Jason Tremblayby Derek Dolgner on August 6, 2014
DEREK: I have the pleasure of interviewing one of the bright young minds in the industry, Jason Tremblay.
Thank you Jason for your time. Can you start off by giving our readers some more background information about yourself, what you are passionate about, and what you are working on currently in your field of study?
JASON: I would like to thank you and John Meadows for the opportunity to share my perspectives and insights on training periodization and program design with your readers. I am a Kinesiology Student, Writer, Coach, and President for The Strength Guys – an organization that specializes in training periodization and programming for a wide variety of sports, including bodybuilding.
DEREK: Excellent! It sounds like you have a great back round working with a variety of different athletes. For this interview lets focus on what most of our readers are interested in, bodybuilding! How do you begin to structure the periodization for an athletes training program whose mind is usually set to destroy their bodies daily?
JASON: Immediately what came to mind when you asked this question was the “stimulate don’t annihilate” mantra put forth by Lee Haney – I don’t think that this is necessarily the smartest way to go about program design. The reason being traces back to Henneman’s Size Principle, with the gist of it being that motor unit activation is dependent on the demands of the task. From here it was wrongly interpreted that only heavier weights could achieve the activation of the full spectrum of motor units. This notion discounts the role of fatigue, as noted in a recent review on the topic by Ogborn & Schoenfeld (2014).
When setting up a periodization plan for a bodybuilder we will designate weeks and months of training to lower volume for fatigue management, and weeks and months of training to higher volume to create a more sizable training stimulus. Ultimately I think that nothing will trump being able to train with consistency over a long period of time – so this is the basis of our training plan; we want to accelerate results as much as possible while avoiding burnout.
With higher volumes and training to failure being more highly associated with overreaching and burnout (reference), it then becomes paramount that we manage more exhaustive phases of training properly so that we can obtain their benefits while minimizing their risks. This can be done by segregating a four week program into an “intro, build, attack, recover” layout, with volume and intensity rising from weeks 1-3, and tapering back down in week 4; or it can be done by implementing entire training phases of lower volume and intensity training with phases full of intensity techniques, high volumes, and training to failure implemented in a varied manner.
The gist of my point is that there is room for the “annihilate” mentality, as there is plenty of evidence to support the notion of training to failure and training with higher volumes (reference). The most important thing is that we manage these periods with consistency in mind.
DEREK: I’m glad to see you stress the importance of consistency. As we all know to develop a physique to its greatest potential takes years and often times decades of consistent hard work.
I have been doing the MountainDog Training programs for two years now and John prefers to ramp up intensity for the first 3-4 days during the week and then finish the week with what he refers to as pumping days. This extra volume is performed with less overall intensity and stress on the nervous system and joints. The underlying principle being that every time you train hard, you create an anabolic opportunity for the muscles providing your nutrition is in order.
I personally have had great success with this programming along with many other mountaindog athletes and I am curious if you have ever experimented with periodization within the training week? What were your thoughts on it and how did you tailor the programming to make it your own?
JASON: What you have described sounds akin to a specific form of Daily Undulating Periodization. Hypertrophy appears to be most highly correlated with overall training volume, and is predicated on the activation of a full spectrum of motor units for a sufficient duration of time (Loenneke, 2012; Wernbom, 2007). Therefore it becomes important to vary the intensity ranges when looking to optimize development. By alternating through lower rep-heavier weight training sessions and higher rep-lower weight training sessions with the goal of fatigue byproduct accumulation; this would hypothetically allow for the full spectrum of motor units to be activated – and more volume achieved.
DEREK: Being that overall training volume appears to be highly correlated with hypertrophy how do you approach training frequency? The more frequent you train the more frequently you will stimulate protein synthesis in that area, which is a variable that likely needs to be increased as training age increases. Do you ever program multiple training sessions in a day and if so how long would this training period last? How often do you feel a body part can be stimulated a week before it is overkill? And if an athlete is recovering well will you increase the number of training days or possible eliminate rest days, or do you feel rest days are essential to continued improvement?
JASON: It depends on the level of the athlete. For someone that is starting off, it would be highly unnecessary to place them on a program with 6 or more training sessions per week. While yes, they would likely see faster gains initially – the risk of burnout in this situation is significantly higher when an athlete is not acclimated to higher training volumes. Therefore I view frequency and training volume as progressive. We look at it in terms of adding volume and frequency over the course of years as the work capacity of the athlete develops. For an elite level athlete, I would consider twice per day training sessions. For beginners and intermediates, I think that it is an unnecessary measure to take because they could progress well with significantly less volume, frequency, and risk of burnout or overuse.
DEREK: I think these are great things to keep in mind as a bodybuilder. It is important to have periodization in place to prevent burnout and that training should be progressive overtime.
However, in the sport of bodybuilding the athletes seem to constantly be pushing the limits especially with the additional motivation during contest prep and a show quickly approaching. What specific strategies do you employ during this time to help peak the athlete for the stage and maintain the hard earned muscle and strength they have gained through the offseason while in a calorie deficit?
JASON: Hypertrophy in a deficit can certainly occur under the right circumstances. Demling & DeSanti (2000) and Donnelly et al. (1993) both proved this to be true with overweight individuals who lacked training experience. However, when it comes to leaner and more experienced athletes, Forbes’s Law (Forbes, 2000) and Helms et al. (2013) illustrate that we should be most concerned with maintaining and minimizing losses in muscle mass. All of this is said with the natural bodybuilding in mind. The bodybuilder who is supplementing on endogenous hormones will likely be able to overcome a hypocaloric situation and continue making gains in muscle hypertrophy during the dieting process.
Training increases the rate of protein turnover (Biolo, 1995). In severe energy restricted conditions it would be reasonable to believe that excessive training volumes would tip the balance in favor of more proteins being broken down than proteins being synthesized, mainly due to a lack of energy intake. This is why for contest prep athletes there appears to be a sweet spot for training volume as hypothesized by Helms et al. (2014) in his review on the topic.
My recommendation is to therefore keep frequency at 2-3 times per week, slightly decrease volume as energy intakes become more and more restricted, and to train with the aim of maintaining strength. For this reason I would not recommend that those in contest prep turn to modalities such as slow tempo training or more long term high rep training for the purpose of doing so (González-Badillo, 2014; Beardsley, 2014). Although the high energy demand associated with muscular endurance training may be of benefit for one or two training phases during the course of a prep.
To summarize my thoughts on contest prep periodization, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Focus on minimizing strength loss, keeping your intensity ranges varied, and decreasing volume slightly and gradually as energy restriction becomes more and more severe.
DEREK: Since volume is decreasing when energy intake is being restricted do you leave the majority of fat lose to be accounted for through diet and cardio? Do any other variables change such as rest time?
JASON: It is common knowledge that when energy expenditure > energy intake, weight loss occurs. The magnitude of the weight loss occurring is the sum of energy expenditure and energy intake – so larger deficits will create more of a loss and smaller deficits will create less of a loss. This is the basic principle of dieting and leads me into my answer to your question – it depends on the situation that the athlete is in. If a bodybuilder is going through a 26-32 week prep – which is my personal preference, and has plenty of time to lose lets say 20 lbs to get into stage shape, perhaps training plays a larger role in creating the small deficit. If a bodybuilder is in a crunch for time, both training and nutritional means must be stepped up to the necessary amount in order to bring them in at their best.
Rest times can change depending on the training phase. With our athletes, we will dedicate 30 seconds-1 minute of rest to muscular endurance training, 1-2 minutes of rest for hypertrophy, 2-3 minutes for strength and 3-5 minutes for power training. We don’t tweak these guidelines in any special way in comparison to offseason training.
DEREK: Wow..26-32 weeks is a long time to prep for a show! This will definitely give you all the time needed to come in at your best. During this time are there any differences you make between males and females when it comes to periodization during a contest prep phase? Do differences in the class the athlete compete in make a difference when designing the program?
JASON: It is a long time indeed, but I think that natural competitors need that much time to be ready. This lengthy general time-frame for natural contest preps was brought to my attention through the work and writings of Coach Eric Helms of 3DMJ.
Aside from gender-specific differences in training, we do not periodize female and male contest preps differently. All athletes will be put through a variety of intensity ranges with the goal of maintaining strength and muscle mass. An example of the gender-specific differences that I cited earlier would be eccentric hamstring strength. This is something that for some reason, many females struggle with and so we will incorporate more eccentric related exercises into their programming as a means for injury prevention.
DEREK: Jason, on behalf of our readers I want to thank you again for your time and the knowledge you have shared with us during this interview. Are there any finishing words you would like to include? For the readers interested where is the best place to follow or reach you?
JASON: In conclusion I’d just like to say that it has been a privilege doing this interview for the Mountain Dog site. John is an innovator and that’s what I respect about his approach. My hope is that the information we’ve discussed above will serve to stimulate new discussion and new thoughts on the periodization of bodybuilding so that we can move the program design aspect of the sport forward.
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