THE ANAL LOCK– THE KEY TO LIFTING!

Yeah, I know, my bad punning habits die hard, but the Anal Lock is an important maneuver every gym-goer and lifter should know perfectly.

But, first, a test. Push or pull a heavy object (a heavy box, your bed, or a dumbbell). Now, repeat the same move after blowing out the air in your lungs through your mouth. In other words, at this point in the test, you have no air in the chest. See how difficult it is to move the heavy object? 

Valsalva

The difference lies in the fact that when you blew out the air in your chest, your intra-abdominal pressure is low. Any muscular effort in such a situation is doomed to be weak and futile. Watch any experienced lifter during a squat or a deadlift: at the beginning of the lift, he fills in air inside his chest, and his belly goes out (lifters mistakenly call this as “filling your stomach with air”). He holds his breath, and lifts. The breath is expelled at the end of the lift. 

Among the various muscular events resulting in a successful lift is the Valsalva Maneuver. The entire body becomes rigid and in a state of high muscular tension, with the breath held inside a closed glottis (larynx) and the anal sphincters tightly clenched along with the glutes. The abdominal muscles are also braced as if for a punch.

During the Valsalva, the intra-abdominal pressure becomes very high, and the nervous system excited. Indeed, the phenomenon of hyperirradiation is evident– when all the muscles are tensed by the nervous system, the ones responsible for the actual lift are more efficiently and strongly stimulated. Try lifting a weight with one hand while clenching the other hand strongly, while also tensing your glutes and tightening your anal sphincter. Then try to do the lift with all the muscles relaxed. The difference will be clear and evident. 

The difference between a good lift and a failed one is often the lack of hyperirradiation and failed maintenance of the anal lock. Clearly, a Valsalva maneuver is essential to lift a heavy load. Concentrate on this technique of forced expiration against a closed throat (often the breath escapes in a grunt), and you will be able to lift more. 

One could do something like a Valsalva while not tensing the glutes and locking the anus. Why not do that? It is commonplace for untrained people to forget the glutes and anus while focussing on the technique of the actual lift. This has the disadvantage of a less efficient nervous system stimulation (less hyperirradiation) and on top of that the creation of a complication.

There is not much mention amongst trainers and coaches about an important consequence if you fail to maintain the anal lock during a heavy lift. The raised intra-abdominal pressure translates into raised intra-rectal pressure. The pressure in the anal veins increases and they prolapse out of the anus, leading to an internal tear of the veins under the perianal skin. This results in a perianal hematoma, also known as thrombosed piles/hemorrhoids. This is a painful condition that will stop you lifting for a few days, and may even need hospitalisation for evacuation of the blood clot (a surgery). However, most cases are self-limiting and resolve in a couple of weeks. Cold and later hot  Sitz baths are useful, as may be the application of anesthetic ointments (like 5% xylocaine/lidocaine) and the intake of oral pain-killers.

Trainers and athletes need to be aware of this complication, and remember the importance of the anal lock.

An important pointthe Valsalva maneuver may be dangerous for certain people. For example, people with hypertension or a propensity for strokes may have intracranial bleeds because of sharply raised blood pressure. A physician’s help should be sought in case there is any doubt if you should do the maneuver or not.

WHEN IS A DIET BOOK FICTION?

kareena-kapoor-yogaI had heard of some nutritionist who had become famous because of actress Kareena Kapoor who had lost weight and allegedly become more attractive. I had also heard that this lady had written a book on the subject of nutrition and weight loss. Even better, I thought. Then a couple of patients asked me about the book and what I thought of it. It was then that I chanced upon the book by accident at a bookstore. I bought ‘Don’t Lose your mind, Lose your weight’ by Rujuta Diwekar and proceeded to read it.

To say I was disappointed would be understating the truth. I was dismayed. Shocked. Nauseated, even. Not only was the language atrocious (the author tries to act cool by using Mumbaiya slang liberally, and gleefully discusses acts normally referred to discreetly by polite society), but the substance was horribly false and unscientific.

She adds weight to her deliberations by name dropping. Astonishingly, she credits Anil Ambani with the quote “Common Sense is Uncommon”. I was impressed by that—how shallow and hypocritical does one have to be to do that bit of name dropping and eminence-by-association? Of course, the lovable ‘Bebo’ is freely referenced. The whole credibility of the author and the book seems to rest on this one case of weight loss and health gain. 

The author makes amazingly dumb claims like “laddu can be as wholesome a breakfast as omlette”, “pasta does not make you fat” and many more. I am getting irritated to even continue this critique of this most unworthy piece of nutritional fiction. 

I thought I would point out the scientific fallacies freely thrown about in every page. I thought I would underline to the reader and show that the blanket truisms she spouts every other line as if they are beyond question are almost all fake and false at the least, and fraudulent at the worst.

However, so numerous are these, so wild and outrageous the claims that I am already tired of rebutting them one by one. 

If she really believes all she wrote, she knows no actual nutritional science. If she does know the science, she has written fiction. Let her decide what she has done.

I do understand that I need to substantiate my comments on the book. As tiresome as it is, I will merely list a few, and only a few:

* “Because alcohol raises estrogens in the body, drunk men giggle like girls”. Does this need any rebuttal, you think?

* “In the absence of carbs, fat cannot be burnt” (a more idiotic statement that this would take some doing!).

* “Bread, biscuit and alcohol are all bad carbs”. Yeah, I wonder she didn’t say beef was bad carbs, too!

* “Carbs reduce bloating and improve metabolism”. And my name is Janet Jackson.

* “If you eat sweets during your festivities without guilt, you won’t put on fat. Take your body into confidence.” Where will the calories go, you ask? Probably gets burnt off by all the smiling and shitting (her favorite word) that the guiltless binge must induce.

* “Animal proteins are difficult to digest”. Really? I thought they were easily digested, absorbed and had a high biologic value (the BV of eggs is nearly 98% or so).

* “Protein by itself leads to muscle breakdown (catabolism), irritation, constipation, etc.” Powerlifters and bodybuilders who eat proteins obsessively are clearly victims of the muscle breakdown, huh, Ms. Diwekar?

* Fasting is bad. Eat every two hours for fat burning.” Evidence? “I am Kareena’s nutritionist”, she seems to say.

Enough already. Dissecting trash is not really a good utility of one’s time.

Does this book have some plus points? It does, a few, but they are unimportant.

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON AN UNFIT AMERICA- PART II

So, as I was saying in Part I, portion sizes of food are huge in the US, and soda consumption is universal. What more?
* Gyms are full of people doing the same things I have seen in India: the obviously unfit men and women doing chronic, slow cardio and the men, sprouting big biceps, going at curls of various kinds. I was the only person deadlifting, though a couple of boys were doing barbell squats. The rest of the alpha males in the huge YMCA gym were going at the machines and the biceps curls. They probably had never heard of Pavel or known the difference between strength and conditioning. Trainers were busy with personal clients, helping them with the reps in various machines, and that was it.
Seeing all this, I admire my favorite fitness coaches for being so rational in their outlook towards training.
* Outside on the kerbs and in parks, one saw men and women jogging, the sweat tenuously held by head bands and wrist bands. Each well-cushioned foot would strike the ground by the heel, with little back drive to hit the glutes and hamstrings. Sigh.
* At certain hotels like the Sheraton , there were no barbells in the gym. Only machines! I couldn’t believe it, but rationalised that their clients were probably not fitness oriented or demanding.
* One striking feature about the country is the incredible abundance of food outlets, leading one to conclude (wrongly, as I will say soon) that with so much junk food available, people are bound to eat those and reap the dividends (obesity, diabetes, etc.). Clearly, that is happening, though the mainstream recommendation of eating a grain-based, low-fat diet has had a major contribution in this regard.
So why is it wrong to say that Americans are fat only because they are surrounded by junk food purveyors all around?
If you look around a grocery store in that country, you will see an incredible array of green vegetables, fruits, fish, meats, dairy, seeds and nuts, and with several varieties of each, like organic, free-range, etc. If someone wants to eat real food and stay healthy, there is no way he can say he did not have a choice (Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, Whole Foods, Giants, etc.).
As a commentator said, the US is all about choice. The majority of Americans are making wrong choices because of several factors:
1. Misguided mainstream nutrition advice ( to eat grains/cereals, avoid fats, especially saturated fats).
2. The addictive nature of sugars and carbs– leading to cravings that leads the victim to the nearest outlet selling junk food.
IMG_0269
(butter caramel pie- image courtesy: http://www.tasteandtellblog.com/2007/12/gooey-caramel-butter-bars.html)

I visited Starbucks thrice in a day to have their rich pecan toffee pie which, as Part I of this ramble showed, carries nearly 300 calories.
cornbread(image courtesy: http://lilveggiepatch.wordpress.com/tag/restaurants/page/3/)

Being the melting pot of global cultures, the variety and richness of foods in America is incredible. Even American food (like the incredible corn bread with maple butter at Redstone Grill) was constantly tempting, even to this discriminating tongue.
Picture 5(image courtesy: Redstone Grill site)

cornbread2
(just to show I couldn’t have enough of this delicious cornbread!
Image courtesy: http://www.cookingforseven.com/2009/05/maple-cornbread-and-a-giveaway/
)
3. Fast and stressful life: though this does not apply as a general rule, I found the typical family struggling with mortgages, credit card bills, car repair bills, child care, job stress, etc. with holidays reserved for mowing the lawn, vacuuming, and sundry chores. In such a cortisol-driven milieu, fat gain seems natural.
4. Automation: all the Americans need now is a voice-activated remote to control all the other remotes, including the garage door. (The Koreans beat them in the bathroom, though, with toilet seats that warm your ass, flush it clean, and provide sundry other minor pleasures.)
Physical activity is almost nil!

*Books: I spent decent time at two of America’s largest book stores, Barnes & Noble and Borders. I was surprised to find not one of the (fitness) books I was looking for. I wanted to buy one of Tom Venuto‘s books, Alwyn Cosgrove‘s Afterburn, Pavel‘s Enter The Kettlebell and The Naked Warrior. I finally managed to order one of the books from the B&N on 5th Avenue in New York.
Protein Power, another book I was familiar with, authored by the Drs. Eades, was available in that store, and the blurb said the book had sold 3.5 million copies. I was not surprised, as the authors write very well, and sound very sane.
Most of the books in the fitness section were crap. I did find Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, but I wasn’t interested. After reading Pavel’s The Power To The People, I am only keen on getting better at the key lifts and improving on my strength and conditioning. For the same reason, I skipped other offerings, including The New Rules of Lifting, by Lou Schuler and Cosgrove.
On the other hand, the shelves were choking with diet books: diet for cystic fibrosis, diet for phenylketonurics, diets for celiac disease, and so on. ‘Dummies‘ books (low carb/diabetes, etc.) were also easily seen on shelves.
After three days of hunting, I understood that it is far better to order something online than hunt for it in the stores, if you have limited time. However, I love browsing in stores and taking my time till I am hungry, so I have no regrets!

*Overall (an excuse of a word to cut down an overlong post!), I found (again!) that this is a country all about individual freedom, including the freedom of self-destruction.
When I think of that, my respect for those who are American and fit is very high indeed!
* Finally (to exorcise my cornbread ghosts), each slice of cornbread is around 200 calories, at least. Add the maple butter, and several slices as starters to a meal, and you can now explain my (temporary and planned) fat gain. Have one on me, please!

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON AN UNFIT AMERICA (PART I)

Back after a 3 week long vacation spent in North America (mostly US), I decided to get something out of jet lag by blogging about it.
Here are some random thoughts of mine, having visited the US after 3 years. My health-fitness change had occurred in the interim, so my perceptions are new.
* Starbucks continues to maintain its smart image by doing things differently, and doing different things. They have a new drink that looks like a post workout drink (is that a first?) called Vivanno, that is a smoothie with strawberries/bananas/chocolate along with whey proteins. Around 280 calories and 15 grams of protein.Check this out for the full details.
retail_vivanno
(pic source: from Starbucks site)
They did have good breakfast foods, though their rich pecan toffee pie (see screenshot) and Tropical Paradise (which I had several times and helped to my adding 7 lbs of fat in 3 weeks) would more than compensate by way of sugar-loading your system!
Picture 2
They also scratch the patriotic itch by adopting soldiers in Afghanistan: you buy the coffee, and Starbucks sends it to them!
* Americans are patronizing fast food restaurants more than ever, and the results are showing! Mortons, an upscale restaurant chain, did not seem to be having as many customers as they would like, while McD’s were always crowded. Clearly a winner, though health experts continue to be traumatized at the ‘train-wreck nutrition’ of the company’s products.
* Soda consumption continues unabated, with very few people drinking water. Coke and beer continue to be as cheap as, if not cheaper than, water.
* Fitness ads on TV are all geared towards promoting gimmicky products. Nothing has changed over all these years: people buy into ‘new’ things that do nothing for them, rather than rely on the proven and trusted ‘old’ methods of fitness.
* I was impressed with one company (I forget which- Green Leaf, probably) that offered low carb products (they identified these clearly). However, their employees couldn’t tell me what a low-carb tortilla was made of!
* Another company, Au Bon Pain, had caloric numbers listed right beside the food names, unlike (almost) all others. This helped me: I baulked at ordering sandwiches/wraps/pizza slices that ranged towards 1000 calories a serving, even though I was hell-bent on going overboard with good-tasting (as opposed to healthy) food!
* Most good quality fitness products I wanted (like Therabands, mini-bands, ab wheels, etc.) were not available in the popular stores. Eventually, a City Sports store proved to give me most of all I needed (including Vibrams’ Five Finger Shoes and a foam roller).
Picture 1
* We all hear about the ridiculous food portion sizes in the US, but it is only when you experience it personally that you can imagine the havoc such food can cause to your health. A Porterhouse steak in Mortons weighs 48 ounces! That is like nearly three pounds of meat! Cookies, pies, cakes, drinks are all sized for monsters. Why, then, do companies continue to sell products that keep giving them constant bed publicity?
The answer is probably ‘value for money’: each dish could be shared by 3 or 4 people, I think, if it has to make any kind of nutritional sense. But do people do that? Clearly, no. Sharing does not seem to be fashionable.
* Italian restaurants, especially the highly recommended ones in New York, serve very small portions that simply cannot be justly shared. This seems to illustrate the Italian/French paradox: these people continue to maintain relatively lean profiles in spite of eating grains, sugars and fats in good measure, probably in part due to portion control.
* Indian food in Edison continued to be unhealthy for the most part. A couple of kebabs were surprisingly delicious and spicy. Fast food restaurants in the area served unhealthy food, as you would expect pav bhaji, sev puri, and mithai to be.
In the next post, I shall share more thoughts on related issues.

CALORIES, CARBOHYDRATES, CONFUSION?

Fat loss is basically all about creating a calorie deficit, right? We have been told for years together by experts, including a recent trial published in the revered New England Journal of Medicine, that fat loss can be established with a caloric deficit, and the individual macronutrient component of the diet is immaterial. In other words, whether you do low carb or low fat, you should be fine when running an energy deficit.
Many experts in the field of nutrition, especially the whistle-blowers of traditional nutrition (like Gary Taubes, for example) disagree vehemently. According to them, this is one of the sinister myths of conventional ‘wisdom’. Obesity is not the result of overeating, but the cause of overeating. This has been memorably exemplified in the movie Fathead. Check this link.
According to this school, if you eat carbohydrates, the resultant insulin spike causes fat deposition, and further cravings for sugars that leads to overeating. Therefore, obesity causes overeating. It is synonymous that carb consumption causes obesity.
The low carb school of nutrition advocates consumption of natural fats and proteins ad libitum, and avoiding even fruits (except occasionally, perhaps). On this diet, you don’t need to count calories, and you will lose fat even if you exceed your caloric requirement. How, you ask? In the absence of carbohydrates and insulin, how does the body fuel itself? You got it–adipose tissue, aka fat (a process called gluconeogenesis).
There are lots of people who have got impressive results with a low carb lifestyle. The more extreme low carb votaries advocate a ketogenic (meaning nearly zero carb) status as a matter of permanence.
So, for the average Joe or Jane seeking to shed 10 lbs (or 100, for that matter) of blubber, should one go low carb or should one tie down calories?
If you can go low carb, go for it! If you find it difficult (I, for one, can’t forego my mangoes, litchis or jackfruits in the insanely hot Indian summers), eat carbs, but stay clear of processed sources of these. No noodles, pastas, chips, etc., if you want to eat healthy carbs/sugars from fruits or the odd Bengali sandesh (made from dairy).

In this kind of scenario, keep your caloric intake down below your requirement. Be warned, however, that cutting carbs is the easiest way to earn a caloric deficit. If your carb count climbs up, so does your caloric count!
11_mango_lg

If I don’t eat sweets or fruits like mangoes, keeping a carb intake down to less than 100 grams per day is easy. On fasting days, it is as low as 50 grams. If you want to get it even lower (to ketogenic levels) then you need to avoid dairy. For Indians and vegetarians, dairy is a major source of nutrition, especially proteins.
litchis
Even though I agree largely with the Paleo outlook, I continue to enjoy verboten foods like sugary fruits and dairy. To me, therefore, a Paleo lifestyle is a major guide, but not a religion.
I go low carb on three days a week (when I fast and my carb/calorie intake is consciously and naturally low), and high carb on the other days. However, I should repeat that high carb for me does not mean I eat processed foods or more than bare minimal amounts of grains. Even on my high carb days I don’t reach near the recommended 300 grams per day. Most of my sources of carbs are dairy and fruits.
To sum up: if you can go low carb, do so by all means. If you can’t, keep the calories down! Exercise is one way of increasing your caloric deficit, though a relatively minor one.
At the day’s end, suit your fat loss method to what you will be able to sustain for a lifetime!

INDIAN FOOD AND NUTRITIONAL VALUE

I reckon this should be the title of a book, not a blog post! I will possibly tackle this on several other occasions, so don’t take this as a complete treatise on the subject.
I am putting down a list of Indian foods that I had a hard time finding the nutritional info of, and I hope this will help people looking specifically for this. I have made these calculations on my own, using the ingredient lists and from Fitday.
As far as possible, I have tried to be accurate.
KIRAY/KIRAI: A South Indian spinach dish flavored with grated coconuts and fried lentils. Very healthy, with veggie proteins, heathy fats (coconuts have medium chain triglycerides) and iron. The caloric value depends on how much of coconut is used.
Let me get into the details (all numbers rounded off):
400 grams spinach: 160 cals
1.5 cups of grated coconut: 424 cals
1 tbsp moong dal (lentils): 42 cals
1 tsp oil: 40 cals
Total: 666 calories, 63 grams fat, 18.6 gms protein, 40 gms carbohydrates.
This together gives you 6 cups of kirai. I can easily eat two or three without a blink (if not the whole thing).
Each cup of kirai, therefore, gives you:
Calories: 111
Fat:10 gms
Protein: 3 gms
Carbohydrates: 7 gms
Iron:16% of daily requirement
Potassium: 392 mgs
Sodium:194 mgs

CHICKEN KEBAB:

Each plate carries 273 calories , 15 grams fat, and 25 grams of protein.

DIMER DEVIL:

This is a much beloved Bengali snack that is essentially a boiled egg wrapped by boiled potato and minced mutton and crumb-fried in oil.
Each Devil contains 185 calories, 12.2 grams of fat, 9 grams of carbohydrates, and nearly 10 grams of protein.

FIRNI:
Picture 2

PANEER BUTTER MASALA:
Picture 3

CHANA DAL:
Note: each serving of chana dal should contain roughly an ounce of dry dal.
Picture 1

RAJMA:
A large serving with 100 grams of boiled beans
140 cals, 5.9 grams of fat, 17.8 grams of carbs, and 5.7 grams of protein.

RAVA MASALA DOSA:

385 calories.

SANDESH:

The size of the sweet and the quality of the milk makes caloric estimation uncertain. I take it as 170 calories per sweet, though you can also make lower calorie ones containing around 90 calories.

ROSSOGOLLA:

Similar problem with this delicious symbol of Bengal’s confectionary superiority: I estimate roughly 120 calories for each rossogolla.

MASALA MURI/ JHAAL MURI:
Picture 4

MUTTON SHEEKH KEBAB:

One serving should carry around 164 calories, 8 grams fat and 11 grams protein.

PAYESH/PAYASAM:

A serving of this sweet rice porridge carries roughly 140 calories, 5 grams each of fat and protein, and 18 grams of carbohydrates. Note that there are too many individual variations to account for, so use your judgment when calculating this.

More to come later. Hope this helps someone at some point of time!

LEARNING ABOUT IF

Coach Adam Steer, who teaches an incredible brand of exercise/fitness (called Circular Strength Training) was kind enough to ask me to share my thoughts on Intermittent Fasting with the readers of his blog.
You can get the post by clicking this link.