Round two of “questions from friends” 🙂 A lot of the questions really come down to one thing, and that is how your body responds to exercise to achieve results. Effective exercise is not easy–but nothing that is worthwhile in the end follows an easy path. But, as Shannon asked, “Do you really have to “feel the burn” to actually accomplish something?” The short answer that I believe would answer the question based on what I believe the goals of most people are (fat loss, building muscle, toning, getting leaner, etc.): yes. Here is why:
Put simply, your body communicates through hormones–it’s like your body’s mail system. Your body really prefers to maintain a steady state known as homeostasis. Hormones are your body’s approach to maintaining function within a normal, pre-set range. When a stressor is applied to one area of your body or one system of your body, that system responds by releasing hormones. Your nervous system and your muscles are no exception. What happens when you are exercising is a certain level of stress is placed on your muscles to contract and perform a given movement against resistance. In order to do so, your body must generate enough energy to contract the muscle. A byproduct of energy production is known as lactic acid. If you are not using much energy to contract the muscle, lactic acid levels will remain low. Lactic acid will cause a greater acid/base disruption, which will increase growth hormone levels. Heavy volumes of exercise will result in greater testosterone concentration. In order to keep adrenal hormone levels elevated to maximize fat-burning ability, vary the workouts and rest period length to allow adrenal hormones to act and secrete less cortisol, preventing chronic catabolic effects; cortisol results in your body blocking amino acids from being used to build muscle, but rather to burn the amino acids as fuel. However, cortisol does promote the use of fat as fuel.
Why are these hormones good? Should women even have or increase testosterone levels? These are questions that tend to remain unasked, but being someone who feels it necessary to understand the “why” behind everything under the sun, I have asked. Beginning with growth hormone, here are some actions of growth hormone:
1) Stimulation of insulin-like growth factor I (which increases protein synthesis to thereby increase muscle recovery and growth in muscle cells
2) Increases protein synthesis (a double whammy!)
3) Increases growth (especially in children–this is an appropriately-named hormone. As I study the human body, a lot of anatomical markings, hormones, muscles, bone markings, and organ functions are named in a manner that indicates function. This keeps things relatively simple, or at least as simple as physiological functions are, to understand. “What do we call that hormone that makes us grow?” “GROWTH HORMONE!” “That’s brilliant!”)
4) Stimulates metabolism–it increases your metabolic rate. Greater caloric expenditure!! YES!
Actions of testosterone:
1) Stimulates growth
2) Increases protein anabolism (or the constructing of proteins for your body to use via the presence of amino acids)
Actions of cortisol:
1) Inhibits the construction of amino acids into proteins
2) Initiates the conversion of proteins into carbohydrates as use for fuel
3) Maintains normal blood sugar levels (so–if you do not have sufficient carbohydrate intake, your body will convert amino acids and proteins into carbohydrates. You do not want this. While gluttonous amounts of carbohydrate intake are not justified, as the consequences outweigh a little muscle degradation, you do need some to prevent the amino acids from being used to elevate blood sugar levels to that homeostatic level.)
4) Promotes the use of fat
* acute increases of cortisol may have a large remodeling role in muscle tissues. Muscle must be disrupted to a certain extent (below injury levels) to remodel and enlarge. An elevation in cortisol levels would assist in this process. Chronic increases are markers of consistent tissue degradation and are a marker of overtraining.*
With regard to the latter question, I tend to envision the extremes–the bodybuilding women whom one can barely distinguish as such, except for the makeup and hair. All women have testosterone, produced by female sex glands, but men have fifteen to twenty-fold the level of the most testosterone-laden female. So, ladies, no worries–you will not be masculine following a strength training regimen. The women you see who are unnaturally muscular are just that: unnaturally muscular. Stick to the natural route, do your strength training (use your 10RM as a guideline for the weight you select).
In summary, the acid/base disruptions caused by an increase in lactic acid concentration within your muscle trigger hormone responses that are necessary to build muscle and burn fat. While certain hormones are the primary players in achieving an ideal physique, many other hormones create the ideal environment for their maximal efficiency. What you actually feel in response to an increased concentration is indicative of this occurring.
Olivia followed up Shannon’s question, and added a different twist (whether she realized it was actually a different question that would get a different answer.): “Same as Shannon Robertson Peak…is it any better a workout if you feel sore the next day, as when you don’t feel sore the next day….for example in weight lifting classes, have you burned more calories/gained more muscle if you’re sore the next day as opposed to not sore??”
Burning and soreness are not the same thing, nor are they technically byproducts of the same factor. Burning is a result of lactic acid concentrations, as I elaborated on previously. Soreness is more of a byproduct of a different workload and greater muscle degradation in those particular areas. It could be indicative of greater energy expenditure, but may not be. Caloric expenditure is indicated more by what you are feeling in response to your exercise intensity (e.g. the buildup of lactic acid due to your body working hard to replenish ATP stores so you can keep doing your jump squats), not what you feel the next day. For example, if you’ve only done 3×10 stationary lunges with dumbbells in your workout and change your lunges to non-weighted walking lunges or lateral lunges, you will likely experience soreness as a result of engaging some muscles to a different intensity than you typically did in your previous workout. Some stabilizer muscles that you didn’t know you have would likely be engaged and letting you know they did work within 24-72 hours. In this instance, you would not feel soreness as a result of increased energy expenditure, just a different workload.
If you do feel soreness in your workout as a result of an INCREASED workload, your caloric expenditure would be raised if all other factors remained the same (adding weight to your squats or deadlifts, performing more pushups or pullups, etc.). If you do 4 sets of 10 repetitions of jump squats in a set and increase to 20, your caloric expenditure will be higher. If you add dumbbells to those 10 repetitions of jump squats, your caloric expenditure will be higher. This is no guarantee of soreness, and thus, soreness is not indicative of greater energy expenditure. As I said, it could be, but do not gauge your workout energy expenditure on whether your muscles are sore or not sore the following day.
Remember: Heavy weights, proper nutrition, and sleep result in body change all because of the hormones we engage or do not engage. Keep rocking those workouts and add a little extra weight, range of motion, and intensity! Always get 1% better!