Thursday, June 7, 2012

Start Your Engines!

In my last post, I used the analogy of an engine and fuel tank to explain the concept of body composition, and how one's fat mass should be proportional to one's muscle mass.  In this post, we'll continue using the vehicle example to explain why I feel that strength training is a critical factor in decreasing body fat.
Let's again imagine that in our driveway we have an idling motorcycle that has a gas tank the size of a car.  This model is typical of what the average American looks like (i.e., little muscle & lots of fat).  We sit in our driveways, barely moving, never taxing the engine and burning very little fuel.

One day we decide we want to correct this imbalance, and we vow that we are going to take our bike out of the driveway every day for 20 minutes in order to burn off some of the excess fuel in the tank.  During that 20 minutes of driving, our fuel consumption increases but for the other 23 hours and 40 minutes per day, our bike sits idling in the driveway, burning the same amount of fuel that it did before our ride.  This strategy mimics what we do when we undertake an exercise program that consists only of aerobic activity.  We increase our fat burning during the activity itself, but not during the rest of the day (i.e., when we're "idling").

Now lets say we have a neighbor who also has a bike similar to ours who also wants to get rid of some of his excess fuel.  However, instead of trying to burn the fuel off by driving around the block, he swaps out his little engine for a slightly bigger one.  As his bike sits idling in the driveway, it is now using more of the fuel than it was before, due to the greater size of the engine.  Slowly but surely, the larger engine starts to deplete the fuel in the tank.  If our neighbor decides one day to add an even bigger engine, even more fuel will be burned when the bike is simply sitting idling in the driveway.  This comparison mimics what happens when we use a properly designed weight training program.  As we progressively increase the amount of muscle that we have, so do we increase the amount of fuel that we burn during any given activity.  

While the point of this post is to show the value of weight training, don't trade in your running shoes just yet.  A combination of aerobic activity and strength training is still largely accepted as the optimal way to lose fat.  That being said, I'd personally rather watch a chicken bake than do aerobic exercise, so our next installment will focus on what kind of exercises should be done to maximize muscle gain.   Have a great week!


Saturday, May 19, 2012

How big is your tank?

As a society, being overly fat is a condition that is becoming the norm rather than the exception.  As a result, understanding why this is a problem seems to be becoming more difficult for people to understand.  As is the case with many concepts in exercise physiology, I often look to the mechanical world for practical examples to help explain these concepts.
Think of your muscles as the engine in your car, and your fat as the car's gas tank.  In the car, gas is pumped from the tank to the engine where it is burned, and the resultant energy used to move the car.  Essentially the same process occurs in the body.  Fat is moved from the adipose tissue via the blood, to the muscles, where it is burned for energy to move the body.  In a properly designed machine, the size of the gas tank is proportional to the size of the engine.  For example, a motorcycle might have a 3 gallon gas tank and a relatively small engine, while a car has a much larger engine and around a 20 gallon tank.  In the car, the larger engine is matched with a larger tank.  Finally, in something like a large truck, the much larger engine requires a much larger tank.  Imagine the consequences of coupling a gas tank from a school bus to a motorcycle.  Because of the bike's relatively low engine power, the motorcycle would struggle to haul around such a heavy volume of fuel, and doing so would soon wear out the engine.  Furthermore, the performance of the bike would be terrible, as it would be straining simply to move it's own weight.  The same principles apply to the human body.  In addition to a host of metabolic problems, lugging around a large amount of fat hampers our physical performance and, over time, causes excessive "wear and tear" on our joints, ligaments and other musculoskeletal structures.  
Our response to this is typically to move less, which only results in a higher accumulation of fat.  The next time you look in the mirror, take note of what you see, or more importantly, what you don't.  If all you see is "tank" and no "engine", it's time to shift your exercise program and diet so that conditions are favorable for building muscle and losing fat, which will be the subject of next week's blog.  Have a great weekend.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Feeding tubes for fat loss?

About a month ago, ABC news aired a story about a bride to be, who used a nasogastric feeding tube in order to lose 10 lbs before her wedding.  I posted a link to the story on my Facebook page, and as expected, comments like "crazy"; "insane"; "disgusting"; "stupid", began to flood in.  Admittedly, many of these comments mirrored what I was thinking myself.  Crash dieting is one thing, but using a feeding tube to lose weight?  Where will the line be drawn, if ever?  The doctor who was promoting the feeding tube diet was also a target for several commentators, as they wondered how he could get away with such an "extreme" procedure.  But is the idea of a feeding tube for weight loss really all that extreme?

From a purely physical standpoint, is the act of inserting a tube into one's nose and feeding it into the stomach really that dangerous?  Well, no probably not.  Is being fed an 800 kcal/day solution of protein and fat for 10 days all that dangerous?  Again, probably not.  Certainly if a woman decided she was going to drink an 800 kcal / day diet of protein and fat for 10 days, it would never be news, even though the physiological outcome would be the same as that of using the tube.  Equally non-newsworthy would be the story of a woman who decides to have liposuction in order to lose weight for her wedding, despite liposuction being far more invasive then using a feeding tube.  Indeed, most people would probably agree that undergoing IV sedation or general anesthesia, for the purpose of having a tube inserted under the skin to dislodge and suction out fat is probably a riskier endeavor than using a feeding tube.

So why then do we find a feeding tube to be so extreme, when other, already existing techniques for weight loss that clearly are much worse, have gained general social acceptability?  For Americans, the feeding tube is an oddity, and something that we are not accustomed to seeing.  It's novelty is partially why we find it so shocking, but one's willingness to do it is what we find so heartbreaking.  It's not my place to sit in judgement of anyone who uses a feeding tube for weight loss, but I'm not crazy about the idea of it becoming commonplace either.  In fact, I hope that the cavalier use of a feeding tube for weight loss continues to shock me, long after this post is forgotten.

Friday, May 4, 2012


For more than a decade, I have stood in front of various audiences spewing forth facts and opinions about training, fitness and health.  Because most of those who have heard me speak have been required to as part of their university curriculum, I have had what many would consider to be a "captive audience".  If you have had the pleasure or misfortune, (depending on your perspective), of being one of my students, you know that as illuminating as my lectures can be, they are often peppered with stories, musings, thoughts, rants, etc., which more than once have ended up with me saying something like "...and that's why I should run the world".  Needless to say, anyone who ends sentences by saying "...and that's why I should run the world", probably shouldn't.  Of this, I am well aware.  Despite that, the loosely bound set of rules and opinions that govern how I see things is what I refer to as The Miller Method, hence the moniker that graces this blog.
However, this blog is not about me.  It's about you; and giving you a chance to express your thoughts and feelings regarding important (usually) topics that affect your lives and the lives of those around you.  While the topics I initiate will most often focus on training, fitness, health and wellness, I encourage you to submit ideas, opinions and questions about other topics that are important to you.  My plan is to update the blog weekly on Fridays, so feel free to subscribe so you don't miss any of the action.  Have a fantastic week!