Category Archives: fitness

Coffee Study: Its not just the caffeine that makes you smart and athletic

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Caffeine and Coffee have been used by athletes to improve athletic performance and to make training easier.  Research is also indicating that coffee may also reduce risk of cognitive decline that comes with age.  A recent study sought to determine which is responsible for the positive effects of coffee on function:  Coffee itself or caffeine?  Aged (or Masters as we prefer to call them) Rats who drink the equivalent of 10 cups of coffee a day do better at cognitively and physically challenging tasks than rats who were given only caffeine supplements.

The Rat Coffee Study Design

All rats were male.  And aged.  Which for rats means about 18 months old.  Rats were given divided into groups and given either

  • Rat chow spiked with powdered coffee
  • Rat chow spiked with the equivalent of plain caffeine

for 8 weeks.  Rats were then subjected to a battery of psychological and neurological tests:

  1. Rod walking:  requiring the animal to balance on a stationary, horizontal rod
  2. Wire suspension: measures muscle strength and ability to grasp a horizontal wire and remain suspended
  3. Inclined screen: measures muscle tone, strength, stamina, and balance by placing the animal on a wire mesh screen tilted 60° to the horizontal plane of the floor
  4. Accelerating rotarod: measures fine motor coordination, balance, and resistance to fatigue by assessing the duration that the animal can remain standing/walking on a rotating, slowly accelerating rod.
  5. Keel hauling.  Rats were immersed in water at one of four random start locations. Each rat was allowed 120 s to escape onto the platform
  6. Plank walking, which measures balance and coordination making the animal walk a plank set out over the starboard bow at a height of approximately 20 feet above shark infested waters.

Now that is a workout.  Performances were recorded with video for submission to the CrossFit Games 2014.

Coffee Performance vs. Caffeine Only Performance

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Mona Lisa Hoists her Kettlebells on a soft, quick-drying tri-blend WODMASTERS workout shirt

The rats who got the powdered coffee did better than the rats who received caffeine supplements.   What does this mean for us?  Coffee, like most foods, is a complex mixture containing hundreds if not thousands of different chemicals.  These chemicals include vitamins and minerals, but there are also many many others whose actions we don’t yet understand.

We also understand very little about how different nutrients interact.  We also know little about the effects of taking too much.   This is why it is better to eat a healthy diet of real food than to rely on supplements or No-Doze Monster drinks or whatever that stuff in the tiny bottles is called.  College students take note.  Masters athletes: Hold off on massive anti-oxidant supplements.  Anti-oxidants at high levels can damage DNA.

Coffee Study: Its not just the caffeine that makes you smarter and more athletic

 

Last note on coffee:

10 cups is probably too much.  No note was made on how jittery and neurotic the rats felt.  High coffee consumption is associated with other problems.

 

Cropley V, Croft R, Silber B, Neale C, Scholey A, Stough C, & Schmitt J (2012). Does coffee enriched with chlorogenic acids improve mood and cognition after acute administration in healthy elderly? A pilot study. Psychopharmacology, 219 (3), 737-49 PMID: 21773723

Cho ES, Jang YJ, Hwang MK, Kang NJ, Lee KW, & Lee HJ (2009). Attenuation of oxidative neuronal cell death by coffee phenolic phytochemicals. Mutation research, 661 (1-2), 18-24 PMID: 19028509

Shukitt-Hale B, Miller MG, Chu YF, Lyle BJ, & Joseph JA (2013). Coffee, but not caffeine, has positive effects on cognition and psychomotor behavior in aging. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 35 (6), 2183-92 PMID: 23344884

Hiking: Eccentric Exercise That's Not That Crazy.

Eccentric Exercise is a hot research topic among exercise physiologists.   Most research has focused on concentric exercise.  As often happens, the eccentric is readily overlooked.  Concentric exercise is exercise that involves muscle fiber shortening.  During eccentric exercise muscles are lengthening under stress.   Hiking is great exercise in part because it involves many different types of stresses.  If you are in mountainous terrain it includes both concentric and eccentric exercise.   Hiking (or running) uphill is concentric exercise, while moving downhill is eccentric.Uphill tends to burn more calories than downhill, but it looks like downhill hiking provides special benefits on its own.

Hiking Eccentric Exercise
A Hiker Prepares Mentally for a bout of Eccentric Exercise

Testing Up Hill (Concentric) and Down Hill (Eccentric Exercise) Hiking.

Researchers in Austria and Lichtenstein have been looking at the benefits of hiking down hill.   The study group has also been looking at ways for people to exercise more easily when they either do not have time or are just not interested in doing it.  The studies used two groups of people.  One group hiked only uphill, and the other hiked only down hill.  Hiking only uphill or only downhill may be problematic for most people.  For the study, a cable car was used to transport hikers in the up group down.  And the down group up.  Blood samples were collected before the start of the hiking procedure and afterward.  Hikers hiked in one direction for two months and then switched to the other directions.

 

Hiking results and findings.

hiking uphill concentric exercise
A hiker rests above 15,000 feet after a little too much concentric exercise and not enough oxygen

Hiking uphill and downhill both improved blood measures of total cholesterol, low-density lippoprotein cholesterole (LDL), apolipproteinB/A1 ratios (by about 11%), insulin resistance and reduced levels of C-reactive protein by ~30%.  Hiking uphill burns more energy.  Hiking uphill requires about 4x as much energy as hiking downhill.

Still, it is nice to know that walking downhill is so healthy.  I find down-hill hiking stresses my knees and toes.  However if you are one of those people who enjoys the downhills don’t worry too much if you hitch rides on cable cars.  Or mules.  Or whatever else is available.  Perhaps this research will result in the development of a new type of fitness equipment: A Stair Descender.

Eccentric exercise is the type of exercise stressor that leads to muscle soreness.  And delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  But there is increasing evidence that eccentric exercise is more effective for improving muscle strength.

 

If you are looking for traditional hiking or eccentric exercise options and ideas take a look at:

Zeppetzauer M, Drexel H, Vonbank A, Rein P, Aczel S, & Saely CH (2013). Eccentric endurance exercise economically improves metabolic and inflammatory risk factors. European journal of preventive cardiology, 20 (4), 577-84 PMID: 22505055
Drexel H, Saely CH, Langer P, Loruenser G, Marte T, Risch L, Hoefle G, & Aczel S (2008). Metabolic and anti-inflammatory benefits of eccentric endurance exercise – a pilot study. European journal of clinical investigation, 38 (4), 218-26 PMID: 18339002

Masters Athletes: Finger length ratios and muscle mass.

Mona Lisa Works the Bells Shirt

Muscle mass decreases with age.  Loss of muscle mass may begin as early as the Mid-20s.  However the rate of loss increases once a person passes the age of 60 or 65.  Good news is that resistance training and exercise increases muscle anabolic response.  An increase in protein may also be called for.  (see our last article).

Finger length ratios and muscle mass.

People may be more or less likely to lose strength and muscle mass as they age.  One of the factors that may be important is the amount of androgens (testosterone) you were exposed to before birth (Halil et al. 2013).  Not much that can be done about this now.  Other than to keep working out.  But it might help to know if you needed to keep more of an eye out.  And take care to protect yourself by maintaining strength and fitness.

WODMasters Bat Shit Mug

The ratio of the index finger to the ring finger is used as a measure of pre-natal androgen exposure.  (that’s androgens, such as testosterone, before birth).  The longer your index finger is than your ringer finger = the more testosterone your were exposed to before birth.  New research indicates the longer your ring finger the stronger you are likely to be in old age.  A longer ring finger is also associated with better math skills and higher risk of autism.  Ratio of these fingers is also associated with bunch of other interesting things. Like success in sumo wrestling (Tamiya et al. 2012).  

Tamiya, R., Lee, S., & Ohtake, F. (2012). Second to fourth digit ratio and the sporting success of sumo wrestlers Evolution and Human Behavior, 33 (2), 130-136 DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2011.07.003

Halil, M., Gurel, E., Kuyumcu, M., Karaismailoglu, S., Yesil, Y., Ozturk, Z., Yavuz, B., Cankurtaran, M., & Arıogul, S. (2013). Digit (2D:4D) ratio is associated with muscle mass (MM) and strength (MS) in older adults: Possible effect of in utero androgen exposure Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 56 (2), 358-363 DOI: 10.1016/j.archger.2012.11.003  

Giffin NA, Kennedy RM, Jones ME, & Barber CA (2012). Varsity athletes have lower 2D:4D ratios than other university students. Journal of sports sciences, 30 (2), 135-8 PMID: 22132823

CrossFit Training: How fitness protects from chronic disease

CrossFit Training and recent research on links between adaptation to fitness and increased levels of anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants lower risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.There are many benefits in maintaining fitness.  Regular exercise reduces risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.  While the association of exercise and disease prevention has been strong, understanding why has been unclear.  But this is changing.

CrossFit Training, Anti-oxidants, free-radicals and fitness.

Uncontrolled free-radicals are major factors in the development of serious diseases.  Diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease are all conditions where free-radicals are thought to play major roles.  Free radicals are molecules or atoms that have lost an electron.  These pose problems because they are very reactive and will grab electrons from other molecules.  Free radicals can also interact with other molecules, stress cells and throw wrenches in the works.  This includes wrench throwing into your DNA.    Damaged DNA that is not repaired can result in cancer.  Or birth defects.  Free radicals also  damage tissues and organs by damaging large numbers of cells. They can damage pancreatic beta cells and increase risk of type 2 diabetes.

CrossFit Training and How fitness protects from cancer, heart disease, diabetes.

Of CrossFit Training and General Health.  Anti-oxidants protect us from free-radicals by neutralizing them.  Having enough anti-oxidants reduces risk of diabetes, cancer, or heart disease.  Exercise causes a number of changes beyond weight loss and fitness.  And these changes play into the free-radical games.   These changes are adaptions to the increased stress of exercise.  When people are first getting in shape there is an increase in free-radical production.  And a temporary increase in physical stress.   As a result, your body suffers inflammation, along with aches and pains. This is very much like what happens when you get sick with a fever.  This may be a good part of why getting in shape sucks so much.   When you are getting in shape (or trying to push yourself to a higher level) your body will produce more free-radicals, including more reactive oxygen species, until it adapts to your new level of activity.  Part of that adaptation includes increasing production of its own anti-oxidants.  Once you have adapted you will be producing enough anti-oxidants to protect against other sources of free-radicals.

CrossFit Training, Endurance or Weight Training?

What is CrossFit looking like in terms of increasing anti-oxidants?  Is Endurance Training best?  Or Resistance Training?  So far animal testing indicates that endurance exercise works best for protection against inflammation and production of anti-oxidants (Oliveira et al. 2012).  The animals in the study were subjected to endurance training, resistance training or combination training.   Hopefully more work will be done in this area and we will get a better picture of what is optimal for humans.  Weight training (resistance exercise) remains important.  And CrossFit exercises (and high intensity interval training) show very promising results on other aspects of health and fitness.  It seems likely that adaptation to these forms of exercise (i.e. CrossFit) will produce similar results to endurance training.

 

de Lemos ET, Oliveira J, Pinheiro JP, & Reis F (2012). Regular physical exercise as a strategy to improve antioxidant and anti-inflammatory status: benefits in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2012 PMID: 22928086

de Oliveira VN, Bessa A, Jorge ML, Oliveira RJ, de Mello MT, De Agostini GG, Jorge PT, & Espindola FS (2012). The effect of different training programs on antioxidant status, oxidative stress, and metabolic control in type 2 diabetes. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37 (2), 334-44 PMID: 22458821

Women should train for pull-ups for more than three months".

A recent New York Times blog post was entitled “why women can’t do pullups.”  Another news article states “even fit women can’t do pull-ups“.  These are interesting headlines, especially to women who can do pullups. The headlines refer to a study at the University of Dayton (can’t find the study itself, sorry) that attempted to train women to do pull-ups over a short period of time.

Women and girls work on pull-ups at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX.

Yes, women and girls can do pull-ups.  The study mentioned in the Times only looked at women who could not do pull-ups to begin with, and then only trained them for three months.  Three months may not be a long enough training period. Hanging by your fingers and pulling your entire body weight up is not an everyday activity for most people.  It is not only muscles that would need conditioning, but tendons too.  And possibly the neural circuits that would be able to figure out “yes, I can do this action without tearing myself.” and allow the action to proceed.

“Women can’t do pull-ups” vs. “Women should train for pull-ups for more than three months.”

 

Even so, nearly 25% of the women who completed the training were able to do at least one pull-up after three months.  I wish the headline had read “Most women should train for pull-ups for more than three months.”  For me, my ability to hold onto the bar seems to be the limiting factor.  I tend to drop off after 20 or so even though I’m not fatigued muscle-wise.   If you are working on pull-ups keep at it and don’t let words like “women can’t do pull-ups” discourage you.   The most important factor in pull-ups may be lean body mass (Johnson et al. 2009.)  Not gender. Not body fat (although this will matter too.) Women will have less lean body mass (for the most part) than men.  And that takes time and effort to build.  Especially for women. But this doesn’t mean you can’t work up to it.
Be stubborn.  That goes for men too.

As far as the researchers who did the study are concerned, please note that research is often grabbed and misrepresented by well-meaning journalists.  We are glad they are studying women and fitness.  Hope to hear more from them in the future.  If only the headlines had read “many women cannot do pull-ups after training for 12 weeks at the University of Dayton” instead of “women can’t do pull-ups.”

A very tall husband-wife team bend their knees to avoid hitting the ground while doing pull-ups.

Johnson D, Lynch J, Nash K, Cygan J, & Mayhew JL (2009). Relationship of lat-pull repetitions and pull-ups to maximal lat-pull and pull-up strength in men and women. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 23 (3), 1022-8 PMID: 19387371

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CrossFit in home: without the Box

How to do CrossFit wtihout the box.

CrossFit without a box?  CrossFit memberships can be expensive, especially if there are several family members involved.  Some boxes have family rates.  But not all.  It recently came to our attention that a new, nearby CrossFit Gym is requiring at least a six month contract.  They also charge more than our home box, CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX, which has a monthly fee.  And more than the other local boxes, some of which we have reviewed here.  I don’t know how many other boxes are using automatic billing systems designed for some martial arts businesses and globogyms.  I’m sure it helps increase revenue.  However, those billing companies can be obnoxious.  We were charged for over a year by one after we our contract had expired and we declined to renew.  We had to take legal action to stop harassment and compounding interest charges.

CrossFit at home.

Sure its possible to CrossFit at home without having a box.  A lot of people have their own equipment and do their own programming. All it takes is dedication, and sometimes a bit of ingenuity. You can reach out to friends and acquaintances and start your own informal CrossFit group.  Here is an example of a challenging and effective Crossfit workout at home, in Vancouver, Canada.   Vancouver also has an amazing CrossFit School.  It is worth taking a look.