Category Archives: Exercise
by Bret Contreras
I’ve spent a lot of time in commercial gyms over the years. I can say with absolute certainty that 99% of what I’ve seen was unimpressive. Most people simply don’t train hard and don’t perform the best exercises.
However, there have been rare times where I waltzed into the gym to find some throwback from the caveman era performing a challenging exercise with a ton of weight and intensity. I’ve found myself on several occasions saying to my workout partner, “That dude is a serious badass!”
Just how does one go about getting labeled a badass in the strength training world? Obviously you have to get strong. No matter how cool the exercise looks, nobody gives a shit if you’re snatching 65 lbs.
You also need to have good form. This usually comes from good core stability induced from heavy lifting with good form over the years. Even if you use a ton of weight, nobody cares if you perform a wobbly, energy-leaking squat that doesn’t resemble anything athletic. Finally, you need to be performing badass exercises. Without further ado, here are the ten manliest exercises:
Branch Warren popularized chain dips. He’d drape a couple pairs of heavy chains over his shoulders and start busting out sets of high rep dips. It looks and feels really cool to have chains draped around your body, sort of like Mr. T. This exercise works a ton of neck extensor musculature while also hammering the pecs, front delts, and triceps.
You don’t hear much about the Zercher squat these days. Most people hate doing them because they hurt like hell. Holding a heavy barbell in the crux of your arms is one of the most painful things you’ll ever do. However, the placement of the barbell increases the load on the core and glute musculature, in addition to hitting the quads, hams, and calves, which makes it an extremely effective exercise. So try to deal with the pain; eventually your body gets used to it.
I don’t care what anyone says, if you can bust out a 225 lb clean and press, then you are pretty badass. That’s just all there is to it. This exercise works the hell out of the traps, delts, and triceps. Get to 315 lbs and you’ve now reached Lattimer status from the 1993 movie, The Program.
I once saw some beasts in the gym doing these and was enamored. They started off with six 45-lb plates and did five reps. A partner would strip a plate off and the lifter would get five more reps. This would continue until there was only one plate left on the bar, so the lifter would execute a total of 30 reps. This exercise works the lats, scapulae retractors, and biceps, as well as working the entire posterior chain isometrically. Two words: freaking brutal!
One set of squats can’t be that bad, right? Wrong! If you don’t know about 20-rep breathing squats, then read up on them as these bad-boys have been around forever. They might just be the hardest single exercise known to man. You take your 10RM and get 20 reps by “resting” in the top position and taking deep breaths. A set can last anywhere from three to ten minutes. If your quad growth has been stagnant for a while, focus on these for around six weeks and you won’t be disappointed.
Ronnie Coleman popularized these years ago when he’d walk outside Metroflex gym and start lunging up and down the parking lot with 185 lbs on his back in the blazing Texas heat. The parking lot lunge will hammer your quads and glutes. To Ronnie, this “ain’t nuttin’ but a peanut.”
Matt Kroczaleski popularized these explosive high-rep one-arm rows with the heaviest dumbbells your gym carries. Essentially, they’re heavy, high rep, one-arm rows with a little bit of English. In Kroc’s words, they’re Òwhatever dumbbell you think you can’t do for one rep x 50.Ó
He credits these for packing on slabs of lat mass and increasing his deadlift strength. In addition to working the lats, scapulae retractors, and biceps, Kroc rows work a ton of core as well. If you do them right, one set is all you need!
If you’ve seen video clips of Konstantin Konstantinovs busting out various types of deadlifts, then you understand how badass deadlifts can be once you get strong. Many would argue that the deadlift is the most functional exercise of all, as it annihilates the entire posterior chain in addition to working the quads too. Even the name “deadlift” reeks of manliness.
You don’t see many people doing yolk walks and farmer’s walks these days because most gyms don’t carry the implements. Even if they did, there usually isn’t any room to do them anyway. However, if you have a garage gym or belong to a rare gym that allows you to perform heavy walks, consider yourself lucky.
These exercises are unbelievable total body strengtheners. In fact, spinal researcher Stuart McGill found evidence that the super yolk walk might just be the most challenging exercise for the spine due to the extreme load of the implement and the core muscle contractions required to stabilize the spine and hips. You don’t need a yolk to do a yolk walk; a barbell works just fine, and heavy dumbbells or a hex bar can be used for farmer’s walks.
There’s no reason to hate on the bench press. It’s the most popular exercise in the world because every guy wants a nice set of pecs. But powerlifters realized long ago that if you bench press in a certain manner, it’s a total-body exercise. They figured out how to use their lats and legs in addition to their triceps, shoulders, and pecs in order to maximize the weight they could press.
Learn how to bench like a powerlifter and keep a strong low back arch, pull the bar down lower on your chest, and get some good leg drive. Everybody is impressed with a strong ass bench press.
In all honesty, this list could go on and on and on, as there are plenty of manly exercises. Any variation of the lifts you find in Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman training is pretty damn manly. There are plenty of badass bodyweight exercises you can do as well…for instance the muscle up and pistol.
Honorable mentions go to the cambered bar good morning and weighted chin up. And it’s always fun swinging sledgehammers and pushing trucks around. When you’re super strong, everything looks manly…a Turkish get up, a one-arm snatch, a barbell curl, and even an explosive landmine.
The point of this article is to illustrate that the manliest exercises are performed with heavy free weights and are usually performed on your feet. If all your training is done on machines, while lying down, or with pink dumbbells, then you probably aren’t getting the most out of your routine. In the words of King Ronnie: “Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weight!”
What You’re Doing Wrong
Perfect Your Form
1. “When you lunge, keep your torso upright, and focus on moving it up and down, not backward and forward,” says Rasmussen. This will keep your weight balanced evenly through your front foot, allowing you to press hard into the floor with your heel—and target more muscle.
2. “Drop your back knee straight down to the floor,” says Boyle. Consider this a second strategy to help you remember that you should drop your torso down, not push it forward, as you do the exercise.
3. “To work your core harder, narrow your starting stance,” says Gray Cook, M.S.P.T., the author of Athletic Body in Balance. The smaller the gap between your feet, the more your core has to work to stabilize your body. Your goal: Lunge so that it’s almost like you’re walking on a tightrope as you perform the exercise.
Rows and Pullups
You’re ignoring the muscles that retract your shoulder blades.
Perfect Your Form
1. “When doing bent-over and seated rows, and any pullup variation, create as much space between your ears and shoulders as you can,” says Rasmussen. Pull your shoulders down and back and hold them that way as you do the exercise. This ensures you’re working the intended middle-and upper-back muscles.
2. “As you row the weight, stick your chest out,” says Mike Boyle, M.A., A.T.C., owner of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, in Winchester and North Andover, Massachusetts. This allows you to better retract your shoulder blades, which will lead to better results.
3. “Imagine there’s an orange between your shoulder blades,” says Grantham. “Then try to squeeze the juice out of it with your shoulder blades as you pull the weight or your body up.”
You’re rounding your lower back as you bend over.
Perfect Your Form
1. “To lower the weight, pretend you’re holding a tray of drinks and need to close the door behind you with your butt,” says Cosgrove. This cues you to bend over by pushing your hips back instead of rounding your lower back—a form blunder that puts you at risk for back problems.
2. “Try to ‘shave your legs’ with the bar,” says Weiss. The reason: Every degree the bar is away from your body places more strain on your back, which increases your chance of injury and limits the emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes.
3. “As you lift the bar, squeeze your glutes like two fists,” says Nick Grantham, a top strength and conditioning coach in the U.K. and the owner of Smart Fitness. You’ll ensure that you’re engaging your butt muscles. This helps you generate more power, lift more weight, and produce better results
You’re starting the movement by bending your knees.
Perfect Your Form
1. “Sit back between your legs, not on top of your knees,” says Dan John, a strength coach based in Draper, Utah. Start your squats by pushing your hips back. “Most men tend to bend their knees first, which puts more stress on their joints.”
2. “When you squat, imagine you’re standing on a paper towel,” says Charlie Weingroff, director of sports performance and physical therapy for CentraState Sports Performance, in Monroe, New Jersey. “Then try to rip the towel apart by pressing your feet hard into the floor and outward.” This activates your glutes, which helps you use heavier weights.
3. “Instead of raising your body, think about pushing the floor away from your body,” says Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., co-owner of Results Fitness. “This helps you better engage the muscles in your legs.”
You’re thinking only about pushing the bar up from your chest.
Perfect Your Form
1. “Every time you lower the weight, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the bar to your chest,” says Craig Rasmussen, C.S.C.S., a fitness coach at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California. This will help you build up energy in your upper body so that you can press the bar up with more force.
2. “As you pull the weight down, lift your chest to meet the barbell,” Rasmussen says. “This will aid your efforts to create a springlike effect when you start to push the bar back up.”
3. “When you press the weight, try to bend the bar with your hands,” says Pavel Tsatsouline, a fitness expert and the author of Enter the Kettlebell! The benefit: You’ll activate more muscle fibers in your lats and move the bar in a stronger and safer path for your shoulders.
You’re letting your hips sag as you raise and lower your body.
Perfect Your Form
1. “When you’re in a pushup position, your posture should look the same as it would if you were standing up straight and tall,” says Vern Gambetta, the owner of Gambetta Sports Training Systems, in Sarasota, Florida. “So your hips shouldn’t sag or be hiked, and your upper back shouldn’t be rounded.”
2. “Before you start, contract and stiffen your core the way you would if you had to zip up a really tight jacket,” says Kaitlyn Weiss, a NASM-certified trainer based in Southern California. Hold it that way for the duration of your set. “This helps your body remain rigid—with perfect posture—as you perform the exercise.”
3. “Don’t just push your body up; push your hands through the floor,” Gambetta says. You’ll generate more power with every repetition.
By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS
By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS
Doing lots of exercise drastically cuts the risk of developing painful gallstones, UK researchers have found.
Gallstones are common but only 30% of cases have symptoms and complications.
A University of East Anglia study of 25,000 men and women found those who were the most active had a 70% reduced risk of those complaints.
The team, writing in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, said one reason might be reduced cholesterol levels in the bile.
They said exercise also raised levels of “good” cholesterol and help improves movement through the gut, all of which could contribute to the lowered risk.
Those taking part in the study were split into four groups depending on how much exercise they did and the researchers found that those who did moderate amounts of exercise also had a lower risk of painful symptoms from gallstones than those who were the most inactive.
They worked out that if everyone increased the amount of exercise they did by one category 17% of gallstones that need medical treatment could be prevented.
Using the same data the researchers had previously discovered that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol is protective against gallstones.
Consuming two units a day cuts the chance of developing gallstones by a third, the earlier study showed.
Gallstones form in the gallbladder from bile and are generally made up of hardened cholesterol.
It is thought that around one in three women and one in six men get gallstones at some point in their life but they are more common in older adults.
Other factors which increase the chances of them forming include pregnancy, obesity, rapid weight loss and some medications.
Many people who have gallstones may never know they have them but for some they cause severe pain, inflammation and infection and jaundice.
And almost 50,000 people have to have their gallbladders removed every year in the UK.
Study leader Dr Paul Banim, a clinical lecturer at the University of East Anglia and a specialist registrar in gastroenterology said: “It is difficult to prove a link between lifestyle and disease but we weren’t surprised to see these results.
“If everyone was to achieve the impossible and do the same amount of exercise as those in the most active category, gallstones could be reduced by 70%.”
Dr Charlie Murray, secretary of the British Society of Gastroenterology, said the study seemed to show a direct protective effect of higher levels of exercise.
“The study does not however tell us how much exercise is effective in prevention of gallstones as this would require specific recording of exercise activity, nor the mechanism by which exercise is protective.
“It does however demonstrate that as with the prevention of many disease processes, exercise improves your chances of staying healthy.”
by the World’s Most Dangerous Editors
Back in 2002, the first Spiderman movie was the top box office draw, President Bush fainted after choking on a pretzel, and TMUSCLE launched the first installment of Exercises You’ve Never Tried.
It kinda brings big manly tears to our eyes, ya know? All the pain we’ve caused, the limp-inducing DOMS, the exquisite microtrauma.
High time for another one, don’t you think? If your progress has stalled or you just need a new challenge, here are ten fresh movements to help you fill out that snazzy new TMUSCLE shirt!
#1: The Mid-Range Partial Dumbbell Bench Press
Want the best pump of your life while at the same time activating the highest percentage of motor units? Then take a tip from Coach Nick Tumminello and try mid-range partials.
Here’s how to do them with the dumbbell bench press. In a nutshell, don’t go all the way down and don’t go all the way up; stick to the mid-range. Your elbow angles will be roughly 135 degrees at the top and 90 degrees at the bottom.
The tension and burn here are going to be intense, so be prepared. Also, there’s no stretch-shortening reflex at the bottom of each rep. Put all that together and you might have to use less weight at first than what you normally would. It’s okay, we won’t point and laugh. (Much.)
#2: The Double Down Pulldown
You know that to hit most of the back muscles, you need to do both a vertical pulling movement (pulldown or pull-up) and a horizontal pulling movement (a row variation.) The pulling angle of a pulldown or rowing motion significantly impacts the portion of the back that receives the most stimulation. So here’s a unique movement we picked up from Christian Thibaudeau that combines a parallel pull and a perpendicular pull into one menacing exercise that stimulates the entire upper back.
A lever-type machine works well here; we used a Hammer Strength high row in our video. Why? According to Thibs, “The handles start far enough from your torso that you’re able to lean forward significantly in the starting position. This forward lean will ensure that the lats are maximally stretched and that the pulling line remains as parallel to your torso as possible.”
Here’s how it’s done. From that starting position, pull the weight down while keeping the same torso angle. Squeeze the contracted position for one or two seconds, and then lean back while keeping the handles in the same position. From there, pull the weight toward you again and hold the contraction for another one to two seconds.
If your machine doesn’t allow you to get into the right positions, just drop the seat and “hover” like a chick in a dirty bathroom.
#3: The “Crazy Bell” Bench Press
Here’s a crazy-ass little training trick we’ve seen pop up in several top powerlifting gyms. In fact, we know a few state record holders who swear by it.
Basically, this is just a few weight plates (or kettlebells) attached to a barbell with bands (see pic.) TMUSCLE contributor Craig Weller notes that the effect here has to be felt to be truly understood. He says benching with this set-up feels like having a wild animal tug on the bar as you move it.
How’s it work? This benching method can be thought of as an injury preventer. The unstable, dynamic load places a huge emphasis on stabilization muscles as the entire shoulder girdle must fire maximally to keep the bar path tight and stable throughout the press.
It’s also a great tool for lifters with shoulder issues and can be used to build work capacity in pressing movements. “With advanced lifters,” Weller notes, “it’s a novel stimulus that can force further neural adaptations and eventually greater strength.”
Now, don’t be a dumbass and injure yourself with this injury-prevention exercise. That would be embarrassing. Go light at first to get the hang of it, use a spotter, and only use this technique for the bench press. (It’s just too tricky for the deadlift and squat.) Just focus on gripping the bar as hard as you can and maintaining maximal tightness throughout your body.
If you don’t have bands and spare plates, just hang a few hungry babies and/or angry midgets from the bar. Same effect.
#4: Dip Shrugs
Breaking News! There are methods to build your traps besides standard shrugs and upright rows! Yes, for reals. Here’s one of them: the dip shrug.
Hop onto a set of dipping bars. Hold yourself up by keeping your arms fully extended and locked. Let your body sink down between your arms. From there, push yourself up, trying to bring your chest as high as you can. Remember, the arms remain locked the whole time.
And if you’re a real bad-ass and/or show-off, try the shrug dip in the L-sit gymnastic position.
#5: Sumo Deadlift Shrugs
And here’s one more new way to build beastly traps. Position yourself as if you were going to perform a sumo deadlift: wide stance, hands inside the legs.
Lift the bar to mid-shin. From there, perform a shrug — try to bring your shoulders up — while keeping the exact same stance.
Yeah, people will stare. But in a few months they’ll be staring at your big-ass traps!
#6: Ab Choppers
Here’s a great “core” exercise from bodybuilding coach Scott Abel.
Hold a medicine ball or dumbbell with both hands. Spread your feet about shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back, as if you were preparing to jump, and start the movement with the ball or dumbbell between your legs and as far back as you can reach. Now pull it upward as fast as you can until your arms are fully extended overhead. Immediately squat down for the next rep.
Abel notes: “You can do any number of variations. Change the angles by going from vertical to horizontal or diagonal. With cables or tubing, you can go high to low or low to high.”
When you’re doing diagonal chops — low to high or high to low — you can pivot on one foot to extend your range of motion. That involves both the front and rear oblique systems. The best benefit of doing choppers with a pivot is the simultaneous inclusion of both the anterior and posterior oblique systems.
And remember, the key here is speed. You want to emphasize acceleration and deceleration.
#7: The Push-up Pyramid
Yeah, push-ups are boring. And it’s easy to out-grow them, so to speak.
Still, the classic push-up remains a favorite of coaches like Chad Waterbury, who uses it to train his athletes for explosive strength. Nick Tumminello adds that the push-up is often misunderstood and underutilized.
So how do you sex up the push-up? Try this pyramid challenge we picked up from Chris Cooper, CSCS.
Start in a push-up position. Do 1 rep, pause at the top for two seconds, do 2 reps, pause for two seconds, do 3 reps, pause for two seconds. Try to get up to 10 reps, and then work your way back down. You’ll think this is easy, until you’re about halfway through. That’s when the real fight begins!
Our favorite variation is to pause for two seconds in the bottom position instead of top. Ouch.
#8: The Constant Tension Alternate Curl
Want to take advantage of muscular tension, isometric potentiation, unilateral-enhanced neural drive, and other big words and phrases? Then check out this “new” way to curl!
Start with both arms in the fully flexed position — the “top” of the curl. Lower (eccentric phase) the working arm while keeping the non-working arm flexed. Curl up the working arm until both arms are once again flexed. Then switch arms and do the same thing. You keep on alternating this way until the set is completed.
The benefits, according to Coach Thibaudeau, are:
1. The biceps are under constant tension. While the non-lifting arm is “waiting its turn,” it’s still contracted isometrically.
2. You’re performing a unilateral dynamic movement.
3. You’re preceding the dynamic action by an isometric one.
The downside is that you can’t use as much weight, so you won’t create as much muscle damage. This is why it’s important to use this exercise as a secondary biceps movement, after a heavier exercise.
Like it? Want a variation? Use the same technique with dumbbell preacher curls.
#9: Partial Overhead Press
This one steals a page from Olympic lifting (an overhead press), combines it with a powerlifting technique (a limited range of motion, or ROM), and ends up with a kick-ass triceps exercise for size and strength… the partial overhead press.
To begin, perform a basic, standing overhead press using the same grip width and foot stance you’d use to do a complete set. From the lockout position, lower the bar until it just grazes the top of your hair, or the top of your chrome-dome for you poor, follicly challenged lifters. Press it straight back up, and you’ve done one rep.
The complete ROM is from your scalp to your arm’s full extension… that’s it. By keeping the movement shorter than a full overhead press, the focus stays on the triceps, while still allowing the use of heavy loads.
The subtle key to this exercise is to keep the bar directly overhead, in line with the ears, as opposed to pressing slightly in front of the body and looking upwards, like you’d do with a traditional military press. This helps to further disengage the delts and makes the triceps work that much harder.
#10: MacGyver’s Glute-Ham Raise
Some lucky bastards have a glute-ham raise machine in their gyms. Others have good training partners and can perform the “natural” glute-ham raise. But some of you have neither, so what are you going to do? Just walk around with weak hams and a droopy ass? Heck no, you’re going to go MacGyver instead!
Find yourself a pulldown machine or similar, adjust the lap pads, and — to the shock and horror of the ACE-certified personal trainers — start performing glute-ham raises!
The key here is to keep your torso tight and lower it slowly and under control. Your posterior chain (low back, glutes, and hams) should be screaming.
When you start nearing parallel, you’re going to hit the floor. That’s okay, just catch yourself smoothly in a push-up position, absorb the impact, and fling yourself back up. As soon as you can, contract the glutes and hams, letting them do the rest of the work, pulling you back to upright.
If the ACE-certified trainers give you shit, judo-toss them to the floor and use your muscular ass to pop their heads like bubble wrap.
Ten new exercises and nineteen more Exercises You’ve Never Tried articles in the archives. That should keep you busy for a while!
Models: Andrew Barker, Tim Smith
Location: Gold’s Gym, Abilene, Texas
Setting up for the “Crazy Bell” Bench Press.
© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Hate the Gym? How Very French, by Mireille Guiliano
2.) Incorporate simple resistance movements into your daily routine. Use your own body weight as resistance wherever possible. Isometric exercises, discreet but effective, are very French. This can be done before you even leave the house in the morning. For example, while waiting in traffic or on the subway, contract your abs for 12 seconds with your back pressed against the seat (it’s better for you than road rage). When reading a magazine at home, try sitting on the floor with your legs stretched and apart in a V and your hands on each side; this is a great stretch for your inner thigh muscles.
3.) Take care of your core. I’m a firm believer that we need to attend to our abdominals as we age. These are the muscles that hold all our vital organs in place; they support good posture and a healthy spine, something we must take care of as we get older. Do a few sit-ups as part of a little stretch/exercise/yoga routine in the morning — it’s never too early or too late to start this ritual.
4.) Acquaint yourself with small to moderate free weights (3-5 lbs.), especially if you’re over 40. A bit of extremely simple resistance training is an antidote to hours spent on gym machines. Short but focused movement with small weights is a good way to preserve upper body tone and bone density and supplement the cardiovascular benefits of an active lifestyle. A little goes a long way, and that only increases the older you get, so don’t let extremism overtake you.
|You don’t have to torture yourself on those metal contraptions or run a marathon to stay trim. French women reject the notion of ‘no pain, no gain.’|
5.) Get en vélo. Americans tend to see bicycling as recreation, and often either as a child’s pastime or a hobby for only the most serious triathletes. But French and European women see cycling as a mode of transportation. I encourage those who can bike to work or shopping to do so. One of my pleasures in Provence is taking my bike to run errands. Riding my bike is one of my favorite warm weather routines and is, of course, environmentally clean and efficient, so I am happy to see bikes and bike lanes increasing in New York and other cities. Cycling has well-known health benefits: it’s a low-impact, mild aerobic exercise that strengthens your heart and lungs; tones the large (read: fat-burning) muscle groups; keeps joints, tendons and ligaments flexible; builds stamina; and is generally fun, reducing stress and boosting your mood. And the view from a real bicycle ride beats the view from a stationary bike in a white-walled gym any day of the week.
6.) Yoga. If there was ever a fountain of youth, it might be the practice of yoga. Not only does it reduce stress, improve your posture and help to develop longer, leaner limbs, it also speeds up your metabolism, works nearly every muscle group and promotes an overall bodily wellness that no other sport or class can compete with. I practice yoga religiously, usually in the comfort of my own home. I am no yogi; I do not spend hours upon end on my head — I simply have a handful of mastered poses and movements that make me feel good and keep me limber and trim. Most women can find 20-30 minutes a day to practice if they make it a priority. No equipment necessary.
7.) Vive l’escalier! Taking the stairs whenever possible is one of the main tenets of my philosophy. It always astounds me to see people who live no higher than the fourth floor and with nothing more to carry than themselves taking the elevator. In France, walking up and down stairs is a perfunctory part of our day. We rarely spend an hour stair climbing, but you should know that climbing stairs burns a stunning 1100 calories per hour. Climbing a couple flights a day will surely go a long way. A few times a week I choose to walk up the 15 flights of stairs to my apartment for some healthy fun — and yes, I do enjoy it.
In the end, remember that those who overexert themselves inevitably burn out, but those who know how to stay fit while enjoying life come out ahead, mentally and physically.
Movie Stars, Blockbuster Berries, and You
by Joel Marion and John Romaniello
One of the interesting things about working in a gym environment is that, even for the best trainers in the world, there’s a substantial amount of down time. Although program design, training clients, and personal workouts definitely keep us busy, like people in many professions, we have a few slow hours out of the day that, while they should be filled with productive activity, are somehow…not.
As a couple of print junkies, we generally waste time by reading anything that happens to be lying around. And in gyms, that means two things: health & fitness stuff, and trashy celebrity gossip magazines. While we’d like to say that the former occupies most of our time, it’d be a lie to say we haven’t developed quite a taste for the latter as well.
This mix of reading material has made for a few interesting observations. The first is that these genres seem to be blending. Specifically, you can’t seem to pick up Men’s Health without finding a celebrity on the cover, along with a promise to reveal the secrets that person used to get into shape for a role.
In the same vein, if you flip through Us Weekly, half of the pages are related to dieting and nutrition, beach bodies, and health secrets.
While this isn’t really revolutionary, it’s led us to a broader realization: as a society, we’re becoming more and more obsessed with both celebrities and health (at least in the superficial sense).
So what we’ve done here is take those two hot topics and create a fun way for you to learn a bit more about both of them. Specifically, we want to discuss the topic of anti-oxidants.
Okay, now that we have the introductory rant out of the way, time to start the show.
Exercise, Free Radicals, and Oxidative Stress
The area of greatest concern is what scientists call “cellular damage” and nutrition geeks term “oxidative stress.” Whichever moniker you choose, this nasty bit of business is the result of increases in free radical production.
So, just what is a free radical? Speaking scientifically, a free radical represents a highly chemically-reactive molecule or molecular fragment that contains at least one unpaired electron in its outer orbital or valence shell. In practical terms, a free radical is the crap resulting from all the chemistry that takes place in your body while you’re at the gym.
During exercise, most oxygen consumed by trainees combines with hydrogen to produce water; however, about 2-5% of this intake forms oxygen-containing free radicals, such as superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, and hydroxyl.
This exercise-induced free radical formation is the result of at least two causes, the first being an electron leak in the mitochondria, probably at the cytochrome level that produces superoxide radicals. The second is alterations in blood flow and oxygen supply, which also triggers excessive free radical generation. Once formed, free radicals interact with other compounds to create new free radical molecules.
So what does this all mean? Put bluntly, free radicals suck. Oxidative stress caused by free radicals ultimately increases the likelihood of cellular deterioration associated with advanced aging (read: wrinkles), cancer, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and a general decline in central nervous system and immune function.(1,2,3,4)
But your body is not without its armor. A natural defense to these compounds is present in the body’s antioxidant scavenger enzymes catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase, as well as certain metal-binding proteins.
Still, this mechanism is only so effective, making substantial increases in free radical production (such as those resulting from intense exercise) a threat to overloading the body’s natural defenses. When this happens, in addition to increasing the likelihood of cancer, you also step into counterproductive territory. Excess free radicals have also been shown to increase cortisol, hindering both fat loss and muscle gain.
What to Do
As in most cases regarding your health, it’s better to be proactive than reactive. Rather than wait around for your skin to shrivel and your heart to burst before you do something, we suggest you take steps to prevent free-radical production with the weapons you have available to you.
This is where antioxidant supplementation comes in. Antioxidants, such as those discussed in this article, protect the plasma membrane of cells by reacting with and removing free radicals.
Okay, so now that the boring part of the article is over, it’s time to cover what we feel are the most effective antioxidants around—stuff that you should be supplementing with. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to overwhelm you with a grocery list of every possible antioxidant known to man. Obviously, that would not be at all cost effective, but even if money weren’t an issue, supplementing with a million and one different compounds is not even desirable—period.
Not all supplements have a synergistic or even additive effect when combined. Some will provide no additional benefit and some will actually negate the effects of the compounds they’re combined with.
For that reason, we are going to briefly review some basic vitamins with antioxidant properties and then get into those anti-O’s that give you the most bang for your buck—compounds that aren’t simply just extremely effective antioxidants, but also possess an array of other health benefits.
The Foundation — Fish Oil
Fish oil is one of the best things to ever come out of the supplement industry, period. This stuff fights fat, builds muscle, and makes you healthy. It’s good for your skin, your nails, your hair, your heart, and your lungs. There really is no downside.
Because so much has been written about this stuff on TMuscle, we’re not going to spend too much time on it here. As a general recommendation, for the purposes of fat loss and oxidative stress, Coach Thibs suggests you take 1 gram of fish oil per percent bodyfat.
This is probably the best generalization we’ve ever come across, so we’re going to steal it. This means someone who is 12% bodyfat should take 12 grams of fish oil. In most cases, that’s 12 capsules. Of course, a more practical option is Biotest’s Flameout™. Due to the purity and potency (roughly three times as strong as its nearest competitor), you can get away with a much lower dose. With Flameout™, someone who is 12% bodyfat only needs to take 4 capsules per day for fat loss.
Every time we meet someone who doesn’t take fish oil, we don’t even know how to react. It’s like when someone tells you they’ve never seen The Breakfast Club, or worse, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. How did you get this far in life without seeing those movies, or taking fish oil? What the hell have you been doing with yourself? Don’t bother coming up with an excuse; you’re a moron. Get some fish oil. Save Ferris. Save yourself.
The Basics — Vitamin C and E
The next level up is C and E. These are vitamins that you should already be supplementing with, so we’re not going to spend a lot of time on them either. Each plays a number of roles in the body while also possessing antioxidant properties.
First up, Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is known for the slight immune boost it provides, and keeping sickness at bay is an excellent way from exposing your body to the free-radical production that illness can inflict.
In addition, if you stay healthy, you’re less likely to rely on medications for health purposes. While we’re not going to go on a diatribe decrying prescription meds as generally harmful, I think we can safely say that it is better to avoid taking them if you can. And that goes for over the counter stuff, as well. Better to take Vitamin C now than Nyquil later. Aim to ingest 500mg of Vitamin C, up to 800mg if you’re feeling sick.
Vitamin E seems to be a dream come true, especially if your primary reason for supplementation is anti-aging. Good for your skin, your hair, your nails, and keeps you healthy to boot! Try to get about 400 IU of Vitamin E, twice daily.
It is important to stick with the recommendations above. Although some supplement companies try to sell their products by listing multi-vitamins as containing 3,000,000% your RDA of Vitamin C, they’re not doing you a favor.
Assuming what the labels are claiming was even remotely possible, it would be unadvisable. Ingesting extreme amounts of Vitamin E can become toxic, and excessive amounts of Vitamin C can actually serve as a pro-oxidant, so stick to the recommendations above—you’ll get all the benefit and it’ll save you some cash, too.
With the vitamins out of the way, let’s move onto the big boys, starting with resveratrol. This is an interesting compound belonging to the phytoalexin class of phytochemicals, and is produced by plants in times of environmental stress.
Resveratrol has been identified in over 70 species of plants, with the most common source being the skin of grapes. As a result, most products derived from grapes will have pretty high levels of this cool stuff.
Unfortunately, this does not include grape flavored blow-pops, but it DOES include wine. Resveratrol is actually the primary reason all the health nuts and soccer moms are raving about the benefits of having a glass of wine with dinner. Of course, for a lot of people I know, any excuse to pound a few glasses of Merlot will do, but if you feel less guilty hiding behind a veil of health-consciousness, we’ve got the references to back you up.
There are also high quality resveratrol supplements available now like Biotest’s Rez-V™, so don’t think we’re pushing you towards a life of alcoholism. But if you’re going to have a drink with dinner, you can make a healthier choice instead of guzzling down that Testosterone-suppressing beer.
We like to think of resveratrol kind of like Jake Gyllenhaal. A moderate dose in a good movie is fine. But if you are having 4 glasses of wine “for the anti-oxidants” it’s a bit like saying you’re watching Brokeback Mountain for the acting. You have other motives, and we all know it.
In any event, there are a myriad of health benefits that can be attributed to this compound because of its antioxidant properties and other characteristics not directly associated with its ability to reduce oxidative stress, including, but not limited to:
• decreases lipogenic activity via increases in cAMP (5)
• possesses anti-mutagenic properties (6)
• possesses anti-carcinogenic properties due to its free radical scavenger effects and via increased levels of phase II drug-metabolizing enzyme quinine reductase, an enzyme capable of metabolically detoxifying carcinogens (6,10,11,12,13)
• has been shown to be effective in fighting all three phases of cancer: initiation, promotion, and progression (6,7,8,9)
• lowers LDL and total cholesterol
• acts as both an estrogen antagonist and an aromatase inhibitor
• decreases oxidation of LDL cholesterol
• possesses anti-inflammatory properties by reducing leukotriene production, a powerful mediator of inflammatory reactions (14,19)
• enhances immune function by decreasing endothelial adhesion (15,16)
• protects the brain against oxidative stress (17,18)
• potentially activates a life-span extending gene by increasing the rate of a process known as de-acetylation
If you prefer to use a supplement, we recommend taking Rez-V™ twice daily with food.
Stuff You Can Eat
While it is generally true that concentrated forms of vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants in capsule form are more potent than the foods from which they’re derived, we assume that not everyone who wants to be healthy enjoys popping pills all day long. Therefore, we thought it would be helpful to provide you a list of foods that will keep you healthy as well as full.
First up is pomegranate. Much like Oprah, pomegranate seems to have worked its way into everything lately. Pom has its own juice, and has been added to other juices to boot. It shows up in foods from vodka to chips to ice cream (like Oprah in the old days!). While these may be delicious, they are not the best option for you.
Instead, stick with either a pure pomegranate juice or—better yet—an actual pomegranate. The fruit itself is very tasty, and along with all the health benefits it possesses, eating whole fruits also has the added bonus of fiber.
The same thing also holds true for the other fruits high in anti-oxidants like blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. When you’re hungry and looking for something to snack on, they’re a great choice, provided you skip the blueberry muffin and munch on some actual blueberries.
Acupuncture in a Cup
Next up is green tea. Essentially an unfermented tea derived from the dried leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, green tea is rich in polyphenols such as tannins (a nutrient antioxidant) catechins (EGCG, which is a powerful antioxidant), and flavonoids, as well as other vitamins and minerals.
It’s long been held in high praise in many cultures for its medicinal properties, but it was the Chinese who were the first to use this amazing plant. Recently, green tea has recently been receiving a great deal of attention, which has led to many of the continual findings of new health benefits associated with its consumption. Most notably, green tea:
• increases fat oxidation and 24-hr energy expenditure (20,21)
• lowers the blood sugar response to carbohydrate ingestion due to catechins inhibiting enzyme action and polyphenol induced suppression of glucose uptake by the intestine to be transferred into the bloodstream (22)
• possesses liver protective properties (32,33,34,35,36,37,38)
• increases immune function
• helps prevent cavities and tooth decay (42,43)
• slows the aging process due to its free radical scavenger effects
• lowers cholesterol (25,26,39,40)
• reduces risk of numerous cancers, including bladder, colon, esophageal, pancreas, rectum, and stomach (41)
• reduces high blood pressure by impeding the action of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) and subsequent production of angiotensin II, an extremely strong vascular constrictor (27)
• reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke
• prevents arthritis due to it’s anti-inflammatory properties (28,29,30,31)
Green tea is kind of like Chuck Norris. It’s been around nearly forever, but the more you learn about it, the more badass it seems. Just thinking about green tea makes you better looking. In fact, reading that last sentence increased the strength of your roundhouse kick by 12%.
You have the choice of drinking a bunch of tea or supplementing with an extract or both. Since the extract varies in potency depending on the brand, we’ll recommend a dosage based on polyphenol and EGCG content. Shoot for 500mg of polyphenols (equivalent to 2250mg of EGCG) twice daily with food (1 gram total).
The average 4 oz cup of green tea contains anywhere from 60-125mg of polyphenols, so if you’re getting all your green tea in beverage form, aim for 32 to 48 oz spread out over the course of the day. If you don’t want to drink that much, you can always make up for the rest of the polyphenol content by supplementing with an extract.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) — Saving the Cheerleader, the World, and Your Insides
If you’ve read about anything even remotely related to health and oxidative stress over the past five years, you’ve been seeing the letters NAC plastered all over every publication around. N-Acetyl-cysteine, also called NAC is not exactly a ‘new’ discovery, but it certainly seems to be getting all the attention of a rising star.
NAC is the equivalent of Hayden Panettierre. It’s been around for a while, but now it’s finally old enough (and enough studies have been done) for people to talk about how hot it is. And like Hayden, this stuff has super powers.
So what exactly is it? For starters, you’ve probably caught on by now that N-Acetyl Cysteine is an anti-oxidant, and a damn good one at that. For reasons we will illustrate below, it should become fairly obvious that NAC is one of the most potentially beneficial compounds you could [read: should] be taking.
N-Acetyl Cysteine is the pre-acetylized form of the dietary amino acid Cysteine. It serves as a powerful antioxidant, a premier antitoxin, and immune support substance. An extremely important take home fact is that NAC is also a precursor for glutathione.
Made of three constituent amino acids (glycine, glutamate and cysteine), glutathione is a small molecule found in almost every cell and is one of the most powerful anti-oxidants we know of. The rate at which glutathione can be made depends on the availability of cysteine, making supplementation with NAC quite advisable.
Let’s get a bit more specific about the benefits of NAC and glutathione:
While NAC is unlikely to give you healing or regenerative powers like Hayden’s character on Heroes, it has been shown to do the following:
• greatly improve immune function and response (49,50)
• improve lung function and aid in the prevention of bronchial related stress
• be potentially highly effective for anti-cancer supplementation; dietary NAC has been shown to be chemoprotective by slowing tumorigenesis and inducing apoptosis (44,46,47,54,56,57)
• improve renal function (45)
• combat neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease (PD), and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by lowering phospho-tau levels, a hallmark molecule in the pathology of AD (48)
• act as an anti-inflammatory by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines by endothelial cells (51)
• be effective in the treatment of liver stress, toxicity, and failure, including but not exclusive to toxicity caused by high amounts of heavy metals and or acetaminophen (52,53,55)
We recommend 600mg taken twice daily.
Another super cool anti-O that’s been getting lots of attention lately is R-ALA, the R form of Alpha-Lipoic acid. R-ALA is a lot like Lindsay Lohan. As plain ol’ ALA, it had been around for a while; people knew about it and were impressed, but it wasn’t really anything special.
Like Lindsay, ALA was one of several modestly talented anti-oxidants. Then the new “R” rated version came out. Both Lindsay and R-ALA started partying like maniacs, showing off the occasional glamour shot of their crotch, singing songs about their lousy parents…not to mention the increase in oral bio-availability. And then there was the time R-ALA got placed on house arrest.
Ah, good times…
But let’s first discuss ALA in general. Alpha-Lipoic Acid is both a fat and water-soluble antioxidant, and has the immediate benefit of improving overall energy as it improves energy metabolism by the body’s cells. As a member of the antioxidant network, ALA regenerates Vitamins C and E, and Beta Carotene. In addition, much like NAC, alpha-lipoic acid works to increase the body’s production of the big-daddy free radical exterminator, glutathione.
So what makes the R-rated version such a rock star? R-ALA is the biologically active form of ALA, and is the form found naturally in the body. R-ALA has outperformed traditional Alpha-Lipoic Acid so convincingly that much of the current ALA research has used the R form exclusively.
In short, R-ALA has been shown to:
• improve memory, reduce brain damage, reverse cognitive dysfunction, and protect the brain from neuro-degeneration associated with aging (59,60)
• significantly reduce inflammation (58)
• increase insulin sensitivity, enhance glucose transport, increase metabolic rate, and reduce the gain in body fat from decreased metabolic rate (61,62)
• protects body fats against oxidative damage, chelates harmful metals and thus prevents damage to the heart (63,64)
• vastly increase cellular and mitochondrial antioxidant activity for preventing mitochondrial decay (59)
We recommend 200mg taken 3 times daily about 20-30 minutes before carbohydrate containing meals. Always look for the R form exclusively, not it’s synthetic cousin or formulations that boast a “mixture” of ALA and R-ALA.
Also, for a more “well rounded” approach, we recommend you take a serious look at Biotest’s ReceptorMax™.
While not an R-ALA supplement exclusively, ReceptorMax™ contains Na-R-ALA, which has been referred to as the “next generation” R-ALA, along with Acetyl L-Carnitine, Coenzyme Q-10, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, and Cinnamomum Burmanni; all of which assist in controlling insulin and maximizing Testosterone receptor content. Good stuff, for sure.
Keeping Up With Acai
Acai (pronounced ah-SIGH-ee) is sort of like the Kim Kardashian (pronounced card-ASS-ee-in) of the anti-oxidant world. Acai has been around for a while, but until about two or three years ago, no one really knew about it. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Acai exploded into the mainstream.
Acai started dating rappers, showing up at all the best parties, and that —coupled with the release of the infamous Acai Sex Tape—made sure everyone wanted a piece of this, er…robust fruit. And its juices. Oh boy.
It seems like everywhere you look, every entertainment medium from trashy magazines to Oprah is talking about Acai and Kim K. Since you probably know all about the latter, let’s talk a bit about the former.
Grown from the acai palm (a.k.a. euterpe), acai berries are perhaps the most potent source of antioxidants our world has to offer with an oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) ten to thirty times that of red wine grapes (and as we discussed earlier, grapes aren’t exactly shabby when it comes to anti-o content).
They’re a fruit native to Central and South America, where they are both regularly available and consumed. In North America, acai has more recently made its way into fruit juice blends and nutritional supplements, with the most potent form being freeze dried powder derived from the fruit’s skin and pulp. The preliminary research on acai has been promising, particularly with regards to the fruit’s antioxidant properties. Acai has been shown to:
• be abundant in many vitamins B1, B2, B3, C, and E (68)
• possess high concentrations of the free radical scavenging anthocyanins cyanidin 3-glucoside and cyanidin 3-rutinoside (65, 67)
• yield the highest oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) value of any fruit
• possess high activity against superoxide, peroxil, peroxynitrite and hydroxyl radicals (65, 67)
• inhibit inflammatory cyclooxygenase enzymes COX-1 and COX-2; enzymes important in both acute and chronic inflammation (69)
• stimulate production of macrophages, white blood cells extremely important to the immune system (69)
• be potentially effective for anti-cancer supplementation due to activation of caspase-3, an enzyme important in apoptosis (66)
Acai is certainly a super berry, super fruit, super antioxidant, super-any-way-you-look-at-it food. We recommend 1 gram of freeze-dried acai powder taken twice daily.
The Best of All Worlds
By now, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume and variety of substances available to you to keep cancer and aging at bay. Some New Age health gurus may tell you that you “need” to take ALL of the above compounds if you even want to live. Lucky for you, we’re not part of that group. We understand that sometimes practicality, finances, of even just plain laziness will inhibit you from taking advantage of all of the anti-oxidants available to you to protect your health.
Thankfully, even for those of us who find taking vitamins/anti-oxidants to be a hassle—not to mention a bit expensive—Biotest has made things remarkably simple with the introduction of Superfood.
If you can only have one dedicated source of anti-oxidants, please, let it be this powerful blend of ingredients.
Superfood is like the Pussy Cat Dolls of the health world. No matter what you are looking for in a woman, the Pussy Cat Dolls can fill your needs. Blondes? Check. Brunettes? Double check. Short, hot, spunky girls who can kick a leg all the way over their head? Look no further.
Now imagine what it would be like if only you could take advantage of all of that at once?
Well, that’s what Biotest Superfood is like. Only instead of a multitude of hot chicks with healthy bodies, it’s a multitude of freeze-dried fruits, veggies, and vitamins to make your body healthy.
And instead of giving you heart palpitations, Superfood fights free radicals. But still, you can see how they are similar.
Superfood is packed with the following: Wild Blueberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Acai Berry, Goji Berry, Pomegranate, Broccoli Sprout, Kale, Spinach, Wasabi, Wild Yam, Green Tea and a whole mess of other stuff. It’s super pure, super potent, and to top it off, super tasty (much like the PCDolls).
So, if you can only choose one girl group to lust after, let it be the Pussy Cat Dolls. And if you can only choose once source of free radical fighting goodness, let it be Superfood.
The Wrap Up
Now that we’ve more than filled your weekly quota for trashy celebrity gossip, take a few minutes to think about places your anti-oxidant intake might be easily improved. Whether through pills or berries, juices or wine, or even the mighty Superfood, there are so many ways to fight free radicals, you really have no excuse not to.
And since you are done reading this article, you have no excuse to not be working anymore. That is, until you find another way to slack off at work, ya lazy bum.
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Um, he’s sick. My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious. Too bad he wasn’t taking Flameout™…
…Jake Gyllenhaal, tolerable in small doses!
Not your momma’s insulin sensitivity supplement.
About Joel Marion
To learn more about Joel’s brand new Premium Coaching Program or to download a free copy of his latest fat loss report, visit www.JoelMarionCoaching.com
About John Romaniello
John Romaniello is a Certified Personal Trainer, Strength Coach, and Freelance fitness author and model working in the New York City area. Working with clients ranging from high school athletes (and their parents) to professionals in all walks of life, John has helped countless individuals improve health, fitness, and performance. He can be reached at RomanFitnessX@aol.com
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