Friday, December 30, 2016

Pull Up Progressions for Beginners

In this video I describe, demonstrate and provide progression standards for pull ups for people who are unable to pull their own weight from a full hang.  It covers six steps to master leading up to the ability to perform regular repetitions of full hang chin ups.
  1. Hinge pull ups
  2. Table pull ups
  3. Ground pull ups
  4. Horizontal pull ups
  5. Eccentric chin ups
  6. Chin up static hold

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

British Study: Vegan Mortality Rates Similar to Meat-Eaters

Appleby et al report that in their study of more than 60,000 people including more than 20,000 vegetarians and more than 2000 vegans all-cause mortality did not statistically differ between vegans, vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, and low-meat eater groups compared to regular meat-eaters.

In this population, they report "Separating the vegetarians and vegans for the 6 most common causes of death did not reveal any statistically significant differences in mortality between vegans and regular meat eaters."

This result is different from the AHS-2 study which suggested that vegetarians of all types (including occasional meat eaters and persons who ate fish but not meat) had a 12% lower all-cause mortality rate than regular meat-eaters.  Appleby et al. suggest that this difference might result from a difference in animal protein intake between British vegetarians and Adventist vegetarians.  The regular meat eaters in this British study consumed only 2.1 times more animal protein than the British vegetarians+vegans, whereas in the Adventist study the regular meat eaters consumed 2.6 times more animal protein than the vegetarian groups. 

 Another possibility not accounted for is the meal timing practices of Adventists.  As I discussed in my book Intermittent Fasting, the Adventist church doctrine recommends consuming only two meals daily in the morning and at noon.  Perhaps Adventist vegetarians (which includes semi-, pesco-, lacto-ovo, and vegan vegetarians) are more likely to use time-restricted feeding schedules than British vegetarians, and this accounts for their small advantage over Adventist regular meat eaters in overall mortality.

However, it is important to note that in the Adventist study the lowest overall mortality in both men and women was found in pesco-vegetarians not vegans or lacto-ovo vegetarians, and among the Adventist women pesco-vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, and lacto-ovo vegetarians all had lower overall mortality rate than vegans (Table 4).

Source:  JAMA Internal Medicine
Another "surprise" was the finding of no significant difference in ischemic heart disease death between groups.  The authors give one possible explanation:  "Incident, nonfatal IHD may also lead to the effective medical management of established risk factors for IHD (e.g., drugs to treat non-HDL cholesterol and high blood pressure), lowering subsequent IHD mortality and partially nullifying the differences between vegetarians and meat eaters found for IHD incidence."  Perhaps the regular meat eaters had a heart disease death rate similar to vegetarians because they used drugs to manage heart disease risk factors.

In this study, risk of death from cancer for vegetarians was only ~10% lower than for regular meat eaters.  The AHS-2 study found no reduced risk of cancer mortality for vegetarians.

Vegetarians including vegans had the highest risk of death from mental and behavioral disorders and cerebrovascular disease (Table 2).

Per Table 1, regular meat eater men in this study consumed 11% of energy as animal protein and 16.5% of energy as total protein (animal+plant).  Regular meat eater women consumed ~12% of energy as animal protein and ~18% as total protein.  Put otherwise, these meat eaters obtained 88-89% of their calories from non-animal protein sources.  Their total meat intake for men was 115 g per day (just about 4 ounces) and for women 106 g per day (just under 4 ounces per day).  For both genders, total and saturated fat intakes were similar for all groups.

Vegetarian (vegans+vegetarian) women consumed on average only 36 g more fruit and 45 g more vegetables than regular meat eater women; vegetarian (vegans+vegetarian) men consumed on average only 56 g more fruit and 55 g more vegetables than regular meat eater men.

In Essential Macrobiotics I discussed how it has been established that ever married individuals have lower disease risks and greater longevity than never married individuals.  I found it interesting that in this study, there was an apparent relationship between meat-eating and marriage.  From Table 1, the percentage of married or cohabiting men was:  regular meat eaters, 76%; low meat eaters, 69%; fish eaters, 66%; vegetarians, 61%; overall, 68%.

For women, the percentage married or cohabiting was:  regular meat eaters, 76%; low meat eaters, 63%; fish eaters, 63%; vegetarians, 58%; overall, 65%.

Thus, there appears to be a positive relationship between meat-eating and marriage, i.e. meat eaters were apparently significantly more likely to be married than non-meat eaters.   Thus, a higher proportion of the regular meat-eaters enjoyed the health benefits of marriage.  I have to wonder if the much elevated risk of death from mental and behavioral disorders among vegetarians and vegans may be linked to their lower rate of participation in marriage.   This concept is discussed thoroughly in the book A Cry Unheard: The Medical Consequences of Loneliness by James Lynch.

Women who ate meat regularly were more likely to have children than those who restricted or avoided meat eating.  Seventy-seven percent of women who were regular meat eaters had children, 65% of low meat eaters, 52% of fish eaters, and 42% of vegetarians.   Women who restricted meat intake were more likely to have used oral contraceptives than regular meat eaters.  Thus, a higher proportion of the women who regularly ate meat enjoyed the health and longevity benefits of having children, which I also discussed in Essential Macrobiotics

A perusal of Table 1 shows also that meat eaters were on average heavier (by BMI), less physically active, and more likely to be on long-term medical treatment than people who restricted meat intake.  Women who were regular meat eaters were also more likely to have ever used hormone therapy.

It makes me wonder whether marriage and childbearing are more important to health and longevity than restricting animal products.  From an evolutionary perspective, if marriage and childbearing made some men and women weak and sick, they would stay away from it, and people of this lineage would die out.  If marriage and childbearing confer health benefits, people will stay married and bear children, and this lineage will thrive.  And it would make sense for biology to favor health in parents, as healthier parents will provide more support to children than unhealthy parents, and hence have more successful offspring; whereas people who got sick from marriage, childbearing and child-care would abandon all three, leaving few or no descendants.   Thus it is no stretch of the imagination to suppose that Nature would confer substantial health benefits to people who love raising children.

As I have previously noted, in The Intelligence Paradox: why the intelligent choice isn't always the smart one, evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa noted that for 1.8 million years, our ancestors did not have the problem of deciding what diet was best for health and longevity.  They simply ate what Nature provided and they could access.  That meant anything edible they could get their hands on, and it is certain that none deliberately chose vegetarian diets:

"Humans are naturally omnivorous, and anyone who eschewed animal protein and ate only vegetables in the ancestral environment, in the face of food scarcity and precariousness of its supply, was not likely to have survived long enough and stayed healthy enough to have left many offspring. So such a person is not likely to have become our ancestor. Anyone who preferentially ate animal protein and fat in the ancestral environment would have been much more likely to live longer and stay healthier. They are therefore much more likely to have become our ancestors."
Hence, it would seem highly unlikely that natural selection would favor strict meat-avoider lineages with greater health than lineages that had a deep love for bearing and caring for children.  In the Darwinian fitness games, any one who avoids eating animals and having children is going to be replaced by those who get married, have children, and invest their time and energy in making those children into economically and reproductively successful adults. 

Even if avoiding animal products prolonged your own life by 10 years, if you don't have children, you don't live as long as some one who dies 10 years younger, but has several children who also have children.  Every child is the irreversible biological marriage of mother and father and if the parents are of the same ethnic stock each child is a virtual reincarnation of the parents.

If you still have time, you might want to avoid your lineage going the way of the Dodo bird.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Study: Womens' Breast Cancer Rates Lower In Mongolia Than China or U.K.

Mongol women archers during Naadam festival.  By Zoharby - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
I came across this study by Troisi et al. accident.  Here's the introduction:

I was surprised by the report that the breast cancer rates in China and the U.K. are 3 and 10 times that in Mongolia.  Mongolian women eat diets very high in red meat and dairy products, much higher than in the U.K. or China.  This data might provide evidence against the idea that plant-based diets are best for prevention of breast cancer for women of Asian and European descent. Let's look at it. 

In this study the authors sought to study the hormonal differences between Mongolian and U.K. women.  The Mongolian women were "the mothers of school children attending two primary schools in Ulaanbaator, the capital of Mongolia."  100% of these women had children, and most likely, all had breast-fed their children extensively, although this is not specified by the report. 

In contrast, the U.K. women were "premenopausal Caucasian women from the U.K. who had been recruited nationally between November 2008 and September 2009 as controls for a case-control study on the genetics of breast cancer."  75% of these women had children, but only 78% of U.K. women had more than one child, whereas 92% of the Mongolians had more than one child.  

"Among parous women, about 22% of the U.K. women had one child and 78% had two or more compared with 8.5% and 92% of the Mongolians."
 Also, "The Mongolian women were younger, and of smaller stature and lower weight than the U.K. women."

 U.K. women have been called 'the world's worst' for breast-feeding rates.

The fact that the Mongolian women were younger and more likely to have done extensive breast feeding of more than one child is very important because earlier age of parity, greater number of children, and more extensive breast feeding are all associated with lower risk of breast cancer:

Source: National Cancer Institute.

 Regarding diet, the Mongolian women ate much more meat and dairy than either U.K. women or Chinese women as the Mongolian diet "consists almost exclusively of meat and dairy products":

Table 2 of the study shows that in comparison to the U.K. women the Mongolian women ate on average 64% more vegetables (excluding potatoes), twice as much meat, one-third as much fish, 3.5 times as much milk, 5 times as much yogurt, 50% more cheese, and almost 2 times as much butter daily. 

This study also surprised me in its report that the Mongolian women had higher levels of both estrogen and progesterone, and lower levels of testosterone, than the U.K. women.

Unfortunately the authors of this report do not discuss the role of early and multiple childbearing and extensive breast-feeding in prevention of breast cancer or, very likely, the differences in hormone levels between the Mongolian and U.K. women.  I suspect that these factors play a much larger role in the low levels of breast cancer in less 'developed' populations than any modern scientist programmed by feminist ideology is willing to even entertain, let alone admit.

Mongol girl performing Bayad dance.  By Tuguldur Sukhbold - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

 As noted by the authors, this data adds to a growing body of evidence that elevated estrogen may not be a breast cancer promoter.  This data also contradicts the idea, which I have previously promoted, that all animal-based diets promote breast cancer to a greater degree than more plant-based diets.  The Mongolian women eat meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals.  It is well-established that the meat and dairy products from exclusively grass-fed animals have higher levels of omega-3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid, both of which appear to have anti-cancer effects.  Meat and dairy products from exclusively grass-fed animals also contain higher levels of phytonutrients derived from grasses, compared to grain-fed animal products, which may also protect against breast cancer if not other cancers as well. 

However, it is also important to note that Mongolia reportedly has the 11th highest heart disease death rate (261 per 100,000), about 2.6 times that of China (99 per 100,000) and 8.7 times that of France (about 30 per 100,000) (see rankings here).  One should not imagine that just because Mongolian women have a low rate of breast cancer, the Mongolian diet protects also against other degenerative diseases.

I would further add that this data may suggest that early childbearing, multiple childbearing, and extensive breast feeding may be more important in prevention of breast cancer than dietary factors.   That is not likely a politically correct perspective in this age when 'feminists' seem bent on denying that female biology is geared toward early and multiple childbearing, but it is consistent with human evolution.  It is safer in our culture to talk about diet, than about reproductive activity choices.  Feminists won't attack you for promoting either a plant-based or a grass-fed animal based diet, but they will get "triggered" if you even suggest that women are biologically and psychologically adapted to being mothers.

It is a basic principle of pagan (including Taoist) philosophy that to enjoy life, one should act in harmony with nature, not in opposition to it.  It is a simple fact that women are most fertile in their first 10-15 menstruating years (roughly ages 18-30 years) so they are biologically designed to have children early in life, not after spending 10-15 years going to college and establishing a professional career.   Women who wait to have children until they are in their 30s or later will generally have a harder time conceiving and breast-feeding, and according to pre-modern European and Chinese medicine concepts, their children will generally have less vitality, because the mother's body will not be at its biological peak when imparting life to the children.  A growing body of evidence indicates that late child-bearing is not only worse for the children, it is also be worse for mother's long term health. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Study: Low Volume Single Set Resistance Training Produces Similar Results to High Volume Training

Can low volume single-set high intensity resistance training programs produce similar results to high volume multiple-set resistance training programs?  There has been much debate of this question in the exercise science community, and it seems that the orthodoxy maintains that it is necessary to perform multiple sets of an exercise to get the optimal strength and hypertrophy responses, while a minority of researchers have dissented. 

In a paper published in September 2016, Giessing et al. revisit this question.  They point out that to date experiments, meta-analyses, and literature reviews include studies that are heterogeneous in respect of controlling a very important variable, namely training effort. 

Advocates of single-set per exercise high intensity training (HIT) generally recommend continuing each exercise until the point of momentary muscular failure (MMF) or local exhaustion, i.e. the point at which it is temporarily impossible to perform another repetition in proper form.  Practitioners of high-intensity training often include so-called drop sets, wherein after reaching MMF in the main set of an exercise, the resistance is immediately reduced 10-15% to allow 2-3 additional repetitions, after which the resistance is again reduced 10-15% to allow another 2-3 repetition.  In contrast, advocates of multiple set high volume (HV) routines generally recommend fixed repetition targets and often recommend avoiding training to momentary muscular failure.

Giessing et al. set up their experiment to directly compare these two methods of training: single-set to MMF, or multi-set not-to-failure (NTF).  Thirty subjects were randomly assigned to perform either a single-set program including 2 drop sets, or a multiple-set program (3 sets per exercise) NTF.

Both groups performed the following exercises in the listed order: chest press, heel raise, rear deltoid, elbow flexion, seated row, knee extension, knee flexion, abdominal (trunk) flexion, push-ups.  These were also the test exercises at the end of the training experiment.

Regarding this menu of exercises, chest press and push ups both train the pectorals, anterior and medial deltoids, and triceps; seated row trains upper back, rear deltoid, and elbow flexors, while elbow flexion also trains elbow flexors and rear deltoid trains rear deltoid.  The push up also trains the trunk flexors and knee extensors to some degree (although perhaps not to MMF).  The remaining movements involve only one muscle group.  Thus, the "single-set" group actually did two sets affecting each of the following muscle groups: pectorals, anterior and medial deltoids, triceps, rear deltoid, knee extensors, trunk flexors, and elbow flexors.  The program design resulted in only one training set for only the upper back, gastrocnemius (heel raise), and knee flexors in the single-set group.
The HIT group did one set of each exercise to MMF, followed by 2 drop sets.  The HV performed each exercise to a self-determined maximum number of repetitions, i.e. stopped each set when he or she felt like stopping.  Subjects rested long enough between sets to normalize breathing.  The HV group rested 2-3 minutes at the end of each circuit of 9 exercises before doing the second and third rounds. 

The groups differed also in repetition performance:  "The HIT group used a repetition duration of 2 seconds concentric, 1 second isometric contraction at the top of the range of motion, and 4 seconds eccentric (2-1-4 seconds). The 3ST group trained using a repetition duration of 2 seconds concentric and 2 seconds eccentric (2-2 seconds)."  Each exercise was performed for 10 repetitions excluding drop sets. 

The study duration was ten weeks.  Each group trained all exercises twice weekly.  The HIT group spent about 11 minutes on each training session; the HV group spent about 25 minutes on each training session. 

The Results

Both the HIT and HV programs produced significant improvements in muscular performance.  However, the HIT program produced significantly greater gains than the HV program in 3 of the tested exercises, and had larger changes in 8 of the 9 exercises.  Neither group showed statistically significant changes in any body composition measures.  The near null results for body composition changes were probably due to the inclusion of both male and female trainees of roughly equal numbers; since female trainees do not generally show large muscle mass gains in response to resistance training, their results washed out any evidence of gains in the male trainees in the average results.  However, there was a small effect size trend for greater body composition changes in the HIT group.

What accounts for these differences?  The programs differed in volume (number of repetitions and time under load), intensity of effort, use of drop sets, and duration of repetitions.

The HV group performed a greater volume of exercise (both number of repetitions and time under load), but produced less performance gains.  Therefore, the greater performance improvement in the HIT group was not due to performance of a greater exercise volume. 

The HIT group trained to MMF but the HV group did not.   The authors note that research has suggested that training to MMF produces greater adaptations than not training to MMF, provided recovery is adequate.  Training to MMF produces a greater degree of momentary fatigue in the trained muscle groups compared to training to a self-determined number of repetitions.  The fatigue level was further increased in this study by adding drop-sets.  Fatigue stress stimulates the body to make adaptations.  It makes sense that creating greater fatigue will elicit greater results, provided recovery is adequate.  The reduced volume of the HIT program may allow greater recovery due to the fact that it consumes fewer metabolic resources than the HV program.

My Take on This

In practice, if you are going to perform multiple sets of any exercise for the same number of repetitions and with the same resistance used for each set, it is necessary to avoid training to MMF in all sets leading up to the final set.  In my experience, if one trains to MMF on the first set, it will be impossible to duplicate the performance on the second set with the same load within 3 to 5 minutes, so I would have to either reduce the repetitions, or reduce the load by 10-20% on the second set to get the same number of repetitions.  It would look something like this:

BB squat:  200 lbs. x 20 reps (near MMF)
rest 3-5 minutes
BB squat: 200 lbs. x 10-15 reps; or 180 lbs. x 15-20 reps (both near MMF)

Hence, when assigned to perform multiple sets of X number of repetitions of any exercise, trainees will generally hold back effort on early sets to reserve strength for subsequent sets.

One has to question this approach on the basis of the progressive overload principle.  The second set is performed for fewer repetitions with the same resistance, or with a lesser resistance and possibly fewer repetitions than the first.  Hence the degree of stimulation does not reach the higher level of the first set.  Since either or both the resistance and the repetitions are less on the second set, the second set does not qualify as a progression of overload.

Over the past 40 years, the vast majority of my resistance training routines have been single-set, low-volume, high intensity training to MMF.  During some periods I have used simple routines doing 3 sets of 5 repetitions using only basic exercises (squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, overhead presses, bench presses).  I have been able to increase strength using either type of program.

However, I tend to prefer mostly single-set training to MMF because it is so time-efficient.  One set of chin ups to MMF will take about a minute to perform.  Three sets of 5 repetitions of chin ups with 2 minutes rest between sets will (assuming 40 s per set) take 6 minutes to perform.  This may seem minor but when performing 10-12 exercises per full body training session, a single-set routine will involve ~15 minutes of actual exercise performance and ~20 minutes of rest periods and set up times, or a total of 35 to 45 minutes, whereas a multi-set routine using the same number of exercises would take 90 minutes or more to complete. 

One general comment I have about the research on this topic is that all studies I have seen that look at single-set vs. multiple-set training routines define single-set routines as those in which subjects perform only one set of each exercise, and multi-set routines as those in which subjects perform multiple sets of each exercise.  Yet in practice many routines provide multiple sets for individual muscle groups even if the individual performs only one set per exercise.

For example, consider this routine:
  1. Barbell squat
  2. Chin up
  3. Parallel bar dips
  4. Cossack squat
  5. Rowing on rings
  6. Push-ups on rings
If one performs only one set of each exercise, this routine involves two sets for each muscle group: 
  • Thighs & hips:  barbell squat and Cossack squat
  • Upper back, rear deltoid, arm flexors and forearms:  chin up and rowing
  • Pectorals, anterior and medial deltoid, arm extensors:  parallel bar dips and push ups on rings
If one is training to MMF on each set, a second set of the same exercise would very likely be  superfluous because it will only retrace the same muscle activation already exhausted on the first set.

In summary, Giessing et al. appear to have shown that a HIT program involving only one set per exercise and drop sets will produce similar or greater results than a HV program consisting of 3 sets per exercise without training to MMF.  However, it is possible that other types of HV training may produce equal or superior results, e.g. 2 or more sets performed to MMF rather than to self-determined 'maximum' repetitions.