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Why the brain is the most important ‘muscle’ in the body

In sport, training, and physique building everyone talks about strength, speed and muscularity, but the truth is a lot deeper than that. It’s really about the brain and then we branch out from there.

Everything we do is controlled from the brain. If we develop the brain, we develop everything else.
You may think I’m full of it at this point, but hear me out.

When you strength train you are commanding your brain to create a denser network of neurons that create better wiring that travels down to your muscles, to make them contract harder.

When you develop a skill you are doing the same thing, except this time you are developing fine motor skills or hand eye coordination or movement patterns. All of the above come under the bracket of procedural memory. Your brain is learning to do something better, putting the blueprint in place mentally and in your neurological system, to do it automatically. It is creating more dense networks and faster wiring for certain tasks. It will also create the necessary hormones, body fluids, building blocks to do that task.

This is one of the reasons that I talk about focusing on the muscles you are using in a strength exercise, because it switches the brain on more; and the more of your brain that is engaged, the more you will gain from the workout.

Let’s take this one step further though:
What if we super engage the brain? How could that impact strength training, physique and hand eye coordination?

A lot, as it happens.

So how do we really light up the brain?

Well more of the brain’s cortex is taken up with the hands than any other part of the body. If we develop our hand eye coordination and hand-forearm strength then we are really lighting things up in the grey matter. If we also do that while working ambidextrously we are really taxing (and developing) our brain.

This will make you better at just about every other thing you do.

This is why it is important to play sport, especially ones that require a lot of coordination. Ever notice how much easier it is to do a lot of running when you are playing a game or a match? More of your brain is switched on in chasing the ball, controlling the ball, doing skilled tasks, keeping an eye on opponents, the pattern of play and just having fun etc. Therefore it will provide more of its abilities and resources to help you improve. As a result, you’ll get a lot more from it.

We’ve always sort of known that sport is important to society, but now we are getting more ‘proof’ through neuroscience. We learn a lot about personal development and team work by sport. We also learn about competing. However, we are also directly developing our brain in many different ways and increasing our blood flow to the cerebrum.

The effects of this are far reaching into all aspects of our lives. This will help you in just about every area.

So take up a sport or two, a team sport or a team and individual sport and also try to develop your skills ambidextrously. The greats are nearly always good on both sides or play the opposite way to their natural dominance. Check it if you don’t believe me: Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most talented snooker player of all time, is ambixdextrous. Rafa Nadal in full fitness at his peak was untouchable, he even beat Federer on grass at that point, and he’s right handed but plays left handed. All the great soccer players are either two footed or left footed in a righty world. Tiger Woods is left handed but plays right, Ben Hogan was left handed but played right, Phil Mickelson is right handed and plays left. The best soccer goalkeeper of all time, Peter Schmeichal played handball as a kid (you have to use and develop both arms to play handball). The left side of the body is connected to the right brain and vice versa, and both sides of the brain have abilities the other side doesn’t. We want to engage and amplify all areas and also communication across the hemispheres as much as possible. If the spacial awareness, rhythm, vision, reasoning, interpersonal, sensory, impulse control, and decision centers are all switched on and communicating… skill level is greatly heightened. The greats with ambidexterity are using more of their brains!

This isn’t inbuilt either, it is about development. Then it looks like it is natural two sidedness, but there’s no such thing. There are many accounts of people who acquired an injury to one side and over time developed the other side to be just as good. And of course, as stated earlier, many of the great sportspeople play the opposite side to their usual dominance. If you develop both sides your brain creates that motor cortex structure, if you neglect one side it never develops.

This is another reason why bodyweight exercise trumps repetitive weights routines. You have to learn to control your own body, balance and coordination to do bodyweight exercises correctly. They are also bilateral as they get harder, in other words you start to do them one side at a time (like a one arm push up).

You can also greatly develop your memory directly, and memory is connected to everything you do. You have images for how to do simple tasks, complex skills, for how things work, for things you’ve learned etc.

There was once a study done of London black cab drivers before and after they had memorised 25,000 streets. Their hippocampi region of the brain was 10% bigger after! The brain is very much changeable and very adept at learning skills if you practise them. It will literally change its structure to get better.

So when not playing sport but doing a simple exercise (like push ups or running etc.), you can also recite the capitals of the world or something else you’ve memorised. You’ll find that you actually accomplish more physically because more of the brain is switched on. You are creating more hormones and your neurons are connecting and communicating more across the regions of the brain. This makes you better at everything.

So start using more of your brain, it will lead to greater results in all areas of your life!

Why I love heart rate monitors and why you should too

Training intensity is crucial for injury prevention, optimal progress, knowing what cardiovascular system you are improving, how hard to train and many more things.

Heart rate monitors give you feedback.

They will tell you how hard to train and even how often. This is invaluable.

Based on your age and maximum heart rate you can work out the heart rate zone you should be training in. For aerobic fitness you will want to be staying in the 70-80% zone. Any higher than this for long periods on a continual basis and you run the risk of injury or burnout.

This will also derail progress because you won’t be recovering properly. You need to train hard enough, but not over do it.

With modern heart rate monitors you can even set the heart rate zones so that it beeps when you go out of a particular zone. This really helps in my experience. There’s no ambiguity.

It’s also very easy to stick to a progressive plan this way.

The best heart rate monitors I’ve used are Polar fitness watches. They are great. Also beware that most HRM’s on machines aren’t always accurate for some reason. You are better off just biting the bullet and getting a proper one.

Nowadays there are also Heart Rate Variability or HRV testers. These are really useful in indicating how well you’ve recovered and how hard to train on any given day. This is also really useful because it can be hard to know when to go all out and when to train easy. This gives you physiological markers that tell you what would be best. There is a sweetspot for the most effective training and it is enough stimulation to force adaptation but not so much to burn you out.

If you overtrain you are open to injury, underperformance or adrenal burnout, and this can totally derail your training until you heal.

I use a HRV monitor called ithlete everyday. It cost £40 and comes with an app. You wrap the sensor over your index finger and plug it into your phone. The app then tells you what condition you are in today, how recovered you are and how hard to train. It is so useful.

These tools give you a better plan, one that is more enjoyable, more definite, increases performance and helps you stay clear of preventable injuries.

I highly recommend making a relatively small investment in these training monitors that will give you benefit for years to come.

Why not all research, or rather, not all interpretation of the research, is created equal.

This article is going to outline why you also have to use your own head, no matter how much of a supposed expert the person you are dealing with is.

I’m not into dogma, because it results in anything from lack of progression/innovation to downright incompetence. I always encourage people to write their own notes on any material and get their own experience. I think my writings are very well researched and tested, and they do get great results, but that’s not the point.

Every system has to evolve, get better and more accurate. Furthermore, each person who wants to master a subject can get a shortcut to the gold, but they won’t have any mastery until they’ve put their own perception and stamp on it.

For one thing you’ll have to tweak it to your own needs, goals, body, personality, capabilities and lifestyle. I really want to teach people to be their own coach.

Another big reason I do that is because that’s where the real progress and understanding comes from. When you really know the picture of things first hand you gain an extra level of motivation and vision for just how far you can get. It will also safeguard you against dogma that is inaccurate. You get a lot of experts who just rehash stuff, often information that was incorrect to begin with.

Some degree courses are teaching health and fitness information that is actually based on a business model and not science. In conventional medicine, for example, you have a setup where Doctors are taught to treat symptoms and not root causes. Plus they are using allopathic medicine, because it is the only licensed treatment. That was a policy made by government lobbies. Law was passed that you had to pay $20 million to get ‘official’ research. You can’t patent healing, natural substances the drugs are usually based on (without the side effects), penny on the dollar medicines or any other processes by which the body is aided in healing itself. Without the patent you can’t corner the market and make the $20 million back, so no one is going to do that. Also only large corporations can afford to outlay the initial $20 million anyway.

Therefore the system is not setup for the best results and science, it is setup for a monopoly and one particular type of medicine, which as it happens is very ineffective at curing people, 90% of the time. I’m not totally against pharmaceutical drugs because they can be useful, and in emergencies can save lives. However, with chronic illness they are largely a business con. They are very expensive, usually ineffective at curing, just treat the symptoms, have a lot of side effects (sometimes even causing death) and create repeat customers. I don’t want to be having a go at Doctors because in emergencies they save lives. This dogma is pushed on Doctors and they are a generally speaking a conservative bunch by nature, highly technical, strong at passing tests and carrying out the current system very well, for better or worse. There’s a lot of the worse around at the minute, unfortunately.

And not many of them are doing anything about it, but there are of course some doctors out there too who are brilliant at curing chronic illnesses as well.

We also have issues with independent research because it’s usually anything but. In 2002, the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most respected journals of medicine, made a startling announcement. The editors declared that they were dropping their policy stipulating that authors of review articles of medical studies could not have financial ties to drug companies whose medicines were being analyzed. The reason? The journal could no longer find enough independent experts. Drug company gifts and consulting fees are so pervasive that in any given field, you cannot find an expert who has not been paid off in some way by the industry. So the journal settled for a new standard: Their reviewers can have received no more than $10,000 from companies whose work they judge.

So all the money coming into research, grants, education, medical seminars, FDA is all tied to big pharma. Plus the doctors are overwhelmingly being given this drug treatment picture in their training, a business model masquerading as good science.

Let’s get into the practicalities.

This is a typical situation: Take cholesterol issues, for example. A man goes to the doctor. The tests come back and his cholesterol is not in such good shape. The doctor tells him the only proven way to reduce his cholesterol is to go on a statin drug. This happened to a guy I know recently. I told him there was plenty of research that you could sort cholesterol issues out completely by reducing body fat, inflammation and improving fitness.  You do this with a decent diet plan, a supplement or two like omega 3 fish oil and a good workout plan. He said ‘sure I did that the last time I had high cholesterol, because the statin drugs made me feel awful before that and I went back and my tests were fine, plus I never felt better’. ‘There you go’ I said to him, I’ve seen that plenty of times myself as well.

Essentially the doctor had him on a dangerous drug proven to actually block the CoQ10 pathway, which is an important muscular energy nutrient. And guess which muscle requires it the most? Yes, the heart! Statin drugs might treat the symptoms of high cholesterol, but it’s not addressing the cause, which is inflammation (which causes arterial damage which is then repaired by cholesterol glueing it up). Inflammation is usually caused by stress, excessive adipose tissue (body fat), magnesium deficiency or a lack omega 3 in the diet.

So getting to the title of this article, not all research is created equal. The research says statins reduce cholesterol. Blood thinner medication thins blood. But they are addressing the symptom, not the cause. And they have many bad side effects. Blood thinning medication is similar in make up to rat poison, I lie you not. They actually use rat poison in the army at times during emergencies, which is fine, I mean you use what you have at the time. However, someone taking that everyday, that’s BAD science.

It’s completely missing the big picture. Conventional medicine and the west is obsessed with details (left brained) to the point that it is easily duped by business. The big picture (using the right brain) and other important details are completely missed. The Chinese and other Eastern medical doctors find this laughable, and rightly so.

You have to get to why the person has high blood pressure and address that. Otherwise, just giving a drug is going to leave the problem unabated and health degrades. Often people end up on 2-8 different drugs per day and in a nightmare situation with their health. The result of all of the above is that illness is increasing at all ages in the most ‘developed’ countries in the world (WHO statistics). It’s absolute madness, not to mention the costs involved, which is just more money going directly from the taxpayers pocket to the rich corporate owner’s coffers.

This ignorance helps the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

It’s a total nonsense. And it all starts with dogma.

Regarding fitness, there was a study published about interval training being nine times more effective than steady state (jogging or similar) for fat loss. Turns out the reality in the study and not the notes, was that the participants had lost 1mm extra at nine different points of the body. That’s a minor amount better, overall, nowhere near the claimed amount.

When we look at what the research really says and test things out for ourselves we start to work out the big picture and the details. We have first hand mastery, not dogma from someone else, who may have their own inaccurate conclusions or even an agenda. Intervals are not nine times more effective, they are slightly more effective for fat loss. Overall, however, both together is even better because you can’t do intervals too often or you burn out.

So you can have research that is twisted up or ignoring other large factors, or not taking the big picture into account and more. Also, no one can fully understand you, your life, your circumstances, health, personality etc. like you can.

Listen to people who get results and speak sense, but also be your own coach! It’s a guard against the epic fail and it’s the only way to great success!

Why most vegetable oils are not good for you

We have a diet that is imbalanced to omega 6 fatty acids, instead of omega 3. Nearly all vegetable oils are rich in omega 6. We need that too, but we already get plenty of it from food. We don’t get enough omega 3 and they are anti-inflammatory. Too much omega 6 is pro-inflammatory. Inflammation causes problems with cholesterol, cardiovascular issues, pain, joint issues and all sorts of other goodies.

That’s why fish oil is recommended so often, because it gives you plenty of omega 3’s in the direct form of DHA (which doesn’t have to be broken down).

You should also try to limit any other oils you take, because they are probably omega 6. Olive oil in a small amount is good, because it is omega 9 and those help the cell membranes, but we tend to be okay for omega 9 anyway.

Also, vegetable oils that are omega 3, like Flax seed oil, are basically useless because the enzymes needed to break them down are usually tied up with all the other fats we assimilate.

That’s why it is best to supplement with fish oil.

A good vegetable oil to use is coconut oil. It doesn’t need to be broken down and although it’s not addressing the omega fatty acid balance either way, it is a great source of energy. It enters the system straight away and actually aids fat burning. It helps the body to use fat for fuel, and especially in the first half of the day, it can also aid the body in mobilising and burning body fat (by processes described in the book).

It also contains stearic acid, as does bacon, which is very good for cell membranes.

Granma knew best when she gave you bacon and eggs.

Despite the publicity, the real science says animal fat is good for you and vegetable fats are often a problem creator. I wouldn’t go crazy on the saturated fat because although it is good for you (also good for cell membranes), too much of it can cause cell membranes to get too rigid, but that’s at a crazy amount. It’s not a huge worry. However, fish or chicken without skin is sometimes better than beef.

There are also warnings about dietary cholesterol, but blood cholesterol gets high from inflammation and not directly not from diet.

Diet does play a large role, but indirectly.

The main cause of inflammation is excess body fat and an imbalance of too much omega 6 in the diet (not enough omega 3). Plus, excess body fat is ironically not caused by too much fat in the diet, but too many carbs. Body fat is stored via insulin, which is stimulated by carbs. Carbohydrates are bad if not used correctly. They are what we need to watch and the omega 6 vegetable fat, not the animal fat.

The best diet for health and fat loss is described very well at www.precisionphysique.com/carbbackloading.html

What are good body measurements?

There are actually body measurements that are ideal for your height and gender.

And they are attainable long term for anybody with the right training and diet.

They are also not the stereotypes you often see on the front of a bodybuilding or fashionista magazine. Those dudes are often too big and the girls are often too skinny.

That’s not just what I am saying, that is what the maths is saying as well. There is a number throughout nature called Phi, or the perfect ratio. It is the design number. It is in everything from seashells, to plants, to animals, to humans. It is also used in roads, buildings, credit cards, cars, cereal boxes and lots of other things to make them structurally sounder, more visually appealing and to sell more.

Nearly all the great physique statues are on these numbers as well. We discuss the numbers in depth in our book, Precision Physique.

The extremes don’t look right, it is commercialism to try to get people after the unattainable (and actually undesirable), so they will keep buying magazines, the supplements they own, the clothes they advertise and so on.

The young people who are hell bent on getting the drug induced physiques in the pictures end up shooting steroids or with eating disorders. Not good.

So it is not just interesting information to talk about the correct health and physique goals, but it is actually very important information.

There’s nothing worse than a lean girl thinking she would look better if she was skin and bone. Her health, life and even appearance will end up in bits.

The idiots who perpetuate this madness (in the images and articles they write) need to be called out. Hopefully then eventually everyone will be aware of it and then no younger people will want to buy the stupid mags anymore (until they start publishing good material).

Is High Intensity HIIT Cardio Better For Fat Loss Than Steady State Cardio (Like Jogging)?

It is better for fat loss, but not as good as using both.

They both have pluses and minuses when it comes to burning body fat.

High intensity is great at releasing body fat and steady state is great for burning it off so that it doesn’t go back to fat storage.

Either type of cardio will burn body fat, under the right circumstances.

However, from the research and our experience HIIT is superior for fat loss because it encourages sugar to be converted into glycogen and put into carbohydrate storage in muscles. It encourages this more than sugar being converted into fat and put into fat stores. It also does this more than steady state cardio.

That’s not to say steady state exercise encourages fat storage. That’s not true either, it’s just not as effective for changing body composition.

But using both will give you the best results. HIIT is better for teaching the body to mobilise fat, and steady state is better at teaching the body to use fat for fuel. You can also do more steady state than HIIT, which means you can train more by using both, leading to greater results.

A lot of people are trying to suggest that steady state is bad for you. It’s not. Any bad results are due to overtraining, plain and simple. Too much of anything, too often, is bad for you. With steady state, overdoing it just takes longer to show up and does so in a more subtle fashion than usual, and that’s where the confusion comes from. Problems that arise from steady state overtraining are also nearly always accompanied by a lack of resistance training and excessive prolonged calorie restriction.

Using a well designed program and good tests to see when you need rest, will avoid this problem. We have a top quality cardio program in our book Precision Physique: Module 2 training, which covers all types of cardio in the one program. We also make sure you don’t overtrain.

If you do cardio correctly it is a very good fat loss strategy. And if you are strategic in using all types of cardio, then the results are even better.