Of all the bodybuilding-related-questions I receive via e-mail, certain queries present themselves more regularly than others. For example, 20 randomly selected questions might feature 15 on over-training and five on aspects of diet or specific training information requests.
It is clear, in light of the nature of the questions I receive, that over-training is an area of bodybuilding that many trainers encounter on a regular basis. Other common queries concern injury prevention and specific dietary advice.
On the basis of the frequency and number of e-mails I receive, and the clear need for some sound advice, I will present a question and answer forum right here on bodybuilding.com to share the advice I have given to the many who have faced personal bodybuilding dilemmas.
It is hoped the advice given will help the novice, or even experienced, trainer navigate their way through the quagmire of conflicting information and personal anecdote found both on the internet and in the gym. It must be said that I am not a qualified medical professional and the advice given is based on extensive research and experience in the areas of nutrition, human performance, exercise physiology. Potential medical problems, although discussed, will ultimately be referred to ones physician for a professional diagnoses.
Q & A
I just read your article on Cortisol and would like to ask your advice. I am currently deployed to Kuwait. I should return home in about a month and I am preparing for two things.
First, I am doing a half-marathon on September 6th in VA Beach. I just finished my last "long run" while here which was 10 miles.
I am also preparing to enter my first (really low level & local) body building competition most competitors are very new to BB, so it is actually more like figure without routines. That competition is October 9th.
I work out six days a week for a little over an hour each day. I do 20 min cardio, 40 min strength training, and 20 min cardio. I have gotten stronger while here (Leg Press, 300, bench press 80 which is better than I was). I rest Saturdays, and do a long run on Sundays.
I did notice increased abdominal fat while here which could easily be attributed to rather intense stress, abnormal sleeping routines, and food selection that isn't too great. I try to eat lean protein, but sometimes the only protein I can get is tuna and peanut butter.
Finally - my question - what can I do to possibly reduce cortisol levels? My lifestyle here pretty much promotes elevated levels. I heard of a supplement called anavone (?) but no one seems to know much about it and I didn't find too much information on it on the internet. I'd appreciate any assistance you can give me.
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Marathon and bodybuilding training, as well as your deployment to Kuwait. Life does seem rather stressful for you. I think it is a major achievement if we can get through the day without experiencing some form of negative stress. Of course everything we do is stressful to some extent and we need some stresses to survive (the stress of working for example).
Stressful events can be looked upon as challenges and can be perceived as either positive (eustress) or negative (distress). I think it comes down to how we cope with the different types of stress we encounter and our ability to satisfactorily balance the positive with the negative.
I would suggest you are overdoing the cardio as far as bodybuilding purposes are concerned. Marathon running does require a high volume of aerobic work, so you may need to make some sacrifices in terms of muscle mass come competition time if you wish to pursue your running goals.
I suspect that your life in the Army is stressful enough without compounding the situation with three-times-per-day training, although the fact that you have gotten stronger under this regime is encouraging. Although heavy weight-training will encourage testosterone and growth hormone release (both important in terms of cortisol minimization), research suggests that morning aerobic sessions may actually raise cortisol levels thereby encouraging fat deposition, and a reduction in muscle size.
I would certainly cut back on the morning aerobics gradually (over a two-three week period) and observe the changes to your physique. Then either cut back further or increase depending on how you look and feel. Eat plenty of rice, if you can, for carbohydrates and stay away from peanut butter as this will smooth you out like nothing else due to its high salt and fat content.
Tuna is effective for mass building and remains a staple among professionals and amateurs alike. Eat this in place of the peanut butter. It should be said that tuna (Albacore mainly) can contain a large amount of mercury and this could pose a problem. Ultimately it is best to use a variety of protein sources if you can.
Finally, try to relax as often as possible!
How you respond to a particular problem could mean the difference between significantly raised cortisol levels and an anabolic environment conducive to gains in muscle and fat losses. Try not to over-react, and try to remain calm. This will even enhance your ability to focus on your military duties.
Anavone is a Cortisol suppressing supplement which is taken sublingually. It prevents muscle catabolism and reduces body-fat levels. Sounds like a good stress reliever. Might try some myself. It sounds like you have an interesting job. Hope this information helps.
All the best,
I am training for the Scottish Heavy Games. I hope to compete this summer. I recently read your Neck Prioritization article on Bodybuilding.com as I am interested in developing the strength of my neck to help prevent injuries in spinning events like the hammer throw.
I use a neck harness and believe in its benefits. A kinesiologist working out next to me chided me publicly for using it saying that I would do irreparable damage to my spine and risked compressing discs. What is your knowledge on potential injuries to the vertebrae discs (especially compression) and how can I minimize these injuries?
Thank you very much!
Firstly I must say that I am not a qualified medical professional, but in my experience a neck harness is an effective tool for developing the neck from all angles, and its use should not be discouraged.
If correct form is used I see no problem in continuing to use the neck harness as spinal injuries are caused primarily by whiplash, strain from lifting incorrectly and/or with excessive weight, a blow to the neck or back area or engaging in sport (diving into shallow water is one of the commonest causes of a spinal cord compression or injury). In your case, a potential injury could stem from excessive stress placed on the neck region (which is vulnerable when training the neck specifically).
However, if you control the weight (which should not be excessive) in an appropriate fashion, you should be fine. I would suggest that, if anything, you are strengthening the neck region, and thus, protecting it from potential harm (just look at the tremendous impact the necks of football players and amateur wrestlers receive on a weekly basis and their programs revolve around heavy power movements and plenty of specialised neck training).
In fact, physiotherapists and other practitioners of neck manipulation for supposed health benefits run the risk of seriously damaging the neck. More so than one who trains the neck in an effective and safe manner it could be argued. I reiterate that spinal cord compression will occur when the neck (cervical region) is subjected to excessive force, a sudden impact or if the spinal cord is pulled, pressed sideways, or compressed.
The latter generally occurs when the head, neck or back are twisted abnormally during an accident or injury. A controlled lowering and raising of a neck harness, with a manageable weight, does not constitute an accident or injury.
I hope this answers your question.
I was wondering if I could get some advice in regards to over-training, which was the topic of an article you wrote. Over the past few months my muscle mass has decreased while my body fat has increased. In particular my chest has shrunk and the outer pec region has vanished.
I am in terrible shape. A shadow of my former self. I was very ripped and had decent muscle mass before. My diet is OK. One day I blasted my chest so hard that it has never felt the same again. Now I can't get the pump throughout it, whereas once I could get a great rush of blood to it.
I was wondering if I should take a few weeks off, do cardio to get rid of the excess body fat, and maybe do some ab crunches or something, then after a few weeks pick up the weights again and hope for the best. I'm really worried about this whole not responding situation, and in specific my chest.
Without knowing exactly what occurred with your chest and any other details such as your age and number of years training experience, I would have to say that yes you do appear to be in an over-trained state.
Your lack of muscle pump and loss of muscle size in the pec region could suggest a resistance to growth in this particular area (stemming from a possible minor injury of some sort, or more likely some serious micro-trauma) and the only thing responsible for this (short of an injury) would be over-training.
The first step in my view though would be to consult your physician to ensure that there are no underlying injuries. Once these have been ruled out, the following can be considered. In my experience, a lack of muscle pump suggests a number of factors at play.
Firstly, insufficient nutrient intake would probably be the biggest contributing factor. You say your diet is OK, but is it. An inadequate diet will result in a lack of blood sugar when the muscle needs this sugar most (during training).
Eat a small meal with some carbohydrates and protein about one hour prior to training and see what happens. Throughout the day ensure that you eat at regular intervals (every 2-3 hours) and take plenty of supplements (whey protein, amino acids and vitamin packs) if you can afford to.
Plenty of water is crucial at all times and will help to ensure adequate muscle pumps. Carry a bottle of water wherever you go and drink from it regularly. As funny as it might seem, a lack of food could also have caused your body to maintain, and even gain, fat, as the under these conditions the metabolism will more than likely slow down to conserve energy, which will, in turn, promote a resistance to fat loss.
Make sure that your stress levels are under control also, as the catabolic hormone cortisol, which is released under conditions of stress, restricts the capillary system and inhibits the flow of blood to the muscle, which could further prevent a muscle pump.
Finally, cut back on all aerobic training (to 2-3 times per week) and ensure that each muscle group is being trained once per week. If you are still experiencing your problem take 2-3 weeks off then resume training with the preceding guidelines in mind.
Best of luck!
Is daily stress making you fat? According to Dr. Shawn Talbott, a nutritional biochemist and adjunct professor at the University of Utah, the answer is YES! Dr. Talbott created CortiSlim to help control this fat-storing hormone.
The advice and suggestions provided in this forum should not be used as a substitute for medical advice given by a qualified medical professional. The information provided is based on 10 years of personal training experience coupled with degrees in sports performance and psychology and extensive research in the areas of sport science and nutrition. Before considering any of the advice provided, it is advised the reader consult their medical professional for further clarification.
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