Size versus strength and which is right for you

There are lot of reasons a person may choose to workout. For some it’s aesthetics, others it’s strength, and it can even be about mental health (among a bazillion other reasons).  Today, is not one of those warm, and fuzzy feelings post though. If we are looking at strength, the basic principle is about increasing force production. Aesthetics, usually equated with size (for the purpose of this post), is more about getting a “pump” and creating micro-tears to the muscle, which then causes it to repair and grow larger.  Strength is more about muscle recruitment.

It’s safe to say, based on current knowledge of anatomy and physiology, when training for strength it is best to keep the rep range low and the resistance load should be high. Also, true low-rep strength work is primarily neuromuscular. Meaning, it has a significant impact of your Central Nervous System (CNS). If you were to think of your body as computer/smartphone etc, strength training is more comparable to upgrading your software (IOS update anyone?), compared to the actual hardware (Iphone x). In other words, strength training is about teaching your CNS how to recruit more muscle, opposed to having larger muscles available for use. Sorry, my tech nerdiness is showing.

So, hopefully now that you understand strength a little more, let’s talk about hypertrophy. Unlike strength training, the goal of training for size is more physiological than it is neurological.  I’m talking bones, joints, ligaments, and those sexy, sexy muscles. You literally build your body (how cool is that)? This actually forces the tissues to develop and grow stronger. So, in this scenario the strength comes from an actual increase in mass opposed to recruitment.

So the next important thing to ask here, is which is more important? Hazahh… it’s a trick question! The answer is neither. It is all in fact, dependent on your goals. For physique athletes, like any other type of athlete, you can undoubtedly benefit from increased motor unit recruitment (strength training).  Since all types of training can have neurological benefits. However, if your training goal is to create maximum structural change, it is best to spend the predominant amount of training time in the hypertrophy range of 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps, which has historically been shown to be more directed at stimulating muscle growth

While it seems so simple. This is often a point of confusing for both new, and experience lifters. I fully admit, that at one point myself, I assumed the heavier I could lift, the bigger I would get. We have all seen that huge guy squatting every plate in the gym, benching with chains, and power curling. However, this is a fallacy (what a cruel joke). Bodybuilding is not about becoming a “weightlifter ” (Power, Olympic, or otherwise). It’s about using weights as a tool to recruit and increase your muscle size. So, while it is a great feat to impress (or scare off) women in the gym, it will not get you the “gainzzzz” you seek. And here is a little secret for the ego lifters out there. No one else in your gym cares how much you lift! Crazy, I know! But they are too busy looking at themselves than to care about you 😉

Ok. So now that we know a little more about how to, and how not to, become a bodybuilder. Let’s talk about actual weightlifting (the competitive kind). When you go “too heavy”, here’s what happens. You actually reduce the time under tension, because you’re forced to use momentum to move more weight (think bouncing the bar off your chest). Momentum does not build muscle. You’re also unable to lower the weight in a slow, controlled manner, further reducing your time under tension. Again, think when a powerlifter quickly descends, squatting into the whole and quickly driving back up. It’s about achieving that overall total.  You’re less focused on the muscles being worked (in fact, you’re recruiting a whole bunch of other stuff too) because your focus is to move the most weight. The basic take home is that you utilize more muscles, which reduces the accumulated “pump” in specific muscle group (squat = legs, bench= chest, deadlift=back etc. etc. etc.).  There is nothing wrong with this style of lifting either. In fact, it’s smart. If your overall goal is to move the MOST weight, then it’s the right way to go about. It’s all about the using the best means to an end.

It is also noteworthy, that if your goal is overall size, there is a time and a place for strength training. Increasing your overall strength can then be applied to volume down the road in future training. Conversely, occasional “spot training” or “accessory lifts” can be used to engage lagging parts. And in weightlifting, the sum truly is greater than the sum of the parts. But by bringing up your triceps, you can in turn increase your overall bench. Score! Cause common, who doesn’t want that, amiright?!

 

Happy lifting,

JP xox

Collagen, and why you should add it to your diet

I recently came across a post from a fellow meathead, who also happens to be a writer and podcast host.  As she always produces fantastic content, I thought I might dig a little deeper myself. Collagen, and not the kind you inject, has been on my radar for a while. From its protein content, to its beauty benefits it seems like it a miracle peptide. I recently purchased a moisturizer, from my absolute favorite beauty brand, that claims to be a shot of protein for the face. Like a dietary additive for your skin care routine. So Should we be looking more into collagen opposed to traditional whey (as dairy sensitivities seem to be increasing), and what makes it superior? So here is what I found;

 

If you do any amount of reading in terms of nutritional absorption, you’ve probably heard about “Leaky gut”, or increased intestinal permeability. This occurs when the gateways of the small intestine that prevent unauthorized particles from entering the bloodstream become weakened or damaged due to food sensitivities (wheat, dairy anyone?), toxic agents, chemicals, age, or other conditions. We want these tight junctions running at full capacity to avoid complications with autoimmune disorders, hormone imbalances, digestive problems, and to just protect general well-being. Collagen contains glutamine and glycine, two amino acids known to actually repair the gut wall and to help turn leaky gut around. Collagen can also protect the mucosal lining of the digestive system, which plays a huge role in absorption and complete digestion. So, this can help ensure your body is actually absorbing and using those expensive organic veggies and supplements you’re already consuming.

 

Our hair, skin, and nails are a reflection of what’s going on inside of our body. Ever notice after a weekend of drinking you break out? Or for me, one ice cream cone and my skin is an absolute mess. Amino acids like those found in collagen can be nourishing for hair and skin because it renews cells and provides more lubrication and elasticity. We’re taking, plum, bright, clear skin. It can also help to reduce signs of aging on the skin, including wrinkles and fine lines. Collagen is also beneficial for those experiencing hair loss, so for whispy blondes like me, who have been processing their hair for, ohh.. I dunno, over a decade. There is hope.

Pro tip! Do you love coffee? Well, add collagen to it! It dissolves easily and can be purchased in a flavorless powder. While coffee has some liver-boosting benefits of its own (as if I even needed an excuse to drink more coffee), collagen can also be an extremely useful support in helping to bolster the body’s main detox organ. The liver filters the blood, removes toxins and chemicals, and prepares them to be eliminated from the body via the bowels and the bladder. Collagen supports the liver because it is rich in amino acids, especially glycine. Glycine can protect the liver against damage, which is essential for an organ that handles such a high volume of toxic substances.

If you live an active lifestyle, or even just as we age. We experience aches and joint pain. But powerlifters, body builders, and runners know this pain all too well. Collagen can actually help to reverse these aches and pains, even those associated with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Lastly, and aside from beautiful hair and baby fresh skin, the most important factor to me, a boost in collagen may help increase your metabolism! By adding lean muscle mass to your frame and helping with the conversion of essential nutrients. One of glycine’s most important roles is helping form muscle tissue by converting glucose into energy that feeds muscle cells. And the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn just by being your sexy self. When consuming collagen, you can benefit from also consuming Vitamin C to ensure your body can convert the collagen into a useable protein.

In addition. Research shows glycine also has important roles in both functions of the digestive and central nervous systems. Glycine seems to help slow the effects of aging by improving the body’s use of antioxidants and is also used in the process of constructing healthy cells from DNA and RNA. And lastly, it’s been found that arginine boosts the body’s ability to make protein from other amino acids, which is important for repairing muscle tissue and boosting the metabolism.  Bonus! So why not get more out of your protein (and save on your trips to Sephora).

 

Ginger bells

With the holidays fast approaching, and massive thanksgiving dinners behind us, I’m sure diet is on a lot of peoples’ minds. I admittedly and writing this, while quite uncomfortably full of fries (cringe). I am sure you’ve all hear the saying “You can’t out train a bad diet”. And in a large part, it is true. Weather it’s weight loss, muscle gain, or re-composition, nutrition plays a huge role in your progress. Diet is more than just macros though. Yes, as previously mentioned, carbs are carbs, and fats are fats. So, brownies versus brown rice? Who cares?! Pass the cake!

Well, gut health is an increasingly popular topic in terms of diet and nutrients. If you aren’t able to properly absorb your food are you getting the full advantage of that green smoothie? I recently had the opportunity to connect with Genuine Health and try their new “Fermented Gut Superfoods+”. I opted for the Orange Ginger flavor, as I have been feeling a little under the weather, and straight up love anything ginger.

This bad boy is packed with an organic fermented superfood blend of organic spirulina, organic cabbage, organic cauliflower, organic spinach, organic black currant, organic raspberry, organic mulberry, organic broccoli, organic carrot, organic beet, organic grape, organic kale, organic sea buckthorn, organic pomegranate, organic sweet potato, organic apricot, organic bitter melon, organic ginger, organic cinnamon, and organic clove. Because fermentation amplifies nutrition, by boosting nutritional quality and intensifying the strength of phytonutrients, it can improve digestion and can help to encourage a healthy gut microbiome. In addition, Genuine Health adds organic isomalto-oligosaccharides (VitaFiber™ fermented prebiotic fibre), Organic orange flavour, Organic beet juice, Organic orange, Organic fermented cocoa bean, Organic ginger extract, annnnnnnnd Organic stevia leaf extract (for sweetness). It is important to note, that fermented fiber that is easy to tolerate, so you get all of the benefits of a prebiotic fiber and none of the bloating (because no one wants to feel, or look, like a beached whale).

I realized that is a lot to take in, and again, why should you care? Being the benevolent human being I am, let me break down some of the benefits for you. Diligent readers (do those exist?) will know about the benefits of fiber. But let’s talk more about that long list of what sounds like the ingredients of an elaborate health smoothie at whole foods.

Spirulina is a natural algae powder. This is what tend to give that swamp water look and smell of some green drinks. But it doesn’t have to when done right, I swear! I is is incredibly high in protein and a good source of antioxidants, B-vitamins and other nutrients. It is largely made up of protein and essential amino acids. The high concentration of protein is ideal anytime the immune system needs a boost Cold season anyone?). Spurlina is considered a complete source of high-quality protein and is often compared to eggs for the amount of protein per gram. Spurlina is also incredibly high in Vitamin B1, which is necessary for the digestion of fats and proteins. It is often taken for increased energy, eye health, brain function and for improving nerve functioning. And to pack another punch, Spurlina is one of the best plant sources of iron. Even for those who consume meat, it has a highly absorbable form of iron that is gentle on the digestive system, and has over 26 times the calcium in milk.

Ok. How about cabbage? Sounds gross, I know. You’re probably thinking of some terrible soviet stereotype. But, did you know that cabbage was one of two vegetable types (the other type was root vegetables) found to be a mainstay for prevention of type 2 diabetes in a recent study of over 57,000 adults in the country of Denmark? In this very large-scale study, adults who closely followed the Healthy Nordik Food Index were found to have the lowest incidence of type 2 diabetes. Researchers have now identified nearly 20 different flavonoids and 15 different phenols in cabbage, all of which have demonstrated antioxidant activity. This is one key reason why an increasing number of studies link cabbage intake to decreased risk of several cardiovascular diseases. Pretty great, right? To top that off, cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin C and vitamin B6. It is also a very good source of manganese, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B1, folate and copper. Additionally, cabbage is a good source of choline, phosphorus, vitamin B2, magnesium, calcium, selenium, iron, pantothenic acid, protein and niacin!

Ok, next let’s dive into something a little more obscure than your standard spinach and kale. Black Currant. These richly dark berries are packed with Vitamin C. That’s probably no surprise, as most berries tend to be. And as a rule of thumb, the darker the colour, the richer the nutrients. And these and boys are so dark, they’re called black…  Black currant is also packed with an electrolyte, potassium. Which is responsible for regulating your heart’s electrical activity and keeping the acid-base balance in check. It is also needed for smooth muscle contraction, so it is essential for healthy digestion and good muscle function.  Seems pretty important to me. I addition, and particular important to our friends of the vegan/vegetarian inclination, is iron. As someone who has been off and on (mostly on) deficient my entirely life. I know how important iron is. This mineral that is found throughout your entire body, iron is needed to make your blood cells. It also helps produce oxygen-bearing proteins (hemoglobin and myoglobin), and forms many parts of various proteins throughout your body.

Ok… I said I was benevolent, but I am no saint. SO, this is all you get from me today! Hopefully you feel a little more enlightened, and if not, you now have some  “fun facts” to impresses your dates, coworkers, or family members over the holidays.

 

Cheers betches,

JP xox

 

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