Tag Archives: strength training

Ladies: Why Getting Strong Will Make You a Goddess in 2017 (Part II)

Female physiology is incredibly complex. In fact, it is so complex that many reputable male trainers avoid working with ladies. The intricacies associated with changes in female body composition has been a perplexing phenomenon since the age of time, even dumbfounding much of the scientific world.

This post will aim to outline the biological mechanisms behind the enigmatic female body, while providing rationale for the best approach to training for improvements in body composition.

Why Are Females’ Bodies Seemingly So Complex?

This is probably a preconceived notion for the ladies reading this but men really do have it much easier from a body composition perspective. Almost every research paper shows smaller effect sizes in both weight loss and fat for women, when compared to their male counterparts.

Ultimately, it boils down to the capacity to procreate and the concomitant menstrual cycle. A few key changes that should be considered in a eumenorrheic (i.e. normal menstruation) female:

  • Women have a greater amount of estradiol and testosterone during the follicular phase compared to the luteal phase, and thus can handle higher training loads during this period
  • Women are also more insulin sensitive and less prone to water retention during the follicular phase, so carbohydrates are generally better tolerated

Irrespective of the menstrual cycle, females are far more resistant to changes in homeostasis than males. By this I mean that the female body will fight back harder in response to stressors such as exercise and changes in diet. Again, this is due to the complex biological mechanisms underpinning female physiology (wired to facilitate survival of the human race); the menstrual cycle only compounds these compensations that aim to maintain homeostasis.

Moreover, the extent to which women experience ‘period’ symptoms varies tremendously; some females cannot differentiate between the stages that they may be in at any given time, whereas others will experience significant alterations in mood, water retention (which will mask fat loss efforts), appetite, energy and so on.

Females’ Training & Diet Should Be Periodised (Pun Not Intended :P)

In light of the above, most females will respond best to periodising their training and eating in accordance with what stage they are in. Without delving to deep into the finer details of specific programming, here are a few principles that I would advise implementing to feel, look and perform better:

  • Training during the follicular phase should be relatively higher volume, higher intensity; conversely, lower the volume and intensity during your luteal phase, perhaps even incorporating more steady state cardiovascular exercise (like brisk walking). Strive to hit PBs during the follicular phase, and see the luteal period as more of a ‘maintenance’ phase to avoid being disheartened with potentially poor performances. This study very much supports the idea of training periodisation for females, showing greater gains made in strength and muscle.
  • Since metabolism and insulin sensitivity plunges during the luteal phase, and we are reducing our overall training volume, calories need to be cut. The reduction in calories should come almost exclusively from carbohydrates. For example, a 60kg female’s rest day may differ by 300-500 calories (75-125g of carbohydrates) between the follicular and luteal phases. *This is an example, only – take it for what its worth.
Marisa Inda, Elite Powerlifter

Much research also suggests that females preferentially utilise intra-muscular fatty acids during exercise, when compared to men. In other words, women are better at what we call ‘carbohydrate-sparing’. As such, fat should comprise a higher proportion of a female’s diet, and I generally programme for my female clients in this manner.

Since females possess a fraction of the testosterone that males do, they usually lack the absolute intensity males are able to train with. This is a major reason, besides their propensity for fat substrate utilisation, why females tend to respond better to higher volume schemes when training with weights. Ladies generally require greater total reps/sets in order to achieve the same relative work output as men, at any given perceived exertion. I am not advocating muscular endurance rep targets (i.e. 15+), but a 4-8 rep goal I will often prescribe for a male in the gym would usually translate into 6-12 for the ladies. This is obviously dependent on the exercise and other variables, but just another example to illustrate my point.

While I am by no means a Crossfit aficionado, I do believe certain principles derived from this sport are favourable for women’s physiques. The elite female crossfitters train compound barbell movements with high intensity, relatively high volumes in short time-frames, capitalising on fat oxidation while building lean muscle. You don’t have to join a crossfit box, but take some of these principles and incorporate them in to your own training. The major downfall with crossfit is that it doesn’t really consider long-term programming; the workouts are random and thus don’t allow the individual to progressively overload exercises in a meaningful way. It is exercise, as opposed to training.

The majority of females gravitate to exercise modalities like yoga because, naturally, they are good it. Females have much more lax joints than males, so it is relatively easy. I think yoga is fantastic, both for the mind and one’s mobility, but adding a few ‘heavy’ strength training days a week on top of this will render profound improvements; for health, improved body composition, confidence to name but a handful of associated benefits.

I understand stepping in the gym is right outside the comfort zone of most women, and this is exactly why you should commence a proper weight training regime. The research to support strength training for women is simply irrefutable.

Best,

Jonny.

 

Ladies: Why Getting Strong Will Make You a Goddess in 2017 (Part 1)

It is safe to say that females are as delusional about what comprises an ‘ideal’ physique, as men are when it comes to thinking more muscle mass is better. Both of these misconceptions have persisted for decades now, but this post will aim to elucidate the erroneous mindset many women have towards training and their desired body composition. Specifically, I will explain why strength & power-based training will make women healthier… Not bulkier, as the pervasive myth would suggest.

What Fuels Women’s Aversion to Strength Training?

1. Perceived Norms Mistake Healthy For Hulk-Like

Quite contrary to the commonly strived for stick-thin model look, the consensus amongst males is that strong women are healthy, and healthy is desirable. And this is not purely coming from my own strength-biased mouth; a study involving 842 college students explored both the same-sex and inter-sex perceptions of attractiveness related to physique.

There was a significant discrepancy from both the females’ and males’ perspective of what the opposite gender considered most attractive, with women shooting for skinny and men aspiring toward the bodybuilder end of the spectrum. So while there is nothing inherently wrong with either of these looks, the conventional motivation for achieving them is often unfounded; that being to attract the opposite sex.

Not only do men find more wholesome-looking women attractive, but a fixation with weight loss (as encouraged by social media) lends itself to all sorts of damaging health consequences for; extreme diets, use of laxatives, chronic endurance exercise, eating disorders, and so on and so forth.

The majority of men don’t care whether your abs are visible, ladies. Nor do most men give a sh*t if you have a ‘box gap’ – one of the most cringeworthy trends of the 21st century. Just like 99.9% of women couldn’t care less what a man can bench press. Sorry bro’s, but 100kg is the same as 140kg in her books. We are such delusional creatures.

As inconceivable as this may be for many of you, female (and many male) runway models epitomise perhaps the most unhealthy body type classification there is: ‘skinny fat’. No muscle mass on their frames, and a relatively great proportion of fat (albeit not evident). Skinny fat people tend to carry the most dangerous fat our bodies can store; visceral fat (VF). The kind of fat that accumulates in and around our vital organs.

The best way to avoid this toxic fat from engulfing you is primarily through focusing on quality foods and exercising regularly. Quality, whole foods and caloric restriction is the best mode of preventing VF storage, but simply minimising processed food intake (as opposed to restricting quantity) if you are already lean is your best bet. Exercise-wise, both cardiovascular and strength training demonstrate a similar reduction in VF, but this outcome is augmented when both are incorporated in a programme.

I am sure we can all attest to having that one friend who can put away substantial quantities of fast food every day, yet never seems to change superficially. And I am also certain that many of us feel envy over this ‘unfair’ ability. This envy is unreasonable though, since most skinny fat people become complacent with the fact that they don’t have much subcutaneous fat (the less lethal adipose tissue, and what we typically consider body fat).

Joey Chestnut & Takeru Kobayashi – World Eating Champions and Prime Examples of Skinny-Fat

 

And the above discussion revolving around body composition is exactly why I resent the body mass index (BMI); it is such a redundant parameter of health that really has no place in public health, let alone athletic individuals. Lots of laypeople using this calculator, who don’t know better, can yield normal (‘healthy’) BMIs despite potentially having alarming levels of visceral fat.

Anyhow, women usually avoid strength training in light of their effort to attain an ‘ideal’ level of thinness; because they associate weights with bulky muscles (and thus deem it antithetical to their dream body).

This last point concerning training-induced bulkiness is a whole other fallacy in itself, which I will briefly talk about next.

 

2. Strength Training is Associated With Masculinity & Bodybuilder Stereotypes

Now this is arguably a more potent deterrent than point #1, since people immediately link moving iron with a classic bodybuilder look. It is ludicrous to believe that modest strain in the gym will cause you to wake up looking at The Hulk in the bedroom mirror.

The fact of the matter is, women have 10% of the testosterone running through their veins as men do, which is a molecule instrumental to muscle protein synthesis (MPS; i.e. hypertrophy gainz) post-training. Even men with normal levels of testosterone are hard-pressed to get ‘too big’ with strength training a few times a week.

Countless studies dispel the bulky myth; ‘…acute responses in testosterone are limited in women and the elderly, mitigating the hypertrophic potential in these populations.’

It takes tremendous time, effort, and food to look like a bodybuilder; and that is just from a bloke’s point of view. It is an unrealistic expectation for females.

So, the unfortunate weight-lifting stereotype brought to mind is the product of steroid abuse. Steroids have devastating consequences for females, both socially and aesthetically. Obviously, anabolic steroids are none of our business, but we just needed to flesh that one out.

 

 

Expectation…
Reality…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Cardiovascular/Aerobic Exercise Will ‘Give You Long & Toned Muscles’

Just as we appear to rapidly lose a few kilograms on a low-carb/keto diet, when it is ultimately just water weight (*roughly 3 grams of water is bound to every gram of glycogen), there is an instant weight loss gratification derived from cardio exercise. This is quite misleading since most people assume the reduction in bodyweight directly corresponds to fat loss. Yeah, a small proportion of this will be body fat, but it is predominantly depletion of muscle glycogen.

Let me be clear about what I mean when I mention by cardio: sub-maximal, prolonged periods of exercise whereby the intensity is relatively constant (~60-80% HRmax). Of course, if you actually enjoy this type of exercise or even find it psychologically therapeutic, continue to do it; I just want to inform the people that enslave themselves to cardio for want of a more aesthetic physique. To these folk, I would advise brisk walking often and an occasional sprint session.

Sorry to tell you, but beyond immediate weight loss, cardio won’t do much for body composition. Here are a few points why aerobic exercise is inferior to resistance training (RT) when it comes to our physiques:

  • Aerobic activity does facilitate greater energy expenditure than weight training during the exercise bout, but this difference is inconsequential for 2 main reasons; excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) and long-term energy expenditure. It is difficult to quantify EPOC because it depends on a few variables, but it is usually significant enough to result in equal to or greater energy cost over a 24-hour period after RT, when compared to cardio. Secondly, our basal metabolic rate (BMR; amount of energy required to survive) rises as a result of improving our muscle:fat ratio with RT. Muscle is much more energy-inefficient (N.B. this is a good thing) than fat, in that it is very demanding to maintain. In short, having a greater proportion of muscle (not necessarily more bodyweight) will increase the threshold of food you can eat before gaining fat. Cardio breaks down muscle and fat which isn’t helpful.
  • It is very easy to overestimate the amount of energy we burn doing cardio. This is attributable to: inaccurate calculators on commercial gym equipment like ellipticals and treadmills; sweat and body heat deceiving us; and, of course, the effort required to perform the same thing for 20+mins…Monotony makes things appear harder (well, that’s the conclusion I came to during my steady-state ‘recovery’ runs a few years back!). Although cardio and RT both acutely reduce the appetite hormone ghrelin, I feel that many people overcompensate later in the day with the belief that their cardio session justifies more food. To illustrate my point, a 55kg woman might burn (approximately) 285 calories during a 30 minute run @6min/km pace. This equivalent to ~2 medium bananas. You are better off simply exercising some willpower to reduce your food intake rather than going through the motions jogging, if the goal is weight loss.

*If you truly love cardio or need to perform it as preparation for certain endurance races, do it!

Just understand that it is misdirected effort if you are running, spin-biking, etc. with the purpose of fat loss or improved body composition. This is undoubtedly best achieved by lifting heavy a few times a week, and lots of walking.

In part 2, I will outline:

-How females should go about starting strength training; or, for those who have some experience with it, train more optimally

-The few positives of Crossfit

-How females should eat to support their training & goals

…And more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Evolved Physio Phyt Vision

Having launched the ‘Physio Phyt’ blog 18 months ago without adequately explaining its purpose, I thought elaborating on my vision was overdue and necessary.

When I first conceived the idea of my own blog 2 years ago, I wanted to synthesise tidbits from the array of health resources that exist; it was originally going to be an ‘Eclectic Health Digest’ of sorts.

I had the intention of creating a blog that would appreciate the various perspectives on health, a sphere that is ever-changing.

However, this idea was too general and unoriginal to succeed, so I have undergone lengthy deliberation in the last year: what value can I offer my followers? Why should people listen to what I have to say? What distinguishes the Physio Phyt movement from other online fitness coaching models?

A Few Thoughts On The Current Physiotherapy Model

3 years in to my Master of Physiotherapy degree, I have encountered a significant discordance between the coursework I am expected to learn, and my own vision for Physio Phyt.

While I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to study such a reputable course, and the lifelong friendships that has come with it, I have experienced frustrations throughout.

Foremost, the physiotherapy curriculum as it stands does not equip its students to adequately prescribe exercises, and this should be a concern for future graduates. In light of this shortcoming, I feel that physios in Australia are being left behind the likes of other disciplines such as osteopathy, exercise physiology, and exercise science. Yes, rehabilitation is inherently ‘reactive’, and physiotherapists have forged a reputation for being the best at assessing and rehabilitating injuries; but for what is such a difficult degree to get into, the coursework should be fundamentally revamped to address a simple yet powerful concept: progressive overload. I am sure my colleagues would agree with me.

Ultimately, I feel that the physiotherapy coursework could be more holistic to instil a broader knowledge base in its students.

I understand that every field has its respective scope of practice, yet it seems the previously mentioned disciplines are becoming more and more proficient at injury assessment and management; what is and has been the crux of physiotherapy. At the same time, there are few newly graduated physiotherapists with an extensive knowledge of strength and conditioning, or exercise prescription more generally.

The undeniably reactive physiotherapy model does not excite me, in that the patient usually assumes a passive role in the therapist-consumer relationship. This is seen in the majority of physio interventions, such as massage therapy, dry needling, shockwave therapy and so on. None of these treatment modalities are convincingly vindicated by science, although they may offer transient improvements in symptoms, anecdotally. Temporary relief administered solely by the therapist; passive and unsustainable. They have their place, but should not be at the forefront of physio practice.

Sure, the current approach is substantially more profitable for physios with consumer retention, but I would find it much more fulfilling eradicating the cause of the patients’ injuries by means of empowering them. Not just empowering the patient with cut-of-the-mill theraband exercises to do at home in between ongoing physio sessions; but a comprehensive, long-term, strengthening programme that incorporates both barbell and bodyweight movements. In doing so, the likelihood of preventing future injuries is improved, by virtue of eliminating the common culprit: weakness.

And I’m sorry, but sets of 8-12 reps for a rotator cuff tear with an elastic band (for example) is not strength training, no matter what Uni tells us. It might be rehab, but it is definitely not strength training. Incorporate the whole unit with compound movements, and the unaffected muscles will work in synergy to offset excessive load through the affected body structure, as its tolerance grows.

Remember: stimulus, stress, adaptation. The patients should expect to feel uncomfortable, but this is the very stress needed to elicit an adaptation.

Physios need to stop isolating sh*t with muscular endurance work, and go global as early as possible with strength work.

*I realise it is an unfair generalisation to blanket all physiotherapists as inept with exercise prescription, but it seems that a large percentage are. This is why so many physios are pursuing their post-grad Masters in S&C. It is not our fault, but rather the traditional Physiotherapy model in Australia (that is taught at Uni). I feel that the role of physiotherapy (in athletic populations, anyway) is fast becoming redundant with the burgeoning, related professions. New-grad physio jobs are no longer as certain as they once were.

It would also be remiss of me not to mention the handful of physios who I look up to, and are pioneering the strong breed of physio; Daniel Vadnal of FitnessFAQs is the exemplar, in my opinion.

Daniel Vadnal, Performing A High Level Bodyweight Movement (‘The Planche’)

 

The Physio Phyt Vision

As mentioned above, my primary aim is to empower my followers. I want to make the process of achieving any human performance, health or physique-related goal as easy and seamless as possible for you.

Physio Phyt bridges the gap between scientific and anecdotal evidence, and will constantly review such as to provide you with the most up-to-date, practicable information.

I will decipher what the latest research is saying, interpreting the implications for you so that your informed decisions become stepping stones toward your goals.

I believe everyone has the potential to become strong, and the programmes I offer people ultimately blend powerlifting (barbell movements) with calisthenics (bodyweight training); I am immensely passionate about my ‘Powerthenics’ project, and can verify that these 2 training modalities complement each other in such a way that they:

  • Create a robust, injury-proof physique, with ideal proportions
  • Have tremendous carryover benefit in to sports and other physical pursuits (such as endurance running)
  • Enhance all other domains of your life
  • Instil unwavering self-belief and confidence

Why are they such a potent combination?

Well, calisthenics alone is terrific for relative strength, not to mention resource-efficient, but it is very unlikely to build much leg muscle with bodyweight alone. This is why you will often see popular calisthenics figures concealing their legs with pants when training (or that’s what I believe :P); their upper body strength and skill is admirable, but it’s not nearly as impressive as seeing a powerlifter (with well-developed legs) manipulating their bodyweight in space.

By a similar token, a large proportion of powerlifters lose accountability of their body fat levels, and so despite having impressive absolute strength, their relative strength is average; and sadly, the ‘fat powerlifter’ stereotype is often a deterrent for laypeople to commence this sport.

Handstands would be out of the question for a lot of heavier powerlifters. Implementing bodyweight training, in tandem with powerlifting, will ensure that body fat is kept in check.

Dan Green – Elite Powerlifter, and Former Gymnast Performing Handstand Pushups

A Powerthenics programme, paired with a nutrition plan that supports one’s training demands, will yield insanely good results.

While my perspective is n=1, this approach has enabled me over 3 years to go from a weak 58kg to a strong 83kg; from a 60kg deadlift to 240kg; from struggling to do a proper push-up to handstand push-ups against a wall; from a few chin-ups to 5 with 45kg attached to me.

I am not the best or strongest in this game, but I pride myself on progress, and eagerly anticipate what my body can achieve in years to come.

I want to help facilitate people in becoming the strongest version of themselves, without fitness consuming their lifestyle.

Give The Body The Appropriate Stimulus, And It Will Change

 

Men & women alike, if you are excited by my vision, and want to work with me towards your goals, let me know at jonnysouter@gmail.com. I offer personalised nutrition & training programmes to meet your needs. Join the Powerthenics Project.

Also, I would really appreciate any ideas for future blog posts; topics that you would like clarified or that pique your interest.

 

Healthy regards and Happy New Year,

Jonny.

Strategies To Lose Stubborn Stomach Fat

It can be incredibly disheartening when you have been training consistently and eating ‘clean’ at least 80% of the time, yet still are plagued by the stubborn accumulation of belly fat.

Although men and women tend to deposit fat in different locations, in light of distinctive hormonal profiles, a large proportion of both genders have struggled (and continue to struggle) with fat that covers their abs. Health-conscious men, in particular, often feel as though they have exhausted all potential exercises and ‘fat-burner’ supplements in pursuit of the elusive ‘six-pack’.

For many, visible abdominal musculature is regarded as the pinnacle of fitness and some may perceive it as a representation of one’s immense discipline.

But it doesn’t need to be that difficult.

Today, I will be sharing with you 4 powerful strategies to eradicate that frustrating stomach fat that is seemingly so persistent. Not only have these strategies been effective for me in carving out my underlying 6-pack (that is inherent in EVERYONE), but so too are they backed by scientific literature.

If I can maintain visible abs while gaining on average a kilogram a month (+26kg since 2013), you can be assured that my advice will similarly assist you even if your goals are not necessarily to gain lean mass.

Implement these tips and you should expect to see major inroads to a dense & flat stomach within several weeks.

 

mens_fitness_18988

 

1. Delay Breakfast For At Least 2 Hours After Waking

Intermittent fasting (IF) has gained a lot of momentum in the world of human nutrition in recent times, and I strongly believe it can be an effective tool for most people to maintain muscle mass while diminishing body fat.

So many of us mindlessly eat immediately after waking up, rather than being intuitive to our body’s signalling.

I attribute my ability to stay lean over the past three years, while gaining healthy weight, to delaying my first meal on a regular basis. Rather than sticking to a rigid eating and fasting window, I would simply push my breakfast back by ~4 hours after waking up, and use this opportunity to drink plenty of fluids and attend to tasks at hand.

 

*But wait – doesn’t eating earlier in the day kickstart our metabolism?*

Yes, one tends to be more insulin-sensitive in the morning, but people neglect the fact that both fat and muscles cells possess insulin receptors.

While our metabolism of food will invariably be triggered by an early meal, and fuel our precious muscle, so too will our fat cells have the propensity to mop up substrates we consume.

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas and plays a central role in regulating the level of blood glucose during periods of feeding and fasting. It is a powerful anabolic hormone, due to its substrate storage mechanism, and our cellular sensitivity to insulin declines gradually as the day progresses.

Cortisol, which is our ‘catabolic’ hormone, similarly peaks upon waking and wanes throughout the day. Cortisol is responsible for breaking down tissue (hence catabolic), but is negated by the presence of insulin.

Martin Berkhan – ‘The Godfather’ of Intermittent Fasting

*While the above photo of Martin is an extreme example of the fat-burning potential that IF gives rise to, we can see that it clearly works. You can read more of Berkhan’s work here.

So, from the background science above, we can now better understand how to use cortisol (extensively feared for its muscle-wasting potential) to our advantage during the early hours of the day, as it mobilises fatty acids to be used.

To facilitate this, we must minimise or completely negate insulin. Both carbohydrates AND protein-rich foods are insulinogenic (promote insulin release), so it is best to avoid breakfast altogether or you can put a stick of butter in your coffee (AKA ‘Bulletproof Coffee’, made famous by David Asprey…Please do not do this …) XD

On the topic of coffee, though, caffeine enhances the fatty mobilisation that cortisol initially stimulates. Compounding this is the knowledge that caffeine also suppresses appetite, making a morning fast much more feasible.

Therefore, enjoy 1-2 (preferably long black, but a splash of milk will be okay too) coffees before your first meal.

SetWidth300-Breakfast

When we eat first thing in the morning, we sabotage this wonderful ability to tap into stomach fat stores.

*But won’t muscle mass be broken down too?*

Unlikely. Growth hormone (GH) is acutely amplified by a short-term fast, having been shown to increase by ~2000% in humans during a 24-hour abstinence from food.

GH is vital in the preservation of lean body mass, and aids in fat oxidation. As such, your hard-earned skeletal muscle will be spared.

…Lower insulin levels, higher GH levels and increased amounts of norepinephrine (noradrenaline) all increase the breakdown of body fat and facilitate its use for energy.

Ideally, given this information, one would train in the evening when our insulin sensitivity is lower. By exercising our muscles in the PM, we are ultimately manipulating our cellular activity in a way that heightens muscle cell sensitivity to glucose uptake and, conversely, nullifies fat cell insulin sensitivity.

I have taken this approach while eating 1kg+ of potato (or equivalent in rice) at dinner and have experienced this nutrient-channeling phenomenon first-hand.

A few other cool benefits on this strategy before moving on to #2:

  • Breakfast energy intake has been positively correlated with total daily energy intake in recent studies; to test this anecdotally, I have been eating a large breakfast for the last 2 months and have gained 4kg in a month as I have found hunger to quickly ensue an early meal
  • Creating an energy buffer (and ‘wiggle room’, as my friend Christopher Walker says) in the back half of the day is socially convenient. We are more likely to dine out or enjoy food in the company of friends/family at night time, rather than in the morning. Knowing we can eat a substantial (and perhaps indulgent) meal in the evening, without overblowing our total daily intake, is peace of mind. It also makes the adherence to a morning fast much more achievable.
  • After roughly 16 hours without food we become the beneficiaries of a physiological cleanse, termed autophagy. This process leads to cell turnover, and has the major benefit of neurogenesis (increased neurons in our brain; and associated prevention of Alzheimer’s disease)
  • When compared to constant caloric restriction, alternate day fasting not only reduces weight to a similar extent but is also superior for retention of muscle mass; who wouldn’t want to maintain muscle while losing weight?

1c853-female-six-pack-abs-1-475

 

2. Do Not Fear Carbohydrates, But DO Consider WHEN To Eat Them

As much as you may be told by famous personal trainers, or social media, that carbohydrates are inherently evil, they are actually crucial for long-term healthy eating and any body composition goal.

Generally speaking, however, the more lean an individual is the more efficient they will be at disposing of glucose (the simple form of carbohydrate). This is by virtue of the correlation between insulin sensitivity and degree of body fat.

So overweight or obese persons reading this should either scale back the amount of carbohydrates consumed accordingly, or trial a ketogenic diet for rapid weight loss. I only advocate the ketogenic diet (rather extreme) for very sick and/or diabetic individuals, so if you want to read more about this paradigm please follow the works of Professor Timothy Noakes.

Notwithstanding this, the timing and application of carbohydrates I am about to suggest remains the same for unhealthy and healthy populations.

Conventional nutrition wisdom purports that starchy carbohydrates are best avoided the deeper we go into the evening, and especially at dinner time.

NoCarbs-4PM

I propose, in line with my first tip of intermittent fasting ^, that we maximise the anabolic effect of carbohydrates around the times that we train (predominantly post-workout), and even reserve our intake of such for dinner time on days that we do not train.

*If you prefer or have to train in the morning, which is not ideal with these principles but can work, I would advise you to consume ~50-100g of simple carbohydrates (obviously dependent on the nature of your training and goals) immediately post-workout, and then consuming the bulk of starchy carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, rice) with dinner. The other meals will be protein & fat-centric, alongside fibrous vegetables.

I was first infatuated by this approach when I came across the work of John Kiefer, of ‘Carb Back-Loading’ (CBL). Kiefer is a Physicist and avid researcher of human nutrition, so I took credence in what he said and applied his advice for roughly 2 years before modifying it slightly in 2015. One fundamental difference in my approach to Kiefer’s, however, is that I prefer complex starches (with a low glycaemix index) while Kiefer advocates purely simple (high G.I) carbohydrate sources.

In short, back-loading our carbohydrates is prudent because:

  1. As with IF, it is socially convenient to eat carbohydrate-rich foods in the evening with dinner.
  2. The majority of people I know who strength train do so in the evening, so the ensuing uptake of glucose (that elicit insulin) will be shunted to muscle cells more so than fat cells.
  3. Carbohydrates induce the release of serotonin and tryptophan, which are hormones that can be considered sleep-inducing agents. Quality of sleep is improved, recovery is optimised, and insulin sensitivity is improved. Serotonin has also been linked to appetite suppression, and decreased stress. Low levels of serotonin receptors are associated with depression.
  4. Carbohydrates are superior at reducing levels of ghrelin, an appetite-regulating hormone, when compared to protein and fat. Decreased ghrelin is a positive thing because we are less likely to overeat when we have this big buffer of energy at the end of the day (after our morning fast 😉

 

carbs-at-night

My main modification to Kiefer’s philosophies has been to consume at least 1 gram of carbohydrate for kilogram of bodyweight (~83grams for me) a few hours prior to a training session. I have found this has worked more effectively for both strength and muscle gains, compared to training without any circulating glucose. Kiefer vehemently proposes that a ‘hulk-effect’ (surge in strength) occurs when training without circulating glucose, but I am dubious over this theory for my goals.

An important consideration is the type of carbohydrate you consume. Generally, carbohydrate-rich beverages are void of nutrients and lend themselves to excessive calorie intake. If you want to seriously lose weight, eat/chew your calories and avoid liquid calories where possible. I would even admonish people that seek to lose weight from consuming smoothies. People who know me will be aware that I consume a daily smoothie, but I believe it should be reserved for the crowd that wants to gain weight (like I do). Eating three solid meals a day, in my opinion, is idyllic for weight loss.

Personally, I LOVE potatoes (both white and sweet) so predominantly eat these starches. Fruit, rice, and oats are my secondary preferences, with a focus on low-fructose fruits such as berries and citrus. Fructose is a simple sugar densely present in honey and certain fruits like apples, and is directed to the liver for its metabolism; too much fructose may cause fatty liver disease and it is useless at replenishing our skeletal muscle glycogen stores after exercise.

Finally, understand that I do not mean to exclude fibrous carbohydrates (i.e: cruciferous vegetables) until dinner so feel free to consume these ad-libitum. I do not even count vegetables like brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower towards my total energy intake.

*But Jonny, I thought you were a proponent of a balanced diet and macronutrient intake…?*

By the end of the day, my macronutrients almost always hover around 40/30/30 (%) carbohydrates/protein/fat, thus being balanced.

My philosophy is just to strategically capitalise on the different hormone-signalling that occurs with the three macronutrients, and their timing. As such, my meals are usually disproportionate in favour of one macronutrient over the other, but I ultimately maintain a proportionate spread of the major food groups.

An average training day for me would look something like this:

Wake up: Drink lots of water and some coffee/green tea.

Meal 1 (2-5 hours after waking): High fat/moderate-high protein/low carbohydrates

Meal 2: Moderate Fat/ High Protein/ Moderate Carbohydrates (1g/kg BW)

…Train between 2-6pm

Meal 3 (largest): Limited Added Fat (but enough for taste)/High Protein/HIGH Carb

3. The Nature Of Your Training Is Extremely Important

Strength training surpasses aerobic training by a mile and some.

As a former middle-distance runner (over-zealous you could say), I can greatly appreciate performance-related goals in the way of running events that you may have. In saying this, I believe there is a pervasive delusion carried by the general public that sub maximal ‘cardio’ training is a pre-requisite to burn fat.

Yes, we can observe many elite runners that sport a ripped stomach, but they:

a) Are usually underweight and so do not possess much absolute muscle mass

AND

b) Are genetically blessed, with a favourable physical capacity to perform exercise and assimilate food

You cannot argue that a six-pack is MUCH more impressive to look at on someone who has a bit of extra bulk on their frame.

SPRINTER VS. MARATHONER

Having already posted an article that goes in to depth regarding the ‘ripple effect’ of strength training (here), and the most effective approach to getting stronger, I will keep this tip as concise as possible. Please read that article to assume a better perspective on the rest of this piece.

Not only does high-intensity strength training facilitate muscle growth but, as I mention in the aforementioned article, it also significantly improves muscular endurance (without having to train for it directly!).

Exercising at sub-maximal intensities for extended periods of time is effective for weight loss, but it will impede your strength gains and concomitant muscle. Jogging, for example, is a purely catabolic exercise that will catalyse the breakdown of both fat and muscle. On the other hand, PRE can assist you with both weight loss and muscular development.

I believe, from experience, that the effort required to merely eat less calories pales in comparison to that required to burn the same amount of energy through steady-state cardio.

Heavy resistance exercises (relative of course to an individual’s ability) that are multi-joint (or ‘compound’) in nature are the key to abdominal muscle recruitment, and render direct abdominal exercises futile if progression is constant.

I rarely perform isolation work on my stomach. This is because I prioritise compound lifts that require the abdominal muscles to contract maximally. You see, one must fully engage their deep and superficial stomach muscles during bang-for-your-buck movements like the deadlift, as to not compromise on posture and subsequently risk injury.

female

 

Exercises like the deadlift, that recruit huge amounts of muscle fibre units, have been scientifically shown to recruit as much or more stomach muscle than direct work. Note that the participants in this study were performing 80% of their 1 reptition-max (1RM), thus constituting a challenging load that stimulates the neuromuscular system meaningfully.

Only when you reach an advanced level of strength and power-to-weight ratio should you consider implementing direct abdominal work, to accentuate your already visible abs. In these cases, the ab-wheel rollout, hanging leg raises, and reverse crunches are the most fruitful choices.

Finally, excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is considered to be proportional to the intensity of exercise undertaken. EPOC is the measurement of residual oxygen uptake seen after strenuous exercise.

We have all been witness to the huffing and puffing of a 100 metre sprinter during their interview, even if it is 10+ minutes after the race has finished. It was essentially due to this phenomenon that the ‘Tabata’ high-intensity interval training style gained popularity in the fitness world in the 21st century.

Although EPOC has undoubtedly been blown out of proportion, it is a worthy thought for exercise selection purposes.

There are few pretty awesome studies that elucidate the elevated energy expenditure after intense strength training:

 

4. Minimise Unnecessary Stress

Meditation-the-Brain

Stress is not only a silent killer, but also under-recognised as a bane for fat loss.

This 2014 study evinced that an additional 435 kilojoules was consumed, on average, in the stressed group relative to the control group of participants. This equates to ~5 kilograms of fat gained over the span of a year. That is quite substantial!

In a nutshell, periodically experiencing even small stresses throughout the day may easily disrupt our metabolic efficiency.

Stress has also been implicated in the development of diabetes.

We must not confuse chronic psychological stresses with the intermittent physiological stress incurred during intense exercise, though, as the latter is necessary in order for us to elicit hormesis (adaptive stress response that is a potent anti-ageing agent).

We do want to rapidly curb cortisol (stress-hormone) post-workout though, to commence these adaptations that we are after (‘anabolic’/rebuilding phase).

A few easy ways to alleviate unnecessary stress:

japanese_green_tea_wholesale1

  • A regular pattern of 7+ deep hours of sleep is crucial to reduce stress, so try to avoid blue-light (emitted by smartphones, TVs etc.) after the sun goes down. This can be achieved by turning technology off or, as most would prefer, blue-light blocking apps or glasses. Blue light confuses our brain by thinking it is daytime, and consequently suppresses melatonin production (vital for deep REM sleep).
  • Practice some form of mindfulness daily. This meditative practice has demonstrated significant reductions in stress, and can be performed for just a few minutes a day. I usually do so by walking in nature while listening to the ‘Practising The Power of Now’ audiobook by Eckhart Tolle. This was recommended to me by my friend Greg O’Gallagher (of Kinobody), and I have observed massive differences in my overall calmness.
  • SMILE! Even if you are not genuinely feeling happy, exhibiting a strong smile can drop blood pressure, heart rate, and stress. This was achieved with a certain type of smile though, known as ‘Duchenne’s smile’. This is a smile that engages the muscles surrounding the eyes, as well as the mouth muscles. Standard smiles that do not involve the eyes, interestingly, did not induce the same response. Smiles are contagious, so spread that happiness 😀

5-137-Smiles-608

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I hope that you have enjoyed this post, and gleaned a few points that you can put to practice.

Remember, this article is predicated on my own anecdotal evidence (and some research), so it is what I have had success with. Not everyone may experience this same success from my methodologies, so experiment at your own will and let me know how you go.

By the same token, people have achieved flat stomachs with various other approaches, so do not take this article as dogma; it is what I consider the most sustainable way to achieving and maintaing a lean physique.

I initially planned to outline 7 strategies, but the post quickly became too expansive to do so. These are the most important points.

Ultimately, losing stomach fat occurs when we are consistently burning more calories than we consume. The strategies I outline above should make this process easier, and assist in the preservation of muscle mass while targeting fat stores.

I managed to minimise stomach fat while gaining 26kg over 3 years, so this is why I have faith in these strategies.

Ladies, please be aware that studies concerning intermittent fasting have generally conveyed more positive (and substantial) results in males than females. So, IF may not be prudent for you. Simply avoiding starchy carbohydrates at breakfast may be a more effective strategy for fat loss goals, if you do not succeed with IF.

Also, if anything does not make sense or you require further clarification on certain points, do not hesitate in contacting me and I will be more than happy to discuss with you.

Thank you for reading!

Healthy regards,

Jonny.

IMG_3586

A recent photo to substantiate credibility: I try to be the product of my own advice.

You can contact me at jonnysouter@gmail.com for consultations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Profound Ripple Effect of Strength Training

PRELUDE

Before I begin, let’s be clear on what I mean when I mention ‘strength training’:

I am not talking about bodybuilding or ‘pump’ training, which stimulates puffy muscle and some degree of strength gains. This type of training is generally high volumes of 8-15 repetition sets, often comprising super-sets (immediate succession) with another exercise.

While bodybuilding training has its purpose for those competing, I feel it should be reserved for this small population of people (unless of course you want to build superficial mass and thus not maximise your strength and/or power-to-weight potential). Moreover, higher repetition training with sub maximal loads can be an appropriate choice for those of us with joint issues, who cannot tolerate higher loads.*

Proper strength training is resistance training that stimulates the neuromuscular (NM) system in a significant and meaningful way. This is usually achieved with a weight that is only able to be moved between 3-8 repetitions (reps). Training at such a high intensity necessitates a 3-4 minute recovery between sets to prime the nervous system for subsequent efforts.

The NM system is similarly strengthened by short, infrequent, sprints that are carried out at near maximal effort.

Challenging the NM system in this fashion is important because it increases the frequency and number of action potentials that stimulate muscle fibres. Moreover, lower rep ranges of high intensity induce myofibrillar hypertrophy and hormesis.

muscle_anatomy

Myofibrillar hypertrophy (hypertrophy = muscle growth) induces a dense look (muscle that is more sustainable and powerful), as the myofibril is the smallest contractile unit of a muscle fibre. This is in contrast to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which essentially constitutes the fluid-centric surroundings of the myofibril within a muscle fibre (giving a soft yet bulky look; this muscle is transient and will generally diminish if not active for a 5+ days).

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy can be useful for those wanting to ‘bring up’ a weak group or area of muscle(s), but if used as the foundation of a weights program will lead to PMS (‘puffy male syndrome’). This condition is commonplace in most suburban gyms, and is far from a desirable look…

Hormesis is a very important factor in anti-ageing, as it is the adaptive response to small doses of potentially toxic activities or substances. These things are potentially toxic in that they can kill a person if one’s exposure to it is prolonged. Hence, heavy resistance training alters our gene expression in an immensely positive way.

Hormesis

CRUX OF THIS ARTICLE (MY RECENT ANECDOTE)

Prior to a recent running event that I participated in, I had held a certain hypothesis for a while, without looking to deeply in to it.

My hypothesis was this: strength training alone (even in the absence of cardiovascular-specific training; i.e running in this case) can drastically improve one’s endurance capacity. And on the other hand, endurance training does not contribute to heightened strength ability, but diminishes it (as I experienced first-hand).

Now, to give you some context before I elaborate…

Between 2011-2013 I became quite obsessed with middle-distance running, and the competition side of things. Up until 2010 I had a decent aerobic ability, but considered myself more power-based as I was somewhat talented at triple jump, sprinting & tennis.

From 2011 until the end of 2013 I was running 40-60km a week, seldom missing a day of training, although I did have an injury-induced hiatus here or there. I was good at middle-distance events, but nothing more by AthsVic’s (Athletics Victoria) lofty standards. I had PBs of 17.27 & 35 minutes for 5km & 10km, respectively, in cross country.

Achilles tendinopathy dampened my enjoyment from late 2011 onwards, as my weight wittled down to a meagre 58.5kg. Family members and close friends frequently commented with concern to my well-being, but I would retort with the erroneous mentality that ‘the lighter, the better’, and “all distance runners have my weight-to-height ratio”. This was true, but I neglected the fact that this applied to fully developed elite runners who were paid to perform at the highest level.

A skinny me in July 2012, after a 5km cross country PB
A skinny me in July 2012, after a 5km cross country PB

I was only 18 years old, competing in grassroots athletics, and naively taking running way too seriously.

Anyway, in light of my injury frustrations and the havoc wreaked on my adolescent hormones (I looked about 14 years old when I graduated from year 12), I put running on the back burner in August, 2013. Christopher Walker, an entrepreneurial neuroscientist from LA, had been in my shoes and offered me invaluable advice to get me back on the right path.

Since then, I have taken a very minimalistic approach to training, training 3 days a week. These training sessions are ~60 minutes of the aforementioned type of strength training, and I try to walk 30 minutes or so on the days I do not train. I am often guilty of sitting all day though, and know I should move more frequently! Also, I will go for a few windsprints (nothing more than 100metres with long recoveries) if I feel zesty – this is perhaps once a fortnight.

Two years on, since following the incredibly effective programs designed by my friend, Gregory O’Gallagher (of Kinobody)…

I am now 80kg (180cm), 8% body fat (from a recent calliper-test by a PT), and feeling better than ever.

My development is not the major reason for writing this post though.

I reluctantly decided to compete in the Airlie Beach Running Festival 5km last Sunday, after 23 months of exclusively heavy weight training and 21.5kg extra baggage. Apart from one 3km jog done 3 days prior the event, I had not jogged more than 100 metres in one given instance.

I say ‘reluctantly’ because I usually hate doing things that I am not prepared for! This was foreign territory for me.

There I was at the start line, a beautifully sunny Whitsundays morning nonetheless, pre-meditating the pain that I would incur. I was always going to try my best, because of my competitive nature, but in no way expected a sub-20 minute time.

For a fairly undulating course, I was pleasantly astounded by my time of 18.48 (3min45secs/kilometre), which placed me 3rd in a field of 215 people.

Post 5km-race on Sunday, at a more healthy 80kg
Post 5km-race on Sunday, at 80kg

Now, this time may not be impressive to the seasoned runner, but I feel it defies the law of specificity (to quite a large extent): which emphasises the importance of training in a way that simulates the event being trained for. My time was only 15 seconds per kilometre slower than my personal best, without running training.

Bulgarian Split squat with 40kg dumbbells for 5
Bulgarian Split squat with 40kg dumbbells for 5

I attribute one particular leg exercise, the ‘bulgarian split squat’, to the majority of the crossover effect of strength to endurance performance ability I experienced. This exercise is perhaps the closest exercise to running I have been doing, performing it once a week (3 sets: 5,6,8 reps; weight decreasing each set). Importantly, it is unilateral like running, and serves to maximally activate glute-quadriceps coordination and the deep core muscles.

Why does strength training, perceivably on the other end of the spectrum to endurance training, benefit endurance performance so profoundly?

  1. Resistance increases endurance via increased cardiac output (amount of blood ejected by the heart per minute). Cardiac output (Q) = stroke volume X heart rate, and strength training greatly enhances stroke volume by virtue of cardiac muscle hypertrophy, and ventricular volume.
  2. Resistance aids in lactic acid clearance. With every muscular contraction, breakdown of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) releases a hydrogen ion which can lead to an acidic cellular environment if not disposed of efficiently. Frequent resistance training accelerates the rate at which the H+ ion can be used by the mitochondria (aerobic powerhouse) to re-produce ATP. In short, aerobic energy production is facilitated.
  3. Resistance translates in to greater muscle motor-unit recruitment through action potential propagation. This is important because reduced action potential signalling is often a limiting factor in endurance events, when the nervous system fails to continually stimulate the desired muscle. In this instance, the muscles may still be capable, but they are not receiving the commands from the central governor (the central nervous system).

I write this article empathetically, both to those who think regular cardio (beyond the intensity of brisk walking) is the panacea for fat loss and body composition goals; and to those who fear adding too much ‘bulk’ will interfere with their endurance endeavours. The bulk misconception needs to be allayed, particularly for people who already train a lot.

A few strength training sessions substituted in for your runs will only benefit your progress. The truth is that your nutrition will determine how much added mass you gain, and I recall from my own experience how even 40km a week of running made it increasingly difficult to put on weight. While I lost a lot of weight, I was weak as hell and likely lost a proportional amount of muscle to fat.

It pains me to see older adults pounding either the treadmill or pavement day in, day out, going the same pace and intensity…Junk miles. Rather go for a nice, long walk or hike. I once dug myself this hole too, and with the privilege of retrospect, I would have ensured to establish a dichotomy between EASY and HARD days.

Dr Life, aged 70, has the right approach
Dr Life, aged 70, has the right approach

If I had my time again and was still competing in running events, I would run 2-3 quality sessions a week of near maximal effort, and supplement this with ~2 whole body weight training sessions, making sure to have a few easy days.

Strength training is even more-so apposite for the older population because of sarcopenia, age-related muscle loss. Sarcopenia is generally thought to cause a 1% loss of muscle per year after the age of 35, and is accelerated exponentially after 60.

Why would you want to accelerate this morbid process that drains your youthful muscle? Running at this middle-ground, sub-maximal effort is tremendously catabolic (breakdown of tissue). Infrequent bursts of high intensity efforts is anabolic and hormetic.

One should strive to enter their older adulthood with as much lean-mass as possible. This would undoubtedly contribute to enhanced quality of life in twilight years, and reduce the likelihood of incidents related to physical incompetence.

On a somewhat similar note, the constantly perpetuated myth that ‘your metabolism slows down as you age’ is only true if YOU slow down. Metabolism will remain high as long as we keep moving as much as possible. Incidental activity is a blessing.

Muscle mass will mostly be preserved if a few high quality resistance sessions are performed consistently. Gregory O’Gallagher’s philosophies have shown me that 2-3, 45 minutes sessions is all that is required. Of course, a wholesome diet will be paramount in whether or not connective tissue problems manifest themselves as one ages*.

If you have read to this point, I greatly appreciate your interest! I really hope that you can discern my intense passion for strength training, and are similarly surprised at how weight training can so impressively benefit endurance.

Healthy regards,

Jonny.

PS: Please email me with any ideas for future blog posts, or areas that interest you.