Category Archives: strength

Strength, Masters Athletes and Finger length ratios.

Masters Athletes are markedly different than other athletes. Loss of muscle mass may begin as early as the Mid-20s. And the rate of loss increases once a person passes the age of 60 or 65. Good news is that resistance training and exercise increase muscle anabolic response. Even for older people. Muscle maintenance or increase in muscle mass may be aided by additional protein intake. Especially in Masters athletes and older people in general.

Masters Athletes and Finger length ratios.

Masters Athletes. As with most things, people vary.  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) an individual was exposed to before birth (Halil et al. 2013). There is not much that can be done about this now. Other than to keep working out and eating well.  But it might help to know if you needed to keep more of an eye out. And take steps to protect yourself by maintaining strength and fitness. There are plenty of Masters athletes, CrossFit and otherwise, out there. We will be keeping an eye out for masters athletes during the upcoming CrossFit Games. Hopefully someone is collecting all that data.

How to tell if you are likely to lose strength or stay strong.

The ratio of the index finger to the ring finger is used as a marker for 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 is in proportion to your index 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. People with longer ring fingers are more likely to be varsity athletes in college and are more likely to find success in sumo wrestling (Tamiya et al. 2012).

CrossFit workouts for people with long index fingers

If you have relatively long index fingers, don’t panic. There’s no point worrying about something you can’t change. But you can continue to do CrossFit workouts. And keep weight lifting. And being active. Resistance exercise is probably the best thing you can do.

 

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

Halil M, Gurel EI, Kuyumcu ME, Karaismailoglu S, Yesil Y, Ozturk ZA, Yavuz BB, Cankurtaran M, & Ariogul 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), 358-63 PMID: 23219021

Crossfit Training: Women require different rest strategies for strength and competition.

250x400 Birth of Venus Banner
Birth of Venus Shirt for Crossfit Women and all kinds of other Strong Women

CrossFit women and men may differ in need for rest after WODs.  Or strength training. This may be important as athletes prepare for the CrossFit Games. Women lose strength faster than men when they take time off.  Muscle mass seems to stay the same for both when athletes reduce training for 7 days. The responsiveness of rested muscle fibers to electrical stimulation also seems to stay the same. However, women still lose more strength than men during rest periods. Rest periods are sometimes referred to as “unloading.” A new paper on why this happens suggests its nerves.  Not muscle tissue. The study looked at 7 and 14 day unloading periods. This is a long rest period for CrossFit athletes. But common among weightlifters.  Many athletes will be unloading prior to The Games. Weight training causes changes in muscle tissue. That is pretty obvious.  However, it also produces changes in nerve function. Nerves adapt and become more efficient. They become better able to recruit cells and coordinate their actions.  And make a trained person able to lift more weight.   Or a CrossFit athlete better able to do a WOD.  The larger loss of strength in women seems to be rooted in the central nervous system.   Women’s neurons may be quicker to let down their guard. This may mean that women should take shorter rest periods than men in order to maintain strength. And shorter rests before competitions.

What about Masters CrossFit and Masters Athletes?

Most studies are done using young volunteers.  There are usually a lot of them hanging around Universities.  And someone needs to collect and analyze the data.  This is often left to middle-age and older academics.  This means there is a lot less information for Masters athletes.  There is very good evidence though that neuro-muscular function improves with training in middle and older age.  It looks the same for men and women.  So keep at it.

The Take-Away: Women may need shorter unloading periods before competition than men.

Masters Athletes:  Use your judgement.

Deschenes MR, McCoy RW, & Mangis KA (2012). Factors relating to gender specificity of unloading-induced declines in strength. Muscle & nerve, 46 (2), 210-7 PMID: 22806370

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, The Paleo Diet, Alcohol and Vodka

CrossFit, Paleo Diet, alcohol and athletes.

Main points:

  1. alcohol slows recovery from training and exercise
  2. alcohol increases decline in muscle performance
  3. alcohol impairs nerve response to training and exercise.

About alcohol and athletes and the paleolthic diet (the paleo diet): a lot of athletes follow it.   Especially CrossFit athletes.  And I’ve been hearing a lot about alcohol in the CrossFit community.  Questions floating around have been:  Is Vodka the best drink for people following a paleo diet?  And Is Vodka best for CrossFit?  I’m not sure why these questions are coming up so often.  I would attribute it to geekery.  People with geeky tendencies spend a lot of energy tweeking and micro-adjusting.  You can see this a lot in the Paleo diet community and among CrossFit people as well.  This tendency seems to come with the drive for perfection.

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I was asked an interesting question by a teenager who has cut milk and juice out of his diet because they are “unhealthy”.  He follows the paleo diet.  You don’t need juice or milk to have a healthy diet.  But the question was not about that.  The young person asked if he should drink Vodka because he had read that it was “the healthiest drink.”

Is drinking alcohol good for athletes?

That was funny.  You might think “good try bud.”  But it wasn’t all funny because he is sincere in wanting to be healthy.  And sincere in following the paleo diet.  I mentioned the story to an adult friend who is also follows the paleo diet and received “funny” and authoritative response.  “That is actually true.”  Where is this idea about vodka coming from?  I thought “maybe Mark’s Daily Apple?”  But Mark is pretty good about outlining the good and the bad.  Alcohol can be quite dangerous when used recklessly.  It can also be dangerous when used in ignorance.  Are there other teens out there who think they should be downing vodka after weighlifting?  Other adults?  Is alcohol bad for athletes? Is alcohol Paleo?

A young boy rests between lifts at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX.  This is not the kid who asked about Vodka

Looking at alcohol and athletics from current research: athletes should not drink alcohol after training.  Even moderate amounts slow recovery.  And even moderate mounts reduce strength (Barnes et al. 2010).  Alcohol also seems to impair activation of muscle contraction. (Barnes et al. 2012).  For a current (2010) review of what’s known and what still needs work the Vella paper is a good place to start.  You can read it free here.

Research so far, and a lot of anecdotal evidence, indicates that alcohol (ethanol) is not good for athletic performance.  And that alcohol is not good strength gain.  Feel free and comfortable telling this to any teens who ask about alcohol and health.  Or about alcohol and athletes.  As for the “is alcohol paleo?” question one could think about evolution and selective pressure.

Is Alcohol Paleo?

Since the Paleo Diet is an attempt to follow a pre-agricultural diet we’ll have to use our imaginations to answer that question.  Were paleolithic people (or monkeys or australopithecus) who drank alcohol more likely to reproduce and pass along their genes?  Let’s guess yes on reproduction.  Survival of offspring  . . . might depend on how drunk, how often.  Let’s guess the occasional handful of fermented berries would have given best odds.

Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2010). Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia, 13 (1), 189-93 PMID: 19230764

Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2012). The effects of acute alcohol consumption and eccentric muscle damage on neuromuscular function. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37 (1), 63-71 PMID: 22185621

Vella LD, & Cameron-Smith D (2010). Alcohol, athletic performance and recovery. Nutrients, 2 (8), 781-9 PMID: 22254055 Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2010). Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia, 13 (1), 189-93 PMID: 19230764

CrossFit Paleo Alcohol and Vodka

Is alcohol good for athletes?  Is alcohol “Paleo”?

Is Alcohol Paleo?  Is Vodka the best drink for people following a paleo diet?  Is Vodka best for CrossFit?  I’m not sure why these questions are coming up so often.  I would attribute it to geekery.  People with geeky tendencies often try to tweek and adjust.  And you can see this a lot in the Paleo community and among CrossFit people as well.  I was asked an interesting question by a teenager who has cut milk and juice out of his diet because they are “unhealthy”.  You don’t need juice or milk to have a healthy diet.  But the question was not about that.  The young person asked if I could buy him Vodka because he had read that it was “the healthiest drink.”

Is drinking alcohol good for athletes?

That was funny.  You might think “good try bud.”  But it wasn’t all funny because I know he is sincere in wanting to be healthy.  I mentioned the story to an adult friend who is also very health conscious and received “funny” response.  “That’s actually true.”  Where is this coming from?  I thought “maybe Mark’s Daily Apple?”  But Mark is pretty good about outlining the good and the bad.  Alcohol can be quite dangerous when used recklessly.  It can also be dangerous when used in ignorance.  Are there other teens out there who think they should be downing vodka after weighlifting?  Other adults?  Is alcohol bad for athletes?

A young boy rests between lifts at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX.  This is not the kid who asked about Vodka

Looking at current research: athletes should not drink alcohol after training.  Even moderate amounts slow recovery and reduce strength (Barnes et al. 2010).  Alcohol also seems to impair activation of muscle contraction (Barnes et al. 2012).  For a current (2010) review of what’s known and what still needs work the Vella paper is a good place to start.  You can read it free here.

Reseaerch so far, and a lot of anecdotal evidence supports, indicates that alcohol (ethanol) is not good for athletic performance or for strength gain.  Feel free and comfortable telling this to any teens who ask.

Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2010). Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia, 13 (1), 189-93 PMID: 19230764

Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2012). The effects of acute alcohol consumption and eccentric muscle damage on neuromuscular function. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37 (1), 63-71 PMID: 22185621

Vella LD, & Cameron-Smith D (2010). Alcohol, athletic performance and recovery. Nutrients, 2 (8), 781-9 PMID: 22254055

Protein intake and recovery for Masters Athletes

How much protein do Athletes need?

Younger athletes may benefit from increased protein intake in a number of ways. Increased protein intake may result in muscle strength gains in young adults in as quickly as six weeks (Candow et al. 2006).  Protein supplements may also increase strength in elderly people (average age 83) as well (Bjorkman et al. 2012).  The Bjorkman study of 106 elderly men and women showed a 2.1% gain in body weight with a high-leucine whey protein supplement vs. a 1.9% loss in weight with a placebo.  This was over a six month period.  Leucine is important because it serves as a trigger for muscle synthesis.  Leucine is also a branched chain amino acid (bcaa).  This does not mean supplements are better than a healthy diet. We have evolved to eat food, after all. However, we also seem to have evolved to not do as well as we’d like as we get older. Masters athletes may benefit from increased protein intake.
CrossFit Games Masters Competitor Ken Cutrer of CrossFit EST,

Protein may speed recovery.

Protein intake after exercise may also help speed recovery.  This would be important to athletes participating in an extended period of competition. The CrossFit games, for example. Or in similar high output situations. Whey protein hydrolysate increases the rate of recovery after resistance training.  When protein is hydrolysated it has been partially broken down.  This speeds absorption.  Unhydrolysated proteins (normal proteins from food) may take longer.   This may mean recovery takes 6 hrs. rather than 24 hrs (Buckley et al. 2010).

Masters athletes may benefit from protein supplements.

Older athletes take longer to recover, and lose ground faster during periods of inactivity. Hydrolysated protein supplements and supplements with high leucine content may help Masters Athletes.

WODMasters Designs at the WODMasters Online Store

Candow DG, Burke NC, Smith-Palmer T, & Burke DG (2006). Effect of whey and soy protein supplementation combined with resistance training in young adults. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 16 (3), 233-44 PMID: 16948480

Buckley JD, Thomson RL, Coates AM, Howe PR, DeNichilo MO, & Rowney MK (2010). Supplementation with a whey protein hydrolysate enhances recovery of muscle force-generating capacity following eccentric exercise. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia, 13 (1), 178-81 PMID: 18768358

Björkman, M., Finne-Soveri, H., & Tilvis, R. (2012). Whey protein supplementation in nursing home residents. A randomized controlled trial European Geriatric Medicine, 3 (3), 161-166 DOI: 10.1016/j.eurger.2012.03.010

Masters Athletes respond to protein intake and resistance exercise as well as young athletes.

CrossFit Masters Athletes and Protein Intake

This is an interesting bit of research.  It was published a year ago but doesn’t seem to have been picked up by news sources.  Here it is: Masters muscles respond to protein intake and resistance exercise by making more muscle as well as young adults.  The study (Patton-Jones et al. 2011) looked at 7 young adults and 7 adults with an average age of 67.  They did multiple reps of knee extensions and ate a meal of lean ground beef.  Its a small number of people, which limits its power, but its hard to recruit people for this kind of thing.  And . . . it required a muscle biopsy.  That might have hurt.  The authors didn’t mention if it did or not.  Thank you study people for doing this for us.

Crossfit Master Amy Kramer of Crossfit Seven,
 Competes in a Reebok CrossFit Fundraiser
at Luke’s Locker, Fort Worth, TX.

Do Masters Athletes need more protein?

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t important differences between people in their 60s and people in their 20s.  See this earlier post.  What the research tells us though is that the rate at which muscle proteins are synthesized following protein intake and resistance training does not appear to change with age.  At least not through our 60s.  The results are important because we all want to stay strong, and most of us would like to get stronger.  That, along with a desire for fun and camaraderie is why we do Crossfit.

Protein Intake and Sarcopenia

It seems like there are a lot of messages out there telling us we won’t be able to.  Stuff it.  Another reason why these results are important is because people tend to lose muscle mass as they age.  This is what sarcopenia is.  It can be a real problem for the elderly, and can severely limit their ability to get around and take care of the business of life.  The question of how much of sarcopenia is inevitable, and how much is due to inactivity hasn’t been completely answered.  But this study points to lack of resistance exercise as a possible major factor.

Symons TB, Sheffield-Moore M, Mamerow MM, Wolfe RR, & Paddon-Jones D (2011). The anabolic response to resistance exercise and a protein-rich meal is not diminished by age. The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 15 (5), 376-81 PMID: 21528164

Diet and protein: training, performance and long-term health.

Protein Intake, training and performance

Diet, protein intake and performance are interwoven issues. The aim of training is improve the body’s ability to perform certain tasks (and in the case of CrossFit it is to achieve a high degree of effectiveness and competence in a wide range of skills and efforts).

Lucas Allen and Summer Rogers at the SouthCentral
Crossfit 2012 Regionals.  Both are in their thirties.

The goal of nutrition in training is to help the body (the entire thing) adapt and remodel, or at least maintain what you have and can do. Bodies like efficiency. Your body will see no point in maintaining bone or muscle that does not look like it’s going to be used any time soon and will let it go. That’s why people who have been ill and disabled for a long time become so frail. When challenged your body (which means here not only muscle and bone, but brain, nerves, biochemical pathways and efficiency, cell proliferation and organelle numbers and function, and neurotransmitters) changes to meet that particular challenge. Protein is important here for repair, strengthen and reinforcement of stressed tissue. Strength-oriented athletes have traditionally made efforts to increase protein intake and there is some evidence that this is effective in increasing muscle mass. There is also evidence that increasing protein intake can reduce the rate of loss of muscle mass seen in aged people.  That’s good for us Masters too.

Cody Zamaripa, age 46, counts burpees during the 2012 Open
at Crossfit Seven, in Fort Worth, TX.

Not all of the protein you can consume will be used to increase mass. Your body will use what it needs, or what it anticipates needing in the near future (in case you persist in doing all those squats, jerks, kettle bell swings and pushups.) Consuming more than you need will probably not hurt you (unless you’ve really gone overboard). Not consuming enough will slow repair and limit your ability to adapt to physiological and mechanical stress.

 Endurance athletes have long been encouraged to eat plenty of carbohydrates since availability of carbs can be a limiting factor in performance. This is why consuming dilute fruit juice (or sugar water) can delay exhaustion and allow an athlete to continue to run, bike or whatever longer than they would if they had been drinking plain water. However if you are always running on carbohydrates you may not adapt biochemically speaking. Normally, if you are low on carbohydrates (or glycogen) your body will attempt to increase the rate at which is uses its own fat stores for energy. Being habitually low on carbs may increase your ability to generate energy by other means. You will probably be uncomfortable for at least a while, but you might improve at this the longer you train.    There are really too many unknowns floating around at present to know exactly what is best.  What is best probably varies by individual, situation, stage of life, and training goals. New information becomes available all the time. We’ll see how things fall out.

Churchward – Venne, T., Burd, N., Phillips, S., & Research Group, E. (2012). Nutritional regulation of muscle protein synthesis with resistance exercise: strategies to enhance anabolism Nutrition & Metabolism, 9 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-9-40  

Logan-Sprenger, H., Heigenhauser, G., Killian, K., & Spriet, L. (2012). The effects of dehydration during cycling on skeletal muscle metabolism in females Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31825abc7c  

Symonsi, T., Sheffield-Moore, M., Mamerow, M., Wolfe, R., & Paddon-Jones, D. (2010). The anabolic response to resistance exercise and a protein-rich meal is not diminished by age The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 15 (5), 376-381 DOI: 10.1007/s12603-010-0319-z ResearchBlogging.org

Strength vs. Endurance and the Master Athlete.

Strength or Endurance or Both?

Masters Crossfitters, face a problem of having to work harder to build speed and strength, and maintain it, than do more junior athletes.  There is unfortunately not a lot of research on Masters’ performance and most of what there is focused on endurance athletes like swimmers, runners and cyclists.  And little to go by when training as a Crossfit Master.  As Crossfitters we need everything: speed, endurance and strength.  

Post CrossFit WOD at CrossFit Seven.

As a general rule, all masters athletes can keep a competitive edge over peers by combining high-intensity aerobic and resistance training.  This is exactly what we are getting in varied strength and endurance programming. Endurance athletes score high on cardiovascular markers with greater arterial flexibility, less thickening of arterial walls and better vascular endothelial performance (performance of the inner layers of blood vessels) than others.   Unfortunately they show little preservation of muscle mass over time. Those who are primarily into resistance training maintain muscle mass and function better than others, but do not do as well on cardiovascular tests as those who focus on endurance. The best strategy appears to be to keep up with both and both will be important for Crossfit performance.  That goes for juniors too. 

Shibata, S., & Levine, B. (2012). Effect of exercise training on biologic vascular age in healthy seniors AJP: Heart and Circulatory Physiology, 302 (6) DOI: 10.1152/ajpheart.00511.2011

Reaburn, P., & Dascombe, B. (2008). Anaerobic performance in masters athletes European Review of Aging and Physical Activity, 6 (1), 39-53 DOI: 10.1007/s11556-008-0041-6

CrossFit Training for Masters: how to stay strong and healthy

 CrossFit Training For Masters Atheletes.

How to be your best.

Remember who you are now:

Crossfit Seven Master Athlete Mark P. Demos Pull-ups
More confident, smart and astute.   Less of an idiot.  Less impulsive.  Still, every now and then the cognitive and physical end up on different pages. You know that awkward feeling you get when you dive for a Frisbee, knowing exactly where your body should have been to gracefully capture it?  Don’t let that happen with a heavy weight. 
Reduce other sources of stress.
If you can.  Stress can lead to elevated levels of cortisol, which will depress levels of growth hormone, possibly slowing recovery.
 
Don’t overtrain.
This can be a hard thing not to do.  For a lot of us, the whole point of doing Crossfit is to push ourselves.  A lot of us also use Crossfit to unwind, enjoy time with people we like, and work out the day’s frustrations.  However, there seems to be a consensus that rest and recovery are extremely important.  A lot of masters athletes will be wondering what the ideal program would be; especially if they are headed for a competition.  That goes for young and junior athletes too, who tend to feel invincible and may have more of a problem letting up on intensity.  There is little research on how much training or how much rest are ideal for Masters.  Best advice to follow is listen to your body and see how you feel.  Most of us are much better at this than we were as novices.  If you are a novice, and over train, prepare to be injured, uncomfortable, and really tired.  And maybe irritable and not as fun to be around as you usually are.  Focus on building strength, flexibility and endurance rather than worrying about keeping pace or beating someone else.  One of the wonderful things about Crossfit is that Trainers and fellow Crossfitters will yell at you to PUSH!  Unless you are exceptionally hot, famous and outgoing, it’s unlikely that they will know your body as well as you do.  Or know much about Masters Athletes in general.
Don’t over rest.
Masters may need a smarter recovery strategy.  You need to longer to recover but can tolerate less inactivity than juniors.  There is also some evidence that long periods of rest (10 days) may cause masters athletes to lose some of the enhanced glucose control gained through training faster than younger athletes.  Use active recovery methods and vary your training.


Fell J, & Williams D (2008). The effect of aging on skeletal-muscle recovery from exercise: possible implications for aging athletes. Journal of aging and physical activity, 16 (1), 97-115 PMID: 18268815 ResearchBlogging.org