Category Archives: Training
By Fleur van Griensven
When a girl tells people she just started lifting, they often think that she will wake up as a Hulk the next day. They think that lifting makes women look bulky, so they shouldn’t train like men. Another thing you often hear, is that women can never get as big as men, but is that true? Do women naturally have less muscular potential than men? Or can we finally acknowledge the fact that women should train heavy too and that a lot of girls are not living up to their potential by lifting 2 kg pink dumbbells?
The natural muscular potential of women.
Popular opinion is that men have more muscular potential than women and thus can gain more muscle. However, some research indicates that women naturally have roughly the same muscle building potential. A prospective intervention study examined the influences of gender on muscle size responses to strength training. The results were that women can gain the same percentage of muscle mass compared to men during strength training .
Studies on protein synthesis came also to the same conclusion. Women have similar muscle protein synthesis rates and thus seem to build the same amount of muscle protein after training compared to men . This is however the conclusion of only a few studies, so more research is definitely needed to be 100% clear that women do naturally have the same muscle building potential. However, this is difficult because these studies take a long time and need to be well-controlled.
When women start training they do have a different body composition. Most of the times, women have less muscle mass and more fat mass compared to men. Women have +/- 12% essential body fat compared to just +/- 3% fat in men . Essential body fat is all the fat which we can not lose without it negatively affecting our physiological functions. It surrounds our organs and nerve tissues. Men and women do have a different starting point when it comes to muscle mass, but they seem to be gaining muscle mass at the same rate. Keep in mind that for the rest of this article I always compare men with a starting point to women with the same starting point, so a same body composition.
How about testosterone?
Testosterone is the most important male sex hormone. Women however do also produce testosterone, even though they have 15 times less active testosterone than men, under normal circumstances . Besides the known functions of testosterone in our body, like development of primary/secondary sexual characteristics and production of sperm, it also plays a positive role in muscle building. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone, which means that it stimulates muscle protein synthesis and thus muscle growth.
Is it then true, because women have less testosterone they also have less potential to build muscle mass? No, this is probably not the case. The testosterone functions are different in men and women. What comes next might be a bit of a complicated story with terms you never heard about, but do not worry about that and try to see the big picture in why having less testosterone as a woman is not that bad at all.
It seems that testosterone is not needed for muscle development in women because growth factors like IGF-1 and growth hormone take over the anabolic role that testosterone plays in men . This has been found in an animal study done with mice, so more studies are necessary to test if this is the case in humans too. However since women can gain muscle with lower testosterone levels, it can be safely assumed that other hormones besides testosterone are involved in this muscle building process.
Women have just as much IGF-1 and produce +/- 3 times as much growth hormone as men . This study shows that despite the fact that women have lower testosterone levels than men, they do have higher growth hormone levels. It could be possible that in women growth hormone partly takes over the role of testosterone. This explains why having less testosterone does probably not limit how much muscle women can build. People think that testosterone is the most important hormone, but there are more hormones that play a role in muscle growth.
The other (sex)hormones combined with the advantages/disadvantages women have.
Where testosterone is the most important male sex hormone, estrogen is the most important female sex hormone. Estrogen is commonly seen as the hormone that makes you fat and frail. However, its positive effects should not be disregarded. Some of these positive physiological effects are:
- It is anti-catabolic, which means that it prevents muscle loss .
- It aids in muscle repair .
- It is good for connective tissue (bones, ligaments etc.).
The bad reputation of estrogen is based on nothing more than the assumption that if testosterone is anabolic, estrogen must be catabolic. There is a lot of ongoing research and there are indications that it plays a role in muscle growth and the well-being of skeletal muscle. However, more research is needed in the future.
One big disadvantage for a lot of women these days is the use of the anti-contraceptive pill. This holds especially true for the ones containing a lot of progesterone. They do have a negative effect on muscle growth compared to not using an anti-contraceptive pill, because progesterone competes with testosterone for the androgen receptor. Basically, this comes down to less active testosterone when you take in an anti-contraceptive pill with a lot of progesterone . How much of a negative effect occurs is hard to tell, because it is very difficult to study.
Here is a practical tip which you can use to take advantage of the benefit we have being a woman. Hopefully this and more research in the future about some other topics relating the effects of hormones on muscle growth will help you get the most out of your training sessions!
- We can use a higher rep range.
There are two types of muscle fibres: Type I&II. Type I muscle fibers are known as slow-twitch muscle fibers, which makes them able to contract for a long period of time and more resistant to fatigue. Being able to contract for a long period of time could mean that women can benefit from a higher rep range. This could mean that for women to grow to their full potential, more reps per set need to be done to benefit from the type I fibres which are more resistant to fatigue and can contract longer. One study came to the conclusion that during exercise in women, a potential conversion to type I muscle fibers or no conversion at all takes place . This study looked at the muscle fibre adaptations during execution of a knee-extension exercise in both young men and women. They found a significant increase in percentage of type I fibres in young women. The study has its limitations: if the muscle fibres had been splitted into type Ia, IIa, IIb etcetera, no significant result would have been found. This also is anecdotal evidence and more research needs to be done.
Conclusion, do women naturally have less muscle building potential than men?
There is some research which indicates that women can gain the same percentage of muscle mass compared to men during strength training [1,2]. However more research is needed.
Why you see more men with a significant amount of muscle mass compared to women and why women aren’t 100% living up to their potential can be contributed to a lot of factors:
- Mostly social-cultural. There are not as many women compared to men training with weights. If they do train, some of them just do not want to build as much mass as possible. Everyone has their own goal and idea of how they want to look. That is okay, as long as you do what makes you happy and never have someone telling you what you shouldn’t or can’t achieve.
- If women go to the gym, they spend countless hours on the treadmill or playing around with pink dumbbells, that is for sure not 100% optimal if you want to build as much muscle mass as possible.
- Oral-contraceptives, which have a negative effect on muscle growth. Part of the anabolic role of testosterone will be taken over by other hormones in women, so testosterone production probably does not limit how much muscle women can build.
More information about this topic for sure will come available in the future as more and more studies are being done on this interesting topic. When that time comes we will update this article and bring you the latest conclusions.
One take home message for all the women out there busting their ass off (or on) in the gym: you probably are not less capable of putting on muscle mass than men, and the only limitations you have are the ones you put on yourself!
 Roth, SM (2001). Muscle size responses to strength training in young and older men and women. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 49(11), 1428-33.
 O’Hagan, FT (1995). Response to resistance training in young women and men. International journal of sports medicine, 16(5), 314-21.
 Vehrs, P (2013). Assessment and interpretation of body composition in physical education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 46-51
 Wisse, B (2016, 2 March). Testosterone. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003707.htm
 MacLean, HE (2008). Impaired skeletal muscle development and function in male, but not female, genomic androgen receptor knockout mice. FASEB journal, 22(8), 2676-89.
 Van den Berg, G (1996). An amplitude-specific divergence in the pulsatile mode of growth hormone (GH) secretion underlies the gender difference in mean GH concentrations in men and premenopausal women. Journal Clinical endocrinal Metab, 81(7), 2460-2467
 Hansen, Mette (2014). Influence of Sex and Estrogen on Musculotendinous Protein Turnover at Rest and after exercise. Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews, 42(4), 183-192.
 Velders, M (2013). How Sex hormones promote skeletal muscle regeneration. Sports Medicine, 43(11), 1089-1100.
 Woock, C (2009). Oral Contraceptive use impairs muscle gains in young women. The FASEB Journal, 23(1).
 Martel, G (2006). Age and sex affect human muscle fibre adaptations to heavy resistance strength training. Experimental Physiology, 91(2), 457-464
By Wietse In het Panhuis
We probably all know the struggle of cutting. Sometimes it is difficult to lose fat, even though you are in a caloric deficit. Cardio is a helpful tool to cut down on body fat. Some speculation exists about the cardio intensity that would be optimal to burn fat. Is it better to do cardio with a low intensity for a long time, or a high intensity for a short time?
Energy systems in the body
Before explaining what the ideal form of cardio is for burning fat, you should have a basic understanding of metabolism in the human body.
The body needs energy for a lot of different processes: basic functions to stay alive, repair and growth of tissue, and physical activity. In this situation we are mainly interested in the latter one. The body gets its energy from the conversion of ATP to ADP (I am sure you know what that is by now). To create ATP, several forms of fuel are used, such as carbohydrates (sugars), fats (fatty acids), and ketone bodies (which are only formed and used when being in a fasted state). These fuels are present in blood and stored in the body. After a meal, food is digested and taken up in the blood via the intestines. However, only small amounts of nutrients are present in the blood, because the blood has a strict range of concentrations of nutrients and other compounds. If these concentrations would be much lower or higher, the body cannot function properly. For example, in total only a few grams of sugar are present in the blood, providing the body with about 20-30 kilo calories (kcal). When you cycle for 2 minutes, all of this sugar will be used up. Therefore, the body needs strict regulations of the nutrients: an excess of nutrients will be quickly stored, and a nutrient shortage will be compensated for by releasing nutrients from the body stores into the blood.
Carbohydrates and sugars are stored in glycogen in the muscle and liver. Fat is mostly stored in adipose (fat) tissue, and some of it in the muscles and around the organs. Proteins can also be used as energy fuel, for which they first have to be converted to sugars (and urea). Protein is present in lots of different tissue, but its main storage location is in the muscles.
When the body needs energy (for example during exercise), it does not exclusively use one type of fuel, instead it will use different forms of fuel at the same time. The situation determines how much of a fuel is used. For instance, when you have not eaten for more than 24 hours, your glycogen stores will be low. Your body will then switch to more fat oxidation (the burning of fat to get energy), and the breakdown of protein (and thus muscle) will be increased in order to supply the body with enough glucose. The latter is important, because the brain can only use glucose as energy fuel, and not fat. If there would be no glucose, the brain would stop functioning. When you have just eaten a big meal, your body will switch to predominantly carbohydrates, and will thus burn less fat or breakdown less muscle for protein.
During exercise, the intensity determines how much carbohydrates and fats will be burned. In general, when exercise intensity increases, carbohydrate oxidation increases[1,2]. Also, fat oxidation will increase when exercise intensity increases, but at some point it will decrease again. Therefore, there is an optimal intensity to burn fat. Implementing this knowledge in your (cardio) workout, could help with optimizing fat loss.
Studies tried to investigate which exercise intensity is ideal for fat loss. This optimal fat burning point, or the exercise intensity at which the maximal fat oxidation rate occurs, has been named Fatmax. Exercise intensity in cardio can be expressed in Wmax: The maximal amount of Watt produced before hitting failure. Wmax is closely related to VO2max, which is the maximal volume of oxygen the body is able to use. Wmax and VO2max therefore reflect pulmonary (lung) and cardiac (heart) functioning. Wmax and VO2max are therefore higher in trained athletes. A Wmax of 100% means maximal intensity of (cardio) exercise. At that point, the body simply cannot work harder because it cannot use more oxygen than it already does.
One study tried to investigate the amount of fat oxidation during different exercise intensities. The exercise intensities in cardio were expressed in Wmax. This study compared the amount of carbohydrates and fats that are burned during rest and at a Wmax of 40%, 55% and 75%. As can be seen in Figure 1, at Wmax 40%, the body will have a fat oxidation of about 50% (muscle and plasma TG + plasma FFA is about 25 KJ/min which is half of the total energy that is burned(50 KJ/min)). At a Wmax of 55%, fat oxidation is about 46% (30 KJ/min fat oxidation, 35 KJ/min glucose oxidation, total 65 kJ/min), so at this point in absolute numbers more fat is burned, but since glucose oxidation increases more, relatively less fat is burned. At a Wmax of 75%, fat oxidation is about 20% (20 KJ/min of total 80 KJ/min), which is both lower in absolute and relative numbers. Thus, exercising at 40% of max Watt has the highest relative fat oxidation.
Figure 1. Quantification of glucose and fat oxidation during different exercise intensities. Muscle glycogen and plasma glucose are part of glucose oxidation, muscle and plasma TG and plasma FFA are part of fat oxidation. %Wmax= percentage of the maximal exercise intensity displayed in Watt. Copied from van Loon et al (2001).
This does not mean that exercising at a Wmax of 40% is best for fat loss. Once again, it depends on the situation:
- When you have a lot of muscle mass and you are trying to lose some body fat to get to a low body fat percentage, it is important to minimize muscle loss. When the body is low on carbohydrates (during a cut), it will break down proteins and thus muscle mass to produce sugars. Loss of muscle muss is therefore minimized when fat oxidation is relatively high, and glucose oxidation relatively low. This is the case for a Wmax of 40%: less fat is burned than at a Wmax of 55%, but also much less glucose is burned. In this situation a Wmax of 40% might be ideal.
- When you don’t have a lot of muscle mass, and/or when you just want to lose a lot of fat, minimizing muscle mass loss is less important than losing fat. In this case, a Wmax of 55% might be more ideal. In this situation, energy balance is much more important: you just have to burn more than you eat. Therefore, you might also exercise at an intensity of 75% Wmax. You burn less fat and much more glucose in this case, but this will indirectly result in greater fat loss because fat stores will be burned to supply the body with enough energy. However, when having little carbohydrates/glycogen in the system, exercising at a high intensity is very heavy, and it might therefore be a better option to exercise at an intensity of 55% Wmax.
According to literature, the optimal fat burning point could be different for persons, as gender, age, training status, diet and body composition might play a role. An explanation for this could be that the bodies of trained athletes and people who consume low carb diets (either by fasting or high fat diets in the absence of carbs) are more efficient by being better able to switch to fat oxidation. Furthermore, there is some variation in Wmax, as these might differ per day. This variation is estimated to be around 3 to 7%. It is therefore difficult to implement the Fatmax concept with 100% accuracy in your training strategy. It might be that you need a slightly higher or lower intensity than what is recommended to have optimal fat oxidation. However, it might still be a good approach for cutting.
How to implement Fatmax in your training
To start exercising at a certain intensity, you should know what your Wmax is. To determine Wmax, the following (simplified) protocol on a cycle ergometer could be used:
- Warm up for 5 minutes at 100W for males or 75W for females. Maintain at least 60 rotations per minute during the whole test.
- Increase the intensity with 35W every 2 minutes, until exhaustion.
Exhaustion = the point at which you cannot maintain 60 rotations per minute for more than 20 seconds
- Write down the maximal work load at exhaustion.
Now you know your Wmax, you can implement the concept of Fatmax into your cardio workout schedule to optimize fat loss.
The concept of Fatmax might be useful with regard to weight loss programs. The concept is however based on assumptions of physiology. I could not find any randomized controlled trials that investigated the validity of Fatmax for weight loss in comparison to another exercise regime. Therefore, it is not sure if optimal fat oxidation results in significantly greater weight loss compared to other fat burning strategies. I would therefore recommend to primarily stick to the key concept in weight loss, which is a negative energy balance. If you are able to implement Fatmax in your weight loss schedule, you might give it a try.
In short, Fatmax can be implemented in your training by:
- Finding your Wmax with a cycling test.
- Exercise at 40% of Wmax if you want to minimize muscle loss during a cut.
- Exercise at 55% of Wmax if you want to maximize fat loss during a cut.
- Look at your total exercise energy expenditure. A lower %Wmax also means that the exercise duration should be longer in order to burn the same amount of calories.
 Jeukendrup, A., & Gleeson, M. (2010). Sport nutrition: an introduction to energy production and performance (No. Ed. 2). Human Kinetics.
 van Loon, L. J., Greenhaff, P. L., Constantin‐Teodosiu, D., Saris, W. H., & Wagenmakers, A. J. (2001). The effects of increasing exercise intensity on muscle fuel utilisation in humans. The Journal of physiology, 536(1), 295-304.
 Ghanbari-Niaki, A., & Zare-Kookandeh, N. (2016). Maximal Lipid Oxidation (Fatmax) in Physical Exercise and Training: A review and Update. Annals of Applied Sport Science, 4(3), 0-0.
 Kuipers, H., Verstappen, F. T. J., Keizer, H. A., Geurten, P., & Van Kranenburg, G. (1985). Variability of aerobic performance in the laboratory and its physiologic correlates. International journal of sports medicine, 6(04), 197-201.
By Jasper Remmerswaal
Weightlifting shoes are very common in gyms nowadays. This article gives you a look into the reasons people buy weightlifting shoes and whether you should buy them. I divided the article in three different sections: What do weightlifting shoes actually do, why should you (not) buy them and my conclusion on the topic. I hope you will enjoy this article, and please keep in mind that this article reflects my opinion and is not necessarily the only truth.
Oh, added bonus: I will give some recommendations on shoes that I think are worth the money.
What do weightlifting shoes actually do?
Weightlifting shoes (like the one in the picture) have an elevated heel. An elevated heel will artificially increase the length of your calve muscles. In other words: The degree of ankle dorsiflexion you are capable to achieve in the squat is increased. In other words: You have more ankle range of motion. In other words: Your knees can track more forward with an elevated heel than without one. The picture below illustrates ankle dorsiflexion. Take a good look at it. Imagine if you would put a block under the heel now. The knee would move forward through the wooden board, right? You can also test this yourself: squat down into your deepest squat, and then do it again but this time squatting only on the toes (thus there is room between the floor and your heel). Squatting on your toes will make a deeper squat easier. Weightlifting shoes act according to this principle. In the rest of this article, I will also refer to weightlifting shoes as ‘lifters’. They are both the same thing.
*Why is it called dorsiflexion? Flexion is the term for the bending of a joint, in this case the ankle joint. Dorsal refers to the back of the body. Ankle Dorsal flexion is therefore the bending of the ankle joint, towards the back of the body. Think about it: the toes move close to the back of the body when the knees go forward/when the toes are pulled upwards.
As an added bonus, weightlifting shoes provide some ankle stability for those who have poor feet (for example flat feet). The shoes can be bound real tight around the foot, and they feel very stable.
So that’s great right? Let’s all buy weightlifting shoes!
Buying lifters is often a good idea, but most people buy them for the wrong reasons. I will list these in no particular order plus another argument against lifters:
- They lack adequate flexibility, and instead of working on these problems, they buy shoes and leave the mobility work for what it.
If you are planning on some deep squatting, then weightlifting shoes are a great tool. But it does not mean you should skip the mobility work if you really need it. Don’t buy shoes to mask deficiencies.
- They buy lifters because someone told them they are squat shoes and their squat will go up.
Lifters are indeed squat shoes. However, if you squat to parallel and you have no reason or ambition to squat any deeper than that, lifters are absolutely not necessary. At most they provide you with some ankle stability. They won’t increase your squat numbers.
- They think that lifters are also made for deadlifting.
Weightlifting shoes increase ankle dorsiflexion and are therefore useful in the (high bar) squat. They will not contribute to your deadlift. They will actually decrease your leverage (=Hefboomwerking) because with shoes you now have artificially longer legs. However, they provide some ankle stability. Still, if your ankles are fine, you are probably better of lifting in just plain shoes with flat soles. I personally deadlift with my lifters on all the time, and I have a good reason for that: I am plain too fucking lazy to change shoes. That’s all right, just don’t think that squat shoes are deadlift shoes.
- They squat low bar style.
Increasing ankle dorsiflexion will not contribute to your squat if you squat low bar. The whole point of squatting low bar is to have more hip flexion (a smaller hip angle) compared to a high bar squat. Lifters will give you a more upright position (thus increasing the hip angle) in the low bar squat and in general, this will not benefit your squat numbers in the low bar squat. Look at the picture. LOOK. The left is a low bar squat and the right a high bar. You see that the knees are more forward in the high bar, and the position is more upright (take a look at all the angles in the picture). Squat shoes will make your squat look more like a high bar squat, as compared to a low bar squat: upright position and knees forward. When you use squat shoes in a low bar position, it will make it more high bar like. If you make the low bar look like a high bar, why do low bar in the first place? The discussion of which type of squat style you should pick is a whole other discussion, which I will go into in another article.
- Squat shoes are expensive as f*ck.
A pair of good squat shoes will easily cost you over 100 euros. A pair of brandless chucks from the Schoenenreus will cost you 7 euro’s. As most people are better of squatting with flat shoes, buying lifters is what we Dutch call a ‘duur grapje’.
Okay okay, so now we have all the reasons to not buy squat shoes. When should we buy them?
- You are an Olympic weightlifter.
Increased depth in the squat means increased depth in the clean and in the snatch. If you can catch the bar lower, you are able to handle more weight. Also, having a more upright position is very beneficial because it is easier to handle the bar overhead in a straight line. This is why all Olympic lifters use lifters.
- You like to squat deep and incorporate deep squats in your training for whatever reason.
If you like to squat deep and you squat high bar, then lifters are a valuable tool for you. They will give you more stability in the squat plus a more efficient position for squatting deep.
- You squat high bar but you lean forward way too much.
Lifters will give you a more upright position. However, use these as a tool and not as a permanent solution! Keep working on your mobility. The added benefit here is that it’s nice that you can still squat in the process of working towards good technique.
- You have poor ankle stability.
If you have flat feet for example, lifters may increase your stability in the squat. Squat shoes are very stable and you will notice the difference immediately if your ‘natural stability’ is not that good. However, you can still work on ankle stability and you should also look for orthotics (‘’steunzolen’’ in Dutch) if you want to keep on training without injuries! Shoes are not the solution, but a tool.
- If you are an Olympic weightlifter, or you squat deep, go ahead and buy squat shoes.
- If you squat low bar, you are better off with ordinary flat shoes. If you are a powerlifter who squats high bar (the minority), you might benefit from squat shoes.
- As a normal gym rat, you probably don’t have to spend money on expensive shoes. But you can if you squat high bar and deep on a regular basis.
Which shoes do I recommend?
I’d like to start of with saying that most people are probably better of with just buying the 9 dollar fake Allstar shoes from Schoenenreus. They are better for just parallel (high bar) squatting, low bar squatting and deadlifting. If you are not one of these people and you decide to buy weightlifting shoes, then I recommend the following.
I personally have a pair of Adidas Power Perfect 2 shoes. These shoes are great for weightlifting and deep squatting, and they are very stable. They have a band (like most weightlifting shoes) so you can really strap them on tight. The elevated heel is pretty large, which is nice for deep squatting, snatching and cleaning/front squatting. They sell a bit over 100 euros.
Then you have the slightly cheaper powerlift 2.0 and 3.0. The shoes are a lot like the power perfect 2’s. The name is very misleading, because powerlifting involves deadlifting and benching and the shoes do not provide any added benefit to those two lifts. Also, the majority of powerlifters squats low bar, and the shoes do not necessarily contribute to a low bar squat. The elevated heel is slightly less when compared to the power perfect 2, which makes it a less valuable shoe for olympic weightlifting. If you are a powerlifter and like the extra ankle stability, then these shoes are for you. If you want deep squatting or if you are a weightlifter, you are better of with the Power Perfect 2. The shoes sell for about 90 euros.
Then you have a more expensive adidas shoe: The Adidas Adipower for Weightlifting. I hear good stories about them and if you want to buy yourself some new shoes, I would recommend you choose between this one and the Power Perfect 2. The elevated heel is about the same in height. They sell for about 180 euros. One thing worth mentioning: about 95% of the people who compete in the top of olympic weightlifting have these shoes. Like really, all of them. Adidas also has one even more expensive model, selling for 225 euros, but I don’t know anybody who wears them so I won’t recommend them.
Nike also makes nice shoes: The Romaleos 2. They sell for about 200 euros. The elevated heel is comparable to the Power Perfect 2 and Adipower. The thing I like about this shoe is that it has two bands with which you can strap it on. I have never had them on myself but I guess this would feel great and it’s very easy to adjust them during training.
I have no experience with other brands, so I won’t recommend them. If you have experience with other brands, please tell me! I am very curious.
A general note: Weightlifting shoes will last multiple years if you treat them right (and not use them for walks, like me). They are really sports shoes in the long term. I would advise to buy the pair that suits you best, and not the cheapest pair.
I hope you enjoyed this article! If there are still questions, you can send me a message and I’ll gladly help you out.
by Ricky Siebeler
Approximate reading time: 7 minutes
Yet another entry on how to properly train a certain muscle. Often neglected, the hamstrings require some special attention when it comes to training. Being one of the main contributors to all lower body movements, the hamstrings need to be properly developed for longevity (functional and injury free). This article will discuss all the important aspects about training of the hamstrings. It should be mentioned though that this article will mostly focus on training concepts, instead of the training itself. This makes the article a little less straightforward, and perhaps a bit more difficult. The understanding of these concepts will clarify a lot about why and how you should train certain muscles, not just the hamstrings. The main concepts being discussed in this article will be: anatomy, injury prevention and training.
The word “hamstring” functions as a generic term referring to any of the three posterior thigh muscles. The posteriors thigh’s musculature is made up out of three muscles: the Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus and Biceps Femoris (which consists of a long & short head). The hamstrings (except for the Bicep Femoris short head) are biarticular muscles, which means it crosses two joints . This enables the muscles to initiate movement at both joints. The Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus and Biceps Femoris long head originate from the Ischial Tuberosity and mainly attach to medial (towards the midline of the body) surface of the Tibia, medial Tibial Condyle and head of the Fibula, respectively . The Bicep Femoris short head originates from the Linea Aspera and Lateral Supracondylar line of Femur, and attaches to the head of the Fibula. A more basic explanation would be that they originate from the pelvis and upper Femur, and attach to the lower leg bones.
All of the hamstring muscles contribute to flexion of the knee . Besides flexion, the hamstring muscles contribute greatly to hip extension . Important to note though, is that because of the way the Bicep Femoris short head attaches to the Femur (and not the pelvis), the short head does not contribute to hip extension . Besides these two most commonly known functions, the hamstrings also contribute to knee rotation: the Semitendinosus and the Semimembranosus for internal rotation (inward), and the Bicep Femoris for external rotation (outward). Whilst not being a hamstring, the Gastrocnemius (a calve muscle) also contributes to knee flexion. This has implications for training, which will be discussed later.
Being a biarticular muscle comes with some disadvantages: it’s not possible to fully flex (bend) the knee during hip extension or extend the knee during hip flexion, because a muscle can only shorten (this is what happens during contraction) a certain amount, this is called active insufficiency. The opposite, passive insufficiency, means that it is not possible to fully extend the knee with flexed hips.
Fun Fact: there is a popular belief that the hamstring muscles are a fast-twitch muscle group, meaning it may be beneficial to train them in the lower rep-ranges. In fact they are more balanced, with slightly more slow twitch muscle fibers. Being a balanced muscle group, it would be beneficial to train in a high variety of rep ranges . It should be noted that beneficial effects of fiber-type specific training have proven not to be significant .
Hamstring Injury Prevention
Most hamstring or hamstring related injuries occur during the shift from eccentric to concentric, especially when the hamstrings are at near full length . A common scenario where this might happen are during eccentric loaded exercises such as Romanian deadlifts (especially near the bottom part of the motion). Hamstring injuries are common in running sports, they often occur during a sprint when you push off with your back leg while in hip flexion. The hamstrings experience relatively high peak forces during these movements, and are thereby more prone to injury . Hamstring injuries often occur at the insertion point (such as the Pelvis), muscle belly (anywhere but insertion point, for example at the peak of your Bicep Femoris ) injuries typically only happen during direct trauma (being hit by a car, dropping the barbell during a benchpress). There are numerous factors concerning injury prevention, this article will cover the most common ones.
First up is flexibility. As mentioned before hamstring injuries often occur when the hamstring reaches near full length. By working on your flexibility you can minimize these injuries . Unfortunately there are not that many prospective studies on flexibility in athletes participating in strength training, but there are studies showing significant injury-rate reductions in soccer-players and endurance athletes when performing several stretches . Considering the fact that hamstring injuries often occur in the same circumstances (peak force in near full length), these studies translate fairly well to strength athletes.
A good warm-up offers multiple benefits, some of which are crucial for injury prevention. Preconditioned (warmed up) muscles are able to handle more force before failing and an additional amount of lengthening . It should be mentioned that just stretching is not a complete warm-up, contradictory to what some people think. A good warm-up should always include some dynamic movements.
The effect of fatigue on hamstring injury prevalence has not been studied in athletes performing strength training. However, it is known that a fatigued muscle is able to absorb less force per lengthening unit . Explanation: a muscle can absorb a certain amount of force for every inch it stretches. When a muscle is fatigued this amount decreases. This leaves the force absorbance balance positive (the muscle absorbed more force than it can compensate), which has to be compensated for to prevent unnecessary stress on the joints. The muscle does this by stretching out further (putting the muscle in a more injury prone position). Meaning that it would not be wise to perform a relatively injury sensitive exercise, after the completion of a long and tiring hamstring workout.
Previous hamstring injuries may cause some scarring and fibrosis (excess fibrous connective tissue), which slightly decreases the hamstrings capability to lengthen, creating a more injury prone hamstring [15-17].
This article is not meant to be a form rant, so the importance of form will only be discussed by an example. Consider performing a squat with goodmorning-form during the concentric phase. This stretches the hamstring muscles to near full length, while lifting a supra-maximal weight for a goodmorning. This shows the importance of form when it comes to injury prevention.
Muscles can be trained in multiple ways, the three most common being: concentric (shortening of the muscle), eccentric (lengthening of the muscle) and isometric (muscle remaining at the same length). During strength training the main focus will be on both concentric and eccentric. In order to effectively train the hamstring muscle one should make sure both of these contractions occur . Considering the functions of the hamstring muscles (knee flexion, hip extension, knee rotation), squats and deadlifts can be rendered sub-optimal exercises for the hamstring muscles. During both of these exercises the hips and knees either extend or flex at the same time. By lengthening one side and shortening on the other the muscle remains about the same length. In order to build some strong/big/healthy hamstrings, one should include exercises that specifically target the hamstring muscles, instead of just squats and deadlifts.
Hip extension exercises activate the proximal (close to the origin of the body part) part of hamstring muscles to a greater extend compared to knee flexion exercises . Considering the majority of the proximal hamstring is made up of the Semitendinosus, it may be worth training hip extension to minimize the risk of a Semitendinosus injury. In order to even further increase the Semitendinosus activation it may be wise to slightly internally rotate the feet , the hamstrings are affected by knee rotation as you may remember from the anatomy part. The most common hip extension exercises used for hamstring training are the Romanian Deadlift (RDL), Stiff Legged Deadlift (SLDL) and the Good Morning (GM). The RDL and GM allow for constant tension throughout the movement. The SLDL has a deadstop in the stretched position, this makes the SLDL an inferior exercise for targeting the hamstrings. This sudden shift in tension, during the SLDL, renders the hamstrings more prone to injury. The constant tension during the RDL and GM allows for better cues to determine when the muscle is near fully stretched and when to stop, because of this injury prone position. Whether one of these two exercises is superior to the other remains to be studied, however the RDL does show a significant higher hamstring activation during an EMG-study .
Besides hip extension exercises, a training program should also include knee flexion exercises. Like mentioned before in the anatomy part of this article, the Bicep Femoris short head only contributes to knee flexion, as it does not attach to the pelvis. During knee flexion the entire distal part is activated to a greater extent than during hip extension . When it comes to knee flexion exercise selection there are several options, each of them with their own benefits. An EMG-study concluded that out of all knee flexion exercises the highest hamstring activation occurs during the glute-ham raise (which is also a hip extension exercise) , as well as being a closed-chain movement. A similar activation is found in hamstring exercises that are alike, such as the Nordic Hamstring Curl .
There is also one of the more obvious knee flexion exercises available: the leg curl. As mentioned in the anatomy part of the article, the Gastrocnemius contributes to knee flexion. The leg curl enables us to take the Gastrocnemius out of the movement. When the ankle joint is in plantar flexion, the Gastrocnemius no longer contributes to the movement (because of active insufficiency), so it isolates the hamstrings. The Gastrocnemius can also be used to overload the eccentric part of the movement, simply by performing the concentric part of the movement while in dorsiflexion and the eccentric in plantarflexion. In order to target the Bicep Femoris more effectively it can also be more efficient to externally rotate the feet . The next decision is whether to use the lying or seated leg curl, extended/flexed hips being the main difference. Considering hamstring injuries happen more often during the eccentric stretch, the focus should be on training the strengthening of this portion of the movement. Recent research suggests that increases in eccentric strength are larger when training the muscles at longer lengths , suggesting the seated leg curl is superior to the lying leg curl, because the hamstrings are more lengthened when in hip flexion. This study also suggests that training the muscle when stretched (injury prone) is an effective way to strengthen that part of the movement, which would be great for injury prevention.
In the near future we will be writing quite a few articles concerning all previously mentioned concepts, but from a more practical standpoint. These practical articles will require theoretical knowledge about some of the concepts mentioned in this article, in order to fully understand them.
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By Fleur van Griensven & Jasper Remmerswaal
Today we’ll be doing a co-written article by me (Jasper) and Fleur van Griensven!
This article will go into the best way to train the gluteal muscles. This will be done from two perspectives: Firstly, the glutes will be looked upon from an anatomical perspective; from which muscles are the glutes made up of? What functions do the glutes have in the human body? Secondly, Fleur will share with you the knowledge she acquired while doing a workshop glute training at Perfect Performance. If you don’t care about the science one bit, I suggest you skip immediately to the practical part Fleur has written out for you. If you want to know why Fleur’s tips make sense, then read both pieces. In the end I will shortly add to the discussion by sharing some studies which have investigated gluteal activation.
The anatomy of the gluteal muscles
The gluteal muscles are made up of three different muscles, which are quite similar in function, but not entirely the same. The muscles are called:
- The gluteus maximus
- The gluteus medius
- The gluteus minimus
As the names suggest, this list goes from big to small, the gluteus maximus being the biggest of the three. Fun fact: The gluteus medius is called medius because it lies the most medial of the three muscles, not because it is the medium-sized muscle. The following pictures will illustrate the gluteal anatomy:
A thorough explanation of the origos and insertions of the muscles are beyond the scope of this article (if you are interested in this, send me a message and we will do a more in-depth article on the anatomy). For now, it is important to understand that there are 3 gluteal muscles and that you take a quick look at how these muscles attach (the white pieces) to the femur (thigh bone).
The gluteus medius & minimus
The gluteus medius & minimus are very similar in function and therefore, with respect to training, they will be reviewed simultaneously (slightly hardcore explanation: both the medius’ and the minimus’ origo can be found on the outside of the os ilium and both insertions can be found on the trochanter major of the femur. Because the two attachments lie at very similar spots, their functions are very similar. For the sake of simplicity, I will not go into this any further. In other words: I am way too stupid and Wikipedia stops explaining at this point.) (That was a joke. I am very intelligent) (or not, who knows). The anatomical functions of the gluteus medius and minimus are the following:
- Main function: Abduction; Moving the leg from the centreline of the body. Think pilates movement such as the one in the picture to the right. This is the most important function, so if you are lazy, try to remember this one.
- Hip flexion (in Dutch: anteflexie): Hip flexion in this case means raising the leg in front of you. Pretty much kicking straight up.
- Hip extension (in Dutch retroflexie): The exact opposite of hip flexion: Bringing the leg to the back of the body. Explained more thorough in the next paragraph.
- External rotation of the hip. When you have straight legs, squeeze your glutes. Look at your knees: they will turn outwards. This is external rotation of the hip/leg. When this function is inhibited, it can result in knee valgus (knees caving inward) and flat feet (collapsed ankle).
A kickback: bringing the leg to the back of the body is a function of all the gluteal muscle The maximus is the prime mover here.
The gluteus maximus
The biggest gluteal muscle, the maximus (Origo: Os ilium & os Sacrum, insertions: tuberositas glutae & tractus iliotibialis) has two important functions in the human body:
- Main function: Hip extension (in Dutch: retroflexie): Same as the gluteus medius and minimus.
- The kickback (ass shown in the picture) is the classical example of this function. However, the medius and minimus act as synergists, meaning they work together with the maximus, in this movement, with the maximus really being the prime mover. Hip extension is therefore ‘more’ a function of the maximus than of the other two gluteal muscles.
- Remember that hip extension can also mean that the hips are moved forward while the legs are fixed (I think this is where the confusion with the Dutch retroflexion term starts). This applies more to the barbell lifts.
- What does hip extension in the lifts look like? Think about the end of a squat, a deadlift, a kettlebell swing and the explosion in a clean or snatch, when you move the hips forward. These are all hip extension moves. Moves that specifically target this movement are movements like the glute bridge and the hip thrust. These movements are very suited for glute training because they isolate the hip extension part. The barbell hip thrust activates the gluteus maximus and the biceps femoris, which is a hamstring muscle, (not to be confused with the biceps brachialis, the famous arm muscle),to a greater degree than the back squat when using estimated 10RM loads (Contreras et al., 2015) . Point to take home: Squatting alone won’t cut it if the goal is to really grow the glute muscles. Except if you low-bar squat like 200kgs. Powerlifters have a huge rear. Bro science all the way there, but it has a truth to it.
- Second function: Posterior tilting of the pelvis (in Dutch: het naar achteren kantelen van het bekken): This function of the glutes is very important. Look at the picture below. When the glutes are relatively weak, this function is inhibited and may result in an anterior pelvic tilt, as seen on the left in the picture below. Next to looking like Donald Duck, this excessive lordosis (the curve in the lower spine) can cause lower back pain and further problems down the chain. There will definitely be a separate article on this, but for now: if you suffer from anterior pelvic tilt, glute training is something worth considering, because when performed correct, basically all hip extension moves end with a slight posterior tilt of the pelvis
Now that the functions of the gluteal muscles have been defined, Fleur has outlined an example of a good approach to glute training.
So? How do I train the booty?
Before jumping straight into how to set up a booty focused training, let’s first get clear on how to properly activate the glutes. People tend to live a sedentary lifestyle nowadays, allowing the glutes to ‘relax’, in a negative way. Waking them up prior training is crucial when maximal performance is desired (besides that, the glute pump is not that bad either).
There are two simple exercises to activate the glutes, both of which make use of an elastic mini band: sumo and monster walks. A lot of online fitness stores sell these bands and they come in different resistances to suit different levels of strength. The elastic mini band can be put around knees, ankles or feet depending on the amount of activation looking for. Start putting a mini band at the easiest position (the knees) before making a way down to the feet. Sumo walking is done sideway, whilst monster walks are just done walking straight forward. See the picture below: the upper one is showing a sumo walk, the lower one a monster walk. Bret Contreras also demonstrates the different placements in a video on Youtube. Check out this link for the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiD4eOaivqY. The key here is to keep constant tension on the mini band and push the knees outward throughout the whole movement. This will make your glutes beg for mercy.
After activation, it is time to put in the work. As the glutes are one of the biggest muscle groups, they can handle a lot of load. However, make sure an exercise is executed properly before thinking about adding more weight. I will go through a selection of glute exercises which are highly suitable for glute training and explain them shortly. There is no best exercise among these three for glute hypertrophy. In the end it comes down to progressive overload (whilst using correct form). So pick one and use more weights/reps/sets on a week to week basis.
- Glute bridge: lay down with your butt and back on the ground, feet placed hip-width apart. From this starting position, tilt your pelvis so that the lower back touches the floor. Now squeeze your glutes and push the hips in the air in a controlled fashion whilst breathing out. Hold it for a second in the end position and focus on contracting the glutes just a bit extra. Then keep tension on the core whilst going back to the starting position.
- Hip thrust: the hip thrust is basically the same movement as the glute bridge, except the hip thrust utilizes a step/bench and a barbell. The shoulder blades are put on the bench/step and a barbell is placed on the hip bones. Tip: use a barbell pad or exercise mat between barbell and hips, as it will prevent a lot of hip bruises! From this position, proceed the same as the glute bridge. Remember! First tilt the pelvis so that the lower back touches the floor, then squeeze the glutes hard as to lock the pelvis in a neutral position.
- Single leg glute bridge/hip thrust: a variation which is a lot harder than the regular glute bridge or hip thrust, because you are placing one foot on the floor and the other one in a straight line with your torso (so horizontal). A great way to work on weaker points and work away imbalances.
If this is still not challenging enough, go ahead and do a feet elevated single leg glute bridge with a band around ankles and knees on a bosu ball, while doing a barbell fly. All at own risk though, cause this is something you should not really consider doing. It just shows how many variations can be made on a regular glute bridge or hip thrust in order to progress on these movements.
What does recent literature say about the booty?
There have been quite some studies on the subject of glute training and activation. Most of them investigate the squat and the exercises mentioned by Fleur in the previous paragraph. To make this section more practical, I will sum up some important findings:
- ‘’There seems to be no difference in glute activation between the full (high bar) back squat, the (high bar) parallel squat and the front squat’’ (Contreras et al., 2016) . In the study different weights were used for the different movements (which is a good thing) and still there were no significant findings. One thing that has not been taken into account is that people who full squat (So Ass-To-Grass) on a regular basis may have a higher parallel squat or quarter squat (or even front squat). My personal view on this: the glutes are more active in the top of the squat (because the hip extension really starts around parallel), but you always move them through a larger range of motion when doing a full squat as compared to a parallel squat. In this case, the extra ROM will probably not do that much for the glutes. Squatting to parallel is probably the best for the glutes.
- A lot of coaches state that people have ‘inactive glutes’, because of the sedentary lifestyle that most of us have. While this is a very plausible case, there is actually little research on this phenomenon. Beware that activation does not necessarily mean strength! Both persons can have the same amount of glute activation, but that only means they ‘turn on’ the same amount of muscle fibers. They can move different loads with those same activated muscle fibers. One study used EMG (Electromyography, a measurement tool which uses the electric current from the nerves in your muscle as a parameter for muscle activation) to measure activity in the Gluteus Maximus in sedentary people and ‘normal’ people and actually found no statistical significant differences.’’This supports a null hypothesis- that there is no link between prolonged sitting and the muscle activity and timing of the gluteus maximus. However, this could be due to a small sample size, a narrow age range, and a prolonged sitting sample that exercised regularly and were educated on sitting posture, and thus did not accurately represent the typical sedentary individual.’’ (Campagnola et al., 2015).
- Closely linked to the previous point, is the case of Post-Activation Potential (PAP), which basically means that when you ‘activate’ a muscle with a submaximal load first, performance will go up. PAP is still a new concept though, and ‘’There is clearly more research required in order to clarify the functional significance of PAP’’ (Hodgson et al., 2005). This article by Hodgson et al goes further into the physiological processes behind PAP. The point to take home is that is a possible positive effect if you activate the glutes first, but that this effect has not been thoroughly confirmed yet. Also, some studies are questionable due to flawed study designs. The lack of good studies makes that gut feeling and bro science are the best options.
There is more literature available, and if you are interested you can send me a message. For the sake of not boring everyone too much, I will call it a quits for today. In this article we have taken a look at the anatomy of the glutes, a proper protocol to train them (one of many) and a small insight into the research on the gluteal muscles. The important thing to learn from this article is understanding the anatomy behind your training and then use the practical tips to design a good glute training programme. Why do the glute exercises work, from an anatomical point of view? If you understand this, you understand why the movements Fleur described will work for you. We wish you good luck on the road to a giant ass and if you have any questions, you can always contact us for help with programming or general tips. Last, but not least, I want to thank Fleur for sharing the stuff she learned from the Perfect Performance clinic and her valuable input in general.
- Contreras, B., Vigotsky, A. D., Schoenfeld, B. J., Beardsley, C., & Cronin, J. (2016). A comparison of gluteus maximus, biceps femoris, and vastus lateralis electromyography amplitude in the parallel, full, and front squat variations in resistance-trained females. Journal of applied biomechanics, 32(1), 16-22.
- Contreras, B., Vigotsky, A. D., Schoenfeld, B. J., Beardsley, C., & Cronin, J. (2015). A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis Electromyographic Activity in the Back Squat and Barbell Hip Thrust Exercises. Journal of applied biomechanics, 31(6).
- Campagnola, K., Gerbino, G., Johnson, E., & O’Keefe, A. (2015). An Electromyographic Comparison of the Functional Performance of the Gluteus Maximus Muscle in Prolonged Sitting Versus Standing Populations.
- Hodgson, M., Docherty, D., & Robbins, D. (2005). Post-activation potentiation. Sports Medicine, 35(7), 585-595.
- Crouse, C. S. (2015). The acute effects of multiple resisted sled-pull loads on subsequent sprint-running performances.
By Jasper Remmerswaal
A lot of people in the gym use gloves. Guys, girls, young people, old people. The reasons for using these gloves are not all known to me, but on the most common things I hear is that ‘’Gloves give me more grip strength.’’. I also think that a lot of people wear gloves because they think it looks cool, but I have no study backing up this statement. In this small article I will tell my view on the usage of gloves and what I think are the pro’s and con’s. Read the rest of this entry
By Ricky Siebeler
This Brosciencie post will serve as a foundation for upcoming subjects. Adherence is a measure for devotion and the ability to stick to something. As obvious as it may seem, most gym Bro’s who read this post neglect the adherence part of their programming. While reading this article you may find yourself thinking “why am I reading this; I already know this. This is probably the product of hindsight bias. Besides serving its purpose within a training/nutrition program, adherence is one of the most important factors for being successful at anything.
A lot of people set themselves up for failure from the beginning on by choosing a program they cannot stick to. If one were to find a good 6-days a week training program, but were only able to train 3-days a week, it would be wise to simply forgo the 6-days a week training program. Think about what can be done, before you even bother about what should be done, in order to achieve your goals. Succeeding at something suboptimal will give better results than failing at something optimal. Another reason for choosing something suboptimal is the amount of fun you can have with the program. Whenever you enjoy something you will perform better at it and stick to it, just think about some of the courses you follow or any sport you have played before. Consider the fact that becoming proficient in strength training is a marathon and not a sprint. Knowing this, you should always choose a program you can enjoy, rather than the optimal program. Read the rest of this entry