Thursday, April 27, 2017

My Fitness Program, Results, and Rationale: Part II

This is part two of a two-part series detailing what results I'm currently seeing along with my habits and lifestyle. In part one, I shared my results: my joint health, metabolic and cardiovascular numbers, and body composition data. In this part, I share what I do and why.

A crock pot dish of tomatoes, carrots, spinach, chicken, and beef broth.

This post is for anyone who follows this blog and is curious about my personal habits/routines. Before continuing, keep in mind:
  1. My habits and routines are not perfect - it's just what works for me at the present time.
  2. I'm frequently adjusting and experimenting, so what I do now isn't necessarily what I did six months ago or what I'll be doing in six months from now.
  3. As mentioned in part one, my goals are health, longevity, being satisfied with how I look, and having an above average amount of strength and muscle.

My Habits and Routines


Exercise

Using my last 30 days of logging in MyFitnessPal, I average 40.7 minutes per day of activity. Focusing on my high-intensity exercise only (no walks or hikes), I average 24.7 minutes of exercise per day. 

Here's a look at my last 30 days of activity and exercise in terms of total minutes each day, and a table featuring a more comprehensive breakdown of my routine.

W = walks.

Type of Exercise
Frequency
Other Details
Strength training
5x/week
Workouts last 20-28 minutes.
Walking
1-2x/week
Walks are slow and last 30-90 minutes.
High-intensity intervals on a stationary cycle
1-2x/week
Total workout is 10-15 minutes.
Warm-up/cool-down: 5 minutes total.
Workout is three 30-second intervals of 90-100% effort with light pedaling in between.
Hiking
1x/month
Average hike is 3-5 hours.

I don't really consider walking to be exercise. Walking is effective for reducing blood pressure and improving insulin sensitivity (diabetes prevention), but doesn't produce physique or skeletal changes. I walk for mental clarity and sun exposure

My current strength training routine features three days of training, followed by two days of rest. In each day of training, I perform three pairs of exercises. My workouts feature 14-18 total sets. I work until exhaustion on each set and pick weights that lead to exhaustion in 4-7 reps. My reps last around eight seconds each. I increase the weight when I'm able to perform seven reps in the first set.

Day 1 (Upper)
Day 2 (Lower/Midsection)
Day 3 (Accessory)
Lat Pulldown
Incline bench press
3 sets for each
Leg Curl
Hack Squat*
3 sets for each
Seated Barbell Military Press
Seated Calf Raise Machine
3 sets for each
Cable Row
Barbell Bench Press
3 sets for each
Deadlift with Cable Machine
Leg Press Machine
3 sets for each
Standing Barbell Curls
Cable Pushdown
3 sets for each
Neutral Grip Pull-ups
Dumbbell Bench Press
3 sets for each
Floor Crunch (dumbbell on my chest)
Back Extensions
1 set for each
Dumbbell Hammer Curls
Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension
2 sets for each

I am removing the hack squat to eliminate unnecessary stress on my lower back. In regards to the structure of my workout program, here are some reasons why I do what I do:
  • Short workouts: performing long workouts almost every day leads to immune system weakness, a drop in metabolism, a lack of recovery, and added joint breakdown (1). Exercise should improve health and fitness, not damage it. Also, long "cardio" workouts can limit the strength and muscle growth benefits from strength training. However, short, high-intensity interval training could enhance strength training results, plus provide health benefits (2).
  • Compound exercises: in my upper and lower body training days, I focus on compound movements, which are exercises which require multiple joints to move (bench press, pull-ups, row, deadlift, leg press, etc.). These exercises train more muscles at one time. Also, compound exercises have larger effects on metabolism and stimulate a greater production of growth hormone and testosterone, which could improve muscle growth (3).
  • Short rest between sets: resting just one minute between sets leads to fewer reps performed in the following sets (3). However, it leads to a greater increase in blood flow (3), and leads to larger improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and artery functioning (4). 
  • One set each for abs and lower back: crunches and back extensions put a fair amount of stress on the lumbar spine (lower back). Therefore, I use a very small amount of exercise with each. Also, one set of back extensions are all that's needed to improve back strength and reduce pain (5).

Eating Habits

Here's a rundown of what I eat:

Basics
Averages (my last 20 days on MyFitnessPal)
Total Calorie Intake
1,716 calories/day
Intermittent Fasting
I eat only between the hours of 12 PM and 8 PM, then fast the rest of the day. I do this 5-6 days per week.
Fat
30-40% of total calories (50-115 grams per day)
Carbohydrates
30-40% of total calories (120-200 grams per day)
Protein
25-35% of total calories (120-180 grams per day)

In each meal, I eat a protein source (usually sardines, salmon, tuna, turkey, or chicken) with fruit (orange, banana, grapes, kiwi, mango, berries, etc.) or vegetables (salad, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.). Most of my meals are pan-fried, from the crock pot, or involve no cooking at all.

Besides proteins, fruits, and vegetables, I eat beans and yogurt each about twice per week. I eat a sandwich or wrap once a week. My diet includes 1-2 large meals (>1,000 calories) per week and days where I consume 2,400+ calories, which are balanced by eating less than my average amount on most days.

My drinks are almost always water and carbonated water. I drink four energy drinks per week (an area I want to improve in), and 1-2 cocktails over the weekend.

  • Calories. Obviously I don't eat a lot. Between this and my protein intake being less than optimal, I am not optimizing the amount of muscle I can have. I eat so few calories partly due to the fast (eating for only eight hours per day). Mainly, I eat few calories because people who eat less tend to age better and live longer (6,7). 
  • Fasting. Fasting helps control my weight, plus it is known to improve health, especially in areas related to diabetes and heart disease (8).  
  • Protein. People who strength train should eat, on a daily basis, at least their weight in pounds multiplied by 0.82 (9). For example: 181.4 lbs. x 0.82 = 149 grams per day. When eating very few calories, that requirement increases (10). This is an area I plan to work on more soon.

Other Health-Related Habits


Donating platelets in 2014.

Here are a few other things I do to obtain or reach my goals:
  1. Sleep. Since February, I average about 7.5-8 hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation increases blood sugar, total calorie intake, and junk food cravings (I'll blog about this in the near future).
  2. Self-monitoring of activity and eating: I use MyFitnessPal most days of the week to track my protein intake, overall calorie consumption, and activity (as you saw before). Monitoring increases self-awareness and leads to better control of habits (11).
  3. Self-monitoring of weight: I weight myself every morning. While this may sound like a nightmare to you, daily weighing is shown to help reach weight goals effectively for the same reason: increasing self-awareness (11). I don't stress about small fluctuations. I hope to weigh in a specific range (178-183 lbs.). If I fall out of that range, then I pay more attention to my habits so I can work back into the range.
  4. Platelet donations: I donate platelets through United Blood Services twice per month. Blood donations are shown to help control iron in the blood (prevent an excess of iron). I don't know if donating platelets provides health benefits, but it could.

Final Thoughts

While I do switch my workouts every few months, my total workout time doesn't change significantly - I'm not interested in spending an hour at the gym, five days per week. If I were to change anything with exercise, I would actually decrease my strength training workload. Speaking of changes, I'm planning to add a little more protein and decrease my energy drink consumption in the next two months.

Thanks for reading through this post and part one. I hope this two-part series gave you a better idea of who I am, where I'm at, and provided at least one idea for something you can add to your own health habits.


References

  1. Preuss, S.R. (2017). When exercise is toxic. The Heart Healthy Lifestyle, retrieved from http://www.thhlblog.com/2017/03/when-exercise-is-toxic.html
  2. Preuss, S.R. (2017). Does cardio "kill your gains?" The Heart Healthy Lifestyle, retrieved from http://www.thhlblog.com/2017/04/does-cardio-kill-your-gains.html.
  3. Kraemer, W.J. & Ratamess, N.A. (2004). Fundamentals of resistance training: Progression and exercise prescription. Physical Fitness and Performance, 36(4), 674-688.
  4. Tan, B. (1999). Manipulating resistance training program variables to optimize maximum strength in men: A review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 13(3), 298-304.
  5. Preuss, S.R. (2013). The direct approach: treating lower back pain with strength. The Heart Healthy Lifestyle, retrieved from http://www.thhlblog.com/2013/02/the-direct-approach-treating-lower-back.html.
  6. CR Society. (N.d.). Calorie restriction research moves forward! CR Society International, retrieved from http://www.crsociety.org/science/research 
  7. Buettner, D. (2010). The blue zones: Lessons for living longer from the people who've lived the longest. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.
  8. Preuss, S.R. (2013). The fast diet and the effectiveness of intermittent fasting. The Heart Healthy Lifestyle, retrieved from http://www.thhlblog.com/2013/03/the-fast-diet-and-effectiveness-of.html
  9. Lemon, P. W. (2000). Beyond the zone: protein needs of active individuals. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 19(5), 513S-521S.
  10. Helms, E.R., Zinn, C., Rowlands, D.S., & Brown, S.R. (2014). A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 24, 127-138.
  11. Robinson, D. (2015). Could you triple your weight loss? Beyond Diets, retrieved from http://www.beyonddiets.com/beyonddiets-blog/2015/4/8/could-you-triple-your-weight-loss.html.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My Fitness Program, Results, and Rationale: Part I

For all of you who regularly follow this blog, I wrote this post and the next post to give you a transparent view of where I'm at (health-wise and fitness-wise), what I do, and why I do what I do. I would be a complete hypocrite and lack credibility to write about health and fitness but be in poor standing myself. 


Summer of 2010 versus April, 2017

In this post, I'll share my current health status and results. In part two of this series, I'll discuss my current training routine, diet, and other lifestyle habits. If you have no interest...I don't blame you...and come back next week when I get back to general exercise and nutrition topics.

Before diving into my current health and fitness, you should know what I'm aiming to do. While I'd like to be very muscular and build my athletic skills, I don't care enough to focus on those at the expense of my primary goals. Just as it's difficult to date the woman in California while living in New York, it's difficult to train for health and longevity, maintain leanness, and maximize muscle mass. We can't have everything we want, so we have to prioritize what's most important and focus on that.

Here are my primary fitness-related goals (in order):
  1. Health (short- and long-term) and longevity
  2. Being satisfied with how I look naked (how's that for honesty?)
  3. Having an above average amount of strength and muscle

My Results and Status

Here's an overview of my body composition and health with a little context on how I've fluctuated over the past few years.

Body Composition

Measurement Type
Current Measurements (taken 4/25/17)
Weight
181.4 lbs 
Waist Circumference
81.8 cm (32.3 inches)
Hip Circumference
101.4 cm (40 inches)
Waist-to-Hip Ratio
80.7

4/25/2017 (no oil, no filter...just me)

For most of my adult life, I've weighed around 187-190 lbs. At my heaviest (left side of the photo at the top of this article), I weighed 201 lbs. I've maintained my current weight range (179-183 lbs.) mostly since mid-2011. (This post details how I lost the weight.)

Since I've started tracking waist and hip measurements (2014), my waist and hip have increased by one and 1.5 centimeters.

As mentioned, I care most about health and being satisfied with how I look, so I track my body composition using photos and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). WHR is more effective than weight or body fat percentage in determining a person's risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. With a WHR of 80.7, I fall into the "excellent" or "low risk" range for men, which is below 85. My BMI is 24.6 (I'm 6' tall), which is classified in the "normal" or "healthy" weight range.

Cardiovascular and Metabolic Health

Here are snippets of my most recent measurements. I'm 33 years old (birth date: 7/19/1983).

On 4/21/2017, my total cholesterol was 134 mg/dl and my blood pressure was 107/59 mmHg.

On 3/23/16, my HDLs were 70, LDLs were 86, and my triglycerides were 41 mg/dl.

This is my last fasting blood glucose test, measured at 83 mg/dl.

I fall into healthy ranges for all measures. Healthy ranges for each are the following:

  • Blood pressure (me: 107/59): 80-120 (systolic)/60-80 (diastolic) mmHg
  • Total cholesterol (134): under 200 mg/dl
  • HDLs (70): the desirable level is greater than 60 mg/dl 
  • LDLs (86): less than 100 mg/dl
  • Triglycerides (41): less than 150 mg/dl
  • Fasting blood glucose (83): 70-99 mg/dl

Joint Health

As you will see in part two of this series, I exercise regularly but not as much as many fitness professionals. One reason for this is out of concern for joint health. One four-year study showed people who exercise very frequently experience just as much joint deterioration as people who don't exercise at all (1).

I have no regular joint pain. However, I experience back stiffness and ache about two or three times per year. Also, I recently experienced left knee pain on a 12-mile hike (a one-time event). While my lower back is generally pain-free (thanks to back extensions) despite an injury in 2008, the ache usually follows exercise "experiments." Examples are trying new exercises with more loading on the spine (hack squats, deadlifts, etc.) or adding volume with exercises that put force on the spine.

Final Thoughts for Part I

One thing I want to improve on is being a little smarter in my exercise experiments; while I love experiencing what others are doing, some pursuits aren't wise for joint health. As I mentioned at the start, I want to be around for a long time and to be functional during all of those years. Some risks aren't worth the minor benefits they might provide.

In part two, I'll share what I'm currently doing with my exercise program, diet, and in other areas.

Reference

  1. Lin, W., Alizai, H., Joseph, G. B., Srikhum, W., Nevitt, M. C., Lynch, J. A., ... & Link, T. M. (2013). Physical activity in relation to knee cartilage T2 progression measured with 3 T MRI over a period of 4 years: data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage21(10), 1558-1566.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Eating More Meals for Metabolism and Muscle

In life, there are times when the actual evidence doesn't match the narrative we believe to be true. We believe a friend is a generally moral person, but he steals money from his employer, doesn't spend time with his kids, and frequently treats people disrespectfully. Some say older adults should "take it easy," but inactive people die sooner while those who exercise intensely live longer and higher quality lives.


If the evidence doesn't match the narrative, it's probably time to reconsider the narrative.

One of the most popular narratives in nutrition is eating smaller, more frequent meals "revs up" metabolism, and the increase in metabolism leads to weight loss. However, large-population studies in the US have found that increases in eating frequency are the biggest dietary change from the late 1970s to the mid 2000s (1)...a period of time when obesity was increasing in the US.

Is it time to change this recommendation in favor of traditional eating (three meals per day)? Maybe.

Meals and Metabolism 

A few well-controlled studies measured metabolism with diets featuring the same amount of daily calories, but in different amounts of meals. A month-long study of women who were obese or overweight compared eating two meals per day versus eating 3-5 (2). Sleeping metabolism and total daily calories "burned" were the same in both groups. Other studies comparing two versus seven meals, three versus six meals, and two versus three meals also found no difference in metabolic rate following the different eating frequencies (3,4,5).

After seeing all of those results, you likely won't be surprised to read that a review of meal frequency studies concluded "increasing meal frequency does not appear to significantly enhance diet-induced thermogenesis, total energy expenditure, or resting metabolic rate (6)."

For the research measuring weight loss, one study showed different meal frequencies had no effect on weight or fat loss (2). Other research showed men and women lost more weight and fat when eating one meal per day compared to when they ate three meals per day, despite eating the same amount of calories with both approaches (7).

Eating more often does not increase metabolism or enhance weight loss.

Meals and Muscle Retention 



For maintaining or building muscle, some believe eating more frequently is necessary. In the research review, three out of four studies showed no difference in a measure of muscle maintenance/growth when comparing different amounts of daily meals (6). One study advised that it's more important to concern yourself with how much protein you eat, not how often you eat it (6).

Meals and Hunger

Metabolism isn't impacted by how often you eat, but hunger is. A few studies asked the participants to rate their hunger at various times during each day. People were less hungry when eating three meals per day (when compared to one, two, or six meals per day), or when eating five meals (when compared to one meal per day) (7,5,3,6).

To minimize hunger, a middle ground of about 3-5 meals seems best.

Conclusion

There's one additional important point to note that the research doesn't cover: self-control. Many people (including yours truly at times) don't consistently control portions. While eating small, frequent meals may sound easy, they may actually become frequent, moderate-to-large meals. Therefore, I think eating less often (3-4 times per day) is smarter as it limits the opportunities for a person to overeat.

The narrative of eating small, frequent meals to boost metabolism and lose weight is simply a narrative...a fictional story. It's not true. Eating small meals throughout the day does NOT increase metabolism. In fact, it may increase your hunger.

If you want to lose weight, focus on the quality of your foods, eating enough protein to maintain your muscle mass, and eating around 3-4 meals per day to satisfy your hunger while minimizing opportunities to overeat. 

Also, stop people when you hear them recommending small, frequent meals to "rev-up" a person's metabolism. The evidence doesn't fit the narrative.

References

  1. Duffey, K.J. & Popkin, B.M. (2011). Energy density, portion size, and eating occasions: contributions to increased energy intake in the United States, 1977-2006. PLoS Med, 8(6): e1001050.
  2. Verboeket-Van de Venne, W.P. & Westerterp, K.R. (1993). Frequency of feeding, weight reduction and energy metabolism. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 17(1), 31-36.
  3. Verboeket-van de Venne, W.P. & Westerterp, K.R. (1991). Influence of the feeding frequency on nutrient utilization in man: consequences for energy metabolism. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 45(3), 161-169.
  4. Ohkawara, K., Cornier, M.A., Kohrt, W.M., & Melanson, E.L. (2013). Effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger. Obesity, 21(2), 336-343.
  5. Smeets, A. J., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2008). Acute effects on metabolism and appetite profile of one meal difference in the lower range of meal frequency. British journal of nutrition, 99(06), 1316-1321.
  6. La Bounty, P. M., Campbell, B. I., Wilson, J., Galvan, E., Berardi, J., Kleiner, S. M., ... & Smith, A. (2011). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: meal frequency. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 8(1), 4.
  7. Stote, K. S., Baer, D. J., Spears, K., Paul, D. R., Harris, G. K., Rumpler, W. V., ... & Longo, D. L. (2007). A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal-weight, middle-aged adults. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 85(4), 981-988.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Is Static Stretching Necessary?

"We use only 10% of our brains." It was the start of a funny and cheesy pick-up line in Wedding Crashers. It was also widely-accepted as true for decades. Is it true? No, 90% of our brain is not freeloading. Despite lacking any scientific support, many believed this was a fact.


Stretching, specifically static stretching (holding a stretch for 30 or more seconds), has been considered an essential part of exercise for a long time.. This is largely because it reduces soreness and injury risk with exercise and sports...but does it really provide those benefits? Is this an actual fact? Research largely says "no."

Soreness

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the discomfort people feel about 24-72 hours a workout or sport, especially when starting a new activity. Stretching just before or after is commonly said to prevent or reduce DOMS. This is not true, at least based on current research. A review, published in 2006, assessed five studies measuring soreness (1).  People who stretched felt no reduction in soreness at 24, 48, or 72 hours after exercise. Stretching was performed for 5-10 minutes, including holds ranging from 20 seconds to two minutes. Some people stretched before the workout; some stretched afterwards. Regardless, stretching had no effect on post-activity soreness.

Injury Risk

The evidence supporting stretching to reduce injury risk is not encouraging as well (if you're a fan of stretching). A review from 2005 looked at studies focusing on lower body stretching and various lower body injuries (strains, sprains, shin splints, etc.). The result? Stretching did not reduce injury risk.

A study of about 3,000 runners had a similar result when assigning runners to stretching or non-stretching groups for three months (3). In both groups, 16% of people suffered an injury.

A more recent research review did cite a few studies where the static stretching group suffered from fewer injuries...but there was a huge influencing factor: they all performed a warm-up activity of some kind (4). Static stretching by itself does not reduce the risk of injury.

Performance



In regards to soreness or injury risk, stretching is ineffective but not harmful. Stretching could be harmful to your workout or athletic performance. When performed beforehand, static stretching leads to an average reduction of 3-4% in a maximal vertical jump and 1-2% in sprinting speed (4). Obviously these are not huge decreases but could be significant if competing against a person with similar abilities.

When performed before strength training, static stretching reduces the amount of reps a person can lift a weight for (4, 5). Specifically, people perform an average of 8% fewer reps following static stretches (4). One study found rep totals decreased by 9-24%, with the effect increasing with heavier weights (5). This likely happens because stretching reduces the amount of muscle fibers that contract during an exercise.

Is Stretching Useful?

Before answering the question that leads this section, I have one point you should know: I have no "dog in the race." I have no personal vendetta against stretching. I am simply looking for the truth.

Is stretching necessary? Is it useful? In the previous post, I started by saying life is mostly gray, not black and white; a universal rule or answer generally doesn't work. Therefore, my answer to these questions is conditional.

Stretching is useful for increasing joint range of motion, and people in sports requiring large movements (e.g. gymnastics, track and field) should perform static stretching (4). Also, if stretching temporarily reduces pain that you feel, then I think you should stretch. For injury prevention, soreness prevention, or when you are going to strength train, I recommend avoiding static stretching.

References

  1. Herbert, R.D. & Gabriel, M. (2006). Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. BMJ, 325(7362), 468.
  2. Hart, L. (2005). Effect of stretching on sport injury risk: a review. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 15(2), 113.
  3. Oddi, V. (2010). USATF Announces Results of Pre-run Stretch Study. USATF. Retrieved from http://www.usatf.org/news/view.aspx?DUID=USATF_2010_08_20_12_13_14
  4. McHugh, M.P. & Cosgrave, C.H. (2009). To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 20, 169-181.
  5. Nelson, A.G., Kokkonen, J., & Arnall, D.A. (2005). Acute muscle stretching inhibits muscle strength endurance performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19, 338-343.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Does Cardio "Kill Your Gains?"

Life is rarely black and white. Lying is generally "bad," but not if you lie to protect another person's information or security. Investing in the stock market is often "smart," but not if the market is at a 20-year high. Life is generally gray and conditional. In many cases, a universal rule or approach doesn't apply.


This brings me to a commonly-debated fitness topic: does performing cardio limit strength training's effects on building muscle and strength? Or, phrased in a more common way, does cardio "kill my gains?"

As you would guess after reading the first paragraph, the answer to these questions is...it depends.

Cardio and Strength Training

Generally, performing large amounts of cardiovascular exercise (walking, running, cycling, etc.) along with strength training will limit less strength and muscle growth. This was shown in a review of almost 40 studies (1). When compared to people who only strength trained, men and women who performed strength and cardio exercise added strength and muscle...but not as much.

There are many reasons for this:
  1. Glycogen (1). Glycogen is the stored form of glucose. Glucose is the main fuel source for strength training. When cardio is performed on consecutive days, glycogen is depleted, leaving less energy for strength training. As a result, a person performing a large amount of cardio likely won't be able to lift as much weight or perform as many repetitions in strength workouts.
  2. Overtraining (1). As mentioned in the previous post, an excess of training can be noticed in a person's strength levels. One study noted people were able to gain strength for the first several weeks when performing both types of exercise. Afterwards, strength levels decreased! Were they exercising too often to fully recover from each workout?
  3. Muscle fibers and protein synthesis (2). Strength training and cardio training stimulate different responses in cells (larger myofibrillar proteins for hypertrophy vs. more mitochondrial content). Also, to grow muscle, muscle protein development needs to exceed muscle protein breakdown for long periods of time (weeks or months). Performing long endurance workouts interrupts the emphasis on muscle protein development by promoting a focus on protein breakdown.

However, as I mentioned in the introduction, cardio does not always limit muscle and strength development. From what I noticed, there are two conditions when cardio doesn't contradict the benefits of strength training. In fact, in these circumstances, cardio might even enhance muscle and strength!

Frequency of Training

The majority of the studies in the review focused on large amounts of training, featuring long workouts which were performed 4-6 days per week for EACH type of exercise...for a total of 8-12 workouts per week (1)!

Two studies showed cardio and strength training together can be just as effective, if not more effective (3,4). A difference with these studies was the frequency. A study from 2002 showed the combination can actually lead to more muscle growth than strength training alone. In this study, cardio and strength training were performed on the same day and for three days per week (3). A second study, published in 2009, showed almost equal gains in strength from strength training alone when compared to strength training and cycling. The participants only worked out two days per week (4).

In both cases, people rested most days of the week and did not exercise on consecutive days.

Type of Cardio Training



When cardio is performed less frequently, the type of cardio matters. Cycling, when combined with strength training, complemented strength training more effectively than walking or running on a treadmill did (4). In one case, combining cycling and strength training together improved hypertrophy, or muscle growth (3). Researchers speculate that cycling is better for strength as it mimics the joint movements of some strength training (4). It's possible that other cardiovascular exercise methods that mimic strength training movements, such as the row ergometer, could also enhance strength training results when performed less frequently.

Conclusion

Does cardio "kill your gains?" It depends, of course. If strength and hypertrophy are your main concerns, research indicates sticking to 2-3 cardio workouts per week to develop the most strength and muscle you can. Also, focus on a cardio method such as cycling or rowing that is similar to strength training movements. If you are an endurance athlete or simply enjoy daily cardio, strength training will still help you gain strength and muscle...you just won't develop to your maximal level.

References

  1. Nader, G.A. (2006). Concurrent strength and endurance training: from molecules to man. Medicine, Science, Sports, and Exercise, 38(11), 1965-1970.
  2. Hawley, J.A. (2009). Molecular responses to strength and endurance training: are they incompatible? Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 34, 355-361.
  3. McCarthy, J.P., Pozniak, M.A., & Agre, J.C. (2002). Neuromuscular adaptations to concurrent strength and endurance training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 34(3), 511-519.
  4. Gergley, J.C. (2009). Comparison of two lower-body modes of endurance training on lower-body strength development while concurrently training. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(3), 979-987.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

When Exercise is Toxic

Everyone should exercise. Exercise produces mental and physical health benefits, improves how we look, and enhances our physical abilities. We all know this.


Like medications, exercise requires a certain dosage: not too little yet not too much.

Exercise is like medication: a minimal amount is generally needed to attain a specific benefit (e.g. 30 minutes of walking to lower blood pressure for a day). Also, like medication, an excess could be toxic.

More isn't always better. This is certainly the case with exercise. Our bodies do not want intense exercise every day.  Research shows this in a number of areas.


Strength

When a muscle group is strength trained, it initially becomes weaker and requires roughly 72 hours to completely recover and reach a slightly stronger and larger state. If we perform another intense strength training workout before recovery is complete, there could be signs indicating a lack of recovery. For example, women were only 94% as strong when performing an intense workout just two days after their previous intense strength training session with the same muscle groups (1). Especially for those who have trained for at least a year, research reviews recommend 72 hours as the shortest possible rest periods between intense training for the same muscle group (2,3).


Weight

When our bodies experience undesired sensations, they counteract. When we're cold, we contract our muscles (shiver) to generate heat.

One study featured young men on an intense exercise program where they burned an average of 627 calories per day for 93 days (4). Expending or burning 627 calories is equivalent to me (a 180-pound male) strength training about two hours or intensely cycling for 45 minutes. While these aren't extreme for a single day, they are extreme amounts of exercise for 93 consecutive days. Did the young men's bodies resist? Yes! The researchers noticed an average metabolism decrease of eight percent. In other words, their bodies compensated for the excess of exercise by decreasing the energy needs of their organs.

A study with older women showed a similar effect: women who exercised six times per week became less active outside of their training sessions. As a result, they lost less weight than women who exercised four days per week (5). The women training four times per week actually became more active outside their workouts. Were the women who exercised six times per week exhausted due to overtraining?


Immune System

An excess of training leads to a number of immune system defects (6). In fact, extremely frequent high-intensity training leads to a suppression of the immune system. Some effects are more frequent upper respiratory tract infections and more illnesses in general. An influencing factor could be the increased risk of depression and lack of sleep that people face when performing high amounts of intense exercise.

Excessive high intensity exercise can lead to more illnesses, depression, and difficulty with sleeping.


Joint Health

Joint health is another consideration for frequent high-intensity training. While a lack of exercise increases the risk for developing osteoarthritis, being very active is also a risk factor. One study showed the people who were most active over a four-year period experienced the more joint deterioration than others who were less active or sedentary (7). Exercise should improve our bone health, not accelerate its decline.


Conclusion

Let's get one thing straight: I think you should exercise. I especially support you exercising intensely. Intense exercise, such as strength training, sprints, or a spin class, provides the anti-aging benefits we seek to lead long and high-quality lives. Exercising with near maximum effort also makes the largest contributions to how well we look on the beach and in the bedroom.

However, more isn't always better. Part of the exercise process is recovery. Recovery for the hours and days after intense exercise allows our bodies to rebuild and improve past our previous abilities and muscle size.

Exercise intensely...more than once per week and less than every day. Somewhere in the middle - about 3-5 days per week - should provide a balance of training and rest.

References

  1. Hakkinen, K. (1995). Neuromuscular fatigue and recovery in women at different ages during heavy resistance training. Electromyography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 35(7), 403-413.
  2. Kraemer, W.J. & Ratamess, N.A. (2004). Fundamentals of resistance training: Progression and exercise prescription. Physical Fitness and Performance, 36(4), 674-688.
  3. Tan, B. (1999). Manipulating resistance training program variables to optimize maximum strength in men: A review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 13(3), 298-304.
  4. Tremblay, A., Poehlman, E.T., Despr├ęs, J.P., Theriault, G., Danforth, E., & Bouchard, C. (1997). Endurance training with constant energy intake in identical twins: changes over time in energy expenditure and related hormones. Metabolism46(5), 499-503.
  5. Hunter, G. R., Bickel, C. S., Fisher, G., Neumeier, W., & McCarthy, J. (2013). Combined aerobic/strength training and energy expenditure in older women. Medicine and science in sports and exercise45(7).
  6. MacKinnon, L.T. (2000). Overtraining effects on immunity and performance in athletes. Immunology and Cell Biology, 78, 502-509.
  7. Lin, W., Alizai, H., Joseph, G. B., Srikhum, W., Nevitt, M. C., Lynch, J. A., ... & Link, T. M. (2013). Physical activity in relation to knee cartilage T2 progression measured with 3 T MRI over a period of 4 years: data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage21(10), 1558-1566.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Choose Your Fitness Role Models Carefully

The field of personal training started when gym patrons were asking the most fit and muscular gym goers for advice. While I'm grateful for those actions leading to the career that I've been apart of since 2001, taking the advice of such people is a real gamble. Fit people may know what works best for most people...or they can just be individual success stories with advice that isn't safe or effective for the majority.


I really understood this lesson several years ago when I had a unique opportunity: I worked as a personal trainer in a gym with a few active International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) and National Physique Committee (NPC) competitors. Out of respect, I will not mention names.

Over the 14 months that I trained clients at this location, I had many opportunities to watch these individuals with their clients. One of the figure competitors - let's call her "Patricia" - was wonderful to her clients. Patricia was very detailed when introducing clients to new exercises - the result of this was obvious with the excellent lifting techniques her clients had. Also, she worked around pre-existing client injuries and developed individualized dietary strategies with her clients who wanted nutritional help. Patricia was certainly not the only trainer I would hire out of the group but she was the best example.

Some gambles produce wins...and some don't. Another trainer was an IFBB professional and among the top 15 in several tournaments in the US and internationally. Let's call him "Ron." Ron struggled with several fundamentals of personal training. His clients generally had terrible form. Ron struggled with how to help clients with basic injuries and pain. Also, it was well-known around the gym that he took steroids, which, in my opinion, makes his training methods difficult to validate. New members were unaware of these things - I think they were consumed by his impressive physique. The same could be said for an NPC champion figure competitor at the gym: she was a poor trainer in several aspects but was able to attract clients due to her impressive physique and competition success.


To be clear, I'm not discouraging you from asking the muscular guys or the extraordinarily fit women in your gym for their thoughts. You don't need me to tell you it's wise to seek the advice of someone who's achieved what you want to achieve, whether it's bodybuilding, weight loss, or another training goal.

Examine your source with detail.
  • Does the person have experience coaching others or just oneself? (If yes, talk to some of those trainees)
  • Does the person have any formal training (certifications)?
  • Does the person have any formal education in the field?

By getting more information on your source, you develop a better understanding of your source's credibility. You also decrease the chances of taking advice that could lead to injury or wasted time spent with ineffective training habits.

We can never completely eliminate risk. However, a little research at the start will help you make decisions pay you back with profits.