Fitness Corner: Gaining weight


Texans strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley writes his popular Fitness Corner column for HoustonTexans.com. Riley and assistant strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright will continue to post selected answers to your questions throughout the year. Join in by shooting over an e-mail to fitness@houstontexans.com.

Here's Dan...


I am sure you get thousands of e-mails each day. Sorry to be so repetitive. My son is going to be a senior and plays high school football. Like many young boys his age, he is interested in gaining weight. Do you have any suggestions regarding his diet and weight workout?

-- A concerned parent in Tempe, AZ

Your question is among the most asked questions we receive. I do not mind answering this question again because I am a parent and had the same concerns about my two sons when they were growing up and competing as athletes. As a parent we all want what is best for our children.

In the area of nutrition I stopped making believe. My education has prepared me to become a physical educator. More specifically I am a strength and conditioning coach by trade. I have a hard enough time separating fact from fiction from my own profession.

As a strength coach I have spent a great deal of time trying to learn as much as possible in the area of nutrition. What I have learned is that the field of nutrition is an immense and overwhelming area of scientific information that is constantly changing. I am not academically prepared, or qualified, to provide scientifically sound information to our players that is available from the recognized nutrition professionals in our society.

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In the area of nutrition I would strongly encourage you to consult with a Registered Dietitian. Roberta Anding, R.D., is our team nutritionist and the only person in the Texans organization qualified to give nutrition advice to our players. She alone determines what foods we feed our players here at the stadium during the off-season, during the season, and on the road for our away games. Two of her three children currently compete as college and high school athletes.

The R.D. after her name guarantees she has earned the academic credentials required of all Registered Dietitians. We know the information she gives to our players is scientifically sound and supported by the American Dietetic Association.

Nutrition encompasses a massive amount of information and misinformation. Strength coaches, athletic coaches, famous head coaches, and high profile athletes, are not academically qualified to provide sound nutrition advice. Neither are team physicians, doctors, trainers, most PhD's, many nutritionists, and clerks at the health food store.

The best advice I can give any parent, coach, or athlete, is to find the best Registered Dietitianyou can find, and strictly adhere to their advice. The Texans are lucky to have the best in the business. My advice to you as a concerned parent (and to all coaches and athletes) is to seek the advice of a Registered Dietitian.

Many young males are interested in gaining weight. Your son is no different than most. Make sure your son understands the difference between gaining lean bodyweight (muscle) and fat. Adding fat for the sake of gaining weight lacks logic and is long-term very unhealthy.

A Registered Dietitian can make sure your son is eating the appropriate number of calories to insure maximum muscular gains.

Coaches should not ask players to gain twenty pounds over the summer if it means the athlete must add even one pound of fat. Our problems of being an overfat, overweight, obese, society, are well-documented.

Your son will add lean bodyweight through the normal maturation process. As he grows older he will naturally add more muscle. The only other means (excluding the use of illegal drugs) is to engage in a total body strength program.

Many young athletes become preoccupied with a few basic exercises (bench press, biceps curls) and ignore total body development. Every major muscle group must be targeted. We divide the body into five major segments. They include the following:

  1. Neck and Traps (number one priority)

2. Hips & Legs

A. Glutes

B. Hip Flexors

C. Hamstrings

D. Quadriceps

E. Adductors

F. Abductors

G. Calves

3. Midsection

A. Trunk Flexors

B. Trunk Rotators

C. Trunk Extensors

4. Upper Body

A. Chest

B. Upper Back

C. Shoulders

5. Arms

A. Biceps

B. Triceps

C. Forearms

Eventually, each of these muscle groups must be targeted to generate maximum gains in muscular development. It is important to emphasize total body development. Many strength programs focus on a few basic lifts. Athletes become well-skilled at a few basic exercises but ignore total body development.

I have mentioned many times how important it is for athletes to focus on total body development and not becoming a good weight (thrower) lifter. The muscles of the neck and traps must be the number one priority for any athlete exposed to collisions involving the head, neck.

Another question about repetitions. Why a higher range for lower body exercise than upper body (ie. 12 vs. 10 or 8)? Is the rep range the key to maximum strength gains? Coach Aaron Hillmann, Strength Coach, Bowling Green, Ohio

I am far more concerned with "How each rep is performed?" than with, "How many reps are performed?" In my thirty-three years as a strength coach I have experimented with most set/rep combinations. I have had athletes perform multiple sets of one repetition, and as many as fifty repetitions.

It has taken me far too long to realize that all set/rep combinations are productive, if adequate overload is provided each workout. Getting stronger is possible if an athlete attempts to lift more weight and/or performs more reps each exercise of every workout.

Wow! How deep. Hmmmm! Lift more weight and/or more reps and you get stronger. How novel. Someone tell the strength training community that we are stealing. Will someone please tell the world that getting stronger is not a science?

The Overload Principle is the most basic tenet of any strength improvement program. To increase strength you must force the muscles to adapt to an ever increasing stress. The additional stress will force the muscles to adapt causing an increase in strength.

You ask about our rep range for our players' lower body exercises (twelve reps) versus our rep range for the upper body (eight to twelve reps). There really is not that much of a difference.

I am unaware of any research that supports the need to significantly increase the number of repetitions for lower body exercise. My first exposure to a potential difference in upper and lower body rep ranges occurred during one of my many visits to the Nautilus facility in Florida to meet with Arthur Jones.

During my visit Mr. Jones used Casey Viator, at the time a high profile and genetically gifted bodybuilder as a volunteer. Casey was asked to perform a static contraction of two exercises on an exercise tensiometer in an all out manner. The tensiometer allowed us to observe how many pounds of pressure he exerted while performing the leg extension and the bench press.

The leg extension is an isolation lower body exercise for the quadriceps, and the bench press is a multi-joint exercise incorporating the smaller muscles of the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Casey was initially connected to the tensiometer in a position to test and isolate his quadriceps. He was instructed (and verbally motivated) to exert a maximum effort against the tensiometer. His quads were being tested at a fixed point. He was instructed to push as hard as he could until the amount of tension exerted dropped to fifty percent of his initial maximum.

We then positioned the tensiometer so we could test him in the same manner using the bench press. He was instructed to push as hard as possible until the initial tension exerted dropped to fifty percent of his initial maximum.

His lower body (leg extension) took more time to reduce his strength level to fifty percent of his initial maximum effort than did his upper body (bench press). If I remember correctly his quads took sixty-eight seconds to reduce his initial strength level to fifty percent of its' initial maximum.

The bench press took just over forty-seconds to reduce his initial strength level to fifty percent of its' maximum.

It is due to this specific event that I have always believed the larger muscles of the lower body need more time (reps) to activate every available muscle fiber. After many years of experimenting and listening to player feed back, I now believe we can generate the best results, and insure adequate recovery by adhering to twelve reps for the muscles of the hips and legs.

I continue to learn and look for safer and more effective methods to train our players. Any and all suggestions are welcome.

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