There is a common pattern that happens a lot on the extremely popular Paleo diet. The Paleo diet is also referred to at times as the caveman diet. It is rich in vegetables, nuts, fruit, meat, sweet potatoes and prohibits lentils, beans, grains, dairy, and anything processed. Don’t get me wrong it is a great start for anyone looking to clean up their diet, but a common pattern tends to happen for many that take this Paleo approach. Everything starts out great, you lose a few pounds, maybe you feel a little less gummed up and your mental clarity is a bit better. But after a while everything stalls and it seems like nothing your doing is making any difference. Now you must decide, do you stick with doing what you’re doing or do you veer away from the paleo way?
Believe it or not there is nothing wrong with veering off of the paleo path. Sure you might get some heat from the caveman or cavewoman purists but in the end it’s all about what you want and not about the bimbos that are going to give you heat for changing things up. Plus for a reason that I’ll explain here it might be just what you need to break the plateau and start seeing results again.
The ones that do the best with the Paleo diet are the ones that keep it extremely simple and just stick to the bare bone basics. They eat plenty of meat, veggies, and fruit, get some healthy fats and stick to this the entire time. The ones that don’t do so well are the ones that try to spruce it up a little and start adding things in like Paleo desserts and casseroles and crap. Sure there may not be any processed sugar in your paleo fudge, but please tell me how the hell a cup of almond butter, a cup of coconut oil, half a cup of honey, and a ¼ cup of cocoa powder is at all healthy. Or how your entire cake that you made with almond flour, eggs, almond milk, honey, and coconut butter is any better for your waistline than the frosted cake you get from the grocery store. Sure the ingredients by themselves are more nutrient dense, but as far as calories go (which you need to be concerned with if you are losing weight) the Paleo versions are not any different in calories.
This is where the problems come from when anyone stalls with their results on the Paleo diet. Breakfast starts out as 3 eggs with some peppers and mushrooms but slowly morphs in to two paleo muffins and a spoonful of paleo fudge. Oh sure its 100% Paleo but it’s also 100% 1000calories and 48grams of sugar, which isn’t doing any wonders for your waistline or your pancreas. (It’s ok pancreas, it’s not your fault)
Luckily the solution to this problem is simple. All it takes is either going back to the original Paleo template or what I would recommend is to just simply stray away from the path for a little bit. Try something like oatmeal for breakfast, sure it’s not “Paleo approved” but believe me, if oatmeal is what you’re worried about on your diet then you are doing just fine. If you don’t get majorly bloated or shit your pants then you can rest assure that your body tolerates oatmeal just fine. Then you can do the same thing with beans or with some rice or some yogurt. Give it a try; again if you don’t swell up like a blimp or your throat doesn’t close off then you’re good to go. You now magically have thousands of more options to add to your diet so that you don’t end up blowing 2000 calories on a Paleo casserole loaded with coconut oil and avocados that is extremely healthy but also extremely rich in calories. I hate to say it but you can even do this with something like bread (GASP!). I’m not a big proponent of the gluten-filled bomb that bread is but if eating a small piece of toast will keep you from binging on doughnuts then I’ll consider that a win.
So I hate to say that it’s that simple to fix anyone that falls in a rut with the Paleo diet, but if you have given it a try and aren’t seeing the results that you want then it might be time to change it up a little. That doesn’t mean load up on anything and everything in sight, but adding in things that weren’t allowed on the Paleo diet such as oats, rice, beans, lentils and anything along those lines that are still very nutritious, just not Paleo approved may be just what you need to avoid living off of Paleo muffins and bacon wrapped, almond crusted prunes fried in coconut oil that may taste amazing but will leave you two pant sizes larger before you get to the second bite.
So lately it seems like I am now the poop guy. Yes, that’s right the poop guy. Not a single day can go by without at least a story or two concerning the poo coming up (or coming out). I’m not sure if I should be disgusted with all of the crappy stories or if I should be flattered by the fact that everyone is comfortable enough with me to talk about their bowel movements, or lack of bowel movements. Now you may think this is gross or weird to talk about things that come from our sphincters but try not crapping for even a single day (I bet you’ll feel like a blown up puffer fish praying for sweet mercy to let the pressure out). Exactly
Now in the world of number 2 problems there tends to be some common concerns that come up a lot. The concerns range all the way from the kinds of terds that come out to the complete absence of terds coming out. So whether you have the liquid shits that leave you squirmish or you’re clogged up worse than the hoover dam, here are the most common crappy concerns:
- The Lincoln Log- this bad boy wouldn’t even fit down a wishing well if you tried pushing it with a bulldozer. Most likely from eating way too much protein or from being super dehydrated, you’ll be lucky if it comes out without some tearing. You’ll know when it’s passed as soon as you feel like you’ve given birth and your anal canal is throbbing from the trauma. Good luck flushing
- The Deer Shits- Does a deer shit in the woods? Who knows, but it definitely found a way to shit in your toilet while you were sitting on it. This usually is the remnants of a night involving lots of beer and horrible bar food. Nothing to be concerned about, it is most likely just a reminder of the fact that you shouldn’t of ate those cheese curds.
- Liquid Bliss- You know exactly what I’m talking about. If this is happening you are most likely sick or ate something undercooked. Drink lots of water to rehydrate yourself and be careful not to sneeze.
- Napalm- A close relative to the liquid bliss, this is what happens when you go to an all you can eat oriental restaurant and go for the Khan’s revenge sauce, or order the spiciest dish at an Indian diner. It will feel as though Credence Clearwater is playing in the background and you’re making the final delivery of agent orange. A tear may come to your eye as this is happening, but after it’s over you will know that you’ve survived the war.
- Complete Clog- This is what happens when you overdo it on the cheese. Hope it tasted good because you’ll sit on the john for damn near an hour straining to get this mother f**ker out while breaking a sweat and blowing a blood vessel. Your efforts will be futile because it isn’t coming out. The rest of the day will suck.
- Nuclear explosion- The complete opposite of the clog, this happens when you start a diet like the paleo diet or decide to go vegan. It is usually shortly after your first sip of coffee; everything seems ok until it hits you like a brick wall. After setting a new world record in the 50 meter dash on your way to the potty, you’ll probably struggle to get your belt undone and be terrified as the future of the floor and walls depend on you making it in the porcelain. Fireworks will be going off, your legs will begin to tremble and it will be over faster than it started. Congratulate yourself for losing 8lbs and start the day knowing that it will be a great day.
So that’s it. Those are the most common poos that seem to come up on a daily basis. I’m still undecided if it’s something to be proud of or disgusted by, but in the world of B’N Fit nothing is off limits if it concerns your health. If you have any other common forms of evacuation that I missed feel free to leave them in the comments. Oh ya, and best wishes next time you get one of the 6 poo problems.
There’s no way around it, weight-loss sucks. It really really does. If it were easy then we would all look like models and eat whatever we pleased because we would be able to burn it off easily, but unfortunately it’s not that easy, we can’t just eat a skinny person and hope that we are what we eat. This goes for gaining muscle, or gaining athletic performance as well; the principle is pretty close to the same. It takes hard work (exercise) and most of all self-control (not giving into cravings). But thankfully for those that stay on track and shut out the negative influences, the prize at the end is pretty sweet.
After posting the dark side of weight-loss post I got more and more curious about why others get so infuriated and even despise those that are attempting to lose weight. It really sounds ridiculous but anyone that is struggling to lose weight, or gain muscle, or get better at athletics knows exactly what I am talking about. The hardest part about weight loss is often not the cravings for the cookies and nacho’s (although those do come), it is often the negative influence from the peers that surround you in your journey, which is weird because why should they care that you are trying to better yourself?
I asked around, got some opinions and was surprised to hear why some people tend to get angry when someone is losing weight. I asked people that were losing weight right now to get their opinion, and I also played devil’s advocate by asking the people that got mad or shunned me why they did when I was losing all of my weight. It was cool to see both sides of the stories but it was almost sad to hear some of the answers from both sides.
I guess we will start from the side of the people that are either currently losing weight or had lost a significant amount of weight in the past. The common answer when I asked why they thought others get frustrated with them was the obvious, “I don’t know, but it sucks”. Which was great to hear that everyone thought it sucks so they aren’t alone in that thinking, but still didn’t answer anything. It took a while but finally some people started opening up a little. At first the consensus was that others were jealous of them because they were losing weight, which might make sense for the overweight peers that are shunning their shrinking counterparts but it still didn’t make sense as to why the already skinny people got frustrated with the ones trying to drop some pounds. Finally though, after asking the ones that were mean to me, the real reasons became to come out.
So I literally just talked to some people that would get angry with me when I was losing weight and asked them, “Why were you an ass to me when I was losing weight?” It was probably a little harsh or blunt but at least it got a little fire going in them. This got them all talking pretty quickly and every single one gave me the exact same answer. The answer was that they thought I was judging them when I would decline their food offers… WHAT? SERIOUSLY??? Yes this was the answer that I got from every single person.
With that answer now out on the table let be one to say that no one here losing weight is judging someone that is offering them junk food. We could care less that you are eating a cookie and sucking down your 3rd soda. If it is working for you to keep you skinny and in shape then all the power to ya. It is almost like the overweight person that goes to the gym and is worried that everyone will stare at them, but I’ll let you in on a secret, if you are in a gym and you are worried about the in-shape ones staring at you, take a second and notice that you are the only ones doing the staring because you are worried that they are staring at you. The in-shape crowd is overjoyed that you are getting into shape and the only reason they would ever stare would be to make sure you are doing everything right in case there is any way they could help. It’s funny how that perspective gets flipped around at time.
So that is it, that’s all it is. At least for the answers that I received. Just because someone is declining your offer of a cheeseburger doesn’t meant that they are judging you for eating a cheeseburger, they simply don’t want a cheeseburger because they are already working to burn off all of the extra cheeseburgers they ate in the past. It’s funny how this gets blown out of proportion soooo often. Heck, when I was losing weight I would tell people that I was allergic to certain food even though I wasn’t just so that they wouldn’t get pissed off or sad when I declined their offer. That way works, but it sucks to have to remember all of the foods that you are “allergic” to.
So here it is, here’s the top fitness accessory that there is. This little puppy will you get you fit as a fiddle in a jiffy without even having to go to the gym. If you’re looking to get your arms seriously ripped, your core chiseled, and your body as dehydrated as the guy in the picture then look no further than the one and only Shake-Weight™. For a measly price of only $9.95 you’ll never need to go to the gym again. Just stand there like a baboon jacking off a gorilla while clinching your abs tight enough to give birth and in less than ten minutes you’ll have the body of a Greek God…
Do you want to know something funny? Every single diet that has ever been created to lose weight has one thing in common. They all work, every single one of them. Now this might sound a little crazy but i’m serious, all of them work. Atkins, South Beach, Weight-Watchers, Jenny Craig, The Cookie Diet, or even the McDonald’s diet; they all work. Like I eluded to in my last post, they work simply because they restrict calories, otherwise known as the little monsters that go into our closets and shrink our clothes while we are sleeping. As long as you consume fewer calories than you are burning, you will lose weight. But for any of them to work, you have to actually follow the diet ALL OF THE TIME and not just when it is convenient.
That is where most if not all diets fail. They don’t fail because of a flaw in the diet itself, they fail because of those not following them like they should be and only following the plan when it is easy and not following it when it gets hard. This sounds stupid but it’s true. Think about the number one excuse for cheating on a diet, “well I was at this party and all there was to eat was junk so i had to”. Now this may be true that the only thing they had to eat at the party was junk but the better answer would just be to not eat and wait until you got home. Believe me, I had to do this every week when losing weight and yes it might sound horrible and yes your tummy might grumble a bit but I promise you that you will not starve or famish and you will actually feel proud that you resisted the urge to indulge in party food which will be a crucial skill to learn in order to lose weight and keep it off for life. It’s not the parties that cause you to gain weight, it’s the fact that you decided to eat nachos when you were trying to drop some pounds. Just like it isn’t the candy cars and potato chips that make you fat, it’s the fact that you ate the whole bag in one sitting.
This is why I am not an avid proponent of any of the major diet fads, if you are going to do a diet that has a lot of oatmeal in it and you hate oatmeal then by all means, don’t eat the oatmeal and replace it with something you will eat because then you can at least enjoy what you are eating. Now that being said, what type of food you eat will definitely determine how you feel on a diet but that still does’t change the fact that you have to eat less calories than you burn in order to lose weight. You could eat 1000 calories of fast food in a day and lose weight while feeling like a bag of poo or you could eat 1000 calories of steak and veggies and feel like a million bucks. It’s your choice, as long as you stick with it all of the time.
If you’re really curious what I ate while losing weight, I actually didn’t follow any certain diet plan at all. I figured out what worked for me by trial and error and then stuck with it without any exceptions. I found out that eating a 2 eggs for breakfast, some veggies (like a cup) and chicken (about 1/2 a breast) for lunch, and a sandwich (yes with Gluten… OMG) for dinner kept me losing about 8.5 pounds a week. Nothing magical but it was simple and sustainable. If I had to go out for lunch and they didn’t have chicken and veggies then i would just wait until I got home or simply skip lunch since losing weight was my main priority at that point. Keeping it extremely simple was the key for me to stay on track.
This is also why whenever i help someone to come up with a diet plan I will say to do at least a week with nothing but eggs, broccoli, chicken, and beef. It my get old fast but so is being fat so that argument is invalid. This is a good way to at least get a baseline. The scale will begin to go down with the eggs, meat and veggies, so after a week when you start eating other things you can find out if they work or not for you. If you replace one of the meals with a Big Mac and are still losing weight then fantastic, stick with it if it’s working. On the other hand, if adding the Big Mac starts to move the scale up then it’s pretty obvious what is causing it.
There is nothing magical about weight loss, it is all about calories in and calories out. Where those calories come from can have a big difference on how you feel and even change how many are burned but at the end of the day its simple math, as long as you take in less than you burn then you will get smaller. The best way for me to do it was to just keep it simple, and by doing that it was easy to stay on track. Find something that works for you and don’t get off track. If you truly want to lose weight then you have to really want it; you can’t just kinda want it. If you kinda want to lose weight then you will give up the minute that it gets hard, but if you really do want to lose weight then you will, as long as you stick to it and don’t give up.
If there is one thing that cuts into my heart and makes me want to help someone it’s when a person comes to me and is struggling to lose weight. It makes me want to jump into their body and do it for them, but I can’t. I can only teach them what they need to do and pray that they follow the instruction. So here it goes, here is the absolute number one reason why anyone struggling to lose weight is failing. It isn’t the food that you are eating, it isn’t the exercise you are or aren’t doing, and it isn’t the hormones in your body that may or may not be screwed up. All of those things have an effect in the end but they aren’t the real reason why the weight isn’t coming off and they aren’t the reason why the results aren’t coming as fast as you want them too. The real reason has to do with one word and that one word is WHY.
That’s right, that one little word is the only thing driving every part of weight-loss. And it is that one little word that will determine whether you lose the weight and keep it off for good or if you stay exactly where you are right now and never see the results you want so badly. Why has to do with why you want something, and in this case it’s why you want to lose the weight. So truly, if you are trying to lose weight then why do you want to lose weight?
Everyone has their own why and only you can truly understand the reason, but in order for that why to be a force strong enough to change your life by losing weight then it has to have a deeper meaning that drives you more than anything else in the world. If the reason why you are losing weight is to just simply look good naked or to make others think you look good then you are doomed for failure, seriously. Doing it for those reasons is just because you want others to view you differently, which will not work. The reason has to be for yourself and only yourself. If you truly want to lose weight because you can’t stand being this heavy anymore and you want a better quality of life and you want to be able to enjoy things once again that you can no longer do then you will have a fighting chance to lose the weight to keep it off. Or if you want to lose the weight so that you can live long enough to see your grandkids grow up and you don’t want to be that helpless fat old person that needs a forklift to move then you will have a chance to lose the weight.
The reason why you need the why driving you to stay motivated and keep losing weight is because there will come times when you will be alone in the journey and there will be times when others are pressuring you to quit. When I lost my weight I can’t even count how many times someone would offer me food saying “just take a bite, you’ve lost so much weight already that one bite won’t kill you”. And of course I would decline which would surprisingly make others angry, literally angry. It sounds ridiculous but I lost so many friends when I was losing weight that I lost more friends than I had by the end. This is why the “why” has to be for yourself and no one else. If you are losing weight so that your friends think you look better and suddenly your friends aren’t there half way through than you will fail because your reason to lose weight was dependent on something other than yourself.
I don’t normally talk about the darker side of my weight-loss because it sounds horrible and I really hate even thinking about it, but telling that part of the story explains just how hard it can be. Someone telling you to lose weight that has never been fat before will never understand so hearing it from someone that was extremely obese can sometimes help. I know exactly why I wanted to lose my weight and it had absolutely nothing to do with aesthetics, hell even to this day I have so much extra skin that running is extremely painful because the skin flaps up and down and it feels like someone is trying to skin me alive. My why was because I realized that we only get one chance at life and I could not go through life being that big. Every joint hurt and every muscle was sore from carrying that much weight around. Everywhere I went I was sweating and out of breath. Clothes never fit right because I was 17 years old shopping for 2XL shirts and 46in waist pants. Even simple things like mowing the lawn seemed like a daunting task because it was like mowing the lawn now but with a 150lb weight vest.
I can still remember to this day the moment when I decided to lose weight, I don’t really tell anyone because it is embarrassing but if hearing it helps motivate even one person to lose weight then I’m glad it helped. The moment I realized that something had to change was when I was standing in front of the mirror in my room one night before bed, 17 years old 310lbs and absolutely disgusted with what I saw. I didn’t even want to take my shirt off because I was scared of what was underneath and didn’t want to face the truth. The decision was simple at that point; I couldn’t go living like that anymore since I was 17 but felt more like I was 70. It was either lose the weight or something else. Luckily I went with the weight loss approach.
I truly believe that having that reason for losing weight or having that “why” was why I was successful at losing the weight and keeping it off. I didn’t do it because I thought I would look better (because let me tell you, extra skin is reeaaalll sexy…not) and I didn’t do it because someone told me I should. I did it because I hated life being trapped in that heavy, fat, sweaty body. And that is what kept me going personally throughout the whole time and probably partially why I was able to strip off 150lbs in a little less than 6 months without any diet pills, surgery, or weight loss aid. All along the way there will be friend that are lost and family that will hate you. I wish I was kidding but like I said before I lost sooo many friends when I was losing weight and even had family tell me that I didn’t need to come over because I wasn’t going to eat their food anyways. I can’t count how many times that I had to go eat my lunch or dinner in my van because someone or a group didn’t want to see me jut eating chicken and broccoli. It sounds ridiculous but if you ask anyone that knew me before and after they will you tell you the same thing. To this day I still don’t know what makes someone angry when you decline their food or try to just eat something else instead, or heaven forbid just eat nothing because there isn’t anything there that you should eat. Believe me there were many times when I would go over somewhere or go out for dinner and just not eat because that was better than eating any of the stuff on the menu. You may get some awkward stares and questions from the waiter or waitress but if you truly are set on losing weight and not just making other people happy then ignore them.
The only real way that you will ever be able to lose weight and keep it off is if you have a “why”. A reason for why you are doing it and a reason that means something to you and no one else. That reason has to be strong enough to carry you through the entire weight loss and for the rest of your life if you truly want to be successful. It has to be strong enough to keep you going when you are all alone and it has to be strong enough to stick with you through the crowd of influences that are trying to get you to crack. This kind of sounds like a motivational speech or something which I didn’t really intend on but if it helps motivate someone to figure out their why or helps to show that someone struggling to lose weight is not alone then that’s awesome. I normally don’t talk about stuff like this because it sounds corny but maybe it sheds some light on why weight loss can be difficult and why having a why is the only real way to ever lose weight.
Imagine how great it would be to be able eat cake, cookies and even candy without ever gaining a pound. Never again would there be a need to turn down all of the diabetes causing, metabolic disease inducing, and muffin top baking indulgences that keep our insides happy and make our outsides as flabby as a basset-hound’s ears. Sounds great doesn’t it? So is there really a way to eat whatever you want and still keep the body of a ripped God or Goddess that looks like it was carved out of stone? According to the followers of a little nutritional strategy known as carb cycling, it is. In carb cycling, one simply restricts carbohydrate consumption for 6 days and then “re-feeds” all of their carbs on the seventh day (also known as the cheat day). But all bull-ship aside, is this really possible or just a really compelling argument to keep eating the same junk that got most of the population metabolically messed-up in the first place?
The short answer is yes and the long answer is no. I am not going to be naïve and say that it’s not possible to eat anything desired and still have a body that would make people drool over. It does happen, take a look at Michael Phelps when he was competing and consuming his 12,000 calories a day or take a look at some high-school cross country runners that put back a pack of licorice and a case of soda right before bed. It DOES happen, now that being said, unless you are an Olympic swimmer that is over 6 foot 5 or a high school runner with a thyroid that is active enough to keep a campfire going, then you may not be so lucky.
This is where the idea of carb cycling came about, sort of. Carb cycling was created as a nutritional strategy that would allow the normals of the world to still enjoy the deliciousness that is the carbohydrate without having to worry about over indulging and shopping in the husky section for a comforter that was sewn together and now labeled as a skirt. It was also supposed to be a way to lose weight as fast as a ketogenic diet without all of the side effects that come along with completely eliminating all of the carbs from our diet. Still sounds great doesn’t it?
The problem with the carb cycling approach lies within the application of the strategy. In essence, if one were to follow the diet exactly to the T and never stray away then it would work; just as any other calorie restricted diet would. There is no secret there, as long as you are consuming less than you are burning then you will lose weight. Even if you have some metabolic derangement this still holds true so please no nasty comments about that statement. Even if someone has hypothyroid function or Cushing’s disease they are still gaining weight because of a surplus of calories; they just also have a condition that lowers their energy expenditure to extremely low values. So that being said carb cycling does work in terms of a weight-loss approach simply because it is a way to lower calorie consumption. But as far as the sustainability and practical application of the diet, carb cycling falls short.
It sounds like a great idea to be able to eat whatever you please once a week and not have to worry about any side-effects but the truth is that there are always side-effects, especially with this approach. What the diet forgets to mention is how you will actually feel on this diet. Of course it tells you that you will have endless energy and be able to prance through a garden of lilacs for hours without having to stop, but so does a “nutritional cleanse” and we all know that everyone feels like a million bucks as they are shitting their brains out and praying that it would be possible to plastic wrap there anal sphincter closed. The truth is that you will be extremely lethargic and start getting the “carb flu” the whole week, fighting headaches, sleepiness and even irritability. Then when the holy grail of the cheat day comes, you will feel like a fat bloated slob that is retaining more water than the hoover dam. Then to top it off, the day after the cheat day will feel like a hangover that can’t just be cured with a big glass of water and some Pedialyte. Sounds like a joy, doesn’t it? Oh yeah and forget it if you are trying to compete in any kind of sport because performance will go in the dumpers from the constant roller coaster of feeling terrible and then being on a sugar high.
This is exactly how the majority feel when attempting to go on the carb-cycling approach. Sure, they may lose a few pounds at first but quickly gain it back after they get off of it. The whole idea was a great hypothesis, especially because it is based off of preventing our thyroid glands from slowing down, but the reality is that it can takes weeks or even months for thyroid hormone production to be altered, so all that is left is a diet that has you eat less calories than before and leaves you feeling like a bag of poop, just like the majority of diets out there. Nice try carb-cycling, but it just isn’t a sustainable way to alter nutrition.
So it seems like I left many people hanging on the last post about why we get stronger in the first few months of training. So without further ado here is the rest of the story about why we get stronger after the initial gains in the gym.
It all has to do with this little mechanism known as muscular hypertrophy. Well actually, before I give all of the credit to muscular hypertrophy, there are still neuromuscular gains going on as well. Just like most everything in the body (except for an action potential) it is never all or nothing. Muscular hypertrophy and neural adaptations are both happening at the same time. It’s just that muscular hypertrophy is now more predominate after the neural pathways have been strengthened.
Now I know what you’re thinking, what the heck is muscular hypertrophy already? And how is it totally going make me get swole bro? Well, good question!
Muscle hypertrophy in its simplest definition is nothing more than growing muscle. How this happens though can be very complicated (like a chia pet…just kidding), but knowing how it happens can make the process much easier. There are many different pathways by which muscle hypertrophy can be signaled but the predominant three that have been identified are the akt/mTOR (Mammalian Target of Rapamycin) pathway, the Mitogen-activated Protein-Kinase pathway (MAPK), and the calcium dependent pathways. All of those big words are cute and all but what it really means is that there are three different yellow brick roads that lead to muscle growth and those are the names of the yellow brick roads. All of the pathways have numerous steps along the way that occur but for the sake of the not losing my audience of 5 people (hi Hanne and Mom) I won’t go into those molecular signals along the way.
The problem with all of the yellow brick roads that lead to muscle growth is that they are all blocked until something stimulates them to be unblocked. This is where it gets exciting! There are actually three primary factors that are responsible for unblocking the yellow brick roads and leading to the all-powerful muscular hypertrophy. The three factors that unblock and begin the process down the roads are mechanical tension, muscle damage and metabolic stress. The best part about knowing what causes the road blocks to be unblocked is that we can do things in the gym that specifically cause those three things and unlock the holy grail to muscle hypertrophy.
The first factor, mechanical tension, as in the act of putting the muscle under tension unblocks a few of the yellow brick roads that lead to muscular hypertrophy. Mechanical tension occurs when we lift weights because the muscle has to use tension to hold and move the weight. This explains why the heavier the weight, the more tension is created and more muscle is built. It also occurs in something such as running where the muscle must also create tension to propel us. The Tension that builds up in the muscle disturbs the integrity of the muscle and sends signals that goes upstream and downstream to signal all of the other steps along the yellow brick road. Upstream, certain mechano-chemical responses occur in cells (myocytes and satellite cells) that signal growth factors, cytokins, stretch activated channels and focal adhesion complexes which all stimulate hypertrophy. Downstream is where the signaling of the AKT/mTOR pathway occurs which also leads to hypertrophy.
The second factor that causes the road blocks to be moved is muscle damage. This occurs through certain exercises as well. There is damage that occurs while lifting weights (eccentric or “lowering” of weights causes the most damage) or while doing something like running as well (hence the fact that we eccentrically decelerate and concentrically accelerate). This damage deforms membranes within the muscle that causes deformation of the cellular signaling within the muscle. Think of it is phone wires being cut. The damage to the cellular signaling then causes the release of growth factors which ultimately cause muscular hypertrophy and for your arms to look jacked when it’s time for “suns out guns out”.
The third and somewhat still unknown cause that removes the roadblock from the yellow brick roads is metabolic stress. That’s right, good ol’ stress itself. It is almost ironic that metabolic stress can cause the growth of muscle because too much stress can also cause muscle degradation. It seems to be that just the right amount of stress causes the road blocks to move and muscles to grow. The exact mechanisms of metabolic stress causes hypertrophy is still a bit unknown but the prevailing theories suggest that the stress disrupts the hormonal environment, causes cell swelling, increase free radical production, and increase growth factors which ultimately lead to muscle growth. Another theory about the stress is that when we exercise we produce lactic acid which ultimately splits into lactate and a free hydrogen ion which make the blood more acidic. This acidy can then cause muscular damage which we learned earlier can lead to hypertrophy.
And that’s it! That is exactly (well for the most part) how muscles become bigger and stronger. This process of hypertrophy takes a lot longer to happen than the neuromuscular gains, which is why we get a lot stronger before our muscles begin to grow. But rest assure if you are getting a lot stronger your muscles are well on their way to hypertrophy. There are many different “yellow brick roads” (aka cellular signaling pathways) that are blocked that lead to hypertrophy and there are three main causes that remove the road blocks. So next time someone tells you that you are getting swole you can comfortably say, “No dude, I’m totally just following the yellow brick road”.
So let’s say you are new to training and exercising, in fact for the sake of simplicity let’s say that you are new to strength training. You are hitting it hard a few days a week pounding the weights and getting your sweat on. All of your weights are quickly going up and you see yourself getting stronger by all of the heavier weights that you are lifting, but there isn’t as much muscle showing as you hoped. By now you feel like you should look like a fun sized Arnold or at least a mediocre Hercules, I mean you have been training for almost 3months now… This happens ALL the time whenever anyone begins a training regime and sadly it leads to many people dropping out before they are actually able to get the results they are looking for even though they are doing everything right and are just lacking a little education.
So what’s really going on in these first months of a new training program and why do we get strong so fast without seeing any increase in muscle to go along with it?
The basis of this newly found inner strength has to do with a little thing known as neuromuscular strength gains. And just as the name implies, it involves our neurons (the things going from our brains to the rest of our body).
Our neurons are what provide the link between our brains and our muscles. They are these long tubular/octopus look cells that receive a message from the brain on one end and deliver that message on the other end to some part of our bodies. There are many different neurons that go everywhere throughout your body, some go to our brains and some go away from our brains and some never leave our brains, but for the purpose of this explanation we’ll just focus on the ones going from our brain to the muscle fibers in our bodies. These are called motor units. A motor unit by definition is motor neuron and all of the muscle fibers that it innervates.
These motor units are essentially what are responsible for this huge increase in strength right away after starting a training protocol. They do this by changing the way that they fire in a few different ways. Let me explain…
Motor units control the amount of force that is applied to a stimulus, so normally when we go to pick things up that are relatively light we do not fire all of the motor units in our arms at once, this is because if we did everything that we pick up would go flying because we would be putting as much force into it as if we were lifting something very heavy. This is definitely good when we are picking up something like a baby and don’t need to use as much force as if we were attempting to lift a car, otherwise the baby would go flying and that’s never good.
This principal is known as motor unit recruitment. We are able to recruit more or less motor units depending on how heavy something is. This is where the strength increases initially come from in the gym. Normally without a heavy weight needing to be lifted we don’t fire all of our motor units because there is no need and it places a large metabolic demand on the body. But as we start lifting weights initially our bodies become more and more efficient at recruiting all of the motor units that we already have. This will make us stronger because we can now lift heavier weights due to the increased motor unit recruitment, but will not build muscle because we are just waking up the already present motor units. This may sound disappointing but it is necessary to do this in order to build muscle later.
The other main reason why motor units make us a lot stronger at first without building any additional muscle is because of something known as motor unit synchronization. This actually has to do with the timing of the motor unit firing. Normally all of the motor units do not fire at the same time, they all eventually figure out that they have to fire but just not very synchronized. This changes when we throw barbells on our backs and ask our bodies to lift a very heavy weight. Our brains quickly figure out that if all of the motor units work together and fire at the same time, it will be much easier to lift the weight rather than get crushed. The best way to explain it is to think about that old elementary school game where every kid grabbed a corner of a parachute and a ball was thrown in the middle. If everyone were to pull on the parachute at different times the ball would still go in the air but not very high. On the other hand if every kid pulled on the parachute at the exact same time then the ball would fly very high because there would be more force applied to it at once. It suddenly allowed the ball to go higher without adding any extra children.
That’s pretty much the quick and dirty lowdown on why people tend to get really strong initially in the gym without seeing any muscle gain at first. Our bodies quickly figure out that in order to lift something heavy every motor unit that we have must work together and all of them must be firing. We do this first instead of building muscle because it is much more efficient then having to build all new muscle cells. So don’t get discouraged if you are initially getting very strong without seeing any muscle growth. The muscle growth will happen but it just takes a little longer (at least 3 months or longer) because all of the motor unit recruitment and synchronization must happen first.