Written by Christopher Kelly
March 2, 2017
Christopher: Hello, and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast. My name is Christopher Kelly and today I'm joined again by Dr. Mike T. Nelson. Hi, Mike.
Mike: Hey, Chris. How's it going?
Christopher: I'm great, thank you very much. It is a beautiful day here in Bonny Doon in California. We have had unbelievable amounts of rain and the sun has finally come out. So, I'm recording this podcast outdoors, in the sunshine, being 100% authentic, and absolutely loving it. How are you this morning?
Mike: I'm good. I'm in Minnesota and it's pretty nice out here today. It's been, man, it was up to 45 degrees yesterday. So, after lifting I was walking around in a tee shirt for about half hour and felt great.
Christopher: Awesome. I love it. For people who don't know Mike, Mike has a PhD in exercise physiology and an undergraduate degree in natural science and a masters degree in biomechanics, which I think will be relevant for the rest of this podcast. If you didn't hear my first interview with Mike, I will link to that in the show notes. In that interview, we talked about metabolism and ketones and burning fat. In this podcast, I really wanted to get into the details of the training program that Mike has put together for me.
So, I am working with Mike as a paying client and he has designed a strength training program for me and then he also talked about the work that I'll be doing on the bike also, which I think is nice to have one coach that understands everything. And I thought it'd be helpful for me to talk to Mike a month after starting his program and maybe we can discuss some of the things that I should be doing and aren't doing.
I was hoping that will be really useful content for all the other cyclists who are listening and wondering about how they might be incorporating more strength training into their program and why they must be incorporating more strength training into my program. What do you think, Mike? Does that sound good?
Mike: Yeah. I think that sounds great because I like your point that it's hard when you get a lot of cooks in the kitchen to figure out what's going on especially if there's -- Most people aren't Olympic level people. And even then there's like four people doing stuff and nobody really coordinating it. So, to kind of get everything all together and make sure it's moving in the same place so I think that's helpful.
Christopher: Yeah, I think it's fantastic to have one person that understands it all. In particular, the Maffetone approach going slow to getting fast, I'm not sure how many coaches out there get that. So, that's great.
Mike: Yeah. For me, it makes it interesting too because -- And part of how I ended up doing that is just based on my background and then part of it was, to be perfectly honest, I got tired of arguing with two other coaches. Because I've had instances in the past where I was maybe doing the strength training portion, they had more of a classic aerobic coach, and then they had someone else doing nutrition.
And as you know and we'll get into, all of those are related to each other. It doesn't mean that each individual coach isn't doing a good job but at the end of the day there's one human that's executing all of that. So, you'd see weird stuff like super high carbs when the person's trying to do an easy ride. And then you've got strength training right after easy ride and it was just kind of a mess.
Christopher: Yeah, I could imagine. I could imagine. Another thing I was worried about the most when I came to you, that I wasn't very clear on my goal. So, what did you think? Did you think I need to clarify my goals better or did you think I knew what I wanted?
Mike: No. I think we had a good discussion about it. Because how I view it, at the end of the day, it's what does the client want to achieve and what are they happy doing? And sometimes that's really pushing hard to make progress in certain areas and other times it's like, like you said, I like going out in rides with my friends and having that be pretty easy. As long as that's still the marker and everything's moving in that direction then I think that's fine.
I mean, my job is to get people to what it is that they want to do, not necessarily to say, oh, you got to completely change what you're doing per se. Especially if it's something that they like doing and that it's fun for them. Because we don't need to make exercise anymore torturous than it already is.
Christopher: I can tell you there's a growing gap in between what I'm doing and what I think I need to do for health and longevity. So, I become ever more unconvinced that hours and hours of riding any sort of bike is particularly conducive to longevity. And, I think, that strength training and muscle mass in particular is super duper important. But at the same time I love riding my mountain bike. I don't do it because I think it's going to make me live to 100 years old. I do it because it's an awful lot of fun.
Mike: Yeah. And, I think, if you look at the research, there's some good Scandinavian research. I know Dr. Andy Galpin talked a lot about this too, that the main ones are muscle mass, lower body strength, which is kind of a measure of functionality, and then VO2 max. So, if you were to pin three things and say, okay, if you want to live a long life, what are the top three? Those are probably the main top three.
Christopher: Right, right. Yeah. And I should link to some of the research in the show notes for this episode. Would you encourage all endurance athletes to be doing strength training then? So, not everybody listening to this is a mountain biker. There'll be some other types of cyclists and I'm sure some runners and swimmers and other types of athletes. So, do you think everybody should be doing strength training?
Mike: My bias has been I think that they should both from a longevity and a performance standpoint. So, a lot of times you think about endurance, even if you take something like a marathon, which obviously very long distance, if you watch someone at the beginning of a race and watch them at the end of a race, ideally you want to see like pretty much the same form. If you look at the top people, that's pretty much what you see.
You see them finish a marathon and, yeah, they look a little tired but, man, they don't look nearly as bad as the people kind of in the middle or towards the end. When they have enough max strength to bring their leg through and making sure their pelvis isn't going wonky each time they run, and so they have enough strength to where they can hold that gate, running form, step after step, stride after stride, all the way through the race, which, yes, it's an endurance quality but there's a good component of it that's actually a strength component also.
And in general, and granted it's an oversimplification, but most people who do a lot of endurance training generally don't do much strength training. I think that the research shows pretty clearly that you have someone doing a lot of endurance work, you can add some strength training to it. It won't necessarily interfere with their endurance performance. A lot of times, the mechanical efficiencies that will get better.
The reverse, not quite so true in terms of adding a ton of endurance stuff to strength training which is a little bit different topic. But, I think, that will be one of the reasons -- And the other reason too is just to do something to put you in the opposite position that you're always in. So, if you work with someone who's a cyclist, you're doing a lot of, basically, more concentric work as you're pushing down on the pedals a lot of times, and they're in more of a bent over kind of hunched position.
You start accumulating a lot of hours in that position and your body is just going to adapt to kind of look more like that. And then at some point that is specific and is a positive adaptation to be in a good functioning human and reducing your risk of injury, I think you have to do something a little bit to kind of counteract that too.
Christopher: Yeah. And I think that that absolutely applies to cyclists also. So, at the very minimum, you need to be able to hold your pelvis steady when you're pushing down on the pedals. And, of course, if you get tired because you're weak, at the end of the race you might find that maybe your metabolism is still working great but you just don't have the stability to push the pedals aside as you did at the start of the race.
And then, of course, in cyclo-cross and in mountain biking, it's so dynamic. When I look at some of the very best riders -- I'll give you an example. Jeff Kendall-Weed is the husband of the medical doctor that I started the business with and he's a tremendous rider and it's almost embarrassing to call myself a mountain biker when I ride with him. I only see him for a few seconds and then he's gone. And he's so dynamic. There's so much pushing that's going on through the pedals and his hips are so alive and even his upper body is up and down all the time. And it's just not a stationary static type of movement. And I think the strength training -- I know he strength trains. So, I know it's really important.
Mike: Yeah. I know I would definitely agree with that. I mean, especially in mountain biking where you've got a lot more kind of speed and power and you've got the terrain. You've got everything else to deal with on top of it being an endurance event. A lot of those people are just beasts.
Christopher: Right, of course. And so, yeah, I think I was clear about my goals. Maybe I'm a bit hard on myself to say that I was unclear about my goals. I really wanted to be stronger and it's with performance in mind with the mountain biking. And then I also think I have some biomechanics stuff going on. I'm still feeling a bit lopsided and lots of people have presented solutions to me that seem to work but I seem to have trouble actually doing what they say. It's really hard.
I'm wondering whether the solution to my biomechanical problems, which are some pain which radiates out of the right side of my butt cheek, is to kind of work it into what I'm already doing? Like, so don't give me some exercises that's specific to solving that problem. Somehow work that into my program, what I'm going to be doing anyway, and hopefully we can fix the problem that way. You got any comments? Do you think that's possible?
Mike: Yeah, I definitely agree. Because if you look at it from a mechanical standpoint of what you're going to try to do to modify it, most people, if they're riding the bike, are going to tend to gravitate towards the same form that they've used. But it's my bias that if you can take someone and make their body more efficient, their body is always seeking the efficiency.
And it all kind of divert down to whatever the most efficient path is. The downside is a lot of times because of just adaptations of being in that position and old injuries and what they did during the day and all those things, while their body is trying to be as efficient as it can with this movement compared to other athletes that can be less efficient but still doing the best that it can with their current structure.
So, I think, things like weight training or even something as simple as a strength and balance from their left quad, their right quad, people tend to be more dominant on one side versus the other, kind of doing things like that to even those out a little bit will increase overall efficiency and get into a more fancier stuff with left side of their upper body versus their right side of their lower body. The body is kind of like a big X. But, I think, overall, working on those things usually will help increase performance but, at a minimum, it also helps reduce your risk of injury.
It's like if you're a Formula One race car driver, you not really want to be driving around with a bent front suspension arm. You can kind of make up for it by always tweaking the steering wheel and that type of thing but it's not the most efficient way to go.
Christopher: Yeah, absolutely. Well, let's talk about the exercises that you chose for me. Have you got the list in front of you?
Mike: Yeah, I do.
Christopher: Okay. So, deadlifts. I love doing deadlifts. I love it when people choose exercises for me that I enjoy doing anyway. I've not been doing deadlifts a long time and I'm scared to death that I'm doing them wrong because I don't want to put my back out and it feels like this is a sort of exercise that would put your back out if you weren't doing them right. But I really do enjoy doing them. And so, why are they important for cyclists?
Mike: I think if you're to pick a good over body, overall exercise, my bias is deadlifts. I think you could argue squats could be useful too, but with a lot of cyclists, because of the way their spine gets kind of orientated, watch them squat makes me more nervous than watch them deadlift. Again, kind of my own bias there. Another part is that you're generating power primarily through the hips. The other part is that it's something that everyone just should be able to do because in daily life you're always going to bend down and pick up stuff. It's a very, as much as the word functional has been like completely bastardized, it is a very functional exercise. It does transfer to other things.
And just in keeping your body to try to produce power, speed, with a full body lift. Even stuff like mountain biking, if you have never done it before, it's amazing how much more of a full body exercise it is than you would imagine. Because in your head, you kind of think, oh, it's just lower body. But there's a lot of upper body movements going on there too. So, that's also why I like it.
Christopher: Yeah. So, you saw that video of me just getting into the position, not lifting any weight. Did that make you cringe? Was there anything there that you thought, "Oh, shit, this guy is going to die if he tries to put any weight--"
Mike: Yeah, the biggest thing I see with deadlifts is either two things. So, everyone has seen the horrible YouTube videos where it looks more like a pooping dog than it looks like a deadlift with the rounded back and all that kind of stuff. The biggest thing I see where the most people in general is that their hips are actually too low. So, people tend to want to squat the weight up. And you can easily tell that by looking at a side view and then watch the angle of their hip, their knee and their ankle.
And if their hip comes up an inch or two before the bar leaves the ground, that means that their hips were too low to start. So, you have this movement where your hips are trying to get in the right position to exert force and then the bar starts to come up. So, most people a lot of times will line up with their hips actually paradoxically a little bit too low. So, once the hips come up then you'll see the bar move.
Another part that's easy for people to look at their deadlift from a side view is the ankle, the knee and the hip should all move right about at the same rate. So, when someone is finishing the lift at the top, their hip should get all the way just to lock out right about the same time that their knee and ankle go straight. A lot of times what you'll see is that the knee will finish first, so you stop moving, and then you still see a lot of hip movement going on.
And then the last thing you see is a lot of times is people, this probably came from watching power lifters, is they really accentuate the back motion at the top. And all you really need to do is just stand up. I understand why sometimes power lifters will do that, to over accentuate it to demonstrate that they have locked out so that it gets clear as a good lift. That's the whole judging thing and a bunch of other stuff there too. But the cues that I use are all basically given the set up.
And then I literally tell people, "Okay, that's all good. Now, stand up." Because that's really that's what you're doing. So, the ankle, knee and hip finish right at the same time. You may even see that the thoracic is still even a little bit more bent forward, which I'm actually okay with as long as it's not excessively moving under the load. I'd rather have people with a heavier load at their shoulder be just a little bit in front because the load is pulling them there than really trying to think about cranking their shoulders back at the top, which is just going to cause issues.
Christopher: Okay. Hello, everyone. I wanted to interrupt this podcast to let you know that after we finished recording, Mike T. Nelson produced this really nice little video analyzing my deadlift and then also analyzing his own deadlift. And he gave me some really nice coaching cues. So, head over to the show notes and I will link that video from there.
And while you're there, also linked from the show notes, head over to nourishbalancethrive.com/highlights where you can sign up for a highlights email and each week we will send you an interesting scientific paper that we've read with actionable advice, nonsense that we read or heard this week and why it's nonsense, and then just something awesome that we read or listened to and why it's awesome. So, that's nourishbalancethrive.com/highlights. Now, back to the interview.
Well, the good news is I've not been influenced by any power lifters. In fact, I've not been influenced by anyone because I'm deadlifting in the garden. I'm not doing any of that stuff which is really fun to be lifting weights outdoors in the sunshine. My daughter loves coming out here and she sort of swings on the bench and stuff while I'm lifting which is great. But I have noticed that I have quite a lot of delayed onset muscle soreness around off the top of my pelvis area at the back. So, it's kind of my lower back area.
And then recently I've been riding when it's dry. So, you laid out this nice program for me where it's like weights three or four times a day and then the endurance exercise, the space apart from that on different days. And what I've been doing is, like today, the weather, it's beautiful Thursday, looks like it's going to rain again, so I'm just going to ride every day until it starts training. And then for the weights, I'll just do those on the same day. And I've noticed like yesterday I went for a ride after I did the weight session including deadlifting and the lower part of my back just above my pelvis was not very happy with me at all. It was quite painful.
Mike: Yeah, the big thing with that is making sure that at the end of the motion you're basically just standing up. You're not going into that sort of slight excessive movement in the back. And that's like super common. Because there's usually a proprioceptive issue in the lower back also. So, if you look at people and you say, okay -- This happened many times at the gym here, in my garage gym. So, I'd be, "Okay, do deadlifts sort of light weight." And I'm watching from the side. And I'm like, "All right, cool."
And I'm like, "So, where do you feel your back is at the end of the position?" They're like, "I don't know. Feels straight." And it's actually kind of tilted back away. But to their brain, because they have a little lack of basically feeling or mapping of where that spot is in space, it feels like it's straight. But it's actually kind of going back. So, I'll show then the video then and say, "Oh, okay, you see this?" "Oh, yeah." "So, at the end, I just want you just to stand up nice and straight." They stand up and they're like, "Oh, weird."
So, it's a little bit a lot of mapping of trying to figure out exactly where that end position is and kind of get that with a little bit of light unweighted mobility and things of that nature. Another part too is to make sure that all the muscles in the hips are actually working really well. Because one of the other ones, that can be kind of a bugger especially for cyclists and people who sit a lot is the psoas muscle. So, psoas muscle is the main hip flexor, so bringing your leg up.
It starts on your femurs to your, basically your upper leg, goes through your pelvis. Actually, it touches through your lumbar so your lower spine on the front and actually the back. It kind of does this weird bifurcation thing. And then the rest of the fibers actually become the diaphragm. So, it's like breathing is a lot of times related to hip function a lot. And if that's really tight, you're basically kind of keeping someone in more of a hip flexion position and they can then kind of over extend at the top. So, that's the other part that I look at too.
If they're taking the cue and the cue kind of makes sense, but they're still having a hard time executing it, then I look at what is the function of their psoas versus their glute. And usually there's something a little off there that we'd work on.
Christopher: Okay. Crap. So, you could have a look at my video then. I'm sure I'm making all of these mistakes that you described.
Mike: No, no, they're like super, super common. I mean, if you go to most gyms, you'll probably see that. Assuming people are actually deadlifting at the gym, which is a whole other discussion.
Christopher: Right, right. In fact, I realized I've missed a bit already and I'd been missing it in the workouts as well, and that's the warm up. I'm like, "Uh, bother with that." I didn't do any of the warm ups. So, I tend to -- I always start the workout warm. So, yesterday, I was actually in the sauna before I started and, yeah, that's great. I love that. And my daughter loves that too, actually. And then I went down to the wood pile and lifted some wood and brought back up to the house. I was just doing like a fireman's carry I suppose you call that.
Christopher: I was definitely properly warmed up when I started the exercises. But you gave me very specific warm ups. So, do you think I'm making a mistake by ignoring that?
Christopher: You don't like my sauna warm up?
Mike: Yeah. I think we need to differentiate between full body warming and specifically activation. And I do like that. Yeah, it gets some general movement. If you want to hit the sauna, you want to do stuff like that just to kind of sort of prepare for exercise, both kind of physically and mentally, I think that's great. The other part is we want to make sure that the right muscles are able to do the job they're supposed to do.
And then I use a lot of the RPR, reflexive performance reset, stuff. They're just kind of like your own myofascial release. There's different points in the body that kind of are our "reflexes" for muscle function, so a lot of the psoas stuff is kind of more right above the hip on the side of the stomach as weird and utterly wacky as it sounds, points for the glute max or your butt muscle on the back side of your body, you can rub around like behind your ear, which sounds absolutely loony but so far when I'd been testing it seems to work really well.
And there's different ways you can do mobility drills and things of that nature so that when you go to execute a lift like a deadlift you're getting the right muscles to do the right job. So, you're not trying to -- So, for the deadlift, the one that classically gets overused, which I see here like all the time, is the erector spinae and the QL. So, erector spinae are these like group of muscles that run right down the spine in the back. And the QL is the muscle that kind of runs off at an oblique angle, about the size of your pinky, so it's pretty small but it attaches from the spine down to the pelvis.
So, it's one of the stabilizers there. But both those muscles are really small compared to even your psoas and especially compared to your glutes and hamstrings and things of that nature. But if the main muscles like the glutes are not working to the degree that they should, they're not really turned off, they're just not working as well for various reasons, then the body goes, "Hey, you're trying to get me to lift this load here so I'm going to use this kind of smaller muscles and I can still accomplish the task but it's not going to be as efficient."
And what you'll find is like the next day usually they feel really tight. If you kind of palpate around that area they always feel like they're just kind of, I think, as Donnie Thompson once said, that a lot of times the QL can feel like an angry troll that lives in your back.
Christopher: Okay. So, I'm going to be doing the warm up exercises from now on then.
Christopher: So, what happened with this actually? And this is almost a separate discussion. When I first signed up with you and you sent me your program, I was slightly overwhelmed by the whole thing. There was just a lot of stuff there. And I was looking at it all and I was like, "Shit. I just need to stop." I just need to stop something. And so I'm like, "Okay, deadlift. I know what that is. Here's a video. Let's watch that. Okay, yeah, I can do this."
And so, I just got the bare bones going and then I did try the warm up once and then it sort of fell off the table. I think this is just a symptom or the fact that it was kind of a lot of stuff to get going. And it was like, I think, a lot of bells and whistles that maybe I get some advantage from but I haven't actually added those in yet.
Mike: Yeah. And that's pretty common because in the programs I do, I break everything out between the lifting, there's the nutrition, a lot of times there's a lifestyle component, a monitoring component. And it can be kind of overwhelming even just looking at the spreadsheet of everything and trying to figure it out. Everyone has kind of their own way of doing it. So, for example, I use like specific load and rep changes. So, for deadlift, I'm trying to get more of a max strength type adaptation.
So, it's a three to five rep range. But you're still even one to three reps in the tank. So, you're not getting any more close to failure or anything like that but you are using a load that is on the lower rep range so it's a heavier load. So, I like using rep ranges instead of an actual percentage because, one, I don't have you to do one rep max for all sorts of crazy exercises. And, two, from a programming standpoint, that still gets the skill or sort of motor quality that I want accomplished.
So, I'll say, okay, work up to a load that's going to be about, for deadlift, three to five rep range. And also for some lighter stuff, for rowing, maybe an eight to 12 rep range. So, by specifying a rep range, I can get the quality that I want. You don't necessarily have to go through and do a test for every single one and try to keep track of all these other numbers. And last part too is that that can actually change a little bit from one day to the next.
So, maybe you come back the next week and past two weeks have been feeling great, you did all the warm ups, did all the cool stuff, and so now maybe you can use a little bit heavier load and still stay in that rep range. So, it's kind of like a poor man's auto regulation too where you're still working within that range but the weight may change a little bit from week to week.
Christopher: Yeah, the whole workout seem very, very easy in the beginning and then yesterday I was doing five sets of everything, I think, and it starts to get quite difficult. So, talk to me about why you did that, this linear increase in the number of sets?
Mike: Yes. So, what I found was that for pretty much everyone that starts, even very advanced athletes, I do very boring linear progression of volume. So, literally like week one for almost everyone is two sets, week two is three sets, and then four sets, and then five sets, and then six sets. And everyone who starts out goes, "Oh god, this is just so easy. Like two sets, what the -- Oh, man? I paid this guy? What the hell is going on?"
And then the week two, they're like, three sets, "You know, that's okay, whatever." Four sets, "Oh, you know, it's starting to get there." Five and six sets, you're going to, "What the hell? This is dumb." And the reason I do that is a couple of things. One, a lot of the exercise variations I use are different than what people are used to or even just weird variations in general. So, there's a motor learning component where you're not going to be very efficient.
There's also a soft tissue component where I want to just take a few weeks to get your soft tissue used to what you're doing especially if you haven't deadlifted in a while or done rows or other exercises like that. And the last thing I want is, when I design a program, I also want to know about how much volume and how much work someone can handle. And so if kind of guessed in the middle and said, "Well, let's start at three to four sets," and in like two weeks you're like, "Oh my god, I'm so burnt out." Now, I'm like, "Oh, man."
So now I have to taper, kind of de-load everything and I have to go back and kind of start over again. Or if I start with a number that's low enough, that probably would not be any lower than that. I think that some people start literally at one set. I know the only way that can go is up. So, we'll monitor how they proceed with the training. We'll monitor their HRV. And wherever they get to is where they drop off. So, maybe that five sets is kind of sort of your max or everything starts heading south after that.
So, now I know when I do the next round that, okay, here's about where the current volume is that you can handle. We'll usually scale it back and then go up a little bit beyond that. So, within one training session or one cycle, I have a really good idea of about how much volume of exercise you can accomplish. And it doesn't matter where people get. Maybe you'll drop off at four sets. Some people will drop off at seven to eight sets.
But either way, I know that there's a progressive overload so they're still going to get an adaptation for it. And if I were to program someone who could handle it, say, eight sets, which is exceedingly rare, we had one person who's ever done that, and I had them start at four sets, probably not enough for them. But if I had someone who can only handle about four sets and I went bonkers and gave them eight sets, I'm just going to burn them into the ground and increase their risk of injury.
Christopher: Right. How did you know if they're handling it or not?
Mike: So, I look at a couple of things. So, I look at performance. So, if they had to stay in the rep range and they had to start decreasing the load, so let's say their load towards the end is significantly lighter than when they started, that's a sign that the accumulated fatigue that their body has is pretty high. A lot of times the willingness to train is pretty good. So, a lot of times I get emails from people, "Oh, man, three sets, that's so easy." "Four sets, that was a little harder." "Oh, five sets, dude, I do not want to go to the gym on Friday." That's kind of the key.
You could also look at heart rate variability, which is telling you the stress on their nervous system. You'll see that, "Oh, pretty good, pretty good." And all of a sudden you'll start to see a trending down. That's telling me that the level of fatigue is accumulating. Because that's the other part that people forget is that it's not necessarily that week five or week four had five sets that was that hard. It's the accumulation of everything from the previous weeks also. So, with just a simple linear progression, I know that all that is going to also accumulate over time.
Christopher: Okay. Well, I might be making another mistake here. I think this whole podcast is just going to be a list of mistakes I'm making. So, I know you gave me that software to record the number of sets and reps that I was doing and it was one of the things that fell off the table right away. I'm like, screw that. It was pretty dated. I looked it up. I logged in and created an account and I was like, "Oh my god, this is the web circa 1997. I don't really know if I want this in my life." So, do you think that's really important to record all that?
Mike: Yeah. I haven't found a better system. And I have people just, when you go to the gym, I just have them write it in a notebook. I don't know if you've entered it in an Excel spreadsheet. I've had them use fancy programs. It doesn't matter. I can look at everything by hand and enter them to what I need here. The thing I do like about the program is that it will log volume. So people listening, the volume is just the weight times your sets times your reps.
So, if you did 100 pounds on a bench press, you did three sets and then you did ten reps each time, so three times ten is 30 times 100, you're doing about 3,000 pounds of work. So, volume is just kind of a marker of work. You can then increase the intensity. So, by intensity, we're talking about the load that's lifted. So, if you went from 100 pounds to 110 pounds, your intensity or your percentage of your one rep max went up. A lot of times you could use intensity to talk about how hard the lifting was, which is more of an RPE scale or rating of perceived exertion.
The last part that I use in programs coming up is I may use something that's a density. So, in, let's say, your bench press example, you're doing 100 pounds, you're doing three sets, old school [0:32:00] [Indiscernible], three by ten. And I keep track of how long it takes you to do that entire amount of work as more of an advanced type thing.
And the reason for that is that you'll notice that there was no rest periods ever programmed anywhere per se. Because it boggled my mind that -- And you see some of these programs where they're like, "All right, 30 second rest period." And they have to work up to maybe five sets. And I go, oh my god, set one to two, 30 seconds, then deadlifts, all right, yeah, two to three, set four to five, you're probably not going to make it.
So, rest period, because of the even acute accumulated fatigue of doing that exercise, the rest periods will actually get progressively longer as you add more sets. So, I'd rather have someone rest a little bit longer from set four to five to stay in that rep range. You make sure that the quality of the work stays as high as possible. And I will do that by lengthening the rest period.
Because what typically happens, and I can see this when someone reports their numbers, is let's say I've been trying to get them to say eight to 12 rep range. So, first set, ten reps, second set, ten reps, third set, five reps. All right. So, either you're really, really out of shape, which could be possible, or my guess is that you probably just didn't rest long enough between set two and three. Then how you track that overall then is you track the total amount of time it takes to do the grouping of exercises.
Again, bench press example, you're doing 100 pounds, let's say you're doing three sets, ten reps, let's say it takes you 12 minutes, right? So now, because I know the amount of time it took to do the work, the density is the volume divided by the time. Because if I came into the gym next week, and let's say I didn't change anything because I'm still doing 100 pounds, I'm still doing three sets, I'm still doing ten reps, but I did it in 11 minutes and 15 seconds, that actually is still a positive adaptation. I've done a better density of work now than what I did the previous week.
Mike: So, the main three things that I play around with the most are volume, intensity, so the weight on the bar, the weight lifted, and then density, which is just the volume divided by the time.
Christopher: Okay. Crap. I'm going to have to start recording all this stuff then.
Mike: Yeah. And the biggest thing at first is just making sure people do the work and that type of thing.
Christopher: Yeah. And so it's just -- I mean if you put it in a spreadsheet, then I'm going to do it, like literally I did it pretty much to the letter although I did have some hiccups with picking a flu bug. But, yeah, if it's in the spreadsheet -- So, that's what you have to be careful with with people like me. If you put in week five, six sets, then week five, six sets will happen. It's not going to be -- There's going to be no engagement of the frontal cortex in deciding whether or not that that's the right number of sets to do that week.
Mike: Yeah. And you'll notice that there's a note after that that says, "Note. Only do this if week four went well. If you're too tired or low energy, stop at week four."
Christopher: Okay, okay. Yeah, and so I had also said about the heart rate variability, I have been recording that. So, last time, we found something I'm actually doing. And I have been recording that. And what I find is that there's two opposing sides which are the endurance which seems to activate my parasympathetic system. So, that seems to drive my heart rate down. It seems to increase my rMSSD. And the weightlifting, which does the exact opposite, it tends to make me more sympathetic dominant.
I use the app Elite HRV and it's got this nice little easy to read dial like one of the ones on your dashboard and the arrow is pointing towards the sympathetic. I'm not 100% convinced it knows what it means but it seems good enough for me. And that's exactly what I see. So, these two things, they seem to cancel each other out sometimes. If I do like a ton of endurance over the weekend and then I do some weightlifting on Monday, those two things might cancel out and so who knows what you'd see in my HRV on Tuesday.
Mike: Yeah. And that's why you'll notice that the program for you is generally written Monday, Wednesday and Friday are kind of more of the strength type days and then the aerobic days are in between there. That's done on purpose, for the HRV, so you have little bit of recovery. And then I also like programming those on separate days if at all possible because they're actually different adaptations.
So, you have basically the rest of Monday to sort of adapt to the strength stimulus and then you do the aerobic day, let's say on Tuesday, you have the rest of Tuesday to sort of adapt to that aerobic stimulus and then Wednesday back to weight training again. And instead of trying to jam both of them like right after each other, instead of having the -- There's a study that was done last year in July of female lifters and what they did was they took strength training type session, they measured some speed and power and vertical jump.
And the one group, they had them immediately after the session, they went over to the treadmill and did what looks like around 50% of VO2 max for like 40 minutes. The other group in the study, they said, "No, just leave and go home." And what they found was the group that did not do the endurance activity immediately after the strength training session, their muscle fiber size was actually better, vertical jump was better and power was better. Because there's a little bit of an interference effect.
So, if you're weight training, your primary fuel is carbohydrates. You actually want the fibers to get bigger. Its' different type of fiber that's primarily recruited although both of them get used. If you look at aerobic training, in general, you actually want the ability to use fat to a higher degree. By definition, it's aerobic metabolism. You can't have those fibers get too big because they're relying on energy to be diffused actually across the fiber itself.
So, those fibers get too big, it just doesn't happen because they can't diffuse oxygen and CO2 across them. But weight training, they're anaerobic fibers. They don't necessarily need your used oxygen. So, they can get to be super big because they don't have to worry about diffusion going across the membrane for that. So, they're actually polar opposites. And if you cram them both together -- Yeah, people still get stronger in the study, but the people who did not do that type of training actually got a better result in terms of the strength and weight training performance.
Christopher: And then so you're not worried about me not being able to achieve enough volume in the week because I'm not riding every day. I should say -- So, maybe I should state my goal. I'd been racing cyclo-cross at the elite level and one of my goals as we started this program was to win the series points competition for the elite men at the local cyclo-cross. It doesn't mean that much. It's the local cyclo-cross race. Yeah, I did manage to achieve that goal. So, it kind of tells you the level that I'm racing at. So, do I need to do 15 hours a week or 20 hours a week or something on the bike? What do you think?
Mike: Yeah. And that's always really hard to see. In my experience, the first thing I look and see what is their sort of historical experience with it? Usually the longer they've been doing it, the less they probably need. Again, unless they're trying to be uber competitive. The other part is looking at what is the quality and what was the reason for each of the training sessions.
It's one thing to say, "Hey, I'm just going to go out and ride with some buddies and have fun." Cool. Nothing wrong with that. That's awesome. But if every single ride you do is that and you're getting closer to more on advanced level and you want to make progress, you're probably going to have to start to quantify things.
How far did you go? How fast did you? Because what I want to know is, is there some type of overload? Are you riding faster or are you riding longer? Things of that nature. And then what is sort of the quality of the session compared to your goal? So, if you said, "I just need a mental break. I want to go hang out with my buddies and we're just going to ride wherever," cool. If you said, "Well, I really want to increase my overall speed during a race," okay, so if that's the goal, you're probably going to have to do some type of interval based work.
You're going to have to do some type of thing where you're riding physically faster for a set period of time. You can look at your pace and try to go a little bit above that or below it, things of that nature. And then we'll repeat that in some type of interval training. But I don't really want your intervals to degrade in quality. So, whatever pace we agree on on interval one, interval four is probably going to be pretty close to that same time.
Because what a lot of people do is they go out and go, "Oh, man, I'm going to do an interval training, woohoo." And they start running in intervals and the amount that they degrade from their first interval to their last interval is pretty massive. In general, I probably don't use anything more than a 10% drop off and that's probably pretty high. For a lot of people, you'll anecdotally see their first interval time to their last one is almost like a 30% to 40% difference sometimes.
Because they're just going by, "Man, I was fatigued at the end of that." Okay. But did you increase the quality that you've done over time? So, I actually want to see less drop off in time. So, if you came back and said, "Okay, I'm doing four intervals again and I can do them with the same rest period, the same speed, and my speed only drops off by 5% from my max to the fourth one compared to 10%," woohoo, that's awesome. Because you have now increased the quality of that session. You're able to ride the same frequency but that last one is actually ridden at a faster speed than what you were before.
Christopher: Okay. Yeah, so it's only February now and it's probably going to be May, I would say, before I would race my bike again. So you think I'm okay just plodding along at MAF pace for now and then I'll worry about that kind of stuff later?
Mike: Yeah. Because what you find, and there's a really cool chart from Issurin that was called residual training effects. What it tells you is about how much training you will need to do to maintain a specific quality. And what you find by looking at that -- And again, that's a generalization -- is that max strength or limit strength has, I think it's like three or four weeks plus or minus a week.
Meaning that if you did not do anything for three weeks you don't really lose that much max strength. You may lose a little bit of the skill component because you haven't practiced it unless you're a very elite athlete, things of that nature. But within a week or two, excluding the skill component, you're probably going to be right there. If your max deadlift was 400 and you haven't trained for a couple of weeks, it's not going to be 200. It's not even going to be 350. It's going to be somewhere right around there.
And what you find with aerobic performance and the distance there is the same. It's about three to four weeks plus or minus a week. So, if you have an extremely well-developed aerobic base, you cannot do much for a couple of weeks and you'll still be okay. You're going to lose a little bit but it's not like you're going to all of a sudden just disappear to nowhere. But if you look at speed and power, four to five days plus or minus a couple of days, so if you talk to elite coaches who work with, say, 100 meter sprint athlete, they know that they can't have that athlete run their absolute peak time every weekend of the year.
They're going to have to do some work to get everything up to speed, do some type of peaking stuff because they can only hold that max speed and power for a shorter period of time compared to a long aerobic performance or compared to limit strength type performance. Maybe within each one of those there's obviously peaking things than can help. The last part in that too, which is interesting, is that to maintain those qualities for like aerobic and for strength, you probably don't really need to do it all that often.
Getting an aerobic session in or strength training session in, even once a week is probably more than enough to maintain that. Now, if you said you want to develop it and you want to get that much better, it's a completely different thing. But I'm sure everyone has had this too where if they have a pretty good aerobic base and they've maybe only trained once or twice a week for several weeks, they come back and they're off a little bit but really not that much.
And so what I like about that is that it tells you approximately -- this gets into this whole rush and block periodization of programming which we don't have to talk about. But it tells you about how long you can let a motor quality go before you would need to re-address it. And, I think, what happens with a lot of people is that if they're really going to focus on strength, yeah, put in some aerobic stuff kind of a little bit towards maintenance is probably going to be a good idea instead of always trying to push, "Oh, I want to get as strong as possible. Oh, I want to increase my aerobic performance."
And the last thing too on aerobic performance is Dr. Ben Peterson, who was at the U of Minnesota where I was at did some work showing like lactate type work, things of that nature, is again uber, uber specific. So, if you're really trying to get better at sort of that lactate zone, you're probably going to need a fair amount of work in that area to get better at it. The downside is, in my experience, that is incredibly brutal not only from performing it yourself but the cost and the recovery of that tends to be pretty high too.
Christopher: Interesting. Okay. Well, I think I'll just concentrate on strength for now then.
Mike: Yeah. So, the one we have set up is strength training three days a week, aerobic days, kind of a Maffetone type pace, keep it easy. And that's just designed for one to allow recovery from late training and also to build more of an aerobic base a little bit. There's probably enough volume in there that you may build it up a little bit. But it's not enough to see a deterioration on either one. So, what I typically see is people come in and they go, "All right, I heard you're going to do strength training. Boom, I got my three strength training days." And, "I want to get faster on a bike so I got to do this really specific lactate type high intensity work. So I'm going to add that in two days a week." And by Friday they're just, week one, they're just toasted.
Christopher: Yeah. So, it just doesn't work. Talk to me about your biofeedback thing because that's something else that fell off the table. I'd not been doing that yet either.
Mike: Oh, yeah. There's all sorts of different ways that you can then regulate the program. So, like I said, rep range is one of them. There's one I use that's just a simple biofeedback range and motion test. And the thing that's always interesting to me is that if on a deadlift day they'll say, and this could be conventional deadlift or it could be sumo deadlift, and you could make all the arguments in the world that one may be more mechanically efficient.
So, for example, I have like ungodly long femurs. I'm like 6'3". And most of it is like femur length. So, from a mechanic standpoint, I probably should pull sumo. But if I can get my feet towards the end of the plates, the distance that I would need to lift the load from a physics mechanical standpoint is probably almost half of what my conventional would be. But every time I try to do that, man, it just feels horrible. And you look at like power lifters who use to pull with a super wide sumo stance, it's anecdotal but a lot of them have some pretty massive hip issues also.
So, most of my lifting is a little bit more conventional partially because I do more strong man type stuff now. But what's interesting is that even though mechanically from a physics standpoint the sumo is better, from a tissue specific standpoint, my body just doesn't really like that super wide stance. So, you can do things like a simple range and motion test to determine which one may be better for your specific structure and for your specific tissue. So what you would do then if you're doing a deadlift you'll just warm up let's say 135 so you just do like a flex forward bend.
You just bend forward and you just stop wherever you feel the first sign of tension and then you would do a couple reps of just the conventional deadlift. And as you range and motion, then do the same weights, same reps, but change the lift. So, use a sumo stance. So, wider stance, hands inside the legs, same reps. And then just see which one in the range and motion test is better.
Now, it may turn out that that's completely entirely placebo and you're unconsciously favoring one other lift or something like that, I don't know. There's no research right now to show yay or nay. My view is that it's off and on, mostly on, from a seven years now. I found it to be a super useful, at least trying to inform your own intuition. But at the worst case, even at the end of the day, if maybe we find it doesn't work, although I found it to be useful, it doesn't require any extra tools, it doesn't require anything extra. Maybe adds you about one to two minutes total time.
If you use that in semi intelligent program or template, you still would have been deadlifting that day anyway. So, I don't think there's really too much of a downside to it but I think there is a potential upside where you're kind of at least minimum thinking about what maybe a better mechanical type lift for your body on that day.
Christopher: Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. That makes sense. I'll start doing that. I'm making a list of things I need so start doing here. And then talk to me about--
Mike: And another part is you hit the main part of doing the deadlifts. So, you got like the majority part of it correct.
Christopher: Right, right, right. And talk to me about some of the other exercises that you wanted me to do. So, Meadows row, pipe press from lunge stance. That was kind of interesting. I thought I was going to drop a plate on my head the first time I did it. There's a lot of wobbling going on and then now when I did it yesterday was, it was absolutely fine. What would be your goals with those exercises?
Mike: Yes. So, Meadows row I stole that from John Meadows. And what it is is if you have like a, they call it a landmine device, but I think there's a better name for it. It's a universal kind of arm that you stick the bar into and allows you to move or you can just stick something around it and put it in the corner of the wall in your gym. And it's a bent over row but it's a little bit different position. So, what I like about that is that it puts your lower body in a little bit more of kind of an asymmetric type stance.
But you're still doing a row. So, a lot of people can do more rowing than anything else. I've had a lot of programs where -- Most of the programs are right now for cyclists or people who spend a lot of time in the desk. There's some type of rowing almost every day in most programs. And I found that they can handle the volume and most people feel better. Most people historically have done a lot more pushing and they have done pulling. So, there's probably that too.
And the plate press, it's kind of an old school sort of strong man type exercise although it's not something used for max lift. You would take a plate and kind of set it almost like tray or like what they call the kids as a pizza press. And so the plate is flat on your hand, like imagine a waiter carrying a tray. And then you're pressing it over your head and then you're using the lunge stance or a split stance. So you're splitting your feet out on a different orientation.
What I like about it is, one, we don't do a lot of work that has an open hand or an open palm. So we do a lot of grip stuff which is definitely beneficial. But how your hand sits on a mouse a lot, it's kind of bent. If you look at people do a lot of biking, holding on, you're gripping, your hands are bent and clenched all the time. So, can you generate strength with an open palm? So, if I kind of take your grip out of the equation, can you still generate force and not be over reliant on your grip to kind of solve all your recruitment issues?
One other part I like is that you're doing it as a split stance. You're kind of off centered. So, your left side of your body through your core, as much as I hate that word, does have to function to stabilize your arm going overhead on the other side. So, it's working a little bit more of that kind of cross body integration and that type of thing too, which is why I like it.
Christopher: Yeah. That was a good one. I've gotten, I've definitely gotten a lot less shaky at doing that.
Mike: Yeah. And it's really hard at first when you do it because you're trying to coordinate something and your instinct is to hold on to it tighter and to just use the radiation of contracting everything around it to stabilize it. And now, with the plate press, you've removed that because your hand is actually open. So, it's forcing the rest of your body to kind of figure out what it should be doing. And as you figure it out too, you have that immediate feedback where if you get too wonky, the plate is going to fall. Hopefully, it doesn't whack you on the head.
Christopher: Or fall on my daughter's head. Even worse.
Mike: Right. But you can kind of feel when it gets off. Because of the proprioception of the hand, you can feel, oops, I went a little bit too far there, oops little bit too far to the right. So, you kind of get that immediate feedback right away.
Christopher: Right, right, right. I don't think we got time to go through all the exercises here but I did want to ask you about one more thing and it's the front squat. I absolutely hate the front squat. It might be something to do with what you've just said. So, I don't have that range of motion in my hands. So, the only thing it feels like it's doing is hurting my hands and my wrists. So, what can I do? I'll tell you what I'd been doing. I've just been doing back squats. So I have to confess. I just like, "Screw that. I'm doing back squats."
Mike: Yeah. So, couple of options. Old school, there's called a zercher squat. So, you have the bar in the crook of your elbows, so you have your arms out in front and then the bar runs through your elbows and you can put towels or use like an axle around it so it's one way. The other way that with front squats, instead of going on with the classic kind of clean grip where you have your fingers on the bar, two versions I like with that, one of them I call them a zombie front squat.
So, you have your arms, basically, all the way out in front. Now, if you've never done this, start with just the light bar on the map and then squat down and come back up. And what you'll find is as your arms drop in front the bar is going to want to roll off. So, it teaches you how to keep that upright torso and to keep the bar basically pretty jammed into your windpipe which doesn't feel good either.
But again, you get that nice feedback and it takes the hands and the wrists entirely out of it. So, if your hands and wrists are super tight, they're nowhere close to the bar so it gets rid of that effect and you get that feedback of, "Oh, man, I'm really starting to lean forward at the bottom because the bar is going to roll off."
Mike: The other way too is that you can use straps but not in the way that people conventionally use them. So, put them around the bar and just have them hang off and then grab the open part of the strap and just hold on to it. Don't wrap it around your hands. So, what it looks like is you have your elbows up and your thumb kind of pointed towards the bar and your thumb is just maybe even touching the bar and then you're holding on to the straps.
So, what that does is it extends the distance of where your hand is going to be towards the bar by several inches. And if anything were to happen you just open your hands and the bar falls out. So you're not wrapping them around your hand. So, that's kind of those two are my preference because it allows you to still get into a position but without trying to cause any issues with the hands and forearms because those can generally be very tight in a lot of people.
Christopher: And so there's something specific here about the front squat. You're not happy with my decision to substitute the back squat.
Mike: You can do back squat but I -- You can send me a video but what I normally see with that is that people have a very hard time getting their hand all the way into the position. So, a guy came over here this past weekend and for back squatting you'll look and you'll see that the bar they're holding towards the end of their fingers, not on their hand all the time because they usually lack the external rotation in the shoulder.
And what you'll find is that the bottom position, the back squat, they'll tend to want to roll forward. And you'll find that their low back can have a pretty big bend a lot of times because if I can't get my arm to go back, so to speak, if I hyper extend my low back, I'm substituting moving my thoracic around the bar to make up for that lack of external rotation.
Christopher: Okay. What about this video I saw on the internet the other day of this guy that was doing a back squat and then he solved the rubrics cube whilst he was still at the bottom. So, the bar was just balancing across his back. Surely that guy has mastered the back squat. So, why did the hands even matter?
Mike: Yeah, that's actually really hard to do. It's one of those exercises where I think it can be beneficial but, oh man, the risk on it I don't care for. The thing if people do try that, again, at your own risk, make sure that you know how to ditch the weight behind you. And I would definitely have people practice that first before they would ever attempt something like that. Again, well, I kind of like the zombie front squat because the bar will just roll down in front. You just move your arms out of the way, no big deal.
If you're using a weight, you don't have your arms on a back squat, it's either going to crush you forward, which is going to be bad, or you can push it off of your back. But if you've never done that before, which is just like if people do Olympic lifting and are doing a jerk or, I should say, like a snatch, the first thing I would have them do, and again I don't really coach Olympic lifting, but you would have a miss in the front and then miss in the back. So, if you get the weight almost overhead, either direction you know how the heck to get out of that lift.
Christopher: Okay, okay. That makes sense. All right. Well, it sounds like I got a lot of work to do to actually get the whole program done. But I feel like I made a good start.
Mike: You've been doing good.
Christopher: Okay. And then I've got one final question for you and that is something that wasn't included and that's my chin up bar. So, I was really enjoying doing chin ups. I had this bar installed on the end of my garage and it's actually kind of fun to do that. But it wasn't included in the program. Do you think there's any additional benefit to doing those? Just maybe as I'm sort of milling around during the day or do you think that's a waste of time?
Mike: No. I love chin ups. Chin ups, pull ups, all that kind of stuff, yeah, definitely. Progression people can work on too is if chin ups are pretty easy, go to a pull up. If pull ups are pretty easy, go to a straight bar pull up. If straight bar pull ups are really easy, try to go with even a pretty wide grip and try to keep the lower body as straight as possible.
So, if they go back to kind of the external rotation, things of that nature, to do a straight chin up, or I should say straight pull up, so palms away with a moderately wide grip, that's a lot of external rotation and then strength to move through that. So, if I view someone from the side, that's going to look like their arms are at kind of 90 degrees at the top. And if their torso is relatively straight, that's usually a pretty good marker that they've got a fair amount of strength that that ends in motion too.
Christopher: Okay. And how would you work that in? Would you make that part of the program or would you just do as I say and just do it whenever I feel like it when you're just wandering around?
Mike: Yeah, for now, I would just start just accumulating a couple of reps each day and try to add a few more of that.
Mike: Yeah. I mean, I could actually program that in next time too. So, yeah, definitely can be a really good exercise and something more people can definitely do.
Christopher: Okay. Before you go, Mike, tell me, are you taking clients one on one at the moment?
Mike: Actually, I am. It's funny you mention that. I've got a couple of slots open. I've got two slots open now and I've got one person who's graduating and finishing up the rest of this month. So, yeah.
Christopher: Okay. Well, I should put your contact details in the show notes then. Is there anything else that you'd want people to know about?
Mike: That's about it right now. I've got the other program I do which is kind of more of a templated-based and they can get a free copy of that. Just go to miketnelson.com/muscle. I spelled that right. I'm not looking at--
Christopher: The link will be in the show notes.
Mike: Yeah, that will be in the show notes. And so it's a template version and it's got all your training components, nutrition, lifestyle and it includes some other stuff where I yak about different things that help for coaches and recipes and we've got a forum and all that kind of fun stuff too.
Mike: So, the one on one super custom stuff is not something that they need then that would be the other option for them.
Christopher: Okay, okay. Yeah, that sounds good. Yeah, I've personally really been enjoying having a coach and it's something to do with the accountability. Like I could probably come up with something that was at least useful by myself but having the extra accountability like handing over cash, "Okay, I really need to get something out of this now." So, it makes the difference.
Mike: totally. I mean, just from a -- I mean, I've done that. I have coaches now I work with just from an accountability standpoint. When you put money down everything seems different because otherwise you can put all these programs and you're like that's kind of good and you're not really sure if it's the best and how to put it and then you just sort of freeze your brain up also just to work on the execution part too which can be very helpful.
Christopher: Yeah, definitely. Well, this has been great, Mike. Thank you very much for your time.
Mike: Yeah, thank you very much for doing it and for being honest where you're at at the program and all that kind of stuff. I mean, where you're at is much more typical than I think most people ever want to admit.
Christopher: Oh, really? Blimey. Now, I feel like a loser.
Mike: No. I think where you're at is very typical because people tend to look at it and go, "I need to do everything perfect." And you did the right thing by, "Okay, I can do this. I'm going to start here. Okay, now I can do this. I'm going to add this. Now, I can do this, I can add that." Which I think is very useful. And I purposely have more things in programs that I know anyone will probably ever get to. And that's done purpose so they know what is the next step, what is the next progression.
Christopher: Yeah, absolutely. Well, this has been great Thank you, Mike.
Mike: Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
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