December 30, 2009
Introduction: In this podcast episode: which exercises actually work for your abs, working out when you’re sore, excessive sweating, hamstring injuries, fat burning enzymes, and whether swimming pools are actually healthy.
Ben: Hey podcast listeners, this is Ben Greenfield coming to you with podcast episode number 75. I hope you had a fantastic Christmas and you’re amping up for a happy new year. I did shoot a video at www.bengreenfieldfitness.com that gives you 10 very fast body transformation tips, quick practical things that you can do to lose fat as fast as possible and maybe to shed that holiday weight that hopefully you didn’t put on, but if you did, that video is chock full of tips for you. We have a lineup of really great listener questions today, so I’m going to be jumping straight into those.
Christine asks: I recently read that traditional abdominal exercises like crunches can put strain on the hip joint and lower back, and they really aren’t good anyways since the abdominal muscles are really for stabilization, not for moving the sternum closer to the pelvis. Also, a lot of those exercises seem to use the hip flexors instead of core muscles. I noticed in your core exercise video you don’t do any crunches. Can I ditch the traditional crunches and ab machines at the gym and still get nice definition & core strength if I follow a routine like the one in your video?
Ben answers: This has been a topic of controversy, Christine, for a while and most strength and conditioning specialists have come to the conclusion that exercises like planks and standing torso twists and things that you would consider to be more functional than crunches and sit-ups will actually allow you to build definition and core strength more quickly. Now I personally, in my training, have a couple of caveats to that. I use crunches for the following purposes or variations of a crunch. I’ll use them to warm up my abdominals or to fatigue my abdominals after I’ve done more along the lines of the planks and the torso twists and the functional abdominal exercises. I will also use those in anyone that I’m working with or anyone that I’m advising online who is very overweight and has difficulty, for example, holding a side plank or a front plank and needs to rely on the crunches to gradually get the abdominals stronger before they can progress to those exercises. And then the last thing that I like to consider about the traditional crunches and the sit-ups and the fact that people say they could be bad for you… well in excess, yes. The analogy that best describes it that I’ve heard is if you take a credit card and you bend it over and over and over again, eventually you start to get that kind of white line in the middle of it and then after a while it will give way and that’s why you don’t want to spend every day in the gym doing 100 crunches, doing that flexion of the back over and over again, because you could get an overuse injury just like you could in any joint. But at the same time, it’s not like the human body was not designed to bend at the back repeatedly. A couple of activities that come to mind where you can be in a crunch position – contracting your abdominal muscles or your low back muscles in the same types of positions you would be in when you’re doing a crunch or a sit-up – would be sex or childbirth. I mean both of those, you are moving your back repeatedly or in that position while forcefully contracting your abdominals. So it’s not like it’s a position we’re supposed to stay out of, but over and over again, everyday, you could get an overuse injury. Now I personally… of the three choices – the gym, childbirth, or sex – can definitely tell you which activity I would rather get an overuse injury performing but that’s a discussion for another day. So, the planks, the torso twists, the types of exercises I demonstrate for example in the core training video that’s up at www.bengreenfieldfitness.com – if you click on the video section – those are definitely something that I’m a far bigger proponent of than relying on crunches and abdominal machines. It’s just that I don’t think that crunches need to be completely left out of an exercise routine. So great question, Christine. And I’m going to move on to the next question.
Oh by the way, if you have a question I’ve got a toll free number that you can call and that toll free number is 8772099439 and you can leave a voice mail. The other thing you can do is if you use Skype, you can actually leave me a Skype voice mail at pacificfit. And finally if you want to write in your question, you can email [email protected].
Patrick asks: Ben, I started the Triathlon Dominator program this week and kicked it off with Superset Series. I tried to follow “pick a weight that puts you almost to failure by the last rep” which was a dumb move for me when I haven’t squatted in a year. Needless to say I’ve been very sore and stiff ever since. I could only grind out a 30 min time trial compared to the prescribed 40 min time trial on the bike for the bike lactate threshold test and I didn’t work out at all yesterday. So, I’m just wondering three things:
Was my test accurate? What should I do workout-wise until my quads and glutes stop hating me? And what should I change, if anything, in the weight room to prevent this from happening again? I’ve become a big fan of the podcast. Thanks for everything you do.
Ben answers: Okay, first of all let’s address the first part of your question, whether or not your test was accurate. So what Patrick is referring to is the fact that he was supposed to go out and ride his bike for 30 minutes and record the heart rate during that test – the average heart rate while he was going at his maximum sustainable pace. Okay? Now if you are sore, Patrick, when you are doing that exercise – not over-trained, but just sore – it’s going to affect your ability to produce force. It’s going to affect things like your speed, your pace, your power but it’s not necessarily going to raise your heart rate significantly. So if you’re just tracking that test based off of heart rate, you’re fine. Now if you’re tracking that test and you’re trying to track other things while you’re testing your body like how fast you’re going or how much power you’re producing then you would actually not want to do that test while you’re significantly sore. But if it’s just heart rate that you’re tracking, then that’s okay. So it’s going to depend on what you’re tracking during that test.
Your second question, what should I do workout wise until my quads and glutes stop hating me… well there’s actually – it’s sitting on my lap right now because I had forgotten I wanted to talk to you guys about some of this research – the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. There’s an association called the National Strength and Conditioning Association. They certify personal trainers, strength conditioning coaches and they put out a peer review research journal on a monthly basis. I get that journal. I like to look through it and give you some of the relevant information from it. Well one of the studies in there was titled The Effects of Exhaustive Dumbbell Exercise After Isokinetic Eccentric Damage, Recovery of Static and Dynamic Muscle Performance. That’s a big title. But if we flip open to this journal and I’m holding it in my hands, you like that paper sound effect? Essentially what they found was that when people did an exercise that resulted in muscle damage – what’s called eccentric muscle damage which is a lengthening of the muscle tissue that results in a little bit of tearing and a little bit of soreness – and then they went in the next day and actually worked that same muscle that they produced soreness in again, they found that there really wasn’t much of a delay in recovery and the people were actually able to still exercise at a similar intensity. The hypothesis of the researchers was that when a muscle is torn or damaged from exercise, that when you exercise that same muscle group again on a subsequent day, your body is actually able to draw upon some of the fibers that weren’t actually damaged so you can actually still have a decent workout and still be able to recover as well. I thought this was an interesting study because typically the rule is, for example, if you’re going to do squats you don’t go and do squats the next day. While you may not have the most pleasant workout if you do squats the next day, but you would still be able to get some benefit from that workout and it wouldn’t completely destroy your recovery. So that was a really interesting study, I thought. And I’ll eventually be bringing you guys some of the other studies that came out in this journal this month. But we’ll put those off until after I’m done with all the teleseminars at the Rock Star Triathlete Academy. Then the last part of your question says…
Patrick asks: What should I change, if anything, in the weight room to prevent this from happening again?
Ben answers: Well we’ve talked quite a bit about recovery methods on this show and if you just press the reverse button and go listen to podcast episode number 74, there was a question there where we talked about recovery quite a bit. So I don’t want to kick that whole horse to death two podcasts in a row. But to specifically talk about the weight room, to prevent that from happening again in the weight room, what you want to do is actually stop a little bit earlier than muscle failure because the definition of that is that you’ve actually drawn upon as many muscle fibers as possible for that set and there is going to be quite a bit of muscle damage that occurs. So in that case you would generally want to stop when you feel like you could still do about three more repetitions, okay? So it returns to that rule of three. So if you do 12 repetitions of a squat and you feel like you could have done 15, you stop at 12, you’re probably not going to be quite as sore. And that’s a rule that works well for some of the people that I work with who are just getting into weights and who want to do it without getting excessively sore. Then the last thing I would tell you is that it will get better. The first time you hit the weights in the weight room, it can be quite uncomfortable but it does get better. So don’t think that you’re going to have to put up with that soreness for the rest of all time.
Eric asks: When I work out, I sweat – I mean I sweat a lot. Buckets if you will. After a long spin or a high intensity workout, I am drenched to the point that it looks like I went for a dip in the pool. I have figured out my needs for hydration. However, I sure would like to be less sweaty while engaging in the sports I love and while training for them. I have heard of runners soaking their feet in Epsom salts the night before a race in order to keep their feet from sweating too much the next day – would that a viable solution be for me to draw a bath mixed with Epsom salts or magnesium salts and soak my entire body?
Ben answers: Eric, everybody is different, as you know. I don’t want to give you this genetics lecture that we’re all just one diverse genetic family. Everybody’s got different sweat glands, okay? And everybody’s sweat glands are going to operate at varying levels of activity and typically people who are in very good shape sometimes have very good cooling mechanisms and tend to sweat a little bit more. And sometimes people just sweat a little bit more because of their genetics. Now there are some things that can keep you from sweating, obviously, like deodorant, etc. and I’m not going to talk about those because I know everybody knows about those. One interesting thing is that caffeine can actually increase your sweat rate. That’s why a lot of times if you have a hot cup of coffee before you hop in the car to drive to work, you may find that your pitting out or you’re sweating and that can happen with caffeine consumption. Now it’s an interesting solution that you have about soaking in a salt bath. What that does is it actually dries the skin. It doesn’t matter if it’s Epsom salts or magnesium salts or just regular salt. Obviously regular salt would be a little bit more friendly to your wallet, but that dries the skin and it would reduce swelling a little bit, but you also get some other problems. You get the skin cracking, you get the flaking, you get a lot of the stuff that happens when your skin is very, very dry. As far as the sweat problem, I would say more importantly follow good hygiene when you’re at the gym. Bring a towel, make sure that you wipe down the machine, the bicycle after you workout. Make sure you’re not getting a lot of other people covered in your sweat but I personally don’t have a comprehensive solution for this. If you are listening in and you would like to leave a comment for Eric at www.bengreenfieldfitness.com, then definitely feel free. I will make sure to pass the word on to Eric. And Eric also left a voice message. Here it is.
Eric says: Hey Ben, merry belated Christmas. This is Eric over in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. I’m calling you with more Ironman Dominator updates. Did my scheduled 40 minutes run time trial as scheduled in my Ironman Dominator program and felt really good during the run and went to record my numbers in my book and realized that in two months I have managed to reduce my heart rate by two beats a minute on average, which isn’t as big a deal in of itself, but my pace is a full minute and four seconds faster per mile during that same run on the exact same course. So obviously, the Ironman Dominator program is doing its thing. It’s working really well. Very pleased with the results and I also did my swim time trial last night, managed to knock off a few more seconds off my average G pace. So kudos and great things to say about the Ironman Dominator program and looking forward to continued improvements and standing on the beach next spring. Take care and have a great day.
Ben: Well thanks for the voice mail, Eric, and Eric was referring to a triathlon plan. I basically wrote a triathlon plan for people who have busy lives and still want to be able to do something like an Ironman or a half Ironman triathlon. So you can check that out at www.triathlondominator.com. That was almost like a commercial.
Andy asks: Do you have any recommendations for how to train around a nagging hamstring? Should I focus on just the swimming for a month or swimming and biking but long endurance workouts in the pool and long small chain ring rides on the bike? I’m in no rush as far as my first Ironman event although I would like to start your program soon and have Ironman Canada at the end of August as my goal. It pains me mentally to have this hamstring problem because the run will be the difference for me in qualifying for Kona or not. Right now swimming 2.5 miles in an hour is not a problem and I don’t think a 5 hour bike will be a problem either. It’s really that sub 3:30 marathon is my weak spot and I’m frustrated in not being able to focus my training around the run. I’m looking for what you think will be the best ways to improve fitness right now as I try and let this hammy heal.
Ben answers: Great question Andy. Many of us have gone through injuries and had to face the frustration of trying to maintain fitness of maybe sometimes even increase fitness during injury. I personally have had to kind of be in the same boat as you where I’ve got a big race coming up but I can’t run. Here are the things that I do and that I recommend to my athletes when their hamstrings are injured and they still want to go out and try and become a better runner. The two different elliptical machines in the gym – the one without arms and the one with arms – both of those can be effective. You want to choose one that actually has a ramp setting so that you can adjust the ramp to a setting that does not cause your hamstring to be uncomfortable and typically that’s going to be a lower ramp setting. I also like the elliptical with the arms because your arms can take over some of the work for your legs. So you can take any of the run workouts in your program and actually substitute the equivalent workout on an elliptical trainer. You can do the same thing with aqua jogging. If you go to www.bengreenfieldfitness.com and do a search in the side bar there for aqua jogging, I wrote a pretty comprehensive article about it and all the equipment that you would need and exactly how to do it and some of the things you need to think about in form as far as your aqua jogging. But that also can be a fantastic way, and they did a study sometime back on runners who were actually able to maintain their VO2 max or their maximum aerobic capacity just through the use of aqua jogging for about four weeks. On the bike, you are correct that you would have to hold back a little bit, not push too hard. Chrissy Wellington had to do quite a bit, and still does with a nagging hamstring injury and one thing that she did when she was trying to get better on the bike was she would wear real, real tight compression leggings to keep that hamstring compressed while she was riding. That was something she used quite a bit in the build-up to Kona 2008 I believe it was. Make sure that you’re also training some of the muscles that will take some stress off your legs while you’re running, specifically your core and your hips. Both of which you should be able to train without stressing your hamstring. There are many, many core exercises you can do such as flutter kicks, torso twists, planks – some of the things we talked about earlier in a core question. And then also, your gluteus medius doing something as getting into a crawl position and firing your gluteus maximus and that actually reminds me… there was another study in here… I’m going to shuffle the papers and open up this journal again because they did have a study here on gluteus medius exercises, Andy. And the study was the Electromyographic Analysis of the Gluteus Medius in 5 Weight Bearing Exercises. Now the gluteus medius is a muscle that’s very important for runners and this study looked at 5 different exercises to see which one caused that gluteus medius to fire most significantly, and they compared single leg stance and double leg stance, what are called hip hikes. They looked at the squat, the single leg squat and the finding was if you were able to do a single leg squat which you’re probably not able to do with a hamstring… on a balanced device – that was the best way to build up your gluteus medius. I would simply modify the squat and do what’s called a hip hike, meaning that you’ll stand at the edge of a bench or a chair and all you do is have one side of your body suspended away from that chair, that bench and the other side of your body is on the chair or the bench in a standing position, and you just drop the side that’s hanging out in the air. Go to YouTube, do a search for “hip hikes.” You’ll see them. Great exercise. I’ve also got a few on my Web site over at www.pacificfit.net. I have some videos over there if you go to the resources page on that. So hopefully that helps you out Andy and continue with a lot of the recovery protocols like the icing and the compression and the topical anti-inflammatories, massage if you can do it – all the things that will keep blood flow in that hammy.
Arturu asks: Hey Ben. I am a fitness professional and I recently came across your Web site about six weeks ago. I have been consuming as much of your info as possible. I pride myself on the never ending hunger for new ideas and theories on training and diet for my clients. I just got your video (and he’s referring to the video that I shot about 10 ways to lose fat quickly for the new year) and I was wondering if you could go a little more in depth about not eating two hours before bed and then sleeping eight hours and then going another hour plus exercising without food. That is eleven hours. Would you not be at a catabolic state at that point?
Ben answers: Well the idea behind this, Arturo, is that this catabolic state that you’re referring to would be a state of starvation in the body where it starts to produce a lot of cortisol and will tend to take what you feed it and be more likely to store it away as fat. We don’t want our bodies at that point where we’re tearing down muscle, cannibalizing the body, storing fat, bad situation. And if you exercise completely starved and you exercise for a very long time at a very high intensity, you risk going into that catabolic state. However, if you don’t eat two hours before bedtime and you sleep and you wake up in the morning, your body is primarily going to have burned through its liver glycogen stores. Generally about 400 to 600 calories worth of carbohydrate that your body can rely on while you sleep. Now you also are going to have 1500 to 2000 extra calories of muscle glycogen to draw upon. So what happens is if you wake up and you go exercise real, real hard and start to deplete that muscle glycogen very rapidly, yes. You could go into a catabolic state but if you do very light exercise, aerobic exercise at what would be called your fat burning rate – for most people that’s about a five or a six on a scale of 1 to 10 then what will happen is you will actually be able to increase the activity of those fat burning enzymes and you will actually experience a little bit of an enhanced fat burning effect without actually causing your body to go catabolic from a hard, hard exercise session because you have ample muscle glycogen to draw upon when you exercise with the liver glycogen depleted… the liver steps up the activity of those fat burning enzymes a little bit, okay? So that’s the whole idea behind that. Just don’t get up in the morning and do a very hard or very long exercise session. Now on the same note, I know that many of you realize – or maybe I haven’t mentioned this too much but I stand most of the day… other than when I’m, for example, recording this podcast – when I’m writing articles, when I’m talking on the phone, when I’m writing out my programs for the clients that I train online – I am in a standing position and the reason that I do that is they actually did a study over at the University of Missouri that found that when you stand, you actually stimulate the fat burning enzymes – an enzyme called lipase actually increases when you’re in the standing position and you can facilitate the breakdown of fats into fatty acids that can be used as energy about 10% over your normal sitting rate when you’re in the normal sitting position. So I take every opportunity that I can to stand and that kind of returns to that whole fat burning enzyme issue. That’s another trick that you can use to increase your metabolic rate and literally, a lot of times I will creatively find a place… If I’m at a Starbucks or coffee shop or something of that nature, I will try to find tables that are high that I can stand at. When I’m the airport I usually stand at the counter than sit on the chair when I’m waiting for the plane to leave. So I stand a lot. Typically, I’m standing about six hours a day. It helps out quite a bit with your energy levels and your fat burning.
David asks: I briefly skimmed through some internet blogs and read one on dangers lurking in the swimming pools. Most triathletes visit these pools quite often. I didn’t have much time to read the entire blog thoroughly. It said something about how organic material such as hair, skin, dried sweat and urine reacts with chlorine to produce some bad stuff, something called disinfection byproducts. Can you look into this and see if this is something pool swimmers should take caution towards?
Ben answers: Absolutely, David. It’s a concern, it really is a concern. They had a good article in the New York Times that I’ll link to over in the Shownotes. At the same time I talk about something, I try to link to it over in the Shownotes. And they looked at a bunch of young athletes and this was up in Canada. And this study that took place in 2006 found that these 8 to 12 year old high level swimmers who were spending a lot of time in the pool were suffering from asthma symptoms, upper and lower respiratory symptoms. They had lung congestion, breathing difficulties, sneezing and this wasn’t something that they were just reporting. The scientists actually monitored these swimmers over several practices and found that these difficulties were very correlated to the levels of chlorine and the chlorine byproducts that were in the pool. Now the byproducts that you’re specifically referring to – these disinfection byproducts – what happens is that when the chlorine in the pool reacts with the hair and the skin and any other proteins that are in the pool, then it creates something called a chloramine and a chloramine is actually a toxic byproduct. It tends to settle just right above the surface of the water and that’s where you’re going to breathe and you end up inhaling those into your lungs and chloramines can have a pretty major effect on your bronchial health. They did another study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine where they looked at 50 elite athletes and they found that almost every single one of those singers had inflamed lung tissue. Another study that was in the European Respiratory Journal found that 70% of a group of 32 elite swimmers suffered from something called airway hyper-responsiveness, which means that their bronchial tubes going into their lungs would twitch or spasm when they got into cold air. So when you’re spending a lot of time in the pool, this can be an issue. I know that the average person however does not spend quite as much time in the pool as some of these elite swimmers that we’re talking about. These people are in the water sometimes three, four, five hours a day. If you’re not in the pool that much, it’s not something that you have to worry about as much as some of these people. But if you’re experiencing wheezing, asthma, difficulty breathing, things of that nature when you get out of the pool, you may have to look for a different facility that’s using less chlorine in their water, paying better attention to the level of chemicals in the water. A lot of times I’ve noticed that some of the smaller – the small Podunk gyms with the little swimming pools where the pool boy also happens to be the person who owns the gym is running off doing this and that and not having time to look at the chemicals, I’ve been in a couple of those gyms before and yeah the chemicals can be really bad. Sometimes it’ll be really bad one day and really good the next day. I would stay away from a pool like that and go after some of the facilities that seem to be taking better care of their pools to actually do your swim training. The one thing that you could take away from this though is that although this can be a problem, especially in the studies that they’ve done in elite swimmers, they did do a study on 26 elite swimmers and while 23 of them suffered from asthma – or I’m sorry, 23% of them suffered from asthma during their racing career, once their racing career ended, they tested them again 5 years out and only 4% of them still had the asthma symptoms. So once you start staying away from the pool, some of these problems can go away, once you switch to a better pool with less chlorine some of these problems could go away. But it is an issue and it’s something that you should be aware of and you don’t want to walk into your pool and hop in if it really seems like there are a lot of chemicals floating around. So great question. And I’m going to move into a call-in question from Listener Scott.
Scott asks: Got a podcast question for you. I really enjoyed your YouTube video about the fat loss tips and had a question about the cardio. You recommended doing kind of like a lower intensity cardio in the morning, like a walk – a vigorous, but more of a low impact one – I kind of like that idea. I have some questions though regarding more HIIT training that you talk about in your Shape 21 book. You tend to recommend a lot more intervals in that one and along with the strength training workouts and that seemed to go along with some of the things you talked about in your health handbook – how if you really want to burn calories… the more fast you move, the more calories you burn… but in the fat burning zone, a good rule of thumb if you’re trying to teach your body to burn fat would be if you’re avoiding labored breathing or muscle burning, that you’re still in that zone which could be up to an intensity level of six to eight, which for me might be a slow run, which I kind of like the idea of doing that in the morning. Running sprints in the morning to me isn’t very appealing to get up and do a HIIT workout. Let’s see, you also recommended if you wanted to HIIT to short hard cardio prior to weight training and long slow cardio on the easy days which I like as well. And that just kind of compares that to what you refer to in the past on Allan Cosgrove’s hierarchy of fat loss where number one, he recommends metabolic resistance training. Number two, high intensity interval training and aerobic which I believe would be maybe sprinting and the third would be the high intensity interval training pre-aerobics. So guess my question is in the morning, if I feel like doing a run and keeping it in the six to eight intensity level, am I going to be burning fat and moving closer to losing fat weight? What are your recommendations on that? And maybe do that on easy days and then do more intense sessions on my weight training days? Thank you Ben.
Ben answers: Great question, Scott. And I’m going to be pretty brief but pretty clear with this. What I’m talking about when I’m talking about doing this morning fat burning session is something even easier than working out at what you would describe at a level of 6 to 8. I’m talking about an easy walk with your dog or with your kids where your heart rate is just going up a little bit. We’re talking about movement. Something as simple as 20 to 30 minutes of stretching and yoga can be just as effective. Now you don’t have to make any alterations to, for example, if you’re going through my book Shape 21, you don’t have to change that program at all. If you want a little bit of extra fat loss during that program, go out and walk 20 minutes every morning and then just do the rest of the problem. So this little trick isn’t something that will require you to drastically change up your routine. All you do is you just throw it in there. For example, it’s something that I’ll use when I’m getting ready for a triathlon, I’m trying to shed weight – I will for the last two weeks leading up to that race, continue with all my training exactly as planned – but what I’ll throw in there is a little morning 20 minute walk before breakfast, before I put any food into my body combined with that two hours of no eating before bed. Works very well, takes a little bit of self-control but hey if it was easy, everybody would do it, right? So I think that about wraps it up for today. Remember if you have a question, email [email protected]. Leave me a voice mail at Skype at pacificfit or call 8772099439. Please, please, please leave us a ranking in iTunes. When you go over there and you leave a ranking and you say something nice about the show, that helps tremendously in getting the word out about it which is great. So go over to iTunes. Leave the show some feedback and also if you’re a triathlete and you haven’t checked it out yet, go over to www.rockstartriathlete.com and see some of the things that we’re doing over there. So until next time, this is Ben Greenfield from www.bengreenfieldfitness.com signing out.
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