Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

January 2019

A Magic Pill for Strength and Fitness?

Is there a magic pill for strength and fitness? Unfortunately, not in 2019. I wish there was. I would close up shop, pop a few of those pills, and open a food truck selling bacon-cheese fries. Probably the closest we have come so far to understanding how to regulate muscle growth and physical strength was the 1997 discovery of the gene MSTN. MSTN encodes a protein in the body called Myostatin. Myostatin regulates and inhibits the creation and growth of muscle fibers.

By down-regulating Myostatin in mice, researchers found that muscle mass increased greatly. Extremely muscular animals and humans have been tested and found to either produce less Myostatin or have less active Myostatin receptors than the general population. So, if and when scientists figure out how to safely reduce Myostatin production or reception in humans, there may be a stampede toward that drug or treatment. This type of treatment may have valuable therapeutic benefit for those with muscle wasting diseases such as Muscular Dystrophy and certain cancers. However, I would bet many average people would jump at the opportunity to increase muscle mass significantly by simply ingesting a pill.

Currently, a supplement called Creatine is very popular with body builders and fitness enthusiasts because it adds size and strength, albeit temporarily, to skeletal muscles. It has been found that one of the ways Creatine works is by down-regulating Myostatin by a small percentage: Creatine effect on Myostatin.

Resistance training also reduces Myostatin expression moderately, which helps your body grow lean muscle mass.

That said, why do most of us have a level of MSTN and Myostatin production or reception that keeps us from being stronger and more muscular than we are? Why can't we all look like professional athletes? It turns out MSTN may have been a positive evolutionary development to keep a check on uncontrolled growth. One study that looked at anabolic steroid use and its effect on Myostatin showed that although muscle size and strength increased with steroid use, surprisingly, Myostatin also increased: Effect of Anabolic Steroids on Myostatin. This means the body was in an anabolic growth mode, but was also up-regulating a catabolic protein (Myostatin) simultaneously. So, the body sensed muscle growth was occuring and increased the Myostatin to counter excessive growth. Why would this happen?

Maybe there is an explanation in evolutionary biology and natural selection. Our bodies evolved to operate as efficiently as possible. Any body mass that needed to be maintained, but wasn't being used in day to day living, would be highly inefficient and perhaps even a threat to survival in times of scarcity. Excessive muscle mass can put additional strain on the heart and other organs and require higher caloric intake. Evolution may have "selected" for very moderate amounts of muscle mass for most of us. For each indvidual, there likely exists an ideal level of lean muscle mass which aligns with that individual's ideal heart function, physiology, gut biome, physical productivity, and maximum longevity. The goal then for each of us is to optimize our lean body mass: not too little that we can't function at high levels, but also not too much that it puts an excessive and unnecessary strain on the rest our bodies!

It is liberating to know genetics largely dictate how muscular we can become. No matter how much I workout, I will never look like a body builder, unless I start taking steroids. What I can, and should, strive for is to be as strong as possible with the modest amount of muscle mass I am capable of building and to maintain that as long as I live.

The best way we currently know of to optimize our muscle mass is by regular strength training, along with eating a healthy whole-food diet, getting plenty of sleep, and keeping stress levels managed.

In summary, while we may idealize highly muscular humans, each of us has our own ideal level of lean muscle mass. This is most likely a much more modest level of muscularity than what we see in professional athletes or in muscle magazines. Our muscles need to be nurtured through proper exercise, diet and lifestyle in order to be optimized for our own genetics. While there is no magic pill to make us all look like greek gods, we can each take steps to have our own ideal bodies which will allow us to thrive!

Posted January 30, 2019 by Matthew Romans

Are antibiotics harming more than helping us? by Matthew Romans

I recently read a book called "Missing Microbes" by Martin J. Blaser, MD, which was written in 2014. Dr. Blaser is the director of the Human Microbiome Project at New York University. He previously served as president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and has studied the role of bacteria in human disease for over thirty years. Dr. Blaser believes the overuse of antibiotics may play a significant role in the growth of what he calls "the modern plagues." These include obesity, childhood diabetes, and asthma. His theories run counter to the medical and pharmaceutical establishment. When one considers how ubiquitous antibiotic are, and how prevalent these diseases of modern civilization have become in the 21st century, the situation merits a closer examination.

We must first understand the origins of antibiotics. In The War Between the States (1861-1865), more soldiers died from typhoid fever and dysentery than from bullet wounds. In World War I (1914-1918), unsanitary conditions in the battlefield trenches of Europe lead to outbreaks of typhus and influenza. A need for infection-fighting drugs was paramount. The first class of sulfa drugs was invented in the 1930s, but their effectiveness was limited. Penicillin was first discovered during World War II, and was used to great effect to treat infections incurred on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. Many other antibiotics, such as streptomycin and tetracycline followed in short order. These were believed to be "wonder drugs", and their use has exploded in the last half century. Antibiotics work in three ways. One is by attacking the way the bacteria make their cell walls. A second is by inhibiting the manufacturing of protein that is necessary for bacteria cell function. Lastly, they work by interfering with the bacteria cell's ability to divide and reproduce.

Unfortunately, antibiotics are being over prescribed by physicians and requested by parents when they truly are not necessary. Most upper respiratory infections (URI's), such as the common cold and sinus infections, are caused by a virus rather than bacteria; therefore antibiotics tend to work very poorly against URI's. Most of the time, the patient begins to feel better in a few days anyway, whether the antibiotic is taken or not. This is a classic example of mistaking correlation for causation; while the patient will feel better in a few days, it doesn't necessarily mean it was due to the antibiotic.

Another point that should concern us is that antibiotics are generally broad-spectrum, meaning that they kill a whole host of bacteria that are both good and bad for us. It's like using a strategy of carpet bombing rather than using a surgical strike. This can lead to antibiotic resistance, which can leave us susceptible to other infections down the road by disturbing our microbiomes. Dr. Blaser mentions the example of Brandon Noble, the former Washington Redskins defensive lineman whose career was cut short after his knee became infected with an antibiotic-resistant strain of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

We are not just ingesting antibiotics at the behest of our doctors; we are also ingesting them in our food. Farmers are using antibiotics in the food of their livestock to "enhance feed efficiency." This helps the animals to grow larger and fatter prior to slaughter. In fact, Dr. Blaser says that "an estimated 70-80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used for the single purpose of fattening up farm animals." Another reason farmers use antibiotics is because grain-based diets are not ancestrally-appropriate for most animals, which can lead to systemic inflammation and infections. These antibiotics are being passed along to those of us that consume these meats.

So what is it about antibiotic use that contributes to the increase in these "modern plagues"? Dr. Blaser suspects that there is a link between the use of antibiotics and the disappearance of the Helicobacter pylori bacteria normally found in the gut. While this bacteria can be harmful to some adults, it can be beneficial to children. The presence of this bacteria has been associated with fewer reactions to the allergens that trigger asthma.

In the case of obesity, a longitudinal study was conducted in Britain over the course of a fifteen year period. Almost a third of the children that participated in the study had been given antibiotics in the first six months of their lives; by the age of two, three quarters had ingested antibiotics. The children who had received the drugs in the first six months grew fatter. According to Dr. Blaser, "juvenile diabetes is more likely to develop in babies born by Caesarian section, in boys that are tall, and in babies who gain weight more rapidly in the first year of life." Women are also given antibiotics after a C-section to ward off infection, and newborn infants are exposed to these antibiotics. Because babies born via C-section do not pass through the birth canal, they don't get exposed to the important lactobacilli contained in amniotic fluid.

Now that we understand that overuse of antibiotics can be harmful to us, what are some proactive strategies that we can use to maintain the health of the bacteria in our bodies?

Eat grass-fed meats, and those that have not been treated with antibiotics. I have found that grass-fed beef tastes much better.

Talk to your doctor. Don't accept a prescription for an antibiotic just because your doctor is rushed and needs to get to his next patient, and don't take an antibiotic for a runny nose or a scratchy throat.

Avoid taking over the counter pain relievers and other medications when possible. Many of these medications have traces of antibiotics in them.

Strength train regularly. This will help to keep you strong, combat systemic inflammation, and boost your immune system.

Get more sleep. Those of us that are sleep-deprived tend to get sick more often due to a depressed immune system.

Understanding how antibiotics work, the dangers of developing a resistance, and using them only when absolutely necessary will help us go a long way toward maximizing our health.

Posted January 29, 2019 by Matthew Romans

Physical changes due to aging and how to overcome them - Ralph Weinstein and Tim Rankin

The privilege of growing old comes with a number of physical changes. How we confront these changes plays a huge roll in our health, fitness, and functional abilities as we age.

As we get older and our bones and musculature change, our joints become stiffer and less flexible. It is common to have fluid in the joints or lose cartilage, which are referred to as degenerative changes. Hip, knee and finger joints are common problem areas. Sometimes, these problems can be inherited. Joint changes can lead to pain, inflammation, and even deformity. Some people may develop a stooped posture.

While the joints are getting stiffer most people experience a decrease in lean body mass. This can be caused by a loss of muscle tissue or atrophy. Sagging, unresponsive facial skin is the result of lost muscle fiber. The appearance of a sunken rib cage, with deep ruts between rib bones, is the result of the loss of the intercostal muscles. The stooped posture many aged people adopt is due to the loss of skeletal muscles, which leads to a loss of support for bones of the spine, shoulders, and back that keep a younger person erect. These unmistakable and dramatic signs of age are known as Sarcopenia.

Sarcopenia is a progressive age-related loss of muscle mass and muscle force production (amount of force a muscle can produce). A major contributing factor to muscle loss is a sedentary lifestyle which can cause an aging adult to lose their ability to engage in everyday activities, including walking. Studies indicate the loss of skeletal muscle for the average normal healthy person amounts to approximately 25% between about 30 and 70 years of age. The loss accelerates as aging progresses. Between the ages of 30-40, a person typically loses 8 pounds of muscle which are usually replaced with fat.

Bones tend to become less dense. Loss of bone density is Osteoporosis. With Osteoporosis, bones become weaker and more likely to break. Changes in vertebrae at the top of the spine cause the head to tip forward, compressing the throat. As a result, swallowing is more difficult, and choking is more likely. The vertebrae become less dense and the cushions of tissue (disks) between them lose fluid and become thinner, making the spine shorter. Thus, older people become shorter.

The cartilage that lines the joints tends to thin, partly because of the wear and tear of years of the movement. The surfaces of a joint may not slide over each other as well as they used to, and the joint may be slightly more susceptible to injury. Damage to the cartilage due to lifelong use of joints or repeated injury often leads to Osteoarthritis, which is one of the most common disorders of later life.

Ligaments, which bind joints together, and tendons, which bind muscle to bone, tend to become less elastic, making joints feel tight or stiff. These tissues also weaken. Thus, most people become less flexible. Ligaments tend to tear more easily, and when they tear, they heal more slowly. These changes occur because the cells that maintain ligaments and tendons become less active.

Aging is a gradual, continuous process of natural change that begins in early adulthood. During early middle age, many bodily functions begin to gradually decline. Fortunately, there is a means by which we can fight these symptoms of aging. Regular exercise to strengthen muscles (resistance training) can partially overcome or significantly delay loss of muscle mass and strength. Bone loss can be halted and even reversed. Joints can become more flexible by strengthening the surrounding muscle. Posture can be maintained and even improved. Ability to perform every day tasks as well as recreation can be increased dramatically. The focused personal training at Total Results is the safest and most effective way to battle the forces of aging.

Posted January 25, 2019 by Matthew Romans

Why we wave our arms when we talk on the phone; Ancient bodies in a modern world

In many ways, human behavior and biology is discordant with the modern world. We spend the majority of our time in air-conditioned buildings and vehicles instead of allowing our bodies to adjust to colder or warmer temperatures. We move in vehicles at speeds our brains never evolved to process (hence the hundreds of thousands of accidents per year). The majority of our waking time is spent sitting (computer work, TV watching, eating, reading, etc.) instead of moving around, hunting, and gathering like our not too distant ancestors. Most of our communications with others is through phone or computer communications instead of face to face. We consume 15% or more of our daily calories from sugar, instead of the 5% or less our ancestors likely consumed (a big contributor to the obesity epidemic). In short, our brains and bodies are not wired for the stimuli we are giving them every hour of every day. As a result, our bodies and brains break down and we exhibit very strange behaviors.

If you have ever seen someone walking down the street or standing at the aiport speaking with someone on their cellphone, you know what I mean. While speaking with someone many miles away, most people will gesticulate with their arms and hands as if the person at the other end of the line is standing in front of them. Watch any kid play an action based video game, and they will contort their body wildly to try to "move" their online character. These are just some harmless examples of our ancient brains and bodies trying to make sense of the modern world.

Unfortunately, there are many negative and harmful examples of this evolutionary discordance with the modern world:

  • Many people simply can't be active outside most of the year because their body and brain cannot adjust to any temperature but a "goldilocks zone" of 60-78 degrees (the temperature range most of us keep homes and offices). As a result, most people are inactive and indoor bound, contributing to vitamin D deficiencies, obesity, and even degrading gut health.
  • Too much sitting also contributes to obesity, in addition to neck, back and leg problems, circulation issues and nerve problems.
  • Our ingestion of massive amounts of sugar from sodas, sweets, processed foods, sauces and dips contribute to blood sugar problems, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more.
  • Driving or riding in a vehicle is an all out assault on our primitive brain and biology. We sit for long periods. Our stress levels are in overdrive (pun intended) because we have to constantly be aware of our own and other vehicles moving at very high speeds. Our reaction time, even sober and well rested, is simply not well tuned to the speeds and size of vehicles. When driving long periods, most of us eat fast food, which contributes even more to our health problems.
  • Using artificial light, especially late at night, disturbs our sleep patterns, increases stress levels, and is thought to contribute to many diseases.

Fortunately, positive solutions to this evolutionary discordance are evident if we look at each modern behavior and deduce behaviors that are more in tune with our ancient bodies and brains:

  • Spend more time outside. Be in nature. Walk in the grass. Get your hands dirty. Your vitamin D levels will increase, your exposure to beneficial bacteria will be restored, your physical activity levels will increase. Your health will improve.
  • Eat whole foods. Reduce sugary and processed foods in your diet. Eat quality meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, etc.
  • Play. There is a fundamental human need to play, preferably outside. Play reduces stress, burns calories, and increases human interaction.
  • Talk to live human beings whenever possible. There is no need to be a luddite and eschew technology. I use technology everyday for work and recreation. Just don't use technology as an excuse not to have human interaction.
  • Build tolerance to the vagaries of temperature changes. Go outside when it is hot and when it is cold. it is ok to sweat a bit or be cold for awhile.
  • Lift heavy things once in awhile. We need a fairly intense stimulus from time to time so our muscles and bones do not atrophy.
  • Go to bed earlier, and turn off lights even before that. Try to get 7 or more hours of sleep.

Bottom Line: Be aware that we live in an age that is not in synch with how our bodies and brains evolved. Take the actions above and your body will reward you with better health and possibly a longer, happier life.

Posted January 24, 2019 by Matthew Romans

Simple versus Compound Exercises - by Matthew Romans

There are two types of exercises that are performed in high-intensity strength training: simple and compound exercises. Simple exercises involve movement around one particular joint (example - a bicep curl with rotation around the elbow). Compound exercises involve movement around multiple joints (example - chest press with rotation of both the shoulder and elbow joints). We incorporate both types of movements during our exercise sessions at Total Results, and both will go a long way toward helping you to maximize your genetic blueprint.

Simple exercises are more effective than compound exercises for directly targeting specific muscles. For example, while there is involvement of the posterior (rear) neck musculature in a compound Overhead Press exercise, you can more effectively and directly target that muscle group by performing a Cervical Extension exercise (either on one of our machines, or with manual resistance applied by your instructor). The rotator cuff is a small group of muscles located deep within the shoulder joint, and can be a source of inflammation and injury, particularly with athletes who throw balls, as well as many non-athletes as we age. The only way to effectively strengthen or rehabilitate these very small muscles is to perform an exercise called External Shoulder Rotation, which is a simple exercise (I have incorporated this exercise into my workout routine for many years). While simple exercises are very effective for targeting smaller muscle groups, performing an entire workout using these types of movements would be much less efficient and consume far more recovery resources than is optimal for stimulating maximum physical benefit.

Compound movements are usually easier for the beginning trainee to learn, involve a greater amount of muscle, are more physically taxing, cover more ground in a shorter period of time, and lead to a more effective exercise stimulus. The Leg Press will engage all of the muscles of your lower body in one exercise. The Pulldown exercise will involve all of the musculature of your upper body, with the exception of your neck. Even muscles that are not directly targeted will be stimulated during compound movements; this is what Arthur Jones (founder of Nautilus and Med-X exercise equipment) used to refer to as "the indirect effect." Remember, the primary objective of high-intensity exercise is to systematically fatigue the musculature sufficiently enough to stimulate an adaptive response. Working to muscular failure on a handful of compound movements will more efficiently stimulate body improvements than doing a large number of simple movements. We want to send the message to the body to adapt and grow stronger without using up too many recovery resources along the way.

Both simple and compound movements should have a place in any well-designed exercise routine. Your Total Results instructor will find the right prescription of each type of movement (as well as regulate the variables of frequency, volume, and intensity) to help you reach your potential, no matter what your goals are. Let us show you the way!

Posted January 16, 2019 by Matthew Romans