Sunday, May 29, 2016

Are Post Exercise Carbs Necessary to Build Muscle Mass?

One of the most popular myths is that it is critical to eat non-fiber carbohydrates following a strength training workout in order to elevate insulin to maximize muscle growth.      Non-fiber carbs consist of sugars and starches and definitely do increase insulin levels, but is this really necessary to build muscle?  The answer seems to be no.    A recent study* showed that there was no difference in protein synthesis in muscle when 25 grams of whey protein or the same amount of whey protein with 50 grams of carbs where ingested after strength training.

Increasing insulin (which drives storage in muscle AND fat cells) does have a protective effect on muscle degradation, but this can be achieved without the extra insulin from carbs!  This is really significant if you are trying to gain muscle WITHOUT increasing bodyfat.

Now if you are serious athlete training multiple times a day, taking in more non-fiber carbs will enhance glycogen levels in the muscles (glycogen is simply multiple units of glucose linked together).    Glucose is a key energy source for muscles, and for athletes that train intensely and frequently it can be the difference between success and failure.

For the rest of us mere mortals ingesting higher levels of carbs simply drives more fat production and is not a good idea even post workout.     So the bottom line is that there is no need to take in carbs post workout to build muscle mass, and if you want increased muscle mass without increased bodyfat 20 grams of whey protein post exercise along with a normal diet will provide all your muscles need to grow!

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Aerobic Exercise versus Strength Training for Fat Loss

As a 27 year fitness industry veteran I have seen many changes to our understanding of the benefits of strength training versus aerobic aka cardiovascular conditioning.     For many years we were taught that the key to fitness was steady state aerobic training because it was understood that this type of training optimized the use of fat as energy during exercise.      While this is undoubtedly true there is a lot more to the story!

The confusion comes because we need to look at two different aspects of exercise – what is happening during exercise and how the body responds after exercise during recovery from exercise.    The way to look at this is that exercise is a stimulus and stressor designed to produce an adaptive response from the body.   In fact the cardinal rule of exercise physiology is the S.A.I.D. principle which is Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand.    Simply put exercise = demand and the body adapts to the type of demand/exercise specifically.        So long distance runners look very different from powerlifters because the imposed demand of long distance running is very different than that of powerlifting.

So if we start with the end in mind we have to define the end goal and then understand how different types of exercise demand create different short and long term adaptive responses in the body.       So let’s take a look at the difference in how the body responds to steady aerobic exercise demands (such as running or cycling at a steady pace) versus resistance training such as lifting a weight to muscular fatigue for all the major muscle groups of the body.

In aerobic exercise we are placing relatively low demands on many muscles in the body for a long period of time.     During exercise this allows the body to use more fat as a fuel compared to glucose/sugar.     In fact the higher the intensity of exercise the less fat you can use for fuel as a percentage of total calories being used.    Conversely the lower the intensity of exercise the more fat you can use as a percentage of total calories used.  On the surface it would seem that if you want to get rid of fat the key is aerobic exercise, but remember there are two parts to exercise:   the response during exercise and the adaptive response after exercise.  

In addition, at the end of the day fat is like the body’s energy savings account while glucose/sugar is the checking account and they are linked  accounts.      When you overdraw from the sugar account/checking account you pull energy from fat account automatically (the savings account).    So at the end of the day just like two bank accounts it is all about the total dollars/energy you pull out and put in during a given time period and where the energy comes from during exercise is NOT the key factor.   So you can do a higher intensity exercise which uses no fat whatsoever but uses more total energy/calories and end up with more fat loss than exercise at a lower intensity which uses 100% fat for fuel during exercise.

Also as alluded to above the adaptive response to aerobic exercise is very different than the adaptive response to strength training.     The body adapts to aerobic exercise by optimizing the generation of energy from aerobic pathways and favors a shift in muscle fiber types away from fast-twitch muscle fibers which only use sugar for energy to slow-twitch endurance fibers which use fat for fuel.    Again on the surface this would seem to favor aerobic exercise for fat loss, but we have to consider what are goals are.    Consider the appearance of high level endurance athletes and contrast that with high level sprinters who spend quite a bit of time lifting weights.       Who would you rather look like?

The body adapts to resistance training exercise very differently than aerobic exercise demands.     Strength training demands a lot from muscles with high levels of tension for much shorter period of times and little to no fat is used during the exercise as stated above.    However, AFTER exercise that all changes.      After strength training, particularly high intensity strength training, the body works to repair damage to muscles and build more muscle tissue to be prepared for the next strength training session.    This process is called muscular hypertrophy and requires significant energy which has to come from somewhere (remember that ultimately if we take in less energy from food and beverages than we use the energy ultimately ALWAYS come from fat stores!).

Strength training favors the maintenance and development of more of the body's fast twitch muscle fibers and there tends to be more of a shift away from slow-twitch endurance muscle fibers because endurance is not what is being stressed during the workouts.     

So long story short including a high intensity strength training exercise component in your workouts is key to reducing bodyfat and achieving a toned, muscular appearance.      There are many effective high intensity strength training protocols and you do not have to lift very heavy weights or do higher risk strength training exercises to get the benefits of strength training.

If you are not familiar with how to do strength training correctly it is really important to work with a personal trainer for 5 – 10 sessions to learn how to lifts weights with correct form so you get the most from your workouts.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Benefits of Jump Training

Watch a group of kids and you will likely see bobbing heads – kids love to jump and there are good reasons for them to jump.   A key aspect of human movement is learning to store energy and then reclaim it as part of a movement cycle. For example up to 40% of the energy required for movement during walking and running is created by storing energy in the leg muscles as the foot lands and then using it during the push-off phase.  The technical name for this cycle is the “Stretch-Shortening Cycle” or SSC.  The SSC takes advantage of the fact that muscles can act as springs:  they store energy as they are lengthened then rebounding in the opposite direction as they get shorter.

Efficient movement takes advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle and muscles are designed to store and release energy in a rhythmic pattern of loading and unloading just like loading and unloading a spring.  In addition, power for all athletic movements is generated by taking advantage of the SSC.     A key aspect of getting the most from this cycle is rhythm and timing which are learned through repetition.
There are three distinct phases to jump training:
The Loading Phase - such as landing phase of walking and running where the muscles lengthen under tension to absorb the landing.
The Amortization Phase – where the muscle transitions between loading phase and the Unloading phase.
The Unloading Phase – where the muscles shortens and transfers the stored energy externally like a spring recoiling such as the push-off phase of walking and running.

Jumps can be little – like jumping rope or big – like box jumps.  Start with little jumps.  A great place to start is jumping rhythmically in place with both feet with short fast jumps.   You want to land on the ball of the foot and flex your knees when you land and let your heels just kiss the floor then jump up again and repeat.  Start with really tiny jumps and try to let the elasticity of your calf and quad muscles do the work – done properly it should feel relatively easy.   It will take several weeks to condition the muscles of the foot and calf to be able to do longer sets so take your time.  In addition there are many benefits to performing this training without shoes so the muscles of your foot get conditioned and you have a better feel of the ground.

It is also important to insure your knees track over your toes and do not collapse inward so do short sets (30 seconds or less) of low, fast jumps on both feet and learn to feel the rhythm of the cycle of landing and push off.

Once you master this you can add more height to your jumps after you are warmed up.   Stop each set if you start feeling tired or feel unstable, and recover completely between sets.  Do NOT do jump sets to failure. Eventually you can progress into full squat jumps.   However remember the key to capturing the benefit of the stretch-shortening cycle is a quick rebound after landing.  So if you go too low in the loading phase the pause between landing and rebounding will be too long and you lose the benefit of the stretch-shortening cycle.

Over time you can even progress to single leg jumps or box jumps where you jump down off a height to the ground/floor then land and rebound up.  Take these progressions SLOWLY – it is important to build the elastic strength of the muscles in your foot, lower leg, and thighs over time and stopping BEFORE you are exhausted will prevent injury.  This is why kids naturally like to do short sets of jumps repeatedly – it feels good when done properly!

There are many benefits to jump training including:

Toning the lower body – jumping recruits all of the major muscles of the lower body while at the same time being the ideal stimulus to build bone strength.

Jumping burns lots of calories – once you can build up to being able to do 1 – 4 minutes of continuous jumping like jumping rope you can really rack up the calories!

Jumping pumps up the cardiovascular system – as above once you can jump safely and in good form for 1 – 3 minute sets you will not believe how high your heart rate gets!

Jumping also demands great balance and stimulates fast-twitch muscle fibers.   Fast-twitch muscle is the type of muscle we lose quickest as we get older.   Fast-twitch fibers are not just important for athletes – they are important for preventing falls because the ability to produce force quickly is important to be able to react quickly when your balance is unexpectedly challenged like stepping off a curb you do not see!

Jumping is the best way to build the strength of bones – bones need impact and force to stay strong. The key is starting with small jumps and gradually building the height of jumps and time spent jumping.

There are many ways to build jumping into a workout such as doing some skipping drills which can even be done on a treadmill safely once you get the hang of it.

It is also worth working with a trainer to help you develop proper jumping mechanics and the stability you need to land properly which are pre-requisites for safe and effective jump training.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Incredible Benefits of Grounding – Walking Barefoot on the Ground!

Anyone with small children knows they want to try to ditch their shoes every chance they get – but if you think about how you feel when you are barefoot you will probably realize that you  also feel better when you can walk around barefoot.  Researchers have begun to unravel why being barefoot directly on the ground can in fact be very good for your health!
Your immune system functions well when your body has an adequate supply of electrons, which are easily and naturally obtained by barefoot contact with the Earth.
Research has shown that electrons from the ground have measurable antioxidant effects that can protect your body from inflammation. For hundreds of thousands of years on the planet humans have been in direct contact with the ground without anything that would block the flow of electrons into our bodies.
However in modern time’s pavement, wood, rubber, plastics and many other forms of non-conductive material are between our feet and ground blocking the natural flow of electrons.
The surface of our planet has a negative electrical potential. So when we are in direct contact with it electrons flow to your bod through a process called “grounding”.   Grounding causes positive physiological effects that promote optimum health.
Specific researched benefits include improvements in blood viscosity, heart rate variability, inflammation, cortisol dynamics, sleep, autonomic nervous system (ANS) balance, and reduced effects of stress.
When you connect directly to the ground without any non-conducting material between you and the electron field of the planet there is an improvement in the balance of two sides of your autonomic nervous system:  the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
How Shoes May be Impacting Your Health
Materials like metals are excellent conductors of electricity (aka electrons!). The human body is also conductive because it contains a large number of charged ions (called electrolytes) dissolved in water.
Other non-conductive materials, such as plastic and rubber, have very few free or mobile electrons. Traditionally shoes were made of leather, which is a good electrical conductor. However almost all modern shoes contain rubber and plastic which block the flow of electrons from the earth to your body.
The Health Benefits of Grounding
Your immune system body has evolved a method of destroying bacteria and viruses by generating reactive oxygen species (ROS) that are delivered by immune cells. However, these ROS can also cause extensive damage to healthy tissues. ROS are usually positively charged molecules that need to be neutralized immediately to prevent damage to the body after destroying bacteria or viruses.   This is one of the key functions of anti-oxidants which are most important in immune cells to protect them from the ROS they generate!
Anti-oxidants essentially provide a supply of negative charges. Food based antioxidants (such as Vitamins C and E) and anti-oxidants your body produces are critical but a regular supply of electrons grounding can supply them as well.
Evolution facilitated the process of grounding by providing conductive systems within your body that deliver electrons from your feet to all parts of your body. This system has been integral to human physiology for thousands of years. Negative electrons are always available, thanks to the Earth, to prevent the inflammatory process from damaging healthy tissues.
All of this was interrupted when we started to wear shoes with rubber and plastic soles, and no longer slept in direct contact with the ground. Several experiments have proven that a person who is grounded is less stressed and more relaxed.
So have some fun, kick your shoes off and get back to nature!
How to get the benefits of Grounding
Grounding is simple in warmer climates – simply spend time barefoot in direct contact with the earth.   Even better do this on a beach walking along the edge of the water because the flow of negatively charged electrons will be highest here because sea water is an ideal conductor of electrons!    Any amount of time will help but the more you can do it the better!  Even better spend some time laying on the beach or ground with your body in direct contact with the ground without any artificial fabrics, rubber or plastic between your skin and the ground.
For those of us who do not live in warm climates staying grounded during colder months is a bit more challenging but doable! There are actually grounding mats available that plug in to the grounding wire port of a normal 3-prong outlet or a grounding rod (US and Canada only). The earth’s natural electrons flow right up through the ground wire and onto the mat, even if you’re in a high rise. Most mats come with an outlet tester you plug in to the outlet so if your outlet is configured properly.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Finding your Purpose for Fitness!

Most people starting a fitness program seek to find motivation externally through a program, device, coach or trainer.    Unfortunately this never works!    Motivation to get through the hard work necessary to change your lifestyle so that you can achieve and maintain higher levels of fitness and health has to come from within you!

No coach or trainer can motivate – they can only help you find your motivation or purpose.      If you talk to 100 different people starting a fitness program and ask them what their goals are you will hear some very consistent responses such as “lose weight and tone up”, “get ripped”, sleep better, have more energy, etc.    At the end of the day goals are important but being crystal clear on why they are important to you personally is what is going to keep you on track to actually achieve those goals.

The science of human motivation can be summed up in one simple acronym:    A. M. P. which stands for:

Autonomy – “The quality of being self-governed.”    Or put another way people want to be in control of their lives and make their own decisions about what they do!   Anyone who has spent a fair amount of time with a two year old has heard them scream “I do it MYSELF!”     As funny as that sounds to an adult trying to help a two year old put on their shoes or do something else it is really just an honest expression of the drive to have autonomy.     It is not just two year olds who feel that way!

Mastery – is an extension of the desire for autonomy because to master something is the ultimate expression of autonomy and being in control of one’s life!     This is one of the reasons that fitness can be such a powerful catalyst for overall lifestyle changes.    Learning how to master a movement or activity is the epitome of mastering a key aspect of our lives!

Purpose – as powerful as the drive for Autonomy and Mastery is Purpose or Meaning is even more powerful.       The definitive work on this subject is probably “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl.    This author suffered through the concentration camps with all their horrors including the deaths of his entire family.     He survived because he became focused on the need to survive to tell the story to the world and this gave him purpose to withstand this incredibly challenging experience where thousands of others simply gave up and died.   Without finding this purpose he never would have lived!   He went on to create a specific type of therapy he called “Logotherapy” or meaning therapy where the focus is helping people find their source of meaning or purpose.

One of the universal truths about human beings is that finding a clear purpose is the key to success in reaching any goal.   You must be clear on why it is important to you or you will quit!       Your purpose or meaning is personal to you.    For one person their purpose may be that they want to get fit because they just went through a divorce and lack confidence in their appearance while for another they want to get fit to be a role model for their children so their children can grow up healthy and happy unlike they did themselves.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Goblet Squat – King of All Squat Exercises

Squatting is a fundamental human movement pattern and anyone who has spent time with young children can see how much time they spend squatting and how comfortable they are performing this movement.     As we grow older, become less active in general, sit in chairs more, and lose mobility we can lose the ability to perform this highly beneficial and functional movement pattern.   The key is not to stop squatting and learn a variation of the squat exercise that is safe and provides the benefits without the risks.

When most people think about squatting they envision someone with a bar across their back with a massive amount of weight on each end.  While back squats can be effective they are not the only way or the best way for most people to squat safely.  Back squats are difficult to do correctly for many people because:

They demand lots of shoulder mobility and stability which many of us lack!
Since the weight is behind the shoulders and people lack mobility in their ankles and hips they have to lean forward so that there is a lot of stress on the low back.

In addition, depending on the various lengths of your thighs, lower leg, and back the back squat can be almost impossible to do correctly without lots of mobility and stability work done for a long time.  The good news is that there is another squat exercise that does not require this!

It is called the Goblet Squat.  In the Goblet Squat instead of holding the weight on a bar behind the neck you use a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it like a “goblet” against your chest – see here:

Since the weight is held in front of the body it is much easier to keep your back straight and not feel like you have to learn over to keep from falling backwards at the bottom of the movement.   In addition, the Goblet Squat does not require a lot of shoulder mobility or stability so you can focus more on squatting and less on discomfort in the shoulders.  

Start out by doing three sets of 10 – 15 repetitions concentrating on staying upright and going as low as possible without any pain in the low back or knees.      Keep your feet flat on the ground and this is really difficult use a shoe that has a heel lift.      Gradually increase the weight of the dumbbell or kettlebell you are using over time.