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Ab Pavelizer 2

Q: Based on your "hardest situp" article [#47], I purchased an Ab Pavelizer last December. I have definitely benefited from this device and share your feeling that, done properly, Janda situps are very difficult. I recently noticed that Pavel (Dragon Door) has a new Ab Pavelizer 2.

I asked Dragon Door how it differs from the originally units. Hereís part of what they told me: "Because of the way it is used, you know exactly when you are cheating (if your feet raise off the floor or the units slides toward you). Plus, by adding weight to the unit, you can increase the difficulty of the situps."

Iíd be interested in your reaction to the new Pavelizer.

A: I was curious as well and ordered a Pavelizer 2 to see for myself. (I offered to pay for it, but Dragon Door insisted on giving me a free review unit.). The new unit is different, for the reasons stated and others. I like it. The principle is the same, but the new unit is more user-friendly and probably has wider appeal. Itís easier to use, and definitely more foolproof. My wife, Carol, showed little interest in the original models, but she likes the new one.

The design is different. The old units are stable; the resistance pad doesnít move. The new version rocks back and forth; the pressure exerted on the back of the legs depends on how much weight is on the opposite end. The more weight you put on the unit, the more you have to use your leg biceps and glutes to hold it down.

This is the starting position, lower legs resting on the roller pads,
 weight plates on the floor.

Actually, itís quite ingenious. The Evil Russian is devilishly clever.

As Dragon Door told you, the new unit wonít let you cheat. If you jerk or try to anchor your feet, bringing the hip flexors into play, your feet come up or the unit slides toward you. Itís a delicate balancing act. You hold the pads down using your leg biceps and glutes -- which takes the hip flexors out of play -- using just enough resistance to keep your feet on the floor, without pulling the unit toward you. The result is what I would call an enhanced crunch. You literally can not sit up all the way.

Here, Iíve pulled the roller pads down using my hamstrings and glutes, raising the weight plates. My feet are flat on the floor. Iím using 35 pounds, which Pavel says is about right for somebody who weighs between 150 and 200 pounds. Maintain this position while you sit up or crunch up.

As Pavel says in the instruction guide which comes with the unit, "Sitting up all the way becomes a mechanical impossibility unless you start with a jerk (a no-no!)." When they say the new unit is harder than the Pavelizer Classic, thatís probably what they mean.

 If you do it slowly without jerking, this is about as far up as you can go. You canít 
sit up all the way, because the hip flexors are deactivated. Itís a true crunch.

You can do a full situp on the old model, but itís literally impossible on the new unit. The new unit  recruits the glutes and hamstrings big time, taking the hip flexors completely out of the movement, which isolates the abs.

Placing your hands behind your neck makes it a little harder. Donít pull 
on your head; youíll get a headache or a sore neck.

The Ab Pavelizer, old or new, is not magic. You can develop great abs without it. I did. But the Pavelizer, especially the new version, makes the boring crunch interesting. It makes the exercise more fun, and somewhat more effective. I now alternate the old and new Ab Pavelizer from workout to workout, and rarely do the regular crunch.

For more information, go to Dragondoor.com.

Forget the Maximum Heart Rate Formula

Q: Do you use the standard formula for computing maximum heart rate (220 minus age) in designing your own training programs or programs for other people?

A: No. Iíve long suspected that the much-used formula is of little use, especially for athletes. I stopped using it when I discovered that my heart rate was not falling with age, as the formula predicts. My maximum has not fallen in more than 20 years. It was 182 when I was tested the first time as I approached 40, and recent tests at the Cooper Clinic showed that itís still in that range or higher now that Iím over 60. (For further details on my heart rate maximum over the years, see The Lean Advantage 3.)

So, you can understand my interest when Vic Mansfield, a regular visitor to our site, called my attention to an article by Gina Kolata on last weekís The New York Times Health Page (April 24, 2001): "Maximum Heart Rate Theory Is Challenged." It appears that Iím not alone in my rejection of "The Formula." Believe it or not, the doctor who created the formula shares my skepticism.

The formula was devised in 1970 by Dr. William Haskell. According to the article, Dr. Haskell and his mentor, Dr. Samuel Fox, were trying to determine a safe level of exertion for heart disease patients. They culled data from about 10 studies and came up with the formula more or less off the cuff. Haskell, who is now a professor of medicine at Stanford, says the subjects in the studies were never meant to be a representative sample of the general population; most were under 55 and some were smokers or had heart disease. Nevertheless, "The formula quickly entered the medical literature," The Times reports. "The absolute numbers took on an air of received wisdom."

"Iíve kind of laughed about it over the years," Dr. Haskell told Kolata. "[The formula] was never supposed to be an absolute guide to rule peopleís training."

Those in the know, so to speak, have long realized that the formula is only a rough estimate, and not a very good one at that. Dr. Fritz Hagerman, an exercise physiologist at Ohio University, told The Times that he learned from more than three decades of studying world-class rowers that the whole idea of a formula to predict an individualís maximum heart rate was ludicrous. Hagerman has seen Olympic rowers in their 20s with maximum heart rates of 220. And he has seen others on the same team and with the same ability, with maximum rates of just 160. The reason, Hagerman explained, is that some athletes push out more blood with each heart beat, and others accomplish the same thing with a faster heart beat.

What guidelines should athletes use? The article doesnít say, but I have some suggestions. First, you can have your maximum heart rate measured in an exercise physiology laboratory. As readers know, Iíve had mine measured at the Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, the human performance laboratory at the University of New Mexico and at the Cooper Clinic. Once you know your actual maximum, heart rate is a pretty good indication of workout intensity and useful in comparing one aerobic workout with another. For more details, see the articles in The Lean Advantage 3 on my use of heart rate monitors.

Another approach is to use perceived rate of exertion, which is just about as good and certainly more convenient than monitoring heart rate. Thatís the method I use most often in my hard aerobic workouts. Listen to your body and it will tell you how hard youíre working. Thereís no need to focus on your heart rate. Your breathing and your muscles will tell you all you need to know. With a little experience, you can judge whether youíre working "very hard" or "hardly working," or somewhere in between the two extremes.

I donít need a heart rate monitor to tell me that Iím working extremely hard during my treadmill workouts. I record the time, speed and angle of incline in my training dairy and use that to judge my progress from one treadmill workout to the next. I do essentially the same on my rowing and Air-Dyne workouts, using the performance monitors on these machines to track my efforts. For specific examples of progressively more intense aerobic workouts, see Lean for Life. The key is to slowly ratchet up the intensity as your condition improves.

If youíre in poor condition, have heart disease or other medical problems you should, of course, consult your physician before undertaking any kind of training program.

Cut the Bread and Cereal?

Q. A friend of mine has replaced the bread, grain and cereal in his diet with more fruit and vegetables. He says man is not genetically adapted to consume cereal grain. Anything to it?

A. In Ripped 2 and my other books, I say that whole grains and whole-grain products are good diet food. Thatís true, but it may be possible to get too much of a good thing. 

Dr. Loren Cordain, an evolutionary biologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and S. Boyd Eaton, M.D., an adjunct professor of anthropology at Emory University in Atlanta and co-author of the landmark 1988-book The Paleolithic Prescription, are the leading proponents of the theory referred to by your friend. They point out that man has only been consuming cereal grains in large amounts since the adoption of agriculture in the last 5,500 to 10,000 years, a relatively short period of time from an evolutionary perspective. For the vast majority of manís roughly 1.7 million years on earth, humans existed as hunter-gatherers living on a wide variety of wild animal meats, fruits and vegetables Ė and only a smattering of wild grains. Our genetic makeup is apparently little changed in the last 40,000 years. Cordain and Eaton say that we have not had time to adjust to a diet where cereal grains provide the majority of our food energy.

Cordain catalogs a litany of problems arising from the switch to cereal grains, including digestive problems, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, autoimmune diseases, and psychological and neurological illnesses. Cordain writes: "...Many of the worldís people suffer disease and dysfunction directly attributable to the consumption of [cereal grain]."

Eaton has his own list of deleterious effects of the displacement of fruits and vegetables in favor of cereal grains, including cancer (fruit and vegetables have a proven protective effect, grains donít), obesity and lack of muscle mass (ancient man struggled and expended energy for every morsel of food, while we drive to the supermarket for Sugar Pops), diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Frankly, itís enough to scare your pants off.

Turns out itís not as bad as it might seem. The problem lies mostly when we eat too much. "Cereal grains obviously can be included in moderate amounts in the diets of most people without any noticeable deleterious health effects," Cordain acknowledges. "The downside of cereal grain consumption is their ability to disrupt health and well-being in virtually all people when consumed in excessive quantity," says Cordain. (Emphasis added.)

The form or type of grain product also matters. Cordain suggests cutting way down on processed carbohydrates, including white bread, white rice and most packaged breakfast cereals. That makes sense, of course, because most of the fiber has been removed from these foods, making them calorie dense and fattening (see Ripped and Ripped 2). Stick with whole grains and high fiber, gritty breads. My favorite bread is Ezekiel 4:9, a sprouted grain recipe made by Food for Life.

As in most things, moderation is the best policy. Thatís what was recommended recently in The Washington Post ( February 13, 2001, health edition, page 9). The article by Lawrence Lindner quoted Melvin Konner, M.D., another of the three co-authors of The Paleolithic Prescription: "Grains are a healthy food. Thereís no reason they shouldnít be a substantial proportion of the diet." Konner agrees with Cordain: "What we do with grains is refined them until thereís no fiber, no vitamin and mineral content." Whole-grain breads and cereals are fine, according to Konner, but pasta, most bagels and breakfast cereals donít pack the nutritional punch that ancient foods did.

Dr. Konner suggests a simple solution: Adjust the Food Guide Pyramid. "The base would be vegetables and fruits. Grains would be the next level up. But I donít want people going around thinking that if they eat a bagel, itís toxic, that theyíve made a terrible mistake."

That sounds right to me. Most of us would probably be well advised to eat a little less bread and grain, and more fruit and vegetables. Iím going to take Konnerís advice. As a start, Iím reducing (not eliminating) the mixed grains in my breakfast cereal, and substituting mixed vegetables and a chopped orange. In other meals, Iím cutting back on bread, and adding various frozen vegetable mixtures which are available at the supermarket. Iím also having more fruit snacks, usually grapefruit. The change has been good; Iíve enjoyed the added color and crunch. Itíll be interested to see what effect, if any, the change will have on my body composition.

The Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter (May 2001) suggests reducing the 11 daily servings of grain products recommended by the Food Guide Pyramid to six, and upping vegetable and fruit servings from the recommended five to nine. Tufts says produce deep green, red, yellow and orange in color contain the most vitamins and minerals, and most closely approximate those eaten by our Paleolithic predecessors.

(Thanks to David Rawlins for providing me with copies of the original papers by doctors Eaton and Cordain.)

Worry about Milk?

Q. I was surprised to see Jeff Novick in three separate installments of his well-respected Weekly Health Update come down hard on milk. Siding with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit group that promotes vegetarianism and is opposed to dairy products, he couldnít find anything good to say about milk. He apparently believes itís not fit for human consumption. In the April 18, 2001 issue he wrote: "I can see no reason to include such a potentially harmful Ďfoodí (?) in an optimum diet."

From reading your books, I know that nonfat dairy products are a major part of your diet. Are you re-evaluated your consumption of dairy products?

A. Jeff is a good friend. I was also surprised to see him come out so strongly against milk. His anti-dairy comments caused me to review my position, but Iíve concluded that Jeff is out in left field on this one, definitely in the minority. I like milk. Iíve been drinking it all my life. It agrees with me. I see no reason to stop consuming skim milk and nonfat yogurt. Unless one is lactose intolerant, most mainstream health and nutrition experts agree that nonfat dairy products are healthy and an excellent source of protein, calcium and other desirable nutrients. If you just donít like milk, for what ever reason, you can get these nutrients elsewhere. Youíll have to work at it, however. Most Americans get enough protein, but calcium can be a problem.

Calcium is essential for maintaining optimum health and preventing osteoporosis, hypertension, and colon cancer. Unfortunately, few people get enough calcium without drinking milk or taking supplements. For example, it takes 25 cups of raw broccoli, 10 cups of cooked chard, or 21 cups of kidney beans to get the 1000 milligram minimum that most adults need every day; women and people over 50 probably need more. If you donít consume milk products and donít want to take supplements, calcium-fortified soy milk, rice milk or orange juice are reasonable alternatives. If you go that route, choose carefully. Read the nutrition information on the label.

Lance Chilton, M.D., president of the New Mexico Pediatric Society and a regular columnist in the Albuquerque Journal, recently spent an hour in a natural foods market reading the nutrition labels on "milks" made from soy, rice, oats and almonds. He found the variation remarkable Ė "anywhere from 20 mg to 250 mg of calcium per cup, and anywhere from next no vitamin D to 160 units per cup." He also noted that orange juice can be bought with as much calcium as milk, but warns that it has plenty of "cavity-causing sugar."

Check the protein content as well. A survey of labels in our refrigerator showed 3 grams of protein in soy milk and 5 in multigrain beverage, compared to 8 grams in fat free milk. Dr. Chilton says, "Recently infants have been found who developed rickets [vitamin D deficiency] or protein deficiency (kwashiorkor) by taking nonmilk beverages such as Ďrice milkí and Ďsoy milk.í "(Most milk substitutes, of course, are clearly labeled "Not for use as an infant formula." More on milk for infants below.)

Like bread, milk is a relatively new addition to manís diet, beginning with the domestication of animals a few thousand years ago. Does this mean we shouldnít drink milk? Elizabeth Somer, a registered dietitian and author of The Origin Diet (Henry Holt, 2001), says no. Although it may conflict with the stone age diet, Somer says there are few foods as rich in calcium as milk that people are willing to eat on a regular basis. (Dr. Chilton agrees: "Dairy products are the easiest source.") Others, however, such as T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., the principal anti-dairy authority relied on by Chef Jeff, maintain that itís unnatural to drink milk and that doing so can cause heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Like most nutrition experts, Somer says thereís scant evidence that milk makes people sick.

Citing Robert P. Heaney, M.D., a calcium expert and John A. Creighton University professor at Creighton University in Omaha, she says the only true link between milk and heart disease is saturated fat. "With an abundance of nonfat milk, yogurt, and cheese products on the market," Somer writes, " you can easily meet your calcium needs without sacrificing your heart.".

The evidence linking milk to diabetes is inconclusive, according to Somer. "If there is a link between cowís milk and diabetes it is most likely only in babies under one year old." Itís no secret that babies shouldnít drink cowís milk, she adds. Since 1976, the American Academy of Pediatrics has warned against feeding cowís milk to infants. Somer writes: "There is no solid evidence yet that anyone other than the under-one set, even children and adults genetically at risk for diabetes, is harmed by drinking milk."

Dr. Campbell seems to be the main proponent of the theory that milk consumption is linked to various forms of cancer, and the article in Chef Jeffís Weekly Health Update suggests that even he concedes that the evidence is at best circumstantial. The evidence that calcium is protective against colon cancer seems to be far stronger.

Hereís the bottom-line , according to Elizabeth Somer: "The only real problem with milk is for those people who are lactose intolerant." These people are unable to break down milk sugar, lactose, and experience gas and cramping when they drink milk. Milk allergy is often mentioned, but Somer says it is rare in adults. "The 1 to 2 percent of young children who develop allergic symptoms to milk," she writes, "usually outgrow the problem by the time they are two years old."

Admittedly, as Chef Jeff says, lactose intolerance affects a large percentage of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans. But thatís not as much as of a problem as one might think, according to Somer. "Even people who are lactose intolerant can often drink small amounts of milk with meals or can eat yogurt or drink nonfat milk treated with lactase, such as Lactaid."

If you still have doubts or questions, youíll find many more details on the Web sites of the National Dairy Council (pro), the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (con), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (neutral). By the way, according to an article reproduced by Jeff, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine sued the FDA alleging among other things that milkís unique status in the school lunch program amounts to racial discrimination.

What About Fruit?

Q: Do you eat fruit?

A: Yes, Iíve always included plenty of fruit in my diet, and I still do. But Iím now a little more careful about my fruit intake than previously.

As you probably know, most fruit has a relatively low glycemic index rating; it doesnít produce as much of a rise in blood sugar as the sweet taste might suggest. Thatís because the sugar in fruit is in a form called fructose (fruit sugar), which your body burns at a slow rate. Unfortunately, the glycemic index doesnít account for the full effect of fructose.

The body doesnít handle large amounts of fructose very well. Eating a lot of fruit or drinking fruit juice can have a negative impact on glucose, insulin and triglyceride levels, especially for people who already have a problem with blood sugar and insulin or those prone to elevated blood fats and heart disease. People who handle most sugars without difficulty usually do okay with fruit sugar, however.

The best and most complete explanation of the problem Iíve found is in The Healthiest Diet in the World (Plume, 2001), by longtime health and nutrition writers Nikki and David Goldbeck: "If insulin levels are already high, as they often are when cells are insulin resistant [donít respond properly to insulin], fructose stimulates the liver to release glycogen in the form of glucose. This raises blood sugar levels significantly, and the secretion of insulin in response can prolong hyperinsulinemia." In other words, although fructose does not directly raises blood sugar levels, it does so indirectly, by prompting the liver to deposit more glucose into the bloodstream, which stimulates the further release of insulin. In short, fructose makes a bad situation worse.

Andrew Weil, M.D., confirms the interference with liver function in Eating Well for Optimum Health (Knopf, 2000). "You can maintain life with intravenous glucose, but not with intravenous fructose; severe derangement of liver function results," he writes.

In addition, according to the Goldbecks Weil and others, fructose can also raise blood triglycerides, increasing the risk of heart and artery disease. This usually occurs in people who are already eating a diet high in carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates.

Donít misunderstand, however. The Goldbecks and Dr. Weil are not suggesting that we stop eating fruit. As I said, fruit is still a major part of my diet. The Goldbecks say that vegetables Ė and fruit Ė are the foundation of a healthy diet. They suggest, however, that vegetables be given priority. Fruit, they say, is best limited to 2 to 4 daily servings.

Registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer recommends essentially the same thing in The Origin Diet (Henry Holt, 2001). "Boosting your intake of fruits and vegetables to at least eight, and preferably 10 servings a day is the best thing you can do for your health and your waistline," says Somer.  Eat more vegetables than fruit, she advises.

There are also things you can do -- or avoid -- to get the benefits of fruit without the downside. First, you can eat regular balanced meals. Donít skip meals and try to get by on fruit. "When the body is in a Ďstarvedí state," the Goldbecks caution, " the production of glucose from fructose is more dramatic." Substituting fruit for meals makes it more difficult to control blood sugar. 

It's best to combine fruit with other low glycemic foods. As I suggested in Challenge Yourself, adding foods high in protein or fat is a good plan. For example, in The Real Age Diet (HarperCollins, 2001), Michael F. Roizen, MD, advises eating a few nuts "before you eat a fruit to slow the emptying of the stomach."

Ancient Manís Fruit Consumption

You may be wondering how much fruit was eaten by ancient man. The answer is, all they could get their hands on, but that usually wasnít much. The Paleolithic Prescription (Harper& Roe, 1988), the landmark book by S. Boyd Eaton, M.D., and others, tells us that the carbohydrates eaten by Paleolithic hunters and gatherers came from wild tubers, berries, roots, shoots, edible leaves and flowers, seeds, gums, fungi, nuts Ė and fruit and honey. Most of the foods were high-fiber plants. The only items on the menu containing fructose in substantial amounts were fruit and honey, which Elizabeth Somer reminds us "were seasonal and scarce."

Somer also points out another important difference between then and now. Our ancient ancestors were lean and fit. "Today," says Somer, "inactive lifestyles encourage weight gain, elevated blood fats, and reduce blood sugar regulation." Our distant relatives had stable blood sugar and low triglycerides; they could probably handle large amounts of fruit just fine Ė when it was available. Unfortunately, thatís no longer true for many people, especially now that fruit is available year-round.

Follow the lead of your Paleolithic grandparents: Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, but stress the vegetables. "Over the course of a week," say the Goldbecks, "if you donít personally go through a combined amount of at least 6 pounds of vegetables and fruit (with most of the weight given to the former), you arenít eating enough of these foods."

Ripped Enterprises, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108, Phone: 505-266-5858,  e-mail: cncbass@aol.com, FAX (505) 266-9123.  Office hours are Monday-Friday, 8-5, Mountain time. 

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