FAQ 14 (Scroll for all articles)
Free Weights or Machines, Which Is Better?
A: It depends. They both have their place.
I started at about 13 using my father's barbell set. A few years later, I raised my sights from simply becoming bigger and stronger to Olympic weightlifting. We moved to a larger house and upgraded my home gym with a York Olympic Barbell set, squat racks, and a flat bench. Some years later, I took on Powerlifting and added a Bench Press bench and upgraded our adjustable dumbbells to 100 pounds or more. We also purchased a York power rack around that time.
That was it for a decade or more, when Carol and I added Mini-Gym Isokinetic machines which control speed allowing the user to provide the resistance, and does so with each and every repetition as your muscles fatigue. Importantly, performance monitors allow you to track progress.
When I turned my interest to over-40 physique competition, we added several Nautilus and other machines and a full rack of dumbbells.
Wayne Gallasch took this photo of me pressing heavy dumbbells on our decline bench in 1983.
Presently, we have home and office gyms with a full complement of free weights, benches, kettlebells, resistance bands, and machines.
I tell you this, because I believe all of these forms of resistance training provide the overload necessary to build strength and muscle mass. There is no "one" best way to build strength and muscle. If you train your body progressively and allow time for recovery and growth they all work. A key factor is to provide enough variety to maintain motivation.
There are, of course, differences to keep in mind.
Transfer of Strength: Machines have a specific movement path, while free weights allow you the flexibility to mimic specific activities you want to train. Examples are swinging a golf club or kicking a football.
Some say that's the primary advantage of free weights. Arthur Jones of Nautilus machine fame disagrees.
Arthur says that "almost" the same as in competition provides negative transfer, which complicates and wastes time. He says the general strength transfer provided by a machine or a standard lifting motion is best. That skill training is specific and requires no overload.
I'm inclined to agree with Arthur. Do the basic exercises, AND THEN practice your sport.
Injury Risk: You are less likely to hurt yourself with a weight machine, than with free weights. While injuries can occur using weight machines, they are more likely to come from overly aggressive free weight training.
You're not likely to hurt yourself either way if you control the weight thru the full range of motion, up and down.
Cost: Machines are costly. No doubt about it.
If you're on a budget equipping your home gym, keep in mind that all you really need is a barbell, dumbbells, an adjustable bench, a squat rack, and perhaps a chin-up bar.
A full range of dumbbells is, of course, expensive. An answer is to buy Power Block dumbbells that can be adjusted from 10 to 100 pounds or more. For smaller jumps, you can add magnet weights.
Those who are new to resistance training should probably look for a reasonably priced fitness center that has both free weights and machines, and pay a personal trainer to show you the ropes. After that, you can decide whether you want to train at home or in a fitness center.
Except for a brief time after coming back from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, I have always trained at home. At the beginning, all I had to go by was Strength & Health magazine. I taught myself the three Olympic lifts (press, snatch and clean & jerk) by looking at the photos. (My dad taught himself how to pole vault, so it may be in our genes.)
I had some great training partners during my Olympic lifting days, but I've trained alone most of the time. That has kept me from letting my competitive urges get me in trouble. I am definitely a self-starter.
I have friends who thrive on the atmosphere of a gym. Training alone would squelch their motivation.
Again, you decide.
April 1, 2020
Walking Versus Coffee for Brain Stimulation--and Mood Enhancement?
A: I've often said that my best ideas come while walking--and that walking lifts my spirits. I've also written that I drink 1 to 3 cups of coffee on most days. (Carol doesn't drink coffee.)
We now have new studies testing both claims. The first study compares the effects of walking and coffee. The second focuses on mood.
The first study finds that both walking and coffee stimulate brain function, and may complement each other, but that walking alone seems to be the best option.
Researchers from Western University in London, Ontario, Canada and the University of British Columbia in British Columbia, Canada compared the effects of walking and coffee on working memory and reported their findings in the December, 2019, Nature Scientific Reports.
Led by Anisa Morava, Exercise and Health Psychology Lab at Western University, the researchers looked at 50 participants, aged 18 to 40, half of whom drank coffee regularly. They tested their ability to quickly process and recall information under three different conditions: after 20 minutes of brisk walking; after consuming about as much caffeine as found in a cup of coffee; and then neither intervention as a control.
They found that 20 minutes of brisk walking improved working memory as much as a dose of caffeine. This was true for both coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers, suggesting that exercise could benefit people regardless of whether they rely on coffee to stay alert.
People who drank coffee regularly were more efficient after a walk.
Anisa Morava and her colleagues explained their finding on the basis of the well know fact that regular caffeine use creates a tolerance to its effect. The coffee drinkers were unfazed by the caffeine administered in the study--but they did respond to the walking.
While caffeine can give people a buzz, raising alertness, the effect only works in those unaccustomed to drinking coffee.
So, walkers don't need coffee. Walking alone does the job.
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I found the study on movement and mood in Dr. Richard Winett's MASTER TRAINER newsletter (December 2019).
The research is complex, but the bottom line is simple: Breaking up sedentary behavior with movement enhances mood.
Researchers led by M. Giurgiu tracked the movement and mood of 92 university employees over five days, and reported their findings in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (Online August 22, 2019).
Physical activity and sedentary behavior were tracked using accelerometers and mood was assessed 10 times a day using smartphone diaries.
The conclusion: These ecologically valid findings suggest breaking-up sedentary behavior as a promising strategy to enhance mood in everyday life. In particular, breaking-up sedentary behavior frequently and intensively, for example, by walking instead of standing, may be most beneficial.
Dr. Winett nailed it: "To improve your mood, take a brief walk."
* * *
My parents didn't drink coffee and I got all the way through law school without drinking it. The law firm where I went to work had a coffee pot going all the time and I drank coffee during the 10 years I was there. When Carol and I opened our own law office, we offered our clients coffee. As noted above, she never developed the habit--and I didn't drink much either.
When we closed down our law practiced to devote full time to Ripped Enterprises--most of my time was (and is) devoted to researching and writing--I started drinking coffee again.
At first, my coffee consumption was only to get me going for workouts, but a few years ago I started drinking coffee several times a day. I knew it wasn't a good idea, but it seemed to help me concentrate.
This FAQ has persuaded me to go back to drinking coffee only before workouts. Twice a week. Not enough to develop a tolerance.
I expect to feel and sleep better. And perhaps think more clearly.
I will, of course, continue taking brief walks throughout the day.
* * *
Unfortunately, I've founds that caffeine withdrawal is unpleasant, with headache being the most common symptom.
Caffeine causes blood vessels in the brain to constrict, which slows blood flow. A sudden increase in blood flow can cause painful withdrawal headaches as the brain adapts to the increase in blood flow.
I expect that to pass after a week or so. I'm staying the course.
Does Milk-Fat Shorten Life?
A: That may be the case according to a new study from Brigham Young University, published October 28, 2019, in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.
Research on 5834 adults found that people who drank low-fat milk appeared to experience 4.5 years less biological aging than those who drank 2% or whole milk.
Exercise science professor Larry Tucker, PhD, found whole milk consumption to be associated with shorter telomeres, an index of biological aging.
While this provides support for the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that we consume nonfat or 1% milk, and not whole milk, it is hardly the whole story.
"Milk is probably the most controversial food in our country," Professor Tucker told Science Daily (January 15, 2020). "If someone asked me to put together a presentation on the value of drinking milk, I could put together a 1-hour presentation that would knock your socks off. You'd think, 'Whoa, everybody should be drinking more milk.' If someone said do the opposite, I could also do that."
"At the very least," he continued, "the findings in this study are definitely worth pondering. Maybe there's something here that requires a little more attention."
* * *
In addition to the creamy taste, those of us who drink whole milk have a 50% lower risk of diabetes and are less likely to crave processed foods. In moderation, I believe the good outweighs the bad, whatever it may be.
For full details, see Milk in the Middle: https://www.cbass.com/milk.htm
March 1, 2020
Does Skipping Breakfast Aid Weight Loss?
A: I don't think so. The idea of eating a big breakfast, medium-sized lunch and small dinner has been around since the 1960s, but research is now starting to back up the benefits of eating the greater part of your calories early in the day.
I've long maintained that eating a substantial breakfast is a key to calorie balance. That skipping breakfast opens the door to weight gain.
Eating breakfast levels your blood sugar after a night of fasting--and helps keep your appetite under control for the rest of the day. What happens is you become full and satisfied before you take in more calories than you burn.
Recent studies from Israel and from California delve into the science of meal timing. It appears that breakfast may be even more important than I thought.
One study focuses on weight control and the other on obesity and disease.
A study led by Daniela Jakubowicz, Wolfson Medical Center, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, found that dieters who consumed most of their calories at breakfast lost two and a half times more weight than those who had a light breakfast and ate most of their calories at dinner.
The California study found that mice consuming all of their calories during their "daytime" appeared to be completely protected from diseases (obesity, diabetes, heart disease and liver damage) that afflicted mice allowed to eat at any time of day or night.
Both studies were published a few years back, but came back into focus with a thought provoking (January 8th, 2020) "Video of the Day" by Michael Greger, MD, uber researcher and founder of NutritionFacts.org, and author of How Not To Die (Flatiron Books, December 8, 2015): https://nutritionfacts.org/video/is-skipping-breakfast-better-for-weight-loss/
About the same time, BBC FUTURE came out with a comprehensive article (including links to the above studies) on this topic by Linda Geddes: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190304-how-meal-timings-affect-your-waistline
The bottom line is that skimping on breakfast is to be done at one's peril. Starting your day with a substantial breakfast is a proven path to leanness and health.
I start my day with the latest version on my "Old Reliable" breakfast and end with a bed-time snack. I do not allow my blood sugar to drop at any time during the day. My weekly weight records show that this has worked well for decades on end.
Breakfast or no breakfast; it's up to you.
February 1, 2020
Can Exercise Both Treat and Prevent Depression?
A research review published in the August 8, 2019, Current Sports Medicine Reports found that exercise can both prevent and treat depression.
Felipe Schuch, PhD, Department of Sports Methods and Techniques, Federal University, Brazil, and two colleagues from the United Kingdom cited 49 meta-analysis studies, which followed 267,000 people who were not depressed for a year or longer and found that high levels of physical activity and exercise reduced the chance of developing depression by 17% overall. Another meta-analysis cited in the study, which looked at 25 randomized, controlled trials testing the effects of exercise in people who were already depressed, found that exercise training had a "very large and significant antidepressant effect," compared to various control interventions.
Planning and support were key factors.
Finding an enjoyable activity, having support from friends and family, and being supervised by a fitness professional all increased the likelihood of starting and sustaining an exercise program, the authors noted.
Depression is a major problem worldwide. More often than not, drugs and psychotherapy are the main focus. Lifestyle and exercise are often given little consideration.
Investigating the why and how exercise reduces symptoms of depression is in its early stages.
Finding a form of exercise that makes you happy is an important first step.
* * *
If I wake up feeling a little "down," I know from long experience that the answer is to get up and get moving. I start most mornings by walking around our house and then doing my "Morning Motion."
My Morning Motion routine is ever evolving. The basic idea is to get the blood flowing to all parts of my body, including my brain. I begin by opening and closing my hands and moving my wrists, elbows, shoulders, legs, back, calves, and neck. I end this segment with balancing movements and free squats with a broom stick.
The latest addition is resistance bands. I do arm movements and move on to shoulder presses, bend over rows, shrugs, and deadlifts. A major advantage of RBs is that they allow me to adjust for my weak shoulder and move my lower body without aggravating my gimpy lumbar spine.
The routine takes about 10 minutes. The emphasis is on movement--not effort.
I end with a short walk (15 or 20 minutes) around our neighborhood. The only negative is a barking dog across the street, who can't get it through her pea-brain that I'm a neighbor.
A positive is that two big dogs on the next street over are always happy to see me. My dad, a dog lover, observed that little dogs bark to keep the play on their side, while big dogs don't feel threatened. These dogs are monsters, capable of doing major harm to anyone who abuses them.
It took a while for us to make friends, but we've come to be good buddies. They can smell and hear me long before I get to their yard and hang over the fence waiting for me. The alpha dogs insists on getting attention first, but lets me pet his underling a little bit.
The dogs and I enjoy the contact; they lick my hands while I rub their big heads. (Carol makes me wash my hands when I get home.)
Self efficacy is another key factor.
* * *
Self efficacy is discussed by Tim Bono, PhD, professor of positive psychology, in his book WHEN LIKES AREN'T ENOUGH.
Self efficacy is the concept that something you do for yourself--such as exercise--is more empowering and therapeutic than something that comes from outside sources.
One of Dr. Bono's students suffering from depression confided to him that short daily workouts in his apartment helped him feel in control, that he was “taking care of himself.”
Bono cites the following comment by researchers investigating the why and how exercise reduces symptoms of depression:
One of the positive psychological benefits of systematic exercise is the development of a sense of personal mastery and positive self-regard….It is conceivable that the use of medication may undermine this benefit by prioritizing an alternative, less self-confirming attribution for one’s improved condition. Instead of incorporating the belief ‘I was dedicated and worked hard with the exercise program; it wasn’t easy, but I beat this depression,’ patients might incorporate the belief that ‘I took an antidepressant and got better.’
For more retails see my article Exercise & the Science of Happiness: https://www.cbass.com/exercise_happiness.html
January 1, 2020
Ripped Enterprises, P.O. Box 51236, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87181-1236
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