Leg press: yay or nay

The fitness industry is a cross current of trends, scams, and classicists who stick to tried and true methods. The “experts” are constantly re-evaluating what exercises you should, and shouldn’t do, labeling the “bad” ones as non-functional and contraindicated.

It’s almost always bull. Here’s a great posting from a great fitness educator, about the leg press machine:

Results Oriented (Purposeful) Training

Over the years I’ve been asked to train people for almost every conceivable reason, but in general, most seem to fall into the following categories.  I plan on spending the next few weeks writing a post/week about each of the following topics with sample routines, that can be followed by those of you without access to me.  In the near future, I hope to be able to offer enhanced services, including personal, customized training routines for a nominal fee to individuals who are geographically, or otherwise incapable, of meeting with me in person.  Until then, the sample routines that will be posted in the next few weeks can be used and adapted as you all see fit.  Keep in mind, that you need to make sure you know how to perform each exercise movement properly.  The site ExRx is an excellent resource and has free to view video of most common exercises being performed properly.

The general main categories, and sub categories, as I see it:

1) General health and fitness for the sedentary  person: novice

  1. Youth

  2. Young adult

  3. Middle age

  4. Senior

2) Total Body Conditioning: intermediate to advanced

  1. Cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness

3) Body shaping: beginner to the advanced

  1. Weight loss

  2. Toning and Body Sculpting

  3. Body building

4) Power and strength training: advanced

5) Athletic performance: advanced, sports specific and functional training

  1. endurance

  2. Strength

  3. Speed

  4. Agility

Feel free to comment on the categories, and let me know if you feel I’ve left any out, or why you might not fit into any of the above.  If I agree, I’ll update my categories, or explain why I disagree.  Keep reading!

Running: Inside and Out


I want to talk about jogging and running, and the differences between outdoor training and treadmills.

When running outdoors their are environmental factors that come into play that affect exercise intensity. The obvious ones are wind resistance; you need to push your body through the air resistance when moving forward; and terrain variation, as no path is perfectly flat. On a treadmill, your body is not moving forward, so wind resistance is removed and need not be overcome, and the surface you’re running on is essentially flat. This is enough to cause treadmills to burn 5-10% fewer calories than outdoor running, though this can be compensated for by increasing the elevation 1°, while maintaining the same speed.

There are less obvious factors, however. For most runners, the form factor of the treadmill will alter the gate of the runner, forcing a more upright stance and altering the foot strike pattern, than would be optimal outdoors. An upright stance will change the way impact shock is distributed. This is compensated for by the treadmill with built in cushioning, but the upright posture can become habit and transfer into outdoor running where it can lead to a variety of injuries including shin splints, ankle, knee, hip and back pain.

Another factor is that research suggests treadmills over-report the amount of calories being burned by 20-25%. Factor in that treadmills are reputed to burn 5-10% fewer calories than outdoor running and the amount of calories you think your burning turns out to be significantly less.

I suspect, however, that even the 5-10% under-estimates the negative for treadmills. Many websites report that treadmills are essentially the same as outdoor running minus those environmental factors, but I disagree. I argue that the treadmill, being motorized, is inherently different than the proverbial hamster in a spinning wheel; the example most sited to explain why treadmills are mostly the same as outdoor running. The spinning wheel is not motorized, and the hamster must supply the energy to move it, even though the hamster is running in place. Another example is a person running on the deck of a cruise ship at sea. The cruise ship is moving, propelling the runner along regardless of their effort.

Both of these examples are erroneous. In the case of the hamster, the wheel will not move if the hamster doesn’t push it along, so while the hamster might remain stationary, it is pushing the wheel. The cruise ship example is even worse. A runner on deck would still be propelling their bodies forward, pushing through their hamstrings and glutes. On a treadmill, which is motorized, the treadmill is actually pushing your legs backward, reducing the use of your muscles to stabilization only, and not propulsion, as well.

Treadmills do have a place. Setting a fast pace can compensate for complacency. Inclement weather is no factor, and time of day is less an issue. Also, when you’re in a gym, you will exercise. All bets are off once you leave the premises.

My conclusion: when circumstances permit, walk jog, and run outdoors to maximize your exercise benefit. Leave the treadmill alone when possible.


Exercise Science? part 2

Science is a rigorous, no-nonsense, discipline.  A few months ago, a research team of physicists at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland reported that they had measured and recorded subatomic particles that traveled faster than the speed of light.  This is the most revolutionary discovery in the history of modern physics.  It completely destroys Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and undermines the whole scientific consensus of how the universe works.  The reaction of the scientific community was immediate and visceral: “hmm, that’s interesting.  Lets double-check that.”  “I wonder where they made their mistake?  Lets check it out”.  Even the CERN scientist who recorded this potentially revolutionary finding wondered: “I wondered what we did wrong?”  Every real scientist would love to be the one that upend Einstein, just like Einstein overturned Newton.  But no real scientist is going to base their reputation on 1 study that has not been independently verified multiple times.  Not even if its their own study.  That’s science.  That’s integrity.  That’s truth.

The world of exercise science is nothing but bogus hucksterism: verb [ with obj. ]promote or sell (something, typically a product of questionable value).  Popular experts are dangerous people, selling opinions and personal preferences as facts, when their not trying to sell you a product they don’t even believe in.  That’s the nature of the “fitness world”.

One of this blogs followers; Mia; asked me about another blog she read.  I will not link to it, because it is terrible.  The author, Kassem Hanson is a personal trainer, a disciple of Charles Poliquin (an expert I formerly admired until I read this garbage).  The article talks about getting “skinny fat” and how certain exercise activities, like Spinning, can cause you to develop “cottage cheese thighs”.

I’m so tired of this.  This Kassem Hanson, if his bio is to be believed, ought to be an expert that I could quote, not waste time refuting.  He claims to have a BS in Exercise Science, BA Biochemistry and Molecular Biology – Cornell
BA Biology – Cornell.  A google search seems to indicate he went to Cornell College, in Iowa, not the Ivy League University in NY.  The fact that he intentionally leaves this vague indicates he wants you to assume the Ivy League connection.  Not that there is anything wrong with the similarly named college.  I don’t even have a degree in an exercise related field, which is why I would expect more from him.  And I am disappointed.

Let me be clear.  Not a single, reputable, scientifically based research study has shown spot reduction to be anything but a myth.  The American Council of Exercise (ACE), The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), The International Sports Science Association (ISSA), the National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM), and every other accredited personal training certifying body, as well as the National Institute of Health (NIH), all link to thousands of articles, research papers, and position papers giving the evidence against spot reduction of fat.  The inverse is equally true.  No activity can cause fat to specifically form in one area of the body over another,  The simple fact is that body fat accumulation is mostly genetically determined.  Again, the scientific evidence is overwhelming!  Hanson, and apparently Poliquin, are basing their opinion on a lone Danish study from 2007 that was never peer-reviewed or duplicated independently.  That such a study was done at all, and got published somewhere, doesn’t surprise me and was discussed in part one.  That Hanson and Poliquin would tout this and base their entire training philosophy around a single dubious study goes more to show their personal exercise preferences and bias than their commitment to exercise truth.

They misinterpret what Spinning is, and even say that “indoor cycling” is a better choice because it incorporates anaerobic high intensity intervals.  Uhhh, excuse me…Spinning is the original “indoor cycling program” and includes as part of its standard protocol anaerobic high intensity intervals, though there’s no guarantee in any program that the instructor truly understands or incorporates these principles, or that every participant follows those instructions.

He goes on to make other comments on the subject of things that will make you “skinny fat” mixing myths and facts indiscriminately, showing a tremendous lack of judgement.  For instance, he says that eating a vegan diet will make you “skinny fat”.  I know of at least 4 professional body builders who are Vegan, and I have friends who are vegan.  The body builders look like body builders.  And my friends run the gamut of fit, fat, “skinny fat” and powerful.  No I don’t personally advocate the Vegan diet because it is it is way more complex to insure that the individual consumes adequate complete proteins, but properly done, it can be just as healthy as a meat inclusive diet, for most people.  Please remember, that no diet is universally good for everyone.

Hanson claims scented candles will cause a man’s androgen levels to significantly drop.  Where he gets this tidbit from I don’t know, but if it were true, then their must also be scents that would raise androgen levels.  Where are those?  Trust me when I say the FDA would have this as a controlled substance if it were true.

So watch the next tour d france, the track athletes running the mile, three-mile, or marathons in the next olympics, or the top 100 finishers of the next Iron Man Triathlon.  Find the cottage cheese thighs.  Find the “skinny fat” competitor.  But also remember, you are not them.  You don’t train as hard, you don’t eat as well, you don’t sleep as well, and you don’t dedicate your life to your training.  That means you can’t compare you’re results, either.

What people like Hanson are doing is attacking a mode of training many people favor in the hope of getting these people to switch to a mode favored by Hanson (and other personal trainers).  Since the activity is different, you may in fact start to see some positive change, but that has to do with the SAID principle, not to any inherent superiority of their training method.  Once you start training with them, inertia is likely to keep you as long as you can afford it.  Of course, with a trainer watching you, it’s much more likely that you will train more intensely.  And that could lead to some improvement. And now they are getting your money, too.

Don’t expect unrealistic results that are greater than your commitment.  and always ask for the research.  Then ask for the independent, corroborating research. Stop being a sucker.