“Better or worse, those are your options”

This is a brief post but it comes on the back of a discussion with my trainers about exercises. It’s our job as trainers to keep people on track toward their goals while giving them just enough of the stuff they’d rather do. A little give and take makes for good relationships.

With that in mind, my friend Dallas Hartwig has a saying about food: “The food you eat either makes you more healthy or less healthy. Those are your options.”

Similarly, exercises exist on a spectrum, from better to worse. There are no “neutral” exercises (before you argue, I’ll explain in a second).

In the short term, an exercise is either dangerous or useless, depending on the client’s level and goals. So for a population training for health and longevity, a snatch is a dangerous exercise relative to your goals. If you’re an olympic lifter, the snatch is your job. This is what separates a good trainer from a bad trainer: applying good exercises to the wrong population is a recipe for disaster at worst or a waste of time at best.

So why is a “waste of time” exercise not neutral? Similar to the above, an exercise can either make your workout more or less productive, which makes you more or less healthy. It’s like a barbell “turtles all the way down.” If you’re crowding out good exercises with poor exercises (not dangerous) relative to the level and goals of the client, you’re making the workout less productive in the short term, and the client less healthy in the long run.

So as you’re moving along as a trainer gaining ability, remember that just because a client wants something, it must be weighed in both the short and long term to satisfy the goals of the client.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

Dynapenia: The Real Problem With Not Resistance Training


At Efficient Exercise, we use the term “Sarcopenia” when discussing why new clients should endeavor into resistance training. This is Latin for “poverty of the flesh,” which really means age and/or inactivity-related losses in muscle mass. This was thought to be a primary driver of things like osteoporosis and obesity, even associating the term “sarcopenic obesity.”

However, this implies a sufficiency issue: just have enough muscle mass and you’re insured against many of the future losses that come with simply having the muscle. However, this did not explain why people of varying levels of muscle mass were experiencing these symptoms with prolonged inactivity. This is a bit like how skinny people can be “obese” as far as visceral fat to lean body mass ratio. There’s  a hormonal milieu that can only be accounted for through the lens of use rather than presence.

At EE, we’ve always focused on maintaining muscle mass through aging, but it’s become increasingly clear that what matters most about muscle is the use rather than the amount. It makes sense that the focus was on sufficient muscle mass, as we were unable to measure any element of the tissue that communicated with the rest of the body…they were merely motors. Now we understand that muscle is in fact our largest endocrine organ, releasing hormones and signaling agents called myokines that communicate with the rest of the body to set the thermostat, so to speak, regarding the importance of muscle tissue and how it should be treated by the rest of the body.

Let me explain.

Go back to my first paragraph and the term “sarcopenic obesity.” The literature on this topic is totally interesting and the first thing that jumps out is that both muscle and fat tissue are very active endocrine tissues.  The second thing that stands out is that these endocrine actions are almost in direct opposition to each other, like colonies in competition for energy resources. This is different than the old “auto-regulation” model that the body would partition based on substrate and availability, like when the muscles were replete with nutrients, the fat was a dump for whatever was left. This is now turning out to be incorrect.

In this review of sarcopenic obesity, researchers lay out all of the signalling mechanisms that fat and muscle use to facilitate endocrine communication. If you wrote down all of the mediators and their effects in separate columns labeled “muscle” and “fat” you’d see that they’re in competition.  Age seems to dictate which tissue has the competitive advantage. When you are young, muscle has the competitive advantage over adipose tissue and the advantage slowly shifts toward fat as the years go by, largely because you pass childbearing years and your Darwinian Fitness reduces (or “evolution stops giving a damn” to quote evolutionary biologist Michael Rose). As you lose muscle, the signalling from fat mass becomes greater, begetting more fat mass, increasing the signal further as muscle continues to whither and reduce their signalling.

So the signalling from fat mass is largely due to the volume of fat mass. However, it turns out that muscle signalling is not due to the presence of the tissue itself (a sufficiency), but rather from the use of said tissue. This means that is actually a reduction in muscle quality, which means less strength, than correlates more with aging than merely having enough muscle tissue. The term for this is dynapenia which literally means “poverty of power.”  It is the loss of strength which reduces the quality of our contractions, which reduces the signalling for resources, which reduces the partitioning of nutrients to muscle tissue and increases the partitioning toward fat mass, which begets more fat mass. A recent literature review demonstrates that strength is lost more rapidly than mass as we age. Considering it’s the very strength that would, for example, help prevent a fall or maintain balance through aging, this fact of rapid loss is especially important.

Strength precedes the signal and the signal is in proportion to the use of said strength. If you’re using a high intensity of effort on a regular basis, you’ve set the stage to maintain your strength, muscle tissue, and tip the balance toward lean mass instead of fat mass as we age.

“Why do you keep it so COLD in here?!”

At my studio, we keep things pretty cold. Anywhere from 64 to 68*F throughout the year. You’d likely wonder what’s the point, as most places seem to be encouraging more heat: hot room yoga, Xfit boxes with the bay doors open in summer, boot camps in the screaming summer sun, etc. It’s rather different compared to these other places, so what’s the deal?

During my first certification and job, it was basically “People work harder in the cold.” That was the answer I got, and while true, it didn’t tell me why they were able to work harder in the cold. It was sort of a “handed down from on high” commandment; I wanted the science. And during graduate school I found it.

While probably not the first researcher to study this, the man whose research work is most focused on exercise and environment is Lars Nybo. His research has dealt with how hyperthermia (exceedingly warm conditions in the human body) changes muscle function, brain function, and human performance. I’m going to discuss a little slice of his research and then provide the bigger picture for EE clients.

In his study, “Hyperthermia and central fatigue during prolonged exercise in humans” Nybo demonstrates how hyperthermia changes force output, regardless of fatigue. Two groups of trainees cycled for 1 hour in either a thermoneutral environment, or a hyperthermic environment. After 1 hour of exercise, the trainees were then put on a knee extension machine and encouraged to exert as hard as possible to measure the force output of the thigh musculature. Take a look at the result:


So what the heck are you looking at? The top graph (“A”) shows the rate of force output decline difference between the hyperthermic group and the thermoneutral (control) group. Also in that graph, you can see lines that spike up from the trending measure line, which is where the researchers actually electronically stimulated the tissue to measure it’s true maximum force output. Remember: muscle force is not just what the tissue can actually produce, but also what the central nervous system will allow or is capable of at the moment. You can see this difference in graph B, where the hyperthermic group is significantly less forceful compared to the control, as far as a percentage of what the tissue is capable of producing. Finally, the third graph (“C”) shows the surface measure of muscle activation; again, a clear reduction, thus reduced force.

So what this shows is that the hotter the environment is, the less forceful the muscular contractions are, NOT because the tissue is less capable but because the central nervous system is reducing force output or work. This makes sense: the harder (or more) the work, the more heat produced. The already hyperthermic environment means that hyperthermia is a very real threat, so your body “turns down the volume” to keep that from happening.

In the context of training, there are a LOT of variables that are trying to be optimized during a session. If you’re going to only train once or twice per week in a “formal” fashion, the environment needs to be optimized as best as possible for the task. By keeping the room cool, not only are we able to appeal to those who don’t like sweating, we’re also able to facilitate harder work. This deeper stimulus is what allows us to have less frequent workouts with the same, or better, result. It’s not arbitrary: the cold is a big reason why we’re so efficient.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.