Muscle Factor Model
How muscles function during and adapt to training
by Richard Gibbens
In the early 1970s a man named Arthur Jones introduced a revolutionary strength training method to the bodybuilding and strength training world. Jones had been studying muscle physiology for about 30 years and had long understood that the standard training methods of the day were not completely consistent with what was known about how muscles function during exercise or how they adapt to exercise. Many of the training practices of the day were rooted in tradition and contradictory to known physiological facts. Jones, a lifetime strength trainee himself, believed that training would be more effective if it were modified so that it worked in accordance with what was then known about muscles. He figured that a training program based on how the body really functioned would produce much better results than those training methods that ignored, denied, or were ignorant of the true workings of the body.
Utilizing his understanding of muscle physiology Jones spent many years testing and experimenting with different training methods, constantly seeking to discover training methods that produced the best results. Being independently wealthy afforded Arthur both the time and money required to test his ideas and he ultimately spent 20+ years and millions of dollars in his quest. The end result of all his work was a revolutionary training method - High Intensity Training - and a completely new type of exercise machine - Nautilus Training Equipment.
However, there was a problem; Arthur's high intensity training method was not just revolutionary; it was contradictory to the conventional training wisdom of the day. Humans, being only human, are usually reluctant to abandon long-held beliefs and so many were resistant to Arthur's methods. Controversy broke out about Arthur's high intensity training method and two opposing camps formed - one group supporting high intensity training and one supporting conventional (high volume) training. These two groups spent lots of time and effort defending their methods and attacking those of the opposing camp. Even today, 35 years after Arthur first introduced high intensity training, the two camps still exist and the debate still rages. In fact, the primary debate in the bodybuilding world is still centered around which method - high intensity or high volume - is best.
Of significance is that Arthur's high intensity training method was basically the first time that exercise physiology was used as the foundation of a training program. Before Arthur, training was mostly based on tradition and what the top champions of the day were doing. Arthur completely ignored tradition and the training of the top champions of the day and focused on designing training based completely on the functioning of muscles. The fact that his methods continue to be widely used today is a testament to the effectiveness of his physiology-based training method.
The Problem of Two Opposing Theories
All this is not to say that the entire world has embraced high intensity training. As noted above, today the strength training and bodybuilding world basically consists of two opposing training methods - high volume and high intensity. Both methods are currently used and promoted as the best training method by their respective proponents.
The reason both training methods still exist is because both are known to work, at least for some number of people. And therein lies the problem. In science, anytime a theory is shown to be contradicted by even a single observation, then, by definition, that theory is inaccurate. When a theory is shown to be inaccurate it must be abandoned or modified. High volume training and high intensity training are, in essence, opposing theories as to how the body works. Since these two theories contradict each other it means that both theories are wrong, at least to some degree.
The body works in one way, not in two contradictory ways. Or, said another way, there is one set of principles/laws by which the body functions, not two contradictory set of principles/laws. We know that both training methods produce results for some people. We also know that, by definition, both theories are wrong to some degree since they contradict each other. What all this tells us is that we are missing some important information as to how muscles function during and adapt to training. Once this missing physiological information is filled in, both of the competing theories will be assimilated and replaced by a new training theory. The missing physiological information is what has allowed the two competing training theories to continue to exist for the past 35 years and has prevented further advances in training methods.
Enter the Muscle Factor Model
In 2006, while conducting background research for an article on strength training for endurance runners, I came across a strength training study whose results were quite startling. The study compared a non-traditional training method to a standard periodized training program and found that the non-traditional method produced 50% greater increases in strength than did the periodized program. The researchers themselves were unable to explain why the non-traditional program produced the best results and noted that the results were contradictory to both current beliefs about the functioning of muscles and classical training methodology.
That particular study caused me to rethink some of what physiology currently teaches about muscle activation during exercise and its adaptation following exercise. In turn, this led to a breakthrough in muscle physiology; a breakthrough I have termed the Muscle Factor Model. I suggest that this new model more accurately explains how muscles function during and adapt to exercise. Furthermore, this new model suggests some significant modifications in training methods for any sport in which strength, power, or endurance is important. I believe the muscle factor model is a key piece of the missing physiological information and will ultimately result in the integration of high volume and high intensity training. The muscle factor model may lead to the most significant changes and refinements in training since the introduction of Periodization back in the 1980s. I realize those are bold claims, so let’s have a look at this new model. We begin with a discussion of muscle contractile properties.
more to follow...
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