How I Approach Fitness

Standard

From time to time I will get emails asking me about my current thoughts related to fitness. Nothing has really changed, but I have developed a framework for how I think about fitness. To me there are 3 blocks:

  1. Safety
  2. Effectiveness
  3. Novelty

Notice how I ordered them. This is not how most people approach fitness. Most will start with novelty. What looks cool or seems inspiring to them. Then they will figure out how to make those exercises effective. And then they will do their best to make that exercise plan safe.

This to me is the big flaw with fitness. I start with safe movements. Then I figure out to make them effective. Finally when I do seek novelty, I do it without making the exercise less safe or less effective.

I don’t know if this approach would have been inspiring to me when I was younger. Like most young men, I was inspired by outliers. I wanted to know how Evander Holyfield exercised, not how to minimize my risk of injury.

Evander Holyfield

I’m forever grateful that I had a few injuries under my belt before I became aware of CrossFit. I went with Body by Science and have been forever grateful. Not as glamorous and less novel, but it works for me.

I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: You will make the most gains in your exercise program by vastly reducing or eliminating injury risk. Maybe not in the first few years, but in the long run. So instead of trying to figure out how to knock out 20 perfect kipping pull-ups, I’ll be the guy doing controlled slow pulldowns.

The Role of Exercise in Preventing Weight Regain

Standard

After the post Is There a Metabolic Unicorn? I decided to revisit the topic of metabolism again as if I knew nothing. I’m also doing this at the same time that I’m reviewing some of my older posts about the role of exercise in fat loss.

Back in 2012, I did a 5 part series where I dismissed the role of exercise in fat loss based mostly upon my own experiences and what I was seeing with others. Without going back and reviewing those 5 articles, my belief in short was:

  • As we increase our exercise, appetite will rise to meet the additional energy demands. Maybe not initially, but over a longer time frame. This is a healthy response that makes total sense. But we can never out exercise our appetite.
  • Most of the studies that I saw back then that championed the role of exercise for fat loss I felt had flaws. The first was they were usually a short time frame. Weeks or months. Not years or decades. They also were often done with younger people who can recover faster from injuries and have other advantages. Which brings me to…
  • When we get sick or injured or life interrupts our training, appetite is slow to drop to our new energy output. So the gains we made early in our exercise program can easily get wiped out and more.

If my assumptions were accurate there are two ways to respond.

  1. Keep increasing calories and activity until you get to a high enough level that you can achieve G-Flux. For this to work you can’t get injured, sick, or sidelined for too long. In G-Flux, the body finds it inefficient to carry around extra fat, even at a high calorie level. This is different than Matt Stone’s Metabolic Zone in that it requires a high level of activity. I don’t see this option as realistic for 99% of us.
  2. Perform the most sustainable level of exercise you do that minimizes injury risk during the fat loss period. This would be something you can do on normal weeks, busy weeks or even travel weeks if you travel frequently.

Although I don’t think my 5 year old posts are wrong, I now feel based off my current reading that they are incomplete. Before we go further, I want to repeat that there are many great reasons to exercise. Just because it isn’t the best for fat loss, doesn’t mean I’m against exercise. I highly recommend exercise that is safe and sustainable.

Fat Loss and Metabolism

What I was unaware of until recently is that humans have an energy conservation tendency when they lose weight. This is likely a survival technique. From Why Is It So Easy To Regain Weight? by James Krieger:

We know that weight loss will decrease energy expenditure from the simple fact that you have less weight to move around.  However, the question is whether the decrease in energy expenditure is proportional to the weight lost, or if it is greater than what you would expect given the weight lost.  If the decrease is greater than what you would expect, then that means your body is adapting to the weight loss and trying to conserve energy.  In other words, you become more efficient.

The article digs through the numbers of a few studies to show that the dieters are conserving energy. So in addition to having a lower metabolism from losing weight, they are now in a position that makes weight regain much easier because they require even fewer calories than people at their same weight that never dieted – because they are conserving more energy output.

Read the entire article. It was eye opening for me. The author makes a mathematical case that people that lose weight are likely to regain the weight unless they increase their activity, specifically NEAT. NEAT is Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Which PubMed defines as:

…is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting. Even trivial physical activities increase metabolic rate substantially…

I got some push back this weekend when I discussed this energy conservation theory on why regaining weight is common. I was told that when people lose weight they feel more energetic and exercise more. This may be true is some cases, but weight regain is real and these studies are convincing to me. They also make the case for focusing on the NEAT.

The times in my life when I exercised the most were also the times when I sat for long periods. I didn’t think about it at the time, but it was like my body went into an energy conservation mode as soon as I left the gym. And as the article concludes, the decrease in activity came from NEAT not exercise.

Krieger followed up that article with another titled Physical Activity and Weight Regain. Both are excellent and worth reading.

Photo by MC Speedy. Don’t sit so much. Standing is a start. Walk a bit. Take the stairs. 

Reconciling My Views with NEAT

When one starts a fat loss plan it is important to know what can cause failure. If we know that NEAT declines and that we can greatly increase the chances of keeping off lost weight, then gradually building habits that increase our NEAT throughout the diet is an essential strategy.

Focus on the food first. Then as the pounds start coming off direct your attention more towards increasing movement.

Left Knee Update

Standard

On my list of topics to revisit, I included a left knee update. This story took a lot longer than I expected. I think it is boring, but maybe someone can learn something from my experience. Here goes.

In 2013, I began to experience knee pain, which I described in the post My Left Knee is Bumming Me Out. Being a stubborn person that will do anything to avoid going to a doctor, I tried a few things to help my knee – including more rest – but I wasn’t getting any results.

Then in 2014, I left Seattle for the San Francisco area for 6 months. I decided to worry about my knee later. I had a city with hills to explore. Well 6 months turned into 13 months. I urban hiked hundred of miles.

On steeper streets I walked slower, because I only had pain when the knee was more bent. I favored my right leg more and more. And because I couldn’t do any leg exercises in the gym, my left leg lost muscle. My right leg lost some too, because I didn’t see the point in further building up the strong leg. I’m aware there is research that exercising the good leg can benefit the weak one, but I wasn’t inspired.

In 2015 I decided to finally see a doctor. To my surprise X-Rays showed nothing, so he sent me to a physical therapist. If the physical therapist said my problem was worse, I would get an MRI. I needed that sign off first though. OK, I’ll play the game.

At my first visit, the physical therapist took me through a few movements and told me I didn’t need surgery and that we would be able to strengthen my knee. At first I was skeptical, but she explained to me what she was seeing in my movement and how she would go about fixing my knee.

I did custom leg exercises to strengthen all the muscles supporting the knee. Because they had atrophied so much, the knee didn’t have a chance to heal. Making them stronger would take the pressure off the knee, which they did. She also used tape to hold my knee into place, because it was floating to the left, which made it not only inefficient but painful.

After about 2 months, my knee was strong enough to do body weight squats to parallel with no pain. I was back!

In 2016, I used the leg press to regain strength. My strength tripled in 6 months. Then I got over confident and pushed the weight too much and it set me back a few months. But I’m fine now. I don’t know if my knee will ever be 100%, but I’m gaining a little bit more strength each month. On steep hills, I occasionally will lose some stability. Nothing serious though.

I got tremendous benefit from the knee exercises and using a stiff foam roller on my IT Band. Some people discount the foam roller, but all I know is it was one part of my recovery plan that worked.

This page has a video with some of the knee exercises I used. They don’t look like much, but they work when you do them twice a day.

The Urban Hiking Interview

Standard

In December 2015, I was interviewed by a Seattle newspaper about my Urban Hiking adventures, which I document on my Urban Hiking page.

The story was published in February 2016. It was an OK story, but it missed most of my responses. Which is fine. The story wasn’t about me. It was about putting down the cellphone and exploring. The newspaper uses a pop-up overlay window, so I’m not linking to the story.

The number one thing I was hoping to share didn’t make it into the story. It was the first answer below. I really want to stress that it was the speed traps aimed at hikers that pulled me out of nature. In my opinion, if you live in the city of Seattle and not on the Eastside, nature hiking isn’t worth it. Especially now. Bridge tolls, traffic and Johnny Law looking to take your money. Two hours of stress for one hour of peace? Not for me. You’ll find me in the city.

#1 Talk about the reasons you started urban hiking in Seattle

When I first moved to the Seattle area I started in the Bellevue area. Initially I did the hikes along the 90 corridor. They were fine, but I got tired of the speed traps law enforcement was setting up to extract funds from hikers going a few miles per hour over the limit. I never got a ticket. Instead I moved to Queen Anne and traded in my nature hikes for urban hike.

#2 To what extent do you use technology to help you plot courses and navigate? What are the benefits of not using those tools? Did you ever encounter any dangers or get worryingly lost?

When I first started urban hiking in Seattle I was just learning the city, so I brought along a GPS. It had a weak battery, so I didn’t turn it on that much and instead relied on landmarks. After a handful of hikes throughout the city, I stopped using the GPS completely.

It is really hard to get too lost urban hiking in Seattle during the day. We have numbered streets, large bodies of water, bridges and large markers such as the Space Needle and views of Rainier. The benefit of not using technology is you are forced to pay attention to your surroundings. You discover things along the less optimal routes that you might night see if you used a map application.

When I visited Bangkok, Thailand in 2009, I took off exploring the city without a map or any technology. I explored all day. All I did was keep track of how many minutes I walked in each direction and then used those times to reverse course and get me back to my hotel before nighttime.

#3 What have you discovered about yourself, the city and its people by hiking in town?

Unlike other cities I’ve lived in, I tend to run into people I know frequently on my urban hikes. I’ve learned to become more aware of my surroundings. Earlier this year when I was urban hiking through the Haight neighborhood of San Francisco, I saw Carlos Santana exiting a store.

carlos-santa-haight

Using 23andMe to Pick the Best Diet and Exercise Plan For Fat Loss

Standard

It has been a while since I thought about my 23andMe account.

Back in April 2013, I shared my 23andMe health results and did a post on my ancestry. Yesterday I was tipped off to the post These 5 Genes Predict What Kind of Diet and Exercise is Best For Your Body over on Rockstar Research.

The premise of the post is that researchers have discovered that different people respond to different forms of diets and exercises at the gene level. And instead of digging through hundreds if not thousands of pages of research and references, the Rockstar post simplifies all that info into a simple flowchart.

For this post, I will use my data to see which exercise and diet is best for my fat loss.

23andme-gene-explorer

Browse Raw Data – 23andMe

My Data

  • rs4994 = AA
  • rs1042713 = GG

Result #1 = Only High Intensity Exercise Will Help You Lose Weight

  • rs1799883 = not found
  • rs1801282 = CG

Result #2 = You Will Lose 2.5X as Much Weight on a Low Carb Diet

Interesting.

My personal story is that when I did a lot of endurance running, I never got any leaner. Also the time I did lose the most weight was when I cut the carbs. Was it the reduced carbs? Or was it the increased protein in the diet? How much of a role does genetics play here? I don’t know, but this has my attention now. It is one more piece of the puzzle.

UPDATE

After the comment by Anemone, which states that not having the rs1799883 marker in your test results means you should test both paths. So here are more results:

  • rs1801282 = CG

Result #3 = You Will Lose 2.5X as Much Weight on a Low Fat Diet

Going down this path contradicts the previous result. The exercise recommendation remains unchanged. So unless I can figure out what my rs1799883 is, I don’t know if I am genetically more likely to lose fat following a low-carb or low-fat diet.

If you are interested in getting a 23andMe account, use this link and they give me a few dollars for each referral. 23andMe sign up  UPDATE OCT 21: The FDA has lifted the ban on 23andMe giving out health info.