The article that people have been waiting for!
Most people are familiar with caffeine and the ergogenic (to enhance physical performance) effects of it. At some point you probably have heard and read that caffeine has a net positive effect on physical activity, awareness, concentration, and alertness. Before you run to the kitchen to fill up your cup again, I want to leave you with an educational piece about the effects of caffeine in the gym and how you can optimize this potentially delicious beverage to help and improve your performance.
There was a study performed by very smart individuals who decided to answer key and important questions.
1) Would caffeine supplementation increase 1RM strength in the pull-down, hack squat, and bench press?
2) Would caffeine supplementation increase knee extension reps to failure?
First, we will introduce out subjects, move on to the findings and leave you with a real life scenario and how to apply it into your routine
For this study they recruited 8 woman of 20-30 years old, with 1-2 years of training experience.
The four measurements for this test were 1 rep max for the following: hack squat, pull down, bench press and reps to failure in leg extension using a classic “drop set” method.
The test was performed over a 4-week cycle
Week 1: test 1 rep max and reps to failure with no caffeine or placebo
Week 2: test 1 rep max and reps to failure after consuming 6 mg. kg of caffeine (30 mins before test)
Week 3: test 1 rep max and reps to failure with placebo (starch)
Week 4: test 1 rep max and reps to failure after consuming 6 mg. kg of caffeine (30 mins before test)
Let’s see what they discovered!
Strength Lower Body
Hack squat strength was noticeably higher in the weeks where caffeine consumption has occurred compared to the non caffeine or placebo. The difference between these conditions were of 12 kg increase in 1 rep max.
Reps to failure
For the knee extension to failure similar results were observed, where on average the subjects increase reps to failure by 7!
Strength Upper Body
This is where it gets interesting, when testing bench press, they noticed that results were pretty much negligible or not existent and a null for the pull down. Now I can’t help but wonder myself, why is that?
There doesn’t seem to be an absolute answer, however we can postulate that due to the nature of lower body exercises being more physiologically and psychologically demanding, caffeine may seem to have an ability to reduce perception of effort. Whereas compared to upper body exercises you may not need that psychological arousal to get to that all out effort.
One thing to be aware of is, 6 mg,kg of caffeine consumption is a pretty high dose. To put it into perspective if you were an individual who weights 180 lbs that would equal to around 5 cups of coffee. When consuming high doses of caffeine some negative side effects could be noticed, such as higher levels of anxiety, some shaking may be experienced, or that jittering sensation, as well as gastrointestinal distress.
My recommendation is to start on the lower side of dosage, such as starting around 3mg.kg. Where you would still get the ergogenic effects of caffeine while avoiding any potential draw back. Something to keep in mind is that the more you consume the higher your tolerance will be. A good strategy would be to reduce your weekly caffeine consumption and leave it for your harder lower body days.
References MASS volume 1, issue 3