Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Genetics Series: Muscular Size

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'll explain.

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:

Genetic determinism of fiber type proportion in human skeletal muscle.

Abstract

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.

Summary

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.





Don't let your brain fool you

We know that foods are pleasurable. Obviously the more delicious a food is, despite whether it is "healthy" or not, the more pleasure we derive from it. This is because pleasure centres in our brains - the same areas that are targeted with things like: drugs, sex/love, personal enjoyment, become addicting for most. Chasing that feel-good "high" from certain things can be a slippery slope to travel down.

Well, a recent study really magnifies this effect has on us.

Brain imaging demonstrates a reduced neural impact of eating in obesity

Objective

This study investigated functional brain response differences to food in women with BMI either <25 kg/m2 (lean) or >35 kg/m2 (severe obesity).

Design and Methods

Thirty women, 18-65 years old, from academic medical centers participated. Baseline brain perfusion was measured with arterial spin labeling. Brain activity was measured via blood-oxygen-level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging in response to food cues, and appeal to cues was rated. Subjective hunger/fullness was reported pre- and post-imaging. After a standard meal, measures were repeated.

Results

When fasting, brain perfusion did not differ significantly between groups; and both groups showed significantly increased activity in the neo- and limbic cortices and midbrain compared with baseline (P < 0.05, family-wise-error whole-brain corrected). Once fed, the lean group showed significantly decreased activation in these areas, especially the limbic cortex, whereas the group with severe obesity showed no such decreases (P < 0.05, family-wise-error whole-brain corrected). After eating, appeal ratings of food decreased only in lean women. Within groups, hunger decreased (P < 0.001) and fullness increased (P < 0.001) fasted to fed.

Conclusions

While fasting, brain response to food cues in women did not differ significantly despite BMI. After eating, brain activity quickly diminished in lean women but remained elevated in women with severe obesity. These brain activation findings confirm previous studies.

So what this study found was that despite just eating, obese women still viewed attractive/delicious foods as pleasurable. The non-obese women, on the other hand, didn't "activate" the pleasure centres in their brains the same way the obese women did once they were fed.

Why is this important and how can this be applied to those more prone to weight gain?

One of the most obvious tactics that could be brought from this news is don't keep junk foods in your house. Some people may have the self control to only eat ice cream or dessert every once in a while, but if you know you have a history of eating less than healthy foods, then make sure it isn't in your house. For instance, based on this research, an individual could be good with their diet all day, eating healthy and feeling satiated, yet still reach for treats at the mere sight of them.

It would be interesting to examine any possible connections between food-derived pleasure (dopamine) and the production of hunger hormones. I have written about the 2 primary hunger hormones in the past (leptin and ghrelin), but for the purpose of this blog, I will recap quick:

Leptin and Ghrelin are hunger controlling hormones, acting on the same receptors in the brain. Leptin is the "satiety" hormone, whereas ghrelin is the "hunger" hormone. When the stomach is empty, ghrelin is produced to remind our brains that we need to eat. With many, many years of evolution under our belts, human bodies have become incredibly competent at making sure we eat.

So, when we are hungry, our bodies produce ghrelin. When we have eaten our bodies produce leptin. Both hormones, as previously stated, work on the same receptors in the brain, so you are usually either one or the other - hunger or satisfied. One of the real problems that is now being discovered, however, is our body developing resistance to leptin. In fact, paradoxically, overweight and obese individuals actually have increased levels of leptin. So if an overweight person is producing more leptin than normal, yet they still continue to eat and gain weight, one could postulate that two factors could be contributing to this continual consumption of calories.

First, as previously mentioned, the leptin/ghrelin receptors become resistant to leptin, only binding to ghrelin. Similar to what we see with diabetes, with chronically increased insulin, the mechanism for glucose storage gets worn out over time.

Secondly, and linking us back to the aforementioned study, despite feeling full, our brains are still tricking us into thinking that food is needed to hit those reward and pleasure parts of the brain.

What's encouraging to know, is that although weight loss can slow down and plateau over time due to the "set point theory," if an individual is consistent enough and can fight these psychological urges to reach for junk food, then it is not impossible to attain and maintain a healthy weight.

Consistency is key...





Resistance Training is the Fountain of Youth

I have been a strong advocate for resistance training for all ages for quite some time now. General activity or even leisure exercise is simply not enough to stave off age-related illness. A recent study decided to examine and compare the health benefits between recreational activities and resistance training.

Lifelong strength training mitigates the age-related decline in efferent drive.

Abstract

Recently we documented age-related attenuation of efferent drive to contracting skeletal muscle. It remains elusive if this indication of reduced muscle strength is present with lifelong strength training. For this purpose, we examined evoked potentials in the calf muscles of 11 (71±4years) strength trained master athletes (MA) contrasted to 10 (71±4years) sedentary (SO) and 11 (73±6years) recreationally active (AO) old subjects, as well as 9 (22±2years) young controls. As expected, MA had higher leg press maximal strength (MA: 185±32kg; AO: 128±15kg; SO: 106±11kg; young: 147±22kg, p<0.01) and rate of force development (MA: 5588±2488N∙s-1; AO: 2156±1100N∙s-1; SO: 2011±825N∙s-1; young: 3663±1140N∙s-1, p<0.05) than the other groups. MA also exhibited higher m.soleus normalized V-waves during MVC (Vsup/Msup: 0.28±0.15) than AO (0.13±0.06, p<0.01) and SO (0.11±0.05, p<0.01), yet lower than young (0.45±0.12, p<0.01). No differences were apparent between the old groups in H-reflex recorded at rest or during MVC (Hmax/Mmax; Hsup/Msup), and all were lower (p<0.01) than young. MA (34.4±2.1ms) had shorter (p<0.05) H-reflex latency compared to AO (36.4±3.7ms) and SO (37.3±3.2ms), but longer (p<0.01) than young (30.7±2.0ms). Using interpolated twitch analysis MA (89±7%) had similar plantar flexion voluntary activation as young (90±6%), and this was higher (p<0.05), or tended to be higher (p=0.06-0.09) than SO (83±10%) and AO (84±5%). These observations suggest that lifelong strength training has a protective effect against age-related attenuation of efferent drive. In contrast, no beneficial effect seems to derive from habitual recreational activity, indicating that strength training may be particularly beneficial for counteracting age-related loss of neuromuscular function.

When speaking to my clients, colleagues, friends, and family, I always discuss what I would consider to be the 4 pillars of health and fitness:

  1. Cardiovascular Health
  2. Strength
  3. Balance and Coordination
  4. Flexibility and Mobility

To be honest, most of us that are lucky enough to make it to our life expectancy or beyond tend to either decline in all 4 of these categories, or most of them. Sure, staying "active" through leisure activity and recreational exercise is great, and can improve the overall quality of life, it is simply not enough to maximize the overall quality of life as you age. As the above study points out, resistance training is superior to just staying active by maintaining neuromuscular function.

Not only that but in my opinion, it is not only possible, but expected to improve in all 4 of those main pillars using resistance training. Externally loading resistance on our bodies can not only improve strength, but can activate the neurons needed to maintain balance and coordination - sometimes referred to as the "stabilizing muscles."

Also, a properly structured and practiced resistance training program can also take your muscles and joints through their proper, full range of motion improving flexibility and mobility.

Finally, anyone who has lifted weights in a circuit-style complex or used weights as a form of metabolic conditioning will know that resistance training can most certainly improve cardiovascular health.

In short, resistance training is crucial for not only life longevity, but for quality of life as well.





Rest longer to get bigger and stronger

The "hypertrophy specialist" Brad Schoenfeld has published yet another fantastic study detailing not only the greater strength gains from longer interset rest periods, but the greater muscular growth adaptations too.

Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men

Abstract

Abstract: Schoenfeld, BJ, Pope, ZK, Benik, FM, Hester, GM, Sellers, J, Nooner, JL, Schnaiter, JA, Bond-Williams, KE, Carter, AS, Ross, CL, Just, BL, Henselmans, M, and Krieger, JW. Longer interset rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men. J Strength Cond Res 30(7): 1805–1812, 2016—The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of short rest intervals normally associated with hypertrophy-type training versus long rest intervals traditionally used in strength-type training on muscular adaptations in a cohort of young, experienced lifters. Twenty-one young resistance-trained men were randomly assigned to either a group that performed a resistance training (RT) program with 1-minute rest intervals (SHORT) or a group that employed 3-minute rest intervals (LONG). All other RT variables were held constant. The study period lasted 8 weeks with subjects performing 3 total body workouts a week comprised 3 sets of 8–12 repetition maximum (RM) of 7 different exercises per session. Testing was performed prestudy and poststudy for muscle strength (1RM bench press and back squat), muscle endurance (50% 1RM bench press to failure), and muscle thickness of the elbow flexors, triceps brachii, and quadriceps femoris by ultrasound imaging. Maximal strength was significantly greater for both 1RM squat and bench press for LONG compared to SHORT. Muscle thickness was significantly greater for LONG compared to SHORT in the anterior thigh, and a trend for greater increases was noted in the triceps brachii (p = 0.06) as well. Both groups saw significant increases in local upper body muscle endurance with no significant differences noted between groups. This study provides evidence that longer rest periods promote greater increases in muscle strength and hypertrophy in young resistance-trained men.

Research has previously told us that greater rest periods are superior to shorter rest periods when it comes to strength and power adaptations, but there hasn't been nearly as much support and evidence suggesting the same for hypertrophy training.

The belief that shorter rest periods are ideal for training for hypertrophy purposes is challenged with research like this. Not only do we know that longer rest periods are superior for strength and power adaptations, research like this is indicating that longer rest periods illicit greater muscular growth as well. One could postulate that longer rest periods allow for greater recovery and therefore greater force and output on every subsequent set. More force and output on each set allows for greater overall training volume, which would increase the training load.

I also appreciate the fact that this study was conducted on trained individuals. Many strength and hypertrophy studies are conducted on non-trained individuals, who more often than not improve their strength and muscular size simply by being in the study alone (noob gains).

So, how practical is this for you, the reader?

Well, it would appear that rather than slugging through sets with short rest periods, you would be better off resting for longer periods and allowing your muscles to recover more in order to maximize the potential on each subsequent set.

The disadvantage to this training style includes the obvious fact that workouts could potentially take much longer if you are resting for longer periods and one of your primary goals includes getting stronger and increasing muscular size. Rather than waiting around between sets, however, you can get creative with your training and do good old fashioned circuits, training antagonistic movements. For example using an EMOM (every minute on the minute) setup, training bench press on the first minute, barbell row on the second minute, an accessory or core movement on the third minute, rest the 4th minute, and then repeat. This allows the time between exercises to be at least 3 minutes yet keeps you moving the entire time to save on overall workout length.





Carbs are not evil!

It's just so simple, cutting carbs, or restricting your carbs to a certain amount (If it fits your macros - IIFYM) is the key to fat loss and getting that toned, defined body, correct? Well, not exactly. Low-carb diets should be added to the same category as "dietary fats cause body fat." Now that most individuals probably realize that dietary fats don't cause excess body fat - only excess calories do, we should also explain that carbohydrates don't cause weight gain or excess body fat - only excess calories do.

*NOTE* - yes, it is entirely possible and a common practice for physique and figure competitors to low-carb their way to a defined body. Keep in mind that they use this as a short-term solution to prepare for competition and should not be, and is not, a common practice year-round outside of competition prep. Just because a low-carb diet is effective in trimming down excess body fat and defining muscles, this is not the only way to lose weight and define, nor is it a long-term solution to effective weight management.

*NOTE* - I am not saying eat all the carbs you want, either. In fact, I don't think carbohydrates should be the cornerstone of your diet - protein should be (more on that later). Instead, just realize that there is a lot of benefits to be had from eating carbs. Keep in mind that not all carbs are created equal, so eating fruits, vegetables, grains, and starches (yes, even delicious and healthy white potatoes) far surpass simple sugars such as processed additives and sweets in the overall health department.

Don't believe me? Check out this recently published study:

Energy expenditure and body composition changes after an isocaloric ketogenic diet in overweight and obese men.Abstract

BACKGROUND: 

The carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity posits that habitual consumption of a high-carbohydrate diet sequesters fat within adipose tissue because of hyperinsulinemia and results in adaptive suppression of energy expenditure (EE). Therefore, isocaloric exchange of dietary carbohydrate for fat is predicted to result in increased EE, increased fat oxidation, and loss of body fat. In contrast, a more conventional view that "a calorie is a calorie" predicts that isocaloric variations in dietary carbohydrate and fat will have no physiologically important effects on EE or body fat.

OBJECTIVE: 

We investigated whether an isocaloric low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (KD) is associated with changes in EE, respiratory quotient (RQ), and body composition.

DESIGN: 

Seventeen overweight or obese men were admitted to metabolic wards, where they consumed a high-carbohydrate baseline diet (BD) for 4 wk followed by 4 wk of an isocaloric KD with clamped protein. Subjects spent 2 consecutive days each week residing in metabolic chambers to measure changes in EE (EEchamber), sleeping EE (SEE), and RQ. Body composition changes were measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Average EE during the final 2 wk of the BD and KD periods was measured by doubly labeled water (EEDLW).

RESULTS: 

Subjects lost weight and body fat throughout the study corresponding to an overall negative energy balance of ∼300 kcal/d. Compared with BD, the KD coincided with increased EEchamber (57 ± 13 kcal/d, P = 0.0004) and SEE (89 ± 14 kcal/d, P < 0.0001) and decreased RQ (-0.111 ± 0.003, P < 0.0001). EEDLW increased by 151 ± 63 kcal/d (P = 0.03). Body fat loss slowed during the KD and coincided with increased protein utilization and loss of fat-free mass.

CONCLUSION: 

The isocaloric KD was not accompanied by increased body fat loss but was associated with relatively small increases in EE that were near the limits of detection with the use of state-of-the-art technology.

I have actually written about this study previously, and even linked to the video of Dr. Hall (lead author) explaining the results.

Now that the study is published, I figured it was definitely worth a re-share to explain its significance. Sure, no single study should ever be total proof or evidence of the truth, but it certainly sheds some light on common beliefs or misconceptions that I continually see in the nutrition industry.

Insulin has been the scapegoat in this whole debacle. We are constantly inundated with news of rising type-II diabetes rates worldwide, and since insulin is such a key factor when it comes to the development of diabetes, not to mention the apparent link to obesity, the rise in low-carb or no-carb diets is becoming more and more popular.

What this study shows us is that sure, low-carb participants not only experienced weight loss, but actually experienced greater weight loss than their controlled carbohydrate study counterparts. Greater weight loss is better, right? Well, no, especially not in this case. Not only did the weight loss in the low-carb camp plateau after about 3 weeks, but the greater overall weight loss can be chalked up to a loss in lean tissues (muscle) as well. So, although these individuals were losing weight (desirable), they were losing muscle as well (not as desirable).

So what should you do?

Well, if you want my honest opinion, take what I usually explain to all of my clients, friends, and family members:

  1. Eat foods that are as nutritious as possible. In other words, do your best to eliminate foods that are empty calories such as sugary beverages, etc. If the only nutrients you are getting from something carb-laden is sugar, you are doing things wrong.
     
  2. Certain carbs are very healthy and good quality sources such as potatoes, grains, beans, etc. have lots of beneficial nutrients.
     
  3. Aim to get at least 0.8-1g of protein per pound of body weight. I currently weigh around 195lbs so I aim for around 155-195g/protein/day.
     
  4. The rest of your calories then have less relevance.
     
  5. Read #3 and then #4 again.
     
  6. If you are gaining weight and you want to lose weight, you are consuming too many calories day to day. Either move more or eat less, or both.
     
  7. If you are losing weight and you want to gain weight, you are not consuming enough calories day to day. Either move less or eat more, or both.

I am personally not a fan of counting macros. Sure, I recommend clients do it short-term just to get a rough idea of where they sit, but over the long-term it can make eating feel like nothing but a chore. That time could be better spent, in my opinion, moving more and educating yourself.

Summary

  • Carbs are not evil
  • Carbs do not cause weight gain - excess calories cause weight gain
  • Carb restriction can be an effective short-term (3 weeks) solution to weight loss
  • Carbs fuel performance
  • Carb sources should be a nutrient-dense as possible




Anti-oxidants may stunt muscular growth

Chronic versus acute increases (or decreases) in "bad" things should be a topic of discussion. All too often we hear certain buzz-words or phrases that end up sounding detrimental to our health. This can fall under the category of hearing something repeated so many times that it then becomes "fact." It turns out, however, that increasing something acutely (short-term) can be beneficial for the body to more readily manage it over the long-term. Here is a really quick list of health factors off the top of my head that can be beneficial over time:

  • Heart Rate - long-term heightened resting heart rate is generally considered to be bad. Short-term spikes in heart rate (exercise) can actually lower resting heart rate over a longer period of time.
     
  • Blood Pressure - similar to heart rate, chronic heightened blood pressure can be deleterious to overall health, whereas temporarily raising blood pressure due to stimulus like resistance training can improve the overall health of the cardiovascular system.
     
  • Blood Sugar - Increased blood sugar following intense exercise can benefit recovery efforts of the muscles, however long-term heightened blood sugar can be detrimental to overall health.
     
  • Reactive Oxygen Species - These are natural by-products of metabolism. They have gotten a bad rap recently which has caused a spike in interest in "anti-oxidants." Sure, chronic inflammation caused by reactive oxygen species can be bad, however, acute bouts can be beneficial in the stimulation of growth and repair due to exercise.

Vitamin C and E are quite often used as anti-oxidants. Supplementing with them may hinder your performance gains, however. Take this recent study, for example:

Vitamin C and E supplementation blunts increases in total lean body mass in elderly men after strength training.

Abstract

The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of vitamin C and E supplementation on changes in muscle mass (lean mass and muscle thickness) and strength during 12 weeks of strength training in elderly men. Thirty-four elderly males (60-81 years) were randomized to either an antioxidant group (500 mg of vitamin C and 117.5 mg vitamin E before and after training) or a placebo group following the same strength training program (three sessions per week). Body composition was assessed with dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and muscle thickness by ultrasound imaging. Muscle strength was measured as one-repetition maximum (1RM). Total lean mass increased by 3.9% (95% confidence intervals: 3.0, 5.2) and 1.4% (0, 5.4) in the placebo and antioxidant groups, respectively, revealing larger gains in the placebo group (P = 0.04). Similarly, the thickness of m. rectus femoris increased more in the placebo group [16.2% (12.8, 24.1)] than in the antioxidant group [10.9% (9.8, 13.5); P = 0.01]. Increases of lean mass in trunk and arms, and muscle thickness of elbow flexors, did not differ significantly between groups. With no group differences, 1RM improved in the range of 15-21% (P < 0.001). In conclusion, high-dosage vitamin C and E supplementation blunted certain muscular adaptations to strength training in elderly men.

Oftentimes I see individuals take a product or supplement because they hear it is good for them. Vitamin C and E supplementation (above study) are 2 supplements that many folks take simply because they feel as though, "some is good, more must be better!"

Well, according to this study out of Norway, too much anti-oxidant supplementation blunted some muscular adaptations from strength training. Here is another example of something that you may not want to supplement with, unless you have been told you are deficient in some particular category.





Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?

Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? You would certainly think so based on what you hear from, well, virtually everyone. I think this one can go in the, "hear it enough times, it must be true" category.

And no, despite what these young folks tell you, your "gas tank" does not go empty overnight...

The purpose of this blog is not to encourage my readers to skip breakfast, but to encourage my readers to seek out dietary plans that work for them. I personally can't remember the last time that I ate breakfast, but I can also appreciate and realize that that scenario is not ideal for everyone.

As a teenager I was never a big fan of eating breakfast. I always felt like it made me feel nauseous in the morning and I would also feel quite sluggish. I never knew that such a thing had a "name" (intermittent fasting) until many years later when I started to read so many benefits about fasting for extended periods of time.

As humans, we all fast, since as far as I can tell people can't safely eat while sleeping. The only difference between what I do and what breakfast-eaters do, is I extend my fasting window, and therefore shrink my eating window. In other words, I usually make sure I am fasting for at least 16 hours - typically eating just before bed around 9-9:30pm and then won't eat again until at least 1-1:30pm the following day.

This may sound extreme and crazy to many of you, but it works for me for a number of reasons that I can elaborate on in a future blog for those interested. But to stay on topic, let's get back to the prime reason of this blog.

A recent review discusses the idea that breakfast may in fact not be as important as most think.

Evaluating the Intervention-Based Evidence Surrounding the Causal Role of Breakfast on Markers of Weight Management, with Specific Focus on Breakfast Composition and Size.

Abstract

Nutritional strategies are vitally needed to aid in the management of obesity. Cross-sectional and epidemiologic studies consistently demonstrate that breakfast consumption is strongly associated with a healthy body weight. However, the intervention-based long-term evidence supporting a causal role of breakfast consumption is quite limited and appears to be influenced by several key dietary factors, such as dietary protein, fiber, and energy content. This article provides a comprehensive review of the intervention-based literature that examines the effects of breakfast consumption on markers of weight management and daily food intake. In addition, specific focus on the composition and size (i.e., energy content) of the breakfast meal is included. Overall, there is limited evidence supporting (or refuting) the daily consumption of breakfast for body weight management and daily food intake. In terms of whether the type of breakfast influences these outcomes, there is accumulating evidence supporting the consumption of increased dietary protein and fiber content at breakfast, as well as the consumption of more energy during the morning hours. However, the majority of the studies that manipulated breakfast composition and content did not control for habitual breakfast behaviors, nor did these studies include a breakfast-skipping control arm. Thus, it is unclear whether the addition of these types of breakfast plays a causal role in weight management. Future research, including large randomized controlled trials of longer-term (i.e., ≥6 mo) duration with a focus on key dietary factors, is critical to begin to assess whether breakfast recommendations are appropriate for the prevention and/or treatment of obesity.

When it comes to healthy weight management, this review suggests that the inclusion of breakfast is not crucial. It also recommends that if breakfast is to be consumed, then it is generally recommend to enrich said breakfast with protein and fibre - presumably to slow digestion and spikes in insulin.

I am always an advocate for consistency. Each individual should choose a diet plan that is sustainable and healthy for you. If you skip breakfast but then over-indulge, gorging yourself on less-than-healthy foods at lunch, then fasting may not be the best solution for you.





Squat Every Day Update

I am moving on from my squat every day program. Although I enjoyed the program and saw some new all-time PRs, it was quite taxing on my body, and aiming for a new 1RM every single day started to really wear on me. I ended up completing about 3 1/2 weeks of the program, so here are my results/thoughts/things I learned:

  • My 1-rep maxes for the first week:
    Front Squat - 265lbs
    Back Squat - 330lbs
    Deadlift - 385lbs
    Bench Press - 220lbs
     
  • My all-time 1-rep maxes (coming into the program):
    Front Squat - 270lbs
    Back Squat - 325lbs
    Deadlift - 435lbs
    Bench Press - 225lbs
     
  • My 1-rep maxes for the final week:
    Front Squat - 280lbs
    Back Squat - 340lbs
    Deadlift - 405lbs
    Bench Press - 235lbs
     
  • Results speak for themselves, all of my lifts improved within 3 weeks.
     
  • I felt pretty good throughout the program, but since I am also Head of CrossFit at the Athlete Institute, I enjoy doing a few CrossFit WODs every week. It is a very fine line to walk, squatting every day and throwing in some CrossFit WODs on top of that. I think I did too much volume during my third week that ultimately wore me down causing me to burn out in the 4th week. I think if an individual wanted to just squat every day with some light conditioning thrown in, then this program could be beneficial. On the other hand, if you like doing more volume and/or conditioning, you have to be quite attentive to your overall volume and not overdo things.
     
  • On a similar note, this is not a beginner program. Your form must be perfect, or near-perfect as you will be pushing max weight every. single. day. Developing bad habits and pushing more weight than you should with bad form is a recipe for disaster.
     
  • One of the biggest advantages to doing a program like this is getting comfortable under the bar. I remember reading about this, as it was one of the primary reasons for wanting to try the program. Whether using pause reps, or just trying to move more weight, I feel more comfortable and confident in my squat and bench press, having the mindset to be able to push through and fight through heavier weights that I may have previously just given up on.
     
  • I enjoy training with volume. I am not saying that training in 3 or fewer reps isn't effective or necessary, I just enjoy the feeling of training with more volume. To be honest, I have yet to ever come across one workout plan that is sustainable for a long-term. Our goals and aspirations change, so some times you have to re-focus your efforts.
     
  • I am certainly not walking away from squatting every day for good. I think there are a lot of positives to the program and could see re-visiting it again in the future, especially if I have an interest in giving my numbers a bit of a bump.




Genetics Series: Strength and Power

My old boss used to say, "You know, God made us (humans) all about the same." Sure, it is often said that humans, when compared genetically, are about 99.9% similar, however there are still some pretty remarkable variances between how we look and perform.

The 99.9% similarities between us controls things as common as having skin, hair, teeth, a stomach, high-level brains, etc., but can had differences in how those things look and work. For example, how tall we are, how long our limbs are, how big our noses are, etc. We also mostly act the same too - although this is heavily influenced by your surroundings.

If you keep looking deeper into that rabbit hole you can begin to understand that not only do our muscles oftentimes look differently, but they can act and perform differently as well. I always say to people, "You can't choose your parents," because your genetic lineage can have a drastic outcome on all of these factors that influence you. Some folks are able to build big muscles. It just comes easy (easier) to them. 

So what about athleticism? Do you remember growing up and playing with your friends? Do you remember that one friend of yours that just seemed to be better than everyone else at everything (or most things)? They could run faster, jump higher, were better at Mario Kart, and could be the best with little to no effort at all! Was this friend in the gym spending hours a day getting bigger, faster, and stronger? Of course not, they were just gifted in ways that maybe you weren't. The effectiveness of their neural pathways were better than yours. They had better coordination, better strength, better reaction time, etc.

Why are some people so good at some things? Is it because they work harder? Is it because they are more committed? Possibly, but not necessarily.

Take this review, for example:

Genetics of muscle strength and power: polygenic profile similarity limits skeletal muscle performance.

Abstract

Environmental and genetic factors influence muscle function, resulting in large variations in phenotype between individuals. Multiple genetic variants (polygenic in nature) are thought to influence exercise-related phenotypes, yet how the relevant polymorphisms combine to influence muscular strength in individuals and populations is unclear. In this analysis, 22 genetic polymorphisms were identified in the literature that have been associated with muscular strength and power phenotypes. Using typical genotype frequencies, the probability of any given individual possessing an "optimal" polygenic profile was calculated as 0.0003% for the world population. Future identification of additional polymorphisms associated with muscular strength phenotypes would most likely reduce that probability even further. To examine the genetic potential for muscular strength within a human population, a "total genotype score" was generated for each individual within a hypothetical population of one million. The population expressed high similarity in polygenic profile with no individual differing by more than seven genotypes from a typical profile. Therefore, skeletal muscle strength potential within humans appears to be limited by polygenic profile similarity. Future research should aim to replicate more genotype-phenotype associations for muscular strength, because only five common genetic polymorphisms identified to date have positive replicated findings.

So although this isn't ground-breaking or particularly new, we are starting to discover just how advantageous you may or may not be due to the genetic lottery that you have played when you were born. The above review details 22 genes (that we know of) that are beneficial for strength and power performance in individuals. In these 22 genes, the more you personally have, the greater likelihood you have to being a strength or power athlete.

There are 3 "options" when it comes to these gene phenotypes. You can either have a favourable gene expression, a neutral expression, or a negative expression. In other words, whether or not you have a specific genotype can either make you good at something, potentially bad at something, or no real positive or negative effect at all.

One well-known gene, for example, is one that encodes for the protein ACTN3 has been shown to be favourable for sprinting (in those that contain the correct gene), and can actually be favourable for endurance athletes with a mutated ACTN3 protein.

Studies have linked the fiber twitch type with ACTN3, i.e. fast twitch fiber abundant individuals carry the non-mutant gene version. Also, studies in elite athletes have shown that the ACTN3 gene may influence athletic performance. While the non-mutant version of the gene is associated with sprint performance, the mutant version is associated with endurance.

What's notable in the above review is that the researchers calculated 0.003% of the population to have "optimal" gene expression for strength and power attributes. This certainly makes sense, especially in a country like Canada - population around 30,000,000, that about 9,000 individuals (give or take) have more optimal strength and power characteristics.

Does this mean that other individuals can't be strong and powerful? Absolutely not, but those individuals with favourable genetic phenotypes are certainly at an advantage when it comes to producing strength and power. On the flip side of that coin, as we have seen with ACTN3, it is entirely possible to be not all that great at something.

It should also be noted that although an individual may have a genetic potential for something, does not mean that they are going to be the best. Although this number has been associated with strength and power, let's use the same figure (for argument's sake) to discuss genetic potential for other attributes as well. Assume that even at 0.003% of the population has a genetic advantage for something, that still creates a lot of competition between yourself and the other "elites" in that category. Being strong and powerful, especially compared to your less-than-genetically-gifted friends will only take you so far. If you wanted to compete on an Olympic level, for example, then you still need to hone your skills and work hard to be even better than those around you.

I will once again remind my readers that this is not to sound like an old curmudgeon, saying that talent and athleticism is "all luck." There is certainly advantages that make some of us better than others at certain things. It is not impossible, just highly unlikely that you would see a 7 foot tall man competing at the Olympic games in weightlifting. The limb lengths and joint angles are not as advantageous for maximal torque and power required for Olympic lifting. On the other hand, although we have seen some shorter individuals play in the NBA before, the game certainly favours taller individuals. Being tall, or having a long torso (advantageous for weightlifting) cannot be trained. If, however, you are tall, and you work hard, then you have a chance to make it big.





Diet vs. Exercise for Weight Loss

A simple search of my blog will show you how many times I have written about this topic, but a new study published last month gives us even more insight - and confirmation, into what I have been writing about in the past.

A systematic review and meta-analysis on the effects of exercise training versus hypocaloric diet: distinct effects on body weight and visceral adipose tissue.Abstract

Exercise training ('exercise') and hypocaloric diet ('diet') are frequently prescribed for weight loss in obesity. Whilst body weight changes are commonly used to evaluate lifestyle interventions, visceral adiposity (VAT) is a more relevant and stronger predictor for morbidity and mortality. A meta-analysis was performed to assess the effects of exercise or diet on VAT (quantified by radiographic imaging). Relevant databases were searched through May 2014. One hundred seventeen studies (n = 4,815) were included. We found that both exercise and diet cause VAT loss (P < 0.0001). When comparing diet versus training, diet caused a larger weight loss (P = 0.04). In contrast, a trend was observed towards a larger VAT decrease in exercise (P = 0.08). Changes in weight and VAT showed a strong correlation after diet (R2  = 0.737, P < 0.001), and a modest correlation after exercise (R2  = 0.451, P < 0.001). In the absence of weight loss, exercise is related to 6.1% decrease in VAT, whilst diet showed virtually no change (1.1%). In conclusion, both exercise and diet reduce VAT. Despite a larger effect of diet on total body weight loss, exercise tends to have superior effects in reducing VAT. Finally, total body weight loss does not necessarily reflect changes in VAT and may represent a poor marker when evaluating benefits of lifestyle-interventions.

To summarize:

Calorie restriction (hypocaloric diet) is effective for weight loss. Exercise is effective for weight loss, although not as good as a hypocaloric diet. Hypocaloric diet and exercise in combination is effective for weight loss. Exercise is best at reducing visceral fat (adipose tissue packed in and around our organs).

So what is better for overall health?

Well, both calorie restriction and exercise are effective for improving your health in various ways, and the political answer would be that they are both effective in maintaining overall health, however what most people don't realize is that both have their strengths and weaknesses, pros and cons depending on your goals. Let me explain further.

Diet

  • For the most part, eat more than you burn to gain weight and eat less than you burn to lose weight.
  • Sure, it is possible that genetics can play a role in your metabolism and how you manage various macros (carbs, for example), but if you are gaining weight, then you are eating too much.
  • On the flip side, if you are losing weight, you are not eating enough.
  • Weight loss includes muscle loss, so by restricting calories and not resistance training you are potentially setting yourself up for strength and connective tissue loss.
  • As the above study tells us, dieting to lose weight is not as effective at removing visceral fat as exercise is. I have written about this before - "Skinny Fat" is Dangerous.
  • Losing weight too quickly (extreme calorie restriction) can cause a rebound effect known as the "Set Point Theory."
  • Protein consumption is extremely useful to maintain a healthy body weight. Make sure to increase your overall consumption as you age.

Exercise

  • Most people vastly over-estimate the number of calories exercise burns. This is especially true for individuals who just "show up" to the gym and don't exercise hard enough.
  • Yes, exercise can be helpful in healthy weight management, but it is not some magical formula that can prevent obesity if you do not diet appropriately.
  • Exercise is extremely beneficial for your brain, mood, bones, connective tissues, muscles, etc. Honestly, the list is so extensive, in my opinion, nobody should go without exercise, or more specifically, a well-rounded program consisting of cardiovascular exercise and resistance training.
  • As the study above tells us, exercise is more effective then dieting alone when it comes to reducing visceral fat - fat that can raise the risk of other diseases.
  • When it comes to changing the way you look, exercise is best at it can help increase lean mass (muscle), improve the appearance of your skin/hair, improve circulation, etc.




Chemophobia

Rant time. No, this isn't fitness related, but it is health related and something that hear all the time.

Chances are, you have probably heard someone use the phrase, "That is full of chemicals." Who knows, you may have even heard the phrase yourself. The notion that things with lots of stuff in it can be bad, icky and dangerous is oftentimes greatly exaggerated.

Sure, I can understand where this phobia comes from, because it makes sense. When someone uses the word chemical, most people automatically get images in their brains about toxins, poisons, and dangerous things. Turns out, however, humans have become pretty damn smart when it comes to using chemistry to adjust and use the world around us to formulate products that are optimal for human use.

There have been many guesses as to where this whole chemophobia movement started, but regardless of where it started, it is certainly gaining momentum and in my opinion, causing more harm than good.

As a society, there seems to be a great lack of faith and trust when it comes to companies and the potential hazards that can be caused by the synthetic chemicals that are used today for products that we use and consume. I don't disagree with the fact that there should be some oversight into what companies should and shouldn't do when it comes to what you end up eating, but this automatic reaction to these marketing buzzwords like "All Natural" and the assumption that they are somehow better for us is a bit misleading.

I am big fan of James Kennedy's website. James is a chemistry teacher from Australia who has essentially the exact same thoughts as myself when it comes to the latest trend of chemophobia. From an article of his: 

The distinction between natural and synthetic chemicals is not merely ambiguous, it is non-existent. The fact that an ingredient is synthetic does not automatically make it dangerous, and the fact that it is natural doesn’t make it safe. Botulinum, produced by bacteria that grow in honey, is more than 1.3 billion times as toxic as lead and is the reason why infants should never eat honey. A cup of apple seeds contains enough natural cyanide to kill an adult human. Natural chemicals can be beneficial, neutral or harmful depending on the dosage and on how they are used, just like synthetic chemicals. Whether a chemical is ‘natural’ should never be a factor when assessing its safety.

In fact, he has even made clever posters, breaking down all of the "all-natural" ingredients in some of our most beloved foods (on right). This is something that I always get a kick out of because if somebody was to say to me, "I don't like eating foods with so many chemicals in them!" When I ask them to clarify what it is they mean, it is usually followed up with, "Look at all of the ingredients, you can't even pronounce half of these things!"

I would love for someone to not only pronounce all of the ingredients in an all-natural banana, but to also explain to me the purpose of every single one of them.

Yes, I know, that's not what you mean, right? What you mean is the processed foods you find in the grocery store like the pre-made meals in the frozen foods section.

Sure, I will give you the benefit of the doubt that whole, natural foods in the most basic form possible tend to be the healthiest. Processed and packaged foods tend to have many of the vitamins and nutrients stripped from them during the preparation process, but just because something has a lot of ingredients in it and is not quite as healthy as more wholesome sources does not necessarily mean that is therefore dangerous and unhealthy for consumption.

Many countries, especially here in Canada, have pretty damn good food and drug scientists combing over the latest research and figuring out what is safe for consumption, what isn't, and in what amounts. What has caused this sudden lack of faith in this system? People seem to put more faith into listening to "Mary's Organic Blog" rather than listening to their own government with scientists with far more knowledge on the subject.

Since we're going down this path, let's talk about natural remedies. Many turn to all-natural remedies or avoid medications all together with the fear of them having too many synthesized chemicals in them. You want to know something? We have a phrase for homeopathic remedies that work - we call it medicine. Active ingredients that can be found in nature to cure an illness or aid in healing tends to be far too weak to ever work, so we use research to determine the best way to intensify the effectiveness of natural compounds to not only make them more potent, but to deliver them to the required areas of our bodies in the safest and most effective way possible.

What is quite funny and sadly ironic is that most individuals who practice a lifestyle of "all-natural" products and remedies utilize homeopathic remedies that are essentially water. Products with active ingredients that are so heavily diluted, they don't actually do anything at all. And those same individuals will avoid supposed chemical-laden products because of the dangerous chemicals in them, not realizing that dangerous-sounding chemicals that are put in products are present to make the product more effective but are in such minuscule amounts, that they would never actually harm you anyways.

Take formaldehyde, for example - a naturally-ocurring chemical in the human body, might I add, at 2 parts per million (2ppm). Yes, it is toxic in large amounts, but our bodies deal with it naturally. Anyways, formaldehyde used to be used in Johnson and Johnson's skin care products, that was until it scared some uninformed people. Although you would have to take 40 million baths per day to pose any sort of threat, people are scared of that chemical name, so Johnson and Johnson had to take it out.

Of course the big one for some people is the presence of formaldehyde (and other scary names which I will get to) in vaccines. Believe it or not, vaccines have 80 micrograms of formaldehyde in them. That may sound shocking, until you find out that all-natural pears have 12,000 micrograms of formaldehyde in them...

Mercury? Yup, it used to be found in some vaccines. Any vaccine used for children since 2001 is void of it by the way. It is called thimerosal, or ethyl mercury. The form of mercury that is oftentimes considered dangerous, the one that can be found in fish is called methyl mercury. That is like comparing ethanol (ethyl alcohol), or the booze you drink with methanol (methyl alcohol), the stuff you better not be drinking. Methanol will kill you with very small amounts. Ethanol, although dangerous if consumed over the long-term (alcohol kills 2.5 million people worldwide every year) or in large amounts, is mostly safe to consume.

Oh, and by the way, the argument that mercury in vaccines causes autism lost most of its primary argument since autism rates have actually increased even after ethyl mercury was removed from children's vaccines.

What else...oh yeah, anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms).

Probably along the same lines as chemophobia, there seems to be this tremendous fear in the genetic modification of foods. Why? Not really sure, especially since we as humans have been "naturally" doing it for 10,000 years. I suppose it sounds scary, especially for the uninformed. Some evil scientist is sitting in a lab somewhere modifying the genetic makeup of corn to insert some cancer-causing gene in there - sarcasm, of course.

The truth of the matter is, the human population continues to grow and we need to come up with a way to feed that many people. Now, more than ever, we are having to find ways to grow food in areas that are less than optimal and create crop yields greater than ever. We are losing that wiggle-room that allows some product to be lost due to weather or pests. There can't be any dress-rehearsals, everything must work essentially every time. That's where GMOs come in. Genes can be manipulated to make a product more hearty to withstand things that it otherwise wouldn't be able to overcome.

Want some more irony? The people that want all-natural, non-GMO, pesticide-free foods don't even realize that one of the driving factors behind genetically modified organisms is to try and alleviate the need for pesticides. Pests exist, period. We have to come up with a safe and effective way to grow foods naturally without the use of too many pesticides. GMO allows for that.

If a farmer planted some corn, half of which spoiled and half grew big and strong, I would bet you all of the money to my name that that farmer would then seed from the corn that grew well. It worked, so it will probably work again. That is the most basic form of genetic modification. If we have scientists in a lab figuring out how to be 10 steps ahead of that very same process, why don't we take advantage of that? I guess because of our fear of what we don't understand...

Anyways, that's enough for now. Until next time!





Creatine and Insulin Sensitivity

I have discussed the extrinsic "fringe" benefits of creatine supplementation in the past - or in other words, the benefits gained from supplementing that go beyond the standard and proven increases in strength and muscular growth. I came across another benefit recently, and one that I haven't seen before but makes sense in hindsight.

Good science is never absolute. A recent review that has come out looking at creatine supplementation's effects on glucose metabolism is very adamant at pointing out the relatively scant evidence surrounding the benefits on this topic. Having said that, this is an interesting topic to discuss and research further.

Creatine Supplementation and glycemic control: a systematic review

Abstract

The focus of this review is the effects of creatine supplementation with or without exercise on glucose metabolism. A comprehensive examination of the past 16 years of study within the field provided a distillation of key data. Both in animal and human studies, creatine supplementation together with exercise training demonstrated greater beneficial effects on glucose metabolism; creatine supplementation itself demonstrated positive results in only a few of the studies. In the animal studies, the effects of creatine supplementation on glucose metabolism were even more distinct, and caution is needed in extrapolating these data to different species, especially to humans. Regarding human studies, considering the samples characteristics, the findings cannot be extrapolated to patients who have poorer glycemic control, are older, are on a different pharmacological treatment (e.g., exogenous insulin therapy) or are physically inactive. Thus, creatine supplementation is a possible nutritional therapy adjuvant with hypoglycemic effects, particularly when used in conjunction with exercise.

We know that active muscles absorb water and blood sugar like sponges. We also know that creatine supplementation can cause water and blood sugar retention in muscles. Purely speculation from me, but I would assume that the mechanisms of glucose metabolism - digestion and absorption of glucose is being enhanced with creatine supplementation by increasing the rate of absorption into the muscle cells.

One of the primary roles of insulin is simply to transport and store excess blood glucose in muscle and adipose (fat) cells. That is why exercise is so effective for healthy insulin sensitivity because working muscles absorb so much blood sugar and ease the load of the pancreas and the hormone insulin.

It appears that supplementing with creatine, along with having a well-rounded resistance and exercise program appears to increase insulin sensitivity and reduce the risks of diabetes. For more information on creatine and how to supplement, check out my guide.





A Discussion on Genetic Potential

Lately, I have been fascinated by how our genetics affects not only how we look and act, but how we perform as well - I've even started a series that you can find on my blog called the "Genetics Series" detailing the research surrounding how genetics largely dictates how we live our lives. I have to give a shout-out to my wife in all of this, as she has a PhD in Molecular Genetics, so we discuss this topic all the time and she helps me understand some of the more difficult concepts.

Genetic potential isn't necessarily all that ground-breaking in 2016, however, as I am sure many of you have used or heard someone use the term "God-given talent" at some point in your life. It's no secret that there are individuals around us that are just better at certain things. Is this because they work harder or strive harder for success? Well, not necessarily, as it turns out.

It takes just 10,000 hours of practice to master something, right? That's what Malcolm Gladwell certainly believes. Without belabouring this topic too much, I will just flat out say that I disagree with this - and I'm not the only one who does (here, here, here, and here). It turns out, there is a lot of luck involved in being good at something - or in other words, choose your parents wisely.

The links above detail the data and findings surrounding various studies looking at what makes elite individuals good at something, so I won't necessarily go into that in detail, but I do want to discuss a couple topics that these findings bring up.

We (as a society) seem to have trouble admitting that luck is involved

Whether you are an elite performer in your field (sport, art, etc.) or one who is pursuing advanced or elite status, there seems to be a hesitation to credit most of one's success with a matter of luck. Society in general seems to have trouble with acknowledging the fact that the elite performers have gotten to where they are based on their genetic advantages - aka, their affinity for success.

I need to stress that this is not a complaint or an accusation on my part that elite performers do not work hard. In fact, that is probably the exact opposite of what I believe. In fact, I believe that elite performers are some of the hardest working individuals on our planet. In order to be the best of the best, you must perfect and hone your skills in order to be superior to your likewise genetically gifted peers.

Having said that, realize that there is a very specific reason why elite performers are where they are. They not only have a genetic predisposition to be great at something, but also either had the luck or foresight to choose the craft that they excel in.

Basketball is a fantastic example of being genetically gifted for something - and it also happens to generally be one of the easiest sports to choose based on your genetic gift. If you are tall, you are likely going to better at basketball than others. It is not a certainty that you will make the NBA, that's where hard work comes in, but you are certainly at an advantage to be great at something because of your height. On the flip side of that coin, shorter individuals are not doomed to never play basketball at an elite level, but their shortcomings in height may be replaced with genetic advantages in other areas deemed to be advantageous to their sport such as speed, agility, accuracy, etc.

Basketball tends to be one of the easiest ways to visualize an example of genetic potential because people can generally make sense of seeing a tall person as being good at a sport involving height. Going beyond that, however, we can then start to realize further genetic gifts people are given that give them the potential to be great at other sports.

Specific limb lengths to maximize joint leverage (aka moment arm) in the world of weightlifting, an advantageous ratio of Type-II to Type-I muscle fibers making an athlete faster and more explosive in football or track, a greater rater of Type-I to Type-II muscle fibers in elite distance runners, etc. are just some other examples to think of. We can then start to delve even deeper down to the cellular level to understand the wide range of genetic advantages an individual may have that goes well beyond what you can merely see on their exterior.

In summary, luck is involved to make great performers, great. Hard work generally gets the great ones to be the best ones, but don't assume that you have the potential to be anything you want to be without being genetically gifted for such a thing.

The elite don't necessarily make the best coaches/teachers

Ask a semi-pro or top-level amateur athlete what they have done to succeed and get to where they are, and their answer will probably be the same: "Hard work and dedication."

There's no denying the fact that in order for a top-level athlete or performer to reach the point they are in required a great deal of hard work and dedication - like what was discussed above. Having said that, I don't believe that top-level performers have any secret formula or tricks to help others achieve the same status.

Wayne Gretzky was one of the greatest hockey players of all-time. That did not necessarily translate into a great coaching career. Sure, there are a lot of other factors that play into a successful coach, especially when you consider coaching a team of players rather than an individual. However, it is all too common for people to gravitate towards successful individuals based on their name or former successes rather than their actual coaching ability.

How does this relate to genetic potential? Well, as discussed above, if an individual is more likely the be great or elite at something, chances are, they are genetically gifted to be great at that sport or activity. Does this mean that they know what it takes to help another individual how to reach the same level of success? Not at all. Coaches are great at realizing the potential in an individual, and looking to make their strengths even stronger while trying to round our their weaknesses. Great athletes or performers may have been good at improving their own situation during their career, but that does not necessarily meant they have the skill set to help others do the same thing. Talent does not work through osmosis...

Genetic limitations

Discussing genetic potential does not need to be a death sentence for your athletic endeavours, however. All sports have those outliers in them - the ones that aren't supposed to be good at something, but are. Sure, height is certainly advantageous in the NBA, but that doesn't mean that there haven't been shorter players make it to the top. Take former 5'3" NBA player Muggsy Bogues for example.

I would argue that although Muggsy Bogues is not your typical NBA player (he's only 5'3"), there is no denying the fact that he is one of the most athletically gifted players to ever play the game. Watching his speed and ability to jump is certainly telling at how athletic he is. Did he get that fast and be able to jump that high by working hard? Well, I'm sure working hard and practicing a lot certainly helped, but he is athletic largely due to his genetic potential.

The key things to understand out of all of this is that in order to be good at something, you need a combination of genetic potential, but also hard work. Not every single kid that wants to play in the NBA is going to make it there - regardless of how hard they work. That doesn't mean that those kids shouldn't try, however, as the pursuit of excellence is one of the defining characteristics of human beings, in my opinion.





Overcome Strength Plateaus with Eccentric Training

Most experienced strength coaches will promote the use of "negatives." One of the most popular exercises that individuals use eccentric training for is pull-ups. For those of you who do not know what a "negative" is, it is when you would use an aid to get your chin over the bar - in the case of improving at pull-ups, and then lower your body down from the bar slowly and under your own power.

Our muscles are always strongest eccentrically. Eccentric muscle contractions occur when the muscle lengthens. One could consider the stronger eccentric contraction as a safety mechanism built in to our muscles to not only decrease the risk of strains and pulls, but to also allow us to perform actions that we wouldn't be able to perform otherwise if we had equal amounts of strength concentrically (muscle shortening) and eccentrically (muscle lengthening). The analogy I usually use is if you were to pick up a heavy object and carry it a certain distance. The object may feel extremely heavy, almost to the point of not being able to pick it up (muscles shortening - concentric contraction) but once you have the object up, you are able to hold on to it for much longer because the muscles are acting isometrically which is very similar to eccentric contractions. Although the muscle isn't necessarily lengthening, the external load is certainly trying to lengthen it, and your muscles are able to hold on for longer.

So why do individuals train pull-ups eccentrically (negatives) but not generally other exercises? Well, a recent study published in the Frontiers in Physiology looked to study the advantages of eccentric training.

Greater Strength Gains after Training with Accentuated Eccentric than Traditional Isoinertial Loads in Already Strength-Trained Men

As training experience increases it becomes more challenging to induce further neuromuscular adaptation. Consequently, strength trainers seek alternative training methods in order to further increase strength and muscle mass. One method is to utilize accentuated eccentric loading, which applies a greater external load during the eccentric phase of the lift as compared to the concentric phase. Based upon this practice, the purpose of this study was to determine the effects of 10 weeks of accentuated eccentric loading vs. traditional isoinertial resistance training in strength-trained men. Young (22 ± 3 years, 177 ± 6 cm, 76 ± 10 kg, n = 28) strength-trained men (2.6 ± 2.2 years experience) were allocated to concentric-eccentric resistance training in the form of accentuated eccentric load (eccentric load = concentric load + 40%) or traditional resistance training, while the control group continued their normal unsupervised training program. Both intervention groups performed three sets of 6-RM (session 1) and three sets of 10-RM (session 2) bilateral leg press and unilateral knee extension exercises per week. Maximum force production was measured by unilateral isometric (110° knee angle) and isokinetic (concentric and eccentric 30°.s−1) knee extension tests, and work capacity was measured by a knee extension repetition-to-failure test. Muscle mass was assessed using panoramic ultrasonography and dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. Surface electromyogram amplitude normalized to maximum M-wave and the twitch interpolation technique were used to examine maximal muscle activation. After training, maximum isometric torque increased significantly more in the accentuated eccentric load group than control (18 ± 10 vs. 1 ± 5%, p < 0.01), which was accompanied by an increase in voluntary activation (3.5 ± 5%, p < 0.05). Isokinetic eccentric torque increased significantly after accentuated eccentric load training only (10 ± 9%, p < 0.05), whereas concentric torque increased equally in both the accentuated eccentric load (10 ± 9%, p < 0.01) and traditional (9 ± 6%, p < 0.01) resistance training groups; however, the increase in the accentuated eccentric load group was significantly greater (p < 0.05) than control (1 ± 7%). Knee extension repetition-to-failure improved in the accentuated eccentric load group only (28%, p < 0.05). Similar increases in muscle mass occurred in both intervention groups. In summary, accentuated eccentric load training led to greater increases in maximum force production, work capacity and muscle activation, but not muscle hypertrophy, in strength-trained individuals.

Despite the admitted disadvantages in the study, I think the findings are pretty telling.

It should be noted that the final sample size in the present study (n = 10+10+8) was likely statistically underpowered to detect differences, particularly between the intervention groups. Results of our priori suggested that sample sizes of 11–12 per group would be sufficient for a power of 0.8. Consequently, due to difficulties in recruiting trained subjects to perform the study in addition to the number of drop-outs and magnitude of strength improvements during the intervention (+10–30% rather than our expected +5–15%) probably increased the likelihood of type II errors.

So how do you implement eccentric training to continue to elicit strength gains? Well, eccentric training is, by its nature, very dangerous. Your primary goal is to overload the muscles with an external load that is greater than the force you can generate concentrically. In other words, you're using more weight than you can lift.

For example, if you are doing bench press eccentric training, you would load a bar up with more weight than your 1-rep max, liftoff bringing the bar directly over your chest, lower the bar to your chest under your own control, and then stop there. You will want to use either a couple of spotters to then help you unload the weight from your chest, or use safety pins/rails to accept the load rather than having it stuck on your chest.

Since our muscles are able to generate and accept more force eccentrically compared to concentrically, using loads slightly above your concentric 1-rep max should be considered safe and effective training, just make sure to practice safe training techniques (spotters and/or safety pins/rails) to reduce your risk of injury!





Genetics Series: Salivary Amylase

I am going to start a new "series" of pieces here on my blog detailing the role of genetics in our appearance, performance, and health. Far too often I see individuals needlessly comparing themselves to others when in actuality, every individual is different, and even though you may appear to be similar to someone else in a lot of ways, the role your genes play in your life could be almost entirely different.

The primary purpose of this blog is to explain how these genetic differences influence much of what we can accomplish as human beings. Just because an individual can look a certain way or perform a certain way does not necessarily mean that they are a harder worker or that they have more dedication than you. Sure, hard work and dedication can improve you current situation, but it does not necessarily mean that you are going to be the best at something - despite what you may have been told.


Amylase is an enzyme that digests carbohydrates. It catalyses the hydrolysis of starch into sugars. It is released by both the pancreas and the salivary glands in your mouth. Sugary foods and beverages actually start digesting in the mouth of mammals due to the release of amylase during that first phase of digestion. Despite the fact that virtually everyone possesses an almost identical amylase gene, some individuals have more copies of the gene than others, therefore increasing their ability to produce amylase.

The following study looked to understand the relationship between amylase production and obesity.

What they found was that the individuals with the most copies (more than 9) of the amylase gene, had a lowered risk of obesity. On the other hand, individuals with fewer copies of the amylase gene (less than 4) had an increased risk of obesity. We could speculate as to the reasons why more genes are beneficial in a couple of ways.

First, increased amylase production could increase the rate of carbohydrate metabolism (digestion and absorption) right in the mouth, thereby increasing the rate at which the carbohydrates enter the bloodstream, stunting the severity and intensity of a blood sugar spike. We know that the quicker and more abrupt one's blood sugar rises, the more intense blood sugar crash may be. Wildly fluctuating blood sugar levels can lead to cravings of more sugar, so it is generally recommended that individuals consume carbohydrates that do not cause too high of a blood sugar spike. Therefore, an increase in amylase production may help to slow the overall metabolism of ingested carbohydrates by starting the process earlier (in the mouth).

Also, an increase in amylase production may also help to trigger our brains into being satiated sooner by starting the process of carbohydrate metabolism in the mouth versus waiting until the sugar reaches our intestines and absorbed into the bloodstream that way. Digested carbohydrates (glucose) are not absorbed through the stomach walls, and in fact amylase is inhibited in stomach acid, so by the time an individual consumes carbs, has them broken down in the stomach, passed on to the small intestine, and then absorbed into the bloodstream, they may have consumed far more carbs than they initially intended.

So how is this important? Well, as the first blog in this Genetics Series, we are looking to understand how different we can be as humans. Despite the fact that many of us look the same and are relatively similar, especially from a genetics standpoint, many of us interact with exercise, our diets, and world we live in in drastically different ways at times. Just because an individual is overweight or skinny, does not necessarily indicate their affinity for a healthy lifestyle or not. If you are overweight, understand that you may have certain genetic disadvantages that you have to work a bit harder at some things than others. Having said that, everyone will have advantages and disadvantages, I try and encourage clients of mine to not allow the disadvantages define who they are or cause them to simply give up hope.





Squat Every Day

For those of you following me on Instagram or Facebook, you have probably seen at least one of my posts from this past week detailing my very first week on a squat every day program. I have actually been intrigued and interested in the concept of squatting every single day for quite some time now, but various reasons and circumstances have held me back from starting it. I finally made the decision a little over a week prior to starting, and figured I would give it a go.

Although there are a number of squat every day programs out there, many of them based on Bulgarian Methods, I was really inspired to give this a shot based on Cory Gregory's Squat Every Day (The Sequel) program from bodybuilding.com.

Squat every day? Really? Like every single day?

Most people never work their legs. Some people in the fitness community work their legs once or twice a week. Some individuals in the CrossFit communities or on other linear progression programs even work their legs 3 times a week. So why every single day? Does every single day mean every single day? I'm so confused!

I know, this sounds like the program goes against everything you have heard in the past about recovery and progression, but I am here to not only explain my reasoning behind wishing to start this program, but also detail what my goals and thoughts are heading forward.

Why?

I love squatting. Plain and simple. As cliched as it sounds, I love the analogy that squatting is like life. You take a bunch of weight on your shoulders, weighing you down, and you can either wimp out and let it push you down or you can get the fuck up and get stronger!

Squatting is so functional. It works so much muscle at one time, it improves the strength and durability of not only your legs and glutes, but also your core (lower back). Also, for those of you who have been following me for some time now will know that I had back surgery for a herniated disc back in 2004 (age 20) so a strong and durable core is my primary focus when it comes to training.

Ask anyone who knows me personally (like my wife, for example) and I have probably mentioned to them in the past about how whenever I try and create a training block for myself, I almost always end up with "analysis paralysis." I am constantly reading research studies and program design protocols, so I am always testing and tweaking training programs to experiment and understand how I can better serve myself and my clients.

So when I am trying to design a training program, especially lately, I am always trying to fit in room for sufficient leg work (first and foremost), but also include in enough upper body strength and hypertrophy work, as well as some metabolic conditioning (mostly CrossFit). Something is almost always left out because I try and add in as much leg and core work as I deem to be necessary, but then still have enough time to do upper body work and conditioning - you know, outside of my time training clients and spending time with my family. I can't be in the gym 3 hours working out every day as much as I'd like to.

How?

How can an individual possibly squat every day? Don't you need time to recover? Well, based on the research I've done on similar programs, it turns out our bodies are far more adaptive than what we give them credit for. One of the primary reasons I wanted to start a program like this is to see what my body is capable of doing. Sure, many who do similar programs can be "supplementing" to help their progress, something that I will not be doing, but it will be interesting none-the-less.

I like the analogy of the garbage man. If I was to start a job tomorrow - such as being a garbage man, hucking garbage into a truck all day long, you'd be pretty certain that I would be sore for the first few days, maybe even the first 2 weeks from doing something that I haven't done before. I would be tired, worn out, and not feeling 100%. My body would begin to adapt, however, and I would soon be getting through an entire day of slinging garbage without a problem at all.

Regardless of whether or not I am squatting 2, 3, or 7 days a week, my body will go through an initial period of being sore, but then adaptation will occur and progress will take over.

When?

Well, I started on Monday June 6th. How long will this continue? As long as I feel I am enjoying the program and am making improvements. Does this mean a new PR every day? Absolutely not. Does this mean a new PR even once a week? Not likely. But if I approach squatting as a daily task, I am hoping to keep this going for months or even years!

What?

As I mentioned before, I am not revealing all of the plans to what I am doing, as I may be making adjustments to it here and there, but you can be certain that there will be lots of squatting! Not only that, but I am fitting in some unique ways of getting both upper body strength and hypertrophy work in to improve strength and size. I am also dabbling in some CrossFit workouts for conditioning and skill development. In my opinion, there is nothing that compares to the intensity and effectiveness of CrossFit metabolic conditioning.

Musings from the first week

  1. Although the program that I am doing is based on Cory Gregory's Squat Every Day: The Sequel, I have also modified it a bit to suit my needs. I know that Cory does 400-800m of walking lunges at least 4 days a week, but I just can't bring myself to lunge that much - too boring!
     
  2. Squat form has to be perfect - or near perfect! Nearly every single squat I have done this first week has been recorded, not only to share on my Insta feed, but to also coach myself and see where I can make adjustments or corrections. I know that cutting corners can manifest and it would be like throwing even one little grain of fine sand into a high performance race car engine - that one grain of sand can and will wear down that engine over time.
     
  3. On day 5 I set a new back squat PR at 330lbs (up from 325lbs) - above video. This by no means means that this program is working already, but it certainly has me fired up for what's to come!
     
  4. I am not sharing all of my programming just yet, maybe in a few weeks after I have some more time with the program and feel as though it is well-rounded and good to share with my followers. I can say that I am absolutely in love with this program already, even after just one short week. I will definitely be sharing more information on this soon.
     
  5. My goal is to squat every day to maintain the health and durability of my lower body and core. This doesn't mean that I will be aiming for personal records all the time, because I know that I will eventually reach an upper limit. But having said that, if I can front squat 405lbs, aiming to improve that number can include pushing more weight, but having a day where I only squat a measly 315lbs (sarcasm) is still moving weight and engaging my leg muscles. Squatting 315lbs in a day is better than not squatting at all.




A Case Against Keto

Ah yes, good old ketogenic (aka "keto") or low-carb diets. Low-carb diets sound like they make sense, right? It only makes sense that the body primarily burns glucose (carbs) as an energy source, so if you eliminate as many of your carbs as possible, then it has to turn to stored body fat stores. Yeah, because human metabolism is easy and straight forward...

Human metabolism is simple, right?

I have attached a fantastic video at the bottom of this blog detailing a study conducted by Dr. Kevin Hall. Dr. Hall completed a study in which he tested the overall effects of a high-fat, low-carb diet. In other words, their goal was to push study participants into a state of ketogenesis to determine if this is an effective form of weight/fat loss.

What he found was that although study participants witnessed a pretty immediate and drastic loss in both weight and body fat, their progress stagnated, or plateaued. There were two other pretty telling markers from this study as well. First, the control group (non-keto) lost just as much body fat as did the low-carb group. Secondly, although both the low-carb and control groups lost equal amounts of body fat, the low-carb group lost more overall weight.

Wait, so the low-carb group lost more overall weight, that is what people want, right? Well, not so fast. Since both groups lost the same amount of body fat but the low-carb group lost more overall weight, that indicates that the low-carb group lost more lean tissue, aka muscle.

What was witnessed in this study, and something that seems to be pretty apparent in most attempts at weight loss (Set Point Theory), is that our bodies adapt. Sure, there was pretty immediate change when first going 'low-carb' for these study participants, but the body became "fat-adapt" and progress slowed. Not only that, at what cost?

I just recently wrote about how being skinny isn't enough for optimal health. Just because an individual is within a "healthy weight range" does not make them healthier. The human body needs muscle and strength to be able to withstand the rigours of life, meaning a well-balanced resistance training program alongside a healthy diet is the best for lifelong, safe, and effective living.

I have always said that carbohydrates are not only useful, but important for optimal health. Despite getting a bad rap, insulin is an effective tool to not only build muscle, but to reduce muscle wasting (catabolism).

This study found that muscle protein synthesis was slowed on a high-fat diet. In this case, insulin resistance appeared to also cause anabolic-resistance.

This study found that muscle hypertrophy was reduced in mice with high fat diets.

In conclusion, chronic high fat feeding impairs the ability of skeletal muscle to hypertrophy in response to increased mechanical load. This failure coincided with a failure to activate key members of the Akt/mTOR signalling pathway and increase protein translation.

And finally in this study (also a mouse study) found that high fat diets - both 70% and 46% caloric intake, lead to a decrease in muscle protein synthesis.

Do I think that keto diets are effective for weight loss? Yes, actually! I think there is lots of empirical and anecdotal evidence indicating that individuals consuming a low-carb, high-fat diet can lose weight, and in a relatively short amount of time. Not only that, but just as Dr. Hall mentions in the video, keto diets seem to be more satiating to individuals. People report feeling fuller, longer, which may be a benefit if you are trying to lose weight. But again, at what cost?

Having said all of that, I always approach both dietary and exercise goals with the same thought in mind. How realistic is what you're intending on doing? Can it be done for a long term? Is it sustainable? Keto diets can be tough to maintain over a long term, especially for individuals looking to improve strength and performance.





"Skinny Fat" is Dangerous

The BMI (Body Mass Index) scale, to be honest, hasn't been universally welcomed for some time now. An arbitrary relationship between an individual's height and weight, and the theoretical level of "health" based on this magical formula has received much scrutiny in the past. Despite the lack of faith put in this system by many experts in the field of health and fitness, it still receives a fair bit of attention from physicians and health care workers looking to promote a healthy lifestyle amongst patients.

It is not uncommon that individuals who use even a moderate amount of resistance training in their workout program can be pushed into the "overweight" or even "obese" category on the BMI scale. Fat free mass, such as muscle, is very dense, which can increase an individual's overall weight and therefore skew their BMI score.

On the other end of the spectrum, and a topic that has been studied recently in the American College of Physicians publication, is that despite having a "normal" BMI, one can still be considered unhealthy and have a greater risk of all-cause mortality.

Relationship Among Body Fat Percentage, Body Mass Index, and All-Cause Mortality: A Cohort Study

Background: Prior mortality studies have concluded that elevated body mass index (BMI) may improve survival. These studies were limited because they did not measure adiposity directly.

Objective: To examine associations of BMI and body fat percentage (separately and together) with mortality.

Design: Observational study.

Setting: Manitoba, Canada.

Participants: Adults aged 40 years or older referred for bone mineral density (BMD) testing.

Measurements: Participants had dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), entered a clinical BMD registry, and were followed using linked administrative databases. Adjusted, sex-stratified Cox models were constructed. Body mass index and DXA-derived body fat percentage were divided into quintiles, with quintile 1 as the lowest, quintile 5 as the highest, and quintile 3 as the reference.

Results: The final cohort included 49 476 women (mean age, 63.5 years; mean BMI, 27.0 kg/m2; mean body fat, 32.1%) and 4944 men (mean age, 65.5 years; mean BMI, 27.4 kg/m2; mean body fat, 29.5%). Death occurred in 4965 women over a median of 6.7 years and 984 men over a median of 4.5 years. In fully adjusted mortality models containing both BMI and body fat percentage, low BMI (hazard ratio [HR], 1.44 [95% CI, 1.30 to 1.59] for quintile 1 and 1.12 [CI, 1.02 to 1.23] for quintile 2) and high body fat percentage (HR, 1.19 [CI, 1.08 to 1.32] for quintile 5) were associated with higher mortality in women. In men, low BMI (HR, 1.45 [CI, 1.17 to 1.79] for quintile 1) and high body fat percentage (HR, 1.59 [CI, 1.28 to 1.96] for quintile 5) were associated with increased mortality.

Limitations: All participants were referred for BMD testing, which may limit generalizability. Serial measures of BMD and weight were not used. Some measures, such as physical activity and smoking, were unavailable.

Conclusion: Low BMI and high body fat percentage are independently associated with increased mortality. These findings may help explain the counterintuitive relationship between BMI and mortality.

What the study found was that despite an individual being within a "healthy" or "normal" weight range on the BMI scale, a greater body fat percentage was linked to a greater risk of all-cause mortality.

In other words, the term "skinny fat" has been used in the media before which this study exemplifies. Just because you are within a healthy weight range for your height does not meant that you are at an advantage health-wise.

What this tells us is that it is important to focus more on keeping a body fat percentage within a healthy range rather than focusing on overall weight. Not only that, but resistance training an adequate protein consumption are extremely effective tools to promote the growth of fat free mass, improving our overall health.





More on the "Set Point Theory"

It has been over 4 years since I originally wrote about the "Set Point Theory" and weight loss. I've actually written about this pretty extensively - even recently. The premise of the "Set Point Theory" is that we all have an upper and lower limit when it comes to a healthy weight range. When it comes to weight loss, the lower limit is the one that is most important, because as an individual loses weight and once they drop below that lower weight range, their metabolisms begin to slow.

Regardless of how healthy or unhealthy our weight is currently at, if we lose weight too quickly or too far beyond our "lower limit," our bodies seem to kick into survival mode, almost as if it thinks we are dying, and slows metabolism down to preserve weight as much as possible. Alarm bells sound when weight drops quickly, and our primary focus seems to be to prevent as much body wasting as possible.

A fantastic article in the New York Times was released just the other day detailing the incredible weight loss, and unfortunate rebound for the contestants of the show the Biggest Loser.

“The key point is that you can be on TV, you can lose enormous amounts of weight, you can go on for six years, but you can’t get away from a basic biological reality,” said Dr. Schwartz, who was not involved in the study. “As long as you are below your initial weight, your body is going to try to get you back.”

As the article points out, and something that I discuss with my clients on a consistent basis, is that if weight loss is your goal, then effective Coaching and tracking is essential for long-term, sustainable weight loss.

Sure, like a general fitness program, or a dietary guideline program, results usually come pretty quick and easy. I don't mean to discount the effectiveness of any diet or workout program, but nearly anything can and will work when you are first starting out. If you are overweight, just getting moving and eating a bit healthier can lead to some pretty immediate change.

I see it all the time, individuals who sell a workout plan or a diet plan that is a cookie cutter option that initially may work for most - but doesn't necessarily work for everyone, or may not deliver the results you want over time.

In my opinion, and a problem that usually occurs with most individuals, is that changes begin to slow, and then where are you left? The allure of just purchasing a workout program or diet plan from someone can initially seem like a "cheap" option, and sure, you may even see results. But then what happens when your weight loss or fitness level starts to plateau? Is the person you purchased your diet plan from there to help guide you through that plateau? Do they have options or tools to help you tweak things to continue the progress?

I know, this sounds like one biased blog, and clearly I have my own interests in mind when I am offering my help to others. But at the same time I have been around the health and fitness industry for some time now, and have seen the failed attempts at succeeding time and time again.

Diet plans aren't realistic if you can't stick to them. There is a reason why you weren't consistent. There was a reason why your weight plateaued. There is a reason why although you may lose weight initially, it just keeps coming back on. I teach habits that are effective long-term. My goal is to help those make effective lifestyle choices to be consistent over time, rather than just look good in 6 weeks and re-gain the weight.

So, if this sounds like you - someone who has tried to lose weight in the past only to hit a plateau or lose all momentum and gain your weight back, give my Nutritional Coaching try. I promise you I will work hard to help you make long-lasting, effective weight loss a reality.





What is "functional?"

Wow, what a topic to discuss. If you are here, please hear me out and read the whole blog.

I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately. I'm not sure if it's because I am now into my thirties, because I have kids, because I have been pretty heavily involved in the healthcare/health and fitness industry for some time, or some sort of combination of all of the above, but I can't help but think about the meaning of the term "functional."

In the health and fitness industry, this term gets thrown around quite a bit. I have my own thoughts about what the term should mean, which I will discuss. What finally inspired me to write this was coming across Tom Purvis' latest video (posted below). I have a lot of respect for Tom, I have watched all of his videos and generally appreciate most, if not all, of what he has to say.

So what does "functional" mean?

In my opinion, functional, or in other words - functional training, is the ability for one to train in order to improve the quality of their life.

That's it.

I thought about adding to that statement, with additional caveats that relate to athletic performance, or injury prevention, etc. but to be honest, I think improving the quality of one's life is the most important. Not only that, but I will argue that improving the quality of your life is directly related to the goals and aspirations that you have.

Are you a basketball player? Sure, this is how you should train. Are you a CrossFitter? Sure, this is how you should train. Are you a sedentary individual who has been told to increase the level of activity that you partake in in order to reduce your risk of disease or death? Sure, this is how you train.

Now, this is not an argument against one form of training or another. I am a huge proponent of big, compound functional movements (there's that word again) in order to improve the quality of life. In fact, I believe that at its core, training for every day life versus training to be a top-level athlete is differentiated not by movement patterns, but by levels of intensity.

Let's just go back quick and make a quick aside over what I mean by functional movements. These are movements that most people either do, or should be doing in every day life in order to move and feel better. Deadlifting (picking something up and putting it back down), squatting (getting off the floor/chair/toilet), pressing (getting off the floor), pulling, core training (midline stability), etc. Again, I have no problems with a 90 year-old grandma and a 20 year old football player both squatting and deadlifting. The differences between their training differs by intensity, not exercise selection. Functional movements should be used in functional training.

Our bodies move in certain ways. We train them to be better at life or we train them a lot more than that to perform a certain set of skills or movements as optimally as possible (athletics).

The problem is, and this is what Tom discusses in his video (make sure you watch the whole thing), is that too many individuals blur the lines between health and sport. For readers of my blog, you know that I have been quite critical of CrossFit in the past. I had an opportunity to take over the CrossFit Combine program here at the Athlete Institute in May 2015 and although there were aspects of CrossFit that I wasn't entirely enthralled with, I saw it as an opportunity to run the program as I saw fit.

In fact, in reading and trying to understand CrossFit as deeply as I could, I have learned that the true intention of CrossFit when it began was just that - to improve the health and quality of life for its participants. The conundrum for CrossFit heading forward however, at least in my opinion, is that they need to attract participants to their style of training for improved health rather than distancing themselves further and further from the top level athletes that have unfathomable skills and levels of fitness.

I have no problems with an individual coming to me and asking for me to help them train for *insert sport here*, whether that be hockey, soccer, basketball, football, tennis, CrossFit, etc. I have the knowledge and skills available to take an athlete to the level of athleticism that they seek.

Having said that, there is also an entire other realm of training here, and one area that is much larger and more important, in my opinion. That relates to regular folks looking to improve their level of fitness. Dads that want to be in shape to not get winded playing with their kids. Men and women that work physically demanding jobs that require a level of fitness for personal safety. Former athletes with previous injuries looking to reclaim some of their athleticism, pain-free. Although I use many of the same tools to train the athletes and regular folks alike, there needs to be an appreciation for the fact that some things just don't need to be done by regular folks.

To summarize, I think this discussion can be broken down into 3 main topics.

  1. What is training?

    As Tom points out in the video, there are 2 main goals or outcomes when it comes to the purpose of training or as it should probably be called in most situations - exercise.

    When an individual is just getting started on the path to get themselves healthier, sure, movement is movement and getting active is the first step. However, that period doesn't last long, and the focus should shift from exercising just for the sake of moving, and training to make you more functional.

    Usually, a good indicator of whether or not you are training vs. if you are just exercising is whether you have short and long term goals, and a plan in place to help you reach those goals. Again, let me reiterate that I don't have a problem with exercise, but individuals tend to have a very specific reason (i.e. goal) for physical activity, so someone like myself can help you put the gears in motion to reach said goal - making it, at least in my opinion, superior to just exercising.
     
  2. Why exercise if its not for a sport?

    This is a cloudy area for many, especially an area that I see the most difficulty with in situations like CrossFit.

    Quantifying your fitness can be an extremely effective tool to induce intensity and growth. Whether it be breaking through personal bests and plateaus, or competing with friends or colleagues to best a score in a workout.

    Having said that, many end up being stuck in the endless pursuit of being better than others rather than improving themselves, which can lead to a slippery slope of only focusing on besting others rather than focusing on the true nature of fitness, which is to better yourself, making yourself more functional.

    There is almost an endless list of benefits gained from physical activity, or training, but these benefits come from focusing on very specific indicators and movement patterns, many of which can get lost in the constant desire to beat a score or clock.
     
  3. Should you sacrifice your body for a goal?

    I hope that by this point I have made things perfectly clear and have explained that I have absolutely no problems with individuals training for sport. In fact, it is one of the greatest human endeavours - to challenge ourselves against others in a controlled setting.

    That seems to be the defining line, however, between being a top-level athlete and someone who trains for life. Athletes push themselves to their physical limitations, sometimes even beyond that! It is not uncommon to see a professional athlete go through major surgery or surgeries in the course of their careers, all because they have pushed their bodies to be at their absolute best.

    That is the line that needs to be decided on whether or not to cross for most individuals. Yes, training for life should be rigorous and intense. How else do you adapt and be well prepared for the rigours of life? But choices need to be made when training about whether or not pushing beyond your personal limits are necessary or even warranted.

    We are constantly bombarded with the messages and quotes akin to "no pain, no gain" and "glory lasts forever" and although that may be true for athletes competing at a high level who value competition more than anything else in this world, remember that we are all human and have lives to live. In the grand scheme of things, nobody really cares how much weight you can lift. You are an individual with a very specific set of circumstances that lead you to being in the position you are in now.