Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Return of the Kettlebell check in: relax, look and breath

In the clean and jerk sessions of Return of the Kettlebell (prelim overview here) there is a still point, it seems, that comes from double kettlebell sessions and this particular move that opens up a kind of Next Level of performance - or perhaps it's just me, so let me try to explain what i mean.

When i recently wrote about starting into RTK, i said it focuses the mind. I mean it. And i *really* like that. Nothing like moving two kb's at speed, and under control, and a lot, to get that this is a kind of serious business and staying fresh not squirrelly is critical.

But there's also more than that. Again, this could just be me, but because i'm now moving two bells in synchrony, my attention on what i'm doing is different from single bell work. Qualitatively. For instance, with a one arm press, i'm checking everything in single terms: feet, glutes, gut, lats etc and on into the press itself. Perfect rep; perfect form.

But with two bells - perhaps more so in the dynamic moves like the snatch and the clean & jerk, it seems, when moving the bells, the focus can't be equally on the two arms doing the press, nor does attention split to being a bit on this side and a bit on that side. For lack of a better term the effort becomes more about the movement systemically rather than the parts.

Somthing i'm finding is that there is more focus on executing the move well and diagnosis happens post rep rather than within rep. It's as if in the ladders there are opportunities for very fast diagnostics or post mortems after doing even early rungs, that can then be applied to the next rung. Again, at least for me, i find that diagnostic happening more post move than pre move with the C&J than i do with the single arm press.

The Spot on the Door.
Here's an example. Yesterday doing medium day C&J, i was noticing a real difference in feel between the second and third rungs. The last time i'd done this block i'd also found i was getting perhaps overly intrigued about my breathing - except that i knew it didn't feel right. I also generally find myself closing my eyes when i get into a groove, and usually that's fine, but it wasn't helping as it usually does.

Then something kinda bizarre happened yesterday mid set at this tranistion point between totally sweet rungs and less perfect feeling rung. I looked at a spot on the door in front of me (i practice in a hallway). All of a sudden i noticed the move came together. For one thing, i felt like i was able to slow the pace down a bit and get more power into the clean part of each rep. There was then a sort of "ah ha" about the breathing, and then the jerk just went all zen. Not that i didn't feel the work, but it was different. Neurological harmony.

Take aways from this double kb practice for me (your mileage may very) were generally:

Slow down to feel the force in the clean, luke. I don't mean that to sound like it's a physical speed thing. I don't think the bells moved slower; i was slower inside. And i think that slowness was also where the "relaxedness" of the title comes from - i'm still focusing on hip flexor drive, tight abs etc, but it's more wound up than tossed out. More focused, less effortful in the effort. Oh grr. hard to describe.

The spaces in between. Free the Joints. The other thing on the jerk part for me was finding that spot in the door. I don't know if that spot helped anchor better arthrokinetic responses - freeing up my shoulders & neck just that bit more out of neurological threat that the jerk felt both less effortful and less fatiguing - but the difference is stunning to me. That shift in gears between the 2'nd and 3'rd ladders really quieted right down.

So what these simple moments did for me is show that, while breathing is so key to getting that coordinated effort - there are other systems in me that need to sync with that breathing. And boy does head position and the use of the eyes seem to be a powerful part of that coordination. Now i thought i knew at least about head position, but the double kb's taught it in a whole new way.

I feel like i've learned something new that i don't think i would have found this quite so clearly, or had its benefits so inscribed without the double kb challenge, and this particular big kb move.

kettlebell as instrument?
This is gonna sound flakey but one of the things i like about picking up guitars at different folks' places is that i find every single instrument from the meanest to the most extravagant has a voice - something to say. It's probably so obvious to say so does this kind of gear. I think i may be starting to get why Pavel in his conversation with Geoff Neupert a month back in the kettlebell secrets calls said barbell or kettlebell - they're great but pick one and really get it. Only advanced folks like Adam T. Glass or Brett Jones would mix them up. For a moment the other day, i think i kinda got a bit of the rationale and benefit of that. It's not just about learning new moves; it's for lack of a better term, this neurological harmony. It feels great when it all locks in (better than 'the pump').

The cool thing i sense from this expertise practice - and again marial arts folks may say nice catching up there, sport - is that really getting it with this tool means transferable skills rather than just specific skills, too - i know what this locked in in my body feels like now when challenged with double weight. I can look to find that in other moves now as well, whether kicking a ball or doing a pull up. Perhaps. Yes no?

Anyway, i was surprised. And while i enjoy Enter the Kettlebell very much (here's why) and return to it often, RTK's demands and focus sharpening are very appealing right now. And the other day, i just had what feels like an unexpected bonus outcome, too, about integration and smooth power. Tomorrow's challenge will be how to carry this practice into Heavy Day C&J.

Time to Double KB?
Just to note, if you're curious about exploring double KB work, Georff Neupert, RKC maestro of strength, is doing a series on his blog of how to think about when and how best to ramp into double kettlebell work. His Blog's a great resource in general. Thoughtful.

Look forward to hearing about your experiences.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The reusable tea infuser for Super Great Green Tea at Work Bliss

Green tea is grand, isn't it? But how have that great green tea joy at work? I've written a couple times about green tea's effect for health, well being and Fat Loss. But let's be clear: while any green tea may do, i'm always thinking not of the bagged detritus from the sweepings of the tea processing floor, but about real japanese green tea. Whether the humble genmaicha, common sencha or the the elegant matcha, this is lovely loose tea, best infused (isn't that a lovely word? let's say it together "infused" mmm) loose in a vessel like a tea pot (more on preparation here) so the little leaves can expand to their full taste glory.

Such tea pot temperament may be fine for the ebb and flow of home life, but what about the rush and constraints of work where the convenience of the bag may cause compromise on tea pleasure?

Friends, b2d diggers, i have found The Solution: the individual reusable infuser.

Yes indeed, a simple, made in germany, reusable, gold mesh infuser. Not sure of the actual company that makes the device. I've found one in France labelled as Finum (available in the US here), and another recently (and cheaper) from the delightful Nothing But Tea. No postage fee either. Proprietor Helga Warzecha's on Twitter too. That's just cool. Want to know when your fave Kenyan black tea will be back in stock? Tweat! so cool. I'll be back.

As far as i can tell from the "made in Germany " type face and design branded in the base, they're identical.

Very simple to operate for green tea:
  • Fill the cup with boiling water.
  • let the water come down from the boil (seriously, really really do not use just boiled water and do not add water to cool off boiled water: i made a cup with a post five minute kettle, and then another that was post 15 mins. The post 15 min off the boil was so much tastier it's insane. this is nice to forget about the water for a bit)
  • Note - when possible, use filtered water freshly boiled - i used boiled water from an "always hot" tank thing at work today and my goodness, what a difference in taste.
  • Put the amount and type of tea desired into the filter (in the UK for green tea i like the Japanese Center in the US i've heard the Tao of Tea is good but don't have first hand knowledge)
  • Dunk tea in water, with lid on filter - it just rests in the cup
  • let sit for whatever is recommended - 30-90secs.
  • Take off lid, flip over
  • put infuser in its lid coaster. A very cool part of this simple device is that it has a wee lid for when the tea is steeping that, when flipped over, holds the infuser (and its drips).
  • Enjoy that tea
The nice thing about green tea, you can reuse those leaves for one more tea cup, too, for sure, and it tastes great.
Voila! crappy tasting green tea bags be gone. Your wonderful favorite tea available even at work. I'm so happy with this wee little piece of technology - the tea infuser - no doubt it would work fine for well, black tea, and maybe even coffee too. But i'm just happy - and feel pretty decadent about having this moment of bliss at work.

If you haven't tried real loose japanese tea, wow, you will be delighted. Getting into green tea can be just as intrigued as getting into dark chocolate or fine wine. But really, compared to bags, just about any loose japanese green tea will do (i like genmaicha - love that brown rice mixed in). Explore here to give it a go.


By the way: i'm not endorsed by Japan Center or Nothing But Tea - i just like their products and services. if you have sources you like for your fave types of loose green tea, please send a comment.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Lean Muscle "- muscle is lean - do you mean lean mass?

Just a quicky about terminology. I've heard many folks referring to building "lean muscle" and burning fat. Even seemingly knowledgeable sites do this. Consider this wikianswer response about building "lean muscle" A review of Staley's muscle logic refers to building "lean muscle mass." Or just do a search for "lean muscle" and check how many sites come back with that term in the title.

The thing is, muscle *is* lean in that (a) lean means wanting in fat and (b) muscle has very little fat in it. Pretty much ever. It's very particularly designed to be that way.

The "lean muscle" may come from conflating the desire for muscle gain and fat loss on the one hand and measuring "lean mass" relative to body fat % from body composition on the other.

Or maybe it's that gaining muscle is supposed to go with burning fat and hence getting lean. Not always true by the way: see "bulking."

Anyway, lean muscle may be a redundant term but it's pretty pervasive. So let's take these terms apart then:

Lean, in lean mass refers to the measurement of the body sans adipose tissue - the fat that's under the skin (and can be measured by calipers) as opposed to visceral fat, which is the stuff around our internal organs.

Body composition by the way is formally the meanure of fat, bone, muscle tissue. So a lean person - say a man below 10% body fat with a six pack starting to show - is "lean" - as in wanting in fat (that's another great word: to want, wanting - as in to lack). He may be more or less muscular at that bf% than another person who is say bigger or smaller boned, so not everyone at a particular bf% looks the same to be sure.

Similarly someone can gain lean mass, or gain muscle, and not necessarily put much of a dent in lowering their body fat percentage (as seen recently with obese kids on exercise programs). In fact many folks will eat more to gain muscle mass, and pack on some more fat while doing so. This is partially why it's hard to gain muscle mass while reducing calories to get lean: the fuel to build the muscle mass (new tissue) isn't necessarily there (see discussion on hypertrophy here).

So, there's muscle, there's lean mass, and there's body fat. Muscle and bone is lean; fat is fat. Working to gain muscle doesn't necessitate getting lean(er), but eating at a caloric deficit may (scroll dow to see discussion on weight loss, nutrition, habits, change is pain, here for more).

Now, for most situations the above may be considered a nice distinction (nice is another cool word like want - means fussy or fastidious or jesuitical for that matter), but sometimes folks make the assumption that muscle gain means fat loss when thinking about "lean muscle gain" and since it doesn't, it may help to have this cleared up - help a person working on weight loss and fitness to have a better mental model of what's happening within us.

And so thar we go: muscle is lean already, to get lean is to drop fat, but building muscle is no guarantee of fat loss, though developed in the right circumstances, it can certainly help.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

P90X Review/Critque Part 3b: Workout Alternatives and Why to Consider Them - or "Life is Short & we're complex"

Tempus Fugit. Part 3b of this P90X critique/review looks at alternatives to P90X workouts. Three reasons to consider alternatives: length, variety, quality. A P90X workout week is about 7hours minimum, and, as we saw in part 2, despite what seems like incredible variety, it is all one type of effort: aerobic endurance. The question posed therefore, is, is P90X optimal bang for that 7hour buck? Does it benefit all our muscle fibers? Slow and fast twitch? Does it benefit all our physiological systems, like bones, ligaments, joints, visual, vestibular and proprioceptive systems? All our energy systems? For holistic well being - and fat loss and leaning up, for 7 hours - perhaps not, as we'll see.

Now again, if P90X makes a person happy and they want to spend that time doing lots of various cardio workouts, that's fine (well, see below on how fine). Lots of folks may say (and post) P90X is just fine. And that's fine.

My goal here is to ask about how does one define fine? How assess what's good, why it's good, and what might be missing for both better use of those precious minutes in a day that we never get back and more optimal benefit for our bodies beyond cardio/oxidative strength?

So why do this particular set of hour+ long cardio workouts? what's it doing for the ALL of you in that getting ripped paradigm?

Part 1 of this Review/Critique of P90X looked at concepts like Muscle Confusion.
Part 2 looked at how and for whom P90X might actually deliver on it's "getting ripped" mantra
Part 3b started looking at alternatives to the P90X diet approach and
Part 3b, our final part, looks at alternatives to the P90X workout approach.

What are you working this hard and this long to achieve? My concern motivating this discussion is that many folks think they *have* to put in this kind of time to achieve the P90X goals - getting ripped -- and, if that's the goal, they just don't. Even for cardio/endurance. We just don't. Work smarter not harder. And if we're going to work this long, is it the best long for our fitness goals and well being?

A fast example: lean with ripped abs in an hour/week; endurance in 6 minutes
As we saw in part two, if all a person wants is a six pack, the recipe is diet first to get to 10% bf and an ab hypertrophy program - two were suggested (as ab ripper x actually isn't an hypertrophy program). That's 20mins, 3times a week for effort, and the rest of the effort is diet. That's 1 hour vs 7.

Now sometimes folks just don't believe this is really all one needs to do to get a six pack. It's some kind of no pain no gain ethos perhaps. It can't be that simple. The formula is that simple. Application that's another thing. We'll see below examples of stunning recent research that shows 6mins of intense cardio a week has the same physiological benefits as an hour twenty.

Even if folks believe that a six pack is diet to 10% and 20 mins every other day of ab work, they may want to move more than 20 mins every other day. But why? well, one reason may be what's often put out as "muscle tone"

Muscle tone is another word for both more activation of existing muscle fibers and more muscle fibers to activate. Muscle fibers are densely packed and very small, so even while not incredibly massive, when lean enough to see, one looks pretty wiry strong.

And that might be another thing to check: muscular hypertrophy works on two angles: getting more *stuff* around muscle fiber bundles (sarcoplasmic) and myofibril. Workout type - especially load and recovery - effect hypertrophy type. Bringing more fibers on board, rather than mainly improving the oxidative capacity of the ones we have is what non-aerobic type training privileges - power or hypertrophy strength training rather than endurance (aka P90X)

Is 7 hours a week of cardio work the best way to lay down more muscle fiber? No. Really. It's not. Yes elite marathoners are wiry. But even endurance runners head to the gym for strength training. We'll get into some of the benefits to that below.

So if the goal is then leanness, 6 pack and muscle tone - and perhaps the consequent benefits of health to working out - then we have the first two covered. The recipe for leanness and 6 pack has been stated.

What Type of Muscle, what Type of Strength? If we're doing mainly fat burning/oxidative workouts, we're usually privileging slow twitch muscle fibers. The fast twitch that come into play for power strength or speed aren't getting taxed/developed. They may even atrophy or convert in favour of the growth of the slow twitch privileged muscle types. Faster take longer to get back, too.

You might think you don't care about going fast, but speed, along with a ready nervous system (we'll come onto proprioception) is also the ability to respond quickly to sudden situations, where moving fast can be critical.

But what about the rest of our physiologic systems beyond Muscle?
If we are interested in full body health, there's more to think about that muscle and muscle type. We have multiple energy systems. P90X privileges training one: the oxidative system. Yes really important for fat burning, but that's just part of us. Like the phosphate, glycolytic and lactate energy systems, too.

We also have bones, joints, ligaments and hormones (like insulin) being affected differently by different effort types. And we have a nervous system - a system that is always on and always adapts to what we practice. Immediately and all the time. What are we doing for these systems?

In this article the focus will then be on
  • Muscle tone - laying down new muscle fibers - is what we'll look at to consider alternatives to P90X.
  • General well being including more of the body's systems
  • checking time
  • and the role of checking quality of movement and mobility

Muscle Tone
I'd like to adjust the title here to "muscle tone and bone" as both components of our physiology, along with our lungs and heart and nervous system (and innards generally) need to be considered.

To get both muscle tone and bone building in one swoop, we're talking about resistance training. There are a couple approaches to resistance work that will impact both muscle and bone. This means dynamic work with load, pulling heavy, or both. An alternative for bones is playing squash or soccer. Apparently the stop/start nature of squash and soccer have tremendous value for bone growth. But so does axial loading: bringing force down directly in the direction of the bone. Which means lifting heavy, or lifting fast.

Mentioning lifting heavy or fast sometimes freaks people out. Heavy seems scary; moving a heavy object quickly also may seem scary. There's a fear of hurting oneself, or that one is not strong enough. But everything is proportional. Load is progressive: i've worked with seniors who on their first lifts were parallel squatting for 5 resps with soup cans, built up to milk jugs, and from there to real weights. Point is, they were finding potent loads for them, causing their bodies to adapt.

Aside: Insulin Sensitivity. One of the best ways to get insulin sensitivity up (a good thing) is to include lifting heavy in one's program. Here's more on why from Dave Barr.

The difference: The key thing here is perhaps a couple points to distinguish what P90X does with weights and what we're talking about here.

P90X as described in part 2 does not include multiple sets of a single move with recovery between sets and staying fresh. The weights used in the circuits are light enough not just to get through a set but to get through multiple sets in an hour. They also focus on bodybuilding isolation moves rather than foundational strength work.

There are at least Four differences in resistance approaches in p90x and a strength/power/hypertrophy focused lifting program:

Compound Moves rather than Isolation Moves. A fundamental power/hypertrophy program would scrap the arm/shoulders/chest isolation work entirely and favour whole body "compound" movements. Bigger bang for the bone and muscle buck. Picking up something heavy; pushing something heavy (relatively speaking) means bringing the whole body into play. P90X has a few of these: pull ups and push ups are awesome. They engage everything. Other examples of such compound moves are deadlifts, squats, renegade rows and the amazing turkish get up as demo'd in Kalos Sthenos.

More Load; Fewer Reps. Getting to know the 1, 5 or 10 rep load maximum for a given move is a valuable thing. That way a person can plan sets to be a certain percentage of a maximal rep, understand that the best no. of reps at that percentage will favour a particular kind of strength building.

Actual Recovery for hypertrophy/power. Like understanding percentage of maximal load for effort, understanding recovery periods - and taking them (seriously) is an often overlooked fact of strength development.

Learn quality moves The above assumes that one seeks the instruction to learn how to perform compound moves well.
By balancing load, rep, recovery and quality, we can dial in the kind of strength program best suited to support true general physical preparedness.

Options for Adding Load to Your Routine.
So, suppose you think well, ok, let's try this resistance for real approach, i still don't want to have to go to the gym or get a whole bunch of gear. Far enough.

For the no or low gear desirous, Ross Enemait has the gold standard of body weight work, and home made gear that lets a person achieve any kind of muscular tone goals. Tons of vids on his sight and ideas on how to make strength apparatus to work for you.

TNT bands already used in P90X offer space saving, resistance challenging, forms of work. Jon Hinds who developed this version of band offers and awesome workout routine with a set of the bands. These can be great supplements to some basic weights.

The TRX is another space saving workout system that lets a person use bodyweight in a variety of challenging ways, including supporting pull ups and dips. I personally think that Rings are a gas, though. Elite Rings are awesome and fun. Find room for them and you'll feel like a kid anytime you workout with them.

To get into weights, Powerblocks are great space-saving selectable apparatus. But for that matter, a barbell with a sufficient set of plates can be had cheap regularly on ebay, and will really let you start to pull heavy. The best program for full body fitness with a barbell: two moves, found in Power to the People, always assuming diet (discussed in the last article) is dialed in. Here's a really fast approach to blend all three types of strength with a barbell by Charles Staley, too.

The Kettlebell Confession. What i personally find a very powerful tool for general fitness or wha't also called General Physical Preparedness (GPP - as opposed to Sports Specific training) is kettlebell work. If you have room to swing a cat, you have room for a kettlebell. Why i like the kettlebell so much is that its core simple move, the swing, lets a person do a range of work, from cardio, to raw strength, to power and vo2max, all with the same tool. I've written about why Enter the Kettebell(ETK) is a fabulous program - especially coming off P90X - because its approach captures both these attributes of fast movement for power and strength work for hypertrophy and dynamic work for endurance. It's a complete package. Can work fast and slow twitch muscles; all energy systems; complements related systems work like bone and endocrine etc.

Kettlebell work as spec'd in ETK satisfies the three advantages to lifting fast/heavy that no amount of aerobic movement confers: putting stress on the bones and ligaments to grow and stay strong; different workouts trigger the carbohydrate energy system to help with insulin sensitivity; the lifting effort causes new (fast or slow depending on work out) muscular tissue to be developed, thus leading to enhanced muscle tone.

Depending on your focus, there are a variety of approaches for kettlebell use. Anthony Di Luglio has developed follow along strength/cardio kettlebell routines (reviewed here). Mike Mahler focuses on Charles Staley's Escalating Density Training (also fabulous) applied to double kettlebell work for size and strength. Pavel Tsatsouline's latest book takes this concept even further for power work.

Inspiring examples of KB work may be found with Tracy Reifkind (story here, with excerpts right) and Andrea u-shi
Chang (story here).

One of the compelling things about Tracy's success is that she combined diet first, the importance of which we saw in the last article, with 20 mins a day of kettlebell work. That's it. Diet first (really. diet first. diet most important) & 20 mins a day. And has continued with that program and transformed herself and her health. And she has fabulous tone. Her blog is a great place to see how her workouts have grown in length to 45-50 mins over several years. That first year of 100lbs significant weight loss, diet, and 20mins of KB's.

Which brings us to time.

But a last few quick notes about resistance workouts: recovery recovery recovery - with volume.
There are LOTS of program options from barbells to kettlebells to nada, pending what kind of gear appeals to you. I have not even begun to touch on the rich variety that's out there that also follow good principles. A few to consider within this to challenge the muscles to lay down new fibers. Power to the People and Greasing the Groove are two; Charles Staley's EDT is another; HST is another particularly focused on hypertrophy for mass/size.

Each of these privileges higher total volume in a workout but with lower rep sets with recovery to stay fresh. EDT for instance takes two moves in 15 min blocks. One knows their 10 rep max for a given move, does only 5 reps, and alternates between the two within the 15 mins. Fresh, never to failure, perfect reps. One of the great appeals of P90X for me was that it had real moves like pull ups and push ups. Imagine applying EDT to these moves rather than going to fatigue with each set, as in P90X? Thus privileging fast twitch muscle work, too.

The other thing about a heuristic for a health and fitness well being program is that in lifting, we're talking whole body. Body builders will do arm curls. Someone concerned with an efficient way to work power speed and strength will snatch or clean and press, or do weighted pull ups and single leg squats. They'll develop great abs, legs and arms without ever doing an arm curl.

Ok one other point: drop going to failure.
That is actually an advanced and specific bodybuilding technique that over the past 20 years has been shown to have minimal benefit overall, and not a whole lot of gain for the general practitioner, and new lifter in particular. It is also only induced in Heavy resistance - which P90X is not. And the down side can be overly taxing one's system. Again, advanced technique, and many hypertrophy techniques for mass (like HST) do NOT use it at all.

That and "the pump" sound great, but this is another finishing technique, not basic muscle development, and it's really speculative as to it's value for strength work. And where there may be a role within something known as occlusion training, it's a deliberate, occasional and specific application - not something for every set, every workout.

What will happen is that one will either feel fatigued
after such a workout, and/or sore quite quickly when the pump goes down. One will definitely feel like one has done work. But is this better or more effective than feeling strong and fresh at the end of a workout? It would seem to be a wrong focus and priority for the de-conditioned or less experienced trainee. But perhaps if someone buying this program doesn't feel like this - when they think workouts mean no pain no gain - then they'll think it's a crap workout. Hmm.

The Alternative to endurance/fatigue? Heavier, faster.
In a more balanced approach, a good part of the work in a week is focused on heavy/fast lifting where one has learned what their 1, 5 or 10 rep maximum is for the weight and movement involved, and where one is knowingly and deliberately taking advantage of reps/sets/recovery time and load to challenge the various energy systems and force an adaptation.

The P90X approach at best focuses on endurance, and that in only one way: surviving an hour+ of activity per day. That is missing the benefits of heavy lifting and recovery cycles for hormone efficiency - including insulin - joint health, muscular adaptation and bone mineral density maintenance. IT's just NOT a complete fitness program. And for some people('s partners especially), P90X just takes to long.

On Time
P90X is 7+ hours a week of aerobic work. It may be called, core, kenpo, plyo, arms, shoulders, back, legs, but it's endurance/aerobic/cardio, as seen in part 2, and it's long. Why oh why is it 7 hours of cardio-by-proxy? Again, 7 hours is dandy if that's your informed choice and matches your goals. But there is really nothing optimal for fitness in the design of P90X.

Some recent work showed over 2 years - not 12 weeks - obese gals who had the most success with their weight loss worked out 270-300 mins a week. 4.5-5 hours. Not 7. Those are two more hours a week available to spend with your family or your life than in the gym. This doesn't mean that more hours than that a week working out are bad. Not at all. It's just that one does not HAVE to go at 7hours a week for body comp success or health and strength success. While the study suggests five, i have colleagues who spend 45 minutes every other day working out and report being happy with their body comp. What they do in those 45 minutes is the magic.

As we've seen however,
  • consistent diet and 20 mins a day of one routine - Tracy Reifkind's kettlebell work - has been powerfully transformative.
  • Charles Staley's EDT program starts with 15 min blocks every other day, with only two moves in a single block, buidling up to 3, 15 min blocks, and they are killer. The approaches take advantage of varying intensity and including real recovery. They leverage the science of our physiology to effect adaptation.
So these are 15 min blocks every day or every other day. A far cry from an hour of bringing it.

Intervals compress Time. Another approach that as a side effect shortens workout times is Intervals. P90XPlus (the p90x follow up program) talks about Intervals, but it doesn't really use them. Intervals means working at a particular effort - usually hard - then recovering.

So far, the BEST tested fat loss interval approach with both conditioned and non-conditioned women is 8 secs of HARD pedaling followed by 12 secs of light pedaling - for 20 mins. That's it.
The group which did around eight seconds of sprinting on a bike, followed by 12 seconds of exercising lightly for twenty minutes, lost three times as much fat as other women, who exercised at a continuous, regular pace for 40 minutes
Quick note: the study tested with women, not guys, but there's good reason to think this will be effective for men, too, based on the results of other interval protocols studies.

With intervals, one burns more calories overall than with steady state cardio, that's one thing,. But the interval also entices other benefits for the physiology, including enhancing the sensitivity and effectiveness of our hormonal systems (from insulin to endorphins), nervous system, energy systems.

While 8/12 for 20 sounds great compared to 60+ mins of slog, here's another study where the focus was on aerobic/endurance fitness. 6mins. A WEEK. resulted in the equivalent physiological benefit of 4.5 HOURS of normal cardio a week - p90x type effort. 6mins vs 390.

We just don't have to go long to get physiological benefits; we have to go hard and recover and hard and recover and hard and recover.

Now it's all fine to go long if we're doing something we enjoy. My fat loss hero Lyle McDonald talks about the total comparative benefits of intervals to steady state cardio where going for an hour of steady state burns more total calories than 30 mins of intervals. That's true. When looking at the raw numbers from the specific session. And there is a role for both. McDonald does not talk about the physiological/energy system differences between the two approaches (he starts to in follow ups); just immediate calories burned. And there's more to us than calories burned (as the 8/12 for 20 study shows). We're complex interconnect systems. Optimal approaches to fitness respect this.

And that's why variety in our workout lives means more than going through a bunch of exercises that are all cardio/endurance based, but variety in terms of systems worked.

So we might ask, do least some of our sessions in a week include optimizing benefit for bone, muscle and the rest of our physiology? is this all time well spent for our whole health? Less can be more, with the right less optimized for all the mores. One approach is a third resistance, a third intervals and a third cardio. And also NEPA's

On Practice: Quality and Quantity. Not either/or

I've said throughout this series that P90X is fine if it makes you happy, and as long as you know that it's an endurance program, is that all you want; it takes far longer than it needs to to deliver the lean effects it advertises. But actually, there is one place where i'd suggest one might want to reconsider P90X and might even say it's flawed. P90X is sloppy. Let me explain.

Skill is not mentioned in P90X. And that's understandable in terms of selling a product for the widest appeal. If one needed training to carry out any of the work in P90X that would detract from its immediate do-ability. And as said, that's fine for someone trying to sell something.

But what about the human being buying it? What have we learned we can apply?
We endure beyond the 90 days, and what do we learn? Any transferable performance skills? Perhaps a person doesn't care about learning any athletic skills: the goal is to kill calories; burn fat. But have we therefore potentially compromised movement quality?

Let's consider possible skills that could be addressed in some of the programs if we cared about their value rather than endurance from faux verions:

For folks doing Yoga-x, one might assume the tree pose with eyes closed. How stable does the person feel? In that position, eyes closed, turn the head quickly to the left. Is the person still standing?

The image is of Kettlebell Master Trainer Mark Reifkind, former gymnast and powerlifter, whose main activities now are kettlebells, bikram yoga and z-health mobility. See his blog for blending strength, power, endurance, mobility - and yoga.

Actual yoga, as seen in Part 1 is also about breathing first, is also not about gratuitously holding isometric poses - which is just more (non-transferable static) endurance work. What do we learn about breathing techniques that we might use from yoga to lift heavier weight?

Kenpo is an art that uses kicking and punching. Both the kick and the punch have more going on in them - such as timing of forces - than simply looking like a kick or a punch. What is the benefit of risking putting one's back out or throwing a shoulder in this de-skilled version of Kenpo looking moves, other than another attempt at entertaining cardio? Wouldn't it be cool to actually learn a kick, how to harmonize the forces, and do those high quality kicks? Or punches. How do you know if your upper cut is effective or bleeding energy? Dunno here.

Plyometrics as discussed in part 1 is usually used to enhance speed and power, very much not endurance, as it's used in P90X, but speed or power aren't tested in this program, so hard to say if a person has gained any speed skills. IT's also very very much about form, where the deceleration is a key part of acceleration: plyometrics is about developing rapid conversion of stored elastic energy into force. So depth jumps and kettlebell overspeed eccentrics work this property (see the Elastic section of this article on Plastic/Elastic in human performance). Getting as many joints involved as possible, in the right way, is key to that energy conversion.

While bounding is great, and hopping on one foot can seem taxing, because these moves are done largely to a kind of fatigue, the notion of developing fast eccentric use of the stored energy goes away - the energy stored by a little hop has already dissipated by the time of the conversion. And so what can be a great speed/power strength effect becomes another endurance effect, fighting fatigue. Likewise, the skill of moving even in the hop to a good landng and from there up into a new hop is never discussed. So what's the point of jumping about in the P90X context called plyo? Another version of cardio?

Even the humble pull up and push up have particular biomechanical features that, when taught, make the performance of the exercise easier but also leverage better use of the body and so better transfer of capacity from one movement to another that use the same muscle groups.

As an example of the degree of attention a simple move can require, the one arm pushup, rushed through one part of one disk in P90X, is the subject of half a book for coordinating muscular activity along the core; speed of shoulder joint to elbow joint is a technique called bone rhythm that assures the physics of the body is working together for optimal efficiency.

In resistance sections, quality of movement is mentioned from time to time, but the notion of quality seems at best very not old but dated school.

In the resistance parts, quality (as poster Brad points out) is quitting a set before "things get squirrelly." And that really feeling the last three reps is what you're going for. Hmm. So kind of going to failure in long *endurance* sets. Why? We know from well the best we know of hypertrophy and strength training that we can get tremendous effect by doing lots of volume with higher quality sets not going near fatigue ( ie where one really feels those "last three reps.") As pointed to, Staley's approach (and HST) is quality short sets with increasing volume.

In the Staley/Tsatsouline seminar DVD, Staley demonstrates convincingly that the most power is in the first three reps of a set. Why not recover to be able to continue to produce best power and force most adaptation? Actually staying fresh and NOT feeling it, and going long (volume) has greater benefit for strength and power - and adjusted appropriately - hypertrophy.

But such sets with lots of breaks perhaps is not providing the variety, entertainment and boredom fighting of changing to a different move every minute, and *feeling* well worked out. Instead such a focused approach says one or two moves done very well for reps with appropriate attention to quality and recovery lead to fabulous health rewards. The focus required to consider the whole movement does not allow boredom, when every rep is a practice of achieving perfection. Our bodies practice and remember what we do (see the SAID principle below). Imagine the benefit of remembering and practicing optimal reps rather than fatigue?

It's not complicated. It's not confusing. But it is important. Because at the end of the day - whether day one or day 91 - quality is always important.

Now some folks have said - me too - that some movement is better than no movement, and isn't it better that folks do something than nothing and didn't i write a positive review a few years back about P90X? Well, ignorance is bliss. We do the best we can with what we know. But what about knowing better?

Analogy: Radial Confusion (or why not start with quality?) To use the oft cited analogy of fitness, the car: suppose we have a car and it's not tuned up - one of the things wrong with it is the pressure in the tires is uneven and the tires haven't been rotated in awhile. But also the timing's off; the seals need to be checked and possibly some replaced, fluids replaced, belts checked or replaced, alignment done, sparks done, air filter done, break seals and fluid checked, rad level checked, etc. There may even be some better types of fuel available for the engine, or better oil for the conditions. The exhaust pipe may be starting to rot through. We don't know any of this; we just know that the car feels abit sluggish. and seems to go through gas quicker than previously. We seek out Someone Who Knows This Stuff.

And we come upon a mechanic that says boy, i know exactly what you mean: the thing used to run great, it doesn't now, but have i got something great for you that's gonna heal this machine. Change the fuel to this great of octane and rotate the tires and you're gonna be so happy. And you'll be even more happy if you wash the windows every time you fill up with gas and be sure to keep the engine really clean. Get under the hood and degunk it. That's a big part of good care.

And that's what we do. And lo and behold! a performance increase: the mileage has improved, it's nice to see better, and the car doesn't feel like it's pulling quite so much to one side. Super duper.

Isn't that great? Plainly we now have the solution to car well being. That mechanic is a genius. We're going to tell everyone that this is the best mechanic around and to get his radial confusion program.

Is rotating the tires - doing something better than nothing? Is it a false sense of security too?

The point of this series has been to help folks make informed choices. I think, based on what we do know about how we work, that we can do better for ourselves right out of the gate in terms of quality and quantity of practice, and we do ourselves a disservice not to treat our bodies as the incredible systems we are.

And our systems adapt immediately to whatever we do with them.

Our nervous systems, as modeled in the SAID principle (see Plastic section of this article), adapt immediately to exactly what we're doing. If we move poorly our nervous system practices that pattern. Going for 60minutes of crappy reps is a lot of reps, reinforcing a lot of poor movement.

Part of the point of showing that shorter workouts can be just as or more effective than hour long ones is also to support the capacity to do quality work. Always going to sweaty fatigue is not actually a sign of strength success. Leaving a strength workout feeling fresh, like there is more in the tank, is also a very good strategy. Pushing to the limit, testing that 1 rep maximum, is a cyclical not constant thing.

Mobility Work and the VVP

So here's one other alternative to P90X or at the very least an important complement - joint mobility. Far better than faux yoga would be 10 or 20 mins of mobility work combined with 10 or 20 mins of progressive balance work (see middle of this post on balance work).

There are loads of mobility programs available Qi Gong is an ancient form of such. The one approach i prefer is z-health because it is very precisely and deliberately focused on improving the visual, vestibular and proprioceptive systems (vvp). VVP is how our bodies know where we are in space when standing still or moving. These systems are trainable. The pay off of working with the VVP directly is that it seems we also enhance the nervous system's information channels, and that has benefits for feeling better and moving better. I've written a lot about this approach to health, and why it's particularly great in an athletic awareness context. Practicing z-health is also applicable in a sports movement context to help get that precision of movement for quality of movement.

P90X Critique(s) Confession

So yes, i confess, that is actually my third big criticism of P90X: it's drive i suppose for entertainment, to make sure things pop pop pop that results in movement slop. And there are costs to reinforcing poor movement.

My first criticism is that diet is second in importance and my second criticism is that it's dressing up endurance work as plyo, yoga, hypertrophy etc etc etc. All these amazing forms of activity have been stripped of their skill component and particular benefits, and translated into cardio circuits entertainment. It's selling folks words like plyo, yoga, kenpo, resistance so folks feel like they're doing all these various forms of exercise when we're just not.

Examples of Success in Reasonable Contexts.
Sometimes it's useful to see success stories from *other* places than a routine we're considering and look at the differences.

Here's some folks who are blending diet and some hypertrophy training over 6 months, not 90 days, and not working out 7 hours of endurance a week. These are mainly young lads, but you get the idea. Scooby also has a free alternative plan to p90x. His recipe and mine (and others) for a six pack is slightly different, but not hugely.

Likewise i've pointed to these before, here's some 16 week success stories of real and reasonable people combining diet and workouts for real and reasonable results. With real before and after pictures.

Ignore the label; what's really in the Tin. My hope is that, by the end of this three part series, folks considering a program like P90X know to ask of the workouts, no matter what someone says they are, can look at what's going on in them to see what kind of workout they REALLY are, and this can be assessed by looking at load, reps, recovery and quality.
Less Can be So Much More. Likewise a take away from this article in particular is that workouts to be effective do not have to be long. Intensity can be used effectively whether the goal is fat loss and cardio well being, or getting toned (getting more muscular density).

Real Resistance Training. While one does develop a certain kind of tone from aerobic effort, i have also suggested complementing that with heavy/fast lifting practice because this kind of effort works other systems that are part of us that straight endurance work does not. A whole athlete/person trains the whole system. You may want to privilege one, but learning how to work with all of them can only be a Good Idea.

Quality and Mobility. The unlooked at aspect of these programs is the skill level, and the benefit of better movement form and quality. Here's a quick note on the benefit of movement quality looking at the deceptively simple front squat by way of example. And here's a general related tip about knowing a bit about mobility and movement, with the arthrokinetic reflex - aspects missing from P90X and most 12 weeks type programs that sacrifice quality for non-stop variety.

Summary for Workouts
I gave a lot of possible nutrition/diet approaches in part 3a. Here, in 3b considering workouts, these are some heuristics i'd suggest for choosing a life time general physical preparedness (gpp) program.

  • Lift heavy and Lift Compound, full body several times a week
  • Ramp in aerobic training with intervals on some days; sports or spots/steady state cardio on others as you feel you wish to do so.
  • stay fresh - not failed: use recovery wisely
  • include some joint mobility work into your daily practice for the neurological benefits as well as musclo-tendinous ones.
  • Give yourself a chance to adapt: it takes more than 90days to become conditioned, but that's a great start. We have the rest of our lives to practice; why not begin as we mean to go on?

And to take a page from Pavel Tsatsouline, may i suggest think of workouts as Practice to value the skill of what you're doing with a most precious resource: yourself.

And as a finale, here's an example of putting everything together in the real:

Thanks to RKC Team Lead Franz Shneiderman (his blog) for sharing this video.

Related Posts

Sunday, September 20, 2009

DOMS Part 2 - what works to reduce/eliminate delayed onset muscle soreness:

In part 1 we looked at what DOMS is and what's been tried and DOESN'T work to reduce any of its markers from swelling to soreness to reduced ROM and force production.

In this part (II) we look at a range of strategies that seem to attenuate DOMS in a number of ways. My goal in this article is to get to an approach that requires the least gear and seems to have the most benefit.

You will be amazed! So sit back with a nice glass of milk (not kidding), maybe while having a tub (again not kidding) and welcome to the world of muscle repair.

Let's review what's measured in assessing DOMS in the literature.
  • what's in the blood: usually there are markers in the blood like creatine kinase and LDH - these are markers of muscle damage - we may have the same CK levels and have very different responses to soreness
  • then there's the subjective measures of soreness themselves using rating scales.
  • then there's the more objective bits: Range of motion and force production.
Caveat Emptor
B2D buddie Mike T. Nelson of asks the question: is the experience of soreness directly correlated to a drop in performance? Mike in conversation makes the point that pain perception being a brain thing is going to be pretty individual. So how DOMS success is measured is something to bare in mind when looking at the studies following that claim to be effective against DOMS - are we talking DOMS pain reduction (always nice) or performance in a DOMS state?

The following DOMS fighting strategies that researchers claim wins on are:
  • Gear that works on: compression
  • gear that works off: tubs
  • what works sans gear: get the heart rate up and keep it up
  • What to ingest that might help these mods further (milk, bcaa, protease?)
DOMS: better attenuation of effects - Compression
compression (and compression suits) have been studied over the past 8 years. In 2001 the well respected Kraemer and crew looked at compression for elbow flexion and saw a lot of benefit across the mutli markers of DOMS:
J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2001 Jun;31(6):282-90.
Influence of compression therapy on symptoms following soft tissue injury from maximal eccentric exercise.
Kraemer WJ, Bush JA, Wickham RB, Denegar CR, Gómez AL, Gotshalk LA, Duncan ND, Volek JS, Putukian M, Sebastianelli WJ.

The Human Performance Laboratory, Ball State University, Muncie, Ind 47306, USA.

STUDY DESIGN: A between groups design was used to compare recovery following eccentric muscle damage under 2 experimental conditions. OBJECTIVE: To determine if a compression sleeve donned immediately after maximal eccentric exercise would enhance recovery of physical function and decrease symptoms of soreness. BACKGROUND: Prior investigations using ice, intermittent compression, or exercise have not shown efficacy in relieving symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). To date, no study has shown the effect of continuous compression on DOMS, yet this would offer a low cost intervention for patients suffering with the symptoms of DOMS. METHODS AND MEASURES: Twenty nonimpaired non-strength-trained women participated in the study. Subjects were matched for age, anthropometric data, and one repetition maximum concentric arm curl strength and then randomly placed into a control group (n = 10) or an experimental compression sleeve group (n = 10). Subjects were instructed to avoid pain-relieving modalities (eg, analgesic medications, ice) throughout the study. The experimental group wore a compressive sleeve garment for 5 days following eccentric exercise. Subjects performed 2 sets of 50 passive arm curls with the dominant arm on an isokinetic dynamometer with a maximal eccentric muscle action superimposed every fourth passive repetition. One repetition maximum elbow flexion, upper arm circumference, relaxed elbow angle, blood serum cortisol, creatine kinase, lactate dehydrogenase, and perception of soreness questionnaires were collected prior to the exercise bout and daily thereafter for 5 days. RESULTS: Creatine kinase was significantly elevated from the baseline value in both groups, although the experimental compression test group showed decreased magnitude of creatine kinase elevation following the eccentric exercise. Compression sleeve use prevented loss of elbow motion, decreased perceived soreness, reduced swelling, and promoted recovery of force production.

In 2006, another study seemed to reinforce these findings

The low oxidative demand and muscular adaptations accompanying eccentric exercise hold benefits for both healthy and clinical populations. Compression garments have been suggested to reduce muscle damage and maintain muscle function. This study investigated whether compression garments could benefit metabolic recovery from eccentric exercise. Following 30-min of downhill walking participants wore compression garments on one leg (COMP), the other leg was used as an internal, untreated control (CONT). The muscle metabolites phosphomonoester (PME), phosphodiester (PDE), phosphocreatine (PCr), inorganic phosphate (Pi) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) were evaluated at baseline, 1-h and 48-h after eccentric exercise using 31P-magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Subjective reports of muscle soreness were recorded at all time points. The pressure of the garment against the thigh was assessed at 1-h and 48-h following exercise. There was a significant increase in perceived muscle soreness from baseline in both the control (CONT) and compression (COMP) leg at 1-h and 48-h following eccentric exercise (p <>2+ or PME at any time point or between CONT and COMP legs. Eccentric exercise causes disruption of pH control in skeletal muscle but does not cause disruption to cellular control of free energy. Compression garments may alter potential indices of the repair processes accompanying structural damage to the skeletal muscle following eccentric exercise allowing a faster cellular repair
What we don't see clearly in the above piece is a measure of force production and range of motion. So more recently (2009) again, a thumbs up on attenuation from compression:
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common experience following unaccustomed eccentric exercise. DOMS and associated force deficits may limit optimal performance in subsequent days. The cause of DOMS remains poorly understood, thus there is no effective treatment. Graduated compression stockings (GCS) are a commonly used intervention believed to diminish DOMS. The purpose of this study was to determine if GCS after eccentric walking exercise minimizes DOMS and associated deficits (e.g. muscle force capacity). Eight healthy subjects (age 26±4 yrs, height 175±8 cm, weight 70±5 kg) volunteered to perform a single bout of backward downhill walking exercise (duration 30 min, velocity 1 m.s-1, negative grade-25%, load 12% of body weight). Following walking exercise, subjects were required to wear 5 hours per day for 3 consecutive days GSC (SupportivTM) on one leg while the second was used as control. Muscle soreness and neuromuscular measures (M-wave, peak twitch, maximal voluntary torque or MVT) were taken pre and postwalk, then 2, 24, 48 and 72 hours post-walking exercise for the two legs. There was a 28% reduction in DOMS 72 h after exercise when wearing GCS (P<0.05)>
This list of refs is not complete, but it is largely indicative of results. Now, while some companies sell whole body compression suits - claiming a whole host of performance benefits, to my knowledge whole suits have not been tested on DOMS, but there does seem to be attenuation with compression.

DOMS pain reduction with Vibration
In a very recent (this month, Sept 2009) study, looking only at perceived pain measures, it seems that vibration plates may have considerable effect at reducing DOMS.
J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Sep;23(6):1677-82.Click here to read Links
Effect of iTonic whole-body vibration on delayed-onset muscle soreness among untrained individuals.
Rhea MR, Bunker D, Marín PJ, Lunt K.

A.T. Still University, Mesa, Arizona, 85206, USA.

Attempts to reduce or eliminate delayed-onset of muscle soreness are important as this condition is painful and debilitating. The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of whole-body vibration (WBV) massage and stretching exercises at reducing perceived pain among untrained men. Sixteen adult men (age, 36.6 +/- 2.1 yr) volunteered to perform a strenuous exercise session consisting of resistance training and repeated sprints. Subjects were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 recovery groups: a group performing WBV stretching sessions or a stretching group performing static stretching without vibration. Both groups performed similar stretches, twice per day for 3 days after the workout. The vibration group performed their stretches on the iTonic platform (frequency, 35 Hz; amplitude, 2 mm). Perceived pain was measured at 12, 24, 48, and 72 hours postworkout. Statistical analyses identified a significantly lower level of reported perceived pain at all postworkout measurement times among the WBV group.
Intriguingly use of EMT (rapid pulsed contraction of muscles) has not had success in treating DOMS but this shaking does. The authors hypothesize that the reason for the effect may be enhanced local blood flow to move waste products out of the muscles faster.

Another intriguing hypothesis is around proprioception: the vibration is causing interneurons to turn down pain signaling. So perhaps an increased pain threshold is happening. Does this mean that the pain reduction is faked? and that the other usual crap around DOMS is still occurring, we just don't feel it? Is that a good idea? Unfortunately the authors do not look at the other markers of DOMS to see what effect is had on them.

DOMS Deminishment- just add water?

The above findings lead us to see that there are some strategies that actually do seem to help with DOMS. But when assessing these treatments, it seems we usually have to make a choice about the effects of care. Massage may reduce some insignificant degree of pain, but not benefit performance in terms of ROM or power generation. Well, there's been some consideration of contrast water therapy for benefiting performance.

J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Aug;21(3):697-702.Links
The effect of contrast water therapy on symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness.
Vaile JM, Gill ND, Blazevich AJ.

Department of Physiology, Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, Australia.

This study examined the effect of contrast water therapy (CWT) on the physiological and functional symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following DOMS-inducing leg press exercise. Thirteen recreational athletes performed 2 experimental trials separated by 6 weeks in a randomized crossover design. On each occasion, subjects performed a DOMS-inducing leg press protocol consisting of 5 x 10 eccentric contractions (180 seconds recovery between sets) at 140% of 1 repetition maximum (1RM). This was followed by a 15-minute recovery period incorporating either CWT or no intervention, passive recovery (PAS). Creatine kinase concentration (CK), perceived pain, thigh volume, isometric squat strength, and weighted jump squat performance were measured prior to the eccentric exercise, immediately post recovery, and 24, 48, and 72 hours post recovery. Isometric force production was not reduced below baseline measures throughout the 72-hour data collection period following CWT ( approximately 4-10%). However, following PAS, isometric force production (mean +/- SD) was 14.8 +/- 11.4% below baseline immediately post recovery (p < size =" 0.76)."> 0.01) differences in perceived pain between treatments. Contrast water therapy was associated with a smaller reduction, and faster restoration, of strength and power measured by isometric force and jump squat production following DOMS-inducing leg press exercise when compared to PAS. Therefore, CWT seems to be effective in reducing and improving the recovery of functional deficiencies that result from DOMS, as opposed to passive recovery.
Just to be clear on what CWT means here the authors write:
where subjects immersed their lower body to the level of the anterior superior iliac spine alternately between 2 baths—immersion for 60 seconds in cold water (8–10 degrees C) followed immediately by immersion for 120 sec- onds in hot water (40–42 degrees C); subjects alternated between the 2 baths for a total of 15 minutes.
As the authors suggest for practical applications (a nice feature of JSC articles)
The present results indicate that CWT can significantly reduce swelling. It is hypothesized that CWT The findings of this study indicate that strength, power, and symptoms of DOMS are improved following CWT compared to passive recovery. These improvements in the recovery profile support CWT as a practical and low-cost recovery strategy. Therefore, CWT appears to be a recovery strategy that could easily be adopted and integrated into athletes’ recovery programs.
The authors are also reasonably cautious about their results:
The results of the present study are the first to provide positive scientific support for the practice of CWT. While CWT has been acknowledged in sports medicine as a recovery strategy for the treatment of postacute soft- tissue injury (21), there is an apparent lack of knowledge surrounding its use as a recovery strategy to alleviate muscle soreness and enhance the recovery of various physiological factors. Although the results of the present study support the use of CWT, further research into its use is required to develop knowledge and information in the area of this recovery strategy, with an emphasis on gaining understanding into the possible physiological mechanisms of CWT. Given that the CWT protocol used in the present study was successful in minimizing force loss and promoting recovery, it could be used as a template for future studies. Despite its positive affect on muscle force generation, the long-term effects of CWT are not known. Some caution should therefore be exercised with its prolonged use until its effects on long-term muscle adaptation are fully understood.
In other words, CWT seems to have an effect in reducing non-pain symptoms of DOMS to get athletes up to force and speed faster than without it, but we don't know exactly why or how it's working. We don't want to be damaging anything, so let's keep looking at this phenomenon.

In 2008, as if hearing these cautiously optimistic ideas, another study investigates multiple types of temperature immersion:
Eur J Appl Physiol. 2008 Mar;102(4):447-55. Epub 2007 Nov 3.
Erratum in: Eur J Appl Physiol. 2008 May;103(1):121-2.

Effect of hydrotherapy on the signs and symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness.
Vaile J, Halson S, Gill N, Dawson B.

Department of Physiology, Australian Institute of Sport, PO Box 176, Belconnen, ACT, Australia.

This study independently examined the effects of three hydrotherapy interventions on the physiological and functional symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Strength trained males (n = 38) completed two experimental trials separated by 8 months in a randomised crossover design; one trial involved passive recovery (PAS, control), the other a specific hydrotherapy protocol for 72 h post-exercise; either: (1) cold water immersion (CWI: n = 12), (2) hot water immersion (HWI: n = 11) or (3) contrast water therapy (CWT: n = 15). For each trial, subjects performed a DOMS-inducing leg press protocol followed by PAS or one of the hydrotherapy interventions for 14 min. Weighted squat jump, isometric squat, perceived pain, thigh girths and blood variables were measured prior to, immediately after, and at 24, 48 and 72 h post-exercise. Squat jump performance and isometric force recovery were significantly enhanced.
The happy thing is that there seem to be some benefits from all sorts of immersions: just hot, contrast and just cold. The main difference is that contrast water therapy had the best effect on all markers when checked at 24, 48 and 72 hours. Cold water only kicks in with force recovery at 48 hours. Now my personal pref, hot water, is shown to improve isometric force - that's good. But apparently that's it. Weighted squat jump, perceived pain, thigh girths and blood variables didn't change. Best on all markers though is the protocol hit upon by the 2007 study: contrast water immersion: going from short cold to longer hot, back and forth.

SO we have several modalities - vibration, if you have access to a plate, compression (with gear on ) and contrast bathing (with all gear off) that seem from repeated studies to have benefits. Of these three compression and contrast bathing have been studied most, with the most consistent results. So just for the sake of full disclosure, there's one study that says they both suck:
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Jul;40(7):1297-306.

The effects of contrast bathing and compression therapy on muscular performance.

English Institute of Sport, North East Region, Gateshead International Stadium, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, UNITED KINGDOM.

Contrast bathing (CB) and compression garments (CG) are widely used to promote recovery. PURPOSE: To evaluate CB and CG as regeneration strategies after exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD). METHODS: Baseline values of muscle soreness, serum creatine kinase (CK) and myoglobin (Mb), joint range of motion, limb girth, 10- or 30-m sprint, countermovement jump (CMJ), and five repetition maximum squat were completed by 26 young men who then undertook a resistance exercise challenge (REC) to induce EIMD: 6 x 10 parallel squats at 100% body weight with 5-s one repetition maximum eccentric squat superimposed onto each set. After the REC, subjects were separated into three intervention groups: CB, CG, and control (CONT). Forty-eight hours after REC, the subjects exercise performance was reassessed. CK and Mb were also measured +1, +24, and +48 h post-REC. RESULTS: CK was elevated at +24 h ( upward arrow140%; upward arrow161%; upward arrow270%), and Mb was elevated at +1 h ( upward arrow523%; upward arrow458%; upward arrow682%) in CB, CG, and CONT. Within-group large effect sizes for loge[CK] were found for CB at +24 h (0.80) and +48 h (0.84). Area under the [Mb] curve was lower in CB compared with CG and CONT (P < or =" 0.05).">

Since this finding seems to be so at odds with the rest of the literature i leave it for individual inspection and consideration.

DOMS reduction sans gear: DO MORE WORK

Is there any approach that may escape controversy? and also be a little less tool-dependent? Is there a more natural way to fight DOMS as it were?

Some of us at the gym may have tried swapping between hot and cold showers to attempt to replicate the effect of CWI protocols without a tub; i haven't seen any work that's formally checked this, but if you don't have a tub, and aren't keen on setting off a lot of water resources, there may be other approaches.

In 2006, concentric exercises were shown to help offset DOMS.
Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2006 Apr;31(2):126-34.Click here to read Links
Light concentric exercise has a temporarily analgesic effect on delayed-onset muscle soreness, but no effect on recovery from eccentric exercise.
Zainuddin Z, Sacco P, Newton M, Nosaka K.

School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, WA, Australia.

This study investigated the hypothesis that a bout of light concentric exercise (LCE) would alleviate delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and enhance recovery from muscle damage. Fourteen subjects performed two bouts of 60 maximal eccentric actions of the elbow flexors (Max-ECC) separated by 2-4 weeks. One arm performed LCE (600 elbow flexion and extension actions with minimal force generation) 1, 2, 3, and 4 d after Max-ECC; the contralateral (control) arm performed only Max-ECC. Changes in maximal isometric and isokinetic strength, range of motion (ROM), upper arm circumference, and muscle soreness and tenderness were assessed before and immediately after LCE bouts. Changes in these measures and plasma creatine kinase (CK) activity for 7 d after Max-ECC were compared between the control and LCE arms using 2-way repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA). Significant (p < style="color: rgb(102, 51, 0);">These results suggest that LCE has a temporary analgesic effect on DOMS, but no effect on recovery from muscle damage.
Ok, so concentrics help reduce pain, but don't do anything for performance. What about light eccentrics?
J Sci Med Sport. 2008 Jun;11(3):291-8. Epub 2007 Aug 17.Click here to read Links
A light load eccentric exercise confers protection against a subsequent bout of more demanding eccentric exercise.
Lavender AP, Nosaka K.

Graduate School of Integrated Science, Yokohama City University, Yokohama, Japan.

This study investigated the hypothesis that a light eccentric exercise (ECC) that does not induce a loss of muscle function and delayed onset muscle soreness would confer a protective effect against a more strenuous ECC. Eighteen young men were randomly placed into two groups: 10-40% (n=9) and 40% (n=9). Subjects in the 10-40% group performed ECC of the elbow flexors (six sets of five reps) using a dumbbell set at 10% of maximal isometric strength (MVC) at an elbow joint angle of 90 degrees , followed 2 days later by ECC using a dumbbell weight of 40% MVC. Subjects in the 40% group performed the 40% ECC only. Changes in MVC, range of motion (ROM), upper arm circumference (CIR), plasma creatine kinase (CK) activity and muscle soreness before, immediately after, 1-5 and 7 days following the 40% ECC were compared between groups by a two-way repeated measures ANOVA. No significant changes in any of the criterion measures were found immediately and 1-2 days after the 10% ECC. Following the 40% ECC, the 10-40% group showed significantly (P<0.05) style="color: rgb(102, 51, 0);" style="color: rgb(102, 51, 0);">These results suggest that the 10% ECC induced some protection against a subsequent bout of 40% ECC performed 2 days later. It appears that the light eccentric exercise preconditioned the muscles for exposure to the subsequent damaging eccentric exercise bout.
These low load high volume eccentrics have also been seen as a mitigating prep against DOMS. Indeed, approaches to strength building like Kenneth Jay's Beast training protocol of alternating high volume lighter load days (a variant described here) with low volume higher load days may be just right - just remember to start with the high volume.

And just to come back to the question of the value of warm ups discussed in a previous article- here's one more benefit beyond injury prevention: Warm up - light cardio pre unfamiliar eccentric exercises (this is the walking backwards on an inclined treadmill) worked to reduce perceived soreness - but that was the only measure of DOMS, but a not bad one.
Aust J Physiother. 2007;53(2):91-5.
Warm-up reduces delayed onset muscle soreness but cool-down does not: a randomised controlled trial.
Law RY, Herbert RD.

The University of Sydney, Australia.

QUESTION: Does warm-up or cool-down (also called warm-down) reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness? DESIGN: Randomised controlled trial of factorial design with concealed allocation and intention-to-treat analysis. PARTICIPANTS: Fifty-two healthy adults (23 men and 29 women aged 17 to 40 years). INTERVENTION: Four equally-sized groups received either warm-up and cool-down, warm-up only, cool-down only, or neither warm-up nor cool-down. All participants performed exercise to induce delayed-onset muscle soreness, which involved walking backwards downhill on an inclined treadmill for 30 minutes. The warm-up and cool-down exercise involved walking forwards uphill on an inclined treadmill for 10 minutes. OUTCOME MEASURE: Muscle soreness, measured on a 100-mm visual analogue scale. RESULTS: Warm-up reduced perceived muscle soreness 48 hours after exercise on the visual analogue scale (mean effect of 13 mm, 95% CI 2 to 24 mm). However cool-down had no apparent effect (mean effect of 0 mm, 95% CI -11 to 11 mm). CONCLUSION: Warm-up performed immediately prior to unaccustomed eccentric exercise produces small reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness but cool-down performed after exercise does not.
Note the paper only measures perceived soreness rather than looking at performance factors.

My favorite study so far in this space looks at where no other study has dared to go: the complete elimination of DOMS. Give oneself four weeks, and the participant will build in a DOMS eradicator, it seems. Bold claims.
J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Jan;22(1):212-25.
Elimination of delayed-onset muscle soreness by pre-resistance cardioacceleration before each set.
Davis WJ, Wood DT, Andrews RG, Elkind LM, Davis WB.

Division of Physical and Biological Sciences, University of California at Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California, USA.

We compared delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) induced by anaerobic resistance exercises with and without aerobic cardioacceleration before each set, under the rationale that elevated heart rate (HR) may increase blood perfusion in muscles to limit eccentric contraction damage and/or speed muscle recovery. In two identical experiments (20 men, 28 women), well-conditioned athletes paired by similar physical condition were assigned randomly to experimental or control groups. HR (independent variable) was recorded with HR monitors. DOMS (dependent variable) was self-reported using Borg's Rating of Perceived Pain scale. After identical pre-training strength testing, mean DOMS in the experimental and control groups was indistinguishable (P > or = 0.19) for musculature employed in eight resistance exercises in both genders, validating the dependent variable. Subjects then trained three times per week for 9 (men) to 11 (women) weeks in a progressive, whole-body, concurrent training protocol. Before each set of resistance exercises, experimental subjects cardioaccelerated briefly (mean HR during resistance training, 63.7% HR reserve), whereas control subjects rested briefly (mean HR, 33.5% HR reserve). Mean DOMS among all muscle groups and workouts was discernibly less in experimental than control groups in men (P = 0.0000019) and women (P = 0.0007); less for each muscle group used in nine resistance exercises in both genders, discernible (P > 0.025) in 15 of 18 comparisons; and less in every workout, discernible (P > 0.05) in 32% (men) and 55% (women) of workouts. Most effect sizes were moderate. In both genders, mean DOMS per workout disappeared by the fourth week of training in experimental but not control groups. Aerobic cardioacceleration immediately before each set of resistance exercises therefore rapidly eliminates DOMS during vigorous progressive resistance training in athletes.

It's important to clarify the protocol: get the heart rate up before each resistance set.

Effectively, the main hypothesis of this study is that keeping an elevated heart rate throughout a workout helps reduce then eliminate DOMS. Heart rate varied between 60-84% HRR - by contrast the control group heart rate was at 20-39% HRR.

The authors suggest a two part explanation for why their protocol has such a powerful effect. In the first phase (4 weeks) of adaptation, the higher heart rate increases perfusion, getting up lactate and nutrient movement to and from the muscles, clearing out waste.
In this first stage, therefore, the increased muscle perfusion induced by pre-resistance cardioacceleration retards cellular destruction induced by eccentric contraction and/or accelerates tissue repair, limiting muscle inflammation and therefore reducing DOMS in the first few workouts.
In the second stage, post 4 weeks when the DOMS is eliminated, basically the same effects being built in phase one are in phase two established and fully operational: an expanding peripheral vascular bed is established with better capilarization meaning that repair can happen more effectively to the muscles.

In discussing this protocol with colleagues when it came out, some were concerned that doing the extra cardio would negatively impact strength work. In anticipation of just this concern, the authors ran a great follow up study to show that quite the opposite was the case. In other words, not only does this protocol sweep away DOMS, it also improves strength work. THat article is discussed in detail in Does Cardio Interfere with Strength Training: How 'bout No?

Now i'd be happy to end here with the best recommendations being that while CWI is grand it's not generally available, and so, for both the benefits of eliminating DOMS and improving strength work, the Santa Cruz group approach is optimal. But there are just a few more things to consider for improving/lessening one's DOMS experience.

DOMS: Got Milk? What about Protease or BCAAs?

In 2007, a study looked at the effect of protease used for DOMS. Now protease is most often found as an enzyme added to proteins like whey to assist in their digestion. We know that muscles use amino acids from proteins to repair muscles, so it makes sense, rather that if these enzymes are present to optimize proteins' digestion so more amino acids area available, that sounds like a good thing. But then so did having more vitamin c - and it wasn't. Protease, however, looks pretty good.

J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Aug;21(3):661-7.Links
Effects of a protease supplement on eccentric exercise-induced markers of delayed-onset muscle soreness and muscle damage.
Beck TW, Housh TJ, Johnson GO, Schmidt RJ, Housh DJ, Coburn JW, Malek MH, Mielke M.

Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences, Human Performance Laboratory University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska 68583, USA.

This investigation examined the effects of a protease supplement on selected markers of muscle damage and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The study used a double-blinded, placebo-controlled, crossover design. Twenty men (mean +/- SD age = 21.0 +/- 3.1 years) were randomly assigned to either a supplement group (SUPP) or a placebo group (PLAC). All subjects were tested for unilateral isometric forearm flexion strength, hanging joint angle, relaxed arm circumference, subjective pain rating, and plasma creatine kinase activity and myoglobin concentration. The testing occurred before (TIME1), immediately after (TIME2), and 24 (TIME3), 48 (TIME4), and 72 (TIME5) hours after a bout of eccentric exercise. During these tests, the subjects in the SUPP group ingested a protease supplement. The subjects in the PLAC group took microcrystalline cellulose. After testing at TIME5 and 2 weeks of rest, the subjects were crossed over into the opposite group and performed the same tests as during visits 1-5, but with the opposite limb. Overall, isometric forearm flexion strength was greater (7.6%) for the SUPP group than for the PLAC group, despite nearly identical (difference = 0.14 N.m, p = 0.940) mean strength values before (TIME1) the eccentric exercise protocol. There were no between-group differences for hanging joint angle, relaxed arm circumference, subjective pain ratings, and plasma creatine kinase activity and myoglobin concentration from TIME1 to TIME5. These findings provided initial evidence that the protease supplement may be useful for reducing strength loss immediately after eccentric exercise and for aiding in short-term strength recovery. The protease supplement had no effect, however, on the perception of pain associated with DOMS or the blood markers of muscle damage.
So what seems to be happening is that there's an effect of protease associated with better muscle strength - reducing strength loss right after exercise - but so far that's it. Pain is still there. Go get in a cold tub.

Going a step further, it seems that pumping up the volume of milk after those eccentrics can actually accelerate muscle repair and get performance back faster than without it. Here, the authors claim that (unlike protease alone) that those important blood markers like CK and myoglobin are also better off from a dose of milk. As far as i know no one has gone head to head between CWI and Milk for increasing repair rate and decreasing DOMS, but again, if those immersion tanks aren't there, and you haven't been cardio'ing for the 4 weeks yet. This may be yet one more reason to value milk as a recovery drink. Milk offers no help for soreness however. Alas.
Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Aug;33(4):775-83.Click here to read Links
Acute milk-based protein-CHO supplementation attenuates exercise-induced muscle damage.
Cockburn E, Hayes PR, French DN, Stevenson E, St Clair Gibson A.

Division of Sports Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK.

Exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) leads to the degradation of protein structures within the muscle. This may subsequently lead to decrements in muscle performance and increases in intramuscular enzymes and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Milk, which provides protein and carbohydrate (CHO), may lead to the attenuation of protein degradation and (or) an increase in protein synthesis that would limit the consequential effects of EIMD. This study examined the effects of acute milk and milk-based protein-CHO (CHO-P) supplementation on attenuating EIMD. Four independent groups of 6 healthy males consumed water (CON), CHO sports drink, milk-based CHO-P or milk (M), post EIMD. DOMS, isokinetic muscle performance, creatine kinase (CK), and myoglobin (Mb) were assessed immediately before and 24 and 48 h after EIMD. DOMS was not significantly different (p > 0.05) between groups at any time point. Peak torque (dominant) was significantly higher(p <>

And one more: BCAA's may be good in that they simply help reduce muscle damage, something the authors assert leads to DOMS. The authors do not claim however that BCAA's reduce DOMS, but that they sure do lots of good things related to this.

J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2008 Sep;48(3):347-51.Links
Branched-chain amino acid supplementation does not enhance athletic performance but affects muscle recovery and the immune system.
Negro M, Giardina S, Marzani B, Marzatico F.

Pharmacobiochemistry Laboratory, Section of Pharmacology and Pharmacological Biotechnology, Department of Cellular and Molecular, Physiological and Pharmacological Sciences, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.

Since the 1980's there has been high interest in branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) by sports nutrition scientists. The metabolism of BCAA is involved in some specific biochemical muscle processes and many studies have been carried out to understand whether sports performance can be enhanced by a BCAA supplementation. However, many of these researches have failed to confirm this hypothesis. Thus, in recent years investigators have changed their research target and focused on the effects of BCAA on the muscle protein matrix and the immune system. Data show that BCAA supplementation before and after exercise has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis. Muscle damage develops delayed onset muscle soreness: a syndrome that occurs 24-48 h after intensive physical activity that can inhibit athletic performance. Other recent works indicate that BCAA supplementation recovers peripheral blood mononuclear cell proliferation in response to mitogens after a long distance intense exercise, as well as plasma glutamine concentration. The BCAA also modifies the pattern of exercise-related cytokine production, leading to a diversion of the lymphocyte immune response towards a Th1 type. According to these findings, it is possible to consider the BCAA as a useful supplement for muscle recovery and immune regulation for sports events.
And just a final aside, in another galaxy that looks at occlusion training and hypertrophy, here's one study looking at occlusion (here called Blood Flow Restriction). We won't get into the why's and wherefores of occlusion training, but here's a discussion of recent research and rationals of same.

Suffice it to showing that unlike non-occluded work, BFR can elicit DOMS from concentric and eccentric work, and resting soreness is worse in the concentric case. I would just never have thought of that.
Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009 Aug 29. [Epub ahead of print]Click here to read Links
Delayed-onset muscle soreness induced by low-load blood flow-restricted exercise.
Umbel JD, Hoffman RL, Dearth DJ, Chleboun GS, Manini TM, Clark BC.

Institute for Neuromusculoskeletal Research, Ohio University, Athens, OH, USA.

We performed two experiments to describe the magnitude of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) associated with blood flow restriction (BFR) exercise and to determine the contribution of the concentric (CON) versus eccentric (ECC) actions of BFR exercise on DOMS. In experiment 1, nine subjects performed three sets of unilateral knee extension BFR exercise at 35% of maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) to failure with a thigh cuff inflated 30% above brachial systolic pressure. Subjects repeated the protocol with the contralateral limb without flow restriction. Resting soreness (0-10 scale) and algometry (pain-pressure threshold; PPT) were assessed before and 24, 48 and 96 h post-exercise. Additionally, MVC and vastus lateralis cross-sectional area (CSA) were measured as indices of exercise-induced muscle damage. At 24-h post-exercise, BFR exercise resulted in more soreness than exercise without BFR (2.8 +/- 0.3 vs 1.7 +/- 0.5) and greater reductions in PPT (15.2 +/- 1.7 vs. 20 +/- 2.3 N) and MVC (14.1 +/- 2.5% decrease vs. 1.5 +/- 4.5% decrease) (p <= 0.05). In experiment 2, 15 different subjects performed three sets of unilateral BFR exercise at 35% MVC with one limb performing only the CON action and the contralateral performing the ECC action. The aforementioned indices of DOMS were assessed before exercise and 24, 48 and 96 h post-exercise. At 24 h post-exercise, CON BFR exercise resulted in more resting soreness than ECC BFR exercise (3.0 +/- 0.5 vs. 1.6 +/- 0.4), and a greater decrease in MVC (9.8 +/- 2.7% decrease vs. 3.4 +/- 2.5% decrease) (p <=0.05). These data suggest that knee extension BFR exercise induces mild DOMS and that BFR exercise elicits muscle damage under atypical conditions with low-tension concentric contractions.
So while BFR can have real benefits for training and for rehab in certain populations, it seems it can also get a person both coming and going with DOMS. Add that to your thoughts next time you want to squat with a tourniquet around your thighs. That said, most occlusion training is in the low load low volume region, so hmm.

Summary: Avoiding, Reducing, Eliminating DOMS

We've seen that there's more going on in DOMS than simply sore muscles. Reduced ROM, limb swelling, reduced power output and various internal effects on CK and myoglobin to name two are all triggered - in ways that fatigue alone for instance does not induce.

As for dealing with DOMS effects, when luxury affords, jumping between cold (shorter) and hot (longer. yay!) immersions is also very effective.

Passive manual therapies like acupuncture and massage seem to do nothing for DOMS but vibration plates do seem to have an effect on pain perception. Compression garments may have even greater effect.

Of all the techniques proposed, the most consistently effective, doable by anyone, DOMS reducers are active interventions, from doing light warm ups, to lighter load sets of a main eccentric movement days before, to my fave, and seemingly the most effective, doing cardio *within* a resistance workout that has that new intensity or unfamiliar level of eccentric activity to it. Doing cardio within sets (ie keeping the HR up throughout the efforts) is the only protocol to claim that within 4 weeks, DOMS can be eliminated - and strength improvements increased concurrently.

So if you want to kill off DOMS in your resistance training work, keep your heart rate up before you lift, pull or push (between 60-84% of HRR ) and after 4 weeks of that, pending keeping up the program, DOMS will be a memory and something you have to commiserate with your friends about while you escape, getting stronger while you're at it.

And possibly, if you want to amp up the recovery, throw some whey protein with protease into a glass of milk and add some BCAA's to that too, and you ought to be in a DOMS free paradise.

Happy Practicing To You

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