Research on Advanced Strength Training

Research on Advanced Strength Training

By Wayne L. Westcott, PhD
Posted on on April 15, 2000

Several studies have shown that single-set strength training is just as effective as multiple-set strength training for beginning exercisers (Starkey et al., 1994; Westcott, 1995a). However, Kraemer (1996) has indicated that the rate of strength gain slows considerably after four months of a single-set training program. At this point, strength plateaus may be prevented by performing multiple sets of exercise in a periodized manner. Unfortunately, changing to a multiple-set strength program requires considerably more training time. Whereas doing one set of 15 exercises takes about 30 minutes per work-out, completing three sets of 15 exercise requires at least 90 minutes per workout. Fortunately, for time-pressured people there are some advanced training alternatives to exercising with multiple sets. These techniques are typically referred to as high-intensity strength training.


High Intensity Training Techniques

There are basically two means for increasing the strength-building stimulus without adding much training time. One procedure is to increase the length of each exercise repetition by slowing down the movement speed. Slower movement speeds produce more muscle force and more muscle tension than faster movement speeds. For example, the maximum effort isokinetic leg extension performed at 60 degrees per second produced 174 foot-pounds of muscle force, whereas the maximum effort isokinetic leg extension performed at 120 degrees per second produced only 132 foot-pounds of muscle force (Westcott, 1995a). Another procedure to enhance the training stimulus is to increase the length of each exercise set by reducing the resistance upon muscle failure and completing a few additional repetitions. A typical set of strength exercise fatigues fast-twitch muscle fibers but not slow-twitch fibers. By immediately lessening the weightload and performing 2 to 4 more repetitions, the more enduring slow-twitch muscle fibers may also be pushed to the point of fatigue.


High Intensity Training Research

We have conducted research studies on several types of high intensity strength training, including slow positive emphasis, slow negative emphasis, breakdown, assisted, and pre-exhaustion techniques.


Slow Training

In one high-intensity research study we examined 8 weeks of Nautilus exercise using standard or slow positive emphasis training (Westcott, 1994a). The 117 beginner level subjects in the standard training group performed 8-12 repetitions per set, taking 2 seconds for each lifting movement and 4 seconds for each lowering movement ( seconds per rep). The 35 beginner-level subjects in the slow positive emphasis training group completed 4-6 repetitions per set, taking 10 seconds for each lifting movement and 4 seconds for each lowering movement (14 seconds per rep). The slow positive emphasis training group increased their average exercise weightloads by 27 poundscompared to 22 pounds for the standard training group. Another high-intensity research project evaluated slow positive emphasis training and slow negative emphasis training (Westcott, 1995b). The 15 intermediate-level subjects did 4-6 slow positive emphasis repetitions (10 seconds lifting, 4 seconds lowering) on the leg extension, biceps curl, and chin-up exercises, and 4-6 slow negative emphasis repetitions (4 seconds lifting and 10 seconds lowering) on the leg curl, triceps extension, and bar-dip exercises. After 6 weeks of training, the slow positive emphasis exercise weightloads increased by an average of 22 pounds, and the slow negative emphasis exercise weightloads increased an average of 26 pounds.


Breakdown Training

In our first study on breakdown training, all 45 beginner-level participants performed standard Nautilus training for the first month (Westcott, 1994b). During the second month, half of the subjects continued standard training and half of the subjects did breakdown training. That is, upon reaching muscle failure they immediately reduced the weightload by 10 pounds and did between 2 and 4 additional repetitions to reach a second level of muscle failure. The breakdown training group increased their average weightloads by 25 pounds compared to 18 pounds for the standard training group.


Assisted Training

This study compared 6 weeks of breakdown training or assisted training on strength development in 7 intermediate-level subjects (Westcott, 1995b). All of the participants performed breakdown training on the leg extension, biceps curl, and chin-up exercises, and assisted training on the leg curl, triceps extension, and bar-dip exercises. Assisted training involved instructor assistance with the lifting phase of 2-4 additional repetitions upon reaching muscle failure. The breakdown exercise weightloads increased by an average of 15 pounds, and the assisted exercise weightloads increased b an average of 17 pounds.


Pre-Exhaustion Training

Another means for increasing the muscle stimulus is to perform two successive exercises for the same muscle group. This is typically accomplished by first doing a rotary exercise to fatigue the target muscle, followed immediately by a linear exercise to further fatigue the target muscle with the help of a nonfatigued muscle. In this study (Westcott, 1996), the 14 subjects did preexhaustion training for the chest (chest cross followed immediately by chest press) and for the triceps (triceps extension followed immediately by bar-dips). For comparison purposes they performed double sets (with 90 seconds rest) for the upper back (super pullover) and biceps (biceps curl). After 6 weeks of training both the pre-exhaustion group and the double-set group increased their average exercise weightloads by 9 pounds.


Combination Training

We completed a 6-week study with 10 subjects who performed one week each of slow positive emphasis training, slow negative emphasis training, breakdown training, assisted training, preexhaustion training, and a repeat training technique of their choice. The trainees increased their average exercise weightloads by 21 pounds using a combination of high-intensity training techniques.


Summary of High Intensity Training Studies

Combining the data from our studies with intermediate-level participants, we have 68 subjects who experienced an average exercise weightload increase of 17 pounds after 6 weeks of highintensity strength training. The 24 intermediate-level exercisers who were also assessed for body composition changes over the 6-week training period added 3.2 pounds of lean (muscle) weight and lost 3.7 pounds of fat weight. Although it is tempting to attribute all of the strength improvement to high-intensity training techniques, just having an instructor present during each workout appears to be a significant factor. A control group of 22 intermediate subjects experienced a 12-pound weightload improvement in exercises performed in the standard manner with an instructor watching (Westcott, 1995b). Apparently the study participants used better exercise form, trained harder, or both when an instructor was observing them. Nonetheless, it would seem that a variety of training methods is effective for increasing strength in beginner and intermediate-level exercisers. While multiple-set training may be equally productive, high-intensity training is more time- efficient. For this reason, high-intensity training techniques may be preferred by people who would like to further develop their muscle strength but don’t have a lot of time to do so. Due to the greater muscle demands, we recommend high-intensity training no more than twice a week for 6 to 8-week sessions.


Kraemer, W. (1996). Everything you wanted to know about strength training but were afraid to ask. General Session, IDEA Personal Trainer Conference, Anaheim, CA, March 23.
Starkey, D. B., Welsh, M. A., Pollock, M. L., et al. (1994). Equivalent improvements in strength following high-intensity, low and high volume training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 26 (5): S116.
Westcott, W. (1994a). Exercise speed and strength development. American Fitness Quarterly, 13 (3): 20-21.
Westcott, W. (1994b). High-intensity training. Nautilus, 4 (1): 5-8.
Westcott, W. (1995a). Strength Fitness: Fourth Edition. Dubuque, IA: Brown and Benchmark.
Westcott, W. (1995b). High intensity strength training. IDEA Personal Trainer, 6 (7): 9.
Westcott, W. (1996). Make your method count. Nautilus, 5 (2): 3-5.

The Myth of Aerobic Training

The Myth of Aerobic Training

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that people who are either physically active by nature and/or are engaged in a proper strength program, need additional aerobic exercise. Furthermore, strength training offers more benefits that are important and immediately available to the typical person than aerobics – all without the insult to the body.

Where did the concept of Aerobics Fitness come from?

By and large, “aerobics” is a catchword coined in the 1960’s by a physician named Kenneth Cooper, founder of the Cooper Institute of Aerobics. (Strange that there is no such place as the Smith Institute of Strength. I wonder why.) Dr. Cooper is largely responsible for creating the running “craze” of the 70’s. Interestingly enough, Dr. Cooper admitted in a New York Times article titled The Fit Commandment (Wednesday, July 15, 1995) that, though in 1968 he believed that a high level of aerobic fitness was a requirement for a long and healthy life, he now believes that “…people do not need to be aerobically fit to be healthy.” One would think that Dr. Cooper’s statement would have the fitness industry questioning the need for aerobics altogether as a health-enhancing activity since aerobics causes so many to suffer from orthopedic maladies. However, aerobics are/is so ingrained into our societal thinking and make so many companies a healthy profit (including the Cooper Institute for Aerobics and the American College of Sports Medicine), aerobics continues to be endorsed, popularized and sold as the foundation of an exercise program. “Just do it” as it were.

Consider the following medical opinions:

“When patients participate in exercise programs, they often assume that their heart becomes stronger. This is not the case. Physical training results in a sense of well-being because of other effects…it improves the efficiency of the muscles…it improves the hormonal tone of the body…it improves the control of sugar in people with diabetes. However, exercise will not make the heart beat more strongly.”
— Bruce D. Charash, MD, Cardiologist
(From his book Heart Myths, 1991)
Viking Penquin Books, New York 1991, ISBN 0670824429.

“You might suspect from the emphasis on cardiopulmonary fitness that the major effect of training is on the heart and lungs. Guess again. Exercise does nothing for the lungs that has been amply proved…Nor does it especially benefit your heart. Running, no matter what you have been told, primarily trains and conditions the muscles.”
— George Sheehan, MD, Cardiologist
(Known as the “Guru” of running. He has authored several books on running for fitness.)

“Most of the improvement in functional capacity due to exercise is not even directly related to the heart. It is due to an effect on the peripheral muscle cells whereby they more efficiently extract oxygen from the blood.”
— Henry Solomon, MD Cardiologist
(From his book The Exercise Myth, 1984)
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, San Diego, ISBN 0151294585.

Look at these quotes again and reread the italicized areas. You’ll see that the common denominator these cardiologists all agree upon is the effect activity has on the skeletal muscles.

Muscle: A Highly Active Tissue

Muscle tissue is always at “work” even when we are at rest. As each of us must eat to sustain ourselves, so too must muscle tissue “eat” to survive. Put simply, muscles utilize or feed on two substances, oxygen (air) and glucose (sugar), provided by the blood, in order to “live.” (Fats are also used as fuel as well.) They utilize differing amounts of each to meet whatever demands are being placed upon them by us. When muscles are predominantly using oxygen as fuel, the body is said to be working aerobically (with oxygen). When muscles are predominantly using sugar as fuel, the body is said to be working anaerobically (without oxygen). However, regardless of which “pathway” is being used more, both are always functioning simultaneously. In other words, there is no such thing as pure aerobic work or pure anaerobic work with respect to the human metabolism.

Heart Rate – A Myth?

A low resting heart rate (roughly 45-65 BPM) is considered to be a determinant of whether someone is cardiovascularly “fit,” meaning healthy. But heart rate alone does not give a complete picture of a person’s cardiovascular health. The heart is obviously an extremely important muscle. But our heart is also an involuntary organ. It is a perpetual pump that propels oxygenated blood throughout our body without our conscious thought. It is, in a sense, an electronic slave whose taskmaster is the skeletal muscles. If a person’s heart rate is normal upon a physical exam, the physician is pleased. Never would he suggest to a patient to get it lower. While it is true that strength training is not known to lower resting heart rate, what strength training does do is the opposite. It keeps the heart rate from getting very high when involved in daily activity. Can stronger muscles actually aid in improving our ability to perform aerobic activities without lowering our resting heart rate? Absolutely.

Consider the following examples:

Example #1: Riding a bicycle uphill can be a difficult task for one person, yet simple for another. Even if both people are pedaling up the same hill, with the same bike, in the same gear, at the same pace, with the same seat height, have the exact same mental desire, limb length, resting heart rate, resting blood pressure, ejection fraction, stroke volume, cholesterol level, VO2 capacity and body fat percentage. The act of riding a bike uphill, in and of itself, is neither an aerobic or anaerobic activity. The pathway that is being used most, be it aerobic or anaerobic, depends to a large degree upon muscular strength, not only on the strength or health of the heart. The person with stronger muscles will propel up the hill easier than will the weaker individual regardless of the heart. As doctor Solomon points out, it is entirely possible for a person to have a resting rate of 60 bpm, be able to perform feats of exceptional fitness, yet be riddled with severe coronary artery disease.

Example # 2: A woman has difficulty walking up a flight of steps that leads to her home. Each day as she reaches the top step, she is completely out of breath. Taking pity on her, her fairy godmother swoops down taps her on the thighs and buttocks with her magic muscle wand, and viola! The woman’s muscular strength increases by 50%. Feeling this, the woman immediately decides to “test drive” her new muscles. She walks up the steps again at the same pace and lo-and-behold, she reaches the top without the slightest problem. (Studies conducted by Drs. Westcott, Darden, Nelson, Ades, Hurley et. al., have shown that increased muscular strength improves day-to-day functional ability and aerobic endurance.) How is this possible? The fairy godmother didn’t tap her heart and lungs with a magic aerobic wand. The actual condition or health of the woman’s heart and lungs remained exactly the same. Because of the increased strength, her heart did not have to work as hard the second time around.

Aren’t Aerobics good for a “bad” heart?

A doctor will usually judge vascular health from an EKG test during a routine physical. If the EKG is abnormal, the patient might be sent to the cardiologist for further testing. This testing usually includes a sub-maximal stress test that checks the “behavior” of the hearts function. Ejection fraction, stroke volume and perhaps VO2 max will also be tested. (Simply put, stroke volume refers to the amount of blood pumped from the left ventricle in a single beat. Ejection fraction refers to the total percentage of the total volume of blood in the ventricle that is actually ejected. VO2 is an estimate of the volume of oxygen used by the body per minute of exercise.) This test, however, is almost always performed without considering the person’s level of skeletal muscular strength, which can greatly influence the outcome. Supposedly, improving each of these factors via aerobic exercise results in a healthier vascular system. This is not necessarily so. From Dr. Charash’s book:

“In fact, the reverse was demonstrated in a scientific study that examined men who joined an exercise program within fifteen weeks of experiencing a heart attack. The heart muscle actually became weaker in these men…”

There are other factors that determine the actual health and strength of a person’s cardiovascular system as well. There is the actual size of the heart, size of its inner chambers, condition of its valves, diameter of the arteries and veins, magnitude of lung capacity, efficiency of the electrical system, etc., most of which are genetically inherited. These factors are rarely ever considered during fitness assessments and even when they are considered are nearly impossible to accurately measure. Stroke volume, ejection fraction, VO2 max, resting heart rate and blood pressure assessments are, without question, useful to physicians as indicators of a possible heart problem when symptoms arise, but they do not conclusively determine superior or inferior cardiovascular health.

Aren’t Athletes Healthier than us?
While many endurance athletes have lower than normal resting heart rates, superior stroke volumes and higher VO2 maxs, many still contract and die from heart and vascular disease. So the answer is no. Being an athlete does not guarantee better or superior health. In fact, it is entirely possible for a “un-fit,” sedentary individual to have a healthier heart and vascular system than the world’s greatest marathon runner. To quote Dr. Solomon:

“Somehow the notion mistakenly arose that these physiological changes of the training effect are automatically “healthier” or “better.” But there is no evidence that a slower resting heart rate is healthier than a heart rate somewhat faster, or that a quicker return to a resting heart rate after exercise is inherently beneficial. Nobody has ever shown any biological advantage to a slower heartbeat.”

“Not only is superb physical performance possible in the presence of severe coronary heart disease, but also the person may himself not feel the symptoms. I know patients of exceptional fitness who have severe coronary artery disease. Even people with imminently fatal heart disease can play sports, exercise and run. They may have no symptoms and may be capable of outstanding physical performance with hearts that will kill them.”

Fitness vs. Health

The confusion between fitness and health is why many mistakenly consider cardiovascular fitness to be a general health condition. Statistics show elite athletes contract heart and vascular disease almost at the same rate as unfit folks. Since many unfit folks are free of heart disease and live to be quite old, aerobic “fitness” then is just a specific physiological adaptation that does not necessarily guarantee improved vascular health or increased longevity. What it does guarantee, sooner or later, is an orthopedic injury. (Why do you think that almost every pain-reliever commercial these days uses an aching athlete as an example of why you need their product?)

Concept 10 10 – Background

Concept 10 10 – Background

Concept 10 10 was developed and founded by Jorgen Albrechtsen, who is also the President of the international organization.


Founder - Jorgen Albrechtsen

In his younger years, Jorgen Albrechtsen had a great interest in karate. He opened his first school at the age of 17 and later studied in Japan and various countries in Europe. He eventually built and operated 20 karate schools and reached the rank of 5. dan black belt. The head school became the largest karate school in the world with 5,000 active members, which attracted worldwide attention. Jorgen Albrechtsen is also the author of 8 books on karate, exercise and nutrition.

Later on, he became interested in how to train the human body in the best possible way, realizing that the market was full of less than serious offers that constantly confused and frustrated consumers by their lack of results. He came in contact with Arthur Jones in 1980. Arthur Jones is the inventor of Nautilus and later MedX exercise equipment and the father of high intensity training and a scientific no nonsense approach.

Jorgen studied and trained with Arthur Jones and his associates, opened his first science-based high intensity training center in 1981 and expanded over the years with several more, including franchises.

During the last part of the 80´s, Jorgen became increasingly aware of the need for constant supervision and coaching if a member was to obtain good results, and he was also dissatisfied with the fitness trend that focused more on socialization, hype and glitter than on serious result producing exercise.

He then moved to Florida to further study and work with the various research results on effective training and with a wish to develop a system that would be the intelligent alternative and produce optimal results.
The result of his efforts and his more than 30 years of experience in the exercise field came to be Concept 10 10, which was developed and ready to launch by the end of 2003.
It combines the scientific research results with a focused environment where all disturbances have been eliminated and a personal trainer is involved from start till end of each workout. It also utilizes customized state of the art equipment.

The first center opened early 2004 and became an instant success. Jorgen Albrechtsen did not want to expand further for the first 2 years, as he wanted to first fine tune every part of the operation, evaluating the results from hundreds of clients etc.
In 2006, expansion was started, and Concept 10 10 is now a global operation with an ever increasing demand for more centers around the world.