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Light training before you start serious training is anti-catabolic

Japanese and Australian sports scientists have discovered a training method that protects the muscles against the damaging effects of heavy training sessions. They have written about it in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. By doing a very, very light training two days before an intensive training, you will have less muscle damage after the heavy training.

The researchers experimented with inexperienced students and got them to train their biceps using dumbbells. The students used a weight that was forty percent of their maximal weight. This varied from 8 to 13 kg. The students did 6 sets of 5 reps and they trained eccentrically. Each downwards movement took 4 seconds.

Light training before you start serious training is anti-catabolic
Eccentric training of this intensity for people who have never touched a dumbbell results in muscle pain and considerable muscle damage. Recovery takes two weeks.

Another group of students did exactly the same, but two days before the training they did an identical session with dumbbells a tenth of the maximal weight. The load/stress is so mild that the session cannot cause muscle damage. [The 10-40 group.]

After the serious training, the researchers measured how long it took for the students to get their maximal strength back again. The figure below shows this it should be clear which line represents which group.

Light training before you start serious training is anti-catabolic

Muscle pain and swelling in your biceps after an intensive training means it's more difficult to stretch your arms. The students that had done the light training session before the heavy one recovered their ability to stretch the arm more quickly.

An important indicator of muscle damage is the concentration of the enzyme creatine kinase. Below you can see how the concentration of this enzyme developed in the two different groups.

Light training before you start serious training is anti-catabolic

A similar curve emerged when the researchers asked their test subjects to estimate the amount of muscle pain they had each day. The ones who had done a light training first had half the amount of muscle pain compared with the test subjects in the other group.

Light training before you start serious training is anti-catabolic

The researchers have dug up a couple of theories from the literature which might explain the quicker recovery of the 10-40 group. One theory is that the light training causes the muscle cells to produce protective proteins that help the muscle cells to recover more rapidly after the heavy training.

Another theory is more specific, and claims that the light training causes an increase of the production of the enzyme haem-oxygenase-1 in the muscle cells. This enzyme protects the cell against free radicals that arise during serious exertion. [Erm... Isn't the gene for HO-1 also upregulated by curcumin?]

However the mechanism works, the principle of doing a light but anti-catabolic pre-training is really interesting for those who do strength sports. Not only because it can protect them against muscle pain, but also because it might be a way of accelerating their muscle build-up.

J Sci Med Sport. 2008 Jun;11(3):291-8.

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