Research Roundup #27: Optimal Triceps Training, Fitness for Desk Jockeys, and Weight Cutting

What’s the best triceps exercise? How can you get fitter at your desk? Does weight cutting affect athletic performance? The post Research Roundup #27: Optimal Triceps Training, Fitness for Desk Jockeys, and Weight Cutting appeared first on Legion Athletics.

Research Roundup #27: Optimal Triceps Training, Fitness for Desk Jockeys, and Weight Cutting

It’s estimated that there are over 2+ million scientific papers published each year, and this firehose only seems to intensify.

Even if you narrow your focus to fitness research, it would take several lifetimes to unravel the hairball of studies on nutrition, training, supplementation, and related fields.

This is why my team and I spend thousands of hours each year dissecting and describing scientific studies in articles, podcasts, and books and using the results to formulate our 100% all-natural sports supplements and inform our coaching services. 

And while the principles of proper eating and exercising are simple and somewhat immutable, reviewing new research can reinforce or reshape how we eat, train, and live for the better. 

Thus, each week, I’m going to share three scientific studies on diet, exercise, supplementation, mindset, and lifestyle that will help you gain muscle and strength, lose fat, perform and feel better, live longer, and get and stay healthier. 

This week, you’ll learn one of the best triceps exercise, how you can improve your health by working out at your desk, and how cutting weight affects combat athletes’ performance.

 

The overhead triceps extension is an excellent triceps exercise.

Source: “Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position” published on August 11, 2022 in European Journal of Sport Science.

Bodybuilders have often said that you “feeling the stretch” during exercises produces better results. Put more scientifically, if your muscle is elongated while being trained, it grows more. 

There wasn’t much hard evidence for this theory until recently, when new evidence suggested that bodybuilders might be onto something. 

A good example of this is a study conducted by researchers at Ritsumeikan University, in which the researchers had 21 newbie weightlifters do 2 weekly triceps workouts for 12 weeks. 

In each workout, the participants trained one arm with the overhead triceps extension, and the other with the triceps pushdown. They did 5 sets of 10 reps for each exercise.

The researchers chose these exercises because the overhead triceps extension fully stretches the long head of the triceps, whereas the triceps pushdown doesn’t. Accordingly, they thought the overhead triceps extension would cause more growth in the triceps long head, but that the lateral and medial heads of the triceps would be equally well trained by both exercises.

And they were right. 

The results showed that the overhead triceps extension led to significantly more growth in the triceps long head (+28.5% vs. +19.6%), which makes sense since it trains the long head at a longer muscle length. Surprisingly, though, it also caused more growth in the lateral and medial heads than the pushdown (+14.6% vs. +10.5%).

It’s not exactly clear why the overhead triceps extension caused more growth in the lateral and medial heads of the triceps, especially since both exercises trained those heads of the weightlifters’ triceps through similar ranges of motion at comparable muscle lengths.

One hypothesis offered by the researchers was that your triceps receive less oxygen when your arms are extended over your head. This creates hypoxic stress in your muscle cells, which some research suggests can increase muscle growth. 

Regardless of the reason, this study offers a very actionable takeaway: The overhead triceps extension is a fantastic exercise for training all heads of your triceps. If you don’t have it in your program already, it’s high time you added it.

If you want a program that contains all of the best exercises for training your entire body, including the overhead triceps extension, check out my programs for men and women, Bigger Leaner Stronger or Thinner Leaner Stronger.

(Or if you aren’t sure if Bigger Leaner Stronger or Thinner Leaner Stronger is right for you or if another strength training program might be a better fit for your circumstances and goals, take Legion Strength Training Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know the perfect strength training program for you. Click here to check it out.)

TL;DR: The overhead triceps extension effectively trains all three heads of the triceps.

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Stuck at your desk most of the day? Do mini workouts to stay healthy.

Source: “Walking or body weight squat “activity snacks” increase dietary amino acid utilization for myofibrillar protein synthesis during prolonged sitting” published on September 1, 2022 in Journal of Applied Physiology (1985).

“Sitting is as bad for you as smoking.”

In recent years, claims like this have become commonplace in the health and fitness space, primarily as a way to scare idle office workers into exercising. And while it’s more wrong than right, there’s plenty of evidence that people who spend hours per day sitting (most people who work a desk job) have generally worse health than more active individuals.

One way sitting can negatively impact your health is by increasing your risk of developing anabolic resistance, which is a condition where muscle protein synthesis (MPS) rates remain muted, even after you eat protein or exercise.

In other words, if you develop anabolic resistance, behaviors that would usually signal to your body to build muscle have little effect. Over time, this may cause muscle loss, which can negatively impact your health in myriad ways.

One potential way to combat this effect is to do mini workouts throughout the day at your desk (so-called “activity snacks”).

Some preliminary evidence suggests this strategy might mitigate the negative effects of prolonged sitting, which is why researchers at the University of Toronto conducted this “proof-of-principle” study. 

(A proof-of-principle study is a small-scale study that scientists use to show that an intervention is worthy of future research based on the potential it has shown in early-stage trials.)

They had 12 healthy people who commonly sat for more than 7 hours per day do 3 trials, each lasting 7.5 hours:

  1. Uninterrupted sitting
  2. Sitting with 15 “bodyweight squats” (getting out of a chair and sitting down again) every 30 minutes
  3. Sitting with 2 minutes of regular-pace walking every 30 minutes

During each trial, the researchers gave the participants a liquid breakfast and lunch that collectively  provided 50% of their daily calories (55% from carbs, 30% from fat, and 15% from protein). Each trial started with the participants eating breakfast, immediately after which they performed the first activity snack. They then only got up to do subsequent activity snacks or go to the bathroom.

Blood tests and muscle biopsies showed that squatting and walking had a moderate-to-large positive effect on MPS rates compared to sitting, though the difference wasn’t statistically significant.

Given the size and scale of this study—it only had 12 young, healthy participants, and each trial only lasted 7.5 hours—it’s not surprising that the results didn’t reach statistical significance. They would have probably been more pronounced if obese individuals had done each trial for a week, for instance.

Nevertheless, what this study hints at is important: doing little bouts of simple exercise throughout the day likely has a beneficial effect on MPS and may help stave off anabolic resistance over the long term.

Without getting too far into the weeds, the results also showed that squatting and walking alter MPS rates in complementary ways, which indicates doing a mix of strength- and endurance-type exercise is probably better than doing either in isolation.

Thus, if you don’t already, try not to sit for too long during the day. This may seem like a tall order if your job involves sitting at a desk for hours at a time. Fortunately, the exercise you do needn’t be strenuous—a few minutes of walking; 15-to-20 squats, lunges, or push-ups; or a mix of both every half hour should suffice. 

And in most cases you can do these exercises at your desk. No excuses.

TL;DR: Breaking up long periods of sitting with short bouts of light exercise (air squats, push-ups, walking, etc.) may reduce your risk of anabolic resistance, improving your health over the long term.

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“Weight cutting” doesn’t offer much of a competitive advantage to martial artists.

Source: “Effects of Weight Cutting on Exercise Performance in Combat Athletes: A Meta-Analysis” published on May 6, 2022 in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.

“Weight cutting” is commonplace in combat sports.

It involves an athlete drastically reducing their body weight (usually by severely dehydrating themselves) in the days before competing so that they qualify to compete in a lower weight division than they could if they maintained their regular body weight.

For example, the UFC fighter Alex Peirera supposedly cut almost 50 pounds for to his fight against Israel Adesanya (going from 233 to 185 pounds).

Once an athlete has “weighed in” (had their weight checked by officials), they typically take on large amounts of fluid and food to regain their lost weight. This allows them to legally gain a competitive advantage by competing at a higher weight than permitted by their weight category.

However, weight cutting and subsequent weight regaining can detrimentally impact an athlete’s health, especially when taken to extremes. For example, weight cutting can lower blood volume levels, increase heart rate, impair body temperature regulation, deplete glycogen, unsettle hormones, hinder muscle endurance, and more, and regaining weight can impair hemoglobin mass, blood volume, and blood glucose levels. 

That said, studies don’t always agree on the performance implications of weight cutting and regaining for combat sports, with some suggesting that these markers of poor health don’t necessarily translate into impaired performance (at least not in the short term).

As such, scientists at Charles Sturt University conducted a meta-analysis of 17 studies investigating weight cutting and performance to see if they could spot trends in the data that smaller studies missed.

Their results showed that athletes are likely slightly weaker and less able to repeatedly perform bursts of intense movement (throw multiple punch combinations or shoot for several successive takedowns, for example) after they cut weight. There’s not enough data to say how much regaining the weight after a cut mitigates these effects, but the current evidence suggests it probably doesn’t fix them entirely.

That said, these findings are still tentative. Most of the studies that initially met the criteria in this meta-analysis were thrown out for being too poor quality or biased. Those that remained had very different designs, reported the data in dissimilar ways, and involved diverse sets of athletes.

These caveats aside, the fact remains that cutting weight doesn’t seem to offer much benefit. As well as hindering health, it has no positive effect on performance. The only upside is that if you cut weight “better” than your opponent, you may have a size advantage come fight night.

That’s not nothing—all else being equal, a bigger fighter will beat a smaller one more often than not—but if it comes at the price of your health, strength, and endurance, it may be time to rethink your weight class or dieting strategy. 

TL;DR: Weight cutting in combat sports hinders health and has no positive effect on athletic performance, though it may still give you an advantage if you weigh more than your opponent during the fight.

The post Research Roundup #27: Optimal Triceps Training, Fitness for Desk Jockeys, and Weight Cutting appeared first on Legion Athletics.