Is The Fish Kick the Fastest Swim Stroke Yet?

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

The fish kick may be the fastest swimming stroke yet:

Until recently, competitive swimming has focused almost entirely on what happens at the surface of the water. In early 19th-century England—which many consider to be the birthplace of the modern sport—swimmers raced using the breaststroke. A few decades later, Europeans learned a faster stroke when two Native Americans visiting London demonstrated a way of swimming they had learned growing up: the front crawl. One observer wrote, “they lash the water violently with their arms, like the sails of a windmill, and beat downwards with their feet, blowing with force, and forming grotesque antics.” The Brits eventually got over their shock. The backstroke came next, followed in the early 20th century by the butterfly stroke, which overcame the drag of the underwater recovery required by the breaststroke. The butterfly became the second fastest stroke after the front crawl.

All swimming at the surface shares the same speed restriction. “You’re always limited by your hull speed,” says Ryan Atkison, a sport biomechanist at the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario. It’s a nautical principle that also applies to swimmers. The theory goes that a swimmer on the surface cannot go faster than the bow wave that he or she creates. The bow wave increases with swim speed until, in theory, it stretches along the whole length of the swimmer’s body. Atkison says that the maximum speed is one body-length per second, which is about 1.9 to 2.6 meters per second for a swimmer about 2 meters (6 feet, 5 inches) tall.

“You can’t go any faster than that unless you climb up over top of that wave,” says Atkison. “Some animals can, like dolphins can porpoise and jump over top of that bow wave, but humans can’t physically climb out of that trough,” he says. “The only real way to get faster is to be better under water, where we don’t really have those upper limits on speed.”

Coaches began to take advantage of this fact in the 1980s, when Harvard University coach Joe Bernal realized that some of his swimmers were faster if they stayed underwater and dolphin kicked. This is essentially identical to the fish kick, except that the swimmer is flat on his stomach, rather than turned on his side. Some especially strong underwater swimmers stayed submerged almost the entire length of the pool, since there was no rule against it. That all changed in 1998, when FINA, the world governing body of competitive swimming, ruled that swimmers performing the backstroke had to surface after 15 meters.

Hyman came of age as a world-class swimmer during the underwater revolution. “I was 13 when I started staying under water longer than is typical,” she says, explaining she could go 30 meters without breathing. “I found I could be faster under water than at the surface.” Most swimmers were using the dolphin kick to propel themselves underwater, but Hyman’s coach, Bob Gillet, wanted to experiment. In 1995 he came across a study in Scientific American about how tuna were able to swim at almost 50 mph, where dolphins top out around 25 mph. The study found that the flick of a fish tail generated more efficient thrust than that of a marine mammal tail. Gillet wondered whether the dolphin kick might be more powerful on its side, so the undulations were horizontal, like those of a fish.

One cool December day in Phoenix in 1995, Gillet put it to the test. Hyman showed up for practice at Gillet’s outdoor pool, and he asked her to try it. “In the most respectful way, I called him a mad scientist,” she says. Her first attempts were awkward, and she ended up three lanes over from where she started. But she got better, and soon she was cutting through the water like an eel. She was going faster than she did with the dolphin kick. Faster than she had ever swum before. This gave Gillet another idea.

They went to the local country club pool, where the lighting was brighter and Gillet could walk out to the edge of a diving board to capture video. They took a long, thin rubber tube, fastened it to Hyman’s wrist, ran it down the length of one side of her body, and fastened the other end to her ankle. Then they filled the tube with store-bought food dye, and Hyman corked the tube with her thumb. She jumped into the pool, released her thumb, and took off as Gillet filmed. What they saw in the footage afterward astonished them. The dye swirled out to reveal huge vortices after each of her horizontal kicks. Gillet suspected that these miniature whirlpools, reaching 4 feet in diameter, propelled her forward. He also thought it was possible that when Hyman did the dolphin kick facedown, the bottom of the pool and the surface of the water interfered with these vortices and slowed her down.

Naval Special Warfare Center Physical Training Guidelines

Monday, July 13th, 2015

The Naval Special Warfare Center presents its Physical Training Guidelines, based on these key points:

  • Keep it simple
  • Use proper technique (get coaching from qualified sources if necessary)
  • Develop the whole body, especially the parts known to be vulnerable to injury

So, what are those parts known to be vulnerable to injury?

Rotator cuff, mid/lower traps, rhomboids, posterior & medial glutes, hamstrings, tibialis anterior, torso rotators

You might consider doing more than just reading the whole thing.

Treadmills Unplugged

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

The latest gym-machine craze is the manual treadmill:

The treadmills, made by Woodway, based in Waukesha, Wis., have a slightly concave tread surface, like the bottom of a hamster wheel. The front and back of the tread are higher than the middle, a design that uses gravity to help accelerate and brake. The belt speeds up when users move toward the front and slows down when they move back.

[...]

Quieter than treadmills with motors, they are especially useful in Manhattan clubs situated above other tenants, says Ed Trainor, TSI’s vice president for fitness, services and product development.

[...]

Nonmotorized treadmills are generally smaller than traditional ones and don’t require power strips or outlets. Their digital displays are battery-powered.

[...]

The belts speed up and slow down with the runner, making them useful for short-burst workouts. Though the treadmills take some getting used to, some people say they feel safer. “You’re not going to get shot off the back of it,” Ms. Fairchild says. “If you stop, it stops.”

Accidents on treadmills cause about 24,000 injuries annually. In May, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Goldberg, the husband of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, died after falling off a treadmill and hitting his head.

[...]

These rugged manual treadmills cost about $6,000, as much as or more than motorized ones.

Weightlifting is Anti-Aging

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

The iron pill is good for what ails you, Mangan reminds us:

For example, weightlifting enhances brain function, reverses sarcopenia, and lowers the death rate in cancer survivors. Take this last item, lowering death rate in cancer survivors: garden-variety aerobic exercise had no effect on survival, while resistance training lowered death rates by one third; so at least in this one example, you can see that weight training is a vastly superior form of exercise.

Weightlifting also appears to be superior when it comes to fighting the aging process. Resistance exercise lowers levels of myostatin, which is one of the main ways in which muscle strength and mass are increased, since myostatin negatively regulates muscle strength and mass. Myostatin levels increase with age, which may partially account for loss of muscle mass and frank sarcopenia with aging. Mice that have been genetically engineered to have lower levels of myostatin live about 15% longer than wild-type mice.

Therefore it follows, assuming that the physiology of mice and humans are directly comparable in this regard, that lowering myostatin levels through weightlifting should increase lifespan. (And, as previously noted, branched chain amino acids, creatine, and polyphenols from chocolate and tea also lower myostatin.)

The Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

The right dose of exercise for a longer life is about an hour of walking per day:

They found that, unsurprisingly, the people who did not exercise at all were at the highest risk of early death.

But those who exercised a little, not meeting the recommendations but doing something, lowered their risk of premature death by 20 percent.

Those who met the guidelines precisely, completing 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, enjoyed greater longevity benefits and 31 percent less risk of dying during the 14-year period compared with those who never exercised.

The sweet spot for exercise benefits, however, came among those who tripled the recommended level of exercise, working out moderately, mostly by walking, for 450 minutes per week, or a little more than an hour per day. Those people were 39 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who never exercised.

At that point, the benefits plateaued, the researchers found, but they never significantly declined.

Train Your Breathing Muscles

Friday, March 20th, 2015

By the time they reached Base Camp, at just over 16,000 feet, the members of a British military expedition found that their arterial oxygen saturation was 20 percent lower than it had been at sea level — except for the members who had been assigned inspiratory muscle training for four weeks leading up to the expedition:

When the IMT group got to Base Camp, they had desaturated by only 14 percent, a significant six-percent advantage over the control group that persisted as they kept climbing to the advanced base camp at over 18,000 feet.

[...]

Humans have between seven and 11 pounds of respiratory muscle, primarily the diaphragm and intercostal muscles around the ribcage, which consumes energy and fatigues just like the hamstrings or biceps. The idea of training this muscle—and particularly the muscles required for inhaling—originated with patients suffering from breathing-related conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The basic IMT protocol those patients followed hasn’t changed: you take a deep breath through a tube with variable resistance that makes it harder to inhale. Repeat 30 times a day, ramping up the resistance as your muscles get stronger.

For over a decade, researchers have been studying whether IMT can boost endurance performance at sea level. The evidence remains mixed, but a meta-analysis of 21 studies in 2013 concluded that it probably offers a small boost, particularly in breathing-constrained sports like swimming. At altitude, though, the situation is different: breathing takes a significantly higher proportion of your overall energy, consuming 20 to 30 percent more oxygen by 9,000 feet, so the breathing muscles fatigue more quickly.

The idea that IMT might be useful at altitude was first tested in a 2007 Kansas State study that found improvements in exercise at a simulated elevation of around 10,000 feet. After four weeks of IMT, blood oxygen levels during exercise were higher, and the strengthened respiratory muscles were able to handle the demands of breathing in thin air more easily, reducing their total oxygen usage. Ratings of effort and breathing discomfort were also reduced. Curiously, actual performance in a time-to-exhaustion trial was unchanged. Read: the subjects didn’t have better endurance, they just felt better.

More recently, Lomax, the author of the Makalu study, has followed up with a lab study of her own, also at a simulated altitude of around 10,000 feet. While the results haven’t been published yet, she found that four weeks of IMT produced higher arterial oxygen levels, reduced overall oxygen demand, increased breathing efficiency, and reduced breathing discomfort during exercise. As in the Kansas State study, the benefits were apparent only during exercise at altitude, not at sea level.

The training tool of choice is an incentive spirometer, like the PowerBreathe.

Aromatase Inhibitors

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

P.D. Mangan smashed his own chronic fatigue — through diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins and minerals — and expanded his view on health and fitness. When he looked into testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), his (carefully selected) doctor recommended an aromatase inhibitor instead:

Aromatase inhibitors work to boost T by decreasing the production of estrogens, especially estradiol, the most potent estrogen. Since estradiol feeds back on natural T production, inhibiting it, lowering estradiol levels results in an increase in T. My estradiol level at the last reading had been 70, higher than the upper limit of normal for men. Why that was I don’t know, but estradiol levels increase with age in men, so maybe that was all there was to it.

So my doctor prescribed me anastrozole, the most commonly used aromatase inhibitor. Anastrozole, also known by the trade name of Arimidex, is generic and cheap: I pay about twelve dollars for a three month supply. The dosage is one-half milligram twice a week, which is quite low. Estradiol is necessary even in men, with things like bone composition depending on it, so you don’t want to drive it too low or abolish it altogether.

I noticed a difference shortly after starting to take it. For one thing, my exercise recovery appears a lot better. I used to need a solid three days off between weight sessions in order to recover fully; now I need only two. I haven’t gained any weight, but I’d say my body composition is better: a bit leaner, a bit more muscle. (I can’t seem to gain weight to save my life at this point.) And, yes, my sex drive increased noticeably.

Last time my T level was measured, it had increased to 700, a modest increase of about 20%. In some studies, using higher doses of anastrozole and in low T men, T levels have increased as much as 50%, and free T levels even more. Probably my modest but noticeable results came about because I use a low dose and wasn’t low T to begin with.

However, my estradiol level decreased to 40, well within the normal range of a young man. This may also account for what I consider a successful result of the treatment.

Running Hard

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Hard-core endurance training is as deadly as sitting on the couch:

Researchers looked at 5,048 healthy participants in the Copenhagen City Heart Study and questioned them about their activity.

They identified and tracked 1,098 healthy joggers and 413 healthy but sedentary non-joggers for 12 years.

Jogging from 1 to 2.4 hours per week was associated with the lowest mortality and the optimal frequency of jogging was no more than three times per week.

Overall, significantly lower mortality rates were found in those with a slow or moderate jogging pace, while the fast-paced joggers had almost the same mortality risk as the sedentary non-joggers.

Researchers registered 28 deaths among joggers and 128 among sedentary non-joggers. In general, the joggers were younger, had lower blood pressure and body mass index, and had a lower prevalence of smoking and diabetes.

Maureen Talbot, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This study shows that you don’t have to run marathons to keep your heart healthy.

“Light and moderate jogging was found to be more beneficial than being inactive or undertaking strenuous jogging, possibly adding years to your life.

Schwarzenegger on Psychological Warfare

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Tim Ferriss interviews Arnold Schwarzenegger on psychological warfare and more:

  • The Art of Psychological Warfare, and How Arnold Uses It to Win
  • How Twins Became His Most Lucrative Movie (?!?)
  • Mailing Cow Balls to Politicians
  • How Arnold Made Millions — Fresh Off The Boat — BEFORE His Acting Career Took Off
  • How Arnold Used Meditation For One Year To Reset His Brain
  • And Much More…

When You Eat

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

When you eat may be just as important as what you eat:

In the latest paper Dr. Panda worked on, published in December in the journal Cell Metabolism, his team put obese mice on a variety of unhealthy eating regimens, including high-fat and high-fructose diets. One set of mice ate at all times, while another set ate only during periods of nine, 10, 12 or 15 hours. Both sets were given the same unhealthy food options, and both sets ate all the food available, according to the research.

Because the restricted mice could still eat as frequently as they wanted within the given time frame, none of the research tracked the effects of large meals versus smaller, or of frequent snacking.

The benefits of restricted eating times were proportional to the amount of time fasted, said Amandine Chaix, a Salk researcher who works with Dr. Panda. The narrower the window for eating, the more weight the mice lost.

The researchers think this is partly because the restricted schedule aligns with the body’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock. Eating happens at times when the body is more efficient at breaking down foods.

[...]

A second benefit comes from fasting itself, says Mark Mattson, chief of the Cellular and Molecular Neurosciences Section at the National Institutes of Health. After fasting, the body starts to use fat, instead of glucose, as a source of energy. This leads to faster weight loss, among other benefits, he explained.

Extraordinairy Photos of Ordinary People

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Artsy photographer Benjamin Von Wong brought along his expensive lighting equipment and a rain machine and took extraordinairy photos of ordinary people:

Mental Fatigue

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Mental fatigue leads to physical fatigue, so mental training can improve physical performance:

In the twelve-week study, two groups of fourteen soldiers each trained on stationary bikes. The first half trained three times a week for one hour at a moderate aerobic pace. The second half did exactly the same intensity of training for the same duration, so the physiological work was the same. But while this second group pedaled, they were also doing a mentally fatiguing task.

The results at the end of the study were mind blowing. The two groups saw similar increases in their VO2 max, meaning the physiological effects of the training were about the same. But when you asked them to do what’s called a “time to exhaustion test, in which they rode at a specific percentage of their VO2 max until they couldn’t go on, the differences were profound. The control group saw the time to exhaustion improve 42 percent from their results before the training started. The group that combined training with mental exercise saw an improvement of 115 percent, almost three times the improvement that the control group saw. Combining the physical and mental stress led to a quantum leap in performance.

From Faster, Higher, Stronger, by Mark McClusky.

Inflammaging

Monday, January 12th, 2015

As we get older, our immune systems begin to malfunction, leading to inflammaging:

This condition is characterized by increased production of inflammatory cytokines, as well as lower immune function. Cortisol is produced to counteract the inflammation, and this has deleterious consequences as well.

Inflammaging and sarcopenia — loss of muscle mass — are closely linked:

It turns out that a number of things can be done to counteract sarcopenia. A recent study found, for instance, that old rats given ibuprofen had their anabolic resistance abolished, and restored their muscle mass to levels seen in younger rats. Their levels of muscle protein synthesis rose by 25%. The authors of the study make clear the connection between inflammation and anabolic resistance, noting that “inflammatory markers and cytokines levels were significantly improved in treated old rats”.

That may all be well and good, but does this work in humans? In Influence of acetaminophen and ibuprofen on skeletal muscle adaptations to resistance exercise in older adults, the researchers put older adults (mid sixties) on a resistance training program, and gave two groups of them either acetaminophen or ibuprofen. What happened next will shock you: those on the anti-inflammatory drugs gained more muscle and more strength than controls.

That did in fact shock me, because I’d read previously that anti-inflammatories reduced or eliminated the body’s response to resistance training — no pain, no gain.

In Faster, Higher, Stronger, Mark McClusky has more to say about NSAIDs:

Athletes love these drugs. A study of players in the 2002 and 2006 soccer World Cup found that more than half of them took an NSAID during the tournament. Ten percent of players overall were taking them before every match — on one squad, twenty-two of the twenty-three players were doing so. In endurance sports, ibuprofen use is so prevalent — up to half of competitors in one popular ultramarathon race took ibuprofen during the run — that it’s often known as “vitamin I.”

There are a couple of problems with this type of widespread use. The first is that taking ibuprofen before an event doesn’t help with performance. In fact, there have been studies that have shown that cyclists perform about 4.2 percent worse in a ten-mile time trial when they’ve taken ibuprofen before the effort as compared to a placebo. Furthermore, animal studies have shown that taking ibuprofen during training can lead to a reduction in the benefits you get from it — even if you increase your training volume, you don’t get the same results as you would without the ibuprofen. Ibuprofen seems to, paradoxically, increase the amount of inflammation seen in the body during exercise. And then there are the problems that chronic ibuprofen use can cause with the liver and gastrointestinal system.

[...]

Acetaminophen might be a different story, however. First of all, the drug operates differently than ibuprofen and other NSAIDs. It isn’t a strong anti-inflammatory, so it doesn’t have the same negative effects on training adaptation that ibuprofen does. More interesting, however, are the possible effects that acetaminophen might have if you take it before you exercise.

A study at the University of Exeter took a group of thirteen well-trained cyclists, gave them either a placebo or 1,500 mg of acetaminophen, and asked them to ride a ten-mile time trial. After taking the drug, riders were 2 percent faster than those who had gotten the placebo. But that’s not all. When the riders had taken acetaminophen, they rode at a higher heart rate and produced more lactate, but had the same perception of effort as when they took the placebo. That’s to say, the rode harder, but it didn’t feel like it.

The lab, led by Alexis Mauger, has gone on to show that acetaminophen also provided a group of recreational cyclists with an increase in sprint performance on the order of 5 percent, mostly because repeated sprints didn’t suffer as large a drop in performance as without the drug. And they have also shown that acetaminophen increases performance in hot (86 degrees Fahrenheit) conditions, by helping keep the riders’ core temperatures lower due to the drug’s antipyretic effects. The riders didn’t just feel cooler as they exercised; their bodies actually stayed cooler during the effort.

Winter Never Comes

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

The Metabolic Winter hypothesis suggests that obesity is partly due to lack of exercise, but mostly due to chronic overnutrition and chronic warmth:

Seven million years of human evolution were dominated by two challenges: food scarcity and cold. “In the last 0.9 inches of our evolutionary mile,” they write, pointing to the fundamental lifestyle changes brought about by refrigeration and modern transportation, “we solved them both.” Other species don’t exhibit nearly as much obesity and chronic disease as we warm, overfed humans and our pets do. “Maybe our problem,” they continue, “is that winter never comes.”

Not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

There’s no man in town half as manly as Gaston: