Frequency -- how often. Duration -- how long. Intensity -- how hard. The holy trinity of exercise factors. Nobody disputes their presence in the equation but the mixture is as controversial as varying economic strategies from competing political parties.

These three mesh together like gears -- the more of one, less of the other two. Your "TD in Buckhead" program emphasizes intensity -- how hard -- so that how often and how long can be minimized. This makes efficient use of your time.

The February 1997 edition of The Physician and Sportsmedicine carried an article titled: "Strength Training: Rationale for Current Guidelines for Adult Fitness Programs." One of the authors was Michael L. Pollock, Ph.D., formerly president of the American College of Sportsmedicine. Dr. Pollock is now a professor/researcher at the University of Florida.

I won't bore you with the esoteric details. After reviewing dozens of studies, the preponderance of evidence suggests no advantage to multiple-set training over one set. According to the article:

"With the exception of the Berger study (20), the literature supports the recommendation of prescribing single-set programs performed to fatigue and indicates that the quality (intensity) and not the quantity of strength training may be the most important factor for developing muscle strength in sedentary persons (21-23). Several studies conducted in our laboratory (24,25,29-33) have also found significant gains in strength in response to one set of variable strength exercise performed to volitional muscular fatigue."

Second Set Wastes Time

A second set is a waste of time. Volitional failure, incidentally, means you are temporarily incapable of lifting the weight again using appropriate technique (or good form). Volitional failure is if I offered you a million dollars could you do another one? That's the answer to: How many repetitions should I do?

Anyone interested in reading the entire article should contact me for the web address.

With regard to sets, I'd like to repeat an article that was on my one-and-only diskette newsletter several months ago. Since so few of you were able or inclined to launch this diskette in your computer, let me repeat:

In Rep Counting, 9 + 3 Does Not Equal 12

Trainees performing strengthening exercises on Nautilus-like machines consider "sets" as the total number of reps on one machine before moving onto the next. But many a trainee believing he or she has performed 1 set of 12 reps has achieved one set of 9 reps and a second set of 3 reps -- or something like that.

Sets are determined, you see, not by moving from one machine to the next but by continuous muscle tension. Set the weight stack down -- even for an instant -- and you've terminated the set.

The reason for this involves degree of inroad. More than anything else, degree of inroad into fresh muscle strength is responsible for triggering hypertrophy, that chemical reaction that spurs muscle growth.

Degree of inroad, therefore, is a measurement of momentary fatigue. Follow this example.

Let's say your biceps has a fresh strength level of 100 pounds -- that's the maximum you're capable of arm-curling into full muscular contraction. So you select 80 pounds of resistance, and start lifting. Within several repetitions, usually, fatigue starts zapping your strength output. When your fatigue-induced momentary strength dips below 80 you can no longer move the resistance.

But let's say fatigue has zapped you to only 88 pounds. You could still lift 80, but it's getting uncomfortable. You've done 9 reps. You set the weight down for an instant, hoping to relieve the burn.

This momentary rest -- no matter how slight -- results in regaining momentary strength. Let's say your momentary strength recovers to 92 pounds. You then perform an additional 3 reps. But instead of your fatigue level continuing downward from 88, it now restarts at 92 and has to retrace over 91, 90, etc.

Think of compressing a cushion. You press it to a certain level. If you let up, it recovers a portion of what you've already compressed. You then have to go back over plowed ground so to speak.

Is this making sense?

When you set the weight down, your muscles recover a portion of strength. Once you resume, you have to surmount the recovered portion before proceeding to a deeper level.

Training efficiency demands one set of continuously fatiguing repetitions -- ideally. Although it's not the purpose of this article, each of those reps should be performed slowly and very smoothly, perhaps even to a cadence of 10 seconds to lift, and another 5 or 10 to lower the resistance. But again, that's another topic.

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