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EAS General Training Principles, Q And A.

Check out these questions and answers about general training principles.

Question Index

What is the best repetition range for building muscle?

At an average repetition cadence (speed), generally 8 -12 reps per set will elicit the greatest gains in lean mass. Sets consisting of less than 6 or 8 reps generally focus on muscle strength, whereas a high number of reps each set targets muscle endurance.

Detailed Answer:
The conventional view that fewer reps in each set equates to more muscle gain is a bit too simplistic. In reality, when one performs sets with very high weight and low reps, the main physiological change is a strengthening of neuromuscular pathways. In other words, high weight/low reps strengthen the brain's ability to activate muscle. However, if we bump up the reps slightly while decreasing the weight as necessary, the muscle tissue will perform more total work, and thus more muscle growth will occur. However, if the reps are increased too high, the main effect will be an increase in muscle endurance.

Through research, it has been determined that the best range for hypertrophy (muscle gain) is roughly between 8-12 reps. As the reps are decreased from this range, the program will elicit greater strength gains will less size. In contrast, more than 12 reps mainly allows for increases in muscular endurance. Since the majority of the BFL resistance-training program prescribes sets in the 8-12 repetition range, the main effect of the BFL program is an increase in lean body mass.

Does weight training cause high blood pressure?

Natural bodybuilders are among the most fit individuals in athletics. While weight training itself has little effect on cardiovascular health, it does not increase blood pressure in the long term (although blood pressure does rise during any type of exercise, which is not dangerous for healthy individuals). However, most bodybuilders also engage in cardiovascular exercise, which is well established for decreasing blood pressure.

Also, natural bodybuilders tend to be very lean - not only on the "outside," but also on the "inside," as they tend to have less fatty plaque lining artery walls (and are therefore at a reduced risk for atherosclerosis). Further, the "large heart syndrome" (bigger heart muscles that make the heart work harder) that many purport as a result of weight training has not been proven in research.

Is it possible to gain muscle strength or muscle endurance without gaining muscle size?

It is possible to gain strength without increasing muscle size (hypertrophy). Similarly, it is possible to enhance muscle endurance without hypertrophy. However, it may be difficult to train for both goals at the same time.

  • Training for muscle endurance is generally achieved through high repetitions and lighter weights.
  • To train for strength while minimizing gains in muscle mass, it is advisable to perform low repetitions per set, using explosive movements (short concentric contractions) while lowering the weights under control. Be sure to be adequately warmed up before starting into the working sets.

Detailed Answer:
Training for strength over size is largely attained through potentiating the neuromuscular system (brain-muscle connection); that is, strengthening the nervous system as a muscle "activator". As a protective mechanism for the body, the central nervous system has safeguards in place that shut down muscle activity when the muscle attempts to work at too high an intensity.

Specifically, one of these systems works through an organelle found in tendons of muscle (Golgi tendon organs), which shuts down muscle activity when it senses that there is too much strain on a muscle. Also, for the untrained individual (or somebody who rarely lifts very heavy weights), the connection between muscle and brain may be relatively weak. To train the neuromuscular connection, it is advisable to perform low repetitions per set, using explosive movements (short concentric contractions) while lowering the weights under control.

Be sure to be adequately warmed up before starting into the working sets. Although muscle fiber density may increase from this type of training, hypertrophy is minimized since high resistance/low rep training does not elicit changes in extra-fibril structures (blood vessels, organelles like mitochondria). At the same time, strength gains will be evident through neuromuscular potentiation.

Training for muscle endurance is generally achieved through high repetitions and lighter weights. With this type of training, the major change to the muscle is the ability to manage metabolic waste, and fuel utilization. For example, the muscle is better able to utilize lactate as a fuel rather than allow it to minimize muscle performance.

Also, more efficient fuel sources such as fats make up a larger portion of the muscle's fuel (rather than carbohydrates which tend to promote metabolic waste accumulation). Note, however, that some of these changes include increased capillary (and blood vessel) density and mitochondria - changes that reduce muscle density. Nevertheless, these changes will not cause a significant increase in muscle size.

Since these two goals require quite different methods of training, a good approach may be to periodize your training. That is, train for muscle endurance for 3-4 weeks, and then switch to a training program geared towards building muscle strength.

Is it possible to do the Eating-for-LIFE program while competing or training for a marathon or long-distance triathlon?

Providing adequate fuel to the body is an important element of a nutrition program geared for endurance performance. Specifically, endurance athletes need more carbohydrates and fat to sustain long duration exercise. However, this practice is not conducive to losing bodyfat or increasing lean mass. For this reason, it is very difficult to see fat loss while following a sport-specific endurance-training program. A good approach may be to follow the Eating-for-LIFE program in the off season, and follow a more traditional endurance athlete's nutrition program while in-season.

Detailed Answer:
To lose fat, it is necessary to create a calorie deficit, whereby one expends more calories than are ingested. However, when training for an ultra-endurance event, you are subjecting your body to a high degree of stress, for which adequate calories are required just to recover. If a reduced-calorie diet is introduced at the same time, the result is usually the catabolism of muscle; a common problem for endurance athletes anyway. Since muscle is active tissue, the more muscle one maintains, the faster their metabolic rate. Conversely, losses in lean body mass decrease metabolic rate. It is not hard to imagine that the practice of losing lean body mass (thus slowing metabolic rate) while eating a lot of calories is incompatible with losing fat.

The best approach for losing fat while maintaining endurance performance is to cycle your training into periodization cycles. For example, in the off season, try a program geared towards losing fat and increasing lean mass (such as the Body-for-LIFE) program, and perform sport-specific training (and sport-specific nutrition) programs preseason and during the season.

What is meant by the term Basal Metabolic Rate?

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) or basal metabolism represents the minimal energy expended to keep a resting, awake body alive. This requires about 60-70% of the total energy use by the body. The processes involved include maintaining a heartbeat, respiration, temperature and other functions. It does not include energy used for physical activity or digesting foods. Basal metabolism accounts for roughly 1 kcalorie/kilogram (2.2 lbs.)/hour. We use the term 'roughly," due to the fact that the amount of energy used for basal metabolism depends primarily upon lean body mass.

Do you have any suggestions as to the best programs for becoming certified as a personal trainer to work with people lifting weights?

Two of the best associations for Training Certifications are listed below. Both ACSM and NSCA have respected certifications available, and their information follows:

    NSCA Certification Commission
    1640 L St, Suite G
    Lincoln, NE 68508
    Phone # (719)632-6722
    Fax # (719)632-6367
    Toll-Free (800) 815-6826

    401 W. Michigan St.
    Indianapolis, IN 46202-3233
    Phone # (317)637-9200
    Fax # (317)634-7817

What causes delayed onset muscle soreness?

The cause for delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) has been debated at length by exercise physiologists, and is still not fully understood. Mechanisms for theories proposed in the past have included lactic acid buildup, torn tissue, muscle spasm, and connective tissue damage. Of these, the lactic acid buildup theory, and spasm theory have largely been discounted by exercise physiologists. Currently, the most accepted theory for DOMS seems to be muscle/connective tissue damage due to mechanical forces on the muscle and connective tissue. If you would like read more about proposed theories of DOMS, see Tech Support.

Are pain killers effective for reducing muscle soreness?

Unfortunately this is a complex question, and a complete investigation of this question is beyond the scope of this document. This is further complicated by contradictory results from previous studies. Nevertheless, here are some highlights from recent research.

First of all, not all pain-killers work the same way in the body. Quite possibly, some pain-killers may have an effect on muscle soreness, while others have no effect. Ibuprofen may be the most likely of the over-the-counter pain-killers to be beneficial in reducing exercise-induced muscle soreness. Indeed many studies have shown that ibuprofen reduces the inflammation response associated with eccentric exercise. Other studies contradict these findings, demonstrating the complexity of this question. Moreover, aspirin, codeine, and paracetamol (Tylenol) also seem to be ineffective in reducing exercise induced muscle soreness.

Since it is somewhat unfounded that pain-killers reduce muscle soreness caused by exercise, your best bet is to stick to other methods that have been shown to be at least mildly effective. These include repeated training sessions, heat/cold, post-workout stretching, massage, active rest, anti-oxidants, and glutamine. A great recommendation for your customers who are experiencing a lot of muscle soreness is to try CytoVol (pictured right). Incidentally, CytoVol is always a good upsell for just about anybody, whether they are trying to build muscle mass, lose fat, or stay healthy.

I heard that exercising on an empty stomach leads to losses in lean body mass. Should I really be exercising on an empty stomach?

There are benefits to working out on an empty stomach, and different benefits when one works out after eating -both methods are recommended in EAS literature. Ultimately, one should choose the method based on their fitness goals. As a rule of thumb, it may be best to perform workouts on an empty stomach if one's main goal is bodyfat loss. However, if one is only concerned with gaining lean mass, eating 30-60 minutes before a workout may be a good idea.

For people looking to lose bodyfat while increasing muscle mass at the same time, it may be best to take advantage of the key benefits of each method. For example, one could try working out on an empty stomach some days, and eat 30-60 minutes before working out on other days (i.e. eat before resistance exercise sessions; do not eat before cardio). Following is a detailed breakdown of the benefits and drawbacks to each method:

Eating 30-60 minutes Before a Workout


  • Maximizes liver and muscle glycogen, a fuel stored in muscle that is necessary for intense exercise (assuming that the meal is balanced).
  • Prevents the breakdown of muscle tissue (by preventing the secretion of the hormone cortisol).
  • Allows for longer duration workouts2.
  • May increase secretion of growth hormone (particularly with exercise that elicits high lactate production, like intense cardio)3 therfore greater utilization of fat as fuel, free fatty acid (FFA) release, and protein synthesis2..
  • Suppresses FFA release from fat stores (due to the presence of insulin).
  • Excess insulin (which easily occurs through eating too many calories or high glycemic foods) may cause hypoglycemia, leading to depleted muscle glycogen stores therfore exerciser "crashes"2.

Exercise on Empty Stomach


  • Increases FFA availability in blood therefore increases the amount fats burned as energy1.
  • May increase secretion of growth hormone2 (particularly with exercise that elicits high lactate production, like intense cardio)3 therfore greater utilization of fat as fuel, FFA release, and protein synthesis (note that this is an unresolved issue, as it contradicts the bullet above).


  • Increased production of cortisol therfore leads to the breakdown of muscle tissue.


  1. McCarty, M.F. Optimizing exercise for fat loss. Medical Hypotheses 44: 325-330; 1995.
  2. Brooks, G.A., T.D. Fahey, and T.P. White. Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and its Applications, Second Edition. Mountain View: Mayfield. 163-164, 600-601, 605; 1996.
  3. Kraemer, W.J. Endocrine responses to resistance exercise. In Baechle, T.R. and R.W. Earle, eds. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaign: Human Kinetics. 105-106, 112; 2000.

On certain training days such as when I do back and biceps together, sometimes it is difficult to hold onto the bar because of forearm fatigue. Is there anything I can do to correct this?

Forearm strength is often a limiting factor, especially when handling heavy weights vertically such as pullups or deadlift. Chalk, sticky pads, or weightlifting straps can help with handling the load when necessary, however, as a rule of thumb, it is best to work through this discomfort since these very activities are some of the best exercises for developing the forearms and building grip strength. On the contrary, straps and chalk should always be used.

When to use straps and chalk:

  1. Your ability to hold the weight compromises the safety of the movement, or
  2. Lack of grip strength limits your ability to strengthen/develop the target muscle effectively.

I have had a cold the past couple of days and was wondering if it is a good idea to still exercise?

You may think it is a good idea not to engage in vigorous exercise when you have the sniffles. However, a new study suggests that if you are well enough to get out of bed, you are probably well enough to get a workout. Researchers at Ball State University in Indiana found that exercising does not delay recovery or worsen symptoms of the common cold.

In the study, 34 moderately fit folks, ages 18-29, were assigned to an exercising group, while 16 additional people of similar age and fitness level were assigned to a non-exercising group. Then both groups were inoculated with a virus to produce upper respiratory illness. The exercising group worked out at 70% of maximum heart rate for 40 minutes per day*, every other day.

Researchers collected used facial tissues and administered symptom questionnaires every 12 hours to gauge the progress of the illness and its symptoms. After ten days, analyses of symptoms were similar between the exercising and non-exercising groups. So while you may feel like scaling down your routine if you are feeling under the weather, there seems to be no reason to skip it altogether.

*Note - This study focused on cardiovascular training - weight training involves much higher levels of oxidative stress, and as such would likely compromise immune function. As such, stick with cardiovascular training in these instances.

I've heard the terms "concentric and eccentric contractions." What do these mean?

A concentric contraction occurs during the lifting phase of an exercise, when the muscle shortens or contracts. For example, when you lift the weight in a bench press, pressing it from your chest to the lock-out position, that is the concentric, or "positive," phase of the exercise. An eccentric contraction occurs during the lowering phase of an exercise, when the muscle lengthens. For example, lowering the weight to your chest during the bench press is the eccentric or "negative," portion of the exercise.

What can I do about 'stretch marks' that appear after I've been weight lifting and gaining size and strength?

If you are weight training and gaining some size and muscularity, chances are you will begin to develop stretch marks. This is, to a certain extent, unavoidable. You may minimize their development, however, through the application of a topical antioxidant cream that contains collagen. Regular application of this type of lotion/cream will increase skin elasticity, and thus diminish the formation of stretch marks, but it may not fully prevent their development.

What can I do to prevent muscle cramping?

Muscle cramping occurs when a muscle continues to contract, and cannot seem to "let go". The painful sensation one feels is caused by muscle fatigue, and waste products like lactic acid that build up in the muscle. Although the cause of muscle cramps is not entirely understood, a number of factors seem to be involved, including hydration level, electrolyte balance, training history, and chronically tight muscles.

Some factors that may increase muscle cramps:

  1. Training history seems to be the most important factor. Exercise beyond an accustomed limit (longer duration, or intensity) will often bring on muscle cramps. However, through regular training, one tends to experience muscle cramps less frequently.
  2. Make sure that you are drinking enough water - 10 glasses of water daily (at least 10 oz. each), or if you care to be more precise, 0.6oz/water/lb. of bodyweight. Increase this amount if you consume caffeine. For each cup of coffee, tea, or soda you take in, please be sure to add an additional 10 oz glass of water for each.
  3. Through sweating (especially in a hot environment), one tends to lose electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Normally these are replaced in the diet. However, prolonged exercise (longer than 1 hour) in hot environments may create a need for mineral replenishment. Try adding a bit of salt to your foods, and take a multivitamin/mineral supplement and see if this makes a difference.
  4. Lastly, tight muscles are best addressed by stretching before and after every workout. There is a basic stretching regimen in Muscle Media (#82), pages 82 - 92, or you may follow the regimen outlined in the Personal Fitness Guide. Stretching allows more nutrients, blood, etc. into the muscle, and allows you to dispose of waste materials more easily due to increased blood flow.

What is the current theory on using a weight belt? Should I or shouldn't I use one?

Weight belts are a handy tool for helping to protect your back on those lifts that may stress it, but that does not mean you should use them on every lift for every rep. When you do an intense exercise that involves the back, such as squats, it would seem logical that you would want that safety precaution in place at all times.

In doing so, however, you may predispose yourself to an injury by taking the muscles that would ordinarily act as natural back supports out of the equation. Essentially, when you are doing a squat (with proper form!), your primary focus in terms of strength is your leg muscles. What most people don't realize is that you are also simultaneously strengthening your back support muscles - abdominals, lower back, obliques, etc.

When you wear a belt, you take those muscles (to a lesser or greater extent depending upon form) out of the chain, and as such they do not get strengthened to the same degree as do your leg muscles. What this may do in the long run is create an imbalance in the body in terms of overall support and equilibrium, which as you continue to grow stronger and use more weight, may increase the risk of injuring yourself in one way or another.

Perhaps the best way of looking at these muscles is to consider them a chain, and as you know, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. As such, if you're going to strengthen any part of the chain, you better strengthen the whole chain to keep yourself safe and prevent injuries. When would you want to use a belt? Usually, the only time to use a belt is when you are attempting a maximal lift - anywhere from 1 - 6 reps of a challenging weight that involves back support and all-out effort. At all other times, it's a good idea to simply use good form and have a competent spotter on these exercises.

I have been told all of my life that you have to work out at least 30 to 35 minutes in order go begin burning fat. Is there any scientific data you can provide to prove that the 20-minute aerobic solution does in fact burn fat?

When trying to lose bodyfat, the duration of the workout is less important than total calorie balance (total calories burned). To lose fat, it is necessary to achieve a calorie deficit. That is, the number of calories you burn must be greater than the number of calories you ingest. Cardiovascular exercise helps you to create this calorie deficit by burning excess calories. Although you can burn calories at any workout intensity, it is most efficient to work at a high-intensity for shorter periods of time compared to long-duration workouts.

For example, working at a high-intensity, one can burn up to 50% more calories3 in a shorter period of time. More importantly, postworkout, you continue to burn calories at an elevated rate 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 up to 142% more than low-intensity aerobics within the first hour following the cardio session1. What's more, this elevation in metabolism lasts up to 48 hours postworkout2, an effect not achieved with low-intensity exercise. The bottom line is that while low-intensity, long-duration exercise is effective for fat loss, typically one sees better results using a high-intensity protocol. Plus, this type of training is more efficient since once spends less time in the gym, but typically experiences better results.


  1. I. Tabata, et al., "Metabolic profile of high-intensity intermittent exercise," Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 29.3 (1997): 390-395.
  2. Bahr and O.M. Sejersted, "Effect of intensity on excess postexercise o2 consumption," Metabolism 40.8 (1991): 836-841.
  3. J. Smith and L. McNaughton, "The effects of intensity of exercise and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and energy expenditure in moderately trained men and women," Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 67 (1993): 420-425.
  4. C. Bass, "Forget the fat-burn zone: high intensity aerobics amazingly effective, "Clarence and Carol Bass,, 1997.
  5. R. Bahr, O. Gronnerod and O.M. Sejersted, "Effect of supramaximal exercise on excess postexercise O2 consumption, Med Sci. Sport Exerc. 24.1 (1992): 66-71.
  6. G.A. Gaesser and G.A Brooks, "Metabolic bases of excess postexercise oxygen consumption: a review," Med Sci Sport and Exerc. 16.1 (1984): 29-43.
  7. D.A. Sedlock, J.A. Fissinger and C.L. Melby, "Effect of exercise intensity and duration on postexercise energy expenditure," Med Sci. Sport Exerc. 21.6 (1989): 662-666.
  8. D.A. Sedlock, "Effect of exercise intensity on postexercise energy expenditure in women," Med Sci Sports Exerc. 25.1: (1991) 38.40.

Which is more beneficial: machines or free-weight exercises?

The majority of your workouts should be composed of free-weight exercises.

Here's why:

  • Compared to machines, free-weight movements often require more skill. For example, it is more difficult to balance the weights, and to coordinate muscles when performing free-weight exercises. Although this may sound like a disadvantage, it is actually a benefit. Since free-weight exercises necessitate lifting weights in free space, exercising with free-weights typically leads to muscle strength that is more applicable to everyday activities. For example, with regular training using free-weights, one may notice that taking out the trash is easier, mowing the lawn takes less effort, or it may take less time to shovel snow off the driveway.

  • Greater muscle-strength balance achieved with free-weights helps in preventing injuries. Free-weight training results in increased muscle strength not only in the large "target" muscle, it also strengthens the small muscles used for balance, or "stabilization". This means that muscle strength tends to be more "balanced" between muscle groups. In contrast, typically machines work only large muscle groups, while neglecting the "stabilizer muscles" since the machine itself stabilizes the weight for you. People who exclusively train with machines often are able to lift a lot of weight, but are not able to effectively stabilize the load due to weak stabilizer muscles. This muscle imbalance does not occur when one uses free-weights with good form. Just like a chain that is only as strong as its weakest link, the body is only as injury-resistant as its weakest stabilizer muscle. Again, stronger "weakest links" = fewer injuries.

  • In general, the resistance elicited by free-weights tends to mirror strengths and weakness of the body throughout the exercise, leading to greater gains in muscle mass and strength. Muscle strength is "dynamic". That is, muscles tend to be stronger at different points throughout the movement (at different joint angles). As an illustration, think of the leg extension exercise. Does it seem to get easier or harder as the leg is extended? Muscle strength is dynamic for a variety of reasons including the degree of muscle stretch, leverage of the tendon at different joint angles, and the leverage of gravity as the body is moved throughout space.

    The difficulty of a movement at different points can be measured quantitatively. A graph of these measurements is called a "movement strength curve". As a generalization, free-weight exercises typically mimic human strength curves more effectively than machines, leading to greater gains in strength and mass. As an example, in a barbell biceps curl, when the arm is extended it has little leverage and strength. Correspondingly, the barbell does not "pull" on the biceps with a lot of force because the barbell does not have a lot of leverage on the elbow joint. Conversely, halfway through the curl (when the forearm is parallel to the ground), the barbell has a lot of leverage, and "pulls" forcefully on the biceps.

    Fortunately, the biceps are strongest in this position because the muscles are at an optimal length, and the biceps tendon has the greatest amount of leverage. In this way, the muscle is worked consistently throughout the movement, resulting in better results. Keep in mind that a great physique is rarely built using only free-weights or only machines. A combination of the two is always a good choice. However, sticking with the free-weights for the majority of your workouts may yield better results.