Month: September 2015

What Exactly Is Overtraining?

The idea of overtraining gets thrown around quite often, and in my opinion, is poorly defined. Textbook definitions typically associate overtraining with symptoms that are predominantly psychological initially, and end up affecting performance if they persist, but there is no real issues that have been traditionally defined outside of the athlete basically saying “I’m getting bored of exercising and I am tired all the damn time.”

I came across an absolutely perfect article for defining, assessing and tackling overtraining that is very concise and clearly outlined. It was written by Dr. Phil Maffetone who is an internationally renowned clinician, researcher and wealth of knowledge in the fields of nutrition, exercise and sport performance.



The article itself begins by stratifying overtraining into 3 stages in ascending order of severity.

Stage 1: Essentially “Overreaching”, which is a common short-term goal of athletes attempting to improve fitness by progressively overloading with volume (reps/miles/frequency etc.) and intensity (pace/heartrate/load/watts etc.).

This stage, as I mentioned, is common, and it is also functional in the sense that it actually serves a purpose: Progressively overloading the systems commonly worked in order to achieve improvements in performance and fitness.

I very much enjoy the statement he makes that says: “Stage 1 overtraining may be synonymous with overreaching, which has been shown in studies to boost performance but often turns into more obvious overtraining—it’s a fine line between optimal preparedness and the beginning of athletic decline.”

Definitely explore the article to look at some of the finer points of this stage, as MANY recreational type A exercisers are probably in the midst of Stage 1 Overtraining Syndrome.

Stage 2: Maffetone terms it “Sympathetic Overtraining” in reference to the neural/hormonal component that is associated with chronic stress.

He discusses a few things that can simply be measured to catch overtraining in this stage before it becomes more severe:

  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Elevated cortisol levels which lead to:Overtraining
    • Reduced testosterone and DHEA (aid in muscle recovery)
    • Increased insulin levels
    • Reduced hand-eye coordination as a result of these hormonal dysfunctions

These are bad things. Particularly if they are left unchecked for extended periods of time.

He goes on to mention that lifestyle, nutritional and training schedule adjustments are simple and basic variables that can be tweaked to remedy this stage.

Stage 3: Parasympathetic Overtraining. It has essentially become a chronic condition in which several different aspects of one’s physiology are influenced negatively, and your endocrine (hormones) and nervous systems have essentially thrown in the towel. This one is less common, but again explore the article further for information on this stage.

His website is full of so much useful information regarding exercise, fitness and nutrition. I highly recommend giving it a look.

Regarding this brief summary of his work: Overtraining is a common syndrome to which avid exercise enthusiasts can easily fall victim. Pay close attention to your energy levels, food cravings, mood and interest in your exercise of choice. If you notice these variables changing for the worse, take a day off, or simply pursue some “non-exercise related activity” such as a brisk walk, easy swim, or being active around your home.

Monitor your resting heart rate as well. This can simply be done with apps like Instant Heart Rate by Azumio each morning. Establish a baseline by taking HR each morning upon waking, and track any drastic changes in either direction.

In closing, I will leave you with a bit of simplicity from the article I am referencing:

Training = Workout + Recovery.

DO NOT skimp on recovery. Sleep well, and be okay with taking time off.

Until next time.


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Food For Thought

stoplightI came across an interesting article this past week regarding consumer food choices. There has been a strong push by the government to get restaurants to disclose information regarding the calorie content of their foods. The current study aimed to address the following questions: if consumers know how many calories are in a food product, does it influence their food choices? Is there something other than a number value that can positively influence a consumer’s food choice?

The study design was as follows:

Group 1 within the study simply had the number of calories disclosed to them within the foods that they could choose.

Group 2 within the study simply had one of three colors attributed to the caloric density of the food in the form of a stoplight: Green (low calorie), Yellow (moderate amount of calories), Red (high calorie).

Group 3 was a combination of group 1 and 2 interventions.

The results demonstrated that disclosing the number of calories or associating the stoplight with the food based on the number of calories it contained had the same effect: A reduction in overall calorie intake by an average of 10% for all 3 groups.

That’s impressive. They didn’t even attach a numerical calorie value to the food. They just placed a color on it and it worked just as well. Red is bad. Yellow isn’t that bad. Green is good. Oh, the benefits of simplicity.

I think the stop light approach has a very real application to the general population. More often than not, people have a poor understanding of caloric intake. Number of calories in a food may have no bearing on their decision between eating a large pepperoni pizza or a mixed greens salad, but if you slap a big red stop light on the pizza and associate it with being a “high calorie” food, they may opt into the salad. This could serve as a useful tool, even if it simply makes the decision a tough one for the regular pizza consumer.
People may start becoming more conscious of their food choices and tip the energy balance equation 10% in favor of weight loss.

Until next time.


Eric M. VanEpps, Julie S. Downs, George Loewenstein. Calorie Label Formats: Using Numbers or Traffic Lights to Reduce Lunch Calories. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 2015; 150702153813007 DOI: 10.1509/jppm.14.112

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A question I get on a very regular basis from both advanced exercisers and beginners alike is “How often do you think I should do (insert exercise/fitness intervention here)?” I personally like the idea of doing everything in moderation (with the exception of drinking coffee), and a very recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology drives home this idea in regards to jogging.

The study followed a large cohort of individuals (1300 or so subjects) in Copenhagen for roughly 15 years. The purpose was to investigate the relationship between jogging and long-term all-cause mortality, or an easier way to understand that would be: Are joggers less likely to die than non-joggers? If so, what kind of volume/intensity/duration/pace of jogging is best suited for extending one’s life?

Their observations showed that “light” jogging had the greatest effect on reducing all-cause mortality (decreasing one’s risk of death by 30% relative to sedentary counterparts). What does “light jogging” entail, you might ask?

Volume: 1-2.5 hours per weekjogger

Frequency: 2-3 days per week (preferably not back to back)

Intensity: About 6 METs (5 mph or so) equates to “light” jogging


Application of the results could be as simple as:

Jogging at 5 mph for 20 minutes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday.

Taking it to an even simpler form of exercise: Treadmill walking.

Walking at 4.0 mph/2% incline is the same metabolic cost as the “6 METs” of intensity that they recommend in this study. Could be a stretch, but the equivalency of METs does add up.

For more on METs, and other activities that could replace the above mentioned jogging intensity, read through this article at your leisure. (For example, snow shoveling equates to working at 6 METs, which bodes well for northerners).


Interestingly enough, the effectiveness of jogging beyond the above mentioned volume/frequency/intensity had a point of diminishing return, all the way to the point that risk of death increased more and more as volume, frequency and intensity continued to increase.  There even came a certain point in which the obsessive exercisers had the same risk of death as the sedentary individuals. Jogging too much/too hard led to a risk of death that was EQUAL TO NOT EXERCISING AT ALL.

Holy smokes.

The general understanding of exercise is that more is always better. The above mentioned study demonstrates some interesting data in favor of moderation, although the sample size of the obsessive exercisers was very small, which warrants further investigation. Specifically, they should do a follow up study following hard-charging, type A exercisers and the effects it may have on early death.


It is important to understand that the only variable that was measured was incidence of death.

If you jog at the amount and intensity prescribed by this article, odds are that you are less likely to die 15 years from now than someone who does not jog (unless you are obsessively exercising as I just mentioned). It does not discuss any specific biometrics such as body fat, muscle mass, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, etc. etc.

But, my two cents: incidence of death is a pretty damn important variable. Who cares what your body fat percentage is if you are dead. This information is very promising to sedentary individuals looking to elongate their lifespan and become generally more fit.

Until next time.


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I made a bold claim by making the title of this article what it is, but I am not the only one. A recent literature review (a type of study that summarizes several current studies and compiles their results) about resistance training conducted by the Department of Exercise Science at Quincy College in Massachusetts put together a wonderful list of the medicinal benefits of picking up heavy stuff repeatedly.

Here is the laundry list of benefits pertaining to 10 weeks of resistance training:

  • Increased total lean mass (i.e. muscle mass) by an average of 1.4 kg (3 lbs of muscle)
  • Increased metabolic rate by 7% (more calories expended at rest, helping with weight control that tends to get out of hand with aging/being sedentary)
  • Reduced total fat mass by an average of 1.8 kg (4 lbs of fat)
  • Increased “functional independence” (particularly of interest to aging populations keen on being able to live on their own)
  • Increased walking speed (an ability that is often overlooked as an individual ages)
  • Improved balance and movement control (prevention of falls as an individual ages)
  • Improved cognitive ability (it even makes you smarter)
  • Prevention/management of type 2 diabetes via:
    • improving insulin sensitivity (making your tissues more responsive to insulin, the opposite of insulin resistance which usually precedes full blown type 2 diabetes)
    • improving skeletal muscle uptake of blood glucose, thus playing a role in blood sugar regulation
    • decreasing visceral/abdominal fat
    • reducing hbA1c blood markers (a risk factor associated with type 2 diabetes, which is a running average of your blood sugar levels over a 3 month period)
  • Enhancement of cardiovascular health via:
    • Reduction in resting blood pressure measures (particularly systolic BP)
    • Reduction in LDL cholesterol, or commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol
    • Increasing HDL cholesterol, or commonly referred to as “good” cholesterol
    • Reduction in blood triglycerides
  • Improvements in bone density by up to 3%, which can aid in prevention of osteoporosis
  • Reduction in lower back pain
  • Reduction in pain associated with osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia


Goodness gracious. Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. Start lifting.
Here is the protocol that is prescribed in the article for getting started with resistance training:

(Westcott, Wayne L. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 11(4):209-216, July/August 2012. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8)


(Westcott, Wayne L. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 11(4):209-216, July/August 2012. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8)

And that’s all folks. I cannot stress enough as to the importance of resistance training in our day and age with the advent of what we call “modern diseases” such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Make the years in your life unhindered by weakness and disease. A better way to put it: It’s not about the years within your life, but rather the life within your years.

Until next time.

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COFFEE.There is a large body of evidence behind the idea that “time of day” influences athletic performance, particularly higher intensity athletic performance, such as interval training, sprints, resistance training, or performance in any sort of intermittent field sport like soccer, lacrosse, basketball, tennis etc. where there are periods of high intensity activity coupled with periods of recovery.

Traditionally, peak anaerobic performance (high intensity performance) is strongly correlated with core body temperature (1). The general trend of core body temperature is that it is at it’s lowest around 4:00 am (prior to waking) and at it’s highest between 4:00-6:00 in the evening (1). Putting two and two together, several studies have demonstrated that time and time again, athletes tend to perform about 5-10% better in the afternoon/evening than they do in the morning (1,2,3) in regards to strength and power performance, which, again, is predominantly anaerobic in nature.

Summarizing the paragraphs above: All things remaining equal, you are able to run faster and pick up heavy things better when it’s after 4:00 PM relative to earlier in the day. What about the early riser/morning exercise enthusiast?

So is it possible to get around this if you’re an early riser? According to a recent study by Ricardo et al (link here), the answer is yes.

What’s do he and his colleagues say is the solution? Caffeine. Wonderful.

Although this study targeted “highly resistance trained men”, it bodes well for the frequent exerciser, regardless of gender, if their focus is some form of HIIT (high intensity interval training) or resistance/power training in the early morning.

The dosage utilized within the study I just referenced is: 3mg per kg of bodyweight.

So, for example I personally weigh 188lbs, which equals 85kg, and thus 255mg of caffeine.

Equation: (Your bodyweight in pounds/2.2)(x3) = mg of caffeine per kg needed to reproduce the effects of the study.

Let’s put that into perspective: One Tall (12 fl oz) brewed coffee from starbucks contains approx. 260mg of caffeine (Source here).

Brews of coffee do vary in caffeination based on the roast/type of bean etc. Use the google to help you identify the caffeine content of your preferred type of coffee bean/roast.

One minor limitation of the study is that the dosing was administered via oral administration of a pill. (These two articles will help to clear up the idea that coffee and capsules have very similar rates of absorption and bioavailability: Here and Here). Long story short: Coffee as a substitute is 100% fine.

In closing, my advice, if you do not have a pre-existing heart condition, are not morally against caffeinating, typically exercise earlier in the day:


Sprint with reckless abandon whilst witnessing the sunrise. Hulk smash some new personal bests in your favorite lift, regardless of the time of day.

Until next time.


  1. Racinais S, Blonc S, Hue O (2005) Effects of active warm-up and diurnal increase in temperature on muscular power. Med Sci Sports Exerc 37(12): 2134–9.
  2. Racinais S, Blonc S, Jonville S, Hue O (2005) Time of day influences the environmental effects on muscle force and contractility. Med Sci Sports Exerc 37(2): 256–61.
  3. Taylor KJ, Cronin B, Gill N, Chapman DW, Sheppard JM (2011) Warm-up affects diurnal variation in power output. Int J Sports Med 32(3): 185–9.
  4. Mora-Rodríguez R, Pallarés JG, López-Samanes Á, Ortega JF, Fernández-Elías VE (2012) Caffeine Ingestion Reverses the Circadian Rhythm Effects on Neuromuscular Performance in Highly Resistance-Trained Men. PLoS ONE 7(4): e33807. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033807
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clockWhat is the most common reason individuals fail to adhere to a given exercise/physical activity regimen? They do not have enough time.

One potential solution to this excuse is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT for short). Simply put, HIIT training is alternating between intervals of high intensity and intervals of low/moderate intensity. The high intensity intervals are somewhere between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, with low intensity/rest intervals varying in length relative to individual fitness levels.

A study in the early 2000s conducted by Gibala et al put the spotlight on HIIT training when it compared HIIT to traditional high-volume endurance training (commonly referred to as “cardio”). Subjects were placed in one of two groups:

3xweek for 12 weeks:

Group 1 performed 3x20sec ”all out”  cycling intervals with 2 min complete recovery. 

Group 2 performed 45 min sessions of “steady state cardio”  at roughly 70% of their maximum heart rate.

Both groups did a 2 min warm-up and a 3 min cool down.

The total time commitment for Group 1 was 6 hours over 12 weeks, and Group 2 was 30 hours over 12 weeks.

Both groups saw similar improvements in oxidative capacity in skeletal muscle (aerobic fitness), as well as skeletal muscle pH buffering capacity and glycogen content (anaerobic fitness).

Long story short:

Fitness increases were identical between both groups, and HIIT produced the results in 1/5 the time.

Gibala provided a quote when interviewed by and stated that: “…no time to exercise is not an excuse now that HIT can be tailored for the average adult…while still a demanding form of training,” Gibala adds, “the exercise protocol we used should be possible to do by the general public and you don’t need more than an average exercise bike.”

To put things in perspective:

The HIIT group subjects did 3×20 second all out sprints, 3 times per week over the course of 12 weeks, which equates to an average of 10 minutes of work/session.

The traditional cardio group subjects did 50 mins of “steady state” cardio 3 times per week over the course of 12 weeks, which equates to an average of 50 minutes of work/session.


No big deal.

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