Mini Pause #25: Try MyoReps for a Time-Saving Strength Routine

MyoReps: The Answer for Muscle Hypertrophy When You’re Short on Time

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

When you’re in a pinch for time, structuring your workout in MyoReps is an efficient way to build muscle. They are intense! And for the majority of the session, they work the muscle close to muscle fatigue. These were lifesavers for me on a recent trip to Europe where I was pinched for time, jetlagged, and needed to get in a good working session.

WHY

MyoReps add variety to your existing routine and keep you working out when your time constraints don’t allow for luxuriating in the gym.

The theory behind the technique is that it helps athletes to do more effective reps. This method puts the muscles under high metabolic stress to help with hypertrophy and increase muscle growth.

WHAT

MyoReps are designed to be high in intensity and short on time. Here’s the way they are typically structured:

  • Pick a heavy weight for your working set sufficient enough to approximate muscle failure. This means that by the end of your set, you might be able to–if asked–execute 1-3 more reps.
  • Wait 5-10 seconds.
  • Then start your second set. Do as many reps as you can until you’re approximately 1-3 reps from failure.
  • Wait another 5-10 seconds.
  • Begin set 3, again, aiming to do as many repetitions as you can until you fail.
  • Continue until you have executed your desired number of sets.

You can see with this shortened rest period that the accumulation of metabolites does not have sufficient time to clear, and the muscle does not have much time to recharge before starting up again. Beginning subsequent sets when the muscle is already fatigued provides a big stimulus for hypertrophy.

HOW & NOW

For your next upper body day (I do not recommend trying this with legs initially because of the sheer intensity of the workout!), try the following:

  • SET 1: Heavy weights for a set of 8-12 until failure
  • Rest 5-10 seconds
  • SET 2: Same weights as set 1, trying to get as many reps as you can before muscle failure. Aim for 8-12.
  • Rest 5-10 seconds.
  • SET 3: Repeat Set 2
  • Rest 5-10 seconds.
  • SET 4: Repeat Set 3

And voilà! That exercise is now complete. Move on to the next exercise in your program and repeat this pattern.

Question of the Week

Q: When you say ‘lift heavy,’ what does that mean exactly?

This came in from heyrachelej on IG and echoes a sentiment I get asked a lot.

Heavy means choosing a weight that, for your given repetitions in a set, you approximate muscle failure.

So let’s break this down a little bit further because most of us are not training to failure or even close to it.

You know you are approximating failure when one or both of the following happen:

  • Your velocity of the reps starts to slow down significantly.
  • The perceived weight starts to exponentially increase.

This is how you should be selecting a weight that is “heavy” and one that is appropriately heavy for you so that it approximates muscle failure.

YOUR TURN!

I’ll be answering your questions every week right here in the Mini Pause! Let me know what’s on your mind. I’ll be checking for both questions and feedback at support@drstephanieestima.com.

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Mini Pause #10: How to Grow Muscles Without Lifting Heavier

Injury Prevention, Part 2

TL,DR (too long, didn’t read)

In last week’s Mini Pause #9, I talked about ways you can maximize muscle growth and simultaneously prevent injury. Today’s issue continues to explore how to maximize muscle growth without lifting heavier.

Full range of motion—defined as your range of motion that is not restricted and is pain-free—is one of the most effective ways to maximize muscle gains and future-proof your body for injury. Other variables like increasing volume (both in rep and set number), as well as decreasing the time in between sets, are other ways to increase the intensity of the exercise without lifting heavy weights.

WHY

In Mini Pause #9, we discussed the similarities between injury prevention and muscle hypertrophy, and, like most things, it turns out I have more to say about it.

In addition to doing a sport-specific warm-up, working the eccentric and the longest point of the muscle there are a few other variables I’d like to discuss that will help you on your muscle-building journey to becoming comfortable with lifting without injury.

We often hear online that women should lift heavy sh*t. I agree. And, I recognize that many women our age grew up on cardio machines and may not have the neuromechanical integrity or muscle memory to do this well without getting injured.

We must think about improving our strength before we work on power [*].

So, here are a few more ways you can think about growing muscle without adding on weight.

Your goal, eventually, is to progress and lift heavier with time. The key word is eventually. There is no rush, and you can take your sweet time learning. Learn the movement pattern the right way the first time and you will enjoy muscle mommy injury-free status.

WHAT

Full ROM

Building on Mini Pause #9’s idea of working the muscle at its weakest point, your range of motion both for the muscle and the joint is an imperative tool for staying in the gym. You want to get all those muscle gains and prevent injury.

Said another way, if you cannot perform the full range of motion as God and your joints intended, you are missing out on a lot of potential muscle gains [*], as well as future-proofing your body for injury.

This isn’t rehab my Bettys; this is even better. It’s prehab—getting the movement patterning right the first time so that you evade injury and grow the muscle in a safe and controlled way.

If you are dealing with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or any other arthritide [*] for that matter, full range of motion to preserve the joints [*] in question is the absolute name of the game.

In treating my patients with rheumatoid arthritis, the weight on the bar was the least important aspect of working out. It was not important at all. My focus was all about answering the question: What range of motion can this person do without restriction and pain? Then, building on range from there.

Whether you’re a beginner in the gym or someone with 10,000 hours clocked, exploring your range of motion can be how you tweak your routine to stimulate muscle growth AND improve capsular and joint integrity.

Let’s explore this with shoulder training.

Photo 1: Dumbbell lateral raise parallel.

If you’re like me and want glute-sized delts, most of your shoulder work should be focused on the side deltoid muscle, because that is what gives presence to the shoulders when looking at them head-on. (Plus, if you’ve set up your programming correctly, your front and rear delts are going to be hit during chest and back days).

What does full range of motion look like for the lateral deltoid? This is going to, in part, depend on the health of your shoulders.

Let’s assume this is a dumbbell lateral raise. If you are dealing with an injury, you might aim to lift them to about parallel. Something like photo 1.

As you nurse the injury, or if lifting to parallel becomes easier and you feel ready to progress, instead of graduating to a higher weight, keep the same weight, but lift it higher than parallel.

In photo 2, my arms are abducting now to greater than 120 degrees. This is incredibly difficult, and in doing this, you may even need to drop the weights to do the motion properly.

You can continue the movement arc to the top. You want to think about the range of motion for the muscle, and not just simply the movement. You lift until you don’t feel your delts anymore, and it’s all upper traps (this will usually happen north of 120 degrees of abduction with the elevation of the arm shifting from primarily the deltoid to the traps).

Photo 2: Dumbbell lateral raise abduction more than 120 degrees.

Volume

Another way you can accelerate injury recovery and muscle growth without lifting heavy weights is through increasing volume [*]. Meaning, either increasing the repetitions per set or increasing the total number of sets performed.

When intensity is equated [*], we see similar gains in both individuals repping out heavy weights for fewer reps or sets compared with lighter weights with more reps and/or sets.

The signal to the muscle is similar [*] when lifting heavy weights vs. lifting lighter but for many more reps. As long as you get close to failure, you’re going to achieve a similar result.

I often do this in week 4 of my cycle. In my book, The Betty Body [*], I talk about reps in the 15- to 30-rep range with lighter weights to accommodate some of the inflammation many women feel around their cycle.

Truth be told, I will also do this when I haven’t slept well or just am not in the mental space to lift heavy.

Rest Time Between Sets

Another way to manipulate the intensity of your workout without adding weights is to decrease the rest time in between your sets. This works well (read: you will feel the burn!) if you are increasing your volume of the reps in the set.

The burn you feel in the muscle toward the end of a set is an accumulation of metabolic debris and stress. We often rest between sets to allow for this debris to clear and for the muscle to be fresh and ready for its next set.

There’s a lot of discussion about the ideal time to rest between sets, but generally, here are a few good indicators:

  • Your heart rate has returned to baseline or near baseline (I use a polar heart rate monitor for this).
  • Any accessory muscles used in the movement also feel good (e.g., the lower back muscles during a squat, the biceps during a pull-up, or the triceps during a chest press).
  • The target muscles themselves feel ready to work again.

This is probably going to fall in the one- to five-minute range depending on the recovery items above. Decreasing your rest time is another way to elevate the intensity [*] of the workout.

HOW & NOW

  • Keep your training program the same—no need to change anything!
  • Drop the weights (and your ego telling you not to try anything new!) and explore your current range of motion with every movement. Your range is going to be defined as the most movement through an arc that is not restricted or is pain-free.
  • Work your current range of motion with lighter weights while dialing up your volume. Increase your reps from anywhere from 15-30 reps. For example, if your current reps are 15, bump it up to 20. You also can add one more set to your current set split. If you’re currently doing three sets, make it four.
  • One more way to ramp up your intensity is to decrease the rest time between sets. To do this, use your phone as a timer and just see what your current rest time is with your workouts this week. You can start by decreasing this time by 30 seconds next week.

Question of the Week

Q: How can women avoid dyslipidemia during menopause?

If you are starting to see your lipid levels start to climb in menopause, there are a few ways to help improve this. First, we can think about the variables we can control and then perhaps the variables we cannot.

VARIABLES YOU CAN CONTROL

In the Mini Pause #6, I discussed the changes we see in body composition in our 40s through menopause. Some of the suggestions I outlined were:

Consider the composition of your calories.

  • In my book, The Betty Body, I detail a female-centric ketogenic diet for women looking to lose weight, and more specifically, lose visceral fat.
  • The ketogenic diet (high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrate) has been shown to improve all measures of body composition including body weight, body mass index, waist circumference, fat mass, fat-free mass, lean body mass, visceral adipose tissue, and body fat percentage

Lift weights with the intention of putting on muscle mass.

  • As we have been discussing, you can lift heavy, or you can lift lighter while controlling the eccentric, increasing the volume of reps and sets, and working the weakest part of the muscle to maximize muscle gain.
  • Work until the muscle is done like dinner.

Exercise snack your way through the day.

  • We are designed to have a lot of low-grade activity throughout the day. If you are someone who sits at a desk for several hours a day, consider investing in an under-desk treadmill and a convertible desktop stand to be able to get some consistent walking through the day. It doesn’t need to be fast: 1.0 to 1.5 mph is plenty!

For improving lipids specifically, I have a few more recommendations that have a good amount of robust literature to support them:

  • Consume phytoestrogenic foods [*]. Once demonized, phytoestrogens are a great choice for peri and postmenopausal women alike. Phytoestrogens can potentially reduce atherosclerosis and atherosclerosis-related diseases through multiple mechanisms like regulating lipid metabolism, lowering cytokine levels, and improving the coagulation/fibrinolysis system.
  • Dose up your Omega 3s. It’s well established that Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, and sensitize the body to insulin [*]. I like a minimum dose of 2g, and I often take experimental doses much higher than this. (Check out BodyBio, my new favorite Omega 3s. Use code DRSTEPHANIE for a discount.)
  • Take antioxidants like dark berries and green leafy vegetables to combat oxidative stress. The highest antioxidant content is found in almonds, artichokes, blackberries, blueberries, cherries (sour), chocolate (yay!), cloves, coffee (double yay!), cranberries, grape juice, cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, pecans, raspberries, spinach, strawberries, and walnuts.

VARIABLES YOU CANNOT CONTROL

For the things you cannot control, this is most obviously going to be the amount of sex hormones you produce as you age. Specifically, estradiol.

During a woman’s fertile life, the average level of total estrogen is 100–250 pg/mL. Estrogens are produced primarily in the ovaries via a process that uses low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) as a substrate. In menopause circulatory LDL-C can no longer be utilized to synthesize estrogen. This is, in part, why menopause is associated with increased blood LDL-C levels and enhanced cardiovascular risk.

Speaking to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy is a great (dare I say necessary) option for regulating lipids in our postmenopausal life.

I can tell you with certainty that when my hormone levels begin to drop, or I am symptomatic, I will be seeking this out in addition to the lifestyle factors I teach and write about.

YOUR TURN!

I’ll be answering your questions every week right here in the Mini Pause! Let me know what’s on your mind. I’ll be checking for both questions and feedback at support@drstephanieestima.com.

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Mini Pause #9: Focus on Muscle Movement Patterns to Avoid Injury

How to Prevent Injury While Lifting Weights

TL,DR (too long, didn’t read)

Injury prevention and muscle hypertrophy science surprisingly have a lot in common. Most of us are leaving the most effective parts of our weightlifting regimen on the table and losing out on potential progress while simultaneously setting ourselves up for injury. Doing sport-specific warm-ups, manipulating the tempo of the exercise, and training the muscle in its most elongated position is a way to maximize muscle growth and prevent injury.

WHY

One of the more contemptuous/common reasons for women shirking away from lifting heavy weights is the fear of injury. Especially women who are new to lifting and are unsure of their form and technique. I agree with this fear insofar as women in perimenopause don’t heal as quickly as they once did. When ligaments and tendons are injured it can take more time than skeletal muscle to heal because of blood flow variations to these tissues.

So, you want to avoid injury AND maximize muscle gains at the same time. And it’s entirely possible.

I want to talk to you today about maximizing muscle hypertrophy and avoiding injury and the commonalities of these two strategies.

WHAT

Before you start lifting any weights at all, think about how you can best direct neural attention to the muscles in question. You want to ask: “What are going to be the best movement patterns to prime the muscles for my weight workout?

Anatomically, nerves and blood vessels travel beside each other through the body, so where (neural) attention goes, energy (blood) flows.

Warm-ups have classically been thought of as five or 10 minutes on the treadmill, which isn’t a bad idea–it just isn’t a great one if you are going to be lifting weights. A good warm-up up is specific to the movement patterns in question.

Muscle-Specific Warm-Up Sets [*]

Let’s say it’s leg day and you’re going to be squatting with weights today. Irrespective of the kind of squat or the machine you might be using, you want to prime the body for the squatting motion.

What better way to prepare your body for squats than… well… with squats?!

Body weight squats, Smith machine squats (with no weight), or back squats with a barbell with no plates on it are EXCELLENT choices for a warm-up if weighted squats are on the menu.

If you’re scheduled for some pull-ups, why not start with assisted pull-ups on a machine?

If you are going to be deadlifting, why not deadlift just the bar?

Make your warm-up sets the same movement you’re planning to do with weights. This is going to reinforce the neuromechanical patterning needed to execute the movement well, and you’re more likely to perform the movement properly with little to no weight.

The other objective of a muscle-specific warm-up set [*] is to get you sweaty and ready to work. So typically I like to perform three or four sets of a warm-up before the weights get serious. I progressively add on a bit of weight each time.

Because these sets are lower in weight, you can execute them with higher repetitions. I like to add a bit of weight to each set to gradually increase the intensity of the exercise. We are not trying to go to failure, simply ramping up the neural stimulus for when you’re ready to lift heavy.

Sample warm-up set for leg day

  • Walking Lunges, bodyweight only: 20 reps per leg
  • Walking Lunges, 10 lbs: 15 reps per leg
  • Walking Lunges, 25 lbs: 12 reps per leg

Sample warm-up set for back day

  • Assisted Pull-Up Machine, 130lbs: 20 reps
  • Assisted Pull-Ups, 70 lbs: 15 reps
  • Assisted Pull-Ups, 45 lbs: 10 reps

(Remember, the assisted pull-up machine is “easier” the heavier the weight, so as the weight gets lighter, the harder it gets.)

The pattern you may already be noticing is to start with little to no weight and rep out as many full range-of-motion reps as you can with excellent form. Each progressive warm-up set gets slightly more difficult. When your warm-up is complete, you should feel warm, slightly dewy (aka you’re sweaty!), and ready to work.

Tempo / Time Under Tension

Another important consideration for injury prevention is that you can replicate the effects of heavier weights by manipulating the tempo of the exercise [*].

Specifically, by elongating the eccentric phase of the movement.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in the gym–whether it’s squats, bicep curls, or shoulder exercises–is the focus on the concentric phase of the movement.

People often just focus on when the muscle is shortening (and even count the rep on the concentric) and short-change themselves on the eccentric phase of the motion [*].

An easy example here is biceps. The concentric is the first part of the movement when the muscles are shortening; the eccentric is when you’re lengthening the muscle back to the starting position.

Now be honest, how many people have you seen only focus on the first part of the curl, only to drop the weight back down and completely ignore the eccentric lowering?

Now be even more honest–does this sound like your form?!

In the spirit of truth and transparency, I always used to do this too!

I made it all about how much weight I could curl or squat or deadlift and who gave a flying fish about lowering it slowly!! I’d slam it on the weight rack to let everyone know I was there, thank you very much. This is known as the ego running the show.

Let’s come back to squats because I know my Bettys like to work on their juicy peaches. The eccentric is the first part of the squat: the descent. The concentric is getting back up. So many of us shortchange ourselves and don’t think about lengthening the time of the eccentric as a way to build muscle [*].

But you can absolutely (and often by necessity have to) use lighter weights when slowing down the weights so you can focus on the eccentric part of the movement. It’s the harder part of the movement because you’re elongating the muscle and at the same time increasing the force production to get the muscle back up again.

For those of you who like to load plate after plate on a bar, or derive a lot of satisfaction from lifting heavy, take note that slowing down the tempo and focusing on the eccentric is going to humble you in some surprising ways.

I actually would cry when I started training this way because I thought “I was not working hard enough.” This was my ego dying a hard and brutal death, friends. To save yourself some gym heartache, lighten up the weight, master the eccentric, and watch your gains go through the roof!

Work the Weakest Point of The Movement

One of the best ways to prevent injury is by training up the weakest point of the movement [*] [*] [*]. It also happens to be the best position to drive muscle growth, which is why full range of motion is so important for both injury prevention and technical skill to grow muscles.

In all cases, this is when the muscle is stretched and at its longest. NO exceptions.

  • Squats: It’s at the bottom of the movement.
  • Lunges: It’s at the bottom of the movement.
  • Pull-Ups: It’s at the bottom of the movement.
  • Chest Press: It’s at the bottom of the movement.
  • Push-ups: It’s at the bottom of the movement.
  • Bicep Curls: It’s at the bottom of the movement.

I hope you are seeing a pattern here! When the muscle is stretched the most, it tends to be the weakest. It’s where the movement sucks the most.

This is why the full range of motion matters. If you’re squatting to 90 degrees of knee flexion, it is ok, but not great at tensioning out the glute as much as if you were dipping below 90 degrees.

And if full range is an issue (maybe there is a foot or ankle mobility issue, or an arthritic condition), then keep the weights light and work on restoring full range of motion. Go see your chiropractor or physio, and for the love of Cleopatra do the mobility exercises they are giving you!

It’s here, in the last few degrees of motion, where you leave so much of your goals on the table. If you could set your ego aside, tempo your workout to focus on the eccentric, and get into the longest position possible–all while using lighter weights–I’m confident in saying that you will make extraordinary progress in your muscle pursuit AND prevent injury.

HOW & NOW

  • Whatever your current program is, keep it. You’re just going to modify the tempo and depth of movement a bit.
  • Add in a warm-up set before you start adding any weights.
  • Shift your attention to the eccentric (lengthening) part of the movements in all your exercises. Slow it down by counting in your head. Start with a four-count descent.
  • Try to execute all your exercises with full range of motion: go all the way down, and then (and only then!) shorten the muscle again to come back up.
  • Compare and contrast the fatigue and pump you generate by simply priming the nervous system, changing the tempo, and working the weakest point of the muscle.

Question of the Week

Q. What is your approach now to IF (intermittent fasting)?

I’ve modified my stance on fasting somewhat over the past few years. I still think it’s a good tool for caloric restriction, weight loss, and overall health.

I typically fast for about 10 to 12 hours a day, with the bulk of that being sleep (I sleep for nine hours of that).

WHAT DO WE KNOW FOR SURE?

What I take issue with is how it has been perversely distorted as the ONLY tool that can help women, and how women are punishing themselves with this tool. It seems to be masquerading as a socially acceptable eating disorder.

Online influencers like to talk about autophagy as a hallmark of fasting, with autophagy of course being just the equivalent of your roomba vacuuming up cellular junk in the body. The problem with this is we have no real way of measuring autophagy.

Does 16 hours of fasting raise autophagy levels more than a 12-hour fast? If so, by how much? We have no idea, and anyone who tells you 16 hours is better than 12 is straight-up lying.

They have no idea of how to quantify “better” because we cannot measure it. And let’s pretend we could measure autophagy–is more always better? When do we move from beneficial to harmful? And how does this apply to women?

WHAT’S THE END GOAL?

What I know with certainty is that women feel like they must do more, more, more. Which coincidentally and ironically comes from a place of less. Does fasting for 24 hours make sense for most women?

I think a lot about the pressures on women and it’s always: Get thinner! Be Younger! Do More with Less!

I wonder if fasting culture is just a version of that. A wolf, disguised as a health influencer, hiding in sheep’s clothing. Telling you IF is the tincture to solve your problems, and in the end, you do lose: your period, your hair, and the joy that comes from eating food with others.

Women don’t eat enough as it is. I have seen way too many women fast for 16 hours only to complain about belly weight that won’t budge, weight loss that won’t happen, losing their hair, and yet still terrified of calories.

My current approach includes eating when I wake up. I front load the majority of my calories so that I’m finished eating by about 5 pm. The only “rule” I try to follow is I try to stop eating 3 hours before bedtime so it doesn’t affect my sleep.

If I am paying attention, this usually means I’m eating for about 12 hours. When I’m in my luteal phase, I eat for more like 14 hours, fasting for 10. But I’ve stopped paying attention to it. I just kind of naturally fall into this rhythm of eating.

IS IT THE BEST TOOL?

Fasting is one of many tools, and like many tools, it can be taken to the extreme and become a distress. So I like it, but put an asterisk on it. Not everyone should be fasting, especially if it feels overly restrictive and you hate it.

Patients with obesity and other chronic diseases can tolerate longer fasts with good results but most women with a normal BMI should not be engaging in any kind of 24-hour+ fasting practices. Especially if you want to build muscle.

YOUR TURN!

I’ll be answering your questions every week right here in the Mini Pause! Let me know what’s on your mind. I’ll be checking for both questions and feedback at support@drstephanieestima.com.

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