Muscle Physiology 101 + HBBS vs. LBBS

Stole this from this thread. Read the whole thing for funsies if you’re inclined.

1) On force production: Why a lighter load moved at the same velocity as a heavier load CANNOT require the same (or certainly not more) force production by the skeletal muscles.

Statement: Force production as measured at the bar is less with the lighter load, of course. But it [force production] increases when one is pushing “harder” against the same load with less leverage.

No it doesn’t. Muscle physiology dictates that this is not the case. Pushing harder, i.e. producing more force through a series of muscular actions- which only pull technically, requires more force to be produced by both temporal (rate) and amount (number) of motor units firing.

These motor units, which make up the muscle fibers comprising the muscle belly, are either on or they’re off…period. To recruit them you either need to move the weight faster or add more resistance, both of which require MORE force production.

If there’s less weight being moved than a heavier weight at the same speed there is less total force being produced. There will, however, be some muscles that are creating “more” force in a HBBS than they would in an equally weighted LBBS due to the improved efficiency of the LBBS as compared to the HBBS. These muscles’ motor units, however, will not produce more force when compared to a heavier load- regardless of the leverage advantage/disadvantage. A 700lb half squat requires more force production than a 500lb ATG squat if they move at the same velocity- however it (the half squat) leaves muscle mass untrained and that doesn’t appear to be optimal. The HBBS both leaves muscle mass untrained AND reduces force into the bar.

2) On the bottom of the HBBS vs. the LBBS:

Statement: Not true. The bottom of the HBBs is less mechanically efficient on account of the more acute knee angle.

I don’t think you could actually say that the bottom of the HBBS is less mechanically efficient due to the acute-ness of the knee angle. The quadriceps are very strong…stronger than the hamstrings if we’re talking pure force production. Obviously joint angle, velocity of movement, etc. needs to be taken into consideration but the point is in a HBBS the quadriceps are lengthened MORE than in a LBBS and have a longer moment arm acting about the knee joint- potentiating more torque. This- coupled with a less horizontal back angle might be interpreted at being a more advantageous position except it doesn’t use the hamstrings and adductors as well as the LBBS, which is one of the reasons we can lift more weight using that squatting style- in general.

3) On general muscle recruitment when force production increases

Statement: Riddle me this. . . Let’s agree that LBBS allows for moving a heavier load than HBBS because it [the LBBS] places you in a position to recruit more muscle fiber (and it is not just a mechanical advantage). Now, an Oly lifter has to stand up a heavy clean. How does training that extra muscle fiber that is not used in standing the weight up — via the LBBS — help you?

A trained muscle can be recruited when the load is heavy enough (or velocity fast enough) to exceed that specific motor units threshold- and then it fires to perform it’s action(s). Strength, ie force production is a general adaptation that can be applied specifically. For instance, it your bench press goes up, you can swing a golf club faster because your force production of some of the muscles utilized to swing the club have been trained to produce more force. Somehow, these two activities are different.

Motor unit threshold is a muscle physiology principle, Henneman’s size principle to be exact, stating that larger size and higher threshold motor units are recruited sequentially (smallest to largest) when force output demands are increased. Thus there is a certain threshold of force generation required to move the load that is the impetus for recruiting the highest threshold (and largest sized) motor units. Heavy weight and/or high velocity are what does this, however the Westside percentages oft-repeated of 55-65% are woefully inadequate for getting these motor units to fire.

tl;dr> heavier squat (regardless of leverages)= more motor unit recruitment that are either 100% on or off based on the threshold either being met (or not) for their recruitment. More motor unit recruitment= more muscle trained= more gainzZz.

Golf Stuff:

Gordon et al., 2009 investigated the relationship of strength, power and flexibility to club head speed. The results showed a significant correlation between chest strength and club head speed

“These results are similar to those reported by Hetu et al., 1998 and Westcott et al., 1996 who studied changes in golf performance following a strength (Table 2) and flexibility training program. Significant increases in several physical fitness measurements (+6.2% grip, +14.2% chest press, +18.1% leg extension and +47.3% trunk rotation) were related to an improved drive performance (+6% in CHS)”

4) On muscle contraction, i.e. muscles only contract (shorten) and pull. NO muscles push and NO muscles radially expand to create force.

No muscles push or expand to create force. They shorten or create tension via cross-bridging in an isometric function. The muscle cells tend to draw things intracellularly in response to training, thus expanding- but this is on the micro level and is more of a hypetrophic stimulus vs. a force producing stimulus.

Statement about the heart radially expanding to create force: In essence, doesn’t the heart do exactly that? The heart “expands” every piece of itself “out” (in the direction of its own interior space), pushing blood along. The use of “expand” is interesting here — looking at the transverse thickness of the muscle rather than it’s length. But if you’ll remember, that was *PRECISELY* the comment (from Dave Paauwe) that got me talking about the heart.

The heart expands during diastole (both in atrial and ventricular diastole, which are separate events). When the atria relax (diastole) and expand, the ventricles are contracting (pulling from z line to z line of the sarcomere) to push blood out of the ventricle and into either the aorta or pulmonary trunk (as explained below). Radial expansion and increased pressure (to a point) of the ventricle itself stretches the muscle fibers eccentrically of the cardiac tissue, which optimizes their sarcomeric length at ~2.2um (Starling’s Law). If the heart becomes overfilled, the actin-myosin cross bridges are less abundant and the contractility is compromised. This is part the mechanism behind dilated cardiomyopathy/CHF. None of this has to do with a muscle fiber expanding to create force, however.

The heart “pushing” is actually a pull. The myofibrils are laid in series and contract in unison via gap junctions connecting cells, which turns them into a syncitium. The force of a radially constricting (not expanding) ventricle increases ventricular pressure to a point where it overcomes the pressure in the aorta, thus creating blood flow from ventricle to aorta. This is why when a person has aortic stenosis from either a calcified valve or congenital bicuspid aortic valve that left ventricular hypetrophy occurs, as this is an adaptation to the requirements for increased force production,(similar to skeletal muscle but no one ever asks me to flex my heart 😦

Interestingly, after the ejection (systole) of blood into the aorta (or pulmonary trunk from the right ventricle) occurs in 2 phases, a quick initial phase and a slower second phase. The second phase is driven mostly by the negative pressure (venturi effect) created by the 1st phase and quite literally, this pressure “pulls” the blood up thru the aortic valve. Similarly, the negative pressure also helps pull blood from the atrium into the ventricle as the aortic valve closes.

5) On specializing for Olympic lifting for the genetically average….
Statement: If I were trying to specialize in Olympic lifting, I might switch to primarily high bar, while obviously working on my front squat as well. That would allow me to use more weight than the front squat, without being quite as far from the catch position, since I am indeed a motor moron in many ways.

The logic involved in reasoning that the LBBS messes up the recovery of the clean is, in my mind, analogous to me making the argument that front squatting messes up the recovery of the snatch or, similarly, that doing the snatch messes up the clean with respect to receiving positions, grip, etc. They are markedly different, right?

I would also make the argument that if an athlete has a problem not being able to maintain a vertical-ish torso OR, more importantly, overcome a forward lean in a heavy clean recovery (like virtually all Internationally competitive WL’ers can and do when it actually gets heavy) that a LBBS would be more advantageous than a HBBS in improving this ability.

Statement on HBBS for average Oly enthusiasts: That’s obviously not conclusive, but I can see someone making the argument, especially if they want to do Olympic lifting, even though they don’t have the natural talent/aptitude to be elite.

That’s fair. Although just to be a contrarian (go figure), I would argue that a non elite, non athlete, is unlikely to have the genetic predisposition – and thus the explosive ability (e.g. Power) that he or she needs to be competitive. Since power is force/time- and they are lacking in the time department , it behooves THAT person- the genetically handicapped- to seek improvements in force production with greater vigilance than the “athlete”. Can you guess how I’d go about doing that?


Treadmills in the Workplace, Say What?

Recently got this question on my forum and thought I’d post it here for all to see.


I’m interested in your opinion on the following and whether it would negatively impact strength gains or maintaining strength.

My employer has made a number of ‘treadmill desks’ available to us. Basically, a treadmill below a standing-height desk, the idea being you walk on the treadmill at some speed so low that it does not interfere with your desk work, but provides some ongoing activity during the day.


I don’t foresee this being a big deal at all once you get used to it and I think this is analogous to “mail-man GPP”, i.e. the mailman walks 20,000 steps a day but can still train heavy after work because he’s gotten used to that volume of LISS, if you will. A person who just started at the post office gets wrecked from day 1’s 20K steps and because he’s not used to it, he needs to modify his training accordingly to allow a bit of transient performance drop off.

Perhaps the most poignant issue I could raise with this style of “cardio” is with it’s effectiveness to do anything useful at all. How can we expect a modality, frequency, and intensity of exercise that does not perturb our homeostasis much- as evidenced by fatigue, transient performance loss, etc.- to cause a beneficial adaptation? In other words, because the thing is so easy, I don’t know how much utility it has with respect to caloric expenditure, cardiovascular conditioning, etc. I highly doubt that your “net” caloric expenditure has changed over a 24-48hr period due to this type of exercise simply because the body is readily adaptive and there needs to be some critical threshold of “stimulation” that needs to be crossed to drive any and all adaptations.

On the other hand, I think the benefits of this type of intervention is more realistically applied to orthopedic benefits. Anything that gets you up out of the chair, into a better posture, pumps blood through the muscles, and moves the limbs, sinew, and soft tissue structures through their normal anatomical range of motion can only benefit the person doing it, in my opinion.

2013 USAPL/IPF Raw Challenge @ The Arnold Report

Calm before the storm.

Calm before the storm!

Hey everyone!! Thanks for all the support and for checking up on me. It was a fun day at the Arnold and although things didn’t go as well as planned I still had a blast and learned a lot. Additionally, I saw some super impressive lifters.

Jennifer Thompson (NC) benches 300 raw at 132lb bodyweight!

Jennifer Thompson (NC) benches 300 raw at 132lb bodyweight!

Here’s how the day went:
Wake Up Call: 530am. Headed to the convention center for the 6 am weigh in. Probably got about 4hours of decent sleep last night, but that was fine. I had to make sure all my gear was legal, i.e. shirt, singlet, shoes, etc. (not kidding). They told me my Brute Strength t-shirt was illegal, but that I could purchase a t-shirt to comply with the rules at their vendor conveniently located in the other room. Strike 1 IPF.

Anyway, I got to weigh in around 645 and was 82.9 kg (182.3 lbs). Slammed my super top secrete shake, 32oz gatorade, BCAAs+ water and was ready to roll.

Squats: Warm ups felt fine, hit my last warm up @365 but then they were screwing around around taking so much time to start my flight, so I hit 315 again to stay warm. Here’s how my attempts went:

190kg: Easy. Got 1 red light because apparently I fidgeted after given the squat command. Idk, they make me feel like I’m hyper extending my knees to get the squat command, so then I intuitively unlock them but this is frowned upon. The judges were super strict, per usual, at this meet and were red lighting people on depth (some people even bombed out of the meet due to this), but luckily in training I always squat deep. This rep was easy and I felt way better mentally after I hit it. Got it and called for 205kg.

On the way up with 425.

On the way up with 425.

205kg (452): Didn’t feel particularly hard or grindy. Just hit depth stood up, and got 3 whites.

452, buried alive!

452, buried alive! Note the knee position. My toes need to be angled out more though.

212.5kg: Either I didn’t have enough chalk on my back or I set up incorrectly because the bar rolled up my back out of the hole. Missed it ~1/3-1/2 way up. I didn’t fight it for too long because I didn’t wanna waste all my energy. I’m confident 210 would have gone, but 212.5 just wasn’t there today. I hit heavier than both (470) in training, but this was also after a full night’s sleep and without any added pressure from being at the Arnold. At this point, I wasn’t bummed at all, but I wish I could have gotten set up better so I could give it a real go without the bar rolling up my back.

Break #1: Took down some sliced turkey, rice cakes, and a bunch of water. Feeling good.

In the warm up room with JD.

In the warm up room with JD.

Bench: My last warm up, 300, felt pretty slow so I backed down my opener from 145 to 142.5 just to make sure I got into the meet. This was a smart move.

Attempt 1: 142.5- this was way slower than it should have been, as the bar went forward (towards my feet) off my chest. The pauses weren’t exceptionally long at all but I just executed this rep wrong. I was pretty pissed at myself since I hit 340 in training and even that didn’t feel this hard. I called for 147.5 for my 2nd.

(If you listen closely you can here the bar actually come to rest on the pins. The safeties were too high turning this into a pin press, essentially).



Attempt 2: I took down an entire gallon (literally) between attempt 1 and attempt 2. This extra hydration and me realizing I pushed the bar forward made this attempt a whole lot smoother. This felt super easy and was a 2.5kg meet PR. I also realized at this attempt that I never was setting my back and chest and my setup was essentially shit for all of these attempts since I failed to correct for them. Also, at the bottom of the rep before the pause, the bar kept hitting the safety pins and this was annoying as hell and distracting. I had them move the safety pins down 2 notches to try and get them out of the way.

Attempt 3 152.5: Drank a bunch more water and felt pretty confident going into this attempt. Unfortunately, I made the same mistake and didn’t set my shoulders on the bench after unracking it (the lift off sucked but that’s not an excuse). I also pushed the bar forward on this attempt too, which is why I missed it. I really though this was gonna be a smoke show but I cannot make technical errors at circa maximal attempts at huge meets and expect to get away with it. Ughhh.

Good handoff? Nope.

Good handoff? Nope.

Break 2: More turkey, more rice cakes, and water. Pull time. At this point I was pretty sure my elite total was out the window, but I still wanted to hit a 585-600lb pull, which would have been 3 PRs and big meet total PR. I was OKAY with this, as I wasn’t executing perfect technique at all, which is unacceptable.

Deadlifts: All warm ups were stupid easy. Very confident going into the pulls.

535 easy.

535 easy.

Attempt 1: 242.5 (535): Total smoke show. Felt like a speed pull, honestly. Something weird happened before this attempt though backstage. I started shivering and shaking violently, like I was soooo cold. I put on my heat gear (thermal shirt , jacket, and stocking cap) and tried to stay warm. When I was pulling this deadlift I also got this strange sensation that my arms were going to rip off, like both biceps were cramping or tearing or something. Totally weird.

Attempt 2: 265 (585 or something): The set up was okay, although my back was not as tight as it should have been, but it came off the floor fast and I thought it was game over until it cleared the knees. The bar moved away ever so slightly and the bar speed cratered. I kept pulling and from what the video shows, I shrugged it back against my legs. I did not feel myself rebend my knees, and the video shows this (will post it when my friends send me both angles) but I know the pull certainly didn’t feel normal. I’ve never hitched in my life so the weird feeling of the top of the pull makes me believe the call was accurate and hitchy, although all the dudes backstage told me it was a good pull. Who knows though. This was an expensive rep, that’s for sure. I called for the same attempt for my 3rd but was still shaking and shivering back stage even in full thermal gear. It was the strangest damn thing.

Swinging for the fences.

Swinging for the fences.


Locked out.

Locked out.

My best blue steel.

My best blue steel.

3rd Attempt: No gas, no chance. There could have been 280kg on the bar and it would have moved the exact same distance, zero inches.

Total: 1313 (or 1312), 9th overall for <93kg men.

Feelings: I’m kinda bummed about the deadlift since I really felt good about my training cycle coming into the meet. In retrospect, I should have called for 260-262.5 or not mess up the pull by being technically proficient in the lifts and just smoked it. If I would have hit 262.5 I think I would have ended up with a better placing in the overall standings. On the other hand, I didn’t come to the Arnold to necessarily put up a big total, but rather I just wanted to go for PRs. I set two meet PRs and missed a 3rd (deadlift).

So I weighed in at 182.3 and before anyone says anything, I was 198 after stepping off the platform for my 3rd deadlift attempt. I have no doubt in my mind as to why my performance wasn’t what I wanted, I plain screwed up on every max effort attempt. No excuses, I just either set up wrong or did the movement incorrectly on my 3rd Squat and Bench (also my 1st one here) and 2nd pull. I cannot expect to get away with compromised technique and set crazy PRs on the biggest stage in powerlifting. I thought the judging was fair and I felt fine all day except for the shivering/shaking thing before deadlifts.

I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I am at the support of the Internet community and my friends for my meet Friday on here, Facebook, and Twitter. It was a really cool meet that was run extraordinarily well, yet I can’t help but be disappointed in the overall outcome due to technical miscues. If I would have missed weights because they’re just too heavy that’d be one thing, but to miss attempts because I did them wrong bums me out.

Going forward, I’m definitely moving up a weight class, adjusting my peaking schedule, and will probably pick a meet to do that’s more low key. I’ve only done one small meet (my first one ever a little less than a year ago) and then the other meets were Raw Nationals, USAPL NE Regionals (huge meet), and the Arnold. I need to work my technique more and fine tune it so I can display my strength better. I have no doubt that the weights I missed today would have fallen on a different day or if I had better technique, but it wasn’t in the cards. I still had a blast competing at the Arnold, although I must say the place is packed full of weirdos. I just changed my flight back to VA to tomorrow instead of Sunday because all the strange folks really put me off to the whole thing. I’ve never seen more steroids, fake tans, makeup (on both genders), and peacocking going on in one place. It was overly stimulating for sure!

Again, thanks for all your support everyone. I’m not down on myself at all. I know I could have easily deadlifted 260 no problem and put up a much bigger total, but that wasn’t the goal for this meet as mentioned before.


Big Things Popping

It’s a big month for FitCoach athletes…Here’s a run down:

1) Chad Crawford and Mark Weishaar : Professional Supercross

I’ve been working with these guys since early December getting them ready for the 2013 250sx East Regional Series. For those of you who aren’t in the know, motocross and it’s flashy brethren, supercross, may just be the hardest sport out there. It certainly requires a super high level of conditioning, skill, and testicular fortitude (or ovarian fortitude) to be successful. They’ll be down in Dallas, TX representing their team, 2 Dudes in a Tundra and St. Louis, MO so here’s a big shout out to these guys. Good luck, focus, and all the training we’ve done together is about to pay off big time!

2) Gillian Mounsey: Raw Unity Meet- Powerlifting

You can view the video below to see Gillian squatting (then me) and read more about what I’m helping her out with here.

Basically, we’re running a short meet prep nutritional protocol that will allow her to drop about 10-15lbs in 2 weeks to improve her chances of winning big at the Raw Unity Meet.

3) Billy Marshall: CrossFit Open

My man, Billy, has been killing it lately. He’s the guy I’m programming for getting him ready for the CrossFit open. You can check the archives for what his training cycles have been looking like.

Billy is a 185lb’er and will most likely PR his clean and jerk at 335, snatch at 280, and improve his conditioning at the same time. He’s all signed up for the open so big shout out to Billy to crush it after the deload.

4) Me: Duh.

The Arnold Sports Festival is about 2.5 weeks away and I’m just getting ready to finish up my final heavy week. I PR’ed my deadlift by about 50lbs (for a gym deadlift) when I hit 590 x 1

I also did my old 1RM squat (440) for a double, so things are looking up! I need to hit a 1396 total for my official elite status so why don’t we just call it even and make it 1400?

At any rate, I’m super proud of all my athletes and I’m looking forward to doing big things this month and next month!


PS: 5) My client Juho from Finland, just killed it on the erg last week by setting new PRs in his events. Look for him to be doing very big things on the international stage very soon.