September 17 2019

Dear Mark: Psyllium, Hex Bar Deadlifts, Getting Strong vs Getting Big, Isometrics

By Mark Sisson
8 Comments

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering four questions.

First, is psyllium husk insoluble or soluble fiber? Second, how do I structure my hex bar deadlift workouts? I give a couple options. Third, what kind of training (and eating) should a person do who doesn’t want to gain much muscle or “get big”—just strong? And fourth, what do I think about isometric strength training?

Let’s go:

Insoluble fiber may be linked to increased colorectal cancer mortality.

Question: is psyllium husk the insoluble fiber they are referring to in this study that was associated with increased colon cancer? I’ve read it several times and I’m confused.

Some prebiotics are included in my probiotics like MOS and inulin. I think these are soluble. Am I right? I’m confused

I wasn’t able to pull the full study, so I don’t have a complete breakdown of what prebiotic supplements these women were specifically taking. They do mention that 3.7% of the women used a prebiotic made primarily of psyllium, which is an odd aside. What about the rest of them?

At any rate, psyllium is mostly soluble fiber—about 70% soluble, 30% insoluble. MOS and inulin are also both soluble fibers.

What is the set/ rep recommendation for the Hex Bar DL? Also how many times a week are you doing this? I am a coach/teacher and love the minimalist type of exercise you provide. Awesome stuff

It really varies.

Somedays I’ll do rest-pause supersets on the hex bar:

Lift it as many times as I can comfortably (I’ll push hard but stop well short of failure).

Rest 30 seconds.

Lift it as many times as I can comfortably (this will be fewer reps than the previous set).

Rest 30 seconds.

Lift it as many times as I can comfortably (even fewer).

Drop the weight by 10-15%, then do max reps.

Once you start hitting 25 total reps for the first three rest-pause sets, you can increase the weight. The beauty of this method is that it’s very intense without you needing to throw on a ton of extra weight—great for older folks who don’t want to mess with extremely heavy weights. Compressing the sets gives you less rest and gives it an anaerobic component; you’ll be breathing hard when it’s over. And it’s over quick. No more pacing around the gym between heavy deadlift or squat sets. No more working up the courage to lift the weight. You just do it, set a 30 second timer, and do it again (and again).

The rest pause method is when I want to be in and out real quick.

Another way is to just have it loaded up and ready to go around my house. I’ll grab a quick little set every time I walk by. Out the door to walk the dog? Do a set. Making coffee in the next room over? Do a set. Taking a break from writing? Do a set. By the end of the day, I’ll have accumulated 4-6 sets of solid hex bar deadlifts. This is the exercise snack or microworkout method.

Both of these methods work great with any exercise.

This video left me thinking about muscle strength vs muscle growth a little bit. In my mind, my ideal body composition would be lean, relatively small, and freakishly strong. I’m wondering, Mark, if there are ways to train what you have to be stronger without making gains in terms of mass?

In a very general sense, lower reps and higher weight will get you stronger without adding as much hypertrophy.

Doing compound movements that recruit multiple joints and muscles at once will get you strong without necessarily “bulking” you up. Doing isolation movements will also get you strong, but they’ll also build specific muscles. It makes sense why:

When you do a compound movement, the weight is “spread” across all the joints and junctions and tissues that perform it. So the system as a whole gets stronger—gets better at moving the weight—but the individual components don’t “blow up.” They grow, but in a cohesive, integrated manner with the rest of the body.

That’s why most bodybuilders don’t rely on squats and deadlifts and pullups. They do those movements because they’re important for their physiques and their strength, but they’re generally not enough to get huge. To get really “bulky,” you’ll probably need isolation movements.

But remember that larger muscles are also stronger muscles, all else being equal. Getting bigger will allow you to get stronger. You’ll have a bigger “strength ceiling.”

Oh, I almost forgot. Your food (and calorie) intake might be the major determining factor in how much muscle you gain in response to training. If you fail to consume more calories than you expend, you won’t gain much muscle. You’ll definitely retain it, though. If that’s what you’re going for, you can try eating less food and protein. Or at least don’t eat more than you burn (this is inexact, I know; a ballpark works).

Have you tried isometrics? I am getting great results with them, in a very short time frame.

I haven’t tried them much myself, but we had a guest post a few years back all about isometrics.

For those who don’t know, an isometric contraction is when the muscle contracts without lengthening or shortening. Concentric contractions contract the muscle as it shortens (lifting a weight). Eccentric contractions contract the muscle as it lengthens (lowering a weight). Isometric training purports to strengthen the muscle by using isometric contractions.

A few examples:

Pushing against an immovable object, like the wall.

Holding yourself in a difficult position, like a wall squat.

Trying to lift an object that’s too heavy to lift, like a barbell.

Hanging from a bar with flexed arms and just holding the position.

Standing in a doorway with your back against the frame, pressing hard against the opposite frame with one arm.

Trying to lift your car.

Sitting in a chair and pulling up on the seat as hard as you can.

You get the idea.

It clearly works at some level.

Isometric training lowers high blood pressure, for example.

It can also help people learn to activate their muscles, simply by forcing you to focus entirely on the feeling of the muscle.

It goes to show that there’s always a way to train. Always.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading, take care, and have a great week.

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8 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Psyllium, Hex Bar Deadlifts, Getting Strong vs Getting Big, Isometrics”

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  1. This discussion on strength vs bulk got me thinking about my cousins who are frighteningly strong Eastern Europeans, especially the men. I’m noticing that some harsh manual labor actions aren’t included in things like crossfit. Some actions are, (like carrying heavy things around, and pushing a weighted frame around) but I’ve yet to see anyone suggest that you pound the ground with a sledgehammer (not motorized), or dig an eighth acre garden with a shovel to get fit and strong, but I can guarantee that works. I suspect the absolute best strength training exercises are kinda dangerous. Like tree climbing. But a climbing wall should be adequate to make up for that.

  2. Is there anything more thrilling than seeing your question in a “Dear Mark” post.

    Maybe skydiving.

  3. Another great isometric training exercise – body builder posing routines. It has the added bonus that it can also be used to check your diet/lifting progress 🙂

  4. Did a couple of low rep sets of deadlifts in the gym the other day with the hex bar with very light weights on it and used good form. My lower back is now in pretty bad pain and I’m going to see my chiopractor today. Not every exercise is good for every person, deadlifts in general can be problematic. I know people who swear by them, but crossing this one off my list, there are other compound exercises out there and other ways to strengthen the back.

    1. Ouch. Hope you feel better soon. I did the powerlifting exercises as long as I could. The deadlift in particular really challenges the body to regulate blood pressure. I was always walking a fine line, I could just feel the headache lurking. But I think overall it did me good. I don’t seem to have the POTS (positional blood pressure) type issues that other people with ME/CFS have.

      1. Thanks Angelica! The chiopractor session seemed to help (if it was a placebo or a coincidence, so be it LOL). I’m glad you are managing your ME/CFS and you seem to have a great attitude. I’ve been battling chronic fatigue for many years, nowhere near as severe as your situation though. I know I can improve my circadian rhythm, so I only have myself to blame on that front. Today I plan to go to the gym and do some “pulling” kind of exercises … if I’m up to it … I know I will be when the time comes. 🙂
        – George

  5. I am just thrilled I finally found your latest article… Your new website lay out is confusing.