Category Archives: weightlifting

CrossFit Supplements: Deer Antler Velvet Supplements and Human Growth Hormone. Yes or No?

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Deer antler velvet supplements are marketed to body builders, weightlifters, athletes and others. Advertisements claim that deer antler velvet can increase strength gain, speed recovery, improve joint health and increase “vigor.” Deer antler velvet has been used as traditional medicine in China for quite some time. When I first heard about it I thought this was a load of hooey and hoped that no deer were harmed in production.  It turns out that Deer Antler Velvet Supplements may work after all.  Their effectiveness may depend on how much human growth factor has been added to them.

Deer antler velvet supplements for athletes
Deer antler velvet supplements? You can do just great without them. Crossfit Athlete Lynne2 shops at WODMasters

How deer antler velvet supplements might work.

Deer antler velvet is a velvety substance that covers the developing antlers of male deer.  Antlers require a lot of bone building in a relatively short period of time.  The growth is hormone driven.  Deer antler velvet contains a hormone called Insulin Like Growth Factor.  You may know it as IGF or IGF-1.  Normal deer produce deer IGF.  It is a little different than human IGF.  IGF is used to treat some forms of dwarfism and stunting in children.  It increases growth.  It shows promise in some medical treatments for nerve damage.  IGF declines with age and some people believe that increasing growth hormones will slow or halt aging.  IGF may help preserve muscle mass and strength.  However, IGF can also increase the growth of abnormal cells and increase risk of cancer.

Does deer IGF have the same effect as human IGF?

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It probably does.  Deer IGF and human IGF are very similar.  Deer antler IGF can probably interact with human IGF receptors.  However this isn’t known for sure.  A very interesting paper on Deer Antler Velvet was published this month (October 2013).  Researchers analyzed Deer Antler Velvet supplements and found that many of them actually contained human IGF or IGF from other species in addition to deer IGF.  Athlete use of IGF is illegal.  If you are a competitive athlete you should not use deer antler velvet supplements unless you are sure it has not been “beefed” up with illegal additives.  Other people should avoid deer antler velvet supplements too because using them may increase risk of cancer.

Cox HD, & Eichner D (2013). Detection of human insulin-like growth factor-1 in deer antler velvet supplements. Rapid communications in mass spectrometry : RCM, 27 (19), 2170-8 PMID: 23996390

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

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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

CrossFit and Weightlifting Belts: CJ Del Balso

There has been some debate on whether or not CrossFit participants should use weightlifting belts.  We asked Weightlifting coach CJ Del Balso for his thoughts on weightlifting belts.  CJ coaches youth lifters and also offers weightlifting workshops for Masters Athletes at CrossFit EST and CrossFit Iron Horse in the Dallas Fort Worth area.  

CJ Del Balso: It is always better to go without one  [lifting belt] provided your lumbar spine is healthy and your lifting technique is sound; however, there is a place for them in certain circumstances.

WODMasters: What kind of circumstances?

CJ Del Balso:  If an individual has a preexisting low back injury, I don’t have a problem with using a belt in things like heavy squats, dead lifts and the Olympic lifts. This is especially true with masters level lifters where it’s just not worth the risk of incurring another injury.

CJ Del Balso with his lifting team

WODMasters:  Would it be good for Masters to wear lifting belts all the time?  A lot of us already have back issues.

CJ Del Balso:  Even on the movements I mentioned,I do believe it is good to go without a belt as much as possible to strengthen the core without supportive gear. For example, a belt may not be needed on back squats until a certain weight is reached. Because I work primarily with youth lifters, this is not an issue I deal with much. I do not let any of my lifters wear belts other than when we do 1RM back squats but they are also learning proper technique from the very beginning so the risk of injury is minimized.

WODMasters:  Thanks so much.

CJ Del Balso:  I hope that helps and feel free to contact me with any other questions you may have. Take care!

Weightlifting, Belts, CrossFit and Back Injury

Weightlifting belts?  Should lifting belts be worn while weightlifting?  Or during CrossFit WODs?  Or during CrossFit competitions?  Many weightlifters swear by lifting belts.  But some believe weightlifting belts are a crutch that will slow progress.  There are a lot of strong opinions.

One of the dangers with CrossFit and weights is that people can get hurt.  This is especially true when enthusiasm and fatigue cause athletes to choose excessive weight and lose form.  Or worse, never develop good form at all.  We highly recommend attending extra lifting workshops if you are doing CrossFit. CrossFit Lifting Certifications are great too.  Even if you are not a trainer.

Weightlifting belts and how weightlifting belts work.

This belted lifter was called a eunuch.
Unnecessary.  But he did refuse to disprove it.

When a weightlifter (or worker or anyone) lifts a load, pressure on the spine increases.  If pressure is extreme the spine may be immediately damaged (acute damage).  Long term and repeated high pressure to the spine can cause damage over time.  Either of these situations should be avoided.  A weightlifting belt will reduce the amount of compression on the spine.  That is why many workers are required to wear weightlifting belts on the job.

Research on weightlifting belts indicates that it is very important to inhale before the lift.  Even if you are wearing a belt.  This increases intra-abdominal pressure, which reduces stress on the spine.  Inhaling before lifting without a belt also reduces pressure on the spine.  But not as much as inhaling before lifting while also wearing a weightlifting belt.  There are some other things going on too.  Highly technical readers will want to take a look at the reference article below.

Weightlifting belts let you lift heavier weights.

Weight belts let you lift a heavier weight while reducing risk of injury.  Good.

Weightlifting belts reduce trunk muscle activation.

You can get stronger while wearing a belt.  You can get your legs stronger without crushing your spine.  Weight belts can be a good tool for increasing the amount of lift you can do.  You should probably not wear one all the time.  They can be uncomfortable after a while anyway.   This is why no one likes to wear them during CrossFit workouts.  You will see competitive CrossFit athletes using them selectively during CrossFit competition.

Kingma I, Faber GS, Suwarganda EK, Bruijnen TB, Peters RJ, & van Dieën JH (2006). Effect of a stiff lifting belt on spine compression during lifting. Spine, 31 (22) PMID: 17047531

Miyamoto K, Iinuma N, Maeda M, Wada E, & Shimizu K (1999). Effects of abdominal belts on intra-abdominal pressure, intra-muscular pressure in the erector spinae muscles and myoelectrical activities of trunk muscles. Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon), 14 (2), 79-87 PMID: 10619094

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