The Balanced Body – 2 (Resistance Training)

Setting the scene of Part 2, we talk resistance training. In its many forms, it’s the essential piece of any fitness related goal for most - if not all.

Through the 15+ years I have been involved in the fitness industry, I have seen it morph and evolve into somewhat of an institution, placing a degree of influence on pretty much everyone.
For me, resistance training was thrusted into the spotlight many years ago with the classic imagery of muscle popping men and women featuring in popular bodybuilding magazines representing supplements. Impressionable and eager to build a better body myself, I would’t be alone in saying that following training techniques, nutrition and everything in between in these magazines was the norm and this information was indeed treated as gospel.
In this naive and rather green age, it wasn’t long before much of these ideals were shattered, the superhuman guys and ripped girls were not just the result of perfect and precise training protocols and cutting edge supplementation. Many had an edge…. a pharmaceutical edge.
This got me questioning the status quo, was I being conned? Were they just promoting these supplements because they were being paid? Was all this advise on training as corrupt and unethical as the profiteering driven testimonies of the natural supplements they promote?

-It was safe to say my 16 year old world was literally rocked.

The good news is, there is now much more diversity and transparency in the fitness industry, but even with this, many people (like me in my younger years) fail to distinguish much of the marketing strategy from solid and honest information.
The point I am getting at is – I have no vested interest here, other than offering advise on achieving a balance of great physical presence and quality of life within these articles.

Other than building bulging muscles and a creating a better rig, there is quite the diverse range of benefits that come from resistance training. Whether it’s the increased bone density, cognitive and mood improvements and more, to prevent impending boredom, I’ll steer clear of these more well known benefits of resistance training you’ll see often in mainstream fitness information.
This guidance, you could say will differ slightly to much of the traditional bodybuilding ideology, nonetheless many elements in this article, you can and will find to be relevant to any fitness objective.

With clients and myself included, I promote a “happy medium” approach, as resistance training and lifestyle should ultimately be balanced – to create sustainability in a program.

Resistance training for the ultimate physique

Anyone actively looking into this, will surely recognise just how much information is out there. All this info on training styles, structuring protocols etc. often adds to confusion and cost, for anyone who is unsure what is best for their body.
That is the catch right there.
Is there such thing as the perfect program? In my honest opinion, I do not believe in the perfect training style or program, I find it hard to consider that anyone could ever prescribe the perfect training program for you, definitely not me, nor could Arnie, I could safely say – not even Kayla Itsines.
When you come to learn that our body is a truly remarkable adaptive organism, with millions of different biochemical reactions influenced by the environment and genetic potential of your body, you could say – subtleties mean little.
What does this mean?
Unless you are into biochemistry, you are better off not worrying so much on prioritising what the guys and girls in magazines are doing, rather, focus and nurture your body’s own amazing adaptive ability. This can be done by consistent, progressive and mindful training.

I often say that in order to change your physique, you need to make considerable changes to behavior. The more serious (leaner and stronger) you want to become, the more control of your behaviour is needed.
Bottom line, a resistance program should consist of variation, consistency, progression and importantly, connection.
Connection you say? Well I refer connection as ‘Mind to Muscle’, for many this can actually be the hardest to implement. With connection, the concept of control is paramount, with focus on pushing more, lifting heavier weight or punching out faster repetitions, comes second to the all important control of the weight, while working the muscle effectively and correctly.


How do we improve muscle connection?

Time to use your head to get ahead.  I have no doubt that “mind-muscle/body connection” is a real phenomenon that heavily influences resistance training through neuromuscular dynamics, or as I like to call your ‘Gym Brain’.
I am a huge advocate on this and whether you are participating in my group training programs or train 1 on 1 Pilates and gym coaching, I emphasise and promote the all important concept  “Mindful Training”.

While reformer Pilates isn’t often associated by many as ‘resistance training’ – it’s the slower more controlled pace, in the absence of egoistic bumper plates and dumbbells, is often the perfect environment for promoting great mind muscle connection. Improvements with clients physique’s, improved range of movement, better breathing patterns, better muscle connection and injury prevention often experienced from this style of resistance training.

Visual Learning
I encourage anyone who struggles in the whole mind-muscle area to do a little homework, or what I call a ‘mental workout’. Knowing basic anatomy on muscle grouping will help a better understanding of muscle positioning, which in turn will lead to improved comprehension on the way our muscles work and move.

A better connection and understanding, we help develop our neural drive. Neural drive is tied into our nervous system. A poor neural drive will not only affect strength and exercise technique, it also negatively affects muscle metabolism, performance and ultimately how the muscle can physically look.
Strength is intimately associated with the ability to activate a larger number of muscle fibres during your training, as muscle fibre recruitment increases, so does strength, muscle quality and hardness.
World-renowned neurophysiologist Dr. Irvin Korr explains neural drive. “For some tissues, most notably striated muscle, neurotrophic support is even essential for survival“.
In other words, this means your ability to achieve optimal shape, muscle tone and muscle hardness will limit the ability to bring sufficient nerve connection to the muscle.

-While not everyone is an aspiring pro athlete, and activating extra muscle fibres isn’t of much concern, it is important to know that the time reaching aesthetic goals can be drastically shortened with a strong neural drive.

Try this
  • Prior to your heavier strengthening sets,  perform what is called ‘load-less training’ by physically activating or flexing targeted muscle groups.
  • Then perform low-weight activation work either before and/or in between heavy strength sets and feel for yourself if it improves connection and performance.
  • After strength sets, repeat load-less training and reconfirm the mental connection of targeted muscles.


Samotyping – Real? or B.S

In a perfect world, we could all be able categorised into a handful of body types and given specifics on training and diet, depending on what category we fit. This information would then take us to peak level health and fitness and we would all walk around looking like fitness models and live happy and healthy lives.
Unfortunately, this is simply not the case, as we do not all fit a ‘cookie cutter’ model and be assigned to a particular body type. This continues to happen today.
Over the years, If I had a dollar for every question that asked, “how should I be training for my somato/body type, I would actually have a small fortune.

For those who do not know, a somatotype is the grouping of body types into 3 categories;

  • Ectomorphcharacterised as linear, thin, usually tall, fragile, lightly muscled, flat chested, small joints, narrow shoulders and delicate. Often defined as a “hardgainer” in the weight training community
  • Mesomorph – characterised as hard, rugged, rectangular, athletically built with well developed muscles, thick skin and good posture, wikipedia will state that mesomorph’s are more inclined for physical adventure and risk taking, and being vigorous, courageous, direct and dominant.
  • Endomorph – characterised as round, usually short and soft with under-developed muscles and having difficulty losing weight. Also described by wikipedia as being viscerotonic, enjoying food, people and affection; having slow reactions; and being disposed to complacency.

Samoytping was Developed in the late 1930’s by eugenisist
William Herbert Sheldon who believed all males can be assigned into these categories – he also completely forgot about the ladies. Our modern day fitness commentators and professionals have therefore given specifics on training in relation to these 3 categories.

Somatotypes would have to be more like stereotypes, they are based on perception and opinion – not hard facts or scientific reasoning, in my opinion should never be taken as a ‘preconceived limit’. To be assigned into a category, to me is a slight cop out. The limit to one’s potential is largely based on the genetic response to training and the environment your body is exposed to, not a system developed nearly 100 years ago.    


Genetic Variance – like it or lump it, or you could you maybe just work with it?   

Let’s say, Mum is obese with type 2 diabetes. Dad’s built like a retired greyhound, no hope for you right?
Everyone can exploit their genetic potential to some degree. By taking the body through a consistent progressive stimulus and creating an environment where it can function optimally, should be no secret, that you will see change.

Gene expression is a complex and rather wonderful thing, showing that our body development can and will change, in response to one’s behavior and lifestyle.
Not even our DNA is 100% fixed. Many genes get switched on or off, depending on your nutrition, sleeping patterns and exercise and movement discipline.

-Expression of your DNA can constantly change as a direct result of lifestyle – 

Genetic variance among people will always give a disadvantage/advantage, with humans as unique and individual as the next – with a tad of common sense, there are of course some general rules to apply.

-The person who carries extra padding and finds it harder to loose body fat, will have to be mindful of calorie intake, aim for regular movement and consistent training.
-The slimmer hardgainer can often be more liberal with calories, progressive and consistent resistance training to build and maintain muscle mass.

It’s as simple as that, need not be confused.

Bottom line is that the ridiculously shredded vein popping guys and girls you see in bodybuilding shows and beef magazines are not just a product of hard work and diet, it’s often solid genetics, 100% commitment and often, a slight pharmaceutical push.

Muscle incinerates Fat – Or does it?

A well known bonus of increased muscle is the commonly heard fat loss, but, even this belief does have a grey area that is not often taken into account.
A common belief you will see among many generic “fit tips” are claims that even at rest, muscle can and will literally melt calories.
I am sure we have all heard this, as statements like this generally start when somebody reads it, it’s repeated – and suddenly it’s a fact.
While this isn’t wrong, these statements are often overhyped and backed by supplement companies, they generally promote the fat burning powers of a muscle building supplement.

Your body does somewhat burn more calories while maintaining muscle than it does maintaining fat. This means that YES, the more muscle you build, the more calories your body will utilise each day from that resting muscle, although from these studies, it suggests that the difference is minimal, unsubstantial – and I would be inclined to agree.
With or without muscle, if you sit on a couch for extended periods of time, the body will begin to store fat identically in both male and female, with muscle or with minimal muscle. Basal metabolic rates, on average, don’t really differ too much with gender and age being contrasting variables.

The vast majority of the ‘fat loss effect’ of muscle comes from the mechanics of what you are doing in order to achieve better muscle mass. It’s that solid training you are putting yourself through, that has a much better effect on metabolism, rather than the somewhat negligible ‘fat burning effect’ of resting muscle mass itself.
When exercise ends, there is a period where damaged muscle cells need to be repaired and depleted glucose and fat stores need to be refilled – all of this requires energy. Body fat levels are also influenced indirectly through other mechanisms including improved insulin sensitivity, glucose control, hormonal manipulation and more.
These same potentially life changing benefits from resistance training also lead to greater health, longevity and vitality of the body.


Female Based Misconceptions – That Never Die

Many of the key exercises and movements which are well suited across the gender barrier, with many similar benefits. I am not alone in saying the delusion of you will look like a female bodybuilder if you lift weights – is still well in effect.

If this is you, the scientific literature clearly states that the natural woman does not possess the anabolic hormones needed to build and sustain muscle. This is unless you have been on the combination of a calorie surplus diet, with consistent heavy and hard resistance training programming for years, genetic traits of a rhino, perhaps even unlucky enough to fall on a needle containing steroids….Fortunately for you, unless you tick a few of the boxes listed above, it would be extremely hard.
In my opinion, this is one of the biggest misconceptions girls have about training. Many females still think that weight training is some isolated shoulder exercises with vein popping dumbbell curls.
The truth lies in what females with the best physiques are doing. Have a good look next time you’re in the gym, I guarantee these women are not afraid to step into the free weight section with intense workouts consisting of pushing, pulling, squats, lunges and deadlifts.

-I feel, with the steady disappearance of bulky female bodybuilding, increased awareness, and the value and homage of a proportionally fit, this misconception will be phased out.


Is lifting the only way to get a rig?

It is safe to assume not every guy and girl want to compete in bodybuilding and physique shows, or have the ability to lift a small car every day of the week?
Yes, it is a desired look for many, nonetheless I feel many exercise commentators and P.T’s train their clients and advise in this way.

Being slightly controversial, my opinion of hitting the gym and pumping weights at every opportunity, for many people is not the ‘be all and end all’ of an aesthetic strong body.
Although often a sure bet with many guys, obviously should be integrated to a degree with women, there are always plenty of examples where overloading on heavier resistance has produced unwanted results of mass. This is an issue in the more dominate and compensating muscles of the body.
Females will often come to me explaining how areas of their legs can become reluctantly larger and not have not given the ideal results that fitness coaches often guarantee from repetitive squats and lunges.
An all too common example of this is ‘quad dominancy’ – an imbalance of leg muscle distribution. This is generally associated with females due to excessive ‘high heel’ usage, weak glutes and poor technique amongst other lifestyle factors.
Poor body mechanics from these will encourage quads to overwork, during activity rather than sharing the demand through the glutes and hamstrings. When quad dominance is not identified and corrected, the physical size of the front of the legs increases disproportionately to the ‘posterior chain’ (butt and back of the legs) – sacrificing booty gains in a big way.

A quick way to test if your quad dominant is to do a high volume bodyweight squats to fatigue, and if you are feeling it purely in your quads, chances are you’re quad dominate.

Correcting muscle dominance is fairly straightforward with time, in most cases many people possibly require a more individualised approach. Addressing this may not only help build a better butt and help firm and shape the legs, but also reduce the risk of knee injury and provide increased strength and power. You will probably find you’re recruiting more powerful muscles that aren’t being used to their full potential!

A good trainer or coach will identify this issue and any others to work against dominance within muscle groups with a combination technique correction.

The third and final chapter will examine the holistic advantages of stretching and improved mobility.

Balanced Body Part 3

Author: Jake

Bringing you this article, Jake combines his 15 years of expertise in integrated nutrition and fitness to provide his insights on matters of substance.