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.

11 thoughts on “Exercise Science? part 2

  1. The issue of “cottage cheese thighs” is a reference to cellulite. Does cellulite behave any different from the regular old fat? I know skinny people say that cellulite stays with them even when all the other fat is gone. I assume this is more of a case that cellulite is easier to see than the same amount of regular fat.


    1. magine a person with heavy cellulite on their thighs and butt, wearing tight spandex shorts. The spandex would conform to every dimple, highlighting it. Thats the same relationship the skin has to the layer of body fat underneath it.

      The composition of cellulite cells is no different than “regular fat” cells, but the shape of the cell walls is formed differently. In “regular” fat cells the cell membranes are smooth and uniform, connecting to each other and the skin above much as two sheets of paper stacked. With cellulite, the cell membrane is non-uniform; dimpled and pocked, creating uneven surfaces and pulling on the skin in a non-uniform, uneven manner creating the “cottage cheese” look.

      Cellulite occurs in almost everyone eventually, though there is a high degree of genetic heredity involved. As cells multiply, and divide, the risk of mutation in individual cells increase. If you have genetic predisposition, it is more likely to occur more often and sooner.

      The less fat a person carries, the less noticeable the appearance of cellulite. And while I have no research to back this up, it seems logical that the more muscle a person has in the area affected by cellulite, the less apparent the cellulite will be. My reasoning is that muscle is the layer beneath the fat. If the muscle expands it should push up from underneath the fat, causing it to widen and flatten out. Imagine a chewed up piece if gum, then take it and flatten it, and watch it gets smoother.

      1. Cellulite is a tough one to beat.
        I’ve seen very fit lean people with
        It. I think it has to do with skin type also.

      2. It is difficult, and anyone can get it, regardless of weight, especially as we get older. Once gotten, it’s forever (surgical procedures can lessen the appearance, as can maintaining low body fat and higher muscular development).

  2. Thanks, Scott. I knew I could count on you for the science/facts. While articles like that may be amusing, they should be taken with a grain of salt. The dangerous thing is that some people would read that and accept it as gospel truth. You’re absolutely right about the abundance of misinformation when it comes to exercise. It’s a pity because there are many people like me who seriously want to learn more about fitness but it’s difficult to muddle through all available information.

    1. Mia, Scott actually couldn’t be more misleading. He obviously has no grasp of endocrinology or biochemistry and just displayed laziness and ignorance in his writing . Otherwise he could easily look up studies supporting that information on PubMed which is free to the public. Even easier a simple google search of phthalates and testosterone on google will bring up hundreds of pages on the negative impact of phthalates on testosterone fertility and body fat. Phthalates are a major ingredient in artificially scented products. Of course an uneducated guy like this blogger might not put two and two together if he’s too lazy to read on his own before displaying his ignorant opinion based on education you buy for less than a car payment.


      The reason traditional personal training bodies do not support spot reduction is because it’s beyond the scope of a personal trainers education. Once again, it’s extremely easy to look up medical research on the relation of hormones to central body fat etc. Poliquin would not be the most sought after strength coach in the world if he didn’t know his stuff. Beware of the lazy critic, who doesn’t know enough to form an educated opinion. Scott will be lucky if he doesn’t get in legal trouble at this rate. Keep reading Mia, and don’t get caught up with guys like this.


      That took me a whole 40 seconds to come up with those 3 links, and tons more…

      1. I do not intend on engaging in any kind of blogosphere war with anyone, let alone someone who has been alive for a shorter duration than I’ve been making a living as a full time personal trainer. I train “average people” with average problems. My clients have aggregated losses of thousands of pounds, and built real every day fitness enhancing their lives, and don’t restrict my practice to the athletic elite who are as far removed from everyday fitness concerns as a wild polar bear from a tropical rain forest.

        That said, here’s my one and only response, point by point.

        Hanson links to three studies in his response to me. They relate to the affect that “phthalates” have proven detrimental affects on testosterone and the accumulation of body fat. On rats. When orally administered. Nothing in those articles he linked to say anything about the effects being airborne like a nerve gas. They are only a concern when ingested. From the second article he linked too: “Substantial declines in testosterone levels and sperm quality have been observed in the United States and other countries over the last several decades which and it urgently requires explanation,” Stahlhut said. “While we can’t say yet that phthalates are a definite cause, I am certain they are on the list of chemicals that demands careful study.” This is called anecdotal. And it is compelling. But still relates to ingested substances, not scented candles.

        As for the reported tests, do I really need to mention that studies conducted on lab rats are just early stage tests, the first elimination round that determines whether further studies are even warranted. Do we proclaim the winner of American Idol after the first round? Hanson says I don’t understand endocrinology or biology, but I did mention that where body fat accumulation occurs is “mostly genetically determined”. I didn’t go into the scientific abstracts because the 99% reading my blogs aren’t trained scientists who can understand all that jargon. Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers that tell the body what to do and how to behave on a cellular and biochemical level. Of course hormones are responsible for how our bodies regulate body fat; including where it goes. That’s why most men gain belly fat in the first place, while women accumulate in the hips and thighs pre menopause, and switch to belly accumulation post menopause. Hormones even regulate how well an individual burns, or stores, body fat. Genetics are the prime movers in these functions, though there are some training affects that can stimulate the release of fat burning hormones. Not exercising for long periods of time will stimulate the release of fat storing hormones. Just so everybody understands, testosterone and estrogen are hormones, too.

        Hanson even goes on to misunderstand what causes liability, when he claims that “traditional personal training bodies do not support spot reduction is because it’s beyond the scope of a personal trainers education”. Really? is there anything more central to our profession than this tidbit of information? And why didn’t Hanson link to the peer reviewed scientific studies showing the possibility of spot fat reduction? Because there are none that have been duplicable and peer reviewed (outside of surgical procedures).

        Finally, as for the ability to find information of any kind saying anything through Google (or any other search engine), try this experiment. Type [anything you want] causes cancer into google. I tried it with dietary protein, dietary carbohydrates, dietary fat, and drinking water. So what have I proved, based on Hanson’s rigorous methodology? Don’t eat…anything, or drink water…or you’ll die of cancer.

        And with Hanson, I am done.

      2. While it’s true that pubmed is free to the public, this is a very misleading statement. ABSTRACTS on pubmed are free to the public — very few actually link to the full article. And there is absolutely no justification for basing any of your knowledge on abstracts. If you cannot read the article and determine study design, population, power analysis, P-values, reproducibility, bias, etc., then you’re wasting your time…. and mine. Show me a well designed randomized control trial.

  3. What do you think of spot muscular development? I was popping through channels recently and saw a TV show called something like “Brazilian butts”. The main idea is that some DVD that one would buy would show the user how to train the various muscles in the butt region so as to look like a Brazilian. It went even further by saying it would offer different exercise regimes based on what type of non-Brazilian butt one had currently. My question is that I’m wondering how such specific exercises might screw up the rest of the body.

    1. Spot muscular development is, of course possible. In simple, non scientific terms, muscles work like self contained units that cross over to each other. Spot muscular training can be used for therapeutic, rehabilitative, functional, sport conditioning, and aesthetic reasons. If a muscle is injured, weak, or out of balance with the other muscles along its immediate kinetic chain then spot training might be necessary. Aesthetic considerations are more problematic.

      Body Builders and “Fitness Competitors” are the primary examples of intentional “spot trainers”, but they spend time to spot train virtually every skeletal muscle. Athletes will spot train intentionally, and unintentionally. The very athletic events they compete in will cause sport specific development. Look at the forearms of a tennis player. Their racket arm will be significantly thicker. Compare the lower body musculature of a distance runner and a sprinter and you will see much greater glute, quadriceps, and hamstring development in the sprinter. Compare the upper and lower body development of a cyclist, and you will see that competitive cyclists have tremendous glute, quad, hamstring, and calf development, but relatively slight upper bodies.

      But even within these groups of people, you will see tremendous variation. All sprinters and cyclists will have extremely well developed gluteals, but they won’t all have the same exact shape or size. Look at a Jamaican olympic sprinters butt and thighs, and compare it to any east european competitor. The variation I’m talking about will be readily apparent, even though the training of both athletes are virtually identical. There is, as in all other things having to do with the musculoskeletal system, genetic determiners that will dictate how large, and even the shape, of the muscles being targeted.

      The ads you mention will help some participants get in better shape and improve the muscular development of their gluteals, but the implied result is bogus, unless you have the predetermined genetics necessary to get that “brazilian” shape. That Butt is the culmination of the genetic mix of african, amerindian, and spanish gene pools.

      As to the musculoskeletal reaction to such intentional overdevelopment, I find it highly unlikely that anyone would ever put in the time and effort to reach such a critical overdevelopment (especially since the vast majority of American have dramatically under-developed gluteals to begin with).

      There are always exceptions. Some people with African heritage have flat butts, and some individuals of european heritage, have round, high butts. Exceptions, however, prove the rule.

  4. Ab workouts do not melt away belly weight. They work your abs but they don’t assist burn stomach fat. What does is proper diet and performing the best workouts. Compound exercises like squats and deadlifts are very effective for burning up stomach fat since they work most of the body and burn overall entire body weight.

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