Thursday, January 21, 2016

Supplements: Are They Vital For Life or Is It Just Snake Oils

There's been a ton of debate on whether or not supplements are beneficial. Studies on both sides show evidence to suggest so. And opinions from both the scientific and consumer community vary wildly.

This will be my attempt at giving my unbiased, and somewhat informed opinion on the matter. What compelled me to write this entry is a video snippet I saw of a recent Frontline report on the effectiveness (or lack of evidence to support it's effectiveness) of fish oil supplements. Let me put this disclaimer out there, while I am in favor of supplementation not just with fish oil but also other nutrients, I am also a big skeptic. My preference is to look into things before jumping to conclusions though, and sometimes my skepticism is justified. Other times I am pleasantly surprised, but either way my awareness is expanded and I invite others to this approach.

Back to the Frontline piece, while I have to admit that I have not watched the full series on supplements just yet, It seems to me that of what is being reported is that there is a lack of evidence to support supplementation is worth it. Again, there may be more to it but I want to discuss some of the merits and faults of what I heard so far. For starters, I agree with one thing, the supplement industry is pretty much the wild west. With minimal regulations, just about anyone cans start a company and mix some powders together, jar it, slap a label on, and put a product on the market. I worked at a supplement shop for some time, and I came across a plethora of different products which I would of course try. I have to admit a great number of them did absolutely nothing. But then many did. I can't quantify it but can say with certainty the ones that did work, had demonstrable effect. There is of course some that I would maybe were just a placebo effect going on as well. Another alarming fact was how often I saw products being pulled from the shelf for having banned compounds in them, or for making people sick, or most commonly because the company would go out of business since their product was crap.

Another thing I'd like to highlight is that I would sometimes see a supplement being sold by various manufacturers, and some worked, some didn't. Let's look at the example of fish oil. I will not mention any manufacturers directly since I don't want to bash anyone, and I'm certainly not endorsed by any either. I recall for example, the store brand of fish oil would sell pretty well,  but also had a high rate of return. Customers constantly complained of burping up that nasty fish smell, or that after taking it for a few weeks they felt no difference. Yet another brand, that is well established would sell just as well if not better, but almost never got returned. It's consumers often said there absolutely some positive effects, and just felt that the quality of the product was higher than others they had tried. Also far less people complained of burping up sardine breath.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Move of The Week: Turkish Get Up

Last week I didn't post a move of the week due to a simple oversight. However I am back with a great move this week, and a few more in the pocket of the weeks to come. In this week's move of the week I wanted to talk about a move that isn't exactly basic but once you have it down it can be a workout all by itself. The movie of course is the Turkish Get Up, and as the name implies the basic idea is to get up off the floor while holding a weight over your head. This move can be performed with a dumbbell or a kettlebell, though I of course use my kettlebells for it.

The reason I want to highlight this move is because I have done an entire workout with only this one move. It works just about your entire body, will build good muscle, strength, and stability. The thing about it is it will require for the core to be constantly engaged, for your shoulder to keep the weights steady above your head, and confidence in oneself that you will not drop that weight on your your head. But if you're brave enough to try it you will reap great benefits from this one simple move. Check out the video below for a good example of how to perform a Turkish Get Up with great form.

This video by Pursuit Fitness & Performance shows how to practice this move if you've never tried it in a way that will avoid one being injured. Trying this move with weight right off the back is not something I recommend. So I like the idea of trying it with something light that you simply try to balance on your hand, a sandal or flip flop as stated in the video would be ideal. Let me also share what I feel are the 2 big keys for mastering the move and getting the form right, or at least what were the keys for me.  Those are:

  • You must absolutely keep your core engaged. I noticed any deviation in posture made the stabilization of the raised hand a little more difficult, a problem you really want to avoid when performing this move with weight.
  • And the next key is, absolutely keep your eye on the raised hand/weight. This will allow for focusing on keeping proper alignment as well as aid your posture. 
Anytime I am performing this move and do not focus on these two keys, I can tell my form is suffering greatly. And since longevity is key, you want to avoid doing any exercise with poor form or posture. The immediate and cumulative effects of that are injury.

Now what I'd like to do is to give an example of how an entire workout can be accomplished with this one. It will require a few weights so if you don't have enough of them at home doing this at a gym would be fine. I've listed it out with the weights that I have but this can be adjusted based on your strength level or what is available to you. Please note that I can perform this pyramid style workout for at least 2 rounds before my phone starts to suffer so bear in mind what your fitness level is and I highly recommend that that you perfect this move preferably under the supervision of a trainer before you try it before you attempt this. The workout is as follows:

  • 1 Turkish getup with a 25 pound kettlebell
  • 1 Turkish getup with a 30 pound kettlebell
  • 1 Turkish getup with a 36 pound kettlebell
  • 1 Turkish getup with a 45 pound kettlebell
  • 1 Turkish getup with a 36 pound kettlebell
  • 1 Turkish getup with a 30 pound kettlebell
  • 1 Turkish getup with a 25 pound kettlebell

You perform one get up per side per weight continuously. At that point to rest for 2 minutes and go for it again. Perform as many rounds of this as you can. As with most kettlebell exercises this one is one of my favorites because it does not require a lot of space and you can really bang out a pretty rigorous workout fairly quickly.

I'd like to add that while I have been able to do a Turkish Get Up with my 72 pound kettlebell, I wouldn't feel comfortable enough to throw in the mix with this type of circuit. The reason I'm pointing this out is again, safety first folks. Even if you feel you get this move down quickly, please focus on quality, not quantity.I practice what I preach, and encourage others to practice good judgement. So give this a try folks, if you're ready for a new challenge this move here will surely give you that.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Move of The Week: Dumbbell Bench Press

Sometimes a return to basics is exactly what you need. In the past few months I've been doing mainly push ups to build up my chest. Sure the variations of push ups and a weighted vest have helped build muscle. But there's only so much I could do with just push ups, so a few days ago I got a chance to do some classic lifting, and it was quite refreshing.

PowerBlocks sold at
What I did was dumbbell chest presses, or bench press if you will. This is the most fundamental move for building your chest when you start a weight training program. Now you may be wondering why I chose to go with dumbbells and not a barbell, and it was more than the fact that it was my only choice since I was not at a gym. I worked out at a friend's house who has an adjustable bench and some PowerBlocks. These are essentially a pair of dumbbells you can adjust the weight one fairly quickly and I highly recommend them for anyone trying to build a home gym with limited space. The pair we were working with can go from 15 to 90 lbs and take up minimal space. But it wasn't the lack of a barbell that drove me to that choice, It's the fact that dumbbell chest press offers not only the ability to isolate each pectoral muscle thus avoiding any compensation from your dominant side, but you'll also get to work the muscles in that help you with stability during a press. It has also been said that it is safer on your joints than barbell presses, though I've yet to substantiate that claim through any literature. I will say from an anecdotal point of view, barbell bench press always felt a little odd and unsafe for me.

Check out this video by Jay Cutler on Muscle & Strength's YouTube page:

What I really like about this video is the focus on contraction, and good form. A lot of folks I see in gyms are still going for a really big range of motion which is not only not necessary, it can be dangerous for your joints.

Now, this move is very basic but that is specifically why I chose it as my move of the week. I am constantly looking for new movements and training methods but as I said before a return to basics is often just the thing you need. I haven't felt a chest pump quite like the one I felt this exercise in quite a while and that being said it's understandable it's the preferred exercise over a barbell press.

Just to wrap up please note I am not trying to convince anyone to abandon barbell work whatsoever, but I am encouraging those who don't give this a try or those who never have to give it a chance. Specifically though, I encourage the proper range of motion and focus on contraction as emphasized in this video. It truly is a the best move in my opinion. Leave your comments and thoughts below, and since I haven't mentioned it, Happy New Year!