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Do diet pills actually work?

Diet pill concept: How lazy can we get?

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The idea of losing weight fast is so appealing and generates the supplement industry countless millions of pounds every year. It plays so well into human nature. We are always looking for a quick fix.

Why change my lifestyle when I can just take these pills and melt away the fat?

However, the diet pill industry is not just a scam its a potentially fatal one. More than just a few people have died after taking diet pills filled with a re purposed herbicide known as DNP. All the victims were normal people, usually quite young, looking for a way to quickly drop a few pounds. What did they get for their cash? A gruesome end, which I cover further down the article. It’s tragic but unfortunately not that uncommon for people to literally die after taking dodging supplements and weight loss aids bought online. As I’ve said before, the supplement industry is poorly regulated and the internet is awash with scams that fall under the radar of law enforcement.

It has never been more important to be aware of what these sort of products contain and that you could be putting yourself in serious danger by buying into these ‘quick-fix’ ideas. I’ve written this article in the hope that you re-consider buying dubious items online that you intend to put into your body.

There is an important distinction to be made between ‘Diet Pills’ and ‘Anti-Obesity Pharmaceuticals’. Pharmaceutical drugs specifically designed to combat obesity often target receptors and systems involved in appetite control, fat deposition, blood glucose regualtion and energy expenditure. These drugs target important and delicate parts of your physiology and are designed and tested through a development process usually costing 10s of million of dollars. Obesity is big business after all. The compound I am working on during my PhD for example, currently falls into this category. It is a drug which mimics the actions of natural PYY in the body. PYY is released after we eat to signal us to stop eating. It is a very powerful anorectic hormone and induces the satiety response.

Diet pills on the other hand, tend to have far less or no developmental costs, are scams, are dangerous or have dubious science backing them up. Examples would be over the counter tablets or supplements bought online – Green Tea Extract, being a prime example, which I have written about extensively here. There is a big difference, of course, between diet pills that simply don’t work and pills which contain toxic chemicals, I talk about these dangerous pills a bit later on. The issue with cheap internet products is you simply never known for sure what is in the pill.

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Examples of diet pill and their physiological function

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Actual medications

Orlistat – A well known anti-obesity medication. Works by reducing intestinal fat absorption. The end result is that you poop out more fat. Due to the way it works, side effects are mainly restricted to gastro-intestinal disturbances, the most common being extreme flatulence and oily bowel movements. Not life threatening by any means but a fairly heavy price to pay when you could just eat less fat! Orlistat has been available over the counter for a around a decade but used to be prescription only. Does actually appear to work based no available studies with participants losing modest weight when taking the drug (x).

Is it worth the oily poop?

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Liraglutide – A long acting analogue of GLP-1, primarily used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. GLP-1 produces a number of physiological effects useful in the treatment of obesity. For example, it reduces the rate of gastric emptying and promotes a feeling of satiety – the satisfying fulfilled feeling after a big meal (1). The draw backs of form of this drug is that weight loss is not observed in all patients and nausea is a common side effect (2).

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Metformin – Also primarily used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Metformin limits the amount of glucose produced by the liver whilst increasing muscle uptake of glucose (3). Naturally this serves diabetics well, who need to manage glucose in the blood closely. Metformin has also been shown to reduce weight in diabetic patients but is not prescribed specifically for that purpose (4).

Although a few years old, this endocrinology review details the efficacy of current anti-obesity therapies, going into detail regarding the available data.

 

Diet pills

Green tea extract – Currently very popular as an ‘alternative’ weight loss aid and can be found both online and in almost any health food shop you walk into. The science suggesting green tea can actually reduce your weight is dubious at best and usually comes from poorly designed studies. Take a look at this article I’ve written for an in-depth look at why green tea is an expensive waste of money. The upside of green tea pills is that they aren’t dangerous. They simply don’t work as they say they should.

Utter crap

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DNP tables – I talk about this further down the article. DNP is a toxic compound mainly used in the industrial manufacture of pesticides and herbicides. It also has an ‘uncoupling’ effect on mitochondrial energy production which means instead of calories ultimately making energy for use by your cells, the calories go towards generating heat. You essentially burn through extra calories  through increased heat production. Despite what a lot of shameful, cheap websites tell you, DNP is fucking dangerous and has directly led to the deaths of numerous people. NEVER TAKE THIS.

Amphetamine-based tablets – Amphetamine based products have a legitimate use in treating ADHD and narcolespy. Aside from that they should be avoided. They are well known performance enhancers and are of course banned at sporting events and competitions. Amphetamine use is associated with weight loss due to appetite suppressant effects. However, amphetamines are addictive and mess with numerous aspects of physiology not to do with weight and appetite management. There is also evidence that long term use may interfere with normal dopamine signalling in the brain. Avoid!

 

So do they work?

The answer is both yes and no depending on the drug. Under the umber all of pharmaceutical anti-obesity therapies, some patients do show modest weight loss. However, these sort of drugs are rife with side effects and many have been pulled after only a few years on the market, rimonabant being one example. So in one sense they can help with weight loss, but they cannot be taken indefinitely and the risk of side effects likely outweighs the benefits of weight loss in a lot of cases.

Now if we then look at cheap over the counter or internet pills then the answer is a firm no and if they do help with weight loss then the reasons for this are usually sinister and or damaging to your health. Most diet pills that can actually lead to weight loss contain some sort of stimulant to achieve these effects. Caffeine is a well known appetite suppressant and also a physical performance enhancer. It stands to reason that a caffeine pill and a gym session might help you lose more weight in the long run. Caffeine has been well studied in regards to human fitness and health and I’ve written about it here. Caffeine is a safe stimulant. Other pills might contain derivatives of amphetamines – addictive stimulants that should always be avoided. The point remains that you simply don’t known what these pills contain so even if weight loss were possible you would be better off with a coffee before your gym session.

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.Why should you avoid them?

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Aside from numerous side effects associated with pharmaceutical interventions, the internet is littered with cheap and often dangerous diet pills. Every year or so a news story will crop up about someone who has died due to taking dodgy diet pills.

This story from last year  highlights the dangers of a substance found in a number of diet pills called dinitrophenol or DNP for short.

In fact a shocking number of other deaths  have been attributed to DNP. Here, here and here are just a few examples over the past two years. Unsuspecting people trying to boost their fat loss, bought innocent looking pills online and suffer a truly horrible death as a result. This is serious and those responsible for manufacturing and selling these pills should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

The common theme in these stories is that the victim is described as ‘cooking’ or ‘boiling’ from the inside. Although an over-simplification, this is a grim and horrible truth.

DNP is an organic compound most commonly used as a pesticide and antiseptic (5). It is also used to make a number of herbicides and wood preservatives. Not exactly the sort of thing you want to be eating right? Well, DNP has been used in high doses as a weight loss aid with disastrous consequences (6) In mammalian biology, DNP inhibits ATP production in mitochondria-containing cells (7). That is mental. ATP is essentially the life source of all cells, powering innumerable operations in the cell (8). Mess with ATP production and it will end in disaster. Interestingly, cyanide poison also interferes with cellular respiration and ATP production and we all known how deadly that is (9).

So why are these people who died from DNP pills described as cooking alive? It’s down to how DNP effects you on a cellular level. It acts as a protonophore, quite literally allowing protons to leak across the inner membrane of mitochondria, the site of respiration and ATP synthesis. As the protons leak where they shouldn’t they avoid interacting with a peptide called ATP synthase – a critical component in the system that makes ATP. Energy production therefore becomes much less efficient as part of the fuel to make it is leaking. In response to this inefficiency, the metabolic rate continues to accelerate to produce enough ATP to keep the body working. It does this by burning more and more fat tissue – which is very rich in calories. This is proportional to the amount of DNP taken.  In a nutshell, DNP ‘uncouples‘ ATP synthase from oxidation. Uncoupling is very important for rodents-it allows them to generate heat instead of ATP when they are very cold. Humans rely far less on this. Uncoupling leads to heat generation. Large doses of DNP lead to massive uncoupling and therefore large amounts of heat are generated (10).

Due to this, DNP causes fatal hyperthermia. Adding another terrible aspects to this is that the process isn’t instant. Instead, the body temperature rises gradually followed by coma and death. In  a sense your truly do ‘cook to death’. In a few harrowing stories, victims are told nothing can be done for them once they have been admitted to hospital. The drug is in the system, the ATP process is disrupted and a massive body temperature increase is unavoidable.

Is it worth taking ‘diet pills’ bought online? A FIRM NO. At best, they fail to work, at worst they can be fatal. You simply cannot tell for sure what is in them.

What about specifically developed pharmaceutical drugs? Consult with your doctor but unless you are being treated for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus with a drug that also leads to weight loss, I would avoid any anti-obesity medications as they currently stand.

My stance on this will likely change in the future. We still have a largely incomplete understanding of how the brain and body ultimately control appetite and energy regulation. We know the basics and that’s a great start but until we uncover more we can’t develop truly effective anti-obesity medications with limited side effects. We are messing with a system that is absolutely fundamental to out survival – we must be careful.

 


Alternatives

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There aren’t any quick fix alternatives! Like most things worth doing, there isn’t usually an easy or quick route. When it comes to your health, a quick fix is not what you should aim for – it’s like duct taping a damaged tire, it’s not getting to the route of the problem and it will get worse over time.

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Moderation, diet and exercise – that’s the key to a healthy body. Some may find it much harder than others but it is possible for the vast majority of people.

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The health food and supplement industry cleverly relies on standard human behaviour. Take this pill for X, this pill will grow your penis a metre, this will make you lose 10 kgs. It’s like if someone offers you an investment opportunity with 80% returns in a month – its almost always too good to be true and this is no different.

Losing weight (that stays lost!) requires a change to your lifestyle in general, including your eating habits, your sleep schedule and the amount of exercise you do. These pills sell in there thousands because the manufacturers known how daunting a ‘lifestyle change’ sounds.

If you are serious about getting in better shape don’t forget to check out these other useful articles including top exercises for muscle building at the gym or at home as well as reading up on popular supplement scams and why you shouldn’t waste your money!

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Whey protein guide: A complete guide to popular whey protein supplements

Creatine guide: Learn all the science behind this popular powder and how it can help towards your fitness goals

TOP 5: Mass building exercises

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Before you buy these popular supplements – have a look at the real science behind their use, it may surprise you:

Multivitamin Hoax

Green Tea Facade

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Finally, don’t forget to check out the supplement shop that only recommends products that have been tested in well designed studies and which have worked for me personally.

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Thanks for reading,

-ScienceGuy

5 gym ‘facts’ debunked

The gym is full of shit science. Also known as bro-science. Also known as bullshit. As funny as it is to hear, it ultimately signals ignorance of basic biology and training which isn’t all that funny. These sort of ideas seem to stick around and really spread their way through the gym community – especially young lifters. I’ve even heard popular trainers falling foul to these. It seems easier to spread bullshit then actual facts and science these days so in my never ending battle against pseudoscience and false facts I’ve put this article together so YOU, dear reader, can stand head and shoulders above everyone else with your vast, newly-acquired knowledge.

Don’t fall for this crap when you hear it in the gym. You are better than that. If you are feeling brave you may even want to challenge the gym-goon that spouts nonsense but that doesn’t always end well…

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So here it is. A quick run through of some of the most commonly heard gym ‘facts’ which are either only true to some extent or completely made up.

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#1 Perform sit ups and crunches to target tummy fat

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This one is ALWAYS over-heard in my gym and almost certainly yours as well. I commend people smashing out ab work when they are perhaps a bit overweight but all that does is DEVELOP YOUR ABDOMINALS. It will have almost no bearing on the visibility of ‘abs’. Obtaining a sweet set of herculean abs all comes down to your body fat percentage. The simple truth is that you MUST HAVE a low body fat percentage to see definition in the abdominals and obliques. Abs are visible at a range of body fat percentages, usually from about 15% downwards – obviously the lower your percentage the tighter and more visible your abs become. If you are overweight or oven just holding a little extra, no amount of abdominal work alone will lead you to a washboard stomach.

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The second important point here is that targeted fat loss through exercise isn’t really a thing. No single exercise burns fat from one particular area. Lots of shitty online fat-loss products will say something like ‘…burns through stubborn belly fat!’. They always go on about belly fat. The truth again, as always, is harder than what these arses would have you believe. In order to target belly fat you need to target ALL your fat reserves. That’s the only way – to reduce your overall body fat percentage. The best way to do this is frequent well rounded exercise involving cardio and weight training plus tighter control of your diet. Take a look at my big lift guide which can help you develop greater all-round strength as well as a really solid core. Alternatively check out this body-weight exercise guide – great for a quick and challenging workout.

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So if you are spending ages ab crunching away you would be much better off hitting some big tiring lifts like squatting or dead-lifting (both of which help build a great core and burn way more calories than crunches and sit ups) or getting going with some Interval Training on the bike or treadmill.

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#2 Creatine is a steroid

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This is simple to refute. As someone who has studied endocrinology for years – creatine isn’t a steroid!

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Who wouldn’t trust that face?

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I’ve written a complete guide to creatine, what it is, what it does to your body and how it can positively effect your training. There is a HUGE amount of false information online regarding creatine (and all supplements for that matter). As a scientist, I cite and support any claims with solid peer-reviewed research and this linked article is no different.

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Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid. It’s main role is to recycle ATP – the universal energy currency of our cells. I won’t go into the details (all can be found in the article above) but put briefly, supplementing with creatine slightly increases the stores of available ATP in muscle cells, allowing you to train harder and longer. Due to this – people often think creatine is a steroid. After all the main training benefit of steroid is that you can train harder and longer with less recovery in between training sessions. Creatine can certainly help you in training and has been shown to primarily benefit anaerobic and repetitive work i.e. weight lifting. However, creatine will provide you with no where near the benefit that steroids will. Creatine use provides your muscles with a bit more usable energy, steroids can alter major aspects of you entire physiology – hence the inherent risk with using them.

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Creatine is not a steroid but can certainly benefit your training.

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#3 You need specific protein for specific body parts

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This is definitely one of the more silly ‘facts’ I’ve over heard but unfortunately I’ve heard similar things more than once. The basic summary of what I heard was that if you train multiple muscles in one session and then drink a protein shake, either the protein gets ‘confused’ and doesn’t know where to go, or you are using the wrong protein for the muscles that you have trained. As stupid as this sounds it’s actually surprisingly hard to debunk directly with the literature as no studies (that I can find) have thought to explore this!

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So, just by using common sense and a very basic understanding of biology we can debunk this fact. In regards to the idea that every muscle has specific protein – that doesn’t make sense. It is true that we possess different kinds of muscles. For example, cardiac muscle cells do differ to skeletal muscle cells in both form and function, smooth muscle differs even further. However we are primarily training skeletal muscle when we weight train. Skeletal muscles are made from the same components and this does not differ from muscle to muscle, so any protein you ingest can just as easily go towards building your legs as it does your back. The idea of a protein for each muscle also falls flat on it’s face when you consider that the human body has 640 muscles and that it is also, practically speaking, impossible to train a single muscle. Even when doing isolation bicep curls we are really utilising many muscles at once. Any protein you ingest will be broken down into amino acids and ultimately used to synthesis new muscle tissue at the required site.

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The notion that protein gets confused about where it’s going throws up a number of red flags and I truly wonder what it must be like to live on this planet and genuinely believe things like that. Protein doesn’t have a memory, it isn’t alive and it doesn’t rely on chemo-attraction or some other sort of homing beacon to tell it where to go. It is perfectly fine to train multiple body parts in one training session and you will get stronger and bigger if you train hard and eat well. Protein will be transported to where your body needs it most. It won’t get lost on the way!

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#4 Steroids shrink your dick and gives you ‘ROID RAGE’

 

This one is an absolute classic. Roid rage is usually the first thing people discuss when bringing up recreational steroid use. Specifically, the term roid rage is applied to muscle building, anabolic steroids. Those used by competitive body builders for example (and an increasing number of average gym goers). Now, on the surface the concept of roid rage is plausible. Many anabolic steroids are based on or mimic the functions of natural testosterone. Testosterone is a powerful anabolic hormone which is essentially  what makes men ‘manly’ and goes towards explaining why men, on average are bigger, stronger and more aggressive than women.

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All natural baby!

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Women do posses testosterone but at no where near the same level as men. Testosterone is a fantastic muscle builder hence the use of steroids in the gym. The term roid rage began to gain popularity following high profile crimes involving sports and wrestling personalities who were heavily muscled individuals and known to take steroids. Perhaps the most famous of these was the tragic case of the pro wrestler Chris Benoit. 

Whether or not roid rage exists as it is popularly portrayed i.e. an unstoppable, violent,  muscle-bound goon, remains up for debate. Studies have linked testosterone with increased aggression however studies looking directly at the use of anabolic steroids and random fits of rage are not conclusive and show conflicting results. Anecdotal evidence from heavy users does show that a number of them suffer from increased aggression – some report becoming angry at minor things that, before steroid use, they would have just shrugged off. If true, violent and dangerous roid rage exists it is very rare and probably restricted to heavy and long term steroid users. However, even mild users might develop ‘shorter fuses’ and be more easily wound up than prior to use – this is something you will see discussed a lot online. A common theory is that steroid use will amplify the disposition of the user. If a user was intolerant and easily riled before use, this will likely get worse with steroid use.

Ultimately, the jury is still out on this. Although roid rage isn’t a complete myth it is no where near as common as many believe and doesn’t always manifest as violent fits of anger.

Regarding the idea that steroid use shrinks your dick specifically. This is incorrect and probably came about for two reasons.

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  • Professional body builders, in their tiny posing pants, do look like they have  minuscule nobs – this is because they are absolutely enormous human beings. Their legs are like that of a race horse so proportionally the penis looks like that of a pixie. In reality the size will not have changed with steroid use.

 

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#5 Training legs ‘spikes’  testosterone and makes you bigger all over 

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Similar to the concept of roid rage (above), studies have shown conflicting results regarding testosterone spiking during leg training and whether or not this makes you bigger and stronger overall. I hear trainers in my gym saying this a lot to their new clients – perhaps in an effort to get them in the habit of training their legs hard and well.

We know that testosterone is a major driver of muscle growth and that any natural way to increase testosterone production for weight lifters would offer a large advantage in the gym in both muscle mass and ultimately strength development.

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So the question is really two smaller questions…

  1. If I train my legs will I have increased testosterone production?
  2. If so, does this lead to increased muscle mass in other body areas?

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A number of factors influence your testosterone levels – your weight, age and also the time of day. In regards to question 1, it has been established that testosterone levels do increase following exercise but only briefly. Short, intense bouts of exercise and compound lifts such as the squat and dead lift appear to promote the greater release. What is harder to determine is if this actually leads to growth or gains elsewhere…

Two of the most relevant studies looking to answer this question directly show almost completely opposing results

One study performed by West et al in 2009 showed that if some male participants engaged in a high volume leg workout after a bicep workout and others just did the bicep workout without the leg exercises, there was NO DIFFERENCE in bicep size or strength between the groups by the end of the 12 week study…the theory was that the testosterone boost afforded by leg exercises would lead to a greater increase in bicep mass in the group that trained legs. This was shown to not be the case. 

Another study, with a similar design, undertaken by Ronnestad, B.R. et al in 2011, showed the exact opposite. They DID see an increase in bicep mass in the group that had trained legs. An important distinction between the studies is that in the West 2009 study, participants trained legs after their biceps, in this 2011 study, they trained legs before biceps.

So what to make of all this…

Both of these were well designed studies yet they demonstrate opposite outcomes. Perhaps the order of exercises is very important? However physiology is hugely complicated and increasing testosterone in the blood doesn’t necessarily lead to a direct increase in muscle mass.

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  • Large compound lifts such as the squat and dead lift do lead to increased circulating testosterone but this is short lived and does not lead to increased overall muscle mass

 

  • There is no doubt that big lower body lifts leads to the development of greater lower body mass – as we expect, train a muscle well and that muscle gets bigger and stronger – simple.

Whether or not training legs ultimately makes you get bigger all over should be less important than the fact that training your lower body is very important regardless. You are only as strong as your weakest part and having a balanced and developed physique all over will translate into much greater functional strength and better lifting numbers. You also wont get laughed at for your baby legs.

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Check out this big ass-lifting guide for mass monster in you!

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Thanks for reading! Hit me up in the comments

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-ScienceGuy

Top 5 Body Weight Exercises

Improving your physique and strength isn’t all about smashing the heavy weights. It is a great idea to incorporate simple body weight exercises into your workout programme. These sort of exercises can help with explosive strength, core development as well as overall body development.

The great thing about body weight lifts is that they can be performed at home when you can’t make it to the gym and also function as a great introduction for people who have yet to take the leap to weight lifting.

I perform at least two body weight exercises every time I hit the gym. I use them primarily as a warm up for bigger lifts but increasing repetitions or adding additional weight to body weight lifts can make them  a major part of any workout.

Here are my top 5 body weight exercises:

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#1 Pull-ups

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In my opinion, the undisputed king of body weight exercises. Pull-ups are simple to perform. Pull-ups are a fantastic way to build upper back mass but are also effective in building larger biceps. I rarely train biceps by themselves (I know, shocking!) but my arms remain in proportion to my physique due to focused back training. Some people swear by pull-ups for arm growth and perform them with a narrow grip to put as much emphasis onto the biceps as possible.

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Varying your hand grip can change the emphasis across your entire back. Feel like your lats are lagging? Wide grip pull-ups have you covered. Looking to beef up your rhomboids and lower trapezius? Narrower grip pull-ups are for you.

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Not only are pull-ups versatile in muscle targeting but adding additional weight (either through a belt or dumbbell) turns them into a serious back exercise to rival well-liked machines such as the ‘rope pull down’.

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Ever since hearing that Arnold (The King) use to start every training session with a 5 set pull-up warm up I have done the same. It has done true wonders for the width of my upper back.

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If pull-ups aren’t part of your routine then consider fitting them in or even performing them instead of using fixed pull down machines. If you are an ace at the standard pull-up, consider making things harder for yourself by increasing your hand spacing, performing pause reps, or adding additional weight to the lift.

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Major Muscles:

  • Middle and lower trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Latissimi dorsi
  • Deltoids
  • Biceps brachii/brachialis

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Great For:

Upper back width

Building ‘lat’ mass

Building biceps

Grip strength

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How To:

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Key things to remember:

Full reps! Don’t cheat yourself with half repetitions

No ‘kipping’. This isn’t cross-fit. Avoid using leg momentum

If you are just starting out, most gyms have ‘assisted’ pull-up machines to give you a hand

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#2 Press-ups

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A classic body weight exercise favoured by teenage boys the world over. The press-up is so popular because it can be performed pretty much anywhere. Not only are press-ups a great chest builder but they also target the triceps. As with pull-ups varying things such as hand width and body angle can place greater emphasis on certain parts of the chest.

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Although I only perform press-ups rarely they can be used as great warm up to any full chest routine, or with varied grips and added weights, can act as a great chest workout in or outside of the gym.

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Major muscles:

  • Pectoralis major.
  • Deltoids.
  • Triceps brachii.
  • Serratus anterior.

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Great for:

Chest work when away from the gym

As part of a chest routine/part of a super set

Building triceps

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How to:

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Key things to remember:

Avoid elbow flaring. Press-ups should be performed in a similar way as the bench press

Vary the grip to place greater emphasis on different parts of the chest/triceps

Keep the body straight, don’t dip the hips to the floor

Get nice and low to the floor, perhaps even a light touch

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#3 Dips

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When talking about ‘dips’ I am referring to full body weight dips which are usually performed on a rack with also has a bar for pull-ups. Another form of the ‘dip’ also exists, usually called ‘the tricep dip’ in which one balances off the end of an object with the feet on the ground – these sort of dips are almost exclusively for targeting the triceps.

Dips are a solid auxiliary exercise that target both the chest and triceps. As part of a workout with press-ups, dips increase the tension even further on similar muscles. Super setting these two exercises, especially with added weight, can provide a demanding but effective chest/triceps workout.

Dips are one of my favourite exercises. I use them, alongside pull-ups, as an overall upper body warm up, especially when going into a full chest routine. By practising dips frequently you can eventually add substantial weight to the lift either around your waist as a belt or via a dumbbell picked up with the feet.

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Major muscles:

  • Triceps brachii
  • Pectoralis major
  • Anterior deltoids

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Great for:

Adding volume to a chest workout

Building tricep mass

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How to:

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.I’ve highlighted the two major forms of dip. Each comes with their own advantages.  Note that the bar dip is the better of the two for chest development. The bench dip however is great for tricep work.

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Bar Dip

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Bench dip

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Key things to remember:

Control your reps – these exercises are hard on the shoulder ligaments and joints

Angling your body on the ‘bar dip’ places emphasis on different parts of the chest

Avoid elbow flaring just as you would on the bench press

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#4 Lunges

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Ah good old lunges. Tough but effective. Lunges are a great way to add volume during leg training. I really like to perform them after a heavy squat session to push myself over the brink! Lunges can be used by themselves as part of a body weight leg workout and are great for quad and glute development. Lunges come in a variety of form but I will run through the basics of the standard lunge.

Don’t forget that as with all ”body weight’ exercises, additional weight can be added for greater benefit. When I first started training and went abroad for holidays with no gym access, I would lunge with a back pack full of rocks (sounds crazy but it works!). In the gym, additional weight can be applied across the back as a barbell or held at the side using dumbells.

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Major muscles:

  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteus maximus

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Great for:

Adding volume to leg workouts

Glute development

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How to:

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Key things to remember:

Take care with additional weight – especially across the back

Avoid touching the floor with the lower knee – keep everything under tension

Both legs should be roughly right angles – avoid a very narrow or very wide step.

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#5 Plank

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The plank is a fantastic core development exercise. It spreads tension from the shoulders, through the abominable and lower back muscles and finally through the quadriceps. Although correctly performed heavy lifts such as the deadlift and squat help build a strong core, it never hurts to supplement with core-specific exercises.

If you don’t squat or deadlift then exercises such as the plank should definitely be in your routine.

Coupled with more traditional ‘ab’ workouts like crunches and leg raises, planks can be an effective addition to any abdominal routine. It should be noted that a strong core is vital to big lifts. People who constantly focus on ab work like crunches aren’t really building a strong ‘core’. Instead they are simply developing their abdominals. A strong core relates to the strength of all the lower trunk muscles which includes the abdominals but also the obliques and much of the lower back anatomy as well. Planks target all of these components. 

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Major muscles:

  • Erector spinae
  • Rectus abdominis
  • Transverse abdominus
  • Deltoids
  • Pectorals
  • Gluteus maximus
  • Quadricpes

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Great for:

Building a strong core!

How to:

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Key things to remember:

Make use of this exercise for building a strong core as well as a nice set of abs (body fat % permitting)

Additional weight can be added for a greater challenege but do this gradually

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Well there you have it. My run down of the top 5 body weight exercises. All of which can function as great additions to an existing workout or form a workout at the gym or at home by themselves. It’s entirely up to you.

If you want to incorporate body weight lifts as part of a more advanced weight lifting programme then don’t forget to check out our ‘5 best mass-building exercises‘ article to make sure you aren’t missing out on some serious gains!

Any questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you or reach me at ed@scienceguysupplements.com

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-ScienceGuy

Naked Mole Rat: Freak of Nature

A frequent entry in ‘Top 10 Ugliest Animal’ lists, the naked mole rat truly is a sight to behold. A cross between, a mole and a rat, with a sprinkle of naked has produced a physical abomination. Despite its looks, the naked mole rat has remarkable physiology and is one of the most interesting animals, biologically speaking, ever discovered.

From insensitivity to pain, to powerful cancer resistance, the naked mole rat has intrigued scientists the world over for attributes not found in other mammals. Studying the perplexing physiology of these animals may unlock new therapeutic avenues for the treatment of human disease, cancer being the most relevant.

The naked mole rat is a burrowing animal and described as ‘eusocial’  – this is considered the highest level of organisation in animal society and involves things like co-operative brood care (all mothers looking after all infants collectively) and organised division of labour. Hive animals such as ants and termites are considered eusocial but only two known eusocial mammals have been reported, including the naked mole rat.

The naked mole rat lives in unusually harsh conditions which is thought to be the main driving force behind their strange physiological adaptions. They live primarily in arid African deserts . Groups of about 80 individuals reside in complex underground burrow systems. Like hive insects, naked mole rats have a ‘queen’  female who produces young which are tended to by non-breeding females. ‘Worker’ animals serve to defend the hive from attack, acquire food and maintain/dig the tunnel systems. It’s all pretty mad that this set-up exists in a mammal as this sort of system is very much associated with insects.

However, their social layout is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these remarkable creatures. Lets take a look at why the naked mole rat is a ‘medical marvel’.

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#1 Pain Insensitivity

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This can be explained, from a biological standpoint, rather simply. We know that naked mole rats lack a key neurotransmitter in the skin called Substance P which in ‘normal’ mammals is very important in transmitting pain signals to the central nervous system (1).

In an interesting experiment, it was shown that if Substance P is injected into the naked mole rats, they once again feel pain but NOT to acids. So the system to feel pain in the skin exists but they have evolved to lack a key component and also cannot feel acid-induced pain even when this key component is reintroduced (2). So we know why, on a cellular level they don’t feel pain but what about why this evolved in the first place?

Due to where they live the leading theory is that this lack of substance P is to combat pain from acid build up in tissues which results from living in cramped poorly oxygenated spaces with high levels of carbon dioxide.

They have other adaptions which fit with this low oxygen environment including possessing blood with an extremely high affinity for oxygen as well as a very low respiratory and metabolic rates. They consume a fraction of the energy of a similarly sized rat (3).

Crazy stuff and a remarkably specific adaption to the environment.


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#2 Resistance To Cancer

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Naked mole rats are highly resistant to tumours (4) but can still suffer from related disorders – in 2016 two individuals born and raised in captivity were shown to have developed tumours for the first time, so it is possible. Bear in mind, these animals are living in a much more oxygen rich environment that they do in the wild which may have promoted tumour growth (5).

Studies have revealed the exact cellular mechanisms by which naked mole rats are resistance to cancers. Whereas most mammals, including us, have one major genetic defence against tumours, naked mole rats possess two.

Gene p 27 is an ‘over-crowding gene’ that prevents cell division once individual cells make contact with one another. This is known as contact inhibition. We all posses this gene.  Another similar gene called p 16 which functions in a similar manner is used by naked mole rats alongside p 27 acting as a double barrier to uncontrolled cellular proliferation. If their version of p 27 is mutated and ceases to function, p 16 can fulfil this role alone (6). We however are not so lucky.

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What even is this?

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More recent evidence suggests that the naked mole rats produce a unique version of a compound that we mammals share but which acts as a kind of anti-cancer agent (7). Surprisingly the same compound which gives them stretchy skin may also be why they are so cancer resistance. Hyaluronan is a component of connective tissue found across all mammals. Naked mole rats have a particularly long version of this molecule. Removing this molecule from cultured mole rat cells increases cancer rates massively. This compound is thought to be key in why naked mole rat cells have much more sensitive cellular  contact inhibition in comparison to humans

Work is currently being undertaken to work out how we would potentially apply this to human cancer treatments.

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#3 Thermoregulation

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Another bizarre trait. Naked mole rats do not regulate their body temperature like other mammals.  They are described as ‘thermoconformers’ whereas mammals in general are ‘thermoregualtors’ (8) . Most mammals maintain a constant internal body temperature regardless of ambient temperature. However, naked mole rats body temperature tracks ambient temperature, more like a reptile. Naked mole rats have been shown to make great use of behavioural thermoregulation.

When cold, they huddle together in shallower parts of their tunnels to absorb heat from the sun, when too warm, they retreat to deeper and cooler parts of their homes (9).

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#4 Long Life Span

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Not only do naked mole rats not get cancer and not feel pain but they also live for bloody ages, You guessed it. They are hell spawn.

For their size they live for absolutely ages – up to 31 years (!). The general rule of thumb is the smaller the animal the shorter the life span. Not true of the mole rat. Naked mole rats live up to 10 times longer than a rat (and at 3 years, that rat would be ancient). The exact reasons for why they live so long aren’t fully understood but a number of plausible physiological adaptions may explain it.

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  • As already discussed, they are highly resistance to cancer, something which plagues male rats (10)

 

  • They maintain healthy vascular function well into their old age and do so much better than other rodents (11)

 

  • They can reduce metabolic rate during hard times which may help them avoid age-induced damage from oxidative stress (12)

 

  • DNA repair pathway genes expressed much more highly then short lived rodents: better DNA repair may facilitate greater longevity and does fit with the well known ‘DNA damage theory of aging’ (13,14)

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True freaks of nature but ones which hold therapeutically valuable information regarding cellular mechanisms of cancer resistance. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Naked mole rats are ugly bastards but one day you may owe your life to research successfully carried out on these little ball bags.

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As always, thanks for stopping by,

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-ScienceGuy

Top 5 Science Achievements of 2016

2016 was an odd one lets be honest. All sorts of crazy shenanigans occurred. Although some may view 2016 as one of the worst years on record, it was a great year for science! Lets take a look at some of the most exciting developments of 2016.

Science is a multi-disciplinary field but as a neuroscientist I am a biology snob so have taken a (massive) lean towards breakthroughs in the general field of biology.

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#1 CRISPR gene-editing trial in ‘humans’

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CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Inter spaced Short Palindromic Repeats. The natural CRISPR system is a form of prokaryotic immune defence that protects bacteria from foreign genetic elements. The system has been cleverly modified to function as a powerful gene editing tool – allowing specific genes to be added or removed from a genome. It is described as more efficient , precise and flexible than current gene editing technologies.

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The tool has been proposed for use in the farming industry to modify various crop attributes – the technology received the AAA’s choice of ‘breakthrough of the year 2015’.

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The technology could also hold massive therapeutic potential in the treatment of genetic human diseases however in many cases this would require germ-line manipulation (changes that can be passed on to children) of humans, something which has never before been done and comes with myriad ethical and moral concerns.

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CRISPR moved one step closer to a true human trial as a University of Pennsylvania study received ethical approval from the US government’s Recombinant DNA advisory committee.

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Although a small study, it will focus on manipulating T cells with CRISPR in an attempt to remove cancerous attributes. This is mainly being used as a trial to see if CRISPR would be safe in humans. If it is, then in the near future expect to see CRISPR technology used to combat cancer and a multitude of other genetic based diseases.

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This could potentially see the greatest progress in treating human disease since the discovery of anti-biotics!

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#2 Cloning

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Proof that you can clone ‘sexy’

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Not all clones have the widely cited ‘accelerated aging’ problem as seen with the most well known clone of all – Dolly the sheep. This is the conclusion of a recent study. What many people don’t know is that Dolly herself was also cloned leading to four healthy Dolly-clones.  Dolly had degenerative osteoarthritis but her clones only showed very mild symptoms of this disease. These clones have aged and developed fairly  normally so it is possible to clone animals with no clear health issues seen in the ‘offspring’.

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Although human cloning will likely always remain illegal (probably for the best) this breakthrough proves that the technology of somatic cell nuclear transfer, although possessing a very low success rate, can produce a ‘healthy’ clone that ages normally. Whether or not cloning techniques could be applied to the farming industry remains up for debate.

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#3 Robo-surgeon

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A robot has carried out the first autonomous surgery on soft tissue. This surgery was performed on four pigs and involved the stitching together of two parts of the intestines. All four animals recovered with no complications. Although the robot takes longer than human surgeons, the robot it said to be more precise.

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Robot assisted surgery has been around for a good while now but this route into truly autonomous surgical robots is rather exciting and could free up surgeons from basic routine surgeries to focus on the more difficult procedures. Next time you go in for a bit of casual bowel surgery you might find C3-P0 all up in your shit. Literally.

Check out a video of the robot in action!

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#4 ‘Universal’ flu vaccine 

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Traditional flu vaccines have to be crafted every year in accordance with the constant antigenic shifting and mutation of the flu virus. This is why some years the vaccine seems especially effective and other years doesn’t perform as well – it’s a different vaccine to a different sub-type of flu.

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Scientists now believe we can target a different part of the flu virus – a part which ALL flu viruses share. In theory this would allow the development of one vaccine which could target multiple sub types of the virus and may be usable year on year. However, the flu virus is a shifty bastard and is constantly evolving – so whether this proves effective in reality remains to be seen.

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#5 Stem cells boost stroke recovery

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Stem cells are the key to us.  In our very early development we were nothing but a minuscule bundle of stem cells. From this bundle has formed a large multi-cellular, complex organism with countless different types of cells with wildly differing functions. Put very simply (as the full tale is beyond the scope of this article) a stem cell is sort of a ‘generic’ cell which has the potential to become any cell type in the human body.

So many cell types just from ONE type of stem cell!

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Their proposed use in therapy and disease treatment has therefore been on the cards for decades. One of the most logical ways in which they could be used is to replace damaged tissues. The initial idea was that if stem cells are introduced to an area in the body they will begin to ‘mimic’ surrounding tissue by turning from stem cells into the local cell type – they know what cell to turn into based on local cell signalling from resident cells. Recently, a study, with truly remarkable results,has highlighted once again the therapeutic potential of stem cells.

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The risk of stroke, brain cell death due to lack of blood, is greatly increased in smokers, those with high blood pressure,  the obese and diabetics . Stroke deaths number in the millions every year. Although strokes are survivable (any extremely varied), only about a half of stroke victims will still be living following the event. A group from the Stanford University of Medicine injected modified human stem cells directly into the brains of chronic stroke patients. The results were remarkable with all patients showing healing for an extended period of time, far longer than usually expected following a stroke. One of the most usual observations here was that a number of wheelechair-bound patients (due to stroke induced brain damage) were gradually able to walk freely again! incredible!

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If this doesn’t show the potential applications and therapeutic potential of human stem cells, I don’t know what does. Check out the full report in more detail here.

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Well there you have it! My top 5 pick.

Here’s to hoping 2017 produces even more scientific advancements that can improve our lives for the better.

 

The Slap Therapy Tragedy

The ‘Slap Therapy’ Tragedy

 

I’ve decided to write a quick post regarding a couple of truly disturbing news stories I’ve read recently.

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The topic?

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Slapping people (including infants) to cure their diseases and illnesses…

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These sort of stories are important because they highlight pretty much everything I stand against and one of the main reasons for this websites existence. That is, charlatans taking advantage of people who don’t know better.

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In these cases, deaths have occurred due to the irresponsible and reckless behaviour from practitioners of something called ‘slap therapy’.

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Here is a link to the official website – almost everything on here, to me, is preposterous.

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Claims include that slap therapy is:

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‘Superior to modern medical practices’

‘Effective on almost all diseases’

The testimonials are even worse:

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‘A Self-healed Story of an Advanced Prostate Cancer Patient’ – If your advanced cancer has self-resolved, this is very rare and you are extremely lucky. However looking more closely, this isn’t a self healed story. The actual testimonial states that the tumour has reduced in size. This can occur for a number of reasons and is not sufficient evidence to claim a cancer is ‘healed’. 

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‘Bladder Cancer Self Healed’ – By their own admission they went through intensive radiotherapy treatment for the cancer before starting slap therapy. 

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‘Food Poisoning Self-Healed with Paida’ – Food poisoning is usually a short self-resolving affliction lasting no more than one or two days. The account says that immediately after eating a peach a man fell ill with food poisoning – illness does not occur immediately after consumption of contaminated food. This account is likely false.

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‘How Did I Self-Heal My Type 1 Diabetes?’ – This account is scary as it echoes events that led to the death of a young diabetic boy (detailed further below). A type 1 diabetic woman, under advice from a man with no medical background or training and a severely warped understanding of human biology, massively reduced her insulin intake. However on further inspection she is still receiving insulin on a  daily basis, just less than previously. This is no ‘healing’ type 1 diabetes – a huge amounts of research is focused on combating beta cell loss in type 1 diabetics. This isn’t something that spontaneously reverses or can be fixed due to being slapped. Likely, this woman can function normally on the amount of insulin she is receiving. Nevertheless she is putting her health at risk. 

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Well that’s me sold! Sign me up. Except don’t.

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This isn’t harmless homeopathy, this is physically beating the ‘toxins’ out of someone. Practitioners claim that all the serious bruising from the slapping aren’t bruises but actually harmful toxins leaving the body.

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This has directly led to the death of one elderly diabetic women after a number of people tried to beat the diabetes out of her. The news report suggest the woman had a life long phobia of needles. Having to inject insulin was therefore extremely difficult for her and she had frequently sort alternative therapies. These slap therapists preyed directly on this fear and its resulted in this poor woman’s death.

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An excerpt from the news story from the woman’s son…

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Carr-Gomm’s son Matthew, 43, said his mother, from Lewes, East Sussex, had been given false hope.

“I am certain that if she hadn’t gone on this course, she would still be alive today. She was convinced this alternative treatment was going to have a positive effect,” he said.

“She had a lifelong fear of needles, so diabetes was probably the worst illness she could get. That was why she was so keen to try alternative therapies.”

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But the story goes even further and becomes even more tragic.

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A 7 year old boy has also died as a direct or in-direct result of this therapy. The boy, a type 1 diabetic, died during a week long slap therapy retreat (at a cost of 1800 USD – far from cheap). The boy fell ill and began to vomit mid-way thought the retreat. He died on the way to hospital. Investigations are trying to determine whether he was taken off his insulin during the retreat – if so what were the parents doing agreeing to something so foolish!. Either way a young boy has lost his life.

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Parents convinced that slap therapy is the key to healing have started slapping the shit out of their babies and children as well. I really don’t know what to say about this. It’s so far into ‘lunatic’ territory that it boggles the mind. The investigation contains some fairly disturbing videos. And remember, these are the kids parents doing this. Not some stranger. They truly believe this anti-science alternative, dangerous ‘therapy’.

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In a world where the alternative therapy market continues to grow year on year into a mammoth industry, it’s so important that we make a stand and demand evidence and accountability for people who sell and promote this garbage. Selling therapies that simply don’t work is one thing – asking someone to beat their kid because it will cure their diabetes is an entirely different matter and should result in prison time for the charlatan in question. Holding the parents accountable is a tricky one and perhaps best left for a discussion in the comments.

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Thanks for reading,

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-ScienceGuy

 

5 Best mass-building exercises: A quick guide

Not all exercises were created equal. Compound exercises recruit the greatest amount of muscle fibre ultimately stimulating greater muscle growth when performed correctly. You will also be able to lift the most amount of weight compared to any other excercise hence why the bench press, squat and dead lift are the best measure of true strength.

In my opinion, compound exercises should always be your priority followed by isolation exercises which target individual muscles. Although pure bodybuilders spend a lot of time performing isolation exercises, almost all will include a mix of compound lifts in their training. The true greats like Ronnie Coleman swear by the big compound lifts.

All diagrams I’ve used have been taken from Strength Training Anatomy, a brilliant book which I was given when I first started lifting. Understanding how your body is put together is a massive bonus when ironing out issues in form.

I’ve included suggested weight goals at the bottom of each entry. In most circumstances, a larger, heavier person should be expected to lift more than someone smaller (if both have a descent muscle base). However, simply due to body layout, an extremely heavy person, even if very muscled will find it harder to lift twice their body weight than a smaller, but still heavily muscled person. In other words as your weight increases the amount you are expected to lift increases at a slower rate.

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For example a 60 kg man is expected to squat 126 kg to be considered in the advanced level.

A 100 kg man needs to squat  195 kg to be at the same level.

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I’m average height and fairly stocky so that plays to my advantage. If you are between 65-100 kg, the suggestions can apply to you. If you are oddly tall and or very heavy then you can find online calculators to help you determine your goals.

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#1 : Squat

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Debate still persists about the King Of Excercises. Is it the squat or is it the dead lift? Although I prefer squatting I still think the title belongs to the deadlift. However. There is no greater leg/lower body exercise overall than the squat. Hands down. I don’t think anyone would disagree.  The squat is a hard exercise to perform because it is so physically demanding. The proof? Everyone with tiny legs in the gym with a huge upper body. Bench pressing may be hard on the chest but it simply doesn’t compare to lower body work.

Squatting heavy and with good form will develop your glutes, quads, lower back and hamstrings (to a lesser degree). It also puts tremendous pressure on the core and will develop it accordingly. If you can, I would always avoid using a weight lifting belt until necessary to promote increased core strength which belt use may detract from.

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.Muscles used:

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squat

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Brief how to:

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squat-2

Key points to remember:

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  • Check your bar positioning – don’t rest it on the neck itself.
  • Head in a neutral position, don’t look down or too far up
  • Chest up and out
  • Tight and straight back with equal hand positions on the bar
  • Equally spaced footing (width is up to you) with feet slightly turned out
  • Drive through the whole foot, don’t rock onto the balls of the feet – this may force you to lean forward
  • Get nice and deep – cheat the depth and you cheat yourself

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Initial weight goal: Body weight +

Advanced weight goal: 2 X body weight

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#2 : Dead lift

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Argued to be the king of exercises,  the dead lift is another hard exercise which explains why lots of people neglect to perform it properly or simply don’t do it at all. The dead lift involves more muscles than any other exercise – because of this it could be considered the single greatest mass building lift. Huge pressure is placed on the legs, the entire back, core and also the shoulders.

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Muscles used:

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deadlift1

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Brief how to:

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deadlift2

Key points to remember:

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  • Neutral but tight back position- avoid rounding your back and shoulders
  • Don’t ‘squat your dead lift’ – pay attention to your hip positioning
  • Equally spaced grip – numerous grip types can work
  • Dont hyper extend at the top of the lift
  • Avoid bouncing the bar on the floor between reps – lift the weight from a ‘dead’ position

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Initial weight goal: Body weight +

Advanced weight goal: 2  and 1/2  X body weight


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#3 : Bench Press

 

This will probably rank as most casual gym users favourtie exercise and it is definately up there for me as well. Most men would kill for a large and well developed chest and the bench press is key in achieving this goal. The bench press puts major pressure on the pectorals but when performed correctly will also develop certain parts of the shoulder and of course the triceps.  The bench press can be performed in three main ways depending on bench position : incline, flat and decline. The flat bench is usually the ‘go to’ position but mixing angles will help help develop a well rounded chest and also contribute to greater benching strength overall. 

 

Muscles used and a brief how to:

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bench-press

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Brief how to (variations):

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bench-2

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Key points to remember:

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  • Equally spaced hand grip – can experiment to target different parts of the chest
  • Use the thumbless grip at your own risk!
  • The bench press can be performed flat, inclined or declined – all have their benefits
  • Avoid extreme flared elbows
  • Don’t bounce the bar off your sternum
  • Keep tight legs and plant feet firmly on the ground
  • Keep butt on the bench – don’t arch your back and rise of the bench mid-lift
  • Both the eccentric (down) and concentric (up) part of the lift are important for maximum muscle growth and strength gain (this is true of most exercises)

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Initial weight goal: 80% body weight

Advanced weight goal: 1 and 1/2 times body weight

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#4 : Military Press

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Not a member of the ‘Big Three’, the military press is still a powerful compound lift that can build your shoulders and core (when standing) and should form part of your shoulder routine. The press can be performed seated or standing. Standing press has the added benefit of building quality core stength as the bar must be stabalised above your head whilst standing. I often switch to a seated position to really focus on shoulder contractions using a lighter weight after performing the standing variation. 

This is a tough exercise – lifting things directly above the head is difficult and a number of people at my gym have a decent bench press but possess terrible over head press strength. Developing your weakest lift will improve the others. If you feeel you shoulder size and strength are lacking then include standing military press in your workout.

The shoulder is a very complex joint jam packed with nerves (brachial plexus). Shoulder aches, twangs and pains are very common – often the result of poor exercise form or simply going far too heavy. If your form is good then military press is no more dangerous than any other compound lift.

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Muscles used:

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shoulder1

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Brief how to (variations):

shoulder-32

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Key points to remember:

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  • Use strict form for intial sets to maximise shoulder use – only use leg drive for those final reps (if you must)
  • Lower the bar all the way to the upper chest – half repping makes the lift much easier but wont result in the same strength or size gains
  • A wider grip puts greater strain across the shoulders
  • Squeezing the butt at the top of the lift can reduce lower back arch with heavier weights

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Key points to remember:

Initial weight goal: 60% body weight

Advanced weight goal: Body weight +

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#5 : Bent Over Row

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6 time Mr Olympia, Dorian Yates, swore by this exercise for building upper body depth. He’s certainly not wrong. The bent over barebell row is a quality exercise that stimualtes growth across the entire back. Although good mornings and romanian deadlifts stimualte the lower back to a greater degree, the bent over row is fantastic for the mid-upper back. Greater emphasis can be placed on different parts of the back depending on hip positioning.

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Muscles used:

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back

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Brief how to:

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backd1

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Key points to remember:

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  • Varying your grip can put increased pressure on different back muscles
  • Changing your hip position can also place empahsis on different parts of the back
  • Avoid rocking the weight upwards with momentum: this makes the lift easier and reduces muscle work
  • Keep the head up and back straight (always avoid curving the back)
  • Legs slightly bent
  • Training your back well can really help with arm development
  • The one armed variant is great for working specific parts of the back

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Initial weight goal: 80%body weight

Advanced weight goal: 120% body weight

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There we have it. The top 5 mass builders. They may be physically demanding but they are 100% worth it. if you aren’t already performing these exercises then make them part of your routine – you will notice massive improvements in your physique and strength over time.

Don’t forget to check out ‘4 common weight lifting mistakes’ and soon you will be king of the gym.

Feeling like you are missing something from your workout? Small changes in your technique and your equipment can make a massive difference to your lifts. Liquid lifting chalk massively improved my grip strength and entriely removes bar slip issues. It’s cheap and can be used in all lifts where a barebell is used – I never go to the gym without it!

                           

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Any questions? Reach me at ed@scienceguysupplements.com

-ScienceGuy

5 ‘superfood’ myths

While many foods may be packed with certain nutrients and molecules that play a role in health, the food industry and health nuts have taken a massive leap of logic and applied the term ‘super’ to foods which are actually fairly ordinary.

The main message here: Some foods are better for you than others but there is no such thing as a super food.

I’ve come across articles titled ’52 of the best super foods’. So pretty much all food then. It contained everything from eggs to apples. It’s all nonsense. Maintain a balanced diet and get in some good exercise. That’s it.

Here are the top 5 super foods and the real truth behind them…

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#1 : Goji Berries

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Eat me and live for 170 years guy! healthline.com
Eat me and live for 170 years guy!
healthline.com

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.These bad boys have been a major component of Chinese traditional medicine for hundreds of years.  An ancient Chinese herbalist, Li Ching-Yuen, who loved these berries, was said to have lived for over 170 years because he ate so many. Obviously that’s mental.

There is no evidence of any kind that eating the berries or drinking the juice is any better or worse than drinking juice from other fruits.

The ‘studies’ that attribute miraculous health benefits to these berries are hugely biased, poorly planned, performed, reported  and very few in number (1,2)

These berries are fairly expensive, probably because they have been labelled a super food. If you enjoy eating them then by all means carry on but don’t expect any particular health benefits for your buck.

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#2 : Kale

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'basically cabbage' lifehack.com
‘basically cabbage’
lifehack.com

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Kale, to me, seems rather exotic. It’s all the rage at the moment at organic cafes and other ‘alternative’ hangouts. Like other ‘super foods’, many magical properties have been attributed to kale – it helps you ‘make red blood cells’ and ‘mops up free radicals’ thereby reducing your risk of cancer.

While kale contains high levels of calcium and vitamins like B6, this isn’t really any different to other, similar green vegetables like cabbage. There is also no evidence supporting claims that diets high in kale can reduce cancer or really help with anything else either in humans. The limited evidence there is is all in vitro (cell based work in a lab) data which has been misinterpreted (probably on purpose) to promote kale as a super food. There is no doubt that a balanced diet with lots of vegetables is better for you than one full of processed foods (lowered risk of various cancers for one thing) but attributing the health benefits to kale alone is wrong.

Kale does contain a decent level of anti-oxidants but so do many other fruits and vegetables and other foods.

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Anti-oxidants play myriad vital roles in the body but massively increasing your intake will not improve your overall health and may even damage it (3).

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All these health food blogs keep banging on about anti-oxidants without understanding the basics tenants of biology that I keep droning on about. There is a saturation point for all nutrients and molecules past which your body just gets rid of them or maybe even starts suffering negative consequences (4). Taking more of something when you aren’t deficient in the first place very rarely produces a positive benefit. I read a good analogy online:

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”It’s like putting more petrol in your car to make it go faster”.

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Neither cars nor your body work like that.

Kale is not super. It’s no more special than your average sad piece of cabbage.

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#3 : Pomegranates

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pomegranates.org
pomegranates.org

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Pomegranates are delicious. Those little juicy nuggets of pure flavour are always welcome in my home. However things turn sour when I hear that pomegranates are not just a simple fruit – they can fight against heart disease, inflammation, high blood pressure and some cancers (the list always seems to be the same). In other words they are super. Or are they?

Now surprisingly there is some potential for further work looking at pomegranate consumption and health benefits. Although the data are currently inconclusive regarding human health – there does appear to be a positive effect in some small trials.

Pomegranate consumption has been linked to increased bone strength in mice (5).

A small study (perhaps too small) involving 45 human patients  with coronary heart disease concluded that daily pomegranate juice increased blood flow to the heart and a reduced risk of heart attack (6). The trail was small so the result could be down to chance – this is worth repeating with a larger cohort.

A study undertaken a year previously using patients with carotid artery stenosis (narrowed arteries) found that a small daily glass of pomegranate juice (50ml) over three years reduced cholesterol buildup and cholesterol-damage in the artery by almost a half. A clear reduction (7). Over ten years later and the mechanics of this are still not understood. The study also fails to demonstrate how this will positively effect stroke and heart attack rates or outcomes.

It seems, out of all of these ‘super foods’ that pomegranates have the most real evidence behind them. However, these are all small studies so the chance of a positive result occurring by chance are much higher.

One pomegranate based company has been warned by the FDA for using published data, as shown above, to make illegal claims of unproven anti-disease benefits: this is very common in the health food industry and is extremely unfair and misleading for the consumer.

In order to make specific health claims,  far larger cohort studies followed by detailed mechanistic studies would have to be performed before we label pomegranates as having any real health benefits. 

As it stands, pomegranates may have some protective effects on heart and cardiovascular health – but we need more solid data to firmly conclude this.

 

 


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#4 : Avocado

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avocado-sliced-in-half
I’m all stone baby avocado.org.au

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First off. I love avocados. I’m not here to insult them or their families – just to question there position as a ‘super food’. An avocado is a fruit, even though I think of it as a vegetable. Getting even more technical, an avocado is apparently a large berry. What?

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Avocados are packed with all sorts of deliciousness – Vitamin A, C, K and E as well as potassium and carotenoids. On top of that an avocado is basically just a big fat berry. Literally. It’s full to the brim with a wide variety of fats, with most calories from avocado being in the form of monounsaturated fat. Due to this they are a great way to gain weight if strength training or bodybuilding – just go easy on them due to the fat content!

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Now, are they super foods? Do they cure cancer or diabetes or arthritis. As you may have guessed the answer is probably no. Although the literature is very sparse regarding avocado consumption and health specifically, we can look more closely at the effects of a high intake of monounsaturated fats on our health. Eating a good amount of these fats is protective against cardio-vascular disease (8). A review of available studies looking at avocado consumption and cardiovascular disease also suggests a protective effect but be wary as the review was paid for by Hass Avocado Board (9).

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Again, any advocate of super foods will list a number of benefits and then reason them like this with little to no sources. This is an actual argument I came across:

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  1. Luetin is a carotenoid found in the human eye and plays a role in vision
  2. Avocados contain luetin
  3. Avocados improve eyesight (this is a massive leap in logic and not confirmed by any investigation)

And another to hammer the point home..

  1. Vitamin B6 plays a role in the regulation of hormones like testosterone
  2. Avocados contain B6
  3. Avocados increase fertility and sexual health (nope – for the same reasons)

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Avocados are delicious but they wont help you with sexual function, fertility, diabetes or cancer. These things may be reduced or combated by changes to your entire lifestyle – not just eating one particular giant berry.

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#5 : Broccoli

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wikipedia.org
Can’t get enough of those baby trees – Wikipedia

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When I was a young boy/girl, broccoli was the worst. It was sort of universally hated by children. I think it still is. But for adults, and the health food market, broccoli has made a solid comeback in recent years and frequents ‘super food’ lists all over the web. What does the science say about the health benefits of this baby tree vegetable?

Well unlike avocados, more research has been undertaken in this area but unfortunately most of it is very small scale, too small to be conclusive on it’s own.

First, eating more non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli (but not necessarily broccoli only) is associated with a reduced risk of some cancers, namely throat, mouth and stomach cancer. It is therefore possible that something in the broccoli is responsible but this would need to be tested directly in further trials.

There is no evidence that broccoli helps reduce blood pressure despite some claims that it does. A cohort of individuals with high blood pressure consumed daily broccoli for 4 weeks – no change was observed in their blood pressure nor was the risk of atherosclerosis reduced (10). However in a similar but positive vein, diabetic patients consuming broccoli powder daily, saw reduced levels of circulating cholesterol and triglycerides – both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (11).

”Broccoli sprout powder could have favourable effects on  lipid profiles”

What about treating diabetes itself? Well, in an odd study, researchers applied the antioxidant sulforaphane (found in broccoli) to human blood vessels incubated in sugar. They were trying to mimic the conditions of chronic diabetes and elevated blood sugar levels. They found that the anti-oxidant appeared to prevent vascular damage to small blood vessels caused by high blood sugar as seen in many diabetic patients (12). As this is pure lab work using isolated tissue it remains to be seen if sulforaphane would be protective  in diabetics.

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What are your thoughts?

-ScienceGuy

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References

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1) Zi et al (1994) ”Observation of the effects of LAK/IL-2 therapy combining with Lycium barbarum polysaccharides in the treatment of 75 cancer patients’‘ Chinese Journal of Cancer Research. 16(6):428-31.

2) Amagase, H; Nance, D, H. (May 2008) ”A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled clinical study of the general effects of standardised Lycium barbarum Juice” 14(4):403-12.

3)) Bjelakovic et al (2012) ”Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

4) Ristow et al (2009) ”Antioxidants prevent health promoting effects of physical exercise in humans” PNAS 106(21) 8665-86705

5) Spilmont et al (2013) ‘‘Pomegranate and its derivatives can improve bone health through decreased inflammation and oxidation stress in an animal model of postmenopausal osteoporosis” European Journal of Nutrition 53(5) 1155–1164

6) Sumner et al (2005) ”Effects of pomegranate juice consumption on myocardial perfusion in patients with coronary heart disease”  96(6):810-4.

7) Aviram et al (2008) ”Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation” Clinical Nutrition 23(3):423-33.

8) Sacks and Katan (2002) ”Randomised clinical trial on the effects of dietary fat and carbohydrate on plasma lipoproteins and cardiovascular disease” The American Journal of Medicine 113(9), Supplement 2. p. 13-24

9) Dreher and Davenport (2013) ”Hass avocado composition and potential health effects”  Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 53(7): 738–750.

10) Christiansen et al (2010) ”Ingestion of broccoli sprouts does not improve endothelial function in humans with hypertension” PLos One 5(8)

11) Bahadoran et al (2012) ”Broccoli sprout powder could improve serum triglyceride and oxidised LDL/LDL-cholesterol ratio in type 2 diabetic patients: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial’Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice  96(3):348-54

12) Mingzhan Xue et al (2008) ”Activation of NF-E2-related factor-2 reverses biochemical dysfunction of endothelial cells induced by hyperglycemia linked to vascular disease’Diabetes 

4 common weight lifting mistakes

I spend a lot of the time in the gym and I see all sorts of crazy shenanigans. The same people making the same mistakes over and over again.

I don’t claim to be The Mountain or Arnie but the basic tenants of weightlifting and building size hold true for everyone so I’ve put together a top 4 list detailing the main mistakes people make (myself included) when taking their first baby weakling steps in the gym.

The quicker you address these issues the faster you will make progress. Unfortunately, the gym is full of people who never change and never progress despite years of ‘training’. Don’t be one of them!

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.#1: Neglecting form

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HOW NOT TO DEADLIFT www.fasterfitness.com
HOW NOT TO DEADLIFT
www.fasterfitness.com

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This is super important, not just for building your muscles correctly but for avoiding injury. The human body is a fantastically complex bio mechanical machine. When performing an exercise, you will automatically try and lift the weight in the ‘easiest’ way possible. This can take strain off the muscle you are trying to strengthen and places the effort across numerous other muscles which aren’t your primary focus. This can lead to unbalanced development or injury. You want to lift the weight in a controlled and conscious way that maximises muscle stimulation.

Lifting heavy weight should not be your only goal. The goal should be to lift as heavy as possible with good, strict form. The first step is to master the movement before pushing yourself in the weight department. Seeing 17 year old boys trying to deadlift twice their body weight with a spine like a ‘n’ makes MY back hurt. Having youth on their side is a bonus but immediately jumping into heavy lifting with no real muscle base or knowledge of the lift is a disaster waiting to happen.

Research the lifts online, buy a strength training book, speak to a personal trainer or experienced lifter. There are multiple ways to get lifting advice these days. There is no excuse to not know how to perform an exercise correctly.

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.#2 : Not eating enough

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The definition of sadness
The definition of sadness www.rantfood.com

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.When I was younger I was a martial artist and it made sense to stay as light as possible but as strong as possible for my size.  When I took up weight lifting and wanted to gain some size I simply didn’t increase my calories enough.

I was training long and training hard but I just wasn’t getting bigger. It was mainly due to a lack of calories. Not protein, not carbs or fat. Just calories in general. After about 5 months of making little to no progress I decided to really put active effort into eating more. I wasn’t a huge guy so I didn’t eat that much to begin with. 

I trained myself to eat 50% larger portions. I started snacking on protein and fat dense foods like nuts. I supplemented with whey protein for a boost. Slowly but surely my weight and strength started to increase and hasn’t really stopped since.

If you have just started training with a decent programme and are pushing yourself hard but not making noticeable progress then you might also be in that situation. Consider talking to a trainer about nutritional advice or do it yourself and add around 500-1000 calories (from balanced sources!) to your daily intake.

Calorie increases were not the only thing that made huge difference to my progress…

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#3 : Avoiding compound exercises

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Compound exercises are absolutely key for strength and size. No decent bodybuilder or strongman in history would say otherwise. Compound exercises involve multiple muscles. The major three are…

Bench Press

Squat

Dead Lift

Some other popular exercises also fall into this category…

Pull-Ups

Standing Military Press

Bent Over Rows

The major three should form the backbone of your workout regardless of if you are a functional athlete, strongman or bodybuilder.

These exercises recruit a large amount of muscle fibre across multiple joints. They are physically demanding and promote maximum muscle growth and strength (depending on your rep range).

I started to really push myself on these lifts alongside a calorie increase and saw major progress in only a few months.

These lifts are demanding and hard to do well but persevere with them and don’t be another chicken-legged rat boy.

Check out ‘The 5 best mass-building exercises’ and become king of the gym!

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#4: Not pushing yourself

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STOP IT!
STOP IT!

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This point is fairly straight forward. Every evening that I train, fully half of my gym (a large commercial one) are sat around on their phones doing a bicep curl set every 10 minutes. These people don’t squat. They don’t deadlift. Most importantly they don’t push themselves at all.

I get that after a days work its hard to spark the fire of gains. I understand that it’s harder to be motivated if you are out of shape compared to if you are a seasoned lifter. But when you enter the gym dedicate that hour or however long to the gym. Get off social media, stop the texting and focus on your goal.

A solid half hour of focused lifting is far more useful than an hour and half of sporadic, distracted, messing around.

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Work on your lifting form before the weight. Make sure you eat a good amount of food from balanced sources. Get those big lifts mastered and focus when you enter the gym . You’ll be a muscled god in no time. Hit me up at ed@scienceguysupplements.com

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-Science Guy

 

5 common food myths

Myths about common foods that we eat are all over the internet, fitness and health shops and of course the gym. Once these ideas and ‘facts’ take hold they are exceptionally hard to shift.

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Here are the top 5 myths about  the foods we eat.

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#1 : Eggs are full of cholesterol and will lead to a heart attack

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eggs-1I plan on addressing this more fully in a later post because it definitely deserves further attention (I bloody love eggs). Eggs received a bad reputation a number of years ago and unfortunately this has stuck around. Many people mistakenly believe that eating eggs, especially the yolk, has a terrible effect on your cholesterol which increases risk of cardiac/circulatory issues.

It is true that elevated levels of LDL cholesterol is definitely bad for your health but eggs aren’t a significant contributory factor (1,2)

Eggs are a cheap and plentiful source of proteins, fats and an assortment of minerals. If you want to sneak some protein in quickly without spending a lot, eggs are perfect for you.

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#2 : Margarine is healthier than butter

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.I myself am a marge to butter convert. I used to eat margarine, not for any health reason, but because I simply always had. I switched to butter a few years ago after being insulted for eating margarine. ‘what is this bullshit’ people would say when searching for butter in the morning and finding a massive tub of Utterly Butterly or as ALDI calls it, Wonderfly Butterfly ( I love ‘almost’ copyright infringement)

There’s not much difference in calorie content between marge and butter but margarine often contains much higher levels of trans-fats. Eating lots of trans fats is linked to numerous health problems. (3)

Magarine was created as a cheaper and healthier alternative to butter but can actually end up way worse for you in the long run (4). On top of that butter tastes far better!

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#3 : Eat an orange to prevent colds

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.orange

I have written  extensively about the role vitamins play in our day to day health and how vitamin supplements, for the average person, are a massive waste of money.

There is a commonly held belief hat vitamin C, found in large amounts in oranges, can prevent or cure common colds.

Neither is true (5).

Vitamin C only seems to play a role in limiting cold duration in specific scenarios involving intensive exercise in cold environments (6)

For a more in depth read about the multivitamin scam take a look here.

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#4 : Go with fat-free alternatives to lose weight

 

fage

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The issue that food manufactures have, especially with more processed foods, is that fat = flavour. If you remove fat from a product in an attempt to create a healthier product then the flavour has to come from somewhere. The answer? Sugar.

This has proved to be a short sighted and potentially health-damaging decision.

Fat has been demonised for decades (mainly due to the power of global corporations that produce sugar-filled products) and the public, and even the government (based on their eating guidelines) believe eating fat is to blame for the obesity epidemic. This has been more heavily scrutinised in recent months following the publishing of a damning report on the topic.

The truth is much more complicated and companies adding sugar to everything in place of fat is nothing but detrimental. In most cases, you would be better off eating the full fat version as the quantity of sugar found in fat-free versions of processed products is preposterous.

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#5 Canned food is less nutritious and ‘healthy’ than fresh

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This all depends on timing. If vegetables and fruit are picked in front of you and you eat them  right there, the fresh stuff will be more nutritious.

However, if we are comparing products in a supermarket the story is reversed. Canning or freezing food essentially fixes it as it was just as it was sealed away – hopefully full of nutrients. In comparison, although visibly fresh, fruit and veg lying around in supermarkets is on a constant downwards nutritional slope from the moment it is picked, all through transport  to the moment you buy and then finally eat it (7).

There is nothing wrong with canned or frozen fruit and veg – in fact, sometimes it might beat the ‘fresh’ version. Taste is another matter!

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Well there you go. Enjoy your canned eggs with butter.

 

-Science Guy

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References

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1) Rong, Ying; Chen, Li; Tingting, Zhu; Yadong, Song; Yu, Miao; Shan, Zhilei; Sands, Amanda; Hu, Frank B; et al. (2013). “Egg consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies”. British Medical Journal. 346

2) Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, et al. (1999). “A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women”. JAMA. 281 (15): 1387–94.

3) K. Hayakawa, Y.Y. Linko, P. Linko, “The role of trans fatty acids in human nutrition,” Journal of Lipid Science and Technology102, 419–425 (2000)

4) Zaloga GP, Harvey KA, Stillwell W, Siddiqui R (2006). “Trans Fatty Acids and Coronary Heart Disease”. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. 21 (5): 505–512.

5) Hemilä H, Chalker E (January 2013). “Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold”. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

6) Douglas RM, Hemilä H (June 2005). “Vitamin C for Preventing and Treating the Common Cold”. PLoS Medicine. 2(6)

7) S.D. Holdsworth (1985) ”Optimisation of thermal processing – A review” Campden Food Preservation Research Association.