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Scientists just found that red meat causes cancer … or did they?

Recently there’s been quite some media frenzy over a short summary paper released by a group of researchers affiliated with the World Health Organization (WHO) titled, “Red Meat as Carcinogenic as Smoking!” The research was a short summary of over hundreds of  studies on the topic which led them to their strong conclusions that Red meat can cause cancer. But there is much more to the findings that need to be understood before accepting this statement as absolute truth. Today’s post comes from the good people over at Examine.com Enjoy! – FR

Scientists just found that red meat causes cancer… or did they?

Posted by KamalPatel on Oct 27, 2015

In the past couple days, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably been seeing headlines of the “Red Meat as Carcinogenic as Smoking!” variety.What happened? Just a year and a half ago, we covered the (ludicrous) media frenzy on “High Protein Diets as Dangerous as Smoking”. Are reporters taking crazy pills, or is there really something to the headlines this time?To understand this issue, you have to understand just a bit about the science of red meat metabolites as well as about epidemiology. The following is a quick primer. But before reading, please realize that being labeled as a carcinogen is fairly common: Not only are harmful compounds like alcohol potentially carcinogenic, but so are the health elixirs aloe vera and yerba mate tea. The actual impact depends on the dose, what makes up the rest of your diet, and many other factors.

The connection between red meat and cancer is more complex than most articles suggest. It’s going to take more than a couple minutes to understand the research issues involved.

Know your meat

First off, you better know what exactly red meat is, if you’re planning to enlighten your friends on this issue (don’t actually enlighten them unless they ask … people hate it when you give unprompted nutrition lectures).

Pork is not white meat, no matter what the television tells you. The meat of mammals like pigs is typically red when raw, due to its high hemoglobin content, so researchers and the USDA consider pork to be red meat.

Although both fish and chicken fall under the white meat category, they’re pretty darn different in nutrient content. So we can already see that the red vs. white dichotomy is a bit too simplistic to rationally motivate health or policy decisions, without even delving into grass-fed meat vs. cheap grain-fed meat, or other assorted issues. But there is something in red meat that could potentially cause cancer: That very same hemoglobin we mentioned may have unique properties, and those properties may depend on how the meat is processed and cooked. We’ll get more into that in a moment.

Red meats are not all the same, and neither are white meats. Oh, and pork is not white meat.

What did the paper actually say?

If you’re a big advocate of red meat and know something about nutrition (especially just enough to be dangerous), be careful not to scoff at these findings and presume you know more than the scientists do.

The headlines are based on a short summary paper that refers to a massive analysis of over 800 studies. Earlier this month, experienced researchers met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), and came up with some strong conclusions on red meat.

Specifically, with regard to colorectal cancer, they classified processed red meat as a “Group 1” carcinogen (“carcinogenic to humans”). As for regular red meat, it was classified as a “Group 2A” carcinogen (“probably carcinogenic to humans”).

There are a few important things you should know straight off the bat. First, the findings were mostly referring to cancer of the colon or rectum. While colorectal cancer is very important (it’s the third leading cause of cancer death in the US), you can’t generalize the researchers’ findings to all other cancer types.

Cancer is not one monolithic condition. The researchers were mostly making conclusions about one type: colorectal cancer.

Second, it’s not like we didn’t know this stuff already. Processed red meat has been strongly linked to colorectal cancer for many years (we’ll get into the mechanisms later). Regular ol’ unprocessed red meat is more of a mixed bag in terms of evidence, but still has several mechanisms by which it may increase cancer incidence.

It’s extra funny that the media headlines of the past days have been so extreme, since they’re based on a 1.5-page summary! The full conclusions will be disclosed at a later time in a WHO monograph on processed red meat and cancer. The currently available publication doesn’t even begin to delve into the overall risk of cancer or the magnitude of the risks of different cancers — we’ll have to wait for the monograph to find out (at which point crazy media headlines will once again ensue).

This isn’t really new information. It’s based on studies that have been conducted for the past 10-20 years. So this is more of a new framing of evidence than a presentation of new evidence. Plus, the full paper isn’t even out yet.

Third, just because the WHO is a big (big) deal doesn’t mean they can’t be wrong. Wrong is a strong word though, let’s just say “slightly off”. For example, let’s look at their position on salt intake. Their guidelines call for less than 2,000 mg of salt a day, despite other organizations like the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) having updated their views based on new research. A large amount of research shows that keeping salt intake under than 2,000 mg/day doesn’t just lack evidence for benefit, but might actually be harmful.

That doesn’t mean that eating a ton of salt via processed food is healthy. It just means that obsessive salt reduction is probably not a great idea for most people. Salt is an essential nutrient, after all.

Expert opinion doesn’t equal fact. Major health organizations have disagreed on the health impact of food and nutrients several times before.

Fourth, much of the evidence that was reviewed was epidemiological evidence, observing people over time to see if disease develops. Some people mistakenly ignore these studies, thinking that the “gold standard” randomized trial is the only acceptable type of evidence. Wrong. You can’t really do many cancer randomized trials, since cancer takes so long to develop and so many potential causative factors are involved. So the only option is combining a ton of epi evidence with animal and in vitro studies, plus a sprinkling of randomized trials that look at intermediate outcomes.

But you have to take the bad with the good with epi evidence — human diets and lifestyles are so variable that synthesizing the results of studies on Japanese people with the results of studies on Americans is going to be … difficult.

Much of the evidence reviewed was observational/epidemiological in nature, rather than from randomized trials. This means that causation is hard to pin down.

Credit: Cancer Research UK

Finally, and we can’t say this enough: The dose makes the poison. If you make a habit of eating bacon for breakfast, brats for lunch, and ham for dinner, then your total dose of red meat is high, plus it’s the processed kind that is much more likely to cause cancer. But if you have a grass-fed beef burger once or twice a week, that’s not even close to being a sure-fire recipe for cancer.

Red meat is not inherently unhealthy. As with most everything, the type and dose make the poison.

First suspect: NOCs

We’ll now give a quick rundown of physiological mechanisms. When it comes to understanding why red meat might or might not impact cancer, understanding those mechanisms matters more than the ability to regurgitate the content of various epidemiological studies.

We’ve established that the key cancer here is colorectal cancer. So most of these mechanisms have to do with intestinal damage.

If you’re in the habit of teaching your toddler nutritional science, then we’ve got some good news for you: Two of the villains in the red meat and cancer story are colors! Specifically, red and black. And one possible hero is also a color: green. Since Halloween is around the corner, just think of it as pirates versus jolly green giants.

Red meat is red because of hemoglobin, the red pigment in blood. When we eat red meat, part of this pigment can be processed in the gut into something called N-nitroso compounds (NOCs), which can damage the gut lining. When cells in the gut lining are damaged, the gut repairs itself by cell replication, and DNA damage can occur over time.

But unprocessed red meat (like a steak or ground beef) doesn’t have as direct an impact on gut damage as doesprocessed red meat (like bacon or hot dogs). The chemicals in these products can lead to NOCs being formed at a faster rate than from the meat itself.

Luckily, most people don’t eat an all-red-meat diet. And it turns out that if you eat green veggies with your meat, evidence (animal evidence mostly) suggests that the colon cancer risk can be substantially reduced! The reason is that the green chlorophyll molecule is basically a heme molecule, but with a magnesium atom instead of an iron atom in the middle. Having some of that in your gut to compete with the meat pigment might reduce or potentially eliminate them from beingturned into dangerous chemicals.

One mechanism for red meat increasing the risk of colorectal cancer is gut damage from chemicals such as NOCs. This comes about directly from the red pigment in these meats. But red meat as part of a plant-rich diet might be less dangerous.

Second suspect: Heat compounds

The other villain is that delicious char that forms on grilled foods. It turns out that this char, and high cooking in general, creates chemicals that can damage the gut, such as heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Red meat produces higher levels of these chemicals than white meat. As a side note, this is an excellent example of literal caveman/paleo eating not being inherently healthy: Cooking meat over an open fire on a regular basis would subject you to high levels of harmful chemicals. Yet again, you have to consider the entirety of a meal. Certain compounds in cruciferous veggies (like broccoli or Brussel sprouts) may substantially reduce the impact of HCAs in cooked meat. And, thank goodness, even marinades with certain spices can reduce HCAs! Caribbean spices seem to perform the best, which is a clear indication that you should vacation there, or perhaps even in the actual Spice Islands.

Those black char lines might be a flavoring benefit but a health disaster — depending on how frequently you eat them, that is, plus whether you eat certain veggies with them, and what you marinate your meat with, if you marinate it at all.

Third suspect: Iron

Red meat is rich in iron, and iron is the goldilocks of all minerals. Many people are low in iron, so anemia is a public health concern. But on the opposite end, iron is very easily oxidized (think rust). The iron in meat can easily build up in intestinal cells, since it isn’t tightly bound to other compounds like it is in many plants. When this iron oxidizes, it eventually causes cell damage, which makes its link to colorectal cancer quite easy to understand.

There’s a reason why iron supplements aren’t recommended to the general population: In the body, even moderately high levels of iron can be dangerous — especially to colon cells, according to the recent IARC paper.

Fourth suspect: TMAO

You may have heard the term “TMAO” batted around in relation to red meat. What exactly is it? Disambiguation: It’s not that acronym people type when they find something funny on the Internet (that’s LMAO). No, TMAO stands for Trimethylamine N-oxide, a controversial compound that some research has linked to colon cancer. Different meats have different amino acid profiles, and red meat happens to be high in L-carnitine. L-carnitine gets metabolized by some of the bacteria in your gut, and eventually turns into TMAO.

While many studies link TMAO to disease, there’s more to this than meets the eye. If you’re a gut microbiome junkie, you probably know that two individuals can have extremely different gut bacterial profiles. In fact, vegans and vegetariansproduce less TMAO from a given dose of L-carnitine than do meat eaters. It turns out that certain types of bacteria can increase your TMAO production, while other types can decrease it. It’s possible that a gut full of friendly flora could make TMAO much less of an issue.

TMAO got a lot of press around 2012-2013 for being “the reason” why red meat is unhealthy. But that’s overly simplistic — your gut bacteria are the factories that produce TMAO, so gut health and bacterial profile is key in determining the impact of red meat.

Fifth suspect: Neu5Gc

We’ve already covered Neu5Gc in great depth in our monthly research digest, so we’ll make this quick. All mammals other than humans (plus, strangely, ferrets, along with a very few monkey species) have a type of sugar in their bodies called Neu5Gc, whereas we have Neu5Ac. Since the molecules are so similar, Neu5Gc can get incorporated into our cells; but since they’re still different, Neu5Gc can then become prey to the immune system, which results in inflammation. Previous evidence showed that human tumors can contain high levels of Neu5Gc. And then in 2015, the first strong animal study of this compound showed that very very high levels can cause cancer in mice.

If you eat red meat (or drink milk), you’re likely to have antibodies to Neu5Gc. Vegans don’t have these antibodies, suggesting that consumption of animal products is the reason why these antibodies exist in humans. Neu5Gc has a plausible mechanism for increasing cancer risk. The doses required are unknown, though.

Recommendations

Examine.com is not a diet guru, we just collect and interpret evidence. But it’s pretty clear from the evidence that eating red meat every day has a decent chance of increasing cancer risk, specifically colorectal cancer. Consuming high amounts of processed red meat in particular is really playing with fire. And actually, playing with fire (in the form of grilling meat very often) is also playing with fire. So mix up your cooking methods, and try some gentle cooking techniques if you haven’t already.

But all that being said, the evidence is mostly observational or mechanistic in nature. Due to the practical impossibility of running multi-decade controlled trials, the increased risk from eating different amounts of red meat is not really known. In this case, as in many others, moderation may be key.

It’s important to remember that just because something is shown to have carcinogenic effects, doesn’t mean it will cause cancer. An increased risk can be small or big, and while the increase seen with processed meat is relevant because it’s avoidable, the risks are still nowhere near something like smoking cigarettes.

 

Why Stress Makes You Want to Eat Everything in Sight (or Nothing at All)

Stress in it’s various forms is unavoidable throughout the course of our days and lives, and in certain examples, such as exercising or our natural fight or flight response, it is actually a good thing. The major concern for us all is when stress becomes chronic, which for most of us may lead to patterns of over eating, or not eating at all. Research has proven that various form of stress will cause a release of certain chemicals within our bodies, eliciting different negative or positive responses and outcomes. The keys lie in discovering what the certain triggers are, and implementing good stress relief techniques on a consistent basis. I personally begin my days with a few minutes of  spiritual reading and prayer before having breakfast and looking at my phone to check my work calendar and emails, and / or social media. This helps me set the tone for my day and prepare both mentally & physically. Today’s post comes from the team over at Greatist.com. I hope you enjoy it! – FR

 

Why Stress Makes You Want to Eat Everything in Sight (or Nothing at All)

By Jeff Cattel

Stress impacts our bodies in numerous ways, from tension headaches to trouble sleeping. It also affects our appetite: On some nights before a big test or work presentation, we can go through a bag of Cheetos or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in no time. But in other nerve-wracking situations, we lose our appetite completely. What gives? Turns out there are both psychological and physiological factors at play.

Where’d My Appetite Go?

The two seemingly contradictory responses come down to a simple distinction: Are you experiencing acute stress—the kind that elicits a fight or flight response—or is it something more chronic?

Our ancestors often had to make split-second decisions to stand their ground or flee as fast as possible—like when that bear smelled the delicious food they were cooking. But even in our cushy modern world, there are plenty of triggers that can spike our anxiety and elicit that same reaction. (If you’re a city dweller, just think of any close calls you’ve had with cabs when trying to cross the street.)

In these moments, the body releases adrenaline, which ultimately gives us a boost of energy and slows down a number of other body processes, including digestion, says Matt Kuchan, Ph.D, a senior research scientist at Abbott. Specifically, adrenaline slows peristalsis, the process that moves food through the digestive tract, which means you’re less likely to feel hungry.

Why Can’t I Stop Eating?

While today’s world isn’t full of threats that provoke a fight or flight response, we still face plenty of stressors. In fact, 75 percent of Americans experience regular stress, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association. The same survey found that one in three Americans turns to food when stressed (nope, you’re not the only one).

“We wouldn’t stress eat if it didn’t work,” explains Susan Albers, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of the forthcoming book 50 More Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. “It makes us feel better only temporarily.” One study, for example, found that chocolate boosted people’s moods, but only for three minutes.

Plus, long-term stress leads to increased levels of the hormone cortisol in our bodies. A number of studies show that cortisol entices us to eat more, especially comfort foods. These high-calorie, high-fat foods are aptly named: One recent study found that women who consumed comfort food had a decreased perception of stress. That result is thanks in part to the dopamine that gets released in our brains when we eat these finger-lickin’-good foods. The problem is we need to eat more and more comfort food to achieve that dopamine “high” over time.

Your Action Plan

Whether you speed dial Papa John’s or can’t fathom taking even a bite of pizza when stressed, the solution is similar: We all need to relax. It may be easier said than done, but learning to turn down our individual stress dials as much as possible can play a big role in our appetite’s response to stress.

If you tend to overeat, try to replace that bag of chips with something soothing that’s not food-related, like a quick phone call with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. You can also try practicing deep breathing or simply stepping outside for a walk to clear your mind.

And if you notice you’ve lost your appetite, it may be helpful to plan meals—what you’ll eat and when you’ll eat it—in advance, Albers says.

Overall, when it comes to stress-reducing techniques, it’s better if you can work them into your everyday life, rather than use them in a moment when things are getting out of control, says Amy Shah, M.D., a doctor in private practice in California.

One tip: Start your day with a 10-minute buffer, Shah recommends. When you get up, take a few minutes for a quiet activity you really enjoy, like meditating, stretching, or journaling. “When the first thing we do in the morning is reach for our phones, it’s easy to let stress open our day,” Shah says. “When you ease in, there’s a big difference in the amount of stress you experience.” Plus, having an enjoyable morning ritual is also a great trick to keep you from hitting the snooze button.

Is the rear foot elevated split squat as good as the back squat?

What’s better for training & developing leg strength?, the rear foot elevated split squat or the traditional back squat? I personally utilize both of these movements in most of my trainee’s programs, as well as for my own training. The vast research has proven that lower body unilateral & bilateral training are equally important and beneficial, whether your a professional athlete or anyone training for overall strength & conditioning. Today’s post comes from The Strength & Conditioning Research Team. I hope you enjoy it! – FR

Is the rear foot elevated split squat as good as the back squat?

 

 

You have no doubt come across the conflict between the strength coaches who prefer the traditional back squat and those who prefer the rear foot elevated split squat or RFESS (also called the Bulgarian split squat). Whether it is really necessary to choose between these two perfectly good exercises, of course, is a different matter. Anyway, most proponents of the RFESS argue that the same improvements in leg strength and transfer to sports performance can be achieved in athletes when using the RFESS and the back squat. On the other hand, the detractors point out that this claim has never really been demonstrated by research. Until now, of course.

The study

Unilateral vs Bilateral Squat training for Strength, Sprints and Agility in Academy Rugby Players, by Speirs, Bennett, Finn, & Turner, in Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2015)

What did the researchers do?

The researchers compared the effects of two resistance training programs (one using the back squat and one using the RFESS) on measures of strength, sprint running ability and agility (change of direction speed) in rugby athletes.

Here are the key details:
  • Population: 18 academy rugby players, aged 18 ± 1 years
  • Intervention: All subjects trained for 5 weeks, using either the back squat or the RFESS
  • Comparison: The two groups were compared with each other and with baseline measures
  • Outcomes: 1RM back squat, 1RM RFESS, 10m sprint, 40m sprint, pro agility test

What did the researchers find?

Summary
Both the RFESS and back squat groups improved most measures similarly and there were no differences between them.
Effect of resistance training on 1RM back squat and 1RM RFESS
Surprisingly, the researchers found that the RFESS and back squat groups improved back squat 1RM almost identically, by 5.7 ± 3.8% and 5.0 ± 3.7% respectively. There was no difference between the groups. Similarly, they found that the RFESS and back squat groups improved RFESS 1RM identically, by 9.2 ± 2.1% and 10.5 ± 3.2%, respectively.
Effect of resistance training on sprint running ability
The researchers found that neither group improved 10m sprint times, but both the RFESS and back squat groups improved 40m sprint times similarly. The RFESS group trended towards a slightly larger increase (1.7% vs. 1.1%) but this did not reach significance.

Effect of resistance training on agility

The researchers found that both the RFESS and back squat groups improved pro agility times by almost identical amounts (1.7% vs. 1.5%) and there was no difference between these changes.

Barbell Back Squat

What are the practical implications?

This study is a big step forward for strength and conditioning, as it demonstrates that traditional, heavily – researched exercises such as the bilateral squat are not irreplaceable in athlete development programs. Other, more modern exercises can be equally effective in some cases. And yet, coaches should not discard the traditional bilateral squat, as there is an enormous amount of research that has been carried out in this exercise. Such research can be used to alter technique to optimum effect, select appropriate squat variations to stress different muscle groups, and identify the best variations or techniques to develop power or rate of force development.

 

What’s the Best Source of Post-Workout Protein?

I always consume a healthy source of protein within 1-2 hours after my training session. For it’s convenience and proven effectiveness, I usually have a whey protein shake, how about you? Today’s post comes from the good people over at Greatist.com Enjoy! – FR
What’s the Best Source of Post-Workout Protein?

After pressing, curling, sprinting, and crunching, the next logical step for many is shaking (and no, we don’t mean with a Shake Weight).Protein shakes, bars, and gels are marketed to be as essential as anything for an effective workout. But are these packaged and powdered foods really necessary for an effective recovery, or do the whole-food alternatives have them beat?

The Power of Protein

Post-Workout Smoothie
Downing protein after a workout is often just part of the routine, and for good reason. Consuming protein has been shown to speed up recovery time and increase strength before the next gym session. The magic results from amino acids (tiny parts of proteins), which act as a building block for muscle. After pumping iron, eating (or drinking) foods high in protein supplies the body with amino acids to start repairing the damaged tissue (mainly muscles). Protein shakes offer one method of getting in some muscle-building nutrients after a workout. But are they really more effective than high-protein foods such as chicken or egg?Pitting powder against whole food, research indicates that the supplements may have a slight advantage. The quick source of amino acids increased the fractional synthesis rate of muscle (a fancy term for rate of muscle building) more than just a regular meal. In addition to adding size, it proves to be effective at increasing workout performance. One study using whey protein found that supplementation did increase hypertrophy (read: muscle size) and strength in participants. A similar study showed that individuals chugging protein could jump higher following a training program than their shake-less counterparts.

Just remember: All powders are not created equal. Certain varieties are hydrolyzed (a fancy term meaning partially broken down), which means they can be absorbed faster into the muscle—hence quicker recovery.

Size also matters. Don’t look to shake up an entire jug. It appears that 20 grams of protein taken within two hours after exercise is the most effective amount to maximally promote muscle growth. A heavier dose likely won’t produce any major added benefit and may present potential complications in those with kidney problems.

Feel the Pow(d)er: Your Action Plan

Getting in protein after a workout looks to be a definite way develop an Arnold-worthy physique, but the form and variety may come down to personal preference. Whole-food sources can provide all of the building blocks necessary for a full recovery, but lugging a turkey sandwich to the gym in a lunchbox isn’t nearly as fun as it was in grade school! Also, some gym-goers might find it hard to force down food after exercise. The reason: During exercise, blood makes its way from the stomach to the working muscles, making it hard to digest whole foods right away. Still, protein powder isn’t for everyone, and it certainly doesn’t replace whole food. While it can provide a convenient post-workout fix, whole foods should comprise the bulk of any diet. The most widely used variety, whey protein, may not be appropriate for lactose-intolerant folks or those living a vegan lifestyle (althoughvegan-friendly varieties like hemp, soy, and brown rice are now available). The key is finding the most convenient (and enjoyable) method for you—and leaving the hard work for the weight room floor.

Originally published April 2012. Updated July 13, 2015
BYJEREMEY DUVALL

5 Simple Ways to Get Stronger

It is proven that in order to get stronger, we need to add more weight. Do you have a plan? Today’s post comes from Dan John, one of the top coaches in the industry. Enjoy! – FR

5 Simple Ways to Get Stronger

Here’s what you need to know…
  • Grip is the weak point for most lifters. To improve it, train with thick bars.
  • The suitcase carry is the answer to all things core related. Find a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell. Pick it up and walk away.
  • 80 pounds is a good carry-weight for men and 50 works for women. Today, you’ll notice your grip strength. Tomorrow, you’ll notice your obliques.
  • When used for a six-week period, there’s nothing that can cure a strength deficit better than isometrics.
  • A few months a year, simply try to get stronger. Do fewer reps and more load. Then crank up the reps but don’t drop back too far on the load.
  • Load is king, but it’s a tyrant. After the initial spurt of progress, cycle or periodize your training to keep progress moving forward.

You Need a Bigger Glass

Getting seriously strong takes some time, but there’s an upside to strength that I learned from Brett Jones:

“Absolute strength is the glass. Everything else is the liquid inside the glass. The bigger the glass, the more of everything else you can do.”

What this means is that the stronger you are, the more athletic qualities you can add to what you can do. In that spirit, here are the “secrets” to strength:

1. Test and Build Your Grip Strength

I wouldn’t have mentioned this years ago because when I grew up we used to play on monkey bars and challenge ourselves to pull-up tests. We grew up with strong grips. In fact, I’d never even heard of straps until after I’d been Olympic lifting for a few months.

But that was then. Weak grips seem to be epidemic nowadays. Luckily, the hands are amazing feats of engineering. Your brain uses a lot of its energy and wiring to make the hands work better. So, we can learn to engage our brains more by focusing on our grip.

Take the Grip Test

First, test your grip. Everyone should be able to hang from the pull-up bar for at least thirty seconds. Some of us will discover just from this test how lousy our grip might be and how jacked up our shoulder girdle has become.

But that’s a simplified test. The actual test is this:

Hang from the bar for thirty seconds. When the timer rings, do a pull-up. If you can do that, you’re not too bad.

But let’s push it a little. Without letting go, drop back down and hang for another thirty and do a second pull-up. For the true crazies, let’s see who can do 10 of these 30-second hang pull-ups.

Few can. Gripping is the weak point for most trainees. To improve it, train with thick bars. My first thick bar deadlift told me how far I needed to go, despite all my hours on the monkey bars.

There are lots of bonuses from doing deadlifts, curls, and rows with thick bars, including learning how to achieve perfect positions in lifting. But what I came away with was this: The thick bar was a simple trick to build superior strength.

If you don’t have a thick bar, use adaptors. Or, go cheap and split a PVC pipe of appropriate width and length and slip it over a standard barbell. A two-inch grip is difficult and the three-inch is brutal.

2. Work on Core Strength

I hate the name “core,” but you know what I mean when I say it. Getting strong in the area between your legs and head is more than just doing some crunches for your six pack. Most of the time, you should train core and grip strength together.

The suitcase carry is my stock answer to all things core related. Find a reasonably heavy dumbbell or kettlebell. Just one. Pick it up and walk away. And that’s it.

Men should use at least 80 pounds and women can usually use around 50. Today, you’ll notice your grip strength. Tomorrow, you’ll notice your obliques.

Related:  The Secret of Loaded Carries

Now let’s go back to grip strength. The upside of testing it with the pull-up is that you also were testing your core. I have dip rings in my backyard and I get a fabulous workout just playing on the rings. Monkey bars provide the same grip/core workout as does rope climbing and most gymnastics work.

I work with an All-Star catcher and he credits early gymnastics training and racing on BMX bicycles for his success in baseball. Both disciplines train the grip and core without actually training the grip and core. That’s the key here: Get the work in on these two areas and enjoy the general improvement throughout your system.

Add some suitcase walks, increase your pull-ups, and you’ll develop your grip and core strength.

3. Use Isometrics

I had the opportunity to speak with Dick Smith years ago. Smith was part of the great revolution of lifting in the early 1960’s. He was there for the “pink pill” [the steroid Dianabol], but he also was the leader in applying isometric work to strength training, specifically the Olympic lifts.

Isometrics work. Yes, they were overhyped for a long time, but pushing as hard as you can against something that won’t move is a way to train your nervous system to light up. Smith emphasized three points in adopting isometrics:

  • No overtraining!
  • Motivation!
  • Flexibility!

In this case, flexibility referred to a quality of the mind. He wanted you to think when it came to training.

Dick still laments the loss of isometric work in the USA. Most people just didn’t get it. Why? Isometrics didn’t make you feel tired. So, people would start to add in more work and soon it was a few sets here and a few sets there until they were doing entirely too much.

The problem, according to Dick, was that most people just float through in training their weak points. “With isometrics, you focus there.” Sure, that kind of workout doesn’t feel like much, but it puts a huge load on recovery ability.

Dick warned people to train hard in the racks, but nobody listened to how simple isometrics could be and we tossed it to the side.

Related:  Isometric Exercises That Work

Isometrics do require some equipment. They also require some honesty about where your weak points are. But, when used for about a six-week period, nothing can cure a strength deficit better.

In my case, my weak point was when the bar was at 34 inches in the front squat. I attacked it with six dedicated weeks of isometrics. I just loaded the bar up with everything I had so I couldn’t move it and did oneisometric set for 12 seconds (give or take), twice a week for a few weeks.

I never missed a clean and jerk recovery for the rest of my active career.

Isometrics work. Do them.

4. Follow the “Rule of 10”

If I could make everybody start lifting from scratch, I’d insist that we start with fixed weight bars.

Or, like we had in our college weight room, a total lack of small plates. When we wanted to go up in load, we often had only two 25-pound plates we could add. And let me tell you, fifty-pound increases challenge your strength!

When I first lifted, most people had the 110-pound weight set you bought from Sears. We’d work up to 110 for one ugly single press. Over the span of the next few weeks, we’d work purely on our strength as the reps climbed from one to five or so. Then, the reps would climb up from that and visible muscle would appear as we moved into the hypertrophy range.

That taught me a lot about strength and it’s reflected in my “Rule of Ten.” It refers to doing approximately ten working reps in a strength workout. The classic heavy workouts follow this rule:

5 sets of 2
3 sets of 3
2 sets of 5.

It’s hard to go heavy for more than ten reps.

Take a few months a year of simply trying to get stronger: fewer reps and more load. Then, with your newfound strength, crank up the reps but don’t drop back too far on the load. That’s the ticket to both strength and size.

5. Add Load, But Have a Plan

I believe in adding load. But, keep this in mind: load can be anything. Sure, barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells are the most obvious examples, but chains, bands, and even hand pressure are all load.

The issue most lifters have is that they’ll sacrifice anything and everything else (health, fitness, and life) to increase load. The problem is, only beginners can really increase load each workout or each week; the rest of us have to coax it along.

So, strength training lives in a dichotomous world. On one hand, increasing load is the proof, the measurement, and the reward for training intelligently. On the other hand, increasing load leads to missing lifts.

I know this: Every injury I’ve ever sustained on the lifting platform was from a missed lift.

So, load is king, but it’s a tyrant. After the initial spurt of progress, most of us need to cycle or periodize our training somehow to keep progress moving ahead. After a few months of following a percentage program, I find the shift to something like Escalating Density Training to be rejuvenating.

Related:  More on escalated density training

To get stronger, add more weight. But, have a plan.