Dr Mike Israetel

Dr. Mike Israetel – Five Things I Learned

This is a series in which we will attempt to collect, reflect on, and make sense of the great information given to us by the growing number of coaches and athletes we have interviewed on the podcast. The podcast this article is based on is embedded at the bottom of this page. You can see the rest of the series here

Dr. Mike Israetel is best known for his depth of training and nutrition knowledge, absurd physique, and great squat depth. Little do most people realize that he has also been on the Weightlifting House podcast (ba dum tss). But seriously, he’s actually been involved with weightlifting, working as the team nutritionist at ETSU during his graduate studies, which gives him novel insight into the world of weightlifting. This insight, paired with his extensive education on maximizing athletic performance, made for an excellent resource and podcast.

For those who do not know much about Mike, he holds a PhD in sports physiology from East Tennessee State University, is the co-founder of Renaissance Periodization and has greatly impacted the fitness industry. He was formerly a professor at Temple University, but made the transition to focusing on growing RP full-time. Mike is also a BJJ practitioner, bodybuilder, and enjoys studying economics.

This podcast highlighted his ability to bridge theory to practice, discussing how athletes could modify programs and should approach cutting weight for a meet, all the way to the physiology of overtraining and fatigue.

These are the Five Things I Learned from Dr. Mike Israetel.

1 – Fatigue Management (and Improving a Program’s Effectiveness)

We previously, but briefly, covered the training principles in an earlier write up for the Max Aita podcast, so you should be familiar with them. During this episode Mike went far more in-depth, discussing fatigue management and its role in a weightlifting program. Fatigue management is the act of manipulating training (exercise selection, sets, reps, rest/training days) to maximize performance and minimize decrement. This means balancing fitness and fatigue to achieve an ideal training effect.

The Bulgarians did a poor job of fatigue management, using a concentrated stimulus, repeated without any let up. The manipulation of that program to improve its effectiveness involves a better understanding of fatigue management. This means incorporating light days, deloads, focusing on technique work, and using every other day, instead of everyday, to push the competition lifts. With those changes we may have a good program. Of course this holds for all training programs, understanding the shortcomings and strengths is critical for building an effective, individualized plan.

“People get sort of caught up in the names and the allure because of the name. So, Bulgarian, I want to tell people I do it, cause it’s exotic and they were really good lifters, but I can’t survive this kind of training frequency.”

2 – Wanting to Stay in Top Shape Year Round

There is a desire amongst some groups and individual athletes to remain in top shape year round. It is not an option for them to pull out one of the exercises they perform really well to replace it with something that is lagging far behind. This is akin to training at very high intensities in the snatch and clean and jerk year round, refusing to drop the percentages and accumulate sufficient volumes to progress maximally. Mike goes over the scenario of an athlete really liking the jerk recovery who is in need of a stronger press, but unwilling to make that substitution of exercises, likely because of their ego.

Weightlifting lends itself to classical periodization because most of the sport is very predictable. You know what the qualifying totals are, when the meet will be and what you need to hit. With proper preparation there should be adequate time to put the competition lifts on the back burner in order to improve weaknesses, further strengths, and build potential (i.e. more muscle) to be realized during the peak. If you have not developed your weaknesses, focused on hypertrophy, or improved the strength lifts then there will be nothing to peak!

“Remember, it comes at a cost. Being ready whenever means your preparedness is always high, which means you never take enough fatigue to really improve yourself maximally, because that would lower your preparedness at any one time.”

3 – What is Fatigue?

Fatigue is a nuanced topic, experienced by all, but clearly defined and understood by few. There were two aspects of fatigue discussed during the podcast: peripheral and central. These two aspects are experienced separately in some instances and together in others. Fatigue is generally understood as a degradation in performance brought about by imposed stressors. Training is what we would commonly assume results in fatigue, but it should be also be understood that stressors outside of the gym result in increased levels as well.

In the context of this discussion fatigue was understood through its generation by training. Fatigue is manifested by soreness (microtrauma), reductions in force output, neuroendocrine disruptions, and more. These outcomes are partly dependent on the type of training undertaken, be it volume driven or intensity driven. Volume and exercise selection tend to bias peripheral manifestations of fatigue. Whereas intensity tends to bias central manifestations of fatigue (i.e. burnt out, feeling beat up). The proper management of training will minimize soreness (through the repeated bout effect ) and keep you hungry to train (for the most part).

“He taught me to look at fatigue more open mindedly and taught me about the principle of how fatigue can accumulate over the long term. How the accumulations occur in different systems and need to be dealt with with various forms of management or reduction.”

4 – Nutrition for Weightlifters

Proper nutrition is a non-negotiable when it comes to maximizing athletic performance. In this episode Mike goes over the nutritional recommendations for competitive weightlifters, giving general recommendations which can be adjusted based on the needs of the athlete.

Broadly speaking, you need to consume enough calories, on average, to maintain weight. This will increase or decrease depending on a myriad of factors. As far as protein goes, you should aim to consume 1.6-2 grams per kg of body weight per day. The specific number is determined by volumes used in training, moving between that range if cutting, maintaining, or gaining weight. With carbohydrates, it is again dependent on training, but look to consume enough to maximize performance. If you are trying to peak with minimal training volumes then the intake will not be high, but if you are in an accumulation block it may. Lastly, fats will need to reach about a minimum of ~.6 grams per kg per day, again depending on the situation. With that being said, you need to have a minimum of each macronutrient to maximize performance.

Moving on to meal frequency, there is a minimum threshold for performance. One or two times a day will not optimize the adaptations you get from training, so a higher frequency, 4-7 times per day, is probably best. The timing of those meals mostly matters if you train over an hour a day, so an intra-workout (during workout) shake of carbohydrate and protein would be useful. If you train twice a day this is magnified further. Consuming fast digesting protein and carbohydrates immediately after training will directly impact performance during the next training session. The shake would be made up of whey protein and high glycemic carbohydrates.

“Longer than an hour training might need an intra-workout shake and then two-a-day or three-a-day training, nutrient timing become very important.”

5 – Maximizing Your Weight Class/Making Willful Changes

The differences between elite level athletes (or athletes at a similar stage in development) are often small. Sometimes these differences amount to willingness to change. If one athlete is walking around as a light 81, but cannot seem to fit in enough meals to gain weight because life is always in the way then they will never fully reach their potential. On the other hand, the athlete walking around a bit heavier, making a concerted effort to gain muscle and therefore strength, will likely come out on top.

Everything is serious in this sport. Even beyond nutrition there is a purpose to everything done. It is not lackadaisical, chosen and executed on a whim. When it comes to supplementation they should be taken for a purpose, not just chosen at random. The same goes with programming, stress management, etc. It is all executed in a way to maximize performance.

“Someone’s going to beat you that does the extra things to make themselves better and then what do you say?”

This list was hard to decide on and I am sure with another listen there would be five more topics I could add, but these are the Five Things I Learned from Dr. Mike Israetel. With Mike, there is not a lot of BS in what he says or does. He is almost confused when athletes display a lack of dedication to training or a commitment to ineffective methods. That is a mindset I think we should all share. The way to avoid BS is to find a coach committed to understanding and mastering the process. This means knowing the training principles and their proper application, understanding fatigue, recovery, and performance, and communicating the importance of long term development. If you cannot find a coach or want to become one yourself then get to work. Mike’s books are a great place to start!

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