Post by Emily White
As we all know, too much of anything can be a bad thing. Your fitness and training regime is no exception. Over training or more specifically under recovering is common amongst athletes but is now also becoming more prevalent amongst us ‘average Joes’.
Often we are told that static stretching is the best way to warm up prior to training or exercise and a way to loosen our muscles up and prevent injury. But how much truth is there behind this practice? Recent studies have suggested that static stretching can actually have the potential to reduce performance (1) and that dynamic stretching is a much more valuable practice pre-training.
Post by Emily White
The benefits of exercise are infinite. Not only do you feel better through the release of endorphins, you can most definitely end up looking better. Many people are of the belief that if they want to shed those extra kilos and be feeling their best, spending hours per week hitting the pavement is the best way to do so. I will admit I was guilty of this- running anywhere from 5 to 10km most days, battling shin splints and other injuries, as I truly thought that was the most efficient course of action. This however has been proven to not be entirely true.
Post by Emily White
We are constantly told that some form of exercise is crucial for the prevention of a wide range of disease and will benefit cardiovascular health considerably. But how much is too much? Many studies are now in fact suggesting that long term; excessive endurance physical activity could in fact be doing more harm than good.
Post by Emily White
You are right in the middle of a gym program, which is going great, and you haven’t missed a day yet. Then all of a sudden you get struck down with a cold or flu and you are left with the common debate. Whether you push through it and ‘sweat it out’ or rest up and let your body recover. So what is the best option?
Post by Emily White
You hear it time and time again, if you are trying to lose fat, the cardio room in the gym is your best bet. Many women avoid weights because they don’t want to get bulky. This is quite possibly the biggest misconception when it comes to the gym. Men find it hard enough to put on size and they have the testosterone levels to support that muscle growth. Women just simply were never designed to be ‘bulky’ and therefore as a woman a normal strength training routine is not going to be sufficient to do so. For example, a study published in the European Journal of applied physiology showed a group of women undergo a 20-week heavy resistance weight-training program focusing on the lower extremities. After the twenty weeks, there was a decrease in body fat percentage, an increase in lean body mass, but no overall change in thigh girth (1).
By Matt Foreman
We have all heard it before that performing low-intensity cardiovascular exercise in a fasted state will utilise fat stores and cause greater fat loss. But this may not be the case after all. Schoenfeld, Aragon, Wilborn, Krieger and Sonmez (1) decided to put this to the test in a lab setting.
By Cliff Harvey ND
I have back pain. Chronic, annoying, sometimes debilitating back pain. I always figured it was from years of weight lifting and competitive martial arts. But my journey over the years through various diagnoses and treatments had me questioning the solely physical basis for any chronic pain. So what really causes our back pain?
Back pain affects around ¼ of people according to United States national surveys (Deyo, Mirza, & Martin, 2006) but the cause of back pain is still poorly understood. Within a mechanistic model we could make an a priori assumption that the causes are physical dysfunction or injury and this assumption also defines the diagnostic-to-treatment pathway for low back pain which commonly involves referals from a general practitioner to a physiotherapist to a back surgeon or specialist involving various tests along the way.
The challenge within this model of diagnosis and treatment is that there appears to be no firm causal link between the mere presence of spinal pathology (nor its absence) and back pain. A systematic review in Spine concluded that there is indeed no firm evidence for the presence or absence of a causal relationship between radiographic findings (such as disc space narrowing, osteophytes, sclerosis, spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis, spina bifida, transitional vertebrae, spondylosis, and Scheuermann's disease) and nonspecific low back pain (van Tulder, Assendelft, Koes, & Bouter, 1997). Further MRI discovery of bulges or protrusions may be coincidental due to the large amount of people without pain who exhibit the very same spinal anomalies (Jensen et al., 1994). In his 1992 paper in Current Orthopaedic Practice Dr Alf Nachemson states “Rarely are diagnoses scientifically valid, nor is the effectiveness of surgery proven by acceptable clinical trials.” (Nachemson, 1992)
Notwithstanding this intravertebral disk degeneration is a weak predictor of low-back pain in young adults (Salminen, Erkintalo , Laine, & Pentti, 1995), but this statistical correlation does not help the practitioner, nor patient to understand what is actually causing their back pain as there are large numbers of people who exhibit pain with pathology, and large numbers exhibiting pain without pathology.
It is well known that psychological variables (such as pain related to fear) worsen pain (Peters, Vlaeyen, & Weber, 2005). Cohort evidence suggests that low back pain disability is strongly predicted by psychosocial variables and the structural variables (as shown by MRI and discography testing) have only a weak association with back pain episodes and no association with disability or future medical care (Carragee, Alamin, Miller, & Carragee, 2005). A systematic review of prospective cohort studies featuring 20 publications concluded “Psychological factors (notably distress, depressive mood, and somatization) are implicated in the transition to chronic low back pain.” The authors go on to suggest that the development and testing of new clinical diagnostics and interventions taking into account these factors and that there is a need to clarify further the role of psychological factors, especially coping strategies and fear avoidance, in low back pain (Pincus, Burton, Vogel, & Field, 2002).
Serious pathology (such as a fracture) in which we would expect to see resultant back pain is exceedingly rare, accounting for less than 1% of cases of low back pain (Henschke et al., 2009).
Psychosocial factors may be beginning to be further elucidated, at least in a corrolary fashion by neuroimaging evidence suggesting that inappropriate cortical representation of proprioception may falsely signal incongruence between motor intention and movement, resulting in pain in a similar way that incongruence between vestibular and visual sensation may result in motion sickness (Harris, 1999). Others imply that chronic back pain is accompanied by brain atrophy and suggest that the pathophysiology of chronic pain includes thalamocortical processes (Apkarian et al., 2004).
A hypothesis suggested by some is that there is a ‘tension syndrome’ or compartment syndromes (Peck, Nicholls, Beard, & Allen, 1986) present that may help to explain the cause of idiopathic low back pain and that for which we believe (perhaps mistakenly) that there is a physical pathology, and that this may also have a psyco-emotional or psycho-social/psychospiritual basis.
This tension could be related to stress, or a self-limiting belief structure that is attempting to reduce further harm, potential injury or limiting a perceived threat activity, which indeed may or may not be dangerous at all.
There is clinical case series evidence suggesting that this indeed the case and that when people are aware of the reality that back pain may not be a physical dysfunction, but indeed may be simply a stress-tension or psychoneurophysiological inhibition that it may abate. There is scope within this to extend physical therapy into psychological or mind-body therapy modalities if this is indeed the case.
Apkarian, A. V., Sosa, Y., Sonty, S., Levy, R. M., Harden, R. N., Parrish, T. B., & Gitelman, D. R. (2004). Chronic Back Pain Is Associated with Decreased Prefrontal and Thalamic Gray Matter Density. The Journal of Neuroscience, 24(46), 10410-10415. doi: 10.1523/jneurosci.2541-04.2004
Carragee, E. J., Alamin, T. F., Miller, J. L., & Carragee, J. M. (2005). Discographic, MRI and psychosocial determinants of low back pain disability and remission: a prospective study in subjects with benign persistent back pain. The Spine Journal, 5(1), 24-35. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.spinee.2004.05.250
Deyo, R. A., Mirza, S. K., & Martin, B. I. (2006). Back Pain Prevalence and Visit Rates: Estimates From U.S. National Surveys, 2002. Spine, 31(23), 2724-2727 2710.1097/2701.brs.0000244618.0000206877.cd.
Harris, A. J. (1999). Cortical origin of pathological pain. The Lancet, 354(9188), 1464-1466. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(99)05003-5
Henschke, N., Maher, C. G., Refshauge, K. M., Herbert, R. D., Cumming, R. G., Bleasel, J., . . . McAuley, J. H. (2009). Prevalence of and screening for serious spinal pathology in patients presenting to primary care settings with acute low back pain. Arthritis & Rheumatism, 60(10), 3072-3080. doi: 10.1002/art.24853
Nachemson, A. L. (1992). Newest Knowledge of Low Back Pain A Critical Look. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, 279, 8-20.
Peck, D., Nicholls, P. J., Beard, C., & Allen, J. R. (1986). Are There Compartment Syndromes in Some Patients with Idiopathic Back Pain? Spine, 11(5), 468-475.
Peters, M. L., Vlaeyen, J. W. S., & Weber, W. E. J. (2005). The joint contribution of physical pathology, pain-related fear and catastrophizing to chronic back pain disability. Pain, 113(1–2), 45-50. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pain.2004.09.033
Pincus, T., Burton, A. K., Vogel, S., & Field, A. P. (2002). A Systematic Review of Psychological Factors as Predictors of Chronicity/Disability in Prospective Cohorts of Low Back Pain. Spine, 27(5), E109-E120.
Salminen, J. J., Erkintalo , M., Laine, M., & Pentti, J. (1995). Low Back Pain in the Young A Prospective Three-Year Follow-up Study of Subjects With and Without Low Back Pain. Spine, 20(19), 2101-2107.
van Tulder, M. W., Assendelft, W. J., Koes, B. W., & Bouter, L. M. (1997). Spinal radiographic findings and nonspecific low back pain. A systematic review of observational studies. Spine (Phila Pa 1976), 22(4), 427-434.
I started working as a nutritionist (initially as a student practitioner) back in the late 90’s. At the time I loved strength and ‘physical culture’ in all its forms…including bodybuilding. In fact I still think bodybuilding of the type epitomised by Bill Pearl, John Grimek and other ‘pre-steroid era’ bodybuilders is awesome. These guys were true physical culturists. They lived and breathed the pursuit of strength and health, and the way they looked was a consequence of this. Over time the aesthetic became pre-eminent, and as any athlete is tempted to do, means to improve more rapidly (primarily anabolic steroids) became more and more rampant.
The freakish nature of the physiques that came to emerge was one of the main things that turned me off bodybuilding, along with the lack of attention to function (as it relates to being able to move and perform). And as a result I spent the next 16 years doing all-round weightlifting, boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and yes…from 2007 or so…the occasional CrossFit workout (along with of course working with many, many CF athletes as a health, nutrition and strength consultant).
There is a worrying trend that CF athletes are getting bigger, stronger, fitter and faster at an extremely rapid rate. (I alluded to this here: http://www.holisticperformancenutrition.com/1/post/2014/03/is-crossfit-making-you-fat.html) and almost daily I’m asked by one of my athletes and colleagues in CF “Are the top guys (and gals) on gear?”
The answer of course has to be “I don’t know…but….” Because I don’t know for sure who is on and who is simply a natural genetic super-freak. BUT I have worked with many elite athletes from many sports over the years and I’m fairly confident that in most of the major sporting competitions in the world the overwhelming majority of athletes are probably using some degree of banned substance. That not-withstanding it would be unfair of me to say definitively that athlete X is using steroids when I couldn’t be 100% sure.
The evidence does seem to indicate that top CF athletes are using though. John Romano (you may have seen him in the documentary “Bigger Stronger Faster”) wrote a great article “Steroids, Crossfit, and The Crossfit Games: Who & How” at his blog: http://romanoroberts.com.mx/steroids-crossfit-and-the-crossfit-games-who-how/ which does a great job of discussing steroids in sport, how prevalent they are and how one can get past the tests. I’m not going to rehash these as John and Anthony Roberts did a great job but what I found most interesting was the use of a paper which provided a metric by which to determine an anthropometric probability of someone’s steroid usage. This paper by Kouri and colleagues , published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine calculated fat-free mass index (FFMI) in a sample of 157 male athletes, comprising 83 users of anabolic-androgenic steroids and 74 nonusers.
The FFMI is defined by the formula (fat-free body mass in kg) x (height in meters)-2. The authors then added a slight correction of 6.3 x (1.80 m - height) to normalize these values to the height of a 1.8-m man.
The following results were noted:
- Normalised FFMI values of athletes who had not used steroids extended up to a limit of 25.0
- A sample estimate of 20 Mr. America (bodybuilding) winners from the presteroid era (1939-1959), had a mean FFMI of 25.4
- The FFMI of many of the steroid users in our sample easily exceeded 25.0, and that of some even exceeded 30
Romano and Roberts took this metric and applied it to the top male CrossFit athletes. They estimated body-fat at a standard 9% and adjusted the cut-off UP to 26 just in case. And this is what they came up with:
So according to the original measure we could conclude probable steroid use in 9 of the top 10 CF athletes in the world, or when adjusted up to 26, half of the top CF athletes are likely to be enhanced.
I would suggest that because of the nature of CF and it’s demands on the musculature it is more likely to result in hypertrophy and that genetic stand-outs are going to be more likely to be in the list above (as compared to an arbitrary list of bodybuilders) but there is still at least a precedent that what we are beginning to see in CF is well outside the norm and it appears to be becoming more prevalent over time. Worth considering too is that bodybuilders (and especially the Mr America winners mentioned earlier) train specifically for hypertrophy...which of course CFers don't.
Does this mean that the above guys are on gear? No. But it does mean that there is an indicator of potential probability of use. Does it warrant further investigation? I think so.
Back too why this is dangerous for CrossFit: CF has developed due to it’s community basis, and the fact that everyone competes to some degree, at some level. The top athletes have, like in many emerging sports, seemed just an arms-length away, but now they are beginning to become unattainable to Joe or Jane CrossFitter. A high prevalence of steroid use removes one of the inspirational drivers in sport. It removes an athlete from comparison because if for example I am doing a WoD and getting a certain score I have no idea what it would be if I were on gear, and so I can’t be sure of how competitive I am in relation to the top guys.
Finally one of the things that I liked about CF in the early days was something that harked back to the early days of physical culture that I love. A focus on health and holism. Many who attend boxes follow a clean eating regime of some sort. They are interested in active recovery, yoga, pilates and other things that speak to a more holistic approach to strength and life. Steroids do begin to stand in opposition to that, where it is about using an unnatural approach to development and one that is more concerned with rushing to the post rather than being present in a developmental process within ones natural talents and attributes.
I don’t have any answers, only questions. And I welcome your comments because I think this issue deserves frank discussion.
Kouri, E. M., Pope, H. G., Jr., Katz, D. L., & Oliva, P. (1995). Fat-free mass index in users and nonusers of anabolic-androgenic steroids. Clin J Sport Med, 5(4), 223-228.
Research and popular science articles by the members and faculty of the Holistic Performance Institute.