Category Archives: Training

High-Intensity Interval Training, Tabata Method, Little Method, & Turbulence Training Explained…

Came across this awesome info-graphic that covers high-intensity interval training (HIIT), the Tabata method, the Little Method, and Turbulence Training.  Not matter which one of these you choose, you can’t go wrong to get a nice efficient, fat burning workout.

If you think it’s cool (I’m sure you will) then be sure to share with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

The Complete Guide to Interval Training

More Health and Fitness News & Tips at Greatist.

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Single Set Workouts Build Strength and Muscle?

If you’ve spent any amount of time going through body building magazines or talking to “expert” gym rats then you already know the mainstream advice…

– do X sets of Y reps (3 sets of 10, 5 sets of 5, etc.)
– use free weights not machines
– more time in the gym will give you better results
– etc., etc…

The scary thing is that not only do you hear this type of advice from magazines who have a financial interest from their advertisers and uneducated gym goers…

But a lot of trusted organizations pump out bad advice that’s based on limited, or no scientific evidence at all.

At least that’s the argument made by James Fisher and James Steele in their peer reviewed article which appeared in scientific publication Mecina Sportiva.

The article is very academic, so I’ll provide a link to it at the at the end of this article, but here are some of the key takeaways from their research along with my comments:

1.  Monitor progress with a training journal

This one should be obvious, but I’m surprised at how few people do it.  Most people have a set “routine” that they memorize and just duplicate over and over.

You should be continually monitoring your what you’re doing and seek to improve each time at the gym.

But how do you remember what you did last time and beat it?  With a training journal!

2.  Train to Momentary Muscle Failure Rather Than Using Predetermined Number of Reps

I actually found this interesting because you constantly hear conflicting advice.

Half the people will tell you to train to failure, while others will say to use a predetermined number of reps and sets (ie 3 sets of 10).

According to the research, the best practice is to stop lifting because you can’t lift anymore; not because you hit an abritrary number that you decided you were going to stop at before the set started.

This is something that I’m guilty of; constantly stopping at the magical number of 10 reps even though I know I could have lifted more.

3.  Lift at 80% of Your 1 Rep Max

Pretty self explanatory and an easy way of solving the “I could have done more than 10 reps without failing” problem.

4.  Machines or Free Weights – Doesn’t Really Matter

So the first three points may have not been that controversial, but this one should stir up some reactions.

According to the research, there is not enough scientific evidence to support the benefits of lifting with free weights over machines.

They also note that lifting with free weights actually had more adverse effects in the form of injuries and improper form and technique.

When I first started lifting in college I started with machines.

Once I built up core strength I went to free weights and today I work out exclusively with body-weight exercises and dumbbells.

5.  No Fast Paced / Ballistic Type Movements

With the popularity of ballistic type training (think clapping pushups) this one may ruffle some feathers too.

Obviously experts always point out the importance of using good form, but how many people do you actually see doing it?

I always see gym goers changing form, or moving at a faster than normal pace just to “get out that last rep”.

Lifting should be done at a consistent pace, without changing form or using speed to do it. Note: you’ll probably find that you fail at a lower rep than normal without cheating, that’s a good thing!

6.  Single Set Exercises 1 – 2X Per Week

Probably the most shocking to come up of the report, the researchers found that doing a single set of an exercise 1 to 2 times per week was just as effective as doing high volume training.

Sticking to the principles outlined above, I can realistically see this being possible.

No more using, “I don’t have time” as an excuse not to get in shape.

7.  Workout When You’re Mentally and Physically Ready

I’m a true believer in this.  Working out at peak performance is just as much (if not more) and mental game than it is a physical one… especially when you’re pushing that last rep.

How many times have you given up and dropped the bar knowing that if you really pushed harder, you could have gotten out that last rep.

Overtraining is another barrier to success that we all know about and can be attributed to high volume workouts (see point number 6).

Final Thoughts

Though much of this can be counter-intuitive, I think a lot of it is accurate and backed by science.

I’m a huge advocate of training and nutrition based on scientific evidence and am looking forward to more research relative to these points from the authors (note:  this was James Steele’s first peer
reviewed published article).

Let me know if you agree / disagree with the finding and what you think in the comments below.

Also, here is a link to the article published in Medicina Sportiva titled: Evidenced-Based Resistance Training Recommendations

– Chris Cannon

P.S. I’d really appreciate it if you could give me a “Like”, +1, and helped spread the word 🙂

Isometric Contraction: Secret Six Pack Abs Weapon Unleashed

Isometric contractions, a.k.a. static contractions, occur when muscles exert force – causing tension, but without a changing their length.  They are closely identified with common flexibility activities like yoga and stretching, but also apply to strength training and especially abdominal development in all three areas, i.e.:

  • Rectus Abdominus (your “six-pack” muscles)
  • Transverse Abdominus (muscles that pull in the stomach, keeping it flat)
  • Obliques (v-shaped muscles tapering the waist line, i.e. “love handles”)

Why Isometric Abdominal Exercises?

Unlike isotonic contractions, which cause muscle shortening (e.g. bicep curls, tricep pulldowns), isometric exercises do not involve any pulling or lifting motion.  This makes them particularly desirable if your goal is a lean, washboard “six-pack”.  Remember – you do not want bigger abdominal muscles that only lead to an unwanted bigger waist; instead, your goals are strength and better definition in the core midsection.

Sample Isometric Abdominal Exercises:

1. Isometric Stomach Flattener

  • Take a chair; sit up tall and straight.
  • Take a deep breath and contract your stomach as hard as possible.
  • Tense up your stomach as if bracing for a punch – still keeping it well contracted.
  • Breathe out tightly making a hissing sound.  You should feel your abdominals getting tighter.
  • While breathing out, crunch your abs really hard; rotate your pelvis upwards and your rid cage inwards.
  • Breathe all the way out.
  • Finally, relax!

2. Front Plank Exercise

Bridge and plank exercises are great for beginners and experts alike.  For example, the basic isometric plank works the front abdominals.  Keeping your body straight, put your forearms on the ground.  Get up on your toes to put your body in a straightened position.  Hold yourself in this fixed position for thirty to sixty seconds.

For more of a challenge, try a three-point plank with one leg completely in the air.

3. Side Plank

Work the side and front abdominals with this classic exercise:

  • Lay on one side.
  • Lift yourself into position by placing your forearm under your body and pushing up.
  • Your feet should be on top of each other, and your body should be straight.
  • Hold yourself in this fixed position for at least thirty seconds.

As you improve your performance, support your weight on your hand with elbow locked straight rather than on your forearm.

For a good breathing exercise to cap things off, consider the following “Lats” (Lattimus Dorsi) exercise:

Standing with feet shoulder width apart.  Clasp hands together with arms outstretched in front of you.  Knees slightly bent.  Take a deep breath and with back perfectly straight, stretch arms out and hold position for thirty seconds (shorter if you fatigue).  Gently hiss out your breath instead of holding it in.

Benefits of Isometric Exercises

1. Great Beginners’ Exercises: Instead of worrying about what body parts to move, isometrics offer a low-impact way of developing great abdominals thanks to your own body resistance.

2. Time-effective: Targeted isometric abdominal exercises require as few as five minutes, and can easily be incorporated into a compound exercise, full body workout.

3. Can be performed anywhere: Whether you are in a hotel room, at home, or at a friend’s garage, space is never an issue for these exercises.

4. Scalable for Greater Results: These exercises can be done equipment free; however, by adding external resistance (e.g. resistance bands, specialized isometric equipment, free weights) you can increase the challenge and get even better results.

5. Flexibility Transitions: With some minor adjustments, many isometric exercises can become isotonic (i.e. moving) for even more results.

Isometric contraction exercises have always been a part in my workouts, and not just for the six-pack.  Add a couple to your workout, and don’t forget about your nutritional needs!  A general rule of thumb is to get more protein into your diet to encourage a lower body fat level.  Still, don’t neglect your carbohydrates or you will lack the energy needed to carry out full workouts and showcase your new physique!

Source: (Total Ab Workout)

Core Training: The Real TRUTH behind Core Training

Almost everyone I speak to about core training says the same thing:

“Oh, isn’t that just a fancy abs workout?”

Well, yes and no.

Sure, strengthening your abdominals, i.e. stomach area, is part of the story, but core training goes way beyond that.  When defining the core, we are focused on your entire midsection, a “body cylinder” that covers the entire musculature from the mid-thigh all the way up to your lower ribcage.

Some of the major muscles that make up the human core include:

  • Upper quadriceps.
  • Hamstring muscles.
  • Big lower back muscles.
  • Gluteal muscles.
  • Hips, pelvic muscles.

The abdominals, which include the abdominal cavity, several layers of muscles (i.e., the transverse abdominal muscles, rectus abdominus (“six pack”), obliques) do merit special attention.

Just not all the attention…

Whether you are a serious powerlifter or in the gym to gain lean muscle mass, chances are that you are already performing some core exercises.  Squats, deadlifts, and the bench press, i.e. the “Holy Trinity” of weightlifting, are at their “core”, core exercises.

Honorable mention to lunges…

Here are some other core training exercises that can be easily integrated into your routine:

  • Pelvic tilts or thrusts, pelvic rocks.
  • Diagonal sit-ups with hips motionless for the oblique muscles.
  • 90-90 Leg Extension: Lying down flat on the floor, legs form 90 degree angle at knees; back and
  • thighs form second ninety degree angle at the waist.
  • Bridge and plank-type exercises (e.g. single arm, 3-point stability position; single leg, 3-point stability position; 2-point stability position (advanced))
  • Twisting and rotating exercises on a Bosu ball, with weights or a medicine ball.

The neat thing about core training is that you can perform a whole series of exercises away from the gym, with minimal or even no equipment!

Baseball players, weightlifters, swimmers, and others use core training exercises, because everyone needs to be strong in the middle.  While we would never advise professional or weekend athletes to compromise their sports-specific training (i.e. power, speed, strength, endurance, cardio etc.) with 100% core training, real life evidence has shown that a healthy core goes hand in hand with improved physical and technical performance – regardless of your chosen activity.

Strong and healthy core muscles are critical for injury prevention and overall fitness.  As such, core training will:

  • Strengthen joints, tendons, and ligaments.
  • Improve bowel function and reduce incontinence (N.B. Don’t laugh, the pelvic area is an important part of your core!)
  • Eliminate lower back pain.
  • Improved posture, and help you towards “washboard” abs!

and make you feel better about yourself!

High-Intensity Interval Training: A Superior Alternative to Steady-State Cardio for Serious Muscle Builders?

People who are “heavy” into resistance training keep asking me if and when it’s appropriate to add cardiovascular sessions into the mix.

“Steady-state” cardio is often viewed as the main option for losing excess body fat, gained during the “bulk” up phase of most muscle-building programs.  It used to be the only way to expose your “six-pack” and lean, hard muscles.

Not anymore…

What exactly is HIIT?

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a cardiovascular workout that emphasizes short bursts of intense activity (work) intermixed with adequate recovery time.

It is used by top athletes in explosive sports (e.g. sprinting, football) to improve speed, power, and overall performance.

For healthy people within the general population, especially those who workout on a regular basis, HIIT can help accelerate fat loss (if not lower it in absolute terms).

An average HIIT session ranges from twelve to twenty minutes, with a 2:1 work to recovery time ratio.  In the gym, treadmills, elliptical machines, and rowers are commonly used for interval training; they are good for general warm-ups prior to weight training, a final burst of activity prior to hitting the shower, or as a self-contained workout in its own right.

Major Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training.

  • Improved Oxygenation during Workouts (VO2  MAX).
  • Discourage catabolism which leads to breakdown of muscle mass when attempting to get lean.
  • Encourage fast-twitch fibers as opposed to slow-twitch (endurance) fibers.
  • Encourage anabolism state which when combined with slightly hyper-caloric diet, can help add lean muscle mass without excess fat.
  • Eliminate Boredom and save time!

HIIT Options.

A) Sprint training.

– 5 minute warm-up
– 45-90 second sprint at 80% of maximum capacity
– 1-2 minute recovery period

– Repeat 5-8 sprint-recovery sequences then cool down with flexibility exercises.

B) Treadmill Running (12 minutes).

– 4 minute warm-up with gradual speed increase.
– Six one-minute segments: 30-second “blasts” followed by 30-second recovery.
– 2 minute cool-down

C) “Circuit” training with 2-3 machines for 15 minutes (5 minutes each); e.g. treadmill, bike, rower.

Incorporating HIIT into Your Overall Training Regimen.

High-intensity interval training done properly is very intense.  Therefore, you should limit yourself to 2-3 sessions weekly, ideally on your resistance (i.e. weight) training off-days.  If you must do both on the same day, try to arrange a day/night split, or reduce the number of HIIT repetitions.

Don’t underestimate your post-workout recovery meal to accelerate muscle tissue repair and to replenish glycogen stores.

Cannon’s Conclusion.

From a practical point of view, performing fifteen minutes of HIIT before the gym crowd monopolizes all the machines cannot be underestimated.  Physiologically, however, we will not claim that high-intensity is superior to steady-state cardio.

Some recent studies have argued against the Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) effect, as well as the fat and calorie burning advantages of short intense cardio.

My take right now is that EPOC benefits like post-workout fat burning are probably overblown, especially for extremely fit athletes like professional cyclists and cross-country skiers.

In absolute terms, muscle-builders may need the volume associated with steady-state cardio to lose fat.  However, if you like variety and are up for a challenge, strap on your heart rate monitor, conduct a 4-6 week HIIT trial, and decide for yourself whether it’s worth the effort.

P.S. The GYMBOSS interval timer and stopwatch is a great little device that helps keep your workout on track.  Accuracy and consistency are critical when tracking your progress, so why not have a look at how this pager-sized tool can make a difference.  You can see my full Gymboss review here.

What do you think about High Intensity Interval training?  Comment below…

High-Intensity Resistance Training (HIRT) for Muscle Gain and Fat Loss

Like everyone who wants to build muscle and lose unwanted body fat, I’m always looking for ways to do it in the least time possible.

Ambitious, ain’t I?

What is High Intensity Resistance Training all about?


The key to High Intensity Resistance Training is putting an all out effort with each workout with minimal rest between sets and reps.

Most of my research and gym conversations keep leading me to high-intensity resistance training (HIRT).  HIRT is often called “fat loss” resistance training, but it can be much more than that.

In principle, HIRT are full body workouts that focus on the largest muscle groups.  However, unlike standard weight training, you are encouraged to push through the lactic acid “burning sensation” that comes with the increased intensity.

Most routines build in compound exercises that require different set variations (i.e. super-sets, giant-sets, etc.).

Potential Benefits of HIRT Training.

When performed correctly, HIRT offers several workout benefits, including:

  • Sped up metabolisms – up to 36 hours post-workout.
  • Maintaining muscle mass with low-calorie diets.
  • Building muscle mass on moderate to high-calorie diets.
  • Minimizing fat gains on a high-calorie diet.
  • Increased muscle density and strength.
  • Improved aerobic and anaerobic endurance.

High Intensity Performance Principles.

To really appreciate what high intensity training is all about, you must push yourself in each workout to the max.  That’s right, no rest or slowing down during reps or sets!

Go to the brink of exhaustion or until you complete the set.  By faithfully following through HIRT, you can achieve maximum metabolic and muscle retention benefits.

Who can benefit from HIRT?

Athletes involved in explosive, contact and/or combat sports (e.g. basketball, football, boxing, MMA), need to increase muscular endurance in 5-10 minute bursts, while minimizing body fat.

Therefore, they are often directed towards high intensity weight training programs.  However, others can also benefit, provided they want to:

  • Maximize short term fat loss through resistance training.
  • Keep as much muscle as possible during a cutting phase.
  • Minimize fat gains during a bulking phase.
  • Increase aerobic and/or anaerobic endurance.
  • Burn more calories on a daily basis.
  • Supplement their High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts with additional fat-burning exercises.

HIRT is not for you if…

While High Intensity Resistance Training is not as limiting as HIIT, there are still some folks who are better off following other fitness regimens.  For example, people who are:

  • NOT cleared by their doctor to begin a high intensity exercise routine.
  • Too enthusiastic!  You can’t do both HIRT and strength training or HIIT 3-4 times a week.  Even if HIRT is not as neurologically stressful as HIIT or strength training, you still need proper rest between workouts.
  • Looking to maximize strength gains.  Excessive high-intensity workouts slow down strength gains.
  • Looking to increase your speed.

Cannon’s Conclusion

For those of us who are not natural-born bodybuilders, powerlifters, or involved in sports-specific weight training, HIRT is the ticket for increased lean muscle mass and fat loss.

Together with adequate rest and a proper nutritional plan, you can achieve great results that make heads turn.

Your choice of high intensity resistance excercises, frequency, intensity, recovery time, etc. will be dictated by your present fitness level, physical ability and current goals.

Now get to it!