Given the level of competition, athletes today need the best possible training methods and principals to excel at the highest level. Even amateur and recreational athletes seek the edge in training and nutrition to better their performance. What both sets of athletes have in common is a drive to achieve superior performance in their respective pursuits.
Sadly, what many lack is a definite plan of attack. What many fail to understand is that in order to be at their best, an individualised approach that is dynamic by nature is needed. What countless athletes continue to do though is try to gain from an approach that is not suited to their individual physiology and training goals.
Such an approach, however, results in a lack of progress and substandard performance. What smart athletes do is follow a strategy that maximises their genetic potential and provides the necessary changes through periodization that keep results coming.
Clearly, achieving the best possible training outcome is the dream of every serious athlete, but how exactly is this achieved. Three words: Dynamic Training Approach (DTA).
Coined by Dan Gastelu, who developed a system of training and nutrition that specifically accommodates the individual athlete, the Dynamic Training Approach, steeped in scientific research and founded upon program variables such as intensity, duration and frequency - factors that can be changed to best meet the needs of the athlete - has been used to great effect by many top champions.
Based on science and originally intended to demystify resistance training in an effort to clarify for 70's bodybuilders and strength athlete's fundamental training principals that worked, the DTA is arguably the most complete, systematic, and logical approach to training and nutrition ever devised.
Dan recently explained to me the science behind his system. I highly recommend reading the following if you want to achieve your best ever training results.
[ Q ] When and why did you develop this approach Dan?
The Dynamic Training Approach was created in order to help demystify weight (resistance) training. I wanted to establish a scientifically based approach, so back in the 70's I said to myself, "How could this be accomplished?"
The bodybuilders I was reading about were all resistance training in different ways. Other athletes too, although resistance training among most athletes was just catching on. So what I did was to piece together the underlying science.
This went not just for bodybuilding, but also for all resistant training applications. I developed a model based on how the human body responds to resistance training, to determine what would be the best foundation.
In addition to the physical training aspects of the model, a unique feature was making the sports specific nutrition and sports supplement connections. Tragically back then, and even today, there is a huge gap between sports training and sports nutrition.
Basically, the athletes are getting outstanding training supervision, but then when in comes to sports nutrition and sports supplements they are on their own. This led to me create the Dynamic Nutrition for Maximum Performance model, which is another story we can perhaps review in another interview.
Sports Training And Sports Nutrition."
Regarding resistance training, remember, a program that is "canned" is a good starting point, but for each individual, as they start developing and working out more and more and advancing, undergoing a dynamic individualized process is required for best results.
Resistance training is indeed a dynamic approach, as they need to change things based on how their body is responding and developing to the resistance-training regimen.
So the first thing that the model looked at was some of the common characteristics of all resistance training regimens. This gets down into what I call the intensity, duration and frequency variables, as they relate to the body's response, or adaptive abilities.
There are several dimensions to intensity, but for the purposes of this overview the one I will focus on is the workload, that is, how much resistance a person is using, the weight they are lifting.
When it comes to the human body we need to focus on the function of the different muscle fibres - the type 1, or slow twitch, verses the group of type 2, called the fast twitch.
Depending upon the intensity of the workload, stimulation of the muscle fibre development will take place in a certain way.
Duration & Frequency:
Then the next variable is the duration. How long do you train your bicep or chest within a particular workout? Then the frequency - how often do you do this?
Applying The Model:
So ideally, in applying this simple model, when you look at all the different training programs out there you get an idea of what is going on by looking at the exercises and the intensity. The intensity being used results in how many reps you can do.
As the intensity represents the workload, high intensity equals heavier workloads, resulting in lower repetitions, resulting in recruitment and development of the muscle fibers differently when compared to lower intensity resistance training.
I examined the rep range phenomenon early on and back then, and even today, when you read about this you can encounter some misconceptions.
For bodybuilding, the standard rep range most sources were designating is somewhere between eight and twelve repetitions as being the "magic muscle hypertrophy range". And you do get muscle hypertrophy with this range, and also increases in strength.
But then, after working with athletes and looking at the research and talking to other professionals about this, while working on trying to validate the model, it was apparent that most powerlifters and Olympic lifters were onto something with their lower rep range approach.
Also, going outside strict weightlifting and looking at sports like the shot put, where you have explosive strength, these athletes were using a between one to six rep range and are getting huge muscles too, and massive increases in strength.
The answer to this phenomenon can be found by looking at the different muscle fibres, in particular the different muscle fibres in the type 2, fast-twitch category. In my seminars I refer to these fast twitch glycolytic muscle fibers (FG) as the power lifter fibers, because they have the capacity to get really big and strong.
You have to take your mind down to the cellular level now and consider why the muscle grows in response to resistance training. Basically it is an energetic phenomenon.
You will hear me talk about bio-energetics a lot, and that is because the muscle is being trained to create and generate work - a muscle contraction. And those large fast twitch glycolytic fibres, get big and strong and have the capacity to generate a lot of explosive force with the ATP and creatine phosphate (phosphocreatine) that is resting in the muscle fluid.
So for a few seconds you have this large resource of immediate chemical energy ready for utilization, which depends on your level of training. That is one of the reasons creatine works so well for strength athletes, in particular the explosive muscle contraction, short duration type athletes.
Creatine enables the glycolytic fibres, as well as the other muscle fibers, to store a lot of creatine phosphate. That is why people often response to creatine differently.
View Top Selling Creatine Products Here.
If you are just starting out in resistance training and your type 2 muscle fibers are not well developed yet, you will get some effect, but if you already have larger muscles (more FG fibres), you are going to respond even better.
This also partially explains why most female athletes exhibit a significant increase in muscle and strength from taking creatine supplements, but an increase that is typically less when compared to males; in general, a females total muscle size is smaller, and their fast twitch muscle fibers are not as prevalent when compared to males.
[ Q ] So creatine supplementation is an important part of the Dynamic Training Approach?
Yes, for strength athletes. Though you have to first have the proper training stimulus, which makes the muscles respond, and stimulates the gene expression, the physiology of the body, and the endocrine system.
It is basically a matter of training stimulation: "cause and effect". To get the best response, everything has to be right:
So with the intensity factor as it relates to the Dynamic Training Approach for bodybuilding, you want to be able to stimulate all of those fast twitch muscle fibres, including the fast twitch oxidative glycolytic fibres (FOG) and the slow twitch muscle fibers too, which also have the ability to grow in size, in a way that results in maximum fiber hypertrophy and hyperplasia, and maximum total muscle size.
The different muscle fibers can be stimulated to grow with moderate intensity, higher rep range sets, as well as heavier workloads and lower reps; a sort of muscle fiber growth continuum.
So the traditional eight to twelve reps are just one rep zone. Higher intensity, lower repetitions make the muscle grow in other ways. Even 40 repetitions, low intensity stimulates development of muscle fiber hypertrophy.
Keep in mind that the FOG muscle fibers have a wide range of bio-energetic and growth ability, and also slow twitch muscle fibers have the ability to increase in size with resistance training. For the individual, the challenge is to find out what works best for them by using the different intensity workouts, and keeping good body composition and performance records to track their results.
Falling into the one rep range model is like the natural selection process. Basically, the people that have the ability to respond the best to this traditional rep range will get the biggest gains.
For many people, if they are not responding well to this conventional rep range, this does not mean they are not able to build more muscle. It is a matter of taking a dynamic training approach to explore the range of muscle fiber stimulation. And the bodybuilders, who are responding at an above average rate to the conventional rep range, will also make better gains when they adopt the dynamic training approach.
Unfortunately, what a lot people end up doing is searching for and testing workouts by trying other people's workouts, and in this search for "muscle magic" they never take the time to look from the inside out and analyse what should actually work best based on their anatomy, physiology and genetic potential.
In this endless search, they never explore and discover their true genetic potential. And while people may get results using a random approach, they can get faster and better results when it is individualized.
Ideally you need to consider the intensity and the duration, and start testing what works best for your individual development and level of ability - is it three sets, or is it twelve sets? In the beginning it may be that a fewer number of sets is best, but as you advance your level of development the number of sets will typically need to increase for progressive results.
At some point when people are getting better results as they advance their program and training volume, they start thinking more about the rest factor, and you do need rest. But that doesn't mean you have to stop training with high intensity and large duration and volume, because a lot of people might work themselves up to six sets per body part, and then they stagnate.
Then they wonder what is happening. Then you have to evaluate what pushing the limits will do, or is it a question of rest? Keeping good body composition records is important here, because for bodybuilding you need to be keeping track on a regular basis the rate of lean body mass gains.
With this data in place, you will have a measure of how your body responds to the dynamic training approach, and how much volume your body can really handle.
[ Q ] So where does frequency of training fit into all of this?
Resistance training frequency is usually related to training intensity so any particular muscle is going to need, for high intensity workouts, about three to five days of recovery for optimum muscle growth, keeping in mind that training for optimum strength or athletic performance may require a higher frequency of training.
A lower intensity to medium intensity workout could require between two to four days rest. So mixing up the intensity of the workout is important because you want to stimulate all of these muscle fibres sequentially. Additionally, by modulating intensity, this will also result in less wear and tear of your body, and maximize the different muscle fiber growth rates.
This is where the training mosaic applies. There are various instances where you will read that a bodybuilder will use extremely heavy weights with a low number of repetitions. Then you read an article where he is doing between twelve and fifteen reps - then there is an article where they are doing 60 or more repetitions.
So basically, using the intensity, duration and frequency model, you apply the principals to yourself. This is where working with experienced fitness trainers can be really important, because you also need to keep track of your results, and figure out how your body is best responding to the variable intensities.
For example, if you are lifting weights and not keeping track of your body composition, how do you know you are getting the results that are best?
As an aside, I do want to point out that there is a wide range of genetic potential in the human population for physical and mental development. So, no matter how perfect your training and nutrition programs are, some people just have a genetic advantage to be the biggest and strongest.
I only bring this up because it is easy to get unrealistic expectations from looking at the bodybuilding champions. This does not mean you can't get bigger and stronger muscles, it is a matter of what the maximum limit of your genetic potential is.
So for people who really love the sport of bodybuilding, but do not have the genetic potential to compete with genetically gifted larger bodybuilders in the NPC and IFBB, think about becoming a champion in one of the natural bodybuilding federations. And if your dream is to make a living in the sport, but you don't have the super-size potential, use your passion and abilities to make this happen in other segments of the sports and fitness industries.
The bodybuilder appeal, super-size or not, reaches a wide audience of people who just want to experience minor improvements in their body build. If you put time into developing a bodybuilder's physique, winning a trophy is just one potential payoff.
There are many career options, such as working as a fitness trainer, for a sports equipment or sports nutrition product company, as a strength training coach, writing articles or books, or giving lectures.
[ Q ] So the intensity, duration and frequency aspects of the Dynamic Training Approach need to be tailored to the individual?
Yes. When I first came out with it I called it the variable intensity training approach, which focused on properly utilizing rep ranges.
It is interesting because we are focusing here on bodybuilders, but there are a lot of other people that are just as interested in resistance training for health and sports performance, so when you take look at resistance training you have to identify the most important goal that you want, and create a customized resistance program.
If it is sports performance that is one thing, if it is bodybuilding the training needs to be very specific for muscle mass, not maximum athletic performance. If it is just someone training for health you don't really have to go into the heavy intensity zone. What's the point?
You don't need lift as much weight as humanly possible for a few times, and you don't need to spend all those hours in the gym training that way, just for fitness benefits. You could just stick with the more traditional higher reps.
Actually, the higher reps - from 16 to 40 - "when done correctly", is fantastic because when the FOG fibres build up properly due to this training stimulus you will get some muscle size, strength and stamina so it is a very functional resistance training result.
In doing the higher repetition sets you also get more of a cardiovascular workout, and can minimize rest between sets to keep the pace up for multiple fitness benefits.
[ Q ] What do you mean, "when done correctly"?
When doing the higher repetitions, this is usually a new type of physical performance activity for most people. So, there will be a period of development that involves the muscles, nervous system and circulatory system, to get the best results from the higher rep zones.
For example, if your maximum lift in the bench is 300 pounds, to achieve the higher rep ranges you might need to reduce the weight below 200 pounds. After several weeks, you will notice that you can increase the workloads significantly in the higher rep range.
If you are weight training for increased muscle size, you need to follow the same progressive overload principles, as when using heavier workloads. Not just going through the motions, but also using maximum effort, in a multiple set repetition maximum way.
For other sports where the strength to body weight is important, the ultimate workloads will have to be determined on an individual basis. For fitness exercisers, this will depend on how big they want their muscles to grow or settling in on fixed workloads for muscle size and strength maintenance.
In the world of bodybuilding here is an interesting example reported by Dr. Frederick Hatfield (Dr. Squat) in his book Hardcore Bodybuilding: A Scientific Approach; a must read for any bodybuilder, and for other strength sport athletes too.
Dr. Hatfield (a championship powerlifter who squatted over 1,000 pounds) had an unofficial squat lifting competition with the famous championship bodybuilder, Tom Platz. Tom Platz is known for his approach to using higher rep ranges for building his massive, legendary legs.
When they went for 1 rep maximum lifts, Dr. Hatfield squatted 840 pounds, and Tom Platz squatted 600 pounds. Both men were at a similar body weight, about 198 pounds. Then they wanted to see who would win the maximum rep contest. Both squatting with a weight of 525 pounds, Dr. Hatfield was able to perform 11 reps and Tom Platz performed 23 reps. So, higher reps is also about lifting heavy workloads, but it is relative to your level of training ability and bio-energetic training objectives.
In another bodybuilding example of the workload, rep range model, Arnold Schwarzenegger was reported to be able to lift the following weights and repetitions in the bench press:
- 500 pounds for one rep
- 405 pounds for eight reps
- 315 pounds for 25 reps
- 225 pounds for 60 reps
Reviewing the workloads being used by these champions illustrates the point that developing big muscles requires working up to lifting heavy workloads.
[ Q ] The Dynamic part of this model would include varying the rep range as you have explained?
The model considers the intensity, duration and frequency and the Dynamic part is playing with those factors to achieve a particular muscle-building goal for bodybuilding, performance goals for other sports and fitness goals for health minded exercisers.
Coincidentally, I'm working on a project with Weider Health & Fitness to republish their 10 set video of Joe Weider's Bodybuilding System on DVD. Over 40 bodybuilding champions appeared on these videos and on the Mass and Strength training tape all the bodybuilding champions shared their secrets for building size, which includes heavy workload, low rep training, in addition to the conventional rep ranges.
[ Q ] What would be the first step in determining what is right for a particular trainee?
Well, step number one is having your body composition measured, once a week or once ever other week, minimum, for a competitive athlete. You have to know exactly what the training is doing to your body. You have to able to measure your rate of lean body mass growth and increases in strength.
For bodybuilders, they can visit your transformation article, which has some workout examples utilizing the Dynamic Training principles.
[ Q ] How does the Dynamic Training Approach differ from other training approaches?
It is the most diversified and wide-ranging approach, as it meets all resistance training goals. It will work if you are a competitive bodybuilder, a power lifter, a football player, wrestler and for all other sports. It is a model based on anatomy and physiology that uses resistance training to get a particular result. That is why it is dynamic.
It is dynamic within the individual person because you are changing the intensity, duration and frequency from workout to workout, from month to month based on how your body is responding, so periodization is built into the model. It is also dynamic in that it is applicable to all different sports and fitness levels.
There is another misconception about "aerobic" training versus resistance training. You have cardiovascular fitness (the heart pumping at a higher rate, which influences the arteries and veins), that higher heart rate, that extra resistance and stimulus that is beneficial for the circulatory system.
So, cardiovascular fitness is one aspect of exercise for health. Aerobic exercise is one way to achieve that; resistance training is another way. So when I'm talking about aerobics as it is applied to a bodybuilder in a mass building mode, it is something that is optional.
As with any type of strength training - Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, power lifting - it is a textbook rule to avoid or minimize aerobic/endurance type training because it is training the muscles to be smaller and slower, and also takes up valuable resistance training time. The other misconception about "aerobic" exercise is that it is the only form that results in fat loss and this is not true either.
Here is something interesting to consider: aerobics is useful, but for bodybuilding when you want to be in the anabolic zone, you need to evaluate what type of exercise is going to achieve the biggest muscles, and maintain them. Is going on the treadmill for an hour three or four times a week going to do that? No.
In terms of fat loss for bodybuilders, nutrition is the key factor, in addition to resistance training and total daily physical activity. Take a look at other athletes. The powerlifters in lower weight classes are ripped with very low body fat. They are just lifting weights and watching their nutrition, with perhaps some sprint interval training too.
Then look at 100-meter sprinters. They are training by running sprint repetitions ten seconds or less, with some drills perhaps up to 60 seconds, plus their resistance-training program. They achieve muscular development with low body fat levels. Also 200 meter and 400 meter sprinters, going short distances very fast, over and over again; high volume training.
The other thing about aerobics and the bodybuilder is, looking at a typical scenario, the way in which aerobics is structured into their training. A competitor will start doing their aerobics three months out, and also starts cutting back on the intensity of their resistance training. So right away when they do this they are going to lose lean body mass, because you need to keep the intensity high to maintain the large muscle fibers.
All of the other strength sports that involve weight lifting -power lifting and Olympic lifting - increase their intensity closer to the competition. This common contest prep method for bodybuilding may not the best way to do it, if people are losing lean body mass along with body fat.
Typically what happens after the contest? They are still training and doing "aerobics", but they gain body fat, don't they?
My point is: for bodybuilders and other strength athletes, you can use "aerobics" if you absolutely need to, but it is something that can be done for maybe the last few weeks to get that last bit of body fat off. If you are looking for rounded conditioning then some aerobics will provide endurance and related health benefits.
It is important to note however, that strength athletes with a family history of health problems have to monitor their risk factors. For some strength athletes, a moderate amount of aerobic activity may be warranted for health reasons. But, try keeping this type of activity as anabolic as possible, such as with interval training and circuit training.
Make sure to be eating a heart healthy diet too. Also people with endomorphic tendencies who store and hold onto higher amounts of body fat, may have to include regular aerobics along with resistance training to keep their body fat levels from increasing too much.
[ Q ] Do you have any examples of where the Dynamic Training Approach has worked?
A recent example is a competitive natural bodybuilder who got fast measurable results—an increase of several pounds of lean body mass in just several weeks—using this method. Keeping in mind that this was more of a gain than in the previous year or so. But more importantly, he was able to attain his competition goal, and place first in the bodybuilding contest he was training for.
[ Q ] So with this approach it is about looking at all the training variables to begin with before building a specific approach based on what the individual needs, then modifying it as you go?
Yes. If you are looking to just build massive muscles you will be working out in the high intensity zone for the most part. When you are looking to make the transition to start losing some body fat and getting ready for a contest, you want to keep high intensity training up, but you will also want to do more of the moderate zone intensity, with higher reps too.
As you approach three to six weeks out from the contest, the high intensity is there and you will be doing more moderate intensity before adding some low intensity strength training - the rep range could go up to 40 at the high end.
So basically that core rep range of eight to 12 will be there on a regular basis too, but you will be going to the other end of the intensity range, the three to six rep zone. Then as you are shifting towards burning fat while wanting to avoid aerobics or minimize muscle reducing aerobics, you could be doing 16 to 24 reps, 24 to 40 reps on alternating training days, or mix rep ranges up on each training day.
The key thing though as the contest day approaches, is once every five to eight days to perform at least a couple sets that are low rep high intensity to keep that lean mass.
If you spent months of high intensity training, then with pre contest mode it is important to keep those large muscle fibres maintained. So even though you may be lifting weights in the eight to 12 range or higher, you still need at least a couple a sets within the 3 to six rep range per week to keep those FG fibres maintained. They will start to reduce in size within weeks if not properly stimulated.
[ Q ] So this strategy would apply to all bodybuilding athletes regardless? What about the prospect of injury?
Yes. I understand people are concerned about injuries as the contest approaches. But when you look at the rest of the strength-training world—the powerlifters and weight lifters—they actually increase their lifts as the pre competition period advances.
They stay high intensity. So again, you are going to shift the workload toward reducing overall intensity as contest approaches, but you also want to try to keep periodic high intensity reps in the picture when possible. Stick with the major muscle barbell exercises or machine exercises, using proper lifting technique, wraps and belts to minimize weight training related injuries.
[ Q ] Can you tell me more about why you developed this model?
Back in the 1970's modern sports and fitness science was just starting. Most sports did not recommend resistance training, and when they did it was not bio-energetic focused. There wasn't even any scientific sports nutrition, which also led me to simultaneously develop my Dynamic Nutrition for Maximum Performance approach.
My interests were exercise and nutrition focused for health and sports performance. I saw the opportunity to create a basis for a scientific approach to resistance training and sports nutrition. Application of these models eventually lead to the development of training systems, nutrition products, books, and courses used by millions of people throughout the world.
[ Q ] What would be some of the key aspects of the Dynamic Training Approach? How would you summarize the approach?
It is like the old saying: "Give someone a fish and feed them for a meal, but teach them how to fish and feed them for a lifetime." Everybody thinks there is magic way of training: do this exercise and do that one, then yet another one or two, and that's the magic succession of exercises to build muscle? I think not.
When you take the time to understand the basics of the physiology of the body and how the body works in relationship to the exercise stimulus, then you can be more objective about what these training approaches have in common, and what will work best for you.
But Teach Them How To Fish And Feed Them For A Lifetime."
It is not magic. It is not like top bodybuilders or other athletes have a one-of-a-kind magic solution that is different from the other top athletes. There is basically only one way to build a big bicep and that approach is dynamic in nature.
The muscle has different muscle fibres and you want to hit different rep ranges and different workloads, but you are still just going to be doing the basic exercises. You are not going to do 20 different variations using a dozen different exercises. It is all about learning what works best based on science.
With that said, as more scientific insights are made, eventually these translate into evolving the approach to get better results, again, being a dynamic model. So the Dynamic Training Approach is both fixed in time to get the best possible results, but is also open to new discoveries that occur over time.
[ Q ] What about other sports?
Applying the model to other athletes, does a marathon runner ever need to lift weights like a bodybuilder, power lifter or Olympic lifter? No. They should never be weight lifting like strength athletes.
If resistance training for long distance athletes is warranted, they need to apply these training principles to utilize resistance training to increase their bio-energetics and athletic performance above what running on its own will accomplish.
Sport specific applications for elite athletes get a bit complicated though, as the dynamic nature of this high level training is day to day, within the general confines of a periodized training program.
As I reviewed with John Wilkins in our football training article series, there are important strength sport resistance training differences, and while most people get bigger and stronger muscles following a bodybuilding type resistance-training program, this is not the ideal approach for sport specific athletic performance.
You need to find exactly what works best for you in accomplishing your athletic goals, using a scientific approach, which is the essence of the Dynamic Training Approach.
There are other aspects to review regarding the dimensions of "intensity", performance reps, and applying the model to all sports and fitness exercise applications.
Note To Readers: This interview will continue as a lead up to the Dynamic Nutrition for Maximum Performance approach, which will be spotlighted in a future interview.