What is creatine?

The best way to learn, often is to teach. If you want to figure out just how thoroughly you know a subject – try explaining it to someone else. I was actually going to write a post about creatine and coffee, but after reading through a lot of studies I took a step back and thought about how I would explain what creatine was and what it does in a simple way. Unable to give any good explanation, I read into it, and will now try to give you a short, un-scientific, enables-you-to-explain-it-to-others description of what creatine is and does.

From Wiki:

Creatine is naturally produced in the human body from amino acids primarily in the kidney and liver. It is transported in the blood for use by muscles. Approximately 95% of the human body’s total creatine is located in skeletal muscle.

To get this one out of the way; never confuse creatine with creatinine as the latter is a waste product.

Creatine helps turn ADP back into ATP. If you have read some marketing material of creatine, you may have bumped into this statement. It is very true, but unless you have a medical degree you probably are pretty lost on what it actually means.

All of this is part of the krebs cycle, that is our body’s way of extracting energy from the food we ingest. If you want a really good and easily understandable explanation of this, then take a few minutes to see this presentation by Doug McGuff in the middle of his very long speech – it is the most easily understandable explanation I have ever come across. However if you are only interested in the short explanation, then skip the video.

I will try to be true to the name of my blog and keep it simple. Your muscles needs energy to function. This energy comes from the food you consume. When you are rested and start max effort work, your muscles will be provided with energy through ATP. ATP is short for Adenosine triphosphate, which is only interesting because; upon delivering energy to the muscle, it gives away one phosphate(the energy), and thereby ends up as Adenosine diphosphate(ADP).

Locally in the muscles working, there is a very clever, limited recycling system, that can turn ADP back into ATP. This extends the time your muscles can deliver max effort briefly, if the system is working overtime, as in max effort lifts or sprints. What enables this is phosphocreatine, that reacts together with the enzyme creatine kinase – forget the names but this is, as you may have guessed from the names – where creatine comes into play. Creatine kinase is relatively abundant in the muscles, or at least not the limiting factor. But phosphocreatine is where supplementation with creatine works it magic.

Your stores of phosphocreatine are limited, so given our max effort lift or sprint – when your supplies of phosphocreatine runs out, you are no longer able to produce the same amount of effort by recycling ADP into ATP. Your body will then switch to another energy system, which can run for longer, but not produce the same peak effect.

Therefore, what you do with creatine supplementation is make your phosphocreatine stores larger, which enables you to run your max-effort energy system, a little longer. Think of it as a bicycle with an electric motor, that recharges from your pedalling, and has it energy stored in a battery. When you activate it, you can cycle faster because of the joint effort of your legs and the electric motor, but only for as long as the battery holds power, then you are back to rely on only your legs, until the battery is recharged. Then what creatine does it giving you a larger battery along with a larger generator, so you can recharge as fast as before but run max effort longer.

This was the performance part of the equation, but creatine has even more positive effects up its sleeve. When it comes to building muscle, a lot of people, myself included, think of creatine as only pushing water into the muscles and not actually giving any real size gains. That the gains would only come from the increased ability to train harder. But a lot of studies actually point in another direction. Without going into too much detail, creatine should help decrease the breakdown of muscle and increase the growth of “fast twitch” muscle fibers – this was something that I did not know, before researching for this post.

Furthermore creatine helps your muscles absorb more glucose(carbohydrates) and carbohydrates actually helps your body store more creatine – so that should have you ingesting the two of them together, if you are not already.

What further surprised me, was that studies even have shown positive effects on both intelligence and longevity. Creatine is surely one of the most well known and well documented performance enhancers of all time.

I will not go into any details about how and when to ingest, since I during this research also found some rather interesting information about a slightly different approach, than the one preached for decades. My plan is to try it out and then get back with an evaluation.

One thing I however will do is answer a question that seems to be present in the comments of every article about creatine – what sort should we ingest? Stick to creatine monohydrate – that is the most researched form of creatine, that has been around as supplementation since the early nineties. The other fancy forms of creatine, has to the best of my knowledge not been able to prove any of their claims in studies, yet.

The great thing about creatine monohydrate, is that it is possible to find really cheap. Like this for instance; a great amount from a renowned brand: NOW Foods Creatine Powder, 2.2 Pounds

Intensity Build Up Running (IBUR)

When it comes to fat loss, it is no secret that I am a big fan of HIIT. I want the biggest effect, crammed into the least amount of time. Doing an hour worth of cardio on a treadmill, crosstrainer, or anything similar is way too boring for me. It may yield some good results – but yeah I am just not a big fan.

I have shared some of my preferred HIIT protocols before, like the frontsquat tabata the awesome Litvinov workout and my way to use the crosstrainer. But this time I will share one of my go-to, running protocols.

I can’t in any way take the credit for this protocol, and I am not sure whether this guy came up with the idea, or got it from someone else. But I got it from a guy named Christian Thibaudeau, that wrote an article for T-Nation, called running man. In this article he gives a number of different ways to implement HIIT runs; one of them being IBUR.

I think the reason why I fell for it in the first place was its ease of implementation. You do not need a 400 meter track, or measuring x amount of meters for your sprints. With a interval app for your smartphone, you can enter the intervals and then you are good to go. I personally use one for my iphone, called Gymboss – to my knowledge it is free. Furthermore they are not short 60-100 meter, all out sprints. Which indeed are extremely good, but along with them comes a greater risk of injury. Sure you can still get injured from these longer intervals of IBUR, but you are not doing all out accelerations from a standstill. If you keep yourself from being an idiot and listen to your body, you should be good.

The intervals are as follows:

Jog

30 sec

Sprint

20 sec

Jog

60 sec

Sprint

30 sec

Jog

90 sec

Sprint

40 sec

Jog

120 sec

Sprint

50 sec

Jog

150 sec

Sprint

60 sec

Jog

180 sec

Sprint

70 sec

As you can see the sprints increase with 10 sec in length for each interval and the jog increases by 30 sec. This gives a total of about 15 min running, and trust me; you will know how to take deep breaths once you’re done.

I have entered a 1 minute countdown before these intervals, in my Gymboss app, so I have a total of 90 sec jog, before the first sprint. Then going for the first sprint, I won’t go all out, but perhaps 70%. This is all done in order to get my body into the right temperature, since I do not do warm-up before. When I do this, I can go all out by the second or third sprint, but everytime I listen to my body and start of conservatively. Violent accelerations can pull a hamstring, and I am no olympic sprinter, I do this for fat loss and conditioning. But a conservative start does not mean that you should not go all out! HIIT is meant to be all out and you should push yourself as hard as possible.

Conquer the battle with your mind. If it tells you to stop – just keep going a bit longer – this is how you build character and willpower.

Have fun!

Best HIIT workout?

So what is the best HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout? Is there a thing as the universal best – of course not. ‘Best’ will always be in the context of the person and his or her individual goals. But even with this in mind, I will still give you what in my opinion could be one of the top contenders for a universal best HIIT workout.

In order to qualify for a top contender it needs to consist of one or more movements that you can give your absolute everything and drain but muscles and lungs. Therefore tabata (20 sec work 10 sec rest – 8 rounds) push ups does not qualify – yes you would be able to push yourself to muscle failure in triceps, pecs and shoulders, but you would not activating big enough muscles, to have your lungs fighting for air.

The whole thought behind HIIT is ‘bang for the buck’; do very high intensity for a very short amount of time and reap great benefits. I will not go into detail about all the benefits of HIIT, why it works etc. But when it comes to losing body fat, HIIT has always been my preferred choice.

One of my very first blog posts was actually about one of the HIIT workouts I use The Litvinov workout. This is a highly efficient protocol, that leaves you absolutely hammered afterwards. It is right up there with the most intense of its kind, but it is not my choice as the best, although it is part of my personal favorites.
Another one of the HIIT workouts, I have described in an earlier blog post, is the Tabata front squats. This is just pure mean! And it fits incredibly well with the Tabata protocol – if you do it right, you will not be doing anything at all after having done those.

But why are none of these my bet for best HIIT workout. They are among the most efficient; meaning that they are some of the HIIT protocols, where you get the absolute most bang for your buck, along with all out 200 or 400 meter sprints they really do deliver. Their “net-effect” on the body and fat loss may even be greater, than my overall choice for the best. But what they also introduce though, is a greater risk of injury. If you are not used to sprinting and go directly for all out 200/400 meters or hill sprints you will probably soon know how a pulled hamstring feels. With proper warm-up and thought, they are however; amazing. You work both your stamina, your conditioning and your agility – that’s fitness 101!

The frontsquat Tabata introduces the risk of injury if you break the proper form. Which would not be all that uncommon, given the nature of the Tabata protocol. Intense burning from your legs, combined with your lungs fighting for a grasp of air, might take your thoughts away from focusing 100% on proper technique. I would never suggest that you should avoid them – they are too great for that; but be aware of the risks involved.

Now my overall best HIIT workout then; needs to be something where you can give yourself a 100%, not be limited by local fatigue, as in the push up example earlier, and that does not introduce a high risk of injury, even though you are pushing yourself to and beyond the limit. What I have found to do this best, is actually something as far away from gymnastics, bodyweight exercises and bodybuilding as the cross trainer. But beware, some of these are built by engineers, that never saw a human move! However, if you are in the lucky situation and find yourself a proper engineered version, they can provide a totally brutal finisher.

I am a big fan of the Tabata protocol, and doing it on one of these cross trainers, actually gives you the ability to, rather safely, push yourself all the way to the limit. Set the resistance high enough for you to not propel yourself out of the machine, but low enough to keep a high pace that will have you fighting for air in every of the 10 second rest periods. Of course it is still possible to hurt yourself on one of these, but compared to other workouts where you can push yourself to the same degree, these machines are rather safe. I usually use these if I am in a period where I can not risk injury, or just starting to reintroduce HIIT into my workouts.

Try it at the end of your normal workout, one or two times a week. Start with 4-5 minutes of warm-up if you are a 100% sure that your body is warm from the preceding workout. Go full nuts on the tabata intervals and spend another 4-5 minutes cooling down on the machine afterwards. If you have done it correctly, just spinning the cross trainer at low speed during cool down, will feel like a challenge!

Alternative exercise instead of muscle-up

Straight bar muscle up

I somewhere, came across someone searching for an alternative to the muscle up. At first I thought it would be rather silly to look for something that replaces this fine movement, but the more I thought about it, I actually liked the idea of writing an article about it, since breaking movements down, often gives you a better understanding of how they are performed.

What I suspect this posts ends up being, is actually both a guide to alternatives, but probably also; a guide that would enable you to train your way to the actual muscle up.

There can be several reasons why you would be looking for alternatives to muscle ups. You may want to reap the benefits of the muscle up, without performing the actual exercise since you are either unable to perform it, or does not have the equipment available.

Let’s start by breaking down the muscle up, which is done rather easily. It basically consist of a high pull up and the pressing part of a dip. I am very well aware of there being a thing, as the transition in between, but training/strength-wise and looking at alternatives to the actual movement, this transition phase is insignificant.

Let us start with the pull up part of a muscle up. Anyone can see, that a muscle up is started by doing a pull up, but if the start of a muscle up is; just a pull up, then why aren’t everybody that are able to do a pull up, capable of muscle ups? Some will claim, that the reason for this, lies in the transition, that I just labeled, as being insignificant. You could also argue that the difference comes with the grip, as you, for the most part, will use “false grip” on muscle ups and regular finger/hook grip on pull ups. But then teaching any person capable of pull ups, false grip, should get them their muscle up; or at least in conjunction with teaching them the transition.

This could happen; for the very few that actually have spend some time doing their pull ups all the way up, not just stopping at the chin, but pulling all the way till the chest touches the bar, or your shoulders are all the way above it. That is what really separates a regular pull up and the pull up that is part of a muscle up. Therefore drilling it down, in our search for alternatives to muscle ups, we need to have a pull up, that focuses on pulling ourselves as high as possible. But merely getting us there is not enough. We need to be able to stay in the top part of the pull up long enough to make the transition.

Therefore wrapping up the pull-part, we need to perform a pull up bringing us as high as possible, preferably chest to bar and then making a 1 sec pause, at the top, before descending.

The press part of the muscle up is, as explained earlier, pretty much just the pressing part of a dip. But there are some rather significant differences as we are trying to emulate the muscle up. When you do a regular dip, you for one thing often will not go much lower than your upper arm being parallel to the floor. But in a muscle up you will never, unless doing kipping muscle up, land in a position where your upper arm is parallel to the floor; you will be much lower. Therefore to emulate you need to go as low as you can in each repetition of your dips.

Just going really low, will be adequate to resemble the pushing part of a muscle up in rings, but if you want even more of an challenge, you should look for a straight bar or a table. Straight bar strict muscle ups are way harder, than in rings. You cannot put your body in between your hands, to gain a slight mechanical advantage. Therefore looking for a challenge when ordinary dips becomes easy, emulate the straight bar muscle up by finding a bar or a table where you can perform your dips. I would recommend that you keep your hands close together with your pointing fingers just touching and creating a 90 degree angle between them.

These dips can be very demanding and challenging to do, as both strength and balance is tested, but your strength returns once you are able to go all the way down and up on these are incredible.

To wrap this up, I will claim that if you have been training to do these alternatives and are able to pull you all the way to the bar and pause there, plus being able to push your way out of a low dip, you can with a few technical pointers actually perform the full muscle up movement.

Barbell bodybuilding to bodyweight gymnastics

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Over the next coming weeks, I plan on doing a little mini-series, on going from “classic” barbell strength work, to implementing some bodyweight gymnastics, to form a hybrid or perhaps go all the way and stick to only bodyweight exercises.

I will touch upon the “why”, giving you some pros and cons, on implementing a more bodyweight-biased training protocol, helping you decide whether this may be something for you.

I will then give you some steps and approaches, on how to actually go about implementing these exercises, with a more “how”-inspired focus. There are, as I see it, quite a few different ways, you could choose to implement these exercises, when you come from doing pure barbell-work – which in the end all comes down to your goals and motivation for shifting.

Then I also plan on giving you some advice on, what to have as realistic goals. What can you expect to get out of all your work. Which movements and tricks are within reach the first months, half year, year. And how do you keep your motivation high, when things do not come as easily as expected. Expectations and progressions are as I see it, one of the key areas, where “classic” bodybuilding/strength work is very different to gymnastic/bodyweight training.

Stay tuned…

Edit. Go here for part 2

The Front Squat Tabata

I have signed myself up to compete in the Danish Crossfit Open, which is being held on the 23 of this month. Therefore I have not been super active writing blog-posts, as work and training has claimed almost all of my time. But I am still getting lots of ideas, as to what I could write about, both thoughts, tips and advices. So this lapse in updates, is in no way a sign of me signing off.

Today I will give a few tips on one of the best HIIT exercises available. My guess is that most people have heard of Tabata in one way or the other. If not I will give a very short summary.

The basics

The Tabata protocol is a product of Professor Izumi Tabata’s research. He put some Olympic Speedskaters on a training protocol consisting of something as simple as 4 minutes workout(3min 50sec) 4 times a week, and as wikipedia explains it:

 …obtained gains similar to a group of athletes who did steady state (70% VO2max) training 5 times per week. The steady state group had a higher VO2max at the end (from 52 to 57 ml/kg/min), but the Tabata group had started lower and gained more overall (from 48 to 55 ml/kg/min). Also, only the Tabata group had gained anaerobic capacity benefits.

The 4 minute workout consists of 8×20 sec. absolutely all-out work intervals, and 8×10 sec. rest. So 20 sec. work 10 sec. rest for 8 rounds and a total of 4 minutes.

How to implement

The key to unlocking the full potential of this protocol, is selecting either one or a selection of exercises that enable you to go absolutely all-out. I have seen lots of really stupid Tabata workouts, where people use it with exercises that does not activate enough muscles, or are to technical to reap the full benefits. You should NOT be able to do anything once you are finished. If you can do two Tabata’s in a row, then the first just was not hard enough.

The Front Squat Tabata

One of the best ways to implement the Tabata protocol is doing frontsquats. I have done them freestanding with some success, but actually this is a exercise, where you can get good results, from using the hated smith machine. Doing them in the smith, enables you to rack and unrack much quicker and not worry about balance or anything else.

Before starting I would recommend that you test a few times, to find the optimal stance for your feet. You will most likely feel like you lean a bit backwards, when fully extended at the top, but this makes the bottom position much better. Experiment, and once you have found the optimal stance, then make some marks on the floor, in order for you to quickly reposition your feet if you, during the sets, have to move them to catch your breath and relieve some uncomfort – which I suspect will be needed.

How much weight you should put on of course totally depends on your strength. I would aim for something that gives around 15-17 reps, on the first 20 sec round.

Then this is basicly it. I would recommend using a timer-app of some kind, that beeps for every rest- and work-set. But of course it is possible to do this, by only looking at a watch.

I will later share a few other good ways to implement the Tabata protocol, but this is by my opinion the absolute best.

Have fun – atleast afterwards, they are no fun doing – but they will give you a cardiovascular hit like no other. Implement them on a regular basis and be prepared to see the fat peel of and your overall fitness level skyrocket.