Category Archives: Other

Do women naturally have less muscle building potential than men?

By Fleur van Griensven

When a girl tells people she just started lifting, they often think that she will wake up as a Hulk the next day. They think that lifting makes women look bulky, so they shouldn’t train like men. Another thing you often hear, is that women can never get as big as men, but is that true? Do women naturally have less muscular potential than men? Or can we finally acknowledge the fact that women should train heavy too and that a lot of girls are not living up to their potential by lifting 2 kg pink dumbbells?

Woman_1

The natural muscular potential of women.

Popular opinion is that men have more muscular potential than women and thus can gain more muscle. However, some research indicates that women naturally have roughly the same muscle building potential. A prospective intervention study examined the influences of gender on muscle size responses to strength training. The results were that women can gain the same percentage of muscle mass compared to men during strength training [1].

Studies on protein synthesis came also to the same conclusion. Women have similar muscle protein synthesis rates and thus seem to build the same amount of muscle protein after training compared to men [2]. This is however the conclusion of only a few studies, so more research is definitely needed to be 100% clear that women do naturally have the same muscle building potential. However, this is difficult because these studies take a long time and need to be well-controlled.

When women start training they do have a different body composition. Most of the times, women have less muscle mass and more fat mass compared to men. Women have +/- 12% essential body fat compared to just +/- 3% fat in men [3]. Essential body fat is all the fat which we can not lose without it negatively affecting our physiological functions. It surrounds our organs and nerve tissues. Men and women do have a different starting point when it comes to muscle mass, but they seem to be gaining muscle mass at the same rate. Keep in mind that for the rest of this article I always compare men with a starting point to women with the same starting point, so a same body composition.

How about testosterone?

Testosterone is the most important male sex hormone. Women however do also produce testosterone, even though they have 15 times less active testosterone than men, under normal circumstances [4]. Besides the known functions of testosterone in our body, like development of primary/secondary sexual characteristics and production of sperm, it also plays a positive role in muscle building. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone, which means that it stimulates muscle protein synthesis and thus muscle growth.

Is it then true, because women have less testosterone they also have less potential to build muscle mass? No, this is probably not the case. The testosterone functions are different in men and women. What comes next might be a bit of a complicated story with terms you never heard about, but do not worry about that and try to see the big picture in why having less testosterone as a woman is not that bad at all.

It seems that testosterone is not needed for muscle development in women because growth factors like IGF-1 and growth hormone take over the anabolic role that testosterone plays in men [5]. This has been found in an animal study done with mice, so more studies are necessary to test if this is the case in humans too. However since women can gain muscle with lower testosterone levels, it can be safely assumed that other hormones besides testosterone are involved in this muscle building process.

Women have just as much IGF-1 and produce +/- 3 times as much growth hormone as men [6]. This study shows that despite the fact that women have lower testosterone levels than men, they do have higher growth hormone levels. It could be possible that in women growth hormone partly takes over the role of testosterone. This explains why having less testosterone does probably not limit how much muscle women can build. People think that testosterone is the most important hormone, but there are more hormones that play a role in muscle growth.

The other (sex)hormones combined with the advantages/disadvantages women have.

Estrogen

Where testosterone is the most important male sex hormone, estrogen is the most important female sex hormone. Estrogen is commonly seen as the hormone that makes you fat and frail. However, its positive effects should not be disregarded. Some of these positive physiological effects are:

  • It is anti-catabolic, which means that it prevents muscle loss [7].
  • It aids in muscle repair [8].
  • It is good for connective tissue (bones, ligaments etc.).

The bad reputation of estrogen is based on nothing more than the assumption that if testosterone is anabolic, estrogen must be catabolic. There is a lot of ongoing research and there are indications that it plays a role in muscle growth and the well-being of skeletal muscle. However, more research is needed in the future.

Progesterone

One big disadvantage for a lot of women these days is the use of the anti-contraceptive pill. This holds especially true for the ones containing a lot of progesterone. They do have a negative effect on muscle growth compared to not using an anti-contraceptive pill, because progesterone competes with testosterone for the androgen receptor. Basically, this comes down to less active testosterone when you take in an anti-contraceptive pill with a lot of progesterone [9]. How much of a negative effect occurs is hard to tell, because it is very difficult to study.

Here is a practical tip which you can use to take advantage of the benefit we have being a woman. Hopefully this and more research in the future about some other topics relating the effects of hormones on muscle growth will help you get the most out of your training sessions!

  • We can use a higher rep range.

There are two types of muscle fibres: Type I&II. Type I muscle fibers are known as slow-twitch muscle fibers, which makes them able to contract for a long period of time and more resistant to fatigue. Being able to contract for a long period of time could mean that women can benefit from a higher rep range. This could mean that for women to grow to their full potential, more reps per set need to be done to benefit from the type I fibres which are more  resistant to fatigue and can contract longer. One study came to the conclusion that during exercise in women, a potential conversion to type I muscle fibers or no conversion at all takes place [10]. This study looked at the muscle fibre adaptations during execution of a knee-extension exercise in both young men and women. They found a significant increase in percentage of type I fibres in young women. The study has its limitations: if the muscle fibres had been splitted into type Ia, IIa, IIb etcetera, no significant result would have been found. This also is anecdotal evidence and more research needs to be done.

Conclusion, do women naturally have less muscle building potential than men?

There is some research which indicates that women can gain the same percentage of muscle mass compared to men during strength training [1,2]. However more research is needed.

Why you see more men with a significant amount of muscle mass compared to women and why women aren’t 100% living up to their potential can be contributed to a lot of factors:

  • Mostly social-cultural. There are not as many women compared to men training with weights. If they do train, some of them just do not want to build as much mass as possible. Everyone has their own goal and idea of how they want to look. That is okay, as long as you do what makes you happy and never have someone telling you what you shouldn’t or can’t achieve.
  • If women go to the gym, they spend countless hours on the treadmill or playing around with pink dumbbells, that is for sure not 100% optimal if you want to build as much muscle mass as possible.
  • Oral-contraceptives, which have a negative effect on muscle growth. Part of the anabolic role of testosterone will be taken over by other hormones in women, so testosterone production probably does not limit how much muscle women can build.

More information about this topic for sure will come available in the future as more and more studies are being done on this interesting topic. When that time comes we will update this article and bring you the latest conclusions.

One take home message for all the women out there busting their ass off (or on) in the gym: you probably are not less capable of putting on muscle mass than men, and the only limitations you have are the ones you put on yourself!

References.

[1] Roth, SM (2001). Muscle size responses to strength training in young and older men and women. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 49(11), 1428-33.

[2] O’Hagan, FT (1995). Response to resistance training in young women and men. International journal of sports medicine, 16(5), 314-21.

[3] Vehrs, P (2013). Assessment and interpretation of body composition in physical education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 46-51

[4] Wisse, B (2016, 2 March). Testosterone. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003707.htm

[5] MacLean, HE (2008). Impaired skeletal muscle development and function in male, but not female, genomic androgen receptor knockout mice. FASEB journal, 22(8), 2676-89.

[6] Van den Berg, G (1996). An amplitude-specific divergence in the pulsatile mode of growth hormone (GH) secretion underlies the gender difference in mean GH concentrations in men and premenopausal women. Journal Clinical endocrinal Metab, 81(7), 2460-2467

[7] Hansen, Mette (2014). Influence of Sex and Estrogen on Musculotendinous Protein Turnover at Rest and after exercise. Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews, 42(4), 183-192.

[8] Velders, M (2013). How Sex hormones promote skeletal muscle regeneration. Sports Medicine, 43(11), 1089-1100.

[9] Woock, C (2009). Oral Contraceptive use impairs muscle gains in young women. The FASEB Journal, 23(1).

[10] Martel, G (2006). Age and sex affect human muscle fibre adaptations to heavy resistance strength training. Experimental Physiology, 91(2), 457-464

 

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The optimal way of cardio for burning fat

By Wietse In het Panhuis

We probably all know the struggle of cutting. Sometimes it is difficult to lose fat, even though you are in a caloric deficit. Cardio is a helpful tool to cut down on body fat. Some speculation exists about the cardio intensity that would be optimal to burn fat. Is it better to do cardio with a low intensity for a long time, or a high intensity for a short time?

Energy systems in the body       
Before explaining what the ideal form of cardio is for burning fat, you should have a basic understanding of metabolism in the human body.

The body needs energy for a lot of different processes: basic functions to stay alive, repair and growth of tissue, and physical activity[1]. In this situation we are mainly interested in the latter one. The body gets its energy from the conversion of ATP to ADP (I am sure you know what that is by now). To create ATP, several forms of fuel are used, such as carbohydrates (sugars), fats (fatty acids), and ketone bodies (which are only formed and used when being in a fasted state). These fuels are present in blood and stored in the body. After a meal, food is digested and taken up in the blood via the intestines. However, only small amounts of nutrients are present in the blood, because the blood has a strict range of concentrations of nutrients and other compounds. If these concentrations would be much lower or higher, the body cannot function properly. For example, in total only a few grams of sugar are present in the blood, providing the body with about 20-30 kilo calories (kcal). When you cycle for 2 minutes, all of this sugar will be used up. Therefore, the body needs strict regulations of the nutrients: an excess of nutrients will be quickly stored, and a nutrient shortage will be compensated for by releasing nutrients from the body stores into the blood.

Carbohydrates and sugars are stored in glycogen in the muscle and liver. Fat is mostly stored in adipose (fat) tissue, and some of it in the muscles and around the organs. Proteins can also be used as energy fuel, for which they first have to be converted to sugars (and urea). Protein is present in lots of different tissue, but its main storage location is in the muscles.

When the body needs energy (for example during exercise), it does not exclusively use one type of fuel, instead it will use different forms of fuel at the same time[1]. The situation determines how much of a fuel is used. For instance, when you have not eaten for more than 24 hours, your glycogen stores will be low. Your body will then switch to more fat oxidation (the burning of fat to get energy), and the breakdown of protein (and thus muscle) will be increased in order to supply the body with enough glucose. The latter is important, because the brain can only use glucose as energy fuel, and not fat. If there would be no glucose, the brain would stop functioning. When you have just eaten a big meal, your body will switch to predominantly carbohydrates, and will thus burn less fat or breakdown less muscle for protein.

During exercise, the intensity determines how much carbohydrates and fats will be burned. In general, when exercise intensity increases, carbohydrate oxidation increases[1,2]. Also, fat oxidation will increase when exercise intensity increases, but at some point it will decrease again. Therefore, there is an optimal intensity to burn fat. Implementing this knowledge in your (cardio) workout, could help with optimizing fat loss.

Fatmax
Studies tried to investigate which exercise intensity is ideal for fat loss. This optimal fat burning point, or the exercise intensity at which the maximal fat oxidation rate occurs, has been named Fatmax[3]. Exercise intensity in cardio can be expressed in Wmax: The maximal amount of Watt produced before hitting failure. Wmax is closely related to VO2max, which is the maximal volume of oxygen the body is able to use. Wmax and VO2max therefore reflect pulmonary (lung) and cardiac (heart) functioning. Wmax and VO2max are therefore higher in trained athletes. A Wmax of 100% means maximal intensity of (cardio) exercise. At that point, the body simply cannot work harder because it cannot use more oxygen than it already does.

One study tried to investigate the amount of fat oxidation during different exercise intensities[2]. The exercise intensities in cardio were expressed in Wmax. This study compared the amount of carbohydrates and fats that are burned during rest and at a Wmax of 40%, 55% and 75%. As can be seen in Figure 1, at Wmax 40%, the body will have a fat oxidation of about 50% (muscle and plasma TG + plasma FFA is about 25 KJ/min which is half of the total energy that is burned(50 KJ/min)). At a Wmax of 55%, fat oxidation is about 46% (30 KJ/min fat oxidation, 35 KJ/min glucose oxidation, total 65 kJ/min), so at this point in absolute numbers more fat is burned, but since glucose oxidation increases more, relatively less fat is burned. At a Wmax of 75%, fat oxidation is about 20% (20 KJ/min of total 80 KJ/min), which is both lower in absolute and relative numbers. Thus, exercising at 40% of max Watt has the highest relative fat oxidation.

Figure 1. Quantification of glucose and fat oxidation during different exercise intensities. Muscle glycogen and plasma glucose are part of glucose oxidation, muscle and plasma TG and plasma FFA are part of fat oxidation. %Wmax= percentage of the maximal exercise intensity displayed in Watt. Copied from van Loon et al (2001)[2].

This does not mean that exercising at a Wmax of 40% is best for fat loss. Once again, it depends on the situation:

  1. When you have a lot of muscle mass and you are trying to lose some body fat to get to a low body fat percentage, it is important to minimize muscle loss. When the body is low on carbohydrates (during a cut), it will break down proteins and thus muscle mass to produce sugars. Loss of muscle muss is therefore minimized when fat oxidation is relatively high, and glucose oxidation relatively low. This is the case for a Wmax of 40%: less fat is burned than at a Wmax of 55%, but also much less glucose is burned. In this situation a Wmax of 40% might be ideal.
  2. When you don’t have a lot of muscle mass, and/or when you just want to lose a lot of fat, minimizing muscle mass loss is less important than losing fat. In this case, a Wmax of 55% might be more ideal. In this situation, energy balance is much more important: you just have to burn more than you eat. Therefore, you might also exercise at an intensity of 75% Wmax. You burn less fat and much more glucose in this case, but this will indirectly result in greater fat loss because fat stores will be burned to supply the body with enough energy. However, when having little carbohydrates/glycogen in the system, exercising at a high intensity is very heavy, and it might therefore be a better option to exercise at an intensity of 55% Wmax.

According to literature, the optimal fat burning point could be different for persons, as gender, age, training status, diet and body composition might play a role[3]. An explanation for this could be that the bodies of trained athletes and people who consume low carb diets (either by fasting or high fat diets in the absence of carbs) are more efficient by being better able to switch to fat oxidation. Furthermore, there is some variation in Wmax, as these might differ per day. This variation is estimated to be around 3 to 7%[4]. It is therefore difficult to implement the Fatmax concept with 100% accuracy in your training strategy. It might be that you need a slightly higher or lower intensity than what is recommended to have optimal fat oxidation. However, it might still be a good approach for cutting.

How to implement Fatmax in your training        
To start exercising at a certain intensity, you should know what your Wmax is. To determine Wmax, the following (simplified) protocol on a cycle ergometer could be used[4]:

  1. Warm up for 5 minutes at 100W for males or 75W for females. Maintain at least 60 rotations per minute during the whole test.
  2. Increase the intensity with 35W every 2 minutes, until exhaustion.

Exhaustion =  the point at which you cannot maintain 60 rotations per minute for more than 20 seconds

  1. Write down the maximal work load (W) at exhaustion.

Now you know your Wmax, you can implement the concept of Fatmax into your cardio workout schedule to optimize fat loss.

Conclusion
The concept of Fatmax might be useful with regard to weight loss programs. The concept is however based on assumptions of physiology. I could not find any randomized controlled trials that investigated the validity of Fatmax for weight loss in comparison to another exercise regime. Therefore, it is not sure if optimal fat oxidation results in significantly greater weight loss compared to other fat burning strategies. I would therefore recommend to primarily stick to the key concept in weight loss, which is a negative energy balance. If you are able to implement Fatmax in your weight loss schedule, you might give it a try.

In short, Fatmax can be implemented in your training by:

  1. Finding your Wmax with a cycling test.
  2. Exercise at 40% of Wmax if you want to minimize muscle loss during a cut.
  3. Exercise at 55% of Wmax if you want to maximize fat loss during a cut.
  4. Look at your total exercise energy expenditure. A lower %Wmax also means that the exercise duration should be longer in order to burn the same amount of calories.

References
[1] Jeukendrup, A., & Gleeson, M. (2010). Sport nutrition: an introduction to energy production and performance (No. Ed. 2). Human Kinetics.
[2] van Loon, L. J., Greenhaff, P. L., Constantin‐Teodosiu, D., Saris, W. H., & Wagenmakers, A. J. (2001). The effects of increasing exercise intensity on muscle fuel utilisation in humans. The Journal of physiology536(1), 295-304.
[3] Ghanbari-Niaki, A., & Zare-Kookandeh, N. (2016). Maximal Lipid Oxidation (Fatmax) in Physical Exercise and Training: A review and Update. Annals of Applied Sport Science4(3), 0-0.
[4] Kuipers, H., Verstappen, F. T. J., Keizer, H. A., Geurten, P., & Van Kranenburg, G. (1985). Variability of aerobic performance in the laboratory and its physiologic correlates. International journal of sports medicine6(04), 197-201.

Is sleeping in during the weekend beneficial?

By Wietse In het Panhuis

Probably everyone recognizes this situation: You have had a busy work week, waking up early at 7 am every morning, and going to bed at 11 pm. On Friday, you feel tired and you have the feeling that you should catch up on sleep, but you also want to go to bed later, since it’s weekend. Therefore, you decide not to set your alarm clock on Saturday and Sunday. You stay up late on Friday and Saturday, and you wake up at 11 am on Saturday and Sunday morning. Is this a good idea? Does sleeping in really help to catch up on sleep, rest and recover?

Sleep deprivation          
As mentioned before in my other article on sleep and rest, there is not an optimal sleep duration that works for all people (if you missed the previous article, you can read it here:  https://wageningenbeasts.com/2016/12/04/optimizing-your-sleep-and-biological-rhythm/). Some people need much sleep, others need less. The reason for this is differences in habit, but also differences in genetics (and of course differences in age, but this can be neglected since the readers of this article are probably all students). Therefore, no solid recommendations can be done on how long you should sleep.

If you get less sleep than you need, sleep deprivation (the need for sleep) will accumulate. Often when you have one bad night of sleep, you will still feel fine the next day, but when this happens for a few nights in a row you will start to notice the effects of sleep deprivation. Of course I don’t have to explain to you that (chronic) sleep deprivation is bad for you and can have serious health consequences. That is probably also the reason you want to sleep late during the weekends, to get some more rest. In theory, it is true that the body needs to catch up on sleep when it is sleep deprived, so in that respect you are right. There are however other factors that play a role.

The biological clock       
Like mentioned before in my previous article, the biological clock is a mechanism that (a.o.) informs the body about time: the sensation of day and night. The biological clock is a complex system, because it can be influenced by many factors (think of light, psychological factors, activity, food intake). The complexity is also the reason why the biological clock does not adapt easily to changes in the daily routine. A jet-lag is a perfect example for this. After traveling it takes some time to adjust the sleep rhythm to the new time zone. However, it takes even longer before you are fully adapted to the new time (e.g. when you don’t need an alarm clock to wake up at a certain time). A rule of thumb is: don’t mess with your biological clock! It is best for the biological clock to have a regular pattern in sleep (most important), but also in things like food intake. Big changes in these patterns disturb the clock, which could result in sleeping problems, fatigue, changes in mood, concentration, study performance and metabolism, and in more severe cases (like chronic shift-work) in diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, and even mortality[1-6]. A stable clock is therefore a healthy clock.

When you wake up early during the week and late in the weekend, this is confusing for the biological clock, especially when there is a great difference between the times of waking up. For each day you go to bed and wake up at a different time, the biological clock has to adapt. When sleeping in during the weekend and waking up early on Monday again, the biological clock keeps adapting back and forth. In this way, the body does not fully get used to waking up early during the week. This could possibly be the explanation why you are feeling tired during the week.

What I personally notice, is when I am not used to waking up early, and I wake up early even though I get my hours of sleep, I am still tired. This is because the biological clock is not used to waking up at a different hour, and not because the body did not get enough sleep. When sleeping in during the weekend, the body is not well-adapted to waking up early during the week, and this can cause the sensation of fatigue.

Conclusion
Thus, when you are tired after waking up early for a week, the likely cause of this is that your rhythm during the weekend is different, and not because you don’t get enough sleep. The latter is of course still a possibility, and in that case you could try to go to bed earlier to see if that helps. The answer to the question: ‘Is sleeping in during the weekend beneficial?’ is therefore: No, the benefits of some extra sleep do not outweigh the disadvantage of a disturbed biological clock. If you still want some extra sleep during the weekend, the best thing to do is to go to bed earlier.

Of course this is not a very attractive message. When it is Friday, we want to enjoy our weekend by staying up late and do fun things. This message discourages that. You might accept and implement this message by enjoying your weekend in the morning instead of late in the evening, but I can imagine that you don’t want to give up your nights out. Alternatively, when you go out partying, it might be better to still wake up early (maybe one hour later than on a weekday). In this way, you will have some sleep deprivation, but you can solve this by taking a power nap during the day or by going to sleep earlier in the evening. The upside of this, is that your biological rhythm will be more stable, which will be more beneficial in the long run.

References
[1] Åkerstedt, T., Kecklund, G., & Johansson, S. E. (2004). Shift work and mortality. Chronobiology international21(6), 1055-1061.
[2] Ramin, C., Devore, E. E., Wang, W., Pierre-Paul, J., Wegrzyn, L. R., & Schernhammer, E. S. (2015). Night shift work at specific age ranges and chronic disease risk factors. Occup Environ Med72(2), 100-107.
[3] Antunes, L. C., Levandovski, R., Dantas, G., Caumo, W., & Hidalgo, M. P. (2010). Obesity and shift work: chronobiological aspects. Nutrition research reviews23(01), 155-168.
[4] Li, Y., Sato, Y., & Yamaguchi, N. (2011). Shift work and the risk of metabolic syndrome: a nested case-control study. International journal of occupational and environmental health17(2), 154-160.
[5] Trockel, M. T., Barnes, M. D., & Egget, D. L. (2000). Health-related variables and academic performance among first-year college students: implications for sleep and other behaviors. Journal of American college health49(3), 125-131.
[6] Wolfson, A. R., & Carskadon, M. A. (1998). Sleep schedules and daytime functioning in adolescents. Child development69(4), 875-887.

Weightlifting shoes: yay or nay?

olyshoes_1

By Jasper Remmerswaal

Weightlifting shoes are very common in gyms nowadays. This article gives you a look into the reasons people buy weightlifting shoes and whether you should buy them. I divided the article in three different sections: What do weightlifting shoes actually do, why should you (not) buy them and my conclusion on the topic. I hope you will enjoy this article, and please keep in mind that this article reflects my opinion and is not necessarily the only truth.

Oh, added bonus: I will give some recommendations on shoes that I think are worth the money.

What do weightlifting shoes actually do?

Weightlifting shoes (like the one in the picture) have an elevated heel. An elevated heel will artificially increase the length of your calve muscles. In other words: The degree of ankle dorsiflexion you are capable to achieve in the squat is increased. In other words: You have more ankle range of motion. In other words: Your knees can track more forward with an elevated heel than without one. The picture below illustrates ankle dorsiflexion. Take a good look at it. Imagine if you would put a block under the heel now. The knee would move forward through the wooden board, right? You can also test this yourself: squat down into your deepest squat, and then do it again but this time squatting only on the toes (thus there is room between the floor and your heel). Squatting on your toes will make a deeper squat easier. Weightlifting shoes act according to this principle. In the rest of this article, I will also refer to weightlifting shoes as ‘lifters’. They are both the same thing.

*Why is it called dorsiflexion? Flexion is the term for the bending of a joint, in this case the ankle joint. Dorsal refers to the back of the body. Ankle Dorsal flexion is therefore the bending of the ankle joint, towards the back of the body. Think about it: the toes move close to the back of the body when the knees go forward/when the toes are pulled upwards.

olyshoes_2

olyshoes_3

As an added bonus, weightlifting shoes provide some ankle stability for those who have poor feet (for example flat feet). The shoes can be bound real tight around the foot, and they feel very stable.

So that’s great right? Let’s all buy weightlifting shoes!

Wrong.

Buying lifters is often a good idea, but most people buy them for the wrong reasons. I will list these in no particular order plus another argument against lifters:

  1. They lack adequate flexibility, and instead of working on these problems, they buy shoes and leave the mobility work for what it.

If you are planning on some deep squatting, then weightlifting shoes are a great tool. But it does not mean you should skip the mobility work if you really need it. Don’t buy shoes to mask deficiencies.

  1. They buy lifters because someone told them they are squat shoes and their squat will go up.

Lifters are indeed squat shoes. However, if you squat to parallel and you have no reason or ambition to squat any deeper than that, lifters are absolutely not necessary. At most they provide you with some ankle stability. They won’t increase your squat numbers.

  1. They think that lifters are also made for deadlifting.

Weightlifting shoes increase ankle dorsiflexion and are therefore useful in the (high bar) squat. They will not contribute to your deadlift. They will actually decrease your leverage (=Hefboomwerking) because with shoes you now have artificially longer legs. However, they provide some ankle stability. Still, if your ankles are fine, you are probably better of lifting in just plain shoes with flat soles. I personally deadlift with my lifters on all the time, and I have a good reason for that: I am plain too fucking lazy to change shoes. That’s all right, just don’t think that squat shoes are deadlift shoes.

  1. They squat low bar style.

Increasing ankle dorsiflexion will not contribute to your squat if you squat low bar. The whole point of squatting low bar is to have more hip flexion (a smaller hip angle) compared to a high bar squat. Lifters will give you a more upright position (thus increasing the hip angle) in the low bar squat and in general, this will not benefit your squat numbers in the low bar squat. Look at the picture. LOOK. The left is a low bar squat and the right a high bar. You see that the knees are more forward in the high bar, and the position is more upright (take a look at all the angles in the picture). Squat shoes will make your squat look more like a high bar squat, as compared to a low bar squat: upright position and knees forward. When you use squat shoes in a low bar position, it will make it more high bar like. If you make the low bar look like a high bar, why do low bar in the first place? The discussion of which type of squat style you should pick is a whole other discussion, which I will go into in another article.

olyshoes_4

  1. Squat shoes are expensive as f*ck.

A pair of good squat shoes will easily cost you over 100 euros. A pair of brandless chucks from the Schoenenreus will cost you 7 euro’s. As most people are better of squatting with flat shoes, buying lifters is what we Dutch call a ‘duur grapje’.

Okay okay, so now we have all the reasons to not buy squat shoes. When should we buy them?

  1. You are an Olympic weightlifter.

Increased depth in the squat means increased depth in the clean and in the snatch. If you can catch the bar lower, you are able to handle more weight. Also, having a more upright position is very beneficial because it is easier to handle the bar overhead in a straight line. This is why all Olympic lifters use lifters.

  1. You like to squat deep and incorporate deep squats in your training for whatever reason.

If you like to squat deep and you squat high bar, then lifters are a valuable tool for you. They will give you more stability in the squat plus a more efficient position for squatting deep.

  1. You squat high bar but you lean forward way too much.

Lifters will give you a more upright position. However, use these as a tool and not as a permanent solution! Keep working on your mobility. The added benefit here is that it’s nice that you can still squat in the process of working towards good technique.

  1. You have poor ankle stability.

If you have flat feet for example, lifters may increase your stability in the squat. Squat shoes are very stable and you will notice the difference immediately if your ‘natural stability’ is not that good. However, you can still work on ankle stability and you should also look for orthotics (‘’steunzolen’’ in Dutch) if you want to keep on training without injuries! Shoes are not the solution, but a tool.

My conclusion:

  • If you are an Olympic weightlifter, or you squat deep, go ahead and buy squat shoes.
  • If you squat low bar, you are better off with ordinary flat shoes. If you are a powerlifter who squats high bar (the minority), you might benefit from squat shoes.
  • As a normal gym rat, you probably don’t have to spend money on expensive shoes. But you can if you squat high bar and deep on a regular basis.

Which shoes do I recommend?

I’d like to start of with saying that most people are probably better of with just buying the 9 dollar fake Allstar shoes from Schoenenreus. They are better for just parallel (high bar) squatting, low bar squatting and deadlifting. If you are not one of these people and you decide to buy weightlifting shoes, then I recommend the following.

I personally have a pair of Adidas Power Perfect 2 shoes. These shoes are great for weightlifting and deep squatting, and they are very stable. They have a band (like most weightlifting shoes) so you can really strap them on tight. The elevated heel is pretty large, which is nice for deep squatting, snatching and cleaning/front squatting. They sell a bit over 100 euros.

Then you have the slightly cheaper powerlift 2.0 and 3.0. The shoes are a lot like the power perfect 2’s. The name is very misleading, because powerlifting involves deadlifting and benching and the shoes do not provide any added benefit to those two lifts. Also, the majority of powerlifters squats low bar, and the shoes do not necessarily contribute to a low bar squat. The elevated heel is slightly less when compared to the power perfect 2, which makes it a less valuable shoe for olympic weightlifting. If you are a powerlifter and like the extra ankle stability, then these shoes are for you. If you want deep squatting or if you are a weightlifter, you are better of with the Power Perfect 2. The shoes sell for about 90 euros.

Then you have a more expensive adidas shoe: The Adidas Adipower for Weightlifting. I hear good stories about them and if you want to buy yourself some new shoes, I would recommend you choose between this one and the Power Perfect 2. The elevated heel is about the same in height. They sell for about 180 euros. One thing worth mentioning: about 95% of the people who compete in the top of olympic weightlifting have these shoes. Like really, all of them. Adidas also has one even more expensive model, selling for 225 euros, but I don’t know anybody who wears them so I won’t recommend them.

Nike also makes nice shoes: The Romaleos 2. They sell for about 200 euros. The elevated heel is comparable to the Power Perfect 2 and Adipower. The thing I like about this shoe is that it has two bands with which you can strap it on. I have never had them on myself but I guess this would feel great and it’s very easy to adjust them during training.

I have no experience with other brands, so I won’t recommend them. If you have experience with other brands, please tell me! I am very curious.

A general note: Weightlifting shoes will last multiple years if you treat them right (and not use them for walks, like me). They are really  sports shoes in the long term. I would advise to buy the pair that suits you best, and not the cheapest pair.

I hope you enjoyed this article! If there are still questions, you can send me a message and I’ll gladly help you out.

Jasper Remmerswaal

The squat: Which stretches will quickly improve my squat?

By Jasper Remmerswaal

Can’t do a deep squat? You should. In this article I will give you 3 quick tips on how to improve your squat. I found that these stretches work incredibly good for people who are learning to squat, but don’t have adequate mobility yet.

What is a deep squat?

First let me define the deep squat: The deep squat is the deepest squat you can achieve with your individual anthropometry, and yes, this differs a lot per person. For some people this will be just an inch below parallel, while other people can literally sit their ass on the ground.

Performing a (deep) squat is hard for a lot of people who just start squatting. The issues are often (well actually, most of the time) related to technique, but in this article, this won’t be the focus. Let’s assume your technique is decent, but you still can’t manage to break parallel on your squat. What should you work on?

The problems people run into while squatting, can roughly be categorized into two different mobility problems: problems in the hip region and problems in the ankle region. I will give you a few quick stretches which you can use to improve problems in these regions. If you don’t know where your problems lie: just do all of them. Most people who have mobility problems should just do all the stretches. However, if you really want to specifically assess yourself or you want to know how to asses people that you train: at the end of this article I will give a few ways in which you can assess mobility. Sidenote: there are 10.000 technical cues and stretches to improve the squat. This list will just give you the stretches that I think you should do if you would be forced to just pick a few. If there are anatomical terms in this article that you don’t understand, don’t stress. The important thing is to know which stretches can help you and not whether you understand their anatomical functions completely.

1.The psoas stretchsquat_2

The (ilio)psoas muscle is often shortened because of our sedentary lifestyle. The psoas is responsible for hip flexion, amongst other things. A shortened psoas has numerous consequences, about which I could write an entire article. I will leave that for another day and just state that when you are not flexible in this region, your squat might suffer from it.

squat_3The arrow shows in which way you should direct the force in the stretch. You really want to push your hips forward and sort of down. I always put my hands on my ass and push my hips into the direction of the arrow to get more of a stretch. Stretching this region is probably the most important of all the mobility work you do. The body of evidence on how long you should stress is not conclusive. My suggestion is to do it as much as you need it. If you don’t notice improvements, do it some more. I take at least 30 seconds per stretch (but for example the straddle can be done for 20 minutes while watching tv), but that doesn’t mean that stretching for 20 seconds doesn’t do anything. A general rule is more stretching → more flexibility

2. The straddle/side splitsquat_4

The straddle position stretches the adductor muscles. These muscle lie on the inside of your leg. The function of these muscles? Adduction of the leg! This stretch will help you when you experience trouble pushing the knees out in the squat. As an added bonus, you can pull your toes towards you, stretching the calf muscles too. Advice: build this stretch up gradually. I actually ripped a tendon when I wanted to show someone this stretch. Ripping a tendon hurts. Really bad. On top of that, you can imagine that physical therapy gets awkward real fast when you ripped a tendon situated 3 cm next to your junk! Better have a smokin’ hot therapist then.

squat_5

3.  The squat stretch

The third stretch is a stretch which I just refer squat_6to as the ‘squat stretch’. You basically sit in the desired position, and use a power rack (or anything else) to keep you balanced. Try to achieve a perfect position while doing this. Don’t go deep for the sake of going deep. Try to keep a nice flat back, like in the picture to the left. The picture below should only be used as a resting position and nothing more than that.  You can also do this stretch a little more dynamically, bouncing up and down a bit, as opposed to the first two stretches, which are more static.

4. Ankle dorsiflexion stretch

The last stretch is an ankle stretch and I must say that it is brutally effective. This has literasquat_7lly made people able to squat deeply within a matter of a few minutes. If ankle mobility is a big issue, this works like an absolute charm. The downside: it hurts a bit.

Load a bar with some weight, deadlift it, slowly go into the squat and put it on the end of your thighs. Now just sit in it for two minutes. After these two minutes, you will probably already be able to squat deeper. Doing this on the regular will ensure that the gained mobility will stick

.squat_8\

Quick bonus: assessing mobility (on yourself or clients)

Be aware of the fact that there are multiples ways of assessing mobility in different muscles. If you have always done this in another way, that’s perfectly fine. Also realise that the stretches themselves also functions as an assessment. If you can’t do a stretch nearly as good as other people, those target muscles are obviously tightened. So, without further ado:

Iliopsoas assessment

Functional assessment of the iliopsoas muscle can be done through the Thomas test. In this test you simply lie on a table, flat on your back. You then pull the knee towards the chest and check whether your lumbar spine (so the lower back) and your straight leg are still in contact with the ground. You will need someone else to place their hands under your spine and hamstring to check whether change occurs. When the body needs to compensate (so there is room between the table and the body), your psoas could very well be in a shortened state. However, if people walk around with a shortened psoas, this can be easily seen from their posture. There will probably be a whole different article on this later.

Adductor assessment (the straddle) squat_9

Again, you need someone else for this. Lie straight on your back and point the toes upwards. When testing the left leg, the person testing you should fixate your pelvis on the right, at the S.I.A.S (Google is your friend, the SIAS is easy to spot). The guy in the picture does not do this, but you should. The testers start turning the leg outwards. What he must look for is movement in the pelvis (look at the S.I.A.S) on the side of the leg that is tested. When movement in this point occurs, it means that the pelvis has moved. The body has compensated for limited range of motion in the adductors. If people can’t get to 45 degrees of range of motion, then that is generally considered to be tight.

Ankle dorsalflexion assessment

Stand with your feet against the wall (quiet corner time). Take a small step back with the leg that you want to test. Half a feet (so your own feet) distance is about right. Put a dot on the floor so you can compare both ankles with each other. Then take a big step back with the other leg. You’ll end up in the position shown in the picture.

squat_10

You ankle dorsiflexion should at least be good enough to allow your knee to hit the wall. Repeat this process with the other leg to see if there a differences between both ankles.

I hope this article has provided you with some quick and easy to use tools. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Anatomy for dummy’s, vol. 1: Anatomical direction terms

By Jasper Remmerswaal

Terminology for reading this article:1

  • Hamstrings: The muscles on the back of your body, between the knees and the butt.
  • Glutes: The gluteal muscles. Your ass.
  • Spinal erectors: The muscles that run along your back that assist in extending the back.
  • Rotator cuff: A group of muscles responsible for keeping the top of the arm in place with the shoulder.

This article is part of a series of articles and will be a small introduction into understanding anatomy. These articles will briefly explain the universal language that is used in anatomy and the physical therapist discipline. In this article,
the anatomical position and the anatomical directions are explained.

The anatomical position
The first thing that has to be kept in mind is that when anatomical directions and terms are discussed, they are always relative to the anatomical position (see picture). This agreement has been made because simple left/right and up/down does not cut it. Easy example: Up and down changes if someone is standing up compared to when someone is lying down. The agreement is, that every position is related to the anatomical position so there won’t be misunderstandings.

The anatomical position is: standing straight up, feet closely together and the palms turned forward. This position is always used when articles refer to places on the body.

Now that the anatomical position is defined, the anatomical directions can be defined. If the Dutch translations are different from the English terms, the correct Dutch translation is given. If there is no extra translation, you can assume that the term is the same, or very similar in Dutch. Sometimes a small explanation is given in Dutch to make things more clear for Dutch readers. I have added pictures.

The anatomical directions
All anatomical directions come in pairs of two, with the pair being each other’s opposite.

Anterior – posterior2

Anterior refers to the front of the body, while posterior refers to the back of the body. In the literal sense, anterior means ‘’in front of’’ vs. posterior ‘’behind off’’. In Dutch: ‘’Aan de voor/achterzijde gelegen’’. The deltoid muscles, your three-headed shoulder muscle complex is a good example of this. There is the posterior deltoid muscle, located on the backside of the body, the medial/lateral (explained later) deltoid muscle and the anterior deltoid muscle, located on the front of the body. Also, a common term, the posterior chain is mentioned quite often in articles. This posterior chain term refers to the hamstrings, glutes and lower back/spinal erectors (the posterior chain includes more muscles: A more thorough explanation is beyond the scope of this article). This chain is located on the backside of the body, hence the name posterior chain.

Ventral – Dorsal

Ventral is a synonym for ‘’towards the front of the body’’ while dorsal means ‘’towards the back of the body’’. ‘’Venter’’ is Latin for ‘’stomach’’, while ‘’dorso’’ is Latin for ‘’back’’. Example: lattisimus dorsi. The name of this muscle tells you that it is a back muscle because of the word ‘’dorsi’’.

You might have noticed that the pair anterior – posterior and the pair ventral – dorsal are very much alike. This is correct and they are practically each other’s synonym. The reason both are mentioned here is because both are used (medical science is really not that consistent in its terminology). An example to make this clear: the anterior deltoid, is on the ventral side of the body.

Sinistero – dextro

3Sinister simply means ‘’to the left’’ of the body, while dextro means ‘’to the right’’. Don’t forget that these positions are related to the anatomical position. Left and right are defined from the anatomical position’s (or patient’s) point of view. In practice, these terms are never used but I thought it was really important to mention them because the terms are much like the Italian words for ‘’right’’ and ‘’left’’ meaning you are now able to say ‘’Go left!’’ to your annoying taxi driver, when in Rome (the correct Italian terms are destra & sinistra by the way, but he will understand). You’re such an educated, multicultural guy, you.

Distal – proximal4

Distal refers to the point furthest away from the trunk ór the origin of the body part, while proximal refers to the point closest to the trunk (romp in Dutch) ór closest to the origin of the body part. An example would be that your toe lies more distal compared to your knee (because the toe’s lie further from the trunk than the knee. An extra explanation for the ‘’closer/further from the origin’’: When we talk about distal/proximal in relation to limbs ( ledematen in Dutch), you can say that the hand is more distal than the shoulder (or the shoulder is more proximal), because the shoulder is closer to the attachment of the body.

Medial – lateral

5The ‘median’ first has to be defined in order to explain these terms. The median is simply the midline from the top of your skull down to the floor, splitting you in two equal parts, left and right. The term medial refers to something lying towards the midline, while lateral refers to something lying towards the outside of the body. An example: The shoulders lie lateral when compared to the knees. The knees lie more towards the midline of the body, and therefore lie more medial. Fun fact: The term medial deltoid, which is often used to describe the 2nd deltoid muscle (so the one in the middle) is actually wrong. Lateral would be a more appropriate description. When someone says: ‘’That’s a good exercise for your medial deltoid bro!’’, hit them over the head with a barbell.

Superior – inferior (In Dutch often called Craniaal – Caudaal)6

Superior refers to ‘’towards the top of the head’’, while inferior refers to ‘’towards the feet’’. An example would be two of the four muscles of the rotator cuff (hardcore explanation: the muscle group responsible for holding the top of the humerus in the gleno-humeral socket): The supraspinatus and the infraspinatus. It doesn’t really matter whether you understand what these muscles are and what they do. The thing to realize here, is that supra refers to ‘’towards the head’’, while infra refers to ‘’towards the feet’’. See picture. Thus you can determine the place of the muscles in relation to each other, even without looking at a picture. The supraspinatus is located higher than the infraspinatus.

Internal – external (In Dutch often called centraal – perifeer)

Internal refers to ‘’the inside of the body’’, while external refers to ‘’the outside of the body’’. For the average reader the take-home message here is that these terms are often combined with rotation. The shoulder joint and hip joint are both joints where internal and external rotation takes place (in Dutch: endo- en exorotatie). For the shoulder this can be demonstrated by sticking the arms out, like a zombie, with the palms down, facing the floor. Then turn the palms to the ceiling and watch what happens at the shoulder. The shoulders turn outward: external rotation. Reversing this process is then called internal rotation of the shoulder. At the hip joint, external rotation takes place by turning the feet 7outwards (‘flaring’ the feet). The femur (the thighbone) will turn outwards: external rotation. Reversing this process is then called internal rotation of the femur. See picture.

I hope you enjoyed this article and learned something. Hopefully, you will suddenly recognize these terms in the articles that you read and you may even start to understand the anatomical language. I also hope you are now able to overcomplicate simple concepts, by using words that most people do not know. This wíll make you look smarter and superior to other people, which is a good thing. Say things like ‘’your knees have a tendency to move medial in your squat’’ instead of ‘’your knees move in bro’’. Sound smart, don’t be smart. Being smart takes too much time. That’s it for the anatomical directional terms. In the next article, I will try to ‘Jip en Janneke’ the basic movements planes and axes for you.

References used for inspiration

  1. Snellenberg, W. (2016). Handboek sportmassage (13de druk). Utrecht: Kosmos Uitgevers.
  2. Myos opleidingen, (2016, 6 november), Anatomie [Powerpoint].
  3. Joe., & https://www.kenhub.com/eC. Chaves. (2013, 1 december). Directional Terms and Body Planes Consulted 10-10-2016, n/library/anatomy/directional-terms-and-body-planes

The glove discussion: Should I use them?

 By  Jasper Remmerswaal

This article is my personal opinion and its arguments therefore all arise from my own logic and empiricism. These are not facts backed by science but opinions backed by my own logic and experiences.gloves_1

A lot of people in the gym use gloves. Guys, girls, young people, old people. The reasons for using these gloves are not all known to me, but on the most common things I hear is that ‘’Gloves give me more grip strength.’’. I also think that a lot of people wear gloves because they think it looks cool, but I have no study backing up this statement. In this small article I will tell my view on the usage of gloves and what I think are the pro’s and con’s. Read the rest of this entry