Tipping Point

January 27, 2011

What if all the supposed health benefits of gobbling up your fruits and vegetables were nothing more than a fancy marketing campaign? That’s the controversial claim raised this week in an article out of the UK, and amplified by talk radio. Not only is the five-a-day message nothing more than an advertising slogan conjured up by a group of produce companies, but recent studies also suggest that a diet of roots and berries provides no health advantages:

[A large study], which examined half a million people over eight years, reported that fruit and veg offer no protection against breast, prostate, bowel, lung or any other kind of tumour. Those eating the most fruit and veg showed no difference in cancer risk compared with those eating the least.

I’d like to look more closely at the internals of that study. But what if working class fruits and vegetables, and their royal kin – açaí berries, pomegranates – are in fact the icons of a new religion? For eons, people have worshipped a higher power to achieve good health and guard against misfortune. Perhaps we now expect the same security from Superfoods – and apparently without any evidence.

However, I believe the article goes too far in its attack on fruits and fruit sugar, noting that fructose “goes straight to the liver, and is stored as fat. Very few people understand or want to believe this biochemical fact.”

But surely, since you need calories for energy, you are better off consuming your sugars from a natural source? The author provides no real alternative. Before declaring fruits to be literal eye candy, I would recommend the author take a trip to this country, where even the donut shops offer a drive-thru window.

In any event, the article concludes that natural fats (as opposed to trans-fats) are “essential to our wellbeing”:

According to a recent survey, the British people are deficient in vitamins A, D, E — all of which are fat-soluble. If we added a dollop of butter to our portion of vegetables, they would be better for us — not worse.

Do we really need more fat in our diet? Again, I think a stateside visit for this author would be eye-opening. The image below is not a Photoshop, but an actual item coming to store shelves near you:

Essential to our wellbeing

(H/T: laughingsquid.com)

From Top to Bottom

January 22, 2011

I’m a fan of basic, compound movements that work large muscle groups. I’ve even read that powerful movements like squats and deadlifts can cause the body to release a flood of growth hormones. However, sometimes due to necessity, sometimes choice, gym members spend a great deal of time focusing on smaller body parts. Here are 10 exercises for secondary muscles that people can probably do without:

10. Rear delts/forearms: The poor condition of gym equipment often makes self-maintenance unavoidable. For example, when you want to adjust the setting on a hamstring machine, you’ll first build your forearms trying desperately to unscrew the knob that has rusted and stuck. When that fails, you’ll build your rear delts by lifting up a 5 lb weight plate and smashing it down on the knob.

9. Neck: It’s one thing to flip through a magazine while riding a stationary bike. It’s a whole different kind of workout to read while bouncing up and down on a treadmill. This activity requires tremendous neck strength in order to lock your gaze in place. The woman I saw recently performing this feat was even reading some dense academic journal with tiny 9 point font. I know I can’t do it.

8. Wrist/hands: Though the failure of members to wipe down their equipment after use is a literal gym plague, there’s one guy at my gym who is a massive over-wiper. In addition to wiping down the equipment pads, he’ll soak the machine’s handles, dust the frame, and clean the machine’s cables. Dude, it’s not like you’re even sweating in the first place.

7. Jaw: I took clarinet lessons when I was young, and my teacher held a yearly recital for all her students. One year, a saxophonist played through his entire concerto with gum in his mouth, sometimes chewing. Whenever I see someone at the gym chomping her way through a workout, I am reminded of this performance: not remarkable for its quality, but for the ability to combine previously mutually exclusive activities.

6. Muscles of the orbit (eye): I know that many gym etiquette sites take issue with women who exercise in outfits intended for the beach. Personally, I don’t know what the problem is. If you have genetic gifts or you’ve earned your body at the gym, then do whatever works for you. However, interesting things happen when a scantily clad woman sets up next to a guy working out with his wife/girlfriend. The guy’s intense focus on his significant other, combined with the obvious straining of his peripheral vision, provides superb conditioning for the eye muscles.

5. Lips/gums: I give this one guy at the gym a large berth, but I’m still able to observe from afar his astonishing verbal stamina. He doesn’t stop talking when he’s lifting his weights, he doesn’t stop when someone is talking to him. He doesn’t stop talking when he’s taking a sip of water. It’s a cloud of noise, like a lawnmower, that annoys more or less depending upon your proximity.

4. Achilles Tendon: The explosive fibers in the back of the leg often come in handy jumping out of the way of – or running away from – fellow gym members. For example, the guy lifting weights while perched on a swiss ball is a danger to himself and the people around him. Likewise, I’ve hightailed it out of the gym’s sauna when a fellow member began the process of burning the whole place down.

3. Diaphragm: Hard laughing can put a substantial stress on the muscles of the lower torso:

I was on a treadmill once and the guy next to me thought he’d jam his speed up to the max … next thing I know he’s making some god almighty noises and trying desperately to stab at the controls while continuing to run. Several seconds later just when I thought this guy’s head was gonna blow off he managed to slam his hand down on the emergency stop and the sudden deceleration launched him into the mirror in front of the machine … don’t you just hate trying to cover up a major attack of hysterics?!?!

2. Forearms/front delts: You could perform an entire workout just putting other people’s weights back where they belong. I’ve never understood the mentality of loading up a barbell for squats or bench presses, completing your sets, and then simply walking away. This behavior is the equivalent of going to a food court, having your lunch, and then leaving behind a tray scattered with an empty milk carton, used silverware and half-eaten sandwich.

1. Elbow: When your fellow member launches his weights through the gym window, and your mouth falls open at the spectacle of a barbell rolling down the carpark, you’ll use the flexibility in your arm to reach up and return your chin to its default position.

Whatever It Takes

April 5, 2009

A heavyset gentleman stepped onto the locker room scale. He looked down at the digits, then sighed in disgust and cursed loudly. He raised his head and glowered at the reflection in the mirror. His eyes betrayed his anger at himself, and then expressed a fresh resolve.

As he turned to leave, the guy nodded to an acquaintance passing by.

“See you tomorrow?” his friend asked.

“Naah,” the guy responded. “Maybe Tuesday.”

Diamond in the Rough

December 17, 2008

Competence is such a rare commodity. In any endeavor, when you find people who know what they’re doing, you savor the experience, consuming it eagerly and letting some of the sweet liquid run down your chin.

At the gym, you’ll often find yourself hoping to learn something from fellow members’ pushing and pulling.  The challenge is to identify among the workout rabble those few lifters worth emulating.dip-belt1

Spotting the clowns is often easy. Last week, I saw a guy exercising with a dip belt on backwards, so that the chains banged against his low back while the wide back support hindered bending in front.  Regardless, buffoons also show up in fitness camouflage, using snazzy outfits, weight belts and conspicuous note-taking to create the illusion of expertise.

So what credential is carried by almost every fitness buff? The answer is: thick, well-defined calves. One glance below the knee will tell you much about a person’s commitment to exercise.

Diamond-shaped calves are the trademarks of athletes serious about cardio: runners for sure, or even better, those into jumping rope. For bodybuilders, calves are also known as the most stubborn body part; toughened by everyday use, calves respond only after years of hard training. A person with big calves cares about a balanced physique top to bottom, and is someone whose workout may well be worth watching.

Door Man

July 6, 2008

A few years ago my gym closed the men’s locker room for renovation, and during this time turned the women’s locker room into a unisex bathroom. I don’t remember how this played out exactly – I guess showering was reserved for only those without the least sense of modesty. I do recall thinking like a third-grade boy how cool it was to be hanging out in the women’s bathroom, if only just to throw my gym bag into a locker. I also felt there was sure to be trouble when the men’s room finally reopened, and guys still walked into the ladies’ room out of force of habit.

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of an exterior locker room door. For example, my gym was able to cover the ladies’ room door with warnings during and after renovation – one last deterrent against a co-gender calamity. At many gyms, however, the locker room entrances are nothing more than cavernous openings, with privacy achieved through the architecture of interior walls.

I recently worked out at a gym I hadn’t visited in a number of years. The entire gym had been overhauled, and the locker rooms were completely redone. For whatever reason, the location of the men’s and women’s locker rooms had also been reversed. Only a small sign on the wall by each opening indicated which members belonged where.

Just like old times, I powered through a tough workout at this gym. I finished exercising and wandered into the men’s room, my head down in a post-workout fog.

When I looked up, I was surprised not only by how substantially the layout of the men’s room had changed in the last hour, but also by the presence of two women wearing only shorts and bras. I suddenly realized I had two choices. I could either say “Oops, sorry!” and sprint out of there, clearing my conscience but drawing attention to myself. Or, I could quietly reverse course and slip away like some peeping-tom. While I debated these choices in my head, my legs took over. I spun away from my blunder and rushed out, diving into the sanctuary of the adjacent men’s room.