Author Archives: Alex Causton

Aesthetics To Strength

The purpose of this blog is to look at established ideas with new eyes, under a new light and from a different vantage point, at the risk of fitness industry heresy. And now, time to tear apart, deconstruct and re-assemble yet another classic fitness world paradigm.

Train For Strength And Expect An Equivalent Aesthetic Improvement?

The idea seems harmless enough. Even almost makes linear sense. But is simply not true. I first learned of this concept from my mentor Scott Abel. Looking further back in time, many great coaches understood this intuitively/tacitly, especially Vince Gironda.

In time I hope the argument I present adds to the case against strength focus for aesthetic improvement.

But It Makes Sense?

What can seem perfectly logical can sometimes be perfectly not. Two things to consider, before we move on:

1- Just about everyone would “prefer” to look better, than be stronger. The myth, though, is that they must be stronger to look better. There is a grain of truth to that. But it is NOT the full story. And the half-truth leads to more misery than joy.

2- That strength is assessed via barbell movements is a problem. The barbell is no axiom. It is no fundamental. It IS a metaphor for a status drive – it says, “who can use ME to lift the most”. A vulgar display of barbarism, nothing more.

But moving on…

The consequences of focusing on the pursuit of strength are more negative than positive for your physiology AND psychology in terms of wear and tear and mental stress (knowing you have to lift a certain amount of load on a certain day, rather than fatigue the musculature  is an enormous mental stressor). The most important consideration? That risk of injury is higher. Much higher. Because the focus is on an external variable, the quantity of contractions under high load rather than an internal variable, the quality of contractions under ANY load.

Strength is important to develop, but silly to chase.

The truth? Training for strength will generate aesthetic physique improvement as a mild side effect of straining against loads. This holds true for the general population, which includes everyone reading this; the gifted could be bothered less by my assertions. If you are going to focus on strength and all the physical and psychological pitfalls of this pursuit FOR THE PURPOSE of aesthetic enhancement, then a mild side-effect, (rather than an actual magnitudinally equivalent effect), is not and should not be good enough.

Is Increased Load More Progress?
To use strength gain as a yard-stick, rule of thumb or as a measuring rod of progress, is to be duped by this Joker of the physical quality world. Not only is strength nearly always in flux, and unpredictable even by experts of the strength game, but it is sometimes in stasis. While the body never is.

Anyone who has touched the ceiling of the Strength and Speed cathedral in our collective minds, the imagined peaks of physical expression perfection, the ones who have come closest to “world record” strength and speed levels, will tell you the price they pay in injury management is not worth it. As early as in their mid-thirties, the aches begin, the joints limit and the muscles fear load. Anyone with any wisdom, who has truly been there, done that, will tell you that living in pain for the rest of your life is too high a price to pay for something as artificial as loads lifted in perfectly controlled environments, for reasons that are as immature as they are selfish.

But I digress.

The Path of Least Effort
Moreover, strength enhancement is about LEVERAGE, and how to create it within the limitations of your own biomechanical milieu. If you focus on load lifted, you must find the path of least effort per unit of load. This leveraged path to push maximal weights is usually always going to mean, your weakest link muscle-chain remains under-loaded and under-developed. Accumulate enough wear and tear, and your strong link eventually breaks down. Combine this break-down with developmental imbalance and joint centration issues (which are probably leading contributors/factors in joint degeneration) due to the imbalance, and you realize you’re laying the foundation for destruction.

Strength As A Mild Side Effect? Aesthetic Enhancement As The Strong Effect

The best way to approach fitness is to focus on aesthetic enhancement FIRST, and to stimulate a strengthening side effect consequentially. To create a recursive loop that initiates from the focus of contraction quality rather than load quantity.

You do NOT need great strength levels for optimal physical development. Not at all. I made this mistake for 10 years myself. As a matter of fact, I completely gave up on the idea of maximal load lifting 3 years ago and have focused exclusively on contraction quality since then.

Moving on, a training program that focuses on muscle contraction quality over load quantity is basically a program that is focused on aesthetics. A program that is focused on multiple and weak plane of movement patterns, over the few and strong movement patterns is focused on aesthetics. A program that is focused on mild rest periods, rather than maximal recovery between sets. A program focused on medium repetition numbers, rather than low numbers to hit high weights. A program not restricted to barbells as some sort of essential, but rather on any tool that will stimulate the muscle in the plane of movement chosen. A program that appreciates the qualitative assessments the mirror provides instead of the quantitative assessment your log book hides. A program that “realizes” the fluctuating nature of maximal strength and provides freedoms within to adapt your stressors to your day to day state.

Once you focus on these things, the stimulation of your physiology will automatically accrue strength over time. As a side-effect of your drive to chisel the best physique possible using natures ultimate canvas, your body. And with NONE of the deleterious  side effects.

A biological win win, in every sense of the term. To your forehead while keeping your elbows tucked.

Training Or Diet: Where Should Your Focus Be?

What Your Body Does With Food Depends On What You Do With Your Body

The Time Before Time

Researchers Frank W. Booth and P.Darrel Neufer have written, “Many of the metabolic characteristics of moderns humans evolved to support high levels of work efficiency and physical activity, a fact that undoubtedly contributes to the health problems facing sedentary 21st century societies.”

The fitness world has forgotten its roots and renounced its past. That it was birthed from the PHYSICAL CULTURE of a by-gone era. A time when people like you and I, engaged in and believed in the benefits of exertion, such as aesthetic enhancement, strength and robust health. When people like you and I, tacitly understood that the body needed caloric expenditure along with ingestion. A time when people like you and I, took responsibility for the caring of our bodies into our own hands. Literally.  Today the fitness industry does not understand or recall that it was NOT birthed by the modern DIET culture. Where instead of figuring out how to expend calories through physical work, we are more worried about how to avoid ingesting calories so as to avoid any physical work at all.

Today: The Forgotten Importance of Physical Work

Taking in the very best of foods in absentia of vital activity essentially accomplishes nothing short of wasting vital dietary resources. Physical activity, not silver bullet diets, prompt signalling for DNA sequencing of appropriate, healthy proteins – and a healthy nutrient dense diet backs that up. — Ken O’Neill 

We live in an age where we are experiencing a food bonanza and a physical activity famine. The illogical focus of the fitness industry has been the opposite – they focus on the bonanza and disregard the famine. Every physical trainer is a pretend-nutritionist. Why? Because the reductionist science-mind focuses on nutrients, minerals, vitamins and different fats which then allows for the birth of mountain-heaps worth of potential marketing material in the form of articles and blogs. This promotes the “expertise” of said nutrition guru and convinces you, the consumer,  of the one thing you want to hear more than anything else – that an easy dietary fix is required instead of straining, stressing and suffering for real physical change through exercise.

Your Diet Plan Must Be Dictated By Your Training Plan

The diet should NEVER be designed a priori to the program. The food plan must fuel the training plan because it is the training plan that will create the physique; a physique that REQUIRES good amounts of the “right” foods to meet it’s physical exertion needs. The training shovels the fuel in the right direction for complete aesthetic enhancement  strength and health. Your food plan, of course, must follow for the best expression of your physical self, but there is no dramatic phenotypic re-expression without high-stress, high-volatility generating stimulus. The internal environment needs to be de-stablized with applied stress for a transitional shift to a specifically adapted state. Note I said, SPECIFIC. The type of training you do is CRITICAL.

Only the correct training program can deliver your aesthetic destination to you. The diet helps clear the path, but it does not forge it.

More on what type of program does what soon…

Palms facing down and move it back over the head a little.

The Basic Axiom: The Fission Fusion Training Model

Biology Feeds On Instability

Biology can turn piss to wine. Poison to elixir. Threat to strength. Instability to stability. So long as the dose doesn’t exceed today’s capabilities, the system will return ready for greater challenges tomorrow.

The basis of my Fission Fusion Training Model works by cycling two primary stress signatures. But that is for another post…

Till then know that your biology can only do two things essentially:

– Ingest energy
– Expend energy

These two energy conduits are the dynamic duo of your metabolism. Your metabolism being a struggle between anabolism and catabolism.

And it is around these two that we shall design our intentions of physiological manipulation to redesign the system, your body and mine.

I use very high volume and high intensity (a qualitative measure, not a percent of max) training to stress the systems energy expenditure conduit. And very low calorie eating on these same days to ADD to the total stress per day, stressing the energy ingestion conduit.

The stability of an organism lies in resilience, the homeostatic capacity to reestablish itself. – Carl Woese

Away from the iron, I will release the pressure valves and cease training and increase the calorie counts to push the body towards a state of healing and recovery.

There are multiple ways to stress the binary relation of the energy conduits, depending on the client’s objective, long term and short. The principle to be applied can only be extracted from WITHIN the clients psycho-physiological gestalt. But the above should serve to elucidate the point; that training, is playing chess with stress. Developing your triceps adds to the handsome appearance of your arms and enhances!