2016/02/07 10:24:07
James Leave a comment

Skin-fold Testing at Home

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker November 2006 edition
"What is my body fat percentage?"... is a question often asked by budding bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. The answer is very hard to gauge without advanced technology or dissection. For most, this is either too expensive or obviously too painful! Full body composition analysis is in the article Assessment of Body Composition in Bodybuilders.

The idea of this article is to provide a simple way of measuring skin fold thickness (SFT) at home. Whilst the results may not be 100% accurate, when compared to hydrostatic weighing, it will allow for the monitoring of changes in skin folds, which is an indication of body fat percentage. Hydrostatic weighing will provide a percentage, whilst callipers will provide a skin fold sum, which can be formulated into a percentage score. The sum total is also a useful tool for monitoring progress.

SFT testing has been used in the fitness and medical profession for years and still holds validity even in a world dominated by digital gadgets. Price is also low with most measuring tools starting from as little as £10 in the UK, providing a sliding scale read opposed to a digital display.

SFT testing in its most basic form will follow a one point check. The suprailiac, (above the hip bone) would be the place to monitor skin fold measurements and changes for those using the one point check.

For those wishing to test this area, simply follow the procedure below:
  • Find a point around 2-3 cm above the right hip bone
  • In a standing position, pinch the site with the thumb and forefinger of the left hand
  • Whilst holding the fold place the jaws of the callipers around 1-2cm away
  • The pinch is a vertical reading
  • Press the callipers with the thumb until the 'click'is heard
  • View and record the mm place on the scale
  • Remove callipers
  • Repeat twice (to the right of the previous measurement)
  • Take an average figure from the three readings
  • Refer to a standard one point checking chart for estimate of percentage

With subcutaneous fat being the most abundant in the body this method is the primary place where it sits for males and females. Callipers do, however, exclude essential fats, visceral fats and intramuscular fats which should be acknowledged.

The results will be measured in millimetres (mm) this can be charted against percentage to give an appreciation of body fat, but will not provide a definitive result. One point checking is not generally advised for those wishing to gauge an accurate assessment of body fat levels as subcutaneous fat deposits are never equally distributed from person to person. You may hear a bodybuilder say 'my lower back is the last place to come through' meaning their abs are clear but they are holding fat around the lower back.

A three point checking would give a slightly more accurate indication with male sites being chest, abdomen and thigh whilst women would test the suprailiac, tricep and thigh. Again a sum of three figures could be matched to a chart with a rough estimation of body fat percentage or simply used in their original form (mm). With your three readings take the pinches three times for each site and record an average score as you would with the one point check detailed above. The testing of triceps will need to be done by someone else for accuracy. Accuracy is crucial for SFT and having a personal trainer or partner who is both skilled and consistent is essential to monitor changes in you skin fold scores.

Three point testing can be done alone for some, but seven point testing has to be done by a partner due to the location of the additional skin fold sites. The chest, abdominal, suprailiac, midaxillary (around the lat muscle/arm pit area), tricep, thigh and subscapular (below the shoulder bone) will be tested to give a seven-fold sum. Seven-fold sums will give a more accurate assessment of body fat levels than the one or three point checks.

As stated before, some calculators will allow for a fair estimation of body fat but will show an average 1-2% difference between calliper testing and hydrostatic weighing (the gold standard) for the majority of people (Eckerson et al 1998) (based on 3 fold site testing). Although this sounds good news, other studies have shown around 5-6% difference between the equations from the sum of skin folds when compared to hydrostatic weighing.

Sites eight and nine are the bicep and medial calf, and can be added to your skin fold sum for an even more advanced skin fold sum.

Record your location scores and file them for future reference. Initially test each day for the practise and then less frequently as time goes on. Once every 3 days is fine and the test conditions should be replicated as closely as possible. Whilst skin fold testing may not directly equate to accurate body fat percentage measuring it is a great tool, when carried out consistently, to track the changes in subcutaneous body fat levels.

Eckerson JM, et al (1998). Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 12 (4): 243-247
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2016/02/06 13:25:37
James Leave a comment

Buckle Up?

This article was written by former MT member Cheshire Cat & was originally published in The MuscleTalker October 2006 edition
Over the years there has been much debate on the effectiveness and usefulness of wearing weightlifting belts, and this article summarises my observations of their use.

It's 8am; I programme the cross-trainer and begin my dreaded early morning cardio. As a youth I used to suffer from panic attacks, usually in the morning. Mouth goes dry, chest tightens, breathing becomes difficult, not a nice thing for anyone. The only real way of me conquering these horrible attacks is to focus on something else, for example I would listen to the radio on my phone on the way to school in the morning. I still haven't completely conquered the attacks, and to be honest I don't think I ever will. Early morning cardio has the correct recipe for an attack, so I try to focus on something else, usually people's behaviour in the gym. Yes, I am quite nosey!

One thing I have always been interested in is people's opinions and attitude to weightlifting belts. I saw no clear pattern in my observations at the gym; some people wore no belt at all and some had them tightly bucked around their waists even while performing biceps curls, never taking them off during the session. There have been many posts on MuscleTalk about this issue, and the usual attitude of the more experienced members of the board is to avoid the belts, and to try to build core strength. I'm sure everyone can see the logic in this approach, after all core strength is needed for nearly every bodybuilding movement under the sun. Does this anti-belt approach not apply for the more extreme athletic lifting however? 1 rep maxes, doubles, triples? If so where do we draw the line?

My view is that a weightlifting belt has a purpose. It is up to the user to see where its benefits are needed and where the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Let's look at the advantages and disadvantages of using a weightlifting belt:

  • Increase abdominal pressure therefore stiffening the spine
  • Range of motion of the lumbar motion is decreased which could decrease the risk of lower back injury

  • A belt can alter ones perception of stability and strength; therefore there is the possibility of higher risk of injury
  • Belts can alter one's lifting style and range of motion, risking putting an increase of load onto the spinal area leading to a possibility of injury

I think many would agree with me that the underlining factor therefore is the type of lifting one is performing. The need for a belt becomes advantageous when extreme lifting using big loads is the lifting style, as the belt helps increase stability of the torso and assists the user with the lift. For other lifts where lumber motion is limited and where the rep range is higher I would follow the sound advice of the guru members of MuscleTalk; avoiding belts and increasing core stability will help in all lifts and is beneficial for overall health and injury prevention.
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2016/02/06 13:20:44
James Leave a comment


This article was written by former MT Moderator Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker September 2006 edition
Broccoli, nearly as traumatic for some as the thought of cabbage, is in fact a nutritional powerhouse of a vegetable. It is a rich source of Vitamin A packing nearly 100mg per 100g (all figures are for cooked, raw values and are lower because of its greater bulk), and its characteristic dark green color tells us it is high in carotenoids and vitamin B2. The same 100g will provide around 39µg of folic acid, 35mg of calcium, and 58mg of Vitamin C. Not only this, we will also get around 2g of protein, 2g of fibre, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 as well as the minerals iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

Most of us tend to eat the florets and leave the stems and leaves. If you like their bitter taste, the leaves are also a good source of vitamin A. If we also munch on the stems we get the added benefits of thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, in addition to the goodies found in the florets. If we stick to the florets, which make up most bags of frozen broccoli, then we would be getting around 35% more beta carotene than if we ate our broccoli fresh.

Ever put back the florets that look purplish green or blue green? Well if you do you are putting back the additional carotene and Vitamin C these colourful chaps have. Although if its going yellow, put the little fellow back as this broccoli is starting to spoil.

If you haven't already started to see broccoli as a mighty vegetable then maybe the knowledge that it is a rich source of chromium, which is an element which may work to aid the action of insulin in individuals with a slight glucose intolerance, might bring you round. The benefits of broccoli don't finish there, broccoli contains sulforaphane which stimulates enzymes that are known to fight cancer, as well as the actions of beneficial actions of such friendly compounds known as indoles and aromatic isothiocynates which have been linked to better health in relation to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and high blood pressure.

Finally broccoli packs one final punch; along with onions, carrots and cabbage, it contains calcium pectate (a pectin fibre) that binds to bile acids to hold more cholesterol in the liver, meaning less is released into the bloodstream.

All in Broccoli really is worth a place on your dinner plate.
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2016/02/05 11:52:55
James 2 comments

Can Tribulus Cause Gyno?

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker September 2006 edition
Gynecomastia (or 'gyno' as it's informally referred to) is the development of small amounts of breast tissue in males and can be unsightly, itchy and in some cases painful. It is more commonly associated with the abuse of anabolic steroids in sports.

Tribulus terrestris is a completely natural plant product marketed in the supplement industry as a testosterone booster, hence is very popular in bodybuilding. Its effectiveness is debatable, but there is some evidence that it does increase testosterone levels, which obviously means that it can lead to a hormonal imbalance in the user. Therefore, in theory, it could lead to mild gyno. There has been no formal research on this though, but I did find one published case study by Jameel et al (2004). Here a male bodybuilder in his early twenties had been taking tribulus to help his gains and he developed gyno. However the subject did have history of gyno as an adolescent, which is very common in boys, and had been resolved.

Tribulus is a very popular supplement and this is the only published case study I could find, however it does mean that we can infer that in a susceptible individual, tribulus may worsen or possibly cause gyno.

If you are new to using tribulus, and have started to have a bit of itchiness around the nipples where you previously had none, I would stop it and refrain from using it or other testosterone boosters again. However tribulus is far from a 'must' supplement, so if you continue to train hard and consistently, follow a good diet with basic supplements, like whey, and get plenty of rest, and you'll continue to make great gains.

Jameel JK, et al (2004). Gynecomastia and the plant product 'tribulus terrestris'. Breast 13(5): 428-30.

2016/02/04 09:07:30
James 1 comment

Five Days, 20 Minutes Compound Routine

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker July 2006 edition

Flat bench barbell bench press
Incline dumbbell press
Weighted chins
Bent over rows
Dumbbell lunges
Military presses
Dumbbell shoulder Press
Stiff legged deadlifts

This is the most basic form of training, taking everything back to basics and relying on compound movements to ensure the body is hit in five evenly structured days. The plan was designed for those with limited time on their hands and who want to be in and out of the weights room in 20 minutes. There are many benefits of shorter training sessions and the protocol above is a fine example of how to build or maintain a physique with minimal time spent in the gym. I have always been one to believe nutrition and rest is the most important aspects of a quality physique and this is no exception.

Rep and Sets Structure
As time and exercises are limited there will be a specific plan to follow:
  • Set 1    12 reps
  • 60 second rest
  • Set 2    10 reps
  • 60 second rest
  • Set 3    8 reps
  • 60 second rest
  • Set 4    6 reps
  • 60 second rest
  • Set 5    to failure on the first weight chosen in set 1
So, it's two exercises of five reps pyramiding down to the final set of the five which in effect is a drop set. There is no requirement to go to failure on each set previously, although a weight that takes you near top end is recommended.

Saturday and Sundays are taken of for recovery and the plan can be run for 12 weeks as a different approach to your usual training.

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2016/02/03 12:58:46
James Leave a comment

Dealing with Online Companies

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker July 2006 edition
In the modern world of the internet, many of us enjoy shopping online, where we can reap the benefits from discount prices and a fast service straight to your door. Buying nutritional supplements online is a growing industry, and most of the MuscleTalk sponsors offer such a service, which is possibly why people use the MT forums to chase their orders! However before doing this, please consider that there could be very legitimate reasons for a short delay.

Dealing online is speedy, convenient but often takes the 'personal' aspect out of buying and communication, and hence it does not always have the reliability of a face to face shop purchase; so please bear this in mind when doing your online shopping. Most of the online companies will use reliable couriers, which adds another component into the mix when getting your products from a business to a customer. Please make provisions for this, and if you haven't received the item in a reasonable period of time please follow the guidelines below:

  1. Contact the company via email, being pleasant and polite, and expressing your concern(s) clearly and concisely.
  2. Allow a reasonable amount of time for a reply. Two working days to receive a response seems a reasonable amount of time - don't email on a Saturday and expect a reply by Sunday morning!
  3. If after a reasonable period no contact has been made, try phoning the company; most of the online services are UK based and supply landline numbers - look at their 'contact us' section.
  4. If there no response, leave a message and possibly follow up with a second email
  5. If there is still no response is received and you are aware that a representative of the company in question either sponsors MuscleTalk, or frequents the forums then structure a positive post simply stating the facts on the forum and ask if anyone can help (please don't simply rubbish the company in public). If the company doesn't respond a MT Moderator will do their best to help.

Posting negative comments on the forum before carrying out the above process is unfair on the company in question; it may also cause others to base their buying decisions on issues that could be easily resolved by a simple email or phone call. Often parcels are held up by couriers (they may not put a 'Sorry you were out…' card through your door) without the supplement company's knowledge. Please bear this in mind and make suitable provisions.

If after a reasonable amount of time, no contact has been made by the company, a simple post stating facts, rather than opinion would be deemed acceptable in the relevant forum of MuscleTalk. Hopefully the matter will then be brought to the attention of the parties concerned and the issue can be dealt with in private. Only when trends appear should people begin to question the service of a particular company and MT moderators will do their best to help for the good of the MT Community.

We have some great sponsors on MuscleTalk who allow you membership to be free; so please acknowledge their value to us. Their reputation shouldn't be questioned over minor issues that could be sorted out by simple communication.

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2016/02/01 14:44:57
James 1 comment

High Protein Strawberry Fudge Bars

This recipe was originally published in The MuscleTalker October 2006 edition
100g quark
50g natural peanut butter
50g chopped almonds
115g low fat spread
2 packets sugar free strawberry jelly/jello
150g whey protein

Put the low fat spread, peanut butter and quark, in a microwavable dish, and microwave until they melt nicely. Remove from microwave; stir until the mixture is slightly runny; this should be a fairly thick consistency.

Place the sugar free jelly in bottom of a bowl, and then place chopped almonds on top. Add some of the peanut butter, low fat spread and quark mix into the bowl then add some of the whey, and stir in well. Then add the rest of the mix and then the rest of the whey and mix in using a wooden spoon.

Place in a tray or bowl in fridge to set and cut into eight pink coloured bars.
Serves 8. Per bar: 114kcal, 19.8g protein, 3.3g carbs, 8.5g fat.
More great bar recipes available in our Muscle Menus Shakes, Bars & Smoothies ebook available for Kindle at Amazon.
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2016/02/01 14:40:17
James Leave a comment

The Quick Way to Establish Maximum Heart Rate

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2006 edition
In the pursuit of stripping off fat to achieve the cut look or simply to increase fitness and boost health, we often incorporate cardio into our training regimes. Many people aim for time, distance or target zones for their session structure. Heart rate is often used to measure effort with the 65% of max heart rate (MHR) theory for fat burning often being employed to ensure muscle mass is saved whilst fat is burned. There is a debate as to whether this is the most effective level to train at which is not the focus of the article. This is simply a quick guide on ways of establishing your MHR and the percentages afterwards. The focus is also on the issue of the one size fits all 220 minus your age equation not being the most effective measure of MHR.

Most recommendations suggest 220 minus your age to find the max heart rate. Often for women 227 minus age will give the approximate MHR.

So a 40 year old man's theoretical maximum will be established by 220 - 40 = 180 BPM (beats per minute).

This test has flaws and is often out by over 10% yielding results between 10 and 20 beats either side. Therefore other methods can be employed to ensure you know your actual MHR as opposed to your theoretical MHR. Let's look at establishing actual MHR over theoretical. One example can be done on a stationary bike with a Heart rate monitor (HRM):
  • Warm up for 10 minutes
  • Followed by 10 minutes of very hard effort
  • When entering the last minute crank up the intensity and finish with a sprint for the final 20-30 seconds
This will yield a figure very close to your MHR. It would be advisable to add 2-5 beats as the MHR is rarely reached after such tests. This method is often not advisable for unfit trainers for whom the emphasis should be placed on simply building fitness before needing to know exact heart rates.

Another method would be interval training, which can be performed on any piece of cardio equipment:
  • 5 minute warm up
  • 20 second sprint
  • 1 minute 40 seconds recovery
  • Repeat the 20 seconds
  • Again, 1 minute 40 seconds recovery
After the 3rd or 4th interval the trainer will be close to the MHR. This again will be better than the 220 minus age theory as many athletes, with continued training do not drop one BPM each year they get older.

When carrying out these tests try and create a warm environment, as studies show MHR is ore likely to be reached when the temperature is slightly warmer1 although for the recreational trainer an appreciation is all that is needed. When MHR is established you can employ methods such as the Karvonen technique to set zones, if you wish or the method outline by Stannard and Thompson2. At the end of the day, though heart rate training is merely a guide but one must have an appreciation that not everyone fits into the 220 minus your age bracket.

1 Sink et al (1989). Fat energy use and plasma lipid changes associated with exercise intensity and temperature. Euro J App Physiol 58:508-513
2 Stannard & Thompson (1998). Heart rate monitors: Coaches' friend of foe? Sports Coach 21:36-37

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