to not propel yourself out of the machine, but low enough to keep a high pace that will have you fighting for air in every of the 10 second rest periods. Of course it is still possible to hurt yourself on one of these, but compared to other workouts where you can push yourself to the same degree, these machines are rather safe. I usually use these if I am in a period where I can not risk injury, or just starting to reintroduce HIIT into my workouts.

Try it at the end of your normal workout, one or two times a week. Start with 4-5 minutes of warm-up if you are a 100% sure that your body is warm from the preceding workout. Go full nuts on the tabata intervals and spend another 4-5 minutes cooling down on the machine afterwards. If you have done it correctly, just spinning the cross trainer at low speed during cool down, will feel like a challenge!

Should you incorporate bodyweight or gymnastic exercises into your barbell routine?

Second post in my mini classic barbell vs. bodyweight/gymnastics series, first post is here.

So, why incorporate more bodyweight exercises into your bodybuilding/barbell routine? Why not just keep it as it is. Can you find “better” exercises with bodyweight or are barbells and dumbells superior in every way? Can you build a better bicep with rings? Or are all these rants on one vs. the other rather insignificant, unless you take your goals into the equation.

This post could be several pages long, with points on why you should or should not implement more bodyweight exercises into your program, but I have focused on a few points that I find valuable.

Also to clear any doubts or uncertainties, I will define gymnastics/bodyweight conditioning as what is beyond mere push- and pullups. More skill and strength based exercises. Pullups falls on either side of the fence, but to put it shortly, they should just always be a stable part of your routine!

My belief is, that the majority of people, looking to stick their toe in the water, with gymnastics/bodyweight conditioning, already have decided, that they would like to learn some of the cool looking stuff, but they just do not know where to start. But for the ones that have not really decided yet, I will give you some good reasons to try it out and also a few reasons why you should probably just stick to classic barbell work.

First of, if you are pure bodybuilder by heart, and only look for the best exercises to make certain muscles grow, I can’t recommend, looking for bodyweight/gymnastic/ring-exercises. If you are only looking for muscle growth, this will not give you anything, that can not be obtained with good old, dum- and barbells. There are exercises, I totally believe, gives the same or better growth-stimuli, but the technical difficulty and thereby increase in injury-potential, just does’nt make it worth the hassle. Stick to basics. You can of course still implement some basic stuff, if you feel that hightens your motivation. But if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it.

There are many things I could rant about on crossfit, especially as I have done it myself, for a short period of time, but there are also quite a lot of good things, CF has brought along in its wake; one of them being an increased focus on the extremely overused term – functional strength. For some people, the focus has shifted from only looking good naked, to be able to do incredible things with your body, while still attaining the former. CF however, is very heavy on quantity, rather than quality, and this is one of the areas, where I am on a totally different page than crossfitters.

One of the reasons to go more bodyweight/gymnastics focussed then, is to gain more functional strength. Or as my definition of fitness explains, the more you are able to do with your body, the more fit you are.

Incorporating more gymnastics work into your routine, also trains what you could call body awareness. An often used term, among bodybuilders, is ”mind-to-muscle”. This refers to the simple fact, that you should be aware of, which muscles you are trying to train, and make sure that you are actually using these muscles, to move the weight. When doing for instance a handstand, you cannot balance your body by your wrists, without ensuring that your shoulders, back, abs, core, legs and feet are tight and in control. To add to the mix, you have to do all this, when being upside down. For people who has done gymnatics since childhood; this is easy – but if you haven’t done it before, the mere fact that you are upside down, makes it extremely hard to do as simple a task as tightening your butt. Over time you will gain experience and all this tightening and control, comes naturally which enables you to somewhat relax in parts of your body while holding a handstand. But as a beginner, you will be looking for all sorts of cues on how to make your body do as you want, since tightening the entire body often is too broad of a cue, and a simple thing as “point your toes as far towards the ceiling as possible” often does a much better job at getting the required outcome.

Focus on functional strength, often brings along awareness about mobility and flexibility. You can’t have a good straight handstand, without proper shoulder mobility. If your active leg split is weak, then you will have a hard time going from advanced tuck planche to straddle planche – since in effect, you are moving to something closer to full planche, if you can’t spread your legs wide enough. All these things, make you more inclined to have focus on flexibility and thereby keeping your body more healthy.

Along with increases in range of motion and technical difficulty comes increased injury potential. This is especially true, for a lot of the more technical exercises. But as with anything, if you keep the advised progressions and stay clear of rushing towards your goals, then they all can be performed safely. It all comes down to bringing your mind along when you train. Your body is rather good at telling, when something is hurting you, all you have to do, is be able to listen.

Once you have become rather conscious of how to scale bodyweight exercises and which exercises trains what, then you have gained a priceless asset, that you will forever be able to use to keep yourself in shape, either on a budget, during times where you do not have the time to head for the gym or on long term travels.

Finally, there of course are the fact, that a lot of the things you can learn to do with your body, just looks super cool! Once you gain a proper handstand, you will most likely do handstands on most of your vacation-photos. Do front and back-levers on everything you can hang from – and in effect just keep a bigger part of your world as a playground.

That was my “why” part, on bodyweight/gymnastics for now. Not that actionable, but stay tuned for the “how” as this will be rich in tips and ideas on how to experiment with bodyweight/gymnastics.

Continued in third part here.

Does overtraining exist?

Overtraining – how used that word is, and how worryingly often that word is used, by the wrong people. Does overtraining even exist? Or should you always just keep pushing? Is overtraining just that last excuse, when you lost the battle with your mind, and cannot push yourself any further?

Having spent 5-6 weeks preparing for a short-deadline competition in CF(my first ever), I ramped up my intensity and workload by a factor 4-6, and was absolutely not sedentary, up until that point. I was really impressed of, how much the body is able to adapt, as long as you keep a few things in mind. But looking at overtraining as a concept, you should always look at it, in the light of what you are trying to accomplish. Are we discussing overtraining in the context of optimal muscle growth, peak performance, ultimate flexibility or maybe maximal work capacity.

Taking it to the extreme, you could argue, that if no such thing as overtraining existed, then the best thing you could do was to train as much as possible. Would you be able to do squats all your waking hours, I suppose you where, given enough food and enough sleep – which I will get back to – I actually believe that your body would adapt. But this is a very far way from saying, that this would be optimal for anything other, than adapting your body to do exactly that. If your goals were muscle growth, this would not be ideal. If your goal was to build maximum strength, this would not be ideal. But could you get away with it, yes I think the abilities of your body to adapt is absolutely exceptional.

Keeping adequate sleep, enough good quality food – then you can really push it, and I mean REALLY push it.

As I am one of those that believe the concept “overtraining” actually exists, I better define how I see it manifest itself. I see overtraining more as a thing that is not only related to training. I see it more as over-stimulation, or over-stress. Allow me to explain.

My belief is, that the body is highly capable of taking care of itself. It is to an extent; self-regulating. If you treat it well, in all aspects, it is very compliant and can take tremendous amounts of stress. Meaning that, if you give it all the right food it needs, all the good sleep and relaxation that it needs – you can absolutely abuse it in the gym for several hours, day after day after day. It will grow, it will be stronger, it will adapt.

But if you start messing a bit, with one of the other factors and for instance introduces a stress-inducing work, where you walk around with worries in your mind all day long, that keeps it hard for you to sleep at night and totally relax, then over time your body will react.

And how does this reaction manifest itself?

People report having trained for instance a ridiculous amount of pushups each day, then they suddenly felt not able to do as many in a row, as they started out with, then they just keep pushing and all of a sudden, they end up with a pulled muscle in their pecs – is this pulled muscle a sign of overtraining? NO! Now you just completely ignored your body for too long – now you are not overtrained – now you are injured!

 You can of course measure your progress, by doing a very strict program, if you are not getting stronger, you are perhaps not pushing hard enough. Perhaps pushing to hard? How would you know? My belief in the body as highly self-regulating, leads me to the theory, that one of the first things the body will do to signal that you are overtraining, is regulate your energy levels. If you haven’t got high energy, you are less likely to train, thereby giving yourself more rest. If the goal you set for yourself, starts to vain, stops being as desirable. If you always loved going to the gym, but now feel like it is a chore, that you do out of guilt – then perhaps you should take a step back and see if you are trying to push too hard on too many areas at once. But as I started of by saying, often times, the people who worry about these things, are not pushing anywhere near hard enough. If you just started training yesterday and you do not feel like going today – then this lack in motivation, is not a sign of overtraining; it is a sign of weak character!

 Therefore summing up, I believe there is a thing as “overtraining”. You can push too hard. But it is often used in way too many discussions about how to do things, where the word “optimal” should take up a far greater space in the discussion, than “overtraining”.

Pancakes for athletes

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Saw a recipe for some alternative pancakes the other day. Something a little more appropriate for an athlete or fitness enthusiast. The perfect “gift” to my self the day before my crossfit competition. They just seemed to lack a few ingredients, and I wanted to swap a few things. So this is my recipe and approach to pancakes:

  • 4-5 whole eggs
  • 1 dl buckwheat flakes
  • 30 ml coconut milk
  • 60 grams of protein powder(Choc)
  • 2 tsp peanutbutter
  • 2 tsp(topped) vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Everything is simply poured into a bowl, and mixed together. You can skip an egg or two, and add a little more coconut milk, if you like. The final amount of coconut milk, is largely dependant on how thick you want the final mixture. As we are aiming for rather thick pancakes, the mixture should be mixed to reflect this.

Baking the thicker pancakes, we do not want the heat of the pan to be to high, as this will burn the one side of the pancake, before the mixture has settled enough, to enable us to turn it around and bake the other side. I use just above medium heat.

As the picture shows I have a fine little crepe pan, and the amount of mixture I pour onto each pancake is aprox. 1,5-2 dl. The hardest part with these pancakes, are without a doubt, turning them around. They tend to become rather brittle, so make sure you use as large and wide a palette knife as possible, when trying to turn them around. It took me quite some time before I was able to turn them around without breaking one of the edges. Luckely this only hurts your pride and not the taste.

As general note on how to perfect them. Do not overcook, rather have the heat a little on the low side and have some patience. Cooked perfectly they will, when you cut through them, they will me slightly softer on the inside than the cooked surfaces. Cooked to much they can become a little dry.

I just eat them as they are without anything on them. But only your imagination sets the boundaries. Some blue- and  raspberries could add a nice fresh touch.

Enjoy your pancakes!