Dr. McGuff’s Body By Science is a transformational book about strength training that advances the extremely compelling and scientifically validated premise that it takes very little time to build pure muscle strength, and that many workouts are not only ineffective, but quite likely counterproductive.
If you care about fitness, becoming stronger, aging gracefully, and avoiding breakdown, burnout, illness and injury, listen carefully to this show and maintain an open mind about implementing a different strategy in the gym. The book was published in 2009 and I can’t believe I’m only recently bringing this to the forefront of my consciousness! As I record the session nursing another high jump injury to add to one that plagued me in 2020, I am more reflective than ever on ways that we screw up fitness goals with a haphazard approach. Dr. McGuff calls his method a “purified” approach to fitness!
The essence of Dr. McGuff’s training protocol is to perform the “Big 5” exercises once a week, for a single set to muscular failure. These are basic, safe, and functional exercises (leg press, chest press, overhead press, pulldown, seated row) that allow you to focus on pure strength without being overly complex. Doing a single set to failure allows you to most safely train the complete spectrum of muscle fibers, from slow twitch to explosive non-oxidative fast twitch.
Dr. McGuff draws an important distinction between building pure strength and skill development for your chosen sport of fitness endeavor. These two should be on separate and distinct tracks—a single, very short, super difficult strength session per week for strength gains, and then doing skill development when you feel sharp, focused, and explosive. You never want to pursue skill development in a fatigued state or become fatigued during workouts, or you will compromise your ability to hit the golf bar, clear the high jump bar, or sink the basket. This show will be a real eye opener that will compel you to rethink the “maintenance” sessions you do in the gym that don’t stimulate fitness adaptation, and the ill advised sessions where you traumatize muscles and joints and invite injury risk. Check out Dr. McGuff’s website to learn more about his books and his Ultimate Exercise fitness facility in Seneca, SC.
This physician guest is an ER doctor who is the author of Body by Science. He is going to set us straight and dispel many prevailing notions about the fitness industry. [01:15]
A lot of us who are really enthusiastic about fitness might be overdoing it and performing workouts that are minimally effective and/or counterproductive. [04:41]
If you’re doing something where the mechanical load is too severe, the muscles will get injured instead of strong! [09:32]
How did Dr. McGuff come up with the premise of 12 minutes a week for exercise. [11:44]
A lot of good pieces of equipment have some sort of mechanism to vary the resistance. [16:20]
Whenever you’re doing any sort of work with muscle, it goes through a very step-wise process of how it’s been recruited to do work. [19:43]
Often a person will get cramps in the first part of the race rather than near the finish line. [22:47]
There’s a window between your selected weight and your force capability that as you’re training and recruiting and fatiguing those motor units, the window is closing. [27:25]
Strength and conditioning are general applications that apply to any sport. [32:30]
The higher you get in any given sport, the worst the training seems to become. [39:49]
Is stretching beneficial or counterproductive? [41:59]
What do we see in the big city gyms that is really helping? [48:42]
When you develop the skill of your particular sport, this skill makes the best use of your physical conditioning. [51:56]
In the book, Doug talks about optimal frequency of once a week workout.[55:05]
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Hello listeners. If you are interested in fitness, strength, training, getting stronger, delaying the aging process, you’re going to love this show with Dr. Doug McGuff in real life. He’s an emergency room physician fighting on the front lines of helping humans in distress and in his spare time for fun, he’s an extreme enthusiast of fitness strength training. He has a personal training facility at his home area of South Carolina. They’ve done some amazing work and I’m so embarrassed to say that we’re going to talk about his amazing book titled Body by Science. That’s been out for about 12 years, and I’ve known about it for a long time. And I just got around to digging into it and reading it cover to cover recently, uh, with my increasing interest in strength training and figuring out this, uh, this problem, this equation of how to prevent injury and get stronger and achieve peak performance in your desired areas of interest, mine being speed, golf, and high jumping.
And Doug is going to set us straight and dispel many of the prevailing notions of the fitness industry. In fact, I don’t know if they’re going to invite him to speak at a future conference because he simplifies everything so much and throws out so much garbage that we’ve been socialized to believe is important, or as the path to getting strong and getting fit. And I think you’re going to really feel like you’re getting a refreshing takeaway insight that really simplifies fitness. It takes so much less time than you think to get strong and even super strong with his method. The centerpiece of which is performing these very popular functional compound movements like the overhead press or the leg press or the chest press and doing them only once a week, a single set to complete muscular failure. And that will be the most efficient way to get stronger. No need to go more frequently than that as he’ll describe.
And also very important is to distinguish the, and make an extreme disparity between your skill development in areas of interest like your sport. You play basketball in the league, you play tennis, you play golf, you high jump, make a distinction between training for those and being very specific in your preparation for those fitness endeavors, doing exactly what you uh, do to perform and, uh, distinguishing the pursuit of strength to these very efficient and safe exercises that build total body strength without that fatigue or injury risk factor that comes when you try to get strong through, uh, repetitive movement. That’s not necessarily safe on the joints or basically from over-training. So, yeah, you’re going to, um, uh, you’re going to have some memorable takeaways in this show. I love one of his comments early on, where he describes this as a purified approach to getting stronger, Dr. Doug McGuff author of Body by Science. Here we go, Dr. Doug McGuff gotcha. Where we’re connected across the beautiful continent. Thank you so much for taking time from your, your busy schedule. Are you still on the frontline there in the ER?
We are, unfortunately we are very much,
Um, I you’ve, you’ve made many great contributions to the planet. One of them is the 12 ways to avoid the Black Swan. And you’re talking about the silly mistakes that people make that land them in the emergency room and things that you, you might not want to do. And I’m, I’m trying to bat like 11 for 12 or 12 for 12, but, uh, some of the highlights, one of them is, uh, riding your bicycle on the road, which is what I did for my whole life for many years. And now looking back on what I did, um, I tell everyone who will listen, just don’t do it. It’s it’s far too dangerous.
Well, you know, everything’s a risk benefit. Probably the riskiest things we do in our day to day life is just getting in the car and driving. If we were rational, we’d have five point restraints and wear helmets when we drive. But, you know, that’s that I, I was, uh, you know, in my youth, I was, um, a professional BMX racer, but I was a competitive road cyclist as well. And, um, I’ve had two friends that were killed on training rides. Um, of course that was in Texas. So, but, um, but you know, it’s, it’s a real thing, you know, it’s something to be wary of, more respectful of cyclists on the road, but they’re just not,
I mean, when I wrote it was before the days of the mobile device and even before the SUV’s came into huge prominence. So I felt like it’s a lot safer now, knowing the chances that someone’s eyes are off the road for a few seconds. That’s when I think we really escalate the danger.
So I’m a little behind I’m behind the times, man, I’m focused, I’m trying to crank out books and, and stay away from a modern culture and all the distractions, but I’ve only just recently, uh, gotten ahold of this wonderful book Body by Science and it’s caused me and many of my friends and experts that I consult with a lot of rethinking and recalibrating. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to dig out that old project and talk about some of these pretty radical notions about fitness and strength training that you present there with very compelling science and a, and a really sound argument. And I think, uh, just kind of the big picture here is that, uh, a lot of us who are really enthusiastic about fitness might be overdoing it and performing workouts that are minimally effective and or counterproductive.
Sure. Um, so yeah, the basic premise and Body by Science is that, um, you know, the basis of animal biology, what distinguishes animals from plants is movement and movement is our most preserved biologic function. It’s how we get food and it’s how we keep from becoming food. Um, so skeletal muscle is a very ancient well-preserved and very adaptive tissue. And there is a mechanism by which it adapts and knowing what that mechanism is, will help you select how you approach conditioning it in a deliberate fashion rather than a haphazard fashion. And I tell people, I can give you good muscular conditioning by handing you a shovel and have you dig a six foot hole in the backyard or swinging a sledgehammer on a tractor tire. Um, but it is haphazard. You’re getting the muscular loading and the muscle fatiguing through sort of an indirect and haphazard process, which is contaminated by a lot of unnecessary force and trauma, and may incur an amount of work that’s difficult to recover from.
Instead, what we try to focus on is say, what really is the stimulus that’s triggering this adaptation? And it turns out the stimulus is that the muscles under a fairly continuous and aggressive load so that you fatigue it in a short period of time. So if we focus just on that, what we find is that we can invoke that fatigue safely and that fatigue requires a lot, you know, is a level of intensity that out of necessity means that the workout has to be short because when it’s purified in that way, you can’t take much more. And when the stimulus is applied, where as close to 100% of the workload is focused on producing that fatigue, then the necessary recovery period is, um, prolonged a little bit. So you end up with something that’s very time efficient. It requires out of necessity workouts that are shorter and out of necessity, a little bit longer recovery frame for the adaptive response to occur. So it’s just a mechanism of making it efficient and safe.
I love that term purified. I think you should trademark that as the next fitness breakthrough purified fitness. And I felt like the book was speaking to me directly so frequently, especially with quotes, like, um, if you’re doing something where the mechanical load is too severe, the muscles will get injured instead of strong. And I’m thinking about my wonderful pursuit of high jumping and how I go out there and practice. And, you know, I enjoy the experience, uh, but here I am injured again because that mechanical load is so severe. My muscles weren’t fatigued to the point of exhaustion where I couldn’t walk off the track. I was, that was just, uh, distributing, I guess, instead of pure, I was distributing the load to joints connective tissue that couldn’t handle it. And I think that’s probably what a lot of people are doing with their fitness pursuits. Yeah.
People like when they’re lifting weights and they’re going to complete fatigue and failure, it feels like the dangerous part is when you’re at the very end of the set and close to failure. But the truth of the matter is if it’s a biomechanically correct exercise, you’re actually at the safest point, cause you’re literally too weak to hurt yourself. The most dangerous repetitions are the first one when you’re doing ballistic exercise protocols, um, you literally are strong enough to hurt yourself, but you’re also engaging the muscles through the rapid application of force. So force is mass times acceleration. And even though you’re unweighted, the acceleration force is greatly magnified the force. That’s transmitting point on to the joints and your risk of injuries a little bit higher that way. Um, most people, you know, just doing body weight, explosive movements, don’t get themselves into trouble because, you know, we evolved a body that’s able to tolerate that. When you start adding loads to ballistic movements, you know, if you’re doing overhead snatches or something, now you have a weight on a long lever in a vulnerable joint position, you know, add all that together. And, um, it’s time for Mr. Rotator Cuff to, um, get injured. You know,
So the, the major contention, the, the mind blowing, uh, revelation here, uh, it’s conveyed in the subtitle really don’t need to, uh, work out for that long of a duration or that frequently. Um, to the extent that, uh, I guess the presentation, the basic is that you go once a week and do these five compound movements to one set to complete failure. And it seems so ridiculously minimal to the fitness enthusiast. So I’d love to get into how we arrived at, um, 12 minutes a week. I think the subtitle says to get, uh, you know, super strong.
Yeah. So burst off the movements that were selected in the book it’s called the big five and basically were picked not because they’re magic movements or they’re particularly more valuable than other movements. It was picked because they were five big compound movements, which means you’re going to involve a lot of musculature and a single movement. And the movement is a linear movement for the body, which involves rotation around multiple joints. But those are very from a, from a skill standpoint, from a neurological standpoint are very simple to perform. So I offered up exercises in the book that I thought would cover a lot of musculature, but B from a motor standpoint, simple to perform, because what I wanted was I wanted the person that was exercising to have as much of their concentration available for generating effort and fighting the, you know, resisting the exertional discomfort and the tendency to run away from that I wanted as much of their concentration available for that and not have to expend so much concentration on technique or coordinating a complex movement.
Um, so it’s not to say that people can’t do other movements or avail yourself of other equipment that’s in the gym, but those five big basic exercises will cover all of the musculature of the body. And when you’re doing those big compound movements slowly so that you’re depriving yourself of momentum, so that you’re under the constant load of the weight and that constant exposure to the weight creates a rapid and deep fatigue. Um, it’s a very intense experience. And literally when done right, you probably can’t stand much more than 12 to 15 minutes of that kind of activity. Um, it is very much unlike anything that most people have experienced when they exercise. Um, but it does go to the root of the stimulus and gets at it very directly, but in, so doing, it’s a very intense experience that, you know, if I give you 12 minutes of it at the end of it, if I ask you if you want one more or you’ll be like, no, that’s plenty.
Yeah. I suppose that’s an indication that you perform the workout correctly.
Yes. And you know, that is a representation of a workout in my personal training facility or someplace like that. So it’s optimal equipment, it’s low friction. It has a great strength curves. So if you don’t reach a sticking point and fail prematurely, um, it’s 61 degrees in the training environment. So you can dissipate body heat effectively. So that doesn’t interfere with how deep you can fatigue. You’re under constant supervision. So you can’t wriggle. You can’t writhe, you can’t squirm. You can’t cheat in any way that gives you a respite from the load. Um, so that produces a very intense experience that 12 minutes, once a week works, if you’re doing itself supervised, it’s still going to be of adequate intensity to generate the adaptive response you’re looking for. But the intensity level, maybe just a shade, less intense than it is under those circumstances. And that kind of exposure. You can train twice a week and still recover fairly well. Or, you know, most people I’m saying they’re doing this self supervised. Yeah, you probably should be doing it twice a week. Maybe once every fourth, fifth day, like a Monday, Friday, Wednesday pattern, most people can tolerate that really well and not, um, over-train at that sort of frequency.
So when we choose a strength training with the proper machines, you give a give great plug for Nautilus and the, what is it called? The variable cam or the way that it,
So a lot of good pieces of equipment have some sort of mechanism to vary the resistance. So it roughly matches your force output. So when you’re doing a bench, we’ll just do an overhead press. So you can see what I’m doing when your shoulders and your elbows reached 90 degrees, the lever that’s moving, the resistance is at its weakest. So what the muscle feels is at its heaviest. So when you’re doing overhead press, when you get here, it feels really, really hard. But once you get your elbows straighter and straighter, it feels much easier because the length of the lever that you’re moving the weight with is now much more effective. So what’s actually loaded on the muscle feels significantly less. Well, these different pieces of equipment will involve cams or four bar linkages or leavers that in some way vary the resistance so that when you’re the weakest, it drops off some. And when you’re the strongest, it loads up so that it feels even to the muscle, it feels even all the way through the range of motion. You’re not going to reach failure because your fatiguing has reached a crossing point with the sticking point causing you to be unable to carry on because of mechanics rather than fatigue.
Yeah. I hope listeners are catching that if you’re watching on YouTube, Doug had his hands over his head at 90 degrees, uh, demonstrating me the overhead press. The way I like to about this is if you just took a, a free weight bench press and the weights on your chest, you have to be strong enough to lift that weight off your chest. Therefore you can bench 150 or 250 or whatever it is, but you’re way stronger once your arms are near straight, but you’ll never know because you can’t get the weight initially off your chest because the resistance is constant throughout a free weight versus the machine with the design Tam
Yeah. Stated differently. Everyone that’s ever been in the gym knows that the hardest point of the bench press is about two inches off your chest. And the hardest point of a squat is when your thighs are parallel to the floor and you’re bent, you know, it’s just the levers that are dictating that the resistance hasn’t changed, but the lever that it’s operating overheads.
So I guess you’d argue that it’s a one step, uh, one step up to have some ability to vary the resistance in accordance with your force production. Therefore you can fatigue the muscle even more efficiently than doing. I might have to do five sets of bench press because I can only lift 130 pounds off my chest, even though I could hold on to 260, uh, with my arms extended. Right?
Yeah, exactly. And you know, for people that don’t have access, there’s other ways of getting around those sticking points, you can do the range of motion from the bottom up to the sticking point and do that to complete fatigue. Take a brief respite and then start from the top down to the sticking point, the easy part, and do it in the second half, using the fatigue from the first part, second part feels harder. So there’s lots of different little workarounds, but it’s nicer. If you can be operating on equipment that doesn’t require you to expend the energy, to find a workaround.
So in the book, you talk about fatiguing through the entire spectrum of muscle fibers from slow Twitch to explosive non oxidated fast-twitch. And it’s an interesting concept to compare and contrast, which you did a great job talking about the guy running a 200 meter repeats on the track is not going to get that same experience. Could you compare and contrast the, uh, doing 12 reps to failure with a compound movement with a machine with variable resistance versus let’s say I’m running a bunch of sprints.
Yeah. Um, and that’s pretty extreme on the two ends of the spectrum. But as a backdrop to that, whenever you’re doing any sort of work with muscle, when a muscle is working, it goes through a very step-wise process of how it’s recruited to do work, particularly as it accumulates fatigue. And that’s referred to as the Henneman’s size principle. And it was named after the scientist that discovered this. So you have different muscle fiber types that make up a muscle and each individual type is distributed, um, symmetrically throughout the muscle or homogeneously, just kind of all over. And when you start doing work, you go through orderly recruitment and you start with your lower order motor units. And those are motor units that are more oxidative and they produce less force. They fatigue more slowly and they recover quickly. But once you cycle through those and the load is going to require more work to be done, then you will jump to the intermediate units, which have an intermediate oxidative capacity, intermediate force.
They fatigue a little bit more quickly and recover a little more slowly. But if you’ve picked up the first order and the second order, and you’re still doing hard work and you’re accumulating fatigue, then you will start to recruit the highest order motor units. And those are very, glycolytic not very oxidated. They produce a lot of force fatigue quickly and recover slowly. But you will recruit those in that sequence all the time, every time. And that is the most efficient way to get at those higher order motor units that do produce high force and more explosive movement. And the things that we really require for keeping our balance and doing high output work, when you’re doing something really explosive, like 200 meter repeats or, you know, maximum attempt lifting plyometric kind of stuff. What you’re doing is rather than recruiting those motor units. Sequentially, what you’re doing is you’re recruiting them all in tandem simultaneously at the same time.
The problem with that is when you do that, you produce extremely high forces. And when you’re fresh, um, you can produce enough force to exceed the structural integrity of your body. So if you’ve ever watched the Olympics and you watched the hundred meter dash and you watch when people will, all of a sudden grab the back of their hamstring and hop on one leg. Almost invariably that occurs in the first half and most commonly in the first one, third of that a hundred meter sprint because they’re completely fresh and their force output is the highest. And when you bring all those motor units into place simultaneously, you’re exerting so much force that you can now pull your hamstring tendon off the bone at the base of your butt and rupture your hamstrings, as opposed to when you’re trying to do something deliberately conditioning, doing something that recruits those motor units in sequence one after the other, and fatigues them sequentially by the end of it, you’re literally too weak to harm yourself, but new recruit them all in tandem simultaneously. You can hurt yourself.
Wow. I never thought about that. That the cramps always come out in the first part of the race, rather than near the finish line. That’s fascinating
As you’re approaching with finish. Number one, you’ve picked up a lot of speeds. So the impact forces are starting to decrease as you reach peak speed, but as you come out of a hole, off the starting blocks, and that first one third, the forces are really, really high when you go from bent over. By the time you’re fully upright and then just carrying speed forward, the forces drop significantly. But you know wide receivers will do it right as they come off the line. You know, you don’t see someone at the end of their, of their touchdown. You know, their 80 yard touchdown run. You don’t see the hamstring giving away is like crossed the goal line it’s happening when you’re first taking off, you’re completely fresh and you’re bringing all motor units to play simultaneously.
So when you’re on the, the 10th, 11th, 12th rep, uh, going to total failure, because you’ve already fatigued the oxidative, the slow Twitch muscle fibers, you’re now you’re going into the most extreme, uh, type of fiber, the, the most, um, the one that takes the longest to recover and applies the most force. Uh, but it’s not, it’s not at its best because, uh, it’s already tired and it’s relying upon, is it relying upon the oxidative fibers?
No, it’s that you, by the time you are recruiting those highest order motor units, the lower motor motor units are out of the equation. They’re not applying generating force anymore. Now some of them, especially the lowest order motor units are starting to recover and kick back in some by that point in time. But their contribution is minimal. So what’s happening is by the time you’re recruiting the highest order motor units, if you’re doing it right, you’re going to recruit and fatigue, the lowest order, and then recruit and fatigue, the intermediate order fast enough so that they have not yet had time to recover. So they’re not contributing force by the time the highest order motor units kick in. Once they kick in whenever any motor unit fires, it’s 100%.
So those highest order motor units, they’re firing 100%, it’s all or nothing, but they’re not firing in conjunction with these lower order motor units. They’re fatigued. And they’re out of the equation there for all intents and purposes, lying and panting. The way I demonstrate it when I’m giving a lecture to an audience is I divide the audience to people that weigh 120 pounds and less 120 to 170 pounds and 170 pounds and above. And I’ll just have the lowest order motor unit. I have no start doing, you know, deep knee bends until they fatigue. And once they take that, I bring it to the second order. And if you go fast enough, the first order people are not ready to stand back up and start contributing again. By the time the third order people are doing their deep knee bends. So it’s the same thing with the motor unit.
You’ve knocked out these lower order motor units, and they still haven’t had time to recover by the time you were recruiting the highest order. And that means you selected a resistance. That’s meaningful enough to do that, which means you’re going to reach a fatigue point somewhere around, you know, at the longest three minutes, typically a minute to a minute and a half of, you know, making the weights go up and down. So to speak by that point in time, your force output, you know, you’ve selected to give it away. And your force output is dwindling, dwindling, dwindling. And at 90 seconds, the amount of force you can generate is now less than the weight and you select selected. So there’s a window between your selected weight and your force capability that as you’re training and recruiting and fatiguing those motor units, the window between the selected weight and your capability is closing. It’s sorta like the cement of a rock door. That’s closing on Indiana Jones. When he’s with you at the last second, the window between the selected weight and your capability is closing, closing, closing. And when it completely closes, that’s muscular failure,
Right? As evidenced by you can’t do another rep, correct? If you’ve done your job
And it’s not because there’s zero there, it’s just that if you selected a hundred pounds and you fatigued to the point now where your maximal capable force outfits, 99 pounds, that’s not enough to move the weight and you’re done.
Yeah. I appreciate that. Um, that notion promoted by by many people, but, uh, Dr. John Jaquish with his X three bar talking about the, uh, reduced range of motion. Once you hit that 99, if you’re working with a stretch band, you can stretch it to less than full extension and continue to make these babies.
Um, what I was describing when I was talking about working around a sticking point. So would they bench press when you reach the sticking point in the halfway, you can select the weight and go from the bottom to the sticking point, only bottom to the sticking point, only until you reach fatigue. And then you can go from the easiest portion down to the sticking point and back up, and then reach fatigue there. So that’s not really, I mean, he’s promoting it as a feature of the X three bar, but it’s really a bug that you’re working around. So, you know, basically those sort of things are, you know, I mean, let’s face it, it’s a metal tube and rubber band, um, which means that on pulling movements, your force output at the beginning is actually very hot. But when you complete a pulling movement at the completion of the movement, the force output is very low because the muscle is now completely shortened.
It’s like a spring that’s totally bottomed out. You’ve reached, what’s called active insufficiency. And the force output drops precipitously. Well, if you’re using a rubber band at the start, the rubber bands not stretched. Your force capability is at its highest, but the force delivered to you is at its lowest. When you pull it all the way down, you fully stretched the rubber band. So now you have this mismatch where the force is the highest in the position where you’re weakest, the strength curve is entirely backwards. So the only way to make that work is to break down the range of motion and do the really difficult part first, and then do the easy part next using the fatigue invoked by the first half to make the second half meaningful. Does that make sense?
Sure. Yeah. And if, if you’re, if you’re a little bit lost listener, I think what we’re talking about here is just achieving that maximum fatigue of the muscle fibers in a safe manner. And that’s where you get the, the ideal as you described those, those Nautilus machines, which is so funny. That was my first exposure ever to strength training back when I was 15 years old, then Nautilus center opened up in Los Angeles. And here it is Dr. Doug saying decades later that this is the single best invention and nothing else comes close to it is hilarious to think that, you know, the starting point, then you’re coming full circle to try to find a place that has these variable cam machines.
I tell people to always remember that Beowolf, this incredibly primitive, superstitious story was written. Um, I think approximately 800 years after Aristotle things don’t always go forward. We went from highly sophisticated and all this machines to now state of the art technology being beating a tractor tire with a sledgehammer. We haven’t exactly moved forward in the exercise world.
So the, the, um, the, the point of kind of, uh, uh, bewilderment here when, when we’re, whatever way we are through the book and my son read it along with me is really devoted into strength training too. And we both kind of, you know, you close the book at a certain point and go, okay, well, what the heck am I doing out there? And I think there’s a distinct fork in the road where you call it, um, skill development versus gaining physical strength. So just to focus this discussion, um, you’re talking about the best way to get physically strong muscles, which is a huge, uh, goal for longevity, health, insulin sensitivity, all manner of physical benefit. Uh, but then, uh, the person raises their hand and says, Hey, I want to jump over a high jump bar. I want to play basketball. I want to make the team in swimming or whatever their sport of interest is. And so then we have these divergent goals where strength is certainly going to help our athletic progress, but how do we, how do we balance that?
Yeah, strength and conditioning are general applications. Yhey apply to any sport. Um, you will improve in any sport if you improve your strength and conditioning in this method, which is generalized. So, um, physical conditioning is generalized. Skill conditioning is exquisitely specific. So if you want to be great at high jumping, you have to practice exclusively the skill of high jumping. It has to be is exact, um, and is mirror to what you do on a competition as it can possibly be. Um, whereas you should never make your physical conditioning, anything that tries to mimic your sports specific skill. Because you will confound the neurological skill of doing that specific activity. So, as an example, everyone has seen the baseball player in, in the, uh, in the batter’s box, warming up with the big weighted donut on the end of the bat. You cannot do anything more wrong before you go out to bat then that because the skill of swinging a bat at a certain velocity is not like swinging the heavier bat makes you quicker.
When you take the weight off the motor unit recruitment, the neurological skill, the neuro motor pathway for swinging a bat is specific to that bat and its exact weight. If you do anything that tries to mimic it, you will be- fuddle that skill and make it worse. As a matter of fact, the closer you get to exactly right, but not quite there, the worse it. So if you were going to put on the end of a bat, a two pound weight versus a four ounce weight, the two pound weight is better because at least your nervous system can distinguish that this is completely different, right? You put a four ounce weight on there. It’s hard to make the distinction and that screws up the specific neuro motor pattern, even worse. Have you ever been to a carnival with a basketball game, with the basket to win a stuffed animal
Shrunk and shrunken hoop? You know, you can’t tell.
They can shrink the hoop by millimeters or they can, if someone’s like a really good basketball player, if you want to watch it in the NBA game go to absolute hell, what you would do is you would sneak into the stadium the night before and either raise or lower the hoop on the back board by two millimeters. If you do that and you would watch what would normally be swish shots, hit the rim and bounce off and the oblivion all night long, because that’s what swish is that precise.
Wow. That’s speaking of basketball.
When you train, you want to train in the way that loads and fatigues and creates a stimulus for strengthening in the most generalized way possible. You don’t want to do movements that mimic your movement in your sport. You don’t want to throw with a weight. You don’t want to, you know, um, you know, I know BMX racers that use handlebars hooked to the barbell to mimic the position. It’s like, no, you don’t want to do anything that mimics your sports specific movement. Cause you’ll just screw it up. Instead, just get strong and conditioned and then turn around and practice the skill of your sport as precisely as you possibly can.
Yeah. I also think there’s an increased injury risk if you’re using your sport to the means of, to the end of becoming physically stronger. That’s too many high jump approaches for example, or whatever the thing is. And um, I like that, that nuance where if you’re the closer you get, but not quite exact is a big mess. Remember Rick Barry, he was at one point the greatest free throw shooter in the NBA history. He shot his free throws underhanded, and he was doing an exhibition where he could make them blindfolded and they did this whole thing set up for TV or something and he was missing them. And he said, uh, that rims four inches too low. And they said, no, no it’s regulation. Believe me. And he said, no, it’s something’s wrong. And they measured it. And it was four inches too low. So he, he knew that he was, you know, slightly off. He was that finely tuned.
That’s how specificity works. And, um, in your training, you really want rehearsal to be something that you do to refine the skill and to not invoke fatigue. Um, and when you get your skill, when you have a perfect performance, you’re much better to stop right then. But if you do tens and thousands of repetitions, despite all the folklore surrounding it, you start to develop a fresh style and a fatigue style, and the big style will befuddle your fresh performance. So what you want to do is you want to use your physical conditioning to stave off fatigue during competition, because you’re a well conditioned athlete so that you do not have skill degradation as a result of fatigue because fatigue performance is a different neuro motor pathway than fresh performance. And it’s very, very specific if you’ve ever had a grain of sand in your shoe and know how much that can drive you insane and you take your shoe off and you dump it out. And you’re like, really, that’s what was causing me all that misery. That gives you an idea of how specific specificity is.
So it sounds like if you’re sitting back, I’m sure you’re a sports fan. Like I am and watching the Olympics and watching the favorites come through and bomb out in the trials because they’re not quite sharp. I contend that there’s probably, uh, some, some extreme mistakes being made, even at the most elite level, uh, of organized sport, especially the team sports where they treat the, uh, the human, like, uh, you know, a commodity, but also in the individual sports. Uh, do you think there’s a lot of, uh, over-training or improper blending,
Ironically, the higher you get in any given sport, the worst the training seems to become because you’re dealing with such thoroughbreds that, um, you know, literally a lot of people, at least at the collegiate level and higher would benefit is much by coming over and waxing my car as they do from the conditioning programs that they’re subjected to in their training. And it’s only that these people are extreme responders and they respond well to almost anything, but that doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is correct. And the more elevated the athlete, the more likely it is that they’re doing some sort of nonsense that makes no sense at all. Um, it’s only in the less gifted athletes that you can really strip away enough of that raw talent to see what actually does and does not make a difference. So, um, when you’re dealing with someone that’s so responsive as an elite level athlete, um, and, and the fact that skeletal muscle is such an evolutionary superior and adapted tissue, um, you can do almost anything. And with that level of athlete, you’re going to show good results and the vast, vast majority of elite level athletes succeed in spite of their training regimens. Not because of them,
Oh, you are gonna hurt their feelings, Doug.
I know that’s why I’m so awkward guy.
Um, would you put in that category, this seemingly huge emphasis on stretching that we see, uh, particularly with the Olympic athletes and then, uh, you’re contending that this, uh, might not offer much benefit and can even be counterproductive.
It can, because most people, you know, they think that they’re stretching muscles when they’re actually just putting themselves in vulnerable joint positions. A lot of stretching is really nothing more than what’s called active or passive insufficiency. And for anyone that’s watching the video, if you hold your hands straight up in front of you with your wrist straight and make a hard, hard fist, you can feel, you make a lot of force. Now, if you follow me Brad, and extend your wrist like this, and with your wrist, as hard as you can. And with your wrist in that position, try to make a fist now.
It feels like stretch because it is stretch. You’ve put the muscle in a position where it is so stretched that the act and the myosin filaments can no longer cross over each other. Now do this.
Flex your wrist.
Hard as you can flex
Your wrist forward, people
And now try to make a fist and feel how you can’t do it in it hurts and cramps. That’s called active insufficiency. There the muscle is shortened as much as it can. It’s like a spring that’s bottomed out. Well, most stripping is really giving you a sensation that feels like you’re doing something like a hurdler stretch, or when you’re stretching your quad by, you know, pulling your ankle up to your butt behind you. Really all you’re doing with that is putting one muscle in passive insufficiency while you put the opposing muscle in active insufficiency, and it produces a sensation that you’re stretching or doing something, but you’re not really.
So a lot of it’s just kinda wasted time and wasted effort. Um, and then a lot of attempts to increase joint mobility, um, is sometimes good, but sometimes it’s bad.e Some joints, um, their vulnerabilities, the fact that they have excessive mobility and anything that tries to exaggerate that even further may make you more prone to injury. Some have, depending on your genetics. Too little mobility. So a lot of people have hip joints with a very deep acetabulum, a very deep socket that the ball fits in. My daughter, who’s a ballerina. Ballerina’s, the best ones have what is called good turnout where your feet point out to your sides. When you’re in standing position, that’s called turnout. The best ballerinas have a shallow acetabulum or hip socket. So they’re able to do that from the hips, the ballerinas that don’t have to do that have to do that mostly from their knees.
And it’s called screwing your knees. And you can still get in a position and still achieve the aesthetic that makes ballet so beautiful, but you’ll wreck your knees in the process. In fact, almost all of ballet. The thing that makes it beautiful is you’re putting the muscles and either active or passive insufficiency. Um, you know, standing on point is putting all of the foot lumbricals and foot muscles in the gastrocnemius, an active insufficiency, but that’s what also gives you that etherial look of floating across the stage. Um, but from an athletic standpoint is living hell. You know, ask any ballerina, you know, they, their life is constant injury mitigation,
The sacrifices they make to entertain us. Oh my goodness.
So is there an effective kind of modality for stretching if someone’s, I don’t know, maybe complaining of aches and pains or wants to get better?
For one appropriate strength training was good biomechanics. Basically to define stretching from a muscle and joint standpoint. It’s basically just the application of some force at the extremes of functional range of motion. So if you’re doing any chest press movement or you’re doing a rowing movement, um, you’re taking the muscle from pretty much full flex from the full extension and you’re doing it under load. So the stretching is built in. Um, so if you’re conditioning the muscle and you’re conditioning it through an acceptable and not extreme range of motion, you’re going to do as much to enhance your flexibility as possible because what makes them a joint function safely through its full range of motion Is it surrounding supporting musculature that moves it. So appropriate joint mobility is much, much more about the strength of the surrounding supporting musculature than it is anything in particular to do with the joint itself and for people with, you know, arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, same thing still applies because if you have a rusty hinge, a strong muscle moving a rusty hinge is much, much better than a weak one. And the functionality of the hinge will be much better in the presence of a strong muscle.
Oh gosh. I, I imagine the symptoms can often, uh, vanish if you get strong enough.
Yeah. Um, because of BMX racing, if you look at my ankle joints on an x-ray, um, you know, they are, they have a very significant degree of osteoarthritis on them. Same with in particular, my left knee, cause I’ve injured it multiple times, but I’m joint wise just pretty much asymptomatic. I see that all the time, people with very significant osteoarthritis will become asymptomatic in their joints once the skeletal muscle is adequately strengthened. And that’s both from a mechanical support standpoint from the muscle, but also the myokines signaling the muscle releases, local hormones that act on the joints and decrease the inflammation inside the joint. So the crosstalk between the two tissues is beneficial as well.
So if, uh, we went on a tour of one of these giant, super cool gyms that you see in the big cities with, uh, you know, dozens that banks have cardio machines and then a great setup for machines and free weights. And, uh, the straps are hanging down from the ceiling and you can play on the half ball. Um, what’s kind of your, um, your reflection as we’re, as we’re walking through this gym are most people, I mean, they’re getting some points bonus points away from sitting on the couch. Uh, but are we looking at things that are mildly beneficial, but could be better?,
Yeah, I don’t disagree. I mean, if people just want to do the garden variety thing and go do it, I don’t necessarily discourage that because the nice thing is, is skeletal muscle is the most highly evolved and adaptive tissue in the universe bar, none. So you expose it to any sort of usage that’s meaningful. It will adapt in a positive way. Um, the only downside to it is there is a lot of stuff that can be done there poses you a higher risk of injury. And I think exercise should always protect you from injury and never cause injury. And that’s the only downside that I see to it. Indeed. Um, when you look at injuries across collegiate sports, especially football, there is a higher rate of injury in the weight room than there is on the playing field.
That’s not a good stat
Of the modalities that they’re using by and large, that wasn’t always the case, but it is today because everyone’s kind of using sort of an explosive Olympic lifting paradigm for their training because they misunderstand, you know, how to engage these higher order motor units and what’s necessary to make them functional. And the idea of thinking that explosiveness in the weight room is going to transfer over to explosiveness on the field. Um, when you could get the same thing by, you know, strengthening conditioning in a way that’s safe, that doesn’t expose you to risk and then take that new found strength and apply it to the specific skillset specifically, so that you only incur the risk at a time when it’s going to be beneficial to the specific skill that you’re trying to train.
Oh, my that’s that’s very well said. Yeah. If you want to cut sharper on your pass route, you go out there and run some routes coming off of a very well-informed safe strength training program. And they, you know, plug in, plug in any sport, but it seems like, especially when we’re looking at the breakthrough training methods and, uh, incredible new, uh, modality that’s been invented and you can see it here on Instagram is kind of, uh, faking or modifying. What’s actually happening on the basketball court with the use of contraptions and devices,
Right. Um, you know, and the conditioning of skeletal muscle is actually pretty boring, simple and straightforward.
Oh no, he’s shattering the fitness
It’s better to do that. And the other thing is it’s also much more time efficient. So if you go after your physical conditioning in a way, that’s time efficient, you spare your body’s recovery ability and you open up a boatload more time for things that do get better with massive repetition. And that is specific skill practice. Jerry Rice ran his routes tens of thousands of times until it was just completely ingrained in, you know, I mean, it’s like beating a dog trail in your backyard. Um, that’s what the neuro motor pathways are like. So if you get your physical conditioning in a way that doesn’t consume so much time and doesn’t tap into so much of your recovery ability unnecessarily, you leave that much more time to really focusing on developing the skill of your sport and developing the skill makes the best use of your physical conditioning.
Because now you’re doing things in the most energy efficient manner possible. I don’t know if you hear or watch the YouTube videos of split-screen, um, with a category one versus category five cyclists with the S Rams on their bikes. So they’re doing like a, um, know a 20 mile time trial in a city, you know, around the corners and everything like that. And they’re looking at the wattage of the category ones like your Lance Armstrong elite level cyclist versus your pure beginners. And over the course of the 20 miles, they average their wattage. And what you find out is that the category one cyclist, their average wattage, you know, is 200, 250. Whereas the average wattage of a category five cyclists is, you know, at least double that because the category one guy he’ll come out of a corner and bang out 800 Watts, but then they file into the Peloton and their Watts dropped to zero until they have to decelerate and come out of a corner again, and you watched the category five cyclists, they go into a corner, their watts, you know, drop down.
They come out of the corner, their watts jump up 700 and then they never really have the skill of riding in a Peloton. So where these guys are really except for the guy that’s at front, they’re all floating at zero watts. These guys are cranking at 300, 350 from corner to corner. And over the course of the race, they’ve averaged 450 Watts. Whereas the category one guy is a bad average, 200.
That’s skill development is about, you can spare yourself for really getting skilled at your sport. Um, you make much better use of the conditioning that you have acquired in a much more time efficient manner.
Okay. So speaking of time efficient, but before we let you go, um, describe this, uh, this optimal frequency of once a week and the research behind it in the book.
Well, so at the peak levels of intensity where you’re on good equipment and an ideal environment with professional supervision, that’s going to invoke a level of intensity that requires that seven day recovery. Less ideal equipment, you know, the gym you’re working out in the 74 degrees. You don’t have professional supervision. You should still go, um, with discipline as hard as you can and go to failure, but you’re not going to approach that. So for an average self supervised person, they’re probably going to do good on like a Monday, Thursday program or twice a week, or maybe every fifth day, Monday, Friday, Wednesday, if they get really, really strong and they’re really well supervised and highly intense once a week is about the best frequency. But when you compare, you know, 15 to 30 minute workouts done twice a week, compared to the average training volume of any other athlete, whether it’s weekend warrior or professional, that’s still so much more time efficient and you have spared so much recovery that you can really now focused on the core of your sport, which is developing skill. And that’s what burns up your time. And that’s what takes a lot of time and a lot of repetition, and you don’t want to fatigue yourself while you’re developing a skill. So if you can make those two things as separate in your training as possible, everything is better. This is more efficient and you produce more results. You can take those results and apply them very specifically to your skill. And that’s really, you know our kinetics’s lever for excellence there.
Oh my gosh, that’s just brilliant. I think that you should, uh, buy a sports team that should be your next move, whether it’s football, basketball, something, or become the Olympic commissioner and, and, uh, put it, it would be nice to test it out with, um, you know, an athlete of the, the highest level, uh, and see if further breakthroughs can happen. But, uh, Doug McGuff thanks for spending the time to explain all that pleasure. We can go grab a copy of Body by Science. And how else do we connect with you?
Ah, probably may found easiest just to, uh, Dr. McGuff.com, Dr. Mc. Guff.com. That’s a website that will link to like, you know, YouTube and Instagram. And, uh, you know, if anyone’s interested in consultation, there is a link to the schedule for that. That’s probably a good place to look. If you just Google my name though, you’ll find all sorts of nonsense on the internet. Uh,
What’s the YouTube, uh, the title is, um, Cardio Doesn’t Exist. I think it’s only a three minute. Yeah, it’s a three minute bursts, but boy, it, it could be life-changing for those of you obsessed with cardio. Um, I love that whole, I love that whole premise that we get cardio with everything we’re doing, including these high intensity strength training sessions. Yeah. Doug McGuff everybody. Thanks for listening. Thank you for listening to the show. I love sharing the experience with you and greatly appreciate your support please. Email email@example.com with feedback, suggestions, and questions for the Q and A shows, subscribe to our email list of Brad kearns.com for a weekly blast about the published episodes and a wonderful bimonthly newsletter edition with informative articles and practical tips for all aspects of healthy living. You can also download several awesome free eBooks when you subscribe to the email list.
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