Exercise Physiology, Body Building and Lessons Learnt
Before I began my studies in Clinical Exercise Physiology I was twenty four years old and had been training with weights for around seven years. Despite having no formal education in the matter, I felt as though I had a reasonable understanding of my body and how to train it. I was making progress with both the weights I was lifting and my physique, but I couldn’t escape the fact that I seemed to be perpetually getting injured.
Following a full labral repair on my left shoulder it was recommended to me that I see an exercise physiologist for rehabilitation. After a few short sessions with my shoulder improving in leaps and bounds, I decided that this was a field that I wanted to be a part of. Before that point I didn’t even know exercise physiology existed as a profession, and probably would have asked the same question I hear every day now, “Is that like a physiotherapist”? If you’re wondering what the general differences are, physiotherapists are trained as diagnosticians and in the acute treatment of injuries and their symptoms. Exercise physiologists are trained in the treatment of acute or chronic disease and pathology through exercise. They are also able to educate patients on home exercise and lifestyle changes that will improve their health outcomes.
In 2012, after my second year of hard (injury-free) training, I started to seriously consider competing in a natural bodybuilding show. I definitely enjoyed training, but dieting, not so much. In the first two years of post-surgery training, I dropped from 118kg to 107kg, while observing increases in strength and muscle mass. I initially experimented with a six day training split separating legs, chest, shoulders, back, arms, core/calves, with very little cardiovascular training.
At the time I was studying full time and working a physical job for 30 hours a week, so I didn’t prioritize cardio in my training regimen to begin with. During this initial period I adjusted my diet to more of a whole foods approach, with very little portion control. I found this was effective enough with my increased level of exercise and satiation from the foods I was consuming. After making the decision to compete, I reassessed my training and consulted a dietitian about a competition plan.
Through some experimentation and consideration of the available data, I elected to halve the sessional volume for each muscle group, and combine two sessions into each workout. To accommodate for the halving in volume per muscle group, the frequency of specific training sessions was doubled, meaning each workout was completed twice a week. The reason being that an increased frequency in hypertrophic stimulus should convert to more muscle growth, even if the strength of stimulus is slightly lower in intensity.
In the month leading up to the competition, training sessions remained similar in focus, while high intensity cardio consisting of wingate sprints was introduced three times a week to aid in the final stages of fat loss. When competition time came around I was feeling excessively drained. The intense training, low calorie diet and water cutting really took it out of me. I jumped on stage that day and won my two divisions. The mens tall class novice, and mens tall class open divisions.
Competing for me was a positive experience on the whole, but I certainly have ideas of how I will do things differently next time. Coming in leaner to competition season, concentrating more on posing work, and having a healthier mental preparation without large cuts in dietary water, would leave me happier and in a better overall state to compete in the future.
Throughout the process of training and prepping, I was always thinking of ways I could integrate my physiology knowledge and learning resources to my training, and ways in which my training could grant me a practical perspective to the content I was studying. Now two years later, at the end of my studies, I see that what I gained from this degree was not every piece of knowledge I would need to be a flawless practitioner or competitive bodybuilder, but skills. It equipped me with the knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics, but more importantly it taught me how to apply this knowledge to situations that were not covered in the degree. The field is too broad to cover every injury, pathology or presentation in detail, so instead the aim is to provide the required baseline knowledge and give you the skills to research, extrapolate and learn for yourself.
Before starting the degree I believed myself to have a reasonable working knowledge of exercise selection, muscles activated, load and volume management and generally good form. Now at the end of my degree I see that I was mostly correct, but I only knew the how, I didn’t know the why. Knowing how to do something is well and good if everything is working perfectly, but if you don’t understand the why, you’ll never be able to work around problems that you encounter along the way.
Whether it is an office worker with shoulder impingement, a young child with muscular dystrophy, or a fast bowler who needs to put 5km/h on his bowling pace, you need to understand why a system works the way it does in order to change it for the better.
By Ben Stavar, QUT Exercise Physiology prac student with Exercise Physiology Brisbane