I came across quite a fascinating study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Variations in physical ability between individuals depend on both training background and genetics. Previous research has investigated the details of this phenomenon by studying monozygous (identical) twins with long-term, moderate differences in physical activity patterns and/or monozygous twins with short-term, but greater differences in physical activity patterns. However, no previous research has used monozy-gous twins with both substantial and long-term differences in physical activity patterns. Purpose: Thus, to enhance our understanding of heritability and adaptability of various performance factors we analyzed the physiological profile of a set of monozygous twins with 35 years of differing exercise habits. Methods: One pair of male monozygous twins (age = 52 years) participated in this study. DNA testing confirmed zygos-ity. The trained twin (TT, ht = 186 cm mass = 94 kg) is a physical education teacher and track coach who began running crosscountry and track in 1981. TT has been training and competing in endurance sports (e.g., running, triathlons, etc.) consistently over the past 35 years. He has ;39,431 running miles recorded from July 1993 to June 2015. In 2005, he qualified for All World Bronze Level in the Ironman. The untrained twin (UT, ht = 183 cm, mass = 104.5 kg) is a delivery truck driver. He was recreationally active in swimming, biking, and team sports early in life, but, has not engaged in regular or structured exercise since then (;35 years). Since 1991 UT recreational physical activity has been limited to ;20–30 min walks, 3–43$wk 21. Both participants performed 4 trials of 6-second maximal isometric contractions of the right leg exten-sors, 5 trials of grip strength testing with both hands (hand grip dynamometer), as well as a maximal aerobic capacity (V _ O 2 max) test (cycle ergometer). Additionally, a dual-energy X-ray ab-sorptiometry scan was used to determine body composition and total bone mineral content (BMC). Results: UT displayed higher absolute peak torque (254 vs. 137 N$m, 59.9% difference) and grip strength (right = 56.5 vs. 44.3 kg, 24.2% difference ; left = 51.7 vs. 43.7 kg, 16.8% difference). When normalized to lean body mass (LBM), UT continued to display higher peak torque (3.40 vs. 1.83 N$m 21 $kg 21 , 60% difference) and grip strength (right = 76 vs. 59% of LBM, 25.2% difference; left = 69 vs. 58% of LBM, 17.3% difference). However , UT had a lower absolute (3.67 vs. 4.66 L$min 21 , 23.9% difference) and relative (35.1 vs. 47.5 ml$kg 21 $m 21 , 30.1% difference) V _ O 2 max. UT also had a higher body fat percentage (BF%) (27.8 vs. 19.2%, 36.6% difference), but nearly identical LBM (74.6 vs. 74.7 kg, 11.0% difference) and BMC (3575.7 vs. 3653.0 g, 2.1% difference). Conclusions: Long-term, mixed mode endurance training positively influenced V_ O2max and BF%, did not alter LBM or BMC, and was associated with lower isometric leg extensor and handgrip strength. The percent difference between the participants also demonstrates a level of “trainability” that exceeds previous research. Practical Applications: Leg strength and V_ O2max are significant and independent predictors of mortality. Training can influence both of these variables. However, adaptations are specific to imposed demands. Therefore, an ideal lifestyle approach should incorporate resistance exercise and endurance training to maximize both leg strength and aerobic capacity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research | www.nsca.com VOLUME 30 | SUPPLEMENT 1 | DECEMBER 2016 | S43-44
One of the toughest variables to control for in the world of health and fitness and strength and conditioning is the large variation in genetic differences. Monozygous (identical) twins tend to be "holy grail" subjects to study because they are identical, genetically. Therefore, we can then study how lifestyle habits relate to their overall health without having to factor in the genetic variability.
There have been studies done in the past comparing lifestyles of twins, but this study in particular is so amazing due to its length of time - 35 years. Let's break down the differences between the two twins above:
Trained Twin (TT)
- Phys. Ed. teacher
- Track Coach
- Started running cross country track in 1981
- Training and competing in endurance sports (e.g. running, triathlons, etc.) consistently for 35 years.
- 39,431 total running miles logged from July 1993 to June 2015.
- 2005 All World Bronze Level Ironman qualifier.
Untrained Twin (UT)
- Delivery truck driver.
- Active early in life but has not engaged in structured physical activity in 35 years.
- Activity has been limited to 20-30min walks.
- UT is stronger.
- TT is healthier aerobically (VO2 Max).
- TT has less overall body fat.
- Both UT and TT have essentially the same amount of muscle (lean body mass).
It is to be expected that the trained twin is "fitter" overall aerobically, after all, he has been running close to 40k miles in the last 24 years alone. Having said that, how much healthier is he? The untrained twin has just as much muscle mass as his the trained twin, and despite the fact that he is heavier due to carrying around more body fat, is actually stronger despite the fact that he doesn't "exercise."
Now, there could be a discussion or argument made towards the activity level of the untrained twin. Sure, he hasn't been following a structured exercise or strength and conditioning program, but being a delivery truck driver, one could assume has its fair share of physicality to it. Not only that, but just the act of carrying around extra body mass requires more physical exertion and strength requirements from the muscles.
Despite all of that, this should be a large eye opener for chronic endurance athletes. As this study points out at the end:
Would I classify or consider the untrained twin to be "healthy?" Not by any stretch of the imagination. However, lower body strength is actually a significant predictor of mortality, and in this case, the untrained twin actually has a lower risk of mortality than the trained twin.
Not only that, but it is not uncommon for runners or endurance athletes to completed avoid lower body training because they "get enough strength work" from running/cycling/swimming. Although endurance exercise may improve your overall aerobic capacity, it does not replace the need for lower body strength and conditioning work. Squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc. are so critical and crucial to not only improve the strength and functionality of the lower body, but to reduce the effects of aging as well.
Many readers to my site know that I have been a bit critical of chronic endurance exercise, despite my fair share of it in the past. Training for, and competing in, a marathon, triathlon, Ironman, etc. is a great life goal and something many put on their bucket list. Having said that, for overall health, performance, body composition, and longevity, a well-rounded strength and conditioning program with a little bit of everything (see: moderate running) is the best approach in my opinion.
Loop bands can be a fantastic tool for strength training, most notably for recruitment and activation of the glutes. Quite often I will program warmups with either loop bands or something similar, such as lateral band walks, to activate the glutes prior to squatting. Not only that, but when I am training clients whom are new to squatting, I commonly use the cue, "imagine having a band wrapped around your legs and you are trying to stretch that band" in an attempt to create that tension from abduction and external rotation at the hips.
For various reasons, there doesn't appear to be many (if any) studies done on actual squat performance while wearing a loop band around the thighs to test for glute activation and overall squat performance...until now at least.
Background: There is little information about the effects of placing a resistance band around the outer thighs on the amplitude of performance and electromyography (EMG) of lower body muscles during a free barbell back squat (FBBS) activity. This study quantified EMG amplitudes of the gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, vastus lateralis, and biceps femoris dur-ing an FBBS with and without the use of a looped resistance band. In addition, the effects of the looped band on the number of repetitions completed on failure in performing FBBS were measured at 2 intensities.
Methods: In this study, 15 resistance-trained males (age, 23.6 6 3.5 years) completed an FBBS 3 repetition maximum (RM) test on the first testing day to estimate their 1RM. On days 2 and 3, participants completed 5 repetitions equal to 80% of their estimated 1RM followed by a repetition to failure test using 60% of estimated 1RM with and without a band placed around their thighs in a counter-balanced fashion while EMG amplitudes were collected.
Results: No differences were found at 60% intensity test between conditions (band: 21.4 6
6, control: 20.4 6 4.7; P = .171). Similarly, no differences were found between conditions in EMG of the vastus lateralis or biceps femoris at both intensities (effect size [ES] range = 0.01–0.4, P ≥ .05). In contrast, other than a few exceptions, gluteus medius and maximus showed greater EMG activity in the looped-band condition during tests (ES range = 0.28–
1.15, P < .05) at both 60% and 80% intensities.
Conclusion: Placing a looped resistance band around the thighs can be used as a training strategy to increase the activation of the hip muscles during FBBS using medium to heavy loads without negatively affecting performance.
This is great news for new and experienced strength athletes alike. Underactive or inactive glutes is a pretty common problem amongst both beginner and experienced trainees, despite one's ability to move moderate to heavy amounts of weight.
Placing a loop band around a trainee's thighs to help correct knee valgus (knee caving) has been a tool used in the past, but generally sparingly. This study shows us that regardless of weight being squatted, it may be extremely beneficial for a trainee to improve overall squat mechanics by activating those glutes even more.
It is well established through research that agonist stretching reduces repetition output and performance. Agonists, aka the "working" muscles" are oftentimes stretched mid-set in an attempt to loosen up and get more work done. How often do you see someone in the gym finish a set of bench press only to stand up and stretch their chest? We now know, that it may be more ideal to do the opposite and stretch your back instead.
Antagonist muscle pairs are opposing muscle groups. The most basic example I usually give for laymen purposes involve the biceps and triceps. Biceps flex the elbow, the triceps extend the elbow. Not only does the brain signal for the biceps to flex during elbow flexion (agonistic action), but it must also signal for the muscle fibers of the triceps to relax in order to lengthen (antagonistic action).
An interesting study from Brazil tells us that antagonistic stretching mid-set is beneficial in increasing reps output:
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of antagonist passive static stretching (AS) during the inter-set rest period on repetition performance and muscle activation. Ten trained men (22.4 ± 0.9 years) participated in this study. Two protocols were adopted: Passive recovery (PR) – three sets to repetition failure were performed for the seated row (SR) with two-minute rest interval between sets without pre-exercise stretching; AS – forty seconds of stretching was applied to pectoralis major prior to each set of SR. Significant increases in the number of repetitions were noted under AS compared with PR (p < 0.05). Significant increases on latissi- mus dorsi (p = 0.002) and biceps brachii (p = 0.001) muscle activity were noted inter-sets under the AS compared with the PR
So in this study, participants completed a seated row with or without static chest stretching during inter-set rest periods. The participants that stretched their chest were able to complete more repetitions than those who did not stretch.
We can speculate the reasoning for this, based on the information above - thinking of the actions on a given joint as a "tug of war" between two muscles. Again, agonists shorten or pull, while the antagonist must simultaneously relax and lengthen. If we spend time stretching the antagonist in between sets, it appears to aid in the relaxation of the opposing muscle group to allow for more activation in the agonist, or working muscle group.
Although static stretching of the agonist muscles between sets of strength training exercises tends to reduce the number of reps in successive sets, static stretching of the antagonist muscles does the opposite. Stretching the antagonist muscles between sets of an agonist muscle exercise could therefore be a useful method for bodybuilders to increase training volume (and possibly therefore hypertrophy) without adding extra sets to a workout. -------------------- #sandcresearch #strengthandconditioning #strengthtraining #strength #sportsscience #biomechanics #performance #research #science #infographic #infographics #hypertrophy #muscle #gains #fit #gymlife #repetition #rep #reps #repetitionstrength #stretching #staticstretching #antagonist #coactivation
One of the primary indicators of an individual who is overtraining (or better known as under-recovering) can be illness. It has been widely accepted that intense exercise can increase the risk of illness due to a depressed immune system. What does this mean for most people, however? We hear of extreme training regimens from top level athletes and believe that they can be applied to everyone, when that is simply not the case.
Rather than thinking about pushing an individual to an overtrained state, I believe the more apt explanation should surround the lack of sufficient recovery. It turns out, the body is quite capable at accepting intense bouts of exercise stimulus, problems arise, however, when there is insufficient recovery. So what is sufficient recovery, and how do we achieve this? Well, it turns out there are a number of factors at play, which will be discussed in this blog, but also keep in mind that how each of us recovers is largely individual.
As a CrossFit coach, and someone who programs workouts for the "masses" all the time, I have to carefully consider the work to rest ratio of everything we do and ensure that not only are workouts challenging, engaging, and fun to do, but also do not push us to our absolute limits all the time. Working hard and being intense is important, but certainly not something that can be done consistently all the time.
This very topic is examined in Journal of Applied Physiology:
The notion that prolonged, intense exercise causes an “open window” of immunodepression during recovery after exercise is well accepted. Repeated exercise bouts or intensified training without sufficient recovery may increase the risk of illness. However, except for salivary IgA, clear and consistent markers of this immunodepression remain elusive. Exercise increases circulating neutrophil and monocyte counts and reduces circulating lymphocyte count during recovery. This lymphopenia results from preferential egress of lymphocyte subtypes with potent effector functions [e.g., natural killer (NK) cells, γδ T cells, and CD8+ T cells]. These lymphocytes most likely translocate to peripheral sites of potential antigen encounter (e.g., lungs and gut). This redeployment of effector lymphocytes is an integral part of the physiological stress response to exercise. Current knowledge about changes in immune function during recovery from exercise is derived from assessment at the cell population level of isolated cells ex vivo or in blood. This assessment can be biased by large changes in the distribution of immune cells between blood and peripheral tissues during and after exercise. Some evidence suggests that reduced immune cell function in vitro may coincide with changes in vivo and rates of illness after exercise, but more work is required to substantiate this notion. Among the various nutritional strategies and physical therapies that athletes use to recover from exercise, carbohydrate supplementation is the most effective for minimizing immune disturbances during exercise recovery. Sleep is an important aspect of recovery, but more research is needed to determine how sleep disruption influences the immune system of athletes.
We know that physical stress causes a stimulation and therefore chemical response (inflammation) within the body. Inflammation and damage to our tissues, caused by exercise, is therefore viewed in essentially the same way as a physical trauma would be (blunt force, for example). Something is wrong, and the body does its best to try and fix it. These inflammatory markers invade the necessary tissues to signal repair, which can include muscular regeneration as well as vascular adaptations.
Monocytes mobilized by exercise are likely to infiltrate skeletal muscle and differentiate into tissue-resident macrophages that facilitate repair and regeneration, particularly following arduous bouts of exercise that cause significant skeletal muscle damage (85). Monocytes with effector phenotypes are also preferentially redeployed after exercise. The CD14+/CD16+ “proinflammatory” monocytes are preferentially mobilized over their CD14+/CD16− counterparts (109). Monocyte expression of pathogen recognition receptors [e.g., toll-like receptors (TLRs)] tends to decrease in response to moderate-intensity exercise (109). Conversely, prolonged, intense exercise (60-km cycling time trial) increases TLR2 and TLR4 expression on monocytes, which may indicate a heightened proinflammatory state (11). A recent study showed that acute exercise mobilizes angiogenic T cells, which may facilitate vascular remodeling during exercise recovery (53). Exercise is also known to mobilize hematopoietic stem cells, which may participate in skeletal muscle repair and regeneration after exercise (25, 49). It has been suggested that exercise may have a role as an adjuvant to mobilize stem cells in donors for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (25).
If inflammatory markers are primarily focusing on tissue damage created during intense bouts of exercise, then the immune system itself is then depressed and less likely to be as efficient at dealing with foreign invaders. So, prolonged or consistent bouts of intense exercise can increase the risk of illness in athletes.
One thing to note, this review also discusses dietary interventions to aid in reducing the effects of immunodepression. It posits that consuming carbohydrates shortly before and during intense bouts of training can aid in boosting the immunity.
The immunomodulatory effects of carbohydrate may depend on the timing of carbohydrate intake. The ingestion of a glucose solution 15 min, but not 75 min, before 1-h high-intensity cycling prevented immunoendocrine perturbations (50). The lack of an effect of carbohydrates ingested 75 min preexercise was potentially associated with an insulin-induced decrease in the plasma glucose concentration before exercise, which, in turn, might have enhanced immunoendocrine responses (50). Carbohydrate ingestion during either the first or the second of two 90-min bouts of cycling on the same day better maintained plasma glucose and attenuated plasma stress hormone responses to the second bout (59). By contrast, carbohydrate ingestion during the 2-h recovery period between these exercise bouts had no such effects (59). These findings suggest beneficial effects of a timely carbohydrate supplementation (i.e., shortly before and/or during exercise) on immune responses to exercise. This may be particularly relevant with more prolonged and/or intense exercise protocols and when the recovery duration between two consecutive exercise bouts is short.
This is especially important to note for those individuals who have been recommended to reduce their carbohydrate consumption due to various reasons such as an apparent increased rate of weight loss. Low carbohydrate diets, coupled with intense exercise exacerbate these problems, and increase your risk of illness.
Some studies have investigated the effects of dietary carbohydrate intake on immune responses to consecutive days of exercise intended to deplete muscle glycogen (9, 10, 34, 65). A higher carbohydrate intake consistently attenuated certain components of immunodepression well into the recovery period (i.e., ≥2 h postexercise) after the second exercise session (10, 34, 65). Athletic training often involves conditions of low carbohydrate availability, e.g., due to abbreviated recovery periods and/or as part of a “train low-compete high” training regime (41, 42). These investigations therefore have particular practical implications. Compared with a higher carbohydrate intake (8 g·kg−1·day−1), very low carbohydrate intake (0.5 g·kg−1·day−1) leads to greater perturbation in leukocyte subsets during recovery from exercise (65). These effects may be related to sustained elevation of plasma cortisol concentration (65). Bishop et al. observed that compared with a low-carbohydrate diet (1.1 g·kg−1·day−1), a high-carbohydrate diet (8.4 g·kg−1·day−1) for 3 days after glycogen-lowering cycling attenuated plasma cortisol and cytokine concentrations and circulating total leukocyte and neutrophil counts following subsequent exercise (10).
Higher than "normal" amounts of protein - or at least what most would probably consider to be higher than normal, also aid to reduce the effects of this immunodepression from intense exercise. But readers of my blog probably already knew that.
Recognizing the importance of protein for immunocompetence (15), there are benefits of postexercise protein ingestion (18, 19, 69) or a diet high in protein (128) on immune responses to exercise. On the basis of previous results indicating that exercise-induced lymphocyte trafficking was impaired during high-intensity training, Witard et al. examined whether a high-protein diet can restore these impaired immune responses (128). Consuming a high-protein diet (3 g·kg−1·day−1) helped to minimize exercise-induced changes in lymphocyte distribution during a period of intense training (128). Interestingly, an energy- and carbohydrate-matched normal protein diet (1.5 g·kg−1·day−1) failed to provide the same benefit (128). The high-protein diet was also associated with fewer self-reported upper respiratory illnesses (128). Another study demonstrated that protein and leucine supplementation for 1–3 h postexercise during 6 days of high-intensity training enhanced neutrophil respiratory burst activity after the last exercise session (69). Consuming a carbohydrate-protein solution immediately, but not 1 h, after exercise prevents a decrease in neutrophil degranulation during the postexercise recovery period (19).
To summarize, one of the most important factors in preventing overtraining is just the cognizance of work to rest. Sure, intense exercise is great, but is not necessary all the time. Now also realize that intensity is a relative term. What is intense for one individual may be a "walk in the park" for someone else. Your current training status, how much stimulus your body can handle, your age, your activity level outside of the gym, etc. all play a part in how intense you can push yourself in the gym.
Having a coach that can discuss and assess these aspects, as well as design and implement a training program for you that is challenging, fun, engaging, and rewarding is also extremely important. Oftentimes individuals get stuck with the mindset that more must be better, and that working harder must be the path that is taken in order to reach your goals.
Beyond having a balanced training program with sufficient rest, and as this review points out, other strategies such as nutritional interventions can go a long way to help keep your immune system working as good as possible to prevent illness and overtraining....I mean under-recovering.
For some of you, especially clients of mine who already participate in CrossFit or CrossFit-style conditioning, this blog may be filed under the, "Yeah, I knew that already" category. For others, keep reading and pay attention because we see this all too often with ageing populations.
It turns out, being active as you age isn't enough. Instead, you need to push your limits by doing something like high intensity interval training (HIIT) a few times a week.
First, the fancy science jargon:
The molecular transducers of benefits from different exercise modalities remain incompletely defined. Here we report that 12 weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval (HIIT), resistance (RT), and combined exercise training enhanced insulin sensitivity and lean mass, but only HIIT and combined training improved aerobic capacity and skeletal muscle mitochondrial respiration. HIIT revealed a more robust increase in gene transcripts than other exercise modalities, particularly in older adults, although little overlap with corresponding individual protein abundance was noted. HIIT reversed many age-related differences in the proteome, particularly of mitochondrial proteins in concert with increased mitochondrial protein synthesis. Both RT and HIIT enhanced proteins involved in translational machinery irrespective of age. Only small changes of methylation of DNA promoter regions were observed. We provide evidence for predominant exercise regulation at the translational level, enhancing translational capacity and proteome abundance to explain phenotypic gains in muscle mitochondrial function and hypertrophy in all ages.
If you remember back to your high school science days, you should remember a little organelle found inside your cells known as the mitochondrion. Also known as the cell's "powerhouse." Well, as we age, the ability for our mitochondria to produce energy energy diminishes, or becomes less efficiently, so we tend to have less and less energy. Sure, we are going to see decreased energy and performance as you get older, but you might as well fight like hell to stay as spry and energetic as possible. Here's how.
For those of you not familiar with it, HIIT training involves short bursts of intense activity, interspersed with recovery periods. Clearly I am biased because I am the head of CrossFit Orangeville, but this is exactly what we promote at CF Orangeville - intensity.
Anyways, the above study assigned groups of people either aged 18-30 or 65-80 years old to 3 months of either HIIT training, just resistance training, or a combination of the two. What they found was that although the younger group (18-30 year olds) improved their ability to generate energy via their mitochondria by 49% using interval training, the older group (65-80 year olds) improved by 69%! Participants also saw additional improvements in cardiovascular markers such as lung, heart, and circulation health.
It should be noted that the resistance training only groups also saw tremendous health improvements from resistance training alone, but didn't reap the same energy benefits the HIIT participants received.
More from the study:
High intensity aerobic interval training (HIIT) involves repeating short bouts of activity at near-maximal intensity, which rapidly and robustly increases aerobic capacity, mitochondrial respiration, and insulin sensitivity in young people (Burgomaster et al., 2008; Irving et al., 2011). Resistance training (RT) reverses sarcopenia and age-related declines in myosin heavy-chain gene transcripts and synthesis rates of muscle proteins (Balagopal et al., 2001), but a comprehensive gene transcripts and proteome comparison with aerobic training has not been performed. Combined training (CT) offers many benefits of both aerobic and resistance training, although the intensity of aerobic and resistance components are lower than either HIIT or standard RT programs (Irving et al., 2015). Lower exercise intensity may limit training adaptations (Ross et al., 2015), particularly of mitochondria (MacInnis et al., 2016).
So what was noted was the fact that lower exercise, although somewhat beneficial to the participants, was not as beneficial as high intensity training was. I tend to like to summarize findings like that as simple as possible. I also keep in mind that our bodies are computers that feed on stimulus. What I mean by that is that having our bodies perform a specific action creates a stimulus. Stimuli create a reaction for the body to overcome. For example, exercising (stimulus) causes sore muscles (reaction), which in turn makes us stronger. In order to be better or more efficient at producing energy, you must create a stimulus (intense exercise) worthy enough of challenging what the body can currently do. Unfortunately for most people, is that they are either apprehensive about pushing themselves into that "uncomfortable" zone, or simply have never really attempted to push that hard.
Although it is not the case 100% of the time, for the most part, creating a stimulus for the body that goes beyond what is the current status quo can cause a reaction or adaptation that improves our overall health - you just need to go to that place that is momentarily uncomfortable.
This is one of the biggest problems/concerns I receive from clients, especially during this time of year. Maybe your intentions are to remove that holiday bulge before summer, or are starting a brand-new exercise/diet program, yet the scale is either not moving, or moving in the wrong direction.
If what you're doing now isn't working, you need to do something different. Unfortunately for some, the belief is that if they then need to exercise even more than they are already, and that is usually not the case.
I will detail some of the key culprits when it comes to not meeting your weight loss goals.
1. Overestimating the amount of calories you are burning
This is very common. A gruelling, tough, hour-long workout gives you the ability to throw caution to the wind and have that "cheat" meal later, correct? Well, not exactly.
Take a well-conditioned athlete and put them to the test with an extremely tough hour-long workout. Chances are, that individual will burn somewhere in the ballpark of 800-1000 calories. The average person? Probably closer to 600-700 - and that will be even lower for females.
Now, how quickly do you think you can gain those calories back with one meal, or a dessert?
I've written about this pretty extensively in the past, but just keep this in mind. Yes, exercise is great for total health, and can certainly aid in weight loss over time, but consider exercise as a way of "fine-tuning" your body to be better at burning calories those other 23 hours of the day. You still need to eat well at least 90% of the time to either lose weight or maintain what you currently have.
2. Are you cutting enough calories?
Closely related to #1, make sure you are getting a solid estimate on not only how many calories you should be ingesting (with weight loss in mind) as well as how many calories you are actually ingesting.
The human brain is funny in this way, especially when it comes to rewarding itself. Don't kid yourself, the brain wants to trick you into eating - it is a survival mechanism for us. It is certainly ok to feel hungry some of the time, especially if your goal is to lose weight.
3. Are you cutting too many calories?
This falls under the same category as the exercise one. Most think that if weight isn't being lost eating "x" number of calories, then you must eat even less to get that weight loss started. Well, not exactly.
More often than not, the clients I deal with aren't optimizing their nutrition. They are generally eating too little, and eating the "wrong" things. Believe it or not, you don't need to completely starve yourself in order to see results. Aim for no more than about 500 calories under what you are probably burning for the day (eating at a deficit).
Eating too little can cause metabolic stress and can either slow, halt, or even reverse weight loss. Not only that, but not properly fuelling yourself can hinder the performance you have in the gym, having a vicious cycle on how much you are improving your body.
4. Are you sleep deprived/stressed?
Stress hormones can wreak havoc on weight loss. Evaluate when you are going to bed at night (try and stick to a schedule), and make sure you are getting adequate sleep. Not only that, but stress at work, in your personal life, etc., can not only cause you to make poorer food choices, but can hormonally cause you to gain weight as well.
Luckily enough, exercise is a fantastic way to manage stress. Staying consistent with an exercise program can help you better manage your stress, therefore ensuring your weight loss stays consistent.
5. Are you retaining water?
This is a common one for individuals just starting an exercise program - especially if it involves even a remote amount of resistance training. Muscles turn into sugar (see: glycogen) sponges, which in turn, retains water. This is why your muscles feel puffy and bloated after a tough workout.
It is entirely possible to gain a few pounds when starting a workout program via water retention. I encourage clients not to focus too much on the scale, and instead, give yourself some time to see the results in not only how you feel and perform, but how your clothes fit as well.
6. Are you watching for hidden calories (i.e. drinks)?
Additives to drinks, or simply the drinks themselves, can cause sugar and calories to add up fast. One of the first things I recommend a client do is to cut out unnecessary beverages or limit them to one day a week.
Stick to water, black coffee or teas, and milk.
There was a very interesting study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research lately:
In this study, we have used the multimodular measuring system SMART. The system consisted of six infrared cameras, and a wireless module to measure muscle bioelectric activity. Additionally, the path of the barbell was measured with special device called the pantograph. Our study concerns the change in the structure of the flat bench press when the weight of the barbell is increased. The research on the bench press technique included both the causes of the motion: the internal structure of the movement as well as the external-kinematic structure showing the effects of the motion, i.e. all the characteristics of the movement. Twenty healthy, male recreational weight trainers with at least 1 year of lifting experience (the mean +/- SD = 3.3 +/- 1.6 years), were recruited for this study. The subjects had a mean body mass of 80.2 +/- 8.6 kg, an average height of 1.77 +/- 0.08 m, and their average age was 24.7 +/- 0.9 years old. In the measuring session, the participants performed consecutive sets of a single repetition of bench pressing with an increasing load (about 70, 80, 90, and 100% of their 1 repetition maximum - 1RM). The results showed a significant change in the phase structure of the bench press as the barbell weight was increased. While doing the bench press at a 100% 1RM load, the pectoralis major changes from being the prime mover to being the supportive-prime mover. At the same time, the role of the prime mover is taken on by the deltoideus anterior. The triceps brachii, in particular, clearly show a greater involvement.
So what exactly does this mean? Well, the authors of this study found that the more weight an individual bench presses, the less and less the chest remains as the "prime mover." This actually isn't all that surprising, if you think about it, but is important for a few reasons none-the-less.
The bench press is considered a "compound" or "core" movement because it displaces load across multiple muscle groups and joints. When you bench press, the weight gets displaced across not only the pectorals, but the deltoids, triceps, etc. The joints involved include the shoulders and elbows. Compound movements are generally able to move more load due to this loading scheme across the body.
What this study is telling us is that although the pectorals may be one of the larger muscle groups involved in pressing the weight, the workload across the chest seems to peak at around 70% of an individual's 1-rep max, and any loads greater than that, and approaching closer to 100% come from recruiting the "supporting cast" - deltoids, triceps, etc.
Why this finding is important is because the training plan for an individual should be tailored to his or her goals. An individual who wishes to get a bigger chest, for example, may be better off training at less than 70% of their 1-rep max in order to increase overall workout volume without failing out due to fatigue in either the deltoids or triceps.
Not only that, but this also tells us the importance of accessory training. An individual can train their chest at sub-optimal loads all they want, but if there isn't enough effort and time invested in proper triceps and deltoid mechanics, strength, and health, they may struggle to improve their bench press 1-rep max.
Just some food for thought.
“No pain, no gain!”
“If you’re not puking, you’re not working hard enough!”
“Go until you can’t do one more rep!”
That’s how we should train, right? Well no, at least not in untrained lifters, according to a new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effects of resistance training (RT) at high- and low-intensities performed to muscle failure or volitional interruption on muscle strength, cross-sectional area (CSA), pennation angle (PA) and muscle activation. Thirty-two untrained men participated in the study. Each leg was allocated in one of four unilateral RT protocols: RT to failure at high (HIRT-F) and low (LIRT-F) intensities, and RT to volitional interruption (repetitions performed to the point in which participants voluntarily interrupted the exercise) at high (HIRT-V) and low (LIRT-V) intensities. Muscle strength (1-RM), CSA, PA and muscle activation by amplitude of the electromyography (EMG) signal were assessed before (Pre), after 6 (6W) and 12 (12W) weeks. 1-RM increased similarly after 6W (range: 15.8 - 18.9%, ES: 0.41- 0.58) and 12W (range: 25.6 - 33.6%, ES: 0.64 - 0.98) for all protocols. All protocols were similarly effective in increasing CSA after 6W (range: 3.0 - 4.6%, ES: 0.10 - 0.24) and 12W (range: 6.1 - 7.5%, ES: 0.22 - 0.26). PA increased after 6W (~3.5) and 12W (~9%; main time effect, P < 0.0001), with no differences between protocols. EMG values were significantly higher for the high-intensity protocols at all times (main intensity effect, P < 0.0001). In conclusion, both high- and low-intensity RT performed to volitional interruption are equally effective in increasing muscle mass, strength and PA when compared to RT performed to muscle failure.
Ok, so why is this important? How often do you hear from somebody you know who has recently started a workout program, and all they rave about is how tough it is. “My trainer made me do so many squats that I could barely walk for a week afterwards!”
Although D.O.M.S. (delayed onset muscle soreness) is an inflammatory response to something your body is not used to, it doesn’t always mean that you are necessarily improving. The go beyond that, doing something like squats or push-ups until you can no longer do one more rep shouldn’t necessarily be your end goal either.
What the aforementioned study is telling us, is that in untrained individuals, training to failure isn’t necessarily more effective in improving your strength or muscular size. This is quite important to remember for those just starting out in a workout program because the belief is that you must completely destroy yourself in order to improve.
I would argue that movement mechanics and safety outweigh the importance of how hard you work in the beginning. Take note that I still think intensity and effort need to be high in order to start to develop good habits, however, effective coaching where an athlete or participant is scaled and pushed according to their fitness and skill level should be the primary focus.
I run the CrossFit Orangeville Beginner Bootcamp with this very mentality. Sure, the first few sessions involve soreness (read above: D.O.M.S) and some minimal muscular failure, however, the primary focus is on moving well first, and then we begin to scale up the intensity and effort as the strength and fitness level of the participants begins to climb.
It should be noted that this study was conducted on untrained individuals. We have seen research that shows the vast differences between training intensity and volume in trained individuals. Some people seem to be able to handle more or less overall training volume based on a number of variables and circumstances.
Having said that, for untrained folks, this study tells us that just “getting your feet wet” and ramping up intensity later is probably the best option. Not only that, but I see it time and time again when new trainees start too intense, push their bodies to the limit in the beginning, and end up either injured or too sore to move. The far better option would be to push enough (with proper coaching) and staying consistent over time rather than trying to accomplish everything in a workout or two.
If you hear something often enough it becomes the truth...right?
As the head of CrossFit Orangeville here at the Athlete Institute, I am clearly biased when it comes to promoting what I believe to be a worthwhile health and fitness program. I truly believe that CrossFit is one of the most effective forms of strength and conditioning for nearly everyone based on the numerous reasons that I have spoken and written about in the past.
This blog, however, is meant to address the giant elephant in the room whenever the topic of CrossFit comes up - safety. Some question it, “Isn’t CrossFit dangerous?” Some flat out state their beliefs, which they generally believe to be facts, “CrossFit is dangerous, you’ll just get hurt!”
Although I would like to say that these unfounded and unreasonable comments come from the “average Joe” or the misinformed, many similar comments can, at times, come from health professionals as well.
I suppose it seems to make sense - CrossFit is thought to be dangerous for the very same reasons that make it extremely effective. We use constantly varied, functional movements, performed at high intensity. This can include moving either our bodies or external loads (barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, etc.) though space as quickly as possible.
CrossFit’s mantra is that form and safety should be a priority long before intensity is ramped up. The participant or individual should be able to move the same body or external weight through space regardless of load. All of this tends to be the opposite of what you maybe hear about or see on YouTube “fail” videos.
Despite my best efforts to not only convince some that, when executed properly, CrossFit is extremely safe, some just simply do not want to hear it. Not only that, but when you hear something repeated often enough, it tends to be become truthful and these skewed “truths” get repeated verbatim, or even exaggerated, without further thought.
“To those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, none will suffice.”
So, despite the fact that some will not believe what this study has to say anyways, here is some proof that CrossFit can be a highly effective form of exercise.
BACKGROUND: CrossFitTM is a strength and conditioning programme that has gained widespread popularity since its inception approximately 15 years ago. However, at present little is known about the level of injury risk associated with this form of training. Movement competency, assessed using the Functional Movement ScreenTM (FMS), has been identified as a risk factor for injury in numerous athletic populations, but its role in CrossFit participants is currently unclear. The aim of this study was to evaluate the level of injury risk associated with CrossFit training, and examine the influence of a number of potential risk factors (including movement competency).
METHODS: A cohort of 117 CrossFit participants were followed prospectively for 12 weeks. Participants’ characteristics, previous injury history and training experience were recorded at baseline, and an FMS assessment was conducted.
RESULTS: The overall injury incidence rate was 2.10 per 1000 training hours (90% Confidence Limits: 1.32 - 3.33). A multivariate Poisson regression model identified males (rate ratio [RR]: 4.44 ×/÷ 3.30, very likely harmful) and those with previous injuries (RR: 2.35 ×/÷ 2.37, likely harmful) as having a higher injury risk. Inferences relating to FMS variables were unclear in the multivariate model, although number of asymmetries was a clear risk factor in a univariate model (RR per two additional asymmetries: 2.62 ×/÷ 1.53, likely harmful).
CONCLUSIONS: The injury incidence rate associated with CrossFit training was low, and comparable to other forms of recreational fitness activities. Previous injury and gender were identified as risk factors for injury, whilst the role of movement competency in this setting warrants further investigation.
So, first and foremost. This was a prospective cohort study. Why is that important?
Prospective means that the study participants were observed over the course of the study so that either the participants (or their coaches) could report their injuries first-hand.
Retrospective, on the other hand (not this study), means that study participants are surveyed at the end of a time period to reflect back on what they experienced during a set period of time.
Generally, studies that are prospective are more accurate since, in this case, injuries are reported as they happen rather than reflecting on them in the past. Retrospective is generally less accurate.
So what did this prospective cohort study tell us? Injury rates for CrossFit were found to be 2.1 hours for every 1,000 training hours. This puts CrossFit right in the mix of things when compared to other power/strength sports such as Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting, which has an injury rate of 0.24-5.5 injuries per 1,000 training hours. It is also comparable to middle-range running events which has an injury rate around 1.4-5.4 injuries for every 1,000 hours training.
Compare the injury rates of CrossFit to other team and individual sports and you will be amazed at how much safer CrossFit can be. No, this doesn’t mean that competitive sport shouldn’t be popularized, instead, understand the risks and hazards to any sport and stop criticizing a sport/activity like CrossFit for being theoretically “unsafe.”
To be honest I always chuckle and shake my head whenever I hear individuals talk about how dangerous is for either themselves or even their children, yet they won’t think twice about either themselves playing weekend hockey or enrolling their kids in sport.
How many times do you hear about grown adults who play recreational sports, also known as “weekend warriors,” who sit at a desk at work all week only to go out on weekends and beat themselves up with their weekly activity?
Not only that, but parents who don’t want to hurt their children with something as scary as weightlifting, yet will allow them to strap on pads and risk injury on the hockey rink. I played competitive hockey growing up as well and would love for my kids to play, but the fear of injury from something such a weightlifting in a structured environment (i.e. CrossFit) is overblown. Oh, and by the way, all of these myths and mistruths about kids and weightlifting are completely bogus.
There are inherent risks to anything we do, especially when you are physically pushing your body to its limit. Having said that, CrossFit, under the correct supervision from highly trained coaches and trainers, can be a very safe form of strength and conditioning to not only get ‘fit,’ but to improve all other areas of your fitness as well.
Readers of my blog know that I am not a big fan of broscience. Sure, sometimes broscience can be pretty bang-on with its claims, but for the most part evidential science tells us otherwise.
One of the biggest myths or misconceptions that I hear all the time surrounds the supposed post workout 1-hour anaobolic window. This is certainly one of these things that since it hear it repeated so often, it just seems to be truth. In actuality, and I love Brad Schoenfeld's take on this, rather than calling it a post workout anabolic window, it should probably be called the post workout anabolic barn door.
A recent study in the American Journal of Physiology looked at just this idea:
Protein ingestion before sleep augments post-exercise muscle protein synthesis during overnight recovery. Purpose: It is unknown whether post-exercise and pre-sleep protein consumption modulates post-prandial protein handling and myofibrillar protein synthetic responses the following morning. Sixteen healthy young (24±1 y) men performed unilateral resistance-type exercise (contralateral leg acting as a resting control) at 20:00 h. Participants ingested 20 g protein immediately after exercise plus 60 g protein pre-sleep (PRO group; n=8) or equivalent boluses of carbohydrate (CON; n=8). The subsequent morning participants received primed-continuous infusions of L-[ring-2H5]phenylalanine and L-[1-13C]leucine combined with ingestion of 20 g intrinsically L-[1-13C]phenylalanine and L-[1-13C]leucine labelled protein to assess postprandial protein handling and myofibrillar protein synthesis in the rested and exercised leg in CON and PRO. Exercise increased post-absorptive myofibrillar protein synthesis rates the subsequent day (P<0.001), with no differences between treatments. Protein ingested in the morning increased myofibrillar protein synthesis in both the exercised- and rested-leg (P<0.01), with no differences between treatments. Myofibrillar protein bound L-[1-13C]phenylalanine enrichments were greater in the exercised (0.016±0.002 and 0.015±0.002 MPE in CON and PRO, respectively) versus rested (0.010±0.002 and 0.009±0.002 MPE in CON and PRO, respectively) leg (P<0.05), with no differences between treatments (P>0.05). The additive effects of resistance-type exercise and protein ingestion on myofibrillar protein synthesis persist for >12 h after exercise and are not modulated by protein consumption during acute post-exercise recovery. This work provides evidence of an extended window of opportunity where pre-sleep protein supplementation can be an effective nutrient timing strategy to optimize skeletal muscle reconditioning.
This research is indicating that the timing of your protein ingestion probably isn't as important as you once thought, and the speed at which you down your shake isn't going to make or break your gainz. Instead, and something that I repeat to my clients time and time again, is focus on hitting your protein goals between the time you wake up and the time you go to bed - around 1g/lb. bodyweight. On top of that, and something that this study is suggesting, is that having some circulating protein in your system during the hours you are sleeping can be beneficial as well.
I would postulate that since human growth hormone spikes when you are sleeping, it would be extremely beneficial for your body to have some readily-available amino acids for tissue growth, repair, and regeneration during that time. I personally wouldn't worry about the absorption rate of various types of protein - casein vs. whey, for example, since the rate of digestion and then absorption and utilization are quite different. The rate-limiting step of protein absorption is based on the protein transports that carry the broken down amino acids from the intestines and eventually end up at the desired site of growth and repair (muscle tissue, for example).
It is no secret that obesity rates on the rise. Not only are adults working on expanding waistlines, but their children are as well. Oftentimes we see obese children, huffing and puffing, trailing behind their overweight parents. The common sentiment generally leads us towards, "Kids these days, spending too much time indoors and not enough time playing outside."
Fortunately, this blog is not about the argument for or against the activity level of children, nor is it going to get into the specifics of what children are eating these days. Instead, I am going to defend the children and point the blame at the parents. Despite the fact that it has become all too easy to just call them lazy kids, obese children may in fact be starting off behind the 8-ball because of their parents.
I have picked on the dads a bit in the past with my blog written about genetic inheritance of obesity from unfit dads. There have been other studies that have also pointed out the importance of the health and fitness level of fathers when trying to conceive.
One could guess that the health status of the mother is also important when trying to conceive. More and more research is now supporting this hypothesis, such as a recent review released in The Lancet:
In addition to immediate implications for pregnancy complications, increasing evidence implicates maternal obesity as a major determinant of offspring health during childhood and later adult life. Observational studies provide evidence for effects of maternal obesity on her offspring's risks of obesity, coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and asthma. Maternal obesity could also lead to poorer cognitive performance and increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, including cerebral palsy. Preliminary evidence suggests potential implications for immune and infectious-disease-related outcomes. Insights from experimental studies support causal effects of maternal obesity on offspring outcomes, which are mediated at least partly through changes in epigenetic processes, such as alterations in DNA methylation, and perhaps through alterations in the gut microbiome. Although the offspring of obese women who lose weight before pregnancy have a reduced risk of obesity, few controlled intervention studies have been done in which maternal obesity is reversed and the consequences for offspring have been examined. Because the long-term effects of maternal obesity could have profound public health implications, there is an urgent need for studies on causality, underlying mechanisms, and effective interventions to reverse the epidemic of obesity in women of childbearing age and to mitigate consequences for offspring.
So just as your parents pass along traits such as hair colour, eye colour, height, personality, etc., you pick up a few of their lifestyle habits as well. How can this be? Everyone starts life with a clean slate, right? Well, no, as it turns out.
Research is telling us that the lifestyle choices made by our parents cause what's called DNA methylations that can actually be passed down through reproduction. DNA methylation is like using a light switch in a room in your house. Obviously, when you want a light on, you hit the light switch. How this works on your DNA, is that when a specific signal needs to be saved for further DNA replication, our bodies "install" light switches or signals on parts of our genes essentially turning them on or off. Favourable lifestyle choices turn on favourable genes. Unfortunately, unfavourable lifestyle choices can also turn off favourable genes. These genes that have been turned off can also be passed on to your children.
This is both comforting/encouraging to some of you, but also a very scary premise for others. It should be encouraging to know that if you are individual who struggles with keeping a healthy weight, it is not necessarily the effort you put forth, or having a bad plan in place, but simply because you are genetically more prone to be overweight. That is not something that should make you quit, just realize that some have it easier than others when it comes to weight management.
This is also a terrifying premise considering the rise in obesity. If obese parents are passing on their less-than-favourable genetic information to their children, this is going to turn into one vicious cycle as each generation will have to fight harder and harder to reverse the effects of obesity. If you don't think this is a scary phenomenon, consider not only the reduced quality of life an overweight or obese person must face, not to mention the financial burden this places on our healthcare system.
If you are trying to conceive, or will be in the future, consider improving your overall health by eating sensibly and exercising regularly to hopefully prevent a future like that seen in Wall-E (video below).
More reading on this:
1. Babies born to mothers who are obese or have gestational diabetes are larger and have more body fat.
2. Babies born to mothers who are obese or have gestational diabetes have fatty liver.
3. Babies born to mothers who are obese or have gestational diabetes are insulin resistant from birth.
4. Babies born to mothers after the mother lost weight have a reduced risk of obesity versus children born to mothers that are still overweight.
Readers of this blog should know by now that I am a strong advocate for "high" protein diets. I use that term "high" pretty loosely here simply because what most dietary guidelines tell you about protein ingestion seems to lead folks to believe that the bare minimum is good enough.
I have heard my fair share of false theories and claims surrounding high protein diets, and spend a good majority of my time encouraging increased protein consumption for clients of mine when it comes to dietary coaching. For years now, there seems to be a war being waged between high fat/low carb dieters and high carb/low fat dieters, or those folks in between who just keep saying, "Everything is fine in moderation."
What if the key to a successful body transformation and body weight maintenance revolved around increased protein ingestion? Blasphemous! High protein diets are dangerous, right? Too much protein is bad for your kidneys! Too much protein will make you fat! Too much protein will make your teeth fall out! (Ok, I made that last one up.)
Take a look at this recent study out of Nova Southeaster University in Florida:
The purpose of this investigation was to determine the effects of a high protein diet over a one-year period. Fourteen healthy resistance-trained men completed the study (mean ± SD; age yr; height cm; and average years of training yr). In a randomized crossover design, subjects consumed their habitual or normal diet for 2 months and 4 months and alternated that with a higher protein diet (>3 g/kg/d) for 2 months and 4 months. Thus, on average, each subject was on their normal diet for 6 months and a higher protein diet for 6 months. Body composition was assessed via the Bod Pod®. Each subject provided approximately 100–168 daily dietary self-reports. During the subjects’ normal eating phase, they consumed (mean ± SD) kcals/kg/day and g/kg/day of protein. This significantly increased () during the high protein phase to kcals/kg/day and g/kg/day of protein. Our investigation discovered that, in resistance-trained men that consumed a high protein diet (~2.51–3.32 g/kg/d) for one year, there were no harmful effects on measures of blood lipids as well as liver and kidney function. In addition, despite the total increase in energy intake during the high protein phase, subjects did not experience an increase in fat mass.
First of all, note the fact that the test subjects consumed 2.51-3.32g/kg of protein per day. I personally weigh 195lbs. That means I would be consuming 222-294g/protein each day. Just to give you some context, I tend to follow the advice I give my clients - aim for 1g of protein for every pound of body weight, and even that alarms people with how much protein they should be consuming!
So not only was the, by all accounts - extremely high protein consumption diet safe, the participants of the study also did not gain any body fat. That is despite the fact that they consumed more calories than needed on a day to day basis.
To be honest, it would be nice to somehow fund a much longer-term study to see if increased protein ingestion had any adverse health effects over many years, however, based on this study, and the lack of adverse health markers, one could assume or postulate that there shouldn't be any negative risk factors over a longer-term.
Interesting, none-the-less, and certainly more evidence that I will share with my readers and clients going forward as I continue to strongly advocate a high protein diet.
So, does exercise really actually burn or melt body fat? Well, a very plain and simple answer would be no, not really. The answer is certainly more complicated than that, and I plan on explaining myself further, but this is certainly a topic that most people get wrong, or are greatly misinformed.
Sure, a lot of you may read this blog and think, "Your argument is just semantics. Exercise (in a roundabout way) burns fat!" Well, maybe. Maybe this could be considered semantics, but I personally believe this plays a crucial role in how people perceive not only the role of exercise, but the role of food and their diet as well!
Heavy science jargon and content ahead. I have done my absolute best to explain what is going on here. You've been warned. If you're still here, let's dive in.
I came across this interesting review the other day:
Fat burning, defined by fatty acid oxidation into carbon dioxide, is the most described hypothesis to explain the actual abdominal fat reducing outcome of exercise training. This hypothesis is strengthened by evidence of increased whole-body lipolysis during exercise. As a result, aerobic training is widely recommended for obesity management. This intuition raises several paradoxes: first, both aerobic and resistance exercise training do not actually elevate 24 h fat oxidation, according to data from chamber-based indirect calorimetry. Second, anaerobic high-intensity intermittent training produces greater abdominal fat reduction than continuous aerobic training at similar amounts of energy expenditure. Third, significant body fat reduction in athletes occurs when oxygen supply decreases to inhibit fat burning during altitude-induced hypoxia exposure at the same training volume. Lack of oxygen increases post-meal blood distribution to human skeletal muscle, suggesting that shifting the postprandial hydrocarbons towards skeletal muscle away from adipose tissue might be more important than fat burning in decreasing abdominal fat. Creating a negative energy balance in fat cells due to competition of skeletal muscle for circulating hydrocarbon sources may be a better model to explain the abdominal fat reducing outcome of exercise than the fat-burning model.
Lots of science talk, let's break things down and give some thoughts as to what is being discussed here.
Fat burning, defined by fatty acid oxidation into carbon dioxide, is the most described hypothesis to explain the actual abdominal fat reducing outcome of exercise training.
This is one of these popular "facts" making its way around the internet lately. The idea that as you exercise and burn fat, the fat then just starts melting and you magically breathe it out as carbon dioxide. Sure, carbon dioxide is a by product of metabolism and respiration, and you certainly burn some fat during exercise, but it isn't really that simple.
This hypothesis is strengthened by evidence of increased whole-body lipolysis during exercise. As a result, aerobic training is widely recommended for obesity management.
Right. This has been heard for years. This is actually one point that seems to be at least somewhat well-known to be a mistruth now. That just because adipose tissue (body fat) is only burned in the presence of oxygen (oxidation), then low-level exercise must be best for burning fat. Right? Go for a nice long, easy run on the treadmill and you will get thin and sexy. Well, not exactly. My readers should know that intense exercise is better suited for reducing body fat by now so lets move on.
anaerobic high-intensity intermittent training produces greater abdominal fat reduction than continuous aerobic training at similar amounts of energy expenditure.
Study after study after study has shown just this - high intensity interval training is more effective for reducing body fat than steady state cardiovascular exercise.
significant body fat reduction in athletes occurs when oxygen supply decreases to inhibit fat burning during altitude-induced hypoxia exposure at the same training volume
Ah good, now things get interesting. So what this states is that body fat is reduced more in individuals that have decreased oxygen supply. Doesn't oxygen need to be present to burn body fat? Well, as the previous statement pointed out to us, high intensity exercise - you know, the type that has you gasping for air (oxygen deprived), is actually best at obtaining or maintaining an optimal body fat percentage.
Lack of oxygen increases post-meal blood distribution to human skeletal muscle, suggesting that shifting the postprandial hydrocarbons towards skeletal muscle away from adipose tissue might be more important than fat burning in decreasing abdominal fat.
This gets into the meat of this paper's argument, and one that I will elaborate on below. People need to stop thinking of exercise as a fat burner, and instead consider exercise (both resistance training and "cardio") as a means to make your body a better fat-burning machine.
Creating a negative energy balance in fat cells due to competition of skeletal muscle for circulating hydrocarbon sources may be a better model to explain the abdominal fat reducing outcome of exercise than the fat-burning model.
Once I dove deeper into this paper, I got a better sense of what point the authors were trying to prove. Your muscle cells and fat cells both have the ability and goal in mind to store energy. In fact, there seems to be a competition between the two. Your body is constantly varying its sources of energy based on your level of activity. When you are exercising intensely, your body is primarily using glucose as a fuel source, for example. Sure, there is some fat being oxidized, but the primary fuel source is glucose.
Compare that to the amount of fat being burned between aerobic exercise, resistance exercise, and non-exercise. Sorry resistance trainee camp, not even you can argue that resistance training is "better" than aerobic exercise for burning fat - at least not directly.
This one is telling for the "exercise until you puke" camp. The notion that the harder you exercise, the more fat you burn is total b.s. as well. Do I think intense exercise is important? Absolutely. Do I think intense exercise is necessary for weight loss and body fat reduction? Not really, or at least not primarily. Some is good, but only to a certain level.
So what is the point to all of this? Well this is where the semantics comes in.
The current understanding is that when you are exercising, your body is literally burning away those love handles as you crank through all those burpees or squats. As we saw in figure A above, this is simply not the case. Yes, intense exercise promotes lower body fat percentages, but not because the fat is literally being burned and exhaled as carbon dioxide. Ok, then it must be the post-workout "burn" where metabolism is revved up. That is a common theme, correct? Again, not the case. Because oxygen must be present in order to burn fatty acids as a fuel source, by exercising intensely, you are specifically forcing your body to turn to glucose as a primary energy source.
So low-level exercise is better for burning fat, right?
Well, no. Research has proven time and time again that shorter, intense exercise is not only more efficient and effective than low-level, steady-state exercise to improve cardiovascular health and a healthy body-fat percentage.
So what gives?
As this review points out, the mindset as to what exercise actually does to your body and how body fat is reduced is the most important part. Exercise, and more specifically, intense exercise (ideally with external resistance, i.e. weights) not only builds strong muscles, but it turns your muscles into energy consuming machines. This causes a domino effect.
- Body fat (adipose tissue) and lean tissue (muscle) are constantly competing over consuming incoming calories. The body seems to give preferential treatment to muscles the harder they work.
- Energy that is not consumed and stored in muscles goes to body fat.
- Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose. When your body is not active, glucose is not being burned as readily by muscles, so there is more glucose present and glucose becomes the primary energy source even during low-level activity (most of the day).
- Fatty acids from adipose tissue are the primary energy source for majority of your day (i.e. the time you aren't working out intensely). But if glucose is present, blood sugar (glucose) becomes the energy source of choice.
- If your body is using blood glucose as an energy source, body fat deposits are not reducing.
- If your muscles are consuming large amounts of energy, especially carbohydrates, then your body primarily uses fatty acids (adipose tissue) as the energy source.
So although this isn't necessarily different than what most people should already know - intense exercise makes you thin and keeps you healthy, the mindset for how this works should change. Resistance training is used to not only strengthen the connective tissues of the body, but to make your muscles greater calorie-burning machines.
Carbohydrates should be consumed almost entirely just prior to, and/or immediately following a workout in order to reduce the amount that is stored as body fat.
Although intense activity is great and very important for overall health, the more active you are the rest of the day during "low-level activity" (walking, working, playing, etc.), the more effective your body will be at reducing your body fat percentage.
This title may look familiar since I just recently wrote about how resistance training is the fountain of youth. Although I certainly am not here to discredit my recent blog, I am certainly here to elaborate on it a bit further based on a recent study.
Age-related decline in muscle power predicts falls, motor impairments and disability. Recent guidelines suggested that training programs should be tailored to maximize muscle power. This study investigated the effects of 12 weeks of explosive-type heavy-resistance training (75-80% of 1 repetition maximum) in old (60-65 years, TG60) and very old (80-89 years, TG80) community-dwelling women. Training was performed with maximal intentional acceleration of the training load during the concentric movement phase. Maximal isometric voluntary muscle strength (MVC), rapid force capacity, assessed as rate of force development (RFD), and impulse, maximal muscle power during a countermovement jump (CMJ) and during unilateral leg extension task (LEP) were evaluated. RFD, impulse and MVC increased by 51%, 42% and 28% in TG80, and by 21%, 18% and 18% in TG60, respectively. CMJ jump height increased by 18% and 10% in TG80 and TG60, respectively, while jump peak power increased in TG60 (5%). Finally, LEP increased 28% in TG80 and 12% in TG60. These findings demonstrate that explosive-type heavy-resistance training seems to be safe and well tolerated in healthy women even in the eighth decade of life and elicits adaptive neuromuscular changes in selected physiological variables that are commonly associated with the risk of falls and disability in aged individuals.
When you hear about "explosive training," your mind probably leans towards young athletes and how fast and powerful they seem. You almost certainly never think about grandma and her slower pace. Well, according to the above study, explosive training is not only tolerated by individuals well into their 80's, but is highly recommended for healthy aging as well.
Resistance (strength) training is still extremely important. Using maximal, or even sub maximal loads to increase the strength and durability of muscles, bones, connective tissues, etc. is regarded as one of the most effective ways of aging gracefully.
Explosive or power training involves moving less weight, but moving said weight quicker. A really simple example would be either pushing or throwing a ball. Throwing is an explosive action. The above study found that training older individuals with explosive actions helped to improve their reflexive actions.
Strength training involves learning how to activate more muscle in order to move a desired load. Your muscles are made up of many muscle fibers. Although all muscle fibers shorten at once when a muscle contracts, only a certain percentage of them does the work at any given time. Strength training can then be considered a skill by learning how to activate more muscle fibers and therefore generate more force.
Power or explosive training is all about increasing the reaction time between your brain and muscles. The faster your brain can not only get a signal to the muscle fibers, but to also have them contract at a faster rate, the more explosive they can be.
As the study points out, many age-related problems occur due to the risk of falling. Falling happens for a number of reasons, but most often occur due to a slow reaction time. Your brain is usually pretty efficient and effective at recognizing the signs that balance is off, but the time it takes to react to being off balance and therefore correcting the balance can deteriorate over time. Explosive training helps to keep that quickness needed.
This doesn't necessarily mean that grandma needs to do plyometrics, but instead, learn to safely and effectively lift lighter weights safely and quickly.
Ah yes, dairy vs. soy. The purpose of this blog is not to necessarily vilify soy further than needed, as I don't really buy into the bad press that soy has received over time. Soy has taken a bad rap recently due to its apparent ability to reduce testosterone on top of a few other strikes against it. Although I don't necessarily think that soy is terrible for you, I generally recommend that individuals target more bio-available proteins from animal sources (when possible).
We know that animal-based protein sources such as eggs, chicken, red meat, fish, dairy, etc. have a higher bioavailability score than plant-based sources. What does this mean? Well, when a protein source has a higher bioavailable score, your body is able to extract and utilize more of the amino acid chains found in said protein. Not only that, but animal sources are (arguably) the only way to get all of the essential amino acids (EAA) needed from a single source. Plant sources can contain all EAAs, but at times are quite deficient in some way, so must be supplemented correctly to cover all of the bases.
An essential amino acid or indispensable amino acid is an amino acid that cannot be synthesized de novo (from scratch) by the organism, and thus must be supplied in its diet. The nine amino acids humans cannot synthesize are phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine (i.e., F V T W M L I K H).
Anyways, a recent study took a look at high dairy protein ingestion vs. high soy protein ingestion, and even included a "usual protein" control group.
Maintenance of muscle mass and strength into older age is critical to maintain health. The aim was to determine whether increased dairy or soy protein intake combined with resistance training enhanced strength gains in older adults.
179 healthy older adults (age 61.5 ± 7.4 yrs, BMI 27.6 ± 3.6 kg/m(2)) performed resistance training three times per week for 12 weeks and were randomized to one of three eucaloric dietary treatments which delivered >20 g of protein at each main meal or immediately after resistance training: high dairy protein (HP-D, >1.2 g of protein/kg body weight/d; ∼27 g/d dairy protein); high soy protein (HP-S, >1.2 g of protein/kg body weight/d; ∼27 g/d soy protein); usual protein intake (UP, <1.2 g of protein/kg body weight/d). Muscle strength, body composition, physical function and quality of life were assessed at baseline and 12 weeks. Treatments effects were analyzed using two-way ANOVA.
83 participants completed the intervention per protocol (HP-D = 34, HP-S = 26, UP = 23). Protein intake was higher in HP-D and HP-S compared with UP (HP-D 1.41 ± 0.14 g/kg/d, HP-S 1.42 ± 0.61 g/kg/d, UP 1.10 ± 0.10 g/kg/d; P < 0.001 treatment effect). Strength increased less in HP-S compared with HP-D and UP (HP-D 92.1 ± 40.8%, HP-S 63.0 ± 23.8%,UP 92.3 ± 35.4%; P = 0.002 treatment effect). Lean mass, physical function and mental health scores increased and fat mass decreased (P ≤ 0.006), with no treatment effect (P > 0.06).
Let's first discuss the giant elephant in the room:
"The study was supported by a competitive peer-reviewed grant from the Dairy Health and Nutrition Consortium, Australia (Bega Cheese/Tatura Milk Industries, Fonterra Australia, Lion Dairy and Drinks, Murray Goulburn Co-operative, Parmalat Australia, Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, Geoffrey Gardiner Foundation, Dairy Australia, and Dairy Innovation Australia)."
Despite the potential biases or agenda from the monetary support of this study, the results do align with previous research, the sample size is a decent size, and the methods appear to be sound. But, if you wish to discredit this study due to the funding partner, be my guest.
Ok, so as for the results, there are a few noteworthy tidbits:
The "usual protein" (<1.2 g of protein/kg body weight/d) participants' results were not far behind the high protein (>1.2 g of protein/kg body weight/d) test subjects' results when it came to strength improvements.
HP-D 92.1 ± 40.8%, HP-S 63.0 ± 23.8%,UP 92.3 ± 35.4%
I think it worth noting that the study participants were older (age 61.5 ± 7.4 yrs) and untrained placing them squarely in a "noob gains" category. In other words, simply adding in some resistance training and hitting a bare minimum, protein consumption-wise, would be extremely beneficial in improving strength gains regardless of diet. Which makes the next point even more startling....
Strength increased less in HP-S compared with HP-D and UP
So, not only did the high protein participants increase strength by supplementing with dairy, but the usual protein participants also improved strength despite the fact that their overall protein consumption was less than the high-protein soy group. This solidifies the fact that quality of protein is certainly of greater importance than quantity of protein.
So what is the final takeaway from all of this? Well, in my opinion, animal-based protein sources continue to display greater benefits than plant-based sources. If you choose to only ingest plant-based sources due to health or personal reasons, so be it, I will never criticize or fault anyone for that, but considering I've written in the past about the importance of increasing protein consumption with age (which is the true reason this study was conducted), aging individuals should try and consume as much quality protein as possible. Animal sources continue to test well, so even if you wish to not consume dairy, or simply cannot digest dairy (intolerance), then try and get as many other dairy-free sources as you can - eggs, fish, meat, etc.
Being in the fitness industry, I hear the same goals and aspirations all the time:
Females: "I don't want to get too bulky!"
Males: "I want bigger muscles!"
Obviously this is a generalization, because I am sure there are plenty of women whose goal is to increase the size of their muscles, and plenty of men who wish to stay lean rather than get "bulky." What this blog will hopefully inform you is that regardless of your goals, much of your size and strength is already genetically pre-determined and you won't be able to do much about changing that.
I'm sure I could write many blogs on the social significance of how we are raised, about what an ideal man or woman looks like. How entertainment, the media, professional athletes, etc. all shape the way we perceive the ideal physique should look like. Truth is, many of the professionals you see - whether they are athletes, actors, or models, are either genetically prone to look the way they look, or have had some *ahem* pharmaceutical help to assist their transformation.
I know, I know, this sounds like a whiny cop-out excuse to success. Don't get me wrong, I know that hard work pays off. I advocate hard work and effort to my clients and followers every single day. That is not what I'm saying here. But just as stretching yourself every single day isn't going to make you any taller, training a certain way because someone told you to isn't necessarily going to get your the big huge muscles you think you want. That is the primary focus of this Genetics Series.
Going beyond the hormonal differences between men and women, and the difficulty for most men, let alone women, to grow any measurable amounts of muscle, there are vast differences in the determination and makeup of our muscles. Case in point:
Skeletal muscle fiber type distribution is quite heterogeneous, with about 25% of North American Caucasian men and women having either less than 35% or more than 65% of type I fiber in their vastus lateralis muscle. To what extent human skeletal muscle fiber type proportion is under the control of genetic factors is examined in this paper. The results summarized here suggest that about 15% of the total variance in the proportion of type I muscle fibers in human is explained by the error component related to muscle sampling and technical variance, that about 40% of the phenotype variance is influenced by environmental factors, and the remaining variance (about 45%) is associated with inherited factors. These estimates suggest that a difference of about 30% in type I fibers among individuals could be explained exclusively by differences in the local environment and level of muscular contractile activity. However, unidentified genetic factors would have to be invoked to account for the observation that the skeletal muscle of about 25% of the North American Caucasian population have either less than 35% or more than 65% of type I fibers.
This study found a 45% variance in muscle fiber distribution from genetic factors. For those of you unaware, type-I muscle fibers are considered "slow-twitch." They don't generate as much force as type-II fibers, tend to be more "aerobic" in nature, or in other words, they can contract for longer periods of time since they don't generate as much force. Elite marathon runners, for example, tend to have higher ratios of type-I to type-II muscle fibers.
On the other hand, type-II muscle fibers ("fast-twitch") generate more force, but can't contract for as long, or for as many repetitions as type-I muscle fibers. Elite strength and power athletes tend to have a greater ratio of type-II to type-I muscle fibers. Type-II muscle fibers have the greatest affinity for muscular hypertrophy or growth. Type-I fibers can enlarge, but not to the extent of type-II fibers. Strength athletes and bodybuilders have larger muscles for this very reason.
So, as the above study found, genetic variance plays a large role in the ratio of type-I to type-II muscle fibers, and can therefore determine not only the strength and performance of said muscles, but also the size of them too.
This study actually focused on creating and testing workout programs specifically designed for genotypes. What they found is exactly what we would expect - participants who are more well-suited for a specific training stimulus based on their genes saw greater results.
The takeaway? Well, not everyone is able to, or should even worry about a genetic test just to determine their optimal training program. Most of you reading this will probably already have a pretty good understanding of what works for you. Some folks are good runners. Some are not. Some lift weights with ease, while others struggle. Regardless of your current situation, however, focus on improving you and stop comparing yourself to others, regardless of how similar you think you may be to someone else.
Key points to focus on:
- Size isn't necessarily better - bigger muscles aren't necessarily stronger, so even if you can't build big muscles doesn't mean you can't be strong, relative to your size.
- Your body frame is a pretty good indicator of the size of your muscles and the strength you can gain. If you have big, broad shoulders, for example, you are more likely to also have large, strong muscles.
- Despite your genetic advantages or disadvantages, hard work will always improve your current situation.
A couple key points can be summarized from this type of research. First, we know that certain individuals have a greater affinity for muscular growth due to a number of reasons, including their ratio of type-II to type-I muscle fibers, genetic potential for growth, hormonal response, etc.
Changing gears a bit, however, we can also begin to understand the differences in training stimuli and how they affect hypertrophy. Research that tries to understand optimal hypertrophy training styles are quite variable. If there was a one-size-fits-all approach to training, then research would be far more specific in its findings. For example, lower intensity, higher repetition training may be more beneficial for some individuals whereas higher intensity, lower repetition training may be more beneficial for others. What works well for you may not work well for me.
It is impossible to eliminate all variables when it comes to scientific studies, especially genetic variations. That is why whenever you hear of a health study, the results are presented as percentages or trends. Unfortunately, at times, media outlets like to sensationalize headlines. This results in many jumping to conclusions and taking something as truth, rather than understanding that results need to be generalized and applied to a broad populous.
This is applicable to fitness professionals as well. Just because an individual has large muscles or "looks the part" when it comes to training doesn't necessarily mean they are well-suited to coach another individual on how to duplicate those results. They have found an optimal training style that has helped them personally strive for their goals - be it muscular growth, however that does not mean that what worked well for them would also work well for you. Also, be weary of coaches or fitness professionals who paint a broad stroke, offering fitness plans and/or diet plans that is applicable to the masses. Every individual is different, goals are different, health status is different, genetics are different. A well-rounded coach should be one that is educated and stays up-to-date with current trends and research to offer you the most optimal training and nutritional planning.