The story is simple. A few years ago, a CoreTek member had the opportunity to tag along with an active-duty Navy SEAL on their daily gym routine. At the gym, the question was simple, what are we going to do today? He responded, nothing much, just a pyramid me and some of the guys do… Well, somewhere in that gym, is still part of our member’s fitness ego, curled up in the fetal position.
So for you all to try, and blast out your routine, here is the pyramid:
Killer Body Weight Workout 10 Level Pyramid
Each level consists of the following, multiplied by the level number:
3 Push Ups
1 Pull Up
3 Sit Ups (you can substitute four count scissor kicks)
You perform each cycle non-stop, moving from exercise to exercise – and, your rest between each level is only along as it takes to move back to the first exercise.
So the first two levels would look like:
3 Push Ups, 1 Pull Up, 1 Dip, 3 Sit Ups, 6 Push Ups, 2 Pull Ups, 2 Dips, 6 Sit Ups, etc. And just to be clear, level 10 would be: 30 Push Ups, 10 Pull Ups, 10 Dips, 30 Sit Ups
You work up to level 10, rest 1 – 2 minutes, then starting at level 10, work your way back to level 1. If you get to a level and cannot do the full amount of any exercise, that is the top of your pyramid. You then stop, rest 1 – 2 minutes, and starting at that level, work back down to level 1.
One trick we noted the SEAL did to help – he had a bottle of water between the pull up bar and dip area, and would grab a quick sip walking between them – but not actually stopping.
Give this killer body weight workout a go, and we expect it will add a blast to your routine. We recommend doing this once a week to keep variety into your performance training.
– Train Hard!
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The myth that you cannot build muscle and lose fat is just that – a myth. You lose fat by calorie deficit? And you gain muscle by eating more? Right…, so how does that possibly come together? Well, it comes across as an unachievable performance goal because most routines that attempt this fail to consider our top three, yet science-backed, tips for how to build muscle and lose fat.
So let’s grab some science, and bring on the top three tips to build muscle and lose fat…
1. Maintain Healthy Protein Levels in Your Diet
To build muscle, your body needs to synthesise more muscle protein than it breaks down – simply put, you need to make sure you’re getting enough protein. Protein also plays an important role in weight loss. Evidence suggests that eating protein can stimulate your metabolic rate and burn more calories in addition to reducing your appetite. Check out a study by researchers at Maastricht University that demonstrated even an increase in protein from 15 to 18 percent of calories reduced the amount of fat people regained after weight loss by 50 percent.
What is a healthy protein level? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on training. Protein intake should be spaced throughout the day and after workouts.
2. Manage Your Calorie Intake
This is where it can get tricky. You need to own up to managing your calorie levels if you want to build muscle while burning fat. But keep in mind since you are attempting to do both, the results will not be as noticeable or as fast as if you were only doing one or the other. That is, if you were building muscle, and bulking, your calorie intake and workout routine would readily add mass, while in contrast, a calorie reduction with high weight training and cardio could lower fat quickly. But in this instance, we are working to walk between these goals.
The first thing you need to do is figure out your maintenance calories – that is, how many calories you burn on your rest/non-workout days. (This is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate, BMR, and is the number of calories required to keep your body functioning at rest.) There are many ways you can determine this number, but an online calculator is likely the easiest option. Here is one from the Mayo Clinic that uses the Mifflin-St Jeor equation. But understand this number is not going to be your constant intake – it is the guide to figure out your intake. To balance fat loss and muscle building, use the following calorie intake levels, based on your maintenance calories:
Weight training day: Increase your caloric intake by 5-15% with a focus on protein.
Cardio day: Stick with your maintenance level calories
Rest day: Decrease your caloric intake by 5-15%
You need to focus on this part of the effort – calorie management. This is where your program is made or broken. And before we move on, do not neglect to manage your macronutrient levels. We talk about this in our Performance Diet Tips.
3. Focus on Resistance Training In Your Workouts
Resistance training is the best method to build muscle and burn fat – if done properly. You can spend hours in the gym moving weight around, our you can maximize a workout with heavy, compound lifts. It’s not completely that simple – but, just about that simple. Compound movements burn more calories. The very fact that you have to use more muscles to stabilize the weight means that you stress and develop more muscle and burn more calories and fat as a result.
Focus on multiple sets of heavy compound lifts, with smaller isolation motions as finishing moves. This will enable you to keep your focus and energy on the primary lifts. You do not need to get fancy on this – just stick to the basic press and pull motions. You can find numerous online sites with workouts that focus on compound lifts – check them out.
Now keep in mind this is not about toning up, or physique training – as we tend to stay away from that with performance training. What our top three tips to build muscle and lose fat are for is just that – build muscle and lose fat. There are variations to what we call out above, and of course, every body is different – so you will have to see exactly how you respond to the training and diet management. But if you follow these general tips, you will find that losing fat while adding muscle is possible.
Dumbbells…a gym staple and an item found in many home kits. They’re not as effective on overall muscle and strength development and body composition (fat) management as performing heavy, barbell based, compound movements – but are still an important tool in your performance efforts. So, are you bringing dumbbell training exercises into your workouts?
Dumbbell exercises have been shown to activate a number of different muscles and stimulate muscle growth, help improve both muscle force and flexibility, and promote coordination and stability for muscles and joints. Even more, you can use them for a variety of exercises, ranging from simple mobility work to intense resistance training.
While in theory, you could often just replace a barbell with dumbbells for a motion – using dumbbells provides more than just a change in weighted item – dumbbells bring additional muscle action into play – notably in stabilization, that will not only improve your overall physical performance – but will help address muscle and mobility imbalances. They also allow you to introduce more range of motion resistance moves into your kit.
Before we get into our list of dumbbell exercises you should have in your routine toolkit, we also want to make sure you lift properly with them – improving your performance takes a set back with injury, and we want you to keep progressing!
There are two issues that many have found out the hard way by not controlling the dumbbells. First, in some motions, it is easy to get “swinging” with a dumbbell. This motion could involve a limb, joint, or both. As with all weights, movements are supposed to be controlled – you control it up, you control it down. Watch out for “out of control” weighted motions that run the risk of joint injury. Second – watch the joints when using dumbbells – they are not made to hold up well against strains that leverage against their natural alignment. Dumbbells can quickly fall to the side, wrenching an arm or leg in an angle that wrists, elbows, knees, shoulders, ankles, etc are not made to move. Performance is about being a mindful athlete and using a controlled effort in your routine, not throwing around metal for ego.
That said, you better have these dumbbell exercises in your routine kit!
1. Incline Dumbbell Press
Muscles worked: The clavicular head of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and and the triceps
Benefits: Targets the smaller, often underemphasized clavicular head, which isn’t as powerful as the sternocostal head but is nevertheless key to the muscle’s overall power. The exercise forces each pectoral muscle to work independently, so your strong side can’t compensate for its weaker counterpart, helping to prevent and correct muscle imbalances.
2. Shoulder Press
Muscles worked: The anterior and lateral deltoids, triceps brachii, pectoralis major, serratus anterior, and external oblique
Benefits: Works all aspects of the deltoid muscle; dumbbells activate more of the anterior deltoid than when using a barbell. Whether from a seated or standing position, the dumbbell exercise engages the core for stability. Avoid locking your elbows, as this transitions to emphasis to your triceps, rather than keep it focused on your deltoids.
3. Bent Over Row
Muscles worked: The posterior deltoid, brachialis, brachioradialis, middle and lower trapezius, infraspinatus, teres minor, teres major, and latissimus dorsi
Benefits: This motion targets your back and shoulders in the same motion. As a functional exercise, it is a great way to develop muscles and motion used throughout the day when picking up things. Knowing how to properly position your back and brace your abs can protect you from strain.
Alternative to increase difficulty: Assume a plank position to engage your core. You will likely have to decrease weight and or reps.
4. Tricep Kick-Back
Muscles worked: The triceps brachii, and posterior deltoids
Benefits: This helps build a stronger tricep muscle, working all three heads. This will help you not only in daily functional movements, but also support other pressing motions in your training, such as chest and shoulder presses.
5. Twisting Bicep Curl
Muscles worked: The biceps brachii (short and long heads), brachialis, and brachioradialis
Benefits: The simple process of starting with your gripped hands facing your body and then moving to the traditional supinated position during the curl helps work both the long and short head of the bicep, while also bringing the brachioradialis into the effort. In short, you activate more muscle fibers that a full range supinated curl, or hammer curl alone.
Benefits: Removes the tension and risk to lower back that a tradition barbell squat might cause, while maintaining focus on your quads and glutes – the major muscles in this exercise.
Muscles worked: The latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior, pectorlis major, triceps brachii, and teres major
Benefits: The motion beings into play many stabilizer muscles throughout your body, such as abs, upper back/scapular region, and the gluteal muscles. This in turn helps develop key strength in muscles critical in supporting many full chain body motions. You can help stabilize the motion by contracting your chest and elevating your ribcage, contracting your gluteals, and keeping your feet flat.
8. Weighted Lunge
Muscles worked: The vastus lateralis, rectus femorus, gluteus maximus, vastus medialus, adductor magnus, and soleus
Benefits: Adds more functional complexity to the training, and thus can offer more all-around development than quadriceps-focused motions. This dumbbell training exercise uses the gluteus maximus, adductor magnus of the inner thigh, and the soleus of the calf – in short, a compound motion. You also will need to bring in your stabilizer muscles in your back and legs to sustain your balance.
9. Lateral Raise
Muscles worked: The anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, trapezius, and supraspinatus
Benefits: The motion primarily targets the deltoid’s lateral head, with some activation of the anterior and posterior heads. As an isolation dumbbell exercise working the lateral head of the delts, it helps strengthen your shoulders and can help correct strength imbalances between your right and left sides. Make sure the movement comes from your shoulders, not your neck. Avoid shrugging or “jerking” the dumbbells or flexing or extending your elbow as your arm is raised to keep proper form.
10. Fly (Regular or Reverse)
Muscles worked regular fly: The pectoralis major and minor, anterior deltoid, and coracobrachialis
Benefits: While helping with all-around pectoral development, the motion opens up your chest muscles, which may may help reduce upper back pain, increase range of motion, and reduce tightness in the upper body. Be careful with the weight you use to help obtain a full range of motion without overextending. Avoid bending your elbows excessively as the weight descends or flattening them as the weight ascends to avoid strain on your shoulder joints.
Muscles worked reverse fly: The anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, triceps brachii, rhomboid, and trapezius
Benefits: Helps with a scapular retraction or pulling your shoulder blades in toward each other – which counteracts risks to posture caused by excessive chest training or prolonged periods of work at a desk or driving that tend to round the shoulders. Research indicates specific strength training such as the reverse fly is an effective tool to reduce pain and disability in neck and shoulder areas.
As with all exercise planning, if you have a shoulder, neck, or back injury, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to find out whether this exercise is appropriate. Dumbbell exercises are a great tool, but can also easily pull a joint, torque your body, or cause other unexpected movements if not properly handled. A key item to remember is to only lift manageable weights you can control in both eccentric and concentric phases, and that heavy weights (beyond what you can control) can result in poor technique. If you feel any pain during the exercise, slowly lower the weights and end the exercise. Additionally, beware of over-training risks with dumbbells, as their use may seem minimal compared to other motions, but overuse can risk fatigue, plateau, or injury. As with any fitness program – safety first.
Core strength is a common element in most athletic endeavours. It is also an area everyone should consider for overall good health as well. While your core is often engaged in many workout routines, yoga poses offer a means to target your core muscles, to work and develop them.
Before you dismiss yoga as a performance tool, consider that regular yoga practice can reduce your risk of injury and condition your body to perform better in other fitness areas. Yoga is a form of functional fitness, and its motions use both large and small muscles and move in many directions (twisting, arcing, etc.), in contrast to limited bi-directional motions along the traditional sagittal, frontal, or transverse planes.
What is Your Core
Often, the core is confused with the abdominal muscles. Many think, that’s it. While the abdominal muscles are part of the core muscle group, to understand “core strength” you need to understand the core muscles. When we refer to core muscles, we mean major muscles that include the pelvic floor muscles, transverses abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, and diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus and trapezius.
If you want to develop all-around core strength, you need to work this entire group, not just parts. This is why so much has been written on why abdominal work alone is not enough for improving core strength. Moreover, if you look at the list of muscles, you can see why a plank is so effective at hitting many of them.
Best Yoga Poses for Core Strength
Our list of poses is intended to work your all-around core. You can put them all together and form an entire core training session, or add 1-2 poses into your regular routine to help provide all-around training depth and variety.
Side Plank Pose
Upward Plank Pose
Bird Dog Crunches
Half-Bow Half-Locust Pose
Locust Y Jumping Jacks
If you find that you enjoy yoga in your performance training, you can check out our other article on simple yoga poses. And if you really want to take the plunge, but are not sure where to start, we recommend checking out Yoga with Adriene – she offers a phenomenal online video selection through her YouTube channel. For the guys, if you want something more focused, check out Breathe and Flow’s yoga for men. Between these sites, you can easily find a yoga session suited to your ability – and help you add to your own list of the best yoga poses for core strength.
Time is likely never on your side when it comes to scheduling your fitness routine. So how can you maximize your workout efforts to see performance gains? Welcome to Escalating Density Training…
What is Escalating Density Training
First, Density Training is a measurement of workload vs time. Escalating, in the sense of this training, is taking one of those components, and increasing (workload) or decreasing (time) in order to escalate the effect on your training. Rather than focusing purely on the weight you lift, this will target sets and reps to perform as much work as possible in the amount of time you allot for your workout.
Let’s go over this using a simple barbell bench press:
Say you can press 150 pounds for 3 sets of 10 reps, in 5 minutes. So in this, your density is 150x3x10 = 4,500 lbs in 5 minutes.
The escalation can occur in various ways:
Sustain the time, and work in an 11th rep on each set. 150x3x11 = 4,950 lbs in 5 minutes
Shorten your rest interval, and do the same weight in 4:30 minutes.
This is to give you an example of how the density math works. However, the reality is this is going to be applied to your entire workout. When implementing this, you will measure and apply this to each exercise throughout the whole workout.
Density Training Application
Implementing the process into your routine is simple – but beware of underestimating the intensity of this process. It’s going to involve pushing your muscle groups, and as you want a decent rep range, focus on the technique.
Follow the process below, and you will see improvements in your performance:
You’re going to have to do a workout at least once, to establish the baseline for your density measurement – keep a good journal for this, either on your phone or old school pen and paper.
Start with a weight you can complete full sets, for the first 2-3 sets – you do not want to be hitting failure in your first couple of sets, but it is okay if you do hit failure in later sets of your routine.
Use opposite pairing for your muscle groups for Density Training; for example, if you are going to work on the chest with dumbbell presses, then pair it with a leg extension or seated row. Mix it up – you need to be able to keep pushing your muscle groups throughout the whole workout.
Get a wide range of reps into the program; do not stick with the same rep ranges or set counts throughout your routine.
This is about reps and time driving density volume – not adding weight. If you feel you have more in the tank, do more reps, or shorten the rest intervals.
For each session, plan on rep increase, or time decrease to target density escalation, and record your results. Do not figure it out as you go.
Remember, even 1 rep is an improvement – if all you get is one more rep in the same amount of time – celebrate, you increased your density. Same with time – if you could only do the same volume in 10 seconds less, you still increased your density.
5 Key Training Benefits
Following the Escalating Density Training process, you should find improvements in 5 key areas:
Time (more efficiently spent in the gym)
You can build your entire program around this for a whole cycle, but this is very taxing to your body, so we do not recommend this as your standard training regime. Use it as an effective tool to boost your fitness performance, but as with all intense programs, give your body proper rest and recovery before resuming another cycle.
Supplements are ever present in the fitness industry. We’ve covered some of them in other articles, but the question is always out there – do they help with performance?
In October, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign released the results of a 12-week exercise regimen study conducted on 148 active duty Air Force airmen. The exercise regimen combined strength training and high-intensity interval aerobic fitness challenges. Additionally, half of the participants received a twice-daily nutrient beverage that included protein; the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA; lutein; phospholipids; vitamin D; B vitamins, and other micronutrients; along with a muscle-promoting compound known as HMB. The other half a placebo. Neither the participants nor researchers knew who received the supplement or the placebo.
In short, half of the group were given supplements during the study.
For both groups, the exercise regimen alone alone “improved strength and endurance, mobility and stability, and participants also saw increases in several measures of cognitive function. They had better episodic memory and processed information more efficiently at the end of the 12 weeks.” The participants’ body fat percentage was reduced and they showed an increase in the oxygen-uptake efficiency (VO2 max). They also showed signs of increases in the accuracy of their responses to problems designed to measure fluid intelligence.
In short (again), exercise is good for you – the whole group saw benefits, both physically and mentally, from performing a regular fitness routine.
Researchers found that those who also consumed the nutritional supplement “saw all of these improvements and more.”
Those that took the supplement drink displayed an improved resting heart rate and greater improvements in their ability to retain and process information. Additionally, their reaction time on fluid intelligence tests was better than the placebo group.
While the study saw improvements in the supplement shake group, it did not fully ascertain why this occurred.
How did the shake affect the macronutrient, micronutrient, and vitamin profile of the test subjects?
How did the shake affect daily caloric intake?
How was the shake timed with optimal intake windows for the participants?
Matt Kuchan, a co-author of the study, stated “it is possible the active supplement closed nutrient gaps,” since the average American diet that the airmen were on is well-documented to have nutrient gaps. He believes, though, the positive effects “resulted from the combination of muscle and brain nutrients,” and that the nutrients in the shake, which are found in healthy foods, would be difficult to replicate in a natural diet.
The study showed that those on the supplements obtained more results in physical and mental performance. While there are questions as to the “why” – the result is that the supplements helped close some gap for the participants’ that supported achieving higher performance levels.
As the term itself states, supplements are to supplement – not replace – dietary needs. But with many individuals, even athletes, trying to balance access to quality nutrients and daily responsibilities, supplements offer a mechanism to help people achieve their fitness performance goals.
Protein shakes can be a great tool to help improve your fitness performance by helping meet your macronutrient needs. Optimizing protein shake consumption is an important aspect of your training regimen. The online fitness industry has thoroughly covered the benefits of protein supplementation – We’ve even done it here.
However, maximizing the benefit requires you to know when are the best times to add the supplement to your diet. What we offer below is based on studies, and represents what the general population should follow.
How you consume a protein supplement depends on your goals. We will keep it simple here – are you trying to lose weight and preserve lean mass, or gain weight?
Protein Intake for Losing Weight
This section is not really about shakes – but rather protein consumption to lose weight. You can take shakes, but here we intend to help you understand the benefits of protein snacks in your efforts to burn fat.
Protein is a key macronutrient for fat loss. Its consumption increases metabolic activity, and reduces your appetite through the reduction of the hormone ghrelin. Thus, a steady intake of protein throughout the day will help your calorie management efforts – a key element to both losing and gaining weight.
A study published in 2014 examined whether a high-protein afternoon yogurt snack improves appetite control, satiety, and reduces subsequent food intake compared to other commonly-consumed, energy-dense, high-fat snacks. The findings demonstrate that when compared to high-fat snacks, eating less energy-dense, high-protein snacks like yogurt improves appetite control.
The summary is that consuming protein-rich snacks throughout the day, whether food or shakes, will help control your appetite and support your ability to eat less. Combined with effective calorie-burning resistance training, this method will directly support your efforts to burn fat.
Protein Shakes for Weight Gain
To build muscle, the science is simple – you need to consume more protein than your body uses during resistance training. But with that, we begin a tale of two proteins – whey and casein. Both support your efforts to build muscle tissue, but their make up varies:
One of two major milk proteins. It is the liquid remaining after the milk has been curdled and strained. There are three varieties of whey – protein powder, protein concentrate, and protein isolate. All provide high levels of essential and branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine).
Casein gives milk its white color and accounts for 70 – 80 percent of milk protein. The casein protein exists in a micelle – that has a hydrophobic inside and a hydrophilic outside. During digestion, casein is released as the micelle breaks down. The casein released from multiple micelles then aggregates and is digested via proteolysis. This is the process by which proteins break down into simpler, soluble compounds. Digestion is slow due to the aggregation of casein. This allows the protein to provide a sustained release of amino acids – sometimes lasting for hours.
There are other forms of protein, but as this is focusing on protein shakes – we’ll keep it to the most popular products as of this article’s publication.
When to shake, and when no to shake…
Optimizing protein shake consumption is not an exact science, although several studies demonstrate consistent data. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2017:
“…The timing of energy intake and the ratio of certain ingested macronutrients may enhance recovery and tissue repair, augment muscle protein synthesis (MPS), and improve mood states following high-volume or intense exercise…”
Here are highlights from the assessment:
Consuming carbohydrate solely or in combination with protein during resistance exercise increases muscle glycogen stores, ameliorates muscle damage, and facilitates greater acute and chronic training adaptations
Ingestion of essential amino acids (EAA; approximately 10 g) either in free form or as part of a protein bolus of approximately 20-40 g has been shown to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS)
Post-exercise ingestion (immediately to 2-h post) of high-quality protein sources stimulates robust increases in MPS
Ingesting a 20-40 g protein dose (0.25-0.40 g/kg body mass/dose) of a high-quality source every 3 to 4 hours appears to most favorably affect MPS rates when compared to other dietary patterns and is associated with improved body composition and performance outcomes
Consuming casein protein (~ 30-40 g) prior to sleep can acutely increase MPS and metabolic rate throughout the night without influencing lipolysis
A 2002 study also suggested that consuming a small meal of mixed macronutrient composition (or perhaps even a very small quantity of a few indispensable amino acids) immediately before or following strength exercise bouts can alter significantly net protein balance, resulting in greater gains in both muscle mass and strength than observed with training alone. This suggests there is a window right before and after training that optimizes your protein intake.
What this means is you should be consuming protein throughout the day. How much depends on the macronutrient requirement for your fitness objectives. Ideally, you should consume as much protein as possible from lean, non-processed food sources. You can use the above findings in the study to help you understand when to assist and maximize your protein intake with a shake.
Now, why are we not saying explicitly to take X at the following times? Simple – your training plan, combined with your metabolism and diet requirements will create an “optimal window” unique to you. But you want to be following four rules in general:
Consume most of your protein from whole, unprocessed food sources
Target a good source of protein 2-3 hours prior to your workout (snacks right before the workout should be more carb-focused)
Consuming a good quality, high-protein shake within two hours of resistance training is likely within your “optimal” window
Casein protein shakes will work best before sleep, as it takes longer to digest and your body’s recovery will benefit from the sustained amino acid release.
And finally, remember – protein shakes are a supplement. They should be taken to supplement your whole food consumption – not as a replacement. If you use them, be sure to select ones with quality ingredients, without fillers and other non-essential ingredients.
WODs (Workout of the Day) are a great tool to improve athletic performance. While normally associated with Crossfit, they should be considered a key factor in anyone’s program if you are trying to improve performance.
Try switching out your cardio session once a week, for four weeks, with a different WOD each week – this will challenge your body, force your muscles to constantly adapt, and add creativity to your program.
Basic WODs for Beginners
If you are looking for a quick WOD to get you going without the need for weights, try these two variations below:
3 rounds x 10 reps of the following bodyweight exercises (no rest between rounds):
Dips or Ring Rows (depending on what you can access)
5 rounds x 5 reps, without rest between rounds:
High Knee Jumps
Bear Crawl (1 rep = right and left forward motion)
Try these, or variations to challenge your performance levels. Make sure you stay hydrated, and you can add some solid core exercises at the end of the WOD to push yourself.
If you are looking to get past a training plateau to improve performance, rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is a solid process to use in your routine development. Combined with Micro-HIIT efforts, and you can develop time-efficient programs to drive your performance to new levels.
RPE emerged in the 1970s and early 1980s as a subjective method to gauge exercise intensity. It helps focus on exertion to promote increased exercise performance, rather than simply working from a traditional percentage of 1RPM.
The RPE method will work for about 90 percent of people. There is a small population that is so sedentary, that any amount of physical activity will seem hard – and the opposite end of the spectrum of those so well-trained that it takes a lot of exercises to reach sufficient intensity levels.
For the majority, the program is easy to implement and is a method of monitoring the combined intensity and duration to create an optimal experience with proper levels of overload to improve athletic performance.
The RPE Scale
Level of Effort (Aerobic)
Level of Effort (Resistance)/Reps in Reserve (RIR)
Feels almost impossible to keep going. Completely out of breath, unable to talk. Cannot maintain for more than a very short time.
No more reps capable; maximum effort.
Very difficult to maintain exercise intensity. Can barely breathe and speak only a few words.
One rep left in the tank.
Borderline uncomfortable. Short of breath, can speak a sentence.
Tougher to lift; could push 2-3 more reps.
Breathing heavily, can hold a short conversation. Still somewhat comfortable, but becoming noticeably more challenging.
Normal warm-up set/beginning of routine; 8-10 reps without issue.
Feels like you can maintain for hours. Easy to breathe and converse.
Light warm-up weight level; no real exertion.
Hardly any exertion.
No exertion; can lift “endlessly”
The model can be used in a limited and indefinite capacity to push you through your training plateaus and improve your athletic performance. Notably, while the scale was designed initially for endurance training, it is readily incorporated into resistance based training, as we note below.
How to Apply
To Improve Cardio Performance
Perform your basic cardio activity: running, treadmill, elliptical, bike, etc.
Using the RPE scale, assess your performance rate of perceived exertion – the talk test is a good method to use.
Using your RPE, adjust either the duration of your effort or its intensity so the majority of your workout rests between 4-6 on the RPE scale.
To improve performance, focus on HIIT intervals that push your RPE to 7-8. The intervals should be of fixed time or distance. You need to be able to maintain 7-8 RPE for the duration or distance of the intervals – this is where you adjust the routine to maximize performance gains.
As your routine progresses, you will notice the same intervals trigger lower RPE levels.
When this occurs, you need to either increase the overall activity duration or the interval intensity to raise your interval RPE back to 7-8.
Maintain this pattern of increasing your activity effort through RPE assessment for three weeks. For the fourth week, return to steady-state cardio to give your body time to recover in order to maximize your performance development. See our article on rest and recovery to understand its benefits.
To Improve Resistance Training Performance
Decide the rep range you want to use for the exercise. Compound lifts will typically use fewer reps than isolation motions – but it’s dependent upon your routine.
Determine your RPE and RIR. Here, you will not want to go to failure as part of this methodology, as it prevents you from pushing your muscles into states of growth. We recommend an RPE of 7 to 8, with an RIR of 2-3.
For the exercise, recall your last amount lifted: weight, reps, and RPE (Note: This is why we recommend you always keep a log of your routines).
Use this online RPE Calculator to work out your weight levels for your sets; this tool will show you how much you should lift, based upon your target RPE and set count.
Adjust this as needed, to factor in your resistance training. That is, use the calculator as many times as needed, to dial in your RPE for each session. The weight and sets of one session may not be the same for the next – but this is the benefit of RPE training, it ensures you are targeting proper exertion levels, not blindly following numbers on the sides of weight plates.
When you can reach the top of the rep range for your RPE goal, move up in weight.
Perform this routine for three weeks, before moving to a de-load routine on the fourth. This will help give your body proper rest and recovery in order to benefit from the performance rate of perceived exertion.
Your performance can improve using this method by either increasing RPE levels over the course of your training program; or through intensity, where the increase is on the load lifted. Flow High Performance offers a great, and easy to follow breakdown video here.
Yohimbe has been a hot topic in weight management for performance sports. The claim is simple: Yohimbine supports fat loss. Let’s break that down…
The herb Yohimbe, technically dubbed Corynanthe Yohimbe, comes from the bark of the Yohimbe tree that grows in Cameroon, Zaire, and Gabon. Yohimbine is the major active constituent of the bark, with the active ingredient being yohimbine hydrochloride.
Researchers have studied Yohimbine for some time and it is one of the few supplement components with laboratory backed results. It’s not a silver bullet, but in the world of supplementation, it has demonstrated results.
How Yohimbine Works
Yohimbine acts on the adrenergic receptor system in fat cells and regulates thermogenesis. It works against the alpha-subunits of the adrenergic system – the units that work against fat burning. Yohimbine inhibits the alpha-subunit’s ability to suppress fat burning.
Yohimbine itself can potentially induce fat loss vicariously through the release of adrenaline; adrenaline itself is an activator of beta-adrenergic receptors. Beta-adrenergic receptors increase the activity of the enzyme adenyl cyclase – which further supports fat burning. However, the effect of Yohimbine on adrenaline appears to fade after two weeks of supplementation.
Studies suggest a fasted state improves the effect of Yohimbine supplementation. The working theory is that later in the day, the impact of food on insulin levels lowers Yohimbine’s effectiveness. In one study, two groups exercised for 21 days and consumed the same diet; one group received 10mg x2 day of Yohimbine supplementation, and the other a placebo. At the end of the 21 day period, the Yohimbine group showed an average of 2% body fat loss, compared to the placebo group. Further, a 2002 study suggested a pre-workout is the most effective supplementation for Yohimbine. The conclusion is that consuming Yohimbine supplementation in a fasted state prior to exercise appears to have the greatest effect on fat burning.
Dosages of 0.2mg/kg bodyweight have been successfully used to increase fat burning without significant implications on cardiovascular parameters like heart rate and blood pressure. This results in a dosage of:
14 mg for a 150lb person
18 mg for a 200lb person
22 mg for a 250lb person
Individuals with a higher body weight should exercise caution, since yohimbine may over stimulate an unprepared cardiovascular system. While yohimbine supports fat loss, when supplementing yohimbine for the first time, always start with a half-dose and assess tolerance before proceeding.
As a note of caution, research has also shown:
Yohimbine can cause extreme anxiety in individuals predisposed to anxiety. The supplement may trigger manic psychosis or suicidal episodes in people with bipolar disorder
Yohimbine can interact with a large amount of neurological medications and should not be used in conjunction with these medications without consultation with a doctor
The actual vs labeled dose of yohimbine in many supplements can range from 25-150%
Always check with your medical provider before incorporating supplementation into your diet.