Compound Exercises vs Isolation: How to Make the Right Choice

Compound exercises vs isolation

Here is one of the biggest questions around physical activity that pops up every now and then: should you stick to compound exercises or isolation exercises as a part of your training schedule?  Is one better than the other?  If compound lifts are so good  – how come there are so many gyms that offer a huge variety of expensive machines targeting specific muscles?

The truth is – both methods can be used to improve strength.  Both methods can be used to build a better body.  But there are scenarios where one would work better than the other.

Instead of taking sides, in this article we will explore advantages and disadvantages of both compound and isolation exercise and then try to boil everything down to a simple routine that utilizes the best elements from both camps.

Read more

Sauna benefits: get stronger and live longer

sauna

Sometimes, there is only a very slight difference between high performers and those who just spin their wheels.  The latter often do most of the things high performers do, but still fail to achieve the same results.  This is because high performers know about and implement little tricks that may seem unimportant at first but which, in combination, make a significant difference.  Each incremental effort, each little detail can provide that slight edge and lead to greater results.

One of such tricks that can make you stronger, healthier, leaner and more resilient is quite simple, but yet –little known to most people.  We are, of course, talking about hyperthermic conditioning, more commonly referred to as “sauna”.

When it comes to the goals listed above, sauna is typically not on most people’s list.  Some enjoy the process – especially when it involves some social element, as well (in many cultures sauna is a place to spend time with friends and socialize), some use it for all the wrong reasons (yes, there are still many misconceptions and myths surrounding sauna use), yet some others (especially those who don’t do it right) don’t really care about it – but few people really think of sauna as some superhero-lab-level procedure and performance enhancer.

Which is unfortunate, because – with healthy individuals who have no pre-existing medical conditions that would restrict sauna use – it is a wonderful and grossly underutilized tool that can help on many different fronts.

Let’s look at what intense heat can actually do for you – and how to use it properly (heads up: sauna benefits have very little to do directly with sweating and flushing out the mythical “toxins” as a result, as many gurus would have you believe – the mechanisms involved are actually much more interesting).

Read more

6 big myths and misconceptions in healthy eating

healthy eating myths debunked

When it comes to healthy eating, there are many myths and misconceptions that just won’t die.  Some of them may be silly, while some others may be dangerous, because following them may lead to the results opposite to what you would expect (to the detriment of your health).

The funny thing is that most people who propagate them by trying to “educate” their friends have no idea why they need to follow these “guidelines” – they were just told to, at some point, by another friend, a popular magazine or even doctors, who got stuck in the last century and didn’t care to update their knowledge with the latest research.

Are any of these myths worth believing in?  See for yourself!

Myth # 1: Low-fat food

For many years, caught in the semantics and mislead by mass media (and even some very authoritative sources), people have been equating dietary fat (the fat you eat) to body fat (the fat you store).  The solution, in the age of prevailing heart disease and stroke and total cholesterol hysteria, seemed simple – remove fat from your food and you will be forever lean and healthy.

As it turns out – that’s not quite the case.  In fact, the effect is often the opposite – if you get overzealous, you risk developing quite a few health problems.

Read more

Weight training for kids – best workout or a way to stunt growth?

weight training for kids

We have previously seen how unsubstantiated fears kept most women away from weights for many decades because someone, somewhere took a liberty of defining women as overly fragile, helpless beings that were unable (and unwilling) to ever lift more than the weight of their purses.  (Of course, producers of 0.5lb barbells missed the fact that just to be prepared for the challenges of everyday life, women would need to lift, push, squat and carry much higher weights – like their own babies).

In any case, hopefully, you realize by now that when we compare males and females – there are more similarities than differences in metabolic pathways, muscular function and useful methods to achieve athletic and health goals.  So this limiting belief does females a great disservice.

But a similar ill advice and unsubstantiated fears are now defining our attitudes towards weight training for kids.  Most parents still have many reservations when it comes to weight training for kids – because they have heard, at some point, that lifting weights stunts growth (and that lifting free weights causes injuries, generally speaking).

How much of it is true?  Does weight lifting stunt grown in children, as many people believe?  Are there benefits of weight training as a part of structured exercise early in life? And, if you are a parent – what should you know about your child’s training protocols?

Let’s try to take a closer look.

Read more

Tired of being tired? Here is how to avoid fatigue and boost your energy

feeling tired

A lot of people these days complain about feeling tired all the time.

It’s true that the pace of life seems to be picking up with each day – most people have to deal with multiple distractions, tasks and problems – which often takes significant effort and results in the lack of energy.  We are all busy – so busy, in fact, that most of us admit to getting less sleep than we need.  Quickly eating on the go (because who wants to waste time on a formal sit-down meal in a relaxing environment, when you have so many tasks to complete, right?) makes stellar dietary choices difficult – and results in consumption of loads of junk that makes us fat, slow, sleepy, tired and dissatisfied with everything.

Many food and drink producers seem to be offering a helping hand in fighting this lack of energy.  From seemingly benign coffee, tightly intertwined into many cultures, to “energy drinks” (that contain a wide variety of compounds and make an even wider variety of claims to “give you wings” – or at least keep you alert and focused) – there appears to be plenty of solutions.

But before you attempt to artificially boost your energy (and, if you overdo it – give yourself heart palpitations, anxiety and sleep problems in the process) – perhaps it makes sense to try to understand why you have a lack of energy in the first place.  If you are feeling sleepy and sluggish during the day, if you were rather left alone, if you drag yourself everywhere you need to go, if you cannot concentrate on the task on hand and if your solution to this is upping your caffeine intake – this article is for you.

Let’s look at how you can better manage your mental and physical energy and always be full of life and ready to go!

Read more

Heart Health: Part III – regeneration, genetics and supplements

heart health

Wear and tear, cell regeneration and impact on heart health

Most people pretty much accept the inevitable decline in heart health as they age, believing that the heart (just as the rest of the body) wears out with time.  It is almost expected that your heart, as you get older, will start changing for the worse – the cardiac muscle is expected to thicken (and weaken at the same time), arteries – to stiffen and overall cell regeneration process – to slow down.  The implied lack of exercise at an older age makes these processes accelerate even further.

This grim picture, however, doesn’t have to be your reality.

It is true that myocardium cells may not possess the same remarkable regenerative capacity as liver cells, for instance (although they do, of course, regenerate following normal cell death), but as long as you can prevent current cells from dying too quickly – you can extend the lifespan of the whole heart.  The rules we discussed in relation to overall aging prevention apply equally when trying to prevent premature aging of the heart.

As with most organs, aging of the heart means the loss of ability of myocardium cells to divide and replicate (at least, at a rate that surpasses the rate of normal cell death).   And the factors that drive this are the same as what we have previously discussed – excessive free radical damage, inflammation and muscle atrophy.  If you prevent these generally (by making slight adjustments to your lifestyle and diet) – you will keep your heart young, strong and healthy.

Read more

Heart health: Part II – Heart rate, variability and food

checking for heart rate

Resting heart rate – slower is better

As your heart gets more efficient and stronger – it can pump more blood with each stroke (and, potentially, require less energy to do that).  Eventually, what this leads to is slower resting heart rate.  Remember, the heart rate is a product of the demand for oxygenated blood and your heart’s ability to satisfy that demand.  As this ability improves, the heart doesn’t need to beat as fast.

This is precisely where the benefit of exercise comes in.  Exercise not only strengthens the heart itself and makes it more efficient in accessing oxygen in the blood (by growing more mitochondria) – but it also triggers the growth of new mitochondria (as well as improvement in oxidative capacity of existing mitochondria) at the periphery (i.e. – within the target tissue).  All of that means that tissues in need of oxygen could now use less of it to satisfy the same demand for energy – which means your heart doesn’t need to beat as fast.

What benefits does slower heart rate have?  There may be a couple:

  • Slower heart rate means a bigger “buffer” between current and maximum heart rate to keep up with more demanding situations when the heart needs to beat faster. Remember – the maximum rate is a finite number for everyone – your heart can’t just beat faster and faster in response to the demand – because the heart itself needs oxygen from blood to perform the work. Faster heart rate means higher energy demand for the heart muscle itself – and at some point, the ability to fuel this process by oxygen delivered by the blood will be limited by the supply of that freshly oxygenated blood and the speed at which it is utilized within the aerobic metabolism pathways.  No available energy at any given moment means no ability to contract.  So a slower heart rate potentially means more energy-efficient heart and a higher capacity to increase that rate to address spontaneous demands for blood delivery;
  • As we have already mentioned, muscle contraction requires energy – which comes from oxidation of fat, glucose or ketone bodies. Cellular energy metabolism – while being absolutely essential for life – also generates several chemical and electrical by-products that, in large amounts, can be harmful.  For instance – we have already discussed positive hydrogen ions (H+) generated by muscle contraction that raise the acidity of the cell.  Also, cellular metabolism generates reactive oxygen species that are known to inflict damage to cell’s DNA and cause various disorders.  It follows, then, that less energy required for resting heart rate means less of such by-products – which, by the way, may contribute to the wear and tear and, as a result – the longevity of the heart itself.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that animals with generally slower heart rates live longer?

Read more

Heart health: Part I – Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Health

heart disease prevention

What you need to know about heart disease, rate variability, effect of exercise, nutrition and more

What is the most dreaded disease of the modern world?  Most people would probably say: cancer.  Yet, cancer is by far not the most prevalent cause of death.  That place is actually firmly occupied by ischemic heart disease, according to statistics published by World Health Organization (WHO).

So it makes sense to try to do what you can to prevent being a part of this statistic.  The article below explores a few potential causes of heart disease, discusses risk factors (including some of those that are not well known) and preventive measures (including some unconventional but very effective ones).

What makes your heart beat

On average, your heart pumps about 7,200 liters of blood per day.  In an average lifetime, that equals about 2,628,000 liters (700,000 gallons) or about 2.5 billion contractions.  That’s a massive amount of work!

As with any muscle, to maintain the strength and pace of these contractions, two variables must be present – the constant availability of fuel and proper functioning metabolism that utilizes this fuel to produce electric energy required to contract the muscle.

The heart is generally considered as a substrate omnivore with the capacity to oxidize fatty acids, carbohydrates, ketone bodies, lactate and even amino acids, the preferred substrate being fatty acids.

That said – energy deficit is a key contributor to heart failure.  During high intensity exercise, for instance, the heart uses up to 90% of its oxidative capacity – so it has no excess capacity of energy generation over energy utilization.

Under these circumstances, it is very important that whatever oxidative capacity your heart does have for supplying energy to cover the immediate needs is utilized to the maximum – and that such capacity is increased to provide some buffer for more strenuous activities, should those take place.  Ninety percent of the heart’s energy requirement is met by mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, which is finely tuned to energy need on a “pay as you go” basis.  In fact, mitochondria (power plants of the cell) occupy more than 30% of the cardiac muscle cells’ volume.

Read more

Is red meat bad? (Part II – IGF-1, risk of cancer and more)

Is meat bad for you

Let’s continue our discussion that we started in Part I and see if there really is any association between meat and cancer.

It’s different if you already have a pathology

It is often implied that high-protein diet causes damage to your kidneys by “overloading” them with nitrogen by-products of protein digestion (that they naturally metabolise and excrete) – but as a healthy individual, you will have difficulty overconsuming protein, since your body has natural regulatory mechanisms that drive the desire for protein-containing foods.  So you are unlikely to ever eat too much.

But is it correct to say that eating any amount will put a strain on your kidneys?  Should you specifically reduce protein consumption to avoid damaging them?

The answer is – very unlikely.  If you already have a kidney disease – increased protein consumption can definitely contribute to their pathology.  But if you are healthy – you probably don’t have anything to worry about (read this article by Chris Kesser).

Methionine

Meat contains a complex array of several amino acids.  One of these amino acids is methionine – and recent studies have suggested that it’s this specific amino acid that may be responsible for increased oxidative stress and the ultimate link between meat, IGF-1 (see below) and cancer.

If you recall our discussion on organ meats – you will remember that methionine is balanced by glycine – another amino acid contained in large amount in bone broth, gelatin and organ meats – which helps your body metabolize and neutralize potential harmful effects of methionine. What follows is that if you balance your intake of methionine with your intake of glycine (by consuming collagen/gelatin, organ meats, bone broth, etc.) – potential harmful effects of overconsuming muscle meat can be greatly reduced.

Read more

Is red meat bad for you? (Part I – gathering the facts)

Red meat slices

What you might miss in studies that claim red meat causes cancer

A lot of people who are attempting to eat healthy are searching for an answer to a question that seems to bother vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike – is red meat bad for you?

At first glance it seems to be a no-brainer.  You will find quite a few studies and experiments proving that red meat causes all sorts of bad things – high blood cholesterol, cancer (specifically colon, prostate and breast cancer), high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s and more.

So many studies can’t be wrong, can they?  Should you be worried?

Well, as with many things, it’s the little details and subtleties of the research behind these grand statements that make all the difference.  Most people do not care (or do not bother to verify) whether conclusions made by research were based on relationships that are causative (when a disease is a direct result of one specific and tightly controlled variable) or associative (where disease isn’t necessarily caused by a specific variable, but is merely  associated with it – with no regard given to other important co-variables).

Most people do not read into the details of such research papers.  Ask them a question “why is red meat bad?” and, most of the time, you will hear some mumbling without any specific reference to studies, reports or conclusions.  They will cite some vague reports that eating meat causes cancer, point to some poorly designed study republished by tabloids that links meat consumption and health decline and even refer to their doctor, who also “recommends limiting the intake of red meat” (and, probably, as ironic as it is – doesn’t mind recommending some “whole grains”, instead).  Or, they will pull out their biggest gun and refer to “The China study”, which, on the surface, seems to have delivered a significant blow to the “omnivore human” theory and converted many thousands of scared adults into vegetarianism.

Except – those little details hidden behind smoke screens and marketing messages matter a lot.  In fact, they are the details that can make or break the whole case – and understanding them and using them to arrive at your own conclusions may prevent you from fatal errors that have a profound impact on your health.

Is meat bad for you?  You can make your own call in the end after looking at all the facts below.  Without diving too deep into any religious restrictions or ethical dilemmas (we have briefly discussed these in a previous article on veganism, let’s just see why some people believe meat is bad for you is and whether the data they are using holds up to scrutiny.

Read more

1 2 3 11