Myths

Warm Up and Foam Rolling – is there a point?

Why do we warm up?

“Warming up” is a blanket term used to describe the actions we perform prior to an exercise to allow us to exercise injury free and prime us for ideal performance. During a warm up we increase blood flow to the muscles we plan on using, increase our core temperature, increase range of motion, and get our heart rate elevated. These are all necessary to decrease instances of injury and ensure we have the best performance.

Static stretching vs. dynamic warm ups

When I was in elementary school and took PE I remember warming up with static stretches. This involved grabbing various parts of your body and folding them in ways to stretch the muscles prior to exercise we performed. This mode of warm up is no longer recommended – it’s been replaced with dynamic warm ups.

Dynamic warm ups are not static – it’s movement of the muscle to stimulate it for action. This includes things like lunges, kicks, walking, etc. Any sort of movement that increases blood flow to the muscle. Study (source) after study has shown an increase in acute performance after dynamic warm ups vs. static stretching. This has been confirmed in all sorts of populations, from children (source) to D1 collegiate athletes (Source).

Some dynamic warm up videos:
Katie Anne’s Warm UpMegsquat’s Lower Body and Bench Warm Up

Foam Rolling

Over the last few years’ foam rolling has gained a lot of traction. A foam roller is a long foam device that allows someone to manipulate their muscles without the need of a second person. They come in a lot of different types – plastic, foam, some have rivets on them, etc. While I use “foam rolling” in the rest of this article, you can include using items like lacrosse balls, tennis balls, PVC pipe and massage sticks in this topic.

When I asked friends and family why they foam rolled, by far and away the most common response was “To break up the lactic acid in sore muscles, decreasing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).” This isn’t an accurate point for many reasons. First, lactic acid build up does not cause DOMS. While many theories have been explored – and the exact mechanism isn’t known – the lactic acid theory has been widely rejected and replaced with theories about microtears and inflammatory processes. Second, it gives the idea that the foam roller can cause fascial (tissue/muscle) manipulation at a level to “break up” or “release” anything. Studies have shown that you need somewhere in the neighborhood of 600-900kg of weight to cause meaningful manipulations in fascia (source). In fact, there have been quite a bit of papers debunking the idea that you can “release” fascia without serious force – as stated above.

So why foam roll? Well, there are studies that prove foam rolling increases acute range of motion (source). If you’re foam rolling a “tight” area of your body prior to exercising that area you will find that your range of motion has increased (source). However, this has been noted with any sort of warm up, not just foam rolling. Additionally, the science supports it being just an acute process. If you foam roll on your off days and expect that to carry over to the next day’s exercise you’ll find no improvement. It’s the movements you perform afterwards that are meaningful in long-term increases in flexibility and range of motion.

There’s also been a lot of interesting studies into why foam rolling seems to decrease DOMS (source). There are theories about stimulating pain perception points and even more theories about a placebo effect. Much like the cause of DOMS, the jury is still out on how this can decrease the sensation of soreness.

 

So how should you interpret this data and apply it to your life?

  • If you enjoy foam rolling, keep doing it. Limit it to <10 minutes pre or post workout and include it with other types of warm ups like dynamic stretches and movements.
  • Don’t guilt yourself if you don’t foam roll on your days off. Instead, try other active processes to increase blood flow to your muscles and help with range of motion and flexibility.
  • If foam rolling is not something you enjoy, you don’t have to do it.
  • As always – if it works for you and you feel better before/after you foam roll, keep it up! What works best for you is what YOU should do.

Team Anti-Squeem – how the newest fitness fad is just dangerous

The squeem is the newest fitness fad that’s been seen on Instagram and other social media sites. A “squeem” is a modern day corset you can wear at the gym (or for 5-6 hours during the day) with the intention of “training your waist” to be smaller.

First of all, let’s examine how insane that sounds. Wearing a constricting device around your waist for a few hours will not change the genetics or shape of that area in a permanent sense. If anything, the minute the waist cincher is removed your waist will return to its normal size. Since it just provides an insane amount of pressure on the area there is no permanent change happening. It’s like saying wearing skinny jeans all day will shrink your legs – no.

(The only exception to the rule I will admit is Cathie Jung, who has been wearing a corset for 24 hours a day since 1959. In 1959 she had a 26″ waist, now it’s 15″. Plus, she is unable to drive a car or do many every day functions because she can’t move.)

Speaking of skinny jeans – have you ever worn a pair of skinny jeans a size or two too small? You remember how parts of your leg and hips would go numb, how you’d get pain and tingling sensations as the nerves were compressed and the blood flow restricted in those areas? Imagine doing that to your abdomen, where just under the skin and muscle lay important organs. Dr. Orly Avitzur, a neurologist, has written several articles about the dangers of Spanx, Squeems and other restrictive shapewear here.

Ah yes, improves circulation by cutting off circulation! I see.

These restrictive items make you sweat a lot, though. Removing water from any area of your body will help decrease the inches – just look at those scam body wraps that people sell. They don’t lose any -true- weight, it’s just the water leaving the tissues. The moment the area is rehydrated the inches return with the weight.

Additionally, these waist trainers apply pressure along the bottom of your rib cage which may disallow for full expansion of your lungs. When the lung cannot fully expand you run the risk of not fully oxygenating your blood. Additionally, a very severe side effect of a lung not being able to expand is collapse of the lung lobe itself. These are very severe complications that can occur, whether they’re common or not. The best question you should ask yourself is “Why should I wear something that restricts my ability to breathe while I work out?”

Now, I know we’ve all seen those images of women who’ve worn corsets back in the day. It’s important to note that these modern day squeems do not have the metals that those corsets do. Any conclusions we drew from the extreme restriction of those corsets won’t necessarily transfer over to modern day. In my research I found one modern day corset wearer who underwent an MRI to compare her organ location and size to the average person. They found shifting of organs (the liver and spleen shifted upwards, the large intestine shifted downwards) but no significant changes in the anatomy of the organs. They argue that a woman undergoes similar shifts during pregnancy with her organs, so how is it different?

My argument? 9 months of your organs moving slowly is quite different from wearing an artificial device that cinches down on your waist 24/7. Additionally, the slow growth of a fetus allows for organs to adapt to the changes. My question isn’t about how the organs look, but rather how they work. You cannot simply look at an MRI of an organ and determine that it’s working well and fine. Without blood work or biopsy there’s no way to assess if the constant pressure has lead to ischemia, pressure necrosis, re-perfusion injuries when the squeem is taken off, etc.

If you want to lose weight, you need to get into a caloric deficit. If your genetics tells you to hold onto weight in your abdomen, you’ll lose it there last. There’s no good way to “beat” genetics, especially not by wearing restrictive clothing in hopes it forces your body to remodel. It doesn’t work that way.

Want a smaller waist? Take a hint from the bodybuilding pros – create an illusion. Focus on building a larger upper and lower body that accentuate the X shape of your midsection. Dress in clothing that flatters your shape and either hides areas you’re self conscious about or simply draws attention away from it. Try to work WITH your body, not against it, and you won’t have to worry about the long term effects of compressing vitals organs.

Fasted Cardio: an update

I’ve already touched on the topic of fasted cardio here, but a recent publication by some of my favorite names in the industry (ie Alan Aragon) has shed some more light on the pro/anti fasted debate.

As I stated before, the entire idea around fasted cardio is that you’ll burn more fat. Since your body has no circulating glucose to utilize, it will instead pull from stored glucose preferentially. This translates to burning straight fat. This has gone under fire from a lot of critics because a) the body doesn’t work so simply and b) long term vs. short term calorie burn. This paper focused on comparing females in a caloric deficit.

The paper, published in November of this year, took two groups of women. The first group trained fasted, the second did not. Both groups were in a caloric deficit, both groups did an hour of steady-state cardio 3 days a week.

And both groups lost the same amount of fat and weight.

This short addendum to my fasted cardio article from previously shows that fasted cardio has no added benefit over non-fasted cardio.

A Case Against Breakfast

Let me preface this article by saying “If you’re hungry, you should eat.” Plenty of people wake up ravenous, enjoy breakfast, and go on with their day. Others wake up without an appetite and report that when they do eat breakfast, they feel like crap all morning, or they’re hungry twenty minutes later. Without delving into the “What are you eating? How much? Etc” argument, I’d like to present this little piece of science for those of you who want it. If you find breakfast a chore here’s some ammo to shoot at the pro-breakfast crowd always trying to get in your face. If you’re not hungry, you’re not hungry: end of story. Every body is different.

Let’s start with hormones and waking. Cortisol (click the link to read about it) is a huge part of your sensation to wake up. It gradually rises through the night, and reaches its peak when you open your eyes. Your cortisol is highest in the morning and may continue to rise after you wake up, until about 30-45 minutes later. That’s breakfast time. Here’s the deal with cortisol – it antagonizes insulin. Insulin helps pull the sugar from your bloodstream after a meal and put it into your cells to refuel them. Because of this, you end up with a higher blood sugar than you would normally.

The issue is that with a blunted insulin response your cells aren’t getting the energy they need. Simply put, insulin gives the energy directly to the cells, and cortisol gets in the way of them doing that. If your cells are yearning for energy they’re going to send hunger signals to your brain to encourage you to eat and feed your cells. This is the case with people with chronically elevated cortisol levels as well who have trouble maintaining a normal appetite.

What about the fit person?

A fit person will have increased insulin sensitivity, especially as they lean out. They tend to be very responsive to an increase in blood sugar and quick and efficiently pump out insulin to compensate. These people then see their blood glucose drop faster, and tend to get hungrier faster. This is exacerbated in the fasted morning states with a high cortisol. You have an extremely active pancreas pumping out insulin and being countered by cortisol, so you’re pumping out more. This can mean a dramatic decrease in blood glucose. Not so much as to cause hypoglycemia, per se, but enough for your hunger signals to fire up just a short time later.

But why does this not affect ALL people – why are some people breakfast lovers and others aren’t? The level of cortisol in your blood is highly dependent on a lot of factors. Some people simply do not have a high enough level of cortisol to counteract any of the breakfast-induced blood sugar problems. Others, such as diabetics, have a need for a regular blood sugar management. Every individual is different, which is why I say again – if you’re hungry, eat!

Lastly, let’s look at a very specific study targeted at the traditional “If you skip breakfast you’ll gain weight” hoopla. This study was a 16 week controlled study in overweight and obese adults, one group ate breakfast, the other didn’t. Between both groups the average weight loss was 1.18 kgs vs. 1.17 kgs. Essentially, the results showed little difference in weight loss between breakfast eaters and non-breakfast eaters.

So, as I said earlier – eat if you’re hungry, don’t eat if you’re not. If you find breakfast is detrimental to your state of mind (no one likes being ravenous at 9am!) then skip it. It’s your individual choice.

Fasted Cardio: Myth or Fact?

Fasted cardio is one of the hottest topics amongst dieters, especially those who compete in body building. The idea of doing cardio on an empty stomach first thing in the morning makes sense to some people – with no immediate source of energy, won’t your body burn stored fat for energy? There’s compelling evidence for and against fasted cardio, so I thought I’d break down the main points of various studies for both sides and let you chose.

FOR FASTED CARDIO

One study that is often cited (Bonen, A. et al. (2008). Effect of training in the fasted state on metabolic responses during exercise with carbohydrate intake. Journal of Applied Physiology. Apr;104(40):1045-55) showed that training fasted actually increased your muscle glycogen stores, making it a great adjunct to endurance athlete’s training. The idea is that increasing the body’s ability to store glycogen will allow athletes to compete at higher intensity long term.

Another study looked at supplementing your fasted cardio with caffeine and yohimbe and found that this increased catecholamines in the body, which helped to break down fat stores more readily. So fasted cardio, at least in the short term, increases the bodys’ ability to burn fat.

But, that’s pretty much where the science ends. The idea of fasted cardio – that your body would used its reserves instead of readily available food – was greater than the research. Now powerhouses such as Dr. Layne Norton and pretty much all of science have decided the cons far outweigh the pros.

AGAINST FASTED CARDIO

A lot of data for this comes from a study done through The Strength and Conditioning Journal (Volume 33). They found that the thermogenic effect of exercise (that is, your long term calorie burn) is HIGHER if you’ve eaten before exercise. They also found that training fasted decreased your overall energy output, so if you felt sluggish you didn’t put as much effort into a training session as someone who ate before.

What is more alarming than this is the catabolic effect fasted cardio can gave. Muscle catabolism is exactly what everyone wants to avoid – why train fasted if you could possibly lose muscle in the process? Proteolysis (the break down of protein) is higher in fast training and nitrogen losses more than doubled in this state.

So what’s the take home message with these studies? Know your goals. If you’re trying to maintain muscle and lose fat then eating something before doing your cardio (oatmeal, BCAAs, egg whites, pop tarts, etc.) can help you from losing muscle and keep your energy high. If you’re an endurance athlete then fasted cardio can contribute to your glycogen stores. With this information you can make appropriate decisions based on your own goals and levels of fitness.