Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New "Pre-hab" exercise

Hi everyone,

Today I wanted to share a new exercise (well at least new to me) with you that you may want to add to the exercise routine. The exercise is called the "superdog" as coined by strength coach Nick Tumminello. The exercise is to be used a prehab exercise perhaps before serious resistance training would be a god time to really get your gluteal musculature warmed up and to make sure the muscles are "firing'. However I could see using the superdog a the end of an exercise session as well as a finisher type movement to really tax the gluteals after to wrap up a solid workout.

Below is a video of the superdog being presented by Coach Tumminelo

The exercise is a twist on two commonly used core exercises, the superman and the birddog. I'll post videos to those video as well. The superman and the birddog are often performed while the athlete is in a state of exaggerated lumbar lordosis or anterior pelvic tilt.

The anterior rotation of the pelvis and accompanying lumbar lordosis actually renders certain exercises which are meant to alleviate structural imbalances pretty much worthless as is the case when superman's and birddogs are performed incorrectly. The purpose of said exercises is strengthen the core musculature as a whole (1). For a review of the EMG activity witnessed and current thoughts on many of the core exercises being used see this review of the literature by a team of researchers from Spain (2). However when performed in exaggerated lordosis, these types of exercises lengthen trunk flexor muscles while leaving the posterior extensor muscles at appropriate lengths for near optimal force production, thus rendering the movement advantageous for the posterior muscles which further encourage the problematic exaggerated lordosis we are discussing.
Good core exercises are meant to tax several muscles of the core region resulting in a synergistic effect optimizing stability. 

For a further explanation of exaggerated lordosis check out this link to exrx which does a nice job of explaining how this posture is injurious to the lower back.  When performed in exaggerated lordosis, lifts such as the shoulder press, squat, etc. induce higher loads on passive tissues in the spine (i.e. ligaments) when the spine deviates from a neutral posture Findings from a study by Shirazi-Adl (3) that tissue loading is markedly affected by the postural changes and accompanying load distributions varying up to 60% based on the posture adopted. I like that study because real world loads of up to 2800 Newtons (roughly 270 kg) were used. 
As an athlete or weekend warrior you don't want heavy loads on the spine to be exaggerated by adopting faulty postural patterns while exercising

To wrap things up, I agree with Coach Tumminello in that the superdog forces the back into a neutral position forcing the gluteal muscles to do the work not the back extensor muscles. I'll post a couple of videos to the superman and birddog. If you are going to perform these movements, do so in neutral spinal alignment  to ensure you are working all of the core muscles rather than explicitly targeting the spinal extensors which may already be overly-dominant. In closing lumbar stability + thoracic mobility + hip mobility = safer more efficient movement patterns.

The birddog
The superman

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Home Food

"Most lawns are purely cosmetic in function. Thus, affluent societies have, all unnoticed, developed an agriculture which produces a polluted waste product, in the presence of famine and erosion elsewhere, and the threat of water shortages at home"-Bill Mollison
Pretty handy book if your in to gardening or self sustainablility...

My current night stand read is Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison. Mollison is credited as being the founder of Permaculture, which essentially focuses on establishing sustainable cultures through sustainable food production, urban design,even efficient use of city refuse (humanure) and so forth. I first heard about Mollison while reading some of Joel Salatin's work. The past couple of years I have been reading gardening books and putting my skills to the test, but permaculture is the equivalent to putting your garden on steroids.* The point of this post is that it is spring time and therefore time to start getting seeds ready or at least planning your garden. Even a couple of symbolic tomato plants on the patio hepls. Here is a photo of some plant's from my garden last year.

The Brassica gang holding down fort.

In any case, I would reccomend the book and the practices it espouses to just about anyone. Whether you are interested in good health or the environment, self subsistence, or even saving a buck; growing your own food is a good idea. Personally, I do it for all of the above. Growing your own food is great supplemental exercise for the fitness enthusiast and probably adequate for the lay person if they take an old school approach and minimize the use power tools. On top of that, you can't beat fresh food. No matter what "diet" one follows, low carb, paleo, vegan/vegetarien, etc. All of these diets tend to include some plant matter unles your trying to get your Vilhjalmur Stefansson on (see bio). 
This is proof that mowing the lawn is much less cool in contrast to gardening.

Current events taking place in the world further validate the need for at least the supplemental production of local food. Not to start any debates on the merits of the globalized food production system, but the current situations in Japan and the middle east  illustrate this point quite well. For example, imagine if nuclear fallout indeed did make its way over to California soil. California is the number one food producing state in our country (1). According to a California tourist site, which I will be the first to admit may not be the most credible source, California produces over half the nations fruit, vegetable, and nut products, along with being a major dairy producer (2). Personally I know a majority of the produce I have eaten since late December has come via California.
Our food is often times more traveled than we are.

Certain foods are also highly specialized in only one or two parts of the country leaving the entire crop production highly vulnerable to disease or natural disaster. For example a majority of the worlds corn is grown in the midwest and Brazil. An article released from University of California-Davis also reports that 60 perccent of the nations apples come from Washington state alone (3). With that in mind, I understand that we can't live in fear of hypothetical situations, but it is probably prudent for the country not to put all of its eggs (and other foods) in one basket. A little bit of effort by surburanites and even city dwellers could really help to fortify our food base as well as increase the general nutrition of the food we eat.**

Think about how much food could be produced in suburban yards as well as the gas from lawn mowers that could saved or reallocated, and nitrogen run off from all the turf builder/fertilizer applied. We would also drastically cut down on food mileage. According to a report form the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, its takes about 250 Calories to produce a typical pound of pears or apples once all fuel input is taken into account (4). According to, a pound of apple only provided about 250 Calories itself (see here). In my current city, Chicago, it takes an average of 1518 miles traveled to put produce on the table (4). In Michael Pollan's The Omnivores Dilemma, it is written that it takes roughly 10 Calories to produce every 1 Calorie provided in typical California grown lettuce.

I am trying to further develop my food production adroitness this year by starting all my plants from seed, but it really can be as simple as buying a few plants from Lowes or Home Depot and plopping them in the ground, followed by an occasional watering and weeding. It really comes back to the situation being a win-win. We can have people reconnected with their food, use millions of acres of "lawn" to grow food rather than practice indentured servitude to grass. There are obviously  flaws in the current system of food production, and getting out and growing a little of your own certainly wouldn't hurt.

Mixing up some of my seed starting mix...home made compost, potting soil & vermiculture

 * Just to be clear in "gardening on steroids" comment I mean Permaculture is a step up in terms of sustainability and production. I am not referring to use of synthetic fertilizers or using pesticides.

**Analytical studies show that certain processing techniques and the travel/aging of foods can cause nutrient loss in the form of vitamin and phytochemical loss (5, 6).

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fasted Cardio part 1

Update: Due to time constraints and the finding of new material to review this will be a 2 parter

Finally spring appears to be right around the corner. With the emergence of the the sun occuring before noon (ok 7 am), a recent bodybuilding event, and a few recent articles I've come across I wanted to a post on morning exercise, or fasted exercise in general. Personally when the sun is up and it's not freezing outside, I find that I am more inclined to want to get in some morning exercise as opposed to when its dark and cold in the morning. So that is what piqued my interest to look into the science behind fasted cardio this year, along with the bodybuilding event I mentioned.
 This past weekend, the Arnold Classic took place. The show is essentially the 2nd biggest show in pro bodybuilding, next to the Mr. Olympia. I read some of the contestants columns in Muscular Development magazine, and you can be sure each of them used some form of fasted cardio to get leaner for the show. In fact alot of serious fitness enthusiasts incorporate fasted conditioning into their exercise regimens in an effort to "maximize fat loss" since they are exercisng on an empty stomach. I realize several will argue that one shouldn't base decisions off of anecdotes for several reasons including confounders, personal bias, subjective outcomce meausures, chance outcomes, etc. Nonetheless,  I still believe in anecdotes, but I decided to look into a bit more more. By chance, the first "scientific" article I came across was from the most recent Strength and Conditioning Journal which was waiting for me back at my mom's house this weekend. Anyways I was none too impressed with the article. Here's why...

First off the author Brad Schoenfield, acknowledges the popularity and rationale behind fasted cardio, but concludes science does not back its efficacly. Here I will have to disagree. He goes on to write that, "First and foremost, it is shortsighted to look solely at how much fat is burned during an exercise session. The human body is very dynamic and continually adjusts its use of fat for fuel. Substrate utilization is governed by a host of factors (i.e., hormonal secretions, enzyme activity, transcription factors, etc), and these factors can change by the moment ." when considering the rationale behind one burning more fat during fasted cardio than blood glucose. However this statement in contradictory.

Despite acknowledging substrate utilization (fat or carbohytdrate) is affected by hormone secretion and gene expression, the article does not take this into account throughout its entirity, later writing, " fat burning must be considered over the course of days-not on an hour-to-hour basis-to get a meaningful perspective on its impact on body composition".  I am under the impression, Schoenfield assumes that exercising with food in the stomach will allow one to exercise longer or harder and thus burn more calories. One of the references Schoenfield uses is a classic cycling study out of Time Noakes lab showing that a preexercise meal enhances time to exhaustion in a bout of cycling compared to a fasted state (1). The key finding of this study was subjects that consumed breakfast rode for  136 minutes (+/-14 min) compared with 109 minutes (+/-12 min) when they cycled in the fasted state (109+/-12 min). These findings are not at all relevant to the average person looking to shed some fat.While going harder or longer is ideal for athletes, the general population is looking for fat loss and riding a bike to exhaustion for 2.5 hours is not quite neccessary for fat loss.  Calories burned is not as important as the hormonal response and subsequent gene expression. I have explained this before when discussing how intervals are superior to steady state cardio for fatloss despite burning far fewer calories in a session (see here).

Interval training increases stress hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and growth hormone(2, 3). Increasing these hormones during the exercise bouts chronically increases enzymes that are key to fat metabolism such as Citrate Synthase (4) and fat transporting proteins such as FAT/CD36 (5) . So without sounding all fanatic, like many fitness websites out there, interval training essentially increases the bodie's ability to burn fat, whether during exercise or at rest.

Now here is where things get real interesting in the Schoenfield article, the author acknowleges, " multiple studies show that consumption of carbohydrate before low-intensity aerobic exercise in untrained subjects reduces the entry of long-chain fatty acids in the mitochondria, thereby blunting fat oxidation. This is attributed to an insulin-mediated attenuation of adipose tissue lipolysis... and a decreased expression of genes involved in fatty acid transport and oxidation"  Basically this equates to eat he recognizes eating before exercise causes an increase in insulin, and insulin stops the breakdown of fat (adipose tissue lipolysis) and decreases the actions of genes that express for enzymes important in fat metabolism. One of the referenced studies is a study infact showing that eating before exercise decreases fat burning or lipolysis (6) but then the author states,  "both training status and aerobic exercise intensity have been shown to mitigate the effects of a pre-exercise meal on fat oxidation." That is not neccessarily the case. Its true that intense exercise will lower insulin levels and increase the bodies ability to "burn" fat, but for the average person who has an active life or other fitness goals such as body building, power lifting, etc. or maybe even an athlete just trying to supplement their current training, high intensity work is not always practicial. Moderate intensity does not suppress inuslin or increase the stress hormone response to exercise to the same extent as high intensity exercise. This can be read in any exercise physiology text. The following figure will show whats going on.

(BTW this is figure 5.10 from Physiology of Sport & Exercise by Jack Wilmore, Dave Costill, and W. Larry Kenney)

Basically exercise increases  glucose rate of appearance from the liver to be used as fuel. There is a subsequent decrease in insulin caused by the stress hormones I mentioned earlier in the post. One might ask how we can use that extra glucose if we have a decrease in insulin? During exercise we experience a shift in a protein that allows glucose into the cell, called GLUT4, to the cell membrane (7). This allows for the decrease in insulin while still allowing our cells to handle more glucose than would be encountered at rest. In fat as one adopts an exercise plan, they increase GLUT4 content, and the ability to translocate these proteins to the cell membrane. This is one of the key mechanisms that results in the exercising population being more insulin "sensitive" (8). Unfortunately once you stop exercising this increase in insulin sensitivity can diminish in as little as a week according to some studies. I am not so sure about this personally, but let me stop going off on a tangent.

Here is a visual of the GLUT4 transporter at the cell membrane to get a better picture of what is going on...

With more GLUT4 translocation occuring without it, less insulin is needed resulting in increased insulin sensitivity.

So hopefully what you have been able to gather is that a bout of exercise is about much more than burning calories. Particularly you are looking for a hormonal and general physiological response that will improve the bodie's ability to burn fat fat in the long run. This includes increasing enzymes and different proteins that help facilitate this process as well as decreasing circulating insulin. Fasted cardio seems to be advantageous in this department. First off after an overnight fast, you start off with lower insulin. Subsequently, the stress hormone associated with exercise drive it down further than would be experienced after a meal (breakfast) thus inhibiting insulin's fat storing effects and enhancing the lipotytic effects of the stress hormones. In regards to the GLUT4 adaptation and resting insulin levels, I am not sure at this point in time. In part 2 of this post, I plan to follow up on this by reviewing a couple of randomized experimental trials that indeed show fasting cardio is superior over the long term to exercising at the same intensity while fed.

I also just want to mention that I have no bones with Brad Schoenfield. I have read alot of his previous material and he seems like an intelligent guy. I know he has helped alot of people reach their fitness goals. However, I feel in his most recent article discussing fasted exercise, he over contextualized. It's true some people need a little food in their belly before an intense bout of exercise whether it be conditioning, sports, or weight training. With that said, there is nothing wrong with those looking to lose fat exercisng in the fasted state to facilitae metabolic adaptations that will encourage their body to metabolize fat.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pig Business!

About a year ago, I met a women by the name of Barbara Sha Cox. I had read an article featuring Barbara earlier in the week profiling her work as the founder of the advocacy group Indiana CAFO Watch (see here) Anyways the article discussed the environmental and societal problems evoked by CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation) in Indiana. Ever since meeting her, I have stayed in touch and tried to do my small part (writing legislatures, signing petitions, etc.) to keep CAFOs and CAFO waste out of my home state. CAFOs basically produce inferior quality meat, the animals are treated terribly, they put small family farms out of business, and the concentrated waste produced in CAFOs damage local ecosystems and makes locations virtually unlivable due to the pollution and smell.

The first I had heard of CAFOs was a 2007 Rolling Stone article entitled Boss Hog (here). I immediately stopped eating commercial pork. Since then other sources that I heave read or watched include Omnivores Dilema, Fast Food Nation, Food Inc, The Future of Food, and others. For anyone interested, Barbara just sent me the link to a new UK documentary Pig Business discussing how Smith Field Farms, the number one pork producer in the U.S. has moved over to Poland to break a foothold in the european market. The movie features Rick Dove, a speaker at the last Indiana CAFO Watch conference, and does a great job of showing the myriad reasons why CAFOs are not an optimal means to produce meat. The official Pig Business website cane be here.

Check out the documentary...