Viðtal við Christian Thibaudeau

Eftir að hafa átt nokkur samtöl á samfélagsmiðlum við Christian Thibaudeau samþykkti hann að svara nokkrum spurningum sem ég ætla birta hér að neðan. Christian er einn af þeim sem eg hef fylgst mikið með, þekking hans og reynsla á þjálfun og öllu sem henni tengist er gríðarleg og er á heimsmælikvarða. Hér að neðan birti ég viðtalið í heild sinni þar sem hann fer yfir víðann völl og virkilega áhugavert að lesa.

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (official center of the St. Louis Blues).

His specialty: being a generalist. He assists his athletes to develop the necessary qualities to increase their performances (eg: muscle mass, power, explosiveness, coordination). His work method enabled him to lead several successful athletes in a multitude of different disciplines.

Christian is a prolific writer with three books published, each of which translated into three languages (The Black Book of Training Secrets, Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods, High Threshold Muscle Building). In addition, Christian is co-author with Paul Carter in a book, which will soon be released. He is also the author of two DVDs (Cluster Training, Mechanical Drop Sets).

Christian is also a senior author and head writer for the E-Magazine T-Nation his articles are read by over 200,000 people every week.

He competed in weightlifting at the national level as well as bodybuilding, He was also a football coach for 8 years.

As a lecturer, he has given conferences and seminars in both the United States and Europe, to audiences ranging from amateur athletes to health professionals and coaches of all types.

Dear Christian, thank you for giving us your time, how are you doing?

I’m decent thank you. Super busy obviously. Between training pro athletes, Olympians, regular Joe online clients, traveling around the world to give seminars, writing 2-3 articles per week, taking care of my son and doing my own training, I don’t have as much time as I’d like to watch Netflix!

First we want to ask you who are your biggest role models or inspirations in training / strength training and could you tell us why they have inspired you?

Inspire is a big word. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela are inspiring. I don’t see anybody in strength training as being inspiring.

However, many people have influenced me over the years.

Charles Poliquin being the obvious first one. When I started out in this field my main goal was simply to Charles to eventually know who I was. I got that done, even though at first, he hated me! Then my goal was for Charles to respect my work, which he eventually did. Finally, it was for Charles to consider me a friend. Which he also eventually did. Asking me for help many times.

Charles was a pioneer. He was the first “popular” strength coach. He was also the first one to bring a more scientific view of weight training to the general training population. Nowadays we have tons of coaches who are more advanced scientifically than he was. And it turns out that he wasn’t right on everything. But he is in large part responsible for the advancement of the strength training field.

As far as my own training approach is concerned. I was influenced by Jean-Pierre Egger the most. Egger worked primarily with track and field athletes, including his most famous pupil, shot putter Werner Gunthor.

You can see his training here:

It’s in French, but the visuals speak for themselves.

I started to focus on maximizing strength in all contraction types: eccentric, isometric, concentric, plyometric after reading Egger’s work. And it’s the approach I still use with athletes today.

The main difference with Egger is that with athletes I focus on the eccentric, isometric and concentric strength on different days whereas Egger use them all on the same day.

I find that too much variation in methods or exercises in a workout creates a neurological demand that is too high for most athletes and often leads to what we call neurological fatigue. Which is simply a downregulation/desensitization of your beta-adrenergic receptors due to too much adrenaline production, which itself comes from producing too much cortisol.

Simply put, if you produce a lot of cortisol you increase the conversion of noradrenaline into adrenaline. More cortisol means more adrenaline. Great to perform in that workout but overtime it can desensitize your beta-adrenergic receptors and you start to respond less and less to adrenaline. And when that happens energy, motivation, strength, power, coordination they all go down.

Here are some examples of how I train the eccentric, isometric and plyometric actions with athletes.

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The work of Anthony Ditillo also had an impact on my methods, especially when it comes to sticking to low repetitions/heavy weights even when the goal is to gain size.

You distinguish between strength training for men and women, and we wanted to ask you about the main reasons for that?

Well I’ll be honest I see less and less need for different approaches. 10 years ago there was a pretty big difference in how you should train men and women.

The main reason was that women used to be a lot less involved in sports when they were kids. They were a lot less physical active too. Because of that their neurological efficiency was lower.

Someone with a lower neurological efficiency will be able to get a lot more reps with a certain percentage of their 1RM and will also be able to do much more overall volume without risking fatigue.

The main reason is that when you are less neurologically efficient, you are not as good at recruiting the big, fast-twitch fibers and make them produce a high firing rate.

Someone who is extremely efficient neurologically might only be able to get 5 reps with 80% of their 1RM because they will recruit their fast twitch fibers sooner in the set. Someone who is less efficient will be able to get 8-10 reps at 80%.

Of course, another reason for that is when you are neurologically efficient, you are very good at maximal efforts (heavy lifting) and your 1RM will be much higher.

Anyway, back then I recommend that women use an average of 2-3 more reps per set than men for the same goal. When a man did 3-5 reps I would have women do 5-8 reps for example.

But this isn’t really true anymore. Women are now just as physically active as men during the childhood. And their starting neurological efficiency is pretty much equivalent now.

I find that women also recover faster than men. It might be hormonal or neurological. But it’s something I still see today. Women tend to get bored more than men if they have to rest for 4-5 minutes between sets. They can maintain performance with shorter rest intervals then men. So, I normally use less time between sets than with men.

As far as training parameters go, I would say that the main differences I see now is a slightly higher tolerance for volume in women and less needs for long rest intervals.

There is also the issue of exercise selection.

A woman and man training strictly to look better will require different exercises because they need to emphasize different body parts to achieve the look they want. Women for example will normally want to emphasize her glutes more. She might not want huge quads or a big chest. She will want toned and defined arms, but not big ones.

And from a performance standpoint, many women will need more unilateral lower work than men because they tend to have less knee stability and a higher risk of injury there. That’s in part due to their structure (wider hips leading to more pronounced “inward” quadriceps angle) leading to a dominant vastus lateralis and weaker vastus medialis. This is not generalized to all women, but it’s truer than not.

I find that if a woman needs to be strong in the upper body she will need more assistance work then men. For the lower body they need the same amount as men.

At an equal level of muscle mass, a woman’s lower body will be as strong as a man’s. But even with the same amount of muscle mass, a woman’s upper body tends to be around 70% of a man’s.

Then we could get into the menstrual cycle and how it affects strength, coordination and stability. There are some days during her cycle where a woman can do a lot of heavy, explosive or high coordination lifting and training, and others where she will be more at risk if she does it.

The differences are not major. And a woman can still get great results if you train her the same way as a man. But the minor adjustments can make a difference in the long run, especially on motivation and reducing the risk of injuries.

In your opinion, what are the best ways to burn excess fat and maintain / increase muscle mass?

That question could be a book… or two!

When it comes to losing fat, diet is the key. I think that it’s a mistake to use the weight training session to be a fat burning tool. The weight training program should be designed to maintain/increase strength and muscle mass while dieting down. I’ve had people gain 10-15% of strength in 12 weeks, while losing 10-12kg of fat because we kept on training for strength.

As for diet, in my experience you need two things when trying to lose fat: a high protein intake (up to 2.75g per kg of body weight) and a caloric deficit. I prefer to use a lower carbs approach but as long as the first two conditions are met, you will lose fat.

The way I program a diet during a fat loss phase is quite unconventional. I add carbs gradually.

For example:

Phase 1 (4 weeks) will use a keto diet with a very small caloric deficit, it can even be a maintenance level caloric intake

Phase 2 (4 weeks) we add some carbs (around 25-40g) post-workout, and we remove some fats to make the deficit a bit bigger than in phase 1

Phase 3 (4 weeks): we add some more carbs in the evening (another 25-40g) in the evening. We now have carbs post-workout and in the evening. But we reduce fat again to make for a larger deficit.

If we do a phase 4, we go back to a low carbs diet for most days. But with a large deficit. But Wednesday and Saturday we have a carb-up day with around 150-200g of carbs.

As for gaining muscle mass my approach is to get gradually stronger in the 6-10 reps range, hitting a muscle 2-3 times per week. And when you cannot add weight for the prescribed number of reps, you change exercise. It’s more complex than that, but this is the general approach I use with clients. I will of course vary the volume, frequency and exercise selection depending on the person.

Is progression overload the best way to increase strength and fat burning and if so,why?

Yes and no!

If you want to get stronger, you have to gradually lift heavier weights. That’s obvious. In a sense, progressive overload is the best way to get stronger.

But a better question would be: is linear (trying to add weight every time you can) progressive overload the best method to gain strength.

In that regard I’d say no.

Strictly from a practical standpoint it doesn’t work.

Adding even a small 2kg to the bar every week is impossible to do for a long time.

It would mean a 100kg increase on your lifts every year. That alone is impossible, unless for a total beginner or someone who starts using steroids, and even then it is rare.

But try to do that for 2 years, 3 years… We would all squat 500kg in 3-4 years!

So linear progressive overload doesn’t work. Even if you try to add 2kg every 2 weeks, every 3 weeks, eventually you will hit the wall.

And when you hit that wall, continuing to push harder and harder to blast through will only need to more and more cortisol, more and more adrenaline and eventually neurological fatigue. Then you regress.

It’s much better to use blocks of training.

You have certain periods where you are preparing the body for the next phase of heavy lifting:

*Strengthen tendons and make them thicker
*Improve technical mastery
*Develop muscle mass
*Improve stability and rigidity

Then you do a block to develop strength as much as you can. The more effective you were in the previous phase, the more strength development you will be able to achieve.

And finally, you do a block to improve your capacity to demonstrate strength in a maximal effort (or with an athlete, to demonstrate strength explosively).

The stronger you are the shorter, but more intense, the strength development and strength demonstration blocks will be. Because when you are stronger you need more stimulus to get even stronger (for a beginner it’s easy to add 20kg to a lift. For someone who is already squatting 270kg even 5-10kg will be difficult). But a stronger stimulus cannot be sustained for a long time.

What are those stronger stimuli?

*Eccentric overloads with weight releasers, lowering 10-30% more than your lifting maximum, for sets of 1-5 reps.

*Isometric overloads with the weight releasers where you hold the key position for 4-6 seconds with 10-30% more than your concentric max for 1-5 reps.

Both of these were illustrated in the videos I included above.

*Doing 5-7 reps with a weight you would normally do for 3 reps. This is done via a cluster method. In a set, you rest 15-60 seconds between reps (there are three types of clusters, Poliquin used 15-20 sec of rest, weightlifting coach Carl Miller used either 30-45 seconds with 88-90% for 5-7 reps or 45-60 seconds with 92-95% for 2-3 reps).

*Performing accentuation work: accentuation is essentially partial range of motion lifting. This allows you to use a lot more weight than you would on the full range of motion exercise. Of course, this leads to strength gains mostly in the trained position. But it also desensitizes the Golgi Tendon Organs. When you do that, you will decrease the protective mechanisms preventing you from using 80-90% of your strength potential. The result is that you get stronger.

Here’s an example of a bobsleigh athlete I’m training doing 340kg x 4 (there is a pair of 45kg plates) at a body weight of 87kg.

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You can get the same thing done by adding chains or bands to a loaded barbell.

These are just examples, but you get the idea.

Basically, more advanced athletes need to push really hard for 4-6 weeks then lower the intensity to recover and work on tendons, technique (which can become worse when you always focus on maximal lifting) and build muscle to prepare you for your next block of maximal lifting.

It’s still progressive overload but compressed periods of progressive overload.

Can you share with us the best nutritional advice you have for people who are starting a new lifestyle?

Eat real food.

Whether you are using a keto, carnivore, vegan, paleo, vegan-keto diet, the key is eating real food.

What I mean by real food is food that is the least transformed possible.

Basically, was this food available in that form 500 years ago?

The most “natural” and least “transformed” foods you eat, there better you will feel, perform and look.

You asked me about Atlas/Húsafell stones and I am curious about where you heard about them?

I’ve always been a fan of strength in general and the strongman sport in particular. I did compete in strongman when I was younger. But at 175cm and small hands and structure I wasn’t built for that sport. So, I stuck with weightlifting. Stone lifting was one of the coolest parts of the old strongmen competitions. Yes, there are the Atlas stones, which are in every competition. But in the World Strongest Man contests from the 80s and 90s they also had heavy stone lifting from the floor to overhead. And the Husafell stone was one of them.

What I liked about those events is that you can compare strongmen from various eras. Stone lifting and throwing is a tradition that is 2000 years old, maybe more. I find it cool to be able to compare today’s strongmen to the legends.

I’m also a history buff. History was my minor in college, and I love it as much as I do training. I love reading about the history of strength. And stone lifting is a huge part of that history. Especially in Celtic and Scandinavian countries.

Finally, I’m friend with the two strongest men in Canada: Jean-Francois Caron (4th at WSM) and Jimmy Paquet. I even helped them with their training. And these guys also love to talk history of strength. In fact both were on a Canadian TV show where they attempted old-school feats of strength from the 1700 and 1800.

There is an increase in diagnosis of diabetes 2. What do you believe are the main reasons for this?

I see two main causes: the increase in obesity and overeating foods that will jack up blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes is mostly because your cells stop responding to insulin either completely, or to the point where your body cannot produce enough insulin to get the job done. It is essentially extreme insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance means that your cells don’t respond well to insulin. You thus need to produce more of it to get the job done.

While there are a lot of factors that can lead to insulin resistance, the two main ones are chronic insulin elevation and having the energy stores filled up.

If you always produce a ton of insulin your cells can become less sensitive to this hormone. And you will need more and more to activate the cells and allow insulin to perform its function.

What will lead to excessive insulin production? Eating too much too often. Especially foods that increase blood sugar levels.

And the second factor is having the energy reserves (muscles, liver, fat cells) topped off. When you eat a meal, blood glucose level and/or blood fatty acids levels will increase. The body releases insulin to clear the blood of these nutrients. But if the energy stores are full you can’t send the nutrients anywhere. The body reacts by releasing even more insulin to try to force the body to store those nutrients. Eventually that can lead to the creation of the new fat cells.

What can cause these energy reserves to be full? How about eating too much?

As you can see, overeating can easily lead to insulin resistance. That’s why there is a higher occurrence of type 2 diabetes in obese individuals. (Colditz GA, Willett WC, Rotnitzky A, Manson JE. Weight gain as a risk factor for clinical diabetes mellitus in women. Ann Intern Med. 1995;122(7):481–486.

Wannamethee SG, Shaper AG, Walker M. Overweight and obesity and weight change in middle aged men: impact on cardiovascular disease and diabetes. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2005;59(2):134–139.

Fujimoto WY, Jablonski KA, Bray GA, et al. Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Body size and shape changes and the risk of diabetes in the diabetes prevention program. Diabetes. 2007;56(6):1680–1685.)

What is your opinion on the keto diet?

It is my opinion that keto dieting is a solid dietary intervention for 75-80% of the population. The carnivore version, for around 50-60% of the population.

When I say “intervention” I mean that it is best used for a short to moderate period of time. (4-12 weeks depending on the person). And it can be repeated intermittently. That’s the best use of a ketogenic diet in my opinion.

To quote my friend and student Tara Garrison: use a keto in and out approach.

Let me explain myself.

Ketogenic dieting has several benefits, and some drawbacks.

Some people will be more prone to these drawbacks while others will not get them (depending on genetics). For example, Scandinavian people, especially those with a higher proportion of the original Viking blood, will not get much drawbacks from keto or carnivore dieting. Genetically they are built for it. But that is not true for everybody. Asians, for example, will get quicker negative impacts from a keto diet.

Let’s look at the benefits of a keto diet.

1. It will increase dopamine levels: dopamine is the pleasure neurotransmitter. It also plays a big role in motivation, drive and resilience. A diet higher in protein/fats and low in carbohydrates will increase the production of dopamine by favoring the absorption of tyrosine over tryptophan. For that reason, it was also gradually lead to lower serotonin levels (which is a negative effect). By increasing dopamine you can feel better and be more energetic and motivated.

2. It increases adrenaline levels: this can be seen as both a good thing or a bad thing depending on how your body deals with adrenaline and on your daily stress levels. Adrenaline is made from noradrenaline, which is itself made from dopamine. A keto diet will increase adrenaline via two mechanisms: 1) by increasing dopamine. More dopamine (especially if dopamine is high compared to serotonin) will lead to more noradrenaline. The body will convert what it perceives as dopamine excess into noradrenaline.

When you release cortisol you will then convert noradrenaline into adrenaline. That’s the second pathway by which a keto diet can increase adrenaline: 2) when your blood sugar gets low, you increase cortisol production to mobilize stored glycogen to bring blood sugar back up to normal levels. More cortisol means more adrenaline.

That increase in adrenaline will, of course, give you more energy, mental clarity and awareness. It is also the main reason why a lot of people are less hungry when they go keto. Adrenaline blunts hunger.

As I explained, a high level of adrenaline can be a good or bad thing. I will cover the “bad” aspect in the drawbacks of a keto diet in a moment.

3. It decreases glutamate levels: glutamate is another neurotransmitter (like dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, serotonin) which plays a role in memory. It is also an emotional amplifier. The more glutamate you have, the more important your emotions will become. Feeling good becomes feeling absolutely amazing; feeling bad becomes feeling like total shit and depressed. Excess glutamate leads to huge mood swings and even depression and anxiety. Furthermore, excess glutamate is neurotoxic and can lead to neurological disorders like depress, bipolar disorders and might even be implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.

Glutamate can be converted into GABA (a neurotransmitter too, it helps calm the brain down and reduce anxiety) by the glutamate (or glutamic acid) decarboxylase enzyme.

Here is the interesting thing: ketones increase the activity of the glutamate decarboxylase enzyme. Lead to an increase in the conversion of glutamate into GABA. Preventing excess glutamate. This will lead to a more even mood and less anxiety.

It is also worth noting that elevated blood sugar levels lead to a higher glutamate production in the brain (which is one of the reasons why sugar can be addictive. The glutamate amplifies the pleasure response). A keto diet thus decreases glutamate levels both directly and through and increase in the conversion into GABA.

4. It increases GABA levels: this is because ketones increase the conversion of glutamate into GABA.GABA is the neurotransmitter than turns the ‘off” switch in your brain. It allows you to get into that rest and recover mode and plays a huge role in your sleeping patterns. The man reason that some people report better sleep and less anxiety when they first get on a keto diet, is the increase in GABA levels.

5. It increases acetylcholine levels: acetylcholine is the most important neurotransmitter in memory and also on the speed at which you brain can retrieve stored information (memory recall). It plays a big role in motor learning and coordination. And is the key neurotransmitter in creativity. It also helps make every other neurotransmitter system more effective. Acetylcholine is made from choline. Choline-rich foods will thus help increase acetylcholine. Most choline-rich foods are animal in nature. Liver, beef and eggs being among the best ones. Of course, these foods are not limited to a keto/carnivore diet, but you can’t do these diets without a large amount of animal food and thus you will get a high choline intake.

6. It increases AMPK and decrease mTOR: AMPK and mTOR are enzymes that have a role in cellular development and function. AMPK is great for health purposes. It has anti-aging effects and also helps you get leaner, among other things. mTOR speeds up cellular development. On the good side, it helps with muscle growth. On the other end, it speeds up aging and if you have cancerous cells, it will speed up their development too. A keto diet (and intermittent fasting) are great at increasing AMPK and lead to lower levels of mTOR activity.

7. It improves insulin sensitivity: a keto diet works on two big factors involved in insulin sensitivity: 1) it reduces insulin production, making your cells more sensitive to it 2) it decreases muscle glycogen stores, if there is more room for storage in the muscles, it’s easier to send the ingested carbs there, so you need less insulin to get the job done.

Now let’s look at some drawbacks.

1. It increases adrenaline levels: as I explained earlier it can be a good or bad thing depending on what your body does with the adrenaline.

Genetically speaking, some people are better than others at deactivating adrenaline rapidly. This depends on the type of COMT enzyme that you have: “slow” or “fast”, and this is a genetic thing.

A slow COMT will keep adrenaline elevated for a long time after it is released. It stays bound to the adrenergic receptor for longer.

A fast COMT will bring adrenaline down rapidly, so it doesn’t stay bound to the receptors for long.

If someone has a slow COMT, producing more adrenaline could lead to problems more rapidly. Why? Because they can easily downregulate their beta-adrenergic receptors if adrenaline activate them too hard for too long. When these receptors are downregulated/desensitized they respond less and less to your adrenaline (kind of like insulin resistance). Which means that it will be harder to get motivated, your energy will be lower, your focus decreases, physical and mental performance suffers.

A slow COMT can also make you more at risk of restlessness, poor sleep and anxiety by keeping your brain firing on all cylinders even when you don’t want it to.

A fast COMT make it a lot less likely that you will have those problems and you can stay on a keto diet for much longer.

Your daily stress levels also have an impact. Remember that adrenaline is produced when cortisol increases the conversion of noradrenaline into adrenaline.

If you already produce a lot of cortisol because of your life stress, a keto diet is more likely to lead to excessively high levels of adrenaline. It will not lead to immediate issues. It might take 2 weeks until you start to suffer from some adrenergic desensitization and 3-4 until you suffer from it.

2. It decreases noradrenaline levels: because you are producing more adrenaline, you will also decrease noradrenaline levels (adrenaline is made from the conversion of noradrenaline). Noradrenaline is really important for concentration. When noradrenaline levels become low, you will have a hard time concentrating. For example, if you are reading a book you might need to read a sentence 3-4 times to understand it.

3. It decreases serotonin: serotonin is the well-being neurotransmitter. It essentially functions by adapting the brain’s level of activity to the task you are doing. More serotonin allows you to adapt to changes more easily, to get into rest and recover more when needed, to prevent anxiety and depression. It is also important for delayed gratification: being able to delay satisfaction to get a greater reward later.

Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan. And in the absence of carbs, your body will not be able to make as much serotonin from tryptophan. Keto diets have been shown to decrease serotonin production.

People with naturally high serotonin (highly adaptable people, those who love change and who sleep well even after being under a high stress level) can stay on a keto diet for much longer; whereas people with naturally low serotonin (introverted, anxious and rigid/OCD personalities for example, those who hate variation and changes) will get drawbacks from a keto diet much sooner.

4. It decreases glutamate: we saw that as a benefit earlier. But in around 20% of the population it can be a drawback. Some people have naturally low glutamate (zero empathy, sociopathic personality). Decreasing it even more can lead to becoming a true asshole who has no regards for others and with a very low emotional quotient.

5. It decreases IGF-1 and mTOR: for longevity and health these are actually a good thing. But if your goal is to build muscle, it can make the process harder.

That’s why I like to use a keto diet for a certain period of time. To get the positive changes but phase out of it before the drawbacks show up. Then get back into keto. Basically, in and out.

7. In the long run it makes you less metabolically flexible: Being metabolically flexible means that your body can function optimally regardless of the fuel you give it. You could go from a high fat day to a high carbs day and function equally well and feel the same on both.

In the short term, a keto diet can actually improve metabolic flexibility. You improve your body’s capacity to function using fat/ketones for fuel and you still have the enzymes to use carbs properly. But after a longer period on a strict keto diet you become less metabolically flexible. You lose the enzymes needed to properly absorb, store and produce energy from, carbs. If you give carbs to someone who has been keto for a long time, they get bloated, they get brain fog and some even get an allergic reaction (itchy skin). That’s because their body lost the capacity to function properly with carbs. That is the opposite of metabolic flexibility.

My conclusion is that a keto diet is a great way to eat for 4-12 weeks, depending on your body and situation. I like to get out of keto before the drawback shows and get back into it after a few weeks.

Note that getting out of keto doesn’t mean eating high carbs. It means eating enough carbs to get back the serotonin, control adrenaline, get some IGF-1 / mTOR and prevent metabolic rigidity. I would normally eat carbs post-workout and in the evening. These are the best time as the carbs will decrease cortisol, which will lead to lower adrenaline, helping you get into that rest and recover mode.

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