Monday, 28 April 2014

Eric Helms seminar London

Last week I attended a seminar put on by 'Shredded By Science' (Luke Johnson) and presented by Eric Helms (3DMJ). The title of the seminar was, 'Evidence Based Bodybuilding for the Natural Competitor.' Normally, this seminar wouldn't have registered on my radar, but Brad Schoenfeld (one of the world's top researchers into muscle hypertrophy) recommended listening to anything Eric Helms says. So with this endorsement, I booked the course without fully knowing what the content would be. I can honestly say that I was so glad I did as the content was of the highest quality.

Usually at PT courses, you can guarantee three things. People shoe-horned into tight tops. People come dressed ready to work out. Chicken and water bottles everywhere. However, there was a mix of people at this one. There were no grunting or derogatory put-downs to be heard. The attendees were all a really pleasant bunch of people who were prepared to soak up the info. Despite many men being in the doghouse due to the course being on Easter Sunday!

Eric is studying for his second Phd and is from a bodybuilding background. His team have worked with 100's of competitors and have helped many to become champion drug-free bodybuilders. He is one of the few people who have mixed the science with the practical application of bodybuilding. From the outset, what came across was a humble, light hearted approach to water down the testosterone that flows through our industry. Again, it is a unique quality in the fitness industry to have someone with as much knowledge and experience as him, yet to have a complete absence of ego. This allowed him to delve into some of the darker element of competitive bodybuilding such as eating disorders and staying sane throughout your career. The room was deafly quiet during this section and he said, "this is often the most uncomfortable part of the talk, but it needs saying." I'm glad he did and it made wonder whether we focus enough on the mental side of our client's health when prescribing diet and exercise.

Eric's goal for all his athletes is for them to be able to love what they do until they are in their 70's and for them to stay healthy. People are very quick to stamp the title, 'unhealthy', on things we don't understand, especially in bodybuidling. Quite often, with very little evidence to back up our position. I used to be one of these people. Eric astutely pointed out that bodybuilding does attract obsessive and very focused people, but if they aren't harming their health, it's not an issue. He backed this up with his take on how to balance a passion for bodybuilding with living a normal life.

As far as the physiology was concerned, there were some great protocols he suggested to follow. They would take you at least 6 months to follow. Also, like a true professional, he distanced himself from having a system or guru status and encouraged everyone to read all the associated references on all his information. This gave us three times the content we were expecting.

In summary, I will be looking out for more of Eric's seminars and I would encourage anyone else to do the same. Due to his commitments to studying, business and training, I doubt there will be many opportunities. I would also suggest to anyone considering competing in bodybuiliding, that look at his wesbite as they will find everything they need.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Can women do press ups?

" I can't do press ups."

It's something I hear from women, time and time again, during the many classes I've taught. I have had to spend time with all my female clients to master the press up as most have struggled with this. However, I never really understood why people thought this inability was a female trait. Evidence points towards an obvious strength difference between men and women. Hence the probable naming of 'girl/women's pressups'. This term concerns me as it goes against most scientific evidence which shows me that there is no reason why women can't do press ups. Let me elaborate. 

When you collect data in a scientific way, the quality of the research will come down to two things. The quality of the people you tested and how you interpret the results. Coming to the conclusion that women can't do press ups is often founded by observing women who can't do them. But when you look closer, you see that being female is not the reason. Many women can't do press ups, but it's not because they are women. It's merely a correlation. However, correlation does not imply causation. It's a bit like saying most criminals are right handed, so therefore you are more likely to be a criminal if you're right handed. It's a lazy way of thinking. 

The women I see who can't do press ups normally can't for the following reasons. 

  • They've not exercised their upper body for many years. 
  • They have poor shoulder blade function and therefore can't load their arms very well. 
  • They have poor neck stability. 
  • They can't stiffen their hips and engage the muscles around the trunk which adds more pressure to the arms and shoulders. 
  • They have a poor strength to weight ratio. Or a poor strength to height ratio.
  • They haven't practised them. 
  • They have never been taught how to do them. 
None of these are distinctly exclusive to females. In elite level sport, there is a negligible difference between men and women with regards to performance. However, it's more noticeable in untrained people as men most likely get closer their genetic potential in the gym environment, compared to women.

The clean and jerk which is considered one of the hardest lifts in weight lifting, the women's record is 143kg (63 kg bodyweight). Men at 62 kg is 182 kg. This is the biggest gap I have found between men and women with regards to strength. However, you have to train for at least 10 years to even be considered a good Olympic lifter. Most people aren't elite level and will therefore not notice this difference. I have personally witnessed women lift more than their male counterparts.

The main observation why women as a whole can't do them is down to culture. It's seen as un-femine for women to train. People make derogatory comments about women if they are muscular or weight train. It's considered a male endeavour. This is ever more evident as girls are falling out of sport as early as 3. At this age, girls aren't falling out of sport. Their parents aren't encouraging them to participate. Which again comes down to culture.

The amount of load on the arms is around 60% of your bodyweight. If you are overweight, it is natural that you will find them harder. 60% of  a lot weighs more than 60% of a little. Before the daggers come my way, let me point out two things. Firstly, most of the women who came to my classes said they were overweight. Secondly, 75% of the UK population are now overweight or obese.

So before we start throwing around sexist, lazy stereotypes, we need to acknowledge that we don't move well enough and haven't practised press ups enough to state that there is recognisable male/female difference.

Don't take my word for this. Check out this effort.

I've create a programme designed to get people (mainly women) to improve their press ups and bust this myth for good. If you are interested, read the next blog!

How many of these press ups can you do?