Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Slow Burn

In the immortal words of the short-lived marketing misstep that was Talking Barbie, "Math is hard." With a physique that would defy the physics of walking upright not to mention in heels, it's no wonder her creators found math challenging. But sometimes you just have to slog through the tough material just to know that you can rely on data that's proven. What I learned from Mrs. Lindsey, my 9th grade Elementary Functions teacher, is that proving theories with the 'Gibbons Theorem' just to imply I had a vague grasp of the material doesn't bring home the 'A', and hard candy for right answers doesn't make the task any more enjoyable. All that just to welcome you to the science of fat loss so that you can exercise strategically.

When reading scientific explanations there are two things to avoid. First, don't read with Carl Sagan-like inflection. Do try to liven up the material with zippy little exclamation points as necessary. Second, for the sake of retention, don't try to sing the text to the tune of any 'School House Rock' songs. The Declaration of Independence shouldn't have been reduced to a mere ditty and neither should the serious business of fat metabolism. So, put on your serious face and, for my Microsoft clients, pretend this is a Power Point presentation:

"Conjunction junction, what's your function . . . ."

We've talked about fast-twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers and no, this is not defined by relative coffee consumption. Fast Twitch, Type II, and Slow Twitch, Type I, needs little explanation. As Bruce W. Craig, PhD, Column Editor for NSCA's Strength and Conditioning Journal (Volume 28, Number 5, pages 70-71) and author of 'Fat Burning', "In short, your type I fibers have a slower chemistry than your type II fibers, and are the fiber of choice when the workload is lower." From here, Craig takes over to explain fat metabolism and the roll type I and type II fibers play:

Type I muscle fibers are classified as aerobic fibers and contain numerous mitochondria. Mitochondria contain a series of aerobic enzymes that represent a metabolic pathway called the Krebs cycle. The Krebs cycle within each mitochondrion is able to produce 1 ATP molecule directly and 8 hydrogen ions every time it cycles. The hydrogen ions this system produces then enter the electron transport system of the mitochondria, and their energy is used to rebuild the ATP broken down during muscle contraction. The metabolic pathways of the mitochondria can supply the ATP demands of the muscle at rest and during aerobic exercise if adequate oxygen is available. In the presence of oxygen, these 2 mitochondrial systems can make 12 ATP molecules for every turn of the Krebs cycle. The compound that starts the the Krebs cycle is called acetyl-CoA, and it can be formed from either carbohydrates or fats. The carbohydrate your muscles metabolize is a simple sugar called glucose, and it is either imported (blood glucose from dietary intake or liver) or taken from a local storage form (muscle glycogen) as a modified version of glucose. Glucose molecules consist of 6 carbons, and their complete breakdown produces 2 acetyl-CoA molecules. If both acetyl-CoA molecules enter the Krebs cycle, the ATP yield is 24. Fat, on the other hand, contains a lot more carbon and can produce more ATP than carbohydrates. The fat your muscle uses can come form many sources, such as plasma free fatty acids (FAs) and triglycerides, or the triglycerides stored within the muscle. Free FAs can be used directly, but triglycerides need to be broken down first. Triglycerides consist of glycerol molecule (alcohol compound) and 3 FA molecules. When you exercise, the body releases hormones that activate a fat cell enzyme that breaks triglycerides into glycerol and FA. The FA molecules that are released following this breakdown contain from 16 to 18 carbons, and the metabolism of just one 16-carbon palmitic acid (saturated FA) by the mitochondria will give you 129 ATP molecules. Given that there are 3 FA molecules per triglyceride, fats represent a major source of energy.

As indicated above, Type 1 Fibers can metabolize either carbohydrates or fats, and are more involved when exercise intensity is at or below 70% of your maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max). If aerobic exercise is above 70% of VO2 max or you perform resistance training, the nervous system recruits more anaerobic muscle fibers (type II), which produce more and metabolize more carbohydrates. Type II muscle fibers do not contain as many mitochondria as type I fibers and use muscle glycogen as their primary fuel, so they are not as dependent on oxygen. The breakdown of glucose in type II fibers is faster than its usage in type I fibers because it occurs outside the mitochondria and does not produce as many acetyl-CoA molecules. The end result of glucose metabolism in type II fibers is lactic acid, and only 2 ATP molecules are produced per molecule of glucose. Therefore, when you increase exercise intensity, the muscle tends to burn (metabolize) more carbohydrate than fat because of the type of muscle fiber being used.

If your ability to burn fat were dependent solely on its progression through its metabolic pathways, 15 minutes of aerobic exercise might be adequate. However, fat metabolism is also dependent on the delivery of FAs to an active muscle, and the primary factor that influences fat usage during exercise is the time it takes to metabolize fats. The metabolization of fat represents its release from fat cells, and is hormonally regulated. Two hormones in particular, epinephrine from the adrenal gland and glucagon from the pancreas, are released into the bloodstream at the onset of exercise and activate hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL) in fat cells and muscle. Once activated, this enzyme breaks triglycerides into 3 FA molecules and glycerol, and the FA molecules enter the bloodstream (fat cells) or are available to the muscle (intramuscular triglyceride stores). The breakdown and usage of intramuscular stores of triglyceride during exercise is not well understood, and estimates of how much fat the muscle uses from this source are not possible with current research techniques. However, based on the appearance of FAs in the blood during steady-state aerobic exercise (70% of VO2 max) it takes approximately 20-30 minutes to get FAs to an active muscle, which represents the time it takes to release the HSL-activating hormones, the action of the HSL, and the transit time required for FAs to reach the muscle fromm fat cells. Even after FAs reach the muscle, they must cross the cell membrane, enter the mitochondria, and be converted into acetyl-CoA via a metabolic process called beta oxidation before they can be metabolized in the Krebs cycle. All of these steps increase the exercise time needed to utilize fat for ATP production from an external source. During this time, the muscle can use other fuels, and most likely metabolizes intramuscular fat, any free FAs in the blood, or glucose, but does not utilize a high percentage of the fat within the fat cells that diets and exercise programs target. Therefore, if your exercise goal is to reduce fat, exercising aerobically at 60 to 70% of your VO2 max for at least 20 minutes per day is one way to achieve that goal.

Well, that was one windy answer . . . .

It's likely that the clever little brainiacs who figured this out could easily be wrestled to the floor and robbed of their lunch money by bigger, stronger, faster hooligans who haven't listened to a word published about fitness. Though test tubes and microscopes are handy tools, so are dumbbells and a good sweat. As soundly reasoned as the above explanation is, it's the same thought process that brought us Nautilaus equipment - it's a localized approach that ignores the global result.

When queried in Fat Loss and Fitness, Patrick J. O'Shea, Ed.D, Professor Emeritus of exercise and sports science at Oregon State University and author of the book 'Quantum Strength and Power Training (Gaining The Winning Edge) (1996), talks about his observation that "Statistically, there is a close relationship between V02max and lean body mass." Note that O'Shea sees a forest where Craig only sees trees.

When asked in a Q&A by Clarence Bass about the research done by Angelo Tremblay that short intervals (30-90 Seconds) produced substanially more fat loss for each calorie burned exercising, O'Shea responded, "I was not surprised by Tremblay's findings showing that low intensity, long duration exercise is not as effective as short intense intervals in reducing body fat. It is relatively easy to explain why this is so. During strenuous exercise, the rate of metabolism rises, going to about 15 times the basal metabolic rate (BMR) and even higher during intense interval work. For example, running 5 mi/hr the oxygen uptake required is 28 ml 02/min/kg of body weight with 3.7 cal/hr./lb burned, while a short burst of intense interval work may require 100 ml 02/min/kg with 13.8 cal/hr/lb burned. By maintaining the high level of training over a 5 or 6 week period one would expect a significant increase in the ratio of lean body mass to fat."

"Intense interval work utilizes a greater percent of the body's muscles, both slow and fast twitch. Also, performing high intensity work places added energy demands on the respiratory system, cardiovascular system and nervous system. Thus more fat and glycogen are burned to support the expanding energy demands of the body during - and after - intense exercise. In other words, the cost of short intense interval exercise is very high in terms of energy demands in comparison to low intensity aerobic exercise. What's more, while at rest trained active muscles burn more fat night and day, contributing to further fat loss."

Hmmm, how many ways can I say this . . . .

Since Angelo Tremblay was referenced above, I dutifully tracked down the data and mercifully reprinted only the conclusion and results. You'll note you've read this before:

Impact of high-intensity exercise on energy expenditure, lipid oxidation and body fatness
A Tremblay, Division of Kinesiology, Physical Activity Sciences Laboratory, Laval University, Ste-Foy, Qu├ębec, Canada

RESULTS: Results from Study 1 showed that men who regularly take part in intense physical activities display lower fat percentage and subcutaneous adiposity than men who never perform such activities, and this was true even if the latter group reported a lower energy intake (917 kJ/day, P<0.05). In Study 2, the high-intensity exercise stimulus produced a greater post-exercise post-prandial oxygen consumption as well as fat oxidation than the resting session, an effect which disappeared with the addition of propranolol. In addition, the increase in post-prandial oxygen consumption observed after the high-intensity exercise session was also significantly greater than that promoted by the low-intensity exercise session.

CONCLUSION: These results suggest that high-intensity exercise favors a lesser body fat deposition which might be related to an increase in post-exercise energy metabolism that is mediated by -adrenergic stimulation.

Friday, January 26, 2007

That's what he SAID

"High frequency training results in faster muscle growth."
— Chad Waterbury

'Nothing could be worse in life than to be perfectly understood.' I can't remember who said it but I believe I stole it out of 'Quotable Quotes' in Reader's Digest and put it in my sister's yearbook because it seemed to sum things up rather nicely at the time. It applies here because yet again I'm pulling something out of Testosterone and frankly that clashes with all the pieces of me that eschew glossy, sexist gym publications. For the sake of clarity, I occasionally read Testosterone, I have an unexplained ability to bake fantastic cakes which satisfies my unhealthy fascination for frosting and I like dressing like a girl. There, now can we move on?

Specificity. I say it all the time and only partly because it just rolls off the tongue nicely. I say it over and over again because it's a simple way to sum up a huge concept. In order for your body to adapt to any specific stimulus, it must first be exposed to that stimulus. Sounds simple until you see basketball players trying to improve vertical leap on the calf raise machine (if they'd only use it as an obstacle to leap over they'd be on to something).

CrossFit is a varied stimulus therefore your specific adaptation is to chaos. Very liberating, don't you think? Can you imagine yard work or carrying boxes to a moving van in the framework of 3 sets of 12 reps at limited ranges of motion? On the plus side, once you fade out on the 13th box or fail to get it off the floor, nobody you know will ask you to help them move again.

Most of my clients get this right away but, this being a gym and all, I'm inevitably asked the question, "yes, but can I build muscles training like that?" Mr. Olympia muscles, no. That requires supplementation with, uh, 'Vitamin S'. But a real human physique with muscles, yes. Here's Chad Waterbury, again from Testosterone with his perspective:

It's a travesty we don't have more science focusing on muscle growth in humans. I can't blame the National Institute of Health (NIH), though. After all, given the plethora of life-threatening diseases that can surface or invade our bodies, it's probably better that funds be directed toward more humane endeavors. But damn, I sure wish we had more than rats, cats, and cows to demonstrate what's possible in terms of human muscle growth.

But all is not lost. The fact that the vast majority of hypertrophy-focused studies employed four-legged creatures only makes us coaches think a wee bit harder with regard to faster ways to build muscle.

Indeed, people like me are blessed with many clients from all walks of life that have become my "lab rats." And let me tell ya, I think I'm stumbling onto something big — something that no NIH study has effectively tackled, or will tackle, in the near future.

What is this "something big," you ask? It's High Frequency Training (HFT). What I mean by HFT is a system where muscle groups are trained more than four times per week. If fatigue and volume are managed — and that's specific to each person — no method will build muscle faster.

It's been said that science is the act of observing the world around us. And if we follow this example we'll see that the world around us is slapping us in the face with many powerful muscle-building demonstrations. For those who train a muscle group with enough intensity and frequency, hypertrophy always occurs faster than traditional bodybuilding methods.

I've had clients fail to make substantial gains with 10x3, 5x5, triple drop sets, and virtually every other method you can name. But in my world, one thing's for certain: I've never failed to build a person's muscles faster than ever if he follows my HFT methods to the letter.

A simpleton is constrained to the general postulates that were devised by non-training scientists. Specifically, these scientists have attempted to qualify muscle breakdown, fatigue, and recovery by postulating that after a muscle group is trained, performance drops (fatigue sets in), and muscle growth only occurs after a period of recovery and subsequent supercompensation. But what happens if you re-train a muscle group before it's recovered?

What if you performed 1000 calf raises every day for the next month? At the end of the month, do you think your calves would be bigger or smaller? Listen, no scientist on earth would argue that the human body is an organism that adapts to the demand that's placed on it. This is known as Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand — the SAID principle.

When you starve yourself, your metabolism slows. When you overfeed yourself, your metabolism increases. When you're dehydrated, you hold more water. When you're over-hydrated, your body releases water. When you practice Chopin on the piano, your nervous system builds neural connections that enhance finger control. If you don't practice piano, your nervous system doesn't build those neural connections because there's no reason to.

So when you train muscles frequently, your body must adapt to the imposed demand. What we currently know is that a muscle group becomes more neurologically efficient and grows bigger with training. These processes occur because the nervous system enhances those motor pathways, and new proteins are inserted into the muscles.

What I can't do is reference a human-based, hypertrophy-focused study that incorporates the type of training that I'm talking about. But what I can do is tell you to look at the delts of boxers, the thighs of speed skaters, and the lats of swimmers.

Sure, I can't prove that training with a high frequency results in the faster muscle growth because the NIH doesn't prioritize such information. But I can tell you to observe the world around you. After all, that's what science is all about.
— CW

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Logical Leaps

A while back I watched a shamelessly terrible television show once a week to which I would never admit. Even now I won't tell you what it was. I felt so guilty that the only way I could justify wasting chunks of my life that way was to do something useful during the commercials. I jumped rope and did lots of sit-ups. Though that counts as neither a 'home gym' or a workout, I at least cleared my conscious. I still apply that same 'Useful' rule to reruns of 'Alias' but not the ABBA documentary on PBS which seems to run every weekend (L-sits instead - there are no commercial breaks and I can't miss 'Waterloo').

Most of my clients like the flexibility of a workout at home though I hope it has nothing to do with junk TV and an equally junk-filled post-workout carb load in front of the tube. And though the concept of home workouts is admittedly convenient, most people don't want a PRO Club in the living room - especially if it comes with the carpet. We like exercise equipment but it clashes with the drapes, it doesn't make a good coffee table, and it will generally cause at least one argument with a spouse (results may vary).

Please consider the lowly jump rope, however, which may actually match the drapes and is one of the cheapest pieces of cardio equipment you could ever buy for a home workout. There are options: heavy ropes, speed ropes, beaded ropes, etc. I've been jumping with a 3-pound heavy rope and I assure you that 3 pounds will never feel heavier. You can choose ropes with handles that are weighted or weight distributed in the rope. I prefer the latter though not when I'm barefoot.

Your jump rope workouts may look something like this:

Jump Rope - 50 Jumps
10 Push-ups
10 Rounds

1 Minute Jump Rope
25 Overhead Squats - hold jump rope overhead using a snatch grip
25 Sit-ups
4 Rounds

30 Seconds Jump Rope
20 squat jumps
15 Divebomber Push-ups
5 Rounds

3 Minutes Jump Rope
10 Jump lunges per side
30 Knees to Chest per side
2 Minutes Jump Rope
20 Jump Lunges per side
20 Knees to Chest per side
1 Minute Jump Rope
30 Jump Lunges per side
10 Knees to Chest per side

Please note that downstairs neighbors will hate this additional to your workout repetoire. As you will soon find out, there will be no successful completion of workouts started after 10p.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Why not eat better food?

The pursuit of magic pills, potions and elixirs is such a common crusade that the Food and Drug Administration is currently pondering medicinal doses to cure the ills of it's 'Food Guide Pyramid'. Unable to admit that a structure which usually opitimizes sound engineering, is flawed at it's very foundation, the government agency would prefer to rely on a common tool of western medicine: address the symptoms while ignoring the underlying malady.

Though I believe that some supplementation is a good thing, I think the adoption of a 'Supplement Pyramid' to complement the 'Food Guide Pyramid' ignores prevention and better dietary practices for a quick band-aid approach to the problem. Below in italics are excerpts of a proposal by CRN to introduce a Supplement Pyramid to the populace along with information that illustrates how problems with nutrient density and absorption could be addressed with dietary changes:

The Dietary Supplement Pyramid
CRN has submitted comments to the USDA panel for reviewing the Food Guide Pyramid.

CRN's Dietary Supplement Pyramid provides an easy guide, complements food pyramid and ensure good nutrition with dietary supplements.
Scientific studies have proven that good diets and generous nutrient intakes can help optimize health and protect against serious diseases, including heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer and even some birth defects. Now, consumers can use new food and supplement pyramids to improve eating habits and build a sensible long-term supplement program.

Foods and supplements, the best plan
A good diet is the foundation for better health, but obviously even the most knowledgeable consumers don’t always eat the way they should.

It's little wonder - misleading labeling, large scale farming methods which force rapid production while depleting the nutrient density of our food, lobbying by special interests groups - all have a profound impact on our food supply and on what we think we know about food. Our produce isn't what it used to be and our markets are flooded with poor alternatives. Rather than swallowing both the argument that nutrient deficiency is inevitable and the 'enriched' alternatives the market provides, we need to respond with more tenacity by creating a demand for better quality products and more transparent labeling.

Foundational Flaws
The statement begins, of course by accepting that the foundation of the food guide pyramid is indisputably solid:
Both the food pyramid and the dietary supplement pyramid sit on a base deliberately chosen to highlight a key component–grain products in the case of the food pyramid and multivitamins in the case of the supplement pyramid.

As I'll cover later in the discussion of recommended daily allowances, grains as a foundation are a nutritionally poor base. Not only do grains lack many necessary nutrients, they can also act as an anti-nutrient. This is explained by Paul Chek in 'You Are What You Eat' Part 2, "Even more important in today’s climate of indigestion, is that phytic acid, which is a known mineral blocker, is broken down in the sprouting process. Phytic acid is present in the bran of all grains, the coating of nuts and seeds and inhibits the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. These inhibitors can neutralize our own digestive enzymes, resulting in the digestive disorders experienced by many people." And that can mean a lack of nutrient absorption in a compromised digestive system on top of the mineral-blocking properties of phytates.

It's also important to consider that the inclusion of 9 to 11 servings of grains on top of the more nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables puts a heavy emphasis on carbohydrates as the primary macronutrient. This plan which offers paltry servings of protein may be shortening our lives dramatically. Dr. Loren Cordain sums this up in Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century, "An increasing body of evidence indicates that high-protein diets may improve blood lipid profiles and thereby lessen the risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease]. Wolfe and Giovannetti have shown that the isocaloric substitution of protein (23% of energy) for carbohydrate in moderately hypercholesterolemic subjects resulted in significant decreases in total, LDL, and VLDL cholesterol and triacylglycerols and an increase in HDL cholesterol. Similar beneficial blood lipid changes have been observed in type 2 diabetic patients in conjunction with improvements in glucose and insulin metabolism. Furthermore, high protein diets have been shown to improve metabolic control in patients with type 2 diabetes. In obese women, hypocaloric, high-protein diets improved insulin sensitivity and prevented muscle loss, whereas hypocaloric, high-carbohydrate diets worsened insulin sensitivity and caused reductions in fat free mass."

With its easy availability and limited expense, the urging of the USDA to focus on grains as a primary food source makes it easy for the average consumer to miss out on key nutrients.

Capitalism 1, Consumer 0
There are 12 minerals for which "Reference Daily Intakes" have been established by the Food and Drug Administration, for purposes of nutrition labeling.

This is the place where CRN makes it's most obvious point regarding the struggle to consume 'Daily Intakes' without the help of supplementation. But let's consider Cordain's argument which I alluded to earlier. What if the premier carbohydrates came from caloricly sparse, read: low glycemic, vegetables? Here's how Cordain explains it:

"Because whole grains and milk maintain the next to the lowest nutrient density rankings, displacement of fruit, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood by these 2 staple food groups lowers the overall micronutrient density in the diet. Wild plant foods known to be consumed by huntergatherers generally maintain higher micronutrient concentrations than do their domesticated counterparts (4, 145), as does the muscle meat of wild animals (64). Consequently, the Neolithic introduction of dairy foods and cereal grains as staples would
have caused the average micronutrient content of the diet to decline. This situation worsened as cereal milling techniques developed in the Industrial era allowed for the production of bread flour devoid of the more nutrient-dense bran and germ (35). The displacement of more nutrient-dense foods (eg, fruit, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood) by less-dense foods (refined sugars, grains, vegetable oils, and dairy products) and the subsequent decline in dietary vitamin and mineral density has far reaching health implications— consequences that not only promote the development of vitamin- deficiency diseases but also numerous infectious and chronic diseases"

Mean nutrient density of various foods groups (418-kJ samples)1

Though the chart above is hard to read, the rank score explains it best. If vegetables have a score almost twice that of grains, it would stand to reason that eating larger quantities of vegetables in place of grains would yield a lower caloric, high fiber, nutrient dense diet.

Know your Cholesterol but not your Homocysteine?
Multivitamins with folic acid may also help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke in men and women of all ages. Folic acid, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12 help reduce blood levels of homocysteine (an amino acid produced in the body), and people with lower homocysteine levels have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. It is the long-term use of multivitamins that is most beneficial, so consumers should resolve in the year 2005 to make this a lifelong habit.

Usually the first connection anyone makes to heart disease is cholesterol. Often eliminating red meat is considered the wise first step to lowering cholesterol levels. What's funny is that nobody measures homocysteine and yet we understand this connection far more clearly than we can draw conclusions about cholesterol. And that wise first step that arguably lowered cholesterol, may have increased homocysteine levels. Anthony Colpo explains this in 'The Great Cholesterol Con,' "The best way to increase one's dietary intake of B-6 and B12 is to eat methionine-rich protein foods like meat! Animal foods are the only source of bioavailable B12; compared to meat-eating omnivores, vegetarians consistently exhibit higher blood levels of homocysteine, with the highest concentrations found in vegans. A 6-month randomized, controlled clinical trial found that those assigned to a higher protein diet experienced a twenty-one percent drop in homocysteine levels, but no decrease was observed among those assigned to a low protein diet or control subjects following their usual diet."

As if the substitution of vegetables for grains didn't make enough sense, Calpo discusses studies which show the impact of changes in dietary intake of folate, "Intervention trails in which subjects increased their fruit and vegetable intake have repeatedly shown homocysteine reductions, albeit of a smaller magnitude than B-vitamin supplementation. In subjects normally consuming 162 grams of fruits and vegetables each day, four weeks of eating 500 grams daily of these folate-rich foods lowered homocysteine levels by eleven percent."

Cordain also discusses homocysteine levels in the paper cited above, "Protein intake has been shown to be inversely related to CVD in a cohort of 80 082 women (126). Dietary protein is also inversely related to blood homocysteine concentration (127), an independent risk factor for CVD. Meat-eating populations have been shown to maintain lower plasma homocysteine concentrations than nonmeat eaters (128, 129). In numerous population studies, summarized by Obarzanek et al (130), higher blood pressure has been associated with lower intakes of protein. A 4-wk dietary intervention of hypertensive subjects showed that a high-protein diet (25% energy) was effective in significantly lowering blood pressure (131)."

While trying not to be a conspiracy theorist, consumers understand cholesterol through the marketing of Statins. Perhaps the introduction of homocysteine-lowering drugs will be the only means of educating the public regarding homocysteine. For now, we have the supplement companies, which are in essence the same thing.

(or the equivalent)
High calcium intakes, preferably with vitamin D, can slow the rate of bone loss and help protect against fractures. The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, says everyone over the age of 8 needs at least 1,000 mg of calcium per day, and teens and seniors need even more (1,200 to 1,300 mg). Even people who regularly consume dairy products may not get enough calcium. For example, a glass of milk contains about 300 mg. So if you don’t drink 3 or 4 cups of milk a day (or the equivalent), take 300 mg of calcium for every glass you fall short.

Though I don't disagree that milk is the best source of calcium, I can't help but feel the heavy hand of the dairy lobbyists here and it makes me want to protest just 'cuz.

For the sake of contrarianism, here are other food sources of calcium:
Sardines, canned 3 ½ oz/ 8 med - 370 mg
Chickpeas 100g - 190 mg
White beans 1 cup - 200mg
Turnip greens 1 cup - 190 mg
Blackstrap molasses 1Tbsp - 170mg

According to 'The Journal of the American College of Nutrition,' (JACN) in the article entitled 'The Bioavailability of Calcium', "except for newborns fed on mother’s milk (calves drinking cow’s milk) which can absorb almost all the ingested calcium, the percent of milk calcium absorbed seldom exceeds 40% under normal dietary conditions." It would appear not all milligrams are created equal when considering bioavailability which turns out to be a very complex question.

I again point a finger at grains with the help of the article cited above, "Some components of the diet, such as the phytates found in bran and most cereals and seeds, oxalates in spinach, rhubarb, walnuts and sorrel, and tannins (tea), can form insoluble complexes with calcium, thereby reducing its absorbability. This only seems to affect calcium balance if the diet is unbalanced, high-fiber strict vegetarian diets lacking dairy products (calcium), for example. This must be taken into account when comparing dairy products with soybean-based products, which are generally phytate-rich. The apparently negative influence of fiber on calcium absorption is mainly due to the phytates that are frequently associated with dietary fiber."

And, so as not to convince you that I'm just bitter from years of suffering from a wheat sensitivity, salt, another western dietary staple is also a considerable part of the problem. The JACN article goes on to say, "every extra two grams of dietary sodium increases urinary calcium excretion by an average of 30 to 40 milligrams. Clearly, dietary factors affecting the amount of calcium lost in the urine have a major influence on calcium balance and may even be more important than those that influence the intestinal availability of calcium [17]. This is why the inevitable loss of calcium in the urine (accounting for a large part of the maintenance requirement) is greater for Western-type diets that are high in unfavorable factors such as animal protein, sulfates, sodium, coffee, tea and alcohol, than for other diets with lower levels of consumption of these factors."

Other than the reference to animal protein, which I believe Cordain disputed in the protein debate, our sloppy nutritional habits account for a large part of our calcium deficiency. Though I support the idea of ingesting calcium-rich foods, it would make sense that equal effort should be put into reducing it's unnecessary excretion.

underemphasising the impact of overfeeding
Studies suggest that people who take vitamin E and vitamin C on a regular basis may get some protection against diseases or conditions caused by oxidative damage, such as heart disease, cancer and cataracts. The optimum amount for vitamin E may be more than 100 or 200 International Units (IU) and for vitamin C may be at least 200 mg.

The organization with a long name sums up the issue in an article with a complex title in a way that's both short and simple, "we discussed the evidence that oxidation is a major contributor to cellular aging and the degenerative diseases that accompany aging such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune-system decline, brain dysfunction, and cataracts. Also reviewed was the evidence that dietary antioxidants, such as ascorbate, tocopherol, and carotenoids, the main source of which are fruits and vegetables, protect against these degenerative diseases," said the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, in
Oxidative Damage and Mitochondrial Decay in Aging.

In the publication noted above, the authors go on to explain that to mitigate oxidation, it is necessary to restrict caloric intake and believe me, that's a whole new post on a concept called 'Intermittent Fasting' which I will explain another time. In short, PNAS explains it like this, "The physiological mechanisms that control the conservation of energy during periods of low food availability, as observed experimentally with calorie restriction, may temporarily but profoundly affect the metabolic rate of organisms capable of entering this state. Therefore, daily torpor, by lowering the metabolic rate and oxidant production that can exert pro-aging effects, is likely to be responsible for at least some of the life prolonging effects of calorie restriction." In short, sometimes we should stop eating; a concept foreign to this snacking, noshing and pecking population.

Marion Nestle makes the point in 'Food Politics' however, that food lobbyists would never agree to a plan of limiting consumption because it's economically impactful. Selling more. How could you possibly sell more in a world that's overstuffed especially if overstuffing is the problem. Supplementation.

More Fishy Recommendations
Many other dietary supplements are available and their use is often tied to special needs or specific dietary lacks. For example, omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oils, are believed to help reduce the risk of heart disease. People who don’t (or won’t) eat fish regularly may wish to supplement with omega-3 fatty acids.

I don't dispute that Omega-3 is a valuable supplement but increasing Omega-3 without decreasing Omega-6 is like trying to bail out the Titanic with a Dixie cup. First, let's look at the problem of our ratios with the help of Dr. Cordain, "The trend toward a higher ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 PUFAs [Polyunsaturated fatty acids] was exacerbated as meat from grain fed cattle and livestock became the norm in the US diet over the past 100 y. In the current US diet, the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 PUFAs has risen to 10:1, whereas the ratio in hunter-gatherer diets predominant in wild animal foods has been estimated to be between 2:1 and 3:1." To compound the problem, we introduce vegetable oil. Says Cordain, "The advent of the oil-seed processing industry at the beginning of the 20th century significantly raised the total intake of vegetable fat, which directly increased the dietary level of Omega-6 PUFAs at the expense of a lowered level of Omega-3 PUFAs because of the inherently higher concentrations of Omega-6 PUFAs and lower concentrations of Omega-3 PUFAs in most vegetable oils." For those of you who know that Canola has a high Omega-3 content, you should also know that it's likely rancid due to the high heat of processing.

Wouldn't it be sad if I didn't mention something about grains and high glycemic diets here as well? Many thanks to Cordain who continues with, "A recent study suggested that the blood concentration of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) is a stronger predictor of CVD [cardiovascular disease] than is LDL cholesterol (106). High-glycemic load diets are associated with increased concentrations of CRP (107), as are low dietary intakes of omega-3 PUFAs [polyunsaturated fatty acids](108), and diets that encourage weight loss reduce CRP (109) concentrations. These studies indicate how multiple interrelated qualities of Western diets and recently introduced Neolithic and Industrial Era foods may drive a variety of mechanisms that promote the development of chronic diseases."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Combat Ready

You passed the presidential fitness test, you aced the police academy requirements, now it's Go Guards!

Graduation Requirements

-Successfully qualify with the M16A2 rifle-Pass Hand Grenade qualification course and successfully throw two live grenade (might I request that you refrain from any grenade launches or missiles of any sort in the Fitness Center?)

W/O1 - Weapons at the ready
20 Wall Ball Shots (c'mon, for accuracy)
Overhead Walking Lunges with 10# Body bar - 30 Steps (because An M-16 Rifle with 30 round magazine is 8.79 pounds)
5 Rounds

Pass the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT):

-Males ages 17-21
42 pushups
53 sit-ups
15:54 2-mile run

-Females 17-21
19 pushups
53 sit-ups
18:54 2-mile run

W/O 2 - APFT
Sir, yes sir! As above, of course

Negotiate both the Confidence and Obstacle Courses

W/O3 - Obstacle Course
50 Swings
25 Pull-ups
50 Squats
25 Hanging Row
50 Box Jumps
25 Knees to Elbows
30 Burpees
25 Sumo Deadlift Hi-pull (45-65 pounds)

Complete combative training to include Bayonet, Pugil and Hand-to-Hand Combat Training
Complete the Field Training Exercise (FTX)

W/O4 - Hand to Hand
Shadow Box
Jump Rope
Alternate 3 minute intervals for 21 Minutes
If you don't know how to shadow box, at least read Combat Calisthenics in this month's CrossFit Journal.

Demonstrate knowledge of the Seven Army Values (LDRSHIP):• Loyalty• Duty• Respect• Selfless Service• Honor• Integrity• Personal Courage

These qualities should be displayed during your training session naturally.

Breaking copyright laws . . .

This came from CrossFit's main page at a time when I was thinking about Overhead Squats. If I'm breaking laws by including this photo here, I'm darn sorry.

The Challenge
Overhead squatting is hard. Unilaterally it's even harder and it takes some practice. This is the perfect time to incorporate a little strength, some flexibility and a good dose of central nervous system stimulation. Oh, and did I mention patience? If it even crosses your mind that you might drop the weight, pick a dumbbell that won't break a toe.

Note the twist at the Shoulders, it's called a 'corkscrew' and it helps if you're not especially flexible. If you're having trouble with stability, look up at the dumbbell AT ALL TIMES. Also, make sure to glue your heels to the floor - this means pushing your knees out.

1 Each Side Unilateral (that's one-sided) OH Squats (UOHS) alternating
10 Hanging Knees to Elbows
2 Each Side UOHS
9 Knees to Elbows
3 Each Side UOHS
8 Knees to elbows
. . . . until 10 each side and 1 Knees to Elbows

You'd only have to goo . . . . msn search . . .

My client was saying that she never gets to see me workout. Unfortunately, the whole planet does with the help of modern technology. Luckily, most of the pictures are safely tucked away at CrossFit Eastside but these are just a few from CrossFit Championships and various other events. It proves I'm right there with you!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Today's tip comes from Dan John:

Goals vs. Behaviors

The One Minute Manager said it best: Look at your goals. Look at your behaviors. Does your behavior match your goals? It's the million dollar question for those of us in the strength world: Does your behavior match your goals? You see, it's one thing to have a goal. It's quite another to line your behaviors up with your goals. Think about it. - Coach Dan John

Why is it that your workouts make me so tired? I think it's the mental calesthenics, the zigging and zagging, the darn-near poetic use of question-dodging. I only want to know where you've been, where you're at and where you're going. I'm not Homeland security and you're not getting rated on that infernal Microsoft rating system to establish bonuses.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Stealth abs

Long after Poe purloined a letter, Dan Brown was finding clues in plain sight all over 'Da Vinci Code.' It's a common literary theme. It's also the secret of training secrets. Underneath the glossy photos of etched abs, behind the complex complexes and to the right of gimmicky apparatus are a few truths we don't want you to know for fear you won't need us anymore. Every now and again you'll catch a fleeting glimpse and here's one of them from November of 2005. I remembered this and resurrected it for you:

11/01/05 05:43 AM
Cardio & Abs
by Chad Waterbury
"I despise cardio and ab training. Now, that doesn't mean a program shouldn't include either, but it's not necessary to run for 45 minutes or perform a zillion crunches. To perform either is an act of futility if you're trying to get lean. Long-duration cardio will eat up muscle and crunches are little more than a waste of time. You want a California beach midsection? Stick to good nutrition and compound exercises. Squats, deads, chins, and overhead presses will provide more than enough stimulus to develop the abs."

Whenever clients say "I want to tone my abs," I give them a sort of "yep, sure . . ." and then strenuously ignore them. Like magic, somewhere in the training a six pack starts to appear. Now you know the secret. Shhhh, don't tell.

blogger's note: I heard heads tap-tap-tapping onto keyboards with folks reacting to the shock and guffaw of Poe and Brown occupying not only the same sentence but the same heading of 'literature'. My apologies. I shall make that mistake nevermore.

Friday, January 12, 2007

"Cardio" Conundrum

"Virtually all the body’s adaptive mechanisms are designed to deal with acute, not chronic, stresses. Exercise should mimic the activities of our ancestral existence; we are adaptive organisms that thrive on variety, not machines designed for high volume routine." Arthur De Vany

Probably the funniest explanation of why long duration cardio is not necessarily the optimum training approach came from 'Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival' by T. S. Wiley and Bent Formby who concluded that because our ancient ancestors could not outrun a single predator, endorphins, our natural anesthesia, were meant to make our likely mauling a little less horrific. If the one good sprint we had in us didn't outmaneuver the saber tooth, we'd be lunch - commence with the pain killers!

In fact, Wiley and Formby are not the only writers to examine exercise in the framework of evolution, in Paul Chek's 'Cardio Perspective' he writes, "Our next logical question should be, did our ancestors regularly participate in cardiovascular exercise? Not likely. First of all, it would not be energy efficient to run around gathering berries, firewood and nuts in your target zone. Nor would it have been wise to run through the bush trying to get a workout while hunting, since any animal would hear you coming from hundreds of yards away and be long gone by the time you got there."

The entire essay by Art De Vany, Evolutionary Fitness, was built around the very premise that our exercise was and should remain chaotic. In De Vany's words, "Our upright, bipedal posture gives us the mobility to cover the range required of an omnivorous generalist. A large brain is required for hominids to cover the widest range known to any animal species. High value nutrients are essential to the energy-demanding brain and small stomach required for high mobility in a patchy savanna where high value nutrients are variable and fugitive. Our muscle fiber composition reveals that we are adapted to extreme intensity of effort. And the energy sources of these fibers shows that the highly intense activities through which our ancestors ”earned a living” were of short duration (anaerobic metabolism came before aerobic metabolism, which was grafted on later and the quickly exhausted fast twitch fibers are likely to be the most primitive of our sources of movement)." De Vany continues, "Our ability to sweat, our relative hairlessness, our upright and, hence, cool posture, our mobility, as well as our temperature regulation and appetite mechanisms are designed to solve the problem of keeping an energy-hungry, but delicate, brain alive in an energetic body capable of high mobility and peak energy bursts."

"Cardio" for Fat Burning

If, all of this is true, why are so many of us drawn to the low-intensity long-duration training we often refer to as 'Cardio'? The first answer and the one I hear most often, at this time of year especially, is weight-loss or maintenance. With eight years of transient New Year's Resolutioners to study I can tell you that the training approach is often ineffective and, for many, unsustainable. It's why I was delighted to see Alwyn Cosgrove's answer in T-Nation's article which asked prominent coaches and trainers what they believe even if it's unproven. Here's his answer:

"Lower intensity aerobic training is relatively useless for optimal fat loss purposes. Furthermore, for some populations, it's likely to be detrimental."

[Alwyn Cosgrove's] theory (based purely on the observations of my clients' progress) is as follows:
Aerobic training encourages the body to adapt by becoming "energy efficient". This means it will take less fuel to perform the same amount of work. Although an energy efficient body sounds great, it isn't — not if you're trying to lose fat. Energy efficiency just makes the job of losing fat more difficult.

To simplify it as much as possible, fat loss comes down to creating a caloric deficit. The body burns calories primarily by muscular work. Steady state low intensity aerobic training does not require much work from the muscular system and does little or nothing to even maintain muscle tissue.

So, if muscle is "fat burning machinery," then aerobic training makes that machinery smaller and more fuel efficient, which is not what I'm looking for.

So we have an activity that burns calories, but the more you do it, the fewer calories it burns with each subsequent exposure (so to burn the same amount of calories you have to go harder or longer), and in all reality it just doesn't burn that many calories anyway.

Aerobics never helped this fat bastard.

A decent pace for a 180-200lb individual would burn about 10 calories per minute. Thirty minute aerobic sessions will burn around 300 calories. Performed three times per week, with no reduction in work performed (i.e. you keep increasing intensity or time as you adapt), you're still looking at about a pound per month.

If you woke up an hour earlier each day and just sat and watched TV, you'd burn about the same (7 days x 60 mins x 2 cals per minute).

Now granted, there are exceptions. Complete beginners, obviously, and precontest bodybuilders (or those wanting to go "beyond lean"), but for most people it's an extremely inefficient fat loss modality.

Anecdotally, you only need to stand at the finish line of a marathon and look at the physiques of the masses. These people developed the joint integrity and muscular and cardiovascular endurance to run 26.2 miles — some of them running in the 3-4 hour range — yet they haven't created enough of a metabolic demand to create significant fat loss.

Effective fat loss hinges on burning as many calories as possible during the workout, and elevating metabolism so that we burn more calories per minute, all day long. Aerobic training fails on both counts
So why has aerobic training become so popular?

In the past, fitness professionals and researchers have looked at how much fat is burned during the exercise session itself. This is extremely short-sighted.

As my colleague Alan Aragon said: "Caring how much fat is burned during training makes as much sense as caring how much muscle is built during training." Think about that. If we looked at a weight training session that started at 9AM and finished at 10AM, how much muscle would we see built if we stopped looking at 10AM? None.

In fact, we'd see muscle damage. We could make the conclusion that weight training does not increase muscle; in fact it decreases muscle, right? It's only when we look at the big picture — and look at the recovery from the session — that we find the reverse is true: weight training builds muscle.

Fat loss training is the same way. Someone talking about the benefits of the "fat burning zones" or "fasted cardio" is a sure sign that the individual has stopped looking at the end of the exercise session. They have come to the conclusion that fasted, lower intensity steady state exercise burns the most fat and made a massive leap of faith to suggest it is best for real world fat loss.
Using that same logic these same people would suggest you avoid weight training if you want to grow muscle.
— AC

This is where I'd leap out of my theater seat, clap wildly, wipe a tear and look with adoration at the speaker who had the eloquence to speak these words. It's what I've yearned to say every time someone asks me about the 'fat burning zone' on the elliptical - a machine that's useful in developing human athleticism only when dragged or pushed across the floor manually. It has little application otherwise.

De Vany explains Cosgrove's theories in the following way, "The body uses fat in the aerobic (Slow Twitch and lower Intermediate Twitch) zone. So, linear thinking suggests that to burn fat you should operate in that zone," thus the snazzy little diagrams on the cardio equipment illustrating 'fat burning' zones. "It would not surprise someone trained to understand the adaptive capabilities of the human body that if you burn more fat the body will find a way to produce more. And this is just what happens when you energy flows over the aerobic pathway—your body releases hormone messengers that signal higher fat production." The hormone De Vany is talking about here is cortisol which is the 'fight or flight' hormone we hear so much about in late-night weight loss miracle pharmaceuticals. As your exercise increases in duration your production of anabolic (muscle building) hormones drops off and your production of catabolic (muscle burning) hormones increases.

In De Vany's words, "You burn more calories and more fat in total when you train at high intensity. And you do not open the metabolic pathways that cause your body to make more fat. Energy that flows over the anaerobic pathway signals your body to make more muscle and to burn fat. You incur an oxygen depth that raises metabolism for days after a high intensity session. Above all, you bring adaptations that burn fat. As the body remodels in response to the adaptive challenge presented by a brief, high-intensity session, it preferentially burns fat. In addition, you put on lean muscle mass that burns energy continuously. From 60 to 70 per cent of the energy you burn is at your basal metabolic rate. If you gain lean muscle mass you raise your basal metabolic rate and, thus, burn more energy 24 hours a day."

Clarence Bass reported the following study by Angelo Tremblay, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the Physical Activities Sciences Laboratory, Laval University, Quebec, Canada in his article on interval training, "The Canadian scientists divided 27 inactive, healthy, non-obese adults (13 men, 14 women, 18 to 32 years old) into two groups. They subjected one group to a 20-week endurance training (ET) program of uninterrupted cycling 4 or 5 times a week for 30 to 45 minutes; the intensity level began at 60% of heart rate reserve and progressed to 85%. (For a 30-year-old, this would mean starting at a heart rate of about 136 and progressing to roughly 170 bpm, which is more intense than usually prescribed for weight or fat loss.) The other group did a 15-week program including mainly high-intensity-interval training (HIIT). "

"Much like the ET group, they began with 30-minute sessions of continuous exercise at 70% of maximum heart rate reserve (remember, they were not accustomed to exercise), but soon progressed to 10 to 15 bouts of short (15 seconds progressing to 30 seconds) or 4 to 5 long (60 seconds progressing to 90 seconds) intervals separated by recovery periods allowing heart rate to return to 120-130 beats per minute. The intensity of the short intervals was initially fixed at 60% of the maximal work output in 10 seconds, and that of the long bouts corresponded to 70% of the individual maximum work output in 90 seconds."

"Intensity on both was increased 5% every three weeks. As you might expect, the total energy cost of the ET program was substantially greater than the HIIT program. The researchers calculated that the ET group burned more than twice as many calories while exercising than the HIIT program. But (surprise, surprise) skinfold measurements showed that the HIIT group lost more subcutaneous fat. "Moreover," reported the researchers, "when the difference in the total energy cost of the program was taken into account..., the subcutaneous fat loss was ninefold greater in the HIIT program than in the ET program.""

"In short, the HIIT group got 9 times more fat-loss benefit for every calorie burned exercising. Dr. Tremblay's group took muscle biopsies and measured muscle enzyme activity to determine why high-intensity exercise produced so much more fat loss. I'll spare you the details (they are technical and hard to decipher), but this is their bottom line: "[Metabolic adaptations resulting from HIIT] may lead to a better lipid utilization in the postexercise state and thus contribute to a greater energy and lipid deficit." In other words, compared to moderate-intensity endurance exercise, high- intensity intermittent exercise causes more calories and fat to be burned following the workout. Citing animal studies, they also said it may be that appetite is suppressed more following intense intervals. (Neither group was placed on a diet.) "

"Cardio" for Aerobic Conditioning

The idea of aerobic training as the only pathway to cardiovascular health is yet another oversimplified concept. Paul Chek goes back again to our evolution, "First, let’s look at the issue from a perspective of natural history. Our evolution into the human species from our ape ancestors is thought to have occurred some 2.8 million years ago." Chek continues, "Spanning the duration of this vast period, it should strike you as interesting that the first reported heart attack in the U.S. occurred in 1920, only 12 years after the grain industry began hydrogenating plant and grain oils. Now, I personally find it interesting that there is such hype over cardiovascular exercise as necessary prevention for heart attack or even heart disease, when such diseases were relatively nonexistent less than 100 years ago. That’s but a flash in the pan of human evolution." At very least, you should consider the possibility that many miles on a treadmill is not actually getting you anywhere.

Clarence Bass compares aerobic with anaerobic conditioning and their impact on cardiovascular health using the research of Dr. Izumi Tabata and his colleagues at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan. "This study used accumulated oxygen deficit to measure anaerobic energy release, and is one of the first to measure the effect of training on both aerobic and anaerobic capacity. Notice that the duration of the moderate-intensity and the high-intensity protocols are drastically different: (excluding warm-ups) one hour compared to only about 4 minutes per training schedule Tabata's moderate-intensity protocol will sound familiar; it's the same steady-state aerobic training done by many (perhaps most) fitness enthusiasts."

"Here are the details (stay with me on this): In the moderate-intensity group, seven active young male physical education majors exercised on stationary bicycles 5 days per week for 6 weeks at 70% of V02max, 60 minutes each session. V02max was measured before and after the training and every week during the 6 week period. As each subject's V02max improved, exercise intensity was increased to keep them pedaling at 70% of their actual V02max. Maximal accumulated oxygen deficit was also measured, before, at 4 weeks and after the training. A second group followed a high-intensity interval program. Seven students, also young and physically active, exercised five days per week using a training program similar to the Japanese speed skaters. "

"After a 10-minute warm-up, the subjects did seven to eight sets of 20 seconds at 170% of V02max, with a 10 second rest between each bout. Pedaling speed was 90-rpm and sets were terminated when rpms dropped below 85. When subjects could complete more than 9 sets, exercise intensity was increased by 11 watts. The training protocol was altered one day per week. On that day, the students exercised for 30 minutes at 70% of V02max before doing 4 sets of 20 second intervals at 170% of V02max. This latter session was not continued to exhaustion. Again, V02max and anaerobic capacity was determined before, during and after the training. "

"In some respects the results were no surprise, but in others they may be ground breaking. The moderate-intensity endurance training program produced a significant increase in V02max (about 10%), but had no effect on anaerobic capacity. The high-intensity intermittent protocol improved V02max by about 14%; anaerobic capacity increased by a whopping 28%. Dr. Tabata and his colleagues believe this is the first study to demonstrate an increase in both aerobic and anaerobic power."

"What's more, in an e-mail response to Dick Winett, Dr. Tabata said, "The fact is that the rate of increase in V02max [14% for the high-intensity protocol - in only 6 weeks] is one of the highest ever reported in exercise science." (Note, the students participating in this study were members of varsity table tennis, baseball, basketball, soccer and swimming teams and already had relatively high aerobic capacities.)"

"The results, of course, confirm the well-known fact that the results of training are specific. The intensity in the first protocol (70% of V02max) did not stress anaerobic components (lactate production and oxygen debt) and, therefore, it was predictable that anaerobic capacity would be unchanged. On the other hand, the subjects in the high-intensity group exercised to exhaustion, and peak blood lactate levels indicated that anaerobic metabolism was being taxed to the max. So, it was probably also no big surprise that anaerobic capacity increased quite significantly."

"What probably was a surprise, however, is that a 4 minute training program of very-hard 20 second repeats, in the words of the researchers, "may be optimal with respect to improving both the aerobic and the anaerobic energy release systems." That's something to write home about!"

In support of interval training, Dr. Stephen Seiler was busy doing research of his own. In his research Seiler used three groups of rats from the same litter and, as he explains, "One group sat around in cages, ate rat chow and got weighed periodically. A second group was gradually adapted over 4 weeks (several months in rat years) to running on a treadmill until they were running for 60 minutes, 5 days a week at an intensity that was equal to about 75% of VO2 max. The third group was adapted to an interval running program. These guys would run two minute bouts at a speed that required just over 100% of VO2 max, then slow down for two minutes, and so on for 10 bouts (after four weeks of buildup). The total running distance was the same for the two groups, only the intensity differed. To evaluate cardiac performance, I develped a surgical procedure under anesthesia (the rats, not me) that allowed me to directly and constantly measure cardiac output, intraventricular pressure development, heart rate etc., while subjecting the heart to a volume overload with saline infusion. What I found and reported at a meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine was this. In these previously untrained rats, 8 weeks of interval training was superior to 8 weeks of steady state training as an inducer of enhanced maximal cardiac performance. Interval trained hearts achieved higher peak stroke volumes during overload."

Art Devany has also come to the same conclusion regarding interval training, but approaches the question from the perspective of human design. He challenges modern training idealogy and the resultant steady-state exercise prescription with the explanation that, "These programs model the body as a machine, not as an adaptive organism. Consequently, they prescribe a regime in which the body is under-fed and over-trained. They are not based on adaptation, but on steady state analysis. These models assume the body is a linear process that maintains a steady state. In fact, all bodily processes are highly non-linear and these non-linearities must be exploited in any effective fitness program. The key to exploiting the highly non-linear and dynamic adaptive metabolic processes of the human body is to achieve the right mixture of intensity and variety of activities. "

The mastermind behind CrossFit, Coach Greg Glassman, explains how randomized training methodologies utilize two of the three waves of adaptation to endurance training in the CrossFit Journal article entitled 'What is Fitness', "The first wave is increased maximal oxygen consumption. The second is increased lactate threshold. The third is increased efficiency. In the CrossFit concept we are interested in maximizing first wave adaptations and procuring the second systemically through multiple modalities, including weight training, and avoiding completely third wave adaptations. Second and third wave adaptations are highly specific to the activity in which they are developed and are detrimental to the broad fitness that we advocate and develop. A clear understanding of this material has prompted us to advocate regular high intensity training in as many training modalities as possible through largely anaerobic efforts and intervals while deliberately and specifically avoiding the efficiency that accompanies mastery of a single modality."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


According to CrossFit lore, scoring over 300 on 'Fight Gone Bad' (FGB) is the title fight that qualifies you for three rounds in the UFC. It's the closest you can get to replicating a Mixed Martial Arts bout without the blunt force trauma - usually. It's the 'Gone Bad' part you should probably note. You're not meant to dominate.

Of all the benchmarks to achieve, I looked forward to this one the least. Having reached the 300 mark, I have some hints to help you do the same.

And in this corner, FGB:

With a continuously running clock, start in one station complete as many reps/calories as you can during the minute and then move immediately to the next station. After each exercise in the rotation is completed once, rest for one minute and then begin the next round. The clock never stops and neither should you:

Wall-ball - 20 pound ball for men, 15 pound ball for women, 8 ft target. (Reps)
Deadlift high-pull - 75 pounds for men, 65 pounds for women (Reps)
Box Jump - 20" box (Reps)
Push-press - 75 pounds for men, 65 pounds for women (Reps)
Row - calories (Calories)

When I do this at PRO with clients, I use the following substitutions:

Instead of Wall Ball:
Medicine Ball Jump Squats - for some reason the fitness specialists get nervous when you toss anything heavy near the mirrors so, though you must jump, please do not let go of the ball. If you do let go, review the previous post with pointers on increasing your running speed and don't mention my name.

Instead of Row:
Burpees - it's roughly the same motion without the pull. I've tried on many occasions to get PRO to move a rower downstairs but apparently it greatly disrupts the floorplan. I would be willing to add 50 points to your FGB score if you can prove you hijacked a rower and took it down the elevator in order to complete this workout. Again, forgetting my name would be optimal.

Fight Strategy:
At a recent CrossFit Seminar a couple of us got together and well, you know how girls are, we swapped FGB strategies (as well as favorite toenail polish shades and the names of boys we think are cute). Here's what we concluded:

In a group setting, you can start at any station so your strategy begins in the positioning. Go for the wall ball. Since a point is a point, it takes significantly less effort to squeeze out an additional Wall Ball shot or Push Press but getting an additional calorie out of the rower is time consuming and may require trading a vital organ. Also, keep in mind that Wall Ball requires accuracy, something I'm lacking when I can't breath.

High step from SDHP to the box jump to loosen tight muscles. You're hip flexors will be spent and the first box jump is a doozy when muscles aren't responding properly. Here's where actual fight training could come in handy. If you calcified your shins in Maui Thai, you could potentially lose less skin on the box if you miss the first jump. Otherwise, try not to cry visibly.

With the rower, you're likely to get somewhere near ten calories (it works about the same if you burpee). This means you have to get greater than 20 reps on at least a couple of the other exercises in order to get your 300. Plan the numbers accordingly and create a strategy for each round. I bought insurance in the wall ball and push press but tried to hit the 20 rep mark on the SDHP and box jump.

If you're hitting your numbers, stop. I gave myself a couple of seconds to transition from SDHP to box jumps which allowed enough recovery to begin jumping at the start of the clock. This allowed me to reach my box jump goals. Had I tried to run out the clock on the SDHP, my later numbers might have suffered since I find this exercise particularly taxing.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Need for Speed

I often joke that I only run when chased. In the past I ran a lot and fell out of love with it deciding it was time to see other exercises. At CrossFit I could ignore the fact that workouts had 400/800 meter runs in them knowing that if I lost a few seconds, I could make it up during the strength elements. But everyone in class is getting stronger and I haven't necessarily gotten any faster. It's time to correct that:

By: Mauro Di Pasquale
Three components affect your maximal speed: Stride Frequency, Stride Length, and Anaerobic Endurance. Here's a quick look at all three & how they work together.

Part One: How Speed Is Created
When watching a race you probably have noticed that each person looks like they run differently. These differences are biomechanical in nature.

Everyone can improve his or her basic speed. There are three factors (other than genetic) that determine how fast a person runs:
  • Stride Frequency - This is the number of strides a person takes in a set amount of time.
  • Stride Length - This is the measured distance of each stride taken.
  • Anaerobic Endurance - This is your body's ability to sustain maximum effort for an extended time frame.
All three of these factors are dependent on each other for the creation of speed. In other words, a person cannot become faster without improving all three components. For example, the number of strides a person takes in ten seconds will only make them faster if the length of each stride is greater than another's. This is exactly what I will address.

Conversely, if one person's stride length is the same as another's, they will not be faster unless the frequency of their strides is greater. Finally, we have anaerobic endurance. Without it, stride frequency and stride length are inconsequential because you are physiologically not able to run at maximal effort.

Part Two: Stride Frequency
Stride frequency is defined as the number of times a foot touches the ground in a given amount of time (usually seconds). This determining factor of maximal speed is the most difficult to change, and thus, has the smallest affect on speed production.

However, because the movement of the lower leg with each stride affects it, it is important. More specifically, where the foot touches down with relation to the rest of the body can affect stride length, which in turn, affects stride frequency.

Basically, if the foot touches down behind the body the stride has been shortened. A shortened stride causes a slightly greater frequency rate. Conversely, when the foot touches down in front of the body the stride has been lengthened. Stride lengthening slows the frequency rate of your stride. This is typically called over-striding in speed training. Over-striding is the most common mistake made by sprinters in relation to stride frequency.

When the foot strikes directly under the body and the lower leg is 90 degrees (or perpendicular to the ground), stride length is optimal. This allows the athlete to reach his or her optimal frequency, which allows the sprinter to maintain maximal speed.

Additionally, where the foot touches down with relation to the body, and how often it touches down, can be influenced by biomechanics, or movement of the hip, knee, and ankle joints.
There are a few specific sprint technique drills which can influence the movements of the hip knee and ankle joints which will help maximize the sprinters technique as it pertains to optimal stride frequency.

Nine Exercises For Sprinters! The basic idea of these exercises is simple. Explode off the ground, and then once your feet touch, explode again spending minimal amounts of time on the ground. [ Click here to learn more. ]

Part Three: Stride Length
Stride frequency is one of the max speed factors. This will explain the definition and practical influence of stride frequency and how it affects maximal speed. Stride length is defined as the distance between touchdown of the toe of one foot and the touchdown of the toe of the other foot. This factor varies greatly from sprinter to sprinter. Stride length can even change for an individual depending on whether he or she is racing at longer or shorter distances.
However, we're not going to get into all of that. Instead, we will focus on how, either by shortening or lengthening your stride, you can better obtain your maximal speed potential.
First of all, the length of each stride can vary due to several factors including but not limited to:

Leg length
Biomechanical technique.

It is relatively easy to determine a persons optimal stride length. All that you need to do is watch where the foot is with relation to the upper-body when it touches the ground.
Optimal position of touchdown should be somewhere between six and twelve inches in front of the sprinters center of gravity. Touchdown any closer to the body's center of gravity (or behind it) will cause a decrease in force applied to the ground.
The greater the force applied to the ground, the greater the speed.

Conversely, touchdown any farther away from the center of gravity and the foot will act like a brake. This over-lengthened stride decreases the amount of force applied to the ground. This, in turn, will slow the sprinters maximal speed.

So, generally speaking, in relation to the sprinters center of gravity, if the foot strike is behind the center, the stride is too short. If the foot strike is too far in front of the body's center, the stride is too long.

What this all means is that a greater stride length will help a person become faster, only if it does not slow stride frequency or decrease the amount of force applied to the ground.
As I mentioned earlier there are specific drills that can be practiced to help an athlete maximize his or her stride length, as well as, stride frequency. I will discuss these in the final installment of this series.

Part Four: Technique Drills
Of the three max speed factors, two of them, stride frequency and stride length, can be improved by executing a few simple drills while training. Here's a look at them.

Now that you understand that speed is a product of both genetic ability and biomechanics (or technical form), I will walk you through a few technique drills that will help you learn and develop proper running form.

There are two drills that can help anyone become faster, if practiced and perfected. They are the "A" and "B" drills. The "A" drill precedes the "B" drill, and both are to be learned in a progression from marching or walking, to skipping and finally running.

Sprint Technique Drill #1 - A's
This is a simple drill to help the sprinter achieve high knees and toes when the leg is up in front of the body during the sprinting motion.

Begin by simply walking forward slowly, while staying up on the ball of your foot. As your toes leave the ground to step forward, dorsi-flex the ankle or pull your toes upward toward the knee and hold them there. While holding your ankle in this position, flex the hamstring and pull your heel upward toward your buttocks.

Then, using hip flexion, pull your upper leg and knee forward and upward parallel to the ground. Note, at this position, your ankle should be underneath and slightly behind your knee with your toe still flexed upward. Then simply extend the hip and knee and put your foot back on the ground.

When you start doing this drill, begin by repeating the same leg for several repetitions before switching to the other leg. Once you become more comfortable with the motion, alternate in a normal walking gate, then speed up to a skip, and finally perform this drill at a slow running pace.

The "A" drill helps to improve both stride frequency and stride length. Flexing the tow upward and pulling the heel directly to the buttocks shortens the leg, thus allowing it to be pulled through the range of motion more quickly and will help to increase the speed or frequency of the stride. While holding the lower leg in this position and flexing the hip to raise the knee parallel to the ground helps to assure the stride length is optimal.

Sprint Technique Drill #2 - B's
"B" is simply a continuation of the "A" drill. To perform this drill, begin by doing the "A" drill, once your knee is parallel to the ground, flex the quadriceps muscles and swing the lower leg forward and upward. Similar to when you are kicking something. By doing this, you are simulating the leg swing that naturally occurs when running.

Remember, at this point, you are performing this drill at a walking pace. As you progress with more speed, the lower leg will extend on its own because of forward momentum.
When your knee is fully extended, use your hamstring to pull the entire leg backward and downward towards the ground. Think of this as a pawing action. Pulling the leg back with this movement causes the foot to touchdown nearly under the body's center of gravity, and allows the force of the next stride to be applied at the proper angle and direction so speed can either increase, or at a minimum, be maintained.

Start practicing this drill just as you would with the "A" drill. Begin by repeating the same leg for several repetitions before switching to the other leg. Once you become more comfortable with the motion, alternate in a normal walking gate, then speed up to a skip and finally perform this drill at a slow running pace.

There are other factors that play a part in the production of speed. However, stride frequency and length are the most crucial and most difficult to maximize. Practice these drills, perfect them, and apply them when you are sprinting at full speed. You will become faster!

This article was edited for space.