Exercsie and Physiology Information

Frequently Asked Questions
Justin Opal, RPT

 


Q. Should men and women train differently?
Q. Should I lift as much weight as I can if I want to gain muscle?
Q.Should I train my abs every day?
Q. Which equipment is better: free weights or machines?
Q. If I just want to gain muscle should I bother with cardio?
Q. How often should I change my program?
Q. For how long should I hold a stretch?
Q. What type of exercise is better: compound or isolation movements?


Q. Should men and women train differently?

A. If your goals are the same then training methods should be quite similar. Muscle cells are muscle cells — they are no different for either men or women. If given the same stimulus they will respond in the same way. One difference between males and females, however, is that females have lower levels of testosterone — a hormone that plays a key role in developing muscle. If a female wants to gain lean body tissue she will likely have to work harder than a male to promote the same change in body composition.

Q. Should I lift as much weight as I can if I want to gain muscle?
A. No. Using as much weight as you can possibly handle usually means that you won’t be able to complete enough reps with proper technique to promote muscle growth. To gain muscle you have to give it a reason to change. You also have to give your body the right instructions to get the results you want. Think of your body as a computer. You have to give a computer very specific instructions for it to perform the way you want it to. If your instructions are off by a little you can hit ‘enter’ all day and you won’t get what you want. Your body is the same way — if you are using a heavy weight that only allows you to complete 1–5 sets of 1–7 reps then you are telling it to increase strength and power with limited muscle growth. If you increase the muscle’s time under tension by using a weight with which you can complete 2–5 sets of 8–14 reps, you are telling your body to increase muscle size more than strength and power.

Q. Should I train my abs every day?
A. No. There is a lot of confusion about core training. Your abdominal muscles are no different than any other skeletal muscle yet some people think their abs are some kind of ‘super’ muscle that should be attacked with extremely high reps every day. You would never train any other muscle group in this way. Even though the abdominal muscles have a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscles fibers than other muscles, 15–25 reps per set with 48–72 hours rest between workouts is way more effective than 300+ reps per set every day.

Q. Which equipment is better: free weights or machines?
A. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Free Weights:

Advantages
Disadvantages
Greatest amount of muscle fiber recruitment. Can be dangerous without a spotter.
Balancing of the weights more effectively develops stability. Requires high degree of body awareness in order to perform movements effectively and safely.
Movements closely match the body’s normal actions. Inconvenient and time-consuming.

Machines:


Advantages
Disadvantages
Can effectively isolate specific muscles. Difficult to develop stability.
Spotter is not necessary. Does not always accommodate very tall or very short people comfortably.
Some machine exercises are not easily done with free weights. Equipment can be much more expensive than free weights.

Free weights are typically the preferred form of resistance in a resistance training program. They have a higher degree of muscle fiber recruitment, better promote stability and require more mental focus than machines. However, free weights and machines can complement each other very effectively. Once you have fatigued your muscles with free weights move over to machines to finish off your muscles, add variety and reduce boredom.

Q. If I just want to gain muscle should I bother with cardio?
A. You are only as strong as your weakest link and nobody wants their weakest link to be their heart. If you cardiovascular system (heart, lungs, circulatory system) is not strong enough to provide your working muscles with nutrients and oxygen then you will fatigue before you can reach muscle failure. How well will you perform if your muscles have tremendous strength but your cardiovascular system can’t keep pace with the energy demands. To stay balanced and functionally strong your cardiovascular fitness is as important as muscular strength or size.

Q. How often should I change my program?
A. You need to change the framework of your program every two to three months to sustain continual improvement. You need to keep your body ‘guessing’ so that it will adapt to given stresses. When you do the same thing over and over the rate of improvement will gradually decrease. This can lead to boredom, frustration and eventually a plateau. To avoid this keep every workout fresh and have an annual periodization plan.

Q. For how long should I hold a stretch?
A. A safe guideline for the time to hold a static stretch is 15 to 30 seconds. In order to increase flexibility you should take a stretch until you feel tension (but not pain) in the muscle and then hold this position until you feel the tension release (typically longer than 30 seconds). Flexibility is an important part of your overall health and fitness. When included in a cool down stretching aids in recovery by helping the body flush lactic acid and other waste products from the muscles.

Q. What type of exercise is better: compound or isolation movements?
A. Compound exercises are those that require the use of two or more joints (ie squats) while isolation exercises use only one joint at a time (ie leg extension). Compound movements have greater muscle fiber recruitment, increase body awareness and coordination. They should form the foundation of a resistance-training program and be performed first. Once your muscles are fatigued and you’ve lost some of your concentration move on to isolation exercises. Isolation exercises can be less demanding and are effective to correct muscle imbalances