Is Tabata Ideal to Build Endurance?

In the 1990s, two landmark research papers were released that drastically shifted how athletes and fitness enthusiasts train for endurance.

In 1994, Prof. Angelo Tremblay’s research demonstrated that endurance exercise performed with alternating bouts of high- and low-intensity resulted in better fat loss than continuous low-intensity exercise did.

Then in 1996, research by Prof. Izumi Tabata tested a protocol that consisted of 20 seconds of maximal activity, followed by 10 seconds of rest for 8 rounds. It was a gruesome four minutes for the athletes in the study. This Tabata protocol was compared to traditional lower-intensity endurance exercise performed for 60 minutes straight. At the end of the study, the continuous lower-intensity exercise group only improved their aerobic capacity. However, athletes that did the Tabata protocol increased both their aerobic and anaerobic capacity.

These two studies have been often quoted as “proof” that high intensity interval training (HIIT) is better than longer, slower cardio for improving fat loss and overall endurance.

Now, assuming you’ve tried HIIT using plenty of effort, you know that it quickly acidifies your body. Your muscles burn, and nausea can set in fast. This is not due to lactate, a substance that actually helps muscle contractions. It’s due to the accumulation of acidic protons (H+), which happens when the body starts burning a lot of glucose to make energy from glycolysis. With a higher effort and intensity, more glucose will be used, and subsequently, more H+ will be produced. This is how metabolic acidosis occurs.

There are two potential problems with making your body use more glucose for energy. First, you’ll gas out quicker than if you used fat to produce energy. When you see a boxer lose his energy and coordination in later rounds, he’s primarily using glucose, not fat, for fuel. A lean athlete has enough stored fat to fuel a jog that lasts for many days. Second, and maybe most importantly, we don’t yet know what negative impacts can occur from forcing the body into metabolic acidosis multiple times per week.

Enter Pavel Tsatsouline
Many of you will know Pavel Tsatsouline, chairman of StrongFirst, as one of the world’s top experts in building strength and flexibility. What you probably don’t know is that Pavel has spent the last three years immersed in endurance training research. His ability to read Russian gives him an advantage since some of the best endurance research has come from there.

Pavel and I have had many discussions over these last three years as he was perusing endurance research from around the globe. In those discussions, he effectively made the case for why many of the popular high-intensity endurance protocols aren’t ideal. Therefore, over the last year I’ve shifted my approach to building endurance with athletes. The results have been extremely impressive, which I’ll discuss more in future blogs.

I got to see Pavel publicly present his immense research for the first time this summer in Denver. His sold-out Strong Endurance seminar attracted some of the heaviest hitters in the fields of strength, conditioning, and physical therapy.

Pavel started off the seminar by warning us not to “chase the proton.” The acidosis that accompanies proton accumulation can lead to many problems that negatively affect power, health and performance. He went on to tell us that world-renowned Russian sports scientist, Prof. Yuri Verkhoshansky, figured this out many decades ago, dating back to 1980. In 1988, Verkhoshansky wrote this about his “anti-glycolytic” training:

“[Yet] the goal is not taking the athlete to exhaustion to accustom him to metabolic acidosis, as it is often understood in athletic practice, but just the opposite…to develop alactic power and to couple it with oxidative phosphorylation, to increase the muscles oxidative qualities, this is develop the local muscle endurance.”

What Should You Do?
The approach to building endurance without overemphasizing glycolysis is beyond the scope of this blog. However, there are two things to keep in mind when you work to build endurance.

1. Build your phosphagen system: Your muscles immediate source of energy comes from stored ATP and the ATP-CP system. They will fuel your maximum effort and speed exercises for 6-12 seconds. This means you can either do low-rep sets of strength exercises or high-speed work for 6-12 seconds. Give yourself enough rest to return your heart rate close to what it was at the beginning of the set to offset H+ accumulation.

2. Train endurance at your anaerobic threshold: If you perform endurance work in the anaerobic zone your muscles will need more oxygen than they can get, and this causes H+ and carbon dioxide (CO2) to accumulate. Both of these factors can increase metabolic acidosis. Dr. Philip Maffetone, author of The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, recommends training at a heart rate that’s around 180-your age. Therefore, a 30-year old athlete would perform his sport and endurance work around 150 beats per minute, allowing him to use fat for fuel and minimize acidosis. Over time he’ll be able to perform faster and faster at that heart rate.

This approach follows what Pavel told us all in his Strong Endurance seminar, “Increase your 100% and learn to use a lower percentage of it.”

Stay Focused,

P.S. Click the image below to find out more about my 10-week Corrective Exercise certification course I designed for the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA):

Ultimate Glute Development

Everyone wants better glutes, whether you’re a guy or gal, athlete or non-athlete. That’s because glutes that are awesomely developed not only make your body look better, but they can also drastically improve your performance. When the glutes are strengthened and built using the correct combinations of exercises, you’ll run faster, jump higher and improve the strength of all your lower-body lifts.

In order to build a muscle to it’s highest level of size and performance, all of its fibers should be recruited by the end of a workout. The glutes are a tri-planar muscle, which means it can function in all three planes of movement:

  • Sagittal plane = hip extension
  • Frontal plane = hip abduction
  • Transverse plane = hip external rotation

The problem is that most people only train the sagittal plane function of the glutes: hip extension. I’m talking here about the typical squat, deadlift and lunge variations.

Last fall I spent four months working with Christopher Powers, Ph.D., at his Movement Performance Institute (a glute-focused sports medicine facility if there ever was one). I worked with athletes and non-athletes that had a myriad of knee, low back or hip problems.

The early stages of Professor Powers’ system focuses heavily on strengthening the glutes in the frontal and transverse planes – hip abduction and hip external rotation, respectively. Pure hip extension isn’t usually trained until about 6 weeks into the system.

There were two key observations I made after training athletes primarily in hip abduction and external rotation for up to 6 weeks straight:

  • Their glutes got substantially larger
  • Their hip extension strength increased

Their glutes got bigger because they were recruiting muscle fibers that perform hip abduction and external rotation, which had been neglected in the gym from doing nothing but squats, lunges and deadlifts.

Prof. Powers has been a pioneer in research that demonstrates a link between frequent glute activation and a stronger mind-muscle connection, which is an essential component of strength and hypertrophy development. So even though pure hip extension wasn’t trained, that movement got stronger because the brain was better able to recruit the entire gluteal fibers in any future task.

My point here is that ultimate glute development requires a strong emphasis on hip abduction and hip external rotation. Those two movement planes must be frequently trained in order to build the glutes to the highest level of size and performance.

Test Yourself

Before you watch the video where I outline my favorite 7-minute glute-building sequence, test yourself (or one of your clients).

  • Stiff hamstrings? Do a standing toe touch assessment, then perform the glute sequence and immediately retest it.
  • Knee or low back pain? Do a movement which causes you to feel the discomfort, then perform the glute sequence and immediately retest it.
  • Need to improve your squat, lunge, deadlift, sprint or vertical jump? Do the following sequence twice each day for 2 weeks, then retest the exercise you’re trying to improve. Your performance will definitely go up!

The following Ultimate Glute Development sequence requires a mini-band. I use the bands made by Perform Better, which can be found at this Amazon link. Most females should start with a yellow mini-band; males can start with a green. The key is to progress the band tension as your strength improves.

  • Goal for males: perform the entire Ultimate Glute Development sequence with a black Perform Better mini-band.
  • Goal for females: perform the entire Ultimate Glute Development sequence with a blue Perform Better mini-band.

Here’s the Ultimate Glute Development sequence, a collection of my favorite glute-building exercises, all crammed into a 7-minute drill. Do this sequence at least once per day (preferably twice), at the beginning of your regular workouts or as a stand-alone drill.

I highly recommend you make this a foundational activation sequence for you and your clients, for years to come.

Stay Focused,

Test and Build Your Glutes

blog sprinter It is difficult to overstate the importance of the glutes for achieving athletic prowess. When they are strong, you can run faster, jump higher and help protect your lumbar spine from injury. Of course, a well-developed set of glutes also make you look damn good in a pair of jeans or yoga pants.

You probably already do a handful of different exercises each week that are intended to strengthen and develop your gluteal muscles. The problem? It’s easy for your nervous system to prioritize the hamstrings and low back muscles, and neglect the glutes, when you do a deadlift, squat or glute bridge. There are two common reasons why.

First, the motor cortex portion of the brain that controls movement devotes very little real estate to the glutes. This is probably one of the reasons why it’s difficult for people to make a strong mind-muscle connection between the brain and butt. Second, since we spend considerable time each day sitting, which requires zero activation of the gluteal muscles, they get weaker and lose their neural input. Therefore, many people have what Stuart McGill, Ph.D., an expert in treating low back pain, refers to as “gluteal amnesia.”

Over the last few months, I’ve been experimenting with a way to easily measure a person’s gluteus maximus strength, based on an assessment that some progressive physical therapists use. Since their version requires a partner, I modified it so you can do it on your own.

Professor Vladimir Janda used to say, “Every exercise is a test.” He was right. And in this case, the opposite is true: the single-leg hip extension test is also a great strength exercise. So you’ll first learn how to use the movement to test your glute max strength, and then we’ll cover the parameters for strengthening it.

Single-Leg Hip Extension Test

How to do it: To test the strength of the left gluteus maximus, first stretch your left hip flexors so you don’t get a false positive. The test should measure your glute max strength, therefore, it’s important to eliminate any soft tissue limitations. Then, lie on your back with your left leg straight and left heel resting on a flat bench. The toes are pointed up, as depicted below.

glute test 2

Next, pull down through the left heel to elevate the hips/trunk as high as possible. The test position (aka, screen) is when your hips are at your maximum range of hip extension.

glute test 1

In order to pass the test, you should be able to hold the left hip in full, end-range extension without any rotation of trunk/pelvis, for 10 seconds (shown above). Repeat the test/screen with the right leg elevated, after stretching the right hip flexors.

Explanation: The gluteus maximus and hamstrings are both hip extensors. Therefore, this exercise doesn’t completely isolate the glute max. However, the hip flexion angle at the starting position creates a favorable biomechanical advantage for the glute max to develop force, so that’s why it’s a good strength test.

As is the case with any glute exercise or test, I always run it by my buddy, Bret Contreras, Ph.D. Here’s what Dr. Contreras had to say about the single-leg hip extension test:

This screen will assess the ability of the gluteus maximus to achieve end-range hip extension, while a rotational load is simultaneously placed upon the hips. If you’re up to par, your glutes will be sufficiently strong to resist being pulled eccentrically into hip flexion. If you didn’t pass, this indicates that you need to include extra glute activation drills into your daily warm-ups until proficiency is reached.

How to fix the weakness: What should you do if you didn’t pass the test/screen? You have two options that revolve around high frequency training (HFT) since the glutes respond especially well to it.

One option is to use the same movement we just covered to build strength. Let’s say you didn’t pass the test for the right glute max. In that case, perform 2 sets of the single-leg hip extension hold for as long as possible at the end-range, using the right leg, twice each day. Continue until you can hold the end-range lockout position for 10 seconds. Of course, the same strategy is used for the left glute, if it’s also weak.

The other option is to use a different glute activation exercise for one, or both glutes. For example, if your left glute didn’t pass the test, you could do 2 sets of the single-leg left hip thrust, for as many full reps as possible, twice each day (shown below). Then, retest your strength using the single-leg hip extension test every 10-14 days until you pass.

blog single leg hip thrust1photo courtesy of Bret Contreras

The purpose of the single-leg hip extension test is not to see if you can stop training your glutes with specialized exercises. Instead, the test helps determine if you need extra glute training throughout the week to correct an imbalance.

Now you have a simple way to do it.

Stay Focused,

hft2 promo ban sml

Build Your Glutes Fast!

blog glutes runner It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, everyone wants impressive glute development. But many people don’t know how to intelligently train the glutes to achieve the best look and performance. So I’m here to tell you how to do it as quickly as possible.

First, let’s cover the primary functions of your largest glute muscle: the gluteus maximus. At the hip it provides the torque for extension, abduction and external rotation. However, most lifters put too much emphasis on the hip extension action during their workouts and this can lead to poor glute development and performance.

Let me explain. Continue reading

A Better Way to Correct Lifting Form

blog megaphone If you’re a trainer, coach or physical therapist it’s essential to use effective coaching cues. For years we’ve been telling clients to “squeeze this” or “brace that” or a host of other verbal instructions that often weren’t as beneficial as we’d like.

You might know what it feels like to squeeze your glutes during a squat or lunge, but most people don’t – even professional athletes. The problem is that most clients never learn how to correctly activate certain muscles. The key word here is “learn.”

Over the past few decades, Gabriele Wulf, Ph.D., has been a pioneer in the research for determining how people learn complex motor skills. She and her team have studied the effects of different verbal cues for jump height, balance, posture and even golf. I’ll save you the work of thumbing through all her studies on PubMed and get to the bottom line: External cues work better than internal cues.

So what does that mean to coaches, trainers and therapists? It means you could get better results by using different words while coaching exercises that are typically problematic.

The deadlift, for example, is an exercise that requires a good, solid hip hinge. Therefore, we often tell clients to “hinge at the hip” during the descending phase. Or we tell them to “push your hips back as you go down.”

However, those are internal cues because you’re telling them to focus on a body part. Continue reading

Squeeze More Muscle into Your Training

blog biceps squeeze Muscle growth requires tension. If you haven’t been gaining muscle, one likely culprit is a lack of high-threshold motor unit recruitment during your sets.

When the tension of your muscle contractions is too low, you’re not stimulating the muscle fibers that have the most growth potential.

This holds true for any muscle group.

However, the calves come to mind here since they’re one of the most notoriously stubborn muscle groups – if you chose the wrong parents. In Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding he mentioned that one of the ways he got his proportionally puny calves to grow was with super-heavy sets of incline leg press calf raises.

In essence, he forced his calves to produce more tension and they grew because of it. But you’ll quickly run into a wall of fatigue and joint strain if you only add weight to your exercises.

There’s a simpler, safer and more effective way to get more tension and growth out of your sets: the squeeze. Continue reading