Chimps are not superhumanly strong

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

Chimps are not as superhumanly strong as we thought they were:

“There’s this idea out there that chimpanzees are superhuman strong,” says Matthew O’Neill at the University of Arizona in Phoenix. Yet his team’s experiments and computer models show that a chimpanzee muscle is only about a third stronger than a human one of the same size.

This result matches well with the few tests that have been done, which suggest that when it comes to pulling and jumping, chimps are about 1.5 times as strong as humans relative to their body mass. But because they are lighter than the average person, humans can actually outperform them in absolute terms, say O’Neill.

His findings suggest that other apes have similar muscle strength to chimpanzees. “Humans are the odd ones,” he says.

O’Neill’s team has been studying the evolution of upright walking. To create an accurate computer model of how chimps walk, the researchers needed to find out whether their muscles really are exceptionally strong. So they removed small samples of leg muscle from three chimps under general anaesthetic and measured the strength of individual fibres.

The same procedure is used to study human muscles. Comparing the results with the many studies on those revealed that, contrary to the claims of several other studies, there is nothing special about chimp muscle. “Chimpanzee muscle is really no different than human muscle in terms of the force that individual fibres exert,” says O’Neill.

So why, on a pound-for-pound basis, are chimps slightly stronger than humans? The team went on to look at the muscle of chimps that had died of natural causes, which revealed that two-thirds of their muscle consists of fast-twitch fibres, whereas more than half of human fibres are slow-twitch.

[...]

Quite how the myth that chimps are incredibly strong came about is not clear, says O’Neill. But it may have been fuelled by a 1923 study that claimed one chimp could pull nine times its own body weight. Later studies suggested they could only pull two to four times their weight.

Death by whipped cream dispenser

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Instagram fitness model Rebecca Burger was just killed by a faulty whipped cream dispenser.

Rebecca Burger at Santoo Villa in Bali

The top blew off, under pressure, and hit her in the chest hard enough to kill her. Yeesh. This is a recurring problem:

One French consumer group has warned readers for years about faulty connectors on the gas capsules, causing them to break and expel at high speed.

The injuries caused range from broken teeth and tinnitus to multiple fractures and, in one case, the loss of an eye, consumer magazine 60 Millions said. But the magazine says new dispensers made since 2015 appear to be safe.

In 2013, one victim of an exploding cream dispenser told RTL radio: “I had six broken ribs, and my sternum was broken.

“At the hospital, I was told that if the shock and blast had been facing the heart, I would be dead now.”

The number of accidents prompted the government office for consumers to issue a warning, saying the accidents stretch back as far as 2010, and can occur at any time — even after years of use.

At least one manufacturer issued a product recall — but a year after that recall, only 25,000 were returned out of 160,000 sold, Le Parisien reported.

Everything else was rather laborious

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Recently retired marathoner Ryan Hall, whose distinguished career includes the fastest marathon and half-marathon ever run by an American, has started lifting weights and has bulked up from 127 pounds to 165:

“I’ve been small and weak my entire life — just, like, totally underdeveloped,” Hall told Runner’s World. “I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be big and strong.”

Ryan Hall as Lifter and Runner

“To be an elite marathoner with a body that’s light and lean: while you’re running, you feel amazing. You’re fluid and economical, floating along without having to carry a lot of muscle mass,” says Hall. “But the rest of the day, to be honest, is not a lot of fun. My energy was super low [throughout most of my career]. I took naps every day and felt pretty much useless when I wasn’t running.”

Hall told me that even during his best years as a competitive athlete, he was “healthy” only in a narrowly defined way. As he put it, he was good at one thing: running. Everything else was rather laborious. Hall said he could be stirring pots of chili while making dinner and feel soreness in his shoulder the next day.

Sourdough is just white bread

Friday, June 9th, 2017

I would have assumed that sourdough bread and ordinary white bread were nutritionally very, very similar, but wild yeast strains and bacteria that fill sourdough with sour acids purportedly reduce its glycemic index. Or so scientists thought, until a recent study found otherwise:

In a study led by students Tal Korem and David Zeevi, the Israeli team picked two extremes from the bread world. They hired a local baker to prepare artisanal sourdough from whole-grain flour. They also bought mass-manufactured loaves of white bread, made from refined flour and loaded with preservatives.

The team recruited 20 volunteers and asked half to spend a week eating the white bread and another eating the sourdough. The other volunteers did the same in the reverse order. Before and after each bread-filled week, the team took a census of the bacteria in each volunteer’s gut, as well as measured 20 variables including blood pressure, weight, blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, and various hormones. They found that the bread the participants ate had no significant effect on any of these factors. Even the microbiome, which can shift quickly and extensively after a change in diet, was barely affected by the choice of breads.

Weighted bats don’t quicken a batter’s swing

Monday, June 5th, 2017

The Wall Street Journal reports that weighted bats don’t quicken a batter’s swing — but we’ve known that for decades:

“With 20 college baseball players from one university, I found no difference,” said Dr. Szymanski, who referred to the number of players he studied with 10 differently weighted bats. “Their performance was statistically unchanged.”

Other studies, notably those by Dr. DeRenne, have found that warming up with an overloaded bat, especially with a doughnut, slowed down batters.

“The doughnut is the worst,” said Dr. DeRenne, who tested one weighing 28 ounces. “It changes the balance point in the bat.”

The weight may alter the batter’s swing, especially in younger players who are still developing strength and mechanics.

Sport Science, a television series where athletes and scientists explore the biomechanics of different sports activities, tested the effect with a college player in 2008. Without any added weight, the batter averaged 69 mph on 10 swings and routinely connected with the bat’s sweet spot on balls pitched from a machine. After warming up with a doughnut, the batter’s speed decreased to 68.3 mph on average, and on each swing, the ball missed the bat’s sweet spot by several inches.

The experience of a lone batter in a single test can’t be generalized to others, but the results resembled other studies.

The Tibetans do things differently

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

Tibetans have evolved and maintained genetic adaptations that suit them to life above 15,000 feet:

Huff and co-authors published a study in April in PLOS Genetics analyzing for the first time whole-genome sequences for 27 Tibetan individuals. The research identified three new genes that help with mountain living, in addition to confirming two that were previously known. These gene variants give Tibetans the ability to metabolize oxygen more efficiently and protect against Vitamin D deficiency.

[...]

One of the genes that helps Tibetans adapt to high altitude is known as EPAS1. The Tibetan variant of this gene does a surprising thing — it actually lowers the hemoglobin count in your blood at high altitudes. Hemoglobins are a protein in red blood cells that transport oxygen to your body. It’s surprising that Tibetans would have a lower hemoglobin count at high altitudes; normally our bodies respond to lower oxygen pressures by increasing hemoglobins in our blood, allowing for more O2 to reach the muscles. It’s even more surprising because other population groups that have adapted to high altitude environments, including the South American Andes and Africa’s Ethiopian Highlands, have done so in part by raising hemoglobin count.

The Tibetans, however, do things differently. Rather than upping hemoglobin count, their bodies have several adaptations that allow them to use oxygen more efficiently, so they need less of it. This allows them to keep hemoglobin counts relatively low at high altitude, which helps to avoid some of the potential downsides of a high hemoglobin count. Hemoglobins thicken the blood, and the thicker your blood the more likely it is to clot, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Atlatling in Austin

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Austin seems like the kind of town where you’d see someone throwing spears at the park with an atlatl:

“It’s the rawest form of hunting tool,” says the co-founder and CEO of meat-based superfoods company Epic Provisions. Mr. Collins, 34, is a recreational bow hunter based in Austin, Texas, who only has time for a few hunting trips each year. Two years ago, he was researching historical hunting methods and discovered the atlatl (pronounced at-LA-tal).

Atlatl Photo by Matthew Mahon

A version of the atlatl, a hunting tool that predates the bow and arrow, may have first been used around 30,000 years ago in Europe and 11,000 in North America, according to the World Atlatl Organization. The word comes from the Nahuatl languages spoken in Mexico and other parts of Central America.

It lengthens the arm like an extra joint, making it possible to throw a spear farther and with more force than with one’s bare hands. It works similarly to a throw stick for dogs playing fetch.

Atlatls typically range from 18 to 24 inches long. One end has a hook and the other a hand hold. The hook connects to the back end of the spear, which is 5 to 6 feet long and thicker than an arrow. Throwers hold the atlatl at eye level and step in the direction of the target as they use their arm and wrist to throw the spear forward. The end of the atlatl flips around, pushing the spear forward with added force.

Mr. Collins played baseball in high school and likens the motion to throwing a pitch. He finds atlatl throwing meditative. “You really get in a zone and forget any worries,” he says.

Tough, detail-oriented, and able to push themselves

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Jennifer Bricker was born without legs and immediately given up for adoption by her Romanian-American parents:

But with the support of her adoptive family, Jen, in spite of her physical challenges, grew to become a champion athlete herself. By age 12 she was excelling in power tumbling — an acrobatic sport that combines artistic gymnastics and trampoline. She failed to understand why people singled out her achievements over those of her teammates. In 1998, she placed fourth in the all-around event at the Junior Olympics, the first physically challenged tumbler to finish so high. Her gymnastics idol growing up? Dominique Moceanu.

Her gymnastics idol, Dominique Moceanu, was one of the “Magnificent Seven” at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta — and turned out to be her older sister.

Nancy L. Segal describes her work on identical twins and non-twin siblings:

I have studied separated twins for many years, first from 1982 to 1991 as an investigator with the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart (MISTRA). Today, I follow the progress of 16 young Chinese reared-apart twin pairs, as well as older twins separated due to unusual life events. I have seen striking examples of identical, reared-apart twins whose athletic talents coincided prior to any contact between them. Japanese-born twins Steve and Tom, raised by different families in the United States, both became competitive lifters and owners of bodybuilding gyms; Steve competed in the 1980 Olympics. Adriana and Tamara, born in Mexico and raised in New York, attended different Long Island colleges and found each other only after one was mistaken for the other. But both were already accomplished dancers and later performed together. Mark and Jerry, each six-foot-four, were both already volunteer firefighters when they met in their early thirties, each having developed the strength, stamina, and motivation to pursue the demanding role.

Studying twins, particularly separated-at-birth pairs, and separately reared non-twin siblings, is the best way to disentangle the genetic and environmental influences on individual similarities and differences. For example, such research could help determine if nature or nurture is the stronger factor in sports participation and achievement. But other physical actions and routines appear to have a genetic basis as well. Most reared-apart identical twins in the MISTRA group, for example, positioned their bodies the same way while standing for unposed photographs, which occurred less often among fraternal reared-apart pairs.

[...]

A 2005 twin study by Dutch researcher Janine Stubbe showed that genetic effects on sports participation increase after adolescence, as children gain the freedom to enter and create environments compatible with their genetic proclivities. Her subsequent 2006 study confirmed this finding, and numerous twin studies from around the world have found similar genetic effects on oxygen uptake, anaerobic capacity and power, cardiac mass, and other performance-related fitness characteristics.

Claude Bouchard of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is one of the few researchers to combine twins and adoptees in genetic studies of sports-related traits. His 1984 study of submaximal physical working capacity — an index of aerobic metabolism and oxygen transport that boosts muscular activity and endurance — found the greatest resemblance between identical twins, followed by fraternal twins, biological siblings, and adoptive siblings and showed strong genetic influence on these traits. These findings have serious implications for how we make the most of our physical abilities and overcome our limitations.

[...]

Dominique and Jen are both extroverted, driven, and competitive. They are also perfectionists and “performance hams” who love being in front of a crowd. Their voices sound the same, whether speaking or laughing, and they use their hands a lot in conversation. Jen recognizes traits in Dominique that she sees in herself, such as leadership and initiative. Both are tough, detail-oriented, and able to push themselves emotionally and physically, perhaps explaining their commitment to the long hours and personal sacrifices required for success in gymnastics.

According to Dominique, though, an important difference between them is that Jen has “super-high confidence, whereas we were beaten down by our father. I walked on eggshells.” Jen herself credits her competitive success and self-esteem to the support of her adoptive family and community — and now to the DNA she shares with her sisters as well.

[...]

My reared-apart twin research reveals that close relationships can develop quickly between such pairs. In 2003, I found that over 70 percent of reunited identical twins and nearly 50 percent of reunited fraternal twins recalled feeling closer than or as close as best friends upon first meeting. These figures jumped to about 80 percent and 65 percent, respectively, for the closeness they reported feeling when surveyed. Yet only about 20 percent of the twins felt the same way toward unrelated siblings they had always known. In 2011, I reported my findings that most parents of young separated twins observed an immediate rapport between the children when reunited. These findings suggest that perceptions of similarity (mostly behavioral) are the social glue that draws and keeps reunited twins and siblings together, underlining the universal importance of family.

Hunter-Gatherer Fitness

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Anthropologist Herman Pontzer distributed GPS units with heart rate monitors to Hadza hunter-gatherers in Northern Tanzania:

The 46 subjects — 19 male and 27 female with a mean age of 32.7 — had their heart rates tracked over four two-week periods, covering both rainy and dry seasons. This data was matched up with what the researchers have learned about the Hadza’s cardiovascular health by testing 198 subjects (including 30 also in the heart-rate study). Their findings: An examination of blood pressure, cholesterol and other biomarkers shows no evidence of risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The typical Hadza day begins at sunrise. The Hadza wake up in grass huts in the middle of the savanna and mill about while figuring out plans and eating breakfast.

Then the men set out with a bow and poison-tipped arrows, covering miles and miles to track prey, such as giraffes, impalas and zebras. “They don’t run,” Pontzer notes, unless, of course, “someone jumps out of the bushes at them.” But they walk pretty much continuously, with just a single break at midday to avoid the worst heat. If they’re striking out with hunting, Pontzer says, they might chop into trees to get wild honey.

Women go out in groups, along with children under the age of 2, who are usually wrapped up snug on mom’s back. They pick berries at such a rapid clip that Pontzer admits he couldn’t keep up with the pace. The tougher task is digging into the hard and rocky ground with a sharpened stick to collect tubers, which are a staple of their diet. The upper body workout can take hours, Pontzer says.

It all adds up to about 135 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Contrast that to the current recommendations from the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion of at least 150 minutes per week.

And only about 10 percent of Americans achieve that guideline, Pontzer says.

Joe Rogan Interviews Louie Simmons

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Joe Rogan interviews powerlifting legend Louie Simmons, and he has to laugh from time to time at how ridiculously over-the-top manly Simmons is:

How a Chess Champion Trains for the Big Game

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Magnus Carlsen’s fitness routine seems rather hip:

At home in Oslo, Mr. Carlsen goes to a 90-minute hot yoga class two to three times a week. He plays defense on his local soccer team but says he prefers to attack when playing casually with friends. He trains with his team one to two times a week for an hour and usually has one game a week. During Norway’s long winters, he goes cross-country skiing and hiking on weekends.

Whenever he has time to kill, such as when traveling or waiting in line at a store, he uses the opportunity to play games on his phone. “I have a team of grandmasters that create interesting chess-related games,” he says. Lately, he has been playing a text-based, multiplayer role-playing game called Avalon. It is played in real time, so players are constantly thinking about the next move. “It’s a mythological environment where you can create your own character and move through over 20,000 locations over 19 continents,” Mr. Carlsen says. “It’s easy to get caught up and play for hours.”

Mr. Carlsen eats a mostly vegetarian diet. For breakfast, he makes a superfood smoothie with ingredients like açaí berry and hemp milk, or he’ll have a fresh pressed green juice, with ginger and lemon. Lunch is a salad topped with avocado, walnuts or pumpkin seeds. He likes Asian flavors and often makes a vegetable stir fry over brown rice for dinner. During tournaments he focuses on getting enough protein to maintain his energy over long time periods. He relies on plant proteins like beans, nuts, seeds or hemp protein and drinks water throughout the tournament.

Metabolic Effects of a 4-Day Outdoor Trip

Monday, November 14th, 2016

Researchers looked at the netabolic effects of a 4-day outdoor trip under simulated Paleolithic conditions:

Background: The observation that the emergence of common Western diseases takes place with much greater prevalence as societies migrate from natural-living cultures to modernized societies, has been well documented. For approximately 84,000 generations humans lived under hunter-gatherer conditions but recently endured dramatic change from our native lifestyle with the occurrence of the agricultural, industrial, and digital revolutions. The massive technological advancement that occurred within a relatively recent timeframe enabled humans to live in manner that is remarkably different than our pre-agricultural past. Consequently, the shift from a natural to a modern lifestyle likely promotes a gene-environment mismatch which causes metabolic dysregulation which causes disease.

Methods: Using a within-participant design, we examined whether, compared to baseline, changes in lifestyle towards a more Paleolithic-style pattern, for a four-day and four-night period related to changes in a variety of metabolic parameters. Two groups of 14 volunteers were isolated for a period of four days and four nights in the natural park Südeifel on the borders between Germany and Luxembourg. Participants lived outdoors without tents. The daily hiking performance was 16.4 km (approx. 24963 steps/day) and the daily activity time 5.49 h/day by a mean caloric intake of 1747 kcal/day.

Results: After four days of simulated Paleolithic conditions, body weight (-2.9%), body mass index (-2.7%), body fat (-10.4%), visceral fat (-13.6%) and waist-hip-ratio (-2.2%) significantly decreased, while muscle mass significantly increased (+2,3%). Additionally, fasting glucose (-6.5%), basal insulin (-44.4%), homeostasis model assessment-index (-49.3%) and fatty liver index (-41%) significantly dropped. In contrast, C-reactive protein, significantly increased (+67.1%).

Conclusion: Our study indicates that a short nature trip, where modern humans adjust their behavioral patterns to simulate a more Paleolithic-like condition, could serve as an effective strategy to help prevent or improve modern metabolic disease. Particularly, the major findings of an expeditious reduction of homeostasis model assessment-index and fatty liver index scores in only four days reveal the potential for meaningful benefits with such an intervention, even when compared to the effects of longer-term, single-intervention studies such as dietary or fitness programs on similar metabolic parameters.

(Hat tip to Mangan.)

Question Everything You Know About Fitness

Saturday, October 1st, 2016

Tim Ferriss talks to Outside magazine about some of the tactics, routines, and habits of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers he has learned from doing his podcast and collected in his new book, Tools of Titans — including some off-beat suggestions:

Every Athlete Needs a Vibrator
Specifically, the plug-in version of the Hitachi Magic Wand — but not for what you’re thinking (though you can do that, too). The device, when set on high, delivers the precise hertz most helpful for relaxing hypertonic (chronically tensed) muscles, at least according to the Russian medical-massage specialist who made this recommendation. Place the wand on the belly of a muscle (not where it connects to the tendons) for 20 to 30 seconds, which is often all it takes. It’s incredibly helpful for anyone constantly managing tight muscles. Pro tip: if you have a stiff upper back or neck, try the wand on the suboccipital muscles, at the base of your skull.

That item may not make it on my Amazon wish list.

I may have to try some of his other advice though.

The Superhero Genes

Sunday, September 4th, 2016

Stanford University scientist Euan Ashley and his team are looking for the superhero genes that give elite athletes their superhuman abilities — and which may yield medical insights, too:

The data analysis will take many years?—?there are too many possibilities to sift through them all?—?but the ELITE team has already isolated some 9,200 genetic variants that may explain preternatural athletic ability. “Our first focus is on the heart,” Ashley said, “but then we’re searching for variants across the whole genome.” One early contender, flagged just before my visit, is a gene known as DUOX. A mutation in the gene essentially confers what many nutrition gurus tout as the health benefits of antioxidants, mitigating the damaging effects of our usual cellular metabolism. In the past, DUOX mutations have been identified in a very specific population: People who’ve managed to adapt to living at extremely high altitudes?—?in the Andes, in particular?—?show the mutation, suggesting a possible link to increased pulmonary function. Could DUOX-targeting therapies help in hypoxia? Could they help with tissue repair, since the amount of oxygen in wounds is a crucial factor for speed of recovery?

Then there’s NADK, a gene involved in fatty acid synthesis. If you have lowered NADK, your body could be better at using fat as fuel, making you more powerful over time. So far, two athletes in the sample have the mutation, a high hit rate given its rarity. Could this be a weight-regulating therapy in the making?

Another intriguing variant found in several athletes is RUNX3?—?though, as with all of these mutations, the data are quite preliminary and any conclusions likewise so. Originally, the gene came to light in cancer research. Normally, it suppresses tumors, but in mutated form the suppression function is lost and increased cellular growth ensues. If you’re an athlete, cellular growth can be good: The better your muscles and heart grow, the more quickly you respond to training. The mutation, however, can also lead to tumors. There’s a finely calibrated and fungible line between overperforming and underperforming, between what makes us healthier and what puts us at risk.

What are the evolutionary roots of West African sprinting and East African distance running dominance?

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Jon Entine argues that Usain Bolt’s Olympic gold shows again why no Asian, white, or East African will ever be crowned world’s fastest human, but Razib Khan argues that Entine’s wrong — because better drugs and biological engineering mean that the fastest human alive is soon going to be non-African, probably Chinese.

Khan sees running a few seconds faster in the 100 meter dash as a non-adaptively beneficial trait, but Steve Sailer wouldn’t be surprised if the ability to outrun those who are after you and mean to do you harm were an important life skill that is highly adaptive in Darwinian terms:

For example, in 1982, when I had just moved to Chicago, I was headed into the Century Mall on N. Clark St., when a black teen rushed out, followed by two twenty-something Hispanic security guards in close pursuit. I watched them head up Clark Street with the teen in sneakers pulling away from the guards in shiny black leather shoes.

But whether sprinting ability or distance running ability is best for survival depends upon how long pursuers’ sightlines extend in your home terrain.

The shoplifter then turned left at the first corner. It occurred to me that was an important life decision he had just made: if it was a dead end he was in big trouble. But if it were a thru street then he just needed to make a series of seemingly random turns until he had lost his pursuers.

In contrast, if the pursued had headed into open grassland, his pursuers could keep him in sight for a long time, so his better sprinting ability might prove nugatory if they had more endurance.

Perhaps in forested or brush covered terrain, as in West Africa, sprinting is selected for because the pursued individual can get lost faster, while in open grassland, as in East Africa, endurance running is the surest way to get away.