More Research on Abdominal Exercises and Abdominal Fat

I know I’ve hammered this home before on this blog but screw it, I still see people who seem devote entire workouts to abdominal exercises. So if this can reach their eyes, I hope they will learn to focus their efforts elsewhere.

This research comes from the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. The purpose of this study was to research the effects of abdominal exercises on abdominal fat. The study participants were sedentary and aged 18 to 40 years old. There were 14 men and 10 women in total. The participants were randomly assigned to two groups; control group (CG) or abdominal exercise group (AG).

The study lasted six weeks. The AG performed 7 types abdominal exercises for 2 sets of 10, 5x/week. This is a crap load of volume, but is definitely a protocol that I’m sure many gym goers use. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked by the stretching area of my gym and saw someone doing crunches, then after I’m done my training I see the same person doing a slightly different variation. The CG performed no abdominal work. Both groups maintained an isocaloric diet for the studies duration. Anthropometrics, body composition, and abdominal muscular endurance were measured before and after training.

The study concluded: “there was no significant effect of abdominal exercises on body weight, body fat percentage, android fat percentage, android fat, abdominal circumference, abdominal skinfold and suprailiac skinfold measurements.” Android fat, is just a fancy word for describing fat around the shoulders, chest, trunk, and neck. Abdominal and suprailiac skinfold measurements are the measurements taken around the abdominals (obviously) and the area around the ‘love handles.’

The study also concluded that the AG group increased abdominal muscular endurance more so than the CG. The AG group was able to perform 47+/-13 curl-up repetition vs. 32+/-9 repetition in the CG group. La-dee-da!

So there you have it folks, performing abdominal exercises during an isocaloric diet makes zero difference compared to if you sat on your ass, and ate properly. Unless you are entering an sit-up contest, they won’t help you at all in your quest for that vaunted six pack. This doesn’t surprise me one bit. So next time you’re in the gym save the abdominal day, perform compound lifts, and read up on eating properly. It’ll get you where you want to go much faster.

Cookie Cutter Nutrition Sucks!

I’ve seen cookie cutter training programs, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that there are also cookie cutter diet plans. I will admit that cookie cutter diets might work, for a matter of months. However, for the most part they only work for a matter of weeks or even days!

As Dr’s Arya Sharma and Yoni Freedhoff say, the best weight is the whichever weight you can sustain while enjoying your lifestyle. I completely agree with their statement. When you pick up a magazine and see a diet plan written by “Who Knows,” you are on a diet that is the authors ‘best weight.’ It’s not your best weight!

You may be able to go on their cookie cutter diet for a month or so, you may even see the results you’re after. Unfortunately, if you aren’t enjoying the lifestyle changes that you are making in order to reach your fat loss goals, you won’t sustain your weight loss. You will most likely revert back to your old lifestyle, the one which had you in pant or dress size that you just didn’t like.

If you are looking for diet help, find someone who works with you as an individual. Or else you will find your results are going nowhere fast. You need to discover small lifestyle changes that you can sustain. Something like adding 30 minutes of exercise per day isn’t realistic. Adding one day of 30 minute exercise per week is a lifestyle change that I think everyone could do for an extended period of time.

It’s the continuous addition of lifestyle changes that will produce long-term fat loss. Yes there are many other obstacles, but this is generally one of the best ways to achieve body composition goals.

A Note On Creatine Use for Novice Trainees

You may have read my blog post on how to properly dose creatine a few days ago. If you do take creatine, I suggest you check it out over here. This isn’t article isn’t aimed directly at creatine, but at supplements in general.

If you are brand new at lifting weights, you have no right to use supplements. Why? You will progress at the beginning no matter what. You will gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously. No supplement in the world (that’s legal) will do this for you at any point in your training life. So why would you waste money on shit you don’t need when you begin training?

Unless you have a decent amount of strength or have plateaued, you simply don’t need to use creatine or other supps. If you have a decent training program, you shouldn’t plateau for at least 3-6 months after beginning resistance training. So wait until that period to start experimenting with creatine, beta-alanine and all that fun stuff.

I have nothing against supplements (that actually work, and trust me, their aren’t many that work) taken by people who might benefit from their use. I don’t get why some 6 foot 18 year old with pipe cleaners and chicken legs needs to spend 2-300 bucks per month on supps that won’t help him. Spend that money on food; buy a book that will teach you how to train; or hire me and I’ll make you a program that will work.

Tirade over.

How to Use Creatine Properly

Everyone and their dog knows what creatine is, but I think there is often confusion on how to properly dose this excellent supplement. I won’t be going over what creatine is, or how it works though. Most bottles of creatine tell you to take a certain amount per day, or load for 5-6 days then go on a maintenance dosage. I’d like to go over both these methods to clarify what might work best for you.

First off I will get this out of the way for people who think creatine is cheating: Cr is produced endogenously by the liver or ingested from exogenous sources such as meat and fish. So that’s enough of that bullshit.

I remember 5 years ago, a lot of people seemed to be against the whole loading creatine ‘craze.’ I too got sucked up into it, but in all honesty it doesn’t make much of a difference whether you load or not.

Let’s get some of the lingo out of the way creatine loading refers to a short phase of 5-6 days where you usually ingest 20g/creatine(CR)/Day. A maintenance dose is a dose that will maintain a loading dose, or eventually saturate you.

The reasons for loading is that the body can reach it’s saturation limit quicker than if you just took a maintenance dose. According to Bemben et al 120-140 grams is the maximum amount of cr that a 70kg (154lbs) male can store. After this short loading phase you will go on a maintenance dose for usually 2 or 3 months.

The other method of creatine use, is to take a 2-5g/cr/day over an extended period of time. Let’s use a hypothetical guy named X. X decides he doesn’t want to load creatine. So he takes 5g/cr/day. In order for him to saturate himself with cr and get it’s full benefits, it will take ~28 days (140/5) to saturate. After the 28 days he keeps on taking 5 grams of cr/d to maintain his saturation point.

Now, 5g/cr/day isn’t set in stone. Research has been done with as little as 2g/cr/day. So to conclude about maintenance doses, you only need 2-5g/cr/day in order to maintain your saturation.

The other ‘controversy’ I’ve read about creatine, is that the loading period is just suggested by supplement companies to waste their customers money on more and more cr. Let’s examine this claim. First, let’s find out how much total cr would be used for a loading/maintenance phase over 28 days. The creatine is loaded for 5 days at 20g/cr/day. Then a maintenance dose of 2g/day is used for 23 days. Total cr usage is (20*5)+(2*23)=146g of cr.

Now, how much cr would you consume if you took a maintenance phase of 5g/cr/day for 28 days. This would be a total of 140g of cr. As you can tell, there isn’t much of a difference. When you consider how cheap creatine is, you can see how 6g of cr is literally pennies.

The difference is that the loading protocol would reach saturation in a matter of days, where a maintenance only protocol would take the full 28 days to saturate. I’ve done both protocols and haven’t really noticed a difference in strength gains between each protocol. Since creatine is usually used in 2-3 months increments, it doesn’t matter what method you use, because over the same period of time, you will use about the same amount of creatine.

Now that you’re armed with what the research says about creatine, you will be able to tell if someones talking BS when they talk about their ridiculous dosages of creatine. Peace!

The Top 5 Lifts For a Fat Burning Resistance Program

Everyone loves “lists.” So here is my favourite 5 lifts that should be incorporated into any program where melting bodyfat is the goal.

1. Deadlifts. Preferably with a barbell, but dumbbells are a reasonable substitute if you are a novice. A lot of coaches also love single leg barbell or dumbbell deadlifts (DL’s). For athletes single leg DL’s are great. For the regular 40-50 year old client who works behind a desk all day, they will be more a nuisance.

If you have a competent trainer, then yes, you can do single leg DL’s. I’ve seen far too many people doing them with a round back though. Start bilaterally, and progress to unilateral if you wish. Remember, if you’re doing it bilaterally, unilaterally, with a barbell or dumbbell, keep your low back arched!

2. Squats. There are three variations that would work well for fat loss. Back squats, front squats and box squats. Depending on your circumstances, these can all be used.

Back squats will challenge your whole body, yes your whole body, not just your lower. Front squats will give you a little more core activation due to the location of the load. Box squats are a posterior chain dominant exercise. Box squats are excellent because it really helps the trainee to learn how to sit back while squatting.

3. Pushups. You thought I was going to put bench press here didn’t you? Pushups are easier on the shoulders, and easier to learn than the bench. So it is a logical part of a fat loss program. If you truly don’t have access to any bands or chains, and can pump out a hell of a lot of pushups, then find a new gym!

Just kidding, if I had to only do weighted pushups in the gyms in my area, it’d be next to impossible. If you can buy bands or chain though, you can make pushups incredibly difficult.

4. Chin-ups. I realize a lot of people can’t do chins and that’s ok. You should strive towards doing them though. Besides, if you are losing weight, you will have less and less weight to lift!

If you can’t do a chin, use bands. [youtube]gLMA9dMUQDA[/youtube] You can also use the assisted chin-up machines, but bands are much more useful because they take advantage of accommodating resistance. They help you the most at the bottom where you are at a mechanical disadvantage, and let your take over at the top where you are strongest. Just to make sure, you will need to use a heavier band if you’re weaker. If the heavy band is to easy, use a medium, and so an and so forth.

5. Table Push-Backs. Pretty self explanatory. These should actually be numero uno.

As you can see the best fat burning exercises are also the exercises that are the best at putting muscle mass on you. What is the reason for this you ask? If you’re planning on losing weight, you will want to retain lean mass as much as possible. Doing 15+ reps doesn’t do jack shit in terms of muscle retention. So pick exercises you can progress on, and lift heavy!

A Rant on Correlational Studies

This is something that has been on my mind often lately. I’ve been reading a book called ‘The China Study.’ I’ve been quite annoyed at much of what I have read so far. The main reason it vexes me is that the author relies far too much on correlations from uncontrolled/observational research.

Let me first say, that uncontrolled/observational research isn’t useless. It’s just that in many cases, it has fooled individuals into making choices about food that are flat our wrong. If you look at many of the topics I write about that mention nutrition, you may notice I dispel a lot of myths. Many, but not all these fitness myths were created from individuals who misinterpret epidemiological research.

Let’s go over a few examples. You may have heard that artificial sweeteners are associated with higher BMI’s. Here is study that found that tea and coffee drinkers who consume artificial sweeteners (AS) have larger BMI’s than tea and coffee drinkers who stay away from AS. BMI’s in the AS vs the non-AS group was 28.2 vs. 27.1 kg/m(2) in men, 28.4 vs. 27.1 kg/m(2) in women.

So essentially what this study found, is that individuals who consume a cup of coffee with AS are fatter than people who don’t consume AS. AS contains trace calories (if any) and yet it makes us fatter? If this doesn’t make any sense to you check this out to understand energy balance. If you are consuming a packet or two of AS, maybe you are adding 2-4 kcals per day in your diet. How is that small amount of calories going to make you fat? It won’t!

So what was the reason that these individuals had a higher BMI? There really are endless possibilities. Could it be that people who had AS in their beverages also had a donut/cookie/croissant with their morning caffeine fix? Was their caloric intake higher than the non-AS group? Without knowing the answer to these (and many other) questions, you can’t say that AS causes people to have a higher BMI. You need to keep in mind that the results of this study are correlations. Correlation doesn’t equal causation!

A very smart man by the name of Alan Aragon just published a new research review. He goes over this subject a little and he talks about different kinds of studies. He states that randomized control trials (RCT’s) are the gold standard of evidence. What is so special about RCT you may be thinking. Well RCT’s find an cause-effect relationship.

An RCT could be used to find out how an artificial sweetener such as aspartame effects the BMI of individuals. You’d have two groups, a control groups who would consume aspartame and a placebo group consuming well, a placebo! The researchers would look at how the groups differ after a period of time passes in terms of body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) for example. This study would show how an individual substance can cause an effect.

All the questions that you answer in an epidemiological study are erased. You are left with a variable, so if the results between the AS and non-AS group are different, you know that the variable is the reason for this difference. This is key!

I could go on and on with examples. I don’t want to waste your time though, when you could do a quick search on this here sight and find a ton of myths that I have revealed on my site. If you want to see more myths, just look!

I guess I can understand how some people come to believe what they are told by magazines, media etc. Not many people spend time on pubmed searching out if what they hear is the truth. If you really care about how to find out about what is true or false in the fitness industry keep coming back here. You can also check this out if you like a more hands on approach: How To Read Fitness Research by a great coach named Mark Young (I don’t get anything if you buy, it’s just a great resource).

Lifestyle Changes and Fat Loss

One of my favourite coaches (who is also Canadian) just published an interesting blog post. In it he describes three key lifestyle changes he implemented into his life to lose 16 pounds in 7 months.

Here are the changes he made in his words:

“I started biking to and from work each day when the weather turned good enough to do so, and began running outside training sessions twice a week through the river valley.

I started to prioritize my workouts each day, which focused on high resistance and low reps for strength gain. Each workout was about 30 minutes, and I managed to get 4 each week, whether I felt like it or not.

I cut back on sweets and started eating snap peas like they were going out of style.”

All he did was make three simple changes to his lifestyle and he shed 16 pounds. Those are some good results. You could argue that he could’ve done it faster, or burned more fat in that time period, but that isn’t the point I’m trying to make. He was able to reach his goals rather painlessly by only making a few small changes in his lifestyle that resulted in good changes in body composition.

What lifestyle changes are you implementing to get your desired physique?