Thursday, August 31, 2006

"Gym in a bottle"

Here's another potential quick-fix in the works.

'Gym pill' for a no-work six-pack

Teams have been studying the genetic pathways controlling how muscle builds up and is broken down in the body.

Tests on rodents showed that manipulating these pathways can halt muscle wastage from disuse or disease.

At least three research groups have identified some of the genes responsible.

Alfred Goldberg and colleagues at Harvard University in the US and a pharmaceutical company Regeneron have found genes called atrogin1 and muRF1 that are active during muscle wasting.

A team at Purdue University, Indiana, has been * looking at a gene called erg1.

More hope for patients with Muscular Dystrophy and chronic wasting. It seems like we read about all these potential applications and "dream drugs" all the time and very few (almost none) actually make it to market. Yet there will likely be new supplements popping up based on this little bit of science news. Keep an eye out for them!

The upshot is that if they make drugs that affect these targets, people who juice can no longer rationalize steroid abuse with excuses like, "I take them only to maintain the muscle I do have."
"Yet, [he] has always maintained that he didn’t use steroids to bulk up, just to maintain his size when he was preparing for a contest."
What ever happened to treatments that will affect leptin? That was supposed to be the new "cure" for obesity.

*Please do not do what the individual is doing to this preacher curl apparatus with his armpit, if only for the sake of decorum, if not hygeine. It sounds like I'm joking till you notice how many guys wear sleeveless shirts in the gym. :|

Also, the guy in the photo has upper cross syndrome, IMO. If he doesn't fix it, it doesn't matter how much weight he curls.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Road to Hell is Paved with Forced Reps and Cheat Curls

Forced repetitions are a way of completing a set that requires a spotter. The lifter attempts a certain number of repetitions (8-12) of a heavy weight. Usually he calls out the number, "I'm gonna try for X number of reps," so the spotter knows what to expect. I find that can be a self-fulfilling determination, but anyway...

The spotter helps the lifter by assisting with just enough help so that every repetition can be completed. Sometimes, it ends up that the lifter ditches his good form and the spotter gives so much assistance that it wasn't even worth completing the rep. The spotter ends up doing upright rows or curls. :| If you do every set with too much weight for yourself (for the sake of appearances) it's sort of an imposition on your lifting partner especially if he, the spotter, has to lift the bar off your chest. It might not be in the best interests of your partner to expend energy on activities besides actual lifting.

Some lifters always need a spotter because they always do forced reps. Someone else helps finish their last rep or two or three. Forced reps are a good way to stimulate growth but aren't necessary for every set that one does. There are many ways to complete a set, one way is to just eliminate rest between sets, supersets, or run the rack, or do 21's, or use a Smith machine, not a spotter. If you do forced reps all the time, stop. Do something else for a while because your body has already adapted. Do something else, like a machine circuit and you will be pleasantly surprised, I would bet.

Personal trainers tend to overdo forced reps. Maybe it helps the client feel more like the trainer is doing something besides just saying, "do this, do that." If you've only lifted with a trainer, but then go about it on your own, you might feel a need to continue doing forced reps. Why? Because you've done every set just like that, as forced reps, and the trainer is the ultimate authority, right? :|

Cheat curls are a variation of curls where extra "help" is given to the movement by swinging the hips, using any and every other muscle and momentum to get the weight up. It can contribute to growth since the completion of the movement means all the fibers are contracting. A cheat curl (singular) is useful sometimes to get the last rep finished. Sometimes the variety from very heavy cheat curls, maybe once a month or so is beneficial.

Cheat curls are terribly overdone. Some do all their curls as cheat curls. The ego requires lifting visibly "heavy" weights, even if the move is not done correctly and the pelvis swings like Elvis in Vegas. There should be a pause and hard contraction of the biceps at the top of the movement to maximize the benefits of each rep.

A repetition consists of: a concentric contraction [curl upward] and an eccentric contraction [lowering the weight back down]. Lowering the weight is also called "negative" movement. (Pronounced as, "ee-sen-tric")

Lowering the weight, or negative movements, build more muscle than moving the weight up. Doing the negative portion of the lift slowly so that it burns intensely is effective.

Standing with the heels, butt, shoulders, elbows, and head against a wall eliminates the possibility of cheating. Another helpful technique is to count: 2 seconds up-pause-2 seconds down, or 4 seconds up-pause-4 seconds down.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Easy Rule of Life

All activities can be narrowed down into two (2) categories.

Activities that we simply do and don't require much thought for us, are easy.
Activities that we ruminate over, put off, or even fear, are difficult.

Some activities that are difficult for us, are easy for others. Some activities that are easy for us, are difficult for others.

Whether or not something is "difficult," depends on whether we've done it before or not. If we've done it a zillion times and are comfortable with it, it's "easy." It's all perception; in our minds.

In a book by Ernie Zelinsky called The Joy of Not Working, I found this little truism called

The Easy Rule of Life:

Do what is easy now --> Life ends up difficult later
Do what is difficult now --> Life ends up easy later

Zelinsky calls the Easy Rule of Life a "principle of the universe." I have a hard time disagreeing.

I have noticed that:
Things like exercise and saving money are usually considered "difficult" for many.
[leg and back exercises]
Things like not exercising and appearing wealthy are usually considered "easy" for many.
[curls and bench press, "mirror muscles"]

And I have found that:
Doing what is easy leads to...boredom
Doing what is difficult leads to...self-esteem

Then recall that what is "difficult," once we've actually given it a shot, after we've done it over and over, becomes easy. And so it goes, onto the next challenge.

Anything I've ever done that ultimately was worthwhile initially scared me to death.
- Betty Bender

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Weightlifting vs. Powerlifting

Bodybuilding is not powerlifting.

Powerlifting consists of 3 moves: Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift

Bodybuilding and powerlifting are not Olympic sports. Weightlifting is an Olympic sport.

Sometimes people say "weightlifting" when they are thinking, "lifting weights" or "weight training."

Weightlifting consists of 2 moves:
(official rules)

Clean and Jerk
The moves are complex and difficult to perform correctly; an instructor is usually a requirement for learning them.

This article argues that weightlifting is the best workout there is because of the resulting strength gains and the rapid contraction of fast twitch muscle fibers. It includes a workout with exercises that work the muscles following those principles, but which are not as technically difficult as the snatch or clean and jerk.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Caffeine and Energy Drinks

Caffeine changes the perception of pain; it blunts it.

Caffeine also can help facilitate a pump. If a sample of muscle tissue is removed from a source and caffeine solution is added to it, the muscle fibers contract.

For these reasons, some people take caffeine before a workout, often from coffee.

I tried it. I'm not a fan of drinking lots of coffee, especially in the summer. So after reading yet another article about caffeine and muscles, I took a No-Doz (200 mg), about the amount in 2 cups of coffee; I had such a great workout that I still take caffeine before lifting.

It doesn't create any significant boost in strength. But it takes some of the edge off the 'hurt' so that one can do more work and it does affect an ability to contract muscles more easily. I enjoy the hurt but caffeine makes takes the sharp edges off it, which is valuable.

One of the consequences of this [caffeine + workout] combination is that drinking coffee or taking caffeine leads to a slight pump (muscles get larger) even without any exertion or lifting. My body has learned to associate caffeine with increased blood flow to the muscles.

If you take too much, there's a sort of hair-raising jitteryness that is not beneficialwhile lifting. It's actually distracting and counter-productive to be shaky with weights in hand.

If you lift at night, you may have some trouble getting to sleep.

If you are already a regular, habitual caffeine user, more caffeine at workout time would be required to get the same effect, unless you tone down your use outside the gym.

Caffeine acts as a diuretic and will promote fluid loss through urination so drinking more water is par for the course.

You may learn to depend on it, in the gym and outside the gym. I noticed that on days I didn't workout (days I didn't take any caffeine) I was feeling kind of lethargic.

Talking a handful of caffeine pills would be bad. That sort of thing is crossing a reasonable line. So if you decide to do it, you may have to figure out a way to balance the eventual tolerance with the amount of caffeine that is effective. I don't seem to build up much tolerance for caffeine. I take 2 caffeine pills, occasionally 3 of them, and I've never needed to take more than that. That's the amount I've been taking for about 2 years.

You may find that coffee is better, more beneficial, than taking caffeine pills. I would, but too much, like 6 cups before lifting would make my stomach sour or feel too acidic, which I don't like.
Coffee as a Health Drink? Studies Find Some Benefits. Coffee is not usually thought of as health food, but a number of recent studies suggest that it can be a highly beneficial drink.

Among them is a systematic review of studies published last year in The Journal of the American Medical Association, which concluded that habitual coffee consumption was consistently associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. Exactly why is not known, but the authors offered several explanations.

Coffee contains antioxidants that help control the cell damage that can contribute to the development of the disease. It is also a source of chlorogenic acid, which has been shown in animal experiments to reduce glucose concentrations.

Caffeine, perhaps coffee’s most famous component, seems to have little to do with it; studies that looked at decaffeinated coffee alone found the same degree of risk reduction. link

Tea 'healthier' drink than water: "Tea not only rehydrates as well as water does, but it can also protect against heart disease and some cancers, UK nutritionists found." "Tea replaces fluids and contains antioxidants so its got two things going for it. "
Energy drinks:
THE cloudy purple drink in my glass had scarier instructions than most prescription drugs.

I was to drink only a quarter-bottle of EndoRush at a time, and only if I was over 18 or under 50. After 30 minutes, I would need to assess my tolerance. I could not have any other caffeine or expose myself to excessive heat after drinking EndoRush. Blood-pressure problems, depression or pregnancy would mean no EndoRush for me at all.

If I could pass the tests, EndoRush, which can be bought at gyms and nutritional-supplement stores, promised to give me endurance, energy, performance and mental focus — claims that its label points out have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

The drink draws its powers from a long list of ingredients, which range from stimulants like caffeine and the brain-enhancing drugs called nootropics to more than 4,000 percent (that's not a typo) of the daily requirement for Vitamin B12.

It would take days to research thoroughly the two dozen unusual stimulants and amino acids in EndoRush. Well, now, maybe less. After just four ounces, my heart is beating, my face is flush and I feel the need to do something — anything — quickly.

But would I want to work out feeling like this?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Lift with Music

If you haven't lifted with music before, consider giving it a try. I find that it makes a world of difference.
Music helps you exercise. People who listen to their favourite music while exercising may push themselves further and feel as if they are exerting themselves less than people who prefer a tuneless workout, according to new research.
Get psyched up! I like Metallica and Van Halen; Pantera on leg day; action movie soundtracks. Try lifting to Armageddon or Rocky IV. It adds a special twist to my workout when I imagine training for the day I get to save all life on the planet from destruction. :) It helps me tune out my surroundings and focus on lifting. I've noticed that when I don't have music, I tend to look around more and sit for longer periods.

As a study, I could go to the gym and observe who is sitting and resting for 5-10 minutes between sets and who is busting their ass and loving it. Then I could note whether they're listening to their own music or if they're listening to "Ghostbusters" and "Margaritaville" playing on the PA speakers in the background. I can tell you what my prediction is but you likely know already.

Keeping the Pace:
The right music can help pace your workout. Keep these beats:

Running: 120 to 160 beats per minute (bpm), or about the speed of "Run Like Hell" by Pink Floyd

Boxing: 122 to 140 bpm, or about the speed of anything from the Rocky soundtrack

Cycling: 130 to 170 bpm, or about the speed of "Panama" by Van Halen

Lifting: 140 to 170 bpm, or about the speed of "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin (one repetition for every four beats)

Warm-up/Cool down: 90 to 110 bpm, or about the speed of "Black Magic Woman" by Santana

Personally, I don't understand how I used to lift without music. I have a little flash MP3 player that I wear strapped to my arm. They're getting cheaper by the day. The full-size iPod or an MP3 player with a hard drive is not a good idea for use with exercise. Try that link above at instead of Best Bye or Circus City where you would have to pay full MSRP. But I'm sure I don't need to tell you how to shop.

If I get to the gym and my rechargeable battery is dead, I'll leave and go get batteries. I don't lift without music anymore. My workouts seem half-assed when I don't have my own music. Lifting without music is like a movie without a soundtrack. Crickets chirping in the background and stuff. The power of it: it is a big distraction that directs ones attention away from inadvertantly focusing on the "pain."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Men feel pressure to build perfect bodies"

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- Men are catching up to women in one area. They too are feeling pressure to achieve perfect bodies, and this can lead them down unhealthy paths. link

The findings of a new study "challenge that myth that men aren't affected by the media or other's comments towards their bodies," Dr. Tracy L. Tylka, at Ohio State University, told Reuters Health.

"Men are affected by those pressures in the media ... or the pressures that others put on them to look more muscular," she said.

"For some men, this can lead to unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors to try to reach that ideal," Tylka added in a statement from the university.


Men who were dissatisfied with their muscularity, for example, were likely to be more preoccupied about becoming more muscular, which led to their use of supplements and possibly steroid use as well, to achieve that muscular image, according to Tylka. Dissatisfaction with their level of body fat predicted a higher preoccupation with counting calories and cutting off certain food groups, she explained.


Because the idealized muscular body image is rooted in society, with "men thinking they're expected to look a certain way, it can contribute to very negative things for men," Tylka said.

I don't disagree with Tylka's findings at all, especially since women are attaining greater economic parity with men and can increasingly take their pick of mates. They no longer have to settle for any slob with a job. But...

1. Her study is supposed to "...challenge that myth that men aren't affected by the media or other's comments towards their bodies." What myth? What the hell is she talking about? Oh you mean that myth, which has confounded women who are really slow and unintuitive and who think men are robots. Remember those old ads by Charles Atlas* about the scrawny weakling getting sand kicked in his face at the beach? That's an older example of commercial marketers exploiting an anxiety; an anxiety that was already there. Men don't care about how they look (that's a myth!). Duh, really?

2. She puts "use of supplements" and "counting calories" on the same level of danger as "taking steroids." That was a good laugh. Whey protein and a vitamin, oh the horror! Taking supplements is a negative consequence if one gets ripped-off by unethical business people. Counting calories? What? Study: Even a few extra pounds are risky: "Being overweight does increase health risks. It's not simply a cosmetic or social problem."

3. "the idealized muscular body image is rooted in society." That's because a muscular body is rooted in biology. It manifests itself in society. Secondary sex characteristics like muscles on men and boobs on women are biologically hard-wired into the minds of the opposite sex and further motivated by the sex drive, or libido. Some like small, some like big (muscles or boobs), there's personal taste based on learning involved, but they're still boobs and muscles. That's why images of cleavage and of shirtless guys are everywhere. And that's why the people in movies and TV look like that. Because people want to see it; pay to see it. It's the only explanation for why an inane show like Baywatch could last so long.

Secondary sex characteristics (except body hair) are like signals that say, "hey. worthy mate here. the kids would be healthy and would live long enough to produce grandkids." A male with a desirable but costly trait and who is still alive despite that cost, sends a message, like a sign that says "good genes." It's biology, not sociology.

4. And at the end of the article she says...

"Instead of pressuring men to be more muscular, (we need to) accept men's bodies for what they are and instead focus on internal characteristics," she said. "Stop focusing on appearance, for both men and women."

?!Wow. That's a tall order! Let's watch Shallow Hal and make the moral of that story into a reality. Good luck with that, lady. That's as naive as her comment, "(we need to) accept men's bodies for what they are." What are they, exactly?

If people stopped focusing on appearance, what good would that do? How will that help improve's people's self-image and self-esteem? The last time I checked, people don't read each other's minds. We can't telepathically say to each other, "you might not think you're good enough, but I accept you just fine as you are." That would be idyllic, sure, but it's not gonna happen. Her advice would be good if it were part of a larger statement: "If you're looking for a mate and any mate will do, [stop focusing on appearance, for both men and women].

We live in a culture that tends to settle. A lot. Say no to steroids, absolutely, but there is nothing wrong with striving to be excellent.

People don't get self-esteem from the sweet-sounding compliments and approval of others. That's how insecure people judge their own value.

Self-esteem comes from doing difficult but worthwhile things. BTW, taking steroids is the easy way, for wussies. Who gets self-esteem from accomplishing easy things? That's right. No one.

If you're a man and you care about the way your body looks (it's a myth that you wouldn't) then do something about it. Give it a sincere effort. Arm yourself with knowledge and then do it. The journey is fun and fulfilling and it carries into all other aspects of your life. You'll see.

*So what did they get? Who? The people who saw those Charles Atlas ads and ordered the product that was being sold. I'm so sure he paid out of his pocket for full-page ads to give away things. Anyway, what was Charles Atlas selling that turned the scrawny weakling into a very muscular guy who went back to the beach and in revenge, punched the bully in the face? (How convenient that the bully was still on the beach!). What was it that gave this guy such big muscles and newly learned fighting skills?

Isometric contraction. Build muscles by grabbing and squeezing a doorknob as hard as you can and hold it for a couple of minutes, that sort of thing. Only 15 minutes a day! Amazing, huh? Whether or not he made a truckload of money or did it out of vanity or for publicity, the supplement industry has continued the same tradition of exploiting mens' muscle anxiety, in grand style.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Shape of the Nation

"The 2006 Shape of the Nation -- jointly conducted by the American Heart Association and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting high quality physical education -- concluded that most states are failing to provide students with adequate physical education requirements.

The percentage of students who attend a daily physical education class has dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 28 percent in 2003, the report says." link

I think this says a lot about priorities and how prevention is usually put on the back burner while every one is off in search of the quick fix. Obesity is an "epidemic" yet instead of teaching appreciation for physical activity, they push more and more fat laden red meat and greasy food on kids' plates. Thanks U$DA lunch lady.

US consumers convinced they follow 'healthy' diets

Thursday, August 10, 2006

What is Myostatin?

Myostatin is a protein that is naturally produced by the body. It normally acts to inhibit muscle growth (hypertrophy). It is like a glass ceiling for muscle growth.

Animals deficient in myostatin display unchecked muscle growth even without doing any rigorous physical activity. Without myostatin around to put a limit on hypertrophy, animals lacking myostatin protein get big.

Myostatin in humans, functions just like it does in mice and cattle. This understanding led to hopes of manipulating myostatin, as treatment for individuals with muscular dystrophies. This hope was bolstered when a human boy was born with a double mutation for myostatin. He makes no myostatin, and he was born that way. Figuring out a way to disable myostatin protein could be valuable in patients with degenerative muscular disorders, possibly increasing life expectancy or improving quality of life. One strategy was to introduce altered antibodies which stick to and disable the protein. That compound was called MYO-029 and the results were not inspiring.

In January of this year the leading researchers in myostatin announced that they have found a compound (ACVR2B) that disables myostatin, and it is not an antibody. It is an allosteric inhibitor that removes the normal function of myostatin. The rub is that ACVR2B could also unintentionally inhibit other proteins that are similar to myostatin. Nevertheless, it's big progress but they're still working on it.

Knowledge of myostatin function also led to a boom in "myostatin blocker" products from unscrupulous supplementeers for the bodybuilding market. It would seem highly unlikely that top researchers in search of a potential therapy, are lagging behind the supplement industry? What their ads appear to claim is that anyone can waltz right into the vitamin store and pick up a $50+ dollar container of "myostatin blocker" product! Imagine that! A potential cure for devastating illness, and all along it was sitting right under our noses; sitting on the shelves of the local supplement store at the mall. Will wonders never cease? I guess they won't need to have Jerry's Kids telethons anymore. Thanks supplement companies! Tell the patients to plan on getting "freaky" and "ripped" like the ads say! Is it likely that the scientists are running trials on these myostatin products to see if they alleviate muscular disease?

Their marketing tactic is basically "myostatin = "very bad! Bad bad bad myostatin!" What a sham. I can save you time and money. Any search result that involves a trademark (TM) or pending application for a trademark and that claims to have any consequence whatsoever on pure bullsh*t. Take the results of that internet search and add all those companies to a black-list of firms that you won't do business with.

If you read the ad copy for any particular product, it is basically a shabbily written description of what myostatin is and what it does. This information however, has nothing to do with their product. They will never even attempt to explain how their product does anything besides amount to terrible tasting mystery hash going in and expensive poop going out.

There is a magical leap between what they claim and what their concoction actually does (sits in your gut doing nothing).

In fact, creatine, supposedly touted as the supplement with proof of clinical effectiveness, is not a magical muscle builder. It fills muscles with more water and makes them look bigger (temporarily bigger). There is no strong evidence that taking creatine leads to any improvement in real-life muscle growth, hypertrophy.

Do a Google search for "myostatin blocker" and almost all the links come from sources that profit from misinformation and sales of sham products. The technique is called "bait and switch." First they lure you in with a claim that is intensely appealing and powerful (if it were truly possible) but then end up giving you worthless crap enveloped in sly marketing; snakeoil that was hatched up in their dimestore laboratories.

Here is the algorithm for picking out their bullsh*t:

1. Type in "myostatin" into Google search
2. Click on "IMAGES" to convert the search results
3. Any labeled container with any product name resembling "myostatin" is manufactured by dishonest people.
4. Repeat.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Upper Cross Syndrome

The correct way to do shrugs, which work the trapezius, is to bring the shoulders straight up and straight down.

Gyrating one's shoulders in circles while doing shrugging movements is not correct. Correct is: straight up, straight down.

The ability to bring one's shoulders straight up and straight down is influenced by posture.

Some postural deficiencies are responsible for most plateaus in strength and hypertrophy.

Rounded shoulders, or upper cross syndrome can lead to incorrect form for shrugs, and almost all other upper-body exercises. That article shows how you can tell if you have it. It's common among those who sit at desks for long periods, and people who lift weights. If you love to do chest exercises but neglect your back and rowing-type movements, you may be more likely to have it.

If you find that you have it, the good news is that you can fix it. This article, The Perfect Posture Plan, shows you how. I know it works because I did what they suggest and it fixed my shoulders. It also affected positively, every other upper body exercise I do.

The way to appear confident in your posture is to have correct posture. That is, to stand upright with your shoulders pulled back and down. It is like the posture one has while wearing a cape (think Superman). Upper cross syndrome makes it tough to have correct posture and correct lifting form, especially for bench press, all back movements, all shoulder movements, and triceps movements. It's that important to fix it.

See if you have it then fix it. I did it and I'm so glad I did. :)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Opposing Muscle Groups

It's a common practice to work out opposing muscle groups during the same workout:

biceps + triceps,
quadriceps + hamstrings,
chest + back,
extensors + flexors (top and bottom) of forearms
hip abductors + hip adductors...

Supersetting these groups is effective: do a set for one muscle then without rest do a set of the other. Training chest + back, or biceps + triceps, like this makes the arms, the entire upper body, feel very pumped and large.

Both of the muscles that oppose each other must be trained paying equal attention to each one--if not on the same day, then on separate days of the week.

The size of one muscle is ultimately limited by the size of the muscle that opposes it. The biceps can only get so big if the triceps aren't trained at all, or with the same attention and intensity. The chest is limited by the size of the back, and so on.

So then what is the opposing muscle group to the calves (gastrocnemius and soleus)?

The calves do have an opposing muscle group--the tibialis anterior, that runs vertically along the tibia, the shin.

Few people specifically train their tibialis anterior.
Big calves are a rarity.

After I train my calves, I do tibialis raises while seated with "light" dumbbells on my feet. Sit up straight, with good posture, like there is an imaginary thread pulling your body upward, exiting out the top of your head. Start light, but move up. It may feel awkward at first to balance the weights on your feet. You'll notice that hardly anyone takes the time to do this. It is worth it. I can make this exercise hurt intensely because these muscles burn like no other muscles on my body. But it hurts so good. :)

Here are more exercises for the tibialis anterior (they don't have a seated version with weights, though).