Deadlifts and dopamine

In an effort to keep the blog organic, I often write about whatever is going on in my life at that given point in time (narcissistic, I know). So, what is a girl to do when there really isn’t much going on at all. It would be an understatement to say that I have been feeling slight uninspired… or maybe just a little lack luster. I have been in a constant flux of wanting to be big; wanting to be lean; wanting to be strong. Just in general, wanting to do something, but not quite knowing what that something is, which does not make for great programming.

 

One of the main reasons I gave up competing was because I wanted to live a more balanced life. The thought of missing the gym, and not caring about it, seemed like a good idea at the time. But in all reality, that’s just not who I am.  I still find myself cancelling dates, turning down plans, and staying in on a Friday, so that I can still hit my workouts. Now, I know this is not even close to comparable to a prep. Because I do in fact, still go out for beers, eat the occasional whole pizza, and openly partake in work BBQs and such.

 

I’m not trying to preach how ‘it’s a lifestyle” or anything like that. But when I think about it a little more, it really is a huge part of my identity. The reason I stress about missing the gym isn’t because I’m afraid of gaining weight, or as a punishment for the food I ate, or even to get bigger at this point. It’s my “center”.  It’s “me’ time. It is the one constant in my life that anchors everything around me. So, while other people may think of it as vanity, for me it’s my sanity.

 

One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. I don’t think this is any huge surprise to anyone. This is both relevant to mental and physical stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. So it’s more than just an outlet to “let off steam”, but an actual physiological coping mechanism.

 

While on the topic of human chemistry. Exercise also releases endorphins, which induce that lovely feeling of euphoria. This of course can be obtained through other things, like drugs, love.. even food. But exercise seems like a great alternative. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, exercise is a common recommendation for people suffering from depression and anxiety. In some cases, regular exercise has been even as effective as medical intervention (prescription aids).

 

In one specific study, the chemicals that are released during and after interval training helped alleviate the symptoms associated with diagnosed anxiety disorders.

 

Especially relevant to myself, as Alzheimer’s runs in my family. Studies have shown that exercise can help protect the brain against cognitive decline, that begins after age 45. In addition, especially between age 25 and 45, exercise boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.

 

It’s also not that big of a surprise that most “gym rats” aren’t big drinkers. This has more to do with chemistry, than the obvious points of avoiding calories and hangovers. The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, or food…love.  Since the brain doesn’t differentiate the source, some people go more self-destructive routes to get their dopamine fix.  

 

Lastly sleep. Sweet sweet sleep. Which might be my favorite thing after the gym and food (and maybe puppies). For some, a moderate workout can be the equivalent of a sleeping aid for people with insomnia. Just avoid taking pre-workout too late in the evening. Moving around five to six hours before bedtime raises your core temperature. When the body temp drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep. You are essentially manipulating, and self-regulating your body’s circadian rhythm. Just try to avoid working out too close to bedtime, or it will have an opposite effect.

 

So next time you try to tell someone they don’t “need” to workout, maybe they do. Don’t assume to know what everyone’s internal motivation.

 

Your Fitbetch,

JP xoxo

Modern Mobility

I often feel like a bit of a broken record, constantly apologizing for my busy life. It often seems the old cliché of “The only constant is change” could be the ongoing theme of my life. Since my last post, written from the cozy indoors of a lovely Santa Monica coffee shop, I have since had the opportunity to start a new job in a completely new sector, booked multiple trips (both work and pleasure), made the move to power lifting, as well as managed to successfully injure myself, through my own stupid stubbornness.

As previously mentioned, I am not one for new year’s resolutions. I believe in constantly setting both short and long term goals. One thing that I have been working on has been doing both more things that scare me, but also things that bring me happiness. I have often shied away from spontaneity for fear of being irresponsible, or just because I can be a bit of a “type A” rigid planner. I can successfully say I have managed to inch, maybe even step, outside my comfort zone.

In this trend of trying new things, and being a little less rigid in my thinking, I have been exploring different modalities of mobility. I will admit, mostly because I have managed to break myself once again. Turns out, when discovering and programming for strength, you can not, in fact, lift with the same volume, a stubborn all or none mentality, that you can with body building.  Many body builders walk around sore and broken, wearing it like a badge of honor. I am guilty of this mentality. I had become so used to always going to failure, burning myself out, with that depletion style, that I just couldn’t get around the mind set of lifting at 60% or 80% of what I knew I was capable of doing. The irony of which is that I fully understand the difference, as well as the effect it has on your CNS, yet I am in fact, my own worst enemy.

So, to make a long story short, I managed to screw up my left side pretty badly. It started with what I assume was a minor strain, which led to some compensation. However, being the hero that I am, I refused to not continue with my training. In fact, not only did I not rest it, but I probably overdid it, with my “mind over matter” mentality, pushing and pushing. Constantly adding more weight, and not easing off. This just lead to more imbalances, until what was just my hip, was then also the outside of my trochanter, my hams, my glutes, and now down into my calf. I have successfully screwed the whole kinesthetic chain.

So, in an effort to get back to doing what I do best (beating myself up apparently), I finally accepted that maybe this whole mobility thing was worth a try. I will fully admit that with a plethora of research out there I will often read, research, and believe what affirms what suits my own mentality or goal. I think we all have some cognitive bias in that regard. So my idea of mobility has mostly been, do the movement you plan on executing, in the full range of motion, but with less weight. Simple enough, right? If you’re going to squat today, do squats with an empty bar, and just hang out at the bottom, if it feels good, give er’. As of late, this is just not cutting it. So, now I find myself strapped into a table, being painfully manipulated, laying on mats, grimacing, and limping around like an invalid.  

So here is the thing. Not everyone is the same, duh. However, s small part of the populations is what we call “hypermobile”. While this sounds great (and was when I was a cheerleader and did more yoga), this is actually pathological. Too much mobility results in bone not staying where they should stay, and extra stress on the joint. Tendons and ligaments do not actually “stretch out.” You cannot make them longer. Their function is to transmit force, which connect muscles to bones, the force of muscular contraction is transmitted to the bone it’s attached to, thus moving the bone. And since tendons are in fact elastic, a sudden dynamic load causes a very small temporary change in length and a subsequent rebound, such as when you jump, or lift weights. But during normal muscle contraction, if the tendon changed its length not all of the force would move the bone – some would be lost as the tendon stretched. Just like a short piece of chain, a tendon pulls the bone with all the force of the contracting muscle because it does not stretch during the contraction.

Ligaments anchor the joint as it moves, so that the bones which articulate at the joint change their relationship only with respect to their angle. This allows the joint to function as a fulcrum. An excessive amount of “stretching” will cause a rupture. If anyone case ever seen this, it is NOT pleasant.

Therefore, you cannot change the length of either a tendon or a ligament with “stretching” and why would you want to? I’ll take a pass on the whole rupture thing. This leads me to my next point. Fascia. It is the only connective tissues that you can affect with stretching. If you are unaware of fascia, it is essentially the semi clear plastic wrap that keeps your muscle bundled together. It usually becomes problematic when effected by tiny scars called “adhesions” that form between them and their underlying muscle or between adjacent fascia.

So, maybe this article has once again, been a little self serving, but since neither ligaments or tendons are designed to stretch, this would mean any increase in flexibility primarily involves the muscles that control the position of the skeletal components. So really, “mobility” can be considered learning to use any muscle in a way that requires you to teach them to lengthen more readily.  Aka, squat if you’re going to squat, press if you’re going to press, and if you suddenly can’t do that explore alternative therapies that can either assess your faulty movement patterns, compensatory issues, or Fascial Stretch Therapy (FST).

**As an aside, if you love doing yoga, or just like the feeling of stretching, go for it!! This is not intended to discourage anyone from doing anything they love or makes them feel good. Heck, I still love a good pigeon pose. And there is something to be said for the placebo effect. This is my quick and dirty summation of what anatomy dictates, and intended for a “health” audience.

Your fitbetch,

JP xox

Coffee consumption, why it’s cool

As I sit here in a coffee shop, trying my hardest to be productive on a rainy day, I figured, why not talk about the benefits of caffeine. Anyone who knows me, knows that I love coffee maybe more than I love food (and that’s saying something). I could literally drink consecutive cup after cup of the liquid nectar of the gods. I love the taste, I love the smell, I love the complexity, I love pretty much everything about it! Including its personality enhancing factor. But here are some more reasons why I think it’s a great part of anyone’s diet, and of course a few excuses and ammo to justify your caffeine habit.

Firstly, Caffeine affects brain function, this should be pretty evident for anyone who “needs” a cup of coffee to get going in the morning. A study published by Nature Neuroscience found that caffeine administered post studying helped students with memory consolidation. This being the concept of being able to process and retain new information. In addition, The University of Arizona recently looked at whether caffeine helps memory during periods when kids aren’t in their optimal periods of arousal. Aka, fancy way of sayin “tired”. Basically, caffeine given to kids in the morning helped with memory, while caffeine given to kids in the afternoon (a kids optimal arousal time) had no effect. A very similar found the same phenomenon in adults, but only when caffeine was administered in the afternoon, which is an adult’s period of lowest level of arousal. Another reason to have that afternoon Americano. Another recent study published in the Journals of Gerontology showed that women who consumed more than the median daily amount of coffee (261 mg per day. This being about 1-2 cups) had a reduced risk of developing dementia or memory impairment. I addition, for those of you who really wanna go big, a study conducted by Alzheimer Europe and the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee found that 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day is the optimal amount to protect the brain form degenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. All the more reason to keep the liquid gold flowing.
Again, given my ongoing theme, and assuming you, my audience come here for fitness related knowledge bombs, let’s talk about caffeine and its affect on atheistic performance. According to Journal of Applied Physiology,  athletes that consumed caffeine and carbs after strenuous exercise had 66% more glycogen in their muscles than athletes who just ingested carbs alone post workout. Whoa!? Glycogen is important because it is the fuel muscles use to function. It’s the main source of energy when working out, and it’s what you need to refuel and repair post workout. So maximizing glycogen absorption without consuming additional calories is optimal for athletes within sports like bodybuilding. In addition, increasing glycogen levels after a hard workout will also help you perform better during the following day’s workout. Which is applicable to anyone with fitness goals.
 
The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research also conducted a systematic review of 29 studies related to caffeine and athletic performance in an attempt to establish if caffeine prior to exercise acted as a performance aid. They found that 11 out of 17 studies showed caffeine ingestion yielded significant improvements in exercise performance, and 6 out of 11 studies revealed benefits of caffeine use during resistance training.  Another study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that caffeine increased oxidative stress and anti-inflammatory response in long distance runners after completing a 15k run. In this case caffeine was ingested prior to the run.  For more of you more strength inclined athletes, a study published in the Journal of Muscle and Nerve found that caffeine did increase muscle torque and activity during strength training exercise. One group of participants was given 6 mg of caffeine per kilogram of their body weight and they significantly out-performed the placebo group. So, consume caffeine, lift more weight. Sounds like a win to me!  Lastly, a study published in The Journal of Applied Physiology found that caffeine increased the level of enjoyment from exercise and caused the test subjects to burn more calories and consume less calories after exercise. Which I think it no big surprise there, since caffeine is a natural mood enhancer, and being more engaged and focused in your workout is obviously going to yield a better training session.

So let’s also talk about caffeine nor only helps performance, but also recovery. The University of Georgia has found that a moderate dose of caffeine (about two cups of coffee) can reduce post-workout pain by up to 48%.  Disclaimer: This research was small group and they only tested women. Not only this, but the women were not regular caffeine users.

The Journal of Pain showed that caffeine can also reduce muscle pain during moderate intensity exercise. Some participants were given large doses of caffeine prior to cycling exercise, others were not. The caffeine group had significant less muscle pain during the exercise than the placebo group. This may also explain why caffeine is used as an endurance aid for athletes. New research conducted by Embrapa Genetic Resources and Biotechnology and the University of Brasilia (UNB) also isolated a protein in coffee beans that is similar to morphine, but works even better. They are currently doing further research concerning this protein and its pain relieving applications. If a person consumes caffeine everyday, then the only way to experience caffeine’s pain relieving effect is to consume a dose greater than the daily amount he or she has been accustomed to. Whomp whomp…

So friends, don’t ever let anyone ever tell you that you have a caffeine problem. You’re just health contentious 😉

Your fitbetch,

JP xoxo

On to BIGGER and better things

Back at it with the booty. Its no secret that I am OBSESSED with the posterior chain. Hammmies, booty, and back. I basically only deadlift, squat, and row… but a millions variations of those exercise. Im not advocating to skip chest or shoulders (the bros of the world are cringing right now). But genetically I have never had an issue building those areas, and I have had many years of building up those body parts as well. Now, don’t think I am being arrogant here, but personally, for me. I am happy with the size I have achieved in those areas. So it’s a maintenance factor at this point. However, give me all the back, the wider the better… more detail, more taper. I want it all! And who doesn’t love that nice round shape to the legs, no banana legs here please!!

After many years of hitting legs two even three times a week, I have been able to play around with a bunch of varieties and methods. Volume has been my friend. Even now, I fluctuate between strength days, hypertrophy days, and conditioning. But there are definitely a handful of exercises and techniques that have proven effective in my arsenal. So let me lay some knowledge on you.

Your glutes are comprised of three main muscles, Min, max, and med. The biggest and most superficial being max (ah duh). Glute max is responsible for hip extension, external rotation of the hip, as well as abduction of the thigh. So for those not so anatomically inclined, think movements such as glute bridges, hypers, side stepping lunges,  any any of that side laying clam stuff they do in aerobics videos in the 80s.  

Glute med and min are important muscles as well, especially in terms of stabilization, for those of you who are more inclined to do “big lifts”, or even in terms of being stable in walking, and of course not injuring yourself. But max is our focus here. Mostly being that most for you ladies, and gents, are looking to build strong powerful glute max weather it be for aesthetics or pushing power for things like sprinting, jumping, squatting etc.

Because the glutes are such a powerful muscle they respond well to heavy ass loads (pun intended). And you can train them within a higher rep range. I want to clarify, I don’t want to see you hip thrusting three plates if its all momentum. You gotta squeeze squeeze squuuuuueeeze! So for beginners start with just trying to feel that tension and slowly work up. This means slow, controlled movements with a nice long pause. But I digress. Back to our main point, I would suggest a rep range of 12-15 if your looking for a hypertrophy workout. For simplicity sake, just assume we are throughout this little post. Anything lower will not be enough to bring the fibers to failure. Which, dedicated readers will know is the mechanism of growth. Anything more and you’re just doing cardio (barf me to death). This will not engage the fast twitch fibers to stimulate hypertrophy, and I only use this level of volume when I need to add in conditioning work to increase your overall work capacity in future lifts. This is also useful for increasing total time under tension. But that in itself is another post.

So, now that we have covered rep range,lets talk about temp. Which also effects time under tension (TUT). The most typical tempo you see in body building splits 2 seconds up, 2 seconds peak contraction, 4 seconds down (think slow and low ladies). I also think it is great to pause for 2 seconds at the bottom, but depending on your focus or programming this may very. The pause allows the kinematic energy to dissipate, so that all the pushing power has to be generated from the muscle. So no cheating. This is also important for strength and power athletes.  To give you a whole picture, for the people who are more visual learners, envision this. Explosive on your way up, flex hard at the top, then slowly lower the weight back down. *Rant* A huge pet peeve of mine is seeing people bounce up and down while squatting. This is not an effective execution of the movement, and I kinda want to shake them, aggressively.

Now that you hopefully have a slightly better idea of how you can go about targeting your glutes, lets talk about how often. Like I said I try to train mine up to three days a week. I understand this can be hard for a number of reasons. Training schedule and recovery being two of the biggest factors I can think of. Typically I always start my week with legs, then try to hit it every other day. One week kind of leads into the next with that style. In order to train with this frequency each day is also different. Large muscles like the glutes resound to variety and volume. So you can do a “heavy day”, then a “volume day” to get some blood flow in there, then move on to an “accessory day” or a conditioning day”, or even a “power day”. All these different styles of training have their own benefits. You can program according to your weaknesses and needs. You can’t train the exact same way each day because your body will become accustomed too quickly, and you put yourself at risk for injuries. Which will only set back your long term progress. And if you’re anything like me, you will get EXTREMELY frustrated… which only leads to further injury.

Lesson, don’t be stubborn like JP.

 

On to BIGGER and better things,

Your fitbetch,

Jp xoxo