Monday, January 31, 2011

Paired Set Workouts to Enhance Your Exercise Efficiency.

       One of the main reasons people give for their discretion of not working out is lack of time. Moreover, there are many people already exercising who wish they could get more out of their time in the gym, or perhaps get in and out of the gym a little quicker. Well for these crowds, the answer may be paired set training or complexes. Traditional sets are defined as performing a given amount of repetitions followed by a given rest period and repeating. Paired sets involve performing one set of an exercise followed immediately by another. 
Following the following methods will help you get in and out of the gym much quicker

There are several ways to go about doing this, so let me fill you in on the technical jargon:

Super set: This is when you perform a set of an exercise (exercise A) and follow it up with performing an exercise (exercise B) that taxes the antagonist muscle group to exercise A. An example would be performing a set of pull ups immediately followed up by a set of dumbbell shoulder presses.

Compound set: This type of paired set is more often practiced by the bodybuilding crowd. Compound sets involve performing two or more consecutive exercises with no rest in between them as well. However this time around, all of the exercises are targeting the same musculature. Most often a compound movement (one involving multiple joints) will be followed by an accessory movement (one that only involves one joint) For example a trainee may perform a set of the bench press followed up immediately by a set of chest  flyes. After the rest period that has been established for this workout (let’s say 1 min.), this set will be repeated, most likely for a total of 3-4 sets when it’s all said and done. Personally I am against frequent use of compound sets.  Let me further elaborate on this.

Compound sets are very similar to another technique often used by bodybuilders, known as pre fatiguing. Pre-fatiguing involves performing a few sets of an accessory movement (lets use the chest fly again) followed by a compound movement (lets use the bench press again). The theory behind this practice is that the accessory exercise will tire the main muscles being targeted (in this case the pectoralis major) before the compound movement resulting in the muscles being taxed to greater extent during the compound movement (1). The problem is that this could not be further from the truth. What the science actually shows is that pre-fatiguing does indeed elicit fatigue in the targeted musculature, rendering them less active during the more stressful compound movements (2,3). Therefore this strategy alters the muscular recruitment pattern during the main movement placing more stress on complementary muscles and leaving the trainee more vulnerable to injury. Therefore it is my feeling that performing the additional accessory movement following each set of the compound movement renders the trainee at greater risk for injury due to poor recruitment and deleterious mechanics (2,3).

Complexes: Complexes involve grouping several compound exercises together in consecutive order and then taking short rests between performing this routine again. To do this form of training justice, I will write another separate post on the topic. Another great source on complexes is Cardio Strength Training by coach Robert Dos Remedios (4)

Now on to the research findings on paired set training. This type of training has been utilized by a lot of fitness enthusiasts for years, but Daniel Robbins and colleagues the University of Ballat in Australia kept busy this past year putting out research that shows that paired set training is effective at increasing the efficiency of workouts. In one of the trials(5), Robbins collected EMG data (a test measuring muscle activity) for the primary muscles during bench pulls and bench press (pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, latissimus dorsi, and trapezius) The subjects performed the exercises using the traditional method in session and using paired sets in another session. The findings revealed that despite performing the same amount of work, the paired set session took roughly half as long, the trainees were able to maintain the same volume load  (use just as much weight) throughout the session, and that there were no significant differences in EMG data, inferring that neuromuscular fatigue was no greater in the paired set group. Other trials by the same research team found similar findings in that the paired set sessions drastically reduced time while allowing the trainee to maintain similar power, intensity, and total volume load when using paired sets.(6,7) These findings are especially meaningful to populations that must emphasize power movements and high intensity lifting in limited time frames, such as athletes.
Troy Polamalu emphasizing complexes in his training. Its only gotten him to 3 super bowls and counting.

As for energy expenditure, studies have found that paired sets elicit greater energy expenditure during the workout session, which makes sense considering the trainee is performing more mechanical work by performing 2 exercises rather than 1 in the same time frame (8). Kelleher et al put a group of young men through a full 6 exercise, 4 sets each workout and found paired set training elicited an energy expenditure of 8.3 Calories per minute compared to only 6.3 Calories per minute for traditional sets. Now as you may note these Caloric expenditures are not that high but the great thing about weight training is (EPOC) excessive post oxygen consumption. EPOC refers to the body continuing to use above-resting oxygen while recovery begins to occur. As a generality, the more oxygen we are utilizing, the greater our caloric expenditure. The EPOC for the paired sets were significantly higher (18.9 Calories vs. 13.5) one hour after completion of the workout session. Another marker of raised metabolism, blood lactate was also significantly higher as well

Anecdotal observations and the scientific data reveal that paired set training is an effective way to get more volume in a workout session of equal time or get in a workout of the same volume in less time, while maintaining crucial aspects that elicit adaptations to occur, such as power and intensity. With that said it appears paired set training is the way to go for those of us in a crunch for time or who want to increase the Caloric requirement of our resistance training sessions. To further put all this into context, I will concede there will inevitably be days where the energy levels and motivation just won’t be there to effectively perform paired sets for the entire duration of a session. This style of training is very demanding! For days like these, I will discuss alternative strategies that can be used to enhance the workout without rendering it too demanding in another post.

Happy exercising,
1) Baeche & Earle (Eds) 2008 The Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Human Kinetics Champaign, IL
2) Augustsson J, Thomeé R, Hörnstedt P, et al. 2003 Effect of pre-exhaustion exercise on lower-extremity muscle activation during a leg press exercise. J Strength Cond Res.17(2):411-6.
3) Brennecke A, Guimarães TM, Leone R, et al. 2009 Neuromuscular activity during bench press exercise performed with and without the preexhaustion method. J Strength Cond Res. 23(7):1933-40.

4) Dos Remedios, R. 2009 Cardio Strength Training. Rodale Publishing New York, NY

5) Robbins DW, Young WB, Behm DG, et al. 2010 Physical performance and electromyographic responses to an acute bout of paired set strength training versus traditional strength training. J Strength Cond Res. 24(5):1237-45.
6) Robbins DW, Young WB, Behm DG, Payne WR. 2010 The effect of a complex agonist and antagonist resistance training protocol on volume load, power output, electromyographic responses, and efficiency. J Strength Cond Res. 24(7):1782-9.
7) Robbins DW, Young WB, Behm DG, Payne WR. 2010 Agonist-antagonist paired set resistance training: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res. 24(10):2873-82.
8) Kelleher AR, Hackney KJ, Fairchild TJ et al. 2010 The metabolic costs of reciprocal supersets vs. traditional resistance exercise in young recreationally active adults. J Strength Cond Res. 24(4):1043-51.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

More Evidence Against Omega 6 oils

One the principal dietary offenders in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is the overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids.  These are polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) found mostly in processed vegetable oils like corn oil and soybean oil. I have to give credit to physiologist Ray Peat for introducing me to the perils of omega 6 fatty acids and the overconsumption of polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) in general. Stephan Guyenet at the Whole Health Source blog also does an excellent job of revealing how the overconsumption of PUFA is most likely one of the key causes of overweight/obesity and the epidemic of disease in the US today too.

The problem is that the mainstream dogma persists that PUFA are somehow protective and saturated fats (SFA) are to blame for the metabolic conundrums that haunt western society. For example the American Heart Association continues to trumpet omega-6 fatty acids as heart protective (here). As an aside, one can really appreciate the integrity of the AHA's reccomendations when the Fats & Oils page has a huge sponsor ad from, but I'll digress on that issue.

These reccomendations are generally alligned with the lipid hypothesis and the continuing incidence of researchers finding PUFA consumption decrease LDL, or what the mainstream will have us believe is the bad cholesterol (1). To take a step back, LDL is actually a lipoprotein which carries cholesterol, not cholesterol. This is an oversimplification made to increase the average citizens ability to understand cholesterol. An interesting note made by Gary Taubes in Good Calories Bad Calories is that LDL has been observed to be weak predictor or non predictor of coronary heart disease (CHD) in relevant populations. For example in one of the largest ongoing observational studies in the US, the Framingham study, LDL was not strongly associated with CHD (2).

 " In men, mean LDL-C was lower in CHD than in controls (3.22 vs 3.51 mmol/L, P < 0.0001), whereas mean sdLDL-C concentrations were similar (0.83 vs 0.84 mmol/L, P = 0.609). In women, mean LDL-C was similar in CHD and controls (3.53 vs 3.46 mmol/L, P = 0.543), but mean sdLDL-C was higher (0.83 vs 0.68 mmol/L, P = 0.0015). "

Fortunately as the Framingham findings reveal, more and more literature continues to be published that supports that omega-6 are most likely not beneficial, are indeed problematic, and by no means an adjunt to good health and longevity.

A very recent systematic review published in the British Journal of Nutrition (3) by Christopher E. Ramsden and colleagues analyzed the relevant literature on omega-6 interventions, in which case previous researchers replaced SFA and transfatty acids (TFA) with omega-6, omega-3, or a combination of these two principle PUFAs (there are also omega 9's) and furthermore, measured outcomes. The researcher's findings revealed that the analyzed randomized controlled trials (RCTs) which substituted SFA and TFA with omega-6 without simultaneously increasing omega-3 produced in an increase in risk of death that approached statistical significance. Risk of non-fatal heart attack and CHD death was significantly higher in omega-6  PUFA diets compared to the mixed PUFA diets (P = 0·02).

One of the more famous trials in fatty acid mainupulation, the Finnish Mental Hospital study was excluded because subjects were assigned by hospital and not randomised as individual patients. Therefore the effect of the this intervention was measured on whoever happened to be in the hospitals during those periods.

Another popular trial, the Diet and Reinfardtion Trial (DART) was excluded from the analyses because data on the specific composition of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids was not made available by the DART researchers. All in all, I would say that the findings of the meta analysis support previous findings indicating that omega-6 may have deleterious effects, potentially by competing with the possible beneficial effects with omega-3 interventions (4). Although to be entirely honest, Chris Masterjohn has done a good deal of research revealing that omega-3 may not be as important to the diet as commonly portrayed (see here). However if you do want to incorporate good sources of omega-3 fatty, these would include grass fed animal products and wild caught fish.

Interestingly while looking through pubmed, I found a study published just earlier this month making the observation that the rs174537T  genotype (its all good if you dont know what genotypes are, keep reading) is associated with lowered arichidonic acid, a deriviative (by product) of linoleic acid, the most commonly found dietary omega-6 fatty acid in serum phospholipids and a reduced risk of CHD (5). This was found after adjustment for age, BMI, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and hyperlipidemia (P=0.017). While I wouldn't call this one study alone definitive evidence that omega-6 is detrimental, it appears to be another tac in the coffin.

My own personal opinion is that this all makes perfect sense. Omega-6 fatty acids are typically found in seeds and grains. These foods are typically low in fat. Massive amounts of such foods would have to be consumed to meet the equivalent conumption seen in America today due to the concentraion of such fats in industrial oils such as corn oil and cotton seed oil. To be more clear, a one pound bag of frozen corn contains roughly 5 grams of fat while just one tablespoon of  corn oil contains 14 grams of fat (  These industrial oils are also a very recent inclusion into the human diet. I have provided a graph below from USDA statistics on vegetable oil consumption.

Fig. 1 US fat intake

For those hard of sight, overall fat consumption is the black line which has risen over the year, but not as a proportion of Calories. The principle source of fat you will note is salad and cooking oils, not animal fats. The increase in such fats is not seen until the 1950's. The addition of such seems to associate pretty clearly with the obesity/overweight rise seen in the US. I think it's important to note that this has coincided with other confounders that may be triggering the state of unhealth witnessed in America. However notice the increase in overweight/obesity that aligns quite closely with the increase in industrial oils.

Fig. 2 Obesity/overweight data from the CDC, 2006

Obviously one can't infer direct causation here, but there is does appear to be a relation of some sort and as noted earlier, Stephen Guyent has wrote about this at the Whole Health Source blog as well, indicating a relationship between decreased thyroid activity and consumption of industrial oils. As noted, these oils are a recent additon to the diet and are found in mostly processed food, meaning  supraphysiologic (beyond normal) consumptiom is taking place. As Dobhanszky famously stated, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution". This seems to apply here. We need to cutdown on the omega-6. Good alternatives include animal products from grass fed free range animals, coconut oil, olive oil, and nuts and seeds (not the ones roasted in vegetable oil), if you tolerate them.

Lastly, one might be curious as to why these dangerous oils are in processed foods and why the media says they are so good. Look no further than U.S. farm subsidies. Alot of the excess corn, cotton, and soybean is made into oil, cheap oil. It has to go some where.
Here is why they tell us to ingest these oils. Nice right?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Is Weight Training Alone Enough to Increase Flexibility?

The main reason given by women for avoiding weight training is that they do not want to become big and bulky, or in other words, “masculine”. I plan to address this misnomer more thoroughly in another post. For now, I’ll just say that this is not true, largely due to the fact that women generally do not have the needed Testosterone to become overly muscular. However, I will digress and on move on to the issue at hand. Is weight training alone enough to induce flexibility gains?  This article is more geared towards women for two reasons; 1) they tend to engage in weight training less than men & 2 a lot of the available research on the issue is geared towards women.
                A recent study by Elisa Santos and colleagues found that performing a moderate strength training protocol is enough to elicit flexibility gains in previously sedentary young women (mid to late twenties) (1). The researchers divided subjects into three groups. There was a control group and two groups who performed resistance training 3 x a week for 8 weeks. Furthermore the resistance training groups were divided into 2 groups, with one group performing a more traditional style of lifting and the other performing a regimen similar to circuit training. The set/rep scheme was 3 x 10-12 except for the abdominal exercise which was 3 x 15-20. There are few “interesting” things about this studies’ methodology to be taken into consideration;
                1) The exercise selection was not exactly optimal in that none of the movements involved the use of free weights or even body weight variations of compound movements. The exercises prescribed were in this order: machine seated rows, leg extension, machine bench press, seated leg curl, machine seated arm curl, abdominals (curl ups), machine triceps extension, and trunk extension machine.  
*This basically means the ladies just sat at machines to perform the exercises rather than getting up and performing skilled movement. It’s fine for beginners but does not translate as well into real world movement efficacy.
2) The circuit training group performed the exercises in an agonist/antagonist fashion with no rest between sets.
                                On completing 3 sets of one exercise pairing, subjects rested 2 minutes before proceeding to the next exercise pairing”
**I have never seen a protocol quite like this and I believe performing the same 2 exercises back to back to back with no rest is not conducive to facilitating movement skill, but simply fatigue. Doing this with several varied exercises and then repeating after rest is more practical.
3) The flexibility measures did not include the lower body. The only joints included were the shoulder (extension, flexion, adduction, abduction) and the trunk (flexion & extension)

Despite these peculiarities, the researchers found that both groups participating in resistance training improved both indicators of strength and improved flexibility. Previous studies have also found that resistance training improves flexibility in some but not all joints involved in the resistance training protocol. (2) In this trial, using “middle aged women” (35-39 yrs) flexibility was also measured at the hip, knee, and elbow in addition to the joints in the previous study. The elbow and knee joints were unaffected. The protocol while much improved was not optimal. The following exercises were used free-weight flat bench press, smith machine squat, anterior wide grip lat pull-down, 45-degree leg press, 30-degree inclined bench press , hack squat machine, and abdominal crunch. Personally I would like to ditch some of the machines and include more free weight movements such as dead lift and lunges, maybe even a progression to a split squat to really force range of motion, proprioception and neural drive.

                To put these findings into context, one might infer that resistance training is advantageous for not only strength and muscular endurance, but flexibility. And luckily there is more data in addition to the studies elucidated on here to support this (3, 4, 5). There has been research that did not find improved flexibility following weight training but flexibility was not lost and as with the previous study programming was far from optimal (6). I think it is safe to say that whether you are a women concerned with not becoming bulky or a female athlete or coach concerned about strength training diminishing flexibility, you can rest easy and hit the weights knowing at the very least you will not do so, and you may perhaps gain flexibility through weight training and/or use it to augment the results of a flexibility training regimen.
Iris Kyle, Ms. Olympia...Sorry Iris but most women are not shooting for this physique :(

1) Santos E, Rhea MR, Simão R, et al. 2010 Influence of moderately intense strength training on flexibility in sedentary young women. J Strength Cond Res. 24(11):3144-9.
2) Monteiro WD, Simão R, Polito MD, et al 2008 Influence of strength training on adult women's flexibility. J Strength Cond Res. 22(3):672-7.
3) Thrash K, & Kelly B. 1987 Flexibility and Strength Training. J Strength Cond Res. 1(4): 74-75
4) Beedl B, Jessee C,  & Stone M. 1991 Flexibility characteristics among athletes who weight train. J Strength Cond Res. 5(3):150-154
5) Bird ML, Hill K, Ball M, & Williams AD. 2009 Effects of resistance- and flexibility-exercise interventions on balance and related measures in older adults. J Aging Phys Act. Oct;17(4):444-54.
6) Nóbrega AC, Paula KC, & Carvalho AC. 2005 Interaction between resistance training and flexibility training in healthy young adults. J Strength Cond Res. 19(4):842-6

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Fork in the Road

When faced with them, we all have to make difficult decisions. The challenge often comes in choosing between what is right and what is convenient.

I thought this would be an excellent post for all of those who have made their resolution to choose a healthier lifestyle by starting to exercise and/or adopting what they believe to be  better dietary habits and decisions. The first week or so is often pretty easy for most people to adhere to, in my experience. It is at this point (about 2 weeks into the new year) that many will begin to question whether the perceived sacrifice of hyerpalatable foods or if the hard work in the gym is really worth it.

I'll try to keep this post fitness related and it actually serves as a great segue for my next post (will be done editing by the end of the night) but the underlying theme is decision making. I was inspired to write this post by the recent article I read at Natural News by mike Adams (here), on the topic of intelligence. I don't agree with Mike on everything (both in general and in the article) but he does a great job of illustrating that there are too many people amongst us now that have really high cognitive abilities, but unfortunately in only a very narrow scope. For example, consider a Biochemist who eats fastfood in the lab while researching or a PhD in Political Science who despises, the government but still trusts them to regulate the safety of the products she uses daily. With that said, I have to disagree with Mike on this being an intelligence issue, but rather a character issue (which I suppose could be argued to be a form of  intelligence).

I call this a character issue in that we all come to points which are often referred to as "The fork in the road". Of course intelligence helps in making decisions but it really comes down to one's character.  The forks in the road that led me down the path of seeking better health and wellness were not even necessarily health related. A few vivid examples for me include taking a a class my first trimester in college that dealt with urban sprawl including the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and  issues such as corporate manipulation of public transit to render the automobile a more convenient option(1).  Another would be the time a friend had me watch the PETA production on factory animal farming at After learning about these issues (and others of course) I came to realize that the world that I knew was not so. We have all been exposed to such incidents at some point, and it is not a matter of cognitive ability but, character that determines whether we decide to search for the true answers and ramifications  behind our questions and decisions, or continue living life as usual. Admittedly, the latter is a very comfortable life in the industrialized world, admittedly. However knowing the truth and knowing that your decisions have merit is fulfilling. Life, and more specific to this post, health are not convenient!

As individuals, we all must decide to take responsibility for our own decisions and understand how these decisions mesh with the world at large. For instance when purchasing a box of processed food-like stuff, one is not just purchasing some food, they are are making a decision that will ultimately influence the economy, the healthcare system, the local, and national ecosystems, and many other  systems on a grander scale. It may not always seem that way, but even minute decisions ultimately affect not only ourselves, but often many others as well.

The take away message here is that we all must analyze our decisions more closely. Who wrote it? Who stands to gain from my purchase? What are possible ramifications (both short and long)? The father of public relations, Eddie Bernays wrote something along the lines of, people have neither the time nor inclination to learn all the facts in Crystallizing Public Opinion. I whole heartedly agree, but day by day we have to become smarter decision makers. 

As I said this post would be a great segue. My upcoming post is on resistance training improving flexibility in women. I find it unfortunate that many women often go to the gym, only to engage in repetitive bouts of chronic cardio. In fact recent research reveals that doing so may actually be damaging over time to heart health (here). Talk about irony! I wont focus on that but rather on how weight training can improve flexibility. Another issue I plan to crush in upcoming posts is the myth that resistance training will make women bulky and the ever so forgotten fact that resistance training may be the best way for women to fend of Osteopenia and subsequently Osteoporosis. In a nut shell, this all ties into the article I referenced above. All women, not only "intelligent ones" can investigate evidenced based blogs (such as mine), journals on line, websites that specialize in weight loss, fitness , etc. to find the best way to work out for them. Make sure the articles in magazines read are referenced, and that the author is qualified to give such advice. The point is that we have to investigate our decisions rather than simply let ourselves be influenced by people who do not have our interests in mind (television producers, magazine journalists, corporations, etc.). Their primary objective is to make money, not help people lead a better life. Its ok to be a bit uncertain while searching for the truth.  The pursuit of knowledge is a challenging, yet fulfilling journey.

"Believe those who are seeking the truth.  Doubt those who find it."  ~Andre Gide

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Is body weight training adequate to attain a high level of fitness?

                I’m snowed in today so I decided to skim through some back issues of the NSCA’s Strength and Conditioning Research Journal. I came across an interesting study done by Everett A. Harman and colleagues at the U.S. Army Research Institute (1). The study compared the effects of eight weeks of  a resistance training-based training program  in contrast to the Army Standardized Physical Training program. The Army program is essentially a regimen based off body weight resistance.  My interest was piqued by the fact that the researchers used these protocols to attain the effects they had on combat relevant tests, as well as other more common tests used to asses physical fitness, including the one repletion max (1RM) bench press and squat test and the Treadmill VO2* max test as well. These tests are very relevant to the average person in combat tests are about as “functional” as you can get. Performing this battery of tests at a high level more than ensures that one could perform the pertinent tasks of civilian life with ease. With that said, I thought it would be interesting to see if body weight training alone was enough to attain adequate strength levels.

The researchers found that for, the Army's Standardized Physical Training program and a weight-based training experimental program produce similar, improvements in military physical performance. However, I have to note that these were relatively untrained men and the programs were only followed for 8 weeks. The authors do conclude that further research would be needed to determine whether weight-based training provides an advantage over a longer training period (which I am sure it would). The principle of progressive overload leads me (as well as the authors) to speculate that the weight based program would have won out in the long term. However, the findings of this study do have relevance for the lay man and women when one reads the study closely. Let me elaborate.
The subjects included in this study were in relatively decent shape to begin with. In order to simulate a recruit population, only volunteers who were not currently or recently engaged in intense training (a combination of aerobic and weight-based training) were accepted. However individuals engaged in aerobic only, resistance training only, or moderate recreational exercise were allowed. The subject population was decently heterogeneous, with volunteers coming from varied backgrounds. Their physical activity levels ranged from sedentary to fairly active (training 3-4 x week). With that said I am speculating that the training adaptations by these individuals would only be magnified in the general population in the U.S. The last I heard the CDC was reporting only 34.7% of the pop. was exercising and that was an improvement over previous years. (see here)

 The subjects all volunteered for this training which consisted of 5 days of training per week at 1 to 1.5 hours per session. The subjects were in the upper 20’s and average weight of the subjects was 84.5 kg (174lb) for Army Training group and 80.9kg (165lb) for the weight based resistance training group. With that said, one can assume that no couch potatoes would have signed up for this, and if they did, they probably quit (10 of the original 42 subjects dropped out of the study).
If the training got relatively fit subject into shape, imagine the gains that could be made by this guy!

Training for the weight based group included 2 days of resistance training coupled with 3.2 km (2 mile) runs, 2 days of athletic enhancement via agility drills or sprint intervals, and 1 day that included an 8 km (roughly 5 miles) hike with a weighted vest or pack up to 33 kg (73lbs) at a pace of a little under 4 mph. The resistance training protocol consisted of 4 complexes* to be repeated 3 times each. The 4 complexes summed to put together a full body workout. There was no waiting time between exercises beyond what it took to walk between stations and set the correct weight. The target pace was 90 seconds per set, including between-exercise time. In other words, the trainees were training circuit style.
The subjects performing the Army’s standardized protocol used movements such as the pull up, push up, rear lunges, etc for their resistance training. They also performed aerobic conditioning similar to the weight based training group, doing intervals, moderate distance runs, etc. The exact training can be seen in the IET Standardized Physical Training Guide here or in the full text version of the study.
The five combat relevant tests the authors chose were the 3.2 km run/walk with a 32 kg (70 lb) pack, a 400 m run with an 18 kg (40 lb) load, an obstacle course, and an 80 kg (176 lb) casualty recovery drill, and 30 meter rushes (basically a sprint test). As stated earlier, subjects also performed pre and post testing of the VO2 max and 1RM max testing of the squat and bench. In all of the tests mentioned, both groups made statistically significant improvements from pre test to post test (p < .05). Interestingly, the relative gains made by the Army’s body weight training group was significantly greater than the group using the weight based program in the obstacle course, the 80 kg (176 lb) casualty recovery drill, and 30 meter rushes.  Now let’s put this in to perspective

The resistance training undertaken was not traditional resistance training. The loads used were not what would be considered heavy due to the fast pace and high total volume (volume was high because the workouts were full body) The authors also had to put together a program that coincided with heavy aerobic training and being that the sessions were full body, volume for individual body parts was inherently low. Again, it should be reiterated that  the subjects were already in decent shape. The average VO2 of the subjects were close to 50 mL·kg-1·min-1   to begin with. This would place them in about the 70th percentile (normative chart here). The degree of improvement one can expect in VO2max generally depends on the pre training level, and fit volunteers generally show relatively small percentage changes. Again these volunteers were relatively fit, so most individuals would see an even larger gain on similar programs.
                In conclusion, we have to consider that some of these individuals had already been participating in resistance training, yet the body weight training of the Army's Standardized Physical Training program was still enough of a stimulus to elicit training adaptations in the bench press and the squat, two of the main movements in resistance training. Individuals who find body weight too challenging could begin by using hold and negatives or partner assisted concentric and work their way up. The findings of these study reveal that while body weight training may not turn an individual into the next Mr. or Mrs. Universe, it will reap the awards of increased muscular strength and endurance (sit up and push up testing was also performed). Further research should be conducted using body weight training in conjunction with some conditioning to monitor the changes that could be witnessed in the lay man or lay woman or diseased population, which are unfortunately becoming more and more “normal”. One of the major reasons public health officials list for the obesity problem in our country is lack of equipment/resources due to poverty. Simple body weight programs seem to be enough of a stimulus to get people into “fighting” shape.

Harman, E Gutekunst, D Frykman, P Nindl, B Alemany, J Mello, R & Sharp, M. (2008) Effects of two different eight-week training programs on militaryPhysical Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 22(2):524-534

*For everyone unfamiliar, the VO2 max test is just a test that measures the aerobic fitness of an individual by determining the theoretical maximum amount of oxygen they could use in a minute.

*A complex consists of performing a series of 3-5 exercises consecutively before taking a rest period and then repeating this complex for a predetermined number of sets.  The protocol in the study essentially had the participants performing multiple complexes, so the training was probably pretty tough!