Why do Leg Extensions Hurt So Much?

Ok, this is going to be one of my stupid, pointless, non-applied articles that I just need to write to get something out of my head (so unless you’re really interested in minutial trivia go read something else).  It’s also a way to actually update the site as I finish up getting ready to launch the Women’s book (no foolin’ this time, the book is done and it’s just some busywork to launch in the third week of January).

Question 1: Why do leg extensions hurt so much for high reps?  I mean locally hurt, the quads are screaming and hurt more than other similar movements done for similar reps.

Question 2: What do blood flow restriction (KAAATSUUUUUU!!!), speed skating and leg extensions have in common?

Read more to find out.

Blood Flow Restriction (BFR)

Ok, for the 3 people who don’t know what BFR is, it’s a relatively new method of training where you basically use pressure to reduce blood flow to the muscle and then use relatively light loads for training.  And research has generally found that it provides similar hypertrophy gains to muscle as heavier training and does so with lighter loads with various mechanisms being involved.  Please note that the size gains are, at best, identical but not greater.  And you don’t get the strength gains you’d get from lifting real weights since you aren’t training the neural components.

Now, BFR is nice in that it does reduce joint strain which can be fantastic if you have a joint injury or deliberately need to do such.

But it has drawbacks.  One is set up since you’re having to go to the trouble to get everything tied off.  I’m not sure the average trainee can get the pressure right since it tends to be pretty specific.  Cutting off blood flow to muscles is not a good thing.  Necrosis anybody?  And while excruciatingly minor in the big scheme, there are two case studies of rhabdomyolysis occurring with BFR.  Mind you, that’s a weekly occurrence for Crossfit.

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Hyperplasia vs. Hypertrophy in Skeletal Muscle

I received the following question in the mailbag and, for a fairly short question I’m going to give a fairly long answer since it gives me something to write about today.

Question: Does the number of fast/slow twitch muscle fiber types in your body actually change in response to strength or endurance stimulus? Or just the volume, and you’re stuck with what your genetics dictate?

The short answer is yes-ish.  Here’s the long answer.

Let me make one clarification here.  Well, two.  The first is that I am talking about skeletal muscle.  Cardiac muscle acts a little bit differently in how it grows with stress and we don’t lift weights for a bigger heart (perhaps if we did there would be more love in the world).

Also, I’m talking about training induced growth.  You can cause some goofy stuff to occur when you ablate a muscle (i.e. cut a muscle in a larger group and you see the other muscles grow like crazy) or with other distinctly non-physiological types of research methods.  Here we’re talking about moving iron (the original question asked about endurance training but there’s no reason to begin to suspect that hyperplasia occurs from that type of training in my mind).

Hyperplasia vs. Hypertrophy: Definitions

First, let’s define the terms hypertrophy and hyperplasia.  Hypertrophy means an increase in cell size.  Fat cell hypertrophy occurs when the fat cell increases in volume (by storing fatty acids as triglyeceride) and skeletal muscle hypertrophy occurs when skeletal muscle increases in volume.

Hyperplasia means an increase in cell number.  Fat cell hyperplasia (which does occur in adults, contrary to old belief) is an increase in fat cell number.  Skeletal muscle hyperplasia would be an increase in muscle cell, or in this case, fiber number.

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Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy-Brad Schoenfeld

Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy Book Cover A question I get fairly frequently is to recommend books on developing muscle mass.  And unfortunately, there tend to be few on the list.  In my experience over the years, books tend to come in one of two categories.

The first is a book on training written by whatever professional bodybuilder is popular at the time. Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding is probably one of the best known (and just carrying the damn thing is a training effect in its own right) but Dorian, Tom Platz and many others have written books as well.  Occasionally coaches such as John Parillo, who’s book is actually quite excellent, or Vince Gironda, who’s book is, well, interesting have been written.

And while there is certainly information to be gleaned from these, they are always colored by the issue of steroid use.  Steroids often make the training being done far less relevant.  Again, I’m not saying that the advice should be ignored, it just has to be considered within the realities of the sport.

At the other end of the spectrum tend to be scientifically (or to use the current term “evidence based”) tomes on the topic.  Most of these have actually dealt more with strength training than bodybuilding per se and a lot of them leave a lot to be desired in my opinion.  A lot of this, honestly is that, for most of the years of exercise science research, there just wasn’t a lot of good stuff on muscle growth being done.  That’s changed in recent years.  Which brings me to today’s product review which is Brad Schoenfeld’s new textbook on the topic.

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It’s Time to Forget About Bulgarian Training

I’m actually not entirely sure how to introduce this piece, it’s just been something that’s been going through my head when I walk my dogs in the morning and I’m not even sure what stimulated it in the first place.  But as the title suggests, basically I think it’s time for the majority of the general training world to forget Bulgarian training.

Now, I’ve been in this field professionally for nearly 2 decades at this point and I have watched this endless fascination with what the Bulgarian OL’ers are supposedly doing come and go for the entire time.  And it was around far longer than that.  From about the time that the Bulgarians came on the scene (in roughly the 80’s) and started handing the Russians their asses in Olympic Lifting (at least in the lighter weight classes), all while using a training system that went more or less against the beliefs of the day, people have been fascinated with their training.

Since that time, various athletes, mostly Western Olympic Lifters (but every so often powerlifters) have attempted to apply the Bulgarian system to their training.  Without fail, it fails.  They get broken off, injured and unless they use it in fairly specific ways for fairly short periods of time, they get injured or worse.   They don’t have the buildup, the background, the drug support and it simply breaks them.

But to understand that, first let me look at the system in brief.

What is Bulgarian Training?

At the time that Ivan Abadjaev took over Bulgarian Olympic lifting, the common model was fairly stock standard periodization moving from transition to general prep to specific prep for competition.  You worked at lower intensities and higher volumes (typically more sets of relatively more repetitions and here I’m talking about 3-5’s depending on the lift) in the preparation phase only using lower repetitions and higher intensities, nearing maximum near competition.  Generally more assistance or partial movements were used during preparation with more specific competition work done nearer competition.

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The 20 Rep Squat

For no particularly good reason I want to write about something that has already had endless words written about it and that I probably won’t contribute much meaningfully “new” to the topic on.  But so it goes.  That topic is the 20 rep squat (sometimes called more specifically the 20 rep breathing squat).  This is kind of the original rest-pause training, an entire book has been written about it although if you gain 30 lbs in 6 weeks, it’s not gonna be mostly muscle, and I imagine most have at least heard of it.

But I’m hoping not to make this just the same old generic article that everyone has seen.  Yes, I want to look at the 20 rep squat in a general sense, in terms of how it is done but I also want to look at variations and a couple of things about it that many may not be aware of.  I’m sure, as is my wont (what the hell does that even mean), I’ll tangent into some other random stuff too.

What is The 20 Rep Squat?

So what is the 20 rep squat, anyhow?  Based on the name you’d think it was just some generic set of 20 repetitions but that’s not an accurate description.  As stated above, it’s really the first rest-pause approach (that I know of anyhow) and you will typically see something to the effect of “Take your best 10 repetition maximum weight and grind out 20 reps” with it to describe that set. Let’s look at that first.

By definition, you can’t do 20 repetitions with a 10 repetition maximum (RM) weight.  If you could, it would be your 20 RM.  And this would be true if you were using that 10RM weight in a relatively continuous, no major rest between repetitions way.  But again this is rest-pause training and that’s not how the set is meant to be done.  But even here there are two traditional ways that the set has been done.

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